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The Joy of Trickery (This Is Not A Pipe)

In Newport, Kentucky just on the other side of the river from Cincinnati, Ohio sits a huge old mansion on a hill called the Southgate House.  When Abraham Lincoln visited the house it must have overlooked the beautiful Ohio river where you could watch the striped swimsuit bathers on the river beaches in the summers.  Now, The Southgate House overlooks Newport on the Levy, an enormous new development that is an indoor and outdoor mall flanked by fake Italian restaurants with freshly painted beige walls.  But inside the Southgate House history is everywhere; you can feel the ghosts in the cracked walls and see the aged framed portraits of mustachioed dead guys.  The word “House” is kind of misleading, as the structure underwent a massive extension to the back side at some point so that it now includes a massive ballroom.  The two-tiered room has red curtains and a speakeasy vibe, which seems appropriate when you learn that Frank Sinatra once performed on the stage where we would perform on December 17th, 2010.

To celebrate the release of my solo album Alchemy, i invited Chris Oberle, a Cincinnati area illusionist and conveniently a big July For Kings fan, to open the show.  My album Alchemy contains the word “magic” 50* times, so it seemed fitting that we would have a magician open for us.  * i just made that number up.

i had only communicated with Chris online.  Chris told me he had created his own tricks (sold by and crossed paths with David Blaine a few times.  Oberle seemed pretty legit so invited him to perform with us.  In the weeks before the event, Chris and i began hanging out and i got to see some amazing close-up magic.  in the first few minutes, i was a bit skeptical, as that is the natural human disposition toward magicians.  as Chris continued to perform i became a believer.  what is amazing is not only the quickness and thoroughness of his illusions but the sheer amount of tricks he can improvise with complete mastery.  cards move around, rings disappear, minds are read–and blown.  now i was feeling quite satisfied, having wrangled a real magician into performing with us at a mysterious, enormous and allegedly haunted house to celebrate the release of my dark new album.  naturally, i asked Chris the question i had been waiting my whole life to ask a magician: “can you make me disappear?”

flash forward to the evening of our Southgate House show, December 17.  by now i hope you know where this is going.  Chris performs a good opening set of illusions assisted by another magician Jason Jacobs, my friend and fellow singer/songwriter Samuel Lockridge plays an incredibly moving selection of original songs, and we are playing our set, which goes reasonably well.  I am performing with JFK members who had graciously agreed to learn and perform songs from my two solo albums Curvature and Alchemy.  Occasionally we are joined onstage by Chris as we attempt to weave some illusions into the music portion of the evening.  we closed the show with a song called “Magic”, the first track on Alchemy.  At the end of the song, there is a long dark instrumental section, which we extended for this show.  For the grand finale, Brian our bassist and John our guitarist leave the stage as my long-time drummer Dan McQuinn emerges from behind the drum set and begins wrapping me in a shiny purple cloth. This is the moment of truth.

at soundcheck, just a few hours before the moment of truth, we botched the illusion completely.

in the same way a rock band learns songs and practices them relentlessly until they are correct, Chris, Dan, and I rehearsed the illusion in the weeks leading up to the event until it felt right.  At first, we were instructed by a veteran Cincinnati area magician and escape artist, Phil Dalton, who Chris brought in to teach us the basics and give us pointers.  Once the trick began to shape up, we performed for John and Brian as they pointed out small mistakes until the illusion looked like real magic.  what i learned about stage and close-up illusions in the course of the few weeks during my pseudo-magician internship with Chris, is that there are few “magic” props that eliminate the need for human skill.  each trick requires a particular combination of timing, dexterity, and patience in different dosages.

all of that rehearsing seemed for naught when, with John and Brian watching again as the only two members of our audience, our sole attempt at the trick during sound-check at the Southgate House looked like an absolute joke.  we left the stage dejected.  the doors of the venue were opening and people began filing in so there was no time for another run-through.  John and Brian began expressing doubts that we should even attempt the stunt in front of a large crowd–it could be the most embarrassing, awkward ending to a concert ever.  but after a month of preparation, i decide we will take our chances and attempt to fulfill my dream of disappearing onstage, a dream that took hold when i was eleven as i watched David Copperfield perform live at a theater in Cincinnati with my father.

Where were we?  At the end of our last song “Magic”, Dan wraps me in a shiny purple cloth.  The audience is confused.  In literally a matter of seconds, the cloth drops to reveal not me but magician Chris Oberle standing on stage in my place, who points a finger and directs the audience to look up at me–standing in the balcony behind them!  a group of people standing in the balcony is completely oblivious until the moment of my appearance a mere five feet beside them.  they spin around and gasp saying “he is quick!” as the room fills with applause and the house lights come on.

