Tuesday, December 21, 2010

how important is music to you?

Are you listening to music right now? If you're like me you are rarely not listening to something. I listen to music at work, on the road, on the computer, when I go to sleep, whenever I can.

What do you do when you listen to music? What does the song mean to you? Does it remind you of that one person you hung out with while listening to that song? Does it remind you of some time in your life? Does it bring up feelings?

My dear friend, Suzanne Stafford, made me a mixed CD when we first started playing music together. We were both broken hearted at the time, and channeled our emotions into our music to create the sound for Come Hell or High Water. That sound has now changed a bit due to our outstanding band mates, but now I'm getting off track.
The CD that Suzanne made for me still brings up a lot of feelings for me. Some tracks get me a little choked up. Some make me smile at our amazing friendship, while others put me right back in that living room where I first listened to the collection- over and over and over. I can smell the dog-eaten couch. I can taste the bitterness in my bourbon. I can see the old carpet on the floor. I remember feeling so lonely, but knowing I wasn't entirely alone. How could I be truly alone if all of these songs were written and recorded by artists who obviously felt the way I was feeling? How could I be alone if my friend also felt these things?

Some of the music I listen to is old, some new, some cool, and some not.

Suzanne's daughter, Ollie, has heard us play music her whole life. Come Hell or High Water played a show a week or two before she was born. Suzanne's guitar was pressed against her very pregnant belly. I can only imagine what that sounded like to the unborn Ollie. Suzanne's beautiful voice has been heard by Ollie since she was a blip on an ultrasound.
This year Ollie turned 3. Melodi and Harry and I got her a kid's size drum kit which she played like an animal. It was one of my favorite moments.

I just met Melodi's nephew, Sam, 4 1/2 years old. I brought my acoustic guitar on our trip to Brooklyn and played some songs for him. He really enjoyed strumming the strings while I held the guitar and made chords with my left hand. He sang and made up songs like Rockaway Christmas, Little Sister Go Away, and Elephant on the Roof (the last one was a joint effort between he and I about an elephant and a rocket ship on his roof- as neither of those things would fit in their brownstone). Sam hit his head earlier today and I was able to cheer him up by playing a punk rock version of We Wish You A Merry Christmas, and drawing up a sketch of an invention we were talking over in which an electric guitar could be fashioned to shoot flames out of the bottom. We later upgraded this idea to double as a jet pack.
I played the wrong chords to We Wish You A Merry Christmas- and every song that he wanted to sing that I didn't know- but it didn't matter. His freestyle about his sister (8 months old) touched on the fact that he has to deal with her getting more and more attention.

When you listen to music you use a very large percentage of your brain. Playing music uses even more as you engage in it physically. How can music not be important?

I wonder, occasionally, what I'm doing with my life; devoting my time to playing and writing songs. I want to play better, write better, and touch someone with one of my songs- like all of these songs and experiences with music have touched me. I wonder if it's all worth it, if music even matters. Then I hear that one song, or see a friend perform his or her new tune, or see that one band play with that great sound, and it moves the Earth. If I can one day do that for someone else- I'm a success in my mind. So to me, it matters. Music matters. Music is important to me- kind of like food, or my glasses.

Please comment below on this. Tell me I'm crazy- or you know what I'm getting at.
How important is music to you? What are you listening to?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Three Big Squids

The captain shouts his orders.
But over the waves,
there's no deciphering.
The storm is upon us,
clench the ropes and don't get tossed away.

Over the side.
Barely alive.
This is the rest of your life.
It's the final dive.

It all happens so fast.
One blink it's safe,
the next it's dangerous.
The waves crashing are so cold.
Underwater, I'm getting pulled away.

Over the side.
Barely alive.
For the rest of my life.
It's the final dive.

I think about my mother
as I sink down,
there's no escaping it.
Life preserver's in sight.
I try to swim, but I can't get away.

Just as I surrender
to my fate,
there's something touching me.
One, then two, then three things.
To the top, they're carrying me away.

Over the side.
Barely alive.
The rest of your life.
It's the final dive.

I clutch onto the lifeboat
with all my might,
I turn to see that there's
three big squids that saved me.
They almost wink as they spin and swim away.

