The Whistles and the Bells
All I know is this: the trumpet sounds in the distance and I must stumble towards its plaintive, soprano song. How long has it been blowing without my responding? I do not know. The exodus from my last musical boxing match left my ears dull from thrown stones and plugged with tossed flowers. But, now, their weathering and wilting has given way to resurrection and I hear the magnetizing serenade. So, I’m waking my tingling, aching, somewhat atrophied appendages up from their slumber…..
Whether it be The Louvin Brothers “Satan is Real” fire and brimstone notions or Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” more amoeba-like concepts- my favorite music is like life- with an unrelenting yet humble, “take it or leave it” approach. Violently delicate and poignantly excavating. And that’s what I want to be when I grow up. A soul with a peep hole. This is my best attempt towards that kind of transparent liberation. I sincerely believe “The Whistles and the Bells” is the sound of something stranger and stronger than me prying the plywood off the windows of my little frame house. The echo of a tear-soaked .22 caliber bullet thru my trusty old guard dog; silencing the barks of “no trespassing” at all who would wander near my rusty old gate. No doubt, this will either be my wax winged trip around the sun or my drowning sea. Those pages are left to be written.
But some have been. In fact, in writing this bio, the most nauseating of narcissistic pilgrimages, one realization has made it worth the trip. To see the sonic high cotton I’ve stumbled into over the past half decade. Afforded opportunities to make records with dragons slayers as diverse as Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and boyhood hero/bluegrass giant Ricky Skaggs and, most recently, to be a touring partner with the thundering herd that is Mumford and Sons. Working mainly as front man for alternative/bluegrass quintet Cadillac Sky- it has been a musical life working above my skill set. A bewildering, steady ascension on the proverbial line graph of conquests. But then in 2010 it nosedives. For just as my singing/songwriting snowball seemed like it might survive the fiery pit it had long defied- I dropped out. And proving once again that bumper sticker truths are usually more successful at brevity than accuracy, my exit was erroneously billed on most digital street corner rags as “lead singer gets religion!-leaves music”. Some tossed bouquets, some threw stones, some shrugged shoulders. But I knew it was time for me to chase a different mystery.
All cards on the table…in 2008 the God of the scriptures made a believer out of me. And a season in the wilderness, re-evaluating, re-constituting, re-channeling, was the required response to its royal beckoning. And those first few years, played out like the time lapsed film of the birthing of a giraffe. Awkward and invigorating. Uncoordinated orchestration. “The Whistles and the Bells” is the autobiographical snapshot of the personal earthquake surrounding the education that studying my Creator has been. It is the soundtrack of the potter molding its clay. So much so that, perhaps “Letters from the Potter’s Kiln” might have been an appropriate title for this record; had I not fallen on the more lethargic option of “self titled”.
These nine numbers, birthed out of that proverbial kiln, and held thru the stained glass filter that is the engineering work of the legend in making-Vance Powell- are kind of my fourteen year old musical fantasy league- when I was chopping my Harmony mandolin and sawing my great uncle’s Verbens fiddle to Bill Monroe and Country Gazette LPs while chasing it with the more unnerving energy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” or Pearl Jams “Ten”. Strange bedfellows perhaps. But I didn’t worry about that then. I’m always seeking to regain that innocence lost.
The whole thing almost never started. If not for a continual, seemingly supernatural shove I might never have made it inside those colorful, cramped walls of Sputnik Studios on the outskirts of Nashville. But, with some of my favorite people that just happen to be my favorite musicians in tow (banjo beast Matt Menefee, bass monster Byron House, piano maestro “Maestro”, electric inspiration Adam Stockdale -to mention only a handful) the bullet left the gun. Twas an embarrassment of riches, no doubt. And their outspoken talents have helped me avoid the dreaded solo record that I was seeking to allude- for this is, for certain, a tapestry of fingerprints. Nine songs, two days. Simply approached the canvass and painted. Simple, though, is my mind’s greatest complexity. So it’s a little more Pollock’s “drip paintings” than Picasso’s “blue period” but maybe, ultimately, more Wile E. Coyote’s “fake tunnel” renderings.
Once it was done, I breathed out and sat on it like a mother hen. The question resonating: “do I wanna do this?!” My last aforementioned foray left a bad taste in my mouth and I blamed it on music. I waited for this quick grab and gulp from the milk jug to sour and it didn’t- or it hasn’t. I’ve realized I’m the perversion. I’m the monster I hunt. Music has always been a gift.
And I guess if life, as George Carlin puts it, for most people is a “series of dogs”, I have to think for musicians it is a “series of bands”. So yeah “The Whistles and the Bells”. Why not “Bryan Simpson”?! Because this is not the whole of me- who I was yesterday, I am not today. The dragon’s scaly skin continues to shed. The egg’s white prison walls continues to crack and collapse. The escaping inmate’s daylight increasing. Continued revelation. This is a piece of the pie, but not the pie. I can’t imagine the whole of the pie myself so how can I feed it to you?
And so it will not be my wrecking ball. I intend it to be a wrecking ball. But my building’s foundation is indestructible. And that certainty leads to fearlessness. The whistles and the bells is the chubby child plunging himself into the deep waters of the rec center pool because he knows his father’s rescue is his undeserved reward should his dog paddle prove ineffective.
And so it begins. The swimming, the sinking. The sinking, the swimming.