We’ve had some difficult days here in Nashville the past two weeks or so. It’s been a less than gentle reminder of how Mother Nature can define more than just the weather. Snow, ice, frigid temperatures and the good life. On the surface, they don’t seem to go hand in hand. Getting the front door to open over three inches of ice, much less driving on it to get to work has been one fail after another. School kids are driving themselves and their parents crazy with cabin fever folly, the trees have bent over and snapped along with the electric lines. The old can of soup I was saving for that perfect storm-ravaged day, well, it seems to have defied the cliché of lasting forever. Thankfully, the beer in the fridge is still ice-cold because the house is the same temperature as the powerless fridge.
For longer than those of us below the Mason-Dixon Line can stand, we’ve struggled to see temperatures anywhere close to freezing on the top end. In fact, we’ve endured many days of teens and single digit madness. Before my good friends in the northern states like Massachusetts and New York begin making tiny violin gestures or asking if I’d like a little wine with my cheese, I will have to say, yes, you do have it worse. I’ve seen your roof-high snowdrifts, your -17 degree temperatures and a relentless onslaught of snow-pocalypse blizzards. But you are hearty, far more used to it and own more pairs of snow chains than we do trampolines and satellite dishes. We also have one thing in Nashville that would surely bring your Paul Bunyan meets Yeti toughness to its knees. Nashville drivers! Yes, that one entity that can turn a shallow dusting of snow into a legitimate fear-for-your life event. We drive too fast on roads that look slightly dry and oh so pretty, then at the first sign of glistening ice, we do what any full-fledged moron would do. We slam whole-heartedly and without any reservation upon our brakes. What happens next is the predictable train wreck of our car hitting the next car and the next 10 cars and then the entire parking lot full of us, go off into the ditch.
When it comes to weather and driving in it, especially in the south, it’s what’s underneath the surface that should concern you. What’s underneath? The unknown. The deadly and the dreamy. That concept got me thinking about my default love of course, that of music and all things creative. That’s probably because a life in the arts is not far from the bumper-to-bumper slip and slide disaster that defines late winter driving in Tennessee.
It should come as no surprise that Runaway Home has used these past few weeks of paralyzing weather to begin our own slipping and sliding through our sophomore album project. Maybe because two-thirds of Runaway Home have official northern driving bonafides, with Gary learning to drive in the streets of Boston and me in Washington, D.C. Maybe it’s because Malinda is a cross between Joan of Arc and a fiddle-playing Annie Oakley, but no matter what it is – this band has proven undaunted of late. Considering the natural and unnatural storms we have endured since January, the album is coming along oddly easy. We are trying our hardest to get this new album out in time for our New York tour in April. It’s hard to tell which will arrive first, our UPS boxes of CDs or a complete snowmelt under the Amish wagons in Heuvelton, NY. Winter is long up there, but I wouldn’t bet against us.
A combination of old songs and brand new ones have settled in quickly and we are having the time of our lives playing them together. Although Gary and I have played together for nearly 25 years and Malinda has been with the band, at least on fiddle for the past year or so, we are learning to be a brand new band together – and that’s just too much fun. We’ve navigated the obvious surface obstacles of recording, like picking the correct tempos, finding the right keys and harmony inversions, deciding where the solos should be and who is going to play which instrument on what song. We have barely begun to scratch the surface of the unknown that lies underneath. We are randomly hitting on the subtle hidden meaning of a line in a last verse or stumbling across that doubled melody lick that we didn’t see coming until it was too late – in a good way. I can’t wait to see what else we come across and dig up in the last month of recording and in all the months to come.
It’s easy to love the big white snowflakes and rush into them headlong only to find black ice and unsure footing. The black ice is scary and often times lands one far from the comfort of the painted lines. I won’t wax-philosophic on the driving part though, because in Nashville, that’s just plain lunacy. As far as music goes however, give me as much black ice as you’ve got. We love to play the notes, write the words and find the harmonic convergence that I never saw coming. We don’t even mind spinning out from time to time.
Mark Elliott – Runaway Home
“It’s the Music That Makes Us Smile”