Ep. 81: Christmas Music 2018

Our family has a tradition of recording Christmas songs each year. This year, we did White Christmas, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Auld Lang Syne.

I also recorded a version of Feliz Navidad entirely in Spanish with my collaborator, Mariadela.

Here’s all the songs we’ve recored over the years.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Ep. 80: Favorite Music of 2018 – Top Ten Albums

As this year wraps up, I’m sharing my favorite albums from 2018. There was a lot of great records that came out and I honestly had a hard time narrowing it down to just ten but I did, and here they are.

10. Pinegrove – Skylight

This is the third album from this New Jersey indie rock band. To me, they sound something like a cross between early Death Cab For Cutie and Band of Horses, which is to say it’s a sound that was popular a decade ago but you don’t hear as much now. At the same time, I really miss this style so it’s nice to hear someone keeping it alive and new. The whole album has a pretty cohesive sound; plenty of reverb and a little bit twangy (but not quite full on country) and some clean, chimey sounding electric guitars. The songs are generally pretty short, usually around the 2 minute mark, which I think helps keep the pace moving on so you don’t have a chance to get board.  Essential Songs: Darkness, Rings

Stream: Spotify

9. Lucy Dacus – Historian

This one is a recent discovery for me. She’s a 23 year-old singer/songwriter from Virginia and this is her second album. She has a beautiful voice that reminds me a bit of St. Vincent or PJ Harvey. For me what really carries this album is the songwriting. She writes really interesting, catchy melodies and her lyrics are really original and raw. The songs are also arranged and recorded really well. It’s mostly guitar based and she definitely rocks it out at moments, which you don’t hear as much now, but there is also some strings and horns at times. It’s almost a throwback to 90s grunge rock but with a fresh spin. But she sounds mature beyond her years. Essential Songs: The Shell, Night Shift, Body to Flame

Stream: Spotify

8. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!

This garage rock band hails from New York City and this is their 6th album. This time, they enlisted the production help of Danger Mouse, who is famous for his work with Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys, Gorillaz, and Portugal. The Man, among others. Right from the bat, you can tell a big difference. Their sound channels late-70s/early-80s  punk and new wave in a really fun and new way. They take some of the weirdness, attitude and the angular guitar styles of CBGB’s bands like Talking Heads and Television or even The Clash and throw in some 60s psychedelic flourishes typical of Danger Mouse’s production style. But it’s all so punchy and catchy. It’s a great listen. Essential Song: Wide Awake, Total Football, Back to Earth

Stream: Spotify

7. Emily Brown – Bee Eater

Emily is a singer/songwriter I know from the Utah music scene, who has since moved to Oakland, California. She used to play piano in a group called “Book On Tape Worm” but now does her own thing. She has a very pretty, high voice along the lines of Joni Mitchell and sings these beautiful melodies that tend to drift and just sort of float along. Many of the songs have lush string arrangements and other little touches that give it a really distinct sound. She writes really deep and poetic lyrics. It’s a very ambitious album that can, at times, be both dense and sparse, or grand but also very personal. It’s a very moving listen. Essential Songs: Who Can Say, Giving Up, Unseen Girl

Stream: Spotify

6. Gorillaz – The Now Now

This is the sixth album of Damon Albarn’s hip hop/electronica project. Last year’s record, Humanz was over an hour long and featured collaborators on almost all 26 tracks, which I felt like was a bit of chore to listen to. This year’s album is relatively more scaled back with the number of collaborators and only 11 songs, clocking in at 40 minutes. To me, it feels like a much more focused and fun album. It reminds me of the sound of their third album, Plastic Beach, which I really liked. The production is really spacey and kind of psychedelic but also borrows from some 80s funk. But the songwriting is stronger this go around so it makes for much more solid record. Essential Songs: Kansas, Humility, Magic City

Stream: Spotify

5. Leon Bridges – Good Thing

This is the second album from this Texas-based soul singer. His debut was a throwback to early 60s soul and R&B, with that same type of vintage sound. This time, his influences are incorporated with more modern sounds. The percussion is much punchier, more along the lines of hip-hop. There’s also some jazz soloing, strings and even funk. It’s a bit closer to something Pharrell Williams might do. To be honest, I didn’t like it as first because I missed the vintage sound of his debut. But the more I listened, I grew to appreciate the songwriting. His melodies are really solid and his lyrics are clever and well thought-out. Plus his voice is very soulful and he’s able to still have a good amount of variety in this sound he’s carved out. Essential Songs: You Don’t Know, Shy, Forgive You

