An invitation to our pre-lease show | Listen to The Western Den’s new record

We’re playing the last show for several months at Rumba Cafe in Columbus, Ohio on Monday, 2/11 at 7:30pm. We’re going to play on our favorite local public radio station, WCBE, that day at 2PM.

We’re going to play most of the songs from our unreleased, unrecorded, unheard-even-to-us record. We’re celebrating this with our heroes, The Western Den, who just put out a beautiful record.

I wrote a poem using only lyrics from their record that came out on Friday. If you click any of the words, it will open up the corresponding song in Spotify.


I first found The Western Den in a year between colleges. I had spent a year that I shouldn’t have spent at Belmont University and spent the summer back home in Dayton before studying literature at Ohio State University. A friend (hi Michael Dause!) was touring with The Accidentals, and they were playing a show at Berkeley.

Berkeley was streaming the show, and there were two bands on the bill. The Western Den was the other. So, in my childhood bedroom during a weird and awkward pivot point between childhood and adulthood when I was spending my days at the phone book company as an IT intern, I listened to this show.

There was no video feed that I remember - just a stream of the college radio station online, complete with awkward silences and set changes.

I was taken by this Western Den band that I had never heard or heard of before. Their arrangements are careful. They never step on each other. They never get in the way. But they cook up a mood and toss melodies back and forth without ever feeling too busy. And the arrangements never got in the way of the song.

A month out from the studio, with a growing list of friends and session players filling out these new songs, I’m thinking about these folks a lot. So I’m overjoyed to listen to the record, hear so much happening in each song without detracting from the song itself.

We had a Bed by 11 show with them over a year ago. It was one of my most favorite shows. I’m looking forward to next Monday the 11th. And I’m looking forward to celebrating their beautiful record. And I’m looking forward to hopping into recording our own right after.

Next show will be the last show for a few months. Then we’re working hard. And I’ll keep putting something here every week, but that’s more for me than anyone.

Also PS If you know any labels who are hankering for a band with a triumphant song about a daring middle-aged woman on an airplane flight from Arkansas to Oregon to meet her estranged high school boyfriend after roughly two decades apart, send them our way.

I’m excited about that song.

three reasons i play shows | three reasons i never close them with “hallelujah”

Once upon a time, I agreed to play a house show. Some weeks later, I was caught off guard to see ads billing it as an exclusive venue with high ticket prices. In the future, I’ll ask more questions when I get a strong guarantee.

At the show, the booker said that it had been tradition to close with a sing-along of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. I said that I would be very uncomfortable doing that. He politely dropped it, so we didn’t sing it.

This all felt a little gross, but I had trouble understanding why. So, I journaled a bunch, reached out to friends, had a frank chat with the booker, and then journaled some more. All this reminded my why I play shows in the first place and why I chose not to use “Hallelujah” as a sing-along.

This is what I learned in the form of a listicle. (omg! you won’t believe number three!)

one reason i play shows: for fun (or something like it)

Playing shows can be fun, but they’re a strange kind of weighty, exhausting fun.


Shows are places we can gather to celebrate songs and the people who love them. And making something out of nothing is a damn miracle, especially because it’s always easier to not make anything at all. And even after something is made, it’s easier to not care about something than it is to care about something.

So, playing a show is a basic celebration of both performer and audience choosing to care about something instead of nothing.

That’s fun.

Shows are places where we can say things to strangers that don’t come up in everyday conversations. And you can kick up a bunch of dust without causing a fuss. Or cause a fuss, kick up dust, and own the fucking room for about a half hour.

And shows can be a source of community with a little dash of risk and potential rejection - that can be more rejuvenating than your favorite facial scrub.

That’s fun. 

Shows are how some people make meaning - asking questions, making proclamations, and raising attention for the problems they want to solve together.  

When you put three bands on a stage together who ask different questions from different perspectives using different sounds and different instruments, you create a space where no one has a monopoly on meaning. And then we all get to be properly challenged/unsettled/delighted.


That’s fun.

At their best, shows can give you a little bit of hope on the bad days when your job feels like it scrapes out your insides, plops the goop down on a scale, and direct deposits that to your bank account. And they still give you energy on the good days when it feels like your goop is endless and worth its weight in gold.

But that’s all a bit much. It’s easier to just call it fun.

one reason i’ll never close with a “hallelujah” sing-along: with great power comes great responsibility

“Hallelujah” is a song written by Leonard Cohen and released in 1984 on the record Various Positions. You’ve heard it, but maybe not the original version.

“Hallelujah” is a case study in what a song is, how it moves through people and time, and how it changes clothes, popping up in unexpected places with different things to say each time you run into it.

Malcolm Gladwell spent 40 minutes digging into the song on a podcast. A book called The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" came out in 2012.

“Hallelujah” is a powerful song, but that power wasn’t immediately apparent. It didn’t make it on the original Leonard Cohen album that it was written for. He apparently wrote 80 verses to get to the original version of the song. It was quiet and hid for a long time before John Cale covered it in 1991 for a Leonard Cohen tribute album.

