Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Sky Creates Itself vol. 2

I grew up in a house full of boys in middle America. The long summer days found us running in and out of yards, underneath high ways and through abandoned ball fields. Our house backed up to a plot of land called the “Common Ground”. The trails running through the trees padded down by our feet and bike tires. We lived a lifetime in those short summer months.

We’d built forts out of fallen trees and black plastic sheets we stole from the hardware store. Using knifes and machetes we cut down the different flora and fauna around us. We made the wooded land our world. The small fires we made sent smoke up through the old oak and willow trees and gave us something to watch. We’d tell stories, sharpen spears, and drink water from our army surplus canteens as the day extended into night. 

All of the stories we shared around the small fire gave us courage to dream out loud. We saw the days and years ahead as an escape from the things we avoided. Our families, school, and the police wanted us somewhere other than where we were. At 7-11 we were get chased off by the clerks for not having any money to buy anything. The filling station posted signs that said no loitering. The grocery store managers stopped us before we could walk in the air-conditioned store as our shirts hanging out of our back pocket. A dad drunk and throwing tools in the garage was avoided at all costs.

We came out of our childhood with enough stories to last us a lifetime. The songs tumble and fall on to the page with fond memories of creeks, dirt trails, and hoping fencing in the midday sun.

released 14 July 2014

Words and Music by Mogo Kutu 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The path ahead

I’ve just finished up my summer vacation. There’s been plenty of rest and relaxation as well as some organizational decisions regarding my work as an artist. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect about the creative life. In December of 2013 I decided I needed to renew my faith as an artist and since then I have been taking small steps forward. 

At some point I needed to make the decision for the path ahead. To date I’ve played in bands, wrote a couple of soundtracks for independent films, established a local label, produced a couple of songwriter projects for others, and written a lot of songs and albums. In the last few years I have closed some doors and let wounds heal. It has been a long journey over the last 17 years as a musician and artist. All of these experiences have given me a lifetime worth of experiences to dwell from. As I think ahead I realize I have some ambitious goals I would still like to reach. Some of these include projects I have kicked around for a decade or more. Things like concept albums, experimental hip hop tracks, instrumental music, and a couple of books / short stories. I figure it is time to start my life’s work. I feel like I have accumulated a healthy amount of push and pull moments to get me to this place. 

My plan is fairly simple. I plan on creating a number of things as time permits. I have a few ideas kicking around. As they become reality I will begin rolling things out as they meet my quality control standards. There will be a little bit of something for everyone. The underlying theme to all of this is to share and build community on the internet. There are a lot of like-minded individuals out there doing great and unique things. It is time to connect and reach out to fellow artists. 

I ask for your patience as I transition the blog and my work to meet my new needs. Things may be a little slow at first as I coordinate efforts in this transition.
As always – create.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sky Creates Itself vol. 1

It is June and the lightning bugs float in semi circles though our backyard. With the sun falling late into the day my daughter's sweaty face comes into my view as I strum my guitar. The back porch is littered with whirly birds and remnants of the leaves from the large twin silver maples rooted in back. I've been writing and recording a new project for the last few weeks.

Summer lends itself to time with my acoustic guitar. My Martin HD-28 is an extension of me. Named "Sis" after my grandmother it has yielded the majority of my songs from the last few years. This new group of songs comes from my walks along the river during these long, hot days as well as these nightly mini concerts for my daughter in the backyard.

This project was an effort to get back to the basics. I wanted to create a group of songs that could stand on their own with voice and guitar. I spent the earlier part of this year embracing a band to assist in creating a context for my songs. These new songs were recorded live in a couple of takes. It is as close to the source of the creative well as I can get.

The first three songs in this project are part of a larger collection of songs. The nine songs total are called The Sky Creates Itself. The title comes from a quote from Sylvia Plath. Ms. Plath was a very early influence for me and my work. Her words are the fibers holding these songs together.

Link: https://mogokutu.bandcamp.com/album/the-sky-creates-itself-vol-1

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Friend the Chocolate Cake - New Live CD

A package arrived in my mailbox today. The airmail stickers, security tags and bubbled envelope come one to two times a year. Bedge’s scrawled writing across the front gets me excited. In an email a week ago my dearest friend from Australia said to keep an eye for a package. It’s content, a new My Friend the Chocolate Cake album. Each time one of Bedge’s packages arrives it is a perfect day. A holiday among holidays. 

