Songs for Travelers

When we first started discussing the idea of doing some sort of traveling project, one of the first things I did was begin compiling music for the trip.  I know that doesn’t really make sense as a first step, but that’s just how my brain works.  Digging through my music collection, selecting songs that will get me more excited about something on the horizon– it’s a way for me to relax when I’ve got a lot on my plate (i.e. it’s one way I procrastinate).  I’ve made mixes for myself about different subjects that I find myself preoccupied with–love, space travel, productivity, monkeys, etc.

I also love making mixes for other people, and one of my very favorite things to get from another person is a mix. Even in this age of iTunes, I always make sure to take a picture when someone gives me a mix before I import it, because I want to remember it first and foremost as a gift and object.  Here’s a few covers that I grabbed out of my iTunes.  The latest one I got was the one with the  hand-cut paper dragonfly cover from the talented Mr. Jared Schorr, and I’ve been listening to it nonstop the past few days.

Anyways, I knew one of the things that would really make the long hours of driving fly by would be good tunes the whole way.  So I began rounding up hours of music for us, all the songs about driving, traveling, rambling, and exploring I could think of, all the hits that make you happy when they come on, even songs that mention certain areas and states specifically.

So naturally, as the idea for our project developed, and we begin to discuss launching a Kickstarter, one of the first reward ideas I got really excited about creating was a “Songs for Travelers” mix cd.

I reached out to a handful of my favorite songwriters, many of whom are also friends.  Each of the artists gave me great contributions–some songs that already existed and fit the mix well, others that were unreleased or created just for this project.  I’m really stoked on how it all turned out–this is a mix I’d be happy to get, and I know we’ll be listening to it plenty on the road. (The mix is exclusive to our Kickstarter and is part of the reward you get for pledging $25 or more to our project.)

Built Like Alaska – I’ve been friends with these guys for many years and through different formations.  I did my first album cover for them too.  My brother and I used to make a Central Valley-based zine called “Junk” in the mid-90’s, and we interviewed BLA for it.  My bro put it best–“the sweetest thing to come out of Oakdale since the smell of chocolate in the air.”  Hershey’s might’ve packed up and left town, but BLA is here to stay.  They contributed an excellent track called “Drive Away.” They have a new album out, called “In Troubled Times…” and it’s my new favorite of theirs.

Charlie Campbell & Megan Mishler – I met Charlie accidentally one day when we were both standing in the same line in NY. We have one of those weird connections where it’s like the universe keeps course-correcting to make sure we’ll bump into each other again. There are too many strange coincidences to go into here, but we’ve worked together on a series of TV commercials, an indie film, and now this.  Among tons of other projects, Charlie was in the band Pond in the 90’s , and also recorded one brilliant album under the name “Goldcard” that I highly suggest seeking out.  Charlie and his friend Megan recorded “Not a Ride I Wouldn’t Hitch” just for this mix, and it’s great.

Dear Nora (Katy Davidson) – Katy Davidson is one my favorite songwriters. I’ve never met her in person but I’ve spent many hours through the years painting to her music. I selected one of her older “Dear Nora” songs, “The Freeway,” for this mix because it’s so strange and good and nicely describes the experience of driving through California. She has a wonderful new album just out, the first official release of her new project “Key Losers”  called California Lite, recorded in Washington by Phil Elverum.

Discombobulated Ventriloquist (Ron Rege Jr.) – I’m a big fan of Ron’s art and he was an influence on me as one of the first cool zine/minicomic guys I ever found out about.  But Ron’s usually doing something cool musically too, from the Swirlies, to the Mystical Unionists, to Lavender Diamond, and now The Discombobulated Ventriloquist. His instrumental track on here, “EIOXFMG H” sounds like what a couple of amoebas might listen to if they decided to take a little road trip together to the other side of the microscope slide.

Kid Mud – Kid Mud started out as the alter ego of one of my oldest friends, Sean Duncan, but has since grown into a full-fledged band.  I’ve seen Sean overcome tons of obstacles in life and continually use music as his way to turn things back around through the positive act of creativity in all his projects, which makes him a true artist in my eyes.  He also recently founded a new label, Way Grimace Records, which is giving a home to a lot of Central California-related projects (and beyond).  This mix wouldn’t be happening without Sean and Way Grimace’s oversight with mixing, mastering, and packaging to make sure it looks and sounds good in the end.  Kid Mud contributed the unreleased new version of “Cloak the Sight,” which has been one of my favorites for some time from his earlier demos.

Little Wings (Kyle Field) – Kyle is an amazing musician, songwriter, and visual artist, and sometimes he lives in stick forts on the beach. I feel very honored to have an unreleased track from him, called “The Pit” which Monica and I can’t stop humming.

Lovehandles – Lovehandles is Tommy Yasuhara, though future generations may know him as The Man who Built the Peace Speaker.  What’s the Peace Speaker? A giant modular peace-sign-shaped speaker that will tour the nation, initiating musical and art events in unusual locations that can bring people together to dream about peace collectively.  Tommy gave us a sweet track called, “Purrspective,” in memory of his beloved cat and best friend Patticakes as he prepared for her journey into the spirit world.  You can’t listen to this and not feel something. The Peace Speaker “2012 ‘Til Infinity Anti-Apocalypse Tour” begins soon, and Lovehandles will have a new box set of music to offer to commemorate the occassion.

