14 March, 2011
The most important piece of furniture in the living room of my cabin in western Massachusetts isn't a comfy chair or functional table, it's a vintage radio and record player from the early 1920's. Almost as big as a modern refrigerator, it's a monument to a time when music had a physical presence that was hard to ignore. Next to it, you'll find my laptop and smart phone charging, taking a brief rest from their daily toil of communication, commerce, and yes, entertainment. Seeing them side-by-side reminds me that, while the core of what we love about music has remained constant through the years, the way we interact with it and its creators has changed dramatically.
08 March, 2011
the movie reminded me too of one of my favorite sports clips where then USC head-coach pete carroll (who got out before the shit hit the fan) brings in bill to speak to his team about the power of asking for help. i've probably seen the clip 10 times, and i cry every time.
on sunday miami heat coach erik spoelstra tweeted that some of his players were "crying in the locker room" after a season-series sweep of losses at the hands of the chicago bulls. it launched a monday morning debate about weakness, leadership, privacy in the locker room, and a coach's responsibility to protect his players.
so what if a basketball player was expressing himself after a loss, one that obviously mattered to him? why should emotional displays be limited to women? tears come from frustration, exhaustion, grief, anger, or joy. or any combination. or sometimes we dont even know why we're crying. those are my favorite tears.
when kevin garnett pounds his chest, screams to high heaven, then proceeds to dismantle his opponent, his intensity and display are lionized. tears are of the same coin, and whether it's bill withers or the miami heat, they show a whole, human man moving through the world. how exhausting must it be to maintain a masculine front, with so much going on inside?
18 February, 2011
a letter to congress that myself and some other incredible artists have signed on to.
06 February, 2011
you can watch the complete episode here.
19 January, 2011
i've been to new orleans now 8 times, 5 before and 3 after. i've been to play shows, to write, and to record an album. i've passed through with friends; i went once for a retreat with like-minded activist artists. this time i went for a novel purpose: vacation.
i did all the touristy things i never do. we rode the street cars. we ate at coop's, the camellia, and cafe du monde. we visited cemetaries and museums. we went to see brad pitt's houses he's building in the 9th ward. we walked and walked and walked. we stayed with friends. we slept alot. unconventional as it was as a "vacation" choice, we definitely got away from our own lives for a few days.
but new orleans has changed. it isnt the city i remembered from my last trip, taking small but firm steps toward recovery. or the city i had fixed in my mind from "before". it felt like an entirely different place.
30 December, 2010
it's been too long since i took the time to write a blog. i am always so full of ideas, and less full of execution. who out there in the tubes can relate?
i do want to remind regular readers that i spent a substantial portion of my fall blogging over here as part of my "distillation 10th anniversary tour". if you missed it, you can still catch up and grab lots of free music downloads.
i usually try to do some kind of year end wrap-up on the blog. 2010 was a highly varied year for me... i began it with a grueling super DIY european tour (read: lots of trains, dragging around lots of stuff), and i ended it with the "distillation" anniversary project. in between i acted in a play for the first time, joined a softball team (though i had never played before), and went on tour to alaska. for a "down" year in an album cycle, i was incredibly busy.
2011 looks to be more of the same. i wonder if this is the new shape of "making" it in the music industry? we put even more irons in the fire, more pots on the stove, start more and more income streams. however, you want to put it, creative people in 2011 are going to be doing many more little things to add up to what the one big thing used to be. that suits my restless nature just fine. more on that as we get into 2011.
meanwhile, i thought the 2010 wrap up would be some thoughts on my favorite books i read this year. i've included links to more info about them, but please consider asking your local bookseller first before you buy online.
15 December, 2010
my friends at future of music coalition have posted this clear wishlist for the homestretch of this fight. check it out here.
and i thought i would take a sec and post the comments i submitted last spring to the FCC in support of clear net neutrality rules:
Comments submitted to Federal Communications Commission in support of Net Neutrality. Spring 2010.
