Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Solstice and Last Jam for the Fans Post

I am not easy with the summer solstice. I am not like my friends who, last week said, "Oh Tuesday? Isn't that the solstice? I don't want to make plans on the solstice. I want to just enjoy it and see what it brings."

Last week, a good friend of mine, someone who knows me well, and someone who had come to our Iron Horse show for Jam for the Fans, said this to me: "Nerissa. Savor what just happened. Savor what you and your sister did. Take it in. Let it swish in your mouth like a fine wine. Relish. I know you, and you are going to want to jump right into the next thing, not looking back. Please, just pause. Celebrate."

I wish I knew how to do that.

I tried, I really did. But there were some realities to contend with. I was already playing catch up from the week before when Jay had been hit in the eye by a preschooler's shovel and we'd spent most of the week caring for him, in and out of the hospital. It just so happened that all my programs (teaching writing, teaching guitar, running HooteNanny) were starting up the week after Jam, and I had to prepare. I had to send out emails, create songbooks and CDs, show up rested. I also had thank you notes to write, both for dinners friends had made for us when Jay was in the hospital, rides folks had given Elle; as well as favors sponsors and donors had done for Jam for the Fans. I wanted to call my family members and play Friday morning quaterback about the shows; write some parting words to guests. I wanted to immerse myself in all the photos fans put up on Facebook and Flickr. I wanted to just sit and take it in. And I did sit, because I do have a meditation practice that I am faithful to. But they say the average person needs to meditate for an hour a day, and the busy person needs two. I found out exactly why (in the mere fifteen minutes I allowed for quiet time). It was like opening a floodgate. All fifteen of those minutes got filled with thoughts about all the things I had to do. I may as well have sat with a notebook next to me and made up a To Do list.

But the usual unusual busyness--let's be honest: that's not the whole truth, either. There's a piece of me that just doesn't want to gaze into the brightness of the sun at its apex. Because once you do that, you might not ever get to do that again.

One day in about 1999, somewhere in the south, possibly Texas or Alabama, in some legendary but scuzzy rock club, I was perusing the posters on the green room wall after sound check. There was a Lucinda Williams poster from the early 90s, back when she was one of us, just a hard-working artist writing her songs, making great albums and playing the circuit. We had just lost our major label--it had folded several months before--and had signed again with another, an indie with major label backing and distribution. Lucinda, by 1999, had just won a Grammy for Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an album that had taken her three years to make and that sounded so great, so natural, so musical, so her. (Just listen to "Right in Time." It's the sexiest song I've ever heard, and she makes it seem so easy to be a songwriter.) Standing in that dressing room, I knew--knew, the way you know your home or your mother's face or your favorite kind of apple--that if we did what Lucinda had done, if we stayed the course and kept making strong albums and touching all the bases of the indie rock/folk circuit, we too would be famous one day. We would 1) have a hit and 2) be on Saturday Night Live, which were our two benchmarks of Making It.

In that moment it didn't occur to me that staying the course was itself an extremely impressive achievement. Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jordan had something besides pure talent and hard work. They had stamina and longevity and a solid belief in their art and craft. Moreover, they had a kind of constitution that was made to endure the formidable challenges that a career in the public eye certainly throws at a person. It didn't occur to me that the five of us all needed to have that kind of stamina in order to make it (again, I am defining "making it" by those two benchmarks above, however ridiculous that might seem.) Within a year it was obvious that as a group we could not stomach life on the road the way we had defined it.

And as I have said before, I am so glad we did not stay the course, for a million reasons; the biggest three being those who share my last name(s). In the aftermath of the heavy duty road years, I began to discover the delights of simply living. The charm of strolling a baby along the sidewalk. The joy of belonging to an organic CSA. The kind of fame one gets from living in a small town where everyone is famous. The amazing miracle of growing flowers and vegetables. And of course everything that comes with raising children.

