Tag Archives: music

“It Just Calms Me”

He picked me up in a Chevy Equinox from O’Hare. Seemed like he could be a recent college grad. Young with long hair. Serious Cubs jacket. Serious, legit Cubs jacket.

I was heading to Bolingbrook, a solid 45-minute drive. Pondering this distance, I became curious about the music my Uber driver would choose to play. I don’t know, maybe it’s the musician in me. I often wonder about these sorts of details.

Can I predict it? Will it be Pop/EDM? Maybe Pop Country? Or maybe Classic Rock? I had already scoped out the audio situation in the Equinox and noticed we would be confined to terrestrial radio. I didn’t have much hope for something unique.

Then the channel scan began.

First, Pop/EDM… There’s no way he’s going to stop with the first choice. Could his long hair be a sign that he’s looking for classic rock? Maybe holding out for something indie? 

Next, more Pop… He’s really throwing me off with the Cubs jacket. I mean it’s serious – leather, embroidered patches, everything. Clearly a sports guy, right? Does he even care that much about the channel scan? 

Then, Pop Country… Am I actually trying to judge someone’s musical preference based on how they look and what they are wearing? Wait, do I do this often? 


He pauses. I sense some ambivalence.

“Is it OK with you if we listen to classical music?” he asks, as though he needs to ask my permission.

“Sure,” I say, pleasantly surprised.

“Do you play an instrument?” I ask, as though it’s a pre-requisite.

“No,” he says. “It just calms me.”

“I know what you mean,” I respond. “Thank you.”


Halloween at Maxwell’s

Join me on Halloween for a one-of-a-kind show. I’ll be playing drums with Christina Alessi and the Toll Collectors, but with a twist. We won’t be playing our songs. We’ll be covering Cyndi Lauper. Yes. Show your true colors and get to this show! We’re excited to sharing the night with two other bands who are also “dressing up” as other bands.


Here’s an article in HMag all about it. http://hmag.com/halloween-covered-maxwells-phish-police-cyndi-lauper-tribute-bands-take-stage/

RSVP on Facebook here.

It should be a really fun night. I hope you can join us!

Sunday in NYC


Join me for a solo acoustic performance at the Bowery Electric in the Map Room. I’m planning on playing some new songs and maybe a few new covers to keep it interesting. You should come!

No cover. No Fuss. Free show.

Sunday, March 15th 
Solo Acoustic 
The Bowery Electric – The Map Room (main bar)
327 Bowery at 2nd Street, New York, NY

RSVP on Facebook.

After my set, there’s another show happening in the neighborhood at Rockwood Music Hall. My friend Adam McDonough is in town from Nashville. I played drums for his CD Release Party. I’m planning on heading to his show right after my set.

Walking On

Back in January, I wrote a post called Writing Is Rewriting. It referenced a new song called “Walking On.”

Today, I’m happy to debut that song for you as a video. The song has a bluesy, porch stomper vibe to it. I hope you enjoy it!

(And if you do enjoy it, please share it. Here’s the link to copy/paste: http://youtu.be/pe2KHE6Yo5E)

Friday 12/12 with Christina Alessi

Tierney's 12-12

I’m excited to play with Christina Alessi at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair, NJ on Friday, December 12th. We have an amazing all-star band, complete with Mari Hubley on mandolin, Jonathan Andrew on bass, Sean-David Cunningham on violin, Ty Tuschen on guitar, and a full horn section! I’ll be playing drums and singing backing vocals.

Very excited for this. Hope you can join.

Friday, December 12th 
with Christina Alessi and the Toll Collectors
Tierney’s Tavern
Montclair, NJ
9pm sharp

RSVP on Facebook →

On Vinyl and Attention


I recently started listening to vinyl and I think I’ve discovered something interesting.

What I discovered isn’t about sound quality, music snobbery, or a compulsion to scavenge through record store bargain bins. I’ve experienced all of those things, but there’s something else….

And it has to do with attention.

Like many people, I spent the last decade or so collecting a ridiculous amount of music in mp3 format. I loved having access to a ton of music – tagged, catalogued, searchable, and available at my fingertips. Playlists allowed me to customize my listening experience in new ways and take that experience with me everywhere. There were many opportunities to interact and engage with my music collection.

Then, an interesting shift took place.

iTunes started creating playlists for me via Genius. Pandora started predicting the music I would like. Shuffle mode became popular. My listening experience became increasingly more random and less deliberate.

Sure, Shuffle is still a great way to re-discover lost gems in a music collection. Yet it’s a passive listening experience. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ll throw it out there… I’m less engaged and less happy listening to music in Shuffle.

