Ethan Woods sent me this letter about living in the unique, darker corners of New York City. It’s off of his upcoming Donkey Donkey LP which they are self-releasing on May 27th of 2016.
I hope all is good with you this Wednesday. It’s a sunny cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit in Brooklyn, NY right now, and things are especially calm in my neighborhood, Red Hook. From where I am writing this, I can see a giant lot that hosts at least 100 props (mostly police) cars that are rented out to movie production companies by Picture Car East Inc. I walk by their repair shop three times a day when I walk my dog. Some of them are from the Batman movies, and say GPD on them for Gotham Police Department.
I first moved to Red Hook, Brooklyn in the summer of 2012 before the east coast was hit by hurricane Sandy. Before that, I was living in Anchorage, AK with my parents writing music for the art collective AK Light Brigade. I moved to New York City because a man named Trevor Wilson asked me to join his band Trevor Wilson and Vocal Ensemble for a tour of the east coast. I first met Trevor when I was in college. He was a few years older than me, and also a musician. I saw him perform a show once, and it absolutely blew me away, leaving me with a slightly unhealthily obsession with his music. So when he asked me to join his band I jumped on the opportunity.
While we prepared for tour, Trevor offered me the couch at his place, which was a Toyota Dolphin RV that he parked by a parking lot that hosted off-duty tour buses in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Not having many other prospects and interested in accepting the challenge of living off of motorhome couch, I accepted his offer.
This time in the RV was perhaps one of the strangest times in either of our lives. Trevor and I are close friends now, but at the time, we had hardly talked to each other before save for a few e-mails exchanges. The first night that I stayed with him, Trevor and I hardly said anything to each other. At one point, Trevor was sawing driftwood to build a shelf, and quoted a line from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The reference completely sailed over my head, so I awkwardly laughed and stared at him. He went back to sawing wood and I silently watched.
For showers, I would go to the local coffee shop, order a granola parfait, and then leave it at the counter while I quickly used the bathroom to lather up my hair with travel shampoo and splash water in my face. This coffee shop is where I would meet my to-be partner of the last 3 years, and also the first place of employment in NYC. Trevor and I would spend our free days playing card games or tossing a frisbee back and forth outside of the RV. Often, Trevor would stay at his girlfriend’s house, leaving me alone in the RV. Usually, this was a welcome occurrence, as it was nice to have a sense of personal space in what was otherwise crammed living conditions. On rainy nights though, it was terrible to be alone. The RV had many many leaks, as it was constructed primarily out of particleboard. In order to prevent the leaks, you had to climb on the roof and tie a tarp to each of the for corners of the main body of the vehicle, which was nearly impossible if it was windy at all. I can only imagine what it was like for Trevor, who had been living alone in the RV for four months before I came along.
All in all, Trevor and I lived in the Toyota Dolphin together for a cumulative two months, including the tour we went on together as Trevor Wilson and Vocal Ensemble. It was during this tour that we found ourselves cultivating a real friendship and collaboration–one that continues to this day in our projects Anawan and Rokenri. On the surface, that time in our lives can seem a bit like a trial by fire, but honestly it was one of the best times of my life, and one of those few magic periods where the whole world is tinged with the feeling of unfamiliarity.
Anyway, hope that story is sort of interesting! Maybe offers a more personal context for where this track I’m sending along is coming from.
I’ve been following you guys ever since you put up my friend Ben Seretan’s song My One True Love, and I really love the vibe you put out there. The letters you get are really fun to read. I especially liked the one you recently put out by Pema, who wrote about The Last Airbender, a show that I’m also a big fan of.
