Richie Sprinkles Lives

Part 1:  Your new best friend may be a dude who wants free coffee.

72679_658372360864074_925453385_nI was standing behind a stainless steel counter next to an espresso machine. This machine was what I had recently become really juiced on. I wasn’t technically trained as a barista, however I was working at an ice cream shop that had espresso, and in my own head I was the king barista. I always wanted to be a barista. I could make impeccable coffee, dress to the nines, smoke cigarettes, and flirt with everyone all day long. Realistically this isn’t what was happening at all. In reality I was in fact in some shabby clothes slinging ice cream to children and families, and maybe made a coffee drink once every two hours.

            One of these every two hour coffee drinks was how I met Richie. It had been previously established that we were to trade ice cream for food with the Pita Pit folks at all times for any reason. However I found the Pita Pit to be on the lower on the list of things I wanted to eat, so I largely spent my trade credit on prepackaged sun chips and Mexican Coke. The man who stood before me was in a purple heathered hoodie and had a blue cast on his left hand. If memory serves he ordered a 16 ounce drip coffee and asked if I wanted anything from the Pita Pit. I laughed cruelly, so as to imply what I thought of the Pita Pit, and said “no.” Dude probably walked away thinking “Fuck that guy”.

            That’s my first memory of Richie Sandbom, a man who would later-on in life become one of my best friends, a producer/musician/magician who has worked on at least 80 percent of my entire discography, and every single person I’ve produced.

            Approximately four months later in whirlwind of hiring at Mallard, I was casually informed that I would be training a new guy by myself when I showed up at work. This of course turned out to be Richie. He didn’t talk much for the first few months. My girlfriend at the time once came in during close quite drunk and that was the most I’d ever seen Richie talk to anyone. Then on the walk home, she spent a long time telling me how cool he was. This was a good thing because at the time I was a very judgmental person who took every opportunity to dislike and berate anyone who gave me a reason to. However if my girl liked you, you had some diplomatic immunity to the shotgun spray that was my conversation style at the time. So shortly after that, I began doing something I still do to this day, which is ask random questions to quiet people to see if I can get them to open up to me. These questions range from “What type of music do you like?” to “Do you think 9-11 was an inside job?” and generally wrap up with something like “If you were a Unicorn what would your name be?” Richie answered all of my questions rapidly like he had printed a sheet of them at home, and studied all week. I liked that.

            I’d say the moment I knew we were going to be in love forever was when we got into talking about the economy. This started with a customer being angry at the two of us for not accepting credit cards. This ended with Richie telling the customer to look up Woodrow Wilson’s campaign speech, and cross-reference it with the beginning of the Federal Reserve. The customer stated that he would take his business elsewhere, and Richie said as he was walking away to “enjoy spending his fake money on his little plastic card.” I spent my break on the internet on a Windows 98 computer looking up all the shit that had just come out of Richie’s mouth. It was all true.

            photo (1)I’d spent the last year carefully collecting information about conspiracies and occultism, which gave me the smug satisfaction of feeling that I knew how the entire world really worked. When I got self righteous about conspiracies and religion on Richie, his mind was never blown. Conversely he would always add more information that I didn’t already know, and the references to back it up. This led me to the conclusion that Richie and I maybe weren’t smarter then everyone else, but that we would certainly be ahead of the curve when the government stripped us of all of our rights, the economy crashed, martial law was declared, and the days of revelations came upon us, with a Nuclear Renaissance led by the New World Order…You can never be too prepared.

            Very soon Richie worked full time, and exclusively with me during closing shifts. So at that point in the evening, if you came to get ice cream, you were served by two Irish young men with shaggy red hair and a whole lot of attitude. I didn’t know much of Richie’s life story back then, and he didn’t seem particularly interested in telling me about it. It was on a break we took together that he discovered that I did hip hop. I had self produced an album in my old house in Seattle using a broken drum machine, a laptop and a guitar that had five strings, not because it was supposed to but because I couldn’t afford another set of strings. I told Richie it was of low sound quality and he said “Don’t care. Want it. Bring it tomorrow.” So in the spirit of trust I brought him a copy. I think that single action of handing that CD to Richie in a graffiti-covered alley, opened the door to make the next six years of my life a constant music hustle.