The friend of mine who lectured me last week about savoring also suggested that I tattoo the word "pause" on the inside of my eyelids. Right after Jam for the Fan was over, my family and Katryna's loaded up our cars (and Tom's truck) with the furniture and memorabillia from the Nields museum, and as soon as we got home, we unloaded the vehicles and immediately got to work on our kitchen, which was scheduled to be gutted on Monday. We hauled box after box up to the attic, out to the porch to freecycle, back to the truck and to the Good Will and dump. I felt like a rock star when our new kitchen was established in our dining room, the pantry and store set up where the brick-a-brac had been. And I dove into the work I love to do--teaching, coaching, singing with little kids. One of my writing groups celebrated Bloomsday on June 16, and we listened to actors reading Ulysses together on WBAI. The weather turned beautiful over the weekend. We played the Clearwater Festival. My kids came along, and I pointed at a golf cart driving within arms reach: "Look, you guys! That's Pete Seeger riding in that cart!" We celebrated Father's Day by climbing one of the Seven Sisters on a perfect 70 degree day, with a picnic lunch at the top. "I am so happy," I intoned, and I knew somewhere that I was, but I felt like the character in Joyce's Dubliner's, coincidentally named Duffy, who lived "a short distance from his body." My mind was consumed with thoughts about everything I had to do: pack for the Adirondacks retreat, write a letter about Jay's accident, another to Elle's new principal, schedule clients, plan menus, buy food, figure out when to get to our CSA, somehow dust the piano, and make a schedule for finishing our CD, Ten Year Tin: The Full Catastrophe. The more I paused, the more Things To Do I remembered I had to do. This morning, I wanted to wake with the birds and take my quiet time on the porch. Instead I slept in (till 6am) and skipped yoga, checking my email instead. Do I think I am going to win an award for busyness? Am I subconsciously trying to recreate the whirlwind of my life on the road?

Another writer commented on a draft of this piece, noting that my posts about Jam for the Fans always had within them a certain quality that reminded her about musings on an old boyfriend--the one who was clearly not so great for you, but also the one you were sort of wistful about. The One That Got Away. She said, "It's not the reality of the boyfriend that is hooked into our souls, it's what that boyfriend represented to us at the time and still represents now. I think sometimes we have to figure out what we were yearning for back then-- because it's not 'the boyfriend.' It's something about ourselves that we wish were true. And you may find yourself still yearning for that same thing, whatever it is, even though you are no longer trying to be famous in a band."

Yes. I still have a part of me yearning for the fantasy that I had in my twenties: that if only I became famous, all my problems would be solved. It would be that easy. But as we age, we get that it's not about ourselves. It's not about the glorification of "me"-and for those who become glorified, the problems just get bigger. It's about us, it's about the "we" we create, the sweet, unique, dispensable/indispensable part of the whole we find ourselves becoming. And still the problems don't go away. But we have company to share them with.

Big events, solstices, Christmases, birthdays, 20 year anniversaries of being in the music business--these are hard. They force me to confront just how challenging it can be to live my own mantra, to be in the present moment and show up for the joy. I am much better at showing up for the tragedies. I am extremely present for the tragedies. But today it hit me like a two by four--I don't want to lose myself in busyness anymore. I don't want to live a short distance from my body. I don't have an answer about how I am going to change, but something has to change. But if I were my own life coach, I would start with a couple of things: one hard and one soft. I would say, "Sweetheart. I keep hearing you say you want to meditate, you want to take your quiet time. I think maybe you should just do it. Schedule it in. Do it now. Bite the bullet and set your alarm for 5:30 and keep that date as if your life depended on it. Trust that you will get enough sleep."

And then a soft one. Music. Just let it in. Listen. Receive. Don't try to master it, make it, understand it, analyze it, prostilytize it, manhandle it, market it or have an opinion about it. Just listen. Enjoy. It was perhaps your first love. Let it love you, and let yourself love it back. And when you are ready, imagine yourself once again to be on that stage at the Iron Horse. Go ahead and stare into that sun--because this time it's setting, it's over and it can no longer make you go blind.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jam for the Fans and Bloomsday

Katryna and me at the open mic/Nields Karaoke Friday evening at the Tuesday Market Space behind Thornes. (Photo by Jeff Strass). We thought at the moment to sing a non-Nields song, and so chose "Lovely Rita," which we ought to remember. But she forgot the words and I forgot the chords. So we sang "Easy People" instead.

Below are photos from the May Day Cafe, AKA the Nields Museum which we set up in the old Dynamite Records space as a place for our fans to hang out between shows.

Waiting for the open mic to begin...

Singing Red Red Robin with Blair and her sweet girl...
The inimitable Ed McKeon from WWUH was our MC.

Here we are with the CrackerJack Band Saturday night at the Iron Horse. Photo by the amazingly gifted and talented and lovable Jake Jacobsen.

