Monday, January 16, 2012

The Sharper the Tools, the Darker the Times

I tried my hand at sharpening my own saw for the first time this weekend. It's something I'll have to work on. I'm not really sure if I know what I'm doing and the saw isn't cutting as well as I would like it to even after filing and setting the teeth.

I'm also trying to get back into film, so I shot this simple little video just to become reacquainted with my camera. The soundtrack is from David Lynch's audiobook, Catching the Big Fish, which Daniel Zeigler shared with me yesterday. It's really excellent. his ideas about living "the art life" and expanding your consciousness are really ringing true to me.

The title of this blog post is a quote taken from the record label of Teenage Cool Kid's album, Denton After Sunset. It sounds like Sun Tzu but a google search reveals nothing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Three Artifacts, Part. 3: The Album

The last item I received in the mail was less utilitarian and more of a memento; a time capsule (more like a gravestone; memento mori.)

Teenage Cool Kids as a band may be all but dead. The members have all gone on to bigger better different things. However, with the final release of this album comes hope that they will return for good; for a tour; for even one show. One can hope...

I was there on the very first tour. Across the western United States, traveling in a rented van with seven other "dudes", we all became more aware of the world around us. I had never ventured further west than White Sands, New Mexico until our Ford Econoline took us North from Santa Fe and turned left towards Salt Lake City. I think it's only appropriate that the furthest I had ever been from home was one of the more eye opening moments I can recall of my early twenties.

The anarchist co-op house in SLC where we spent the night was like any other stop on the tour; By that I mean it was a dirty, old house littered with bicycle parts, zines, and too many young people to hygienically inhabit one space. We were more than grateful to be offered a few couches and a spot of floor to lay down for the night.

In the morning the snow was beautiful outside but I spent most of breakfast editing video to upload to the internet. This was part of an (frantic) attempt to keep up with the goal I set for myself which was to upload a daily tour montage so that our friends back in Texas and fans of the band could keep up with our travels.

When I went downstairs that morning, I saw a group of old women rooting through a pile of scavenged fruit, vegetables, and bread that the residents had placed on their porch for that purpose. It never brought a bad taste to my mouth. It immediately seemed correct and inherently good that food which would otherwise be wasted could be given to those in need (or just wanting) by means of a group share system. This was my first real-world interaction with DIY, Food Not Bombs, anarchism, or co-ops. This was the moment that I decided to become vegetarian, to be more efficient, and to be more loving of all creatures. It sounds corny but it's true.

The previous days had been mostly bizarre and included: kids on drugs (Amarillo), human snowblowers (Amarillo), girls jumping through urine-filled dixie cup pyramids (Amarillo). [Thanks, Jordan]. Not that there weren't some strange moments in the coming days, but overall the rest of the two week tour was total PMA and nothing short of life-changing.

Beyond the time I have spent with the band and without neglecting my impartial viewpoint, Teenage Cool Kids are one of my, if not my single most, favorite bands. I listen to all of their albums pretty regularly except for the cassette which I listened to recently; i made it through side A and could not bring myself to flip the tape, I was in such an emotional state.

HOWEVER, this album is very different from previous TCK records.

Instead of being recorded here:

(Daniel's bedroom. Photo by Bradley Kerl)

Denton After Sunset was recorded here:

(Sad faces at Nubby's funeral pyre. The band's garage studio is in the background. Photo by Bradley Kerl)

Whereas the self-titled cassette, "Queer Salutations" and "Foreign Lands" were recorded in Daniel's enormous bedroom-turned-recording-studio/warcraft dungeon, "Denton After Sunset" was recorded in a dilapidated, old garage. 715 Panhandle was a large, two-story house that became one of the best music venues Denton, TX had to offer. It was home to party after show after touring bands and even a two-year run of a music fest called PHAT CAMP masterminded by Andrew Savage (I think. I actually missed the first year of PHAT Camp because I was on a road trip with Darcy) and things rarely seemed to calm down.