Think about it. How many times do you hit the Next button when you’re in Shuffle? I see this every day on the subway in NYC. I saw a girl skip through at least 12 songs before she landed on the one she wanted to hear. Isn’t that fairly common for today’s listener?

I spent a little more time thinking about this and it made me wonder… Even though we can listen to more music more often with more variety than ever before, are we actually less engaged?

Are we actually devoting less attention to the act of listening?

I recently started listening to vinyl at my apartment. What struck me most was not the sound quality… though I do notice I can play it louder without an overbearing high end. It’s a nice benefit, but isn’t the biggest benefit.

The biggest benefit is that I’m forced to pay attention to the experience of listening to music.

I need to take at least 30 seconds to look at my records physically in front of me and choose the record I want to hear. Take it out of the sleeve. Look at the artwork. Make a conscious decision to listen to it as a work of art. No shuffle. No happy accidents. It is a conscious choice to listen to a particular record.

I think these tiny actions actually make me a happier listener. They allow me to be fully engaged with the music I own. The artwork consumes most of my field of vision so that I’m immersed. And as I’m listening, I find I’m devoting my attention to the music. There’s even a welcome intermission when it’s time to turn the record over.

Even the act of purchasing vinyl takes time and attention. It’s not an instantaneous download. There is thought behind whether or not this record should consume physical shelf space. And there is anticipation leading up to the listening experience – from purchase to first listen.

Listening to vinyl has brought me back to a slower, more deliberate and attention-focused listening experience. At the risk of sounding too zen, it’s helped me become a more mindful listener.

Yes, I still own digital music. I still love the convenience of having it with me everywhere I go. But when I’m at home, no other form of listening is more enjoyable for me at this moment than vinyl.


5 Tips for Learning an Artist’s Set in One Week

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you need to learn another artist’s songs quickly? I found myself there recently, when artist Shayfer James‘ drummer broke his arm. Shayfer had an important gig in a week and needed someone to fill in right away.

A few weeks have passed since the gig. Through reflection, I thought about five things that really helped to expedite the learning process. I’m posting them here in case they are helpful to you, too. Though they are written from a drummer’s perspective, some tips may apply no matter which instrument you play.

    1. All’s well that ends well.
      Learn the ending first. Does the song end with a hit, a rit., or a fade out? If it’s a fade out on the recording, how does it end in a live setting? Above all else, nail the ending.
    2. Know thy entrance.
      How does each song begin? Do you start it? Does someone else? If someone else starts it, are they relying on you to set the tempo? If so, learn the tempos cold.
      A tip: Look at the playlist of songs on your device. Without hitting the play button, quiz yourself on the entrances, tempos, and overall song style for each song. As you’re learning, test yourself by clicking the play button. Repeat until you no longer need to hit play.
    3. Gradually release yourself from the recordings.
      Listening to an artist’s studio recordings can be a double-edged sword. It’s good because you’ll hear all the parts clearly, but it’s bad for the very same reason. You’ll get used to everything you hear in the recording, which may not match up to the live performance. For instance, you might subconsciously cue off an auxiliary string part while you’re listening. Then when you’re in the first rehearsal – where there are no string parts being performed – you notice you’re getting lost in the song! How could this have happened? You were listening so closely to the recording that you missed the forest for the trees!
      The cure is to gradually ween yourself off the recordings. Stop playing the songs in your earbuds and start playing them in your brain. As you start to do this, it will reveal new gaps in your understanding. As you find these gaps, go back to the recording to fill them. Then, play back the song in your brain one more time to let it sink in.
    4. Know the quirky bits.
      If you’re playing with a good musician, he/she is going to have a unique style.
      Think: What are the signature elements that occur in their songs? Does he like to use lots of starts and stops? If so, learn those cold. Does she tend to gradually build each song into a climax? In that case, be sure you are paying extra attention to your dynamics.
      Each artist will be different, but the key is to figure out those signature elements. Then, figure out the parts of your playing style that best complement those elements. Adjust as needed, but stay grounded in reality. With only one week to learn the tunes, you won’t be able to duplicate every last fill in the recorded performance. Nor should you have to. No one in the audience will be looking for that anyway. If you complement the artist’s unique style, you’ve done a good job.
    5. When it comes time to perform, don’t think about any of the tips above.
      Sure, obsess like crazy leading up to the gig. But when it’s time to perform, focus on connecting with the other musicians on stage. Focus on creating a good experience for your audience. No one is looking for an exact replication of the recording. They want an experience. And the experience you provide by creating a true connection with the musicians on stage will far exceed an error-free performance that may be technically perfect but does not connect on any other level.

Hope you found these helpful!