It started with “the Great Gravitron Massacre”. I think. Maybe it was “Come Back to Shelby”. Either way, it was on a Suburban Home Records sampler CD. The old ones with the shitty little sticker with the title of the comp but no other data. I wasn’t sure who it was but the song stuck with me every time I listened to the disc.
So I sorted out who it was and picked up “III” by Two Cow Garage and quickly got to know and love the songs of Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney. If those guys just kept making “III” I probably would have still dug them a bit. That wasn’t the plan though. Every new record has broadened out the scope and nature of their songs. Micah’s new solo outing, “Your New Norman Rockwell”, is a new frontier that is both a surprising change and a beautiful fusion of every other stop on the journey so far.
Micah has always been a great wordsmith. Complex and heartfelt are not two concepts that always ride together comfortably but Micah keeps finding new ways to express the nuance of the broad topics of love, family, self worth, music and the terror and joy of daily life. On “Your New Norman Rockwell” his relationship with words and language seem to be turned to 11. The more personal a story Micah tells the more universal it feels. The closer he pulls in the wider his reach.
The tone throughout is confrontational but not angry. Confident without swagger, more self assured than pushy. The nervous energy that skips across the album (and comes to an early, if brief, release at 2:22 of JAZZ AND CINNAMON TOAST CRUNCH) adds to the desperate and pleading urgency in the lyrics. The melodies are insistent but not obnoxious and the album pushes and pulls with sections featuring acoustic guitar and voice nestled next to full band arrangements. “Hello, My Name Is Henry” could be Soul Asylum circa “Hang Time”. The beating of the heart is that of a troubadours no matter the dressing though. Acoustic and some hard truths, directed inward and outward, are tucked away in almost every track.
I don’t know why exactly but I can already say this is an album that I will be listening to a lot while traveling. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s the unsettled nature of the album, maybe it’s the way “The Interview” sounds like slowly driving out of town for the first minute or so then laying into it once you hit the freeway.
I think Micah managed to find a pretty great mission statement for himself and the rest of us too
“oh what bummer it is to be a human being, oh how amazing it can be to be a human being” – Oh, What a Bummer
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of pieces written for Nine Bullets by special guest artists, creators and other friends of the site. Larry Fulford has spent time on the mic as a comedian and behind the kit as a drummer. He’s a peach of a fellow and we asked him to reflect on a recent show he attended.
It was a Monday night, a night touring musicians dread even more than Sunday night, in Chicago, Cubs Country, during a Cubs game, in a city with a bar on every corner, a theater on every other corner, hundreds of ways to spend your money, and I was taking $8 to Uncommon Ground in Wrigleyville, a smallish craft-everything bar just down the street from where the Cubbies were playing, to see Micah Schnabel (Two Cow Garage) perform a solo/acoustic set on the second-to-last night of his most recent tour. A capable two-piece, acoustic singer/songwriter accompanied by an electric lead player, kicked things off. The sound was outstanding but the room itself was kind of stuffy, seated with table service and drinks I couldn’t afford. Maybe fifteen people sat at the tables, kind of spread out, making their pricey drinks last and nibbling on food I was jealous of. Fifteen in a room that, according to a sign, held forty-seven. It felt more like a cafe than a dive bar or rock club, the kinds of places I was used to seeing Schnabel and Two Cow. But the sound was incredible, so I told myself to hold onto that. From meager, midwestern beginnings as a simple alt-country outfit that was heavier than most, to a soaring, driving-with-the-top-down powerhouse walking a tightrope over a quarry of punk rock, to saying “Fuck it” and diving headfirst into that quarry but climbing up for air long enough to keep things interesting, I’ve been a fan of Two Cow Garage since I saw them play to an audience of maybe 12 as though it were an audience of 12,000 without a hint of bitterness. Years later, on an unassuming Monday night in Chi-Town, Schnabel alone took the stage (or place on the floor where a stage might be someday) and, just as I’d seen him lead the charge in front of 12 as though we were 12,000, stepped up to the mic to do exactly what he had come here to do, regardless of outcome or interest. Except this time, for the most part, he left the old songs on the records, save for maybe one Two Cow Garage track (“Let the Boys Be Girls”) and an I’m Dead, Serious bonus track (“How to Quit Smoking”). The rest of the set I was mostly unfamiliar with, with the exception of a couple songs I’d seen live clips of on YouTube. And this new stuff, wherever it came from, whatever triggered it, was captivating in the most brutally honest, unafraid to make you uncomfortable, beautiful way. There were lyrics about uncertainty, about questioning your own identity and the idea of identity, our collective reasons for doing things as simple as making small talk, existence, fear, the illusion of an “American dream,” domestic violence, child abuse, gun control, greed, starving, and finding hope in hopelessness. Ya know, real cock-sure, glamorous rock ‘n’ roll shit. Certain