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Welcome Holmes

February 15, 2011

I just read today in the news of a new iPhone app (which received a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI) that allows users to practice the sacrament of confession from the palm of their hand. 21st century technology allows for more and more devices to connect to the internet, which is enabling consumers to indulge nearly every vice (laziness, jealousy, anger, sex, narcissism, selfishness…) and, apparently, make it all right again with the push of a button.

I am really not implying a cynical stance towards the internet at all (nor am I very religious); I am just fascinated with our obsession on choosing to live in a simulated world where both our virtues and our vices can have a cagematch on the digital battlefield of our mind writ large. How could I be cynical? I am as wrapped up in it as anybody:

My name is Philip Roach, and it has been 4 months since my last blog entry.

All blasphemy aside, it has been a long time since anything has been posted here, and I firmly intend, with your help, to post something every week, to stray no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to not write.

We finished our touring and got back home in Yorkville, IL in the beginning of November. 60,000+ miles, 150 shows, 29 states, from the end of February through the end of October. We still had a few shows in Chicago and Michigan before the year was through, but for all intents and purposes, we were homebound.

As a baseball fan, I have heard athletes say that no matter when their season ends (regular season or late in the playoffs), the aches and pains of a 162+ game season will only begin to manifest themselves in the week after their final game. Once the adrenaline wears off, you realize that what you were able to accomplish on its behalf was silently accruing a balance that rest of your body was patiently waiting to collect.

I was tired. Exhausted. Drained. I would wake up more fatigued than when I went to bed the night before, and wonder out loud, “Why do my hips hurt?” “I remember how I got this scar, but when did I get THIS one?” Add in autumn’s defeat to winter for a little seasonal affective disorder to boot, and I was beginning to worry that I might be settling into something bad.

The real danger from that situation was my mind’s eventual prodding to have me ‘take it easy,’ shift down to a lower gear, and just be complacent for a little while. Luckily, I’m not the one in our band that rallies the guys together to get shit done. That would be E. Fink.

We weren’t home for very long before E. started scheming a plan to renovate our attic studio, where we recorded The Joke, The Threat, and The Obvious. It was a nice space, and it definitely contributed to the sound and the success of the album. But as we were preparing to record our new album, we agreed that we needed to have more acoustical separation between the instruments. And as we always record live, this translated to the necessity of the construction of more recording booths.

E. enlisted the help of Scott, and the two quickly got to work. In the span of two days, and with the help of friend Niall, they designed and framed the walls of the new configuration of the studio. The weeks that followed saw the construction of double walls, insulation, new lighting, patch bays, flooring, a resonating sub floor for the drum room, multiple windows that allow for eye-contact while recording, and an overhaul of the wiring of all the studios (a total of 10 separate rooms and booths are wired and ready for recording).

Scott and E. had put together a string of 12-18 hour workdays for weeks by the time it was all finished. While they had help from us when they needed it, they conceived and executed all of it (save for the painting, of which I truly kick ass) themselves. It was really amazing to watch them. After all, they’re not contractors, but they pushed themselves to learn the skills required to get it all done, all so we can do what we love to a greater degree.

Scott and E., from left to right

Other projects that we have completed since November are the renovation of our control room/mastering suite, installation of another full bathroom (previously, 8 people shared 2 showers), construction of my bedroom, and renovation of our rehearsal studio. We also finished producing, arranging, recording and performing as a backing band on albums for 2 different clients, in addition to the continual rehearsing, writing, and arranging of our own material.

The lesson I learned from my transition back to home life is one that I unfortunately seem to love forgetting: Not only is happiness a choice, it requires work. Sometimes, literally.

I am definitely the kind of person that when left to my own devices, will somehow eventually consume myself with stagnation, and ultimately, with negativity. But I think a lot of us in the band are that way, and that’s maybe why we get along so well. If someone is slipping down that slope, another guy is right there to nip it in the bud and give him a hand up.

And that hand isn’t always offered as an encouraging hug or a nice little pat on the back. It usually comes as a push to snap out of it and get something done. Because there’s joy in work, and once you realize that, you realize there is really very little that stands in your way of being happy. And besides the obvious big ones, some of the most dangerous sins are, at least for me, those rooted in complacency.

