A Letter to The Lumineers

A Letter to The Lumineers

Dear Wesley, Jeremiah, and Neyla,

I have 12th row seats for The Lumineers show here in Winnipeg tonight and the timing is perfect. I got into your band in 2015, three years after the self-titled album and the performance at the Grammys–which seemed like kind of unfortunate timing because The Lumineers, for all I knew, went into hibernation. Indefinitely.

I bought your first studio record off a friend who was selling all her shit to move out of town or something. That album was my anthem for leaving too–I was planning a two month backpacking trip to Asia in the spring of that year.

I know the song Charlie Boy sounds like it’s about going to war (perhaps?) but I listened to it probably 200 times in the weeks leading up to leaving, it’s just such a simple, almost haunting song. But to me it is hopeful. It has a quick and rising rhythm that crescendoes with that deep cello sound, setting my insides aflame.

So when I started to hear whisperings of a new album in the works I was beyond ecstatic. And a year later in the spring of 2016 it exceeded all my expectations. People always complain that an album is either too different or similar to the previous, but Cleopatra was–to me–the perfect sequel to build on your signature sound. It became another anthem to my spring time.

Here in my hometown of Winnipeg, the winters are brutal and spirit-crushing, and this album unthawed my frozen soul, and continues to do so every spring. So here’s a cheesy poem I wrote, inspired by the music:

I want to strap on a guitar and head out the door,

play shows to empty rooms and Sleep on the Floor,

I want to sing to Cleopatra on a highway somewhere,

Where The Skies Are Blue like her deep ocean stare.

My Eyes are brown, and careful where they lurk,

“You’re A Long Way From Home,” she’ll say with a smirk.

I’ll tell a White Lie, say I know where I’m going,

As a Gale Song wind starts hissing and blowing.

In The Light of dusk her Patience is waning,

I swear I’ll hurry up, I’m a performer in training.

So she lets me sing on, I say “I’m Sick In The Head,

love’s as deadly as a Gun, (but a) Song puts you to bed.”

When I’m done she says: Everyone Requires A Plan,

I confess I never had one, I only ever ran.

So Cleopatra did join me and helped me unthaw,

And all the places we went, oh the things that we saw.

We married out west, saved souvenirs and memorabilia,

Then we raised two young daughters: Angela and Ophelia.


Sean Guezen

Swearin’s 2012 self-titled album is still one my all-time favourites

Swearin’s 2012 self-titled album is still one my all-time favourites

(Photo by Jesse Riggins, taken from the Swearin’ Facebook page)

I don’t even remember how or when I heard about this band, but after a couple listens of their self titled album I was completely hooked. It’s got a sense of rawness and honesty that I think so much indie rock is missing these days. It’s moody, sarcastic, and cynical punk music that manages to stay optimistic and thoughtful all the way through.

Swearin’ starts off on a frenzied sounding melody with an ascending pitch before it dives into Allison Crutchfield’s anthemic vocals in the song, so simply named “1”. And then like half a minute later it cuts off into the next song with equal intensity. Kyle Gilbride’s give-no-shits, strained vocals fit the mood perfectly in Here to Hear. He echoes, to me, that frustration of moving back to your hometown and the lethargic monotony of trying to figure out your future, “I keep thinking, ‘Is this as good as it gets?'” Then he screeches into a poppy, bouncy solo to outro the song. We flip back to Crutchfield’s vocals and chug our way through Kenosha next. I love this song so damn much. The chorus is so simple and devastating: “I hope you like Kenosha so much you stay there.”

The whole album punches and winds through those 20-something struggles, disappointments, and insecurities. “Maybe I’m not the right kind,
I’m not in my right mind,” says Crutchfield, in the chaotic and volatile song, “Shrinking Violet”.

It finds a way to voice the the feeling of trying to fit in/stand out with just the right amount of self deprecation. “Spend the night complaining, running on no sleep. How can you hang out with me?” shouts Gilbride in the beginning of the song “Crashing”, which sounds like it’s about couch hopping wherever and whenever your friends will let you.

This album makes me feel better about being kind of lost and aimless sometimes. Like it’s fine, because you’re going to screw up and make bad decisions, but it’ll probably still be fun if you don’t take all the heartache so seriously.

