Monday, April 30, 2007
Starting on Saturday, I woke up with a hint of a sore throat and cold. These past few mornings I've awakened with it getting worse and worse. Tonight my throat is killing me, it's difficult to swallow, my voice is low and scratchy, and I my singing range spans about 3 whole steps somewhere around an octave below middle C.
And of course, my CD release show for the Best of the 20th Century album is tomorrow.
Now, I firmly believe in the old showbiz mantra "the show must go on," but if I can't sing, it's gonna be annoying and disappointing. This is kind of a big gig tomorrow. I can recall just about every CD release show for previous albums:
28 DAYS IN THE YELLOW ROOM, Christmas 1992
Well, this was my first album, so I didn't have a album release show. In fact, at the time, I didn't even know what an album release show was, or how to have one.
WHEREVER, Winter 1995
It was a full band gig with my musical pals from Portland...we played the 5th Street Beanery in Eugene, Oregon.
RECITAL, Spring 1997
Gunther Murphey's Irish Pub on Belmont in Chicago, opening for Dolly Varden, and with the Vardens themselves as my backup band!
SOUND THEOLOGY, Fall 2000
Full band super-show at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park, IL, with my awesome gang of Chicago musicians.
FIELD RECORDINGS, Fall 2001
This was a more low-key release, but I think I did something at Uncommon Ground in Chicago.
PRESENT, Christmas 2001
A Christmas bash at Uncommon Ground with Beki Hemingway.
STYX TRIBUTE ALBUM and EXTRA CREDIT, Summer 2003
My first big show as a Minneapolis resident, with a huge all star band (including my cousin Bruce!) at Bryant Lake Bowl.
PROTESTANT ROCK ETHIC, Summer 2006
Last Summer at Club Three Degrees....lame venue, lame draw, and kind of a lame show, but I had a great super-band, and it was my first show ever with a chorus of harmonizing backing vocalists (thanks Julie, Paul, and Joel!). We opened for the Fuller Still CD release gig.
BEST OF THE 20th CENTURY, Spring 2007
Well, that's tomorrow night...do you think my voice will return? I'm gonna drink more of this throat coat tea...nighty night.
I've had many occasions in the past seven days to contrast the weird extremes of my musical life. I was hoping to score some awesome reviews of my new Best of the 20th Century album in this week's local media, but all I got were some generally positive sentences in the Onion AV Club and the St. Paul Pioneer Press (which called the album "an ambitious and surprisingly coherent trip through Rundman's back catalog"). But alas, no real ranting and raving about my status as a Minneapolis rock legend. HOWEVER, the large-scale church media really pulled through and gave some huge exposure to my Protestant Rock Ethic album! Check out these glowing reviews at the Phantom Tollbooth and in the May issue of The Lutheran magazine! Yes, a not-so-subtle reminder of just who my audience really is.
But still, I'm trying to keep one foot in each realm, even though it's tempting to just slide totally into one or the other. It's hard to believe I was in California one week ago, performing in Manhattan Beach with my pal Beki Hemingway. My friend Linda, who was at the show, forwarded me some cool pix of the gig, so you dear readers could get a visual of what it was like.
And tonight I was pleased to rejoin the Michael Morris band after a couple weeks when I was away doing my own solo tour. Michael's friend Steve has assumed the bass player role, and is doing a fine job, allowing me to return to my post as auxiliary instrumentalist. Tonight I rocked the mandolin so hard I broke an "A" string, and also had the pleasure of playing Michael's vintage 1958-era Gibson electric guitar. Pretty sweet, dude! All this, plus our cohorts in the excellent band Fuller Still were on the bill as well, so I got to join them on mandolin. A fun night for all, but obviously a very different environment and situation compared to last Sunday. Ahh well, variety is the spice of life, or whatever. It's a strange musical journey, but never boring. Yawn...okay, I shall attempt to fall asleep.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
After being gone for 10 days on my California tour, I was thrilled to come home to Dawn and the kiddos. Of course, my normal life involves 10 hours per day of solo parenting of my 3 year old son Paavo and my 6 month old daughter Svea, so yesterday (Monday) I was back in the Daddy role full-time. Both kids seem to have matured a LOT since I last saw them. 10 days is a long time when you're a baby/pre-schooler. The three of us had a great reunion day, and we utilized the awesome weather to hit the Lake Calhoun Beach in Minneapolis.
Paavo had a great moment that made his musician-Daddy proud. I had Svea laying across my knees, and she was hanging her head upside down looking around and smiling. Paavo stepped back, checked out her position, and said "She looks like a lap-steel." That's my boy!
Here's me with my hosts Mollie and Maggie in Roseville. We've got a nice tradition going now...every time I visit, we go to In-N-Out Burger for lunch. As a cheeseburger expert, I must say that this place is darn good, but still, nothing beats Culvers.
Oh, and here's the long-promised photo of my receptive audience at that first gig two Saturdays ago in Roseville. You guys rocked, indeed. Bet you've never heard "O Morning Star How Fair And Bright" and Neil Young's "Helpless" at the same show before. Thanks again to Justin Roberts and Liam Davis for joining me at that show!
Next in line you shall see my left cheek and nostril with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Yes, that' some sort of huge battleship out at sea, thanks to the close proximity of Camp Pendleton. That night I spent in Oceanside was interesting...the beachfront downtown area goes from a touristy mecca in the daylight, to a military party town in the evening, to an all-out Snoop Dogg gang-turf zone at night. Later that week a San Diego native found out where I had been and he said "You walked around downtown Oceanside at night??! Not a good idea." Well, I made it out without incident, but I must admit I was getting some funny looks from the locals.
