The Macy’s Day Parade

As far back as I can remember, the Macy’s Day Parade was on TV every Turkey Day morning, while we peeled potatoes and dressed the bird, and before my grandfather inevitably turned the channel to football. We just got back from two-week European tour, which was cut a little short by getting to ride on top of the Cracker Jack float, just after Meghan Trainor, and just before Nick Jonas. When I told my folks we were performing at the parade, they definitely flipped. On Wednesday, we flew from Munich to JFK, where we all had our own drivers holding signs with our own names who put our bags and gear in our own Escalades to drive us to the Dream hotel where we all had our own rooms. I don’t mean to brag, but I say this because we usually cram into a minivan with guitars in our laps and share a few rooms at Holiday Inn Express, or even La Quinta Inn if it’s a good deal.

Lobby call was 7AM, and we watched other performers walk through the revolving doors, including the Vamps, Ronald McDonald, and KISS. We were picked up in a van and taken to the start of the parade, where the guys did some interviews, the Cirque du Soleil pirates warmed up juggling, and we all took selflies with Ron (ald McDonald, who cracked a I-have-big-and-feet-you-know-what-that-means joke). We had to rearrange some drums, stands, and ourselves so we would fit on the 7-foot wide platform overlooking a miniature baseball field and some little league all stars.

And then we started moving. Past Central Park, past the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all the way up past Radio City Music Hall, on display for hundreds of thousands of onlookers, many of whom staked out their turf at 5AM to get a spot right along the parade route. We waved, danced, froze, and waved some more, grinning and laughing like the lucky idiots we were, basking in the frigid New York air, 20 feet above the street. It might have won the best moment of the year award, in a year full of outstanding ones. For the TV part of the parade, which was the final 90 seconds before we hopped off, we had only some basic instructions: play to the cameras on the left, not the few hundred people on the right, because there are 25 million people watching at home. And to disguise the lip syncing (if you think people really sing at these events, go stand in the corner for time-out), we were told to keep the microphones close to our mouths.

As the massive float made its final turn down 6th Avenue, the driver hung too hard of a right, and we got jammed on the barricades for a minute or two before they pried it loose, and then hustled towards the cameras to keep schedule. Surely someone would cue us, as it such a highly watched event. Surely the muffled sound that we could barely hear at that moment definitely wasn’t the 90-second version of “Best Day of My Life” that we were supposed to mime along to. But just in case, we started playing along after a few moments of confusion, in the off-chance that we were wrong, and that was our big moment. “Our slot is probably coming up any minute, so get ready boys!” Nope. That was it. Huh?

So we goofed a bit, but we didn’t let a bit of unorganized parading ruin our fun, as the whole day was completely surreal. We warmed our hands and feet back at the Dream hotel, had some coffee and huevos rancheros in the lobby restaurant, and looked at the photos and videos we took from atop the float, marveling at our crazy morning. Of course some boneheads put our ‘lip-sync fail’ on YouTube, but you know what? Haters gonna hate. We have watched it a bunch of times and just laughed; we are a rock band, and therefore not good at lip syncing. Sue us.

The BB King Affair

This is a story of the stars being crossed. About 15 years ago, I went to Chastain Amphitheater in Atlanta to see BB King, with Tower of Power and Kenny Wayne Shepherd opening the show. My friend John Paskoff and I went with our guitar buddy Lawson, who had season tickets for Table #1 at Chastain, right next to the stage. TOP was amazing with their horn section and funkiness; KWS band was a blues-rock explosion although Kenny remains a bit of a Stevie Ray hack; and while BB could only stand for the first number and then had a seat, the legendary Bluesman delivered an awe-inspiring show, a pinnacle experience for us young guitar players. Every note that man plays: goosebumps.

At the end of the show, my friends and I somehow managed to get backstage to meet the King himself, and he could not have been a sweeter or more majestic man. He said “Hello there young man!” and signed my Table #1 ticket stub as well as my guitar pick, after which I told him “Please send my regards to Lucille!” to which he replied,”Oh, Lucille done gone to bed by now!” (If you don’t know who Lucille is, shame on you, and google it!).

James, the American Authors banjo player, recently told me his first concert ever was seeing BB King at Chastain in 2000, and I was like “Dude!! I was at that show!” And needless to say: we had a moment. After our live VH1 ‘You Oughta Know’ show at the Hammerstein Ballroom a couple weeks ago, we had drinks with our manager Alex, who was regaling us with some of his early road stories as a sound engineer. I mentioned I was really into the Atlanta blues scene growing up, and lo and behold, he happened to be running sound for BB King way back then…and was mixing. Sound. At. That. SHOW. He was 20 years old at the time, a talented mixing engineer for his age, and therefore a good and cheap option for BBK, Inc. That was his first night on the job as sound engineer for both Kenny and BB, so he was understandably a bit nervous, especially because BB had a 12 piece band and they never do a soundcheck so he had to mix on the fly. But he was there! And me and James were there! And we wouldn’t meet each other until 10+ years later.

