News, Gossip, and Stuff From Inside Billy’s Head
Ken Stringfellow, who worked on my new record (The UnExplainable Billy Eli), is currently touring in Europe with his own new record, Danzig in the Moonlight. He lives in Paris, grew up in Seattle, and rarely stays his ass in anywhere longer than a week. Here’s a little interview he did about being a working musician. Faces of the Music Biz: Ken Stringfellow
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane and freedigitalphotos.net
Watched the movie Moby Dick again last night. I’m kind of fascinated by the story. Ahab is obsessed with this magnificent whale, and wants nothing so badly as to catch it for no other reason than because it is so magnificent. What he doesn’t realize is that the very act of catching it will destroy what makes it magnificent. Ahab wants it because he admires it.
My song She Looked Like Marilyn Monroe is written on this same theme, wanting to “catch” something that only exists in its natural state, but that can’t be caught because the catching of it destroys the very thing that is desirable. Marilyn Monroe is just like the great white whale. She only existed in the context for which she was made. She wasn’t a real woman. Catching her would reveal that the real woman playing the character was just like everyone else. Changing the context destroys the thing. The great whale is not great and magnificent lying on the deck of a ship. Marilyn Monroe is not the same always perfectly sexy, desirable and glamorous woman if you see her day in and day out, doing ordinary things like an ordinary person.
Norma Jean may have been a wonderful woman and may have made a loving and devoted wife, but that would be Norma Jean, not Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe exists only in the plane of existence which she was created to inhabit.
In most of our lives, there is something that we see only through the lens that excludes reality. The movie star we fantasize about and love as long we don’t have to think about what they are like when they’re hanging around the house bored or cranky and haven’t showered yet and are upset that you didn’t take out the trash like you said you would. The job or career that we lust after because it is meaningful and creative but we would find to still have clueless supervisors and parts that were incredibly boring and we would still have to put in 8 or more hours a day even if we didn’t want to if were really in it.
Watching a Moby Dick or a Marilyn Monroe may be fun, entertaining, inspiring – it takes us to a place different than our usual world. Chasing a Moby Dick or a Marilyn Monroe may be fun. While we are chasing, the fantasy of the thing is still alive and well. Catching the Moby Dick or Marilyn Monroe will destroy the thing.
And if we let an obsession with the thing, whatever it is, overcome us, we can lose everything. Ahab probably had a good life waiting for him on the dock. Many men who lusted after and chased Marilyn Monroe had good women who loved them. But real life doesn’t stand still. It is constantly moving forward, and if we spend all our time chasing the great white whale that will never satisfy us, we will be left behind by the real things in our world and find only disappointment when we reach the thing we are chasing.
In my song, the storyteller is smart enough to leave while she still looks like Marilyn Monroe.
My song of course has many more meanings than that, depending on who is listening. That’s what’s great to me about songs. They can mean – really mean – whatever you think they mean. For some people Marilyn Monroe is a love song, for some it’s a love lost song, for others it is something else entirely. For me, it’s the joy of the chase and the beauty of being smart enough to know when to stop and let the thing be what it is without destroying it. And then returning to the real things, which are the greatest things of all.
The UnExplainable Billy Eli wouldn’t be what it is without the vision and skill of my producer, Doug Robinson. Without Doug’s ability to turn my vague and inarticulate description of what I wanted this record to sound like and to do to people, it would have been just another flat recording. Nice, but nothing special. You would have had to see my play live to get any of the heat, any of the passion. So I’m fortunate to have had Doug’s considerable talents devoted to my project for several months. Errant Music’s music biz blog ran an interview with Doug yesterday, and I wanted to let ya’ll know about it so you can meet this remarkable musician, my friend Doug Robinson.
Billy spent an hour or so with Jon Colcord at WSCS in New London, New Hampshire last week. He talked a little, played a little, and told a few stories. You can listen to the appearance here: Out of the Woods podcast
Music journalist Jim Catalano has a nice interview piece on Billy in the Ithaca Journal. Read it here.
Billy just wrapped up an hour long taping for the Stay Tuned! television program at the WSCA studio in Portsmouth NH. Watch the website for air dates and eventually a YouTube posting.