            It turns out Richie was from Vancouver Washington, which is north of Portland across the Columbia River. While Portland is infamous for mustache’s, monocles, and snuff, Vancouver is infamous for strip malls. He grew up in a cul-de-sac in a housing development built in the seventies. The first instrument he got his hands on was the trumpet, besides what he describes as brief recorder phase in elementary school. He wanted to play the drums but they had to do a rhythm hand clap test which he didn’t quite pass. His friend David Powell did make the cut for the rhythm section and later on began drumming for the band Fistful, which would make a huge impact on young Richard.

            The first guitar he played was his sisters’ which was an old 3/4 size classical guitar. He made god awful noises on it until his Dad bought him first guitar, which was a hundred dollar peavey. This guitar served him most of his life, it taught him the skill of what he calls “jenkenizing.” As far as I can tell, jenkenizing includes welding, soldering, lots of spray phone, tacks, and duct tape. These skills have actually produced a fully functioning 250-watt PA, fully functional home studios, and instrument repair on the fly capabilities previous to shows. I’ve seen Richie do all of these things with a Trummer Pilsner in his hand, and a man purse full of anything you could possibly need.

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The guitar Richie’s dad bought him exists today. It sits in his home studio, and has a fender neck which Richie installed himself. It has one pickup and all the tone and resonance knobs have been removed so it has just one direct signal. This guitar symbolizes a lifestyle. I don’t mean the rock and roll lifestyle, or the arrogant and artsy lifestyle. It’s a piece of equipment that Richie built fixed and loved his whole life. People used to flip him shit all the time for this guitar. Apparently it didn’t meet the image requirements of his peers, and the definition of early 2000’s “cool.” Richie’s ability to play that guitar didn’t matter, nor the sound that came out of it, including its modification which made it into the millennium falcon. She may not look like much put she’s got it were it counts. Rock had become about aesthetics and dyed hair. Beware of all enterprises that require new clothing. The dirt keeps the funk.

            Richie started a three-piece around ninth grade. It was small scene and the same members of his original band rotated around like a carousel. It was originally called “The Special Guest”, then “Good Humor”, then “Half-Assed Hero”. The first incarnation, “Special Guest,” which would sit down and listen to a demo of local band Fistful had David Powell, from Richie’s Fifth grade class, as the drummer. This began the music arms race. If you’re a musician and were ever young, which dear reader, I presume you were one of those two things, then you’re probably familiar with the arms race. This is in the spirit of both community and competition. Here’s an example. You hear your friend’s first recording that sounds like a real record that could be played on the radio, and as if in a fever, you know you must acquire the equal or better technology by any means necessary.

            Richie continued playing in bands, with varying members throughout all of High School. Adam Moore was the lead singer of Fistful, their friendly competitive sister band. Richie and Adam formed a deep bond. They challenged each other to write and record songs in a small time frame. This challenge birthed a few gems including one of the first songs Richie ever showed me that he had produced. Fistful also included Jack Ridley, who is still a pretty popular guy. Jack still plays in pretty successful bands today including Threats. He moved to New York after High School to model and play music. He was one of those dudes who looked like he was thirty, and was super suave, and was built like man when the rest of them looked like boys. After a show they’d often say, “what do you guys want to do?” There was resounding consensus that none of them wanted to stand next to Jack, because if you stand next to Jack, the girls don’t see you at all. Richie thrived with his peers and as they got older, their guitar straps got hitched higher and they started playing better.

Riverside Drive is described by Richie as the death rattle of The Special Guest and its various incarnations. Riverside Drive was a name born out of the fact that there is a road called Riverside Drive in Vancouver, Washington. But more importantly it is also the name of the road that Doc Brown from “Back to the Future” lives on.

“Back to the Future” is present in several branches of the evergreen tree that is Richard Sandbom’s life, including in a song in a band called Not Long After with which he did a national tour as the rhythm guitarist.

            Riverside Drive had in its members Richie and his long time friend Drew, Ian, Mark Swarson and Sam Kelley. Sam Kelley originally met Richie after writing them a letter about how he would like to play bass for them Half Ass Hero years ago. Much of the Riverside Drive content never came to full fruition but you can clearly hear its influence in Riche’s later works. Sam went to college in Bellingham, WA previous to going to film school. Sam became a gifted cinematographer and has done music videos for Bands such as Keaton Collective and The Hunting Club.