“how is it done?” you might ask.  well, there are a lot of ways one might disappear and reappear or switch places with a magician: trap doors, body doubles, underground tunnels–we used none of these, honestly.  it was magic!  if i was talking about a song, i would tell you exactly how it was created, and that would enrich your experience.  this is not the case with magic tricks.

it is no coincidence that david blaine and chris angel and a host of other illusionists have enjoyed greater popularity in recent years.  we live in a paranoid society where missing the “real” truth could mean voting for the lying candidate, drinking from the water bottle that leeches toxic chemicals, or believing in a god that does not exist.  we no longer trust our government, our corporations, or our religious institutions.  And maybe we never did?  but access to a deluge of conflicting and vitriolic information has rendered us almost incapable of trust, and more vocal about our lack of faith.  ideology colors everything.  and as we slowly begin to realize that our ideologies are ephemeral and socially constructed, we cling ever more tightly to our precepts, lest they lose all of their fundamental power.

ironically, a magic trick gives us something to believe in.  we know it isn’t real, but as we are thrust into the moment, that suspension of disbelief is genuine refuge from the misery of postmodern paranoia.  and the real kicker is that the only consequence of being so completely fooled is pure joy–a net positive instead of a negative.

during my one-minute career as a performing illusionist i felt the rush that comes with breaking laws and rules, with doing something bad for the sake of being bad.  but we weren’t robbing a bank.  we were using lies and deception to bring joy into our own lives and into the lives of the audience.  as the supposedly magic purple cloth first touched my body, the timing was perfect.  it just felt right.  i knew we had nailed it.

but magicians are not the only weavers of illusion.  every act of creation is at once a truth and a lie.  every artist–including painters, songwriters, movie directors, poets, and so on–is a magician, an alchemist.  we take from reality and reconstruct a world that does not truly exist, a world that is a mere reflection, a lie of the “real” world.  we are thieves and liars of the best sort.  here is to the tricksters, to the craftsmen of ruses, to every act of amiable social deviance!  Thanks to Chris, my band, and everyone who came to the show and continues to support my music.

now you see me, now you don’t!

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college degrees, brand-building, justifications, cereals

Holy crap I have a new website! And a place to blog again. I hope you are well. It has been a long while since I have written. Let’s catch up!

I have graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Studio Arts with an Emphasis in Painting. I have been accepted into the graduate program at the University of Cincinnati to pursue a Masters of Fine Art. That begins in the fall.

With some extra time on my hands the last few months I created this website for my solo music, and a website for my visual art. I am working on a new jfk site as well.  My old website became outdated both in terms of content and web accessibility. In the process of creating the new site I went back and dug out some extremely old blogs (from before the word blog existed, as i like to say) from the early July For Kings days.  Unfortunately I lost some photos for some posts in 2005 and 2006. But all the text is intact. If you are long-time fan (or former band member, for that matter) it is entertaining reading. Some of the writing is rather bland but it does at the very least, say what happened. Which at the time was all an “online journal” was supposed to do. I guess now a blog is supposed to be interesting. Ha!  i have created a category called Favorites for entries that were intentionally or accidentally interesting to read.

We played a July For Kings show in Dayton, OH at McGuffy’s last week with Smalltown Sleeper that confirmed our deepest suspicions–we still have fans!  and lots of them!  we were overjoyed by the turnout and really encouraged.  it had been a while since we had played with JFK (and longer since we had promoted much).  the timing is perfect as well, since I have written a more guitar-oriented, driving July for Kings album. I have demos that I am really excited about and continue to record but no, sorry, you cannot hear them as i am singing in a half-assed falsetto so as not to disturb my neighbors.  We will begin recording the masters in the next few weeks, and i will do some real singing and possibly even some throat-ripping screaming, which i have not done on an album in a very long while. I will write more about that as it unfolds. It is still early–we are expecting at least four or five months until you can hear anything–but I am excited about doing something more rocking, coming off my solo album Alchemy.  Alchemy was well-received but probably would not be described as hard rocking.  increasingly, jfk and my solo adventures are different entities, and that is very fun for me since i must constantly create, and i can’t make the same kind of pie every day because i may have adhd or add or aaaaaahhhh i want a gourmet ice cream sandwich!  wowow okay.

also, i have found that there is little tolerance for variety when it comes to artists.  we have come to see creators like companies.  artists build brands the same way corporations do, and don’t stray from their brand much (see shepherd fairey).  if you are a rock band, you have a stylistic thing and do it over and over.  if you are a visual artist, you make the same kind of painting over and over.  there are some exceptions to the rule (Picasso, Radiohead), but many times the people who have gotten away with this have done so because their entire schtick has been eclecticism.  since i am no radiohead or picasso, it is easiest to divide my life into different categories or brands, which has been a good way to direct my energy.  right now it is Alt-Rock Frontman, Prog-Electro-Folk Singer-Songwriter, and painter.  any pursuit i get into is going to have its own set of rules, so it is easiest to kind of keep those lines drawn.  i am not sure why i started writing this.  i guess i spend a lot of time justifying myself, which is what happens when you go to art school.  see how i just justified the reason i was justifying myself?!  after i get my masters degree, i probably won’t be able to think or create at all!  i will be in a paralyzing coma that alternates between self-doubt, self-justification, and fear.  i hope though, that i will have Mom’s Best Naturals Mallow-Oats cereal, my favorite new cereal.