Stream: Spotify

4. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

This is the third studio album from this Texas-born country singer. She has a beautiful, crystal clear voice that fits these songs perfectly. It’s fairly mainstream country music but she downplays the honky-tonk, twangy side and instead it sounds a bit more breezy or even spacey, like occasionally they use this really funky vocal harmonizer. There’s also even a disco song. There’s still a bit of pedal steel and banjo but it’s much more subtle than most country music. The songwriting is really strong and avoids a lot of the typical lyrical cliches you hear in country music, like talking about whiskey and pick up trucks and instead gets real personal about relationships. It almost sound like a polished up Sufjan Stevens at times or even Fleetwood Mac. So basically, it’s country music for people who don’t like country music. Essential Songs: Slow Burn, Butterflies, Space Cowboy

Stream: Spotify

3. Matt Weidauer – Matt Weidauer

This is actually a good friend of mine, so I’m a little bit biased but I think it’s an amazing album. We’ve played music together for years with Adding Machines and The Fab Folk so if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you’ve heard some of his playing on past episodes. He put out an album called “Birds” that I mixed back in 2009 and also an album of George Harrison covers but this is his first album of original material in 9 years, which he wrote and recorded in his home studio. There’s lots of things I like about this record. I love his voice and I think his songwriting is really fresh and original. He writes songs about Elvis faking his own death or from the perspective of characters on the TV show LOST but it all sounds so natural and effortless. He’s a really good guitar player. He comes up with these interesting picking parts that I think sound amazing. He sort of reminds me of M. Ward or Lord Huron. He also has a nice variety of sounds with the production, which give the whole record a good flow. Essential Songs: Disgraceland, Wounded Man, Set Me On Fire

Stream: Spotify

2. First Aid Kit – Ruins

This artist is a pair of sisters from Sweden. It’s their fourth album and it’s filled with heart-felt folk rock tunes with tight vocal harmonies. The songwriting is absolutely top-notch, particularly their melodies. The melodies are original but sound so effortless with the way they rise and fall. They wear their passion on their sleeves. The production is fairly straightforward but with occasional string flourishes and pedal steel. It’s great sound that fits them well. This album is very relaxing listen start to finish and one of my favorites this year. Essential Songs: Shame, Fireworks, Rebel Heart

Stream: Spotify

1. Glen Hansard – Between Two Shores

Glen is an Irish song/songwriter probably most famous for starring and writing the music for the 2007 indie film, Once, which featured his song, “Falling Slowly.” This led to his collaboration with Czech singer and pianist, Markéta Irglová, which became known as The Swell Season. They put out a few albums together before Glen went solo but he’s also been creating music with another band called The Frames since 1991, so he’s been around a long time. For this album, Glen expanded his indie folk rock sound to include more of a soul/R&B influence. Many of the songs have horns and retro organ sounds and strings, which I love. I think the adjustment suites him well, as he’s also been a very passionate, soulful singer. Some of the songs remind of Wilco’s early sound like on the album Being There. The songwriting is also really solid this time. It’s nice to hear one of my favorite artists continuing to hone in his craft while also trying new things. Essential Songs: Roll On Slow, Wheels on Fire, Setting Forth

Stream: Spotify

Favorite Albums of 2018 – Spotify Playlist

Favorite Songs of 2018

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Ep. 79: Good Grief – Album Listening Party

So you may have noticed it’s been a few months since I’ve put an episode out and there’s good reason for that: I’ve been finishing my album! And now the long awaited day has come that I’m sharing it with you. This album is many years in the making and one of the most difficult projects I’ve worked on. I started recording some of the songs back in 2014 and other songs were written and recorded as recently as a few months ago.

There have been many starts and stops stops along at the way as I’ve tried to figured out what I want to say and what this thing should sound like. There’s rock songs, folk songs, piano songs, electronica songs and everything in between. There’s songs about death, grief, disagreement and anxiety, but also hope, patience and love.

As I thought about what it should be called, I came up with the title, “Good Grief,” which references Charlie Brown, a character I’ve come to relate with more and more as time has gone on; someone who wears his heart on his sleeve as he experiences many of the themes I write about. It’s also an inside joke to myself about what someone might say when I tell them it took me 4 years to make an album!

The artwork was done by a local artist, Travis Braun.

