There’s a problem with being the guy who put a drug problem behind him.
I don’t want to be that guy in the pastel sweater on the cover of People with the HIGH ON LIFE headline. I’m still a fuckup, still crazed and burning. It doesn’t appeal to me.
(I am, however, rather high on life. Sorry.)
(And, self-medicating in the early hours of November 3rd, I was decidedly high on really obscene helpings of fried cheese, chocolate and sugar. My lardy feast of sorrow.)
But so much of the upcoming record is about drugs, or drug songs disguised as love songs, or songs about the girlfriend I used to get high with. I know I’m going to spend some time talking about it to the press. It’s worrisome. I’ve done interviews here and there, and I tell my tale, or parts of my tale, noting the subleties and the nuances, that my story is more ambiguous than the template junkie arc, and that I don’t necessarily disavow drugs (they saved my life as a teenager as surely as they quite nearly killed me as a 29 year old) but somehow it always ends up in the boilerplate HIGH ON LIFE mode.
It’s dismaying. Who would want to wear the pastel sweater? I’m happier–loads happier–than I was in my long, dark night of the soul–but surely no saner. I’m not a guy who thinks that being irrational and unreasonable leads to better art–that’s ridiculous–but still: I don’t know if I want to be.
I’ve been running scales in the morning. Something I rarely do.
I’ve always just sort of let my guitar sound grow and change organically, as I needed it, for new songs that required new things. These few years touring solo, I’ve developed a big, whoomy, low-endy sound. I tell the front of house sound guy at every soundcheck: Pretend the guitar is a bass drum.
The gangadank has worked fine for me for years. Some say I’m samey; I don’t mind. I’ve always loved artists like Sam Cooke, the Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, who write new songs over similar changes and rhythms, and you can track their very gradual evolution album-to-album.
I discovered on the band tour in June that I needed to change my guitar sound. Scary and refreshing to discover that. The whoomy sound is swallowed up by drums, bass, and piano. So I have to make it sharper, leadier, more trebly. I’ve been practicing with a pick–I haven’t used a pick for years–it feels weird to have this extension on my picking-finger.
Whatever the band that I put together to support this upcoming record sounds like, I have to find a new role in its midst. It’s a pain in the ass to lay the groundwork, but ultimately I’m thankful to the universe for putting me in a position where I have the choice of embracing growth.
I sang it, and I still mean it:
Down in the mouth and not half-right,
But I can feel a change is coming on.
Bloom like a flower in bluest night.
Bloom like the sunlight in my song.
This defeat could be the best thing that ever happened to us. A politicized Eminem? An angry youth culture?
The old Dickensian saw: Best of times, worst of times.
Let’s keep this ball rolling.
And I still love you, Ohio.
Yep, you’ve got other things to think about today. But they’re gonna announce my signing to ATO Records to the media on Thursday–and I wanted to let the cat out of the bag here first.
ATO, of course, was founded by Dave Matthews–and is, coincidentally, home of my best friend’s two favorite artists, Patty Griffin and My Morning Jacket–hence winning me major points!
The label’s got a great, diverse, vibe: it’s where indie rock, jam bands, and singer/songwriters meet, and those are the genres I’ve found most interesting for the past few years.
Well, and Jay-Z. Dave, could you please sign Jay-Z?
Rockity Roll and Skittish will be out, as a double CD thing, with some bonus joints from the Skittish sessions, Bonnaroo, and Evenhand on December 7.
I’m finishing up the main record with Dan Wilson. There’s drums to do, guitars to polish and fuzz up, backing vocals to lay down, some mild retooling, and that dreadful K2 of the recordmaking process, mixing. Will keep you posted. But it won’t be long ’til it’s out.
I am very happy to be in Dave’s little cosmos. I am psyched to be in his righteous company.
I went to this Sichuan joint on St. Mark’s Place, Grand Sichuan–
Apparently all these Sichuan places around, Empire Sichuan, etc., are not actually serving Sichuan cuisine, but an ersatz American version. This was the genuine article. The food was tasty. But that’s not the most interesting thing to me.
I’m told that there is a cuisine movement in China based on what Mao liked to eat. And so, on the menu at Grand Sichuan, there was a section entitled MAO FOOD.
There was also a photograph in the restaurant’s foyer: Mao surrounded by what seemed to be a gang of international exchange students; Africans, South Americans, and Europeans. It wasn’t a formal photo; they were surrounding Mao haphazardly, like a picture from a field trip on the steps of the Natural History Museum. The caption said: Mao has many friends around the world.
I was horking songs off a friend’s iPod and came across a dreadful artifact:
I guess it’s pretty widely distributed: an mp3 of me performing with the Dave Matthews at Madison Square Garden. I haven’t listened to it yet. I’m scared to hear it. Because at the time, I was crazy high on E and completely out of my head.
Soul Coughing was opening for him. It was a two-night stand, and I guested both nights: one night I was a maniac on E, the other night I was baked on weed. I know this is the E night, this mp3, because I was told a couple details of the performance that I don’t have the guts to get into here.
I had all these E’s I had gotten in the UK, where I was living at the time. There was a legendary MDMA drought going on over there. These were the only good E’s in Britain, I think: every time I was high in a club, streams of people would come up to me, astonished, and begging to know: WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR PILLS?!
I put the pill in a plastic cup and had it onstage while we played our set. Before the third-to-last song, I went back to my amp, gulped the pill, and finished the show. By the time I was walking offstage, I was coming up.
Our product manager from Warner Bros. was in the dressing room when I came offstage. I had to talk to him for awhile and pretend to not be high. That was excruciating.
So I did the guest spot with Dave, out of my fucking skull.
I haven’t touched a pill, or anything else, since 2000. And of course, the prospect of this recording out there in general circulation fills me with dread and loathing.
I saw Dave at Bonnaroo this year; I bumped into his wife around the tents backstage, and she invited me back for a post-show get together. In the course of the conversation, I remarked that at the time I was opening for him I was abstaining from alcohol.
Dave said, “Yeah, but half the time you were XING YOUR NUTS OFF.”