Learning to Fall

The ShiversWhy does an artist set out on a journey to find his own unique language to say the things he needs to say, create two “sister” records early in his career (“More” and “In the Morning,” just a couple of years apart) that together contain 11 perfect songs among others, defining a vocabulary and voice, an astonishing accomplishment in these days of apathy and industry ruin, only to walk alone, deep into a personal wilderness, to search for something even more complex and revealing and experimental after inhabiting the very thing he was searching for since the early 2000s, and found? It’s something outsiders cannot easily decode. More records appeared, of course, each just a little more varied, each circling around similar subject matter and textures, some even changing personas completely.

The ShiversBut the patterns began to shift. Because, in the end, it’s about the burning questions. The questions that keep artists awake all night. The questions that wreck relationships, unquiet the mind, and haunt the escape of sleep. The questions that force the hard things to the surface, the dark things into the light, the dangerous things that can break a man. Artists can’t hide from the burning questions.

And so, the wilderness called, for renewal as much as for new directions or confirmations. What can I say about this artist now, at his latest moment of transformation? About this man, Keith Zarriello, his ever-changing identity as The Shivers, his music that opened The Business Presents music festival in July in Anacortes, WA, the artist who has come to define my longing for a direction for my small record record label, Untide Records, and which haunts my imagination about what might be possible for all his records as yet to be demoed, as yet to be recorded? The ShiversI want to say something to you that no one has ever said about him, something that will crash your world, like his music did mine, and make you see and hear what I see and hear in this artist’s teeming and tormented art. I want to do that, but then… I hesitate, and I don’t. Not here. Not now. I don’t because he’s my friend, but more important than that, vastly more important than that, I don’t because he’s still out there working, and something is changing, something new is coming into being. The wild places haven’t finished with him yet, so all remains speculation.

The ShiversMusic has always been the first art form because it requires no advance study to connect to those it connects to. You just fall into the music you love. If you love the music, if you love the language the artist has discovered for himself, you love it. There’s no need to write long arguments, proofs, about why you love it. You just do. It’s one to one, and remains so. Every song was written for you and it speaks to you as if you’re the only person who gets it, really gets it, because it becomes yours. We want to possess the people who can do this for us. But that isn’t possible, either. They belong to the wild places where their greatest songs are written. They belong to their searching, far away from all of us.

The ShiversOpening night, Keith walked into the venue, picked up his vintage Silvertone, plugged it in, and within minutes tore through his taut set list of songs from his decade-long conversion from novice songwriter to journeyman recording artist. It was a rare moment that felt all the more valuable for its spontaneity, vulnerability, and risk, coming from a man who only briefly stepped out of his wilderness mid pilgrimage. His search continues. The burning questions still have a firm hold on him. Every great songwriter travels this road, again and again. Pays the toll in a kind of existential loneliness and aloneness none of us can even imagine.

There remain many more songs inside this artist that will reveal themselves, in time. One day soon Keith will walk back out of his wild places, reformed as yet another new vision of The Shivers, and his records will literally speak for themselves. And those who know, will know. The music will fall into place, and those who get it, will, once again, feel his new writing is just for them. When the needle drops onto the first track, some of the burning questions will be finally be answered. But fortunately, not all of them.

The Shivers

[Where to find stuff: The Shivers on Soundcloud. The Shivers distro and retail from The Business. The Shivers on Bandcamp.]

Fill Your Ears

Bog Ears 2016

I’ll be proudly serving my music masters at Indie Street Radio in a couple of weeks at the 2016 installment of the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. For a limited time you can grab a download (100% free and legal) with 18 tracks by some of the cool artists who’ll be appearing. I’ll have an official press and photo pass, so I’ll get to stick my nose in everything. Then I’ll be writing up blog posts for a few weeks after the event. We’ll try to do a real-time live podcast as the event is unfolding. If it works you’ll get to hear what I sound like along with Nick Rennis (he sounds much cooler than I do). As for my vox, don’t get your hopes up. I don’t sound much different from you. Probably even less so.

