I recently had the pleasure of catching your performance at the Honfest in Hampden, MD. Great show! Tell us a little about Hampden/ the Honfest/ the show.
Honfest is a celebration of the underdog, knowingly un-cool, ‘laugh-to-keep-from-crying’ attitude of working-class Baltimore, and it’s a fun festival to play. People really seemed to like the new songs.
My 15 year-old neighbor who practices heavy metal on his front porch said “Man, I came and watched you for a whole hour and a half!” The highlight though, was the gentleman who liked the music so much that he put a Caleb Stine sticker on his cane. To me, that’s a solid endorsement. Pretty cool.
You just recorded a new album. Tell us about it. Where was it recorded?
Here in Baltimore with my good friend Nick Sjostrom. We used the recording studio that he works at during the day, and basically recorded after-hours over the last year. The title of the record is ‘Eyes So Strong and Clean’ which means a lot of things to me, It’s about attempting to stare honestly at the world.
That was the philosophy behind the recording. We tried a lot of new techniques, and I feel like I pushed it as hard as I could. This is, you know, the best I got right now. For better or worse.
Your songwriting process?
I have about 5 different processes I think! It’s always changing, and over the years I’ve learned some different techniques to jumpstart those processes. It’s key to stay open to the songs, so that when they come, you’re ready.
This is the main skill of songwriting: learning to recognize the seed of a song. It’ll come to you as a fragment of melody or rhythm, or a string of words, or a feeling. . . And usually you have to strike when you’ve got that first catalyst. You don’t have to finish it right then, but you’ve got to capture the essence, or it’ll be lost.
I think everyone has the potential to nurture and grow songs, it’s just that most people have never considered it, or learned to notice the seeds.
What are you reading?
Well, yesterday I finished ‘This Is Your Brain on Music’, a Science/Music book that had some unique insights. I’ve been into the English Romantic poets again lately; Wordsworth and Coleridge are on the bed stand right now. Don Quixote is also sitting there. . . I keep coming back to that one. I seem to be rereading a lot of my favorites right now. . . The Dharma Bums. Oh, and I’m reading a collection of Raymond Carver short stories called ‘Where I’m Calling From’ that I’d recommend for it’s sheer heartbreaking insights into everyday life.
I’ve got my old standbys: The Seventh Seal, 12 Monkeys, Rushmore. . . I’ve thought a lot about There Will Be Blood since I saw it.
Playlist of a few favorite songs:
Here’s some recent tracks by friends that I really like:
‘Hell on Earth’ by Deer Tick
‘Sight, Flight’ by Wye Oak
‘Idaho’ by Andy Friedman & The Other Failures
‘Keep Good Time’ by Tommy Tucker
What are some of your interests?
Cookies. Chess. Drawing. Road-trips. Friends. My nieces.
Historical figure you’d like to have a drink with, given the chance?
I’d like to down some whiskey with Walt Whitman. Or chug Budweiser with Thomas Jefferson. Or sip merlot with Billy the Kid. Or go shot for shot with Mother Teresa. Or swallow hemlock with Socrates. . .
Favorite comic strips/ comic books/ graphic novels?
I’ve always been fascinated by Chris Ware’s work. And I read the recent biography about Charles Schultz, which has given me a Peanuts higher-awareness.
Favorite visual artists?
Wow. . . van Gogh, Norman Rockwell, Turner, Thomas Cole, Chuck Close, Rothko, Annie Liebowitz . . . there’s a few off the top of the head. Also, I’m really lucky to have a ton of super talented friends like Katherine Fahey, Michael Patrick O’Leary, Christine Sajecki, Magnolia Laurie, and Scott Denison whose work I get to watch evolve up close.
If you were to build a house out of unorthodox materials, what type of house would you build?
I’d build it out of bagels.
Last concert/performance attended? How was it?
I saw Those Darlin’s open up for Elvis Perkins last week, and they were both engaged and alive. I appreciate performances where the musicians are present and playing to the people that are actually there, not some imaginary gig at Madison Square Gardens that they wish they were at. And Elvis was great. After the first song he asked the soundman politely for more vocals in the monitor, and he remembered his name! That won me over right away. Plus his band was great. Really good arrangements, and they were listening to each other, playing off of what just happened.
What are some of your goals and/ or plans?
Creatively, I really want to focus on writing. I want to be a better musician. There’s just so much to learn and work on. In general, I want to live less selfishly and be more open to the world.
Have you held any jobs/ careers that you’d like to discuss?
I don’t know about discussing them, but I’ve learned a lot from everything I’ve done. From working at a Special Ed school to drawing story-boards for movies. It’s been a rich work-life. I will say, I was the ideal employee at McDonalds when I was 16. I’d run the drive through and say things like “Thank you for flying Ronald McDonald Airways. As you pull up to the first window remember to return your trays to the upright and locked position. . . “