When you strip it down, this album is actually chock-full of sad songs, if you read through the lyrics. “I collect the blurry past into my empty head,” says Gilbride and Crutchfield, “Its not like anything was better then.” Their vocals crackle out in harmony at 2:09 in the song “Empty Head” to make one of my favourite quiet moments on the album.

But it’s the overall contrast of fast, and relatively upbeat music with those lyrics that sway from emo to poetically blunt that work so well together for me. “The bluer the water, the closer to hell. Sandy rock-bottom, seedy motel,” says Crutchfield in the song “Hundreds & Thousands”. I can only assume they’re talking about the hundreds and thousands of kinda shitty bars and venues they’ve played touring across the states.

“Movie Star” sounds like it chronicles the end of a relationship and the beginning of another in this fuzzed out final track. This song, just like the first track, sort of book-ends the album – but with a descending melody this time. The guitars and drums crash harder and harder, and more haphazardly under Crutchfield shouting, “You and me don’t earn much pay, but you and me got enough to get away,” until the song breaks apart and fuzzy feedback lingers uncomfortably in your headphones.

Swearin’ broke up in 2015 around the time that Crutchfield and Gilbride broke up in the same year–according to their Wikipedia page. The shitty thing about bands built around a couple is that relationships don’t always last forever, and when they end, so does the music. I don’t know if that’s necessarily what happened here, but maybe it’s better not to know. I’m still not over it though. I guess people don’t normally wite reviews for albums five years after they’ve already been released, but I don’t care. I’ll keep listening to this album until the day I feel like I’m done making mistakes–which, not coincidentally, might be never.

Why you should be listening to albums front-to-back

Why you should be listening to albums front-to-back

You’re probably aware that the music industry is – in some ways – struggling to evolve in the digital age. People just don’t want to buy physical CDs, records are getting more popular but demand is still low, places like HMV are closing their doors. I could sit here typing about the value of physical albums all day, but hell my MacBook doesn’t even have a CD drive.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of people don’t want to listen to full albums anymore either. As a result, are artists going to stop putting as much effort into the rest of the album? If it’s not a single, will people actually listen? Well, in short, I would argue yes – but I think that popular artists and bands need to keep reminding themselves to think of their albums as a unified piece of art. Or at least they should be trying to fill an album with songs that are all actually worth your time.

When’s the last time you sat down and listened to an album front to back? It’s a wonderful thing, I promise. I can’t do it wth just ANY album, obviously, but the right one can be quite an experience to listen to.

Sit down with that record you bought 100 years ago, blow the layer of dust off the top of your turntable, and lay down the record. Or pop in a CD, or tape, or whatever thing you’ve been called a washed up hipster for owning. Resist the urge to skip songs. Give each song a shot and you might change your mind. Bonus points for listening on vinyl, because you can’t just skip the song and listen to the next unless you physically lift the needle.

Here’s why you should be listening albums straight through to the end:

First of all – the volume levels are relatively even throughout so you don’t have to constantly adjust the volume. I don’t know how many times I’ve jumped out of my freaking skin on the bus while listening to a quiet song by the Innocence Mission when some METZ song comes screeching on immediately after.

But more importantly, you get to experience it in the order that the artist intended it to be listened. They’re trying to tell you a story and speak to you through a progression of ideas and a mosaic of poetry. Maybe you never really got that one song on the album, but all of the sudden you hear it in order and then it clicks. I used to hate the song “Rococo” from Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, but it just seemed to make more sense in the context of the whole album. It’s growing on me.

Listening to full albums is a way better alternative to mood playlists. Playlists have their place, but in the wrong circumstances it just puts you in an emotion bubble. For example: Hey I had a shitty day, so I’m gonna listen to this angry punk playlist, or this rainy day sad-millennial-compilation.

You just end up feeding into your own emotions, and not much gets solved. Maybe you get somewhere with it, maybe you don’t.

