I’ve returned home safe and sound from a very long but extremely fulfilling tour. Thanks to all the venues, sound men & women, folks who hung up flyers, and the fabulous audience members who supported us the whole way through. It felt so good to finally take these songs from Birds out on the road. You are the best for being there!
Along the tour we had several live performance tapings and I’m happy to say they are both out this week. First is our performance on Mountain Stage via NPR Music. We also passed through Ann Arbor to chat with Rob Reinhart and play a few tunes for his Acoustic Cafe show. Both are syndicated and you can catch them on your hometown station or check them out online.
I’ll be sticking around home for the holidays and to get myself in the spirit I’ve teamed up with Concert Window for a special “Home for the Holidays” concert next Wednesday at 9PM EST. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Concert Window, it’s a site that allows you to watch a performance in the comfort of your living room. Thanks Internet! Tickets are pay what you can. There might even be a few surprise guests and songs.
When people ask me what I do for a living, the best way I know how to answer them is by explaining to them why I do it.
I’m a songwriter and I believe that the way in which we tell a story ultimately has the power to change the story. I think that when someone lets a song into their heart it becomes a spirit. To me, songs are mediators between the spiritual and sensual world and I think that this world is in desperate need of them.
Today I’m very excited to release what I’ve been calling Birds into the world. It’s a collection of 11 songs that I’ve written and recorded by myself in my apartment over the past year. Some songs are about the death of my brother while others are about the life I see all around me since he passed. Some are about the birds I’ve become friends with in Massachusetts and many are my best attempt to say something useful about the time we live in.
So now the time has come where I am asking you to listen and if one of these songs magically finds its way inside of you please take care of that spirit, because it’s a part of me too.
“If you walk across my camera I will flash the world your story.” ― Woody Guthrie
Each summer I’m fortunate enough to spend a weekend in Okema, Oklahoma, the birthplace of Woody Guthrie. It’s a simple town with tremendous people. The faint smell of strawberry malted milkshakes from Sooner’s Drug Store is always in the air. There is something about being in Woody’s birthplace that feels like visiting a chiropractor: as a songwriter, I go to get my spine realigned.
It was here, three years ago, where I first overheard a family talk about “getting 2-3 earthquakes a day” as if it was commonplace. I inquired for more information and they explained to me how fracking had been the only revenue source for many families in the area and how they were beginning to see the negative effects of that. I found myself getting angry as they told me stories about cows dying in the field, water being contaminated, and of course putting their house back together after an earthquake. However, I was confused that this family didn’t seem as angry as I was. Then I heard the grandfather say, “No one should be allowed to buy the earth.” I began to understand that the pain of being voiceless and complicit at the same time overwhelms any other emotion.
This song “Water On Fire” started in that moment. My heart is grateful to finally put it out in the world today with Elmore Magazine.
I’m very excited to release today a performance video of my rendition of “For What It’s Worth.” I first performed this classic one year ago in Oklahoma, and given our current political climate, the words seem to ring truer than ever before. Check it out premiering on The Boot here and please share with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
To explain what’s behind this record, I must first explain the environment it was created in.
Fall in New England is like watching the most brilliant death. The air is honest. There is a sacred sound when the sky is full of geese. There is a bright gorgeousness deeply woven into the dying of all things.
I started looking at fall this way about two autumns ago. It was around the time my brother passed away. I wanted some sort of meaning to come from my loss of him. I started looking for signs and signals of his transformation, so much so that I began to have conversations with the birds who sat on my window sill during the day.
As I’d play piano by the window and work out the shape of each melody, I would frequently stop and ask the birds how they thought it was going so far. My heart wanted more than anything to hear a reply back. I’m still waiting for their reply but make a point of talking to them regularly.
It was Ernest Hemingway who said, “Sometimes following your heart means losing your mind.”
Over time, the grief of my brother leaving this world transformed to grieving the very world I wanted him so desperately to return to. Perhaps the transformation I was looking for was actually a transformation in myself.
This record is not so much about grief as it is about growth. The decision to record this album from home and play almost all of the instruments was about giving the songs the kind of protection and insularity they desired, the kind I had growing up in a small New England town. These songs didn’t want to venture far from origin. Instead, they desired staying close to the windows.
