​Bayreuth, Marburg, and Dusseldorf: Midweek Checkup

I feel super fortunate to have the day of the week on my little Timex Easy Reader. We’re in a different city every night, playing on a different stage, and sleeping in a different bed. But I can’t seem to keep the days separate, even with all the changes. So my watch tells me the day of the week and the date. And today it says THU. So hooray. Three cheers for little watches.

 Photo by @rockthatmood - hey thanks Nadia!

Photo by @rockthatmood - hey thanks Nadia!

We’re a few days into a string of seven shows in a row. I’m gonna rattle off a few stories from along the way.

 

Bayreuth

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Bayreuth is a town in Bavaria with about 70,000 people. It’s near a university, so there’s a pretty good mix of folks, but our hosts said that they tend to live in their own little sections.

Matthias booked our show in his little space called Subkultur. It’s sort of a community space in the old city, located in a run down old building with legitimately the spookiest abandoned upstairs rooms that I have ever walked through. Folks pay a tiny monthly fee, and then can host cultural events for everyone to enjoy. When we walked in, the walls were covered in drawings - they recently had a drawing free-for-all night. They just papered all the walls and had at it.

Matthias studied Literature in college, but didn’t see a bright future when he looked forward to the professor world. In Germany, he says that PhDs could work and teach at a university for decades before ever becoming eligible for a tenured or tenure-track position. So, he was looking for other options. At the time, he was in a band playing keyboards. Someone else booked the shows, but they we’re very good. Matthias actually enjoyed it, and had a knack for it. Now, he’s a booker around town, and runs Subkultur as a little nonprofit side project.

We all ate dinner around the corner at a pub popular with the univeristy students. We stuffed ourselves silly - Dan with a big ol hamburger, and me with a killer schnitzel.

These moments are probably my favorite ones on tour, and definitely the ones I’ll remember the most. We talked with the folks around the table about other things going on.

Poland apparently is in a sorry state right now. Protests are being squashed by the powerful right wing establishment and rights are being taken away slowly but surely. Young people are leaving the country for brighter futures elsewhere, and as long at the EU is intact, it’s pretty easy for them to do so. Poland already has some of the strictest laws prohibiting abortion across Europe, and they’re aiming towards banning it outright.

So, yet again, we’re talking to other kind, helpful, and artsy folks about some of the same things that we’re facing politically back home. I won’t remember the shows, but I will remember these chats.

 Photo by Matthias - hey thanks!

Photo by Matthias - hey thanks!

The show was packed tight in a tiny room with folks spilling out into the hallway and adjacent room. It was one of my favorite places on the tour. I think it was the smallest venue - but we sold the most CDs here.

Marlene made sure we had a place to sleep at her amazing flat. It felt like a jungle gym for grownups, and we slept on mattresses at the tippy top in a loft. We scrambled up and down little stairs to get there, and luckily didn’t fall down in the morning.

Marlene works in research and conservation - there’s plants all over the house. She fed us a great breakfast and sent us on our way to Marburg.

 

Marburg

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Marburg may be the prettiest place we’ve stopped so far. A castle on top of a hill, little central gardens in residential neighborhoods, painted houses gripping to the hilly landscape - all of that and more. We got into town and stayed with Jorge. He’s this eccentric dad who runs a cafe and music venue called Q. (He always called it The Q when talking to us though.)

We met his kids, who were completely used to artists and musicians sleeping in the spare room. When we walked in, they didn’t even look up or bat an eye. He made sure we felt right at home - it’s easier for everyone that way.

We played. I say in a red and gold throne of a chair. We sold CDs to strangers. Jorge and I hugged a lot. We slept in and got a late breakfast with him and the fam. Then they sent us on our way.

 

Dusseldorf

 Photo by @rockthatmood - hey thanks Nadia!

Photo by @rockthatmood - hey thanks Nadia!

I’ve written all of the above in the green room at the venue. We got in a bit early, and Paschal got us set up and ready to roll. Finn check our sound lickety split, so I got to eat some pasta in this backroom while typing up the last few days.