Finally, the last photo features me with my fabulous guest musicians that joined me at my noontime concert in Manhattan Beach just a couple days ago. That's the aforementioned Beki Hemingway on the left, and then we have my former-Chicagoland musical friends Linda Good and Kat Parsons! Both Linda and Kat are amazingly talented singers and musicians, but what I really respect about them is that they really live out their vocation. When we all were living and gigging in Chicago, Linda and Kat packed up their stuff and moved to Hollywood to be real rock musicians. Years later, they're still in LA, singing, writing, performing, recording and doing the real thing! Lots of folks talk about moving out West to "be a star" but few people actually take the steps necessary. Linda and Kat are great inspirations to me...they're the real deal. And yes, they've got the talent to back it up. SO, I was thrilled to have them backing ME up on Sunday..."Workin' my Committee" had triple doo-wop girl back up vocal support, and Linda was exquisite on grand piano for a cover of Crowded House's "It's Only Natural" and Annie Lennox's "Little Bird."
Right now it looks like I might be back in California next February, so perhaps I can reconnect with some of these wonderfully cool people and places.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Here's me with my San Diego pals back on Tuesday: Andrea the violinist, Tim the surfer, Erin the Reverend.
Here's me out on the pier in Oceanside, Tuesday night sunset.
Beki tonight with one of our lifetime heroes of music, Sam Phillips. Sam was amazing and so unique and delightful, as always.
And finally, tonight I got to meet pop songwriter/guitar genius Marshall Crenshaw! Of all the artists the media has compared me to, Marshall is the name I'm most likened to. And I'm thrilled to be grouped in with him. This evening he rocked on the great songs "You're my favorite waste of time" and "Whenever you're on my mind." Here's me with Marshall and Beki.
This songwriting expo has been very good for vocational perspective and creative inspiration. And it's quite amazing to get to rub elbows with folks like Rhett Miller, Jimmy Webb, Holly Knight, Jackson Browne, Dan Zanes, etc.
Friday, April 20, 2007
I just got an email from somebody whose church will be hosting me as a guest musician for a Sunday morning worship service sometime in the next few months. The person was concerned and wondering why their church and date is not listed on the TOUR DATES section of my www.jonathanrundman.com webpage. I think they were maybe worried that I had forgotten that I had committed to be there.
Well, I know about the gig, but I actively chose not to list it on my TOUR DATES page. In fact, usually when I play for a worship service or evening Lent service, etc. I leave it off the calendar. So I replied back to the concerned emailer, and tried to explain my reasons. As I wrote the reply, I realized that it's very difficult for me to explain why I don't include these appearances on my calendar....and usually I have a good clear answer for most everything.
I can hear the wheels turning in some of your heads already, as you think:
"He just doesn't want to be thought of as a 'worship musician'!"
"He's ashamed of playing church service gigs 'cause they're so un-cool!"
Well, I play a ton of gigs that I don't list on my calendar. In fact, when I get home from this tour I'll be playing a series of shows for my local School District and the pre-school classes, but those aren't listed. And I've got some youth gatherings coming up, but those aren't listed either. And, I've got some club shows as a guest for other bands where I'm choosing not to list them as well. But it's also true that I don't want to be thought of as some traveling "worship leader"....that's the Pastor's job. I see myself as more like a traveling organist who just happens to play guitar most of the time.
I guess it all comes down to what I feel like is a true "concert." Those are the events where I feel comfortable inviting anybody and everybody to attend. And I see a concert as really about ME and what I'm interested in playing....and when I'm playing at a Sunday morning worship service, obviously the focus is (and should be) on something OTHER than me! Below is the reply I wrote to the concerned emailer....you can determine if the logic makes sense:
I don't usually list Sunday morning worship services on the webpage because they're not really "concerts"....it's not a usual "performance" where I'm just playing anything I want. I always feel like on Sunday morning I'm there to add to the worship service and serve the congregation, so it feels somehow weird to me to hype up my own "guest appearance!" Plus, sometimes I only do a couple songs at Sunday morning worship, so I don't want to mislead anybody into thinking they're coming to a concert, only to find me doing just a couple songs, and having the whole congregation there, the Pastor with a sermon, etc.
Of course I realize that worship services are open to the public and it would be great to have a lot of people attend, BUT it always feels a bit strange for me to push and sell my own appearance at a worship service.
BUT, I'm fine if the congregation itself wants to advertise my appearance as a guest musician! That way it's in the perfect context, and the congregation can direct the way that my presence is presented.
I've never had to put these thoughts into print before, so I hope it makes sense!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
By 2PM I was back on the 101 freeway. Rolled in to Hollywood (after listening to Mute Math on the car CD player) at around 3PM. I had a few hours before the ASCAP Pop Songwriting Awards to hang out at the corner of Hollywood & Highland, so I sniffed around the big honkin' shopping mall, checked out Kenny Loggins' star on the Hollywood walk of fame, saw a guy dressed like Darth Vader at Grumman's Chinese Theater, and realized how much this neighborhood has evolved since I first visited here in 1990. It used to be dirty and grungy, but now it looks kinda like Everymall USA. Hmmm...isn't there a song about that?
I was hoping for a celebrity sighting, and sure enough, the FIRST person I saw when leaving the parking ramp was actress and Madonna-friend Debi Mazar (did I spell that right?). At least, I'm about 95% sure it was her.
I waited in line for regsitration for this ASCAP Expo got my "badge." Once I was officially signed in, I realized I only had about 30 minutes to get ready for the awards show. I descended down to the 3rd level basement parking ramp to my private dressing room (Ford Focus rental car) where I took off my normal clothes and put on my dressy shirt and pants. Had a few free minutes, so I hung out in the hotel lobby looking for celebs. Saw the cowboy-hatted guy from the Country-Leppard band Big & Rich. Then I went upstairs to the Kodak Theater.
I was there early enough to get seated in the first row of the balcony! On either side of me were two women, both about 40 years old, and both seriously into musical theater and opera. They giggled and talked right over me as I sat trying to mind my own business.
Eventually the Awards Show began, and it was very interesting. Here are some celebs I got to see!
Johnny Rzzznikkskmzz from the Goo Goo Dolls
All American Rejects: decent songs, awesome lead vocals, VERY rockstar. The singers low-rise jeans were SO low, he showed his crack to everyone. Seriously...it was visible on the big screen.