With the help of co-producer Steve Lunt and mixing engineer David Darlington, I couldn’t be more proud of what we came up with.
I’ve heard people say there are three sides to every story: the side you’re on, the “other” side, and the truth. The challenge in our age is that there are so many conversations happening simultaneously it’s difficult to decipher what is information and what is merely entertainment.
One of my favorite David Byrne quotes is, “Everything is intentional. It’s just filling in the dots.” Perhaps a benefit of this dialogue happening all at once is that we begin to make connections by looking backwards at history, the battles we’ve won, and the battles we’re still fighting.
In my job, I get to see the best of people, the vulnerability in people, and a commitment to compassion across generations. I see a different world than the one that is portrayed on the news. However, like many, I feel a deep disconnection between where we are and what I’d like our values to be. Hidden inside this dissonance is my own accountability.
I decided to record the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth” because I believe we are in a time of connecting the dots again in our culture and in ourselves. In my travels, I see people in both red and blue states beginning to say, “There is something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.”
Throughout the past month I’ve read many Facebook posts and comments saying things like, “The world has gone mad,” “What’s happened to common sense,” and “People are sick and senseless.”
I have been driving around a good part of the the United States the last two weeks and the story I see is different than the one that’s told on the 24-hour media loop. In Dallas, Texas I had the pleasure of having a conversation with both police officers and Black Lives Matter activists. Believe it or not, they were in the same room, at the same concert, and even sat next to each other during the second set. In an Oklahoma parking lot, I saw the Confederate flag on the back of a pickup truck cease to wave in the wind as its owner stopped to help jump start the car of a gay couple. In Jackson, Michigan, the birthplace of the Republican Party, I spoke to a pastor about his drive to instill compassion back in his community and how he’s trying to be more compassionate to himself.
My point is that I don’t see a world that is coming undone at the seams. I see our anger as a shorthand for pain and wanting more from our country, its leaders, our communities, and ourselves. The world is not broken. We are.
The Dalai Lama said, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” I believe that there is a compassionate fire in each of us. Mine has been burning a bit brighter in response to so many grave injustices. I wrote this new song, “Before The Fire Fades,” to remind myself that some fires are not meant to go out. You can choose to pay whatever you want for the song and you are of course welcome to download it for free if you’d like. All the proceeds collected will go to the GLBT Center in Orlando. Please feel free to share on social media and with your community.
I’m excited to share with you one of the hardest, most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Here is the talk that I gave earlier this month at TEDxVail in Colorado about the lessons my nonverbal brother Jamie taught me about music.
In every young performer’s dreams, there are stages, theaters, and halls that seem to prod at our attention early on, rooms that come with a sort of gravity long before arrival. Stages with the kind of sanctity that demand respect as their histories and stories seep into your core. In every young performer’s education of what came before, we learn the difference between an artist who made an impact and an artist who continues to impact the world by rattling our fibers with authenticity and insight. Throughout the next four weeks, I will be joining several of these artists on some of the most sacred stages that have found a place in my early dreams.
This Saturday, I will be joining Brett Dennen and my dear friend Crystal Bowersox at The Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. Designated as the historic site of the United Nations Charter signing in 1945, the room is one of great purpose. On this day we raise awareness and funds for the Rotary Peace Foundation.
On Sunday, I fly back to the East Coast to open for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Leon Russell at the famed Queen in Wilmington, DE. His body of work includes “Delta Lady” and “A Song for You” and continues to inspire me as a songwriter.
A stage that is most certainly close to my heart is the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, MA. As a 12-year-old kid with big dreams the Calvin was were I would go to learn how to make them a reality from the likes of BB King, James Taylor, Patty Griffin, and many more. It was my very first real classroom. On November 21st, I will finally play the stage myself opening for the incredible Martin Sexton.
Finally, I’m so F$&%ing excited to announce my very first European tour supporting none other than Ronnie Spector. We’ll be doing six shows together throughout the UK followed by two of my own headlining shows in Madrid and Bilboa, Spain. Rooms like the Barbican in London and the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow are places I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.
It’s going to be an amazing few weeks. Be sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter for updates and photos from the road.