Turning 40 is a symbolic moment for many, with or without “Over the Hill” tiaras provided by good intentioned family members. Given that today is my day to sport said tiara, I must admit, it’s not hitting me too hard one way or the other. Perhaps, I’m fooling myself? But that’s not what this post is about.
I’m using the occasion to do something symbolically important – I’m hitting the publish button for my very first solo album. 10 tracks, 47 minutes, 5 years in the making.
^ Click the link to go to album: stream and download for free^
It’s important to me because for the previous 21 years I’ve written songs for groups to interpret, add to, subtract, and then perform. For the most part, it’s been a great thing. And I look forward to (hopefully) continuing the practice.
Maybe, another way of stating this is: I needed to get a solo album out of my system.
So, on to the purpose of this post – I thought it’d be fun to review the 4 chapters of my musical past (not including the prologue, which would equal me learning guitar, writing songs for my first open mics). Yes, some chapters are MUCH bigger than others, but whatever, I wrote songs for all of them.
I put together 5 videos to mark … what’s the word?
Progression? evolution? mood at the time?
I should note, each video is a pandora’s box if I were to get into the stories, people, location, time of year, smell of air, life crisis, etc.
Band 1: High Tide
Based in Columbus, OH. I formed the band with Rob Kortekamp (lead guitar) and Jake Newcomber (lead singer / rhythm guitar) and then I recruited John Winther (drums) from Cincinnati to round out the quartet. My time in the band was from 1997 (I think) to 1999 at which point I moved to Lake Tahoe, California. I played bass, and provided some background vocals.
This song was one I penned for the band. During this time period, I was immersing myself in the Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead worlds. Coming from a grunge background, some of this was welcomed, and some of it was force fed due to the people I ran with. Regardless, the music made its impression, and I think you hear it in the song.
Band 2: Blue Turtle Seduction
I formed the band in South Lake Tahoe, CA in 2001 with quite the cast of characters. By 2003 the lineup solidified into myself on guitar/vocals, Adam Navone on drums, Christian Zupancic on electric mandolin/violin/vocals, Glenn Stewart on harmonica/pan flute/vocals, and my brother, Steve Seals, on bass. We ran wild until 2010.
BTS started on the backbone of my songwriting, and I contributed the bulk of the core material throughout the entirety of the band’s existence. However, what each member added to the songs was the reason we accomplished what we did.
Manu Chao was easily the biggest influence on this band, and in hindsight, I wish we were better able to own the juice rather than play obtuse (Johnny Cochrane had no part in that statement).
Later when we were in the jam-bluegrass scene, our peers would be like, “hey, let’s jam on that Ralph so-and-so and the Pumpkin Patch boys tune, and we’d be like “um … (enter Beavis and Butthead laugh) what?” Such a weird thing to be playing golf on a tennis court.
At the time, I loved how Manu Chao’s albums were a mix of many languages, and Cenizas off our first CD, Under Sierra Ground (2004) was a result of that influence. A good friend of the band, Toby Adams, helped with the Spanish translations, and I thought it’d be cool to give him top lyric credit in the CD booklet.
I picked this tune off BTS’ second CD, Deep Sea Rodeo, because it reflects an element of my lyric style during these times. Influenced by friends during my first years in South Lake Tahoe, I enjoyed taking a pseudo slam poetry approach, which meant multiple syllable lyrics that were not meant to be listened to as linear stories. More like palettes to help form visions in the listener’s minds, unique to each.
Special note: Even though the liner notes do not state it as such, the word “Organtic” in the second verse was purposively written – it’s a combination of (obviously) ‘organic’ and ‘gigantic’. Fast forward a decade, and I think it’s a very appropriate word for our current pinterest-y, instagram-y, farm-to-table-y, beard-y craze.
This is not the obvious song to pick off of 2008’s 13 Floors, but it foreshadows what I’m pushing these days – Songs written exclusively for album purpose, which would be contrary to 95% of the rest of the material at that time – songs meant to translate to the live stage. Or, recordings based only on what the song needed versus making sure each band member was represented.
Band 3: The Hydrodynamics
Yes, to call this a band is a stretch. Yes, its tenure was brief. But it was the appropriate rebound to cling to during some tenuous times during the post full-time musician year of 2010 (read more about it here). Cassandra Osborne and Shara Seals on vocals. Andrew Harris on lead guitar. Me on the rest.
And more importantly, it gave me an outlet to continue writing and kinda’ performing. The song “Death By Fire” represents a shift in my lyrical approach. Having already started my book The Punishment Rock, I wanted to write more straight-forward character songs, and wha-la, this tune.
Band 4: Dad’s LPs
This band morphed out of The Hydrodynamics, and some of the tunes we worked up in Hydro transferred over to DLPs’ first album. I’d like to point out that it was this band that acted as my methadone, weaning me off of the live show fix, which I mean in a positive way. It wasn’t easy, but by 2014, making music purely for the sake of making music was more important to me than needing an audience’s approval. John Morales on lead vocal/drums, Chris Twomey on lead vocal/bass, Andrew Harris on lead guitar, and I rounded out the mix with rhythm guitar and backing vocals.
This tune was off the first cut, The Cherry Album (2011). Special note about “Relief”: I had a dream one night – I was doing something and somebody else was with me. A radio station was playing in the background. A song came on and I casually said, “Oh, this is the song that Jim James from My Morning Jacket and I wrote together.” It wasn’t a big deal to me in the dream. However, when I woke up, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I heard a song that Jim James and I wrote?! Oh shit – I have to remember it!’
Did I remember it? I tried. “Relief” was the best I could do.
Dad’s LPs recorded another album, Lemon on Fire (2014). John Morales had a treasure chest of great tunes for that one. It was weird at first and my ego struggled a bit with the idea of not contributing baseline songs, but once I embraced it (with encouragement from John), I fuckin’ loved the idea of only needing to contribute guitar ideas. In the end, I’m really proud of that album!
So, that’s the retrospective / quick summary through my songwriting past. To hear the present, check out:
Hint: I’ve embraced the synthesizer. (editor’s note: last sentence meant to be read in Arnold Schwarzenegger voice.)
Publisher’s note: I’m a normal working stiff these days (luckily, I like what I do), and my reach has grown very short, if not obsolete. (oh well) If you think someone else will like this, or the new album, then please share… I’ll buy you a drink next time we’re hanging out.