I took almost a full year off to become a better person. I realize that’s a pretentious sentence. But you see, previously a lot of the music I made was fueled by anger, revenge, heartbreak and of course the egotistical streak of anyone who is brave enough to venture on stage and proceed to rip your chest open until the crowd can see the palpitations of your heart beat. I’d spent most of my life writing a large cannon of spiteful male odes to heartbreak, and just kept getting myself into situations that only provided ample ammunition to that cannon. The rest of the time from essentially middle school to my early twenties, I made my name as a battle rapper, choosing random monikers and hopping on stage to spew more of my teenage angst that trickled into my adulthood. I'm not saying that period was this dark phase full of self pity, war, and reckless abandon, but rap wasn’t exactly the easiest form of art to promote and advertise yourself. So without getting into the nitty gritty, dropping names, or really exploiting some of the events for the sake of internet hits, that’s what happened.
Anyone who knows me, knows that in all things, especially art, I’m constantly on my grind. I always maintain a decent sized fire with several irons heating up in it, in the hopes that one of those irons will lead me to a moment of breakthrough monetary success, so I don’t have to be in my mid-thirties trying to explain why I’ve never sought higher paying jobs, and have no real education. It’s all a gamble. Sometimes it seems like I have a gambling problem. My greatest singular success to date is a song called “Ella Fitzgerald” which is a three part male ode to breakups. It’s achieved some radio play from reputable college radio stations in the Pacific Northwest, and features Chad Fox of Keaton Collective, The Variations, and Chrome Lakes fame. While this is something I can brag about in the food service industry as I was dishes and prepare food for for the upperclass, it’s not exactly something I can write home about. Taking that year off gave me some time to not be on my grind. To really write and write and write, then trash most of it. Time to remember that it isn’t polite to always say the most snide thing one can say in any situation. Time to realize that thinking everyone is judging you constantly is actually the biggest act of judgement of all. Time to go to town with my family’s cow and return only with three magic beans. These magic beans grew up in a cloud, in that cloud I killed a giant with an icicle from Michigan, then I stole some type of poultry that shitted out gold, and a women, and climbed back down the beanstalk holding both of them with my godlike muscles, and that is how Urban Fantasy was formed. Long story short, it was a good year off.
I met Jacob at Skylarks, where we formed a friendship under the eye of security cameras that kept that good old stench of mistrust between employer and employee thick in the air. I kept my head down while there, and tried to not hate my life, and find nice moments and the bright side in everything. I think in a way I treated my desperation and lack of speaking to be positive, as some type of penance. In the metaphor, Jacob would turn out to be the gold-shitting poultry.
In my old house I would lock myself up in my room and start making beats out of weird indie songs. I’ve never really been into the whole 'basic chord structure strummed down while a man sings in a tenor range about cancer and alcoholism' thing in music, but they always make quality samples. I sent all those beats to Jacob, who is a synth player, and bam, we started working on songs. My girlfriend Dani, who is a stellar vocalist, spent a lot of time at the time sitting on my bed watching The Walking Dead, and somewhere in there Jacob heard her sing some words, and bam we ended up putting Dani in the band.
Jacob took over all the instrumentation and then I was able to focus on lyrics. I started getting back on the grind after we recorded a demo, which we did post on the world wide web and got a surprising amount of attention from it. I started booking shows.
I have the booking shows process on lock down. After years and years of booking shows, I know what is and isn’t working. I know what to write, what to say. Who to try to get to play with us etc. However launching a new project with a stained reputation is more like starting at -10 as opposed to square 1. However I pushed on and like the anti hero I am, I succeeded.
First Four Shows. Lets skip the detail. Went good. Just built up. By our second show, when we started playing, there were already more people than any new band should really expect at all, and after that, we added on some more at the next shows. Our friends really supported us, in every way. We got the gratification one gets from people quoting your lyrics, and having songs stuck in their heads. I didn’t have to beg, bribe, or black mail anyone into liking us. It’s been good. Lucky, really.
We are moving on to a new era now, working with multiple producers, with me and Danielle holding it down. You can expect several music videos from us this year, all of which we will be sharing super hard on the usual networking sites, as well as a EP/LP depending on how many songs we decided to keep after studio vocals which are slated for early February.