Anna Nalick: decent, but her "Breathe" song rips off the melody of another song and bothered me
3 guys who wrote a hit for Keith Urban: pretty good, but the lyrics were cheesy
Nick Lachey: the surprise of the night...his song was pretty good, and his singing was AWEEEESOOOME. I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's true. The guy can SING.
As a whole, I felt conflicted. The experience was simultaneously glamorous and ordinary; inspiring and depressing; serious and ridiculous. Just when I was about to puke thanks to rapper after rapper after idiot rapper winning all sorts of "airplay awards" for songs with inane titles like "So Sick" and "Promiscuous" there was a moment of redemption. They presented Melissa Etheridge with some sort of lifetime achievement award, and Jackson Browne's presentation and Melissa's acceptance speech were really lovely and moving and positive. She's had an amazing career, and when you look at it as a whole, there is no doubt that she's worth every bit of success she's achieved.
Anyway, in general, it was totally fun. And now I'm nearby at a friend's house getting ready for bed.
Hooray for Hollywood!
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Christ Lutheran in Pacific Beach (just North of San Diego) hosted the gig, and surrounded me with a whole gaggle of Midwesterners-in-exile. It was like a little Wisconsin/Minnesota reunion on the ocean shore. One of my Wisconsinite pals, Andrea Olson, lives in San Diego now, and she brought over her violin and joined me for a few songs. Andrea is an awesome musician, and we've played together quite a few times before, but it's been a few years. It was amazing to hear violin along with these songs...especially on "Gospel Verses," "Let Us Go Now to the Banquet," and of course "The Princess Wants to Spend Her Time With Me."
Before the gig I joined my friends Andrea, Erin, and Tim on a walk down to the beach where I got to touch the water! I'm not coming this far without making some physical contact with the ocean.
After the show and some good visiting, I loaded up my Ford Focus tourbus and jumped back on the 5 Northbound at 10PM. It nearly a 3 hour drive here to Thousand Oaks, but since I was traveling at night there was nobody on the freeways. I literally drove 75 miles per hour all the way, flying up and down mountain passes, zipping right past LAX, and across Sunset Blvd and Mulholland Drive. I had no idea driving through LA would be so effortless and thrilling.
Got 5 hours of sleep last night, and now I'm on campus at California Lutheran University where I'll play at morning chapel in 45 minutes. A group of students are my back-up band and they're doing a nice job on the tunes. Should be tons of fun. Then later today, I'm off to Hollywood for a few days. Today's gonna be a wild one....this evening I'll be at the ASCAP Pop Songwriting Awards!
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Yesterday was the only day on this tour where I had no real official business/gigs to accomplish. Woke up at my aunt and uncle's house, had more Finnish coffee bread for breakfast, and hit the road at 9AM for a morning cruise across the Bay Bridge. Man, I loved having that auxiliary audio jack in the rental car, allowing me to run my iPod right into the car stereo! Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'" came on, and I played it about 5 times in a row.
I got to the airport, returned the car, jumped through the security hoops, and pulled up a stool at an airport bar where I was shocked to see TV coverage of the VA Tech shooting. One of those horrible moments like the OK City bombing, etc., where I'll probably always remember where I was when it occurred.
My flight to LA was uneventful...I love looking out the window when flying over LA and seeing all the houses with swimming pools. The Beverly Hillbillies weren't kidding. For a boy from Ishpeming, MI, an outdoor pool at a private home is still a pretty amazing sight.
After landing I picked up yet another rental car (no aux audio jack! rats!) and crawled down the 405 freeway for an hour listening to talk radio. Eventually I made it down to Oceanside, CA, where I got a hotel, walked down to the beach, and walked out to the end of Oceanside pier. Surfers were zipping around up and down the coast, and the sun set behind a giant battleship out in the sea. A gorgeous evening, beautiful weather, and good people-watching. Sat in the outdoor hot-tub, got some dinner, sniffed around Barnes & Noble, and jumped into bed for a nerve-wracking viewing of the movie United 93 on HBO. I was afraid to see this movie, but I'm sure glad I did...it's really incredible, and ultimately inspiring. Went to bed. It was a much-needed day for personal time, quiettude, and relaxation.
Woke up the next morning, which is today. I'll tell you about today later. Time to set up for the gig.
The concert was co-sponsored by Lutheran Church of the Cross (the Finnish congregration in the photo below) and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. This resulted in my favorite demographic for a concert audience: young adult seminary students, church leaders, and musicians. It was a BLAST. The fun was compounded by the presence of some musical friends of mine, Eric & Stephanie Luedtke (drums, bass) and Hans Peterson (vocals) who became my band with barely a rehearsal and did an awesome job playing along on a whole pile of songs. Here's my rough memory of a set-list from Sunday night in Berkeley:
were you there
workin' my committee
o morning star
glory in the highest
hey hey samuel
we're creating monsters
Jonathan with band:
the serious kind
lamb of God
holy holy holy
canticle for departure
I think I'm forgetting a few, but that was the general idea. It's always fun to find myself in a situation where it's appropriate to play "Closed Out..." so that was a highlight for me. And there's something really cool and fun about playing "Gospel Verses" with a band...I end up channeling Buddy Miller or something. Oh, and it was a VERY rare occasion where the band was familiar with "Holy Holy Holy" from the Heartland Liturgy, so I really enjoyed that.
After the gig, Eric, Steph, and Hans joined me at a cozy little cafe for some food. One of my favorite parts about being a musician is the after-party, and this was a good one. We caught up with all the changes in our lives these past few years, and discussed other important things like vocation, life in California, and the unbeatable rocking-ness of Liz Phair.
Then I went back to my aunt and uncle's house for more Finnish coffee bread.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Time to cross the Bay Bridge and catch my plane to LA. More later....
Got up this morning at 6AM to eat giant waffles with the Herlocker family, while listening to the Best of the B-52s...these Californians love their '80s new wave.
