2016 Year in Review
Thank God for Beer and Coffee … and All the Music Between Sips
As a child of the nineties, I vividly remember when Hootie and the Blowfish’s album, Cracked Rear View was released. I am not a big Hootie fan, and admit that Darius Rucker’s seamless transformation into a top 40 pop country star may be one of the strongest signs of the apocalypse, or just a hell of a good joke on white America. Regardless, when I look back at 2016, there are so many damn cracks in our van’s mirror, that it seems most of the glass is gone. Not just Trump, not just Prince, Bowie or Sharon Jones, not only Dominion’s darkening pipeline shadow, not just a broken down van, blizzards and missed shows, not just losing a badass lead guitarist and a gifted bass player, or the increasingly puzzling business model for a working band these days. There have been dramatic and fundamental shifts in everyone’s footing this year, artist or not, and now we are faced with the challenge of how to creatively respond to the daunting waves of ADHD commercialism and xenophobia that are washing away miles of our coastland as I write this.
The amount of focused hate and distracted apathy can be overwhelming, so we just have to take it one show at a time, one song at a time, and hope that the good rises to the top. One of the first things my brother said when I called him after the election was that there was going to be some very good music coming out of this mess. I think he’s right and 2016 set a strong musical foundation for whatever follows. My parents and others compared this national moment to the Vietnam era. If we, as a culture can mine even half of the quality of art that resulted from the 60s and 70s, we will have an inspirational soundtrack. When I step back and take a longer view, Lord Nelson also has a lot to be grateful for in 2016. Recently, the four of us were looking at old pictures and Henry said “you can tell that was taken a few years ago, because we all look so happy.” We got a good laugh at this and you could probably substitute “green” for happy. While our faces and wallets may suggest otherwise, I would argue that as a band, we are happier than we were a year ago. I say this because I think we have matured into a working band that is finding its footing in difficult times. Even though every month feels like it may break us, the music is closer to us than it was before, and this is a gift we hope keeps giving. So maybe, we are more fulfilled, if not “happier.”
My late aunt, Patty Crowe passed away this Thanksgiving. She was an Irish force of nature, who knew how to celebrate life in the moment, and valued family, food and laughter above all. When my cousin told me the last thing my aunt heard was our record, The County, it brought a greater weight to our time in the studio this winter. I was also reminded that we never know where our music goes after we create it, and that we better do a damn good job of that this next time around. Speaking of recording, band morale is on the rise, thanks to working through about 15 new songs/ideas/backseat sing-alongs. It is so refreshing to actually get to work through new ideas in a studio setting. Having multiple songwriters and composers in the band is a real asset that we are learning to work with. Strong opinions echo off the walls at Monkey Clause, while Dave Stipe keeps us between the lines during sessions. Being able to record our sophomore release at a professional studio in Nelson County with an engineer and producer may be what we, as a band are most grateful for in 2016. Because Dave believes in local musicians, we have the opportunity to create something for our friends and fans on a much shorter time line than was previously possible. Dave’s model, Rockfish Music, also offers an attention to detail and process that we could not afford elsewhere.
Doors keep closing and opening, and we try to keep our heads up long enough to capture a song when we can. When friends tell me “you guys are killing it” or “I keep hearing your band’s name everywhere,” I am flattered, and also have a hard time believing them. While we have made some big strides recently, all of us in the band are painfully aware of how we stack up against some of the many other artists who are vying for the same piece of the rock n roll pie. It is good for us to reflect on the year and recognize some bright spots since we spend so much of our energy desperately reaching for the next wrung on the ladder. Some of these standout moments this year include being able to call the band a legitimate part time job for the first time, playing our show of the year at Festy and getting to collaborate with Louis Hampton and perform as The Roots at the Mockstar’s Ball. This year challenged us personally and collectively in the best and worst ways and I would be foolish to think 2017 will be any calmer. However, we enter 2017 one step closer to being what our buddy Andy Waldeck would call “bulletproof.”
Bram, Kai and Henry
P.S: Feel Good Album of the Year: Anderson Paak: Malibu