Okay, I admit, I gotta calm down a little bit. This warm air in western Wisconsin is a bit intoxicating right now. I almost wondered it it was ever going to come. Such warmth had me wanting to build a really happy, partyish playlist this week. But, that’s not really what we do, per se. So, there’s some celebration in here, for sure, but there’s also the normal spectrum of emotion. Take a listen and enjoy (or cry, you know, whatever…).
One of the beautiful aspects of creating art is the lasting impact a given piece of art can have, regardless of where the artist goes after that piece is created. Derek Webb is one of my favorite songwriters ever. His impact on me was built on honest lyrics, direct questions, and a penchant for being a necessary pain in the ass to the evangelical establishment here in the U.S. Those things were part and parcel of Webb’s vibe for much of his solo career.
Over the past few years, Mr. Webb has undergone something of a personal paradigm shift. I don’t understand the nuances of that shift. I don’t know the man personally. But, what seems to be clear, is that the faith that once was the foundation for so much of his honesty, questioning, and provocation has either dramatically changed or is simply gone. He seems like a different guy than the one who penned the songs on his first few albums. But, that doesn’t alter the truth of those early lyrics or the poignancy of his questions, his longing, his provocation.
The last song on this week’s TS10 is I Want a Broken Heart from his I See Things Upside Down album. No matter where Derek Webb is personally these days, the honest truth in this song stands.
I’ve got faith in the bank and money in my heart I’ve got a calloused place where your ring used to be, my love
I’ve traded naked and unashamed For a better place to hide For a righteous mask, a suit of fig leaves and lies
I thought the cattle on a thousand hills Was not enough to pay my bills And I fell in love with those who proved me wrong And now I want a broken heart
Now there’s a great pad lock On the place where I was free And I’m feeling bad from swallowing that key Now I work real hard but I mostly call in sick Of a broken back from the ground fighting back at me
I cannot look you in the eye So I check the knots on my disguise ‘Cause I fell in love with fashion in the dark And now I want a broken heart
I’ve got alibis for every crime A substitute to do my time ‘Cause Your heart breaks enough on both our parts So now I want a broken heart Now I want a broken heart Now I want a broken heart
I will never forget my introduction to The Daredevil Christopher Wright’s music. First off, I knew if I was going to be a well-rounded local music appreciator, I would need to know their stuff. So, I got a hold of The Nature of Things a few years ago. As I first listened, while sitting in my van in the Festival Foods parking lot, I knew I was diving into deep waters. And those waters were not only deep; they were unpredictable. Beautiful vocals and craftsmanship sealed the deal for me (and I still smile when I listen to the extended, super-long dramatic pause in Blood Brother, one of the great, unpredictable moments on the album).
I was, of course, bummed to learn that the band was going on a hiatus, but also excited to hear what one of their members, Jonathan Sunde was going to produce as he ventured out as a solo artist. I had a chance to hear him play during Adelyn Rose’s album release show for Ordinary Fantasy at Eau Claire’s House of Rock a couple of years ago, and I was mesmerized by the guy’s immense talent, story-telling, and, honestly, his between-song banter. I especially remember him describing the process of writing a particular song and he ended by saying, “Follow the muse. Follow the muse.” As I’ve engaged with his music more over the last couple of years, it is evident that he is still following the muse, because his writing and music are certainly inspired.
In 2014, he released his first solo record, Shapes that Kiss the Lips of God (I wrote about it here). It’s one of those records I can always go back to. I never get tired of it. And I never get tired of hearing him play songs from it. In fact, I had the privilege of seeing him perform recently at The Cabin at UW-Eau Claire and he played a bunch of those songs that night. The most memorable song of the night for me was his haunting, acoustic rendition of Blinding Flash of Light, an already soul-rending, sober meandering of faith, doubt, and what exists in between them. His quiet, somber approach to the song that night drew me in and broke my heart.
