So I guess some sort of explanation is in order, to account for my absence from the music world and my whereabouts lo these many months. Fans (all three of ’em!) want to know.
Short answer: poverty.
After I released my first one man band LP in 2005, I had a good run of constantly either playing shows, touring, recording, or saving up my money and vacation time at the day job to do more of the same.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a day job, and most of the musicians who I love have had day jobs. Yeah, I like the Stones and Dylan like everybody else, but most of the musicians I like made little money from their musical careers. In fact, me being a fan of your music would seem to be a guarantee of continuing poverty and undeserved obscurity.
A sampling of selected musician day jobs:
Alex Chilton – painted houses
Spencer P. Jones – last I heard, he was working in an art supply store between tours
Pat Todd – warehouse
Andy G. of the Devil Dogs – I heard his long-running day job was working at New York City Off Track Betting.
Roy Loney – record store manager
Tim Kerr – UT’s Fine Arts Library. Worked there forever.
Jack Oblivian – paints houses
Walter Daniels – has had a number of different day jobs, the most memorable one he told me about being scaring away flocks of birds
Ross Johnson – librarian at the University of Memphis
I deliberately chose all white rock n’ rollers here. Let’s not even discuss all the black musicians who toiled their whole lives, like R.L. Burnside, or men who had to turn to other jobs after their music careers, like Professor Longhair working as a janitor. (This actually happened. Professor Longhair had to work as a janitor.) Some of the guys I listed, like Chilton, Spencer P., and Loney, were in legendary bands on major labels. So, knowing that, what hope is there for the likes of me?
When The Revelators first started out, we were talking with Steve Mace, local hero as bassist for the Untamed Youth. Untamed Youth had been on Norton (a big label in my world) and they had actually been to Europe (a big deal to my country-boy brain). So we asked Mace the rather impertinent question of whether Untamed Youth ever made any money. About two days later, after he stopped laughing, Mace stated: “You’ll never make any money playing this music – it’s all for glory!”
Years later, I remember Tim Kerr telling me that most of his musical work wouldn’t have been possible without his job at UT, what with it’s health care coverage, paid vacation days, and other appurtenances. I made a mental note.
As for my fellow one man bands, when I saw Bloodshot Bill I asked him how he could afford to be on the road so much. Turned out, he still lived with his parents. For me, moving back in with the parents was never an option. I think Bloodshot and Mark Sultan have it a little easier being Canadian and having national health insurance.
Scott Biram was supposed to be on the bill for the record release show for my first one man band single back in 2003, when he got hit by a truck. From what I understand, Scott got a big insurance settlement out of it, which allowed him to buy a house. While no longer having to pay rent every month probably helped Scott Biram become the seasoned road warrior he is today, I can’t help but think of that guy at the end of Office Space.
With no personal-injury settlements or government programs like they have in civilized countries to turn to, my only option has been to go to work every goddamn day like a schnook. My longest-running day job was as a manager at Waterloo Records. It was a good job for a young musician and record nerd to have. I got lots of records, heard lots of music, had a good time. But I could see the writing on the wall. After I used up all my accumulated vacation time (that took me two years to save up) to tour Europe, and then took a leave of absence (which I could only do once) to tour Australia, I figured the time was right to get out.
It didn’t help that I broke my arm in 2008, which meant I couldn’t play guitar for about six months. The fact that getting a simple x-ray and being told “It’s broken, don’t move it for awhile” cost about what I spent to record my last album reinforced the importance of having health insurance. Without music as a distraction, I had plenty of time to think about just what the hell I was doing all day. Then, when I got healed up, I did another European tour, in which the van got broken into and I lost whatever money I would have made plus some extra besides.
Soon after that, I started grad school.
My original plan was that I would be able to work almost full-time, go to school part-time, and still play some shows. But, it turns out that working full-time while going to graduate school takes up a lot of your damn time and creative energy (who woulda thunk?). I also have to admit to some complacency, because I’m actually pretty happy with my two one man band LPs. With the Revelators, we broke up to soon, and that lit a fire under my ass. With the Hard Feelings, I was never completely satisfied with the records we recorded, which drove me to keep trying. But my two Voodoo Rhythm albums are pretty representative of what I sound like live, I’m happy with how they turned out, and still most people in the world have never even heard them, so why record more? Admittedly, this attitude hasn’t done much for my musical productivity.
Back in 2006 or so, when I was first planning on going back to school and getting out of the record-store trade, I knew the retail music industry was in trouble, and I could see the housing bubble and some underlying structural problems in the economy, but I didn’t quite foresee the complete collapse of modern capitalism. Turns out, I might finish graduate school and not be able to find any better job than the ones I had before I started. We shall see.
I will finish school by the end of the year, at which point I hope to start playing out again, record another album, and do more tours. In the meantime, here’s a newly re-designed website and blog for ya. My old site was getting a little long in the tooth, anyway. I hope to post some new songs, videos, and written screeds as time allows. Watch this space.
Yours in art and labor,