Thank Youse

This was initially posted on Facebook


“Through Private Wars” hits the streets (or at least the internet) tomorrow, and I’d like to take a moment, in the final inhale before the grand exhale, to recognize the people who helped it come to be. For all that this record does right, thank them; for all that it does wrong, blame me. 

David Andersen was, I think, the first musician I met after moving to the Hudson Valley, and also my first new friend up here. He answered an ad I placed looking for live players, learned a bunch of my tunes, auditioned a bunch of other players with me, and yet has never actually gigged with me. Life is funny... But as great a bassist as he is (and he is: he’s the bassist of record on all but one, notable, exception on TPW), his true calling is as a studio wizard. Funny, generous, and devastatingly focussed on the job at hand, he’s a tone machine. If you have the means to record with him, whether on one of his periodic eastward trips, or at the newly reopen(ing) Sound City in Los Angeles, I highly recommend doing so. Your instrument tones will thank you. 

Dave also introduced me to Rob Stein, who both produced the record and performed nearly all of its lead guitar. I learned a million and one lessons from him during this process, and my writing, arranging, lead guitar work, and this album are all markedly improved by the experience. Rob can (and does) tear off a rip-roaring melodic line in a moment that would take me a month to compose and execute, and then say “well, but that’s pretty cliche. Let me try something a little more interesting,” and then head off into a new (and somehow, even MORE mind-bending) direction. We didn’t always agree on things, but usually, his idea was better than mine. His pedal steel work on Planetstruck is worth the price of admission all by itself. 

I’ve known Dave Drago since I was 14 or so, and I’ve been a pretty bad influence on him all that time… somehow, though, he matured into a multi-instrumentalist songwriting studio owner with dynamite ears and endless positivity, and I couldn’t be prouder to be his friend or his client. I don’t have a whole lot to say about his work on this project (which is at least partly because I still don't entirely know what mastering IS): he got good-sounding mixes and made them sound even better. This is basically what he does: makes things better. If I can’t work with David for the next one, I’ll probably make it with Dave. These are the Daves I know. Go to his studio and make records with him; you won’t regret it. 

Kevin Simon’s not on Facebook, so I guess I’ll have to email this to him, but: dude is a monster. I met Kev in Philly; he subbed for a few tour dates for my last band, which were some of our best shows (not, maybe coincidentally). He moved to Austin, and I moved to the Hudson Valley. We hadn’t spoken for a few years, but as I began to prep this record, I emailed him, asking if he had access to a studio, if I sent him tracks; he responded “well, I moved to Providence, so when’s the session? I’ll just drive up.” Three separate trips (of 3+ hours each way) later, his mammoth chops are all over this record, and I think he let me fill his gas tank twice and buy him a beer and maybe a meal. If I could shrink time or space (or just get rid of most of Connecticut), I’d have him on every gig I ever play. Taciturn and thickly bearded, he’s just a beast on the keys. 

What is there to say about Eric Parker? He’s played on more albums than I’ve ever heard. He’s toured with platinum-selling artists. He jammed with Little Feat in the late 70s, for fuck’s sake. I sat in on lead guitar with a friend’s band with him a couple times, and I’ve never played with a drummer who can so effortlessly interact with a (wholly improvised) lead player while still staying completely in the groove. On this record, he divined all that could be drawn from my scratchy home demos, and somehow magicked them into actual, honest-to-god rhythmic music. He’s funny, and kind, and giving, and man can that guy play. 

Eleanor Kleiner and Elie Brangbour get to go together, since they come as a package deal. “The E’s”, as studio parlance has it, are a stunningly beautiful folk duo (both physically and musically) called The Whispering Tree; I met them maybe as long ago as 2008(?) at a conference gig; we crossed paths off and on over the next few years, and upon booking my first show in Beacon, discovered that they were living there, and asked them to come play with me. We shared a few gigs that way, and then I asked if they’d be interested in singing on the album; they were kind enough to agree. They brought endless positivity and brilliant harmonic ideas in equal measure, laughed their way through the dementia that long studio days can cause, and stamped the record with their immense musicality as assuredly as if it were their own (which, by the way, they have several records, all of which are marvelous). We’ve been on-again, off-again working on a vocal trio project, but in any and every instance, it has been my pleasure and my privilege to sing alongside them. 

Like Dave, Paul Grimsland answered an ad I posted for musicians. Unlike Dave, Paul has since played dozens of gigs alongside me. He’s ever-reliable and wildly talented; we don’t really rehearse anymore, because I know that if I send him demos of new material, he’ll practice them, and if I throw things at him onstage, he’ll pick it up on the fly and play it like he’s known it for weeks. And I do throw things at him onstage. Frequently. If I hadn’t been getting lead guitar free with the price of production (or production free with the price of lead guitar), he would be everywhere on this record, as his lead playing is tasteful, innovative, and light-years better than mine. As it is, he shines in every moment he appears. An uncommonly kind man, and one without whom I would simply be lost. 

Jeremy Baum came in to pinch-hit on accordion (maybe the only thing with keys on it that Kevin doesn’t play), and did an outrageously good job in a brutal keyboard key. I have no idea what his history is with zydeco, but he plays like he was born on the bayou (unlike John Fogerty, who was, of course, born in northern California); I was a little surprised when he spoke and didn't have a cajun accent. He’s a talented pianist, organist, and a generous, giving soul. If I’d had more work for him on the album, he’d undoubtedly have been up to the task. 

Brady Totten also came in for a single session, and just killed it. In preparation, I commented off-handedly “I don’t know what gear options you have, but go for whatever’s closest to an Otis Redding record.” The next morning, he emailed “I did some googling and the kit they Al Jackson used on most of those records was the house kit from Stax, a Rogers kit with 10 and 16" toms, 20" bass, and 14" snare. I have the 16, and there's a 10 at the studio already, but I'll bring my toms just in case. The bass drum there is 20" so we're good there…” Never mind that I couldn’t have told you Al Jackson’s name if you paid me (I mean, NOW I can). He came scrupulously prepared, asked me bar-by-bar if I had anything I wanted, executed exactly the couple specific ideas I DID have, and then surpassed my expectations by a factor of ten. Super sweet dude, and if he had time to play live with me, I’d have hired him already. In fact I tried. Brady, door’s still open, buddy… 

I haven’t met Tony Levin Official Page. I haven’t even spoken to Tony Levin (I emailed with him a couple times). I have lived in awe of Tony Levin for nearly 20 years (since I became aware of his work), and somehow I now have a record with my name on it that he’s on. He tracked his part at his home studio during a brief break between Crimson tours (!), and left our jaws on the floor as we heard how casually he simultaneously holds down the rhythm (in a drumless song) and responds to both the lead vocal and the pedal steel. Just wonderful. Next record goal: Tony Levin on ALL the songs… 

James Orr took all the pretty pictures, and somehow made even me look like a halfway cool person. If that’s not enough evidence of his abilities, I’m not sure what else to say: he’s gregarious and talented and you should take all your visual content needs to him. 

My dear friend Scott Ratinoff, possibly drunkenly, allowed as how I shouldn’t release a record without letting him work on the album design, and then soberly (if a little ruefully) agreed to actually do it when I asked. That this physical object appears to be a real thing and not a ridiculous joke is entirely due to his talents and time, and you should take all of your design needs to him. Also he’s a wonderful conversationalist and a fine fine musician and artist in his own right. One of my favorite people. 

All these people dedicated their time and talents to this project, for much less money than any of them deserve, so that I can have this moment in the sun. My heart expands, it’s grown a bulge in it, over their generosity. In a thousand years, I will never have enough words to express my gratitude to each and every one of them.