(Written by Skipping Girl Vinegar for the AU review)
SGV’s U.S. trip was dream-like. It started with a phone call from Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett, wishing us well and lining up key industry people in the US to come out to see us play. From this point on it just kept coming… Meeting legendary songstress Emmylou Harris, having our album ‘Keep Calm, Carry the Monkey’ charting at #43 on the main CMJ charts, playing poolside on EG Daily’s balcony in a Hollywood Hills mansion, ripping it up in New York City to music industry heavy hitters at the CMJ Festival, hanging out in NY with Tim Wheeler from legendary Irish rock band Ash who came out see us play cos he’s particularly tight with Baker the monkey and he’s a fan of our album, playing a show with Matt Schultz from US indie rock group Cage The Elephant, recording two brand new singles that we are extremely excited about, and so much more… but let’s start at the beginning.
FRIDAY 12TH OCTOBER
We are finally leaving for the USA today. It’s the first time the whole band has gone to the States together. There’s a lot of anticipation in the van on the way to the airport. There’s also a lot of gaffa being used to hold all our gear together. It was great to leave knowing so many of our fans had helped us get to this point through the International Hobo Philanthropy campaign. We could feel everyone’s well wishes as we boarded that flight. Who knew what this US showcase tour would hold for us? As we sat in our seats, the freezing Melbourne cityscape fell below us and the warm American greeting of the airhostess put us at ease for the 14-hour flight to LA. “What can I get for you, darling? Oh you want hot tea? With cream?”
FRIDAY 12TH OCTOBER
We get two shots at Friday 12th October. Time differences in LA give us one full day off before the showcases begin. We went to a great Mexican restaurant in Venice Beach that our new friend Diego took us to. Diego rides a huge SUV. We thought it was a bit excessive that he had such a huge car for one person but soon came to realize that everyone in LA has these huge cars. The first problem that Melbournians encounter when leaving the motherland is how hard it is to find good coffee. Diego took us to Intelligentsia which had the good stuff. On the way, our car was pulled over by the LA PD. Diego had previously mentioned that if you keep the conversation light and get the police to laugh, you have more chance of getting off lightly. This put Mark in his element. The banter with the police was award winning. They loved us Australians and even posed for a photo with Sare and Kelly. Day one in LA, check.
SATURDAY 13TH OCTOBER
We were invited by Balcony TV in LA to play one of our songs for an upcoming episode. In the contact email we were told that the balcony would be somewhere in the Hollywood Hills and that the balcony was pretty amazing. Amazing was an understatement. It was donated as a filming location by the amazing EG Daily. We didn’t know who EG was before this meeting but it turns out that we have been big fans of her work. She is the voice of Tommy Pickles from Rugrats and also worked on Happy Feet, Babe and The Powerpuff Girls. She was extremely generous with her time and told us stories about life in Hollywood and showed us her beautiful song writing. Her balcony was probably the best view of LA we could’ve seen in our time in Hollywood. Firstly, the balcony was huge – it had a swimming pool on it. It fronted onto a valley and hawks circled the horizon. Amazing. We set up our hobo gear poolside and played Here She Comes. Can’t wait for the footage. Tonight would be our first showcase at Witzend in Venice Beach. Some key LA industry people came out to see us play. We had a ball. First show in LA, check. That night we went to Baby Blues BBQ and lined up patiently for our first Southern American cook-up of pulled pork, brisket, sweet potato mash, corn with cheese, root beer, Kool-Aid, buffalo wings, ribs and on it went. We didn’t even finish it all.
SUNDAY 14TH OCTOBER
Today was a day off in LA for the band. But it was also the beginning of the three-day celebration of Kelly’s birthday. She decided to use the time differences in Australia and LA to ensure that she would be celebrating until Tuesday. We were up for it. The day started with a walk along Venice Beach boardwalk. It’s so cosmopolitan, multicultural, laid back and interesting. We didn’t see any muscle men or Arnold Schwarzenegger but Kelly did have street performer, Dr Geek create the most incredible rap in honour of her birthday. Check it out on our YouTube page. In true Skipping Girl Vinegar style, our next stop was a swim to Malibu beach. Cue a bit of Courtney Love. Local knowledge said to drive 30 minutes out of Malibu because the beaches are less crowded. Chris was in the water first, then Mark, then the rest of us. It was worth it. Our last stop was the beautiful Santa Monica pier. The view from their Ferris wheel was phenomenal as the sun set on our time in LA.
