Saturday, August 22, 2009

EpicRoadtrip: Soundtrack

There are a few key elements to making a standard, long, exhausting, drawn out, numbing, roadtrip epic. First, you have to have a good travel buddy, having the famed food blogger, graphic designer, Stephanie Tolle, in tow; I got a big check mark there. Second, you HAVE to have Combos. They are essential roadtrip eats; they provide necessary sustenance, and their ridiculous saltiness helps to avoid multiple potty breaks. Before heading out we picked up some Nacho Cheese Pretzel and Jalapeno Tortilla Combos, another big check there. Several states must be crossed, we were hitting 6 in 4 days. So, that was also a check mark. Finally, you have to create a good soundtrack for the voyage. With a music obsessed driver behind the wheel, you know we are getting a check mark there.

I knew Stephanie was not as familiar with the Damnwells as I was, so we kicked off the drive with Air Stereo. As you will remember, this was the album that got me addicted to them. Since they were the driving force behind the journey, it seemed a fitting starting point. The sun had not yet supplied its warming rays, but the top was down, and we were on our way. As “Accidental Man” kicked in I could tell Stephanie was excited. “Golden Days” and “Louisville” were a couple other standouts from that disc, songs that got elicited comments from Steph.

By now we were deep into Illinois about to cross into Kentucky, and it was time to change up discs. I went with a roatrip standard, Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie. We are both huge DCFC fans, and the album is amazing from start to finish. It is the kind of CD you can leave in the dash all weekend, and never tire of it, which is a good thing because somewhere in the thick Kentucky humidity my co-pilot decided to put me on auto-pilot and nap out. The way she was positioned prevented clean access to the glove compartment, so as it kicked back in with “This is the New Year” my manic grew. Hunkered down like Cassidy on a Benzedrine high, it was me, the road, great music, and my thoughts. Transatlanticism provides so many great lyrics to contemplate, to force hidden feelings:

From Tiny Vessels:

This is the moment that you know
That you told her that you loved her but you don't.
You touch her skin and then you think
That she is beautiful but she don't mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she is beautiful but she don't mean a thing to me.

Having been in that moment, it instantly recalls an oppressive feeling of emptiness, like you want to love that person, but for some reason you cannot. That confusion is dark and hollow, offering no escape or self-revelation, only intrapersonal theories you create to rationalize and avoid the emergence of debilitating cognitive dissonance.

The album also evokes more tender emotions. There is an 8 measure break in “Transatlanicism” where Ben relentlessly repeats, “I need you so much closer.” And, I have been there too, physically and emotionally, that sense that you just cannot get close enough, even though you are on top of them, inside of them.

As we crossed into Tennessee, sleeping beauty woke up, and I grabbed Armaghetto by Conglomerate, an album most of you have never heard but is hugely responsible for the kind of artist I have become. Conglomerate was a San Diego band that was signed to Cargo. While I was still living there, I went to every show I could. The band was fronted by singer/songwriter Steve Harris. His raw emotion, amazingly powerful vocals, and intense lyrics are the only conscious influence I have ever had. If you have seen me perform and heard me go big with a vocal line like on “Been Down,” you can thank Steve for that. This was probably the most manic stage of the drive, 4 or 5 hours into it and restless, but with one of my all time favorite albums in the dash, I was in rare form. Steph’s one comment, “Whoa, these guys are intense.” I never clarified if she liked them or not.

Setting the arrival mood for the first destination in an Epic Roadtrip is pivotal. As we approached Nashville, with giddy child like eyes and a huge southern grin, I reached for the dash and slid in some Dierks Bentley. I believe there were several moments of disbelief from Ms. Steph as I sung every song at the top of my lungs. She had this look about her that said “Why am I being subjected to this modern country crap, and how the hell does Eric know all these songs.” As a lover of music, I do not discriminate against genre (That is not totally true, anything hairband related leaves me feeling disgusting and abused, like my ears have just been raped by over processed guitar tones, fluffy candy coated lyrics, and vocals that constantly have me questioning, is this a boy or a girl) or popularity or mainstreamness, and as far as Modern Country goes, Dierks is the best.

The treks from Nashville to Birmingham and Birmingham to Memphis were a little unstable. We took some detours, and were relying on Florence Beatrice Garmin (FloB) to guide us, so the soundtrack took a back seat to the sweetly annoying sound of FloB telling me to turn left in 200 hundred feet…turn left now…you missed the turn you idiot…what are you going to do now…now I am lost…etc.

I was also very focused on the clouds because we tried to have the top down as much as possible, but you never know when a storm is going to spring up in the Southeast. Thankfully we avoided several, one by like 200 ft. It was a 4 lane cross to get to an exit, but I made it happen. There was also a section in Mississippi where the skies unleashed a rain that had me driving by instinct and prayer because there were no visuals left.

Heading up 55 from Memphis to St. Louis was filled with reflection, so the soundtrack became background to head words. As we hit 270, we put in One Last Century, which is the Damnwells newest CD, the CD that they were touring to support. It seemed to me the only natural way to conclude the EpicRoadtrip. My great friend and musical soulmate, Rob Woerther, compared this CD to Fort Recovery by Centro-Matic, which is high praise. They sound nothing similar, but they are both pinnacles of achievement, like greatest hits albums without pulling from several older CDs. The opening tune on One Last Century is the beautiful ballad called “Sountrack” that provides a powerful thought provoking chorus:

She wants you
She needs you
A soundtrack to bleed to
But can you shut up long enough to fall in love

She wants you
She needs you
A hurricane to leave through
But can you shut up long enough to fall in love

Soundtrack was also the most memorable moment from each show we saw. I am including a LINK to the video Stephanie shot in Bham.

So as it began it ended. The Damnwells opened up the road and let us know we had returned safely home.


  1. Awesome recap!!! Though I still think we needed some Monster Ballads ;)

  2. Sounds great! We need pictures of said road trip convertible vehicle that you and Steph alluded know, to get the full mental image of the road trip.

  3. I will be sure to include some in the 4th post for this series, "EpicRoadtrip: All Things Considered." I am glad Stephanie shot some...I am not a camera kid.

  4. If you want to be a blogger, you must get attached to your camera. That's a rule.

    p.s. - I love the new logo! Very impressive, ironstef!

  5. I played a few shows with Conglomerate back in 96...I couldn't agree with you more. They never did a real sound check...they would simply take the stage, launch into this raging wall of sound....and then....1234 BOOM!!!!My Jaw dropped every night.I still to this day don't know why Steve and those guys didn't take over the world...Great Band...Great Record