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Matt Conner

writer, music journalist

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and journalist who has interviewed nearly everyone who has ever played music. That isn't entirely true.

RR interview: Ellie Holcomb

Every holiday season, many of us enjoy the old, old story of Christmas told through the songs of Andrew Peterson and friends. Behold the Lamb of God has become a holiday tradition in the last decade, and the Proprietor serves his audience well by inviting such a talented group of friends to carry the message alongside him. Each year brings a new face or two on the winter tour, and this year Ellie Holcomb is the newcomer.

For those who aren’t acquainted with her work alongside husband Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors or her own solo releases (check out her new EP, With You Now), you’ll find that Ellie’s delicate vocals fit perfectly into the BTLOG mix.

You’re on the Behold the Lamb of God tour this year for the first time, correct?

Yes. I’m in a band with my husband and it’s called Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, and every year for the past five or six years we’ve done a Christmas tour ourselves, and it has been awesome. But because of that, I have never been able to actually go to a Behold the Lamb of God show. We just always make sure we’re not doing our Christmas show in Nashville on the same days they’re doing Lamb of God. We usually have to make sure we go to a different city.

Last year was the first chance I had to go. We had just had out little girl—she was maybe two weeks old— and because I’d had a baby, we weren’t doing our Christmas tour to the same degree. So we ended up being in town on the same night as the show, and I just laughed and wept through the whole thing. It was so wonderful. I was like, “This is the best thing ever!”

Review: Over the Rhine – Meet Me at the Edge of the World

[Over at my website, Stereo Subversion, John Barber recently reviewed the wonderful new double album from Over the Rhine. Here's what he had to say.]

Nobody does double albums like Over the Rhine. Their 2003 magnum opus, Ohio, is one of the best records of the 21st century. Married couple Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler consistently deliver good music album after album, and in terms of quality, Meet Me at the Edge of the World is no different. Nor is it a surprise when the new album is a double. For fans of the band, it’s like finding out that twins are on the way.

What’s different about this record is the tone. Meet Me at the Edge of the World is unique in that it feels a bit like the listener is an intruder, eavesdropping on something special. The audience is somehow a witness to a great love story. The songs are intimate and quiet. They’re love songs written and sung by Detweiler and Bergquist to each other, and most importantly, for each other.

You can read the rest of John Barber’s review at Stereo Subversion.

RR Interview: Melanie Penn

“If I had a donut for every time I’ve listened to this album I’d be dead by now.” -The Proprietor, on Melanie Penn’s Wake Up Love.

After winning us over with her debut three years ago, Melanie Penn returns this fall with Hope Tonight. Working once again with Ben Shive, Melanie believes if you’re a fan of the first album then this one will win you over, too. We talked to Melanie to find out how she’s been spending her time and what to expect on Hope Tonight.

Can you tell us what you’ve been up to creatively speaking?

I finished production on the new album, Hope Tonight. Ben Shive produced it and partnering together again for this album brought a lot of joy, laughs, and inspiration. I also had the opportunity to bring Steve Elliot to Nashville to record a lot of the guitars. It was great to involve a musician from my New York family—something I wasn’t able to do on Wake Up Love.

There’s some other stuff happening in New York. I try to be involved as much as I can in sessions, and I love co-writing with some dear friends there. I’m also singing in other bands, and leading worship at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Resurrection Park Slope. My main push this fall, though, will be to get Hope Tonight out there.

You have your debut in the rearview mirror, so did the approach to the new album feel different?

RR Interview: Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet was ready to dream again, so he quit his dream jobs to carve out some space for that to happen. Now he’s stepping out into the unknown to allow new stories to come to life. If you’re familiar with Auralia’s Colors or Through a Screen Darkly, then you know to expect good things. Jeffrey is  one of our speakers this year at Hutchmoot 2013 and we recently caught up with him to find out a little about what he’s up to.