MONDAY 15TH OCTOBER
We leave LA and head to New York City for the CMJ Music Marathon today. We rented an apartment in Brooklyn like something off Sesame Street- a typical Brooklyn Brown-stone. The people of Brooklyn were friendly and gave us the heads up on the local Fish Fry- Bed Stuy. Really good grilled salmon and steamed vegies. Mark was in heaven. This was also the first place that we started to eat the famous American standby- Mac and Cheese. A habit we didn’t kick all tour. This is also the first night we got over 5 hours sleep in New York. After this, sleep was not an option.
TUESDAY 16TH OCTOBER
We caught the subway to Downtown Manhattan to register for CMJ. Cue Downtown by Petula Clark, cue it for the next five days. Timing is something you can’t plan. As Skipping Girl Vinegar entered the Greenwich Village campus of New York University to register, Chase the Sun came over the loud speaker. We all turned and looked at each other with ridiculous grins on our faces. Had CMJ installed security cameras to let them know when each CMJ artist was entering the building to cue their song? Mark was busting out of his socks to take us out for an American pizza slice. John’s on Bleeker St provided us with two enormous thin crust margarita pizzas. Apparently a good NY pizza is all in the tomato base. Our waiter was an actor called Luka. Everyone in America is either a musician or an actor. Or an entrepreneur. People are more optimistic in America, more confident and less likely to tear down a new idea. Australians could learn a lot from this. We sure did. By the end of day one in New York, we had gathered 5 business cards each. This would continue for the rest of the trip. If you want to make money in America, start a business card company. Tonight we would do one of the greatest things we could’ve ever done in America. We ate at Tom’s Restaurant, the diner from Seinfeld and also the famous Suzanne Vega song, Tom’s Diner. This would be the final stop of Kelly’s three-day birthday celebration. Our waiter was a lady called Jerry. No joke. Sare ordered the big salad. Amanthi ordered a bottom-less cup of coffee and eggs, sunny side up. We used only their condiments and preserves. Dreams can come true people. We have never laughed so hard at any meal or eaten as much sugar and salt (fondly referred to as salgar by Scotty our soundman). Jerry even brought out a birthday cake for Kelly. Whipped cream and chocolate topping. An appropriate way to finish off dinner at the diner. It was four am so we thought we’d pop in at Times Square. Walking around there makes you think it’s still the morning as the neon lights are so powerful that there is a glow from blocks away.
WEDNESDAY 17TH OCTOBER
Our first show for CMJ was at Legion in Williamsburg. We whipped the American crowd into a hooligan frenzy. They were punching the air like native Australian bogans. Tim Wheeler from Ash, our favourite Irish rock band, has been living in New York for the past 8 years and said New York audiences are hard to crack. He said we had them in the palm of our hands. Compliment accepted. He also invited us to his studio in NYC tomorrow.
THURSDAY 18TH OCTOBER
Over the past few months we have started filming for a new Skipping Girl Vinegar YouTube program called Low Fi Fox. Since we were in New York, we wanted to do an unplugged version of one of our songs in an iconic venue. Here She Comes in Central Park seemed apt. As we started filming the performance a bunch of tourists started filming us for themselves. So we reckon we have done a gig at Central Park. Mark made Tim Wheeler a bottle of rocks from the rocks at Central Park as a gift from SGV. When we visited his studio, Tim was chuffed by the gift and ended up using them on one of the tracks on his new solo record. He gave us a listen to his new stuff. We could’ve stayed all day. Tim is now known as the Chord Master.
FRIDAY 19TH OCTOBER
Our second gig for CMJ saw us play the Planetary Showcase at Piano’s in Manhattan. There was so much energy in this venue. Shows upstairs and downstairs and a fantastic lineup. But more importantly, a generous Australian bartender. This was one of our funnest shows in the US. Skipping Girl Vinegar gig in New York. Bucket list check.
SATURDAY 20TH OCTOBER
Today was our last CMJ showcase- the Aussie BBQ organized by Sounds Australia and Stage Mothers. It started out with one of the greatest BBQ’s we have ever been to. Shrimps on the barbie, lamb cutlets, hamburgers and gourmet salad. We were in heaven. Australians sure know how to do a top BBQ. This was our last show in New York, so we gave it all we had. The crowd were amazing and good vibes all round including a group of new SGV fans who had been following us from show to show around CMJ. We’ve met a whole bunch of industry people across our time here. We’re excited by the potential future partnerships we’ve forged during this trip.
