Two chances to fall into the Well

Feb. 13, 2010

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from Miriam, the lead vocalist from Portland band Miriam’s Well. She’ll be playing in town this month and she was nice enough to send in a promo song, and I told her I’d see about writing up a blog.

Until now, and I have no idea why, I had a huge case of writer’s block on this one. Actually, I guess this is technically “Blogger’s Block.” I mean, I guess I could have just gone ahead and run the interview (after all, it’s quite long) and left it at that.

But what fun would that be?

None, none at all.

I mean, I usually try to come up with some story about something that ties me to the music, even if it’s in a roundabout way. But on this one, I was stumped.

But thankfully, due to some more e-mail correspondence with Miriam, I think I’ve latched on to something that I can use as a reference point.

But first, let’s talk about Miriam’s band for a second. They’re currently on the heels of finishing a bang-up rock and roll record. For the last year or so, Miriam’s Well has been laying down track after track of material.

And some of these songs, as I understand it, could contain as many as 50 parts, maybe more.

That’s a lot of tracks.

The album is so huge, in fact, Miriam and her musical partner, Mark Bowden, flew down to L.A. last week to mix the album.

Now, I must admit, when I hear of bands flying down to LA, just to MIX the new album, I believe you could put me in the “Jealous” category. I mean, I joked that I can hardly get my band to (ahem…) PRACTICE IN HOOD RIVER ONCE A WEEK LIKE MOST OTHER NORMAL BANDS, and here I’ve got to talk about a band that’s “Flying Down to LA to Mix An Album.”

It’s just not fair.

So, let’s switch gears for a bit. Late last year, one of my 12 Shows in 12 Months featured a performer who’s been on lot’s of recordings, and I have no doubt that he’s been involved in the mixing process of some of those records.

In fact, there was one particular record he was on, that’s always been on my radar, probably since high school. And luckily, the record is so old now, it’s usually found in the bargain CD bins for $5.99 or less because it’s the classic “Nice Price” series … you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, since I believe the original record I listened to actually belonged to my sister, I hadn’t had the record in my possession for, oh, I don’t know, 25 years. So I was glad to pick it up a few weeks ago adding it to my CD collection. And, as always, I thoroughly read the liner notes.

And, upon reading said liner notes, not only did I confirm that the guy I saw last year was indeed on this record, but now it’s coming to my attention that a few of the songs on this “live” album were recorded in my home state!

I knew there was some underlying reason why I’ve always liked that record.

In fact, when I run the data into the “Google Maps” application, I find out that my house was approximately 43.6 miles from the actual concert venue (a bit longer if you took I-287 South).

But of course, since I was only 12 at the time the concert happened, it was unlikely I was upset about not going to the show. When you look at the calendar for Sept. 6, 1977, I can plainly see that it was a school night. So there was no chance of me going to that show, for sure.

So, what does all this have to do with Miriam and mixing her album?

Well, just take a guess who walks into the studio when Miriam is mixing her new album?

Jackson Browne!

I’m telling you, it’s just not fair.

Miriam’s Well will be performing at Double Mountain Brewery on Saturday, Feb. 20 and April 10.

Interview with Miriam's Well

Miriam wrote:

Hi Jim. I'm glad you're good with it. We're down in LA mixing. Been hanging out w/Jackson Browne. It's been a trip!!!

1. Describe how you first got into music and at what point did you decide you wanted to go with a full time band?

I got into music as a child listening to the music of The Band, Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin, Hendrix, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, The Beatles, George Harrison, Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stones, Dylan ... and a million more bands from that era.

I felt music. I wanted to experience being in it very early on. I got a guitar from my first boyfriend who taught me 3 chords and told me if I had blisters on my fingers at the end of the week, he'd give me the guitar. I got the guitar. An old Epiphone.

I decided in college while studying creative writing and humanities, that I wanted to perform. I started playing at the coffee house concerts in the Rat. I was pretty bad, I think, but determined to get better and people encouraged me to continue.

After college, I moved to Cambridge and continued performing in coffee houses as a folk-rock singer at the time. I graduated to a rock singer a bit later and played solo rock shows around Boston and Cambridge w/steady gigs all over town.

I wanted to expand my rock sound, so I hired players from Berkeley (College of Music) which came w/ free rehearsal space and ended up traveling to NY and Canada w/ various incarnations of my bands.

Found a manager. Fired the manager. Left New England for Portland. Played music as a soloist here. Wasn't sure if I was really good enough to have a career. Stopped playing music. Had a mental breakdown over it.

Five years later, resumed my attempt to have a career. Went into the studio. Recorded an EP of a variety of styles I'd written and my session players became my first Portland band. Only the drummer from that time is still with me after a very rocky on-and-off period w/me.