Part 2: Production.

            When Richie was younger, he walked in to a guitar shop, and put a marshall amp on layaway. This amp was six hundred dollars. Which I have to say seems like a lot today, but seems like a whole lot more back then. He saved his money and finally was able to stroll in and pick it up. After bringing it back home and plugging that beast into a grounded socket, he was greeted with sincere disappointment. Although Marshall seems like a stunning company, apparently this amp had slipped through their testing process and frankly just sounded like ass. Brand loyalty was questioned. The return policy was revisited. It turned out the guitar shop was unwilling to give Richie his hard earned American currency back, however they were willing to give him six hundred dollars in store credit. In combination with the arms race, previously discussed, this became the fund that allowed him to truly start doing some recording. This funded the purchase of necessary microphones for various instruments, cables, snakes and compressors.

            It was Mark McClusky who introduced Richie to the serious shit. McClusky also taught him how to approach recording with a sense of humor. That you didn’t have to be serious and hardcore. Some things were better corny and dripping with sarcasm. This is how he learned to use Sonar Edition 3, which is the software he still uses, and has produced around eight albums and one with me personally.

            Après tour with Not Long After, he opened up a sound studio in southeast Portland with Brad Wager. Brad was more into acoustic recording, and Richie was more into electric recording. Their studio was called “The Vault” due to the fact that it was in an old fur jacket vault in the basement of a building called the Troy Laundry Building. This is where he produced the likes of Joint Venture, Mason and Lays, Left Lanes Inn, In Public View, and Keeping up with the Joneses.

            Richie also recorded many other bands, and for a while this was his sole source of income. It allowed him to travel and to play music up and down the west coast. After a time he started to feel guilty about taking money from young people who weren’t the best musicians and producing their albums. I should say in addendum to that statement that all of the bands referenced previously are clearly projects he is proud to have had his paws on. This led Richie to focus on projects he stood behind, instead of the profits of studio time.

The Exodus:473256_347306715304966_2009743589_o

            This is my favorite part. The part in which I get to reenter the story.

            Richie started coming up to Bellingham to visit Sam Kelley and play shows with a group called Keeping Up with the Joneses. They got to play some of Bellingham’s premiere clubs at the time including The Wild Buffalo, and The Nightlight. When he was in town in lived in Sam Kelley’s garage and wrote songs. Including one of my personal favorites, “Revolutions”.

            It was only a matter of time before Bellingham started to seduce young Richie Sandbom, with all of its sundresses, and the exodus of some of his closest friends to this young liberal college town. So with a reckless abandon and a passion for honesty he metaphorically got the hell out of Texas, and into to the town we now both call home.

            Times at first were a little rough. He got a job at the Pita Pit, which oddly enough is a franchise that many of my closest friends have worked at. At the time it was a real “anything goes” type of place. We’re there was no real manager and they were slinging pitas for rent, drugs, cigs, cool art they could hang on their walls. Whatever anybody needed. Downtown Bellingham was a darker place at the time. I mean that literally. There were a lot less street lights. The Police hadn’t moved in next to the Bus Station, but when they did it just relocated the addicts to a block further down. Richie quit the Pita Pit after there was a new manager hired. Richie quit, by taking of his apron and saying “I’m to old to have to wear a costume to work.”

            So it was that Richie walked away from a shit job with his dignity and pride, then shortly thereafter broke his wrist in bike accident. This is when I met him, and when my own life really changed. Richie was in a stretch of months in which he would wake up every day and ask himself “How can I get some money?” This is when he started food processing at Mallard, a job that largely consisted of washing hundreds of pounds of fresh local produce for blending into ice cream later-on.

