On the Sleeve: 2 Years On

Hey there. Thanks for ending up here, however it happened! It’s been a while since I’ve even attempted to properly utilize this blog. When I’m on those dreadful ‘social’ sites, I have a tough time really opening up about things. I very much feel the need to be in presentation mode. Since this is my own site, I can post what I want without having to consider or compete with ‘the algorithm’.

There’s a lot going on right now, but I want to focus on something in particular. This Monday was the second anniversary of my first EP On the Sleeve. Released on 1.23.21, it’s my first born in some sense. I wanted to use this occasion as an opportunity to reflect on the material, the recording process, and the things that resulted from releasing this EP.

If you’ve made it this far, there is no hope for you! (and I love it)

On March 21, 2020 I began the first session with Ryan Cohen at Robot Dog Studio out of the few sessions we would do between then and August. I had just turned 28 the day before and as always, I approached this session with great seriousness. I treat recording as creating my legacy. Am I delusional? Perhaps! But this is how I view it. I give it my all, I get frustrated, I get invested. When you’re in the studio as an independent artist, you’re racing against the clock (time is money), equipment issues, performance issues, whatever it is. I always chase perfection, but I have yet to achieve it. I know that goal has no real end, but I see no reason not to really nail the one thing I love most.

Robot Dog was located outside of Burlington, VT, about 2.5 hours from Brattleboro. After arriving we tracked from noon to 5 or 6pm. Then it’s another 2.5 hours back home. I love driving and used this time to ‘get into character’ on the way up, and review the day’s work on the way home. I grew up riding shot gun in my dad’s F-150 riding the highways, cranking Dio and Lizzy, air drumming while my dad cut a ripping solo on the steering wheel.

Ryan is such a great guy. He’s kind, he’s professional, and he really took care of me. You’re at the mercy of the studio and the engineer can make or break your project. It’s not uncommon to find people that ‘don’t get it’ or are plainly unreasonable. Ryan felt out the project, and let it guide the process. It you don’t make music that may not make sense, but think of it like this: the song tells you what it needs. If you’re too focused on doing things ‘your way’, then you might miss those cues. However, he was not a passive force. He pushed back, insisted that I try things, and made me re-take parts when he knew I could do better. The importance of his role in this project cannot be overstated.

Tracking drums at Robot Dog

For example, I went to him with the idea of making an album. My thinking was pretty linear: I have 40 songs and I need to make an album to start getting them out. He heard me out and then suggested that I release a couple of EP’s to prime things up before releasing an album. With 2 EP’s to my name today, I have to agree that he was right. These five songs that became the EP were written between 2008 and 2013 or ’14. I sat on them for years and I’m glad that I did. While they are far from perfect, I can listen back to them and mostly enjoy them! If I had laid these songs down when I was a teen, I don’t know if I’d feel the same way.

This was the first release I had done that I had full say over. Working with a band is great, but that comes with compromise. It comes with a multitude of factors, internal and external. On this EP I recorded all of the parts and had final say on things. Even after we had called it a wrap, I bought a new guitar and I scheduled a session to rerecord all of my acoustic parts. I wanted it the way I wanted it. Maybe it’s OCD, maybe it’s delusion. On this one I had to rise to the occasion to become a ‘full band’.

Of course I couldn’t have done it all alone. Apart from Ryan and Robot Dog, I also had help from my longtime friend and drummer, Zach Haberern. Zach came over to take promo photos before the album’s release. We put together a modest set in my living room and snapped some shots. We tried to be series, but before long we were messing around. Someone brought up KISS bassist Gene Simmons and I did my best impersonation of him. That photo is what became the album cover. I decided on the title after considering the emotive nature of the songs. They came from the heart, I’m presenting to you my inner most feelings, and my heart’s on my sleeve. This photo showcased my inner goofball, which is also my outer self. I have to actively try when it’s time to be anything else. It’s far from being a flattering photo, I know. I’ve always believed in the power of authenticity in music and marketing. This was my way of walking the walk.

Early promo banner for On the Sleeve, photo by Zach Haberern

My biggest takeaway from the experience is the power of starting. In 2020, I began recording with basically nothing behind me in the way of ‘steam’. In 2023, my little label has grown into a collective of more than a dozen acts across the country. My second EP was released in September of 2022 and I went on a small tour to support it. I have been played on the radio locally, internationally on internet radio, featured in the newspaper, and booked in dozens of new venues – all because I started with On the Sleeve. If I hadn’t have started recording in March of 2020, I wouldn’t be where I am today, as modest of a place as that may be.

You won’t be perfect. You will have to work hard. The absolute best thing you can do to get to where you want to be, is to start. Once you begin the journey you will create momentum that you can build on, grow as a result of, and manifest unseen opportunities from. If that’s too spiritual for you, consider this: doing nothing will yield nothing, but if you make it known that you are doing something, now you’re opening up the opportunity for people to help you, or to interact with your work. You can’t be ‘discovered’ waiting for the perfect time to start working. You have to get started!

So, thanks to On the Sleeve! I couldn’t have started without you! If you haven’t already, give it a listen!*

Thank you,

*Linktree link so you can enjoy OTS on your preferred service.

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