Thanks for everything you do Mark! Hope all is good with you, sincerely,
I’m writing you from a coffee shop in Södermalm Stockholm. I’m not swedish, I’m American. Which is still weird to say. You posted a HUNGR release of mine in 2013, and it was quite pleasant to see all the notes it had. I sent you Volume II, but Volume I was released the year before and it spread like wildfire on blogs overnight. I feel like I chased that result with my next releases. In fact I know I did. And each one pattered away with fewer and fewer responses. Volume III, which I know was a better collection of songs (ones that I still listen to constantly) got absolutely zero response. On my small Midwest tours with my drummer we started playing with terrible and more terrible bands, and I started to think “ Am I this bad? Could I be delusional enough to not notice that I’m in the same category as frat kids covering late 90’s rock radio hits? I was chasing momentum. A momentum that started with me releasing a project with the intent of keeping it "secret.” And when it started I went after it and completely lost it’s trail.
Disillusioned, and now fairly well spent after sinking money into tours, I went back to LA with a tax return and was looking for a drastic change. I couch surfed with friends I had previously shared too many apartments with to count. I ended up at a motivational of some sort event where I saw Colin Powell speak. I expected him to be my least favorite, but he blew me away. I ran across his autobiography in a thrift store in Florida before I went back to LA, and again, he blew me away. I started thinking what my life would of been like if I had joined the military after high school, I was the captain of the hockey team and I would of done well athletically, I would of spent the next years of my life in Iraq since it was a year after 9/11 and we were waging war on what felt like the world. I would of never evolved in any sort of Arts, would of never found myself in that weird space after high school when everyone stops playing in bands and you’re still trying to put people together to play. I would of went down a path of complete opposites in every way.
A year later in LA and I’m on the same couch, I have a residency at a cheezy tourist bar where I argue and fight for the $20-40 they intended to pay me, I did cool things and dated beautiful women but bought ramen and chocolate with change. I walked into the recruiting station on Hollywood boulevard across from the Chinese Theater, they put me in a hotel with an all you can eat buffet, then sent me back to Ohio to say good bye and I was at Fort Benning a month later.
Fast forward three years and it’s hard to imagine it even happened. To fast forward that time is comical since it was the longest years of my life hands down. I stepped in a hole running with my rucksack through the woods in the middle of the night, and ripped the cartilage off the bone in my hip. I spent a year waiting to be released. The friends I made were from me exclaiming out loud to a dead silent room “I made the biggest mistake of my life,” many agreed, others had black flag tattoos, came from Puerto Rico, were rich kids, poor kids, older than me, much younger than me, scary lack of moral empathy, and some with a shocking amount of sensitivity. None were artists. I was the only one covering my laundry back with the characters I’ve been drawing my whole life.
During this time I never stopped sending HUNGR out. I signed a licensing contract with Omnian Music Group/Captured Tracks and had email strings for Acura, a razor company in Europe, and a strip club scene in a feature film. No bites but I’m optimistic. They request the weirdest changes. I think HUNGR belongs in film. I have 20 new electronic HUNGR-esk songs I’m releasing with a book of drawings, stories and photos soon.
On my way through Ohio before I followed my intended path to Europe, I recorded these three songs. My drummer has a practice space in an old screw factory near downtown Cleveland, and within hours we had songs to record. We recorded at Bad Racket where I always go and then I left for Spain. I had it mastered and uploaded it while here in Stockholm. I’m going to press it to vinyl and release it under my own label and publishing along with my book. Over the years I’ve spent so much mental capacity trying to write music I thought was “original,” so with this project I let that all go. I know there is nothing new here, the chord progression in no way shape of form can be original since everything has surely been used. I just went for it and I love it.
Here is Blanket Party, a photo of me the day I left NC on my way back to Ohio and what feels like an indescribable freedom, and some of my doodles I’ll have in my book.
Philly’s Jonathan Coyle goes deep with love and marriage. With this tune he tells me, “I thought it would be really fresh (and perhaps boldly uncool) to say, ‘hey, I’m talking about my wife here.’ Preferably it could be said in a deep and proudly unfiltered South Philly accent, even though I don’t have one.”
I get all sorts of letters here at YVYNYL, but this one is a bit more on the unusual side. I’m almost certain that he wrote to me a boozed fueled 2am rant and hit send before passing his songs. In any case, they’ve got me hooked, despite not understanding, I fucking love the GbV rawness.