But if you listen to a full album, a great artist can walk you through a range of emotions. Suddenly the change in pace of the album has guided you from self-deprecating anger to stoic mindfulness, or tearful joy –

** music is important to me guys don’t judge. I’m allowed to be emotional–IT’S JUST SO BEAUTIFUL TO ME AAGHHH **

But seriously. Let the music take you somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go. Be vulnerable to it. I can’t count how many times an unexpected song turned my whole day around.

If you’re looking for some great concept albums/albums that feel whole, here are some that I’ve been listening to that I think you should give a try:

  • Andy Shauf – The Party
  • Radical Face – The Family Tree series (It’s a 3 album concept project. Shit is wild. I personally like “The Leaves” and “The Branches” best)
  • Aidan Knight – Each Other
  • Radiohead – King of Limbs (or) A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  • Feist – Metals
  • Royal Canoe – Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit
  • We Are The City – High School
  • Patrick Watson – Wooden Arms


Or don’t, it’s chill. I’ll still like you anyways.

Adventures in DIY Recording

Adventures in DIY Recording

(Photo taken by David Guezen)

I’ve been recording my own music here and there for at least a few years, all on a shoestring budget with minimal gear. If I’m being honest, I would consider what I do to be on a pretty amateur level. But in the grand scheme of things, you can make some pretty decent sounding music that’s relatively passable on a very small amount of money.

These are my suggestions for a cheap, DIY recording setup (based on what I own), in all of it’s low quality glory.

Let’s start with the nuts and bolts of it all.


  • You’re going to need a mic stand. You can get by with a desk mount/mini-stand kind of thing if you’re only doing vocals, but still, it’s going to limit your maneuverability. If you’re doing any drum mic-ing you’ll need at least 2 mic stands minimum. You can get relatively cheap ones for like 30-40 bucks at Long & McQuade.
  • Having at least one decent condenser mic is a great idea to get clear, full sounding vocals. I bought two Apex 435 condenser microphones that cost me only about 80 bucks or so each (from what I remember). I’ve used them for vocals, acoustic guitar, and also dual overhead microphones for a drum set. No joke, they actually sound pretty decent for drums, I was impressed with how full it sounded.
  • Manny Goossen (my good friend and talented musician/DIY recording engineer) says he uses a Sennheiser vocal mic ($100-200) and a RODE NTA mic ($300+) for recording vocals.
  • The SM57 is a very reliable dynamic mic and almost an industry standard microphone to have in your studio. It’s can do a wide range of things: vocals, close mic-ing snares/toms, acoustic guitars, guitar amps. They go for around $100 normally.

Hardware & Gear

  • With all of these microphones you’re going to need an audio interface to turn the input into a digital signal for your computer to record. The main reason you need an interface is so that you can listen to what you’re playing as you record it with zero latency, or else it’s going to be frustrating as hell to record anything.
    • Your options here are going to either be a two input interface or eight-input and higher, which are alot more expensive.  Anything in between is kind of uncommon or too expensive from what I’ve found.
    • I bought a relatively cheap interface called the Tascam US-600. It’s been discontinued unfortunately but it’s pretty solid:
      • 4 inputs
      • Each input is XLR or Line-in
      • 1 guitar pre-amp for DI instruments
      • MIDI capability
      • Phantom power
    • Make sure your interface can provide phantom power to certain microphones that require it, or else those mics are basically useless to you.
  • If you’re really on a tight budget you can just get a USB microphone that plugs directly into your computer. In some cases that does the trick, but you won’t have that zero-latency monitoring that comes with an audio interface.
  • If you’re doing any kind of electronic music a MIDI Controller is definitely a must. It will let you play “virtual instruments” through your recording software and give your sound a more human feel rather than just programming each individual note of a song.
    • If you already have a decent keyboard, some already have a MIDI port in the back, so then all you need is the cable to connect it to your interface.
  • If you want to save a buck and skip the studio monitors, just get a good pair of studio headphones that close around your ear. If you’re like me and you can just be mixing through speakers on full blast in your house then that’s one more reason that studio headphones might be a good idea. I use ATH M20x, Audio Technica headphones that honestly sound pretty decent. They go for around $60 to $70.