-matty sheets

Saturday, October 30, 2010

november show dates

We've got a few more shows in 2010. Then we're gonna take a break and work on our album. Ok, here we go:

11/5 at the Blind Tiger with The Numbers, and Lake Isle. 10pm.
11/13 at the Flatiron with The Old One-Two. 10pm.
11/19 at the Blind Tiger with Doby. 10pm.
11/26 at the Green Bean with Megan Jean and the KFB
, The Shathouse Rats, James Marshall Owen. 8pm.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Farewell (sort of) to James Marshall Owen. (origins of Eating the Invaders)

Years ago (three, four, five? Time goes by so fast), I met James Marshall Owen at the Open Mic I have been hosting at the Flatiron in Greensboro, NC. I have been hosting this weekly event for eight years now. This month is actually our anniversary month, which is why I can safely say how many years that was, but not how long it has been since I met Marshall.

I feel like I've always known him now. He is easily in the top five most talented performers we have ever had roll through the doors to the Open Mic. Once he started singing and playing his guitar (exceptional guitar player- and he was twenty years old at the time. Wait. He's twenty-four now, we met when he was twenty... Ok, ok, I met him four years ago. I should start over), I knew he was one of a kind.

Four years ago we met and I wanted to play with music with him. We were just starting to get to know each other when we were in Eating the Invaders, but we quickly became friends - despite our differences (me writing silly songs with a few chords, and him thinking a diminished chord would be nice under his wicked guitar solo). Seriously though, we hit it off and ended up playing music together ever since. Hopefully that will never go away, no matter which city we live in.

After getting the name Eating the Invaders from a friend describing a spider who was eating ants that were stealing the spider's eggs, I went to Nate's Place to see one of Marshall's bands perform. I parked the scooter I was driving at the time and before I could get inside, here comes Marshall.

"Someone canceled, can you open for us?" he asked me.
"I don't have my stuff, I'm on my scooter."
"Use my stuff. We need an opener."

At the microphone for the first time at Nate's Place (and so far the only time, I think), I said- "Hello, my name is Eating the Invaders."

So now I needed a band to use the name. Along with Marshall on guitar, I recruited Barry Staples (a friend of mine who used to play drums at our house back in the Deviled Eggs days. He actually bought us our kick pedal) on drums, Gael McKeon (a new friend, he started playing with Come Hell or High Water around the same time) on upright bass, and Don Ravon (now a staple performer at Open Mic. Then, a new-comer.) on vocals with me. They were all my first picks, and I was honored and excited that they were interested.

We rehearsed for the first time on a Sunday (five songs), and played our first show the next day. Our second show was the day after that.

That band went through changes over the years, losing Gael and Don, gaining Little Mikey Roohan (Gino), Jason Voss, and the uncanny Mr. David Driveway Moore. Then after losing Little Mikey and Voss, we were a four piece at the end.

Yes, the end. We disbanded last year, this month.

I met James Marshall Owen five or six years ago, and I learned a lot from him. I can sing with others now, I can hold a vocal line where it needs to be without just going all crazy and stuff, and I've done things musically that I never knew I could do. Thanks so much for that.

By the way, Marshall is moving to Austin in two weeks.

Eating the Invaders is going to play one more time.

to be continued...

-matty sheets

Eating the Invaders in Harvey's Kitchen.
JMO's farewell show 1
JMO's farewell show 2

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greensboro Fest and Tate Street Festival: An Inspiring and Pleasantly Exhausting Weekend

I used to wonder why Greensboro felt like home. After moving here for four delightful years of teapots, potlucks, papers, and panel discussions at Guilford College, there was suddenly nothing to do but wait tables and . . . wait. I wasn't sure what for, but as it turned out, I was waiting for a construction tractor to run into my car on Friendly Avenue, forcing me to take leave from work so that I might pick up the dusty guitar that I'd been meaning to learn to play, spend my Tuesday nights at The Flatiron's Open Microphone (which, incidentally, is hosted by our fearless leader, Matty Sheets), write songs, and discover the incredibly supportive and welcoming community of musicians in this town, a community which continues to remind me of almost everything that I want from this life.

Between playing and listening at Greensboro Fest and Tate Street Festival this weekend, Blockheads were perpetually reminded that Greensboro is bursting at the seams with music. Thursday night at Legitimate Business in the Glenwood neighborhood, Casual Curious, Sugar High Gang, and Israel Darling (who will be joining us as we serenade Center City Park this Friday) kicked off Greensboro Fest, which proved to be a weekend packed with music at multiple venues every single night. Friday evening, we shared the stage at Lyndon Street Artworks with old and new friends from Pinche Gringo, Romancer,
N'DangR Species, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Resister, and several other bands. So many folks showed up that Lyndon Street artist, Anni Frohlich, even decided at the last minute to set up shop in the parking lot, discovering a number of new admirers for her eco-inspired collage jewelry.

