TS10: Changing Times

No, I’m, not talking about “springing ahead.” I’m talking about the change which seems to be in the air these days. It’s good. It feels, little by little, as though many of us are coming to our senses about a number of things. Reminds me that love always defeats hate in the long run, as if life is designed that way.

This playlist runs the gamut of emotional stimuli. While it’s not all about these changes, it can still be about change. Maybe something needs to shift in your soul right now. I know I could use some soul-shifting. So, let’s listen and engage and see about that change.



TS10: Straight Cash, Homie

So… I don’t know why there are several songs on this week’s TS10 that have something to do with money. Could be something subconscious happening there. Regardless, it would appear there is, at least, a mini-theme at work here. Money can be a pretty provocative subject, so that’s good, right. Emotional provocation is what this is all about!

Artist Focus

Finding Balance with Alright Alright

Over the last few years, it’s been my privilege to build relationships with a variety of talented musicians. These personal connections have afforded me the opportunity to see how passionate these folks are about their art. They have given me a glimpse of the struggle so many of them face as they share their creations, sometimes in a dingy bar full of drunk “listeners.” I’ve felt the tension, to a very small extent, that they feel when it comes to figuring out how to pursue this passion, this dream, while making ends meet and managing their personal realities and relationships.

A short while ago, I stumbled upon the music of a duo called “Alright Alright” when I downloaded some of their music from Noisetrade. The Denver based band consists of husband and wife, Seth and China Kent. I reached out to them asking if they’d be interested in an interview, not really aware of much of their story. During our email interactions, China mentioned that Seth was just turning 40 years old. And when I started hearing more of their story, I gained a new appreciation for how complex and difficult it can be for musicians attempting to make a living, manage their household, raise kids, make their music, and still love each other at the end of the day. The Kents generously shared about their lives and their art, and through the process, also gained an admirer. Below is our conversation…


TS: How long have you been married? How many kids (ages)?

AA: We’ve been married 13 years and have two kids, Fender and Harper, 10 and 8, respectively.


TS: When did Alright Alright become a thing?

CHINA: We started playing together before we were married, and that was in 2004, but we didn’t actually start our band together until after we had our son, Fender, in 2006. Our first show was April 12, 2007. However, we are on what we call “Alright Alright 3.0” because we have started and quit a few times along the way. This version of the band started after the Spring of 2013, when I (endured) a few serious health issue. There is nothing like having a cancer scare to make you get serious about fulfilling your life goals… I realized that making and playing music was truly my calling, my vocation, and my passion. I’ll let Seth tell about how he got involved again, at my bequest…

SETH: Picking up where China left off there. I had worked for a few years as a tech/studio guy in music but had had a rough go of it and in the spring of 2010 (if I recall) lost my job suddenly. I was burnt out and bitter and after a family road trip I decided to just get a job and work and not think about music much. I (After a few years), I was looking for another direction professionally and my job (contract work) was coming to an end. China was about to go on a trip and right before she left she basically said, “I am going to do music. I know we have tried this before and I know you got hurt by the music industry, but I want to do it with you. So, think about it.” I thought about it and when she got back after a couple weeks I said, “Yeah, let’s do this.”


TS: Could you talk about the dynamics of being parents and being a band? How do you find balance?

SETH: The two are not mutually exclusive, but neither one simplifies the other at all. Our kids are good with people and are super flexible. They also generally love road trips. If this were not the case I know the past few years would have looked different. I think for us the hardest part is how to know when to do the “normal family” thing and when not to. I had to take our son out of baseball one year because we were going to go on tour and I knew it would overlap with the season. We have to think about school if we have tours during the school year. There are a lot of additional moving parts that would be vastly simplified if we just did our thing. But I also think we would not be nearly as happy doing this if the kids were not a part of it. They bring a lot of joy as well as gut checks to the process. They will ask us about lyrics, critique our performance and tell us if they think parts of our show lose people’s interest. All of this to say, the finding of balance is a constant adjustment, we don’t just relax into feeling like we have it covered.