Hello, FCC! My name is Erin McKeown, and I have been a professional musician, writer and producer for the last 14 years. I'm 32 and currently live in rural western Massachusetts, but my career has taken me all over the world, playing an estimated 200 gigs per year.
In those 14 years, I have recorded ten albums and 3 EPs for a variety of labels. I began on my own, releasing my music via the internet and touring while I was still an undergrad at Brown University. From there, I signed to a small independent label, Signature Sounds in 1999, a mini-major, Nettwerk, in 2002, and I am currently with the indie label Righteous Babe Records. Along the way, I have performed on "Late Night with Conan O’ Brien,” "Later with Jools Holland” and have been featured in theLondon Times, the New York Times, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, on NPR and many other fine radio stations at home and abroad.
23 November, 2010
03 November, 2010
18 October, 2010
philly works. it’s that simple. my experience as a musician playing in the city of brotherly love has been the model of what’s supposed to happen, when it’s supposed to happen, how it’s supposed to happen.
early on, i got hooked up with my friend jesse lundy, who was promoting with the awesome rich kardon at the point. they believed in me when i was still a wee pup figuring out my show. they set me up in little coffeehouses and opening for bigger acts in places like the TLA, until i graduated to my own shows at the point.
one of my favorite stories ever as a musician began one night at the point. i had heard susan werner at a folk festival in the summer of 1998. she blew my mind. i began to study her records and shows like a med student cramming for boards. i found out that she lived near the point, and through friends, had contacted her to invite her to a show i was playing there that fall. i put her name on the guest list that night, and after the show, i scanned the buzzing crowd hopefully, looking for her. i didnt see her, and felt disappointed that she had somehow missed the show.
11 October, 2010
28 September, 2010
17 September, 2010
in exactly a week, i’ll be heading over to boston to do a radio appearance on WERS and play a gig at club passim as part of the Anniversary tour. i feel incredibly lucky that my first time on the famous passim stage was broadcast live and documented for posterity. i can guarantee that on that cold sunday afternoon in 1997 i was not imagining what it would be like to play at passim 12 years later, i was just thrilled for the gig.
07 September, 2010
i don’t remember the first time i played asheville, but i know i’ve been going there regularly since “distillation” came out, and it’s a town i have always felt at home in. i wanted the anniversary tour to stop in towns where i’ve built my best and biggest audiences, so asheville is a great place to kick off.
a couple weeks ago, an odd question popped into my mind. when was the last time i put on the dress i wore on the cover of my first record? hmmm, not since the photo shoot, 10 years ago. and then i wondered, does it still fit? i rummaged around my house until i found it again, in a box under a box at the bottom of a pile of sartorial bits saved from all points in my 32 years.
i’ve been planning the “distillation 10th anniversary” for a couple months now, but it wasnt until i tried putting on the dress that the anniversary became real. looking at myself in the mirror, wearing what had been so 2-dimensionally familiar for so many years, i suddenly felt like i stepped right back into the record cover.
06 September, 2010
01 September, 2010
02 June, 2010
i've been keeping a secret these last three months.
no, i'm not pregnant.
no, i'm not ill.
no, my secret is, i've become an actor. like a baby found in a cave and then raised by wolves as one of their own, i joined the august company, a local theater ensemble, and acted in their latest show.
ever since i was a kid, i've dreamt about being in plays. i never dreamt about being a musician; it was just something that happened along the way. growing up, i suffered paralyzing stage fright that kept me from performance camp or community theater. it was ordeal enough to play a concert in the middle school band or the smallest piece in my yearly piano recital.
12 February, 2010
last night i played a benefit for haiti at UMASS-amherst. i got to sing with the young@heart chorus, hang with my old friend martin sexton, listen to lenelle moise's amazing new poem about michael jackson, and meet an ambitious young acapella group, sonos.
i also saw the following tucked in a corner of the fine arts center prop shop. i stared at it for awhile, wondering exactly how this won-drous machine could possibly work. then i wondered if it was a joke. what do you think???