At the end of the tour, Alex told me Mr. King gave him $1500 in cash and thanked him for his work, and then signed the envelope the dough came in. Neither Alex nor I can remember where those autographs are at present day; presumable at mom’s house somewhere. But hey: cool story, right?

Sold Out Paradise Rock Club

We have been on the Honda Civic Tour since October 1st, and it has been a wild ride. I have caught up with old friends in California to Texas to Atlanta to Chicago and now: Boston. This show is particularly special, as it is our first headlining sold out show in the city where we all met and started our professional careers. I saw The Blue Pages play here seven years ago, AA’s former band name with the same four members; and it has taken them this long to get their name up on that marquee with those two amazing words, ‘SOLD OUT,’ next to it.

We walked around the Berklee campus after soundcheck and ran into a couple of my old songwriting professors and chatted about the music biz, publishing revenue, Billboard charts, etc.; but we also recalled how terrified we were upon graduating (or dropping out) and moving to New York City with a hope, a prayer, and a mountain of student loan debt. We talked about bellhopping, waiting tables, flipping MacBooks on Craigslist, anything we could do to keep the dream alive. Watching all those students walk around Mass Ave all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, carrying guitars or drumsticks, I wanted to take them and slap them around (figuratively speaking), and tell them how much hard work and degradation they have ahead of them. I wish someone had done that to me in 2010, when I too was naively optimistic, full of piss and vinegar, ready to be the next John Mayer.

We half-joked on the way back to the venue: Berklee should offer courses in bartending and waiting tables, because it’s a necessary skill set for musician survival…

Halloween in Minneapolis

So we decided to be Batman villains for Halloween. We went shopping in Chicago, and managed to throw together some decent costumes from various thrift shops and Halloween stores. Zac Barnett bought that suit for $10 and ripped it apart. Dave took some convincing to be the Penguin, as the Penguin not the sexiest of villains, but he eventually came around and looked terrifying (and you know what? kind of sexy). Matt actually had to tone down his natural brooding aura to pull off the the Joker. As a huge Jim Carrey fan, the Riddler was a natural choice for yours truly.

So who would James be? Bane? Scarecrow? Dr. Freeze? Nope, they all have things over their faces which would not be conducive to singing. The Dark Knight himself? The rest of the band wouldn’t hear of it (the idea was shot down via group text in the costume shop). So we perused the used costume racks, and voilà: Superman! Not necessarily Batman’s immediate enemy per se, but the next movie coming out is entitled ‘Superman v. Batman,’ so we dressed him up in those red and blue tights, threw on a little red riding hood cape (they were out of the Superman ones), and there you have it (it had a huge rip in the crotch by the second night; there might be some lewd fan photos out there on the interwebs)

The show at Mill City Nights in Minneapolis on proper Halloween was awesome, but the following night at Freak Fest in downtown Madison, WI was the best crowd of the whole tour. We played for thousands of tipsy trick-or-treaters at midnight on an outdoor stage in the 29 degree open air. I swapped costumes with Barnett because he wanted to not wear the pink make up and to also have sleeves. What a wimp! (Hypocrite warning: I put on my hoodie mid-set).

Around the World in 42 days

I turned 30 years old four or five times on a handful of midnights this past August 14th, as we were in a jet en route to Belgium; the time zones affording me many birthdays. We made it to the Pukkelpop Festival in the nick of time after being awake for 30 hours straight. The show was a blast, and I took this selfie onstage during my birthday shout-out from Zac Barnett. My ATL homies Outkast played a few hours later (disclaimer: I personally know neither Andre 3000 nor Big Boi), and it was quite a birthday indeed. More amazing festivals followed in Switzerland, where I had an allergic reaction to the histamines in the best cheese I have ever tasted; Germany, where they fed us schnitzel but we had to leave before Queens of the Stone Age performed; Sweden, where beautiful blonde women flock like the salmon of Capestrano; Denmark, where we played a humbling club show to about 40 people; Norway, where we made lots of naughty “Norwegian Wood” puns; and lastly both the Reading and Leeds festivals in the UK, where we got to hang for a quick minute with Imagine Dragons and the Arctic Monkeys.

