SOUTHEAST TOUR DIARY (PART 2)

The next morning we were feeling good having rested up and shared some good company. Our next stop was Good Stuff Grocery in Marshall, N.C. and we were particularly excited about getting there since we’d be passing through some great, scenic country. We wove around the twists and turns of the highway, taking in the breathtaking beauty of the geography.

Our path eventually descended down into a river valley as our road narrowed to a nice curvy two-lane. Before we left on our tour, I did a little research on Good Stuff Grocery and found a sunny photograph of a happy looking gang of people outside of what looked like a church. As we cruised down the main street, I knew we were at the right place when I saw what looked to be the exact picture from the web, but now in 3D. Turns out Good Stuff occupies an old, re-purposed church and rectory, and in the front lawn, a small crowd of folks was outside smiling at the good weather.

The grocery store is what you might call an ad hoc community and cultural center for Marshall. Not only can you get a great selection of organic foods, tasty brews, and choice wine, but you can see and hear the talent of local and touring artists. What had at one time been the altar of an old church was turned into a stage. (Pretty much the same thing, though, right?)

Nick and I set up our gear comfortably as some of the neighborhood kids admired our guitars. The proprietors of Good Stuff, Jon and Amy welcomed us like long lost sheep, as if they somehow knew we were a little road-weary and could use a sandwich, a cold drink, and some TLC. I guess they get a ton of musicians touring through, and know too well the needs of road dogs.

As we played our respective sets, bodies began filling the room. By the end of the night, there was a sizable crowd buzzing around, having a beer, or just stopping by to see friends. After the last number, we packed up and went outside for a cig and a little socializing. Some nice folks invited us up to their place for an impromptu hang around their campfire, which suddenly turned into a roaring jam session. It seemed everybody could play an instrument and had a kick-ass song to sing. I felt transported into another time. I’m still wrapping my head around it. It was deep. It was magical. Big thanks to Jim McCarthy and Sarah Alden for letting a bunch of insane musicians get loaded in their kitchen and sing their hearts out.

We headed back to Jon and Amy’s cabin which was a couple twisty turns up the road from the bonfire. I thought we had exhausted our energy supply at the jam, but it recharged us to be in the cool and rustic digs of our hosts. Their two big dogs helped hold down the floor while we conversed across an old wood-burning stove, sipping some smooth bourbon. Finally, we hit the hay and a respectable day was finally over.

Our next stop was in Johnson City, TN. Our friend, Matt Frye had just played there a week prior, so we felt like the room was still warm with some Brooklyn love. The Bluegrass Ambassadors opened the set with some fantastic playing and singing. Next, I did my solo stuff, followed by a Leland Sundries set. It was a lively crowd, so we did our best to play with as much acoustic moxie as we could muster to keep the Ambassadors’ energy churning throughout the room.

After our set ended, a duo took the stage; a singer/guitarist and a bassist. They were clearly road warriors. Stacey Fox and Brad Hacker were their names, and they normally would play in a band called Thursday Evenin Porch Choir. But even as a duo–wow! These two tore it up! It was some of the grittiest, graveliest, gruffest stuff you’ll ever hear. I was locked-in throughout their set.

Afterward there was some heavy music talk and road stories with Stacey and Brad for a good long while. All I can say is that these brothers know some deep shit and I absolutely gotta see them with their full band.

The next day, we headed out to Durham, North Carolina to The Pinhook. We chilled out on the back deck beforehand to watch trains with a friend of Nick who works with the Music Maker Relief Foundation. After rocking through our sets, a local folk rock group called Lake and Hennepin took to the stage and played some powerful tunes. We were dead tired after the set, and I think ready to walk out the door, when once again, magic smiled upon us in the form of Magic Mike Casey. To be honest, I thought I was going to get rolled. I was packing up my gear, when this dude comes up to me, introducing himself as Magic Mike, and asking if I want to see a magic trick. Of course I do, but I’m no sucker, I thought. (I kept my hand on my wallet pocket.) What can this guy do that I haven’t seen on the streets of NYC? Well, it turns out Mike did some of the best magic I have ever seen. I (skeptically) watched trick after trick; fresh takes on old standards, and this guy took it to the next level. I was laughing, Mike’s show was so entertaining. I grabbed Nick. “You gotta see this guy!” Magic Mike pulled a whole new routine on Nick, impressing both of us quite a bit with his big finish: Mike had used his magical powers to somehow get a playing card (from an earlier trick) inside of a sealed Leland Sundries album. Nick cut open the shrink-wrapping and there it was. I felt like a little kid. Thanks Mike! that was a blast.

Nick’s friend from Music Maker lived close by and gave us a place to stay for the night. We wearily unpacked some gear and then, once again, got revived checking out some new music. This time it was the disc of a Music Maker artist known as Ironing Board Sam. Positively bizarre, the powerful voice and playing of Sam, along with his pedal-to-the-metal arrangements, were almost a bit too much, but so entertaining I had to listen. Had a little moonshine with our host and then hit the sack.