Word,

Phil

B&W Photos by: Brittany Clemens

For more of her (awesome) work, please visit: www.catslikescotch.com

Color Photo by: Patrick Burke

For more pictures of life with The Giving Tree Band, visit our new multimedia blog page at: http://thegivingtreeband.tumblr.com/

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Tour Blog #2

October 28, 2010

Read the next blog installment on American Songwriter’s website! Click the link here: http://www.americansongwriter.com/2010/10/on-tour-with-the-giving-tree-band-it-is-just-after-midnight/

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Travel Blog 10-14-10

October 14, 2010

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Des Moines, IA and they are sprinkling in Christmas music in between Celine Dion and Enya. I imagine that the humor I feel right now is similar to the initial camaraderie I would get when seeing most of my friends in Hell before reality sets in. Other than that, it’s the best coffee shop we’ve worked in a long time. How does that equate? Well, it’s big, has a variety of comfy chairs and tables, and the only customer traffic consists of middle America 30-somethings, who by default have no power to exacerbate the traditional productivity pitfall that is people watching. That’s not mean.

We’re only a few days into this little month-long tour. We had a show the other night at the Redstone Room in Davenport, IA, where we split the bill with a Fort Collins-based bluegrass band called Head for the Hills. They were super-talented, and a lot of fun to hang out with. After the show, we headed west for Des Moines to find a place to sleep for the night.

Through all of the touring this past summer, we spent a lot of our nights in hotels. But we usually spend more of our nights sleeping out under the stars. “Out under the stars” is the subjective, romanticized setting I use to describe those nights. There’s a big difference between throwing up a tent and just lying on your back with the rest of the universe staring you in the face. And then opening your eyes in the morning to see tiny planes silently disappearing behind clouds can make you realize how often you used to enjoy that view when you were just a kid, and maybe that version of you had some things more figured out than the version of you does now.

I usually sleep on top of the van with one or two others, while two are usually on the ground, and yet another handful always sleep inside the van on the benches. We rotate locations based on what we feel like. Sometimes, rest areas will have a great selection of “picnic beds” (tables). Other locations will offer the “softest ground,” according to our drummer, only to have his comfort mocked by the morning light that illuminated the “Pet Area” sign above him which directed bygone dog owners where to have their best friend cushion the ground by taking a shit. We still get laughs out of asking him how he slept that night, to his response of, “Kinda shitty.”

It’s a wild line of work to be in, and your degree of happiness is so dependent on the perspective from which you choose to view your current situation. The homeless sleep at the mercy of the elements. Nomads and Gypsies sleep wherever they can lay their head. We sleep out under the stars. There’s not much separation between us some days, but we’ve got our intent, and the freezing Iowa night on Tuesday reminded me that we’ve got the safety of our van and hotel stays. What’s more is the humor that graces your sleepy face as you childishly try to hide it from the sun by burying it in your sleeping bag to buy a few more minutes of sleep. And that humor stays with you when you shower the morning dew off of that same face in a 4-star hotel room the same day. Because you know that the stars that rate the room you are in are a joke in comparison to the ones that watched over you as you slept the night before.

—Phil

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Choose Your Own Adventure, pt. 2

March 16, 2010

Yo yo yo yo. OK. I need to get the second part of this down before the newest memories I have made knot the old ones up like a shoelace.

The following morning, we woke up in Lusk, WY and continued our trek south into Colorado. This was the day I had been waiting for all tour, because this was the day I would finally get to see some mountains. Although those mountains wouldn’t fully materialize until we got into Colorado, I can’t overstate how beautiful out drive through Wyoming was. Driving through Wyoming is like driving through a painting. I had Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet on my iPod , which was perfect foreground music (and if you are into newgrass infused songwriting, pick this amazing album up (and Ben Sollee’s “Learning to Bend” (thanks John) as well)). The sky was huge and blue and the giant sun made the rolling hills of unfarmed prairie grass actually glow. My blood was already surging with excitement and it wasn’t even noon yet.

I can’t say where we were when I finally caught a glimpse of the Rockies (or the foothills for that matter), but at that point my eyes locked in on their target and my silence actually became audible to the rest of the guys in the van, who acknowledged my enthusiasm with their smiles. Because Abigail Washburn and the SQ enhanced my Wyoming morning, I thought some orchestral music might reflect the one dominant emotion that the endless line of mountains inspired: Reverence. Listen, every time I drive into Chicago and I see the city claim its shape over the haze, I feel love. But gazing at a mountain range for the first time was like looking at God’s personal skyline. So I turned on Elgar’s Enigma Variations (followed by Brahms Symphony #4), turned off my mind, and simply existed in the infinite present.