Besides the artwork, I did everything on this album myself. I wrote the songs, played all the parts, and recorded and mixed everything in my home studio (which is partly why this took so long).

Most of these songs I’ve already shared on this podcast (at least work-in-progress versions) so I encourage you to go back and listen to those episodes if you want all the details about how each one was made. And also stay tune for future episodes on some of the other songs.

  1. Eye to Eye – This first track is one of the rockers on the album. I thought it would be good to kick things off with some high energy. It’s about desperately wanting people to see things from your point of view.
  2. Invisible – This next one is the oldest song on the album. I wrote it back in 2003 when I was a missionary in New York City. We used to volunteer at the VA Hospital and got to know some of the patients who would come in regularly. When one of the patients we became friends with stopped showing up, I learned he had passed away so it inspired the words for this song. I recorded a version of this for my 50 Songs in 50 Weeks series but I thought I could do it better so this is a sort of reworked version with a different arrangement.
  3. Elephant In The Room – This next one is another rock song. I think it might have my favorite guitar solo I’ve ever done. Even though guitar solos aren’t cool anymore, I love it anyways. It’s about how we sometimes don’t talk about the things that bother us and it turned into passive aggressive anxiety.
  4. Moving On – This next one I wrote and recorded a few months ago for a music making course that I recently became a part of. We were supposed to write a song from a list of topics and “Moving On” was the one I chose, which became the song title. It’s about keeping a positive attitude, even when the world is dragging you down. I wasn’t originally planning on having it on the album but I felt like it added a nice upbeat, positive vibe, which balances out some of the darker songs.
  5. Flawed – This next one is a folk rock song. It’s along the lines of what my old band, Adding Machines used to play. There’s mandolin and I even play the saw with a violin bow. It’s kind of low in the mix but see if you can hear it. It’s about sin and reconciliation and coming to terms with your flaws.
  6. Make It Up To You – This next one’s a piano ballad. It’s the only song on the record without any percussion. I had the basic idea kicking around for a few years but wrote most of the lyrics and finished the song a couple months ago on a weekend when my wife and kids were out of town. We didn’t have a fight or anything but I wrote the song from the perspective of someone who had been in a fight and was waiting in their empty house for their loved one to come home.
  7. Life Support – This next song is an electronica based song. I entered a contest a couple years ago put on by the podcast Song Exploder and the website Splice, where I was given a series of recorded samples or audio clips and tasked with building a song around it. This is what I came up with. It’s written from the perspective of someone with cancer who is about to die. I wasn’t going to put it on the album originally because the sound is so different from everything else but when I listened to it in sequence with the other songs, I liked having the variety in there so it made the cut.
  8. Little Bird – This next one is another folk rock song. It’s built on kind of an off beat picking pattern, which is grounded with the kick drum playing constant quarter notes. The lyrics are from the perspective of someone having heavy social anxieties and trying to work through those issues about whether they are good enough and what other people think of them and finding hope.
  9. Only In Your Head – This next song is built around a piano part I came up with a few years ago. It’s gone through a few different iterations but where I’ve landed, there’s quite a few layers of piano parts and synthesizers, adding lots of texture to the overall sound. It gets pretty dense.  It’s written from the perspective of someone wrestling with reality and with the what’s being told to us by the media in all it’s different forms.
  10. I Get By – This next one is a really old song I wrote back in 2005. My band at the time, Declaration, played it a few times but then it sort of got abandoned. Probably because I couldn’t hit the high notes very well. In 2012, I dusted it off for my 50 Songs in 50 Weeks in project and recorded a soft version with drum loops and synthesizers. When I got to thinking about what songs should belong on this album, I took a stab and making a rock version like the way I used to play it with the band. It’s kind of a dated 90s rock sound but at this point, I don’t really care. I think it’s pretty catchy. It’s about working through your problems and staying optimistic.
  11. The Last Waltz – This next song is a waltz written in 6/8 time. For this one, I dusted off my old violin I hadn’t played in several years and created a simple string arrangement but I layered so many parts it sounds like a full string orchestra. It’s written about a former classmate of mine who committed suicide. The title is borrowed from The Band’s concert film of their final live performance called, “The Last Waltz.”
  12. Brand New Life – For this last song, I decided after so many intense songs that I wanted to end the album on a positive, upbeat note. It’s also probably the most recently written song. It’s about being in love and proposing. I wrote a different love song and played it at our wedding about 12 years ago but I didn’t really think it was that great. So, this is my attempt at writing a better wedding song and I think it definitely tops the first one, at least.

