Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Got Strings

There's something about this interview with Tom Waits that doesn't ring true, but is entertaining nonetheless....the answers were just too ready. Must have had a lot of editing. Yet, it's still fun.

So we played Merelefest. Songwriting competition. Made a promise to myself long ago I wouldn't go to that happy place til I went as a performer even though I was kidding myself. Even I can't tell when I'm joking anymore.

Got third place out of the 3 finalists picked for my category. I was really happy just to be nominated. That sounds like bullshit and I usually am full of it but it's true. Sent in submissions for a loooong time to the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition and then out of the blue I got a call. I was in. Can't really express the gratitude of being recognized for laboring at something I didn't think others would notice. I mean, my friends told me they liked my songs but that doesn't count somehow (plus I'm always ready to dump them once someone cooler comes along). So yeah, to get picked is really great. That sounds generic but I mean great as in you only get so many great moments in one's life and that one counts as one of them.

There's a whole nother idea I have about songwriting contests and I don't give much weight to them but CASC I respect. Look, Tift Merritt won. Gillian Welch won this one too. This is one contest I have to admit, I wanted to get into.

But once I got there a funny thing happened. I wanted to win. Now that thought never crossed my mind before we pulled into Wilkesboro. I honestly was more than satisfied just to get there. But as a friend put it, we all have a fantasy in our head that we'll get our due as geniuses someday and roses thrown at our feet. I'll admit I'm not above that.

But I can keep that delusion in check. What I didn't prepare for is the reality TV show effect. And what I mean by that is when you watch a reality TV show (don't say you don't)you see people have these terribly emotional reactions to the most trivial matters. They fall in love with a bachelor they've known for less than a day. They confide in people they've known for less than that. Why? I think it's something to do with being put out on display and with the knowledge they'll be judged. It heightens one's sensitivities and competitiveness. I'm not articulating it correctly. But suffice to say it makes you weird. Something like that happened to me.

Or maybe I cared more than I thought. Maybe I want this music to gain more acceptance than I've let on.

With that said and left unsaid the folks who ran Merlefest were nothing but great to me. If someone nominated for CASC years from now is googling to find out what to expect let me tell you, in 2008 it was great. This part of North Carolina is beautiful. Except you say some mean things to your wife and you are a jerk to her because you're nervous. It's OK. She forgives you.

I found some great music there. The winner of the bluegrass category Brandon Story gave me his CD and I've listened to that thing to death. The second place winner in the country category, Jaimi Shuey, has an incredible voice.

Oh and I forgot to thank my accompanist Jeff Williams on the mandolin up on stage. I was the first one to play and was too nervous to think of that. Evryone after me wo had an accompanist thank their accompanist but me.

But he didn't really accompany, he's part of Schnitzel. And Schnitzel played Merlefest. Fuck yeah.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Today we say goodbye to one of our own.

Ok, so we haven't been real up to date with this blog. So what?

But today, or to be more exact, yesterday, we learned that bassist Shelby will be moving shortly. To Colorado. With his wife and kids.

Shelby added a level of professionalism to this band that we didn't deserve. He knew good ideas from bad. And he had the decency not to criticize us when we did the wrong.

Thanks Shelby.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

End of An Era

If you go to open mic at Penny Lane, well don't. Cause it's over.

Per Jeff, the man who ran it, it's done.

Hello to all,

I hope every one had a happy new year. Every new year brings new changes. With a good bit of sadness, I'm sending this email out to announce that one of those changes means that there will be no open mic at Penny Lane going forward. It was time for it to end.

Attendance had been down for a while, and I didn't feel that the food and drink sales resulting from the open mic justified its existence anymore, so I asked Terence if I could pull the plug and he reluctantly agreed. Penny Lane was an awesome place to work, and I really will miss everyone down there. I really appreciate the opportunity they gave me to keep things going after the demise of Matt's Village Pub. I encourage everyone to go by there often and pop in for a pint. I know I will. Please help me out by forwarding this email to any other open mic'ers out there you can think of... I know I missed many.

Though I am looking forward to the break, and not having to go to work sleep deprived on Thursday mornings, please know that I really will miss doing the open mic night every week. As I look back, I realize how many good things came to me from running open mic... Most of my best friends I met at open mic..... I'm now in a band that I'm intensely proud of because I met Dickie and Jamie at open mic, Jim and Betsy met at open mic... , I got to practice my mandolin chops with a lot of different folks,... and I got to watch a thousand brilliant moments on stage. I've definitely shared a ton of laughs, more than a few beers, and great times with many people I never would have met otherwise.

Please support the other open mic nights. It's the people that come and play that make an open mic night a special thing. For me, you guys often made it magical.

Thanks again for everything and I hope to see you guys soon!

Jeff (Former Open Mic Night Host)

I didn't start playing til I played at Jeff's open mic night. That was at Matt's Pub, 7 maybe 8 years ago. Saw a lot of good performers come through his stage. There was a long stretch where I would concentrate all week on what 4 songs I would play when I got up onstage. Those nights taught me a lot. Not just how to perform but how to write. Every week I could judge my stuff on how people reacted. That's something you can't always do playing sporadic club dates. Certainly not sitting in your bed playing music to just yourself. And not a week goes by I don't wish I still had the open mic at Matt's go to. All things end of course and it had a good run. It moved to Penny Lane when Matt's closed. I was a little busy with a family at that point so I didn't go as much there. Still it was good to know I could go there when I wanted.