I saw recently that you cleared your freelance slate for the first time since 2001 so you can “dream new stories.” Can you tell us about making that move? Do you have any glimpses of what’s to come?

It’s complicated. And it will sound crazy—but yes, I’ve pretty much quit all of my dream jobs.

RR Interview: Subjects With Objects co-author DKM

[Special pre-release copies of Subjects with Objects are now available exclusively in the Rabbit Room store. We also have high-quality SubwOb art prints and weird greeting cards!]

If you were fortunate enough to support and score a copy of the newest Rabbit Room Press title, Subjects With Objects, then you know how enchanting the mix of Jonathan Richter’s painting and DKM’s poetic commentary can be. The book is both intriguing and inspirational, much like its writer, the mysterious poet known as DKM.

In this Rabbit Room interview, I’ve probed the mysteries behind those initials to learn a bit more about the man as well as to discuss the beauty of the project itself. The bad news? We’re still no closer to knowing who he is. The good news? There’s more Subjects with Objects to come.

Who exactly is DKM? Can you unveil any of the mystery behind the initials?

In the standard English Alphabet, one typically has 26 letters to choose from. Occasionally one is able to slip a 27th past the gatekeepers, and if it’s late enough or those in authority are drunk enough, then there have been a handful of recorded cases of this or that writer in this or that obscure corner of the English-speaking world managing to wedge in a 28th letter (most-often disguised as one of the lower 26). Shakespeare is even rumored to have discovered a 29th and 30th letter during the writing of King Lear, but if the stuff of such legend has any basis in fact, those letters were quickly repressed or purposely obscured in translation.

In order not to incur undue attention from those who monitor such things however, I restricted myself from the outset of the Subjects With Objects project, not only to the 26-letter variation, but to a subset of that: only those letters that have an utterly vertical line in their design. The reasons for this should be obvious, so I won’t condescend to explain them here. Plus, it wouldn’t be safe for any of us. At any rate, having narrowed my letter choice to 13 candidates for a 3 letter combination (any more would have been cost prohibitive!), I was faced with 2,197 (13 x 13 x13) possible letter combinations. To save time, I simply chose the first one I could think of: DKM.

It has a decided lack of elegance. It was clearly the antithesis of mellifluous and therefore well-suited to being a repository of mystery, as it were. When people go by initials, it’s mostly JJ or AJ or DJ or JK or RJ (Are we beginning to see a pattern here..?). Something simple and easy to say and, let’s be honest, something that prominently features a “J.” There, I’ve said it. Somebody needed to. Let the chips fall where they may.

Much rarer in recorded history are those who have been branded by three initials in the public imagination: MLK, FDR, LBJ, JFK, RFK, but again we begin to see a definite pattern: One must either be president of the United States, be running for president, or at least be a controversial national political figure before one is granted the three initial formation.

So in adopting the DKM moniker, I was both subverting tradition, and making a statement: You do not know who I am. You will not know who I am. I might be hidden in the light, or the shadow. I might be your grandfather, your neighbor, or one of thousands of unfollowed bloggers in the grey Northwest. I might be a hacker, an anarchist, an artist or a theologian. I might be a fact, a fiction, or a fact masquerading as a fact masquerading as a fiction.

In short, as DKM I might be anything you hope or believe me to be, and its exact opposite—at the same time. As DKM I am free to haunt the dim recesses of your imagination, poking and prodding as is necessary. I am the ghost in the machine, at the end of the day inexplicable even to myself.

Also, it makes book signings 70% quicker, with less chance of hand cramps.

It’s either presidential or serial killer-esque. Either way, why not enjoy the spotlight?

Andy Osenga House Show Tour

From the release of his incredible Leonard the Lonely Astronaut to his face-melting performance at Hutchmoot 2013, it’s been a great season for Andy Osenga.

