Unoriginal thoughts, lights in the dark and The Kid
I had a conversation this weekend with a friend who, after sharing some stuff that was on his mind, decided to undercut himself.
"These are not original thoughts," he said.
"Yeah, but you’re allowed to have unoriginal thoughts sometimes," I replied.
In that spirit:
I’m going to become a father in August. I am very excited about this, and I am very scared about this, and I am both of these things at the same time, almost all the time.
It is my understanding that this is normal. Nothing about this feels normal.
There’s all this stuff I want for The Kid. (We don’t know yet whether the kid will be a boy or a girl, so for now, let’s just stick with The Kid.) Mostly, obviously, and above all else, there’s a clean bill of health and a generally happy life in which we get to be amazing pals. But there are also a bunch of smaller component parts that I think would be neat.
I’d like it if the genetic lottery gifts The Kid my wife’s Italian/Cuban tendency toward tanning rather than my Irish-as-hell, always-in-danger ghostflesh. I want The Kid to have the kind of great big laugh that I’ve heard at Devine family gatherings my entire life, the hunger to use it as often as possible and the innate itch to want to make other people use theirs, too.
When problems arise, I hope The Kid’s able to address them slowly, break them down step-by-step and figure them out, the way my father-in-law and brother-in-law, a pair of genius engineers, do every day. I want The Kid to love freely, the way my mom does, and fiercely, the way my sister does, and completely, the way my biggest brother does. And if The Kid can sing like Uncle Kevin does or whistle like my father used to, well, that’d be rad, too.
I want The Kid to know kindness and empathy, to feel their value and want to extend them to others. I want The Kid to tell people they’re appreciated, to show them they matter, and approach life with an attitude of wanting to make things at least a little bit better. I want The Kid to walk confidently in the world — not cockily, not like a child of privilege, but like someone who believes amazing things are possible and that your actions can help make them happen. I want The Kid to feel like it belongs. Like it has a place and a purpose.
If it’s a girl, I hope she gets my wife’s curly hair. If it’s a boy, I hope he can someday grow my killer beard.
These are some of the things I want.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I have been reminded that I should want The Kid to have my wife’s dance moves, which include actions like “pretending to pick up your pants while marching” and “condor-wing flapping.” This was an egregious omission. I regret the error.)
Along with them, though, come things I don’t want. This includes Big Picture Stuff like “having to grow up in a world perhaps irrevocably wrecked by climate change” and “having to grow up in a social/political/cultural environment in which the imperative to constantly grow too often trumps conscience and decency.” Considering I’m having a hard enough time getting my arms around “how does one buy a crib” at this point, though, let’s think smaller.
I don’t want The Kid to have my wife’s allergies. She has to sneeze almost all the time, and while it hasn’t impeded her full-hearted love of all manner of animals, it really seems to bug her, and it makes her feel bad sometimes. Get out of here, allergies.
This concludes the list of wife-related stuff I don’t want for The Kid, because I love just about every non-dander-and-Zyrtec-related thing the mother of my child has going on. (Also: “the mother of my child” is a real thing in my life now. Holy shit.) What’s got me shook, though, is the prospect of my worst stuff making it through quality control and into the final mix.
Like, I sweat a lot sometimes; hence, "The Garbage Champion." Is the mere fact of me being a sweaty dude going to doom The Kid to a life of defending my title? That would suck. I don’t want that.
On the topic of sweat: I’ve also got a bit of an anxiety thing. It’s been a while since my last full-on panic attack, and it’s never been a massive issue requiring regular treatment, for which I’m grateful. But that stuff’s there, simmering over low heat on back burners in my brain and chest, an ever-present threat to boil over when shit gets too hectic. I don’t want this for The Kid.
There’s the family history of stuff like high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and heart failure, and the underlying appetites, anger and stubbornness that helped them metastasize into “the family history.” There are the addiction issues that thankfully haven’t been mine (well, beyond cigarettes) but that have dug deep into several people I love over the years, and that could be sitting there like jagged poison icebergs in an otherwise calm bloodstream, just waiting to sink The Kid’s ship.