This movie came out 17 years ago you guys. That’s wild.

This movie came out 17 years ago you guys. That’s wild.

Cale reached out to him for lyrics, and Cohen faxed him all of them, even the ones that never made it into the original recording. From that, Cale built the version that most people cover today. Then, it took until 1994 for Jeff Buckley to cover it on Grace. And it didn’t become a big hit until after Buckley died in 1997.

It’s almost a fluke that we ever heard it in the first place, but this is a song that is so quietly powerful that it continued to move and shift patiently over decades, from Cohen to Cale, from Cale into Buckley, from Buckley to hundreds of others.

Now that we all have “Hallelujah,” we have to decide how and when we use it.

another reason i play shows: to build and share a space with heroes

this is what happens when you google “spiderman with a guitar”  anyway, here’s spiderweb

this is what happens when you google “spiderman with a guitar”

anyway, here’s spiderweb

Local heroes. Traveling heroes.

Quiet heroes. Friendly heroes.

Surprisingly unpleasant heroes who quickly stop being heroes. Strangers who become heroes when you see how well they treat people.

The heroes behind your favorite songs who ask your favorite questions and do things that you could never do. Heroes with superpowers who push you to ask more from yourself.

I feel indebted to a growing list of these people, and shows are a way to celebrate them, their songs, and the many ways they make the world a more interesting place to be. If an out-of-towner reaches out to play a show and I believe their songs will challenge/unsettle/delight a room of people, then it’s on me to help muster up a show to make that happen.

And then, if the show goes well, the list of heroes grows.

another reason i’ll never close with a “hallelujah” sing-along: songs can be used in good faith or in bad faith, and it’s hard to tell the difference

what a cute fella

what a cute fella

Over time, the song “Hallelujah” has become a tool. It’s like one of those screwdrivers with a bunch of different tips. Across many contexts and in many situations, this song can be emotionally resonant. And if you’re not trying to do anything more specific than elicit a vague Big Emotion, than this will get the job done.

It’s Cohen’s view that many different hallelujahs exist. Some are melancholy. Some are fragile. Some are uplifting. Some are joyous. Some are sober. Some are sincere. Some are orgasmic. Some are purifying. Some are about the disappointment of desperately wanting to be something more than human. Some are just disappointing.

If you’re in a rush, you could just describe it as “authentic.” But that misses the point.

The Edukators is a favorite movie of mine from high school. It’s also kind of a bad movie, and “Hallelujah” plays over the final scene. It’s heavy-handed, but I still tear up as Buckley’s cover plays through the ending.

The song has become a means to an emotional end. It often deployed as a direct appeal to “emotion” - not a specific emotion, just “emotions.” At its worst, it feels like a last-ditch effort at unspecific catharsis when everything else has failed.

It can become a song of manipulation. Some songs have the power to access certain feelings. And when people eventually discovered that power, “Hallelujah” showed up in talent shows, television dramas, and Shrek. And each time the song was used to emotionally heighten a scene, it lost a bit of its magic.

It can also still make for a wonderful performance (and it wasn’t bad in Shrek), but I’m wary of why and how people choose to perform it.

the last reason i play shows: money

You can’t pay rent with two free drinks, unless they’re really really good drinks and your landlord is a super weirdo. My landlord’s just a normal weirdo because he only takes cash or physical checks.

You need money to pay rent for the place that you live and write songs in. And you need money to buy food that will keep you alive and healthy. And maybe you can even put aside money for when unexpected bad things happen. Maybe even health insurance? What a world!

Then maybe when you’ve met most of your baseline needs, you can spend the time and energy it takes to make something out of nothing. And maybe you’ll even buy an instrument.

I don’t make my living from music - I’m happy as a clam to work a day job that can support me and this peculiar hobby/passion/obsession/self-care tactic. That being said, if I can pay for a day in the studio by playing a gig and dodging a “Hallelujah” sing-along, I’ll consider it.

the last reason i’ll never close with a “hallelujah” sing-along: the surest way to ruin a song is to try to make your voice heard over the voice of the song (but sometimes even that won't work)

This reason is one of Ezra Fruman’s tenets of songwriting. This is Ezra’s face.

This reason is one of Ezra Fruman’s tenets of songwriting. This is Ezra’s face.

Even in the wrong setting, “Hallelujah” is powerful enough to mean something.

And even if a singer sings it with the calculated passion of a high schooler trying to get laid at a party where someone forgot to lock up the acoustic guitar, it can still be strangely beautiful.

But using it too much starts to feel desperate. Hallelujah is a song of desperation, but that’s different than using it desperately.

It’s a song that people have pointed to as “real” or “genuine” while those words increasingly cease to mean either. It’s a song that some people sing to woo the people they’d like to fall in love with the idea of.

