Monthly Archives: March 2012

List Your Top 20 Favorite Bands – Music Listography Pt.1

In a recent post I said I could timeline my entire life based on the songs and albums I’ve owned. Well, the other day I came across a book called Music Listography. It’s actually a fill-in journal that lets you chronicle your life in playlists. I decided to make the purchase and thought it would be fun to answer the questions right here on the blog from time to time. I also thought it would be cool for you to comment with your own answers or make an opinion on mine, so don’t be shy. You can order your own copy of the book at Amazon.

So the first is “List Your Top Twenty Favorite Bands.” For me, this includes not just bands, but, solo artists too. My answers were filled in as they naturally came to mind, so they aren’t technically in any specific 1-20 order per say. Also, as a songwriter it’s hard to not let “favorite” and “influential” clash, but overall I think the list came out to be pretty accurate, they’re all regulars on the iPod. Also, at the bottom you’ll find a video for each artist and a short explanation on why they made my list. Enjoy.

The Beatles: Even though they had already been around 30 years before I discovered them they’re the band I grew up with. I was about 11 years old when I got my own copy of Revolver and they’re the band that made me want to play guitar in the first place. Before I even knew a chord I would hide away in my room and pretend to be a Beatle, fake strumming, lip syncing. I even remember writing down Beatle lyrics in a spiral notebook in 6th grade and taking it to school to tell fellow classmates they were my songs. How is that for plagiarism? Even now the Beatles catalogue inspires me. For me it has far surpassed being “just good music.” It’s a way of life in the music world. Recording techniques, audio engineering, song craft, there is simply no end to the amount of information you can absorb in The Beatles’ World.

The Beach Boys: I didn’t really get into The Beach Boys until 2006. I knew all the basic hit songs but when I finally bought Pet Sounds it opened up a whole new appreciation for the band. The problem is I am what they call a “completionist,” so when I get into a band I have to buy all their albums. After Pet Sounds I had to hunt down every Beach Boy album from 1962 on up through the not-so-prolific 80’s and 90’s albums (John Stamos singing “Forever” anyone?). Long story short, after catching up on 40 years of Beach Boys music over the course of 2006 they found a home as one of my “new” favorite bands.

Sam Cooke: Sometimes I get distracted on iTunes and sample songs all night. The “Listeners Also Bought” suggestions can keep me entertained for hours. That’s how I discovered Sam Cooke. I’ve always loved oldies music, I think because my 5th grade teacher used to listen to oldies radio during class. When I started going to through the iTunes samples on Sam Cooke: Portrait of a Legend I found out he was behind many songs I always loved but never knew who sang them. But aside from the music itself, that voice. If I could choose a voice to sing with the rest of my life that would be the one.

The Rolling Stones: I only recently started to appreciate the Stones. Maybe I avoided them for so long because I always heard that “You’re either a Beatles or a Stones fan” and I chose Beatles growing up. I also think hearing “Start Me Up” at every sporting event I ever went to kept me away as well. Now I can appreciate the Stone’s raw energy on their earlier albums. You don’t get rock and roll like that with The Beatles who definitely had a more polished presentation.

Bob Dylan: I think as a songwriter it was inevitable that I end up listening to Dylan, he’s simply THE songwriter, period. At the time of his arrival it wasn’t very common for a performer to sing their own songs. Sinatra, Nat King Cole, even Elvis chose songs written by others. Dylan, while he did have others singing his songs, performed his own material and was the first to really do it successfully in the pop world. I would say he’s responsible for the term “Singer/Songwriter” which is practically it’s own genre of music these days.

Paul McCartney & Wings: The other songwriter of our time, Paul McCartney, has been an idol of mine for many years. I couldn’t think of another entertainer who has accomplished so much with their life. I got to see him perform live twice and if you watch the Back in the U.S. concert DVD (and don’t blink) you might see me in the crowd singing Hey Jude. The Ram album is definitely one of my all time favorite albums and due out for a deluxe reissue this year, I’m stoked.

The Monkees: The first concert I ever went to was The Monkees 1987 reunion tour. I must have been about three or four years old but I have vague memories of being there. With the recent passing of Davy Jones there’s been a small surge of Monkees interest online. I’m glad a new generation can discover their music as I’ve always believed they deserve more recognition. The irony of the Monkees story is that everything people scolded them for over the years is exactly what the industry has become. The manufactured image is standard now. The difference is even though The Monkees started out manufactured they proved themselves to be a legitimate group with their own vision in the end. Check out the album HEAD.

Nat King Cole: By now you’ve probably noticed my favorite music is not of recent years. That’s not to say I don’t listen to new music, but when it comes down to my absolute favorites I prefer the classics. Nat King Cole is classic and for my money has one of the most endearing voices of all time.

