I started writing the songs for the second record as soon as I got to New York. Bride and Bridle, Sound of Coming Down, Stupid and Shapes all came pretty quickly as I lay on my bare mattress at 117th and 3rd in Spanish Harlem listening to car alarms in 110 degree heat. I love New York and was filled with joy.
During that summer I played a few New York solo shows at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, where my friend Nora was a bartender, and one show each at the Mercury Lounge and Fez, the latter with Ken Stringfellow who was promoting his brand new album, Touched. About halfway through the summer Josh at Barsuk started to make it clear that, when they released the first record, which then was called Intrepid, but which became The Worst You Can Do Is Harm, he expected that I would go on tour to promote it. I knew a few musicians in New York but they were all jazzos who referred to me in conversation, generously, as their “pop musician friend.”
I wasn’t going to put a band together in New York, it was clear. Add to this the fact that I was still trying to live on the petty cash and per diems that I stashed away while I was still getting paid to be in Harvey Danger, and you can imagine that I was getting very poor. Now, I love to live on the cheap. I love to sleep on floors and wash my clothes in the sink, (although I try to eat well, no matter what.) But putting a band together and buying gear and paying for a practice space and buying a van is all expensive. In New York it’s impossibly expensive. As much as I wanted to keep living in New York I wanted to have a band and go on tour even more. By the end of the summer I started to make plans to move back to Seattle.
One of the friends I stayed with in New York was Chris Caniglia, who had been my roommate in Seattle many years before. Chris was a musician and an actor who had moved to NY with his girlfriend, also an actor, and who, that summer, was working in a bike store. Overhearing me on the phone as I worked out my plans to form a band and tour, Chris formulated a plan whereby he became the first member of my new band. I knew I needed a keyboard player to cover all the parts that I had written in the excitement of recently learning how to play the piano. Chris didn’t actually play the piano, but he certainly wasn’t any worse at it than I was when I started playing keyboards in Harvey Danger, so I figured there was an elegant symmetry.
As we made plans to leave NY I went around the city and visited my favorite places and made sure to see a few things that I had missed. I went to Coney Island to ride the hairball roller coaster and eat a Nathan’s Famous chilidog. And I went to the top of the World Trade Center with Chris the day before we left for Seattle. It was Aug. 31st, 2001.
Chris and I moved into my Mom’s house. She was restoring a place on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, built in 1902, and we two arrived just in time to chip in on the project of tearing off the asbestos siding and scraping and painting the house. Chris actually has some marketable construction skills so I adopted the role to which I am best suited and became the foreman. As foreman, I took frequent naps, and since my Mom was the general contractor I never got fired! Woo-hoo!
We started playing with Michael Shilling, the former Western State Hurricanes drummer, right away and together auditioned a couple of bass players, choosing Eric Corson as soon as it was established definitively that he was of legal age and could find the Earth on a map. At this point Sean Nelson had made it pretty clear that, although he was excited about the band and would be a great supporter, he couldn’t afford to actually be a member of this new band, which was coming to be known as The Long Winters. He had taken a job as film editor for a local paper and his workload kept him in movie theaters most of the day.
Our new band started practicing in the old Harvey Danger practice space and soon we booked our first show which, because we were on Barsuk, was opening for John Vanderslice and the Prom at the now defunct all-ages club, The Paradox. We had it pretty rough, I know. Eric had just joined at that point, so he missed the first show, but Sean offered to come up and “sit in” on harmony vocals on “a few songs”. Sean also “sat in” at our next show with Sanford Arms at the Tractor Tavern. He continued to “sit in” with us for almost a year until I grabbed him by the ears and made him choose between being an official Long Winter and trying to chew his way out of a fifty gallon drum at the bottom of Puget Sound. He chose correctly.
A few years before, during the Western State Hurricanes, I met a very lovely lady named Meggean Ward. She was visiting Seattle and we were introduced by Ken Stringfellow after a show. Ken didn’t know me at that point but he had come to this WSH show and afterward gave me his business card and told me to call him before I signed anything. If I remember correctly the business card was deathly cold and covered with cobwebs.
Anyway, Meggean was a booking agent in Chicago and I sort of cold called her and asked if she would book us a tour. For those of you playing along at home, the booking agent is the most difficult and important part of the puzzle for a small band starting out. It doesn’t matter if you have a label or distribution or a web site or stickers or a cool logo if you can’t book a tour, and though there are plenty of bands that have booked their own fucking tours it is really difficult and thankless work. Especially if you’re lazy and don’t delegate well and hate being condescended to by coked-up assistant managers of toilet-cake roadhouses.
Double anyway, Meggean agreed to be our booking agent.