Today is Bloomsday: June 16, the date (6.16.1904) described in James Joyce's wonderful Ulysses. My writing group celebrated by listening to part of WBAI's marvelous Joyce-athon, which began with Alec Baldwin reading Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses." Somehow, it seemed apropos.
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

More photos of Jake's are here.
Adam H's photos of the Gospel Brunch are here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nields Newsletter for Jam for the Fans

I promise to post more in the next few weeks. I am as tired as I have ever been, but oh, so full of joy and gratitude. Thanks, fans, for coming out to celebrate! For those who weren't there, katryna and I put together a newsletter like the ones of yore to welcome fans to town last weekend, and this is the text from it. Photo at right by the brilliant and wonderful Jake Jacobson.

When we think about our career over the last 20 years, we think about our music, our miles logged on America's highways, the stages we have been lucky enough to play, our colleagues whom we mostly get to see at Festivals, the studios where we have created our CDs, but most of all, we think of you. The community of people who have come to our shows, bought our CDs, listened to them and sung along to them in cars and showers, worn our t-shirts, spread the word about our little band, read our books and blogs, commented on our ridiculous status updates. You are our employers. You are also the reason we do this. You are definitely the reason we are still able to keep doing this after 20 years. We thank you from the depths of our hearts and souls. We choose you because you're funny and kind.

The Nields started in the trunk of our parent's Plymouth Barracuda when Katryna was just a toddler, but we mark the beginning of our band by the first paid gig we ever had. June 7, 1991, Trinity College hired us to play a show for Alumni Weekend. Appropriate because Katryna had just become an alum. We played with Mary McCormack- now starring on USA's In Plain Sight and shooting this weekend so she couldn't make it to our celebration. We played Black Boys on Mopeds and Tripping the Light Fantastic, This Happens Again and Again and The Beatles' This Boy. We then moved to Williamstown, MA where we pounded the pavement, played in the basement of a Deli and got a big break playing the hotel lounge. There we honed our chops and got our first press from the great Seth Rogovoy: "There is never a cover charge." He's written more complimentary stuff since....

We moved to Windsor, CT and started playing all over the East Coast. Nerissa taught us to have the motto: "Say yes to EVERYTHING!" So we did. We were a trio. Our first manager wanted to call us a Neo Folk Trio. We declined. We played some of the greatest clubs in the northeast: The Bottom Line in NYC, The Iron Horse in Northampton. We recorded our first CD: 66 Hoxsey Street with Huck Bennert in Newton, MA. In February of 1993 we recorded a LIVE CD at the Iron Horse Music Hall. That June we invited Dave Chalfant up from New York CIty for Nerissa's birthday party. "Bring your bass!" we said. He did. Meanwhile his Mom was at the Tony awards because she was nominated for her amazing work in Angels in America. We watched her look glamourous on TV. Then we played music and wept at Dave's awesomeness. "Will you play with us every gig from now on?????" He said, "Well, if I'm not busy." We brought him to play with us at The Birchmere in Virginia. From then on, we were sad every time he was busy. Soon we convinced him to build a recording studio and make us a CD. So he did. He found Dave Hower and we made Bob on the Ceiling in Dave Chalfant's apartment on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn above a funeral parlor.

Soon we were officially a fivesome and we travelled the country first in an Isuzu Trooper and a Subaru wagon and later in the gorgeous Dodge Ram Van- Moby Wan Van Kenobe. We got the best booking agent in the world, Patty Romanoff and started kicking butts and taking names. Soon we had a record deal with Razor and Tie and we got to make a CD at the big fancy studio at Long View Farm with the amazing Kevin Moloney of Sinead O'Connor fame. We lived in Motel 6s and ate baked potatoes at Wendy's and played in rock clubs and church basements and at amazing beautiful festivals: Newport, Philly, City Stages in Birmingham, AL, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Telluride, Bumbershoot and so many more. Our Gotta Get Over Greta CD had the coolest cover by the brilliant Stefan Sagmeister. We played at SXSW in Austin Texas and were seen and heard and then we got love from major labels. We had a bidding war between a couple of companies. One of them was EMI Guardian and the presidents drove up form NYC to Burlington, VT in a limo to see us play. And to impress us. And to give us a big cardboard cutout of The Beatles that Nerissa had admired in their offices. We signed with them. They sent us to LA to record with one of our favorite producers: Mr Paul Fox. He requested the pleasure of our company. We stayed at the famous Hotel Roosevelt and recorded Taxi Girl and bought a faux leopard print coat at a thrift store that later was found in someone's Closet. We are fancy dinners paid for by other people and Madonna's record company gave us a bunch of money for no reason and we felt kinda famous. We traversed the country in Moby with a trailer named Astro. WE saw little of our beds and counted the number of times we crossed the Mississippi. We played in Bloomindales in Palo Alto where we were the muscial entertainment for Seventeen magazines rip off of a modeling contest. We were asked not to play Greta because it might offend the pre-teens' parents, but it was ok to sing Taxi Girl. Whaaaaa??? We started noticing that just because people had fancy job titles, that did not make them smart nor did it make them have good judgment nor did it mean that they were actually DOING the job that they were being paid to do. Soon Moby started to get very sick. 3 transmissions later, we were getting the hint that he wanted to be put out to pasture. That Astro was getting to be a drag. Then the record company imploded and it was Christmas and we were a little confused.