Again, Sunde swims in deep rivers lyrically and musically. I’ve long been curious about his inspiration and motivation for diving in so deep. I recently asked him about this and the theological and philosophical themes in his music, especially his mentions of Jesus and Christian ideas. Sunde replied,
Well, I am motivated and shaped by my attempt to follow Jesus. The big questions have always been present for me and a source of curiosity, frustration, excitement and peace. How people have explored those questions and the philosophical and spiritual conclusions that they have come to, fascinate me. In and overarching way and sometimes in a more pointed and specific way, my songs are an expression of my wrestling with these spiritual and philosophical questions. Over time and for a host of reasons, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can trust in the explanation of the nature of things that Jesus presented. As such, when I’m speaking most intimately about trust and fear and doubt and love it comes from that perspective.
Sunde’s response was refreshing to me. The reason for this is simple, and it’s not motivated solely by my own efforts to follow Jesus. It’s because Sunde doesn’t write about God, theology, or deep philosophical issues from the standpoint of an unengaged bystander. For many of us, it is easy to investigate these issues and themes without letting them impact us personally. I don’t get that vibe from Sunde. It seems to me his wrestling with God, as it were, not only impacts his life, but informs it. For me, it is deeply meaningful when I listen to someone sing or talk about lofty subjects that are practically influencing how they live, act, think, and speak… and that’s the vibe I get from Sunde.
This honest, personal wrestling and his willingness to share openly about them is one of the reasons I’ve become such a fan over the years. It’s why I want to share his music with whoever will listen. It’s rare that you get such honesty, talent, craftsmanship, and humanity in one package, and that’s what I see in Sunde and his art.
It feels great to take part in the inaugural Daytrotter Downs. I’ve had the privilege to get to know that community of folks really well over the last 10 years. My label, Cartouche Records, is from that community. I really believe in the honesty and example of people in out of the way places working really hard and making beautiful things that have an impact on the wider world. I believe that Daytrotter has done just that and so I’m stoked to participate in their continuing evolution.
And speaking of Shane Leonard, I’ve been personally pulling for more collaboration between Leonard and Sunde. They’ve toured together and Leonard contributed his talents to the recording of Shapes That Kiss the Lips of God. So, of course, I was excited when the “J.E. Sunde Trio” debuted and toured in early 2016. The trio includes Sunde, Leonard, and Har-di-Har’s Andrew Thoreen. Sunde’s pretty excited about this new entity as well:
It’s been something that Shane Leonard and I have talked about since our collaboration on my first record. The thought was to explore that material and new songs in a more lean ensemble. It took some time to get schedules in order, and there is still more of that to sort out, but with the addition of Andrew Thoreen to the equation and an enormously encouraging first tour under our belts, we’re all excited to make this into something. So, yes, it definitely has a future. On top of performing, the ensemble will play a large role in the new record that I’m working on.
And, oh yeah, there’s a new record on the horizon. More good stuff coming from Mr. Sunde in the future.
I’m glad I had a chance to catch up with Sunde at the Cabin show and via email in recent days. Aside from being an incredible artist, he also happens to be a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of those folks you just want to root for. As for me, I think the art he’s created has already made him a winner, but I would certainly love for more people to connect with his music. His songs and his talent deserve to be heard.
Eau Claire is home. That may sound like an insignificant little statement. But, for me, it means much.
I grew up in a different place with different people. During my childhood years, my family moved about ten times. We were almost always in the same city (Chesapeake, Virginia), but it seemed as though we were always restless. In such an atmosphere, it was hard to ever feel truly at home. Along with the constant movement, I was an isolated kid, up to so many things my folks never knew of. I was very much alone and seldom, if ever, felt the warmth and connection that home is about. My sense of home was really, really broken.
When I moved to Eau Claire in 2005, it didn’t take long for me to hate it. I’m serious. I literally hated Eau Claire. My false sense of home rejected what I experienced here. And then, I slowly began seeing the good things here. I began connecting with some people, especially through Valleybrook Church, that loved me, spoke truth to me, and helped me to start discovering the warmth, security, and safety of home.