Eventually I had the band I wanted. Well, almost. If B3 organist, Dave Fleshner would leave Curtis Salgado's band for us, then I'd have the perfect band. Sorry Curtis! I love you anyway.

The band I have is the sound I want. Mark is the music partner I'd been missing. I really want my horn section and background singers but so can't afford them right now. We had everyone at the Waterfront Blues Fest and it was awesome. More please...I'd like some more!

2. Where do the songs come from? Life experiences? Fiction?

Who the hell knows? Sometimes they come from things I've been thinking about. From things I've experienced. Sometimes I think about how someone else is feeling and try to capture that.

It's most intriguing when Mark is playing music, creating a song, and lyrics come out of me. I don't know where they're from. They appear as the music is being written. Simultaneously. It is magical. I don't get in the way of it. Just listen to the music and let the lyrics flow.

That's how much of the new record was written. Diamonds. More Than I. Stay. Indians and Clowns, the title track. Did You Know That. All of these and so many more were written this way in my kitchen.

3. Who are you listening to these days (who’s on your iPod)?

Who am listening to on the old IPOD? (Please see Mark's responses from previous e-mail) Well, the bankers of east Africa have my iPod, I'm sure. I can't get it unless I go thru a bogus online bank account.

Really, I do not own an iPod. I rarely listen to music. If there's something I hear about that blows my mind, I buy the CD. I love Ray LaMontagne. I love the Black Crowes. I'd love to sing w/Chris Robinson one day.

I'm currently listening to the songs my keyboardist, Steve Kerin wrote. We're going to cover a few of them. I'm acutely aware of the 40 songs I've yet to finish w/Mark that sit on my laptop. I'm busy creating and not so busy listening to others. I probably should, but I don't.

{Note: Miriam and I had some e-mail exchanges concerning how spam-mail about renegade African bankers could hinder the music promotion business.)

Mark Bowden (the other half of Miriam’s Well): Things I listen to:

Older stuff - Humble Pie, The Band, Rod Stewart (Every picture Tells a Story/Never a Dull Moment), George Harrison (All Things Must Pass), Rolling Stones, Clapton (Derek and the Dominos), The Who, John Mellencamp, Amanda Marshall, The Beatles (White Album), Sly Stone, Long John Baldry - late 60s early 70s rock and old Motown/Stax stuff

Newer - Twilight Singers, Black Crowes, Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, Kathleen Edwards, Amy Mann, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin, PJ Harvey, Michelle Branch, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Norah Jones

The above are some of my references for the record...

What's in the iPod? The next 13 songs!

4. You've mentioned that an album is almost finished. What has the recording process been like? (track by track, live band all at once). Any name for the record yet?

We're going down to LA on Monday to finish the mixes on the new record. It's called Indians and Clowns. It's nine tunes of the 23 we recorded over the last two years.

The recording process: We went to Falcon studios here in PDX to work w/Dennis. Mark Bowden, my lead guitarist and co-writer, produced. The band was completely local except for Jeff Pevar, a guest guitarist on a few songs.

23 songs were recorded followed by nine getting edited over the last year and making it on the record. Another bunch will go on the next record as well as some we haven't recorded but have the vibe to fit the next record. We didn't record completely live.

We did an original live take to run with but recorded tracks on top of the rhythm section. It was an amazing experience. I've never had an opportunity to create harmony lines until this record. Mark, w/some help from me, created all the lines you hear.

We brought in Thara Memory to create horn lines for War No More and songs for the next record. He brought in the horn section. We used quite a few background singers all from PDX who were amazing. (I can go into names if you want them).

Some tunes have over 75 tracks on them. It's big music. It's a rock record. We made a record exactly the way we wanted to. It's big. It's heavy. You can get stoned to it. You can put it in your car and sing really loud with it. We're sure you'll let us know what you think when you hear it!

When the recording was finished, we went into the editing phase which took one year. Now we're at finishing the mixes. That's happening in LA as is the mastering. We played a few tunes for KINK radio after creating a rush job of mixing/mastering two songs for the Waterfront Blues Fest we played in this past summer.

KINK loved the songs. They're playing “More Than I” on occasion and are looking forward to the full-length record.

5. You mention Tess Barr in your e-mail. She's a power-house blues singer, for sure. How did you meet up with Tess?

I met her thru Lisa Mann, a friend of ours and killer bassist! I hadn't met Tess till we played at Double Mountain but we had spoken on the phone. It was a wonderful surprise to see her at the show!

6. If the band had to make New Year's Resolutions, what would the top three be?

Don't make'em if you're gonna break'em!

I'm sure you'll have follow-ups for me and may want me to answer parts of these more fully. Just let me know. I also know you won't use all of this. Don't forget about Mark's responses. Tell me what you think! Thanks so much!

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