But we remembered the two most important things about our career. The first was that all we ever wanted was to Play. No one could take that away from us. We had written so many new songs; we had our very own producer and recording engineer and we knew how to play. So play we would. But wait. There was one other thing... Moby was not going to enable us to go places to play. We would need a new van. Record companies are unreliable, but fans are not. You are the other most important part of our career. You, our bosses, our community, our benefactors. And so we turned to you and asked you to help us buy a new van. We held the legendary Jam for the Van. We raised $26,000 and bought Nessie the Loch Ness Vanster and her trailer, Kitty Box. We recorded TWO CD's 'Mousse and Play and we signed with Zoe Rounder and continued our rompings round the country. We played Lilith Fair and sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park and grooved at all those other great festivals and amazing rock clubs all over the country. We toured with amazing musicians like Dar Williams and Moxy Fruvous, Ani DiFranco, Jump Little Children, Eddie From Ohio and The Kennedys. We recorded our favorite CD of our career thus far- If You LIved Here You'd Be Home Now. We took the time to make it everything we wanted it to be. We toured all over spreading the word about it. And you danced and sang and made us happy every minute we were on stage. Maybe if you'd been in the van with us, we could have kept going forever. But you wouldn't fit.

We recorded a double LIVE CD at our beloved Iron Horse Music Hall. We finished the artwork and the next day Amelia Nields Chalfant was born. We played our last show as a 5 piece band with Nerissa, Katryna, Dave Chalfant, Dave Hower and David Nields in August of 2001 on the New Haven Green.

Soon Nerissa and Katryna turned to Dave Chalfant to create their first duo CD: Love and China. It lulled Amelia in the back of every car that took them to our next gig. Nessie the Loch Ness Vanster was replaced with “Mama's Purple Tar,” a maroon Dodge Grand Caravan. Nerissa and Katryna played with Patty Larkin, Dar, Cry Cry, Cry, Cake, Cheryl Wheeler, John Gorka-- all the folky luminaries. We found the great Paul Kochanski and asked him to play bass. Dave Chalfant played guitar. But mostly Nerissa and Katryna played as a duo. Dave Chalfant was in demand as a producer. He recorded, mixed, or produced CDs with Erin McKeown, Stephen Kellogg, Peter Mulvey, Ben Demerath, and so many more.

Scholastic Books called Nerissa up and asked her to write a book based on This Town is Wrong. So she did. But she also wrote a whole CD to go with it. And we recorded it and released it and asked our band to join us for a tour. They did and we dubbed them THE CRACKERJACK BAND.

Katryna had another child: William and Nerissa had two of her own: Lila and Johnny. We wanted them to have our Dad's voice in their lives. So we made him record and that became our CD All Together Singing in the Kitchen. That wasn’t enough; we needed to make sure that our kids had music the way we had music, so we started HooteNanny, musical shenanigans for kids aged 0-5 and their grown-ups. We made another family CD, Rock All Day/Rock All Night. We returned to our folk roots and wrote and recorded our favorite CD to date: Sister Holler, in which we borrowed and stole many themes and ideas, and even a chord progression from our musical ancestors. Nerissa then borrowed Katryna’s million dollar idea and wrote a book called How To Be An Adult, a manual for young people trying to figure out how to pay quarterly taxes, get health insurance, register their automobiles, cook chickens and navigate relationships with poise and joy. Katryna drew the illustrations. Our beloved Ed McKeon--he who discovered us back in 1991 in Hartford CT and first played us on the radio--said we needed to make a family DVD and that he wanted to be the one to film it. So we made a DVD called Organic Farm, and there was much happiness. Now we are at work on our 16th CD, Ten Year Tin: The Full Catastrophe. We hope to release it this fall, along with our latest book, All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family, coming out on Shambhala/Trumpeter.

It’s time to celebrate 20 years of making music for fans. We hope you have a great weekend, see some old friends, make some new ones, discover something wonderful in our little Hamplet. We love you. Thanks for being the best bosses ever.