Local music has played a large role in this healing process. In 2012, I heard Kalispell, Shane Leonard’s project, play at the Volume OneSounds Like Summer concert series at Phoenix Park. Leonard’s music was so rich, so emotive, so warm. At the time, I did some freelance writing for the Visit Eau Claire blog and I knew I needed to write something about Leonard and Kalispell. I met with Shane at Racy D’lene’s Coffee Lounge on Water Street shortly after that concert to talk with him about his music and his story. It is not overstatement to say that the conversation we had that day altered my life’s course and was a deeper invitation to come “home.”
As I sat with Shane, I was overcome by his warmth and generous spirit. To be honest, I was a little star-struck at first. Yeah, maybe he wasn’t this nationally-recognized artist, but he was obviously immensely talented and he created art that deeply touched my soul. But, his unassuming way disarmed my sense of awe that day. In fact, he seemed far more interested in learning about me than talking about himself. As our time together at Racy’s went on, I felt more and more comfortable, more secure, more at home.
Around that same time, I bought his recently released “Westbound” album. It is a beautiful work of art. It is warm, honest, and inviting. Again, these are elements of a healthy sense of home. My wife also fell in love with the album, as did my then 3 year old son. We listened to it non-stop. It became the soundtrack of the Hudgins house in the second half of 2012. And, it was healing.
Sometime later, I drove to Mondovi from Eau Claire, passing through some serene and beautiful rural scenery. While I am not really a rural kind of guy, I so appreciate the beauty of the Chippewa Valley. It can be, if you let it, breathtaking. And, it is a central part of our community identity. So, I drove along, taking in the beauty of home, both visibly and audibly.
Kalispell’s “Westbound” became the background music for the restoration of home in my life. It spoke to me in its notes, melodies, instrumentation, movements, and lyrical content while I was growing deeper and deeper in relationships with people I could trust, and with the city in which I lived. I cannot separate Kalispell’s influence from the rest of this healing experience. It has been an integral part.
One of the major emphases of Tomme Suab is connecting the reader with the emotionality of music. To me, the reason this is so important is because I believe it can be healing. It can help you find the broken places in your heart, engage with deeply held feelings, express those feelings, and find healing and freedom you have never known. I say this as someone who has personally experienced this dynamic. Thanks in part to Shane Leonard and Kalispell, my heart has been healed and I now know what “home” feels like. And, I never want to leave it.
Kalispell’s “Westbound” is this week’s Gateway Record. Stream it in its entirety here.
I’m spending some time with Field Report’s new album, Marigolden, this morning. This is a new relationship and I’m just becoming acquainted with the album, but I think we’re going to be good friends. It is rich, full, provocative, and emotive. And Christopher Porterfield’s odd analogies and word pictures are ever present.
I will never forget the first time I heard Field Report. In February of 2013, Kalispell, Shane Leonard’s project, was set to play a backstage concert at the State Theater here in Eau Claire. I was super excited about this show, as Shane’s music and friendship has played a central role in the beginning of my personal passion for and investment in locally-rooted music. As the day of the concert approached, Field Report was added to the show as the headliner. I was actually pretty disappointed. I didn’t know who they were and I wanted Shane to have the longest set that night. Thankfully, I was in for a very pleasant surprise that night.
From the time Porterfield and the rest of the band took the stage, they owned it. And, it wasn’t about showmanship. It was about the honesty and vulnerability of their music. As my wife said after the show, Porterfield has a lot to say, and he has no problem saying it. And these things he has to say are filled with passion, pain, suffering, and emotion. He also has a creative and descriptive way of saying them. The first time I heard him sing “pound that pussy (as in, “full of puss,” to be clear), bloody cyst off with a weather-treated two by four”(parentheses mine), that image grabbed a spot in my brain and it’s still there. I’m not sure why that 2X4 has to be weather-treated, or why it is the best prescription for that nasty cyst. However, that imagery has obviously stuck with me, even impacted me.