Michael Jackson & The Jackson 5: When I was between the ages of nine and eleven Michael Jackson was my world. I danced like him, I had all his albums on cassette, I wanted to be Michael. At the root of my being an entertainer you would find Michael Jackson. There’s no reason to even explain why he’s in my list as I’m sure he would be in anyone’s list, so I’ll leave it at that.

The Who: I think I became a fan of The Who after watching a video tape of The Kids Are Alright. What young kid wouldn’t think Pete Townshend’s windmill guitar playing wasn’t cool? I sure did. The Who Sell Out is another one of my favorite albums.

Del Amitri: Wow, a band post the 1960’s on my list?! Yep. In America if you are to ask someone if they’re a fan of Del Amitri you’ll most likely have to sing their hit “Roll To Me” to better explain who you’re talking about. In my opinion they’re one of the most underrated pop bands in recent time, unfortunately I don’t think they’re together anymore. Justin Currie, who now has two great solo albums out, is one of the most talented songwriter’s I can think of and heavily influenced my work in Five Times August. Hatful of Rain: The Best of Del Amitri was probably the most played CD I had in high school.

Oasis: In eighth grade I couldn’t get enough of Oasis. I knew virtually every song on guitar, collected all their albums and singles, and even got an Epiphone electric guitar like Noel Gallagher’s.

Harry Nilsson: For many years I remembered seeing a cartoon as a kid that featured a little boy in a pointed hat. I never knew what it was until my Mom told me it was called The Point and she bought the movie for me on VHS. Both the story and the music in the film were written by Harry Nilsson. It’s a great children’s story album and probably another of my favorite albums. Nilsson has a lot of great and creative music to look into.

David Gray: I used to go to Virgin Megastore and listen to new artists on the listening wall. I found David Gray’s White Ladder there and thought the sound of acoustic guitar and piano with programmed beats was completely bizarre. I think I went back to the mall on three separate occasions before I bought the album, I guess it had to grow on me. Sure enough I became a life long fan.

Fleetwood Mac: When I first heard Lindsey Buckingham play “Big Love” on the album The Dance I think my life changed. That is an iconic performance for me and completely opened the doors to what one person with a guitar could do. It sounds like six guitars playing at one time. The band, before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined, went through so many variations and actually started out as a blues band. The Pious Bird of Good Omen is my favorite of their early years.

Ben Folds (Five): I saw Ben play solo in 2002 and after the show waited to meet him with other fans outside the back of the venue. I was just starting out and gave him a copy of my first album. He actually amused me for a moment and complimented the packaging and then put the CD in his front jacket pocket. Whether he listened to it or not, who knows, but I always thought it was nice of him to acknowledge it for as long as he did.  How he handled the fans after the show made a big impression on me. He stayed as long as he could and talked to just about everyone before management pulled him away.

Sting & The Police: One of the first Christmas presents Kelly got me was The Police: The Complete Recordings boxset. I always love when a small group can get such a huge sound. In the studio it’s one thing but doing it live is another. They’re a great live band and wish I could have seen the reunion tour back in ’08.

Wes Montgomery: It’s taken me a long-long time to get into Jazz music. When I started checking out the jazz guitar greats I found a lot of qualities in Wes Montgomery’s playing that I had already been applying in my own style, mainly playing in octaves, a  technique he innovated and was known for. In addition to Wes I’ve also been listening to Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Pat Martino, and Joe Pass – to name a few of my ‘new’ favorite Jazz guitarists.

Billy Joel: I’m surprised I almost ran out of space on the list before thinking of Billy Joel. He’s a very relevant figure in my musical landscape. When I was a kid I used to listen to An Innocent Man and The Bridge on my walkman on the bus ride to school. Apparently I listened to those tapes so much that when I ran into a guy I went to elementary school with years down the road he remembered me as “you used to listen to Billy Joel all the time on the bus.

Duncan Sheik: When I started writing my own songs I aimed to write like Duncan Sheik. His music is mature, you can tell there is thought put into it. Like David Gray and Justin Currie, Sheik is a consistent writer. If you like one song he’s written you’ll like them all. I’ve always aimed for that with my own music.

So, who are some of your favorites?

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I Used To Travel Around in a Van and Play Music

While Kelly was pregnant with Dylan it seemed the question people asked most was “Are you scared about becoming a parent?” I could always answer easily with a swift “Nope!” I’m  really proud that I’ve walked into fatherhood feeling so confident, but, that’s not to say I didn’t sit in deep thought many times over the pregnancy and wonder how having a baby would affect my music career, especially during such a huge transition. I spent ten years building something successful out of Five Times August and I could just as well keep going with it, but, my gut says it’s time to expand my talents and try new things under a rebranding. But man, to start from the ground up all over again, at THIS point in my life?? What kind of musician does that?? Especially during this economy! Well, apparently me, I do.

