This is a weekly newsletter where I send out a new “nice sounding” track, some writing, and a picture of something I saw. It’s also one way I let people know what I’m up to otherwise. Thank you for reading.
Good morning -
Waiting until the absolute moment to write to you today. Feeling very caught in that twilight zone kind of cruel irony vibe - there is time, there is so much time now, I’ve been begging for more time, but now that we have it the slowly crushing ennui and dread of our surreal daily lives prevents me from focusing on anything in particular for too long. So there is time to do things, to “get things done,” but the will and ability are dwindling.
I refuse to give in, though - I’m writing now, the sun is shining, I can hear birds chirping lightly behind our house. Stem the tide.
The track this week is long (we have time). I wanted to make something soothing as a public service, but I think instead the undulations of the harmonium over the throb of the lower synth drone actually sounds a bit menacing, it sort of sounds like the eerie daytime emptiness of my neighborhood right now. I wanted to put less “me” in the audio, so I let the synths “play themselves” - I programmed their notes and let the sequencer run, and sometimes they seem to decide things about how the piece will turn out on my behalf. I guess they were feeling a little menacing this week.
I took that picture on a walk on Tuesday, just up the street from my house - felt inspirational.
Last Thursday I bemoaned not having any gigs to talk about and, while live streams are hardly the one-for-one concert substitute we all hoped they might become on day three of this thing, I’m excited for the one I’m doing this Sunday. 4pm NYC time, I’ll be playing songs from my very recent record on the OndaRock Facebook page. OndaRock is a cool Italian music website (that recently reviewed Youth Pastoral) and, as you know, Italy has been hit very hard. You might not know that I have a special connection with that country - I’ve released a couple of records on my good friend’s label based in Torino and toured their pretty extensively (I even published a book about my first tour there). So I’m happy to have the opportunity to connect with my friends and fans over there, plus I think I’ve gotten the streaming setup to a nice place - it’ll sound and look good. Join us ~ here’s the Facebook event if you wanna RSVP / be reminded.
I have been going to the post office a lot in the past two months.
Before I started working from home I would carry my shipments to the post office on 4th ave and 11th in Manhattan, about a ten minute walk from my job - just the right distance away to complete some shipments on my lunch break. It’s really one of the delights of my life - having to go to the post office usually means I’ve just sold a record to someone, either my own or one on the label, and that pavlovian association just makes me relish every step over there, I love the weight of tote bags on my shoulder. Past the astor place cube, past the billiards club, look down the street on 11th to see who’s on the marquee at Webster Hall. It’s a gorgeous two-story, light stone building, stately and elegantly rounded, wrapped around the corner, with columns dotting the exterior (though lately they’ve been doing work on the facade, there are scaffolds). It’s not as grand as, say, Grand Central Station, but the far-less ostentatious post office still carries some of that same dignity, that WPA-era vibe of holy collaboration, the power of the collective. You can feel that this building was put up with actual, human work, and that whoever drafted it wanted it to be beautiful, to lift spirits, to be generously filled with light. Inside the room is high-ceilinged and full of hard services - one’s footsteps echo satisfyingly, a high heel makes a distinct pock mark in the sonic landscape of the interior. The service windows mirror the curve of the entrance - the marble counter wraps around in the same arc as the columns outside. It’s never not busy - until now, I suppose - and the bustle of packages and receipt printers and customer service washed out by the hard stone echo delights me. You feel very strongly the low-level brotherhood of just being someone that has to go to the post office, me and the person that needs a money order and the NYU student who doesn’t know what stamps are, we all have needs, we must engage a federal service, we have to make a connection with someone, somehow.
These are the steps of shipping a record.