However, the Westway house where DAS was recorded was far removed from the sense of community that permeated the cinder block walls of 715. Westway was more like an old wooden ship traversing new and increasingly frightening waters. The philosophies of the residents seemed to have changed and without Bradley and Daniel living in the same house as Andrew, the tone became more serious. Whether it was an outbreak of scabies, accusations of backstabbing, or the death of a beloved stray cat, the house seemed to embark upon tragedy where before stood one of the strongest, most loving groups of friends I have ever known.

(Nubby's death. Watercolor painting by Andrew Savage)

There was also the problem with a neighbor who kept making noise complaints during the entire writing/recording process; they eventually (somewhat) sound-proofed the shed with a few bats of fiberglass insulation. It was setbacks like these, the fact that Bradley had moved to Austin with Whitney, and Andrew's divided attention to his new project Fergus and Geronimo that put a great strain on the boys. Shortly after the album was finished, Andrew Savage would move to New York City with friend and F&G bandmate Jason Kelly to focus on their music. I love both bands. In fact, I love every band and every project that my friends involve themselves in, they are some of the most creative people I have encountered. You would like them.

The album was recorded and mixed by my oldest friend and TCK guitarist Daniel Zeigler, and mastered by Josh Bonati of Bonati Mastering NYC. Bonati also worked on Fergus & Geronimo's "Unlearn" as well as, Meneguar's "The In Hour", Blues Control's "Local Flavor", Woods "Songs of Shame", etc. The lyrics, songwriting, instrumentation, recording, mastering, and artwork are all fantastic, and ingrained with deeper meaning. This album should be a part of every twenty-something's rotation until that title is no longer applicable - and beyond.

You can listen to the whole album here. If you're interested in purchasing the album, it is available from Andrew and Chris at their new label, Dull Tools.

As you have probably guessed by now, this is not an album review. I could not possibly separate myself from my personal involvement in the goings-on during the recording of this album and I am obviously not capable of impartial opinion related to this band. This is simply an exercise to document the importance of an artifact that is of great significance to my life story.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Three Artifacts, Part 2: The Book

The second item I received was another artifact of craftsmanship; a tome of modern woodworking.

The Anarchist's Tool Chest was self-published by the author, Christopher Schwarz, through Lost Art Press, LLC. Schwarz is not only the author of the book, he is also a co-owner of the small publishing company he helped create in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky with Lucy May and John Hoffman. He is also the former editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine where he worked for fifteen years.

Schwarz was forced to leave the magazine, not by a power grab or some corporate conspiracy but by his own convictions. He decided it was better to live on a four figure income than to slave away his days working at a corporate job where he was expected to make a profit rather than produce the highest quality of work; an idea that we can all relate to.

I first read about Chris Schwarz and this book while I was living on eighty acres of farm land in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. I moved to Arkansas from Austin, TX with my girlfriend Darcy, our dog Charlie, and our two cats in an attempt to get "back to the land" for an undetermined amount of time.

So when I read about Schwarz sticking it to the man (politely) and writing a book sticking it to mass-produced particle board furniture garbage, I knew that it would be something worth reading. I was and currently am the key audience for this book.

I began collecting antique tools about two and a half years ago. The first real tools that I ever bought were a 1 1/4" ship auger and a drawknife from an antique dealer in Denton, TX. I was obsessed with Dick Proenneke's Alone In The Wilderness at the time and was looking to recreate the tool set that he took with him into the wild country of Alaska to build his cabin. I wanted to be able to build my own home (or at a least a rustic stool) out of wood using simple tools.

This path lead me to rediscover The Woodwright's Shop and I then began to discover modern toolmakers who were still concerned with craftsmanship and quality. I don't think I knew what quality was until I ventured down this path.

I think this episode of Roy's show perfectly sums up well...everything. Watch the episode The Spirit of Woodcraft from The Woodwright's Shop.