—————-

We finally said goodbye to North Carolina and hit the road for The Good Cherry in Forest, VA. The gig was looking a bit strange at the outset. Like our first show of the tour, we were playing a local coffee house in Virginia, only this time, it was less “local art space” and more “strip mall.” But magic can happen anywhere, so there you go. Nick and I began to set up our gear. I don’t know how it happened, but in between taking the guitars out of the cases and starting the first tune, a respectable crowd had developed. My back had been to the room as I was setting up, so I hadn’t noticed the influx. We played our sets to a really attentive and appreciative crowd. I debuted a new one, “Coal Train,” which is the first original of mine done in a delta-bluesy kinda way, played with a moody slide in an open D tuning of my own design… Well, I’m sure someone else has tuned like that before… but I’ll claim I invented it, and you can borrow it if you want.

We found a cheap hotel to crash in. The next and last leg of our tour would be a big one and we needed the rest. We were off to D.C. to pick up the rest of the band, then make our way to Iota Club and Cafe in Arlington, VA. It was my first time in D.C. There are many imposing buildings. If you’ve been there, then you know, it looks like the government of America. The Pentagon is creepy. I thought, against all odds, I might see Dick Cheney on the sidewalk eating a messy hot dog, because that would be totally hilarious. I would take his picture and have a good laugh looking at it later. No luck. I’m sure he was there. We must have just missed him. The full version of Leland Sundries convened at Iota early in the evening and it felt really good to be back together again. Sam and Shane were in their typical good spirits. We set up our gear and ordered the house specialty designed specifically for the hard working musician: Band Pasta. Yes. It’s called that on the menu. It was going to be a good/busy night for all of us. The Torches were firing off the evening, followed by Leland Sundries, then The Beanstalk Library. The guys in The Beanstalk Library were very kind in letting us use some of their gear since we didn’t have our full amp-outfit with us.

It was the perfect gig to end the tour on. By the time we got up on stage, the crowd was good and warmed up and sweaty just the right amount. We ended with “Roller Derby Queen,” which is always pretty damn fun to rock on. The rest of the evening was spent having way too much fun at the merch table joking around with Nick’s bullhorn and our new friend, Alexia Kauffman from The Torches. We got some randoms to snap a couple pics of us outside the gig, then we loaded the trunk for the trip back to Brooklyn. It was late. We were tired. In an effort to stay conscious, Shane sang some nutty and loud pirate songs and, as we learned, knew a particularly cool sea chanty from his home town called Ellan Vannin. Stay tuned, you may hear it at the next Leland Sundries show.

-Jon

The Bushwick Sessions: “Airstream Transmission”

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Southeast Tour Diary (Part I)

The Re-Entering North Carolina Tour was a revelation. It really opened in Brooklyn, at Union Hall, with a full band show. Line check: amp humming, Telecaster plugged in, banjo making some kind of sound, harmonicas scattered. Here we go. Hit the honky tonk sound like we wanted and pushed through past a rough sea chantey, some tearjerking fare, and something weirder before we the electric again on “Roller Derby Queen” (and got a couple of girls dancing). Celebrating the new EP coming out, which had only arrived in physical form that morning. Opened for the excellent Dead Fingers, who were on their own tour going the opposite direction, and caught up with our friends from Birmingham. A late night in a diner and some frantic packing at home and half a night’s sleep and we (as duo) were off in the morning towards Virginia.

Dashed into the Mudhouse in Crozet, VA for night one on the road and threw our stuff on stage. Jon Hildenstein hit the stage first with his Telecaster and his grandfather’s ’50s Gibson. I went second. So fun to start with a clean slate in a town I’ve maybe been to once ten years ago. Paxton Henderson headlined with Tait Studebaker and they did a salon-style show with a generous serving of guests and covers. Good stuff. After the show, a pair of new friends invited us to stay at their place. Turned out that their place was parked with mountains on two sides, an incredible number of stars in the sky, a kitten named Stanley for Ralph Stanley, some fresh popcorn, and a bonfire. They were so generous and we are grateful to our hosts. Conversations are just better around a bonfire. It got pretty cold out there, too.

Woke up to a mountain view and to Stanley playing with the sleeping bags and hit the road with the Blue Ridge on our side. Our friends at Music Maker Relief Foundation had offered for us to hang out with the Piedmont-style bluesman and tobacco tractor operator Boo Hanks, who lives in Buffalo Junction, VA. We stopped in Nelson, VA at Family Foods and followed his station wagon across the street to his trailer and sat down to talk for a bit. Boo’s 84 years old, his knees creek, but his fingers bounce and dance on the strings as he sings the standard “Key To The Highway” or his own “Girls Are Crazy About Me.” He told us that the blues is three things – mistreatment, hard times, and disappointment – and that he’s had plenty of all three.