But it’s also still a song that asks serious questions about love. And sometimes, somehow, I can still hear someone cover that song and love every second of it.

But there’s a big difference between someone covering that song and someone covering up that song.

so what?

I can see how someone might lean on a “Hallelujah” sing-along for some kind of reliable catharsis at the end of a show. Maybe some people would even feel moved, like I was in high school at the end of The Edukators. But to me, turning “Hallelujah” into a sing-along prioritizes a cheap, unrisky attempt at “emotions” over anything you can really sink your teeth into.

But I’m probably taking this too seriously. Maybe songs are just songs and people sing them together sometimes. It’s not like this is some Fyre Festival shit. I was paid for my set. And my desire to abstain from an “Hallelujah” sing-along was respected. But it all still feels gross.

That’s what it’s all about. You’re not going to be able to work this thing out. There’s no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is when you embrace it all and say, ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all - Hallelujah!’
— Leonard Cohen

Sometimes people try to make their own voice heard over the song they’re singing. That doesn’t give me faith in the singer, but maybe the song can still do some good. I’ll keep rooting for songs.

Anyway, here’s wonderwall.

i have a friend named Tom Ebner whose name is also Nemo Bathers

Tom Ebner is a friend of mine. We met going to college in Nashville. I left the university after a year and transferred to OSU, but he stuck things out. And we kept up after going our separate ways.

Tom put out his first EP. It’s under the name Nemo Bathers. You should follow him on social media ( bandcamp | insta | spotify ) and give him a listen.

Tom put out his first EP. It’s under the name Nemo Bathers. You should follow him on social media (bandcamp|insta|spotify) and give him a listen.

I’m not a very good letter writer, but Tom is. He’s consistent. He’s diligent. And if I send him a letter, I know that I’ll get a letter back promptly. I’m not as good at writing letters. I let them sit, get back in a month or so. I’ve let our connections lapse and have to restart them the next time we actually talk in person. He’s also taught me that that’s ok. It’s ok to fall down sometimes. It’s ok to feel bad sometimes. Lord knows we've both been on the ground our fair share.

Tom and I also share songs. I wrote Ohio mostly because of an informal songwriting challenge based on a text message. I’ve probably heard more in-progress songs from him than I have from anyone. And he’s probably heard more of mine than anyone.

The first track on his first EP is one of my favorite songs to come out in the past year or so. I put it on repeat sometimes. It makes me happy. I’m going to write out the lyrics as I hear them - like someone just invited me into their house, made tea for the both of us, waited for the steep, then sat down on a plump couch to start a conversation after writing letters back and forth for a few months.

In my dreams, it feels so far in the back of my mind… like I’d bought enough time between the windowpane you shake in vain and my eager dancing feet. All my wounds are coming clean.
She sits still. I take her picture in the withering light; she smiles at the sight of a squirrels chase. Lovers race in the tree branch above, but I never saw her fall in love. 

The irony of fate is some things never change, and when we notice them they always come too late. The golden days will hide behind the average haze while we wonder what we’re missing in this game. 

So, if you don’t mind, sing something kind to me now. Rediscover the sound in the breaking light of our morning bloom, shaking dust from your hide as you float across the room.
— “Overture” by Nemo Bathers

Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Nemo. This is one of many photos I snapped in quick succession to startle you while we hung out with your very good dog.

tom is startled

An open thank-you note for Ezra Furman's "42 Tenets of Songwriting"

Ezra Furman was one of the first songwriters I fell in love with. I made a playlist of my favorite songs, follow us on spotify for that. I wrote out a thank-you note, but the 42 tenets come first.


Ezra Furman’s 42 Tenets of Songwriting

(Saved from the great beyond when a younger version of me copied them into a note on an iPod Touch at or around 6/3/12 at 8:50AM EST)

  1. A song must be written and performed in order to be a song.

  2. Songs are analogous to human bodies. The part you write is the skeleton. The part you perform is the flesh. But songs happen primarily in time, not space. This analogy will not hold up under scrutiny, but it can be useful.

  3. Songs have the power to change time.

  4. I make songs, but I have very little control over them.

  5. My favorite kind of song is the kind that talks to people. The song's performer may talk to people, but the song itself talks separately. Sometimes a song will go to a person and grab them and shake them.

  6. Often the performer of a song will intend the opposite of the song's own intention. The song can be overruled, or it can overrule the performer.

  7. Songs are almost people. Of all the things that are not people, they are one of the closest to being people.

  8. Songs change over time and sometimes change back. When a song appears it may behave very differently than it did the last time you heard it.

  9. Over the years, even recorded songs can start to sound very different.

  10. A good song can go bad, and a bad song can become good.

  11. Songs are never finished.

  12. It is a song's audience that has the power to give it value. The performer of the song cannot also be its audience.

  13. A song is made "good" or "bad" by the way people listen to it. That said, some songs are better prepared to be listened to in a "good" way than others. This preparedness is not easy to influence and can never be guaranteed.