lines had me smiling, others had me staring, taking them in, sitting with them, asking myself questions like “How does this make me feel?” and thinking things like “Holy hell.” The imagery wasn’t always easy on the ears, but real art, the good stuff, isn’t always something you necessarily want to hear. But Schnabel’s words kept the room pindrop-worthy and landed as relatable, or at least easy to empathize with, because, subtly, ultimately, the theme of the night was We’re All Just People Here, Flawed and Fractured, Trying Our Fucking Best. Afterwards, as though nothing had happened, Micah and I and some buddies shot the shit about nothing at all, came up with ideas for t-shirts we’re never going to make, pretended we were friends with Seal. But something had happened. Something I was aware of even while it was happening. We’d all been temporarily whisked away to Greenwich Village or San Francisco in the ‘60s, when people gathered in rooms that wouldn’t hold more than maybe forty-seven people and turned their attention to someone who was singing or saying things as though he or she had been somewhere we’d never been, and maybe would never dare go, and had come back to us with pockets full of postcards. It’s been said “the revolution will not be televised,” because it won’t be. Because it’s slow-going and all around us and happening all the time. And it’s not always big, with explosions, castle-storming, chaining ourselves to trees. Sometimes, more often than not, it’s very, very small and personal, like a butterfly a million miles away, flapping its wings. I was born too late to sit in a smoky speakeasy and watch Lenny Bruce launch verbal cannonballs into the sails of hypocrisy, or Dylan boldly declare outright “the times, they are a-changin,’” but this show gave me what I imagine were similar chills. The whole “being a musician” thing usually begins simple enough. You want to learn how to play guitar (or drums, or bass, or sing) because you don’t just listen to music, music speaks to you, and you want to know what it’s like to speak that language, even if at first all that sounds like is butchering “Come as You Are” (or “Enter Sandman,” or “I Wanna Be Sedated” or anything-Zeppelin) while your parents knock on the door and ask if you’ve finished your homework. Your heroes are outcasts, outlaws, rebels who shirked real life in favor of climbing on stages, suspended in a state of permanent adolescence, sweating and bleeding and leaving everything “real” behind for whatever reason; money, fame, chickz (or dudez), or purely because they felt they had nowhere else to go. There are all sorts of reasons someone might start or join a band, but I think at the very core of every one is camaraderie. Whether you’re a misunderstood nerd with Rush posters all over your walls or a nerd-bullying jock dabbling in finding the only acoustic guitar at the house party to wow young ladies with Nickelback’s “Photograph,” there’s a sort of us-against-the-world feeling when you’re playing the role of rock star. And I use “rock star” figuratively here to describe anyone who’s found a spotlight, be it at a dumpy coffee shop where someone blends drinks over your attempt at quivering out the tritest of trite lyrics about your last break-up, a garage with three friends who also happen to know “Say it Ain’t So,” or a lonely bedroom, sitting on the edge of a dirty mattress, strumming the ever-loving shit out of “Everlong.” Myself? It couldn’t have been more about camaraderie if I’d known I was going to be writing this article one day and needed it to be. I became a drummer solely because my buddies in junior high were starting a band and needed a drummer, and back then, as now, there were no drummers to be found. The thing about bands, and music in general, is over time it gets harder and harder to make time. People go off to college, get married, accept offers for “real” jobs, have babies, find Jesus, sometimes all of the above. The odds are stacked against you from the get-go. It’s as though every band is a camel that thinks it’s a tank, and life is a veritable desert covered in sand-colored landmines. And, if your delicate endeavor does somehow beat the odds and sticks it out longer than, say, other high school garage bands in your graduating class, it’s almost inevitable that, eventually, the reason(s) you came together become filtered through reasons to continue to exist. Why are we doing this? It’s clearly not the money. It’s not the fame. Chickz? Dudez? Expression? Sustainability? Legacy? Should we start dressing a little nicer onstage so, aesthetically, we look more like we’re in the same group? Where should each of us look in this photo? Did that make us look too depressed? How are we gonna pay for the next record? Why are we even bothering making a next record when we still have boxes of the old record? Do we know any mechanics in Des Moines? It’s almost as though, to keep it going, you have to cling to some sort of goal, no matter how invented, farfetched, or out of reach, and start being concerned with things like marketing (blech), finding the right manager (blech!), and selling yourself (what in the actual fuck?!). It’s a long way to the lower-middle if ya wanna rock ‘n’ roll. Which is why it’s always inspiring when you come across a band or singer/songwriter (or, hell, painter, writer, comic, photographer, etc.) that refuses to be pigeonholed or let fashion and fleeting trends dictate the next thing that comes out of his or her hands and mouth, preferring rather to use their guitars, words, paintbrushes, and cameras as knives to cut out the bullshit and carve their own niche, searching for