If you happen to be a filmmaker or music supervisor, I’d love to have one or more of these songs in your projects. I have instrumental mixes available. Contact me to licensing details.

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Stay tuned next week where I’ll share my top ten favorite albums of 2018. Bye for now.

Ep. 78: Song “Moving On” (Influenced by Justin Timberlake)

This week on the podcast, I break apart a brand new song I recently wrote and recorded called “Moving On.” This is my best attempt at making a radio friendly pop song, influenced by Justin Timberlake.

I started creating this song when I heard about an opportunity where a song placement agency was accepting song submissions for tv, film and advertisement. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to make something that was really upbeat and catchy and danceable along the lines of Justin Timberlake’s song, “Can’t Stop The Feeling.”

I started off messing around with a few ideas on my acoustic guitar and cajon. Normally, I would finish writing a song before I start recording it but this time, I went ahead and put down some instruments in Protools without a lot of structure planned out yet.

Basically, I had a rough sketch of an “A” part and “B” part. I started with the guitar part played to a click track. I actually ended up shifting to the key down half a step to make it a little easier to sing.

Next, I used a Protools plug-in to program a very basic kick and snare drum loop. To get the drums to sound closer to a real drum set, I added some real hi-hats, along with a cymbal and tambourine.

Next came the bass guitar to give it some groove. To have it sound a little more dancey, I added a synthesizer part during the choruses. It’s hard to hear this in the mix but I did a technique with compression called “side-chaining” where the kick drum triggers a decrease in volume on the synth part, giving it a throbbing sound. This is a pretty popular technique used in a lot of electronic music. You can kind of hear the same sort of thing on the piano intro of “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

Next I used another type of synthesizer for the ending called an arpeggiator just so to add a different flavor and sort of take the song to another place.

I felt like the guitar by itself was a little weak so I added two acoustic guitar parts to fill it out a bit more. There’s also a heavy distortion part at the end but it’s pretty low in the mix.

So I had all these different parts recorded and I did a lot of cutting and pasting and swapping things around until I was ready for the lyrics.

As part of the submission process, the agency I was working with provided a list of song topics they frequently get asked for. “Moving On” was one of the themes on the list so it wrote the lyrics about that topic. Originally, one of the lines I improvised was “I should have known” but with this new topic in mind, I changed it to “I’m moving on.”

I thought it would be cool to have it sound like a big group singing this line so I recorded myself singing it 6 times: 3 of parts at sort of normal range and 3 of them an octave lower. Here’s what it sounds like. I also took this group vocal idea and did some “whoahs” as part of the chorus hook.

To come up with lyrics, I played the my instrumental recording of the song over and over and improvised and bunch of different words on top of the beat. I wrote them all out and made some tweaks to so they fit the right number of syllables. I had a hard time figuring out which line belonged where so I cut the paper into strips so eat line was it’s strip and them moved the strips into different orders until I felt like the train of thought in the lyrics made logical sense and flowed off the tongue the right way.

Moving On Cut Up Lyrics

The lyrics talk about not letting the words or the things that other people do get to you. The line that ends the chorus says, “I won’t let anything stand in my way again” and that sort of sums it up. I tried to keep the wording fairly universal so it could work as a break up song or maybe even someone leaving a job or someone fed up with something political or just generally discouraged about how their life it going. I’m hoping people can connect with the positive outlook.

I submitted the song a few days ago so fingers-crossed that it gets picked up.


I’ll tell you something that you might not like,
Your words can’t get to me, I hold my head of height,
You keep on talking like there’s something wrong,
I gotta tell you now, those feelings do belong,
Life’s too short for me to fret and worry,
Nothing gets me down and I’m not in a hurry,
I’m flying higher like you wouldn’t believe,
Oh yeah, I’m standing tall, I got my whole like ahead of me,

I’m moving on from all the pain that you put me through,
I’m back up on my feet I’m one step ahead of you, yeah,
I’ve had enough of all the things that you said,
I don’t need anything to stand in my way again, yeah,

It’s 7:30 on a friday night,
And when my feet start moving, yeah I feel alright,
I’ve had enough of staring at the phone,
I’ve got this restless feeling down in my bones,
I never understood the reason why,
You wanna rip my heart out and hurt my pride,
I’m finally free to step into the light,
Oh yeah, I’m feeling confident and my future’s bright

I’m moving on from all the pain that you put me through,
I’m back up on my feet I’m one step ahead of you, yeah,
I’ve had enough of all the things that you said,
I don’t need anything to stand in my way again, yeah,

I’m moving on


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Ep. 77: 10 Highlights From My Trip to Nashville

It’s now September and summer is wrapping up. I hope you’ve had a good summer. It’s certainly been a busy one for me. I’ve played quite a few shows, including some weddings. I’ve also been working on some new songs for an album and have some new podcast episodes in the pipeline so stay tuned for both of those things.