This week Andy announced that he’s venturing out this fall on a house show tour. If you’ve caught any of his recent StageIt shows, you already have some idea of how intimate his music can be. Head over to Andy’s website to catch all of the details and see how easy it is to host a show yourself! In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the tour will benefit the ministry efforts of Young Life.

If you’re new to Leonard, you can hear Andy talk more about the new album here in our Rabbit Room interview. Also catch part of his performance at Hutchmoot below:

RR Contest: Son of Laughter’s “The Mantis and the Moon”

To highlight The Mantis and the Moon, the new release from Chris Slaten, aka Son of Laughter, we’ve got a new contest for you. Yesterday we posted the title track for you to stream, and now we’re giving away a copy of the EP to two different winners.

How to enter? 

1. Share the Mantis and the Moon release announcement post on Facebook and leave us a comment (here on this post) to let us know you’ve passed it along (or else we won’t know to enter you into the contest).

OR

2. Share the Mantis and the Moon release announcement post on Twitter using the hashtag #SonofLaughter.

It’s that simple and that easy. Entries must be submitted before Sunday night at 5:00pm CST. Winners will be announced on Monday.

Also, Chris is currently booking a series of house shows. If you’re interested in hosting one, please contact him at sonoflaughtermusic (at) gmail (dot) com.

Dave Eggers on The Writing Life

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the artistic process as much as by an artist’s completed work. Whether it’s interviewing a musician about her craft or reading an essay about the writing life, I’m consistently drawn into the thought process, the equipment used, the joys and frustrations. When I recently came across a Dave Eggers column (which is not recent) about his own writing process, I knew I was in for something worthwhile.

I first read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius back in 2000. His memoir is tragic, manic, hilarious, disconcerting, and emotional. It’s also my favorite book. I’ll never forget the impact of that first time through an Eggers novel, and it’s a journey I’ve taken several times since.

A Heartbreaking Work, winner of the Pulitzer for non-fiction in 2000, was the first of several celebrated releases by Eggers. What is the What won the Prix Médicis, Zeitoun won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and his latest, A Hologram for the King, was a finalist for the National Book Award. He wrote the screenplays for Away We Go and Where the Wild Things Are, and he also founded McSweeney’s, which if you don’t know, is a source for wonderful literary things of all shades.

I write all of this not only because I greatly admire Eggers, but because he’s a remarkable writer. This is important because to read his take on “the writing life” is to get a glimpse into something rather unremarkable. Despite the awards on the bio, a peek behind the curtain reveals an ordinary man with an ordinary routine sitting at an ordinary work space dealing with ordinary struggles. In short, Dave Eggers is human. Here’s the article. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

And here is where I spend seven or eight hours at a stretch. Seven or eight hours each time I try to write. Most of that time is spent stalling, which means that for every seven or eight hours I spend pretending to write—sitting in the writing position, looking at a screen—I get, on average, one hour of actual work done. It’s a terrible, unconscionable ratio.

Click here to read the rest of Eggers’s piece.

RR Contest: Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young and Handsome

This week, we’re giving away a copy of So Brave, Young and Handsome, the second novel by this year’s Hutchmoot special guest, Leif Enger. The Rabbit Room community recently read through the book and held a discussion of it in six parts, so if you win be sure to go back and follow along as you read. It’s never too late to join the conversation.

How do I win? you ask? Take to the Twittersphere and share a link to the book’s discussion post using the hashtag #leifmoot. That’s it.

The link to use: www.rabbitroom.com/2013/04/discussion-so-brave-young-and-handsome

The hashtag to use: #leifmoot

The winner will be selected at random and announced next Monday.

Fine Print: Neither Leif Enger nor Charlie Siringo are allowed to win this contest. Neither is Pete Peterson.

RR Contest: The Zero Gravity C.S. Lewis Edition

My mom always told me that winning isn’t everything. Or maybe it was winners can’t be choosers…or losers. Either way, there was something about winning in there that I was supposed to learn. However the one thing I’ve learned about winning is that it’s fun, so to that end we’re excited about a new weekly feature that we’ve creatively named The Rabbit Room Contest.