When I think about what’s happened so far, the parts that I’ve written about seem to stick out the most. I’ve tried to keep up with the great things, writing them down so I don’t forget, but also so I appreciate them. Sometimes I think I should explore a city more often, but I really love being able to sit down and commit some of my favorite moments to this little journal. And then commit them to memory by default.

I only have five more shows left to play with Dan. After that, I have five more shows to play in Germany at all. I’m trying to soak things in and talk to as many people as I can. And I’m trying to make a few notes to remember a bit of their stories.

I’m going to write a setlist now. And then play some songs with a good friend. And then go to sleep. And then wake up. And then do it all again in Karlsruhe tomorrow.

Things Slow Down

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We had our first day off in Berlin, just in time for Dan to catch the cold that I was getting over. Taking it easy feels good after the last week and a half of travel and shows.

From Berlin, we went to Dresden for a day off and rendezvous with the good K&F Records folks.

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After going from air travel to sickness, and through the first week of shows, we got some time to stay in the same city for more than a day. It’s a bit strange to try to figure out what I do with spare time. It makes me think about what I do with my time at home, and why I sometimes feel like I want to go home, even if I’d be doing a similar thing here.

Like, right now, I’m sitting in an apartment, eating some homemade hash browns, drinking some coffee, and writing a little bit to recenter my thoughts. I took a shower. I got enough sleep. All of that is fine.

We played a show in Annaberg-Buchholtz two nights ago. It’s this lovely little town by the Czech border built into the little hill/mountains of the area. Windy streets and all that, feeling like a roller coaster as you drive through the neighborhood. We met Jens there at Alte Brauerie. They made us dinner, breakfast, and beds to sleep in between in the two. We played two sets for about forty folks. It was a lovely little bar/living room vibe, and we sold more CDs here than anywhere else.
It’s been helpful to talk about the burgeoning right wing and draw connections to places outside the US. Pretty much everyone that I’ve talked to about Trump or the US right brings up the AFD and the German right. They call it part of the same thing. We’re not exceptional - this is an event that’s bigger than any one country. And we’re confused and trying to make things better at our respective ground levels.

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We went back to Dresden to play at the Sound of Bronkow - a singer/songwriter festival that K&F runs. Mario, Lars, Hanna, Hannes, Annette, Ronny, Louisa, Hillary, Elmer, and everyone do such a great thing for the city this weekend, all the while treating the musicians to a real treat of an audience. There’s no lack of food, drink, or support. And always good songs around every corner.

We caught some good sets. Mark Berube is really something. Go listen to his music and catch a show.

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Also, Sam Vance-Law writes some of the most thoughtful songs I’ve heard in a long time. We caught his set at the end of the festival, then shared a beer with the whole band. He wrote “Homotopia” in 20-minute blocks while working as a summer camp counselor. That sent me over the moon.

This morning, we leave our borrowed apartment home for another string of seven shows. Thanks so much to Ronny, our host. Looks like he also hosted my favorite band, Frontier Ruckus. We'll sign our goodbye on the wall right next to it.

Stay safe, sleep well, and cook something new.

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On National Radio in Berlin

After about a four-hour morning drive to Berlin on Wednesday, we met up with a cheerful bearded fella on a bike. This is Flo. Flo is great - but we were in a rush. He gave us a quick rundown, then sent us on our way to the radio station. He left us the entire apartment to ourselves for two days in Berlin. We can sleep in the same bed, shower in the same shower, and actually buy some groceries for once! What a world!

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From there, we ran to Deutschlandfunk Kultur for a fancy interview and live session. A tall man named Henri engineered the session. Dan asked him how long he had worked in the studio. He laughed, saying that everyone always asked him that question. And that’s how an older man avoids questions that he doesn’t want to answer. A super attentive Bettina conducted the whole shebang - leading us to and fro, and even wrangling this sick boy some tea.

Vivian Perkovic interviewed me for the segment. And dang. I thought I was prepared, but she came more prepared. She had some really thoughtful questions, looked up our blog and drew connections between Trump and the AFD through the lens of our experience in Chemnitz a few nights ago during the Neo-Nazi rally.

She asked if I invented to keep sharing detailed personal things about my life, and I didn’t see why I wouldn’t. But, when she asked that, it kinda lit a fire under my ass to make sure I sat down to walk through the past couple days.