Side note: mentioning classical music in a blog about my experiences in a rock band is not meant to create any kind of division. Every non-classical musician (except for Jazz)that I’ve met always hoists “classically trained” musicians onto a pedestal. I have played in rock bands as well as professional orchestras since grade school, and the one thing I can offer to both camps is this: it’s all the same. You can find just as much sex, drugs, moral righteousness, moral ambiguity, self-affirment, self-destruction, etc. in one phrase of Classical music as you can in Rock. The biggest mistake most people make is creating a division in their mind that Art musics aren’t just as relevant to the same personal reservoir of base emotions that pop musics cater to, and vice versa. An important lesson I’ve come across is that Rock listeners should do themselves a favor and actually go see an orchestra play, whether it is the CSO or their own community ensemble. I guarantee it will be a wonderful experience. That, and it is embarrassing that any orchestra in our country (much less the major city orchestras) should be having any financial hardships due to low attendance. And for the Classical concertgoer is concerned, I offer this: putting on airs of superiority and elitism only feeds your own ego and will drive the younger generation away, who might actually connect with the music on a more genuine level than you do. And as a personal note, Yo La Tengo’s “Little Eyes” was instrumental (haha) in changing my stage uniform from a tuxedo to tight jeans.

Back to the story.

Whether it was the elevation or the euphoria the beautiful scenery induced, Boulder had all of us on cloud 9. We found awesome lodging at a place called the Boulder Outlook Hotel. The cool thing about it was that it was a “zero waste” establishment, meaning that everything they provided was either compostable or recyclable. They were awesome to us, and we’re very grateful.

 After checking in, we grabbed a bite to eat at VG Burger (amazing vegan restaurant) where we met some new friends that would have a good influence on our time there. Thanks to Grace, who invited us to a Boulder songwriters soirée where we got to play for a wonderful group of people. She also invited us on a hike the following morning to watch the sun rise from a vantage point on a mountain in Chautauqua park. That was easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do, and I nearly passed it up. Again, I’m habitual, and I upon being invited to take the hike, I initially declined so that I could go running instead. I am so glad Scott hit me on the arm and said “Dude, when is the next time you are going to be able watch the sunrise on a f-ing mountain?” Point taken.

After a bit of a late start the next morning, a handful of us started our hike upwards. After a few hundred yards, E. and I had a laugh at our lungs’ inability to keep up with the enthusiasm of our legs. But after some slow, controlled deep breaths, we adjusted to the altitude and got going again. We followed the worn trail as it winded up the mountainside to an area with large boulders suitable for sitting on. We took a seat and gazed out at the new day. The view was absolutely amazing. But almost as amazing was the attitude of everyone else we passed on the trails that morning. Everyone just seemed genuinely happy with themselves and their world they carved out for themselves as they took their morning coffee at 6500 feet. I’ve always really loved bustling city life, but I could easily see myself setting up shop out in Colorado someday.

The shows we played in Boulder and Denver were fantastic, and our performances were received with great enthusiasm. A special thanks goes out to our friends at Topo Ranch (check out their awesome organic clothing at http://www.toporanch.com )where we played an inspired in-store performance that actually led to an ER visit. Use your imagination.

Our time in Boulder was over too soon, and we had to leave on Wednesday night after a gig in Denver. We headed east to play the following night in Columbia, MO. We stopped briefly at a hotel somewhere in west Kansas, but decided to drive through the night into brightness of the following day. Now, I normally like to skip over the mundane “news reports” of our traveling, but I bring this up to illustrate a point. Watching the sunrise on the mountain a few days before was impactful for me not just because of its beauty, but because it was the first time I experienced one without the feeling of dread. Ever since the first time I pulled an all-nighter in grade school, I have hated the feeling of not dividing my days with sleep. Whether it was staying up to finish a paper in college, or partying like it was 1999, I always hated the sun for pulling off my comfy blanket of night. I’ll compare it to this: When I would get in trouble when I was a kid (and holy god I did) I had to sit in the principal’s office. There was a large window where the rest of the kids would walk by, and whether or not they were my friends, each had a look on their face of compassion overridden by the consolation that they led innocent lives and would thus appreciate their goodness with the reminder of seeing one of their own who had fallen to the other side. That was seriously the feeling the rising sun used to give me. Glad to have that monkey off my back.

The following days have been a wonderful whirl. 7 gigs in 6 days in 5 states. I especially love the traveling, and for now I feel like I can live out of a suitcase indefinitely. Despite adjusting to a little sleep deprivation, everyone else is feeling the joy of life on the road as well. I especially love it when I can wake up early and go for a run and see each town more intimately (It was hilarious adjusting to the thin air in Colorado the first time I ran there). I am more awed every day at finding out just how huge our country is, and how different people are from state to state and town to town. And even more important, is when you take the time to really talk to people, you find out how genuinely wonderful perfect strangers can be, and how incredibly similar we all are.

More to come as we make our way south to Texas and finally to the Southwest…..