I am straight up stoked for the opportunities we have coming our way, I’m excited about the collaboration we are hoping to do with some visual artist and videographers. The possibility of working with professional promoters and publicist. I feel like I finally found the right dress to wear to the prom and it’s making all the heads turn. Go on and look fellas, shit...take a picture, my dance card is filling up.
Being an artist of any variety is similar to being a black hole. No one knows whats on the other side, everything around it inevitably gets dragged by it’s gravitational vortex, sometimes people emerge from the experience as if they have lived through hell, and sometimes they emerge in a state of omnipotence. I have been responsible for both.
I owe this metaphor in it’s simplest form to one Nicole Kimberling. She first told it to me at at bar in reference to both of our lives. For the past three months we have worked on three projects together, one of which is currently released the others completed but not yet presented. At this point I am not sure of who pulled who into the others black hole or if we both fell into each others, but of the ending options, I’m willing to bet we will emerge in a universe more beautiful then anything we could imagine when we pass that event horizon.
The past few months have been a beautiful blur of art, connection and communication. It seems like every single day, me and Nicole have taken giant stripes in ambitious projects, an audio book, a book trailer for her company Blind Eye Books, and a music video for my band Urban Fantasy. Two of three of these projects are the work of her brother in law James Kimberling, a gifted Director.
What we have compiled for you here, is a relatively open discussion focusing on our collaborations. We’re going to start with a description of my experience working on the “Cherries worth getting” a novella in a shared world anthology called “The Irregulars” published by Blind Eye Books.
I hope this conversation will give you some insight and some background for the projects you have seen already and the ones you will see in the future. Working with Nicole as a peer has been an honor and I have learned much of being a business man, and artist, and a friend.
Tommy: Narrating an audio book was in some ways a dream come true. As early as I can remember, and long before I could read, I checked out audio books from the Bayliss Library in Sault Ste. Marie Michigan. This was back when cassette tapes were the norm and I would sit in the library while my parents did whatever it is that adults do in libraries (still haven’t figured that one out) and pop that tape in the in-house tape player and rock out on side a. A booming, well-spoken voice cut through some sketchy old headphones, spinning tales of Dragon Riders and Star Wars. On the ride home we would listen to narrative audio books of Louis L’amour, which is where I learned the majority of my colloquialisms.
Originally when Nicole approached me about the audio book, I had already done a demo of the voice narration for her book trailer, which we’ll talk about more later.
I had put on my best Film Noir, hard boiled detective voice, and tried my best to leave my gorgeous midwest accent behind. Although I may have failed at times to truly hide my unruly midwest nature, I believe that both the final audio, recorded by Sleng Teng Recording, and the Irregulars book trailer turned out stunning. This really set the bar for the audio book, and now I had an audible mythology to live up.
I hit the studio, and by studio-I mean a storage closet covered in high density foam and every blanket I own and every one I could borrow-and began the process.
As I plummeted into the world of the Irregulars, Special Agent Keith Curry started to gain a depth and softness that he had not really had before. It wasn’t as if I had embodied his spirit in some bizarre invocation of fictional characters, but it was damn close. Things that hurt him hurt me, and things that brought him cynical joy also brought me joy.
I believe throughout the audio book, as the character develops and unfolds, the characterization audibly does the same. Everyone in my life morphed into a character from the Irregulars. It seemed as though some of the folks in my life really were sexy transmogrified goblins, creatures of the fae, and of course we all know everybody has vampires in their life already, it just made them more apparent.
Nicole: You know, one of the reasons I approached you about this project at all is that in real life you sound and more or less like I imagine the character speaking. (Plus you have those amazing tattoos that looked great in the book trailer.)
Commissioning the narration for my Irregulars novella so that I could make an audio book was a first for me too. I certainly didn’t expect the process to be a long or complicated as it turned out to be. Thinking about it though, reading an audio book is really more like performing a three-to-six hour spoken word piece, isn’t it? Tommy: I will admit that it took my longer then I anticipated but I feel as though this is fairly normal the first time you do anything. I would love to pursue reading more audio books, and I hope that with some hard work, and a decent reception of my first performance that will be possible.