SUNDAY 21ST OCTOBER
Leaving New York to Music City- Nashville, Tennessee. We will be spending this week recording two singles with Brad Jones at Alex the Great. As we arrive at Nashville airport we are greeted with many y’all’s. There are guitars in glass cabinets all throughout this airport, posters of famous country singers and country music blaring through the speakers. We are not in New York anymore. The other way we know we aren’t in New York is that we can smell the fresh southern air. It’s a slower pace here. People are still driving huge cars but they are happy to stop on freeways to let us cross the road. The famous Baja Burrito was closed for dinner on a Sunday, but Applebee’s Diner was open. ‘What would y’all like for dinner tonight? Y’all look pretty hungry. Y’all wanna drink?’ Accent heaven.
MONDAY 22ND OCTOBER
We had always recorded most of our albums in Australia, before getting them mixed by Brad in Nashville. This two-song recording week would be our first go at getting Brad to record the entire songs from start to finish. Brad’s studio is full of old guitars, quirky instruments and character. Our bedroom cupboard is full of old guitars. Brad works mighty fast in the studio. Today’s focus was new song, Making Our Way. By evening we had already written a new bridge, laid down most of the instruments and were making decisions on song structure. At times this can make you feel uneasy. There is so much trust and blind faith when working at this speed. We are used to spending weeks thinking about whether we like the sound of something. This is all new territory for us but we knew that we were in great hands with Brad. Today is also the day our album Keep Calm, Carry the Monkey is released in America. It debuted on the CMJ charts at #86! This included multiple #1 and #2 positions in top 30s across the U.S. When we got home it had climbed to #43 with more #1 and #2 positions and 36 top 10s!
TUESDAY 23RD OCTOBER
Today, we started working on West Coast, a summery pop song with a hobo aesthetic. Again we hit the road running with laying down tracks. When you work at Brad’s studio, bands keep dropping by. MS MR popped in, they were supporting Grouplove at the Cannery tonight in Nashville. They’re coming out to Australia for Laneway next year as well. We walked up to the Laundromat to do our washing. It’s getting pretty intimate on tour when you know who’s jocks belong to which band member. On the way, we asked some locals which way to the nearest Walmart? They said five minutes. We said we were walking. They looked shocked. ‘Y’all walkin????!’ They couldn’t believe we were walking in Nashville. Renegades we are.
WEDNESDAY 24TH OCTOBER
The recording continued today. The songs are sounding dynamite and we are all very happy with the work we’ve been able to achieve in this short period of time. Tonight, we are doing our final showcase show in Nashville at the famous Basement owned by Mike Grimes of Grimey’s Record Store. Five minutes in that record store can ruin your bank account. Our show at the Basement was a longer set and performing here tonight was like performing in Melbourne. We felt at home here and played the best show of our tour. Playing here felt like a little gift that America gave to us. Matt Schultz from Cage the Elephant and our good friend Chung (Jeffery Sweeney) put this show on especially for us. But the gift just kept giving. Matt was joined on stage by six of his closest friends who also played in other big time indie bands in the US like Sleeper Agent and Schools. Each lead singer played a couple of songs. Kind of like Elvis Costello’s Spectacle. We discovered some new songwriters which inspired us greatly, one being Stephen Gordon. With the voice of Chris Martin and he finger picks like Nick Drake. We walked home from the gig.
THURSDAY 25TH OCTOBER
Brad was producing another record today so we moved next door into Robin Eaton’s studio, Club Roar. Mark was frantically finishing lyrics to be recorded that day. Robin informed us that some interesting things had happened on the four-poster bed in that studio. We couldn’t believe that this was our last day in Nashville. Nashville felt like home to us. There is an earnestness from the people here. Everyone is a musician. You don’t feel so out of place in this town.
FRIDAY 26th OCTOBER
Mark and Chris finally get to step out of the recording studio today to head out to see some of Nashville’s finer points. Sare got sick most of this week and was starting to be on the mend. She still hadn’t seen Broadway yet so was dragged out of the studio by the boys. Mark is a huge fan of American Pickersso it was his first stop on the quick tour of Nashville this morning. As they stepped out onto Broadway, they bumped into Emmylou Harris who was doing a photo shoot at a local record store. Emmylou posed for a photo as she was ‘photo ready’ that day. Stunning as ever. Brad Jones has lived in Nashville his whole life and has never seen Emmylou Harris. On a plane back to Melbourne now. America you have been good to us hobos.
SATURDAY 27TH OCTOBER
This day never happened.
SUNDAY 28TH OCTOBER
It’s sunny and hot in Melbourne as storms steam into America’s east coast. It’s quieter here. Wonder when we’ll be going back to America?