Played the Heartland Liturgy with the folks at Bethel Lutheran Church. They've been using the music for quite a while and really had it figured out. A couple parishioners told me they could see me getting misty-eyed when I'd start a song and the entire group would begin singing loudly, clearly, and confidently. It was a powerful thing...made me feel not just like a singer/songwriter or guitar playin' dude...I felt like a COMPOSER. Also met some more wonderful folks, including many fellow Finlanders, and Yoopers-in-exile.
Finished up my time in the Capital City with the ritualistic pilgrimage to In-And-Out Burger, a restaurant that we don't have in the Midwest. Here's a picture of me with my pals Mollie and Maggie...they got me my own paper hat.
Got back in the rental car and rolled on down the highway back to the Bay Area. The gig in Berkeley tonight was quite exhilarating, fun, surprising, and delightful. I got some cool pix tonight, but they're not ready to post quite yet, so I'll try to do it tomorrow. Tune in later for details of tonight's show...
My brain is fried, so I must go to sleep. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful day. I'll close with a good line from the sermon I heard this morning:
"Resurrection only works on the dead."
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Got up this morning at my aunt & uncle's house. Enjoyed good family time, and changed the strings on my guitar for the first time in about 6 months. What a difference that made! I'm really lame about changing strings...I use the Dee-A-Dairy-O color-coded medium gauge. I guess they sound good, but what I really like is the color coded system of string identification.
Drove to Sacramento through the rain in my rental car, and used the new-fangled aux-input to run my iPod right into the car stereo. Rock! No need for the El Krapo FM iTrip transmitter. I rolled NE on Interstate 80 listening to the iPod on shuffle, and the greatest moment was "Borrowed Time" by Styx, a song I've always loved, but today it rocked me to the depths of my soul. When they were good, they were G O O D.
After meeting up with my pals the Herlocker family in Roseville (and lunching at delicious Panera Bread Company, where "I pick two"), we had the rare opportunity to go into Sacramento to attend an afternoon performance by my friends Justin Roberts and Liam Davis, on tour around the country in support of Justin's critically acclaimed albums of kids' music. I even got to sit in on harmonica for the song "Tickle My Toes." The 300 pre-schoolers in attendance were waaay into it. Here's a pic of Liam on drums, me on harp, and Justin on guitar.
We zipped back to Roseville to set up for my concert later in the evening. It's great to be back...I played here at Bethel Lutheran Church for the first time two years ago, and it's been cool to see some of the cool stuff the congregation has been doing with music, art, etc. Tonight was the first show I ever played where the congregation had copies of the new red hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, in the pews! I was excited to play the awesome song "Let Us Go Now, To The Banquet" by Guillermo Cuellar, a composer who I got to hang out with back in Minneapolis just a couple days ago. Some of the other songs on the set list tonight were:
were you there
workin' my committee
the serious kind
hey hey samuel
carol of the bells
A super-highlight of the gig was that Justin & Liam, who I played with earlier in the day, drove out to my gig and did some songs with me! We wrapped up the evening with these cool tunes:
Noah: a Justin original
Helpless: Neil Young cover tune with Liam on lead vocals and piano
California Dreamin': a perfect tune for three pale Midwesterners to sing as they tour the Golden State
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Lookin' For: done in Bakersfield Honkeytonk mode....like Jonathan/Justin/Liam covering Buck Owens covering U2
All Praise to Thee My God This Night: a lovely lullaby/benediction written by Thomas Tallis 500 years ago, and number 565 in the new cranberry hymnal
It's a very rare occasion for me to be playing the same town on the same day as some of my touring-musician friends, and to have the chance to guest at each others' gigs....now, that's incredible! Thanks Liam and Justin for rockin' the Capital City with me today.
Also...a woman named Bethany came to the show tonight with her family. Check this out: she had seen me play here in Sacramento on my tour with the legendary West Coast Boys in 1990! AND she saw me playing at a convention in San Jose in about 1995! Few people have witnessed my performances across such a span of time. Pretty cool.
One more thing: the folks I'm staying with just got the first season of the early-70s TV show "Emergency!" on DVD. I remember liking this show when I was in Kindergarden, but I haven't seen it since. It's a pretty good show!
Saturday, April 14, 2007
MORNING: the normal routine caring for Paavo and Svea
NOON: ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) class with the kids....I spend some time working on art projects with Paavo, then I go to a parenting class for an hour. Today's topic in the parent class: Birth Order. And, yup, according to the stats, I'm a classic first-born child. And so is Paavo, as far as I can tell.
AFTERNOON: back home, late lunch, potty accident, load the car for the airport, etc.
4PM: drive downtown listening to Best of Marshall Crenshaw CD in the car, sit in traffic on Hwy 62. Meet Dawn at her building, give her the wheel, and jump out of the car with my luggage.
4:30PM: hop the light rail train to the airport, with crowds of everyday commuters
5PM: get to the airport! Check my bag, get some food, find my gate, read Rolling Stone with Pink Floyd on the cover. I'm just not into Pink Floyd. I just don't care. I like Night Ranger much more than Pink Floyd.
7PM: my plane takes off from Minneapolis, bound for San Francisco. Turbulence is bad the whole way...there were moments of tension! But I got a lovely sunset view of Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake right out my airplane window. The flight took about four hours, and I read the entire time: I scrounged the purple section of USA Today, and read about three weeks of backlogged issues of The Onion that I brought from home. Great feature interview in the AV Club with writer/performer Mindy Kaling from the TV show The Office.
9PM California time: safe arrival in San Francisco!
10PM: I'm in my rental car, zipping over the Bay Bridge listening to KFOG on the radio...a cool station playing Friday the 13th superstition-themed songs, including "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, "Bad Moon Rising" by CCR, and "the Lucky One" by Allison Krauss. Good radio!
10:30PM: a great reunion with my aunt and uncle, Mimi and Warren Hill. And Finnish coffee bread for an evening snack! It's just like home.