There’s the confidence deficit that keeps me from feeling like the work’s ever good enough to feel proud enough, or comfortable enough, or safe enough in my spot, because I’m not doing as much or as well as That Guy or That Guy or That Guy. With that, there’s the feeling that I should almost always be working, because if I’m not, I’m exposed and vulnerable. I don’t want this for The Kid.
There’s my inability, since age 15, to get past the thought that bread and wine don’t actually become flesh and blood, even if Father gets all the words right and does the trick just the way it says in the directions that came with the magic kit. It’s something that now leaves me looking at what seems like an empty sky, feeling sort of siloed and set adrift, and just kind of hoping for the best with all this stuff. I don’t want this for The Kid — I want The Kid to feel safe and secure, like there’s a reason to believe it’ll all work out one way or another in the grand scheme — but I don’t think I want a lot of the other stuff that has historically come along with buying the magic trick for The Kid, either.
I’m not sure where that leaves me; that, I suspect, will be kind of a big one to figure out over a long period of time. They probably all will. That might be what’s scaring me most right now.
I had a conversation this weekend with a (different) friend who, while discussing his experience of becoming a father, made me realize you can make decisions even when everything seems beyond your control.
He told me about how, after the delivery, the hospital room was dark, and his child was with his wife. There was no coaching for him to do, no preparing or buying. He was just standing there, a man staring in the dark at the two most important people in his life, and wondering what he could do, what he could be.
"So I thought, ‘I’m a candle,’" he said.
In the dark, he could radiate. He could be a source of light and warmth for these two people for whom he could physically do nothing and for whom he wanted to do everything. And he could always be that, even later, even when there were tangible things he could do; this thing, this role, would always be necessary and would never go away.
He could have a place and a purpose. For the rest of his life, he could radiate.
I’m going to learn a lot over the next five-plus months — about myself and my wife, about my family and friends, about the sleep habits of infants and how much baby stuff costs, and about a million other things. I’m willing to bet that the more I learn, the more I’m going to think about the things I want and don’t want for The Kid. This process, I’m sure, will extend far beyond birth; after all, as my mom recently told me, "parenthood is a life sentence." (Thanks, Mom.)
That’s daunting, and it’s scary, and it’s overwhelming, and it’s crazy. For the moment, though, I’m trying not to let it be. I’m trying to just focus on figuring out how to be a candle — not just for The Kid, but for my wife and, hopefully, for myself. I know it’s not an original thought, but I’m going to keep thinking it, because if it can make my dark maybes seem more manageable, help me work through all the things I’m scared I’ll get wrong, and put me on the path to becoming the kind of father The Kid deserves, then, well, maybe it’s OK to have unoriginal thoughts sometimes.
Kevin Devine, as you’ll read below, isn’t opposed to calling his career “peculiar.” We at PropertyOfZack would agree with that notion, and that’s exactly why we wanted to run this exhaustive Inside piece on Kevin — the fact that his career goes against the grain of most bands or artists in our community is what has driven his growth and success in a career that spans over 15 years.
Four years ago next month, Zack Zarrillo and Emily Coch sat down with Kevin to do an interview that truly gave vision and understanding to what PropertyOfZack could become, and I (Zack) firmly believe POZ as a whole would not have accomplished nearly as much today if it were not for that telling day.
Part of this Inside series with Kevin was to attempt to pay him back (in thousands of words) for how important he is to us and those he has touched, but to also forever have Kevin’s history live within the internet for you to find. The final Inside piece features three individuals: Mike Fadem of The Goddamn Band, Kevin Devine himself, and Carey Brandenburg of, well, she’s been involved almost since day one.
Thank you for staying with us for this ongoing piece, and we hope you’ll enjoy the final round!