09 January, 2010
i was writing about dancing yesterday. it's been on my mind lately, how i use my body to react to music. sometimes i get frustrated that i have an instrument hanging on my neck so often. my favorite moments on stage are ones where i can put down whatever it is i am holding and move unfettered.
i wrapped up cultureweek2010 last night with a night of dancing to new orleans bands. perhaps because the APAP conference is this week, the musical offerings this weekend were vast. a new friend from new orleans was here in town, so i tagged along while she went around visiting her hometown bands.
after an amazing ethiopian dinner at meskerem, we started at sullivan hall. john ellis, paul sanchez, jason marsalis, and christian scott all took the stage in some form or other. there was tuba, trumpet, harmonica, vibes, and more, all mixing it up. it was early in the evening, and the crowd was moving like they needed more drinks. me too. i hadnt been to a club to just dance in awhile. you have to dance to new orleans music, but it took me a second to get going.
08 January, 2010
every time i set about writing today, i find myself distracted. i was never the kid who put off writing the paper. i was the cranker who turned it out in one sitting two or three days ahead of time and then coasted into the due date. i dont want to think about my blog as homework, but i am starting to feel that way. i felt the same way the other day when i had to write up a set of comments on net neutrality and my internet usage for the FCC. i kept finding reasons not to write. why? am i really that obstinate these days that any whiff of assignment, even self-imposed, results in intractibility? (by the way, you too can file comments with the FCC. instructions here, due on jan14th)
someone either here or on FB recommended the museum of art and design (thank you!), which has an especially attractive pay-what-you-wish thursday option. i went last night with my friend moose, a gifted producer and composer. we each paid $10 and saw a fabulous exhibit of paper sculpture.
07 January, 2010
i finished up "zeitoun" the other night, tearing through the 4th segment of the book like a mad-woman. i needed to know what happened more than i needed to sleep. i love books like that, even though they make my head ache from all that reading and leave me short of breath from all that excitement. i am contemplating a move to new orleans, and a book like "zeitoun" mostly makes me want to live there. i have always wanted to be a part of the type of community that has formed there. although there is a part of me that is consistently horrified by every new story i hear about katrina-related atrocities, i also wonder if an event like the flood has to define a city forever. i suppose like any place, there's gonna be ups and downs, and new orleans just happened to have had a very very famous down. i need to think more on this.
so instead of reading last night, i decided to watch a film. the first one i saw on the shelf was "ladysmith black mambazo: on tip toe". i could do a whole entry on this documentary. maybe i will when i dont have too many other things to get to in this one. like most people, i heard of LBM when i saw them with paul simon on SNL back in 1985. "graceland" had just come out, and paul simon was BIG. i was too young to catch any of the debates swirling around the record (politics, expoitation) and i still havent resolved my feelings on all that (and i have a damn ethnomusicology degree).
05 January, 2010
i spent the day stuck in front of my computer and on the phone dealing with Real Life. no worries, after a day of nose to the digital grindstone, i think i got done almost everything i needed.
i did go out to dinner in manhatten at frankies 17. there is one in brooklyn too. amazing italian food. we had beets and meatballs with raisins and tiramisu and cheesecake.
i was joined by my friend, the irish director jimmy fay. he's got a new sam shepard play opening at the atlantic next week. i'm not going to get to see it until later in its run, but it promises to be, as they say, a corker. jimmy is one of the smartest, deepest guys i know, and that's from only hearing about half of what comes out in his crooked irishman's accent. imagine if i understood everything he said.
04 January, 2010
when my friend c.Love and i had coffee this morning, i asked her if she was doing anything interesting tonight.
"yes, trans, dolly, gospel."
that's really all i heard, because i got so excited by what she was describing.