I'm thrilled to be on tour, and I'm looking forward to a ton of cool gigs and events in the next 10 days. I'll try to blog often, and hopefully I'll figure out how to post some pix as well. Time for bed! Feels GOOOOD to be back on the road.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Here’s how I felt about my performance (solo acoustic) last Sunday: I was very good. I’m not trying to be an arrogant jerk, here. I’m just being honest, and speaking as somebody who’s been doing this for over a decade, and who has seen dozens (hundreds?) of performers singing and strumming guitar on stage (and I’ve had my own share of crappy performances, so I know when I’m good). I was confident, solid, very energetic and passionate, with a strong set list, my voice was unusually on-pitch, and my guitar playing was quite rocking. I felt great about the show. But here’s what ALWAYS happens when I play a rock club:
+ there was no connection with the audience
+ there was no positive vibe from the audience back at me (other than automatic, polite, mild applause)
+ nobody talked to me after the show
+ nobody bought a CD
+ I drew so few people, that I made no money
Now, some of you may be saying “What do you expect on Easter Sunday?” Well, I’ve played the 400 Bar three times in the past year on more “normal” gig nights, and each time was pretty much the same experience (made even more depressing, since the other times I was playing with my band).
I’ve played a ton of cool rock clubs in my career, from coast to coast. As I think back now, have any of them been artistically satisfying, community building, financially viable evenings? I don’t think so. So many club gigs: the mid-90s at the Colourbox (R.I.P.) in Seattle (the venue that gave us Alice In Chains, etc.) at the height of grunge-mania: crappy show. At Rudyard Kipling in Louisville, KY: less than 10 in the crowd, and joined by a drunk guy on stage who knocked over the piano bench. Schuba’s in Chicago opening for Mike Roe (of legendary Christian rock band the 77s): miserable. Taking requests for Bad Company at Charlie’s Spirits in Modesto, CA: you can imagine. The Fine Line in Minneapolis: getting the skunk-eye from the booker for bringing in so few people. Last Summer in Austin, TX at Red Eyed Fly with Zack Hexum and Brandon Rogers: small crowd of friends, but I had lost my voice. The only sorta positive club gig I can recall was a year ago at Victorian’s Midnight Café in Columbus, OH with Zack Hexum and Tom Freund (and the brilliant Lowell Michelson on drums!)...But even then, there were no CD sales and no income.
So why do I bother playing club shows? The answer is: the rock and roll fantasy. The romance of it all. To sit backstage at the W.O.W. Hall in Eugene, OR on the same ratty couch where Kurt Cobain sat. And because for SOME bands, it works: people come to the shows, the music is amazing, CDs are purchased, and some kind of community is achieved. But that’s never how it works for me, and after the gig I always wind up wondering why I even bothered.
So, here’s the FLIP SIDE, and the epiphany I had at the 400 Bar last weekend on Easter Sunday: Everything I have in my career as a full-time musician I owe to the C-H-U-R-C-H. And this wasn’t a realization of pity and resignation. It was a joyful reality check, and an epiphany in the true sense of the word. I’m so thankful for what I’ve been able to do as a singer/songwriter: I’ve got a measurable national (international?) community of listeners, I sell enough CDs to pay for whatever other recording projects I want to do, I make enough money to have never needed a day job, I write and record whatever style and/or topic of song that I want, I get decent reviews in regional and national media, and I’ve been on a non-stop verrrry-gradual upward spiral of progress for my entire career. I’ve got to count my blessings!
Here are some of the plusses of playing concerts at churches, and there are countless examples I could list from congregations nationwide:
+ dozens, hundreds (sometimes more!) of people in the audience
+ attentive, respectful listeners who pay attention to every word
+ community is achieved, sometimes in beautiful, moving, and powerful ways
+ the performer and the audience “catch the wave” in a mutual give-and-take of encouragement, fun, and joy
+ old folks, babies, kids, youth, young adults, parents, and everybody sharing music and song together
+ the people actually buy CDs, take ‘em home, learn the songs, and make the music part of their lives
+ the performer makes personal connections with audience members, resulting in relationships that can last for years
+ the performer gets PAID to be there
+ the performer’s housing, meals, and travel are usually provided
+ concerts are usually earlier in the evening, no-smoking, and with no drunk hecklers in the audience
I really appreciate these things. THIS is why I play music! It has no “indie-rock credibility” or Hollywood glamour, or punk ethos, but man, after a concert like this, there’s such a feeling of connection and community and, dare I say it, love. Wow. Church people like to call this a manifestation of the “great cloud of witnesses.”
Thankfully for me, this has been my excellent experience (due, in some part I suspect, to my travels in open and flexible Lutheran and other Mainline Protestant circles). HOWEVER, lately I’ve been reading blogs of some other church-playin’ musicians, and apparently when your church audience is the CCM-bombarded, Left Behind-readin’, cultural-isolationist crowd, they can really put the pressure on...and make the non-church rock-club scene seem pretty appealing to the musician. Click to read these interesting blog entries by Christian artists Andrew Osenga and Shaun Groves...I don’t know these guys personally, or know what their music sounds like, but the blogs are a good read! And these are the topics that come up whenever Christian musicians hang out together...I've heard it among the underground indie Lutheran bands, and I've talked about it with some movers and shakers in the Nashville Christian Machine. There's a lot of pain and searching out there, artistically and vocationally.
So, what if you were a Christian musician, and you wanted to become a Mainstream Rock Star and not have to deal with the churchy scene? After observing the rare cases who’ve done just that, I’d like to present:
JONATHAN RUNDMAN’S RECIPE FOR MAINSTREAM ROCKSTARDOM FOR CHRISTIAN MUSICIANS
1. get really talented
2. get really good songs
3. get really trendy
4. get really sexy
5. get a Christian record deal, ride it for a few years, and build a nice core audience
6. abandon the Christian record deal, get a mainstream record deal, take some of your audience with you, and skillfully downplay your churchy past
This system has worked for numerous folks, from as far back as Amy Grant, up to now with bands like Mute Math and Switchfoot (who I got to open for when they were still a young Christian band, carrying their own gear, and setting up their own merch table!).