            556355_10152336540160104_273603925_nThis began our bonding. I would bring in beats from both before and after he was hired that I would play loudly on Mallard Ice Cream’s impeccable stereo system. He would provide his commentary on the quality of what I was working on. He came over to my studio apartment on G Street a few times to help me mix some tracks. At the time I was obsessed with the concept of writing a revolutionary opera, and was trying to get a soundtrack for it. This is the first time we got lucky writing music. This getting lucky thing happened several times after that, but the first time we were in my apartment. Our friend and coworker Neil McLaughlin had sent me a bunch of random recordings he had done on his phone. One of these samples was a marimba sample that became the song “Thaumaturgy.” We used the same broken drum machine I had carried with me from Chicago, courtesy of an old DJ neighbor of mine, a bass guitar borrowed from my roommate, and the free recording software Audacity. It sounded amazing, and became our second single off of our freshman record together, “The Passengers”.

            We started working on music together organically. I would meet up with him in his gnome-hole of an apartment, and we started slowly writing and tracking what would become “The Passengers.” We built a sound booth in the closet. We drank whisky and coffee and would work from 9 a.m. until midnight two days a week. Sometimes fucking around and sometimes seriously working. He made me write drafts and do scratch vocals, both things I’d never done before. It hurt my ego but made me a better song writer. When it was all said and done, we had completed my avant-garde mission of a political, spiritual, hip hopera- noir. We decided to stage one show. This was my return to live stage after about four years, with the exception of rap battles, and Richie’s return to the stage after something like five or six years.

            We put together a full cast, with dancers, lights, narratives, sound guys, sets and artists painting in the background. Samantha Riggs directed and starred in it. My long time friend Nicole played the Villain, and her performance, stage confidence, and presence is still something that makes me tear up. We did one show. Only one. It was at the Bellingham Circus Guild which at the time was in an old warehouse. We rented the space, and everyone else performed for free. My ex girlfriend even showed up to see the show, having seen me and Richie invest all of our time and effort working on it. It was March 12, 2010. This was right around when Richie met the girl who he lives with now, who came up on stage at the end and gave him a hug to make every other hug in the world look like a bag of shit.

            We moved in together on a house on Indian Street. I have this memory of us going to meet the landlords for the first time, and Richie was in a kind of scruffy outfit. For a long time we had little furniture and the furniture we did have was pretty useless. We used to sit in folding chairs in the kitchen drinking old crow, because it was cheap and he would play guitar and I would freestyle. We played our second show that summer at the Cabin Tavern, a dive bar full of country folk and lifelong full-time drinkers. We packed it and played with my friend East Coast Dave, which was the first thing we did with that dude. He later joined our band. I spent a ton of money soundproofing a shed that we never used for anything. We brewed some barely drinkable beer. We released our second project “The Best Dishwasher Alive” that summer. We added members to our band, lost some, then added more. I started booking shows, and acquired much of the music management knowledge I still use today.

            335108_280852158600267_289842417_oThis was the climb up a steep mountain and then we reached the top. It was brief and glorious, but then there was a long climb back down. We started writing more material with the ever-prolific Chris Hahn, and this material became “Hail Satan.” This album’s release was the top of the mountain. We were consistently playing shows and had the chance to play with some great acts. Chad Fox from Keaton Collective performed with us often. We played for 200 people. Which, for the unloved genre of rock/rap in a hippie college town, I think was pretty successful.

            A lot happened in this time, and much of it could be its own blog and its own story, so let’s get back to Richie. By this time Richie and I no longer worked together, but we did live together. His work became more demanding, and between that and his lady-love, I saw less and less of him. We did throw Richie a hell of birthday party. Adam Moore attended and I got to meet him which was exciting. I had wanted to meet that guy ever since Richie told me that I was the second best vocalist and frontman he’d ever met, Adam being the first. I was always pretty juiced on that, seeing as how Richie had worked with so many musicians. Later on in life I also got to play with In Public View from Richie’s past.

            1013218_10153780398250363_2022508089_nRichie now runs the ice-cream shop where we met, lives with his girlfriend, and has a home studio that’s real plush. He produces music under the name Totally Suite Industries, which was the same name he used for production in the vault. If you follow Richie in any aspect of the internet you can occasionally catch him throwing tracks up for free on sound cloud. He’s never been the type of dude to need attention or to make sure everybody hears him. He leaves that up to me, and the Shepherd Boy crew.

