The Archives

 

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.

Jill Phillips and Getting Beyond Your Own Story

They say the first album is always about loss. Whether midstream or shortly thereafter, an artist’s first album is typically about loss of some kind—love lost, dreams shattered, expectations unmet. After interviewing well over 1,000 artists and reviewing God knows how many releases, the maxim is true that some sort of grief is the central subject for most songwriters when first starting out.

The reason should be obvious, since songwriting, as with any creative endeavor, often begins as a cathartic exercise. There’s a working out, a processing that happens when I write, when painters paint, when sculptors mold and shape. As I write, I’m figuring out who I am both before, during, and after the event that drew me to my desk. We naturally gravitate to our own outlet to work through the situations we find ourselves in, both good and bad.

After the first album, other subjects arise. In my experience, the progression begins at the heart and moves outward from there. I often find artists moving through their past, family trauma, or other more joyful experiences in their second or third albums. Many veteran artists eventually move to topics outside of themselves, topics they are passionate about regarding politics or the state of the world. After several releases, many veteran artists will begin to sing solely about the world as they see it and speak to grander themes of love, violence, beauty, and what it means to be human.

I love this last stage, but it’s rare to see a songwriter arrive outside of him/herself. It’s no secret that making a living as a songwriter and performing artist is a tough gig, and only the strong survive. I don’t have any concrete figures, but the run for most artists has to be an album or two at most for the average length of a recording career. What that means is that the music we most commonly come in contact with is likely closer to ground zero in content—dealing, once again, with issues of the heart.

Then there are artists like Jill Phillips.

Song of the Week: “The Ending”

It’s easy to reach for Chrome or Birds of Relocation when you want to listen to Eric Peters since those albums resonate with a powerful authenticity, but some of his finest material is found on albums like 2003’s Miracle of Forgetting. “The Ending” is the album’s lead track and it’s also our song of the week, a reminder of Eric’s extended history of writing beautiful, honest songs that meet us where we are and remind us of a greater hope. In addition to the album stream below, check out this acoustic version via Under the Radar as well.

“The Ending”
by Eric Peters
from the album Miracle of Forgetting
[audio:TheEnding.mp3]

Use coupon code “THEENDING” to get 20% off the album this week.

Song of the Week: “The Mantis & The Moon”

We were honored to host Chris Slaten, a.k.a. Son of Laughter, for the inaugural house show at North Wind Manor earlier this summer. Chris is currently working with producer Ben Shive on a new album, and the new songs peppered throughout the show gave beautiful glimpses of the full-length record to come. The night was also highlighted by familiar songs we’ve grown to love, and our song of the week is the title track from Chris’s debut EP, The Mantis & The Moon. Few songwriters can craft such meaningful stories, let alone keep things as beautiful and lively as Son of Laughter. “The Mantis & The Moon” is a great example of why we all fell in love with this EP in the first place.

“The Mantis & The Moon”
by Son of Laughter
from the album The Mantis & The Moon
[audio:Mantis.mp3]

[Use coupon code “Mantis” to get 20% off the EP in the Rabbit Room store this week. And grab your tickets to tonight’s Local Show featuring Andrew Peterson, Buddy Greene, Ben Shive, and Lori Chaffer.]

Rabbit Room Interview: Jill Phillips

[Editor’s note: Jill Phillips has been working on a new album. So, “Matt Conner,” I said, “get you gone and find out what she’s up to.” Thus did he sally forth, and thus with this interview did he return. I have no idea why I’m talking this way.]

Just to start, I’d love to get an update on exactly where things are with the new album.

I’ve taken a little bit more of a pause in the past month-and-a-half for obvious reasons. We’ve been traveling and everything. But before school let out, we’d gotten to where there were basic tracks for all of the songs—percussion, some overdubs. We actually did some recording three or four weeks ago with Ben Shive, who did piano for one or two songs. We’ve had a cellist come in.

So we’ve done a good bit. Maybe we’re a little over halfway done. I still have to do my vocals. I have maybe one or two finished, but I really didn’t want to do those piecemeal. I wanted to be in the zone and do it, so I did one, took a pause, and then I’ll get to the others when the kids start school next week. When they’re home for the summer, it’s just impossible to get that much work done. [Laughs] My goal is to have it done by Hutchmoot. Maybe that’s ambitious, but we’ll give it a shot.