Over the years I’ve seen several friends gracefully bow out of their musical aspirations upon having a baby. I certainly don’t blame them, there’s a lot of pressure at that time to come back down to earth and get one of those “real” jobs. If it’s tough making it before the kid it certainly isn’t going to be any easier once they arrive. When we found out we were pregnant I didn’t even really have a new direction yet, just scattered songs in a bunch of styles, trying to find myself musically again. I was worried that this would be the culmination of ten years “doing the music thing” and those new songs I had would eventually just dissipate after losing myself in parenting. I began to have visions of myself at 40 walking in on my son’s first garage band telling stories of “You know guys, I used to travel around in a van and play music,” trying to sound cool and hip but ultimately getting sighs of embarrassment. “Daaaad… come oooon… get out of here!” I don’t want to be that guy, I can’t be that guy. Not to say my son won’t be embarrassed by me at some point in his life, that happens to even the best of parents. I would just rather embarrass my son with stories along the lines of “You know, when I won my first Grammy…”

Yeah, maybe the Grammy thing is shooting high, but you have to think like that. That’s what makes us dreamers. Not only that,  you have to be confident that dreams can come true if you are seriously working at it. Whether you are an actor, singer, dancer, you almost have to have a certain amount of personal arrogance deep inside you to help push through it all. Do I think I could actually win a Grammy one day? Hell yes. Can I start an entire music career over and do it even better than I did the first time around while raising a new baby? I can and I will. I think that’s where fear subsided for me by the time Dylan arrived. I realized I am perfectly capable of living a dream, I’ve done it for ten years already and have been extremely fortunate to do it with my best friend and wife. We just get to bring the baby along for the ride now, that’s the only difference.

I think one of the major reasons I had any doubt to begin with was that I never felt like making music was my job until this very year. It dawned on me that one day people were going to be asking my child “What does your daddy do for living?” and he will inevitably answer in basic fashion “He sings and plays guitar.” It’s only taken me ten years to realize this is what I do. I’m sure the “job” title of it all has been masked by the fact that I love what I do. I also think most people do not acknowledge being a songwriter or musician as a real job. If you are a fledgling artist of any kind you’ve undoubtedly heard somebody along the way ask “Don’t you think it’s time for you to get a REAL job?” That sort of thing rubbed off on me for many years. I always felt like I was an aspiring amateur and never noticed the point of becoming professional. It didn’t matter what I had accomplished, it was all irrelevant. The mind game is that to the average person, if they don’t know who you are then you aren’t anybody to them, and when you are trying to be somebody, well, you feel like nobody.  It finally caught up to me that it didn’t matter who knew me or didn’t, I’m somehow doing it and that speaks for itself.

I guess what I’ve come to conclude is that if you have high hopes and aspirations for yourself in whatever skill, activity, hobby it may be and you aren’t quite where you want to be by the time you have a baby you can use them as inspiration to keep going instead of calling it a day. Maybe that sounds easier than it actually is, everybody is different. But, my advice is to try your best not to let anything stop you, not even the biggest life altering event of your life! It will be worth it when you succeed. You’ll be able to tell your child they can do whatever they want and be whoever they want to be in life and truly mean it because that’s exactly what you did.

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Speaking of New Beginnings…

On February 16th (5:12 p.m.) I became a dad. My wife Kelly (she did all the work) delivered a healthy baby boy we named Dylan, giving us both each an all access pass to the Spit Up & Dirty Diaper Clean Up Club. As messy as being a parent is we’re both loving it so far, no complaints. Granted, we’re tired and exhausted with the little guy’s current schedule, but I think our experience touring has prepared us for the whole sleep deprivation thing. We’ve spent countless hours driving from one show to the next with little rest. Ten hour drive days, performing a show that evening, five more hours on the road afterward, spending the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot, sleeping in the back of the van, oh yes, we have lived a glamorous life. But really, that same “on the go” mindset is the same with a newborn, it’s a marathon cycle. Instead of “drive, play, eat, drive, sleep, drive” it’s “feed, burp, change, swaddle, clean, sleep, feed.” Not to make it sound easy or anything, of course it’s really not. But, like being on the road, we are embracing every moment and consider ourselves lucky to have the life we do.

