I have been tasked with writing my biography…a new record - another publicity campaign – another jaunt across the country playing shows – another chance to reach your ears and, assuming a job well done, your heart. While I would love to thrill you with the grandiosity of my musical feats over my decade as a songwriter, I’m generally not the type to gloat about the glory of beer-soaked nights in smoky bars, seemingly endless road trips in cars that resemble (in appearance and odor) rolling locker rooms, or detailed descriptions of couches and floors on which I have slept. Besides, in depth descriptions and discourse on all of these topics can be found in the biographies of my peers. I would hate to be repetitive, or worse, shatter your image of a working musician’s life.
Suffice it to say I have played my fair share of shows across the country in smoky bars, many of which bear legendary names and many of which do not. I have shared the stage and recorded songs in rooms with many of my heroes, most of whom would not incite the smallest glimmer of recognition were I to list their names, as well as a few whose names might potentially ring a bell in the recesses of your mind. You might have unknowingly heard a song or two of mine in the background while watching TV, assuming you’re into reality television. Ultimately, none of these things will accomplish the task of telling you who I am as a songwriter and musician. So, I digress and hereby abandon the aforementioned topics.
I came into the world in 1981 which has always seemed to be a bit of a cosmic joke. Had I been born twenty years earlier, you most likely would have run into me in Los Angeles in the ‘70s playing alongside songwriters who are “more my speed” than the vast majority of my contemporaries. I am a Texan born and raised in Dallas which has always been an odd fit. However, I spent the first twenty-four years of my life there, so it will always be my home and its influence over my character is abundant, even if it’s not always apparent in my accent or political leanings.
I have been a singer since I could open my mouth and utter a tune, a gift bestowed upon me by my mother who has always had a deep love and appreciation of music. At the age of fourteen I began writing, and like most kids my age, I had a fleeting love affair with the music of my youth. Combined, the two led to my rescue of the crappiest Yamaha guitar ever made from the depths of the hall closet. By seventeen, with the help of a fabulously patient guitar instructor, I began to write and perform my own songs. I befriended many local Dallas musicians, all of whom were at least a decade my senior. With their help, encouragement, and constant willingness to distract the bouncers at the doors of various clubs and bars while I snuck in, I became a regular performer at the haunts of Dallas’ finest songwriters and performers.
At eighteen, I released my first record independently which, through a series of events that could fill hundreds of pages, led me to Los Angeles, CA. It was there that I met and began to work with the staff of Stanley Recordings. Between 1999 and 2002 I took numerous trips during breaks from my studies in creative writing at the University of Texas at Dallas to record what would become my second record, Long Way, with Stanley Recordings engineer and producer John Would. In 2002, I signed with the label which has been my musical home since. Through my friendship and work with John I was introduced to a myriad of new music (Joe Henry, Rickie Lee Jones, American Music Club…) that opened my eyes to the limitless intellectual and emotional depths that songwriting can reach when approached as a true art form. I found refuge and identity with these writers on the fringes of mainstream music. Since then I have dedicated my energy and time to producing songs that create that kind of refuge for my listeners.
In 2006, after what can only be described as an embarrassingly typical few years of growing pains (heartbreak, lost friends, marriage, divorce), I was offered the opportunity to move to Philadelphia to work at the new home of Stanley Recordings label operations. While the studio remains in California, Jeff Silberman (who, along with John Would, co-founded Stanley Recordings in 1996) relocated to his hometown of Philadelphia. During a drunken summer night Jeff offered to bring me north to embark on a new chapter of my career. After a sober conversation the following day, his offer stood, and in November of that year I arrived at the front door of Stanley Recordings East in Philadelphia.
In September of 2007 my third Stanley Recordings release Quit was ushered into the world. My long-time Texas drummer, Gabriel Martinez, was somehow convinced to leave the familiar comforts of Dallas for what he would most likely describe as “the frozen badlands of Philly” to play with Jeff and I full-time. Keyboardist and vocalist Ami Verrill rounds out the band with John flying in from L.A. to play guitar on occasion. Quit went on to receive airplay at AAA and commercial radio stations across the county. It also gave us a great excuse to play shows all across the south and northeast.
What can a native Texan say about life in Philadelphia? At the end of the day, they are different planets. There’s the miracle of waking up to snow on the ground and the reality of having to dig your car out of it. There’s the comfort of a more liberally minded environment and the adjustment to what I can only describe as “the Philadelphian mentality.” There’s the pride of a city that once knew the meaning of the word ruin and lived to tell the tale. There’s the real live cast of characters that populate my day-to-day, none of whom could be any more interesting or subversive had they been dreamed up by likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Katherine Dunn, or Tom Robbins. Having left the homogonous sprawl of Dallas, all of the things about my new home (both good and bad) have affected me deeply.
During the summer of 2008 I sequestered myself in a friend’s guest house and wrote the majority of my latest record, 11 Chances. Fueled at times by copious amounts of bourbon and an illness that left me with a fever and a series of bizarre dreams, I hammered out the skeleton of the record. The basic tracks were recorded with my band over three days in October 2008. The following month, I flew to Los Angeles to record vocals and put the finishing touches on the record with John. Now, two months later, as the release of 11 Chances approaches, I am sitting in my office in a well-worn row house in South Philly. It was once the home of Stanley Silberman (Jeff’s father and the namesake of the label). Now it houses the offices of Stanley Recordings East, Gabriel, Ami, and I call it home, and it is the place where we all make music together.
It seems to me that most modern music has devolved into bits and bytes of saccharine soaked information – a quick sugar high that decays the brain and leaves the listener hungry, yet too comatose to realize it. With 11 Chances we set out to create the opposite effect…to create a record that satisfies the intellect as well as the heart. In a society that places such high value on normality, we are an abnormal band of friends doing what we do best…making the music that we love on the fringes of a dying industry commonly known as the music business…becoming a part of the tide that will come when that industry, as we know it, breathes it’s last breath.
Philadelphia - January 26, 2009