Every Monday, you’ll find a brand new contest post detailing the prize(s) available. The goals will change from time to time, but the ultimate goal is to give you that exhilarating feeling of having bested everyone else. Pride. Glory. You know, the fruits of the Spirit.

For our first Rabbit Room Contest, it’s appropriate to give a nod to the man who provided an inspiration to us all: Clive Staples Lewis. This week’s prize will be a brand new set of Lewis’s celebrated space trilogy, which includes Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.

So what does it take to win? This week, we’re asking you, dear reader, to add a review to the Rabbit Room store. Whether you are purchasing a new product or remembering something you’ve owned for a long time, we’d love to give other art lovers a better idea of what they might enjoy in the store. Have an opinion on your favorite Andy Gullahorn album? Want to weigh in with your take on a Jonathan Rogers novel? Let us know in the Rabbit Room store (every item in the store has space for user reviews) sometime between today and Thursday evening at 5 p.m. (CT) and you’ll be automatically entered to win. Winners will be randomly selected. At random.

Winners will be notified personally and we’ll announce the winner each Friday morning.

Fine print: Original members of the Inklings are not eligible to win. Neither is Pete Peterson. 

SSv Interview: Hem

[In the summer of 2007, I launched a music site called Stereo Subversion for the sole purpose of helping to promote and explore what I termed "Meaningful Music." The goal was to highlight artists crafting substantive content and/or imaginative concepts. Six years later, the same is true. Here's a recent interview that illustrates just that.]

For those who tried to read between the lines on Hem’s latest album, Departure and Farewell, you likely hit the nail on the head. Over the last decade-plus, the Brooklyn-based band has released several beautiful folk albums to great acclaim. But everything has a life cycle, and Hem nearly completed their own.

Death, it seems, was a necessary consideration to bring new life, and Departure and Farewell is a goodbye in name only. Hem’s Gary Maurer and Dan Messe recently sat down with Stereo Subversion to discuss the latest album and how they nearly walked away from it all.

SSv: It’s been a long time between records, what has happened in that time?

Dan: Well, I think what happened was, we were thinking Hem had run its course after Twelfth Night(2009’s record of instrumental accompaniment to a Shakespearean production) and were just interested in wrapping things up in a big bow. And so we decided to call the recordDeparture and Farewell. Really making something that was a good summation of our career. And in the course of making this “ending,” I actually started using pills, I actually got addicted to them. And the band completely exploded. I basically poisoned the entire well where we couldn’t even finish the final record. We were just going to walk away at one point. That’s true right Gary?

Gary: Yes, clearly for several months [the record] was not going to get done.

Dan: And it languished like that until I hit bottom and asked for help, then the band started to heal. And all of the sudden there was a rebirth, not just in terms of my own health but also in terms of the love we have for each other and the love we have for the music we make together and how grateful we are. It started out as a swan song and became a rebirth.

SSv: Is it strange or painful to make this a part of the new record’s story, or are you comfortable talking about it?

Dan: I’m not comfortable talking about it at all, but it’s such a part of the album. We write songs that are not confessional but they are autobiographical. So we tend to write in metaphor about experiences that we go through in our life. We could have taken this part out and just been vague about it: ‘We had troubles and we got over it.’[Laughs]

Gary: It would have been easy to make up a whole other story because there actually have been a lot of other changes since (2006’s) Funnel Cloud. We could have just pretended, like Dan said.

Dan: I think in the spirit of this second chance, it really is a miracle, and I wanted to honor that. And also, you are able to recover—or find recovery at all—when you are at a point when you’re completely hopeless and lost everything. And you want to share the story so that someone else might hear it and find their own way back. You feel responsible for other people going through it. So we just decided, as a band, it would be ok to talk about.

You can read the rest of the interview over at Stereo Subversion.

