How I Made Revelation

Blog Post #1 - How It Began 

    I have waited my whole life to make my debut album “Revelation.” I never had plans to make music, it just presented itself one day six years ago, abruptly introducing itself as a creative necessity. 

    I have been singing since I can remember. I remember as a young kid taking walks through my grandmother’s lush green garden on humid summer days hypnotized by an aimless and cathartic tune unraveling out of me. Then like many teenagers, I ended up in the inevitable school plays but I always sang solos. Singing felt like one of the few places in my young life when people saw and heard me. It also made me feel free. 

For a number of urgent reasons when I became a young adult, I had to stop singing for a long time and I did for about thirty years.  

    A few years ago, I was married and unknowingly uncertain of where my life was headed. I was straightening up the house one afternoon and I heard a voice that said: “If you never have kids then on your death bed you’ll probably be ok but if you don’t sing seriously in the world, you will regret it.”Fortunately for once, I had enough sense to know I had better at least consider what that voice had said since I usually ignored it. 

I wasn’t totally without musical tools so it wasn’t completely a cockamamie idea. I had been playing an amateurish guitar since I was 12. I had been writing my whole life, as a fiction writer and professionally as a visual arts writer. I didn’t need to learn how to write, but began learning the art of songwriting which like any art, is a lifelong journey. I had also been listening deeply to all kinds of music my whole life and knew what I thought good music sounded like.  

I grew up in southern Virginia where I felt and heard the sounds of Appalachian folk music. While I love music from many different places and times, that was and is the legacy of music I wake up in the morning to write and learn and play. At first, I overcame the tedium and humiliation of not knowing what I was doing because I was driven by a need to learn the cover Fort Worth Blues by Steve Earle which was way beyond my skill level. But I had to sing it, be one with it. It took me a year to learn the picking pattern. During that year, I also wrote some of my first songs. The very first, Heartbreak Garden, is on “Revelation.” 

    Five years since I heard that voice housecleaning, I have sung my way off a hilltop in Montana, gotten a divorce, moved back to the east coast to New York City where I had 30 years prior begun my life as a young adult just out of college. Finally called back to music, I feel I am doing the service I was put here to do however that manifests and whomever my voice and my songs may reach. Following my heart and knowing my purpose for the first time, life is much easier, calm and happier.  

    Today I am self-quarantined on Wolfe Island in Canada. I had no designs ever to move to an island in Ontario. It was fortuitous as I grew to love the island over the 12 months I recorded “Revelation” in 2018-19 with Hugh Christopher Brown at Wolfe Island Records. About a year ago in a last minute decision, I bought a home here.  

    In the coming weeks leading up to my album release in July, please join me as I share stories on how “Revelation” was created and what inspired the music. Music has transformed and healed me throughout my life. In these difficult times we bear, I believe music can be a powerful healer for us all. The connection of storytelling and music’s powerful medicine has changed my life and I hope I can compel you with my own.

Blog Post #2 - Coming Back Home

     Coming back to New York City to live after a twenty-year hiatus felt like being shot out of a wormhole. When I left the city, there were many forces that I had inspired to work against me. I was twenty-nine, precocious, stupid but too smart for my own good and running very low on “get out of jail free” cards. I probably only had a couple left and I had turned New York City into my jail. I knew I’d better use them and get out while the getting was good.  

    I went to live in the Southwestern desert of Arizona for about ten years, then moved to Los Angeles, then to Montana equaling about twenty years. There’s a lot I’m not including here that happened but that’s not why I’m telling this story.  

    When I left, I lived on West 10th street in the West Village off of Hudson Street. When I moved back, as sudden and unplanned as my departure, I was fleeing yet another bad situation I had helped create for myself, my marriage. I left Montana driving drove cross country to upstate New York to stay with my old friend and her family until I could get some footing. After a few weeks there, her friend’s basement studio apartment became available. It was on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village, very close to where I had lived twenty years before.  

    I moved in as soon as I could. It was perfect. A whole family I knew, walking across floors above me but I was behind a door that locked, a fully furnished studio that opened onto a peaceful garden. I felt safe, not completely alone, but totally private.    

    My friends helped me move in on a Sunday. The three of us rushed back and forth from my car to cross the street, down the narrow stairs and into the back apartment, the blinking rhythm of my car’s hazard lights made me anxious. I only had a few duffel bags and my Martin 00-18. Moving in felt strange. I was admitting that a new life was coming only to see that the last life was irreparably broken.   