After this European festival circuit, I had my first vacation in about three years, not counting going home for a couple days for Christmas, birthdays, etc. First up: Munich; I met up with my old friends Nini and Ben from the band Haerts, who promptly escorted me to Spatenhaus to sample Munich’s finest beer and liverkase (looks like a giant hotdog cut up into meatloafesque slices). Next up was Istanbul, one of the coolest places I have ever been; you can take a ferry from the European side over to the Asian side, and there are islands where cars are forbidden and you have to travel via bike or a horse. And the kebabs there…Oh my Allah. Next I crashed with my friends Nancy and Todd in Budapest; cheap beer and Hungarian bathhouses where you can see all the Eastern European skin you can imagine (the good, the bad, and the hairy).The last stop before meeting back up with the band was Prague, where I saw a chapel made from the bones of 40,000 people.

We returned to Australia on September 15th, where we performed alongside all of the remaining contestants of the X-Factor live onstage in front of judges Redfoo from LMFAO, Kylie Minogue’s sister, and the other two whose names I don’t feel like googling. The hype man for the show was the same guy who hosted live band karaoke at a pizza joint called Frankie’s that we hit up our first night in Sydney. I got onstage to sing Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (To Party)”, and I grabbed the extra guitar onstage to wail over the last chorus. And wail I DID. And to top it all off, I attempted a heel-click-hop offstage, but instead, I crushed my head on a low hanging speaker, and crumbled to the ground in agony. I have never seen a crowd of people go from cheering to laughing so abruptly. I did my best to play it off, although I still have a bump on my noggin.

Our last stop was Auckland, New Zealand, and much to our dismay, we did not get to hang out with either Gandalf, Frodo, or even Flight of the Conchords. But we did jump off of the Harbour Bridge strapped to a harness, which was positively exhilarating. We just got back stateside, and are currently in Reno prepping for the Honda Civic Tour, which is coming soon to a city near you!

Prank Off

For our last show with One Republic in Virgina Beach on August 3, we felt a tension in the air all day; for we knew that a prank was a-comin’. If you’re the baby band on a tour like this, you will get hazed. During soundcheck, we were looking over our shoulders. During dinner, we were examining our meals for possible laxative content or other such innocent poisons. Their director of security measured all of our heights and acted very fishy whenever we walked by. We were nervous, to say the least. When we walked onstage, there was much more of a 1R crew watching than normal. And as I took my guitar to play the first chord, I looked down at my pedalboard, and there it was, duct taped to the floorboard at my feet: an 8” x 11″ photo of a couple of gay gentlemen in the throes of passion. Yes. THAT was the prank. Graphic gay porn taped on all of our gear. Every drum, amp, and speaker that was not immediately visible to the crowd held up a photo of some a hunky dude on top of another hunky dude, and the crew on the sidelines howled in laughter as we sheepishly played our final set. And for the encore prank, the members of One Republic started removing Matt’s drums piece by piece during the outro of ‘Best Day of My Life,’ so by then end, he had but one cymbal. So they got us…I guess. But lo and behold: we would have the last laugh.

We tried all day to come up with a good prank that would be funny but forgivable, which is not an easy task. Finally at 10PM, with one hour left in One Republic’s set, we thought of a gem: why don’t we run onstage right before the last song when he thanks American Authors (he had done this consistently every show), and give him a big bear hug…in our underwear?! Take a look:

It took a little convincing for some of us, but we ran it past One Republic’s tour manager Mark beforehand, and he thought it was brilliant. We chatted with Ryan and the guys afterwards, and they thought it was hilarious. What a wild summer tour. Next up: European festival circuit. I’ll bring stories back, don’t you worry.

*Thanks to our Stage Manager JJ James for filming!

A Chat with Ryan Tedder

A few days ago in Kansas City we had the night off, and went off to explore the hip neighborhood of this Missouri town (some of us may have thought it was in Kansas…). The One Republic crew was hanging out there as well. I went to buy a round for the boys, and the lead singer Ryan Tedder was seated right next to me as I order the drinks. He is typically around only for show time, because he is constantly recording, producing, and writing with a handful of up-and-comers like Adele, Maroon 5, and One Direction. “Hey Ryan– you need a drink?” I asked. “I’ve been drinking bourbon…and I think I should stick with that. Bulleit on the rocks.” It’s not every day you get to buy a drink for someone who has written dozens of hit songs and is one of the biggest names in music.

