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.

“Hey Self-Defeater”

(This is the final part of a series of essays on the songs from ‘The Apothecary EP

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OK, first off, we put “Celebration, Florida” (apparently a pre-fab community) into this song well before the Felice Brothers titled their album that. Second of all, we didn’t know about the Mark Mulcahy song (which actually uses the term in the refrain unlike our song).

All of the mid- and early-20th century imagery denotes a guy left behind. His touchstones have aren’t relevant anymore. And who knows if that girl he pines after even thinks of him at all or if she’s moved on. He doesn’t relate to her intellectual pretensions or her sense of hopeful adventurousness. I hope that, like a lot of our music, it asks questions about authenticity of experience in a world of irony; the divisions between people, both real and artificial; and absurdity to the point of existentialism. (I hope.)

This song has undergone different guises from garage rocker to folky ballad. As my friend and sometime tour partner Will Levith has pointed out, the main riff could fit in on a Son Volt record. I had the music well before the lyrics, when I was listening to quite a bit of early Farrar and Tweedy.

An earlier version of the band worked on this one. We had laid it down in the studio with a distorted Stratocaster as the rhythm guitar but that didn’t leave any room to breathe so we stripped it away again. Thank god that we recorded the electric rhythm guitar direct, to kick off the song. I knew this song needed to have layers and new instruments coming and go to keep it afloat, so we added the banjo (on one that barely stays in tune) and I sat on the floor and did about nine overdub takes on the Rhodes, which really ties the whole thing together. Joe Lops created a genius electric guitar part that hangs there in a fog of reverb.

About some of the details in the lyrics:

• The Chanticleer Motor Lodge is a real place in upstate New York, near Lake George, with an amazing ’50s-era sign. I didn’t stay there but did take a picture.
• The frozen turkey comes from Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” and I always found it so sad when the main character microwaves his Thanksgiving dinner.
• My friend Alex actually used to own a French car.
• I never saw the world’s largest banjo but I briefly lived a few blocks from the country’s second biggest chair in Aniston, Alabama.
• The curly-haired boy that all the folk-singing girls love came from a combination my thinking of another friend and sometime tour mate, Dan Kaplan; and a New York Pinewood Folk Music Club concert where a young fiddle player stepped out and one could see all the girls sit up a little bit straighter looking at him. It was at church basement in Manhattan and was a memorial for a longtime member and father who passed away.
• Nelson Street is in Greenville, Mississippi and was a center for blues playing and juke joints. It’s largely shuttered now.
• The 2:19 is a reference to “Trouble In Mind,” in which the narrator pledges, “I’m gonna lay me head; on some lonesome railroad line; let the 2:19 train; ease my trouble in mind.”
• “Creole Belle” was a song that I first heard sung in Aniston, Alabama by a marine dropout alcoholic with whom I played cards. He didn’t know a lot of songs but this Mississippi John Hurt classic was one of his favorites. It’s become one of mine too. He had one of those epic southern names but I can’t remember it now.
• Where the ferry used to stop is a reference to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, though there’s a new ferry now. Greenpoint Coffee House (which closed a few years ago) had a copy of the article on the wall about when the ferry stopped running to Greenpoint before World War II.
• Red Hook, Brooklyn has a loading dock with a sign that reads, Welcome to American Stevedoring. I hadn’t heard the term until Gregory Mulkern explained it to me. Seemed like a good profession for this character.

We don’t play this one live anymore but it could be due for a revival at some point.