What if you’re a Christian musician who doesn’t want to (or for some reason cannot) jump through the hoop and get that Christian record deal first? Well, you could just hit the road playing rock clubs. This system has not been successful for most people. Here are a couple of rather chilling blog posts from two faith-based musicians who’ve been slogging it out in the rock clubs for 25 years...they’re both highly respected, critically acclaimed, passionate, gifted, with small-but-rabid fan bases, experience on major record labels, and some Christian industry crossover. And these days, they’re both stressed and struggling financially, vocationally, and spiritually:
BILL MALLONEE of VIGILANTES OF LOVE: Bill has managed (thankfully) to find some hope in the struggle, but still, whew, it’s a tough story...read it here.
DOUG (DUG) PINNICK of KING’S X: Doug backed up some legends of Christian rock back in the early days, and the first albums of his band King’s X were very powerful faith-based records on big mainstream labels. But over the years, I think he saw so much hatred and nastiness from the Christian Rock audience (especially due to the fact that Doug came out of the closet in the ‘90s) that he abandoned his faith and these days seems to exist in a haze of pot smoke (which has certainly affected his accuracy in spelling, as seen below). I cut-and-pasted-and-edited the following text from the King’s X Myspace blog (sorry, I couldn’t figure out how to link his exact post), and again, it’s a pretty sobering read....all this makes me think, THANK GOD for the my church community, who allows me live out my vocation!
Before you read what Doug has to say, some of you might be wondering if Jonathan Rundman will ever play a club gig again. And the answer is, of course. I’m not gonna bust my hump to book something, but if a gig falls in my lap, or I get a chance to open for a cool band, I shall say “Yes.” It is kind of fun, in that rockstar-fantasy sort of way (occasionally), and it’s a great way to gain perspective on the not-so-glamorous realities of showbiz. (Oh, and this rant has nothing to do with my time playing in Michael Morris' band for the past few months...being a guest back-up musician is a entirely different issue! That kind of gig is nothing but freedom and fun!)
Okay, Doug Pinnick writes:
you guys are wonderful so please dont take anything I say as negative or bitching....theres no anger here....just love ...
here goes...we never fit in, no matter what we do we cant get the masses on board, and weve done everytnig there is, I now you all have suggestions of what we could do do get more successful, but we have done everything there is to do! or at least inquired about it all...we just cant get the folks on board...woodstock 94 we played for 300 thousand people, and the next week on soundscan we sold about 200 CD's .then the week later nothing to comment on....the rest of the bands on the bill, Jackel, Sheryl Crow, Live, Candlebox, stc.. sold millions!!! we got the best slot of the day, and USA today, Howard Stern, MTV,said we were the best band that day..! we sold nothing...and it changed my life....I cut my hair and almost gave up! plus I was going thru mid life crisis..I started getting panic attacks and got blinded by my self hate...
management?.. we have had people check us out and they say were doing a better job by ourselves than they could,,,after they see what we have to go thru to get a gig...and keep the boat afloat...others say were precieved as an old band and they feel they cant help us....
record companies? we tried to give Atlantic a done CD with nothing to do but throw it out there... they passed, saying they are only interested in new young bands....ALL other companies rejected us accept Metal Blade and Inside out...thank the gods for that....
booking agent?.. they say they cant get many promotes to bring us, they all think they will loose money...
Deep Purple? were trying to get on that tour, and anyother oportunity we can...but we have to pay to play, its all political....thats the way all bands are treated now, they all pay, Ozz Fest... the record companies pay to get all the bands on the tour....we dont have the $$, we opend for many bands in the past to no avail..a few new converts, but not enough...
Paul Scheafer plays Born to be loved all the time... but to get to play live on the Letterman show? practicly impossible....I wish you all could understand how impossible the situation is these days for many bands..it sucks! the rejection to KX is overwhelming in the music marketplace...you can imagine how it makes us feel.....
Christian music scene,?? yeah we could have been maybe the biggest band in christian music, but were not hippocrites, and when the christians find out that we drink, smoke weed and I am gay!, they would turn on us anyway, so why go there...that just hurts...besides that, they rejected us anyway after they learned who we were........theyre human, they hide it....were not like that, were to honest. thats why I am down on christian music...in the name of truth they live lies....thats never been me..or kingsX..its one of our biggest faults...The christian music scene was a dead end for us no matter what had happend in our career....I am agnostic now anyway, we just couldnt justify being a christian band...it just wasnt the truth...I was raised christian and have seen the christian music scene first hand...I cant be a part of it and I couldnt back then either...and were still called a christian band to this day, it wasnt kosure back then either, I remember so many people saying tat they couldnt get thier friend to listen to KX cause we were christian, even thoug Stryper were successful...now its accepted being a christian band....but were not one of those bands.....whats done is done and its the past.......
downhill career?...this band started out down hill, now were in a hole...we couldnt get the $ for a producer for years, so we did it ourselves, at least we tried....then we payed for Michael Wagner out of our own pockets....and finished the CD paying for it ourselves....we are realy trying to do the right things but all we get are walls....theres only so much we can do without money, record company support and attendance....we have maybe sold a million CD's combined from day one...!. thats not many in the real world.....and Atlantic put millions into promoting us..more than most we have had the oportunity for exposure and we got it........
I know some of you think theres things we should be doing, but trust me, we have tried or checked out all the possibiity, its just not as easy as you may think... we need all ages shows, and its almost impossible to get them...thats just fact...it sucks playing at such late times when people have to go to work or drive hours to attend....we always ask for early shows and all ages, it just dosent happen..
.bands that are successful without airplay or much promotion?,,,its a mystery, were doing what they did and here we are..
were going home from this tour broke...I get no $ when I am off tour, I have to fend for myself....thats life i guess. same as everyone else, I wish it wasnt so...