Speaking of cereal, I only have one really great story since the last time I wrote a blog, and it has nothing to do with cereal.  the story takes place at the Alchemy full-band show in the historic ballroom at the Southgate House.  I will post it after this.  it seems that life is just not as interesting as it was when i was trekking all over europe during the summer.  but it would be a shame to exclude this one story, even if the telling is belated, as it contains suspense, American history, deception, philosophy and more.  all of that wrapped up in less than sixty seconds of my life.  yes, really!  the sixty seconds i was a magician.

That is the update for now.  xoxox

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on the eve of my thirtieth birthday

perhaps, in a world of fortune tellers or time travelers, age would be measured not by the distance one is from birth but by their proximity to death. and maybe i would be much older or surprisingly younger, if tomorrow afternoon i am crushed by a satellite that has fallen out of orbit. or maybe there is a formula for measuring age that could be instituted based on temperament, physical appearance (including size and quantity of face wrinkles and dead hair follicles), wisdom, knowledge, worldly success, amount of children, tendency to say “like”, tendency to text during dinner, tendency to use the number and letter 401K or at least have heard of that combination of numbers and one letter, the frequency of waning rock concert attendances, or any other number of measurable variables that are outward sociological indicators of age. without such a formula, our numerical ages and the stigmas that come with them are as arbitrary as the calendar that we live by created by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. he was 80 years old.

but i guess if 30 was not a milestone, then i would not write about it. perhaps, i imagine myself doing a very small part to dispel the myth that you cannot be musically or artistically creative at 30 (as a side note if i still had managers and a record label, they would probably ask me not to post this). frankly, i think many “adult” artists are better equipped to communicate with a larger portion of the populace than artists like justin bieber or miley cirus. the reason more and more young people dominate the buying population is that less and less music that is pushed on radio is intelligent enough to be appealing to people over the age of twelve. it is cyclical. in 1985 Phil Collins won album of the year for No Jacket Required. This year? Taylor Swift. you just cannot have a receding hairline and a number one album anymore. i don’t know if that is a bad thing necessarily… but it’s something to think about.

i know that i have been around the sun about thirty times. just a speck or smaller than a speck on a speck on a big watery rock. i do like going around the sun. a few weeks ago the earth passed through the trail of a comet known as Swift-Tuttle. every year this happens and creates great show of shooting stars known as the “perseids” as rocky pieces of the comet burn up in our atmosphere. this is the most reliable of meteor showers and i am among the most reliable of audience members, having watched it almost every year since i was a kid, or at least every year that earth weather offered me a clear view of space. meteor showers are the only times that i think about the fact that the earth is careening through a vacuum of nothing and dust at 66,660 miles an hour. how is it that i am aboard this ship, or that it goes around this particular star, or that i first came into existence on this day, labor day, september 6th 1980? in answering this question i must believe that i am at once the least and most significant thing ever.

a speck is a speck. but for each speck on the planet, a near infinite array of atoms have collided in a precise order so that our tongue cells have traveled from a distant star and been rearranged a near infinite amount of times to form our flesh so that we might taste ice cream. some stroke of fate caused my mother and father to fall in love. someone at a condom factory overestimated the strength of the particular blend of condom latex that broke some winter evening some nine months before i dropped through the curtain of existence and screamed my first healthy scream. almost simultaneously in hospitals all over the tri-state and beyond my friends and future lovers were being born.

i don’t know for sure that there is an “i” that really exists. that there is a “self” that is not just a network of synapses that have been arranged in such a way as to believe that they exist apart from the whole of the swirling, blending, changing motion of the cosmos. but i know existence itself is real. here is to that wondrous truth.

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Frogs in France

i am on a train cutting a path through the beautiful french countryside going faster and faster. today i am traveling from a village outside of lyon, france to paris. it is a high speed train and now the meaning of high speed is becoming clearer as it shakes like a space shuttle. this is an odd way to travel through such a slow moving landscape. the country rolls and sways in patches of sunny green and yellow with gentleness. the word beautiful does not do it justice. perhaps the the french words for beautiful, belle and beaux are so short because there are so many things in france that need to be described this way.

when i arrived in lyon i was greeted by Jérémy, a longtime supporter of mine and a big american music fan. if not for his thick french accent i could have taken him for an ohioan–he wears cut-off tee-shirts, sunglasses and sandals and walks with the casualness and unhurriedness of someone who lives in the country. he is average height and about my age. from the airport we drove to lyon, the second largest city in paris although maybe you haven’t heard of it and i really hadn’t either.

we took a funiculare (that is the italian word but i cannot remember the french word) to the top of a mountain and looked out at lyon from the foot of a the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a castle-like cathedral that can be seen from anywhere in the city. lyon (pronounced kind of like lee-own) is sprawling and not very tall, the way most old european cities are. it has one or two or three skyscrapers and a river snaking through many clay roofed buildings looking like tan and red-orange legos dropped onto a green shag carpet fading into the hills in the hazy distance. french cities and villages look a lot like italian cities and villages and when i noticed this Jérémy reminded me that italy is not far–they are both southern europe. the language and culture however, could not be more different. in europe you can travel less than an hour and find that everyone speaks a different language and eats different food and even in the same country they greet each other with a different amount of kisses and in a different order from left to right. in america, i told Jérémy, “you can drive for 20 hours and see the same stores, meet the same kind of people, and speak exactly the same language.”