CHINA:  Incorporating our kids into everything we do has been easy on some level, because we are a very close-knit family.  Two years ago, we put the whole experiment to the test and went on a three-week house show tour. At the end of the three weeks, Harper, our daughter (then 6) turned to me and said, “Mama, thank you for going on tour.” I felt like I had won the lottery. It was magical. However, this past summer was more difficult.  Kids have different needs as they grow, and the social need has begun to show itself. Fender was not keen on being on the road this past summer, and that was hard for all of us.  As a mom, you want your kids to be happy, and you want the best for them, and yet as an artist, I want this fledgling career to start to fly. It is a hard tension to carry. About a week into the tour, both kids began loving the things we were doing, and we successfully “flipped” them using several incentives (they get paid every time they help set up or tear down, and we try to see and do as many fun tourist activities as possible).

I will say that having children has had the opposite effect on me than most other musician parents that I know. Most people had a career before kids and the kids have inserted themselves into something that already existed. I was a collaborator and co-creator in several other artists’ projects before I had children, but I lacked the self-confidence and grit to take on and hold my own music career. Somehow in the birthing and raising of my children, I got to an internal place of quiet confidence and intuitive determination that has allowed me to take up and carry this music career in a way I never could before children. They have formed me and I do not resent them one bit for the added challenge of managing the family and music pieces of our lives, but am continually grateful for them and their influence on me and my music.

TS: What is your dream for Alright Alright?

CHINA:  I think my overarching dream for Alright Alright is to share love and goodness through our story set to music. We write a lot about ourselves, though at the time we’re writing we often do not realize it. I also have a dream to build a sort of community and a sense of belonging that is related to our music and our shows. I have a vision for an emotional atmosphere, a kind of unburdening and a sigh of relief for our listeners. I am also eager to collaborate in an inter-disciplinary way.  I would simply love to write for a dance company or the theater.  I love to experiment with new ways of performing and new ways of collaborating.

SETH: When I am really honest, I think I want to be known as a decent song writer. I am very proud of what we have been able to do with the band so far from a quality standpoint and want to push that further. We made some conscious decisions to release things we could feel proud of and that would sound to other people like we cared. That is often harder than people may think. It takes a level of humility too, to admit that we can’t always make something what it needs to be on our own. But I think I want our material to be known as something of quality with a story worth hearing.

As I have considered the Kents’ responses to my questions, I have found a deep resonance with them. After all, I’m a 46-year-old amateur writer with stories to tell. I think my stories are worth hearing as well and am continually trying to grow in the quality of my writing. All the while, I have my lovely wife at home with me, a beautiful 8-year-old pain in the rear kid, and a full-time job. No, I don’t aspire to make a career out of my blog, but there’s something about Alright Alright’s path that hits home for me. Trying to create something honest and meaningful while wrestling through the rigors of family life… And yet, they seem to do it with grace and humility, leaning into the tensions rather than letting those tensions rip them apart.

While I enjoy the music I’ve heard from China and Seth, I find that I’ve enjoyed hearing about their journey just as much. Real people with real world issues trying to influence that real world with their art. It’s beautiful, really.


TS10: Back on Track

My Friends,

It has been painful not being able to share music with you here the last few weeks. Sometimes, the old technology just doesn’t seem to work with us the way we want. Thankfully, things seem to be back on track now. So, take a listen and engage!



Don’t Can’t Won’t

You don’t know me.

You just don’t.

You think you do.

You’re wrong.


You have me figured out.

You’re sure about your theories.

You think you know me.

You don’t.


It would be shocking if you did.

It might take you aback.

It may spark questions.

It would. It might. It may.


If you were open…

If you could see outside your bubble…

If you would take that risk…

If… but you’re not, you can’t, you won’t.





TS10: Continual Catharsis

I recently posted a piece about the “cathartic synthesis” I hear in the music of the incredible Gracie and Rachel. If you haven’t yet read that, please do so as a personal favor… the process of creating that piece was highly emotive for me and it touched me in ways I’ve not been touched in a while.

One of the elements affecting me is the idea of catharsis. I’ve always understood catharsis to be a process of purification or purging emotionally. What I hadn’t previously realized was the dictionary definition (Merriam-Webster’s) includes the caveat that catharsis especially happens through art. This gets at the very heart of Tomme Suab.

