We did it—Brad, Ethan, Jeehye and I toured the US. Several people have urged me to write about it or document in some way. We got home several days ago and my friends ask me about it. It’s hard to get it right in conversation. Maybe because it hasn't all processed yet or maybe there is so much to say. It could also be that it was a lot of routine. I told myself and some folks I'd document it, so this is my attempt. Ideally I would have been doing this throughout the tour while each experience was still fresh and easy to recollect, but I was busy- driving, contacting folks, figuring logistics, hanging out and partying. I'm not gonna edit much or pay much mind to this being well written. I gotta work on music so this needs to be as expedited as possible.
The most important thing to write about is the band. We were already friends and have worked together for a short period of time before the tour, but a month together without a lot of breaks is an intensive test for relationships. I think the undertaking could have either ruined relationships or fortified them. I feel immensely fortunate that the we are all even better friends at the end. A supreme shared experienced. I could never say enough about their patience with me and their willingness to take a month of their life to do something like this for no money. I think they're a bit crazy for it and I know for a fact that I'm there with them. Brothers and sister in righteous craziness. Each member brought something unique and important to the equation. Especially Jeehye’s presence I think tempered the level of ridiculous foulness that us dudes would have contributed to and endured. She also joined the band exclusively for the tour and was the only non-native English speaker. She rolled with it and she is amazing. All she really got in return is some dumb (hilarious) American slang expressions and whatever experience she took from it. Anyway, I’m indebted to them all but I get the sense that they were happy to be my debtors. I hope my moodiness wasn’t too obvious or taken as anything other than just that.
Brad flew into my hometown, Birmingham, Alabama, several days before the tour. We immediately started jamming at my best ever buddy, Ramy Noureddini’s house. I appreciate Ramy tremendously for the space but even more so for being an incredible, hilarious and steadfast friend. Brad fell right into hanging out with my friends there. I knew he would. I've learned this about people I've met over the years. From Dildo, Newfoundland, Canada to Seoul, South Korea, some people are cool and ready to get into knowing other people and hanging out—shooting the shit, cutting up. Brad's one of those dudes. The reference to Dildo, Canada comes from a hilarious conversation in Birmingham. I have no idea how we arrived there, but Brad informed us that there is actually a town in Newfoundland called Dildo. I guess they had this name before dildos really took off in mainstream consciousness. At some point they even held a referendum to change the name and it failed. Thanks Dildoians and thank you Brad.
Ethan and Jeehye arrived in Birmingham a couple of days after Brad. We spent the next two days practicing. They had spent the previous days in Ethan's hometown of Rochester, NY with Ethan's family. Our rehearsals showed the work they had put in preparing for the tour. Honestly, almost shamefully, they were probably more prepared than me even though we were playing my songs. That's the kind of people they are. They do shit the right way and it’s important to them. It's inspiring and not entirely my nature but something to aspire to. It was surreal to have my Seoul friends in Birmingham. My two worlds united. They got to meet my family and friends and it went off splendidly. I’m still tickled that my bandmates seemed to genuinely enjoy my hometown and the people in it.
Our first show was in Atlanta, Ga. Thanks to some old friends, Shawn Avery, Brad Keuhner and Jody Nelson, we had the gear we needed to rock. They are all gems. I think we played pretty well and I got to see some friends living there that I haven't seen in years. From this show comes possibly the best quote of the whole tour and in my mind a perfect compliment. After our set, a guy came up to Brad and said, "ya'll smashed. Kinda weird, but I liked it.” That's pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. The magnificent birthday twin of mine, Kelley Outler, came out and she was as lovely as ever.
Back in Birmingham we played a festival that’s been going for a while now, Secret Stages. My friend and a huge advocate for Birmingham music, Travis Morgan, booked us at a nice venue and good time slot. This show was probably the most well attended and I think we played quite well despite some nerves. There were a lot of old friends and I aimed to show off the progress I’ve made musically since leaving Birmingham. I think it worked out alright. Jeehye, getting into the southern spirit, greeted the crowd with a nice, “hey y’all,” which killed with the local crowd and we were off.
After the Birmingham reunion it was time to grind, for which we were psyched. No breaks for several days— lots of driving. Seeing people I haven’t seen in quite sometime. Nashville friends Nick Barnes and Todd Easter treated us well and after our show put on a little backyard blue grass session for us to enjoy. Nick’s girlfriend Leigh Ann made us a biscuit and sausage gravy breakfast the next morning, which I think was a first for the rest of the band. I guess that’s a distinctly southern dish. Amazing. We went to 3rd man and I wanted to record in that booth Jack White has but it was out of order.
