SPRING 2017


I thought I’d write a bit about what I’m up to because I keep having people ask me what I’m up to and I can’t seem to answer. I just stand there and stare back. The nearly 2-year long election process and it’s unexpected aftermath have left me in a near constant state of disbelief. Stunned by the fact that we live in a country where basically half the people are more or less fine with a cartoonishly cruel and ignorant man-child like Donald Trump as president, I have had trouble seeing the point of making up new songs. Plenty of people are saying that art is more important now than ever. That is probably true. I find that I am slowly slowly getting some inspiration and drive back. Then back into the pit of existential despair for a day or two. I imagine you are probably in a similar deal. Pretty much everyone I know is. I have been writing stuff off and on since Funeral Bonsai Wedding was recorded in 2014 and I’ve accumulated a little stack of songs that I don’t hate. I have been trying to heed Stevie Wonder’s plea to fill the world with LOVE songs. Between songs at the 2015 ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ show, he said something like, “Songwriters, it’s up to you to fill the world with love songs. Not ‘gettin’ it on’ songs – there’s plenty of those – but love songs. Let’s fill the world with love songs.” I took it as a directive from a master teacher and some of the best things I’ve come up with lately are inspired by that statement. Above is a video of a performance of a new song called, “However Long It Takes,” that aims in that direction, from a show at FitzGerald’s a couple weeks ago, with Dolly Varden’s Mark Balletto and Diane Christiansen, Funeral Bonsai Wedding’s Jason Adasiewicz, and bassist John Abbey. So now it’s time to make the songs into records. Dolly Varden has had one all-day session at my studio, Kernel Sound Emporium. It went really well and we tracked 4 songs, 2 of which I think are keepers. We’ve played both at shows a couple times and I’m excited to share them eventually. We’re recording again at the end of May and we hope to track a few more. There’s still a lot of work to be done so I’m thinking that with tracking, mixing, mastering and what-not, we’re looking at an early 2018 release. Similarly, I’m aiming to make a second Funeral Bonsai Wedding later this year that will, hopefully, come out in 2018. So I’m working on growing that stack of songs and deciding which ones might work best in which context. Some might work in both settings…

Much of 2015 and 16 was spent writing, editing and finalizing the songwriting book I co-wrote with Mark Caro, “Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking the Great Songs Inside You.” Like you, I am wary of anyone who tells you they know how to do something as individual and subjective as songwriting. I really hope no one thinks that’s what this book is about!  I’m in no way an ‘expert’ on songwriting and I do not have any “answers”. But I do think about the creative process and songwriting a lot, I’ve spent over 30 years slogging away through the highs and lows of writing, and in the classes I teach at the Old Town School of Folk Music I do seem to be able to get people writing. The book is meant to be akin to “Writing Down The Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg: not a ‘how-to’ book, more of a ‘you already know how-to, so get out of your own way and get to work’ book. (I need to learn to take my own advice.) I have heard from quite a few people that the book has been inspiring, so in that respect, mission accomplished. Mark and I are hosting a 3 day songwriting workshop in Michigan this summer as an extension of the book and it’s nearly sold out. It should be really fun and inspiring. Maybe it would be just right for you…

So I’m looking forward to a productive spring and summer of writing and recording. Not a lot of shows outside of playing as a sideman for others, which is always fun. Upcoming show details below. I’ve booked a residency at the Hideout in September – a month of Mondays. You’ll be hearing a lot about that as details come in.

Shows and such
May 12: Boswell Books / Milwaukee
May 23: Dylan ’76 at SPACE
June 4: Birdee Num Num at Simons
(me, Phil Angotti, Casey McDonough, Jim Barclay)
June 11: Printer’s Row Lit Fest 11am (Mark Caro & SD talk songwriting)
June 23: Rachel Drew and the Bitter Roots at the Hideout (SD on bass)
June 24: afternoon: Cally and The Snag in Roger’s Park (SD on guitar)
June 24: evening: Split Single at SPACE (SD on guitar)

Talking About Songwriting with Elysabeth Alfano – Podcast

I had the great fortune recently to chat with Elysabeth Alfano of The Dinner Party, about music, songwriting and the new book, “Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You,” that I co-wrote with Mark Caro. We talk about what first got me interested in guitar and songwriting and dig into the songwriting process. Elysabeth is a great, enthusiastic interviewer and I sang a couple of songs live. Give it a listen!