Jason Lytle – I grew up outside of Modesto, and lived there for a couple of years right after high school. It’s a place I have both love and hate for.  Grandaddy was sort of like the giant beacon in the night during that time. I remember my first Grandaddy show, in a small dive bar in Modesto, where I used my brother’s expired ID to get in.  There was Grandaddy playing in the light of some projected super 8 footage, and it was beautiful.  Afterwards Jason Lytle gave me a demo tape to review for our zine, and I felt super cool all week.  I’m sure Jason would’ve eventually become one of my favorite songwriters no matter where I grew up.  I feel like his writing influenced my imagination quite a bit and probably my work too.  Jason gave us an unreleased track, sort of a sparse wandering cowboy song, called “Elko in the Rain,” and of course, it’s a good one.  I feel like a whole movie could be based on this song. I would cast the ghost of Jason Robards for the lead role.

Sara Lov (Devics) – I remember the first time I heard Sara Lov.  It was when I was going to art school in Pasadena, and I was sitting in my car in a hardware store parking lot at the edge of town.  I was getting unusually good reception to the not-so-nearby Claremont college station, KSPC, so I just sat there in my car for a while listening.  And then “Heaven Please” by Devics came on. I was completely frozen by this beautiful voice, so desperate and sad sounding.  It was like my radio was accidentally picking up the transmission of a ghost hovering over a haunted piano in the remains of a burned out house that had been struck by lightning. Anyways, Devics disbanded a while back, and Sara Lov has gone on to create some really lovely music as a solo artist. She didn’t quite have a traveling song up at her sleeve at the moment, so we agreed on this great earlier Devics track, “A Dream and a Train.”

Sonny Smith (Sonny & the Sunsets) – I’ve written about how much I love Sonny’s music before.  He’s an artist who seems to make music almost accidentally.  And the music is so good that it sounds like it must’ve always existed, like great songs that were carefully crafted many generations ago with exacting precision, then handed down over the years until they became broken in and comfortably loose and warm and familiar. Besides his 100 fictional records project, and his comic zines, he also recently did a series of storytelling performances that were really inspired.  I’d recommend all his albums and especially the upcoming Sonny & The Sunsets country album,”Longtime Companion,” which comes out in June. The recent instrumental “Acres of Lust” appears on our mix (and Kickstarter video), as well as a really nice older acoustic track, “Way to Go.”

The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit – Another group of loony bins I’ve known forever.  I feel like that doesn’t speak as much as I’d like it to as to how great these guys are, so I’ll say this– when I started making the travel mix (for myself), the very first song I thought of was “Tow Truck”.  It’s the cornerstone of this mix, and I’m really happy they let me include it.  “Tow Truck” is Chris Doud’s song, one of GLTSO’s two frontmen.  The other guy is Willy Tea, and you can read more about him below. Every time these guys play somewhere, they seem to get everybody out of their seats to kick up some dust. They also played at our wedding and it made our night.  Afterwards, all the out-of-towners came up to me and were like, “Who WERE those guys, and where can I get an album??”  You can get one here and I hope you will.

The Preservation – I don’t know much about these guys.  They blew through Oakdale mysteriously, played an amazing show at the Cow Track, and then drifted off into the night.  Ok, my friend Taylor from Good Luck is also friends with them, and told me to go see them, so I guess it wasn’t that mysterious.  But I did, and they were rad, and I got their cd, and this song “Michigan” was on it, and it seemed perfect for this mix. Thanks guys.

Thombie – Thombie is one half Sean Duncan (Kid Mud), one half Rick Dillwood, and as you can see I like them because that’s my art on their recent cover. Thombie is the sound of two old friends reconnecting across some distance to make beautifully lush and layered music. Rick also happens to be a great filmmaker, and you can see how the same insight in his songwriting applies to the careful way in which he constructs a story in film. His upcoming documentary, “Between Friends and Family,” about how the process of being a sperm donor for a lesbian couple changed his life, was recently given the financial support it needed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, and I can’t wait to see it done.  The Thombie track I chose for the mix is called “Private Jet to Vegas,”  not only because it’s a great travel song, but it’s also one of the songs that I think really highlights the strength of their collaboration.

The Threads of Grass – Is what happens when a couple of amazing musicians who also happen to love landscape architecture get together.  The seeds of this collaboration began when Ben Hedstrom and Michael Yun recorded an album and then traveled around (along with friend and musician Chad Gilcrest),  playing at different land art sites, and making a movie in the process.  The track they gave us, “Downtown,” came from that experience, but was never released.  I love this track to death.  That doesn’t mean I would kill it, it means I would fight for its survival even if it meant my own demise.  It also has this great line to offer:   “I saw you dressed like M.I.A. today…you were shaking that mattresses sign like it was champagne”

Willy Tea Taylor – I want to say, this is a man who needs no introduction.  To anyone who knows even a little about Willy Tea, I think this is probably also how they think of him.  I have many fond memories of listening to him strum his mandolin and sing songs about hungry bears and chewing gum around a campfire. He was recently one of the subjects in the documentary the “Kingdom of Survival”, about radical visions that challenge normal views of the world, alongside….Noam Chomsky??   He is also making a film entitled “Searchin’ for Guy Clarke’s Kitchen.”  Anyone who’s seen “Heartworn Highways” will know exactly what that means. Willy Tea’s song “Lazy Train”  is a perfect addition to this mix.

One comment

  1. Re: Elko in the Rain — Jason Robards would be the dad who died in the duel. Maybe Josh Brolin for the lead?

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