Friday evening proved to be so much fun that some/most/(all?) of us had trouble rousing ourselves bright and early the next day to kick off the live music at this year's Tate Street Festival. With the help of several rounds of coffee and many familiar faces (some of you even braving the day with your very own hangovers, and we love you for it!) shining at us from the impressively chipper audience, we managed to muster all the same excitement from the night before. Have we mentioned that you guys are the best? After battling the heat onstage, we were relieved to sit back and enjoy music from the Ben Jensen Jazz Trio, The Brand New Life, Bruce Piephoff, and Braco. While Jon, Jerrod, Matty, and Harry were saving it up for performances later in the evening with the bands featuring their alternate creative identities,
Little P and I were recovering from heat exhaustion . As I slowly regained my energy, Little P made fun of me for insisting upon spraying her down with sunscreen and then moving on to spray the pinkest members of the crowd near us (strangers or not), but I paid no mind, as I firmly believe that, while we do so solemnly love our critter buddies under the sea, no land mammal deserves to become a lobster simply for the love of music.

Little P proved my point when she showed up to Studio B on Saturday night thirsting for aloe vera. Nonetheless, she proved to be the same ball of energy that we love so much, ready to rock out in the front row for Funny Like a Funeral, The Lake Isle, Decoration Ghost, and Come Hell Or High Water, featuring our favorite frontwoman Suzanne Stafford as well as our very own Harrison Barrow (on piano) and Matty Sheets (on slide guitar and vocals). By this point in the weekend, we heard several folks singing the praises of Greensboro Fest organizers Mike Wallace and Sam Bridges over what a smashing hit each show had been so far. Magically, some of us managed to make it over to The Blind Tiger afterwards in time to hear even MORE Blockheads doing double duty. Jon Bohlen, upright bass player for the Blockheads, put his electric hat on while Jerrod Smith, our creative percussionist, broke out his fanciest guitar licks so that the Leeves could keep the Tate Street Festival After-party going into the wee hours of the morning Sunday.

By this point, my personal level of exhaustion had made me terrified that I might never wake up Sunday in time to be at Legitimate Business for the fourth and final night of Greensboro Fest with all the necessities: a covered dish, songs to sing, and my beloved Baby Teeth on mandolin, cello, and upright bass. We made it to the venue just in time to catch James Marshall Owen and Molly McGinn jamming in the rain under an old gas station awning next door and feed them some barbeque quinoa, which apparently mixes right nicely in the bowl with homemade vegan chili. Once we'd warmed our bellies, we gathered around to hear Liz Kraszeski and Allison Weldon (formerly of Mama Got Saved) as well as James Marshall Owen as they played acoustic sets, followed by The Baby Teeth. I even heard tell that someone from WUAG was there recording the show live for broadcast on Radio Greensboro. Hopefully they caught the entire evening, because Eszett, Secret Message Machine, Torch Runner, and The Bronzed Chorus
made for a fabulous ending to an incredibly exhausting but delightfully inspiring weekend.

We were so inspired, as a matter of fact, that instead of stumbling home to bed, more than a few Blockheads managed to keep their eyes open for one last hurrah at our dear friend Suzanne's house, where we engaged in what might only be described as rowdy musical incest with members of both Come Hell Or High Water and The Baby Teeth as well as former members of Eating the Invaders. As we sang together, several of us smacked on drums and a cast-iron pan as Barry Staples held down the beat, Harry and Gael and Matty played piano with Little P on accordion and random crocodile xylophone solos, Aren chimed in on mandolin, Suzanne broke out the rarest of her original tunes on guitar, Marshall and I passed the banjo back and forth until he fell asleep sitting up (prompting us to write what I believe might be the 79th impromptu tune in Greensboro history about Marshall's uncanny tendency to fall asleep sitting up), and I realized that, like so many of the Greensboro musicians who are part of the wonderful, supportive community that made this weekend possible, we just can't help ourselves.

Even at the end of the playing and show-going marathon, when we should be in bed, our droopy eyes and fading voices and tired, callused fingers will continue to play, with or without us. Whether we have the right equipment or the best sound guy or the perfect venue, it seems we have no choice. So thank you, Greensboro, for giving us the time and the place to do it up right this weekend. You're the best.

-emily stewart

Monday, September 13, 2010

some photographs from the road (Charleston, SC)

The Blockheads play Kudu Coffee in Charleston, SC. All photographs by Melodi Fentress.

