The Ember Jar Debuts Stardust

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The Ember Jar is among South Bend’s finest music creators. The group has been evolving since their formation in 2011 and, on February 5th, they are releasing the latest example of that development with their new single, Stardust. Founding members Kevin Scott Joiner and Abby King joined me to discuss the new sounds that they, along with drummer Vincenzo Carrasco, are creating.

According to Kevin, the band has been placing a particular focus on producing singles. Their goal is to produce a small number of songs at one time, allowing them to put their energy into perfecting those releases and continuing to evolve their sound.

“Stardust is our first foray into that,” Joiner said.

The Stardust single will bring fans a taste of the musical direction The Ember Jar is now taking, along with a reminder of where they have been. The single will include a B-Side titled No Longer, one of the first songs that Abby wrote and a song representative of the “new-wop” style from their earlier days.

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Photo by Jessica Galicia

Abby discussed her songwriting process and the growth that led her to the new song. She described the beginnings of most of her works, starting with a melody and seeking a phrase that would match it. Once mated, she often adjusts the phrase, experimenting with the words until she finds a match that both fits the music and holds meaning to her.

“Here’s a melody,” she said. “Now what’s a phrase that fits this melody? What does this phrase mean to me?”

She often starts a song without knowing what it will be about, allowing it to grow from the foundation of the music. This process may be slow or fast, with some songs that evolve over long periods of time. She described to me a melody and chorus “that was rolling around in my head for months” and then finishing the rest of the process in a single day.

Stardust represents for her a turning point in her songwriting process, one where she was “playing around” and intentionally trying a different direction.

“I was molding the song,” she said. “The song wasn’t molding me.”

She described herself as more focused on R&B and Soul in her earlier music days, eventually finding a connection to Americana music and “remembering how much I loved U2.” The latter was on her mind as she was writing Stardust, leading to a sound Kevin described as “desert music” with “a certain, empty spaciousness.”

“It’s like a band playing in a canyon with no one around,” he said.

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Photo by Jessica Galicia

Kevin described his initial influence on the song as less than usual. Once Abby had written the majority of the song, he came in and they finished it together. In past works, Kevin often handled the majority of the musical arrangement, taking her chords, structures, and lyrical ideas and framing them with bass and drums. With the new single, Abby had a specific arrangement in mind, one they worked on together.

“Stardust marked a real change where she wanted to jump in and do more,” he said. “It was the first time we both worked on those things together.”

The new sound, one representative of the direction the band is going, is one they describe as “soulful, jangle rock.” The word “big” also comes up often when describing the single. They have been enjoying the openness of Stardust when playing it live, a trait that allows them to expand and embellish. The performances have also fed into the evolution of the recorded version.

“It’s a little different each time,” Kevin said. “Stardust leaves so much openness for taking it places.”

Stardust will be released on Friday, February 5th, both digitally and in limited physical copies. It will be available through ReverbNation.com/TheEmberJar and other digital outlets, with a release on iTunes in the following weeks. You can find more information on The Ember Jar, including past releases and upcoming live shows, by visiting facebook.com/TheEmberJar.

 

These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.

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The Year Ahead

Most writers have likely given you their lists of accomplishments and goals from the year past, as well as their thoughts and desires on the new one in which we find ourselves. However, as you’ll soon find out, I rarely operate on the expected schedule often determined to be the best path in life.

I spent a fair portion of 2015 in front of this computer, talking, writing, and exploring the vast world of music and culture. The opportunities afforded to me in the past year went beyond the expectations I have given myself. I was fortunate enough to connect with a varied list of talented and interesting people; struggling musicians and their popular national counterparts, proprietors of venues and cultural centers, and makers of all things food, art, and life-affirming. I have been able to spend significant portions of my time awash in the parts of life I love the most. To quote South Bend musician Dena Woods, in 2015 I found “that which is soul-filling.”

My path was not always one that pointed obviously toward professionally delving into my interests. I look back to my years following high school, when friends and peers moved on and away to pursue dreams and create careers. I stayed behind in rural Michigan, unsure which road to travel, unsure how my personal interests translated into the future set before me. I toiled in jobs of every variety, from factory work to tending bar, from retail to janitorial, from nearly every role available in an eatery to each task one can accomplish out of a toolbox. As I saw my friends creating their lives, I concerned myself with how I would appear when reunited with them. I worried often that I’d missed an important page in life’s instruction manual.