Take Up Your Spade

On a recent afternoon, I had the chance to break bread with several friends here in Nashville. (Actually, we broke chicken tenders.) The conversation was lively, but it was the lingering moments outside, after nearly everyone had left, that stirred me most.

Russ Ramsey asked me what I was writing lately, and instead of answering the question, I updated him on the latest freelance assignments I’d been given. He politely listened to my answer and then asked me again, “What have you been writing lately?” I told him about the essays and ideas I’d been planning to write as soon as I cleared my slate. Simply put, I gave him an embarrassingly short progress report.

After lunch, I went back to the Rabbit Room office and sat down with Pete Peterson to discuss some future ventures for the site. The conversation turned again to my own writing and the exact same thing happened, another gentle nudge reminding me to dig for what is meaningful. Twice in the same day, I’d had someone push me to move beyond immediate tasks for the sake of something meaningful.

Easter & Expectations

Ever since my wife and I set our sights on moving to Nashville several months ago, I couldn’t wait to get here. Expectations of new friendships and opportunities brought hope after a frustrating and lonely year of wading through vocational changes wondering where the next steps would lead us. I knew a change in location was not a cure-all, but still, I couldn’t wait. I was ready to go.

Yet after several weeks in Nashville, life is beginning to become routine. We’re finding a new rhythm. We love our new house, our new life, our new schedule, but we also find a lot of it is familiar. We’re still the same people with the same habits, the same pressures, the same likes and dislikes. The new scenery is lovely, but the sheen on our new environment is beginning to fade. The experience was really about the expectation more than the lived-out reality.

I’m convinced that we live more through our expectations than we do through our actual lives. It’s the expectation of what is to come that gives us hope in the current moment, and it’s the dashed expectation that ruins long stretches of our existence. Think about this for a second.

How many days do we spend simply holding out for the upcoming vacation? How many weeks are spent working for the weekend? How many months are simply the precursor to the birth, to the wedding, to the holidays? I find this happening all the time in my own life, whether it’s an upcoming concert, a reunion with friends, an opportunity to travel abroad, or even the chance to get back inside a really compelling book. We lose the current moment in anticipation of moments to come.

Josh Garrels: The Sea In Between

Josh Garrels: The Sea In Between – Trailer from Mason Jar Music on Vimeo.

For most of the last decade, Josh Garrels has created his intriguing blend of folk and hip-hop in strict isolation—whether holed up at John Dillinger’s former home in central Indiana or sequestered away in a bedroom of his own. The results speak for themselves: a beautiful discography that has cemented Garrels as a truly independent artist.

On his most recent full-length album, Love & War & the Sea In Between, Garrels opened up the creative process to include some friends in a collective known as Mason Jar Music. A group of NYU and Julliard alumni, Mason Jar Music previously backed Garrels on a takeaway show featuring his song “Words Remain.” It was the beginning of a relationship that continued with Mason Jar’s production of a few of the tracks on Love & War and eventually blossomed to include tour dates and a brand new documentary, The Sea In Between.

Mountains, Hills, and the Inequality of Men

Not all men are created equal.

The phrase sounds odd, but for me it rings true. I’ve been turning it over in my head in recent days and weeks as I’ve reflected upon my own story and absorbed the journeys of close friends. Together they reveal the truth about the statement oft cited that tells us that the opposite is true.

Of course, we all value the belief that we are all on a level playing field, and I will admit the lens through which you view that phrase will change the way you measure it. But in the real world in which we live and move, work and play, step up and back down, we are definitely anything but equal.

***

This entire last year has informed the lesson I’ve learned about (in)equality. A few months ago, some of our closest friends gave birth to a beautiful baby girl troubled by multiple medical issues. Their lives since this moment have been a rollercoaster both inside and out with a whirlwind of emotions accompanying a constant rotation of appointments, tests, and results. Even now there are more questions than answers.