Little P takes us to what she called the secret art spot, behind an old strip mall to see some amazing street art.

Emily in the Tin Roof parking lot.

Little P talks to one of her many Charleston friends outside the Tin Roof.

Playing the Tin Roof was a lot of fun. Thanks to the sound guy for working his butt off for us (13 microphones).

The Blockheads rhythm section on the Tin Roof's outside area.

During the set. Little P, Jon, and a blur of Matty.

All photographs by Melodi Fentress. See you soon, Charleston.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Missing the Low Country!

photograph by Melodi Fentress

It has been almost two months since we made a trip to the Coast. It was good to smell the salt air again, for a while I didn't think I'd ever miss it. It brought back good and bad memories of our time on the pirate ship, a year and a half on the sea will make you learn to love the water and hate it.

We were fortunate enough to get back to dry land before She (the sea) got the best of us, and this trip I found myself wandering through the port looking at a few 30' vessels, thinking how easy it would be for us to just quietly shove off in the middle of the night, BACK OUT TO SEA!

For now we will have to enjoy our time spent visiting the coast, dining on Shrimp n' Grits, smelling the salt air and dipping our toes in the familiar waters of the bay of adventure that is Charleston. Can't wait to go back, its a little dry here and the rain just isn't enough.

-jon bohlen

lyrics: the octopus song (in 5 and 3)

When I walked through the door
on my way to the sea, where you'll be.
The ship is at bay,
where I'll be after today.

It's the last day on dry land.
No more rotten earth or dirty sand.
Back to where I belong,
on the ocean, singing us a song.
An octopus song.

When I walked to the ship,
it was right where I left it.
Get on board, get off the shore,
while you wait for me on the sea.

The last day on dry land,
no more rotten earth or dirty sand.
Back to where I belong,
on the ocean, singing us a song.
An octopus song.

yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,
-matty sheets

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

notes from the road : Charleston, SC

A month or so ago, the Blockheads made their first trip to Charleston, SC to play a couple of shows. We had an outstanding time, hung out with excellent people, and played our asses off. Here are a few photographs from our five hour GPS guided drive from Greensboro to Charleston. A big thanks to Little P's folks for loaning us the van.

Little P's friends and sister live in Charleston and were very hospitable and supportive. We were put up on Danny and Joy's boathouse right near downtown. Both Danny and Joy work at The Early Bird Diner, where we had some of the best breakfast I've ever eaten. If you're in Charleston, go eat there. You won't be disappointed. Tell 'em the Blockheads send you.

Our first show was at Kudu Coffee Shop off Market St. We played on the patio, so it was horrifyingly hot, but the staff and sound man were very nice. I guess Kudu is a new place, so go check it out if your in the neighborhood. Good coffee, good food, great beer selection.

Some people came out, we had a fun time with it, and were warmed up and ready for the big show Sunday night. Local performer Laura Jane Vincent invited us to play her farewell-I'm-moving-to-Asheville, NC-show at the Tin Roof.

LV played and sang with a LOT of other Charleston musicians. It was a good time. Despite not knowing anyone, I felt the feeling of community in the room. There was lots of food, lots of hugs, lots of I-hate-goodbyes, and some tears. And quite a few drinks.

We wholeheartedly enjoyed playing the Tin Roof. We worked the patience of the sound man a bit- what with our all acoustic line up- but he worked it out and ran all thirteen channels on the board (including his talk-back microphone). We were well received, made friends, and hung out with some folks back at Danny and Joy's ship.

We came out of it a bit tighter, and with a new song called Wicket (named after our favorite of the three cats on the boathouse) about our trip. We will be performing it for the first time at our next show this Saturday at the Flatiron (we start things off at 10pm, then The Old One-Two, then The Alcazar Hotel plays their Greensboro CD release show).

Thanks, Charleston. We'll see you soon.

Check it out- Jerrod matches the couch.

-matty sheets (words and photographs)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

the search for the Pond Monster continues...(Arlo gets wet)

Blockhead extraordinaire, Emily Stewart (vocals, banjo, dulcimer, Dixie honkelulu), has a dog. This dog's name is Arlo. I think his full name is Arlo Spaghetti Freddy, but I may have that wrong.

Anywhooo, Arlo is a bit afraid of the water, and has recently started swimming. Today we took him on a quest. A quest of the pond. A quest to find the Pond Monster.