There will be nothing humble about the not-half-joking, Finance 371 (Money and Capital Markets) - inspired brag/rant I’m about to launch, so, at the very least, I hope its entertaining (if not, I’ll always have the pleasant and warm audience of my shit band members).
Regardless of what primary noise-maker and feedback patron Vivek Datla may say, ¾ of schilling cannot play their instruments. The quarter outlier, Scoot Medmer Riegel, (aka El Blozool and one half of the Austin band Super Thief) is relegated to drum duty. It’s the merciful penance he deserves for his high school alt-country days. His burgeoning creativity is harmful, yet inspiring, to the band’s self-reflexive, authentic, and self-reflexive aesthetic.
Blake (pronounced Bull-Och-Ayeeeeeee) Gentry is the lusciously-blonde Nico to our big-nosed Velvets. He’s there solely for presentation and candid Polaroid pics. Unlike Sid Vicious, he doesn’t even get to carry a real bass (A Rock Band controller is the only axe we allow). Not that he lets this inconsequential fact stop him from playing the shit outta his 120 watt Roland. Big G’s the heart and soul of our first and last EP.
I hit my guitar hard and try to rip off Sonic Youth et al. but my amp doesn’t work, and the PEDs usually wear off by the second song, so the dumb audience usually doesn’t catch the unapologetic thievery. After our first show some innocent fool came up to us and said that we sound like Guy Ritchie and Polvo, if either wasn’t a figment of his imagination. Turned out he was actually just Madonna Louise Ciccone trying to get signed to the esteemed and local Merderhaus Records. Jokes on her. We folded the label after our neighbors complained of the toxic amounts of reverb and Mac DeMarco-themed orgies.
But enough about the music, let’s talk about the scene. As the now-removed Jefferson Davis statue (we know you’re in a better place JD) used to say while he peered down the tops of UT’s heterogenous sorority population, “the song is king.” And these songs are better than most. There are some solid bands in Austin (Leche and half of Borzoi to name a few), but schilling is by far the seemliest. If you disagree, I have a friend who is strongly considering adopting a second cat who will crush you.
Impressed with this one-take music video for this Los Angeles-based artist’s work. She tells me that this song “is about choosing to take a terrifying leap into the unknown; ripping the metaphorical rug out from under yourself. For me, this brought on feelings of both heart-broken vulnerability and defiant self-empowerment, and I hoped to express this dichotomy through the choreography in the video. The idea of ‘coming undone’ also implies a mental unraveling, but sometimes it is good and necessary to let yourself unravel in order to find out who you really are.
“Shooting Live Undone was the culmination of a life long dream of mine - to call upon my dance background and make a fully choreographed, immersive concept video a la Kate Bush in her prime. It was directed by Matt Sobel, writer and director of the feature film ‘Take Me to the River,’ which premiered to wide critical acclaim at Sundance last year. Matt, Kaiman Walker (the projectionist), and I came up with and somehow managed to pull off our ambitious concept - one continuous take shot with a steadicam and background projections triggered in real time. It was beautifully shot by Thomas Scott Stanton, who has shot videos for Beck and Jenny Lewis. We built screens in the center of the room and Kaiman wrote a program to trigger the projections. I choreographed it myself, hoping to convey the tension expressed in the song; both the loss and the self-actualization brought on by a huge life change.“
Sonic exploration is something that all artists strive for. Alexandra Cohen just sent me this letter sharing a bit of how she stepped out of her comfort zone to writing music with a tinge of fantasy.
Let me tell you about Pema. I’ve been fronting 4 piece guitar rock band for a couple of years now (we’re called Alex Napping), and we hit a big lull at the beginning of 2015 (it was a few months after we had put out our debut album) and then I went through a breakup.