So, as I think about this week’s TS10, I’m also thinking about catharsis. I think those two things are not mutually exclusive. I think they could be, just maybe, intimately related. From the cry for divine purpose in Jesus… to the anger and venom of Sabotage, we’re going all over the place this week.

Thanks for engaging,


Artist Focus, Music and Healing

Exploring Gracie and Rachel’s Cathartic Synthesis

Above image from Gracie and Rachel’s Facebook Page

Synthesis: Combining two separate things to create a new thing

The above definition of synthesis is a loose paraphrase of the dictionary definition, but it captures the essence. It carries the idea of bringing together two different things toward the end of creating something new. Depending on the ingredients and the outcome, the synthesis process can create something good, meaningful, even healing.

All art is an expression of some kind of synthesis. The artist combines intangibles such as inspiration, imagination, and experience with skill and craftsmanship. They then leverage those things together in combination with their brush, their movement, their pen, their keys, their strings, their computer… and at the end of the process, there is something new.

In late 2017, I became aware of such an artistic synthesis in the music of New York-based duo of Gracie and Rachel. Early in the year, I was exposed to their Tiptoe EP and later, I indulged in their self-titled full-length album. In this album, in virtually every song, I hear this synthesis occurring and it is unique, special.

This synthesis facilitates a palpable tension throughout the record. It is inescapable…

Gracie and Rachel are a study in duality: light and dark, classical training with a pop sensibility, Californians in New York. Their music pits anxiety and tension against an almost serene self-assurance…(from their website)

On the surface, this duality rests in Gracie’s piano and Rachel’s violin, but it goes so much deeper. According to them, that intense, almost conflicted feel “comes from the world we live in as a duo in the bustle of New York, living together in our music every step of the way, working together in the same household, breathing the music we create. It’s full of tension, but it’s also full of release.”

Release… yes. That’s it. That word captures something of the end result of Gracie and Rachel’s synthesis. But, there may be a better word. When I asked them which of their songs seemed to impact them the most, their response was telling:

The song “Go” is one that always feels like a meditation for us when we play it live. It sits on this rhythmic pattern that sort of propels us forward and yet keeps us grounded throughout. Lyrically, the song works as a note-to-self, to celebrate anxiety as opposed to suppressing it – if we can do this, we can find peace.

We can find peace… Again, a powerful thought. Peace. Shalom. True well-being. It’s the longing of every human heart, no matter what the mouth might say. Finding peace through embracing anxiety, even celebrating it, is a powerful thought in itself. There is something to be said for facing directly into pain, fear, anxiety, traumatic memories, and the like. It takes courage, but there is healing there.

Their duality or tension has been shaped by a variety of stimuli, not the least of which are their artistic influences. In their words…

Gracie’s greatest influences include the author Carlos Castañeda, for his questioning mind, the composer Erik Satie for his patient piano lines, and Agnes Obel for her thoughtful fusing of strings and keys, her effortless tension and release. Rachel’s are endless and so instead of listing a bunch, she’ll give it to a female choral composer of the 16th century, Hildegard von Bingen, for her unique treatment of counterpoint.

Tension and release… counterpoint… There is a theme here. These ideas speak to Gracie and Rachel’s synthesis. But, what is the end product? Is it release? Is it healing?

Catharsis: purification or purgation of the emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art

The synthesis of their experience, their passion, their instruments, their creativity, all of it… it all comes together as a cathartic experience. It seems that way from the artists’ perspective. And it certainly feels cathartic from this listener’s perspective. There is a universal truth to the themes running through Gracie and Rachel. From their site…

The nine orchestral-pop songs on Gracie and Rachel tell a story that’s rooted in the truth —their truth — but retain an enigmatic air that makes them relatable to anyone who has ever found their heart racing with doubt and pushed forward regardless, or triumphed in subverting expectations imposed from without.

Struggle and tension is a universal experience. We have all experienced “racing doubt” and “subverting expressions.” We have all been hurt… abused… neglected…oppressed… suppressed in some way. We have all gone through emotional and relational strife. At times, more than we’d like to admit, we all need catharsis. We need to get it out. To purge. To purify. Gracie and Rachel captures this incredible dynamic in their record.