I also recently got back from an awesome trip to Nashville, including a stop in Memphis. It was my first time going so I thought I’d break things up from the usual format of this podcast and talk about some of the things my wife and I saw and did while I was there and sprinkle in some music along the way. I came up with a top ten list so let’s start the countdown in order of least to most on how much I enjoyed each of these things. Pictures my Melissa Dupree Haws and myself.

10. Beale Street

This is a famous strip in Memphis known for the live blues music played  inside it’s many clubs. Over the years, it’s hosted several famous acts like Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, and B. B. King, to name a few, and the combination of all the different musicians who played here helped develop the style known as the Memphis Blues.

When we showed up, it was in the afternoon so there wasn’t a lot of music happening besides a really awesome blues band playing outdoors. We did hang out inside a shop called A. Schwab, which was sort of a curiosity shop, variety store. They had an old-fashioned ice cream and soda bar with homemade gelato. We had banana pudding gelato, which was delicious.

Overall, I can’t say I was crazy about Beale Street. It felt a little bit touristy but also kind of gritty with things kind of run down and some of the stores boarded up. We weren’t sure how safe it was to be there. This was one of the last things we did on our trip and we were pretty tired, so we went back to our hotel before most of the evening shows started. So we probably didn’t give it fair shot but it was still nice to check it out.

Here’s a little B.B. King for you to get in the Memphis mood.

9. Belmont Mansion

This is an historic antebellum southern style 19,000 square foot mansion built in 1853 by the wealthy Adelicia Acklen along with her husband, Joseph. At one point, Adelicia was the wealthiest woman in Tennessee and spared no expense decorating her home as lavishly as possible. The mansion housed a large collection of european art , including several marble statues; as well custom built furniture, several large marble fireplaces, and the stained glass windows containing actual gold.

Eventually, the mansion and estate were donated and turned into a college that evolved into present day Belmont University.

It was a blast to tour the mansion and mix something historic into our music trip.

8. Graceland

This is the famous Memphis home of Elvis Presley. He purchased it in 1957 pretty early on in his career right after he had the hits “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog.” Over the years, he made additions to the space like adding a swimming pool, a detached office for his business dealings, a racquetball room and a large trophy room for all his awards, which brought the square footage from about 10,000 to 17,000.

After he died, they opened the home up for tours, and kept things pretty how they were in the late 70s, including the really colorful, retro wall paper and jungled themed shag carpet in some areas.

The upstairs where he died is closed off to visitors and his grave is also located on the estate. The audio tour was narrated by John Stamos, who as you may know, played Uncle Jesse, a huge Elvis fan, in the TV show Full House. I thought it was kind of a fun touch.

Across the street, they had a large museum, which housed his car collection, his many jumpsuits, gold records and many, many other pieces of memorabilia. I’m not a huge Elvis fan but I still had a blast learning about him and seeing all the people and things that surrounded his life.

7. Broadway

This is a famous stretch of town known for live music at the many honky tonk bars and restaurants located here. Many of them have neon signs, reminiscent of old school Las Vegas. In fact, people sometimes describe it with the term “Nash-Vegas” because of the neon signs but also the touristy, party vibe found here. In fact, we walked past several different groups of girls in matching t-shirts having bachelorette parties. It was quite a site.

Despite this, it’s still a great place for music. You can walk from place to place and here some kind of country music going on all day long. We mostly hung out at a famous spot called “Robert’s Western World,” and heard some amazing, fast picking tunes. We also stepped inside a few shops that sold country boots and hats and a few gift shops.

It was fun but it got to be sensory overload after a while so I’d recommend doing it in small doses.

Here’s one of the acts we saw while we on Broadway, Rachael Hester.

6. Eating BBQ Ribs

We asked around for places to get good barbecue in Nashville and two of the spots that we ended up going to were Martin’s and Peg Leg Porker.