            Richie saw me through what I hope will end up being the most dramatic years of my life. Some massive break-up, self deprecating, over drinking, bullshit. He talked me out of verbally vanquishing some people who deserved it, because it would ultimately only make me look worse. He is one of the longest standing friends I’ve ever had, and I have been a person who isn’t the best at keeping friends around. My personal ideals, the constant battle with my ego, and my fascination with heartbreak didn’t make me the most popular person, or incredibly successful on the local circuit. But Richie stuck beside me the whole time and believed in me, and that more than once has been all the fuel I needed to keep the fire going. Richie at this point has probably worked with me on somewhere between 8-12 albums, either mine, or other peoples I’ve produced. He recently produced a three song demo for my new band “Urban Fantasy” this spring. We did it in a day, and we are using it to book shows. Richie told me the other day that he liked this project a lot and that it was like seeing me hit a home run. I don’t know what will happen there, but I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes, and hopefully working with Richie on a full length. Richie is working on his second Totally Suite album, and if I smooth-talk him enough I’ll get to host it digitally on Shepherd Boy Records. Success is psychological and Richie taught me how to succeed.

Live from 11fest

Did you miss something beautiful?

A new blog, by Raven Terrapin7-11

7-11-2014 is forever cemented in my heart as a special night. Here is why…
Last night i did something I’ve never even come close to doing in any other musical project I’ve been involved with, as Direwood played show 40.
It’s been a monumental mountain to climb from a six year break off the live stage. I had to get my breath control back, stop eating junk food, figure out a proper hip-hop tone.
So, yea, last night we played 23 minutes of sweaty, nasty punk rock hip hop. I saw you in the back, waving your hands despite yourself. I kept dropping low to make eye contact with the kid sitting right in front. Acting out the lyrics, stretching contorting,
I want to tell you something you might not know. This is not an easy thing for me to put myself through. I start to “trench” a good 24 hours before the show. It’s all part of the process. What’s the worst part of this multiple juggling act between being an MC an emcee, helping to move equipment, emptying barrels of trash?
Nope.
The worst for me is right as the first couple acts are setting up and there’s no one there except the bands. No people yet to raise the energy. You see, we need you, the audience, to help us complete the circle. Oh sure it’s good to rock the fuck out in your practice space, but real artists want and crave a circular feedback. We give, you give back.So, watching Other Organs create a holy space where people felt free to meditate,
So, being told very much with joy that your brand of hip-hop is cheeky, authentic, would fit in well with real rappers in NYC. Having some bro hug you and say, “man you are a great rapper, no you are a fucking amazing rapper.”
So, seeing my mad friends in Hell Garbage reach that beautiful point where the chaos rends an overload to the brain and it becomes a subtle, primal caveman space. We went back to the cave and the monsters last night. Seeing a dear friend shred throat muscles and tears in a ball of exorcism on stage.
Witness the Whitey Alabastard, an expert manipulator of image and theatrical overload, sitting in a chair on stage wearing a very dapper vest like a steam punk terrorist.
You my friends, Raising your hands in fists in the air, prompted by me as I bless you. Send up a cheer for all of us, the acts and crowd. Let us make the full moon which is too big hear our primal shredding cries with noise makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.

Brothers, again.

By Raven Terrapin

Postscript: And, so here it is, 18 years later. I uncovered this recording like a fragile time machine. There are ghosts in it. There are friends cheering in this recording that don’t exist on our planet anymore. This is the best of times and the worst of times. I am glad to report that everyone involved in this band is still making music in some form or another. Some of us are parents and some of us are teachers of young punk rockers. We carry the torch. i hope you enjoy a dip back into one of the coldest winters on record, in one of the worst times of my life, with the little bit of light that’s come out of these raw recordings. May it never go out. God rest you merry gentlemen.

