World: Influences: Here’s a playlist of songs that inspired A World That’s Bigger:
When Mike Gentry and I went to the Burg cabin to record A World That’s Bigger in 2016, I brought a list of acoustic songs that had influenced me in some way during the writing process.
After listening, Gentry offered feedback on how we could get the best acoustic guitar sound while maintaining my goal to record the entire record live.
Here’s a list of those songs that influenced the record.
1. “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake
Nick Drake recorded his last record over three nights, mostly live.
In 2016, I told Gentry I needed to do my next record this way, fully live. Drake’s Pink Moon guided a lot of the process, and “Ghostwriter” is dedicated to him.
2. “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young
Aaron Noone taught me how to play “Harvest Moon” ten years ago. Young’s use of a drop-d turning and his chord shapes hint at “A World That’s Bigger.”
3. “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell
For the last few years, I’ve been exploring alternate tunings on the guitar. Basically, I teach myself a Joni Mitchell song, and then write a song in that tuning. Dave Van Ronk called “Clouds” is favorite by her, and I agree. I don’t think there’s a better song.
“Both Sides Now” is in a guitar tuning called open-D [DADF#AD]. I use this on “Ghostwriter,” and DADGAD on “Those Shoes” and “Girl on the Mountain, Boy on the Beach.”
4. “Someone Like You” by Brian Vander Ark
During college, I saw BVA’s perform in Kalamazoo at Craftbrau after the Verve Pipe went on hiatus, and this song has stayed with me. I love the way this BVA addresses the most powerful Muse, love.
Fun fact, I’m playing at the same Kalamazoo venue (now called Old Dog Tavern) opening for Frontier Ruckus, tomorrow!
5. “Against the Grain?” by City and Colour
A few years ago, I recorded at Catherine North Studios with Dan Achen and Michael Chambers simply because of the City and Colour album that was done there. I love this record so much for its sound; and also lines like, “When the day seems lost from the start/You must follow your heart.”
Dallas Green’s Bring Me Your Love approaches the discussion of death directly, even with the album cover, and that ended up getting into the back of my mind as a songwriter.
Death haunts us all, like a “ghost on the sidewalk.” Dan Achen died when I was still in the middle of working on Burning the Boats. Then my family had a long string of loss.
Maybe it’s more fitting than ironic that the music that guided me, gave me a bit of courage to embrace these topics in my own songwriting.
6. “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor
James Taylor said he wrote this song as a lullaby for his nephew as he was driving to visit family.
I became an uncle and a dad in a short period of time, and those are the main themes of the record.
Also, these song by JT and City and Colour on this playlist highlight two themes side-by-side.
7. “Quiet” by John Mayer
Ok, honestly I was going to put “Neon” on this playlist, but “Quiet” fits the mood better. I’ve found myself shifting to more fingerpicking over the years.
My love of solo acoustic records was cemented by an obsession over Mayer’s first EP, Inside Wants Out. In 2000, I stumbled on John Mayer’s first EP from an Aware Records compilation, and then I found his MP3.com site. Most of those tracks were just Mayer on acoustic guitar, and that’s still my favorite presentation of his music. I saw John Mayer play his first Michigan show in 2001 at the Shelter, and later that year at the Blind Pig.
8. “Please Forgive Me (Song of the Crow)” by William Fitzsimmons
The story of Fitzsimmons’s 2009 record about his divorce is heartbreaking, yet makes the songs that much more, sadly, powerful. Chris DuPont turned me on to Fitzsimmons’s music, and I devoured this record in 2013 and 2014.
I also chose to write about real life in my songwriting for A World That’s Bigger. However, Gentry and I went in a different direction sonically for the acoustic guitar and vocal. There is a quite a bit of compression on this track, and if you listen to a song like “We’re Not Here Anymore,” you will hear how we intentionally choose use a less amount of compression on my record. I allowed Gentry to make the decisions on the levels, and he labored over them.
9. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
Another song about divorce, which is odd since my record is about love. However, one theme from “Landslide” guides the record: “Time makes you bolder/ Even children get older,/ And I’m getting older too…” I get requests to sing “Landslide” for people’s weddings, and I bite my tongue. (Haven’t you read the lyrics?) Maybe I was trying to write a better fit, with “Little Drum.”
10. “I Just Wanted You to Grow Old” by Nataly Dawn
Dawn’s record came out around the time Natalie and I moved to Ann Arbor to a tiny rental house on Maple Street. I was gigging six nights a week, and I would listen to CBC’s Laurie Brown’s the Signal on drives home. One night, Brown played Dawn’s record, and that became my favorite record. Four songs I wrote in that rental house ended up on A World That’s Bigger, and listening to Dawn takes me back to that time in rental house, too.
11. “Road” by Nick Drake
Like my record beings where it ends, I wanted to leave us with one more Nick Drake song. This song is so simple, yet feels like so much more because of the guitar parts.
It’s just one person, sitting in a chair, sharing a song.
Wow! Norovirus hit us multiple times here at the Vial/Burg house this month. I had to cancel a bunch of gigs, but fortunately, we are all well in time for an upcoming weekend tour in the Midwest!
On Friday (2/17), I’m opening for Frontier Ruckus in Kalamazoo at Old Dog Tavern to celebrate their new record! Tickets are $12: Buy here
On Saturday (2/18), I’m sharing a show with Chaz Hearne (Chaz & Alex) in Chicago at Uncommon Ground (Devon in Edgewater). Tickets are $8. Reserve seat here
Uncommon Ground, 1401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60660
On Sunday (2/19), I’m returning to the Chicory Cafe in South Bend to play an afternoon set in South Bend! Noon to 2 PM. No cover.
New Video, “Kalamazoo” filmed by Charles Steen:
West Virginia’s forsaken coke
ovens, a painter’s acid palette,
reddened the rocks of Douglas Falls.
Listen to the water whisper a story
waiting in secluded vibrancy.
That green pool of tears knows
the taste of our progress better
than we do, as those falls crash
stained rock, again and again,
a spectacular, grotesque end.
February 1-2, 2017
January 30 is Fred Korematsu Day.
We recognize his protest of the Japanese Internment Camps as an American citizen, and his work in social justice throughout his life.
My Tiny Desk Contest submission is a song for him, “California Cries (May 30, 1942 – San Leandro).”
You can read lyrics here on Genius.
More about Korematsu here: http://www.korematsuinstitute.org/