I panicked at how dependent I had become on my band & my partner for feelings of validation, so I started dedicating most of my free time to learning how to produce music on my own. At first, I was collaborating with folks. One off songs, much like one night stands. But with the intention of constantly creating while also getting to absorb new people’s workflows & skill sets. But my need for self-sufficiency grew with my knowledge, so I started writing “My Intentions Are Good” and decided I would see that track through from start to finish myself.
Okay, I lied. Someone helped me track vocals and my friend Roy played trumpet. But in essence, it’s the first track I’ve “produced” and “arranged” and “mixed” from the very seat & computer that I’m writing you this e-mail from. I had already decided a few months prior to starting “My Intentions Are Good” that all of these collaboration tracks were going to come together to be Doublethink – a sonically inconsistent album about the inconsistencies of human nature. But when I finished “My Intentions Are Good,” I realized I was also changed. It was the first time that I recognized myself as a producer in my own right and not just the guitarist/vocalist/frontwoman of Alex Napping. And with that new role, I needed a new name.
A lot of folks seem to think I named this project after Pema Chodron, which is maybe true to some extent since I think the character that I did name this project after was maybe named after Pema Chodron. But I was a big fan of Legend of Korra (the Avatar the Last Airbender spinoff), and there was a female character in the cartoon named Pema. (Nerd Alert Ahead) A non-bender married to an airbender, she was tasked with re-populating the air bending lineage by literally birthing a new generation of air benders! She is a strong woman in many ways that I am not (I am also a strong woman, I like to think, but definitely in different ways!) But this project, for me, was ultimately about rebirth.
I wanted to redefine my sense of self-worth to come from an internal place and learning to produce music myself was/is/continues to be an important part of that journey.
“My Intentions Are Good” premiered this morning. The rest of Doublethink will be out June 3rd. I hope that you like it and will write some kind words about it!
My Philly-gone-NYC dear friend just released some new work that starts off with a story that begins: “during prohibition, an illicit Ginger extract drink was made and sold as a tonic or medicine, but it ended up actually just poisoning thousands of people b/c of chemicals added to mask it’s alcoholic nature. The first verse is about the loss of the use of your legs, the second about impotency, which was also a rumored side effect, the third written from the perspective of the people that manufactured it, who were prosecuted, but just barely.
“Jake Leg has a history in the blues tradition, but it’s largely been forgotten. Aside from the obvious physical effects that were the effect of drinking it, the paralysis also essentially outed people as illicit drinkers during prohibition. They were therefore shunned twice over. That is the part of the story of Jake Leg that appealed to me as something to write about - how the simple + human choice to get lost for a few hours ends up having these life changing consequences that are then ignored by most people. That and how the people responsible essentially got away with it.”
Philly’s Andy Molholt needed to vent. The name of the song, the music wrapped inside it, the life/moment cadence of the story that drove him, might not have been enough to heal him. I’m glad he sent me a letter to help understand what powered his art.
Have you ever watched someone you really care about let themselves be manipulated? Have you ever let yourself be manipulated?
When I was in my early twenties & first moved into Philadelphia, I lived in a small, dirty house with a few really good friends in Fishtown. It was a raucous era, a time of self-discovery, soft drug use, and hours spent making video feedback with an old shitty VHS camcorder. But one of the darker sides of these relatively pastoral salad days was the terrible & tragic relationship in which one roommate found themselves entangled.
It was a constant source of stress around the house, especially for us not-so-casual bystanders. This fucking asshole would pull the worst shit, knowing that time & time again they’d be welcomed back with open arms by my kind, caring roommate. We watched helplessly as they’d borrow my friend’s car without permission, deplete it entirely of gasoline, park in a dicey spot & acquire numerous tickets without remorse. They’d borrow money, have their groceries paid for, and never once pay any of it back. As with most villains, this person was also a tragic figure unto themselves. An obvious pathological liar, they would make ridiculous claims such as going to jail for illegally selling video games in NYC (which was somehow a bragging point?), only for us to find out later that they were in fact just straight up dealing cocaine.