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I roll around prone and sleepless in a sweaty mess in my upstairs bedroom in my house I share with Big Mike in Marquette. I am once again near the end of my rope. I have just lost my job much to do with my aggressive attitude anti-authority to the bone. It’s reaching Travis Bickel levels of hatred now. I have to walk two miles back and forth to school in one of the coldest places in the world. Already I have suffered frostbite on my ears even while wearing a hat. Thoughts first about the new band I was putting together at the time with Big Mike, we called it Mosoh. After a few tries and a few different lineups we finally landed a sick ass little Beavis type punk drummer named Dill Robert who has become the guy on the couch. Scarecrow Geoff on guitars. We could have ruled the world with our sound but we only ever played three shows. Big Mike was on bass. We would write songs together in the living room. So much came together as so much fell apart. Thoughts on this sleepless night. He has a love for his little brother Thomas but he doesn’t even know him. I am scared for his future. He seems so little and reminds me so much of myself. Later he, Tommy, my little Celtic Leprechuan stands eyes full of fire despite his obvious fear in the dark in Edinbourgh, Scotland. Tales of ghosts that echo off the walls on the spot that birthed the Plague. Tommy stands brave. Steadfast. He becomes his own person. He makes many of the same mistakes that I did. He makes some more mistakes of his own. We share family pain, being empathic and arty and outsiders and nerds and weirdos. My father told me he knew when T was born he was someone special. I know this is true. We are creators together. Dreamers of dreams. Makers of worlds. Whether to build or burn, create and destroy we hold in our hearts. We shine, We will not burn. We hold fast.

Brothers: The Direwood Spotlight

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By Tommy Jordan

It was 2004. I was in the back seat of what may have been a Blazer, or a Jeep. Check that, it was a Toyota four runner. My eldest brother was in front passenger side seat talking non stop, and his wife Nik was was driving. We were maybe two miles from home. Hadn’t even hit the highway yet. I was 15. I remember trying to say things, that would make me seem older, more mature, and very clever. Something about the millennium falcon or weed.

I hardly knew anything about Mike at this point. He was more or less a mystery. I knew he played in some bands from him visiting at Christmas. I had emailed him rap lyrics I’d written, starting around twelve, to get some feedback. This was a two-for because Mike was also a journalist, so those emails had lots of good advice.

See, Mike had been kicked out of my parents house when I was six years old. The whole memory is pretty blurry for me and it’s not really a topic we talk about all the time. I know the five of us siblings who weren’t Mike had nothing to do with it, and always felt a bit of guilt for not stopping it somehow. I knew that our parents didn’t talk about it. I remember once having the audacity to ask my father about it publicly at the dinner table. He said, “Mike wasn’t willing to obey the rules of the house.” That was about all I knew for years. By this time though I had come up with enough theories that I could fill a season of the x-files. I was sure he was probably doing hard drugs in the basement, in the room that later became mine. Or that he was sticking his dick in anything that moved, like a crazed maniac. Or perhaps he had started worshipping Satan in our Christian household, and his power had become so strong that soon he would be more demon than man. None of these turned out to be the case. In fact, my father told me years later that the threat of kicking him out truly was a bluff, and that he had watched him walk away with a duffle bag from the upstairs bathroom with tears in his eyes, and a sense of pride that didn’t let himself stop it. We all make mistakes, and I’m sure all parties involved did then. I’m happy to report we all get a long and visit each other nowadays, and even pose for photographs.

10426559_862529960427299_7631830462787276475_n-2I had one picture of him during my early childhood, it was a graduation photo and I had kept it on a corner shelf in my room. I remember going to get glasses at a Walmart with my Momma, and trying to pick out glasses like Mike had in that photograph. I think she was upset about it at the time, my idolization of this man I didn’t know. But I knew anyone who got kicked out of the house had to at least have an interesting story. So sitting in that back seat at 15, I knew I had to be cool. It was a six hour car ride, and I had to be oh so very cool.

This summer sculpted much of my life. The ride went smoothly and pulled up into Hancock Michigan, which is kind of a liberal, artsy, tech college town, on a peninsula surrounded by some of the most homophobic, racist, sexist people in the state. It was nice to be in that type of town, you felt safe from all the hate surrounding it. We went to Mike’s friends Dave’s house right away, and got lit like a Christmas tree, which was a good start to the whole summer. We went back to Mike and Nik’s house, the bottom floor of a three story house. It had two bedrooms, so I had my own room to sleep in. It was there that I discovered many crucial albums. Nik used to say that any time I was in the living room, it became a “Multimedia Floor Explosion”. I dug through so many albums and listened to them all. I met people who had done too much acid, and people who hadn’t done enough acid. I cut down a gardener’s poppies with my brother and ran away. Then we made poppy tea, and the movie “Punch Drunk Love” proceeded to freak me out. I ate all their bread by making to much french toast. I dyed my hair blue.