As I turned on the stereo in the front room and slowly slid the sealed plastic off I found myself dipping back into memory. It’s been almost twenty years since I set foot on Australian soil. The mysterious land of one of my great adventures. My eternal tie to Bedge serves as a reminder of days past. 

As I set the CD to play David Bridie’s unmistakable piano sounds out the first few notes. Mr. Bridie looms very large in my musical education. It was upon hearing My Friend the Chocolate Cake’s self-titled debut and follow up Brood that I realized what I was shooting towards as a songwriter. I first learned of the Cake one afternoon early in my trip. With a guitar in my lap I sat and watched Bedge sing through the first few verses of A midlife’s tale. Singing “get it back, get it back now” I was enticed because Bedge’s love of the music was so present. It was evident in those first few moments that this was a band I needed to embrace. 

Bouncing between varieties of styles, the Cake reflects the sound of Melbourne in the early evening. I remember being on rollerblades shifting in and out of traffic as the sun set on those summer nights. School had let out for the semester and with nothing but time on my hands I listened to the Cake non-stop. On the beaches of Point Lonsdale I would walk for hours listening to my CD player wondering how many great white sharks were just off shore waiting to eat people. I remember sitting on the beach listening to Danny Boy dreading the moment I would have to return home but yet also being thankful for what was in front of me. 

As the CD plays through different tracks I can see parts of my life in a world far from here. Dear old friends and experiences that I am thankful for each and everyday. My Friend the Chocolate Cake is the soundtrack of a young person coming into his own for the first time in his life. I need to send Bedge a great big thank you for the CD.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Digging for New Vinyl

I feel like I am waking up again. It is a good feeling. I had a few days off work. I was able to get some fishing in down at my brother’s lake. I spent Friday night crate digging at my favorite place, Vintage Vinyl. All in all I feel like the stars are lining up for me.

This time of year gets a little weird. I follow the Academic year as opposed to the Fiscal or Calendar year. In my world things are winding down and some well deserved R and R makes it’s annual appearance. 

It is also around this time of the year that the Strong Braus kick back into gear. Having a band with a bunch of friends that you’ve known for more than thirty years always brings the laughter and the tall tales. I have a couple of new songs to learn. There is always something new for me to wrap my head around. It is my version of Classic Rock University. It is the musical education I missed in my earlier years. 

Friday night my task was simple. I was to locate a copy of Them Crooked Vultures on vinyl. One of the Braus was on a personal mission to get us hooked on this album from 2009. It featured Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones, and Josh Homme. All of those folks have a pretty good rock pedagogy. While I appreciate a good rock record I rarely venture into unheard territory when I purchase my rock n roll on vinyl. I’ll go for a lot of unheard stuff on vinyl but rock is one of those areas where I don’t have it in me to take the risk. 

As I showed up and started flipping through the stacks of wax I looked and did not find Them Crooked Vultures. I was disappointed, frustrated and feeling like I was on a bad pick. I was looking forward to sitting and absorbing this supposed masterpiece. 

As I was pondering my disappointment I noticed some great stuff coming from the resident DJ at Vintage Vinyl. Within a few minutes a fellow digger was flipping through a stack next to me and said, “They play some great shit here.” 

I’ve learned to not tempt fate when it comes to records. If it sounds good, just grab it and live without the regret. If you don’t you end up spending hours looking for the mythical slice of vinyl that will never sound as good as you thought once you get it in your hands. These are the kind of moments I live for. Grab that great sounding wax while it is still tickling your ears. 

I walked up to the DJ as he was taking the album off the turntables and putting it away. I politely asked him for the vinyl without looking at the cover. He nodded his head in the unspoken music junky way. He understood. I went up and paid the 9.99, feeling like I had a secret from the rest of the folks in the store. 