Joining The Goddamn Band was a dream come true. I had loved Kevin’s music for years, and above all, he was one of my favorite people to see perform. So getting to share that with him and join him on stage was truly awesome. We had already played a bit together when The Jealous Girlfriends toured with him and A.A. Bondy. So, we knew we connected well. I prepared a lot for the first tour we did together, but did not completely understand what I was going to have to do. Every show Kevin plays is inspired. He gives 100 percent every night, and everyone there knows. Because of that, the whole band has to bring it every night too. We have no choice but to try to keep up with him. He’s not going to stop moving forward. It’s intense, exciting, tiring, and so much fun. Looking out in the crowd each night, you see all of these faces with the same expressions and excitement as I had when I was in the audience of his shows. He pulls every person in, and you want to go with him where he’s going. He’s like a drum major leading a marching band down the street, that people hear and can’t help but follow. It’s infectious, and powerfully pure. But the reality of that, and the most important thing about Kevin’s music is that we don’t go to see him to escape. We go to deal. To commiserate. To sympathize. To heal together. Every night at every show, there’s so much positivity. It is beautiful. I feel very fortunate to be a part of his Goddamn Band.
From Kevin Devine:
(In the interest of relative brevity, particularly given how expansive each of the three prior pieces of this series have been, and in consideration of the second and more deserving perspective closing out this last segment, I’m going to keep my comments pretty short.)
Greetings from cabin 10371 on an England-bound Stena ocean liner, Hook of Holland to Harwich, between countries on this first European/UK tour for Bubblegum & Bulldozer.
As its subject, it’s hard to explain the way I felt reading the oral history PropertyOfZack published over the past two weeks.
There’s a kaleidoscopic This Is Your Life quality to it, and it’s overwhelming to see all that time and space and joy and pain and effort and shared experience condensed into a few thousand words. (It may have felt long as a piece of Internet pop culture journalism to some of you, but consider that it was 15 years in the making, and…y’know.)
I was moved, considerably and consistently, hearing some things for the first time, being reminded of others, comparing notes in my head. I was surprised in a great way by the presence of certain voices, and fascinated to learn things about how other people perceived and experienced my career - sometimes I forgot I was ostensibly reading about myself.
And that’s because, in a way, I wasn’t. I was reading about them, and that’s the biggest gift this entire experience has given me: once I got over a low-level discomfort at feeling undeserving of that level of focus & excavation, I got to hear people I love, respect, admire - in some cases all three - tell their fascinating versions of this warped, endlessly unpredictable story, and I was staggered. Humbled.
“David Stern helped bring basketball to millions who were either unaware of or unable to enjoy the NBA previously. He also cost thousands of Americans jobs during two lengthy lockouts. His arrogance and ego often got in the way of the game’s best interests, as did his insistence on earning more profits for the 30 NBA owners, who, it can be argued, Stern cares about more than the game itself, or the actual game.”—BDL Editor Kelly Dwyer on Stern’s complicated legacy and the end of his reign. (via balldontlie)
PropertyOfZack launched Inside during the summer of 2013 with Run For Cover Records. We’re bringing you the third part of the second installment of the series today with Kevin Devine.
What we’re striving to do with Inside is to bring you incredibly in-depth content from your favorite artists, labels, and companies in the music industry with insights and details you would never be able to find in a normal interview or story. It would be hard to explain the importance Kevin Devine has had on the development of PropertyOfZack over the years, and we’re honored to have him as our second Inside feature.
While part one featured Kevin Devine telling his own story, part two is the second half of an oral history of Devine’s entire musical career, as told by bandmates (The Goddamn Band), tour mates (Jesse Lacey, Andy Hull), and collaborators (Rob John Mathiason, Rob Schnapf). Enjoy a comprehensive look at Devine’s career picking up at Brother’s Blood and beyond!
Chris Bracco: After the cycle of Brother’s Blood was finished, it was time to start Between the Concrete & Clouds. This was some time in 2010. This as the first album Mike Skinner didn’t play drums on and I produced myself. The way this started was me, Mike Fadem, and Kevin rehearsed the songs a bit then we had the other guys join in. Everyone wrote a lot more parts on this record, so it’s a pretty dense record. For the band demos, we tracked drums and some guitars in the rehearsal space then finished everything up at our house in Connecticut. When it was time to record, there wasn’t a definite label lined up to release it, so we tracked everything at our house starting sometime in January 2011. Fadem was upstairs in our living room where we recorded the Brother’s Blood demos and Kevin and I were in the basement recording scratch guitar and vocals. After a weekend of getting drums we had the other guys come up over the course of a month on the weekends to add their parts. When we finished tracking, the masters were sent off to Rob Schnapf to mix.