Obviously, we neither cared nor even wanted to know about them going to jail in the first place. But we were constantly barraged with a myriad of bullshit stories, from a fucked up shell of a human, seeking our affection & acceptance. That of course was absolutely never going to happen, because all the while their beam of manipulation & deceit focused ever more directly on my unsuspecting roommate. I remember spending hours talking through situations, pleading with them to tell this person to fuck off, professing with ever-growing assurance that they would never, ever change, and would mercilessly keep taking advantage of the situation until some cataclysm finally put an end to it. And the thing is, it really was this extreme. I exaggerate not. I forget the exact details now, but finally this entire situation grew to a head & the villainous monstrosity we had nicknamed “Jawbreaker” (so we could refer to them covertly without detection) fucked off for good & went to another city to I’m sure infect & ruin other unsuspecting lives with the vituperation of a dung beetle in a pile of steaming shit.
It was to my surprise then, years later, when I found myself in a less extreme but similarly toxic relationship. No matter how often & accurately my friends would tell me that my situation was hopeless & that I should tell my “partner” to fuck off and move on, I was sure, in my heart of hearts, that this person was right for me & that if I just held on for a little bit longer, things would start to improve and the ship would weather the storm all for the better. Our relationship would in fact be stronger after enduring such toxicity. And the crazy thing is, that over the extra 18 months that we fruitlessly tried to save our relationship, there were in fact fleeting signs of hope. As I’m sure was true with my aforementioned roommate’s situation, we both really wanted to make it work. We both believed that the initial attraction we had felt was enough to carry through and persevere.
I guess the reason why I’m relating my own experience, is because it took something like this happening to me personally for me to truly understand how blinding it can really be to stand in the eye of the hurricane & imagine that there is in fact no storm happening at all. Even when you know, with certainty, that you are basically totally miserable, it can be easy to convince yourself that not only is nothing wrong, but that the sunny horizon you so desperately seek is just around the corner. If you just make just the right moves, dance the right dance, everything will change & you can get back to that initial island of happiness that you once inhabited.
Here’s the scary thing. People stay in relationships like this sometimes not only for years, but for entire lifetimes. How many sad, tragic, toxic marriages have there been over the course of human existence? People stay together for so many different reasons. Stay together for the kids? Fuck THAT. Divorce for the kids, dammit! My parents got divorced when I was two years old, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that fact. If they had stayed together, my entire life would be different, in probably a really bad way.
So I guess what I’m trying to reiterate here is - life is seriously way too short & precious to waste your time with people that make you feel like shit. It doesn’t matter how good it used to be or whatever. It doesn’t matter that you find the other person alarmingly attractive, or that they make you feel special, or whatever the fuck you’ve convinced yourself. If you are in a bad situation - CHANGE it. Only you can change it. No one else. But seriously, life can be better, and even though you might find yourself in a very dark place immediately after ripping this toxic soul out of your sphere, like with all wounds, it WILL heal over time.
All of this, is what I wrote my most recent single “Jawbreaker” about. It’s a song for everyone who feels helpless. Do yourself a favor, and change your situation.
Snipping out pieces of easy-breezy pop makes Marion Belle’s project more calculated than it feels. As an example, this track is breathless in its exuberance for 1985. The character he’s created here makes me smile simply for its audacity.
The Philly band, formally from the Carolinas, tells me “most of the music was written during this past winter, and was influenced by the Neil Young record ‘Harvest Moon,’ Bob Dylan ‘Self Portrait’ and the Crosby, Stills, and Nash record ‘CSN.’” Hard to go wrong with that combination! “There was a conscious attempt to not over think the music, and try to firmly base it on acoustic guitars, (some with effects) - Fender Rhodes, bass, drums, and subtle harmonies.”
Hugh Vu, like his name, likes things simple. His song titles are easy. The melody, however, is a bit more complex. Here’s a note he sent to me with some twisted new songs with simple titles.