This dynamic duo is getting noticed. Bob Boilen included them in a couple of his 2017 “Best” lists, as well as hosting them for a Tiny Desk Concert. They have toured with San Fermin and are in the midst of touring with the indomitable Ani DiFranco. Big things are coming. It is the hope of this particular listener that, as their influence grows, more and more people will feel invited into the cathartic synthesis underlying every song emanating from Gracie and Rachel.



TS10: PARADE with ME!

Seriously, kids… I cannot quite get enough of Sylvan Esso these days. Their new track, Parad(w/m)E, is super fun and leads off this week’s TS10. But, there’s much more than the dynamic duo from Durham here. Take a listen and let it sink in deep.


TS10: Dream and Zombie

Time for a new TS10, my friends. Lots of ups and downs here, with a tip of the cap to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (I hope we remember you would have much preferred us fighting for your ideals more than just giving your memory a day…) and Dolores O’Riordan. One has certainly impacted me more than the other, but they are both worthy of remembering.

Dr. King, I will continue to fight. Thank you for your example.

Ms. O’Riordan, thank you for your art.


Tomme Suab’s 2017: Honors and the TS2017

Image above is entitled “Transition” and is featured courtesy of the artist, Denise Presnell (oil on canvas).

It’s been quite a year, huh? For a lot of us, 2017 cannot end quickly enough. Over the course of the year, I’ve touched on some of the stimuli potentially driving some of our eagerness to get to January 1. However, despite all the hard, there has been good as well, not the least of which has been deeply talented and creative artists making beautiful and provocative music. With that truth in mind, I want to take a moment to reflect on some of that music, especially the artists, experiences, and recordings which impacted Tomme Suab most significantly over the course of 2017, starting with some year-end honors.

2017 Tomme Suab Artist of the Year: Sylvan Esso

From Sylvan Esso’s Facebook page

Admittedly, I am late to the Sylvan Esso bandwagon. Back in 2014, I featured a track from their self-titled debut album on one of the very first TS10 playlists. However, I just couldn’t get into their music. Can’t explain it, but it just wasn’t speaking to me then.

Things have changed over the last three years. When I learned they would be playing at the third annual Eaux Claires festival this past June, I figured I ought to give it another go. Pretty soon, that first album was in regular rotation in my personal playlist. Their defiant spirit and pulsing sound took me prisoner and I’m still sitting in that cell. My fandom was cemented when I saw them play at the festival. Standing there in the midst of a crowd of thousands, this overweight, 40-something couldn’t help but move. So much energy. So much vivacity.

Their second release from earlier this year, What Now, has grabbed ahold of me more recently , sealing the “Artist of the Year” deal. Another great record full of creativity and emotional highs and lows. All of these factors combined, there’s no musician or band who has impacted Tomme Suab more in 2017 than Sylvan Esso.

2017 Tomme Suab Song of the Year: “Who We Are” by Gungor

There are several Gungor tracks which have grabbed my heart over the years (Beautiful Things, The Beat of Her Heart, and I Am Mountain among them), but none more so than Who We Are. This one, released this last summer, hit the proverbial spot for me. The right song done in the right way at precisely the right time.

The central question in the song, which is featured in the TS2017 playlist below, is “Will those who say they follow Jesus actually live up to those words?” The song represents a timely, poignant, and perhaps even prophetic question. As one who attempts to be like Jesus as much as I can, this question could not be more pertinent. The central human being in history, the one who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, the embodiment of love, who calls us to love our neighbors, the strangers, the prisoners, the sick… the generally downtrodden, is the model for all who say they follow him.

And yet, here in America, we see the Evangelical church (again, among those who say they follow Jesus), playing a pivotal role in electing perhaps the most un-Jesus-like President in our history, a person who denigrates women, makes fun of people with physical disorders, and mongers fear and hatred against those who are not like him (the very downtrodden who Jesus loves and values). We, the church, have defended and made excuses for his behavior. We stand with his unbridled hubris and claim that he is more overt about Jesus than previous Presidents (thank you, Franklin Graham). We should be ashamed of ourselves. We are standing on the wrong side of history once again (just as we did during the 18th and 19th centuries when it came to slavery, just like we’ve done in our historical treatment and “Christianization” of native peoples, just like we did during the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and on and on and on. More importantly, we are not aligning with the one we say we want to be like.

