We kept returning to it and polishing, rethinking, redoing. It was always close to our thoughts, close to the center of our efforts. Self-imposed deadline after self-imposed deadline drifted past, like cigar smoke seen wafting by a street lamp. In 2013, while I was in New Mexico, Chris and Ben toiled on the thing all summer. In July 2014 we scrapped everything we had on "Litany"—untold hours of work—and recorded a new version, live, singing and playing all together with a few mics. From that session we created the version you'll hear on Axle. A week or so later, Ben moved to North Carolina. Chris and I flew down there in March, this past March 2015. We finished the mixing. The last thing we recorded, I think, is my Rhodes solo on "23 (Anton)." Ben did the mastering. We passed versions to & fro until we were finally able to agree on everything—that was in May. Then we sent it off for pressing.
This is the product of a LOT of effort by the three of us, a LOT of conversations, a LOT of rehearsals and workshopping, a LOT—a LOT— of recording and mixing sessions. It's a whole chapter in 41 minutes. We've been promising this thing at our gigs since 2012. We couldn't be more excited to finally be able to share it with you.
Axle is available on CD and digital download next Tuesday, July 7th, via Two Labyrinths Records. You can pre-order now at grantwallaceband.bandcamp.com.
Between you and me—go with the CD. I hear Apple started a streaming music service today. When I stream something, I'm guaranteed to forget about it. When I buy a digital album, I listen to it for a while until it disappears into the folds of my iTunes library. When I buy the CD, I live with the music. When I buy the physical media—which sounds better anyway—I develop a relationship with the music. Please buy the CD. Please buy other CDs and LPs by other musicians you love. It's just so much better for everyone. You get a real document of the musical effort that you can hold in your hands. The musician gets the assurance that you care about that effort. Now that basically everyone is outside the major label system, it's never been easier to directly compensate your favorite musicians for the work they do that you love. Did I mention that Axle looks gorgeous? Our guy Alex Mitchell did brand-new art, and Emily Howe did the album design. This thing looks great and feels great and it wants to live in your house, entertain you, inspire you, possibly creep you out a little bit. Give it a swing, eh?
Many thanks to all of you who have been part of the journey these past four years. The road winds on.
1 • I left academia in 2009, but kept mentally organizing my year around the academic calendar for another fourish years thereafter. Seasonal employment encourages such extension. And I did always enjoy the intrinsic seasonality of it, as compared to the featureless industrial calendar most 9-to-5ers in our society have to contend with. There are periods of intensity and periods of indolence built into the academic calendar. But that’s really just the seasonality poking its head from behind the curtain. Our trips around the sun happily bring us intensity and indolence in (mostly) predictable patterns.
2 • Lately I’ve begun to orient myself toward the equinoxes and solstices instead. Transitions between cycles are never direct or precise, but they do tend to occur around the solstices, I’ve noticed. I feel my energies shifting, broadening, narrowing, tightening, loosening at around these times. A new cycle starts this weekend. I’ve felt it coming on since April; probably had an idea where it was headed before that, but started to feel it in April. It’ll reach its widest expression over the next couple weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing what that brings.
3 • I was in Chicago last week for a pre-solstice concert visit, as I was last year. This time I played Open with Doyle Armbrust alongside Andrea Cerniglia and Julie Brannen of dropshift dance. The show was at High Concept Labs’ new space. We did a video shoot, also. It was such a pleasure to see these two artists literally “embody” (Andrea’s word) the music. I never wanted to see Open on a traditional concert program. It needs movement, it needs attention to lighting and space. All that happened for the music last week, and I’m grateful for it.
4 • Peter Margasak wrote this lovely preview of the performance for his Chicago Reader blog. Peter is one of my favorite music critics—not to mention a curator and presenter of huge importance to Chicago music!—so it was a kick to read his thoughts about Open.
5 • He also wrote this great piece about Ornette Coleman last week. It illuminates the specific impact this musician had on so so many, and also beautifully conveys the power certain artists have to graft their work to our personal lives. Reading Peter’s words, I reflected that I’d felt similarly when Elliott Smith died in 2003. I didn’t know him, but what he taught me in his music was forceful, path-altering stuff, and I felt personally bereft to lose his example.
6 • Ornette Coleman was a master, and his legacy is a challenge as intellectually lofty as it is physically exuberant. His sights were set on really reinventing music-making, but he never lost touch with the essential joy of things.
7 • To speak of another artist of technical mastery and surprising humor, completely different but as deeply American: I’m into some Thomas Pynchon for the first time since high school, 200ish pages deep in Gravity’s Rainbow. I don’t really think it’s “hard” reading. I think you just have to let some things go. Accept that you’re not going to “get” everything. Try and remember who everyone is—or at least most of them—without getting suckered into chasing down every scientific reference. And simply enter the flow of it. I often say this same thing about music. People say they don’t “get” something. Well, neither do I; not completely. I heard Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time last weekend. I know that piece pretty well, but it’s not like I saw the score scrolling by in my head as I was listening. No one ever “gets” everything; what you do, hopefully, is let a book or a piece of music at you, and this complex but basically involuntary thing happens in your mind as you interact with it, and maybe it creates (you create) an impression inside you, and maybe you can take that with you and think about it later, or maybe you don’t think about it at all but just let it live. No one remembers every plot point of every novel they’ve ever read; still it is worth reading them, still you take them with you when you’re done. You do “get” something. Just not everything.
8 • Like a Zen story or koan. It’s not about the solution. There is no moral. The point is to let the question at you, and see where your mind goes.
9 • I keep thinking about this performance of La Monte Young’s famous Composition 1960 #7 (that’s the fifth “to be held for a long time”). Not much to “get” there, eh? Or… wait. Maybe there is.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues