On Japanuary

After almost three years spent at home, drinking beers solo by the BBQ in the back park and thinking wistfully of busier times, this last month made up for the years of inaction.

It kicked off on Boxing Day with a two week, twelve date Gusto tour, followed by a blessed two days at home (mainly spent invoicing venues, tracking spreadsheets, attempting to scramble together lesson plans and wash off two weeks of grime). Then we flew to Japan.

Japan’s been on the cards for a while. Facebook memories informs I went there exactly ten years ago with my friend Steve, but time and I have done a pretty good job of wiping most of those experiences away. There were a couple of key Japanese phrases lodged in the old memory bank, arigato  – ‘thank you’, konichiwa – ‘hello’ and watashi wa baka na gaikokujin – ‘I’m a stupid foreigner’, as well as memories of Fuji-Q – an amusement park at the base of Mt Fuji that sports horrifying rollercoasters (enter my fear of heights) and a terrifying haunted house (enter my fear of everything else). There was a vague recollection that the ticket inspector on the shinkansen – bullet train would bow everytime he entered and exited a carriage (still true), and a lot of memories of sitting stark naked in an outdoor onsen – hot spring as snow powdered down around us, toasty bodies holding up frosty heads.

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On Touring With One Arm

My band Gusto Gusto just did a 4000 km two week round trip up and down the East Coast of Australia, playing twelve shows on the way with stops at Woodford Folk Festival. I went into the tour with a little trepidation – we had a couple of door deal shows that I had genuinely no idea what the turnouts would be, plus a handful of pub shows that I knew were going to be hard work.

With the birth of a new project you discard most of the successes of your previous projects. None of the fans of the myriad blues or folk or country acts that I’ve toured the country with are particularly interested in the new thing I’m doing, because for the most part they’re fans of the sum, not the parts.

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On How I Experience Life

Welcome back to the blog, it’s been a big old year since I’ve updated it, and there’s been a fair few things going on.

I’ve done a very small handful of solo gigs in the last year. Gigs are basically back to normal which is nice, but I haven’t felt any strong desire to play solo. I spent a ton of time during lockdown playing guitar on my own, and the thing I missed about music was sharing it with other people. I’ve still got an album to release, I just need to decide how it comes out, and carve myself out a couple of weeks of free time to promote it. If you’ve got any big bold ideas of where I should play and what format (solo? trio? full band with all nine people who played on the record?), feel free to message me.

The main thing I’ve been doing this year is teaching full-time, which was a great way to fill in time while lockdown was on and weekends were empty, but now that gig life is back to normal and national tours are starting to peak over the horizon I’m feeling a little over-committed. The plan is to cut back on teaching at the end of this year, though I’m not sure how much to cut back and what to drop, because I love everything I’m doing right now.

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On The Return of Live Music

I have a band called Casabella. A group of friends who get together seven or eight times a year to play a gig. It’s incredibly loose, to the point that the band has been around for over ten years and is literally on its hundredth iteration.

It started as a background jazz band, playing a weekly gig at an Italian restaurant in a shopping centre. We got the gig via Myspace, when a chef at the restaurant found our nascent social media presence and called us up. A one-off gig turned into a Friday night residency that carried on for seven years. The deal was simple – $100 each and a pizza for three hours of low volume jazz.

Over time the low volume component became the most important part of the gig. We were regularly asked to turn down, at least three or four times a night. I started leaving my sticks at home and just turning up with brushes. Then I started cutting my kit down – ditching the toms, ditching the cymbals, eventually buying a smaller kit – an 18” kick, snare and ride cymbal. One gig I forgot my kick drum at home and no-one noticed. If anything it probably made the gig better.

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On Normalcy

Back into the swing of it. It appears life is accelerating to normalcy at a much faster rate than expected. A much faster rate than hoped to be honest. I was ready for another couple of weeks rolling out of bed at 8.30 am, but it wasn’t to be. The government has decided we’re back to it on Friday and suddenly I’m staring down the barrel of getting out of bed, putting on actual pants and riding my bike to the various schools I teach at. Wild.

I’ve also booked some gigs. What a concept. I had one day of productivity a couple of weeks ago where I emailed a venue I’ve played at for years to see how their opening up was going, and next thing I knew they’d booked me in for two gigs. Then another venue emailed me to reschedule a cancelled gig from July and suddenly I’ve got two rehearsals this weekend for two gigs the next weekend. Ludicrous.

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On Ongoing Priorities

I can feel the first breaths of summer. It’s been a long monotonous winter, another one to tie into last year’s where we thought it could never get worse. Turns out it could get worse, we could do the exact same thing again but without the novelty that got us through the first one.

To be fair, I’ve been pretty happy this lockdown. I’ve got enough on my plate to keep the weeks rolling past. I’ve been exercising and eating well and spending enough time catching up with friends on the internet that I feel connected. I’ve been reading and listening to new music and doing practice, although not as much as I’d have liked to in hindsight. But that’s how it always is.

Steve told me the other day that this might be it. This might the last month of lockdown passivity we might ever live through. We might never be given this much free time in our adult lives again.

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On the Ongoing Passing of Time

I’ve been thinking about time, as these glorious days of full sunshine and warm breezes start to waft in. It’s been a mere blink of an eye since we were here last, twelve months ago.

I’ve thought often of how time is tied to memories, memories are tied to actions, and actions are tied to the places we inhabit. As much as I’d love to recall thoughts I’ve had over the years, these thoughts are infinite, a galactic ticker-tape that clicks and clacks throughout my days. There’s no way to count the thoughts I’ve had, no way to categorize them, to neatly place them in to boxes. Sure, I can vaguely group them, ideas I have on music and reactions I have to people I meet, but thoughts are so ephemeral, blink and they’re swamped by the next wave of thoughts and so on until we die.

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On Missing Live Music

I’m missing live music.

I open up Instagram with my morning coffee and the first thing that pops up is a video of Jacob Collier and Justin Lee Schultz, jamming together on a green room keyboard after a festival. It’s just such a joyful stretching out – two young guys with a genuine love of music playing over a tasty little chordal vamp. There’s no audience, no pressure, no end goal, just a shared exploration of music, and I love it.

I know for a lot of my musician friends, the pandemic has taken away careers, income, all semblance of future plans, and I’m definitely feeling this myself, but the thing I’m mourning the most is the spontaneity of music.

I miss just being able to turn up to a venue and see something happening – a group of people who’ve worked collectively on this shared thing to a point that they can get together on stage and play it live. Who knew that with enough time practicing mechanical motions we could learn to express emotions through physical vibrations. Truly amazing.

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On Doubts

Recently I’ve been finding myself doubting some things that I’ve always done.

I put it down to COVID of course. With the once in a century shut down of planet earth its easy to start to scrabble at the edges of everything you’ve held sacrosanct and pick holes in things you believed were too strong to fail. I’ve seen it with lots of friend too. A wave of teetolarianism and vegetarianism is sweeping through my friendship group, accompanied by the dual waves of exercising and going to therapy. Everyone I know is going to therapy. It’s great. Inspiring. Beautiful. We’ve learnt to think and talk about our feelings. Is this related to the ongoing stress of this global pandemic? Or is it just merely a reflection that we’re getting older (and maybe now able to pony up the therapy fees that we couldn’t have done in our 20s).

So what am I doubting?

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On a Return to Live Music

I took my worn down feelings away with me for a weekend, and carried them with me through a couple of days of tour life. I’d forgotten what the six am starts and four hour drives and three set gigs were like, somewhere in the midst of this last year of COVID. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be living on the edge of tiredness, eking out the mental energy to accomplish the task directly in front of you, while staving off the expansive future and its twists and turns.

I spent the last year with a blessed amount of sleep, with mornings spent in bed till nine am, with evenings empty of follow-on tasks, so it’s a slightly rude awakening to realise suddenly life is back to normal and I didn’t get much say in it. This is the reality of life though isn’t it? As much as we cling to the things we can control, the iceberg of inevitability has this vast underwater mass that drags on the edges of what we can see and saps energy just when we feel we’ve started to gain some headway.

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