Gungor, not standing in a place of judgment or ridicule but in the midst of the Evangelical American church, calls us to question these things in Who We Are. It challenges the church to set aside it’s political allegiances and learn to love once again. It asks, “Will we be who we’ve always said we are?”, intimating the vast disparity between the love we are supposed to embody just as Jesus did and the hate and fear we support politically as well as the apathy we show toward those who Jesus treasures. For all these reasons, Who We Are grabbed a hold of my heart like no other song this year.

2017 Tomme Suab Album of the Year: J.E. Sunde’s “Now I Feel Adored”

There is no question that J.E. Sunde is a TS favorite. I am a fan of just about everything the man makes. In 2017, Sunde released Now I Feel Adored, his brilliant sophomore solo album and it did not disappoint.

His vocal prowess is on display from the very beginning as Monica Martin from PHOX joins him on I Will Smile When I Think of You and continues throughout, never more evident than in My Attempts to Grow a Beard. Sunde’s committed focus on detail and precision, as well as phenomenal craftsmanship, is pervasive and virtually palpable. But it’s his lyrical content that brings all of it together for me and makes it a beautiful package. I won’t go into great detail here as I shared my thoughts on the record earlier this year here on TS. Suffice to say, the groaning of Prism, the hope of Called By Our Names, the romance of Color Your Nails, the strained apathy of Fire on the Mountain, and the passion of Wedding Ring, along with various other themes and feels, make for a powerful record. And there was no record that spoke to me as deeply as this one.


The TS2017

The following ten songs, in one way or another, have held sway and depth of meaning for TS over the course of 2017. Below the playlist is a brief description of some of that sway and meaning.

Sylvan Esso, “Kick Jump Twist”

Please see above. Sylvan Esso makes even this old guy want to kick, jump, twist.

Gracie and Rachel, “Tiptoe”

I’ve just been getting to know Gracie and Rachel’s music this past year. While I LOVE what I have heard from them overall, Tiptoe is special for me as it served as an introduction to their music. Dramatic, intense, morose… I’ll have more to say about them soon from an TS-exclusive interview.

David Bowie, “Blackstar”

I’ve always had immense respect for David Bowie. Honestly, I think he was a genius. Having said that, I haven’t always stayed current on his releases. The album Blackstar, released in 2016, didn’t really hit my personal radar until early 2017, about a year after Bowie’s death. The titular track immediately seized my attention and simply did not let go. It is an epic (a little less than ten minutes long) and encapsulates so much of what I like about David Bowie’s music.

Gungor, “Who We Are”

Please see above.

Soundgarden, “Jesus Christ Pose”

R.I.P. to one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Chris Cornell. And, for what it’s worth, there something in this song which speaks to some of what’s wrong with the Evangelical church.

Solange, “F.U.B.U.”

I hate the “n” word, always have. And, full disclosure here, I don’t understand black folks calling each other by that name. I don’t get it. And, I think that’s the point of this song. Solange released A Seat at the Table on the same day as Bon Iver’s 22, A Million in September, 2016. Because of my obsession with Bon Iver’s record, I didn’t jump into Solange’s record right away. This song encapsulates well the mix of creativity and the roiling discomfort the entire album brings. And, for this guy, that roiling discomfort happened much in 2017.

Jetty Rae, “Can’t Curse the Free”

The spiritual defiance in this song resonates deeply with me. The darkness has no right over the free. Preach it, sister!

Jessie Smith – “Been in the Storm”

This song is great in and of itself. But, it also serves as a great reminder of the fun I had connecting this artist with local venues here in the Chippewa Valley and spending a little time with her and her husband. Good, good people (and AWFULLY talented).

Leon Bridges – “River”

Oh man… this song. What a beautiful song. Originally released in 2015, I had not been exposed to River until a buddy of mine pointed me in it’s direction earlier this year. There is both universal and personal truth here… there’s blood on my hands and my lips are unclean… take me to your river, I wanna go.

J.E. Sunde – “Called By Our Names”

Redemption and hope. That’s this song. Dreams of a day in which all is made right, when shalom reigns. Let it be so.

NOW, onto 2018!!