  14. A song does not reflect its author's efforts, but his hidden self; not what he wants to appear to be, but what he is.

  15. If you are looking for information about a song, the songwriter is usually the wrong person to ask. Ask the audience.

  16. Like a parent to a child, I know how my songs were made but I don't know what they are really like. After a certain point, they are no longer mine, because we both have changed too much.

  17. A songwriter or songwriting team, together with their songs, form a family unit. A strong family unit defines itself against the outside world of facts, keeping the world out and making its own world. Listening to these groupings of songs is like visiting someone's household for a family dinner: you are offered a glimpse into a separate world with its own separate language and truths.

  18. A song can wander away from home and end up somewhere dangerous. This is not always the author's fault.

  19. A folk song is an orphan from infancy, and has to be tough to survive.

  20. I try to influence my songs to behave violently.

  21. My highest hope for one of my songs it that it might bother someone. I want my songs to be pests.

  22. Songs are an inevitable human byproduct.

  23. The materials for songs can all be found in nature, but only humans can arrange them into songs.

  24. We cannot stand to passively listen to nature's irregular rhythms and bad melodies for very long; we yearn to correct them. Listen to the crashing waves, the whistling wind: they are terrible, musically. They have no sense of timing or pitch, and they are totally emotionless. Songs are humans' corrections of the sounds of nature.

  25. A song is not quite a thing. A song is a form that can be filled in again and again. Making songs is like making plaster molds which you can use to make many unique things. But again, in time rather than in space. Also, the molds themselves can change.

  26. The worst kind of song insults its audience. The best kind calls them to action.

  27. The surest way to ruin a song is to try to make your voice heard over the voice of the song. But sometimes even that won't work.

  28. Just as performers choose songs they like, songs choose performers they like.

  29. A song is a mask that shows its performer's true face.

  30. In song we say what we are forbidden from saying elsewhere.

  31. Performing a song is almost always a passive-aggressive act.

  32. It is more correct to use the same word for "song" and "poem," as is done in Hebrew. Poems are songs as long as they can be performed. Most songs, however, can only obliquely be called poems. "Songs" is the larger category.

  33. Writing a song is finding a psychic place and then trying to draw a map to that place. Performing a song is trying to go back and follow that map and bring people with you. The best songs are the ones that work most reliably as maps to a place. Bad songs are hard-to-follow maps.

  34. Songs always suggest images. Part of listening is picturing the invisible.

  35. I make songs in order to make something happen outside of ordinary life. I am rarely successful.

  36. The performer of a song is inhabited by someone besides himself. Who this is remains unknown.

  37. Someone who hears a song is often redefined in relation to the song. In this way songs can be a catalyst for personal change. This is their most important function.

  38. A good song is a place to live for a while.

  39. A good song erases your memory of what the world is like.

  40. Songs show me how fast time moves. They also remind me of how much can happen in a short amount of time.

  41. A song is the highest form of commemoration. But it has to be the right song. Even when moments of silence are observed, a song would be better.

  42. If it is possible to talk to God, a song is a way to do so.

Alright, here’s the personal storytime bit.

It’s weird to exchange words with someone who’s been singing to you for a decade. We didn’t really exchange words - really I just thanked him for writing the song “Don’t Turn Your Back on Love,” and he nodded and might have said thanks.

Growing up, I had a cool alarm clock radio. It projected the time with a red laser beam onto the ceiling, so you could wake up in the morning, roll onto your back, and see how upset you should be at the morning with minimal effort. I remember being excited by that mostly. It also had a radio - that was just gravy.

I listened to a lot of radio back then (Z93, with the cringe-inducing nighttime segment “What’s in Fry’s Fly” hosted by some guy who was always yelling), and only rarely would change over to The X (Dayton’s alternative/hard-for-FM rock station/advertising vehicle for Rock on the Range and Warped Tour).

One time, between all the 2000s rock, a song came on with an acoustic guitar and a strident, inelegant harmonica piercing through the rest of the noise. A little jumpy baseline. And then a flustered man huffing and heaving and puffing his way through a song about sunglasses.

My baby went out with her family to a ski resort in Colorado And left me all alone for a couple of weeks Well she called me up, she said “I love you in the middle of the night.” I said “In the middle of the night, everybody loves everybody else these days.” She said “Oh, in the middle of the day I love you very much.” I said “Everybody loves each other these days.”
— Take Off Your Sunglasses by Ezra Furman & the Harpoons

I think my working definitions of what songs should do came from Ezra. From songs whose lyrics seemed to rend the music and arrangements to their will to ecstatic screams when seemingly nothing else gets the point across. His songs were never afraid to be uncool, to be pigeonholed into a specific genre convention, to be easily called much of anything. And they seemed more alive than anything I could see with my own two eyes.

