Back in the UK again, it's been three years. Last time I was over here was a follow up to my supporting Ian Hunter's Acoustic Tour, where I came back over with James Mastro and did a handful of dates on my own. That was May 2009. It's now July 2012. I've been wanting to come back since 2009, but had to wait on a new record, had to wait till my label found a fiscally sound reason to release it over here. If it were up to me I'd have just come over, album in hand, and sold off the stage. But this being a whole different country, I took others' advice and waited till I was told the timing was right. The timing, this time, being an invitation to support Alejandro Escovedo's UK Release tour for "Big Station", his wonderful new album. Part of this tour was a leap of faith. As 'support', you really don't make much money. You hope for good CD sales from the stage to offset the cost of traveling, and since I'm coming over during Wimbledon and right before the Olympics, my travel costs were sky high this time. As well as some stupid glitches I made (um, customs tax on shipping CDs because nobody advised me how to do this...). But Alejandro's gang have made it easy on me, by inviting me to travel with them in the band van. Which helps me to not have to rent a car, and it's been great, because the guys in the band are all really kind, very interesting guys with war scars and open hearts and they welcomed me in from the start without any hazing or attitude. Mike Allen, the tour manager, is a big Glaswegian with a heart of gold. And Alejandro is one of the classiest and humblest people I've met in any walk of life. A huge huge talent who is revered in many circles and is one of those artists that many people feel should be way more famous (to me, he's pretty famous) and who, once in his presence, the fame thing falls away -- YOUR response to him, not his response to you. He seems to treat everyone with dignity and respect and meets people at their levels. He is such a decent guy that I feel like I'm remembering why I started doing this in the first place. And the kind of artist I aspire to be.
Sometimes when I travel, I'm tempted to blog about the things I see, what I eat, all the unusual happenings, but not this time. I've seen rolling fields of green dotted with sheep with sheets of rain from the window of the Sprinter. I've seen red brick buildings stained grey from old soot. I've seen castles from the highway, distant. Our days are running together. Wake at about 8am. Make tea from the room (good thing I gave up coffee this year for tea). Take a 1/2 hour run if we're in a safe area. Or do a bit of yoga in the room. I've taken to doing an excruciating (for me) sit up routine, as I'm frustrated by my body seeming to take some age on in the middle. Eat fruit and yogurt that I've snagged from the dressing room the night before. Meet at the van at noon. Drive 3 or so hours. Read in the van. Get to the next hotel. Check in. Nap for a minute. Load in at 5. Check emails while the band sound checks. I soundcheck for 10 minutes. We all eat dinner somewhere. I play my 45 minutes. They play for 2 1/2 hours. I join them on a few songs. We pack up, take all the food and waters from the rider for the van. Get to the hotel, check a few emails. Sleep.
It's not glamourous. This is where it is a job. No real time to sightsee. We get a taste. Then we're off to the next place. But for 45 minutes I get to play some songs and do what I love the most and it's all worth it. I don't make much money. Never have. I wonder if I ever will. I know that I need to. Leading a creative life since I was in my 20's, I never really had the luxury of making more than I needed and setting myself up any kind of cushion. It's always been a month to month existence. I've chosen this. I know it and I don't complain but it is unsettling. And I wonder if there will come a time where I'll need to surrender to the realities of the economics of this ever-shrinking/ever-growing music business -- a lot of people out there making it, and not a lot of people buying it. I've heard way too many times "there's too many girls with acoustic guitars out there" -- especially here in the UK. Bullshit. I hate that phrase. Are there too many boys with electric guitars? Are there too many banjos? Yes. There are a lot of girls playing folk/americana/roots music. A lot. But each is different. Just because Mary Gauthier and Diana Jones and Carrie Rodriguez and Anais Mitchell and Tift Merrit are out here touring (I see their posters and their names on the bills of the places I'm playing) does it mean there's not room for another? Can you really compare any of those women I just named and say that they are the same thing? Don't they offer something different? Something unique and maybe even essential? Don't they touch hearts in different ways?
Maybe I'm just the eternal optimist. I struggle every day with the monkey-mind of comparison. The voice in my head that tells me I'm not good enough and someone else is... better, prettier, thinner, younger, older, whateverer. That voice is exhausting and I wish it weren't there, but it is, always there. In all of us, right? I remember the first producer who wanted to sign me to a ridiculous 7 term deal, just to make demo's for me. 7 terms and ownership of all of my music just to make a few demo's. It was the most ridiculous contract and I thanked him and declined. He said, "you'll never get anywhere in this business". It was a line out of a 1950's movie. And he said it with venom. That was 1998.
Hanging around with Alejandro and Bobby and Chris and Billy and hearing their stories, I feel like, again, I'm in a club -- a club of people who have heard these things and slapped them away. Told those voices to piss off. While we followed instinct, sometimes down dark paths that led us to our knees, and sometimes to these small moments where one really great show, one amazing sound person, one kind club owner, one small club full of 100 fans who love every song we're doing makes a magical night and we all realize that THIS is what we're after, despite the voices, the doubts, the struggles, the poverty, the lack of sleep, the loneliness, all of it.