Song of the Week: “Canaan Bound (Live)”

Andrew Peterson, our faithful Proprietor, is hard at work on a special “best of” collection, re-recording several old favorites selected by a special fan vote taken earlier this summer. Such compilations are great portals into an artist’s full body of work, but what AP’s fans might not realize is that he also has a great selection of Appendix releases available with demos, alternate versions, live tracks, and other rarities. Our song of the week is a lovely live version of “Canaan Bound” and is one of 25 tracks found on Andrew’s Appendix A: Bootlegs & B-Sides. If you’ve never ventured into the Appendix series, they’re a great addition for any AP fan, old or new. You can use coupon code “CANAAN” to get 15% off of Appendix A in the Rabbit Room store this week.

“Canaan Bound (Live)”
by Andrew Peterson
from the album Appendix A: Bootlegs & B-Sides
[audio:Canaan.mp3]

Song of the Week: “Silhouettes”

Many of you will already be familiar with Colony House (formerly known as Caleb). They toured with Andrew Peterson for many of the shows in support of Light for the Lost Boy, but what you are likely unfamiliar with is the way they’ve matured as songwriters and performers. Their new album, When I Was Younger, produced by Ben Shive, conjures up comparisons to bands like Keane, Phoenix, Leagues, and The Killers, and the infectious blend is nearly impossible to resist. Check out their single “Silhouettes” for yourself.

“Silhouettes”
by Colony House
from the album When I Was Younger

[When I Was Younger is now available on iTunes. You can also use the coupon code “CALEB” to get 15% off of their To the Ends of the World EP (from back when they were known as Caleb) in the Rabbit Room store.]

Interview: Counting Crows

If you’re already a Counting Crows fan, then it’s likely you fell in love with the emotional displays of Adam Duritz somewhere along the way. I bought three copies of August and Everything After, the band’s debut album, my junior year of high school and wore it out several times as songs like “Anna Begins,” “Round Here,” and “Raining in Baltimore” hit me a strong emotional resonance. The trend has continued on every album ever since. No matter how old I get, Duritz’s ability to pierce my heart by unveiling his own has been the hallmark of the Crows for over two decades.

Several weeks ago, a few friends in orbit around the Rabbit Room went to the Ryman to hear Toad the Wet Sprocket (which Andrew wrote about here) and Counting Crows. For me it was the 12th or so time I’d seen the band. The band played several tunes from their upcoming album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, alongside several covers and old favorites, and they all sounded great. But one song in particular, “Possibility Days,” struck me as hopeful, and it was one of the primary subjects of our recent interview at Stereo Subversion.

“It’s kind of taken from the end of a Sondheim play, Sunday in the Park with George,” said Duritz. “It got a revival that my friend was in, and we went to see it several times. It was about the painter, Georges Seurat, and the last lines of the play are taken from what is supposedly his mother’s notebook. It says, ‘A blank page. His favorite. So many possibilities.’ I think those are the last lines of the play. All the color disappears from the walls and it’s just white. That can seem like nothing, but it also offers all the possibilities in the world. I think the song is just about that.”

On Monuments

[Author’s note: I originally wrote this in February during my first chance to process life after the birth of our first child. It also happened to be the one-year anniversary of our move to Nashville. A couple friends recently asked about the emotions of such a transition and whether I had any advice for their own. This feels appropriate to share in light of all of that.]

Thousands of years ago, my ancestors set up monuments for these kinds of moments. Rocks were carried then stacked then ordered, row upon row until a pile was formed. And then it was named. A monument was created to mark a specific place, a specific time, a specific event. We are a forgetful people whether we live in the ancient world or use iCal on our smart phones. I need this monument to mark this moment.

It was a year ago today that we wept like we’ve never wept before. Our final friends stopped by to see us off, the moving truck revved outside due to the subzero temperatures. We were leaving Indiana after nearly a decade of leading church and community development efforts in the post-industrial town of Anderson. A tight-knit community of like-minded folks had developed in that time. We’d laughed. We’d cried. And on this day, we cried once more.

Coffee Shop Symphony

“If you want to get in touch with creation, ride the bus or take the subway.” -maybe, possibly, Eugene Peterson

I wasn’t given a playbill, and it definitely started without me, but I’m enjoying the symphony nevertheless. I’m settled into a cold corner table near the kitchen, and the coffee shop is well into the performance. An orchestra of voices already warmed, already in tune, already swelling in unpredictable harmonies.