Software and Effects

  • For a DAW (Digital Audio Workspace) I’ve been using a program called Reaper for a long time and I would highly recommend it as the cheapest and highest performing software you can buy. For personal use it’s about $60, and $225 for commercial. However, I’ve been using the fully-loaded trial version for like 2 years and I still haven’t hit the time-limit where I have to buy it yet.
  • Manny says he uses Logic Pro X, which goes for about $279. The difference here is that it comes with a whole lot of extra effect plugins that are really easy to use an high-powered. Reaper comes with a lot of really decent effects too. They just don’t look as pretty, and their UI is a little clunky, but with a little bit of time and reading you can figure it out.
  • As far as effects plugins go, you can find quite a variety of good, free downloads online and not have to spend anything. Manny suggests even registering with Focusrite, because they have a free VST you can download every month. Just make sure you don’t dismiss the pre-installed effects to go looking elsewhere before you’ve really given them a fair try.

I realize this is a super bare bones guide to recording but I hope at least it’s given you some ideas about how to get started with very little money available to you.

Depending on the kind of music you’re making you can really play to the strengths of a cheap DIY-recording set up. For electronic music, you can do most of your music digitally and directly through the computer. You hardly even need any microphones. Or if you’re making any sort of basement, indie rock type of music, having a lo-fi sound can work to your advantage. It’s honest, cheap, and the right people will dig it as long as the actual music you’ve written isn’t shit. You just need to find the line between low-fi and lo-quality.

As a bonus here are some great extra tips from Manny:

  • “Definitely make use of sends for any effects or plug-ins while mixing. Umm learn your keyboard shortcuts to save you a bunch of time while recording/mixing/mastering.”
  • “Always read what’s out there online for tips, you can learn so much just by typing in what you’re stumped on.”
  • If recording acoustically, read up on cheap sound proofing techniques.
  • “Always save multiple files of a project. Because corrupted files are the worst and you’ll be super frustrated because you didn’t save up to a certain point.”
  • “Colour coordinate your tracks and group your vocals. It saves time to be organized and it looks good too.”

Country doesn’t suck, you’re just listening to the wrong country.

Country doesn’t suck, you’re just listening to the wrong country.

I used to be way more close-minded about the music I listen too, but over the past few years I’ve started to realize that basically every genre of music has something surprisingly good to offer.

How many times have you heard someone say that they absolutely never listen to country?

And how many times have you heard someone say that they exclusively listen to country? (Usually on a dating profile or something like that. Maybe below a picture of them holding a fish. Or a gun.)

I don’t understand why it’s such a polarizing topic. Both kinds of people here are being close-minded. You can’t permanently exist in the land of pickup trucks, light beers, and dusty highways–just as you can’t discount an entire genre of music.

But here’s where my own distinction lies. I’m not particularly interested in Pop Country (Or a lot of pop in general, really). In the words of Bo Burnham, “The problem with a lot of modern country music–what is called stadium country music, that Keith Urban brand of country music–is that it is not honest.” He does a whole parody country song about it, and it’s pretty damn funny so you should watch it.

All jokes aside, there’s this whole sub genre of country called Alternative Country, or Alt. Country for short, that has so much good to offer. Every year that I’ve gone to the Winnipeg Folk Fest I’ve been exposed to it a little more.

In 2013, I saw Colin Meloy perform all alone, main stage, as a headlining act with a glass of wine and two bodaciously beautiful acoustic guitars–I almost cried it was so good.

The year after I was absolutely entranced by Shakey Graves’s raspy voiced, foot stomping one man show.

Just this last year I saw Ryan Adams play on the main stage at night, and again I thought “Hey, this is pretty damn good”. Right after that I saw Rayland Baxter the next day and he blew me away too.

But anyhow, this isn’t a Folk Fest appreciation post, because I would go on for way too long about it if it was. You’re probably tired of hearing it anyway.

I’m not gonna pretend to be an expert on this musical domain. I’ll admit that I’m probably barely scratching the surface of the Alt. Country scene. But I’d like to mention some other artists that I’ve found pretty cool so far, which inhabit the fringes of the country genre.

There are so many great musicians out there like Neko Case, Shovels & Rope, Wilco, The Decemberists, Jake Bugg, Blitzen Trapper, and The Sadies, to name a few. They all use elements of folk, americana, blue-grass, roots, blues, and country to plant their sound in a solid foundation of traditional American music.