Mike was in two bands at the time. A low-fi dream seance called “Flashing Red Airplane” in which he played bass next to frontman Jen Wilke, who’s writing and melodies have always haunted me.

 

 

Then there was Annie Feed Water, which was very much a modern rock band, in which he was the vocalist. This is where I met Tony Dutcher who I have since collaborated with several times.

My brother Orion’s best friend had downloaded me a bunch of freestyle rap beats off of Kazaa, which was the hot way to download things back then. I went with Mike and picked strawberries for a full day to get money to make a Demo, and we went to his producer Chuck’s house, and I laid three tracks down in like a half hour. I think it took Mike just about 24 hours with a hard copy of that demo to start booking me shows. He brought it to Bernie Larsen, who as far as I can tell is some sort of Jedi Knight of independent music. Bernie was Mike’s Yoda, except with better grammar structure and nicer hairline. Bernie played guitar on the Public Enemy records, and had played rhythm guitar for Ben Harper. He ran Spinout Record’s, which at the time operated out of Hancock and had an all-ages venue called “The Exurban”. For some reason Bernie liked my demo, and he asked me if I would open up for his band “Cry on Cue” in a few weekends. This was my first show. In front of maybe 200 people in a totally packed house, at 15. I played eight songs. I killed it. Not to sound like an egotistical maniac, but really, I killed it. I was 15 and I gave it everything I had, and people loved it. I went outside to smoke a cigarette, which of course I had to bum, and I literally heard people singing the chorus to one of my songs. I thought maaaaan, I could do this for the rest of my life.

Cry on Cue:

 

This is really where the seeds for what would become Direwood were planted. This when I found out that Mike had stolen a tape in 1991 of Ice-T’s Power from the locker room, and kept it in his secret stash right next to his sports illustrated swimsuit editions. He’d been a spiritual person ever since he left Saulte Ste Marie, in a dark time, blaring 2pac’s All Eyez on Me. We drifted in and out of touch for a while. I remember visiting him when he lived in Traverse City and his band Annie Feed Water did a show down there. That was the first time I played guitar at a show, as a rhythm guitarist. We stenciled a bazillion shirts with spray paint, which was my latest thing. Like all the gutter punk rock kids I’d mastered the stenciled shirt.

For about a year Mike wrote beats and I wrote vocals, for a record that really never came to fruition. Some of those songs and parts of those beats came into play years later. Including the song “Vigilante,” which kept a sample originally written by Nik, Mike’s wife, and some drums and bass by me. That song’s still used in live Direwood sets.

I spent about a four year span working on sailboats, which was not really something I loved, but at the time I started, I had some bad drug problems and it really cleaned me up. I got in shape and worked very hard everyday. As I climbed the escalator of command in the microcosm that is living, shitting, eating, and working with the same people every day, I became drunk with power and really started to become an asshole. So I quit. I moved to Seattle because I knew I could find a job there. My girlfriend at the time had a Mac computer with garageband. We had no internet and no friends and I started to fuck around with production. I called Mike, and sent him a recording I’d done. It had been four years since I’d done any real music, and we started up again. The series of recordings we made were done in a very Postal Service way. Just sent back and forth, this series of recording were dubbed Direwood, which was a reference to a Christian children’s record we listen to as kids. The first real output was a low quality album called “Grublets for the Devil”. This was comprised of years and years of recordings, on different mediums with different software. As far as I remember it had a myspace page, and since it was an internet collective, shows we’re just not possible.

980099_644963558850608_903681184_oMeanwhile, Mike had been working on a project called “Twas”, with Iatro Glitch, who is a man who would become very important to our family at Shepherd Boy Records. Mike had moved to Florida and worked at Co-op, which is where he and Glitch met. Twas was before it’s time. With roots buried deep in the world of noise rap, it was far before Kanye West had dropped his aggressive “Yeezus” or Kid Cudi had come out with “Indicud”. At the time it was foreign to me as well, and I didn’t really understand or embrace it. The concept of discord seemed sad to me coming from Mike, a man who I had seen sing the longest beautiful notes. That being said, Twas nowadays would fit directly into the scene, and perhaps a revamp with Glitch and Mike is in order.