So new baby, new music, it’s definitely been a transitional year for us… well, make that two years. Toward the end of 2010 Kelly and I made some heavy decisions. They were the kind of decisions some might refer to as “crazy ass,” but we like to think of it more so as plain commitment to living out our dreams. Having spent so much time on the road, having spent all our time, money, and effort on our making music a career, we thought it was time to literally put everything on the line to get us to that next level we’re always striving for. So, we put our house up for sale, sold almost all our belongings (furniture, the tv, the baby grand, our cherished van, etc.), and bought a RV to live and travel in. We figured we usually spent 8 months of the year on the road anyway, we’d just be simplifying things anyway! Plus, it would only be an upgrade from the van, you now, having a real bed and all. The plan was to just live that way for the next two years, rough it, save some money, and hope the crazy risk combined with our usual work hard/ can do attitude, that fate would pull us toward the next big break. That’s basically how it has always worked for us… “Let’s decide to do this major thing right now and we’ll figure everything else out later.”

Well, due to the poor housing market we were unable to sell our house. We did, however, manage to rent it out on a year lease. In fact, if you want the whole sell/rent story, HGTV filmed it all for an episode of My First Sale, keep an eye out for a re-run. Fast forward to living in the RV. We really enjoyed it and it’s a time in our life together I don’ think we’ll ever forget. We found ourselves in some beautiful weather and scenery, it was my first time to actually really see the stars at night in an open sky. Unfortunately, on the other hand we spent most of the tour up North during the coldest parts of winter. Most RV parks were closed for the season so it was really hard to stay at many other places than our trusted Wal-Mart parking lot. One night we were even stuck in negative 20 degree weather. It was so cold the condensation on the windows began to freeze INSIDE the RV. Yep, we could have died, but hey, I had a show to get to.

I don’t know what it was exactly, maybe the fact that we both grew up and live in nice warm Texas, but as the weather progressively got colder on the tour Kelly and I became more and more depressed. We felt shut in, couldn’t really go outside or open the windows. Basically, we couldn’t enjoy our new little home on wheels the way we had envisioned. Maybe it was just the wrong tour schedule for that kind of lifestyle. Either way, nine months into the RV excursion we found ourselves flat burned out. Not from each other, not from our job, but from putting everything on the line time and time again and finally feeling stuck. We aren’t the kind of people to doubt ourselves and our abilities, but we hit a wall for the first time and didn’t feel like we were really moving forward anymore. Still, more tour dates remained. We decided Kelly would go back home to Texas and recoup. I would finish out the shows myself and figured what with all that depression filling the air there would be no better time to write some new songs in complete solitude. This would be the longest time we spent apart since we started living together in 2005 and we hated it. We were more miserable separated than we were in the cold, at least we had each other in the RV.

So, there I was alone, wrapping up the tour. I had a few days off to find a RV park and the only one I could find was completely out in Middle-o-Nowhere, Vermont. Driving there I got lost for three hours on small dirt filled back roads completely unsuitable for 33 foot RVs. When I finally found the park I discovered not only was I by myself, but the place had not turned on their water yet, there was no TV hook up, no internet, and no cell phone reception. Actually, in order to get any cell signal I had to mark a specific spot in a dirt road outside and stand there every time I called somebody. It was way more isolation than I expected and it’s ironic, but, having absolutely no distractions was a big distraction, I couldn’t even focus on writing most of the time.

Eventually my brain worked its way around to the thought of having a children someday. Kelly and I talked about it quite a few times. In fact, we always planned to name our son James (which ended up being his middle name). But, the thought inspired me to write, and within an hour I wrote a song called  “Lullaby for James.” I honestly didn’t think we would be having a baby this year, let alone specifically a boy, but, I can’t help but feel that writing the song helped summon the little guy who is sleeping in the swing across from me right now as I write this.

I’m always trying to put the pieces together, figure out why things happen the way they do. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Maybe I’m just optimistic that things will always work out so long as you do your best. Sometimes you shoot for a specific goal and find yourself at a different conclusion than you set out for. Maybe you don’t recognize it at the time, but it’s actually taking you down a better path than you were on. I like to think maybe we had to take that RV trip so we could have one more adventure as Brad & Kelly before our little unit grew. Maybe we weren’t able to sell our house because coming back to it gave us a second chance to enjoy home life for a bit, and to give us a place to raise our baby boy.

As far as being a dad goes… throughout my life I’ve seen other guitarists and thought “I could never play guitar that well.” I’ve heard plenty of songs and thought “I could never write a song that good.” But, I’ve never seen another parent and thought “I could never be that good of a dad.” In fact, I always knew I’d be a great dad, if not the best dad, so I guess my time has come. Still, it’s absolutely nothing like I expected, and I don’t think you truly know or understand the feeling until you have a child to call your own. All I know is that all the years I’ve spent chasing after “the next big thing” with Kelly, it all seems so irrelevant now. Sure, we’ll keep going after those dreams and I’ll always keep making music, I don’t think we’ll ever stop the pursuit. But, that overwhelming pressure to feel like we have to do something huge and impress people we don’t know is gone. Having Dylan, we’ve accomplished something much bigger and more important.

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