The ribs at both of these spots where delicious. If I had to choose which one I liked better, I would probably pick Martin’s. The meat was a little more tender and had a really nice, smokey flavor. Their BBQ sauce was really unique, in that it was very thin and heavy in vinegar. It caught me off guard at first but I really liked trying  a different flavor.

As far as sides, I think I liked Peg Leg Porker a little better. I had mac and cheese and baked beans and they were both awesome. Really flavorful and the cheese was really gooey. At Martin’s, I also had their pecan pie, which is probably the best I’ve ever had. Really tasty. My wife and I each liked our slice of pie so much, we both ordered another one to go for our bus ride to Memphis.

So, overall, great food. I’d recommend either of those spots if you’re ever in town.

5. DIY Musician’s Conference

This event is put on each year by CD Baby and is one of the main reasons we came to Nashville, along with seeing all the other things on this list. The presentations talked about topics for musicians like marketing your music, tips for creating youtube videos, vocal technique, getting your songs on Spotify playlists, songwriting exercises, creating a more entertaining live show, and so on. I came away with a notebook full of ideas and things to work on. Here’s a few of my main takeaways:

Success is very much about building relationships. This could be with your fans, with fellow musicians, with people in the industry. One person suggested taking 20 minutes each day build relationships with people you admire and to not ask them for a favor until you’ve known them for 2 years. Approach it from a place of authenticity and how you can be of service to them, opposed to trying to just use other people for your gain.

Another takeaway regarding live shows is to create moments. By that, I mean that as a performer, you are trying to get your audience to feel something, to feel an emotion. Throughout your set, you want to try to tap into as many of these different emotional moments as you can. It could mean creating a good groove to get your audience dancing, or adding extended guitar solos for more excitement or getting the audience to sing and clap along so they feel part of something bigger or, telling stories about the songs so the audience has a better connection to the words. Whatever it is, try to create moments.

One last takeaway is to make sure to have an overall vision of where you want to be and set weekly goals and tasks to help get you there. One of the speakers spoke about self-sabotage and how often we can get in our way with thoughts about not being good enough or getting overwhelmed. She suggested identifying whats slows you down, and changing the story, meaning looking at it with a different attitude and focusing on the good things that are working and build off of those.

So, those are my takeaways. Check out CD Baby’s YouTube page for videos of several of the presentations,

4. The Grand Ole Opry

This Nashville institution was started in 1925 as a weekly concert and radio show. Known as “The Show the Made Country Music Famous,” it’s hosted early country stars like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline and pretty much every single country artist you’ve ever heard of since.

Each concert operates something like a variety show, where each artist performs 2 songs, often with the same backing band. I was surprised with the amount of different country styles I heard; from fast picking bluegrass, to folk rock, to piano ballads, to more a traditional mainstream country type of sound.

I love all the music I heard, but my favorite from that night was a group called The Wild Feathers. Here’s their song, “The Ceiling.”

Here’s the full list of people we saw: Connie Smith, Jimmie Allen, Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press, Mike Snider, The Sisterhood, Charlie McCoy, The Whites, Gary Mule Deer, The Wild Feathers, Dailey & Vincent, Craig Campbell, T. Graham Brown

 3. Sun Studio


This is famous studio in Memphis where, among others, Elvis Presly, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all recorded. Originally called Memphis Recording Service, it was started by Sam Phillips in 1950 and became the place where the artists on his label, Sun Records, recorded. If you’ve seen the movie, Walk The Line about Johnny Cash, they filmed scenes from the movie in this studio where they actually occurred in real life.

Sam ran the studio until 1960 when he upgraded to a larger space, and the building was taken over by businesses who used it for other things. In 1987, the building was turned back into a studio and luckily, the part of the building used as a studio was largely untouched over those years in between. They give tours during the day (which we went on), and in the evening have recording sessions, which I was tempted to do myself but couldn’t make it work. Maybe next time.

While on the tour, I got to hold and talk into one of the mics they originally had in the studio, which they believe was used by Elvis and many of the other famous artist who recorded here.

Here is Elvis’ first hit, “That’s All Right (Mama),” recorded at Sun Studio.

2. The Bluebird Cafe

Started back in 1982, this legendary, intimate space is a place for songwriters to showcase their latest work. It’s not a particularly remarkable or historical building; it’s located outside of downtown on an ordinary strip mall next to a dry cleaners and gas station. But many, many artists and songwriters have been discovered here from Garth Brooks back in the 80s to more recently, Taylor Swift.