25 years of doing this with KX....even in the early days before the record deal, we couldnt get good attendance doing covers, when the other bands we competed with packed the clubs....its always been this way, we just dont appeal to the masses.....maybe if we had about 10 million to promote us??? but theres no guarantee...
were precieved as an old band in the marketplace that is well respected but not a money maker.....
bands try to take us out with them but thier management always reject us,
we may not tour for a while because if all of this...we cant...
we have made mistakes for sure in our career, but we have realy tried to do the right things.. were not the same people as we were when we started this band, and we always try to do ur best and make the best music we can...sometimes it didnt seem like it was the best effort at the time, but if you were there you would understand...
we are so thankful for the support from the faithful...we wouldnt be here if it wasnt for all of you people...the band is realy down these days, frustrated, and out of money and ideas that will work....were not young upcoming wide eyed kids anymore, and this music biz is obsessed with youth, the whole US is this way, just look around....its not over untill the fat lady sings they say... well, shes at the mike.....
I have had a wonderful adventure being in this band and being me...I have been blessed more than most..I take nothing for granted..we could go on and on about what we should do and what we haven't....but at the end of the day we have done the best that we could with what is before us.....were not done, were not breaking up....were still hoping to be the biggest band in the world....and I have many more songs in my head and on demos to throw out there for you guys..good or bad, you can decide.....I will make music as long as I can breath...
I have questioned my whole life and this bands place in the world....its still a mystery to me....this band I have invested 25 years of my life to.....and I think about my place in this more than anyone could possibly know or understand....and still dont know why no one realy gives a f*** on a major scale...and people wonder why I have low self esteem....I am one of the biggest loosers that there is...and I dont know why....no one in KX knows why it hasnt happend for us....but I will keep doing what I do because I know nothig else and I love making music....thanks for letting me ramble...thanks for hearing me out and like I said before, without you guys I probably wouldnt be alive....thanks for saving my life....I love you all.....keep the faith, its not taken for granted
Saturday, April 7, 2007
The green and red wave forms on his ProTools screen in the background of this picture are of a song we mixed this week. It's a three-track acoustic demo that I recorded about three years ago for a song that's been evolving for over a decade. Finally, the song has "arrived" and I'm finalizing a couple different recordings of it, allowing my brain to clear out the information and make room for new songs in the future. Here's an exclusive free MP3 download of the recording, a song never heard in public until now...give it a listen, and then I'll share the song's history and evolution:
"I'M A LIAR" (acoustic demo)
This song was conceived back in 1996 right after I moved to Chicago from the Pacific Northwest. It came about thanks to a very bizarre and unfortunate item that I was hearing about in the news. When you live in Chicago, local resident Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, is always making headlines. I heard news reports on radio station WLS about how Malcolm X's daughter Qubilah Shabazz had been arrested for plotting to assasinate Farrakhan. I wrote down a lyric of a chorus that went like this:
I'm a big liar like the Wizard of Oz
She's got intentions like Qubilah Shabazz
She's a minister's daughter with a sinister plan
I'm a big liar, but I do what I can
Obviously, this lyric is full of cutesy little rhymes and obscure references, which I always in enjoy when writing songs, however, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there would be something seriously wrong about writing a song like this. In the early '90s I had experimented with writing a murder ballad, and I tried to make up a good one, but the whole process just made me sick. So I had adopted a personal songwriting policy to never write a song about murder or suicide...there's just nothing cute, funny, or clever about those topics. And I still hold to this policy to this day. SO, that meant that this initial idea for "I'm a Liar" would be scrapped.
What I was left with was a "Liar" concept, and a pretty darn cool country-twang melody and guitar arrangement. I did some tweaking of the chorus, wrote some verses, but it never really felt right. I even adjusted the lyrics to be sung from a woman's point of view and did a junky lo-fi 4-track cassette demo with my friend Beki Hemingway singing the lead vocal (I don't think that recording survived...I wonder what happened to it?). But whatever I did to it, the song sounded forced and awkward and lame.
I took a couple years off from working on "I'm a Liar" until the Fall of 2000 when I recorded a whole ton of drum and guitar tracks with my brother Tim playing drums. We took a stab at the "I'm a Liar" structure, and it turned out pretty cool. I realized the key to saving the song was to genericize it, make the lyrics a much more simple country love-gone-bad story, and straighten out the melody and phrasing. Once I made those adjustments the song finally snapped into musical place, and it was done. Before I played and sang the final version of the song over my brother's drum track, I wanted to make an acoustic demo so I could learn how to best sing and phrase the song. So in about 2004 I fired up my computer and did three quick passes at the song: one with acoustic guitar and vocal, a second with National resophonic lead guitar and harmony vocal, and a third with a high vocal harmony. It was quick, it was single-takes, and it was a bit rough, but at least I had created a model for my full-band version. This recording is the demo version posted here. Finally I was able to finish an awesome full-band version of this song featuring Tim's drumming, my own guitars and bass, lap steel solos courtesy of Scott Malchow, and the recording debut of my friend Anne Lindell on viola. (The full band version of "I'm A Liar" turned out so cool that I'm gonna sit on it and keep it a secret until it can come out on a real album, sometime in the future.) A couple months ago I was scouring the session files on my computer to see just what kind of weird crap I've recorded over the past few years, and I stumbled upon this acoustic demo of "I'm a Liar." It sounded pretty darn good to me, so I did a few edits and prepared it for Scott to mix. It was so fun this week to hear Scott tweak these audio tracks...a little compression, a little EQ, a little reverb, a little automation of levels, and BOOM, my acoustic demo shapes up pretty good!