we found our way to the art museum in downtown lyon kind of by accident. Jérémy had never been to the art museum and didn’t know where it was. i just assumed as we were walking that there would be an art museum and it would be a good one since we were in a large french city after all, and the french impressionists and post-impressionists had made arguable the most important contributions to painting ever. sure enough, in the most historic area of town we found it. unfortunately the beautiful old stone building did not have air conditioning, or the air conditioning was out of order. on one hour of sleep (as i had played a late acoustic show in london the previous night), the heat was quite uncomfortable. but i was in france dammit, and i was determined to see some great paintings. we wandered through room after room and made our best conversation considering Jérémy has only some interest in art and my tiredness made it difficult to communicate anything with enthusiasm.
“i will sleep when i get to america,” i told him when he realized how short the previous night must have been. between blinks of sweaty tired eyelids i saw some monets and pissaros and vuilliards and bonnards and other artists that i know a little more about than a lot of french people. i thought about trying to make a list of all the art museums i have been to in the last two months and realized what a daunting task this will be.

so i can name some french artists and what their main contributions to painting were. that is the only thing that prevents me from feeling completely ignorant in the company of french people.
“do you know our president?” Jérémy asked me and i responded “no” with a little embarrassment (it’s Nicolas Sarkozy, btw). but that is why people travel, right? to learn things? later that night his friends and family members would ask me questions like
“do you know our music?” or give me the name of some french singer or movie star who i could not place. france, we wikipediaed, is about the size of texas, although maybe the french know much more about texas than texans know about the french. i think that is a safe bet, if george w. was any indication. i told them that austin texas, is a current american center of progressiveness and that there area always exceptions to stereotypes. as as sidenote, the french have never heard of grey poupon.

these kind of conversations, not unlike the conversations i had in germany, holland, and england, were nearly constant for the next two days as we ate and drank and wandered around the beautiful old towns and villages of saint-clair-du-Rhône, Saint-Pierre-de-Boef, and Chavanay, described by the official website as a pleasant village at the foot of Mount Pilat. the Rhône river weaves through the area and is so blue-green it is like a ribbon strip of water cut directly from the fabric of the ocean.

Jérémy lives with his wife blondina (a local name) who is one of those people who glows warmly like a sun, and two beautiful daughters in a typical french house with stucco walls and the red-orange roof, a house they built themselves recently. sitting in the backyard you can see vineyard-covered mountains. every inch of available hillside in this area of france is covered with grapevines. over the weekend we would spend many hours in the backyard eating bread, cruissants, pork, frogs, snails, duck, more bread, patte, drinking local wines and watching the sun set behind the vineyards.

Jérémy’s friend jeff is the most french man i have ever met. maybe i am not qualified to make that kind of assessment as an american. but with the limited knowledge i acquired in three days i think it is true and i said so the other night and nobody at the table argued. jeff is pensive and stoic, with a knowing smile, very dark hair and a stubbly face. he is a jazz piano virtuoso and an amazing chef.
“everything jeff does, i do,” i said as jeff applied a large amount of homemade mayonnaise to his duck medallion and i did the same on my plate. i would follow his lead in matters of food and wine pairings throughout the weekend.

jeff’s father grows grapes and jeff worked on a nearby vineyard for three years when he was younger. the vineyards that cover the Rhône-Alpes area of france are planted on extremely steep mountainsides and hillsides that makes harvesting hard work, work that is more akin to mountain climbing–complete with a pack on your back of sticky bunches of grapes–than it is farming. it is hard to overestimate the importance of wine in french culture.

the weather is the greatest enemy of all farmers and winemakers are no exception. in some areas of france, upon the first signs of hail–which would utterly destroy a crop, authorities will launch missiles into the air to break up the ice balls. yes, missiles. i guess this is called cloud seeding and is used for various purposes in different parts of the world, but i cannot imagine a defensive military maneuver being a component of winemaking in the united states.

jeff’s father has thousands of bottles of homemade wine locked away in a cellar, bottles which would be illegal to sell on the french market since the vineyard is unlicensed.
“then what will you do with all of it?” i wondered.
“drink it. we are hoping that maybe we will inherit some of it,” jeff said. “when i was sixteen i learned about wine. i kicked the door open with my foot and stole some bottles. you can still see the…on the door. what’s the word?”
“footprint,” i said.

my acoustic guitar, which was lost in London by the airport, eventually found its way to Jérémy’s house. saturday evening i played a living room concert for Jérémy, his wife, jeffs wife nathalie and their daughter Charlotte, a wide-eyed fifteen year old who wears a lot of colors and is quickly learning english, and a handful of other friends. Jérémy plays the guitar and teaches guitar lessons, his wife blondina is an excellent singer and toured with a choir, and their friends are music teachers and pianists and clarinetists et cetera. i was a bit intimidated in a room full of musicians but i played well enough and everyone seemed to enjoy it. afterwards, they played some of their french and english songs for ME and we played some cover songs together.