Those lyrics are from Chico the American, from Field Report’s debut, self-titled album, which is featured on this week’s TS10. After hearing them play at the State that night, I began listening to that album non-stop. It is home to so many poignant songs. Some are quite painful just to listen to… Porterfield’s lyrics are transparently honest and vulnerable. He has no problem baring his shortcomings for the listener, letting us in to his complex emotional world. That kind of vulnerability is, in my mind, Field Report’s biggest draw. I have been challenged, provoked, and saddened by what he has to share.
As much as I have fallen in love with that first record and songs like Fergus Falls, I Am Not Waiting Anymore, Taking Alcatraz, and Chico the American, I am really excited about the new album, Marigolden. As I listen this morning, I am again drawn into the gritty vulnerability. The lyrics and musical moods are still emotive, still painful, still brutally honest. Porterfield’s creative word and image choices are still there. And yet, it feels like there is a musical progression from the Field Report album. The music feels a little richer, deeper. While I cannot comment on the technical reasons why this may be, I can definitively say that the band seems to have brought something of themselves to this album that wasn’t there on the first one. I am eager to become better acquainted with what lies in Marigolden.
The future seems to be very bright for Field Report. Marigolden has been met with much critical acclaim. They already have a national following that is continually growing. Just this morning, the band announced that they will be touring with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy in Europe beginning in January, which is no small thing.
As their popularity grows, the likelihood of them playing small, local venues continues to ebb. That’s why YOU should get out and see them this Friday night at House of Rock. Aero Flynn and another band (TBD) will be supporting them. The show starts at 9:30 and is only $10 in advance. You can purchase tickets here. If you can make it out, you will NOT regret it!
Ever since I started listening to music as a teenager, there have been those albums that have just grabbed a hold of me, seemingly not wanting to let go. U2‘s Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire were a couple of those. Kalispell’s Westbound was another. Derek Webb‘s Mockingbird was yet another. I immersed myself into these albums, feeling every twist and turn. They sucked me in and I was captivated. I have wandered into another of these traps, J.E. Sunde’s Shapes That Kiss the Lips of God, released recently by Cartouche Records.
One of my favorite albums of the last few years is The Nature of Things by The Daredevil Christopher Wright. It was so delightfully unpredictable and the band tackled really deep philosophical, theological, and relational issues with grace and depth. This work of art stimulated me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I was really bummed when I heard that the band was on hiatus and that Jonathan Sunde was working on his own solo material. Now, that’s no knock on Sunde. It’s just that there was something special about what The Daredevil had created together. Surely, there would be no way that Sunde would be able to create something comparable in terms of the unpredictability, craftsmanship, philosophical wanderings and simple beauty of The Nature of Things.
Well, I was utterly and completely wrong. Shapes That Kiss the Lips of God, is, in a word, wonderful. I can’t stop listening to it. Earlier today, I was listening to iTunes in “Random” mode. Easy Kid (the second track on the album) came up. Within ten seconds, I turned off the “Random” mode, selected the first track of the album, and was compelled to listen to it in its entirety. Again, it’s like a magnet… it draws me in and I seemingly can’t escape.
Now, don’t get me wrong… this is not another Daredevil album. It is J.E. Sunde. It is his voice, both literally and essentially. Other than his incredible vocals, it doesn’t sound like the Daredevil to me. Sunde has his own thing going here, and it is compelling and deep. The music and instrumentation are eclectic, to say the least. And, the emotional mood moves around throughout the album. There’s playfulness, passion, anger, sorrow… just so much to feel here.