Nothing feels more natural to me than writing. It is a task I have occupied myself with as long as I can recall, one that satisfied my boredom and carried me across the struggles of life. While I worked to figure out where my life should lead, I turned to the emerging world of blogging or, as we referred to it then, “writing”. I made friends and gained community here and across the globe. I found like-minds and encouragement that instilled confidence and led me to exploration and adventure. I found my way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and into the highlands of Scotland. I picked up a camera and started making movies. I grabbed a pencil and started creating stories. I convinced musicians and artists to sit and talk with me. I continued my writing and found an audience willing to read it.

We have a motto at Anywhere The Needle Drops: “life is an adventure, life is a story.” The spirit of that motto is that there is no correct or safe path in life. Certainly, more secure paths exist and there are people who can tell you about them. I am not one of them, though I do advise you listen to their counsel. I also advise you to then bend those rules and, occasionally, even break a few.

As you look into the future, into the new year, or simply into next week, remember that it’s important to pursue that which speaks most to you. Remember that the adventure of life is a short one that ends in the same place for everyone. Remember that, as Shepherd Book once told the audience of Firefly, “the journey is the worthier part.” Remember that, if you find yourself uncomfortable, you are probably doing something right. It will not be easy, but anything worth doing rarely is. It will not be the sure and secure path in life, but to quote Julia Cameron “safety is an expensive illusion.”

In 2016 and any year that follows, pursue that which speaks most to you. If a guy in rural Michigan who loves music and movies can find a way to speak to his favorite artists, write and talk about the culture he loves, and have an audience that reads and listens to him, then that is proof enough that you can achieve what you set out to do.

These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.

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A Conversation With Dave Dale of Elephant Rescue

In my continued conversation with Dave Dale, we turn back often to the idea that music is an important piece of a local culture and community. The Niles resident, known for his work on his own and with various acts, including Elephant Rescue, has played music for most of his life. As we’ve discussed his perspective on the recent vibrancy in the local music scene, we turn often to the audience.

“You have to support the things that you love,” Dale said, indicating that there is some responsibility on the audience to help a music scene thrive. “What do you want? Do you want cover bands? Do you want your own thing? What are we going to pass on to our kids? If people want to have a [local] music scene that’s vibrant, it’s going to cost a little.”

The cost he describes is that of audiences being willing show up and to pay a cover when venues bring in original live music acts. It can be difficult for artists to discuss the economics of their work, but it becomes necessary for an act to be successful and remain viable. He describes the full-time, unseen work of musicians, including the creation of the art itself, seeking venues, and loading and unloading of gear before and after the show. He also describes the cost for venues who work to support the acts and the importance of the audience in that system.

“Venues don’t last if you don’t support them. That’s when you know a music scene has arrived,” he said, in reference to venues sustaining and music fans willingness to pay for the experience of original live acts.

Another of those costs is that of the audience to recognize the culture they have right at home. Dale presented the option of being proud of what we have in our own towns versus that of looking down on the artistic potential of your home, regarding it as a lesser place in comparison to large cities. Often, a resignation exists among people in smaller areas who don’t see the value and history of their own culture.

“We have our own thing. We have a rich musical root structure,” he said, touching on the history we have in local music. We went through a list of local musical icons, including Billy Nicks, and Jr. Walker and The All Stars, and the unique venues such as the former speak-easy, Martha’s Midway. The list continued, revealing just how many entertainment options we have locally. He emphasized that we have a culture right here at home and that it’s important to realize and recognize it. “No one is going to treat you like you do until you start thinking of yourself like that.”

He theorized that the more audiences support the scene right here in Niles, South Bend, and the surrounding area, the more it will build and become a destination of it’s own. Instead of making long, expensive drives to larger cities, a strong scene could bring those acts here.

“Once you have that, people will come here and play.”

Dale’s outlook is optimistic. He continued on about the joys and privilege of being able to work as a musician and to find an audience interested in his work.

“[Music] is not the solution to everything,” he said.

He described it, however, as something that is still important to local identity. He thinks of music as a way to make people to feel at home, giving them something to look forward to after a day at work. To Dale, it can unite people, creating a community.

“Turn off the TV. There’s something going on. Get out. Be with people. Get to know your neighbors.”

You can get to know Dave Dale and his music with Elephant Rescue by visiting facebook.com/ElephantRescue.

These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.

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Dad Jokes

I often have the pleasure of chatting with local musicians, usually while drinking far too much coffee at Chicory Cafe. A few months back, I was doing just that, this time sitting with Patrick Quigley for my column in Off The Water. I was trying to hide the signs of my over-caffeination when he mentioned the lovely news…he and a few other local musicians were putting together a ska band.

Well, the time has come. Already, Dad Jokes is playing local shows (check out the video below). And, they’ve released a free track on Bandcamp. Check it:

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Grab that track now on Bandcamp and follow all the happenings with Dad Jokes on Facebook.