“good bread, good cheese, good wine.” those are the perfect ingredients for a happy french person according to Jérémy. that combination made for one happy american too and last night my happiness was mixed with the knowing sadness of the impending end. Jérémy and company told me that maybe the french as a romantic people was just a stereotype. but that night with Jérémy and his loving family and friends with our stomachs full of the most amazing food and drinks, lying on our backs looking up at a clear warm sky translating words like milky way and satalites to french and english as we spotted shooting stars, i cannot think of a better word.

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cinque terra

35401_10150221112925006_4031549_ni woke up today to another rainy day in florence. i have been mildly depressed lately missing my girlfriend, my family, my cats, my bandmates and the rain does not help. i was fifteen minutes late getting out of bed and almost missed the train. the station was wet and cold and full of screeching brakes and the cacophony of african and european languages dissolving into complete nonsense which is occasionally funny in the way that a word becomes funny and turns to nothing if you say it over and over again. on the first train it rained most of the three hour ride. at the station where we finally transferred it was cold and wet and more cold and i was regretting not bringing a jacket. the second and final train to the Cinque Terra (chinkwa-tear-a: five lands) was a quick ride. as we entered a long tunnel it was so gross out i felt as if i had picked the worst possible day to make the trip, and was thinking i would rather be in a movie theater or still in bed. just then the train came rushing out of the mountain and blackness turned to the most beautiful ocean shining so bright from the sun every stranger in our train car literally cheered outloud, our eyes turning to funnels. to the left blue sky, waves and white diamonds shrinking into a hazy horizon and to the right pink and yellow rectangular houses in impossible stacks upon stacks on cliffsides like shoeboxes in a display window. the day would remain one of the most beautiful days i have ever experienced and there was not a drop of rain and hardly any clouds until we passed back through the mountain that night. this seems like a laughable exaggeration even to me now as i type but unless i have fallen under some italian spell have been dreaming and sleeptyping, i swear to god that today i traveled by train through a magical mountain and was transported to a secret realm of timeless, perfect beauty.

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solo album cover reveal part 2 of 3

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

joe hedges album cover reveal

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a roaring pagan sun

i am now on a bus from ostia to Firenze (florence) italy. i have had many adventures and taken many pictures in rome. just when i was starting to get comfortable there i have to leave. i will go back. i have always loved being in big cities, especially big cities with subways. rome is probably the most beautiful city i have ever seen. it is like new york or chicago in its business and touristiness, but i think the locals walk slower and seem to enjoy life a little more. it would be hard not to when you are surrounded by such beauty and history. it is inescapable. you cannot walk more than a few blocks without stumbling upon something extraordinary.

i visited the Pantheon (pan- many, theos- god) the other day. i have been looking at pictures and drawing this building since i was fifteen but nothing can compare to the experience of being inside it. the scale is enormous! the building’s power transcends architecture and religion. it is almost geological in its force. i stood near the center and watched rain fall through the oculus in the dome, a secret portal to heaven. i caught raindrops with my eyes and my mouth.

for the first time i could really sympathize with the religion of the ancient Romans. to feel what it must have felt like to enter that space and be overcome or at the very least humbled. you don’t need to understand the details and intricacies of the roman myths or gods to feel the importance of the temple. it is simply a human ego check, a reminder that we are small, insignificant, and connected to something or someone (or a group of someone’s) that may be governing the heavens and the earth and having an effect on our fate. unfortunately, much of the original decor of the pantheon has been replaced with christian symbols and statues. the christian stuff seems incredibly out of place and in a way neutered by the intensity and sublimity of the “pagan” space.

although, as a bonus Raphael’s tomb is in the pantheon. why didn’t i know that? the other day i also accidentally found a castle. my best recent accidental find back in ohio was a styrofoam head at the Trenton Garage Sale Extravaganza.

i saw most of the major sights in Rome including the colosseum, which i sketched while i imagined gladiators fighting, real miniature sea battles, and early christians being savagely ripped apart and eaten by lions under a roaring pagan sun while dreaming of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and the certainty of heaven. i saw the ruins of Ostia Antica, the original sea port of ancient rome. i explored miles of archeological excavations of the town, wandering freely in and out of the remains of old store fronts, apartments, and temples. i saw the capuchin crypts–piles of human bones laid out in intricate designs by monks. back in Ostia (the modern city, a suburb of Rome), i made friends with Lorenzo, an imposing but gentle guy about my age with a deep voice, an intense gaze, and a black stubbly square chin who works at a gellato shop a few blocks from the hostel. the last few nights i have walked along the beach to get gellato and hang out with Lorenzo on a bench just outside the store.

i also have assisted my compatriots with two sand sculptures on the beach, one of a hydra and one of a sphynx. we are all artists and it is natural to make art where we go. italian children gathered around and their parents took photographs. i met a very thin italian kid who proudly spoke some english. he told me his name was Eduardo, that he was eleven, and that our sculpture was “beeeeauuutiful!” as he gestured dramatically with his hands in a sincere Italian way.

i am hoping to carve out a few days this week to finish up a mix of a song from my new solo album. i have chosen a title and am close to finishing the cover art. i need to find a venue to do the album release in. i want to have a concert in the round and i want it to have elements of art installation and video. i don’t know how that is all possible but i am thinking about it a lot.

we are pulling into Florence now. i have just seen a sign with a black rooster, the symbol for the chianti wine region.
sadly, there is no internet at the hotel. i will find a cafe somewhere and be in touch.