revelation, revolution, or simply a sigh of relief in the midst of a screaming world, where we all think we’re the centers of our own universes. Those are the ones keeping the ball rolling. Those are the ones doing more than entertain. They’re fighting a good fight and an uphill battle blindfolded because, to them, it doesn’t matter if they never cross the finish line or get gunned down along the way. They don’t do this simply because they want to anymore, they do it because they need to, because something in their brains or hearts or guts won’t let them set the tools of their trades down long enough to get a “real” job. There’s something burning inside and no extinguishing the flame. There is only breathing fire. Some of these people have been at it for years and will be until their last gasps, when you can finally pry their reasons for existing from their cold, dead hands. They’ve missed loved ones’ birthdays, lost jobs, been evicted, had relationships crumble, and none of it has made them choose to slow down because there is. no. choice. Micah Schnabel is one such “lifer” whose evolution I feel privileged to have had ringside seats for, and Two Cow Garage is one such band. And now, all these years later, when most groups at their level would be paralyzed with fear, carefully calculating what to say next, how to sound next, what to wear next, or deciding maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all, Schnabel is all but dismissing the surface, choosing instead to turn himself inside out, more interested in what we as human beings might be trying to hide rather than how we as entertainers look under those precious lights. And, in turn, he’s writing some of the most important songs of his generation, and the generation after, and probably the generation before, and probably generations to come. I don’t know how else to describe it. Important. I could try to explain it better, like how it kind of reminds me of Salinger with a guitar or Dylan with a sense of humor, but to be fair to everyone I’m name-dropping, Micah included, I’ll stop at “important” and hope you see fit to check it out on your own when he comes to your town or commits it to plastic. I’d like to think true artists aspire to reach a point where they’re comfortable baring their souls. Some manage to get over themselves and find a way to dig that deep. Even fewer will dig that deep, hit a gas line, stash of marked bills, lava, or worse and still throw enough caution to the wind to unearth it into a song, painting, book, joke, movie, etc. Micah now goes beyond that. He hits the skeleton of his soul, chips it away and fires the pieces into space with a slingshot. And now that he’s armed with these new songs and ideas, that run the gamut from friendly reminders to scathing satire, I’ve decided the only thing I enjoy more than listening to him myself is watching people hear him for the first time.
I hit the road again for another fun filled night of great music and fantastic friends this time ending up in Nashville at The High Watt. This wasn’t a normal night at a random show as there were some of my best friends from St Louis and all over TN there for the evening which means i’m sorry for anyone around us be we were singing loudly and enthusiastically.
Starting off the night were the Heathen Sons who’ve been written up here before by our own Wolf and to say they didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. I’d given a few listens to their EP and while I liked it it hadn’t stuck out for me yet. This happens more than I’d like to admit and is one of the many reasons why I try not to miss an opener to any show if possible. You’ll never know the music that grabs you until you hear it live. This band is one of those for me while I enjoyed the record the live performance was just full of very different energy that myself and seemingly the rest of the crowd enjoyed. It’s slightly indie while still definitely southern and past that i’d just call it good. Basically check these guys out if they’re close to your town.
Just over two years ago Lucero played two nights in Nashville and on the first night I elbowed a kid in the head that turned out to be Todd Farrell Jr. which was the beginning of a helluva night. When I sobered up I remembered to check out Todd’s band and was very happy that I did as the then current release of Where Fake Cowboys Go to Drink has some great songs on it. After that background up next was Benchmarks formerly known as Todd Farrell Jr and the Dirty Birds which while not a bad name did not accurately represent what the band is doing today so they changed it. In the best way possible there’s no easy way to categorize this band as they’re at their core a great rock band who also pull in some country and punk sensibility while never committing fully to either of the typical interpretations of those genres. So I’ve seen Todd Farrell and the Dirty Birds before at their last CD release and that gave me high hopes for what i’d see this night. I was not disappointed as the band ripped through the most recent American Nights EP as well as some tracks from the previous two release and requests. By their own admission the band hadn’t played together in some time as Todd had been out on the road with Two Cow Garage and everyone else had other obligations but couldn’t hear that from the audience. The set closed with Pawnshops when even Todd had to acknowledge our awful but very enthusiastic singing. I’m not sure when or where you’ll be able to see this band but if/when Benchmarks or Todd solo comes close to your town it is a show not to miss and in the meantime pickup the EP and the previous releases.