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We went home, heard the interview, and fell promptly asleep before this night’s show at Ä.

At the show, we met Clio and Maurice. They’re a Milan based duo. He plays the violin, she sings. It’s just dang beautiful and really fills up a room. Clio’s first year of sobriety was tonight, and her birthday was yesterday, so there’s a lot to celebrate, even though it was a pretty empty room.
Tanno engineered and was wonderful and helpful, gently pressing the importance of very soft drums so that they can continue to have music here. Akis was a kind host. After getting my third water, he said, “what the fuck with you guys?” (I’m getting over a cold, and my three free drinks probably wouldn’t help me recover any faster.)

I’m going to sleep hard tomorrow. We’ll get up in the morning. We’ll go see a few things, do another radio interview, and meet back up with the Wayne Graham guys.

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And then the next day, we stopped by ALEX Berlin for another radio interview with Lele and Madlen, and filmed a live video for “Ohio.” ALEX is an amazing public service - anyone in Berlin can use their top-notch audio and video equipment to run their own podcasts, radio shows, and more. It’s really a gem - like a tool share for multimedia work.

We stopped by the Jewish Museum for a few hours, and then had so much fun with Wayne Graham at Art Stalker - it was great to reconvene at a show when we all had gotten over our jet lag. It feels great to fall into a rhythm with Dan and fill up a room with two boys from Ohio.

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We played a Killers cover that I thought was on the first album. I announced it as such, and then a nice couple corrected me after the show - “Read My Mind” is on Sam’s Town, their second album. Then, we chuckled and smiled, and they signed up for the email list. Also, a nice man named Berndt asked us to sign our record - he bought it from a local shop in Berlin. He even gave us some guitar picks from a local shop in Berlin. He said our music touches him in the heart, and he'll be there next time we're in the city. We shared a big ol' hug. If we break the guitar before we leave, I’m sure we’ll take it to his friend’s place.

W e pack our lives back into our little Volvo and head out to Dresden today. Three cheers for kind people, hard questions, and good stories.

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Hamburg is Not Famous for Sweet Mustard

On Tuesday 8/28, we played in Hamburg. It was a bit of a drive - six hours from Offenbach. We played at Freundlich + Kompetent. F and K is a nice little bar in below a shopping mall in Hamburg, staffed by people who are both friendly and competent. This couldn’t have been more convenient, because I split my only pair of pants two days prior. So, our friendly and competent host Sarah told me where to shop upstairs, and I happily bought some new pants between load in and soundcheck.

Sarah made us feel at home, and Nicholas and Julien were brilliant sound engineers. We shared the bill with Anin Rose, a London based singer and choir director. She grew up in Hamburg, then moved to London about six years ago. That night was the first time that her parents would hear her live in about 6 years. She runs a women’s gospel choir in London and can’t visit much.

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Regarding our set - We were loud. I had fun. I’m getting over a cold, but boy did it feel good to be loud. It was the most fun I’ve had on stage this far in tour.

A friend named Andi picked us up from the show - he’s also on K&F Records. He writes songs in the band Heated Land.

As we drove away, he asked if we wanted to see his favorite place in the city. So, of course, we agreed. We drove across a bridge over the harbor, with lights lining up and enormous ships docking below us. Windows down, we did a u turn and hopped back over the bridge and got to his apartment. He moved there three months ago to teach German to foreigners (like us!).

We met Andi’s girlfriend, Barbara, who is just as kind as he is. Andi made me a few bits of bread with cheese, meat, and sweet mustard. Barbara insisted that this is not how I should remember Hamburg - this kind of food is totally Bavarian food, not northern German food.

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No one eats sweet mustard in Hamburg. No one.

Andi and I responded to that by by drinking Bavarian beer until 2 in the morning. Talking about songs, hearing bits of a record that he’s sending to mastering, and our hopes for songs.