Love, Nerissa and Katryna

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Nields Fun Countdown T Minus 1

Kerrville Folk Festival, 1996

(Jay is going to be fine! All is well!)

Below are drawings of the Nields through the ages, by members of the band other than Katryna. Guess who drew which?

And here are the lyrics to the new song we will be singing at the Iron Horse on Saturday night.

You Come Around Again

When exactly was the day that you forgot to play

Wasn’t there a point of no return?

One day you were running up the hill to beat the sun

Running with your friends until your lungs burned

Now your hill is made of paper, dishes and the laundry

And getting folks to know that they are good

Your kids say, Mom, would you throw the ball?

Catch me if you can, you know you could

You know you could.

You come around again

You come around again

You come around again.

If there’s anything at all I’ve learned in these twenty years

You’d do well to learn the minuet with fate

No one mourns that clever thing you didn’t say in time

No one ever died because you slept late

“Oh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

“The two of us are on our way back home.”

We had a dream, we took the crayon

Drew it up and walked on purple crayon land

Till you came too.

You come around again

You come around again

You come around again

Yesterday I watched our children pick up our guitars

They grabbed them by the tail, and man, they swung

They pulled the music from the air and made it all their own

Soon they will recruit that baby drummer

So who’s to say that this is it, or this is something new

I think you know I never left the ball

I left the mark, I left the shoe, and then I hid behind the curtain watching you.

You looked so sad

But what could I have done?

The story made me run

But I came around again.

Nerissa Nields
May 16,2011
©2011 Peter Quince Publishing

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Windows of Opportunity: Nields History #5

Photos from the Millennial Show we did with Dar Williams at the Calvin, December 31 1999.

I really wanted to post every day prior to Jam for the Fans. I intended to. Every single night that I failed to, I felt sad, like an opportunity was wasted. One of the things I hate most is the feeling of a lost opportunity. "The window is closing," is a painful thought that often occupies the piece of my mind that is concerned with my accomplishments, or the accomplishments of my children.

Monday my son got clocked by another kid's shovel in the sandbox at his pre-school. The teachers took good care of him, but he kept his eyes screwed shut for an inordinately long time and I was called and warned that he might need a doctor's visit. They had assumed he'd gotten sand in his eye, and possibly an abrasion from the sand. But when the doc checked him out, it turned out that the damage was from the shovel not the sand. He's got a hemorrage in his right eye, which has turned from blue to purple. They are afraid the iris might detach. They said to keep him perfectly still. He is an almost three year old boy. This morning when I caught him hurling himself onto the couch and playing his favorite game, which seems to be called, "How Many Silly Ways Can I Fall Down," I called the doctors and said, "How exactly are we supposed to keep him still?"

They agreeed taht we couldn't, and consulted with each other, called me back and told me to admit him to the hospital across the street. Off we trudged, pillows under our arms, our son walking gaily between us with an eye patch over his eye like a pirate.

The sedatives failed. By the end of the day, he had not only missed his nap, but he was also careering around the room like Keith Moon on a bender. The doctors suggested we take him home. He is asleep now, but he went down fighting. I will spend tomorrow watching him.

Meanwhile, yesterday my daughter was supposed to go to her Kindergarten Buddy Day at the local school where she will become a kindergartner next September. We'd been looking forward to this for weeks. She still went, but with a babysitter, while I sat in the doctor's office with my sad little boy. All the plans I had made for this week, this pre-Jam For the Fans week, are being readjusted. He can't go to school and needs to be kept inside and quiet for five days. I don't think he can come to our Family show Saturday morning.

I was talking with a writer today, someone who has worked for many years on an historical fiction, one that she'd hoped would come out in 2013 to be celebrated as part of a centennial for the event she is writing about. She has a "window" too, and she is slowly and painfully recognizing that should she choose to go with a publisher, she is not going to make the window. She was ruing the fact that she had spent so much time a few years back traveling and visiting her grandchildren instead of cranking on her book.

I always come back to that line: no one on his or her deathbed wishes s/he'd spent more time at the office. But do folks on their deathbeds wish they'd published the novel and gotten famous?