LISTEN THE PODCAST NOW

Goodbye, 2016

As we close the books on 2016 I thought I’d reflect a bit. For me, creatively, it was a year of collaborations and long-term projects finally getting finished and released:
The Thread
A the long-distance songwriting collaboration with Baltimore singer / songwriter ellen cherry. Our EP, “The Thread,” was released mid-way through the year and I am very pleased with the results. It was a true collaboration in that we both gave it our best over many years of hard work – some of it face to face and some of it via the internets. Thanks, ellen cherry!
The Book
Another big project that was finally released this year is the book on songwriting and the creative process co-written with Mark Caro, “Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You.” We’ve been working on it for years – passing emails and calls back and forth – and it feels good to have it out and available through GIA publishing, who have been really wonderful through the whole process. We had two big events that were both very celebratory and affirming and the book is being well-received. It is available on Amazon.com and direct from the publisher, GIA.
The Opera
The third big collaboration was with my wife, Diane Christiansen, and her collaborator Jeanne Dunning, doing the music for their incredible “inflatable opera” at the Elmhurst Art Museum, “Birth Death Breath.” I co-wrote, recorded and mixed all the music (except for the ‘Camo Duck’ song, which was written and sung by Robbie Fulks). Here is the finale song on Soundcloud.
I also was busy in the Kernel Sound Emporium finishing the tracking and mixing of a bunch of cool new albums by Kathy Greenholdt, Melanie Budd, and Chrissy Johnson. Here’s a big playlist of some of the many highlights from Kernel over the last 8 years or so..

Of course the backdrop to all this activity was the horror-show of the US election, the continuing murders of unarmed black men by police, the untimely deaths of so many of our treasured music icons, continuing mass murders with assault weapons and the now normalized tacit responses that do nothing to address the problem, the ongoing bloodbath, and the unfathomable refugee crisis, in Syria (and Yemen), the rise of nationalistic / fascist leaders all over the world using xenophobic and racist views to build coalitions of hate. And then the topper, in November, when slightly more than half of the sliver of the USA who bothered to vote in a few key swing states elected a hateful, ignorant con-man with a debilitating narcissistic personality disorder to be the most powerful single human in the history of the planet.  The Democrats botched the whole thing by forcing through a deeply flawed candidate who was widely despised and closely associated with the very policies that have run the middle class into the ground. So here we are. This will not end well. Anyone with a moral code and compassion must choose to take a stand against the hatred and cruelty that will surely be coming our way very soon.

Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You

book-release-dec-4-draft-5I am very excited to announce the release of “Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You.” I’ve been working on it with Mark Caro for many years as an extension of my songwriting classes at The Old Town School of Folk Music. The book aims to encourage and inspire anyone who’s ever thought about writing a song through practical, approachable assignments that explore all elements of songwriting: form, lyrics, chords, melody and rhythm. The exercises were culled from 10 years of weekly assignments. Mark and I chose the ones that have had the best results over the years and seem to help people open up and write to their best potential. The book can be ordered direct from GIA, the publisher, now at this link.

Here it is on Amazon.com. If you wanna really support this project, please consider writing a review on Amazon.com.

The book has a website that we hope will become a meeting place and community for songwriters. Please have a look and sign up for our mailing list, too.

BOOK RELEASE CONCERT SPECTACULAR!!!
Sun Dec 4 at The Old Town School of Folk Music’s Szold Hall
Book Release Spectacular with Dolly Varden and a cavalcade of stars singing songs based on the assignments in the book:
Rachel Drew, Chris Corsale, Ross Freedman, Mark Caro, John Kuczaj, Kevin Davey, Melanie Budd, Alton Smith

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