Barbara went to bed early, but before she did, we talked about growing up. Andi in Bavaria in the Western side of Germany, and Barbara on the Eastern side of Germany. Andi shared stories of eating three liters of ice cream in one sitting, and Barbara told a story about eating yogurt one spoonful at a time, lasting an entire week. They still behave differently today. When there’s chocolate in the house, Andi snarfs it up quick until Barbara tells him to stop. Then, bit by little bit, Barbara makes the rest of it last for days. Nobody talked about the differences like they were terribly unjust - just a different way of growing up. And a cute way for two people to live together.

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Andi left on a train to Bavaria to see his family the next morning. And we left in a car to Berlin.

Safe in Chemnitz

Today was a strange day. We woke up to the sounds of roosters, we pushed our little Volvo to 125mph on the autobahn, and we played a show in Chemnitz in spite of a Neo-Nazi rally in the city center.

So, I’m just gonna walk through the day. And then we’ll get to it all.

We woke up in a converted trailer home at Hafen 2. They set it up just for the traeling musicians. This place is sort of the DIY dream. It’s a community space, coffee shop, restaurant, music venue, movie theater, petting zoo… the list goes on. We played there the previous night, then slept in a trailer right behind the banners in this picture below.

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We woke up there to the sounds of roosters and road construction - this is still part of a city after all. I walked to the rental car place, forgot my passport, ran back about two miles, then took a taxi back again, passport in hand. However, I got a weird message from the Hafen 2 matriarch, Andrea, about the next stop on our tour.

So, at the rental car place, I was trying to make out the news reports, without really understanding any German. I did make out the word “Nazi” though. So, without internet, Dan and I surfed through the radio, parsing through the words to understand that “something” happened in Chemnitz, and it was to do with Neo-Nazis.

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We also found a radio station that mentioned me by name, Hello Emerson, played a bit of a song, and then listed some tour dates. We freaked out about that in a good way. And then we hit 125mph on the autobahn in our little rental Volvo.

Anyway, we get to Chemnitz and see a few Police cars, but nothing too wild. Last night, a man was stabbed, and the police arrested two middle eastern immigrant men. This led to far-right extremists, Neo-Nazis, and the AFD to call for a spontaneous demonstration. So, over 800 people assembled in the city center. Some bad stuff went down - read more about that here

Demonstrators from the left and the right were going to butt heads at around the same time that we were scheduled to play. There was talk of canceling the show, but they decided that they were going to continue with the event - they’re all about inclusivity and togetherness, and it seemed important to have some music in light of the potential violence. We met Barry Sloan, one of the most open and helpful Irishmen I’ve ever met (he gave me a book of his, which I’m excited to read). 

His venue, Chemnitz INSPIRE, is a community gathering space. It offers English lessons to retirees, homework help for refugee children, and events throughout the week to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds. Also, Haley Hendrickx played here, so WOW.

So, we played. And people still came out, even with all of the concern of the demonstration and counter-demonstration. And Loic ran sound and was helpful and brilliant - he’s lived in Germany for three years but spent most of his life in France. Florian helped us carry our equipment to the Air BnB for the night - he has a band called Orvo (here’s a video for their song, “Drunky”).

And then we met Tobi, our host for the night. He was born in Eastern Germany during the Cold War and lived under socialism in the GDR until the Berlin Wall came down when he was 13 years old. He said that things weren’t colorful, but everyone had food and a job. Other than that, they didn’t have much. 

One of the first things that he mentioned was their clothes. They all had similar, boring clothes. If you wanted something, and it wasn’t provided, then that was it. Imports and exports were banned. Nothing could go in or out. He said that they couldn’t leave the city, and felt like they were in a prison. If you fled, you were shot. If you staged a protest, Russia would send in the tanks to stamp it, and you, out.

But people would go home and make the things that the state didn’t provide them. And they would sell them on the black market to each other. And this was risky. But a lot of things were risky. And, bit by bit, people rose up. He describes many people demonstrating all across East Germany at once. And a few were successful. Excited by those successes, and scattered far enough that they couldn’t all get stamped out, they all rose up. And the wall came down.

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Tobi is now an engineer. He’s traveled the world over. He has four kids. And we’re staying in the bunk beds he made for his kids - they’re with their mom right now. So I’ll climb up there and sleep for the night.

Goodnight. It’s like 2 am here. But I wanted to write everything down before I forgot. Be well and stay safe.

