joe guese (guitarist, grand canyon) | perspective

joe guese (guitarist, grand canyon) | perspective

In an era of computer-made, beat-driven music, Grand Canyon is the antithesis of modern pop music. However, by focusing on musicianship and timeless songwriting, and drawing on the inspiration of the classic sounds and arrangements of the 70s, it is the kind of pop music that will be wafting through the canyons for a long time. Here, guitarist Joe Guese shines looks back on a rock legend that inspired his career, as well as countless others.

My journey with Tom Petty began like many others did, with a road trip.
It was the summer of ’92. I was 10, and my family was taking our annual road trip. California was that year’s destination. I had just recently purchased, or more likely my parents purchased, Into the Great Wide Open. We set off on our journey for the west coast. Little did I know then, it would be a road trip for the rest of my life. I put Into the Great Wide Open on my discman, letting it be my soundtrack through the endless canyons and expansive horizons of the west. The music always seemed to have a vision of hopefulness, positivity, and pure rock ‘n’ roll. I picked up the guitar two years later and never looked back.
He provided the soundtrack for my youth. I’ll never forget my first Petty concert at Red Rocks, the soundtrack to high school parties, hearing “Room at the Top” the day Columbine happened, and his music present at many other seminal events in my life. Tom Petty led to some of the best and longest lasting friendships I’ve ever had. Fast forward to the winter of 2002, I had just finished up a rehearsal with my college band who was trying out a new bass player. That bass player was Ethan Mentzer. We decided to make the long walk back from the rehearsal space to the Berklee dorms. On that fateful walk, we discussed our love of Petty, girls, anything rock ‘n’ roll, and more Petty. We would go on to become lifelong friends and start a band that would tour the world. He taught us everything: cool guitars, cool amps, great songs, how to record, and most importantly the attitude and feeling of rock ‘n’ roll music. He was the embodiment of “cool”.
Petty has led me down some pretty strange and wonderful roads. I had the pleasure of playing “Running Down a Dream” with three members of the Heartbreakers and two great friends Jamie Arentzen and Matt Pynn (the Elmbreakers) a couple years ago at a Grammy party. That road also led me to Casey Shea who would also become a lifelong friend. Our mutual admiration of Tom Petty pushed us to start Grand Canyon in our mid 30s. Talk about running down a dream!
So cheers to that summer of ’92 in the back of a suburban, where I’m at now in Los Angeles, wherever that road may lead, to all the bad girls, and those boys who play that rock n roll.
“Oh, I await the day
Good fortune comes our way
And we ride down the Kings Highway”
Thanks, Tom, and Rest In Peace.
Keep up with Grand Canyon here.
“my first record” by dave littrell of the deep hollow | perspective

“my first record” by dave littrell of the deep hollow | perspective

If there is one thing we can learn from Shawshank Redemption, it is this: we have to either get busy living or get busy dying. Americana trio The Deep Hollow are firmly planted in the former. Through their sophomore record, Weary Traveler, Micah Walk, Liz Eckert and Dave Littrell dig into this sorrowful life of getting older, longing for a stable home and the sometimes unbearable weight of the open road. Sonically, the band fits somewhere between the pulse of Patty Griffin and John Prine and the adventure of Jason Isbell, The Lone Bellow and Brandi Carlile. Below, Dave Littrell shares the story of his first musical experiences and how they shaped him as a musician. 

Growing up, like many, our home was filled with music.  It seemed like the radio was always on, a record or cassette was always playing, or a music video was always on our TV.  After all, I am most definitely a product of the MTV generation. When Sting sang “I want my MTV!” in the introduction to “Money For Nothing,” his declaration was powerful and something this 7 year old could rally behind!

I am so grateful to have grown up in a home where music wasn’t just entertainment or background noise, it was important.  You could even say it was a family value. I remember walking into the house after school to the sounds of Otis Redding, The Temptations, Diana Ross, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, and on and on.  The Beatles LIVED in our home as far as I was concerned. John and Paul sang me to sleep most nights. We even had a full jukebox in our basement where my parents and their friends would spend nights and weekends singing (loudly) to their favorites.  My mom had this charming habit of taking anything you said to her and breaking into a song. If I was being annoying to my older brother and he said “Stop!” she’d burst right into “Stop, in the name of Love, before you break my heart…” She still does it this day.  This pure love for music shaped me in a way I could never imagine. I was just a kid who liked dancing in the kitchen to Motown artists, never realizing what an influence those experiences would have on me as I grew older. As a father, I try to pass that love onto my kids and there’s nothing more fun than watching my kids sing and dance to those same songs.

With that said, it is a little difficult to write about my “First Record.”  To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what that record specifically was, because there were so many.  But, The Beatles were kings in our household so “My First Record” has to be a Beatles album.

My uncle owned a huge record collection AND a great stereo system, which means Uncle Del was obviously the coolest guy in the world.  Our tight-knit extended family all lived in the same small town in central Illinois so naturally we spent a lot of time together. Anytime I was at his house I would run directly to his stereo and start poring over his records and cassettes.  He had these expensive headphones which allowed the music to be directly implanted into my brain. It felt like these musicians were playing just for me. The music was so crisp and clear, much better than my little tape player at home. It sounded so amazing!  My first experience with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” were through these marvelous wonders of technology, but hearing The Beatles through these headphones was one of the most perfect memories of my young life.