"stop," i said."i want to be surprised."
so i ended up tonight at joe's pub in manhatten seeing an incredible transwoman perform the gospel-oriented repertoire of dolly parton, complete with 7 piece band and choir.
what happens when we take things away? i've been thinking a lot about that recently. perhaps part of it is because of the new year, and many resolutions involve giving something up. but i am thinking of subtraction as something even more fundamental and lasting than a new years diet. what happens when we abstain? what happens when we set limits for ourselves around consumption and accumulation?
i dont drink, smoke, or take drugs anymore. the subtraction of these items from my life has been miraculous. everything has shifted for me- my relationships to people, places, and things especially food, sex, and god. i am closer, clearer, and more present for all three. it's been a beautiful and i hope permanent shift.
03 January, 2010
it made sense then to start my day at the strand in manhatten. as i was wandering about, i spotted a celebrity or two, including gretchen phillips, the punk-rock queere-core legende. after perusing the stacks a little more ( i bought nothing, she art books and the autobiography of helen keller), we decided to get some lunch.
a short hop away was souen, macrobiotic and beautiful asian food. i'd been there before, but didnt realize until i walked in the door and saw the split level layout. i love their grain coffee, a chicory and root combo that lives somewhere between coffee and tea. it reminded me of the tea that the spaceship heart of gold tries to make for arthur dent in the hitchhikers guide. something "very like" coffee, but not quite.
01 January, 2010
for my vacation this year, i didnt choose to go to an island, someplace sunny, or even someplace warm. i chose instead to come to brooklyn for a week and pack in as much music, theater, art, and food as possible.
i have a friend who lives in carrol gardens. she has a fabulous little apartment not far from the F Train, where i've often stayed when i come to town. she's currently in africa, doing amazing political and activist type things, and she offered me her keys in exchange for watering her plants. i think i got the better end of the deal.
my plan is to be here for 8 nights and to pack every day with as much as i can hear, taste, and see. i regularly spend long stretches in brooklyn, but this time i am consciously setting out to overstimulate myself before i have to get back to work.
so, day one, i drove in and started out easy with an evening showing of guy ritchie's sherlock holmes. it's been awhile since i have been to a rock 'em sock 'em blockbusta. what a pleasure to turn off my mind and watch things explode. there was enough of a plot to hang some great fights on and plenty of eye candy (hello jude, and hello production designer) to satisfy me. sequel please. by the way, i dont know why but i am rooting for guy ritchie. was he done wrong by madge?
ok, how about some restaurant recommendations. i need an interesting dinner spot near BAM and a good sunday morning brunch spot (not too pricey) in midtown. also, what art should i see? anything special going on this week? hook me up!
PS: book for the week is zeitoun by dave eggers
24 December, 2009
Andrew Bird @ Carnegie Hall sometimes you are just rooting for people. i have been an andrew bird fan since i was 19 and got turned onto him the summer i lived in chicago. in the intervening years, i have followed every note of every song, marveled at his evolution, and cheered every time more people found him. i wont claim any close friendship, but we are friendly, and it was pure joy to see a friend step onto the stage at carnegie and belong. more than belong, he molded that historic room to his singular vision. bravo!
angels@mariners, april, safeco field, seattle WA + mets@nationals, june, nationals park, DC you all know by now that i'm a sucker for beisbol. combine it with work, and i am a happy kitten. i got to two games this year while i was on tour, a low total for me, but at least they were in new parks, and i had great seats. at safeco, i munched on the garlic fries and walked the gorgeous open concourse that wraps the whole field. in DC, a light rainstorm let me sit first row, behind third base, for the whole game. david wright tossed me a foul ball at the end of an inning. i think he thought i was 12. oops, i dropped it.
read this cool blog on baseball camera-angles
beantown swing orchestra this year, my good friend sam got married. as part of his wedding, he wanted his musical friends to sing with a real, live, big band. turns out, the band he found, boston's 18-piece beantown swing orchestra, were big fans of mine. in the months leading up to the wedding, they let me sing with them a few times. i learned about 20 charts, and i learned that singing with a big band is like singing strapped to the front of a runaway 18-wheeler. something about the work of 3 set nights, of playing for dances and weddings, made me feel like i was running on the orpheum circuit, circa 1927. i felt like a trouper and i loved it.