Next up is Two Cow Garage who I first discovered when Please Turn the Gas Back On was reviewed on this very site and from then on has been one of if not my favorite band. I’ve seen them countless times over the years at shows that have evolved from me and the band to 20ish diehard fans to today when they’re able to draw sustainable crowds. It’s always hard to talk about Two Cow and Charles Hale did a better job than I ever could breaking down their style, progression and songwriting here so read that if you want some deeper insight into the band. I will say that I think we’ll need to add a new volume to that talking about what Todd is bringing to the band today. On this night the crowd was mixed with people who were obviously there for the first two bands but still curious about Two Cow and then a section of long term fans myself included who were somewhat vocal. Two Cow ran through highlights from most of their catalog not really leaning to one record or another but including the current single Let the Boys Be the Girls and the upcoming Continental Distance. To the folks that have not see Two Cow recently or at all the band is elevated with the addition of Todd Farrell Jr. who to my seasoned but uneducated ears fills out the songs in general and replaces some of the keyboards from the records. I never write setlists or take notes but on this night I took three notes which consisted of this: the 4 way harmonies are amazing and really add something to multiple songs then the unbelievably quiet crowd during Shoulda California and Swingset Assassin which is worth noting as it demonstrates how much people were enthralled by this performance. I always say that i’ll never see a better Two Cow show than what I see in Little Rock at The White Water Tavern but this show has me starting to think that may not be the case. It’s hard to beat a night with great friends and fantastic music so this was obviously a good one for all involved. It’s hard to come up with a better live band than Two Cow Garage so if you have a chance to see it and miss them i’m sorry for you.
Our loyal readers are no doubt familiar with Todd Farrell Jr: in addition to writing and recording the opening theme to Ninebullets Radio on WMNF, Farrell has released music under his own name and with the band Todd Farrell Jr. & the Dirty Birds. The band has evidently decided to buckle down and put their nose to the eternal grindstone of touring and sleeping in vans as well as several other cliches.
The newly dubbed Benchmarks have put up a pre-order for their new EP American Night on Bandcamp, and given us the title track to listen to. With lyrics penned by Farrell, a more professional sound than the band has had before, and guest vocals by Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage, you can’t really go wrong. Check it out!
Every once in a while an artist releases something that unlike any of their previous efforts, keeping the audience on their toes about any possible expectations and hopefully feeling fresh and relevant while doing it. That adequately describes the sound and fury of Micah Schnabel‘s new EP Not The Boy You Used To Know. Our hard and fast rule about not reviewing EPs can at times be anything but, and new music from one of the songwriters behind Ninebullets stalwart Two Cow Garage is obviously going to snap that rule in half.
The album opens with “Scared of Heights”, the song most sonically similar to Micah’s previous solo offerings. As the song goes on, however, you’ll hear plenty that’s new: carefully placed electric guitar hovering in the background, a joyful organ, and perhaps most notably a greater maturity and resonance in Schnabel’s voice. These songs are the closest to his speaking voice that I’ve heard him sing, and that lends an earnest and frank tone. In many ways this isn’t the same man who penned “American Static” or “Cut Me, Mick”, and he lets us know that up front.
“Awe shucks I’m just happy to be here
But I’m not your little brother anymore.”
I’ve covered another two of the songs, “More Drugs” and “Bang! Bang! Bang!” for the site previously, and I still stand by everything I said. There are songs about the past and songs that use the past as framing for the future; all of Micah’s reminiscing on Not The Boy You Used To Know is decidedly the latter. While I may disagree about the existence of objective “good” and “bad” (it could just be my heavily D&D influenced childhood), I’m 100% with everyone trying to take themselves less seriously.