The girl wearing the bandana and workout clothes looks like she has yet to make it to the gym. Maybe she’ll exercise after she’s done telling a friend about the fear she has of telling Brian she loves him too. College kids gather around laptops, textbooks open, minds and hearts alive only in whatever has them laughing—likely not the subject matter of their assignments. A couple of tourists are wrapping a “wonderful” weekend trip to Nashville—We should do it again sometime.

Monday Music Update – 4/21/14

Don and Lori Chaffer recently put the kick in Kickstarter campaigns by raising over $40,000 toward a brand new double album from Waterdeep. The total more than doubled the original goal, which means the Chaffers plan on delivering the music twice as fast. That last part is not true.

Randall Goodgame will be playing two free Slugs & Bugs shows this weekend. The first is on Friday, April 25 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The second show will be on Sunday, April 27 in Vincennes, Indiana. Check the S&B tour page for full details.

Andy Osenga will play a special Stageit show on Tuesday, April 29 at 7:00pm. Appropriately titled “Andrew’s Reverse MidLife Crisis Eve,” it’s Andy’s last show before joining Capitol Records in his brand new full time job as A&R for their Christian music division! The show begins at 7:30 CT.

Andrew Peterson spent two days with Ben Shive in the studio recording his version of the Rich Mullins song “Calling Out Your Name.” The track is for an upcoming CD release related to the film Ragamuffin. Several familiar faces contributed on vocals, including Jeremy Casella, Andy Gullahorn, Andy Osenga, Eric Peters, and Jill Phillips.

After a hugely successful Northeast Spring Break tour (eight shows in eight days thanks to you, Rabbits!), Son of Laughter is currently scheduling another series of living room shows throughout the country this summer during the months of June and July. While he is starting to line up shows in the Southwest and Midwest, he is open to just about anything. If you’re interested in organizing an event, contact Chris Slaten at sonoflaughtermusic@gmail.com.

Monday Music Update – 4/7/14

Mixing begins this week on the forthcoming album from Ron Block and Jeff Taylor. The album features 10 original hymn-style songs and lyrics from Rebecca Reynolds. In addition, vocalists Suzanne Cox, Julie Lee, Ellie Holcomb, Skye Peterson, and several others contribute alongside fine musicians like Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Luke Bulla (fiddle), Sierra Hull (mando), and John Mock (bodhran).

Tomorrow night at 8:00 CST, Andrew Peterson and his family are putting on their first-ever AP and the Family Band show, live and online via StageIt. The show will feature Skye Peterson on piano, Asher Peterson on percussion, Aedan Peterson on guitar, and Jamie Peterson on BGVs. They’ve been rehearsing hard all week, and are nervously excited. Click here for details.

Andrew Osenga is released his Heart EP to the masses last Tuesday (available here). Details are forthcoming on a Stageit show to highlight the new songs (and more).

A new Rain for Roots project is releasing tomorrow, April 8, entitled The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This. Rain for Roots is a collective that features Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris, Katy Bowser, and Ellie Holcomb (among others) with the intent of making scripture songs for children. If you missed the first Rain for Roots album, Big Stories for Little Ones, check out Randall Goodgame’s review here.

Waterdeep has already met their Kickstarter goal for a double album, which speaks to the thirst for new music from Don and Lori Chaffer. Make sure to check out the hilarious video and then sign up for one of several great exclusives available.

And finally, there’s only a few hours left in Kelly Rae Burton‘s Kickstarter campaign. Ben Shive is producing and he’s really excited about the project. Read more about Ben’s involvement and listen to an unfinished track here.

 

Monday Music Update – 03/17/14

Chris Slaten is breaking away from his normal teaching duties to strap on a guitar and play the Son of Laughter Spring Break Tour of the Northeast. He’ll play several dates through West Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Head over to his website to check out all of the details. Lots of these shows are shaping up to be “mini-moots.”

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor have been writing and recording original hymns with Rebecca Reynolds. The record is an all-original hymns project based on acoustic guitar and piano, with other instruments joining in on various songs—accordion, banjo, bodhran, mandolin, whistles, fiddle, strings, pump organ, concertina. Julie Lee, Ellie Holcomb, Suzanne Cox, Lisa Forbes and Jay Forbes of the Forbes Family, and Skye Peterson are slated for harmony vocals.