Update in Offenbach

Today, we played at Hafen2 in Offenbach, Germany. It’s this backyard stage and nonprofit smorgasbord. WIth like, animals and sheep and roosters that keep crowing and coffee and cakes and sandwiches and food and all that good stuff.

We played for an hour on a big ol stage for a bunch of people enjoying their Sunday afternoons. The sound was great, the children were dancing, and the weather was the perfect bit of windy.

We talked to a few people after. Max had cool glasses and a great hat. He bought a record.

Klaus found our music online, watched a stop motion video that I made in my room, then decided to come. He bought a CD. He said he enjoyed the show, and he’s sharing it with his girlfriend; she’s handicapped, so she couldn’t come.

We talked to Felix, who mentioned that he’d like to hear Lua in a comment on Instagram. We started out the set with Lua, and he sang along to all the words. He bought a record.

And this is all even before mentioning Andrea - the head honcho here, and matriarch of what seems like an army of people doing good things well. From music to movies to food to farming - she’s made a place that sustains art in every form. She also set us up in the most charming little converted trailer home we ever could have hoped for. Dan and I will be sleeping in ~separate rooms~ and on ~separate beds~, so yes, we’re living the life of luxury.

Even our taxi driver was a poet - we’re facebook friends now after he let us pay in Danish Krona - the only cash we had on us. He says his manager will work it out. Then he wished us luck, one writer to another.

Tomorrow, we’ll wake up and eat breakfast here. Then, we’ll pick up a rental car. Then I’ll learn to drive on German roads. Then, hopefully, we’ll get to the next gig. And the next. And the next.

An audibly disgruntled rooster just marched by me. A few people stared as it puttered through, then we returned to our conversations.

We’re meeting a lot of good people. We’re meeting people who like songs and music and all that. We’re meeting great songwriters like Wayne Graham. We’re meeting people who laugh when I mention Ohio for the fourth time in a set. We’re finding our legs. And we’re hoping that the road ahead is good.

I’m finished with my tea, and it looks like rain. I’m not sure what’s to come, but I’m glad we came.

Jack Doran is a talented songwriter for Keating and also the keyboardist for Hello Emerson and for that I am thankful

This is a general thank-you note. Jack Doran is a few different things to me and to other people.

while you read this, listen to his new song here

His band is called Keating. That’s his middle name. Emerson is my middle name. We both have middle name bands.

Jack was the first people I met at an open mic who wanted to play music together. He started on drums. And then he switched to keyboards. And he singlehandedly saved a song from the trash bin by sending me a voice memo of him painting some piano melodies over it. And that ended up on a record. And he’s been a great and helpful friend since.

Hooray for Jack. Proud of you. You’re a great songwriter, and I’m happy to hear this.

"Ohio" is out in Europe! Watch the music video!

Over a few weeks, with over two thousand photos, and over five years of handwritten notes, I made a music video in my room.

And since "Ohio" was released TODAY as a single in Europe by K&F Records, I'm sharing the video with you!

Watch the video here!

And learn about how we made it just below the sweet, behind the scenes photo.

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Hi again! I want to share a few things about the video that are special and meaningful to me.

Thing one: All of the paper that's used in this video has my handwriting all over it. I transitioned most of my long-term notes and such into my writing app on my phone and laptop, but I still write most everything out longhand first. I always carry a notebook in my back left pocket, and a blue and black pen in my front left pocket. And I'll always reach for that if I need to write something down. Throughout undergrad, I took longhand notes on a big ol blank A4 notebook. I just love writing and taking notes and doing all that stuff with paper. But, eventually, it either becomes irrelevant, or I type up digital versions of the stuff.

However, I still keep this literal plastic garbage bag of crumpled up paper in my closet upstairs. And I don't have a bunch of like, closet space in my apartment. So, every time I travel, I literally have to move this garbage bag of notes and paper off of my suitcase to get it out and pack. It's irrational and stuff. I know. But I always wanted to make something out of it. Because over five years of handwriting just feels really neat. It looks cool. I guess I'm a sap about this stuff.