When the Nields' album Play came out, we were in one of the Dakotas, playing two shows at what I think, if memory serves, was a casino. I think a comic opened for us. I don't believe we performed on a stage. Sometime on that Play tour, we had a show in a club--I think it was called Top Cat and it was in Cincinnati. There were about fifty people there, and there were no doors on the stalls of the toilets. There were a lot of potentially Big Break type things happening all the time--famous bands asking us to open for them, movies that were going to use our songs in their soundtracks, magazines profiling us. But the day to day travel was getting intense, even though Patty had masterfully figured out how to get us three and four and five star hotels at Motel 6 prices. Every time we left western MA to hit the road, I felt as though my flesh was being torn. And I was advocating for more touring. Other members of the band were so miserable that I saw we needed to make a change, and since I loved my band members more than I loved the dream of being famous and influential (riches were always secondary), I suggested we re-evaluate. It was determined that the guys would take a break while the gals continued to tour as an acoustic duo. Dar called this the Probe effect, which made sense to viewers of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Katryna and I did Lillith Fair, opened for Cry Cry Cry and Cake while the Daves pursued other careers, and continued to play with us at least once a month. (David Nields started teaching drama again, Dave Chalfant began his producing career, making records for Ben Demerath, Erin McKeown and Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers; Dave Hower joined some other bands, including the WinterPills and Spanish for Hitchhiking.)

We made one more album together, though, and at the time we didn't know it was going to be our last. I think we really believed that Katryna and I would be a successful probe, and that once we established ourselves fully, we'd bring back the band, this time in a tour bus. We were obsessed with the tour bus idea. Somehow that would have solved all our problems.

So we made If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now, which was our favorite CD both to make and to listen to. I documented the experience of recording this CD and published it in the songbook that went with the album. here is the first entry:

May 3, 1999- It's raining, again. It's our first day back in the studio and I am--how do I put this delicately-- terrified. We have fifteen songs to record in two months, half of which we've never even played together, several of which I couldn't even play by myself if I wanted to. This is by far the biggest challenge we've ever faced as a band, but, hey, this is what we wanted. We wanted to make this record on our terms, and that means focusing on the song: figuring out how to make each individual song a jewel; how to let each song be its own absolute self. But will our fans freak out if we stick French horn on "Jeremy Newborn Street"? Hey, it's not 1966 and this isn't Pet Sounds. Before, we've always tried to capture on tape what we do live. It was a source of pride to us that our records represented our work, the work that the five of us do together, the magic the five of us make together. Our records were just that: records of where we were musically in a given year. Still, people have always told us, ever since we were a trio, that we were much better live than on record. So we are trying to make a record that stands on its own, hopefully in somewhat timeless way. A record that cannot and should not be reproduced at a live show, like the Beatles, post 1966, post Rubber Soul. A record that is an entirely different animal. Our live versions of these songs will be changeable, and our die-hard fans can bring their mini-DAT players to our shows underneath their coats and jackets and chronicle exactly how the songs change over the years. But now, for today, we are committing to versions of these songs on Dave Chalfant's ADATS to be turned into CDs or DATs or minidiscs or whatever format earthlings will be listening to one hundred years from now; definitive versions of these songs that hopefully will be THE version people keep in their heads, hearts, ears and stereos. And therefore, we are setting foot into the unknown. My least favorite place.

I had a vision for Jam for the Fans, and it might not materialize the way I'd hoped. Things do not always go according to our plans. I still hate the unknown. And yet. Last week, the CrackerJack Band convened at Sackamusic studio and we ran through the set. I could not wipe that goofy grin off my face for the next two days. Playing with my band is one of the biggest highs of my life. Does it compare to holding my wounded son or practicing violin or walking hand in hand with my skipping five year old girl? Nope. But I am glad I get to do both. And if we had that tour bus, I might not get the latter. And if I didn't trust the beneficence of babysitters, I wouldn't get the former. We think we have these windows, and maybe some of them are real. But some of them are illusions. We're always at the mercy of the unknown.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

How Play Came to Be and How We Came to Play

Nields History Part IV-Our 1998 Release, "Play"

We Nields have never had a number one hit single on the radio, nor have we appeared on National TV on a late night talk show.We've never ridden on a tour bus and we've (sadly) never had action figures made to resemble our personages.Nevertheless, in the 8 years of our existence, we feel we've lived the full gamut of a rock and roll career worthy of a VH1 Where Are They Now? special. For the first seven years, we were widely touted as The Next Big Thing, which was fun for awhile, though we tired of well meaning friends saying, "I had an idea for you!You guys should be on Conan! If you went on Conan, you'd be famous!"(Courteously, we'd thank each one of these good people, saying, "Yes, what a fine idea! Why didn't we think of that earlier?" While inside we were tempted to grow bitter and cruel, self-mocking and depressed. But we fought this temptation with all our might!) As obedient Next-Big-Things-To-Be, we left our homes in February, 1996 to chase the Rock and Roll Dream in our sweet Dodge Ram Van, Moby, all the while fantasizing about traveling in a tour bus. We played in venues ranging from beautiful theaters, gorgeous outdoor festivals to little scummy clubs redolent with beer and excrement, with dressing room graffiti that would make Marilyn Manson blush.