We spent a night in the Ozarks of south Missouri camping in a beautiful place called Big Spring. Throngs of deer swarmed this place. Herds—more than I have ever seen. Beautiful creatures. I walked down to the spring to take a dip and a young buck looked up at me from 5 meters. We looked at each other for a moment and carried on. They’re protected in the area so not too spooked by people. None of us were boy scouts or outdoorsy types and our firewood was a bit fresh and damp, so we had a hell of a time trying to get a fire started. We literally used the last bit of our newspaper kindling and lighter fluid to finally get it going. I thought we had failed and I was preparing myself to feel like a dumbass. The next camping stop in Gettysburg, PA, we lit it with ease. I’ll blame the wood. Redemption. After a morning jog and swim in the cold spring we headed to Kansas City.
Kansas City was cool. We played with a Seoul friend who moved back to the states, Stephanie Bankston and her band Lovergurl. Their songs mostly protest gender and racial inequality and injustice. You can feel it’s power, legitimacy, rawness— inspiring. We didn’t have the opportunity to stay there as long as I would have liked. Didn’t even eat K.C. barbecue. Stayed up too late after the show and we had an early show in St. Louis the next day.
St. Louis was probably the most pleasant unexpected success of the tour. Thanks to a good bud and formidable artist and musician, Eric Davis of the band Table People, we got to play a show organized by the SoFarSounds organization. So far St.Louis is run by a dude, Chris DiGiacomo, who works hard and made our time there comfortable and awesome. The crowd was attentive and appreciative and that feels good for an unknown band playing a show for the first time in a city. St. Louis, we loved you. I ate the first of two mushroom rueben at a really nice local place called… Frida’s maybe. I can’t remember. Ask the townspeople. I can’t wait to go back there.
From here I’m gonna detail less cause this is taking too long. I do want to talk about how welcoming people were to us in the United States of America. Friends, strangers and in-between. In every city we stopped people were awesome. In Chicago hung out with several friends and ate awesome deep dish. Cincinnati— it was my birthday and I got entirely too drunk after we played, got the spins and tried to throw up for a while before passing out at what was unbeknownst to me the Cincinnati party hotel. Before that I got to see a high school friend, Holly McGlawn whom I literally have not seen in 10 years. I once tackled her in 9th or 10th grade choir for money from some mutual friends. A kind of I-bet-you-won’t-tackle-Holly dumb thing that dumb adolescent boys do. Thankfully she didn’t remember the incident but now she knows. As I tackled her I rolled a bit so that she would not hit her head on the ground. A sort of gentlemanly jackass. The bartender there was super nice there at the Listing Loon and we listened to a bunch of Wilco while drinking bourbon. In Lexington I met James Friley, aka Idiot Glee. I became a big fan of his when he came to Seoul our first week back. I had been listening to his albums a bit and he pulled them off live and solo. Our band played with him and Henry Demos at the very cool Strange Fruit.
Driving through the country from city to city was a special thing. I would have liked to stray from the interstates a bit more but the itinerary along with our (my) lack of adherence to scheduling didn’t leave a lot of time for dilly dallying on the road. The monotony of driving inflicts a kind drowsiness that I only remember from full days at an amusement park as a kid or thanksgivingitus, but different. It’s not fatigue exactly, it’s having to be just engaged enough to not drive the van into an embankment or the next lane, but nothing about an interstate in southern Illinois engages the senses. But, Indiana had a nice surprise in store and I just happened to be just ridin’ in the passenger side of our Caravan rental. We pulled up on a wind farm called Fowler Ridge Wind Farm. I’ve seen windmills but I’ve never seen a farm with 222 of them. It seemed to go on forever. I spent 30 minutes snapping photos on my sister’s iPhone device with the van in motion. I’m trying to say the place was huge. There is something really satisfying about windmills. They’re inherently positive because of the clean energy and everything, but there is also an aesthetic perfection in the three-bladed design—form and function in harmony.
We had a flat tire right outside Chicago. Had to cancel a show in southern Illinois cause it took us so damn long to get it sorted with Hertz. Their roadside assistance is bullshit. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Another note about driving is that it sucks when it rains. Several times on the tour we had rain come down on us pretty hard. Couldn’t see shit. Those summer storms in the south and midwest are dark and intense and beautiful. The raindrops fly with the size and force of a cicada or dragonfly or something, and they splat on a windshield. I’m into it. The storms come and go pretty quickly. It reminds me of sitting underneath the carport at my grandparents house in the southern Georgian plains as a kid and watching dark clouds roll in from miles away and just dump fat raindrops on the earth. The ground soaked in no time. There’s a peacefulness to it. Outside Louisville we experienced a downpour of this nature. It sucked to drive through but I enjoyed the terrain in the overcast afternoon light.