1016397_10201495515771313_2147191984_nJoe Billlingsley or perhaps better known as D.J. Hollow Life is the man who really is directly responsible for having changed everything. He wrote to Mike having never met him, and asked him about the possibility of getting Direwood to do a live set. Mike called me up and asked me if I could produce it. So I slogged through many emails and computer files and gave him just enough material for a set. He practiced this set over and over again, and it was largely him rapping, which was the very first time he had done that. So at 35 Mike took the stage in a room full of people he didn’t know with a CD of looped beats I had made him and a microphone, never having rapped before, and proceeded to get the fuck down in a room full of noise artists. This is where he met Joe in person for the first time. At this point I more or less moved entirely out of doing vocals, and only did production. I had my own shit going on, in my own scene and it worked well for me to be making beats for Mike in his scene.

Direwood grew and over the next few years, he played house shows, Noise Venues, Occult Bookstores, and the occasional bar. After demand was high, we started working on the first official debut album “White Wrapper”. This was well-received and had what most people would say is the most popular Direwood songs, “Butter Sandwiches” and birthed the concept song “16 tons” which would be the first of many concept songs. Mike actually got to perform 16 tons, in Hancock, on a stage built in 1920. “Everything came together that night,” he says. It has always seemed to me that one of the greatest feats one can accomplish is turning a tragedy into art, and that’s exactly what this song does.

 

983703_10204137759353964_3270087449392998662_nThis was followed by “Witchcraftwerk,” a doozy of an album. As I started unpacking it, I had really only heard one song called “Strength of Will.” It took me a while to sort through and mix together the vocals, and once I did I found that it was a pretty profound record that was largely a spiritual journey. Lots of healing from some dark times, as well as closure. It was released at an The Mana Reading Center. This was when D.J. Hollow Life entered the band. He worked hard on production and engineering. He also deserves credit for swooping in at a crucial moment, at maybe the lowest point for Direwood, when they had a shit show in Sanford, FL. He provided encouragement and kept the whole thing going. This really turned Direwood into a true duo, with me acting as a silent third partner and occasional feature. This album really made it come full circle. Remember it was Joe who got Mike to do a live show in the first place. This albums first single was called “South” which was produced by myself and Tony Dutcher, who originally played bass in Annie Feed Water. It featured Gerko (previously known as Twat) from the Marquette.

Direwood had completed a tour of the Midwest that year, and this solidified his relationship with Michigan Hip Hop. Mike has always been a big fan of local homegrown Michigan hip hop like Leif Kolt, Gerko, Rick Chyme and Walking with Balance, however in Clearwater, Florida, which is Direwood’s home base, most people associate Michigan Hip Hop with I.C.P., Eminem, and Kid Rock. But we do our best to share the real shit.


Since Shepherd Boy Records has become a serious entity a lot of things have happened. I personally have been in four serious projects who toured and gigged hard. I’ve lost some friends, both to death and artistic differences. This whole time Mike has been down in Florida grinding it out, with one mic, a laptop, and some friends. They have played 39 shows. The commitment, and the growth is something that blows my mind. I never thought when I was 15 that anything would turn out like this, that I would start producing my older brother, who has literally served as my inspiration for stage presence my whole life.

Theres talk of the Direwood project slowing down or at least taking a break. This partially is because Mike has an aversion to playing bars. This is completely understandable. It’s pretty sad that we live in a world where music is almost instantly associated with putting poison in your body. There seems to be a certain level of fame you can have playing in venues that aren’t bars. Starting with the fact that there is just much less of them. We know Mike is going to bless us with the second installment of a features EP called “Split Branches,” and at least one more full length record.

Hip Hop is a very competitive field. It’s an art form that cultivates competition, and those who are weak do not survive. Mike grew up with it, but didn’t start doing it until his Saturn had returned. This man has balls, and has really proven himself in a field where people really make you do just that. I am fired up to hear what comes next, with Iatro Glitch, D.J. Hollow Life and myself producing, I’m sure we’ll add some more fuel to a fire that seems to burn down every obstacle in it’s way.

UPCOMING SHOWS



Upcoming East Coast Dave Shows

Upcoming Direwood Shows

Upcoming Future Lab Rats Shows

Upcoming Dj Hollow Life Shows