Jeff always had the best sound. He cared more about how things sounded in the room than any other sound guy I know. Even if you and him were the only people in the room. And he encouraged the right atmosphere too. A lot of open mics can fall into a clique, where only the friends of the guy who runs it are heard. Anyone could walk into Jeff's open mic and play. They may have had to wait their turn a good while but it was always fair. I remember a night when a studio musician from Nashville stopped in. He was followed buy a girl playing her own songs, performing in front of a crowd for what probably was her first time. Both were made to feel just as at home, just as appreciated, just as welcome. That's a rare feat to pull off. Yet Jeff always did just that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ballpoint Pens

It's rare that someone's side project is as good or interesting as their main band.

But I can't say enough about Ballpoint Pens. That's Ross's other band besides the Gaskets.

I liked his stuff enough before to edit it into a home movie I made for my family. Just footage of the little kids playing. And that should tell you how the music sounds if it can suit a family video; warm, fun, familiar. Anyways you can get the newest Ballpoint Pens' album for free right here.

I can too as soon as I figure out how to convert a zip file.

I am an idiot.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nov 12, 250 years ago

Did the Germans have advance warning we would be attacked?


I'm no conspiracy nut but they did.

I'm referring of course to this date in history 250 years ago when French Canadians and Indians attacked and plundered the town of Herkimer NY.

All the houses and buildings were burned, and the grain, cattle and horses, except what was consumed by the raiding party for their own subsistence, were brought back to Montréal

Although the cause of the war is often touted as French fear of anti-Catholicism in the English territories or expanding fur trading opportunities, look at this:

The damage inflicted on the enemy is estimated, according to the representations of the English themselves, to wit : in grain of all sorts, a much larger quantity than the Island of Montréal has produced in years of abundance, the same of hogs, 3,000 horned cattle, 3,000 sheep. All these articles have been sent, in a few days, to Corlaer

Wake up people! This war was about Big Hog!

But what could we have done to stop it? Easy. How about not patting our asses when the warning came from an Oneida chief?

they paid not the least regard to what I told them; and laughed at me, slapping their hands on their buttocks, saying they did not value the Enemy

Granted that doesn't sound like Germans to me either but remember they had been living in the Mohawk Valley for some years.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Year So Far

Well the CD has been out for a while now. The reception in general has been good if subdued. I can't say I can retire off of Cold Harbor's CD Baby's income but I can't complain. Maybe I fantasized about a grassroots groundswell that propelled me into megastardom. Heck, Time magazine picked me- ME!- as person of the year last year so I thought I had some momentum. But my profile hasn't changed. That's probably for the better. I'm insufferable as it is.

But I should note I've reached some lofty goals I've set for myself. Not just goals for the year, but goals for my life. One was getting a review in No Depression- and I had a good review at that. That was the highlight of my year. And I had a son born too! So um, yeah my wife doesn't read this. If that wasn't cool enough, the same writer, Rick Cornell, interviewed me for Raleigh/Durham's Independent Weekly. It's a cliche to say, I know, but that was a freaking honor.

The other goal was met when I stood next to my idol Scott Miller as his opening act, The Atkinsons, covered one of my songs and I had never even heard of that band before*. I was able to turn to Scott and say "Hey, I wrote that song."

Strange goals, yeah I admit that. But they satisfied something in me. Maybe something so deep that it's taken a little drive. Once the album was finished I didn't know what to do in regards to promoting it. It's been sent to a few sites but only reviewed it. I'm grateful for that. But no one else seems much interested. So if you can think of a few sites that might be let me know. I could use the help.

* I'm lying for the sake of the story. I know and love them and had begged them to play the song.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I Decline The Nomination

Blogging has been light. It's hard on the road, etc.

News: Solo acoustic show this Thursday at Coffee Lane right here in Mechanicsville. It's on Bell Creek right next to the Food Lion which I try to avoid. But also right next to Nirvana Hair Salon where I get my hair cut.

The new album "Cold Harbor" has gotten some good reviews where it's gotten them.
Here's Bluesbunny take.

And here's what No Depression said:

SCHNITZEL, Cold Harbor (self). Schnitzel’s music – call it indie roots rock for lack of a better slippery tag – is not as much for those of a certain age as it is for those of a certain record collection. “Broken Bottle” will make you think of, if only for a second or two, Violent Femmes, Uncle Tupelo, the Pogues, the Mountain Goats, the Minutemen, and the Avett Brothers. And then, after 1:47, it’s on to track two. The remaining eight songs aren’t quite as eclectic and their echoes aren’t as evocative, but the delivery will get you. Acquired-taste voice aside, lead Schnitzel Jim O’Brien sings loud and clear and without a flinch, the most confident dude at the talent show. And whether rolling out cryptic recollections (“They know what you want before you can ask/They cannot not love you in a Halloween mask,” he sings) or waxing metaphoric and meteorolgic (“North Carolina/Absorbs a storm like a truck bedliner,” observes the album’s humble tour de force of a closer, “Truck Bedliner”), he’s also the one with the most interesting things to say.

Did you know that some people lack the ability to read italics? It's true. Fuck 'em.

Anyways, if you have the album, make a copy for a friend. I appreciate you buying one, I really do (these things aren't cheap to make). But the purpose is just to get folks to hear it.