Pulled into Chapel Hill, NC (Entering North Carolina #1) starving. Broke out our cover of “Eurotrash Girl” as the finale for the first time (and the only time we got the words right and in the right order, I think) and Brand New Kind Of Photography blog has the full scoop on the rest of the show. We crashed with Reed Turchi of the band Turchi and of Devil Down Records, who makes and puts out some righteous North Mississippi Hill Country-style music. Geeked out checking out his guitars. Stole his parking pass by accident. Thanks, Turchi. Gonna send it back.

On to Atlanta in a drizzle. Got to Wonderroot and lay in the hammock in their community garden for a minute. It’s a community arts space with visual artists’ studios, a gallery, a recording studio, a venue, a garden, and future apartments for artists-in-residence. After loading in, we took a detour to Daddy D’z for ribs, collards, yams, and cornbread. Didn’t think we’d be able to move after that, let alone play a show, but there we were, back at Wonderroot, opening for Dirty Hotel Sunshine. They played a Lucero or Replacements-style set, only slightly unplugged. They had an informality and comfort onstage. We followed singer Steve LaBate back to his place to crash, listening to some 8-bit strangeness on the local college station. LaBate puts on some Byrds vinyl and we caught up for a bit before nodding off.

Part 2 coming up.

-Nick & co.

“Monitor Arms,” our Greenpoint anthem

The song “Monitor Arms” (which you can grab on mp3 over at Baeble Music) came about after I had visited the Museum of the City of New York and had learned that workers in Greenpoint, Brooklyn built the famous Civil War ship the Monitor. I thought about the rich history of my home neighborhood, as a shipbuilding center of the United States, and about how much of that history was lost in a ten-alarm fire.

As I left for work that morning in 2006, the fire was ablaze and it was still burning when I came home, which was bizarre. It burned for 36 hours, destroying 15 buildings on the Greenpoint waterfront, and was the worst fire in New York during the decade. The song takes place out of chronological order, starting with the detritus of the abandoned warehouses, then the fire, which may have been caused by two homeless men or may have been set by a ruthless real estate developer. “Monitor Arms” briefly follows the plight of a squatter who may have been framed. Then it travels back to the time when shipbuilders and sailors cavorted on cobble-stoned streets:

“Sleepy spent sailors stumble on cobblestones
Print setters and fruit stand peddlers stand alone
The barges weighed down with lime
Pushed up the canal one at a time”

I obliquely reference Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited New York in the early 19th century, as a “Parisian visitor waiting for his arm to heal.”

I wrote the music on the banjo initially, using the waltz time to evoke a sea chanty. We spent a lot of time in the studio getting this right: the build up from the nylon string guitar and vocals to the full band to the harmonies on the chorus; incorporating ideas from a low-fretted guitar riff to a harmonium together; ultimately leading to a coda that I hope evokes a sing-along of drunken sailors.

Want a handwritten postcard from tour?

Want to get a postcard in the mail from us from the road? It might come from Johnson City, TN; Buffalo, NY; Portland, OR; or Washington, D.C. Just click here and sign up for the Leland Sundries email list while you’re at it. Wish you were here!

– Nick & co.

Photo from Union Hall, Feb 23, EP release show

Photo by Zach Hinkle

“Apparition”

(This is the first in a series of essays on the songs from the new release ‘The Foundry EP,’ out Tuesday.)

I wrote “Apparition” in a cabin on the Vermont/New Hampshire line over a July 4 weekend. A rough breakup, a bottle of rosé, and that open major-7 chord full of mixed feelings pushed it right along. The narrator is a regretful character who drinks too much and doesn’t quite know where things went wrong. He is consumed by an ex-lover and only half-tries to keep himself together. The images in the lyrics are borrowed from a number of places, most notably a trip to Alaska (“float plane”), Greenpoint, Brooklyn (“O’Neil’s place” being a stand-in for an Irish pub on Franklin), a certain literary Brooklyn-based rock band (“Lucky Mr. Finn”), and a story my mom told me about the river in Cleveland catching fire (“watch the river fire unfurl”).

In the studio, we shot for a T Bone Burnett vibe but it didn’t entirely come together. We’d recorded it in the key of G and realized that the vocals weren’t quite right. We spent a few agonizing nights deciding what to do and then went for it. Then, the band re-did it in G# and it fell into place. It crystallized even further when the talented singer-songwriter Joan Hutcheson came to record background vocals on the bridge and co-producer Quinn McCarthy at the Creamery Studio finalized the arrangement.

Download “Apparition” here.

-Nick

‘The Foundry EP’ Release Show Flyer

New EP

We’re proud to announce the release date for my Brooklyn indie-folk band Leland Sundries’ 2nd release ‘The Foundry EP’ Feb 21, 2012 on L’Echiquier Records. We recorded in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in an old creamery building and I played resonator guitar, banjo, harmonium, harmonica, and vocals. We’re planning touring and videos and I’ll write an essay on each song. This time, we dip into folk darkness (a friend compared it to Nick Cave if he were fronting Bonnie Prince Billy’s band), a sea chantey written after a Brooklyn waterfront fire destroyed part of the Greenpoint waterfront, a tongue-in-cheek rockabilly tune, and some NOLA-inspired ragtime with horn section. – Nick & co.