There’s a really unique band I’ve gotten into recently called Pinegrove that I discovered on NPR’s Tiny Desk series the other day. Just Google them, the genres listed in the side bar are “Indie rock, Alternative Country, and Emo”. The combination alone is intriguing enough to get your attention.

Put this song in your earholes:

The lyrics, the song-writing, the unique vocals, and the way it sounds like it’s recorded in someone’s living room–It’s just f*cking authentic. There’s no other way to put it.

“It’s really all about the lyrics, live energy and natural recording tones for me,”says Micah Erenberg, one of my favourite Winnipeg local artists. “And you get a lot of that from music that is based in folk, country and blues.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. The first time I saw him play with his band was at Real Love early this summer. They cranked out the anthemic tune I Just Wanna Go To Sleep Forever and it just about knocked me on my ass.

I asked him what got him interested in the genre in the first place: “Watching live bands at folk festivals and venues like the Times Change(d) was and still is my favourite thing to do because there it really shows a combination of skill, passion and collaborative energy.”

(Check out the full interview at the bottom)

In Micah’s latest album, Poor Mic’s Toe, he stretches the boundaries of country and folk in all the right ways. It’s front-to-back a fantastic record full of surprises and catchy-as-hell tunes that I strongly recommend hearing. Here’s one song I love in particular:

Give the rest of the album a listen. It has such a great range of vibe and pace. Happy songs, sad songs; fast songs and slow songs.

I think maybe that is what music needs more of these days: dynamics. Country is a kind of music that can serve any mood, and maybe that’s why people love it so much. You can listen to it on the good days and the bad.

There’s a level of emotion and honesty in the lyrics of good country music that at it’s very core is so damn relatable. It’s that sense of struggle and a keep-on-chugging attitude that really defines it as a diverse and essential genre.

Here’s the full Q&A from Micah Erenberg because he actually knows what he’s talking about on the topic more than I do:

Question: Which country or folk musicians have influenced your own music?

Townes Van Zandt, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Elliott Smith, Karen Dalton and Dan Reeder. I’ve taken songwriting tips from all these artists. There are also lots of artists in other genres that have influenced my own folk music, like Modest Mouse, Led Zeppelin and Built to Spill. A lot of those bands have roots in folk-style songwriting and they cover it in Rock & Roll, which is kind of like what I do, especially live. Hearing Elliott Smith cover Hank Williams and Bob Marley in some live recordings is very cool.

Question: What got you interested in making the style of music you play?

I’m really not sure. I guess growing up listening to music like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. I’m really into the guitar solo/improv jam type stuff, too, so hearing the variety in Neil Young’s music was really influential. It’s really all about the lyrics, live energy and natural recording tones for me, and you get a lot of that from music that is based in folk, country and blues. Watching live bands at folk festivals and venues like the Times Change(d) was and still is my favourite thing to do because there it really shows a combination of skill, passion and collaborative energy, not to mention meaning behind the lyrics.

Any new bands out there in the broad Alt. Country genre that you think people should be listening to right now?

A lot of this is in the alt-folk areas, but…

People that are alive: Wilco, Blake Mills, Meredith Axelrod, M. Ward, The Steeldrivers, Joel Plaskett, Dan Reeder… Locals: Andrew Neville, Richard Inman, Kieran West, Logan McKillop, Carly Dow.

People that are dead: Elliott Smith, Karen Dalton, and – although he is really an Experimental composer – Arthur Russell. I just heard Arthur Russell’s “I Couldn’t Say it to Your Face” from his posthumous album “Love is Overtaking Me” and it’s my new favourite song.

Mp3million is a godsend for broke music lovers, but is it legal?

Mp3million is a godsend for broke music lovers, but is it legal?

This post is for the brave few who still don’t use streaming services to listen to their music. Maybe you can’t afford the data, or you’re a radio connoisseur, or a CD junkie (God forbid)–or you’re like me.

I still own an iPod Classic with the original iPod click wheel, a faulty 1/4 inch headphone jack, and 120 GB of open musical ocean.