“Beatles” was hand-written on this cassette tape and once I started listening I couldn’t stop.  I think I had heard a lot of the songs before, because like I said, my Mom was a big fan. But this was different.  Listening on headphones made these songs have more depth and they came alive. I couldn’t necessarily relate to the infatuated teenage lovesick lyrics or the heartache caused by my crush not answering the door or telephone in “No Reply.”  (I would uncover those gems later as I experienced my own girl-crush drama.) But the melodies, harmonies, energy, and songcraft were undeniable. I distinctly remember swinging on the swing set in the backyard as the sun was setting and listening over and over.  I couldn’t believe that I loved every song. With other artists, even artists I loved, I didn’t like every single song. My uncle gave me this tape (or I just kept it, who can remember?) and I became a life-long Beatles fan.

Later, I wanted to use some birthday money to buy my own, proper copy of my favorite record.  (Uncle Del also said it would probably sound better if it wasn’t a taped copy.) After perusing through the cassettes at our Sam Goody at the local mall with my Mom, I realized I didn’t know the actual name of the album.  It just said “Beatles” on my tired, worn-down copy. After looking at all the titles, we discerned that the tape I had listened to religiously contained the first side of “Beatles For Sale” AND the entire “Rubber Soul.” Just looking at the songs on these two records floods me with memories and remind me what incredible songwriters they were.  I still play several of these songs, and “In My Life” was used in my wedding ceremony, for example.

I am constantly on the lookout for new music, and I hope to find an artist that can even come close to replicating that feeling I had listening to Rubber Soul for the first time.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it can really happen. My adult brain inevitably gets in the way and I immediately decipher lyrics or chord progressions instead of listening to music the way I did as a kid.  I think we should all try to listen like a kid, because it was magic.


Keep up with The Deep Hollow here.

mad crush | perspective

mad crush | perspective

One part June Carter sassing Johnny Cash along with two dashes of Itzhak Perlman on a midnight hayride, Mad Crush’s songs contain theatrical, back-and-forth performances between their singing protagonists Joanna Sattin and John Elderkin. Complete with humor and heartbreak, their songs are in fact bright little dramas about fussing, fighting, and occasionally making up—universal truths sprinkled with brand-new magic dust. Below, Elderkin discusses his first musical influences, which are readily apparent upon listening to Mad Crush’s recently-released debut LP.

I have a habit of dismissing great albums on my first listen. I had friends with an advanced copy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” who freaked out when they heard it, but when I listened, I thought it sucked. Later, I gave it another try and realized I was way wrong. Like the rest of the world, I ate it up. I had a similar reaction to R.E.M.’s first EP, called “Chronic Town.” Friends I respected said that it sounded unlike anything they’d ever heard anywhere. I listened and shrugged. It was different, but what was it? But when I pulled the record out again a few months later, I was flabbergasted. Those guys were speaking my language!

The one time I got it right came before these albums, on my first listen to The Clash’s “London Calling.” I was a teenager but I’d never heard of The Clash, and I bought it because I liked the cover picture of the bass player smashing his guitar on stage. I turned on my record player and by the end of the first song I was jumping up and down on my bed like a maniac. When my younger brother came in to ask what the hell was going on, I pointed to the record player and sure enough, he jumped on the bed, too. The only time I got down was to turn over the sides. I didn’t own a lot of records yet, and afterward I probably assumed that most albums would knock me out this way, that life would be one “London Calling” after another. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t so impressed later with other records that were supposed to bowl me over. Or maybe it’s just that great…


Keep up with Mad Crush here.

james houlahan | perspective essay

james houlahan | perspective essay

When I was about seven years old, I was introduced to my first record by an old man on a train. He was seated with three other older men, as the train car rolled through a warm summer’s evening. His face seemed weary and craggy with years of travel, and despite his small stature he drew me in and commanded my attention. With a voice sharp yet gruff, he dispensed life advice in exchange for whiskey and cigarettes, which he bummed from the silver-bearded man seated across from him.

After the conversation wound down, the old man put his head against the window and drifted off to sleep. And then, quite unexpectedly, this old man passed away in his sleep. He died right in front of me. And unbelievably, an apparition began to fill the train car. It was the ghost of the old man, looming large over the other men. The silver-bearded man was singing this song, and the ghost began to dance and sing along. Finally, the ghost pulled out a deck of cards, threw them in the air, and showered the train car with them. Then the scene ended.

I was seven years old, watching an episode of The Muppet Show. I was completely transfixed by what I had just seen and heard. And the song that the silver-bearded man and the puppets had been singing was absolutely infectious. “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…” It just completely took over my mind. What was this song? Who was that silver-bearded man? I was possessed with the need for answers.

