premiere: Workman Song – Patient Like a Lamb
The letter I just received from Sean McMahon spoked to the deepest corner of my soul:
This past Easter Sunday, I woke up at around 10 am, walked about 5 blocks to Radio Bushwick, the bar where my queer-friendly anarchist Episcopal church (don’t ask), the Bushwick Abbey, meets. I play bass in the band. Rev. Vince Andersen (Brooklyn institution — think dirty gospel by way of Tom Waits) led our band and horns through the changes for Nina Simone’s “Feelin’ Good” and we all grabbed a coffee and beer and the dogs in the congregation all barked when we kicked into the tune to open up the liturgy.
After a subsequent Easter potluck in South Brooklyn at another progressive church called Parables where I also coordinate psychedelic improvisational music, I rushed back to Radio Bushwick to soundcheck for my EP release show. Wilder Maker and Streets of Laredo opened, and I played bass in both bands. Then, I played my headlining set with a band made up of guys from the other two bands and did my best to let the tunes tell their tales. It went well thankfully. I then succumbed to the flu and have spent the past two days in bed. Rock and roll.
I recorded this EP, Lamb, with my friend Kev Grossman (who runs SunLab Studios, a portable solar-powered recording rig tied to a Subaru Outback) in a massive sheet metal barn called the Hangar situated in a secret woodsy location (we call it “The Ice Cream Forest”) in rural Jersey, near Asbury Park. For a week, we didn’t sleep, recording well into the early dawn hours, sometimes two full days straight half-naked fueled only by coffee, cigarettes, beer, hosewater, weed, and Wawa sandwiches. You can even hear real midnight crickets on Patient Like A Lamb. We had some members of Bird Courage and Streets of Laredo sitting in on some tracks (like “Varmit”), but for the most part, I recorded all the parts myself. Kev did some drums and bell parts too.
This thing has been a massive labor of love. For the past 8 years I’d been paralyzed from recording a new record. I went through an evangelical phase, a libertine phase, a monastic phase, a lot of things. As far as I’m concerned, this music is all gospel and soul music, but I guess it sounds more like Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, maybe Neil Young or Desire-era Dylan. I wouldn’t know how to describe it. I only know that for the past 8 years, I didn’t feel like simply putting a record out would be a worthy enough endeavor when it comes to the fucked up state our world is in, and how much it’s going to take for love to take its rightful place on the throne. So to speak.
At any rate, at around 5:30 am one night at the Hangar, I was overdubbing a concert bass drum part on the song “No, It’s Not,” and I realized I was about to go insane from upwards of 48 hours of sleep deprivation. But I knew Kev was right there, supporting me all the way, not thinking I was crazy, believing in the music. And I realized, as the sun was coming up, that this was the happiest and proudest moment of my life, playing this one damn bass drum part. If I did crack at that moment, it was a letting-go kind of crack-up, not the straightjacket kind. World of difference…
For me, the “Lamb” EP comes from a lot of introspection about whether or not I can call myself a Christian, whether anyone can emulate Jesus Christ, whether Christianity ever was or ever will be what it was supposed to be or could be…I think to other people, it isn’t that specific at all. It’ll sound more like dialogues between lovers, arguments between enemies, psychedelic epiphanies. “Jesse Winters” was written specifically in response to the Sandy Hook school shootings, but took on a whole new level of personal meaning for me when my sister Ryan was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings a year later. I merely try to tell stories that will stir people’s souls a bit, as I’m not out to evangelize or get people to come to my churches, where I simply earn my living in the most ethical way possible. I’m just happy to be singing and getting inside people’s hearts. It’s a hell of a thing to do so, and find everyone else’s right there inside yours as well. I’ve found we’ve been growing a real community here in Bushwick through this music.
If there’s any song that is vaguely preachy, it is the one I’m most proud of, a song arranged by my brilliant friend Gabe Birnbaum, who also leads the brilliant band Wilder Maker. It’s the last track, “Patient Like A Lamb.” Reads like this:
I will sing of all the things I wish I could see in the world: a real idea, something new that hasn’t been done before; a brotherhood staked on the hearts of the people’s goodness; a spiritual force that don’t need no rules to make it worthless and dead; an isle redeemed; stable and free; from an unremarkable seed, patient like a lamb. I will sing of all the things I wish I could see in the world: a new idea, a way of being that ain’t misunderstood; a faithful heart that need not be given or taken or taught or unlearned; a candlelight at night that never darkens and always burns. And I think that I’ve seen such things in my dreams, so it must not be too far. So I’ll be patient like a lamb.
Given everything that’s informed the writing of this record, the only ethical way to put this thing out there, in my opinion, is by-donation — I mean, music is a service of love and it ought to be free, especially nowadays when it so easily can be. So I’m mainly just in the business of getting it out there into people’s ears.
You can stream the record here or here.
Hope you enjoy, and thanks for your time.
Read more Letters to YVYNYL