As summer marches toward its final bow and the soon to be transformed trees stand waiting in the wings, I am reminded that, wow, it went by pretty quickly. Typically, I take as much of the summer off as my budget will allow but this year I decided to spend some time working with my band of brothers, The Push Stars.
I had a big birthday this past year. I won't disclose the actual number, but lets just say that when my parents hit this age, I was sure they were prepping themselves for the nursing home. As for me, I still feel like I'm 19 and that I've yet to peak. To celebrate, I decided to go to Memphis and Ryan (MacMillan, of The Push Stars) came with me. We'd been there before, but only in a rushed "on tour" setting. There was always something I loved about the town when I'd passed through previously plus I'm a music history buff so the decision was a no brainer.
It was the trilogy of visiting Graceland (Elvis Presley's house), Al Green's church (the soul legend), and finally Sun Studio (the birthplace of rock and roll) that felt transformative to me. Graceland combines the promise of an American dream come true with the trappings of fame, fortune, bizarre tragedy and addiction. Al Green's church makes you feel like anything is possible. In it, you are sitting literally ten yards away from a soul legend, hearing him sing brilliantly (for free) and witnessing first hand his life's journey from fame to faith. His band and choir can't help but give you chills.
From left: Brandon Gaddy, Dan McLoughlin, Ryan Macmillan, The Reverend Al Green, Chris Trapper at Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, TN.
On the last day of the trip, Ryan and I had just finished a public tour of Sun Studio when we got to chatting with the tour guide. We told him we were in a band and he immediately offered us a private tour of the control room. For those of you who don't know, Sun Studio is known as the birthplace of rock and roll and launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. For me, the control room was intoxicating and I could tell Ryan felt the same way.
We walked out into the sunset and both had the same thought—we should record the next Push Stars record in Memphis. There's just something special about the place. Music flows through the veins of its people and the ghosts of decade's passed linger in the heat of its streets. Looking back, it was kind of an odd thought to have due to the fact we had no plan and no budget for a record. Even still, we could barely contain our excitement. Later that day, Ryan's flight departed a few hours after mine so he decided to sneak a peak at Ardent Studios, one of three legendary places in Memphis to make records (the third being Royal). He called me soon after and said, "This is the place we should record."
Cut to a few months later and there we were, setting up our equipment and meeting some of Memphis's world class musicians. It was just beautiful. Old friends, laughter, new friends, more laughter but most importantly, we were making music together. I had written a fresh batch of songs and whenever I have a new batch, I worry they might be the child I'lll be embarrassed by. But alas, the songs were sounding really good. Different, but overall, making sense in the context of our band.
From left: Dan McLoughlin, Chris Trapper, Jody Stephens (Big Star), engineer Adam Hill, Ryan MacMillan at Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN.
Throughout our time in the studio, I was struck by the differences between my solo career and the band work. When I'm solo, it's quiet, contained. I do my job, punch out and head to my hotel. With the band, there are people around constantly. Not just band members…people. It's like a constant party. People like to be around bands because they feel it's akin to being around a team. And every team has a chance to win. I have to admit, I love both lifestyles.
We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb townhouse with a little roof deck where we'd chat into the wee small hours of the morning after the sessions...all while looking over Memphis in all of its glistening and ghostly splendor. Dan (McLoughlin, of The Push Stars), Ryan and I have so much history together so there is literally always something to talk about. Memories you forgot, stories you've told/heard a hundred times but you wanna tell/hear again. And of course, future plans.
It's the future plans that make you feel the most alive. The potential to have a song be heard by someone who might need it. That is what drives me and I know it excites Dan and Ryan too. When we walked away with our rough mixes, we all felt like our experience in Memphis was special. Not just the usual "new is more exciting" feeling though, we felt we had truly put art before commerce and let inspiration light our way. We'll worry about selling it once it's done.
From left: Dan McLoughlin, Ryan MacMillan, Chris Trapper in Memphis, TN, July 2017.
In just a couple short weeks, we embark on our first extended tour since we last said we weren't going to do extended tours. We have some of our original crew on board and I love the fact that they still want to be with us. We also kidnapped Al Green's keyboardist and musical director Brandon Gaddy to join us on stage. He is a musician unlike any I've ever heard. When Ryan and I brought Dan to Al Green's church, we watched Brandon play everything from elaborate lead lines and rich chords to perfectly placed single notes when the moment called for them. It wasn't until halfway through the service that I realized he hadn't looked down at his keyboard once. And the kid's like thirty two years old. Oh well :)
Lots of shows coming up, both solo and with the band. As always, I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones out on the rock and roll highway.