This was also a bit of a learning experience. This is the first record that I recorded but didn’t mix. For me, mixing is a time for experimenting and fixing/changing/re-recording things that I don’t think are working so there are some things on this record that I wished I had fixed before sending off. For this record I was unable to play a lot of shows because of work and a new baby but did get the chance to play some great New York shows and a couple out of state shows. Daniel filled in on bass for most of the album support.
Brian Bonz: Our dynamic in the studio is always very open. We normally demo a month before live, so we know what needs to get done or added when we hit the studio. I remember Kevin and Chris helping me add all the string mellotron parts to “The City Has Left You Alone,” and learning so much about octaves and harmonies in the context of keys/strings. Another good studio story is when Strand ate KD’s sushi not knowing it was his while recording Brothers Blood. We call that a “Classic Strand.”
Andy Hull: I mean beyond Kevin becoming a touring mate, he became a really close and personal friend. You know? He’s one of my top five friends that I have. We were certainly close making that first Bad Books record, but really that first record was not even a record. I know Kevin has said it many times, but we didn’t know what we were making. We just knew we were making something. No intention of being a band, that’s why Ben was going to come down; it was like, “Yeah man it’s whatever, just come down and play some guitar.” We had no idea we were putting together the outlines of a band that people would actually end up really liking. You know? I think that since he and I are both kind of suckers for complete pieces of work and not shitty EPs or whatever it is – we liked the idea of a full album. That’s why we put the first one together. And when it came time for the second record, there was a lot less stepping around each other. We could be really upfront and honest. Like I remember on the first Bad Books record there was something I wanted Kevin to sing and he was like, “I can’t sing that. I can’t do that. I know you can do that, I know you think I can do that, but I can’t do that.” I was like, “But you actually can do it. Can you at least try?” And he would try and then he would do it. And since that period, I feel like – not at all to say that Bad Books was the catalyst, but certainly I think it helped push him further into realizing that he was a really great singer and had a great range for harmonies. Which I don’t think he had in his weaponry when we first met.
Ben Homola: I did a tour a playing drums opening for Manchester Orchestra with Kevin and the GDB a while back. He gave me a call a week or two before and said that he needed a drummer for the run. I didn’t second guess it, and found myself heading up to NYC to rehearse soon after that. I did that tour and after that, I continued drum teching for Brand New. Around that time, what would eventually be called Bad Books got together to start recording what would be our first record, I was playing with Manchester Orchestra. I think with my past playing with Kevin and currently at that point playing with MO it just made sense that I be part of that project. I’m really glad to be a part of that band because it’s a chance to play with two of my favorite groups of people.
He keeps things interesting for sure…especially into the later hours of being in the studio. I mean I’m sure we’ve got footage somewhere of the explosive freakish moments that are signature KD. He’s the type of guy that will have things down on paper but you can also throw him a curveball and he’ll figure it out almost instantly.
Chris Bracco: In 2011, right before BTC&C was released, me, Kevin, and Fadem recorded a tribute to Nirvana’s Nevermind. This was also recorded at our house in Connecticut. Fadem recorded all of the drums in about 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon in August, while Kevin recorded scratch guitar and vocals. A few weeks later, right before Kevin and Fadem were to leave on tour to support BTC&C, Kevin came up to record his guitar and vocals. This was right after Hurricane Irene and our house had no power. There was also no time to reschedule it, since they were leaving for tour in a few days and we really wanted this to come out on the day of Nirvana’s 20th anniversary release date. Fortunately, the people who lived behind us had power so we ran 200 feet of extension cords from their house to my basement: enough power to run a computer, pod guitar processer, and some outboard gear.
He recorded all of his vocals and guitars in about 8 hours. Once our house got power back, I recorded the bass parts and mixed it as fast as possible to make our deadline. Overall, I think it’s a pretty good tribute to Nirvana. It obviously has some flaws, but how can you beat the original anyway? It was mostly done for fun and it was a record we all loved and grew up on.