And after demanding more information on all of this from my parents, they eventually bought me a cassette tape. 20 Greatest Hits by Kenny Rogers. And I played that tape until it wore out, on a little brown Fisher-Price cassette player. “The Gambler” was the greatest song ever written, according to my seven year-old ears. And for the next several months, wherever I went, that song came along in my head. Sometimes complete with the dancing ghost of an old man. And a group of puppets, their voices rising together in that rousing triumphant chorus.

It’s weird. Now that I look back on some of my earliest attempts at songwriting, they are replete with references to gambling and card playing. Despite the fact that I never cared much for either of those things in my real life. As I started to get into other music, I remember hearing gambling references in several Grateful Dead songs. And then on to Bob Dylan. And I began to see a metaphorical thread appearing. I followed that thread for a long time, and it led me to some amazing music. I owe the writer of “The Gambler,” a debt of gratitude for jump-starting a life in pursuit of beautiful song. Thank you, Don Schlitz. Also, while we’re at it, thank you to Jim Henson. And Kenny Rogers! I think of that little seven year-old kid in front of the television, stumbling on a seminal moment in his life. Ears in rapture to a truly great song. Worlds of possibility developing in his little brain. Future songs murmuring from somewhere far ahead in embryonic time.

Memory is a funny thing. Why did this record make such an impact on me? Was I merely seduced by Muppets with a clever hook? Or maybe it was my own budding interest in ghosts, cemented by the release of the film Ghostbusters at around the same time. Or maybe it was the fact that I almost died myself from anaphylactic shock resulting from an allergic reaction that same year. I can’t really know for sure. But that record, and that song, stuck with me. Somewhere deep in the darkness of my mind, the Gambler sleeps. On a train bound for nowhere. And there will be time enough for counting, when the dealing’s done…

Keep up with James Houlahan here.

ben fisher | does the land remember me?

ben fisher | does the land remember me?

The year before I moved to Israel, I worked at a restaurant in my neighborhood. I would walk to work through Seattle’s leafy Ravenna neighborhood listening to Meir Ariel’s 1997 record Bernard VeLouise, generally arriving at the restaurant somewhere in the middle of the fourth track.

Meir Ariel was an Israeli singer-songwriter often referred to as the Israeli Bob Dylan. On top of that, his ability to create words and turn phrases in Hebrew is heralded as somewhat Shakespearean. A supremely talented lyricist, he never enjoyed the fame in life that he found in death. He fought in the Six Day War (and the Yom Kippur and First Lebanon Wars), and he initially gained a following after he wrote a parody of a nationalistic song circulating in 1967 called Jerusalem of Gold, by Naomi Shemer. Ariel’s version was called Jerusalem of Iron, and speaks of the horrors he saw fighting in the city. In Shemer’s version the chorus is, “Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze and of light.” In Ariel’s: “Jerusalem of iron, and of lead and of darkness.”

Bernard VeLouise isn’t his best known record, but for some reason it was the first of his that I picked up. And when I say picked up, I mean listened to on Spotify. Seattle’s Easy Street Records doesn’t exactly have a well stocked Israeli music section. It was the last record the Israeli folk troubadour would release before his death at 57 in 1999, caused by an infected tick bite.

Before I learned how to speak Hebrew, I had no idea what the record’s opening track, “Etzel Zion”, was about. With an upbeat, meandering, Eastern European melody, and the word “Zion” (biblical Israel) in the title, I thought the subject matter must be some pretty heavy shit.

Later, once my Hebrew had improved, I learned that Ariel had in fact penned an ode to the fast food chicken schnitzel shop across from his apartment in Tel Aviv.

At Zion’s on the corner of Hayarkon and Trumpeldor
Between the post office and the Dan cinema
They put a lot of heart onto your plate
For just a little pocket change
They put a lot of love into your pita
And they don’t make you wait.

In August, 2014, in the midst of Operation Protective Edge, I was outside a hotel in Jerusalem, in a cloud of cigarette smoke surrounded by a circle of Israelis, listening to Meir Ariel on a shitty iPhone speaker. A string of military helicopters buzzed overhead and someone said it was the ceasefire team returning to the Knesset from discussions in Cairo. Then the rocket sirens started wailing and we had to scramble to the bomb shelter, with Meir’s music still coming out of the phone.

Six months later, I had two suitcases, and an apartment with a lease in my name waiting for me in Jerusalem. Everything else was up in the air. As my flight dropped below the clouds and the lights of Tel Aviv came into view, I noticed that the Israeli guy next to me had started sobbing, and I could tell it had something to do with the music he was listening to. I peeked over at his iPod. Annie’s Song by John Denver. Weird. I put on Bernard VeLouise. By that point, Meir’s music was no longer foreign to me. It was a comfort, a constant, when moving halfway across the world was full of so many variables.

A few years ago, an Israeli winery put out a limited edition Meir Ariel series of wines that featured illustrations found in his notebooks on the label. I wrote the song “The One Who Shines, The Lion of God” on a hot July evening in Jerusalem after polishing off a bottle. In English, the name Meir Ariel can be translated to “The One Who Shines, The Lion of God.”


Keep up with Ben Fisher – and keep your eyes peeled for the release of Does The Land Remember Me?here.