We wrote what we hoped and prayed were catchy sell-out hit singles only to have our record company A&R guy and our publisher tell us they were merely "more cerebral Nields songs about teen agers." Rats! we cried.

By the fall of 1997, our van, Moby, began a slow and excruciating death march across Texas.

News from the home front was that our record company, Guardian, was about to fold. When we called them, concerned for their health, they said, "What are you doing talking to us on the phone?! Get back on the road--we need you to keep promoting Gotta Get Over Greta." "But we have so many new songs!"we whined. "We want to make a new record. Or two." "Tough," they said kindly but with tough love."We're busy trying not to become a nonentity Your petty concerns distract us.Meanwhile, go to California where we have a gig for you that will make you famous, put you on TV and in magazines and get you a tour bus."Obediently (for we were nothing if not obedient!), we flew to California to become famous, finding our selves in the Bloomingdale's at the Stanford Mall, performing a song about a teen age prostitute to a group of extremely nervous and self conscious fifteen-year-old-winners of an amateur model search (as well as the losers-they weren't so happy either.) Curiously, this did not directly lead to our fame and fortune, or even a mention in Seventeen Magazine. For the rest of the fall, we played all over the North American continent. In late October, 1997, we took a break in Sewickly, PA to learn the backlog of new songs we'd accumulated. This was the smartest thing we'd done in years.For when the record company did fall, and we found ourselves with no van to travel around in, in that darkest hour between 1997 and 1998, we looked around the room at each other's dear faces and shrugged. Someone said, "We can still play."

Well, play we did. We hunkered down at Sackamusic Studio in Amherst and spent the next third of a year recording these 13&1/2 songs, determined to create something that would make our fans proud of us. On June 13, 1998 we held a fundraising concert called Jam for the Van and bought a new van (Nessie, the Loch Ness Vanster) to replace Moby, and that same month, we signed a record deal with Zoe/Rounder/Mercury/PolyGram on the theory that if one record company buys you lunch, four must feed you for at least four meals.

Where did the songs come from?

-"Easy People" was written in Bloomington, Indiana while Nerissa was going for a run. She was very grateful.

-"Georgia O" was written in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Katryna had suggested to Nerissa that she write a song about women who inspired us, especially Georgia O'Keeffe because her name was so musical.

-"In the Hush Before the Heartbreak" was an idea conceived in the Adirondacks.

-"Snowman" was written on a snowy January morning at home in Hatfield, MA and first performed at Passim in Cambridge, MA. David wrote the guitar chords and the words and handed the lyric sheet to Nerissa and started playing. She made up the tune. ("I wrote the chorus!" David complains frostily.)

-"Art of the Gun" was conceived in Atlanta, GA and David first played it for the rest of the band in Grand Junction, CO. He'd heard about an art exhibit called 'Art of the Gun' and thought it was an oxymoron.

-"Last Kisses" was conceived on the New Jersey Turnpike.

-"Friday at the Circle K" was conceived at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA while we were watching a show featuring Eddie from Ohio and Susan McKeowan & Chanting House; it was finished in Sewickly, PA.

-"Check it Out" was an annoying phrase squeaked out ad nauseam at that show in Bloomingdale's in Northern CA. Nerissa woke from a dream a few days later with the entire first verse full written in her head. She finished it on the stretch of road covering New Mexico, Arizona and eastern CA.

-"Nebraska" was written in Florida, although the inspiration for the song came from a different state.

-"The Train" was written at home in Hatfield. David said, "I oughta write a train song. It's about time." So he did.

"Jennifer Falling Down" was written at home in Hatfield.David came to Nerissa with the words to the chorus and said, "I think this is kind of good." She agreed and wrote the song in about ten minutes.Then they went to a party.

-"Innertube" was written in Pittsburgh, inspired by Dave Chalfant's grandmother's beautiful house.

-"Tomorrowland" was mostly written in McLean, VA, but it was based on a chord pattern written at the Loomis Chaffee School back in 1995.Nerissa found an old "work tape" one day and played it in the car ride down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (much to David's annoyance: it mostly featured her playing the same droning pattern over an over again, attempting to master a certain guitar lick. She still hasn't mastered that lick, but she did get inspired to write this song.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Thoughts on the History of Gotta Get Over Greta

Gotta Get Over Greta

Greta was our first big major label release. This is taken from the songbook we published in 1997.