I’m thankful for his art. And I’m thankful to whatever radio DJ thought it would be a good idea to play that particular song at that particular time. And I’m thankful to my alarm clock radio.


me, who has been helped by these songs and the tenets that guide writing them

me, who has been helped by these songs and the tenets that guide writing them

Ezra had a pretty robust tumblr, and at one time, I remember finding a note titled “Ezra Furman’s 42 Tenets of Songwriting.” 

After I saw him on this last tour, I tried looking it up. When I found it in high school, I took it as gospel. But I can’t find it online anymore. 

But, years ago, I copied it into the notes app on my iPod Touch. That, I did find.

So, I don’t think this is gospel. But it is worth preaching. I’m not sure why he took it down. I hope he speaks up if he’s upset. I hope these help you as much as they helped me.

Realizing you have a network of parents | Recapping a weekend tour | Listen to Palamara

I have four noteworthy items to report after spending a weekend in and out of a Purple Honda Fit. I will go into more detail about these four items, but really, this is all you need to know.

  1. We played my favorite hometown public radio station (WYSO in Yellow Springs, OH) and invited anyone listening to attend a show in my childhood living room.

  2. We played a set in the aforementioned living room, during which I realized that I had way more than one father and one mother.

  3. We spent a day recording new songs and I haven’t felt better about anything ever probably.

  4. We played in Cincinnati with Palamara, who writes really thoughtful songs which you should listen to on Spotify and follow on Facebook, Instagram, etc.


Continue reading for a glut of personal information and sentimentality.


The summer after high school, I spent a few days a week at WYSO in Yellow Springs. I was the music intern, prepping for my time at Belmont University, jazzed about studying Music Business and a bright little future of convincing people to listen to music.

I organized about 20 thousand CDs, helped out with live acts in studio, and copied and minimized a lot of press sheets for CDs they would get in the mail. And also, I spent a lot of time with Niki Dakota, the Music Director of the station. I recorded a jingle (I need to call myself a jingle writer more often) and she played some high school songs on the radio for the whole Miami Valley to hear.

It was all quite deeply important and meaningful to pre-college Sam.

So, last Friday, five years in the future, I came back with a three piece band to the station that’s been spinning our record since it came out. And we shared our songs. And it was good. And she made me beatbox like when I was in an a cappella group in high school. And I did. And I wasn’t terrible.


We played on the radio because it was fun, but we had some serious business to attend to. We were playing a show, and wanted to drive people to come see us if they liked our music on the station.

However - plot twist. The show was in my childhood living room. In my parents’ home.

So we pretty much invited radio strangers to my parents’ house. And I got a handful of emails requesting the address. And several strangers came and were welcomed with drinks and homemade cookies.


I grew up with two parents. They loved each other. They still love each other. They were married when they raised my two sisters and I. And they're still married now. On their last anniversary, I gave them a call, asked how it felt to be married to someone for a few decades. Mom said good, that there were only about 4 hard years. And then I heard my dad yell from the background, the way that people do when they’re not really on the phone call, but want to be heard

“Yeah! Just about four!”


Strangers from the radio weren’t the only people who showed up in my childhood living room. The following people were also in attendance.

Stephanie Bange: Ms. Stephanie read stories at the local library on Far Hills across the way from our house. She described me as “one of her storytime kids.” She loved to see who they grew up to be. I never remembered Miss Stephenie personally, but I’ve always had a warm and fuzzy feeling about libraries in general. I guess I’ve got her to blame. I think I read every single one of the Encyclopedia Brown’s in the whole Dayton Metro Library system. And she helped me when I couldn’t quite handle chapter books yet.


found this picture when we were home - i’m in the front, cousin rob’s behind

found this picture when we were home - i’m in the front, cousin rob’s behind

Brody McDonald: Mr. McDonald was my high school choir director. He's the main reason I started singing. I wanted to be a beatboxer for the group - they were the highlight of the choir concerts that I attended under duress in support of my older sister. I remember being close to falling asleep the whole time, the warmth of the squeaky seats, the smell of the auditorium. But I also remember this exciting part when kids came out with personal microphones and sang covers of pop songs. And they harmonized while another kid attempted to make drum noises with his mouth.

I decided that I also wanted to make drum noises with my mouth. So, between 8th grade and high school, I auditioned for this a cappella group. I learned my part to a four part arrangement of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” and tried my best. I made the team, but as a tenor.

I sang in choirs and in a cappella groups all through high school. I also tried to make drum noises all through high school. I still do one of those things. And I have Mr. McDonald to thank.


There were other family friends, grandmothers, sisters, cousins and people who may as well be cousins, friends and the younger siblings of friends. But mostly, my parents lit up the room all aglow with either pride for their son or elation that nobody spilled a drink on their carpet.


We spent most of the day playing around in the living room, demoing seven songs for a new record. I kept noticing the door to upstairs was cracked when I would go up to use the restroom. I’d close it behind me, walk past Mom making stockings, do my business, then go back down and close the door. But every time I walked back upstairs, the door would be cracked open again.