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incubating an album, photographs, paintings, and scientists


it’s a blog!

first things first–we have july for kings shows this friday and saturday in cleveland and cincinnati. please consider coming out if you are in the area. with any luck, they will not suck. that is the endorsement. go ahead and tell your friends you heard from the singer the show will “probably not suck”. it’s good to start with low expectations. if your friends need more convincing just keep upping the bar. best to stop just short of “amazing” though. we haven’t played a show in months. but we are looking forward to it! keep the facebook “attending”s comin’.

i have been working hard on solo album. okay that’s not true. i have been wishing i could work hard on a solo album when in actuality i’ve been carving out a couple days a week if i’m lucky. although i did have a short period of mania a couple weeks ago where i worked on it a lot but only slept about an hour a night. until school is out that is kind of the only way to do it. it is going to be great though and i think about it everyday. i began with 15 to 20 songs; the best 11 or so are sounding pretty good although some are still without vocals and some are lacking bridges. i think i just need ONE more song to round out the album. i need a really upbeat song. i need something great to happen to me. or maybe just a sunny day with nothing else to do but record. i have a mood in my head. i have so many moods in my head.

in some ways the album is more adventurous than curvature. the tempos are more varied (or at least i am trying…). there are two songs in 5/4. the instrumentation is more varied. the concept has been to use earthy, acoustic and wooden sounds against modern sounding electronic and ambient elements. i think it may be slightly more accessible though in that it won’t mope or brood quite as hard as curvature. it is a little bit sappier…maybe more melancholy than dark. i know all this basically means nothing until you hear it. i guess this is just a reminder to you (and myself) that it exists. i am hoping to block out most of may 8th-27th to finish it up. last summer we did july for kings monochrome. it is a little crazy but i actually think i could do an album every year, now that i have enough resources and know-how to arrange and record most of it on my own. writing songs has never been a problem for me. it’s just capturing them in the right way.

lately the lines between songwriting and production have kind of started to blur. doing curvature with blumpy really opened me up to a larger world of sonic possibilities, and to the idea that a song is more than lyrics and melody. on the album i am working on, there are a few passages of just music without vocals. maybe it is partially that i have been listening to my own voice for so long… it is a bit of relief to have some space that is more about the instruments and chords and textures. texture and layering has become more and more important to me in music in the last few years. i think there are a lot of parallels with my visual art.

and speaking of visual art, i had a gallery show of photographs recently at the covington artisan’s enterprise center in covington, ky. you might recognize this image:

july for kings monochrome album cover photo framed print

this was the most involved exhibition i have ever participated in. Karen S. Chambers wrote a really nice review of it here at, possibly the artsy-est publication in Cincinnati. the review is a good overview of the aesthetic.

it was almost like a solo show, in that i had twenty photographs in one area. the other artists was holland davidson, a talented abstract painter from florida. it takes quite a lot of time to print, cut, cut mat board, tape, matte, take apart frame, reassemble frame, cut wire, and hang x 20 pictures. so the whole experience of the show devoured a lot of energy for a month or so. i have been working on this series off and on for a year or two, but of course the process of trying to sell art is much more involved than actually making art, which i have always found to be somewhat easy. we finally took down the show the other day, so i have made the photos available at, at least for limited time. these pictures may be too abstract for a lot of people. but we did not sell all the photos and i don’t really have any use for ten + frames at the moment, so i may also try and sell some prints of some of the monochrome alternate covers, or some more straightforward black and white things i was working on in 2007-08.

i am also working on a series of expressive portrait paintings of friends and family. i am just rounding out the series now at 10 or so. after a lifetime of intermittent drawing and painting i think i have finally arrived at a personal style that is unique and cohesive and mature. this is saying something. i will put up these paintings in the next few weeks. i am going to start looking for another local gallery who may want to show them.

if you need art, buy it from an artist! not from wal-mart. it is dumb the amount of money people spend on silly wal-mart artworks when there are so many artists out there who are sacrificing a normal life to make art. the people who make art are crazy about making art. you have to be crazy, i guess, since nobody wants to pay for it. and if you don’t like my art i will put you in touch with other artists. and if you like my art but i’m the only working artist you know, even better! i would be so happy to be the one artist you know. it is good to have an artist in your life. or at least, four out of five people in my life are happy about it last time i counted and that seems high.

you know what i need? is more scientists. also magicians. i tried making friends with a magician i found online recently but it didn’t go so well. so if you are doing science or actual magic, hit me up. those are two of my favorite things.