It’s been heavily featured on the TV show, Nashville and with only 90 seats, it’s incredibly difficult to get tickets. To give you an idea, I’ll tell you about our attempt to get in. Tickets go on sale on their website each Monday morning at 8am for the shows happening that week. I went on their website 15 minutes before that (which would be 6:45 Mountain Time). I pushed a button to buy tickets and I was put in a queue. By 8:05 when my turn came up, all the tickets were sold out for that week. They do, however, leave about 12 seats open for first come, first serve on the night of the show, as well give up the seats for people that don’t show up. So, on Thursday night when we flew in, we took a taxi from the airport straight to the Bluebird Cafe. We got in the standby line and waited about an hour and half and we were a couple people short from getting in. Since we really wanted to see a show at the Bluebird, we came back on Saturday as early as we could and waited in line for 2 hours this time. And luckily, we barely got in. We were the very last 2 people they let in and they had to sit us at separate tables but we were just really to get in so it didn’t matter.

Most of the shows that happen at the Bluebird are what they all “In The Round,” which means that a group of songwriters sit in the middle of the room and take turns playing songs and telling stories. This was the format of the show we saw, which included Michael Logen, Billy Montana, Alys Ffion, and another person who’s name I didn’t catch. They were all very seasoned, established songwriter (some younger, some older) and I was really impressed with depth and quality of the songs they played. It was so awesome and definitely worth all the effort and waiting to see the show.

Here’s the Michael Logen song, “Ready or Not.”

1. Third Man Records

This is a record label and store started by Jack White (of the White Stripes) back in 2009. The decor is very retro with almost everything in yellow and black. They specialize in vinyl records and sell a lot of Jack’s music, along with other albums and singles the label puts out.

But one of the really interesting and unique things you can do while you are there is to lay down a song in their vintage vinyl recording booth. I learned that it was built back in the 1940s and was used for people to create voice messages to send back home, particularly soldiers abroad. You put your money in and it gives you two minutes and twenty seconds to record and it spits out a 6″ vinyl record almost right away!

This booth is one of a few operating ones left in existence. Neil Young used it to record an entire album a few years ago, and many other famous musicians have come through to record a song on it including Willie Nelson, Eddie Vedder and Weezer to name a few. My wife and I had the privilege of recording a couple songs in the booth – with a loner guitar owned by Jack White, if you can believe that!


I’d also like to add that if you are a musician working on songs and would like some feedback, I’d be happy to give my input. Shoot me a message from the contact section of jakehaws.com and I’ll feature your song on a future episode and give my feedback. Or I can give it to you privately if you’d prefer it that way.

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Ep. 76: Song “Little Bird” (Influenced by The Dodos)

This week, I’m featuring a brand new song just recorded called “Little Bird,” which will be on my new album coming out this October.

This song was influenced by a San Francisco band called The Dodos. In particular, I like the fast picking patterns and the driving percussion they typically use so I tried to incorporate some of those sounds into my song. Here’s the Dodo’s tune, “Black Night.”

So with that influence in mind, let me break apart my song for you. It starts with the acoustic guitar playing a syncopated picking style, which basically means the accents are played on the off beats.

To ground the song, I played a real simple kick drum beat with a cajon. It’s just quarter notes – or as they would say in dance music “4 to the floor.” Here’s the bass guitar along with played the same rhythm. Basically, I’m trying to stay out of the way of the busy guitar part.

Next I used the cajon again to play something like a tom fill every couple of bars, just to add a little extra excitement to the beat.

So now with these basic parts down, we needed a little extra texture. So, I added a soft organ to go in the background. I also added two electric guitar parts. One of them copies doubles what the acoustic guitar is doing and the other is sort of an ebow drone sound.

For the last minute of the song, the acoustic guitar switches from picking to strumming and the energy picks up. To go along with that an add a little punch, there’s another electric guitar part with distortion. I also picked up the energy with the percussion. Instead of having a tom fill every couple bars, I turned it into a quick roll almost surf style like the song “Wipe Out.”

The lyrics tell the story of someone having some heavy social anxieties and trying to work through those issues about whether they are good enough and what other people think of them. They are able to persevere with the thought that there’s someone out there looking out for them. I wouldn’t really call it autobiographical but it certainly pulls from feelings I’ve had from time to time.