This maturity is on full display in the EP’s title track and centerpiece. It has a tempo, a melody, a drive and urgency, a vintage sound (complete with doo-wop background singers)…plenty of things that might not be expected to mesh well with Micah’s wry writing and blunt delivery, but this album is all about smashing expectations. None of us are the people we used to be, and if we don’t like the people we are now we can sure as hell change that now.
“I just got so tired of trying to rock the boat
So I’m sinking this fucking ship, and I am hoping that I float
I would take the thousand deaths of a sailor lost at sea
Than swim safely into shore on the wave of mediocrity”
Not The Boy You Used To Know is a stellar reminder of the absurdity and fragility in life, and the message is clear: if you don’t like where the current is taking you, sink the fucking ship.
Ninebullets’ own rock darlings, Two Cow Garage, have let folks in on their path forward:
“Today we release the first in a series of singles that will, ultimately, lead to our next record. The plan is to release two (or so) singles, then an EP, rinse, repeat, until we release a collective record (also with new material).”
First of these singles was “Let The Boys Be Girls”, available over on their bandcamp for the very reasonable fee of a single dollar bill.
The emerging social media culture makes it difficult for bands to continue to embrace the traditional record release structure, and Two Cow are trying something different to keep their audience engaged and themselves on the road: a worthy endeavor if there ever was one. This tour they’re also bringing along Todd Farrell (of Todd Farrell Jr. & The Dirty Birds) on guitar, and I can’t wait to hear where the band is musically by the time they get around to my neck of the woods.
There’s a lot to say about this song that I’m going to save for another post, but I’m unbelievably happy that it was written; especially that it was written by one of my favorite bands. At this year’s Holiday Hangout, the entire crowd was singing along a month and a half before the track was released. That’s power.
So, buy the single, check the band out on Facebook and Twitter, and then go ahead and let the boys be girls because who the fuck do you think you are anyways.
Hey hep cats and cool kittens, it’s your friendly neighborhood Wolf bringing you word of some new music from one of our little non-genre (non-re) stalwarts.
Micah Schnabel (Two Cow Garage) has released two tracks from his upcoming EP “Not The Boy You Used To Know”. You can find them over at Bandcamp and buy them for a buck, whetting your appetite for the EP in whatever formats it’s released on.
First up there’s “More Drugs”, a stream of consciousness revelation based on finding a significant amount of money in an unmarked envelope on the floor of a casino.
Next is “Bang! Bang! Bang!”, a deconstruction of America’s illegal immigration hangups that starts out with Murph (Two Cow’s drummer) trying to talk a driver into smuggling the Two Cow boys into Mexico.
Two Cow Garage, as a band, feels like a high school lab microscope that twisted out of its moorings and grew up to be the Hubble. Their view switched from micro to macro, each record incrementally expanding with the awareness of the songwriters. Shane Sweeney’s first solo record (I say first because another one is coming, hot off the internet presses) is an earlier example of worldy evaluation, but Micah has been dealing with Micah for a long time. That isn’t to discredit him: the internal workings of our own minds are a worthy subject for study. But Death of the Self-Preservation Society was a first punch thrown at the world as a whole, Micah as free-wheeling free-agent rather than existentially self-aware sage.
These songs have a heavy musical style, and feel like an extension of his last solo effort I’m Dead, Serious (of which your intrepid author was absolutely the first to listen to while Leaving Las Vegas, alone). They aren’t Two Cow Garage releases, and while they may be both looser and thicker than full band efforts, they provide a suitable backdrop for the centerpiece: Micah’s songwriting. He challenges convictions, all and any, that someone isn’t willing to defend.
Two Cow Garage is a band that is preparing themselves to knock chips off of shoulders, and Micah Schnabel is letting us in on the secret a little early.
Check these songs out on Bandcamp at the links above, then like the band over on Facebook.
The Clash “Clash City Rockers” from The Clash Sebadoh “Weird” from The Sebadoh Micah Schnabel “I’m Dead Serious” from I’m Dead Serious Charley The City Mouse Fasano “Gasoline Fumes” from Retrospect/ed The Minutemen “Jesus And Tequila” from Double Nickels on the Dime John KaSandra “The Natural Do” from Single John R. Miller “M.O.T.E” from Service Engine Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound “Time In Bars” from Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound Mother Merey And The Black Dirt “Old Rope” from Down To The River Pixies “No. 13 Baby” from Doolittle Peter Buck “Life Is Short” from I Am Back To Blow Your Mind Once Again Benjamin Booker “Violent Shiver” from Benjamin Booker Tyler Keith & The Apostles “Shadow Of A Cross” from Black Highway