Anyway, I dumped that bag of notes onto the floor. And started to try to figure out the story of these two fellas. I'm not sure if I found their story, but I think they got something out of the experience. I mean, they didn't exist before, and they seem pretty real to me when I watch the video now. So that's worth something.

[Oh, also, you can read a bunch of the shit written on these notes in the video. Please screenshot some and hit us with them on FB and Twitter. I'm trying to use Twitter, and this seems like it could be for it. @hiemersonmusic.]

Thing two: I've never done this before, and it reminded me that learning how to do new things is really fun. Like, so much fun. I did so much wrong and had a blast figuring out how to fix it along the way. This all happened because I had a bad idea for a real video ass video, it went poorly, and I had to find another way to make a thing. I'm really really happy about that. So watch it.

Thing three: This makes me excited to do other things I haven't done before, like play a couple dozen shows in Germany in like two months. So, like, here are the dates. More will be added to the end and the beginning in a few weeks. If you have any pals out there, hip them to our songs. 

++ 26.08.18 Offenbach – Hafen 2
++ 27.08.18 Chemnitz – Inspire Chemnitz
++ 28.08.18 Hamburg – Freundlich & Kompetent
++ 29.08.18 Berlin – Ä 
++ 30.08.18 Berlin – Art Stalker (with Wayne Graham) 
++ 01.09.18 Annaberg-Buchholz – Alte Brauerei
++ 02.09.18 Dresden – The Sound of Bronkow Music Festival
++ 04.09.18 Bayreuth – Sübkültür
++ 05.09.18 Marburg – Q
++ 06.09.18 Düsseldorf – Zakk
++ 07.09.18 Karlsruhe – Nun Kaffehaus (with Wayne Graham) 
++ 08.09.18 Freiburg – Swamp (with Wayne Graham) 
++ 09.09.18 Hof – Dachbodenkonzert
++ 10.09.18 Münster – Pension Schmidt

So that's about it for today. Drink water, learn a new thing, and revel in how great it feels to draw on real paper with a real ballpoint pen.

That's all,
Sam

A Short Story Explaining Why My Face Is On Vinyl Records in Germany

Hello. My name is Sam, and I like to write songs. Here's a little story about why there are vinyl records with my face on them in Germany.

One time, I moved to Columbus, Ohio after spending a year attending the wrong college in Nashville, Tennessee. Ohio was a better fit for me, and English Lit was a better major for me. I had studied Music Business, but that was just the pits for me.

I wrote some songs and made the walk from my dorm at Baker West to Kafe Kerouac most Tuesdays for the Open Mic there. Jason runs a tight and supportive ship.

I helped open up a refugee benefit show there for The Gentle Lurch. They're a band from Dresden, Germany. Lars and Neli were over here for OSU as well. But they were nice enough to come to our cassette tape release show with Field Sleeper in the fall of 2015. After that, Lars and I became buddies and shared a beer at Dicks Den from time to time. When we threw our record release show in the US, it was a refugee benefit again. I think that will continue to be the case for release shows going forward.

 Wow! CDs! And Grandma Bodary's quilt that she made for my high school graduation is on the CD! Hooray!

Wow! CDs! And Grandma Bodary's quilt that she made for my high school graduation is on the CD! Hooray!

They invited me over to come visit when they went back to Germany, so I did. Last year, I spent about a week and a half adventuring, meeting nice folks and playing nice shows. The Sound of Bronkow Music Festival was the highlight; I finished my set while the church tower above me sounded for 8pm. I nearly made enough money to pay back the plane ticket! This shit is seriously the dream.

They were nice enough to reach out about giving the record a proper release through K&F Records in Germany. I recently got an email with nearly four weeks of shows. So that will happen in August. And I'm intimidated and don't know what to expect, but work is supportive and friends are supportive and I might even have one or two Hello Emerson members along for the ride.

Fingers crossed we can make back our plane ticket money, and make Lars and Neli some diaper money (they had a baby!)

So, this news doesn't mean a lot to you United Statesians - you all can already listen to the record. But we're excited about our tour and distribution deal with our friends in Germany.

Let me know if you want a vinyl - they're up on the store for North America and will arrive in June. If you're in Europe, I'll be seeing you in a couple months.

With love and gratitude, Sam