He asked me about where we were heading after this leg of the tour, and I told him we were touring all over Scandinavia, and then we had a couple weeks off  in Europe to go wherever we wanted. He lit up like a travel agent and started to map out my whole itinerary for me: Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Turkish baths in Istanbul, this lake in Venice, that club in Prague, fly, train, drink, explore. I thought I was talking to Anthony Bourdain for a minute.

James and I eventually started picking his brain about music, and the hour-plus conversation that followed was easily one of the most enlightening and educational talks I have ever had (Imagine you were trying to start a small business and you got to chat with Mark Cuban; it was like THAT). He not only gave us some sage advice about the trajectory of American Authors, but also told us about his writing sessions with Adam Levine, partying with Harry Styles in London, convincing Chris Cornell to make a cameo in his music video, how Chris Martin splits up his songwriting points with the rest of Coldplay, and which instruments are miked up for live TV shows versus which parts are kept in the tracks for logistical purposes.

Justin Timberlake was playing a show in Kansas City that night too, and Ryan easily could have texted him to meet up, but he didn’t “feel like following Justin around all night doing only what he wanted to do.” So he kicked it with us instead it, and we are certainly grateful.

Yahoo! Music Debut

The filmmaker with his camera and subjects.

Before I blew a bunch of money at Berklee College of Music, I actually majored in TV Journalism at the University of Georgia, and I’ve always had a passion for film. Since American Authors hired me in January, I have been filming our adventures on my iPhone 5S, and recently started editing them together to make video tour diaries. My first completed submission chronicling our European tour actually debuted on Yahoo! Music last week. It has footage from Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, and London; one hell of a trip.

It’s fun to capture our journeys and jokes along the road, but I just imagine what it would have been like if one of my favorite bands had this behind-the-scenes footage back when I was in middle school. If the guys in Stone Temple Pilots or Soundgarden had handheld video cameras with them at all times and I could watch snippets of them hanging out on their tour bus or doing vocal warmups, I would have been absolutely mesmerized.

So I hope the AA fans of all ages dig these videos, especially because I had to edit out all the raunchy parts (of which there are loads). I’ll perhaps upload the director’s cuts one of these days.

Here is the first one. Many more to come!

ZT Birthday Show on July 22nd!

It has been a pretty unreal experience touring around the world with American Authors over the last five months; that being said, I’m terribly excited to play with my band and my horns for my birthday! I turn 30 on August 14th (gasp!), but that day I’ll be blowing out birthday candles out of giant waffles at the Pukkelpop festival in Belgium with AA. So Rockwood hooked me up with a show on one of the few days I’ll be in town in July, and boy oh boy, I’m about to wee myself out of excitement.

Zac Barnett is an amazing frontman; James, Dave, and Matt are also great performers, and they are all clearly an amazing team of songwriters, businessmen, and comrades. I have learned so much about the industry, radio plays, managers, great hooks, live performance, and connecting with the audience from working with these guys (not to mention functioning on a couple hours of sleep, taking selfies with tweens and/or cougars, and gunk to put in your hair to make it look more One Direction-y). I’m excited to bring some of these hopefully improved skillsets to my own show.

So here we go. The last few weeks of my 20s. I’m thrilled to have stuck around this long!

Here is the link to the event; hope you can make it.

Back in Beantown

Here I am back at Berklee practicing some advanced music theory. I know--that haircut!

Near the end of this leg of the summer tour, we played two nights at the Blue Hills Bank (formerly Bank of America) Pavilion by the Seaport in Boston. We all went to school right down the street at Berklee, so it was pretty amazing to come back and perform where we all met and where the band basically started. The last time I was there was in 2008 for Ryan Adams and the Cardinals (insert omg super fan face here).

I had some drinks with my friend Kier Byrnes who I used to play with in a band called Three Day Threshold, and we romped around Davis Square, my old stomping grounds, which is two subway stops north of Hah-vud (say it out loud). I actually stopped by my old house, next door to Red Bones BBQ, and lo and behold: there was a letter for me in the mail chest! I haven’t lived there in three years, but the Boston University Dental School still thinks I do, and they’re still trying to get paid for that teeth cleaning all those years ago. Take a hint, BU. I ain’t paying it.

It was quite a walk down memory lane. Walking by the Square where I used to busk. Getting a coffee at Diesel. Meeting some old bandmates at Anna’s Taquería for lunch. When I lived there from ’08-’10, I was studying hard, writing songs, running the school newspaper, and moreover wondering what the hell I was going to do when and if I graduated. If you had told me then that I would have to work at a hotel in Manhattan for three years, but then get to tour the world with a multi-platinum rock band, I’m pretty sure I would have been OK with that.

Check out this article on Berklee.edu about me and the boys. Hope to catch you soon Beantown!