Phil

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Choose Your Own Adventure pt. 1

March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010 3:00 PM

   Yo Yo Yo.  I should have sat down days ago to write this, but that which kept me away from my computer is the essence that is central to the theme of this story.

     Last Saturday, we played a show in Sioux Falls, SD. It was a great show with an enthusiastic audience at a very nice venue (Latitude 44). After the show, the band gathered in the van to have a discussion as how to spend the following two days where we didn’t have any shows planned. We discuss everything in great detail on every move we make as a band, and while each conversation is important and beneficial, I am so grateful for this one in particular and for the profound impact it has had on my perspective.

     We have a good friend named Gary Shawver who we stayed with earlier in the tour while in Omaha, NE. While staying there, we were able to keep hard at work on both our musical responsibilities of rehearsing and writing, as well as the ever-increasing business end of the operation, which requires us using every path of communication the 21st century has to offer. With two successive days open on our calendar, it made a lot of sense to drive back south to Gary’s and keep our nose(s) to the grindstone. So I was surprised when the suggestion was made by Cara (who never ceases working on both managerial operations as well as setting and fulfilling the sustainability goals for the band) to head west early for our show on Tuesday in Boulder, CO in the spirit of adventure. We now had two clear choices: Prudence or Adventure.

     Anyone who knows me will know that my initial reaction was to head for Omaha. I rely on my habits, and whenever I have any free time, I fill it with practicing my violin, running/exercising, and reading. In Omaha, I felt we could really keep the ball rolling through rehearsal and office work, and I was certainly not alone in this view (Todd and E. are as prodigious as booking agents as they are on the stage, and between laptops and cell phones, the world is their office). But the mere description of the potential sights we would see if we traveled west to Colorado via South Dakota and Wyoming wet my appetite, and I could feel the collective consciousness of the band shift westward. As simple as that, we chose adventure.

We got an early start the following morning and headed for the Badlands. The promise of new sights and the novelty of being in a new state were enough for me to tolerate the never-ending sea of the great plains that set the stage for the start to our adventure ( I’m not sure why I even felt that affected by this; I was born in Cincinnati and raised in the Chicago suburbs—flat land is my home). Anyway, before long we reached Badlands National Park. It was a cold day to begin with, and the force with which the wind hit me as I stepped out of the van almost knocked me over. But within 2 seconds of looking out I didn’t care. I kept saying, “how was this formed? How was this made?” and other nonsensical questions whose answers I hoped would balance out the awe that I felt. It was actually perfect that there was a little bit of old snow on the ground because it accented every ridge of the giant basin and highlighted the infinite details of the landscape. I don’t know how long or short we stayed, and this distortion of time has stayed with me for the days since then. And I like it.

     From there, we pressed on to see the Crazy Horse memorial monument in the Black Hills. It is hard to fathom just how gigantic this mountain sculpture will be upon its completion. Everything about it is larger than my imagination can comprehend, especially the mind that created it: Korzack Ziolkowski. Because we got to the park just as it was closing, we couldn’t spend much time learning about the monument, so E. bought the documentary “Carving Crazy Horse” (which he had seen before and loved) for us to watch in the van. If you can, get this DVD from your library or order it. I loved watching the larger-than-life imagination and work ethic of Ziolkowski on film. The man and the monument are sources of endless inspiration and I can’t believe I knew nothing of either prior to this trip.

     For the sake of thoroughness, I should say we visited Mt. Rushmore after Crazy Horse. There’s no doubt it’s a cool monument, but the sheer magnitude of Crazy Horse had me feeling a little desensitized when I gazed up at the four faces of our forefathers. And I really have to laugh at that; One of our country’s most treasured patriotic symbols literally cannot measure up to an unfinished project (honoring a race of people that our government all but erased) that has refused every cent of state and federal funding that has ever been offered. We stayed about 10 minutes before regrouping and heading westward.

     The only thing left to say about that Sunday is that as we passed the state border of Wyoming in the middle of the night, we got out of the van and literally stepped into another world. I had no vocabulary to speak about what I was looking at, so I just laughed. We couldn’t see 10 feet into the pitch black night in front of our faces, yet above us was an inverted bowl of light. What could I do but laugh? With that view of stars upon constellations upon heavenly bodies upon galaxies, my cognition crashed and we all ran around on the desolate highway yelling into the solid black night like little children with no cares in the whole wide world.
End of pt. 1

Phil

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Thursday into Friday

March 5, 2010

Yo Yo. It is 2:41 A.M, and although it is now technically Friday, I still measure my days by when I awake in the morning. So for now, I am writing this on an extended Thursday night while riding in our van, somewhere in Southern Illinois.