They said it was like old times, hearing music around the house when they were going about their business. But better (thanks to Dan, Jack, and a few years of doing something).



We also played in Cincinnati and spent a lot of time with Dan’s family. The highlight of the day was finding this incredible picture of him at his Bar Mitzvah. He’s serving up some looks and generally killing it.

They sent us away and back to Columbus with little chocolate coins as a gift.



In Cincinnati, we played with Andrew. The band is called Palamara. He works as a docent at an art museum in Cincinnati and he writes some really incredible songs. This is what he looks like when he begins the B section of one of his songs and it breaks into the higher register of his voice and it sounds good and real and honest and splendid in The Listing Loon.

So listen to him on Spotify. Follow him on Instagram. Like him on Facebook. And see him when we have him up in Columbus for a Bed By 11 show.

on spotify metrics being less important than how i exist in my apartment every week

Vonnegut had a rule for writing fiction: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."


I think I'm at my happiest when writing songs, reading stories, and cooking meals for friends. Most of those things will never leave my apartment. Songs are really the only thing that does.

Songs are a positive side effect of the strategies that I've developed to keep feeling grounded and ok. It's nice that other people can listen to them, but that's far from the point. The real point is to foster a reason to be excited to come home from my real job and keep pouring time and attention into something that I can keep building for years and years and years.


It's nice that more time was spent listening to them than I spent making them with friends, but no one person spent more time around them than I did. That's good. I'm also the person who reaps the most benefits doing something that I enjoy (but also seemingly have no choice but to do).

I'm grateful that folks that I know and don't know have found a bit of value in these songs. I feel strange about the algorithms that have sent "Ohio" to a bunch of strangers because of some music streaming formula (or maybe just the SEO optimization of a song named after a state where a few million people live). I feel troubled on the days when I look at numbers and forget that they are people.

Hopefully, some of those numbers/people found something unexpected and fruitful. Or, at least, their day was not ruined.

(Though I'm sure some people have thought this was shit. In which case, that's also kinda awesome and inspiring.)


We have written another Hello Emerson record and are currently arranging it. I'm spending most of today trying to chart out how to budget it, record it, and have it mastered with a nice little bow by the first of June.

I hope you listen to it whenever it comes out. Maybe some strangers will also listen to it. And hopefully, most people will feel like it did not waste their time. Regardless, we'll make it anyway.

My life runs on excel spreadsheets printed on cardstock paper folded into thirds

I don’t know how you organize your life. I’m trying to figure out how to organize mine. Here’s what I’ve figured out over the past eight months.

Every week, I print off a piece of cardstock paper. I fold this paper into thirds. Then, it lives in my back left pocket. By the end of the week, it’s been highlighted, crossed out, notated, and torn at the edges from following me around for seven days. Sometimes, there are fewer things on it. Sometimes there are more things on it. Normally, it’s a wash. At the end of the week, I edit the file and print off another one.

this is the front half of four weeks of my life. i’m bad at shushing.

this is the front half of four weeks of my life. i’m bad at shushing.

Cardstock paper, like all paper, has two sides.

On the front is my life at large. That’s songs. That’s cooking. That’s groceries and laundry and steadily putting off finding a counselor or therapist each week (but I’m getting around to it, Sam Craighead, I promise). That’s finding bands to listen to and things to journal about. That’s tracking shows to book, songs to arrange, and questions to ask the people who know more about some things than I do. That’s friends to reach out to that I haven’t seen in real life for too long. And those are the small daily habits that I’ve noticed help me stay healthy mentally and physically from day to day. These are all the small bits and pieces that add up to a nice little life to share with the good folks around me. And these are the consistent steps we take to make the world better for the people we may or may not ever meet.

On the back is my work life. That’s the stuff I do on a small team at an education nonprofit that affords me the means to do the stuff on the opposite side. Sometimes they line up quite nicely. I’m fortunate to have a steady job doing mostly good and helpful things for K-12 students in Ohio and beyond. When that shines through and works out - amazing.

But work can also be work. And a job can be a job somedays. Just like a passion can become a chore if you’re ever going to finish something and put it out. We work through the gross unfun bits in service of the broader aim that laid out in the first place.

And also, we have to pay rent every month to Mike. That’s the kicker of the other side of the cardstock.

It’s also worth noting that every week, I use the work printer and work paper to print these weekly companions out. So, even in that sense, the other half literally would not have the paper or ink to be printed without the work side.

also, the sun keeps the lights on. thanks, the sun.

also, the sun keeps the lights on. thanks, the sun.

But, the thing is - Work Sam doesn’t run the show. He just keeps the lights on.

When I’m at work, I carry around all of the things that I care most about in my back left pocket. At any time, in any place, I can flip over this little piece of paper and remind myself that I’m more than the person at that particular time in that particular room. And I can remember the people I care about and the art I’d like to make with them. And I can remember the things I’d like to learn more about and the art I’d like to support and the unjust things I’d like to play a small role in making a bit more just. And at home and out in the world, I carry around a reminder of the things that I did and want to do.