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Leonardo Da Vinci the Musician

Leonardo da Vinci, Presumed self-portrait

Leonardo da Vinci, Presumed self-portrait

i am going to italy for a month this summer! holy crap! i can’t wait. i will study michaelangelo and drawing in florence for three weeks and rome for a week. in preparation, i have been reading about my favorite figures from the Italian renaissance including one my childhood heroes Galileo this astronomer, and of course Leonardo Da Vinci, the painter, inventor, and yes–musician! you may already know from the dan brown book that da vinci was obsessed with puzzles and hidden meanings. but did you know he could sing and play a kick ass lira? This is an often overlooked part of Da Vinci’s life, mostly because he was an improvisational player, and did not compose much or write music down often. da vinci wrote more about painting. but that may have more to do with the state of affairs in those days than a personal preference for painting as an artistic medium, as it is clear that his creative interests were as intensely varied as they were intense. painting however, required more philosophical attention. in those days, painting was still seen as a craft, not a fine art like music or poetry. through the use of new ideas like linear perspective, da vinci and others sought to elevate the status of painting. he never had to argue for the value of music. that’s not to say he did not think deeply about it. he referred to music lovingly as “figurazione delle cose invisibili” or “the shaping of the invisible” and invented countless new kinds of musical instruments, some of which he may have actually built. today i was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a few musical notes written in one of his own rebuses. Rebuses are typically word puzzles, using images to spell out words or syllables of words. but in this case, to uncover the puzzle you have to dig for words within the music notes.


Da Vinci Musical Rebus

if you assumed, as i did, that this is a standard trebble clef, and were to try to play this melody it would sound something like this:

(please disregard my absolute lack of concern for rhythm)

yikes! interesting, if only in an eyes wide shut soundtrack kind of way. surely this is not the work of da vinci. fortunately i learned from the book the “unknown leonardo” and some wikipedia sources that this music cannot be understood in the way we read music today. the staff was still developing. measures and time signatures did not yet exist in the way we see them. the notes in this rebus are written in Guidonian syllables (ut re mi fa sol la. yes, kind of like the sound of music movie). i determined that the first note of the scale “ut” must start on the first space and for the sake of convenience, today i say that “ut” = middle c. i found that if i looked again at the staff, i got this:

now since i can’t see a specific meter, i just played with it a little bit until something more musical took shape. i found that by moving the second note in each phrase a little later, it gave it more emotion and chracter. da vinci’s instrument, the Lira, was kind of like a fiddle. it was usually played with a bow but had seven strings–five for melodies and two for droning. da vinci’s Lira though, was even more unusual because he built it himself; it was made mostly of silver. da vinci only gives us two phrases of the melody. if the song were to keep going, the third phrase felt right repeating the first, but i felt the fourth phrase melody should resolve. from there i imagine he would have just played with it. here it is on a lira with lute accompaniment:

that’s more like it!

now alex i would like to solve the rebus. (this part is from books, not my work) what i thought was the treble clef is not a treble clef at all (i don’t even know if it existed then) but a crude drawing of a fishhook. the italian word for fishhook is amo. the notes used, re, sol, la, mi, fa, re, mi, are followed by “rare”. the second phrase of the melody is la, sol, mi, fa, sol followed by “lecita”. when you put it all together, it reads in italian- Amore sol la mi fa remirare, la sol mi fa sollecita. “Love only makes me remember, it alone makes me alert” so here is this beautiful phrase wrapped in a beautiful melody. interestingly, these words cannot be easily sung TO the melody, they ARE the melody, in an odd sense. that is today’s exercise in shaping the invisible, brought to you by renewed interest in the Italian renaissance.

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glass skulls and copyright law

happy new year! just thought i would check in. i had a wonderful holiday and i hope you did too.
i even got a few christmas gifts, including vodka in a glass skull, a sweater, some photography books, a basquiat puzzle, a book about how to cope with life as a werewolf, and a book about dust. i would recommend dan aykroyd’s crystal head vodka to anyone, mostly for the container. i’m not really much of a vodka drinker but i like almost anything shaped like a skull, except crackers, which should always be shaped like circus animals. unless you have a high tolerance for science like me, you may find a book about the journeys of dust particles slightly dull. and i maybe the werewolf book wouldn’t be as relevant to your life. but go for the skull shaped vodka. your house-guests will love it.

my resolutions for the new year include finishing another solo album, learning to draw and doing solo acoustic shows in europe, eating more mike sells chips, cooking more, and at least one other thing that i’ve completely forgotten already. so far, i am kicking 2010’s ass. but i really am going to finish this album, and maybe with some help i will go to europe.

recently a couple people asked if i could blog about how copyright law works for music, and my affiliation with performance rights organizations. so this blog is about my personal experience as a songwriter and my recent goal to more actively seek out licensing opportunities. i almost never talk candidly about music or “the music industry” anymore, as i’ve been kind of wrapped up in academia and visual arts. but you could indulge me right here and now–and what could be more exciting than reading about performance rights organizations? i know, you’re salivating.