I wouldn’t want anyone to see
The little bird sitting next to me
Telling me what I’m doing
Even though I keep losing

I wouldn’t want anyone to know
I’ve really got nowhere else to go
I’m out on a Friday night
Nothing is feeling right

But I got a feeling that someone’s coming back for me

I wouldn’t want anyone to leave
They’ve really got no reason to agree
I’m standing here on my own
Thinking I should go home

I wouldn’t want anyone to hear
It’s really been quite a rocky year
I don’t know what went wrong
That’s making me sing this song

But I got a feeling that someone’s coming back for me

I wouldn’t want anyone to say
I’m mixed up in my head and lost my way
I don’t know what I’m doing
But something is keeping me moving

But I got a feeling that someone’s coming back for me

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Ep. 74: Brother Chunky – Interview and Song Challenge “Ode To Nashville”

This episode, I’m joined by local blues legend, Brother Chunky. He plays a few tunes, then we talk about how he got started making music, the ups and downs of playing in a band and recording his new album. After that, we even write a new song together about going to Nashville.

Here’s Brother Chunky’s Chicken Pot Pie video:

For the recording of “Ode To Nashville (You Gotta Strum),” Brother Chunky sang lead vocals and played the guitar parts. I filled things in with percussion, bass and harmonies.

When you drive down, to that place
You won’t come back, ever the same
Music playing, on the street
Pickin away now, in that heat

When that chance comes, you better run
When that chance comes, you gotta strum
Yeah, you gotta strum

Head to the Honky Tonk, guitar on my back
I talked to the manager he said, you don’t stand a chance
I got twenty others, ready to play
My advice to you son, you best be on your way

When that chance comes, you better run
When that chance comes, you gotta strum
Yeah, you gotta strum

I finally got my shot to, get on that stage
I started pickin, and blew them away
People were dancing, and having a ball
They threw their money, at my guitar

When that chance comes, you better run
When that chance comes, you gotta strum
Yeah, you gotta strum

Brother Chunky Links:

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Ep. 73: Song “Harvest Moon” (Neil Young Cover)

For this week’s episode, I’m sharing a cover I recently recorded of Neil Young’s song, Harvest Moon.

I’m playing a wedding later on this summer with my acoustic duo, The Fab Folk, and the bride requested that we play this song for her and the groom to dance to. I wanted to record it for her so she would have an idea what it would should like before we play it. The instruments are sparse: just acoustic guitar, mandolin, cajon and tamborine. I think it’s a great tune for a wedding and I’m excited to perform it for them.

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Ep. 72: Song “Not Aloud” (Influenced by Low)

This episode, I break apart an old, slow song I wrote influenced by the indie band Low.

This song was first written back in my sophomore year of high school. The lyrics are from the perspective of someone in jail who is longing to be back outside. At the time, I kind of envisioned it sounding like a rock power ballad along the lines of Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees. The song got set aside in favor of other songs I was working on.

In 2012, when I did my 50 Song in 50 Weeks project, I revisited the song and decided to pattern the production style after the band Low.

Low is a band from Duluth, Minnesota started back in 1993 by husband and wife, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, and has included handful of bass players over the years. The music is sparse and minimal, which instruments usually just including a light guitar part, bass, and a snare drum and ride cymbal played with brushes. The tempo is also usually very slow, to the degree their music is often described as slow-core. There more recently releases have added a little more variety and sped up the tempo a little but here’s one of their early, slow songs called “Over The Ocean.”

My recording borrows many elements from Low’s sound, particularly the same style of guitar, percussion and singing. I also added a soft piano line and towards the end, several tracks of guitar played with an ebow. If you’re unfamiliar with an ebow, it’s a small box that sends an electro magnetic pulse to the guitar strings and makes vibrate and make sound without actually touching it.

This ended up being one of my longest and slowest songs I’ve ever done but I think by about halfway through, you get used to it and it becomes a little bit hypnotic. At least that’s my hope.

Watch out they’re coming,
Quickly shoving to the gate,
What am I looking for,
A missing key to the door of my fate.

But I’m not aloud here,
Not aloud here,
Not aloud here today.

Looking through the bars,
I can see speeding cars as they roll on by,
Then I realize that I’ve been on the inside this whole time,
And it doesn’t surprise my why.

But I’m not aloud here,
Not aloud here,
Not aloud here today.

Searching, what can you see,
Seems that I have lost the key and it can’t be found,
I’m patiently waiting, slowly anticipating,
But I’m not aloud.

I’m not aloud here,
I’m not aloud here,
I’m not aloud here today.

Download “Not Aloud” on Bandcamp

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