We overestimate what we can do in a week. We underestimate what we can do in a decade. And decades are made up of years. And years are made up of months. And months are made up of weeks. And weeks are made of excel spreadsheets on cardstock paper folded into thirds. And I keep mine in my back left pocket.

This week, I wore all of my hats. I wore my songwriter hat, my education nonprofit hat, my performer hat, my friend hat, my booker hat, my listener hat, and my “life is bursting at the seams in good and bad ways that I don’t fully understand and I’m struggling to see where I fit inside of all of it” hat. (Thank you Alex Paquet for helping me take that hat off and give it a good look-see over curry.)

I also wore my Frontier Ruckus hat because it’s getting colder and they might be my favorite band. They just released their demo archive. You should go listen to things there. We’re working on a new record, and it’s the most comforting thing to hear how some of my favorite songs sounded before they found the clothes that fit them just right.

People are more important than the songs you write about them | simple things in my house are pretty

People are more important than the songs you write about them. However, the songs that you write about them can be more important to people who listen if the people who listen never know the person that the song is about.


So, the people who listen have a strange relationship with both the person who the song is about and the person who wrote the song (without having to have met either of the people). But, without both of those people, the song wouldn’t exist, and the person who listens would be none the wiser. But surely they would find another song that could something similar. But not exactly the same. But they’d be none the wiser anyway I suppose.


I don’t know Ranier Rilke or Franz Kappus. But, if Rilke did not write poems, then Franz Kappus would not have sent his own to Rilke, asking for feedback. And then the two of them would not have exchanged letters. And then no one would have published the letters. And then I never would have found them, read them, and then, even without knowing these two fellas, changed and shifted in response to them. The relationships that we have with people have consequences that we won’t ever really know.

Letters to a Young Poet is a good reminder that people are more important than the letters that you write to them, but also that letters (and songs) give other people a window to peek into. Maybe they can take some small things from the letters/poems and put them to work in their own world.


I feel better today than I normally do the day after shows. I think it’s because I loved the sets that played after ours so dang much.

Go See Lowlights - Erin Mason is an important to many pieces of Columbus. She has one of the most memorable voices in Columbus. She is a harmonizing chameleon and can mesh with anyone. She writes some of the most inventive, decadent, and tumbling melodies in the city. And she sings them like she means it.

Go See Small Songs - I look up to Alex Burgoyne and Devin Copfer a bunch. They’re technically brilliant on sax and violin, but they never let that get in the way of evoking some real serious (sometimes ugly) feelings through them. They’re not staid or dodgy or uptight. They’re encouraging. They’re challenging. And they make some of the coolest, most evocative, and interesting music in the city. And they play seemingly everywhere at all times.


That’s all. It’s a Monday night. I took some pictures of my home over the past few weeks when the sun was bleeding in. Normally, on the day after I play music in front of people, I feel a very quiet sense of good. It’s not a plain old “happy.” But the coffee tastes better and home feels more like home. I think it feels like how these photos look. Normal and mundane things. But with a little bit of quiet shine on them.

Hello Listicle: Three reasons to listen to the Roof Dogs and three reasons to avoid lukewarm coffee

As I write, I am sitting at home on a Friday. I made a pot of post-work coffee, and then ate half of a pizza and fell asleep. I woke up with coffee that had been sitting in the coffee machine for about an hour. So now, I’m drinking coffee and listening to “This Week’s Winner” by the Roof Dogs.

I’m going to provide (a) three reasons to listen to the Roof Dogs along with (b) three reasons not to drink lukewarm coffee on Friday nights. Please take your seats.

This coffee appears to be hot. I would prefer to drink this coffee.

This coffee appears to be hot. I would prefer to drink this coffee.

1a. the Roof Dogs are too cool.

I am a fan of the Roof Dogs and you should be too. They are too cool, and if you listen to them, you can be too cool too. They recorded this at Musicol with Keith Hanlon. Both of those two are too cool too. Their debut record is also too cool. It is named “Are Too Cool.” So, therefore, the Roof Dogs are too cool, and their debut record, “Are Too Cool” is too cool too.

You got to stay cool… Lord keep it cool

If Bono danced to the Roof Dogs at his ballet recital and then wouldn’t shut about about how great he was, then U2 tooting their own horn in a tutu would be too cool too.

1b. If coffee is even the slightest bit cool, then it is too cool too.

Coffee tastes good and coffee smells good. Mostly though, it feels good to cup a mug in your hands as the warmth emanates through the ceramic and into your hands. I have a variety of mugs at home to fit a variety of hands.

If coffee is cool, then it is not warm. If coffee is cool at all, then it is also too cool, because you end up cupping and hugging a cold cup. And that cold cup makes your hands clam up. And no one can stand clammy hands.