New Orleans Artist Retreat with ATC/FMC in may, i got to spend three days in new orleans at an activism workshop. i met a slew of other amazing artists and got to see parts of new orleans i hadnt been to before. for me, that i got asked to be part of a group like that was a vote of confidence for my own nascent activist work. in short, i always wanted to, but didnt know how. air traffic control and future of music coalition have gave me the tools and then some.
Among The Oak and Ash Tour for three weeks in june, i got to be a bass player. that's it. nothing else. my friends garrison and josh invited me to fill in for a tour in their new band. their music is a beautiful mix of traditional apppalachian and modern punk rock. on paper, hmm, sounds clunky. in the air and on stage, it trancends categorization.
Cabin Fever Three, In the River of all the cabin fever episodes, this one was my favorite. perhaps it was the sheer impossibility of shooting a live web episode in 2 feet of flowing water. perhaps it was the long list of cool special guests. perhaps it was my neighbors gathering on the banks to cheer us on. perhaps it was getting to play songs about water in the water. perhaps it was getting baptised in the waters of the internets at the end. i dare say it was the proudest moment of my career.
Hike in Capital Reef National Park, Torrey UT i didnt get to do as much hiking/outdoor exploring as i would have liked this summer, but i was able to fit a little jaunt in the morning before my set at the Red Rock Women's Fest. gorgeous rocks, open space, and solitude. i do love this country.
Nature Camp Adult Session
through an old friend, i got to go back to my childhood summer camp and teach stringband in the adult session. i was in charge of the bass, mandolin, and guitar players. teaching music to non-musicians, or rather musicians who dont play anymore, was a challenge and a good reminder how blessed i am to be able to spend all my time making art. plus it was a trip to go back to summer camp and not have any rules.
Shoot for OUT Magazine 100
sometimes i get itchy about exclusively gay stuff. part of it is my pathologically fierce notion of "don't fence me in". perhaps its my growing attachment to a "queer" identity- as opposed to lesbian, bi, or straight but not narrow. in the end, i said yes to this honor, and got to spend an afternoon being fussed over by gay men and photographed by the lovely jason bell. i love how the picture came out, and i am proud to be included in such a diverse portfolio. they named me "the cool" girl. let me tell you, that was the furthest thing from who i was in highschool.
Ellnora Guitar Festival
my friend natalia zukerman and i got invited to be part of this fantastic weekend in champaign-urbana IL. as far as bang for the buck and diversity, this is the best guitar festival i've ever been to. there's a big tent called guitar, and i really liked all the people who fit under it.
FMC Conf / Lobby Day on Capitol Hill
as an extension of my new orleans time, i got to participate in the future of music policy conference. three days with smarty smarty people talking about more than theoretical mumbo jumbo. these are people who think about how to make the world better, then do it. one thing i have learned about activist work, narrow your focus and then concentrate. for me, that's led me to the question: how do we make the cultural job of Artist as viable and liveable as any other vocation? all my work is under the umbrella of answering that question!
29 November, 2009
ahem erin, you say, you've painted yourself into a metaphorical corner.
ok, ok, so i don't really know how i find out about music, but like everyone else, at any given time there are a few records that are spinning heavily in my subconscious. for the final episode in this week's series, i'll share with you what i like these days.
"gospel legends" / "goodbye babylon" box set:
a month or so ago, i had an afternoon alone in a hotel room. as i was switching channels, i became mesmerized by an info-mercial for a compilation called "gospel legends". recorded live, it is a document of the convergence of 30+ contemporary gospel artists backed by a full-on choir and house-band. i ordered it on the spot, and i've been loving it alot lately. which also reminds me of another favorite gospel collection of mine: goodbye babylon. this 6 disc set collects obscure performances by both white and black gospel artists from the 20s and 30s. it's scratchy but more punk rock than any music being made today.
