A year ago, I was in the midst of an existential crisis. I was functioning fairly well in my day job capacity at UCSF, and pumping out reviews for West Coast Performer Magazine, Bullz-Eye.com, and â€“ on occasion â€“ Popdose as well. But to what end?
I knew there was far more to life than keeping an office running and giving the world my informed opinion on which album had the greatest guitar solo of 2008 (it was actually on the Vagabond Skies EP by Peter Gabriel protÃ©gÃ© Joseph Arthur). I had been reading self-help books, meeting with counselors, talking my parentsâ€™ ears off, and asking questions of anyone I thought might be able to give me some insight into the question of how best to realign my priorities.
Then, on a particularly odd day when I decided to load up WCPâ€™s MySpace page to serve as my housecleaning soundtrack, I heard a song by a band whose stock in trade was warm, friendly harmonies, a â€˜60s folk-rock streak and good vibes. Lots of other bands have these qualities, but something about this one was different. It moved me in a way I couldnâ€™t quite explain. I jumped up from my sweeping chores to see who it was, and then checked the bandâ€™s tour schedule.
Iâ€™ve lost count of the number of times I have seen L.A.â€™s the Parson Red Heads since that day.
Maybe a week afterward, I attended a West Coast Performer Presents showcase at a San Francisco club called the Hotel Utah. I wasnâ€™t familiar with any of the bands on the bill, and to be honest, I probably didnâ€™t even bother listening to the samples on the bandsâ€™ MySpace pages before attending â€“ I was more tempted by my editorâ€™s offer of a free beer to any WCP writers who showed up that night. And since a) I very rarely got much face time with her, and b) I was almost certain she was joking and wanted to see if I would *really* get a free beer, I decided Iâ€™d take her up on the offer.
Not only was she true to her word, the second band on the bill had my jaw falling to the ground with their quirkiness, energy, Dischord-styled rhythm section and Van Halen-esque guitar tapping frontwoman. I had found a hot new guitar hero!
On account of that beer, I confessed as much to the Happy Hollowsâ€™ Sarah Negahdari at the end of her set, and fortunately she was not only flattered, but also receptive to granting me an interview (which ran here at Popdose last Fall). And what a coincidence, the Hollows hailed from same Silver Lake scene in L.A. as the Parson Red Heads.
Around this same time, I was also lamenting the fact that I had become so busy that I was no longer able to host couchsurfers in my apartment. I had been doing this on and off since 2005, giving both international and stateside travelers (usually students and others traveling on a budget) a free place to crash when they were passing through town. But, as I had remarked in private on a few occasions, I had built up significant â€œtravel karmaâ€ and saw a time when Iâ€™d be using it in the not too distant future.Â For what, I wasnâ€™t sure yet. But something told me that I finally needed to get over my attachment to the idea of the desktop computer and finally buy a laptop.
â€¦and a backpack.
Where I was going and why finally became apparent when I happened to wonder to myself one day whatever happened to The War on Them. This web-only traveling video series chronicled the adventures of Eric and Bobby as they demonstrated the virtues of traveling on a budget via couchsurfing. They interviewed their hosts, gave travel and safety tips, and showed themselves having a good time in places like Memphis, New Orleans and New York City. But when they crossed the border for a trip down to Mexico City, Bobby got pick-pocketed on a train, tensions brewed between the two army buddies, who had survived a tour of duty in Iraq together before embarking on their righteous journey, financial backers fell through, and the series came to an abrupt end.
Just another case of naÃ¯ve kids getting caught up in the realities of real life, right? Well, if it werenâ€™t for the fact that, in 2006, Eric Wooton had stayed in my San Francisco apartment when passing through town, and shared his treatment of The War on Them with me well before the series launched, I wouldnâ€™t have known nor cared about his adventures.
One thing in particular that Eric said had stuck with me ever since. As we sat on the futon and he explained the idea behind his series, he tied it to the larger goal of the couchsurfing community, which is connected globally via couchsurfing.org: to bring the whole world together, one couch at a time. Sound like a bunch of hippie nonsense? Well, as Eric explained, when having personal one-on-one experiences with people from far-away places, especially foreign countries, it suddenly makes you care a little more about news events in those places, things you probably would have ignored otherwise.
Dots are starting to connect, yes? They certainly did for me, but not how I expected. This is how Parlour to Parlour was born.
What Parlour to Parlour is, then, is a cross between The War on Them and the Black Cab Sessions â€“ traveling around to meet the artists up close in their home turf, rather than carting them around in taxis. And I’m not just capturing intimate, exclusive performances â€“ I’m talking with the artists too, and having them do a little show-and-tell in their creative space. And more than just a simple video, I’m giving you a full multimedia experience: there are stories in text for you to read, songs to download, and each episode will also include a full song performance in a separate video (which, unlike the Black Cab Sessions, is done in two takes in most cases, sometimes three). And, in full couchsurfing spirit, I’m keeping costs low by crashing either with friends and family, or with the artists themselves, wherever I travel.
This, my friends, is what I am delivering to you, every Tuesday for the rest of the year, starting on July 7.
So who’s involved? The aforementioned Parson Red Heads and Happy Hollows were immediate contenders for this series, being that they literally changed my life in 2008. As for the rest of the artists featured in this series, the majority of them I discovered via my association with West Coast Performer Magazine. I started writing for WCP in 2006, the same year I wrote my first piece for Master Jefito during the waning years of Popdoseâ€™s daddy, Jefitoblog (that would be The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chicago). Writing for WCP, and especially working with my editor at the time, the passionate and persistent Katherine Hoffert, firmly posited me in the world of West Coast indie music. As such, thereâ€™s a definite skew towards the best coast, though I do give some love to New England and Southern Texas. And Iâ€™m determined to bring a little international flavor to Parlour to Parlour as well, soon as I can find where I stashed my passport.
As youâ€™ve probably gathered by now, Parlour to Parlour is more than just â€œbehind-the-scenesâ€ peeks at indie musicians, many of whom arenâ€™t particularly well-known outside their own regions. Itâ€™s a journey. Itâ€™s a path to discovery that anybody can follow, either by living vicariously through the stories and videos youâ€™re about to see, or by going out and meeting new artists yourselves. Itâ€™s a tribute to the artists, all of whom I personally handpicked (one of whom, or at the very least the band he co-founded, should be quite familiar to Popdose readers). Itâ€™s a tribute to Katherine, who maddeningly lost her job at Performer when this bum economy forced the company to downsize. Itâ€™s a show of graciousness and generosity on the part of the artists who opened up their homes and studios to me, in some cases without us ever having formally met prior to these sessions. And as Mr. Giles could see from the very start, itâ€™s a labor of love.
Itâ€™s also very real. So real, in fact, that at times you may catch the sound of people chatting in other rooms, birds chirping from nearby, and even the occasional bout of difficulty obtaining the best possible sound during the musical performances. Which is to say, Iâ€™m no Ken Burns (though Le Switchâ€™s Aaron Kyle seems to think Iâ€™m â€œthe Alan Lomax of indie rockâ€ â€“ keep on drinkinâ€™, Aaron!). But if a drunk fool happens to cause a disturbance at a bandâ€™s gig, Iâ€™ll make sure you see it.
The Parlour to Parlour train starts chugging on July 7 (donâ€™t need no ticket, you just get on board). Iâ€™ll see you then.