I'm pleased with the lyrics, too. They're cute, a little bit nasty, and they turn in on themselves like a linguistic mobius strip. Here they are:
I'M A LIAR
she said she was leavin' me
she started for the door
I stood up and asked my darlin' "why?"
she looked at me with disbelief
she said the reason was because
everything I say is just a lie
I'm a liar - you can take my word
I'm a liar - believe what you heard
baby, you don't need no honest man
I'm a liar - and I'll tell you the truth
I'm a liar - and I'll show you the proof
I ain't perfect, baby, but I do what I can
I'm a liar
I begged her not to leave me
yeah, I gave her quite the speech
about how my love for her would never die
and she came runnin' right on back
into my waiting arms
but everything I said was just a lie
I suppose her motivation
was to get some sweet revenge
I'm surprised she had the nerve to try
well, the road of bad intentions
it runs far away from heaven
when everything you say is just a lie
Well, what do you think? Is it really a good song, or just a helpful songwriting exercise? One of the reasons I've been excited about blogging here at Blogger/Blogspot is that is seems like a good format for releasing, explaining, and discussing new songs. In fact, an excellent example that was inspiring to me is this great blog post by my musical pal Nate Houge. Thanks to all of you who've told me online or in person that you've been reading and appreciating this blog! I'm thrilled to know there are folks all around who are checking it out.
Speaking of songwriting, in a week I'll be embarking on a big 10-day tour in California, and I'll get to spend a few days in Los Angeles attending the ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo for songwriters. I've never done anything like that before, so I'll try to blog from the road about my adventures on the West Coast. I'll get to hang out in the presence of some of my all time favorite songwriters, including Marshall Crenshaw, Randy Newman, Sam Phillips, and Dan Wilson. Oh, and Beki Hemingway too....she's gonna attend along with me, and play a very fun and long awaited duet show with me in Manhattan Beach, CA on April 22nd. So maybe that songwriting convention will give me more insight into the evolution of songs like "I'm a Liar."
Thanks for listening and reading, and as they say in Sweden, Glad Påsk (Happy Easter)!
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Went out this evening with my friend Joe to see Mute Math in concert. I first heard about this band when they were the iTunes free download a few weeks ago. I loved the free song, and filed them away in my mind. When I saw they were coming to Minneapolis I checked out their webpage and found this amazing video...perhaps the coolest video I've seen in a looong time. It's one long continuous shot, performed backwards and then the film is run in reverse.
I was interested to learn that this band arose from the ashes of the Christian rock band Earthsuit, and initially spent time themselves affiliated with a CCM record label. Apparently after a small marketing/image war, they released their first full-length CD on a "normal" major label, and are currently coping with subtle CCM baggage.
It was kind of funny to see this show...it was one of the first modern rock bands I've seen in concert in many years. I'm usually out at little clubs with no crowds to hear obscure twangy or folky bands. Usually some scruffy dudes with guitars and little amps just standing around playing songs.
Mute Math was a very refreshing change from my normal concert-going routine. These guys don't just play songs...they create an experience for the audience. Jaw dropping musicianship (especially drums!), beautiful singing, electronic effects, retro keyboards, high tech stage production, funky grooves, atmospheric washes, and high-fashion delivery. It was an EXCELLENT show and I'm thrilled I got to see it.
What do they sound like? Hmmm...how 'bout early-90s era U2 with a twist of The Police, a dash of Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver," a hint of The Doors, with an electronica influence and a singer who resembles a hipper and less fratty Nick Lachey.
But what performers! And musicians! I could go into detail, but it's wiser to just find some cool footage on YouTube. Or go hear them in your town.
Mute Math is a band that is so plainly deserving of any success they achieve. To operate and organize and maintain a band/show of this magnitude would be a colossal task. Only a band where each member was insanely dedicated to the cause could pull this off. This is not "Well, here's the song...just play along and do something cool." This is highly orchestrated, calculated, passionate, and cranking art-rock. It seems designed to work best in an arena-rock format, and I'd be surprised if Mute Math is not headlining really big venues very soon.
As soon as FrugaLent is over, I'll be taking my cash to the record store and buying the Mute Math album.
Dawn and I scored a rare date-night together this past week, and we went to the movie "Music and Lyrics." Usually Dawn and I avoid romantic comedies, but our mutual love for the leading actors Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant prompted our attendance...and the songwriting theme got our attention as well.
It was a lighthearted, fun, funny, and totally entertaining film! At the start, I was a bit worried that the songwriting plot and the actual songs themselves were going to be cheesy and bad and distracting, but as the film progressed, the songwriting process the characters are involved in turns out to be pretty darn realistic!
In the movie, Hugh is the composer and Drew is the lyricist. There are scenes where they're sitting by the piano, staring off into nothingness, just thinking and thinking. That is so much of the songwriting process, in my experience. Then some little lyrical or melodic breakthroughs occur and eventually you catch a wave. I related to a scene where Drew improves upon a lyric by changing the word "spaces" to "corners," and yes, I thought that was a better choice, too...in fact, that exact situation just happened to me:
I had written a song way back in 1993 and made various demo recordings of it over the years, but it's never been publicly released. Eventually I overhauled the lyrics and finalized a high quality full-band recording of the song, but I was unable to record the vocals because the lyric was missing ONE word. It needed to be a three syllable word with the accent on the first syllable (DA-da-da), and it needed to represent ME at the time. The stand-in word I was using just to fill the space was "traveler," but I knew I needed to find the perfect word. I experimented with other candidates, some okay, some totally lame...everything from "neophyte" to "innocent." Finally, just a couple weeks ago the perfect word dropped into my brain: "newlywed." It was ideal: totally familiar but totally underused, a perfect summation of me at the time, PLUS it's a word that's very descriptive and carries with it a ton of information.
In the "Music and Lyrics" movie, Drew and Hugh write a song "Way Back to Love" for a massive pop star (sort of a Britney Spears character), and the song is so likable and heartfelt and hooky that I'm convinced that if a teenybopper singer really recorded such a thing, it would truly be a huge hit. The quality of the song is no surprise, considering it was written in reality by rockstar and film composer Adam Schlesinger (of the bands Fountains of Wayne and Ivy). Schlesinger is a pop wizard and a master at memorable hooks. Coincidentally, his band Fountains of Wayne released their new album "Traffic And Weather" this week and I picked it up...and I think it might already be my favorite FOW album. A perfect selection of warm-weather car-driving pop-rock tunes. Adam, you're a songwriting ninja.
Go see "Music and Lyrics" and let me know what you think.