"erik deutsch's hush money":
full disclosure, erik deutsch is a close friend and one of my favorite musicians. he's made a name for himself with charlie hunter, norah jones, and a whole fistful of other talented people. his playing is bright and shiny without ever being cloying or cheesy. his usual band includes piano, bass, drums, guitar, oboe and saxophone. his newest, "hush money" adds a little grit, grime, and groove to his clear sound. my favorite song is called "dirty osso bucco". enough said. http://www.hammerandstring.com
"ocote soul sounds / coconut rock":
ocote is one of the many irons in the fire of musician martin perna. he's best known as one of the founders of antibalas, the seminal brooklyn afrobeat band, but his talent can't be contained in just one group. this record has all my favorite things: warmth, groove, and space sounds. check out "the revolt of the cockroach people".
"heartless bastards / the mountain":
a few years ago, i was setting up for soundcheck at one of my favorite venues, the tractor tavern in seattle. the soundguy had a record on that caught my ear. it was the heartless bastards first release, "stairs and elevators". i've been a big fan ever since. the first time i saw them live, i was worried that they couldn't match the energy and heft of their albums, but match it they did. the fact that they didn't excede their recorded sound is more a tribute to the brilliance of their records than a slam on their live show prow-ess. their newest, "the mountain", continues to scale the rock everest.
"regina spektor / far":
i don't have a lot to say about regina except that she is brilliant, and i love her. and the more i listen to "laughing with", the more i hear. did i already say, brilliant!
so, philadelphia, i'll see you tomorrow night at world cafe live. my friend jill sobule and i are gonna make you a show, and we've got a band to back us up. thanks for reading this week, and see you soon!
i am a reader, always have been. i can and do read anywhere: the car, on airplanes, at gigs, outside, inside, morning, noon, or especially at night. my idea of perfection is to climb into bed and read until the early hours of the morning.
i read some fiction, some poetry, but i am mostly a non-fiction junkie, especially biographies. some of my very favorites include my multiple judy garland tomes plus books on tab hunter, anita o'day, bette davis, rudolph valentino, and mary pickford. you see where my taste leans, no, perhaps topples.
recently, a friend gave me "mary todd lincoln: a biography" by jean h baker. yes, that's right, mary todd lincoln the wife of the asassinated president. i must confess, i love it. i haven't been able to put it down all week. in fact, when i have crawled into bed after long days of driving and shows, instead of falling gratefully to sleep, i am trying to prop my eyelids open so i can read more about the complicated, ornery, and desperate mary T.
it's unfortunate that MTL (as i like to call my new BFF) has been reduced by history to a grieved widow. dig just under the surface, and she becomes a nationally despised grieved widow. dig a little deeper, and you find a despised grieved widow who felt she was a role model and shopped for the part. and dig deeper than that long sentence, and you find a woman trapped in the limited space allowed for women in her time.
MTL was a highly educated, clever and charismatic chiid of kentucky royalty. her upbringing of privilege led her to the uncomfortable intersection of having learned to speak her mind and the burdensome assumption of marriage and child-rearing. in an era where women were beginning to be seen and heard, MTL outran the expectations of her sex. known for her vicious and accurate imitations, her strong political opinions often got her into private hot-water. known for her ostentatious dress, her unpaid shopping bills often led to back-room political patronage to settle them. had MTL lived even a generation later, she'd have had wider latitude for her bright and sharp personality.
books like this remind me i am lucky to be living in the 21st century. for all the crazy people who would like to limit or judge my lifestyle, i have plenty of space to ignore them and explore my self, unfettered. i think that's part of my wonder and fascination with MTL. i try to imagine myself in her time, and i just fail to see how i'd manage. for all her notoriety, mary todd lincoln was bound by her corsets, both metaphorical and physical.
by the way, thought i might finish with a list of a few of my favorite independent bookshops around the country. by no means definitive:
malaprops, asheville NC
elliot bay, seattle WA
powell's, portland OR
a room of one's own, chicago IL
kramer books and afterwords, washington DC