In Rochester we stayed with Ethan’s parents and they were warm and welcoming. They live in a super nice place which was amazing. Ethan’s family was so nice and fed us great food and we played basketball in the driveway. We watched a home video of Ethan in his high school band and laughed. Brad cheats at basketball (not really, I just suck). Ethan’s father, Bill Waddell played ball with us too and we talked about sports and music and other subjects. He is an interested and interesting guy. I enjoyed our short time with his family. The next day we spent the night in Syracuse with my sister Marianna and her husband Ricky Davey. My sister took us to the park and Brad learned to throw a football (of the American variety) properly. A natural athlete, he picked it up in no time. We pretended to throw touchdown passes and smoked in the grass. I had a really hard time leaving my sister after that. Melancholy set in. I knew I was back to see my mom and dad and Bethan in Alabama a couple of weeks later, but knew Marianna wasn’t gonna be there. It was too fast and we have a blast together. We resolved to do a better job of staying in touch. Off to the big city.
NYC is the best city in North America. Sorry L.A. and Chicago. Maybe the best city in the world. I’m sure it helped that I had Jaime Isobe, my homeboy, there. He and I have been friends since college. He went to grad school at NYU 6 years ago and I moved to Seoul 5 years ago, so we hadn’t seen each other since. Someone snapped a photo of our initial reunion. Sheer elation in our faces. We had some time so we hungout in Williamsburg, ate good food and drank cold beers. I’ll be at his wedding in Taiwan in November. Can’t wait.
Isobe booked us at a cool venue on the lower east side called Rockwood Hall. Lots of our friends came out and showed us a party. The gig was really cool. The space seems old and worn out in a quality way. We were in a good groove as a band by that point. The set was getting easy. Friends of Jeehye’s, Alex and Jess hosted us in their Manhattan apartment and we made a pallet on the floor after drinking some delicious cocktails.
Brad and I took one of those open top bus tours in New York City. It didn't occur to me what a great idea this is but Brad recommended it and it was perfect. You can hop on and off whenever and wherever. See the city, explore. At the edge of Harlem, our bus was stopped at a red light and a kid I guess about nine looked up from the sidewalk and said, "Y'all can suck my dick!" No one reacted for a split second until Brad and I simultaneously broke out in hysterical laughter. That kid rules. His friend then addressed our bus saying, "sorry my friend is crazy," and the crazy friend called the nice guy, "a pussy." Highlight of the bus tour. The sites were nice too.
We had a Sunday matinee show in Red Hook Brooklyn. Apparently it is a pain in the ass to get to but a lot of people came out anyway. Thanks y’all (Seth Persons, Kyu, Hayley Kisiel, Brady Duncan). Someone in the audience took a hit of acid for the first time in their life which started out hilarious but I don’t think ended that well. I’m sure they are fine now. The show was at Rocky Sullivan’s and this fellow named Moe was our sound and light engineer and he was well into it. Probably the most welcoming engaging sound guy of the whole tour. His family is from Newfoundland so he and Brad connected in that respect.
We rode across the river with Kyu who showed us around quite a bit and is a great hang. My camera died right as i got it out to photograph a man woman ripping through wakes on a jet ski, sunset cast on the river, big city backdrop. Badass.
We played at a house show in my friend Mark Lentz’s (Henry Demos, Nice Legs) hometown, Blacksburg, Va. It was packed thanks to Saadia Rais who lives in the house, played and organized the show. Virginia Tech is in Blacksburg and it was exactly the kind of show that you would want to have in a college town. That is until the cops came and made everyone leave. We were 8 songs into 10 when we had to quit, so we basically finished our set. The fun is always after the show though, and the last band didn’t get to play. It was also only like 9:30. Don’t call the cops, people. Talk to your neighbors. Apparently this one guy always calls the cops on their shows and they get shut down regularly. Somebody toilet paper that dude’s yard pronto.
The next day had us covering a lot of ground to get to Athens for our last show then back to Birmingham. It was bitter sweet. Bright and early Ethan and Jeehye had a flight. I was super tired and got them a taxi instead of taking them to the airport myself. I regretted this after I woke up again. I had separation anxiety honestly. I was glad to have some alone time. Glad to see Ramy again. Glad to have a few days with my Mom and Dad and sister Bethan. Brad, Ramy, mom and we rented the ride share bikes by Railroad park and explored Birmingham. One-in-ten or so of the bikes are powered electrically so everyone except Ramy got those and were cruising work free. Ramy got a workout in. Good on ya, dawg. It was basically perfect.
Leaving my family isn’t getting easier. I miss them.