We are just over one week into our 6-week tour, and I have to say, I am loving all of it. I know that traveling around playing for great people in new and exciting places seems like a “what’s not to like” situation. However, the actual performing takes up a comparatively small percentage of the time spent touring, and it is how one spends this travel time that will ultimately determine the satisfaction level of the time on the road. For me, the most important qualities to keep at hand are: a sense of humor, a good imagination, and the ability to feel at home wherever you are.

Before I expound on this, I need to clarify just how full of crap I am. It isn’t like we’re like the troubadours of a past age who were propelled forward by a wild bohemian spirit. I am writing this on a laptop computer, linked to the wi-fi antenna on the van that is spacious enough for me to stand up and stretch my arms while watching DVD’s of Arrested Development for the 20th time on the 27-inch TV screen that swings down from the ceiling. But then again, even while this is the age we live in, all of the facebooking and blogging and DVD watching are not enough to pacify the needs of our higher consciousness, especially those of our 8-man band.

What I am finding amusing right now is that while I have one bandmate simulating an airplane landing in his eardrums via iPod, and another on snoring practically on my shoulder, I feel completely at peace in my own head, as if I am on some kind of retreat. There is something mystical about gliding through the pitch-black middle of the night and– no joke– not knowing (or caring) where we will sleep tonight. This is the ability to feel at home wherever you are. As I look at farmhouse after farmhouse in the most desolate of areas, my imagination does its mental gymnastics to imagine how the residents of those lonely houses spend their days. And as for a sense of humor is concerned, there is no lifestyle imaginable where that trait isn’t a vital survival tool.

3:20 A.M. I was tired hours ago. Today was a long one too. Woke up at 6:30 and ran about 4.5 miles through a beautiful St. Louis morning. We then had a great rehearsal and arranging session from about 10 AM to 2PM before we hit the road for Carbondale, IL where we played a fun show at Tres Hombres. Now, we’re off to Iowa to play with Tea Leaf Green at the Redstone Room tomorrow night (technically tonight, but again, indulge me).

OK, if there was one thing I learned in college, it is that if I stay up late enough to think that I am tapping into some new creative reservoir, it means I should have gone to bed hours ago. Anyway, I’ve borrowed enough time already from tomorrow, so I’m off. Goodnight, and have a pheasant tomorrow.
Phil

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Lincoln, Nebraska

March 3, 2010

Yo. It is 10:22 in the AM, and I am eating cereal that I bought at about 3 in the morning on the way back from Lincoln, NE last night, during an inspired raid of a Bellevue Hy-Vee. Gross, I just remembered the waves of nausea that swept over me as I fell asleep due to drinking half a bottle of kombucha before Scott noticed it had been expired since October. Anyways,….the night leading up to my lapse in consumer judgement was pretty cool, especially for a cold tuesday in the middle of the middle of the midwest.

Rolling into Lincoln had me wishing I was more of a college football fan. Memorial Stadium is amazing in its sheer size, and it nearly caused an accident as the driver in the car in front of us was apparently so inspired to slam on the brakes to take photos that he figured it must have been worth the risk of being plowed over by our loaded 15-passenger Dodge Sprinter. Yes, that’s sarcastic, but when I think about the size of that stadium in proportion to the rest of the city, I have to imagine that football season must be to Cornhusker fans what summer is to me: the joy of its return is somehow worth the pain of its absence. Ok, i should be talking about the show.

The venue was at a place called Knickerbockers. It is pretty much a dual room venue with one bar room and one music hall. We got there with plenty of time to spare, so we went out for some Thai food. I don’t know what inspired it, but most of us doctored our dishes to be the spiciest concoctions we’d ever had. I wish I had taken a pic of our faces at the end : red-lipped, runny nosed- watery eyed and sweaty hair. It was awesome.

When we got back, the warmup band was on. They’re called Ruha, and they hail from Syracuse, NY. They were fun; they had a kind of Widespread Panic vibe, and they got the crowd in a good mood.

Our set went great. We played for about an hour and a half, despite sound issues (which are par for the course in these types of venues) in the monitor mixes. But I was really happy that we had a crowd to play for on a Tuesday, and was even happier that they were singing along to songs. As always, the set was over as soon as it began, and in the end, we were all mentally planning our return to Lincoln to play again.

I need to finish this up so I can pack my bags as we set to drive out of Nebraska. I’ve been here for a few days, and I have really enjoyed all of it. Every single person I’ve met has been approachable and kind, and despite their lack of attention to expiration dates on new-age beverages, Nebraska has been great to us.

Phil