Jill Phillips is starting to record her new record this week, currently in pre-production. Jill also recently finished up one of the songs with another one of our favorite writers, Sandra McCracken. You can catch Jill and her husband, Andy Gullahorn, this next week in San Antonio and Waco. Check out the details here.

Monday Music Update – 03/03/14

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor are working on a new album that Ron describes as “sparse and restful.” The album features lyrics from RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds and will feature 12-13 new songs, many in the style of old hymns. Some tracks have already been featured here at the Rabbit Room. Check out “Come, Children of this Long, Discarded Night” and “Everything Broken and Everything Beautiful” for a preview.

Jeremy Casella successfully met his Kickstarter goal for his forthcoming album, Death in Reverse. Don’t miss Jeremy’s post on the album’s background entitled “My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future“.

Don Chaffer has been busy writing and producing, including a new instrumental album for licenselab.com. As a producer, he finished up a new album for Sara Swenson and is working on another with Ben Kilgore. Don says he and Lori are slowly working on a new Waterdeep album.

Randall Goodgame has an upcoming Slugs & Bugs StageIt show on Saturday, March 15. Check out the Slugs & Bugs Facebook page. Official details coming soon.

Jason Gray‘s new album, Love Will Have The Final Word, will be available this Tuesday, March 4. Check back tomorrow to listen to one of the new tracks.

Andy Gullahorn has a show on March 15 in Columbus, GA at Crosspointe Church for their Poets, Painters, and Storytellers concert series. He will be joined by songwriter Allen Levi and painter Wellon Bridgers.

Monday Music Update – 02/17/14

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor are working on a new album that Ron describes as “very sparse and restful.” The album features lyrics from RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds and will feature 12-13 new songs, many in the style of old hymns. Some tracks have already been featured here at the Rabbit Room. Check out “Come, Children of this Long, Discarded Night” and “Everything Broken and Everything Beautiful” for a preview.

Jeremy Casella still has nearly two weeks left on the Kickstarter campaign for his new album, Death in Reverse. Don’t miss Jeremy’s post on the album’s background entitled “My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future“.

Jason Gray is prepping for the release of his new album, Love Will Have The Final Word, on March 4.

Andy Gullahorn has a show on March 15 in Columbus, GA at Crosspointe Church for their Poets, Painters, and Storytellers concert series. He will be joined by songwriter Allen Levi and painter Wellon Bridgers.

Eric Peters recently released a new four-song EP, Counting My Rings: B-sides. Eric also recently posted a song-by-song description of the EP.

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at sonoflaughtermusic@gmail.com.

Monday Music Update – 02/03/14

Jeremy Casella is in the midst of a new Kickstarter campaign for his forthcoming album, Death in Reverse. We’ll have more from Jeremy later in the week, but don’t miss your chance to hear the music early along with several other exclusives. Check out the campaign page for more information.

Don and Lori Chaffer are staying busy with several projects. They’re currently writing and demoing several country songs with writer Tom Douglas (“The House that Built Me”), writing instrumental music for licensing, and also slowly chipping away on a new Waterdeep record. The latter, according to Don, is “taking a very slow boat right now.”

Josh Garrels is finishing up construction of his new studio, and a new album will be underway as soon as it’s complete. The expected release date is sometime this summer, and the album will once again feature Mason Jar Music (who also appeared on Love & War & The Sea In Between) and A Boy & His Kite.

Jason Gray recently wrapped up his new record, Love Will Have The Final Word, and will release it on March 4. It was produced by Jason Ingram and Cason Cooley, and Jason says it might be his most personal group of songs yet. He says, “I didn’t write to a theme as much as I watched for one to emerge, and the common thread of all these songs is the power of love to heal fear and shame, and to make us new.” In addition, his son, Kipper, produced two songs that will appear on a special edition version of the record.

Eric Peters is releasing a brand new digital EP, Counting My Rings: B-Sides, tomorrow. The four-song EP includes three unreleased tracks and an unreleased demo of “Traveling Onion.” Look for full details tomorrow on the Rabbit Room.

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at sonoflaughtermusic@gmail.com.