Most of all I’m thankful for you seeing something in me, and letting my participate collaboratively in a project with her. As a full time worker, musician and artist, I rarely meet people whose work ethic and commitment to excellence put mine to shame, but hers can. The last 3 months have been a whirlwind of art with Nicole and I can’t possibly express how much I’ve learned.
Nicole: You really are a charmer, aren’t you?
Tommy: I have my moments. In my mind part of me really is Keith Curry, so while I have Nicole around, I’d like to whip out my N.I.A.D. shield and say
“Nicole Kimblering, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Nicole: I didn’t do nothing, Agent Curry! I swear!
Tommy: What was it like to work on what I assume was your first indie rap video?
Nicole: How did you know it was my first? LOL
Well, the words that immediately come to mind are: fun, agonizing, thrilling, tedious… Making films of any sort is a combination of the intense and vivid alternating with the extreme boredom of constant repetition. This video shoot was, by far, the most complicated one I’ve ever been a part of—managing the logistics of three musicians, seven extras, six locations, several manufactured props and one totally exhausted cameraman.
And, of course, because we are all insane we decided to do a narrative video instead of something that was—you know—easy.
In a narrative video the music aspect changes the whole game. Not only because most of the people in the video will be musicians (rather than actors) but that the whole story of the film has to be largely pantomimed. It also must fit into these specific increments of time. Like if a performer is lip synching the chorus at one minute ten seconds and again when the chorus comes around at two minutes ten seconds those become fixed points that all other story elements must wrap around.
But that’s okay because that’s the point—you have this awesome song that you want to get out into the world and so everything is ultimately secondary to the music, which is as it should be.
A composer friend of mine once told me that musicians are the masters of time. I think I finally understand what he meant by that now.
But I’m only able to be philosophical now that the whole project is complete. While surfing the chaos of the 48 hour shoot I was thinking, “Dear God, if anything goes really wrong I think I’m going to have a stroke.”
Tommy: I feel as though all I did was provide comforting words of reassurance and I did some translations for all the artist involved . We were working with musicians, a videographer, an author/publishing house, a photographer, several local restaurant owners, and a cast of extras, so as you can imagine everyone’s lingo and shop talk differed from medium to medium. Danielle Rose, and Connor Sloan both came down with a pretty wicked cold during the process, so I tried to keep them hydrated, day quilled and happy. It seemed to work, they both had an awesome time despite the sickness and performed very well.
I spent part of the first day with Dawn corralling the children who were on set. They make an adorable cameo in the music video. Believe it or not, I have done this exact same process in even less time, and possibly less well planned, so it wasn’t my first rodeo, but using rodeos as a metaphor, it was pretty much everybody else’s first so I just tried to set a good example by never letting that bull actually buck me off.
Nicole: One of the coolest things about making the Holy Sh!t, Mom video was I actually got to act, which was really fun. I play two parts: a Crazy Fan and an Evil Boss. I thought I did pretty well at both, though the Evil Boss came more naturally to me.
One of the things that impressed me most during this entire shoot—apart from finding out how fast you can text—was when it came time to film you lip synching the rap. We were at the dead-bitter end of the last scene of the last day and you brought the same level of energy and emotion as you had the first minute of the project. And you didn’t make a single mistake. Seriously, how was that possible?
Tommy: Thanks for the compliment, Nicole. Live performance has always been the place I feel most in my element. I love recording, and the process of building an album with themes and sometimes even a concept, but when you put me on stage, or in this case in front of a camera with a crew of artsy rogues all staring directly at me…I guess something magic happens.
Performance is your chance to truly express what you want to say, not just with your words, but with your body language, your facial expressions, grace and countenance, or lack there of. Wether it’s a crowd of forty people of just one guy, they’re there to see what you can do, and I aim to give them something to remember.
Nicole: I think it was really good that we warmed up for the Urban Fantasy Holy Sh!t, Mom, video by making the Irregulars book trailer first.
And speaking of the Irregulars book trailer—how bad did that hotel room where we shot smell, anyway? And how sticky was that bedspread? Gah! I thought I was gonna get ebola.