First, I usually receive some kind of notification on my phone. This notification is from PayPal, the service that processes payments on Bandcamp. It tells me that I have received some amount of money from someone. This is easily one of my favorite notifications to receive, but it doesn’t tell me what specifically I’ve sold, so my first step is to open my email and check the “bandcamp” tag in my gmail inbox. There, with a slight delay, I’ll find an email from bandcamp telling me what exactly the money was for and sometimes it can be surprising - a few people, for instance, have been buying my old album from 2016 with no apparent knowledge of the fact that I just recently put out a new one. Why, I wonder, shrugging. I like to savor this surprise, roll it around in my tongue a bit. And if someone buys something by someone else on Whatever’s Clever I feel a beautiful wave of relief because, though I’m very happy with where the label has wound up in ~a year of earnest operation, I’m constantly worried that I’m doing the wrong thing, or not doing enough, alienating the artists or the fans. If I sell a copy of someone else’s music that anxiety is assuaged a bit. Then there’s a period of time between being aware of the sale and sitting down to ship it, which can sometimes be a bit too long. But when I do sit down to make the shipments, I love this part, although now there’s the extra step of obsessively washing my hands, putting on gloves, and tying a bandana around my face. I get all my things together - I get the records that I’ll be sending out, I get the many different types of cardboard and bubble envelopes, I get the roll of “fragile” stickers left here by a former roommate, I get my Whatever’s Clever sampler download cards, until recently I get my sparkly happy face stickers but, unfortunately, I ran out. I get the stack of lined, yellow, loose-leaf paper I took from a residency in 2013 - I have no idea what this paper was intended for originally, but it’s the exact perfect size for writing a quick hand-written note (which I do for every single order). I pull up the orders page on bandcamp and begin, reading each entry. I grab the physical media out of its box, I place it in the cardboard it will go inside. I write a handwritten note, with my sharpies in block lettering, trying when I can to make it personalized - recently when sending something to a stranger in Long Beach, California, I mentioned my family’s favorite bar there, for instance, but sometimes all I can really say is thanks, enjoy. With copies of Youth Pastoral I’ve been inclined to write “PLAY IT LOUD!” which I think is good advice. I place the note, plus an assortment of download cards, within the cardboard and tape it all up. I write the name and address on the front, I write my return address in the upper corner, and I tape it up some more. We’ve been doing a lot of sales lately - particularly last Friday - so I repeat this many times (I’m still really far away from getting everything out, I apologize). The orders stack up. I can quasi-comfortably carry ~20 LPs to the post office down the street, which is far less grand than my preferred location in Manhattan but has a charm of its own (complete side note - recently found out that my roommate knows one of the postal workers from many years ago when they worked together at a bakery in a completely different neighborhood, what a small world). I carry either a tote bag or one of those big blue ikea bags full of boxes and bubble mailers and patiently wait in line - at this time the patrons of the Bushwick post office are observing good social distancing and standing far apart in line. This office has that bullet-proof glass situation where, instead of handing the packages directly to the worker at the counter, you have to do that annoying dance of lifting the lucite door and sliding everything into the protective cube with the scale. Sometimes the people at the counter are happy to see me - I know what I need, I know how to speed the process along, I’m friendly and excited to be there - other times they’re annoyed because I always have a stack of packages. But we chat a bit, they generate the postage for everything, I pay with my debit card and the receipt goes to my email. From here I have to speculate what happens next. The boxes are put into a big roller bin, cloth on the sides, that at some point is wheeled into some kind of sorting area. The barcodes printed out with the postage are scanned by someone, then sorted, scanned, then sorted, again and again, moving from mail facility to mail facility and growing increasingly more specific. At a certain time a few days later, the package arrives at its local mail pickup spot to be put within the daily load of a particular mail carrier. That mail carrier, carrying the box that I taped up containing the manufactured media product that I or my label mates made featuring recordings of air wiggling in a room in some other time and place, then goes along their route, either on foot or in a little white truck (depending on where you live). When the postal carrier gets to the domicile of the person who has ordered the media, they drop the box or the bubble mailer along with all the assorted stuff - the bills, the spam, the wedding invitations. The person who ordered the object is either home and receives the package directly or gets it sometime later, although lately the first one is way more likely to be true. I hope, at least, that they feel a spark of excitement, they remember that little flash of boldness one feels when you actually commit to buying something and you do the damn thing, they remember oh yes, a week or so ago I purchased this object and now, through the magic-appearing summation of labor and care taken by the heroic leviathan that is the USPS, the object is in my hands. This person slices open the package - probably using a key on their key ring or possibly a paring knife - and is greeted with the contents that I placed there some days previous - the extra cardboard, the handwritten note, the download codes, the media object itself. If they’re anything like me they immediately need to play this media on the nearest media system. They drop the needle or hit play and the sound of air wiggling in a room emerges, wiggling the air of a different room at a different time. A beautiful moment of connection, really, a wonderful demonstration of commerce. The record goes on a shelf, or maybe it rests prominently as a conversation object and that plastic - whether cassette, vinyl, or CD - will probably outlive us all.
Are you feeling cooped up? Are you yet past the frustration of not being able to access your regular joy and instead finding new joy? Are you freakin a bit? Are you secretly enjoying the amount of relaxation you’ve been able to do? Do you have any particular tips for me? Do you want to video chat sometime?
Thanks for reading - - and giving me something to work on this week.