Greta began in the fall of 1994 when Dave Hower called me up a few minutes after I'd called him to tell him we had twelve gigs in October for which we'd be needing his services. He said, "I'd better join the band for good." I ran, shrieking, to the building next door [the NEO theatre at Loomis Chaffee School] where David Nields and Dave Chalfant were working on some music for Peer Gynt. I told them the great news. At that point, after many years and three previous recordings, The Nields, the five of us, was complete.

The first song written after that fateful day was "Bulletproof" which David and I wrote in a little lookout tower on the Outer Banks of North Carolina over Thanksgiving holiday. A few weeks later came "I Know What Kind of Love This Is." I wrote the melody on a piano and walked around the room singing it to myself until it turned into a story. Around Christmas time as I was wrapping presents, I heard David playing my acoustic in the next room and singing "Gimme my ball back, yeah." We didn't arrange that song for another nine months, but that's when "King of the Hill" was born. "Fountain of Youth" and "Best Black Dress" were written in the Spring of '95. I was thinking about power relationships and generational warfare and Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen." We arranged these two at Loomis Chaffee's NEO Theatre and I remember our excitement when David Nields and Dave Chalfant came up with their bass/guitar interlocking duo on "Fountain." Around that time, David wrote "Cowards," and the five of us went up to Dave Chalfant's brand new studio, Sackamusic, in Amherst [now in Conway] to record a demo of these five songs [all the above except "King of the Hill"] to send to record companies. We did a show at the Bottom Line, along with Acoustic Junction, Hart Rouge and our dear friend Dar Williams. It was hosted by WFUV DJ Rita Houston and Dar said, "Why don't we work up 'Lovely Rita' to sing in her honor?" Dar's record company, Razor & Tie was at the show and said, "Hey Nields, we'd like to put out your record."

So we began preparing for that eventuality by seeking out different producers. A trip to Memphis was in order to do some work with John Hampton at Ardent Studio (he produced the Gin Blossoms there). Out of those sessions we kept takes of "Cowards" and "Alfred Hitchcock" for our EP Abigail. We also recorded "Fountain of Youth," which later made it onto "Greta." We had a great time with Hampton and ate a lot of peanuts and played with the velcro cats who prowled around the studio and would stay suspended on the carpet-covered walls just like those birthday party balloons do when you rub them just so.

In the fall of '95 we relocated to Long View Farm Studio in North Brookfield MA to record with Kevin Moloney, a lovely, delightful Irishman fond of Guinness and the Beatles. We were psyched to work with him because we greatly admired his production of Sinead O'Connor's first record The Lion and the Cobra. He slept in Keith Richard's windowless room and ate a strict vegetarian diet, except for the last night when he had lamb with mint sauce. We breathed in the good New England autumn air, patted the horses and made our record, track by track.

Gotta Get Over Greta was released by Razor & Tie on March 5 1996. With a red 1/2 cover and a blue icon-covered CD peeking through,
[designed by Stefan Sagmeister, who went on to become a Grammy award winning artist, designing covers for Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads] she attracted a lot of attention from the press and we found ourselves driving like crazy from radio station to radio station to tell our story and sing some songs from the CD. Within two months, a major label [Mercury Records's president Dan Goldberg] called Cliff and Craig (presidents of Razor & Tie) and negotiations began to buy out our contract and re-release Greta. By September, a second label got into the bidding, and on October 3 we signed with Guardian, a division of EMI. Just a few days earlier, we'd reconvened at Long View to reocrd a brand new song called "Einstein's Daughter." We also called up Dar and she popped in to sing her part on "Lovely Rita." In January, 1997 the label flew us out to sunny Hollywood where we stayed at the swanky and slightly seedy but very historic Hotel Roosevelt and record the last track for Re-Greta with the man Victoria Williams calls "that nice Paul Fox." Paul did an amazing job on "Taxi Girl," and our record now starts with the song about our long lost friend. I hope someday she hears it.

ON May 6 1997, Guardian released Gotta Get Over Greta with a new blue cover and and a red CD peeking through.
Since that autumn day when Dave Hower made that fateful decision to be our drummer, we've driven our trusty white Dodge Ram Van named Moby around the country (two and a half times), sold 15,000 copies of Red and Blue Greta, made countless batches of Greta cookies and tee shirts, lobbied Ben and Jerry to name a flavor "Strawberry Nields Forever" and made thousands of new friends all over the country. It's always been our goal to have our songs made famous over the airwaves of this country's campfires and school buses. This book is a step in that direction.