Tommy: I was truly amazed with the location of the Irregulars trailer. As James said, you can’t create a set like that. It was a stunning dive of a hotel room. Including some blood stain on an electrical socket, a door that had obviously been kicked in, and a bathroom that’s door didn’t close. It was fucking perfect. I don’t think anything could of set the tone for a Noir piece, the way that room did. For a while me and James where left there during a camera/coffee run, and we did start the conversation that led to the music video, but we also had to stand outside for a while, I’m not sure if it was the smell in the room or just the general gloom cast by what I can only assume was years of sad drug induced memories left by previous occupants.
Overall though the room did make me a little concerned about what N.I.A.D. is paying their special agents. Also it made me think that maybe Special Agent Keith Curry could look at hotels without kitchenettes, and just order grilled cheese from a delivery service. But then again, I think he’s probably a little to paranoid to be doing that, and it would always put a delivery guy at the risk of getting hole chewed through him with a mage pistol.
Nicole: We also have to give a huge shout out to the guy who made this whole thing possible James Kimberling. He directed, shot and edited both film projects. He takes gorgeous shots, is innovative and is above all an amazing editor. He’s also lightning-fast.
Tommy: Yeah, really, James Kimberling really did a stellar job with both videos. His sense of humor, and passion kept everything going and fresh. I feel at least on my end of the spectrum, that we proved that ancient war between the tribes of musicians and directors can finally reach some sort of a peace. No more have to die, I say. No more! Seriously though, we had a blast, I’d work with James again in a heart beat, and my whole team feels the same way. So thank you, James Kimberling, from Urban Fantasy, Shepherd Boy Records, Blind Eyes Books, and all of our known cohorts and affiliates.
Some things take a long time to come to fruit. Dreams that have been planted can grow into truth filled trees with the widest branches for you to be able to step out onto, but that takes years and and years.
I found myself alive and standing on the edge of such a dream branch when i was hosted by my little brother Tommy at his pad to do some recordings in early May. Though we have been recording apart and then splicing the recordings together through digital magick, this was the first time Tommy Jordan and i had been able to record tracks as Direwood in the same room.
I think we all had a little bit of nervous energy and then we decided to make our task even more steep by trying to write a brand new song together for our first effort.
We roped Dani California into singing the hook on the song that became “Victor”. It took five hours for us to perfect the lyrics and the hook and we recorded it the the next day. Tommy used some samples from some Halloween albums I bought at the local antique shop. The kind of store that has carnival fun fair mirrors in it and trumpets and old film reels. In the end the woodshed writing gave us a a dark hip hop vibe that is right in the Direwood wheel house.
We also banged out the title song during that time. I often write stories that aren’t really based on my life but fictional people I come up with. The grit of the fear of death pervades this track.
It was so much fun to record with my brother. He’s become quite the sound doctor and he pushed me hard and edited me and it was a great learning experience.
I found myself coming to awareness sleeping on an air mattress next to a sleepy Ukrainian American girl, the same girl who has there when we started this project all those many years ago in a shitty trailer in northern Michigan. We have gone from the U.P. of Michigan to Traversing hell to moving to Florida to riding a silver bird to mountains majestic.
All of this has happened before and it will happen now and and it will happen again.
Things that are meant to be can take a long time to finally happen.
The western sunrise greets me. The mic is set up, the coffee is brewed, the herb is lit. The vibe is right. Hit it hard. The window of time is short. See the growth of a seed breaking free of its shell. The kids that lived in a dark basement room, the same room, different decades. The blue cold cement, the floor stained with tears. The wood paneled wall offset by a home made vocal booth. Some keyboards, an old type writer, books about demons and faeries lay scattered about. How does one find oneself standing in the same holy space but thousands of miles away from the start of a very long strange trip?
We record. We sing. We write. We laugh. We have anxious nervous flickers of becoming Don Music. “I’ll never get it right!”. But it is right. It is always right. It can’t be anything but. The people that are your chosen family. A dream coming true in real life.
The best things are worth waiting for. I listen to the first Faith No More album in eighteen years sitting in the corner chair next to a giant Omega stuffed panda. I cry, but I am not sad.