THE LINEMEN (2013–2018)
By 2012 I had been wanting to get back into singing and playing my songs for a while, but I didn’t want to start the same thing over again, with the same unshared burden of responsibilities. So when my old friend Kevin Johnson called me to announce that he wanted to get back into music after a 12-year hiatus, and that he wanted to do it with me — 50-50 songwriting and singing duties (likewise expenses and labor) — I was thrilled. And with good reason.
Kevin — a first-rate singer and songwriter with several excellent albums to his name — and I had met in the early '90s when he had taken the initiative to contact me after hearing my first album. He was doing well in D.C. playing a similarly inspired style of rootsy rocking pop, and arranged for us to share many bills on that circuit, especially at IOTA, a legendary venue in Arlington, Va., that was the Linemen's home base until its demise in 2017.
Joining forces gave us not only a formidable back catalog of songs, but also the chance to collaborate on some new ones, which we did with great results. After a few auspicious gigs as the new Linemen, we set about recording our debut album, Close the Place Down, which came out in October 2016 and made the top 50 on the Americana Music Association chart. Besides me on guitar and pedal steel and Kevin on acoustic guitar, the band included D.C. veterans Scott McKnight on bass, Bill Williams on various guitars and mandolin, and Antoine Sanfuentes on drums and percussion. Unfortunately, after playing DC and New York and points in between for five years, the economics of having band members in two different cities became insurmountable, and the Linemen called it a day in July of 2018.
SUSS (2016–present) What is SUSS?
The brainchild of my old friend Bob Holmes, the mandolin player for the Crusty Gentlemen and former leader of ’80s cowpunk pioneers Rubber Rodeo, SUSS is (in Bob’s words) what might have happened if Brian Eno and Ennio Morricone had teamed up.
The band — Bob, guitarist Pat Irwin (Raybeats, B-52s), synth player Gary Leib, engineer/guitarist William Garrett, and myself on steel —recorded SUSS's debut CD, Ghost Box, over about eight months in 2017.
The process was very granular, with each musician adding his parts separately to “stubs” of song ideas created by individual members (although a couple of tracks were based on improvisations between me and Pat or Gary). The entire array of tracks was then handed to William, who sorted through them, picking and processing parts to sample and loop and build soundscapes, creating a different composition with every mix.
This was exactly the opposite of any other project I had ever worked on, with the “song” revealing itself only at the very end of the process, instead of being the common starting point. In any case, it was immensely enjoyable, and the resulting album elicited a similar response from the public: Released in February of 2018, Ghost Box had accrued more than 7 million streams on Spotify by October of that year and drawn a large number of stellar reviews.
Brooklyn-based indie label Northern Spy offered us a recording contract, and Ghost Box (Expanded)— the original album, plus four new tracks — was released on November 17, 2018. A second Northern Spy release is scheduled for fall 2019.