At this point, I begin to resent the coffee mugs that I fell in love with in small-town antique stores on road trips

2a. Jesse and Andrew rhyme “Châteauneuf-du-Pape” with “traffic cop” and it’s not just a gimmick.

Cheshire/Marczak walk the line between wordplay and world creation with care. First song on the EP paints this picture:

I don’t really know anything about France - I just googled this shit and read a wikipedia page. This is a drawing someone made of the town in the late 1600s.

I don’t really know anything about France - I just googled this shit and read a wikipedia page. This is a drawing someone made of the town in the late 1600s.

In a fortress town, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, / Under pain of death from a traffic cop / “What does this one do?" cries the child. Go free! / And with a tortured breath sighs relief / You never know where you're gonna wind up now.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a small commune in southeastern France. Only a couple thousand people live there, and most of the land is used to grow wine that I probably can’t afford. But I don’t know much about wine, aside that it is probably a beverage that does not taste terrible at room temperature.

This isn’t the only time that young characters encounter police on the four-song EP.

From my tenement on 42nd street I saw a newsboy getting patted down / Which to be honest with you really isn't all that uncommon in this part of town

Throughout the EP, Cheshire/Marczak paint these scenes of travelers, whether they’re traveling at the time or not. Characters go by plane and by road, or go nowhere, like narrator of “This Week’s Winner” staying in his tenement on 42nd while insisting that he could leave at any time. Characters are crossing borders and coming back with souvenirs, or just drinking wine in a better part of town.

2b. Cool wine is cooler than cool coffee because it makes you warmer.

I don’t like wine as much as I like coffee. However, if I had to compare room-temperature wine to room-temperature coffee, I would pick the wine. At least wine feels like it warms up your belly. Cold coffee just gives you the anxious shakes.

3a. This Week’s Winner is a total goddamn winner

’Scuse me while I freak out about how they somehow made the perfect hook from a simple vernacular aside, embellishing it with just a dash rhythm as they speak/sing it every time the chorus comes around, crescendoing into a yell over the song’s three minute build.

You see I ain’t no hero, man. Hell, I can leave any time I plan.

Put this song on repeat and just be there for a while. The Roof Dogs have an ear for the melody in everyday speech, and can straddle the line between song and scene without falling off either side. Please dear god join me in enjoying this rock and roll band that writes incredible opening lines like this.

I participated in a forced cry today and let me tell you I've never felt so grand / There were people weeping in droves all across the fatherland

3b. Cold coffee is better than cool coffee, but worse than hot coffee. Warmish coffee is only ok at local diners named after the person who started it.

Carry the one and show your work. You will see that this is correct.

roof dogs.jpg

Follow the Roof Dogs on Spotify and Facebook, and check out their website.

See them at a show in Central Ohio on 10/31 as the Velvet Underground or 12/4 at Ace of Cups.

Regarding an issue in Ohio

I’m going to vote yes on issue one.

I pitched in a few times to help gather signatures, but other than that, I wasn’t deeply involved in the campaign. From what I’ve read, it seems like a sensible step towards more reasonable treatment of illegal drugs in my home state. It will not solve the problems of drug abuse and incarceration. But it sure seems like a gesture in a better direction.



A short anecdote -

I smoked weed a few times in high school. If I were caught, then current Ohio drug laws would have been applied to me.

This morning, I ate a big ol bowl of yogurt, honey, and almonds. My little kitchen scale pegged that at just below 200 grams. If I had about 200 grams of marijuana on me, then I’d be charged with a 5th degree felony, punishable by up to 12 months in prison. I’d also be labeled a felon for the rest of my life. Every potential employer would first know me as a “felon” instead of “Sam.”

Those are the laws on the books as they stand. You may think that these are the consequences for breaking the law. And that’s your prerogative.

But this is about more than weed.

More topically, Issue One applies to all of the opioid abuse that we’re hearing about on the news every day. For the second year in a row, Montgomery County had the state’s highest rate of accidental overdose deaths. That’s 4,854 accidental drug overdose deaths, 800 more than 2016.

A recent Pew Study suggested no significant relationship between drug offender imprisonment rates and rates of illicit use, overdose deaths, and arrests. So, prison time does not have an affect on drug use.

Many people are dying because they are addicted to opioids. And putting people in prison and labeling them felons is not affecting the behavior of addicts. But, the laws as they are now make that happen.

About 50,000 people are incarcerated in Ohio’s prisons. That costs $26,400 each year. Policy Matters estimates that the prison population would be reduced by more than 10,000 people if passed. Altogether, those reductions could save about $136 million per year. This could be a high estimate, but even a quarter of that cost savings is nothing to sneeze at.

I’d be happy to hear from anyone who disagrees or agrees for different reasons. Obviously I’m just some guy and not an expert in anything except eating yogurt for breakfast. But this just seems like a sensible step in a better and more humane direction.