My name is Hugh Vu, and I wanted to submit/ hopefully premier my newest release “may i take ur order?” by Loafer via Yvynyl. Merdurhaus Records will be releasing a cassette of it on April 1st, and fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not a joke. You posted a letter from the ever entertaining William Austin Clay from Denton, TX. I’m just a few hours south of Denton in Austin, but we sure do love those dudes’ music. Anyways, I’ve been following Yvynyl since, and so here I am today.
I moved to Austin from Mississippi to go to school at UT Austin, and I graduated back in 2014. While I was at UT, my friends and I lived in this dilapidated yellow house with crooked columns. We later discovered a police report online that laid out the story of how a UT professor was murdered in the house by her deranged student who split her head open looking for microchips he believed to be planted by the government.
Hence, the name Merdurhaus came to be. A few friends’ bands and a tape duplicator later, Merdurhaus Records was born, and is still run by my old roommate Phil Hutchinson even though the house was demolished after we moved out. Primarily, I play drums, and I still play drums in a few of my friends’ projects: Hola Beach, Dryspell, and Planet Manhood. But while I was at Merdurhaus, I also found the courage to put on my big boy pants and start writing/ releasing my own songs.
From a technical standpoint, I don’t really know what I’m doing when I’m recording, so luckily my friend Will (whose project is Hola Beach, and who mixed and mastered my stuff) taught me how to use garageband… sort of. But that same blindness could be said of my musical content. The lyrics are pretty absurd, but amusing to me. The song “Litter” is LITTERally about my cat’s stinky poops. “Party” is about how i got drunk and peed my pants while also peeing all over my friend Sam when Loafer went to New Orleans with our good friends Hovvdy. “Be Good” is about how my ex-coworkers would always go out to eat lunch in a big group, but would never invite me, so I typically ended up getting a Philly Cheesesteak and eating it by myself at the nearby mall. I was essentially a telemarketer at that job so i hated being there anyway, but goddamn, i sure do love a nasty ass cheesesteak.
By the time all the songs were done, I didn’t have a name for the release, and Will had for some reason said “may i take ur order?” I don’t put a lot of emphasis on titles or anything. So I just decided on that, but i tried to internalize some trivial reason as to why it fit. I left that telemarketing job back in October, and spent quite a bit of time unemployed, lying to my mom about how i was looking for work, and playing drums in other people’s projects. But it was easy to feel like everyone’s “b***ch” for lack of a better word, taking everyone else’s order but my own.
In any case, if you’ve even made it this far in the letter, I appreciate your time. If not, I’d like to extend to you a big “fuck you” haha just kidding of course.
I’ve been collecting new tracks for this project so that I can share them with you together in one bundle. I’m thrilled that this project is attracting wildly talented new and innovative artists from all over the globe. On this short mix, you’ll hear diverse elements: two songs from Japan (though one of them pretends to be Russian for shits and giggles), a poetic song from Australia, another from New Zealand (the one track here not a premiere, I just love it so much I can’t help but plug it again), yet another from England, and of course a smattering of new ideas from far corners in the United States. I love that part of doing the premiere mixtapes. Have a listen!
Photo by Jeffery Silverstein from Singles Club, used by permission.
Time passes. Or it doesn’t. Maybe it’s a trip that we all get fooled about experiencing together. In that vein, I decided to put together a group of songs for you, dear readers, that feel the essence of my elemental beings of music here in the late summer days of 2015.
Artwork by Colin Holloway, used with permission.
Time tangles some mighty webs, don’t it? You blink yr eye and all of a sudden you’re in a completely new world, new skin, new haircut, new seersucker suit. This weird journey we’re on, the surrealism of it all keeps yr mouth agape and full of wonder. And this, friends, is just a small soundtrack.
Tracklist + DL = http://bit.ly/catscradlemix
Don't give in to the A/C - roll those windows down! Crank up that stereo. Embrace it. Maybe these are a set of summer tunes for yr vacation roadtrips, or perhaps just yr backyard BBQs. Slow down and feel 'em.
Original artwork by o_lie. Used with permission.
Check out more yvynyl mixtapes here: http://bit.ly/yvynylmixtapes