Another disclaimer: I may take some heat for what I say here, considering I myself am a musician. But I’ve chosen to go the route of complete honesty here for the sake of authenticity with this topic.

I have been collecting some of my music through…*other means* for years. I would tell myself it’s ok because I spend enough money on music in general: I pay for enough t-shirts, vinyl, merch, and live shows that it eventually evens out. Maybe the mentality is that “those bigger bands out there are already making enough money etc. etc.”

It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but most of the time the desire for new music just exceeds the amount of money in the bank.

So I sail down to the bay of pirates and fish for tunes.

The alternative is to buy an album for 15 or 20 bucks on iTunes. Or I can head down to my local Lost Temple of HMV and retrieve a CD-relic from the ancient crumbling ruins instead.

Now don’t get me wrong, for the right album I will spend like 30 bucks to order it on vinyl. And if I see a band play live or local that I really enjoy, hell yeah I will buy their album.  But I can’t bloody well do that for every new indie band I trip over each day–especially given how many there are.

The problem comes if you have more of an eclectic taste in music, because you discover a lot of music that you can’t actually acquire through *other means*. If you’re lucky (and the band is small-time enough) they may have it up on Bandcamp for 5 bucks or pay-what-you-want, but most of the time that’s not the case. So many artists and bands inhabit this grey area where their music is kind of ‘less-accessible’. So where do you go to get albums for cheap if you’re as broke as I am?


Ten cent songs and one dollar albums as far as the eye can see. You just sign up and make an account. They have a surprisingly substantial library of music to browse. Anything from top 40s like your T-swift and your Kanye (or whatever is considered top 40s these days) to smaller, up-and-coming indie darlings alike.

The only catch is that you have to load a minimum of $16.14 ($15 USD) on to the account at a time. But they throw in a bonus if you add more. For $32.29 you get a bonus of $10 for free, for $53.81 you get $25 for free, and so on and so forth.

Maybe that sounds like too much money to pay up front for you. But you don’t have 9032 songs on your iPod blah blah blah–(is this coming off as pretentious yet? Good. Then we’re off to a great start.)

As an aside, the only reason I have that much music is because I compulsively keep full albums on it, and I like the idea of going onto shuffle and discovering songs that I never even knew I had.

But anyhow, back to the topic at hand.

The first thing I thought after coming across Mp3million was, “ok, is this actually legal though?” I am trying to be better about this stuff, so I thought I’d look into it a little.

Their FAQ section had this to say:

Yes, the activity of Mp3million.com is carried out according to the legislation of the license agreement # 67/17M-10 of the Rightholders Federation for Collective Copyright Management of Works Used Interactively (NP “FAIR”). Service http://www.Mp3million.com pays full-scale author’s royalties to owners of pieces of music, trademarks, names, slogans and other copyright objects used on the site. Any further distribution, resale or broadcasting is prohibited.

Okay so that’s a lot of ‘legalese’ to sift through. After a bit of reading and eventually stumbling across a fantastically in-depth blog post written by a Jay Matlock, I got an “almost answer” to my original question.

I’ll try and break down the gist of the article into bullet points:

  • Mp3million operates outside of the US, so instead of paying a flat rate per song to artists, they pay around 8-10 percent per track depending on the country.
  • They claim that the reason they can be so cheap is because they charge you the $15 up front and therefore get a guaranteed minimum amount of money from each customer.
  • Apparently a couple similar Mp3 websites that were being run from somewhere in Russia have been sued and canned in the past.
    • Matlock argues that maybe if Mp3million has stuck around for so long while all the rest were shut down, that could suggest they’re legitimate.
  • Matlock admits that he emailed them once and asked if they pay artists as much as iTunes does, to which Mp3million said something to the effect of “We can not disclose our policies, and thank you for your business. Okay bye.”

But to answer the question “is it in fact legal?”, his verdict was: It’s Plausible.

I’m not going to lie, my post originally started out as basically a promotional post for Mp3million. Like they aren’t paying me or anything, but still.

Now it’s kind of devolved into a tiny investigation piggy-backing on Jay Matlock’s research.

So here’s my verdict:

It’s enough to help me sleep at night.

Thank you, and goodnight.