New album Floral coming soon
2016 was an awful year. Aside from the obvious things like the election and the passing of Prince and Bowie, it was terrible for me personally. Probably the worst year of my life.
Bad things started right away in January. Out of the blue, I got laid off of work and became unemployed. It felt like someone pulled the rug out from under me. I strategized, tried to reinvent myself, and scrambled to find new job so I could support my family. I lived off my savings and collected unemployment for a few months. It was demoralizing. My wife, Molly, bought me flowers.
After a few months of unsuccessful job hunting and interviews, I decided I needed a break. We booked a flight home to Ohio to visit both of our parents. I was secretly thinking about throwing in the towel and moving back to the midwest after eleven years in California. It was a low point.
Our overnight flight landed early in the morning in Columbus and Molly’s phone rang while we were still on the runway. Her sister was on the phone and said her dad had died.
Molly’s dad was everything to her and she was completely destroyed. I was destroyed for her. I was also sad to lose a great father-in-law, a friend, and a grandfather to my children who were too young to know him yet. His memorial service in Ohio was beautiful and heartbreaking. Friends and family brought flowers. In the 1960s, her dad had been in a garage rock band called the Velvet Crest. His former bandmate paid tribute and performed one of his favorite Beatles songs “I’ve Just Seen A Face” at the memorial. I was moved. Molly’s family decided I should have her dad’s guitars since I was the one most likely to put them to good use.
Molly’s grandpa was sick and in the hospital at the time and couldn’t attend the memorial service. About a month or so after we returned to San Francisco, we received a phone call that he passed away too. Still reeling from her dad’s death, she had to fly back to Ohio to bury her grandpa right next to her dad. Beautiful flowers were exchanged.
During her grandpa’s funeral in Ohio, Molly got another urgent phone call. One of our friends was admitted to in the hospital in San Francisco and was in a coma in the ICU. Doctors said she might not recover.
This was one of our closest friends. She used to live with her husband in the apartment above us in San Francisco, and they were practically our roommates. She and Molly both were pregnant at the same time and our children even shared the same nanny. It was unthinkable that we might lose someone else so close to us.
Molly left her grandpa’s service and rushed to catch the first flight home. After landing in SFO, she went to the hospital to see our friend. Molly held her hand and talked to her. She stayed with her for several hours late into the night.
The next morning, we packed the kids into the car and drove back to the hospital to visit. I went in first while Molly stayed in the car with the kids. I was nervous about coming face to face with a friend in a coma and wasn’t sure what I should say to her. Molly told me to just hold her hand and tell her how much we loved her.
I walked into the hospital and made my way to the ICU. As soon as I got into the hallway, Jonny Bartlett came rushing through the door. He told me she was dying right now.
I ran into the room and stood next to her family. We watched in horror as a team of doctors performed chest compressions and tried to save her. All her vital sign alerts and alarms were going off and I could hear that awful flatline noise like the movies. Things started moving in slow motion and felt surreal. I stood there and watched my friend die.
I ran from the room to the parking lot and told Molly to go inside and say goodbye. I gathered my kids and my dead friend’s two year old daughter. We went behind the hospital to play in the parking lot a few feet away from her room. It was beautiful outside and her daughter was so happy and unaware. She had no idea that day was probably the most important day of her life.
Later that afternoon, our friends gathered in my backyard to try to process what we experienced. We drank a lot of wine and told stories about our friend. We hugged and laughed and cried.
A few days later, we gathered at sunset on Ocean Beach to say goodbye. Everyone carried flowers to the water. We tossed them into the surf and watched the tide carry them away, like our friend was carried away from that hospital room. Colorful flowers filled the ocean.
I was in a daze for weeks. I felt guilty for not being a better friend, for letting her die, and for allowing life to move on without her. I was numb. One night I stood in my neighborhood and watched the fog roll over Twin Peaks. I felt like that fog was covering our lives.
I eventually found a good job and life began to return to normal. I started playing my father in law’s old Telecaster at night to keep my mind off things. Music had been on the back burner since I got laid off. I had so much emotion bottled up that it was cathartic to put it to lyrics. Songs started flowing out of me.
In June, I asked Scott if he was interested in making a new What Up Mang album. He was hurting too and when I played him some of my songs I could tell we were on the same page. Because the last What Up Mang record was mostly electronic, we decided we would go in a completely different direction for the new album. We agreed there would be no synths and no drum machines. We would record everything on vintage instruments through amplifiers and microphones. We wanted it to look, feel, and smell like real rock and roll.
We wrote songs about loss and coping, about relationships, about the stress of trying to carve out a life in California. I even wrote a song about my rekindled fondness for Ohio. By the end of the summer, we sketched out most of the songs that would become Floral.
In October, we scheduled a proper recording session at Scott’s house on the coast. We invited our good friend Matt Browning from the Portland band, the Old States, to join us. I drove down to Scott’s house with my wife and kids on Friday and they dropped me off. I spent the rest of the weekend with Scott and Matt tracking guitars, bass, and keys in Scott’s living room. We recorded almost every waking moment and it was one of the most productive and satisfying musical experiences of my life. On Sunday, I drove back up to San Francisco on the 101 and listened to the demos. Right away, I knew that we had something special.
Back in San Francisco, we finished overdubs and vocals at my home studio in the Lower Haight. Caty sang lead vocals on five songs and we co-wrote “Now Is When” together. She was pregnant during the making of the album, but was in the studio recording vocals like a rock star right up until about three weeks before her son, Bongo, was born. I also tracked all the drums with Jonny Bartlett in his garage in Oakland. Jonny is an old friend and we’ve been in many bands together. It was great to get him to play on this record.
I named the album Floral because the past year has been a whirlwind of awful experiences, punctuated by flowers. I did my best capturing those dark days and bright nights on his record and I hope you enjoy it.
Floral: Behind The Scenes
Watch a behind the scenes footage of What Up Mang recording Floral