In the interview Billy talked about the Birch Tree Center, which works with children with autism, and also mentioned some videos of Billy and his son Griffin, who has autism, sort of singing
Austin’s Billy Eli has been writing and recording music since 1990. He’s probably the best Austin based singer/songwriters that you’ve never heard (yet). He’s got a voice that can be compared to John Prine, with a smattering of Bruce Springsteen, a dollop of Steve Earle, a healthy dose of Grayson Capps, and perhaps a taste of Jeff Bridges (ala “Crazy Heart”). His music is rollicking, porch-stompin’ country rock with plenty of space for some fiddle and Cajun accordion. It’s interesting. It’s refreshing. It’s a genuine celebration of Americana music, written and performed expertly — drawing on many an influence, and tying those string of influences together into one congruent and impactfully striking record. And its title, “The UnExplainable Billy Eli,” is apt indeed. It says it all. It’s simple, but complex. It compels you to dive right in and see what resides within its contents.
“With this record, I really wanted to scale down the production and put the emphasis on the songs and the songwriting,” said Eli in a recent interview. “Many, but not all of the songs are dark and personal. The vision for the record was to play as if we were a rock band in the 1930s, before electric instruments, and before rock was clearly rock. We bridged a lot of genres on this album. I definitely think we captured what I was looking for. Like any batch of tunes I deliver, I hope my songs bring up memories and feelings from folk’s own life as they experience the music. Songs are very personal, and I want my listeners to think I wrote every song just for them. Well, a lot of the songs, anyway.”
The degree of authenticity and emotion that oozes out of every strum, twang, pluck, pop, brush, and vocal could bring you to your knees. Eli is looking for a response. He’s looking for you to feel what he’s laying down. He wants you to feel the pain, and the glee — sometimes simultaneously.
He sings on “Lost Behind the Wall”:
I wish that I would’ve known what was in your head
Or how you fell so far behind
If you’da just called me instead
I’m pretty sure everything would’ve turned out fine
You couldn’t make it with a pencil
So you tried to make it with a gun
But that didn’t really work out
Now you’re forever on the run
Now the bills come due
And the devil’s at the Door
And he’s gotta be paid
Oh, there ain’t no way out
There ain’t no way out at all
You’re just lost behind the wall
The song burns so slow, and so vividly. His stories are sharp. You do indeed feel every turn and bend. It’s a ride that you’d best strap in for. Not because the music incites you to head-bang your being out of your seat, but rather, it’s a piece of work that you want to really pay attention to. The stories, the craft, the music… It’s a pleasurable ride.
Eli will make his first appearance at the Portsmouth Book & Bar on Friday, June 21. Proceeds raised at the show will benefit The Birchtree Center in Newington — promoting independent and productive lives for children and youths with autism.
Get ready for music, song, and stories…;
“I’ll have a first class band with me, a lot of close vocal harmonies, and lots and lots of stories,” said Eli. “I try to talk real clear when I’m up here in the North East, so people can understand me over this east Texas accent. But even if you can’t, you’ll know it’s a good story. Whether I’m singing or talking, I’m always telling a story.”
Buy the album now. $12.99 plus shipping
Billy played last weekend at the fabulous St Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Alexandrian VA. A few days later a good chunk of the show turned up on YouTube, so we thought we’d share. Get ready for some stories!
Billy played for this great music series this past Saturday in Baltimore. Linda Cain puts on this shows in honor of her very sweet and rocking son Jacob, who has autism. She’s on Facebook and the web. If you like your music with a side of good cause, check out her stuff.
And then check out these great videos of Billy performing at the event.
From songwriter David Serby:
My buddy, Billy Eli, snuck me a listen to one of the tracks off his upcoming record. It knocked me out.
“She Looked Like Marilyn Monroe” is dark and folky, and the instruments weave in and out of the lyric like lonesome ghosts.
It might be a little less honky tonk than you’re used to from Billy, but it’s still going to make you want to get drunk and dance with a beautiful but doomed, sad-eyed stranger.
If you’re not his friend on facebook, send him a request and ask about the record.