my music has never been properly exploited. that probably seems obvious, especially to friends who have asserted for years that “you guys should be huge!”. but setting aside the prospect of super-stardom, the music i have created solo or with July For Kings has not been heard outside a relatively small, albeit international, network of extremely supportive fans. one way to solve this problem would be to tour endlessly, which is what a lot of people do, and sometimes it works. but a more practical way of getting music out there for me at the moment while i’m in school is through licensing opportunities on the internet, TV, and film. so in the last week i’ve been looking at several different licensing agreements with companies who could potentially help me do this. oddly, everything happens at once.

there are two types of copyrights for a song. there is a copyright for a recording of a song, and a copyright for the song itself. a copyright for a recording is easy enough to understand. MCA owns the copyrights for the sound recordings of my swim album. they paid for the recordings to be made and contractually, they own the masters. but a song is a curious thing. it is not like a painting. it exists in the air, between the air even, in the mind and blood of the songwriter and can be transferred to others through their ears. it cannot be caged up or destroyed, only forgotten. even a song that has been recorded has not been imprisoned on the tape. someone else can record it or reinterpret it as their own. a song is magic. and to protect the rights of magicians and collect money on their behalf, two groups of performance rights organizations exist: ascap and bmi. i am currently with bmi. i was originally with ascap as it is the larger group, but i switched to BMI for two reasons. first, they have a more interesting history (they originally collected performance royalties for the black artists that ascap refused to collect for), and secondly samantha cox talked us into it by being incredibly sweet and frequently buying me lunch in new york city. she still works there and has worked her way up the ladder since those days. and maybe i just have a thing for three letter acronyms.

it is very difficult legally to take the songwriting performance royalties from a songwriter. you have to be rather conniving, or, have a very unusual situation where a party feels that they are entitled to it because they were screwed over in some other way. but ideally, a songwriter writes a song and retains the songwriting share of the publishing no matter what. the publishers share, on the other hand, generally goes to a publisher or licensor.

since being dropped from MCA, i have made more as a songwriter through BMI than i did as a major label artist. in any one period. it’s never enough to sustain me but it helps. the weird irony about this is that while we were signed to MCA records (who owns the recordings of the songs on one album), we were also signed to Time Warner Chappell music publishing (who owns a portion of the songs themselves). Warner Chappell is (or was) one of the largest music publishing companies in the world. for the rights to exploit my songs by shopping them to TV shows and movies (and the right to collect and keep half of the publishing royalties), warner chappell coughed up a large advance, which was promptly disbursed among a group of handlers including two managers, a business manager, and a producer, before it was finally filtered down to me and the band guys. despite being the primary songwriter, in the end i received a modest fraction of the total sum, and the lions share went to the producer. that kind of thing i guess makes sense when i look back on it. so many interests to balance, and it’s basically all about money for everyone except the artist. but what is really odd, is that warner chappell never did anything, as far as i know, to exploit this catalog of material, which most likely will never be as valuable as it was at that brief period of time in 2002 when we had some songs on the radio (and when people under 30 still listened to the radio).

maybe it was my job to call warner chappell all the time and say “hey i’m that guy with the songs that they’re playing in las vegas, memphis, cleveland, et cetera. do you know of any movies these songs would be good for? one of them is called normal life. do you know of any movies where, maybe things are dramatic and suspenseful and crazy but all the characters want is to live a normal life? man, if only someone in hollywood would make a movie like that.” but then again, warner chappell had already paid us the advance, so it should have become their job to work toward seeing a return on their investment. it would be as if you purchased a really nice car even though you knew its value would depreciate incredibly quickly. and you didn’t drive it at all. really, we (or rather, my managers and producer) were the big winners financially here, but the songs were never properly exploited. and that is more important than money.

that is what happened to the music industry all over the place. there was so much money that it was treated like monopoly money for such a long time. then we were signed at a time when the money wasn’t really there but the advances were going out and no one was working to make them valuable…well that’s a problem. so we were dropped from MCA when MCA folded and merged with Geffen, and eventually i got Warner Chappell to let me out of my contract when i realized it would be better to have all the rights to my songs than have a big company who owned them but didn’t do anything.

and as a songwriter it’s about the same or better now than it was with a major label. in a sense i always have 100 nice cars in the garage. i don’t really need anyone to craft a song. okay, maybe i need a kick ass band to make them sound good, but i don’t need two multinational corporations. and songs are valuable! i know they are. not just in a magical way but in a financial way as well. and only now am i really realizing the truth of that. this is a good time to come to that realization, since as an independent artist and a songwriter, i stand to make more and i have much greater freedom to make choices about what to do with an ever growing catalog.

so on the off chance that you know of any placement opportunities, i’m your man. as long as it’s not a viagra ad, i’m probably gonna be cool with it.

tonight we have a show in cincinnati at a place called play by play. i love the snow but not when we have a show. really kills the turnout. please come out! i hope you are well and warm


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