Darkness Is Their Candle

“You can’t study the darkness by flooding it with light.” —Edward Abbey

Flowers From Their Garden

It was a moment of private wonder, like a short, intense walk in a concealed garden that remains locked most of the year; an evening with Mamiffer (Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner), at The Business, in Anacortes. The sheer power of their tube amps and dream-metal songs in this small space was enveloping, stopping time. If you don’t know this band, you need to. They played a few songs from “Statu Nascendi” (Sige Records, 2014), a career-defining album, which is far more lush on vinyl than as a digital download, but follow your heart. A note about my pictures: I had to shoot in almost total darkness (no flash, of course), which is why these pictures appear so grainy. But the darkness fit their music and the mood of the evening, and the challenge was good. Life isn’t always lit the way you want it to be.

Never Walk, Dance

What should we talk about when we talk about Katy Goodman? (Seen here, at The Shakedown, opening for King Tuff.) La Sera? The Vivian Girls? Energy? Her ability to throw together cool bands with equally gifted musicians who can all do what they do on stage and in studio, every day, like it’s no thing? Like it’s what everyone does when they’re bored, on tour, or broken hearted? Releasing everything on vinyl? Like it’s 1972, and it’s the only way we can release music, duh. Motion; her dancer’s moves? Her smart, subtle, spooky prolific songwriting… like it’s no thing to be funny and sad on the same record, just because a girl wants to be. Her singing, modern torch yet playful, innocent, and sweet? The girl next door, cuddling with her Musicmaster Fender bass. No, we must talk about her ability to dance and play the bass, on stage, on a small stage, with cables running everywhere! Come on, can you do it? Dance, sure. Bass, sure. Both, most of us would pitch head first right off the stage into someone’s Rainier, ruining the entire room’s retro cool. If she was a scientist, she’d be a dancing physicist. Higgs boson, sure. Dance, of course. Both? Pretty rare. Not one of the six physicists working on the boson-particle mystery is ever described as a cool dancer. Not one reference to snake hips, just tons of glowing prose about decades of tireless attention to particle-decay theory, blah blah blah, which you can’t even see, nothing about dance presence. If they did, we’d be talking about it. A lot. Check it out, you’ll see I’m right. I’m just saying. So buy “Hour of the Dawn,” (Hardly Art, 2014), vinyl of course, and let Katy’s art, her soundscapes, sweep over you. Marvel. Dance, even, if you must. But,… leave the bass, and experimental physics, to the gifted professionals. It’s not as easy as it looks. Safety first. Be cool. Avoid the sorrow.

Real Love

I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets by pointing out that Griffin House’s latest LP, “Balls” (Evening Records, 2013) is available for free (100% legal) on NoiseTrade, the artist-driven promotional site. You can share the love with the man and leave a tip, or buy the CD, like I did, for the artifact of it all (I wanted vinyl, because the heart wants what it wants, but there just ain’t none). House is currently on tour. I photographed him at the mighty Tractor Tavern, in Ballard, Washington. A seated show, the first I’ve EVER done at the Tractor. Seemed weird to me. Like texting in church, or something; just not done. Bars are for standin’. Still, standin’ or seated, House is spooky cool live, doing that thing he does, and well worth catching in the act, if you can.

Unlock Your Doors

Holy Fuck! Whose punk love children are these people? From whose musical loins did they spring forth? What part of this great land produces such Alt-R promise? Oh! They’re from here, the Pacific Northwest? Well, why then are we not bowing down before the might of their guitars and their tsunami stage presence? I have been asleep. Asleep I tell you! But now I am awake. Wide awake! You, reading this, you need to wake up, too! The Tractorites didn’t want Ravenna Woods to leave the building. The genre-bending Helio Sequence was on deck, the Sub Pop headliner, and the crowd was still buying RW drinks as they stowed their gear and cleared the stage. Expensive drinks! Love was in the air. Real, lasting love, the kind that only guitars played until they blaze can spontaneously generate in the hearts of true believers. It was the long moment, the evangelical tent-show conversion, the first kiss, the burning man burning it all up on his last night in the cool desert air knowing it meant becoming ash by morning, but choosing the flames anyway. I’m not making any of this up. Look at these pictures! I’m a professional! Go on up to Bandcamp, listen, and know what “we” now know. Go, now, and be amazed.