One element that has drawn me in are the deep theological/philosophical themes in the album. It’s one thing to write about deep stuff. It’s another to make such thoughts compelling, both lyrically and musically. Sunde is obviously adept in doing just that. A Blinding Flash of Light describes Sunde’s apparent struggle with believing in God in the midst of people who don’t share that belief. The song seems like a journal entry in which he is weighing the views of the atheistic influences around him. He struggles with feeling “foolish for talking to Jesus.” These are heavy matters, and the melody, instrumentation, and lyrics accurately portray that heaviness.
Another song that grabs a hold of me every time I listen is I’m Gonna Disappoint You. It is a soulful ballad that sounds like part of a conversation between two folks on the verge of a romantic relationship. Sunde’s heart here is to ensure that the other person comes into this relationship with eyes wide open… “What if I don’t kiss you the way you want to be kissed?” “What if you don’t like the books I suggest?” This song is full of nitty-gritty thoughts about ways that Sunde could disappoint this potential partner. The trepidation he feels as he shares these thoughts is palpable. You feel it throughout the song. It’s as if he is saying, “I want to be with you, but I’m a little scared.” For so many, if not all, of us, these are thoughts and feelings that are very familiar, and he paints them clearly and emotively.
And then there’s the pain and anger of You Can’t Unring a Bell. It starts out with the sorrow-filled statement that you can’t, in fact, unring a bell. As the song continues, the listener learns that Sunde’s heart was broken and his trust betrayed by someone special. As the tempo picks up and the song intensifies, it’s almost as if you can feel Sunde himself shifting from sorrow to anger. Again, Sunde is masterful at portraying these emotions and the tensions surrounding them. When I listen to this song, I can’t help but enter the emotional world Sunde invites the listener into. I feel, to the extent possible, what he feels. There is no art that speaks to me as deeply as art that makes me feel like that.
While I once was disappointed that the Daredevil Christopher Wright was on a hiatus, I am now so glad that they took a break. J.E. Sunde has created something beautiful with Shapes That Kiss the Lips of God. The precise craftsmanship, eclectic instrumentation, incredible vocals, and masterful songwriting provide a portal into deep connection and emotion. I cannot recommend this album enough.
Way to go, music appreciators and Kalispell fans! Though it almost came down to the wire, Shane Leonard’s efforts to raise the required funds for Kalispell’s ambitious next project have been rewarded. Now that this important logistical piece of the puzzle is in place, it’s time for Leonard and his cohorts to make some music! According to Leonard, recording is scheduled for February 2014 at April Base in Fall Creek. I cannot wait to hear the new stuff!
Three summers ago, my family and I had the opportunity to hear Adelyn Rose play a set at Volume One’s Sounds Like Summer series at Phoenix Park. That experience, quite literally, changed my life. I was immediately taken in by the emotional intensity of their music. They were unique. They were special. I became a fan instantly.
As great as that performance was, it wasn’t their music, instrumentation, presentation, or lyrical content that profoundly affected me, even though I enjoyed all of those things immensely. No, it was that, for the first time in my time in Eau Claire, I caught a glimpse of the incredible musical talent that resides here. Adelyn Rose’s performance that warm summer day served as a gateway for me, a gateway that would open the way for me to experience other bands like Kalispell, The Daredevil Christopher Wright, Bon Iver, and Field Report.
This site, Tomme Suab, is an outgrowth of that passion. I want you to hear what I hear. I want you to be surprised by the unpredictability of The Daredevil Christopher Wright’s album, “The
Nature of Things”. I want you to hear the intense, sometimes brooding quality of Addie Strei’s vocals in Adelyn Rose’s work. I want you to feel the warmth and appreciate the craftsmanship of Kalispell’s “Westbound” (which has become one of my favorite albums of all time). There is so much talent here and my heart is for gifted local artists to have the opportunity to be heard by as large an audience as possible.
So, here we are. In upcoming posts, I intend to share about upcoming events and record releases, as well as other local music-oriented subjects. Occasionally, I’ll throw in something about a non-local band or record, but the main emphasis here will be on the wealth of talent that lives right here.