We saw some weird stuff and got a bunch of blurry photos that look way worse than that footage of Bigfoot (shout out to my boy Bigfoot- miss you, buddy. Little P says playing the melodica just isn't the same without you).

The day was not a total loss, however. Emily and Melodi both caught exactly thirteen fish a piece.
-matty sheets

more on the Pond Monster.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fishing for new tunes.

Way out in the country there's a road. Down that road there's a driveway. There are no numbers on the mail box, although there are numbers on the mail box at the next driveway. This driveway, the one without numbers, is a long and winding driveway going up then down then up again.

The house at the end of this driveway has a big front porch overlooking the fishing pond on the other side of the driveway. Hundreds of lily pads with blossoming lotus flowers surround, even envelop the edges of the pond.

photograph by Melodi Fentress

A T-shaped floating dock stretches out from the lily pads to a central point on the pond. A row boat and two oars are flipped on the dock- the boat sits upside down to prevent the collection of rain water.

On the front porch there are potted plants, a cat feeding station, and two fishing poles. With one of those fishing poles I caught a pond bass that I killed, cleaned, scaled, cooked and ate for the first time. It was delicious, and fed us for about a week, but that's another story.

The house at the end of this driveway, across from the fishing pond, has two main floors and a third basement level. The basement wraps around the stairs into three areas.

The quiet is nice here. The frogs (and many other creatures) sing into the night like they are longing for a frog who is across the pond- a long, long way to swim. Fish, deer, mice, frogs, turtles, butterflies and huge dragon flies are everywhere. One night, while fishing on the boat, we came across a -for lack of a better term- Pond Monster.

Yes, a monster. He seemed friendly enough (although he did steal a couple of the girl's bikini bottoms while they were swimming, and put carrots in Harry's beer). The Monster shook our boat a little, laughed at how startled we were, but most of all he scared the fish away and refused to sing the part we assigned him in a round of Row, Row, Row Your Boat (that's also another story).

I keep getting distracted. I apologize. The point here is that at this house, down this driveway, across from the pond where the Pond Monster lives, in the above mentioned basement we have set up sixteen microphones and will be recording our first album. The energy is good, we got some really good takes during the first couple of sessions, we made some progress arranging newer songs, and even wrote some brand new stuff.

I can't wait for the next session.

-matty sheets

We'll be at the Flatiron next Saturday, September 4th, to help our friends The Alcazar Hotel celebrate their Greensboro album release show with The Old One-Two.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

P is for Progress.

A big Blockhead salute to our own Little P. Last night at Open Mic, she performed her first three song all original set accompanied only by her own guitar.
She's writing great songs that convey emotion bluntly and beautifully. She's singing out- loud and proud- in front of an audience of her peers, and for all of these things (and more), we'd like to recognize her talent and progress.
A big 'P' for Progress goes out to Little P for all of her hard work this week, from all of us here at Blockhead Headquarters.
-matty sheets

Monday, August 23, 2010

Recording Session Two

While our first recording session out in the country was a blast, it was cut short by responsibilities and life and logistics and transportation (not everyone made the boat), this second session was great. We had a good Friday night, and an all day Blockhead work out on Saturday.
Jon and Jerrod met me around 5pm on Friday. We set up microphones, sound baffles, and got ready for the rest of the band.
But then we got bored.
We ended up making up a song (which is kinda weird about a collage Emily made called The Lady on the Horse), and doing a version of one of our newest songs, Wicket (about our friends and times in Charleston, SC). It was not the same without everyone, and when they did show up around midnight, we had a blast. (Like I said, some of us missed the boat. They had to wait for the next ship to leave.) I'm not sure if we got any good takes Friday night, but it was a great time.
Saturday was an all out bleeding fingers and voices session.
We recorded a total of nineteen songs (multiple times) including a new one of Emily's and a song I wrote on one of our cigarette breaks. Little P brought a new one, too, and it got recorded with the lot of 'em, something about her love for African American males. (Probably spawned from her fling with the first mate of The Claudia in 2007.)
We are all set up around sixteen microphones. We're all playing at the same time to give us that live feel, to remind us of our times on the pirate ship we worked on (The Claudia), and to keep us in touch with our musical roots.
From what we've done in session two, I have the feeling this is going to be a long album, with many musical interludes and unexpected songs. And I like it.
-matty sheets

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blockheads Sunrise Celebration

Little P and Sheets out on the pond, fishing for song material. The rest of the Blockheads are underwater. Eric Murphy is playing chess with the Pond Monster, and it's quite a nail biter.
Photograph by Melodi Fentress.