When I got home and put Earth, Wind, and Fire’s Head to the Sky I was reminded as to why I continue to dig for music.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Writing and Nebraska

I’ve been in another world lately. I’ve been digging holes in the past and looking to the future. I get like this every few years. I turned 41 this year and I ask myself if I am getting too old to do this music thing. I ask if I am too old to be creative. I ask myself what’s the use. It is not like I am going to quit my job and spend my time writing the great American novel. (I do think I have a good novel or two in me.)

I think most people view “artists” as individuals who do this for a living. I am perfectly ok with anyone having the audacity to call themselves artists. The good stuff will always float to the top. At a certain point though society expects you to have created something that has achieved recognition. I struggle with that because I am not an aggressive personality that forces my art on others. I create stuff for my own amusement and hesitantly put it out in the public for those few souls who go looking for stuff. 

I was a good performer but being an introvert, the wear and tear on my psyche was rough. Lots of highs and lots of lows. It wasn’t until I was married and in a stable household that I began to even out my moods. With the evening of moods I was able to create on a regular basis. The sense of routine helped for a long time. My anchors come from writing each morning and walking as often as I can. Lately my turntable has really opened up a sense of possibilities. As a songwriter I get caught up in my own stuff. I like listening to music while I drive but even that has its distractions. The turntable in my front room is my recent acquisition into a whole new world. It allows me to sit down and really digest an album. I find I appreciate the music immensely if I can sit and listen. Novel, huh? In this hurried life I forgot that at one point in my youth I had the time to sit and listen. I learn a lot from these listening sessions. I am learning to be a patient listener. I go through the whole album before I make a judgment and more often than not I find the buried treasures closer to the middle of the record. 

Tonight I am listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. I think it is a good Sunday night album. The opening lines invited me into a world Bruce paints like an expert artist. He knows what he is doing on this album. He makes it looks simple until you step back and see the depth to the stories he tells. He probably had these stories sitting around for a while before they became songs. It reminds me that the road ahead is wide open like the open roads of Nebraska. Sure the territory can be harsh and even lonesome but I have been down similar roads. I know that eventually I’ll hit a spot to stop, rest, and write. An old diner with hot coffee and biscuits and gravy waits for me. My pen and notebook come out of my bag and as the sun dips into the horizon I start scratching a possible great American song like American Pie or Ghost of Tom Joad. And when I do start to write it doesn’t even matter anymore whether it is good or not. It just feels good to write.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Planes over our heads

Ever since September 11th I watch planes in the sky differently. Mingle those thoughts with the every day life of being a father and you can maybe see where my head was during the writing of Planes over our head. 

Recorded over the course of about 2-3 weeks the songs seemed to fall out onto the page quickly. I sat in my writing room letting my mind wander with my guitar in my lap. Chords, bits of melody, and a vague idea that I am not the writer I was before I had kids. I had gone through some of my albums from the 1990s and while I appreciate my past work I find that the newer stuff seems to be closer to the page for me. Meaning I can listen and hear I am trying to let the song come through rather than pull it out by it’s feet, angry, and not quite breathing. 

Kiss the screen comes from the times when I am on the road. After a day of traveling or conferences I typically head back to my hotel room, throw open the laptop and skype my wife and kids before they head off to bed.  I feel like I am disrupting their lives while I am a thousand miles away looking out a hotel window on to a strange city landscape. Earlier in my life I would have been excited about a new city and the possible adventures it held. Now I wonder if my kids miss me and what they are doing. Times haven’t changed, I have. 

Am I the only one who dreads getting on a plane these days? 

When I think about City of Strays I think about relationships. I don’t think the words come right out and say it but it is about the cycle of fights and resolutions of living with someone for a long time. Relationships carry so much baggage, both good and bad. My favorite line is, “We are perfect in the most awful way.” At times I think it must be awful to live with a songwriter. Those private moments you’d rather see forgotten become preserved in a song. I’m sure artists in other mediums do the same thing. We all have our battle scars embedded in our work. 

Sparks is a quiet mediation on life at home. I’m listening to the track in our front room stereo. My daughter is next to me talking to me as I type. The front yard has flowers ready to be planted. It is Sunday afternoon and this song seems the perfect soundtrack. I think my life needs more of these quiet moments. 

The 3 song album can be found at http://mogokutu.bandcamp.com/album/planes-over-our-head