    When we were done we went to a thai restaurant in Union Square. Despite my life being utterly overturned, feeling safe started to grow in me for the first time in a long time. I was in Union Square where I had one of my first real jobs out of college. I was near the village, where I always felt most comfortable in New York City.  I was back on the east coast where I recognized the flora and the fauna.  

    When I missed this city, I realize it was not just the edginess that was like no other to me, I missed the trees. I missed the fall and how the trees slept and the flowers retired and it all became gray and brown for a few winter months. I missed the cobblestone streets, the large impersonal avenues, the rhythm of my body walking down the street. I missed the days when the sky sparkled bright blue in summer or winter in contrast to the city’s signature concrete sidewalks.  

    My friends left me standing on Union Square West as they caught a taxi to Grand Central to get the train back upstate. I wandered back to my studio apartment, my new refuge haven on the ground floor. It was never lost on me that it used to be David Byrne’s home studio when he owned the brownstone many years before. I chose to see that as a really good premonition of things to come. It was powerfully fortuitous that I would be connected to that kind of deep musical energy. Even if I never knew him, I’ve lived in his music for years and it was a comfort to sleep and live in the place where some of it had been made.  

    I was grateful that all the locks that were new to me turned and opened easily.  I walked into the apartment for the first time alone. For the first time alone in many years, in a room free of expectations or anticipation of anyone coming home. I sat on the strange mattress in silence. I shared the silence with no one, no partner. I was scared of leaving my marriage, my old life, but relieved to be in a very old building, on the familiar ground of Manhattan that knew me, that I realized then would receive me always if I let it. 

     I left to go grocery shopping. I locked all the doors, three to get in and out. Relieved again that they all worked easily. I walked up the narrow spiral stairs onto the sidewalk. The idyllic tree lined street looked surreal to me. Nothing appeared to have skipped a beat since I left all those years ago.  

    It was as if I had had a wild dream and woken up. Mercifully I was just home. 

Blog Post #3 - Canada

          I hadn’t planned on writing one of these blog entries about my music influences but as I near the release date, I realize that the music itself is a story. Not only did music guide me on my journey to creating “Revelation,” it magically has drawn me into my own life’s odyssey. 

          I have to begin with Canada. Some of the most important musicians of my life were born in Canada. From the music of my childhood like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, The Band to when I was a teenager and obsessively listened to Neil Young as if my life depended on it, and at times it actually did. And Leonard Cohen, whose work to me is like ever shifting tectonic plates in my mind.  Literally being in this country and connecting my work to Wolfe Island Records for the public relations part of the album release has forced me to realize how Canadian folk music has been critical to my musical existence.  

        I had no designs to come to this country for any reason ever. I went to Montreal once when I was eighteen, an incidental trip. A long weekend with some friends from college in Vermont. I remember thinking it was a pretty city. Fast forward to a first meeting in NYC with my producer Chris Brown (Hugh Christopher Brown) I asked him where he lived in Canada, he answered: “I live on Wolfe island. It’s an island in a region called the Thousand Islands region of Canada, just off of Lake Ontario.” It was a moment where my eyes kind of rolled into the back of my head.  It sounded like a line from a dream or a song.   

       A place called Wolfe Island, an island among 999 other islands, all surrounded by lakes, streams and rivers. The Great Lakes, the lore of them. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” that song seared into my memory and child’s imagination when it came out in the 1970’s, played ad nauseum on the local FM station. When I think of the Great Lakes, I always think of the song with Gordon Lightfoot’s uncanny phrasing and velvety voice that turns that haunting tale in so many directions at once. It haunts me to fully understand its meaning as an adult, but how I embraced it as a child, the darkness of the music and his voice were a safe haven for me.  

       Wolfe Island is just off Lake Ontario, in the world’s largest estuary and to the east at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Although it’s not the Great Lake Lightfoot sings about, I still feel the shadow of his words here. I can feel the ancient forces of the waters around me. They feel safe and ominous at the same time, just like the song. 

       The second time I came to Canada in 2018 was to record with Chris for the first time on Wolfe Island at his Post Office studio.  Most of that first week in September it rained a lot, which makes me feel safe in the same way the Lightfoot song does. I was calm and delighted. I was also mortified. I had never recorded, I felt like I could barely play my songs on the guitar or had any mastery of anything musical and now it was high stakes. I was recording an album with a producer, who I barely knew and was staying with in his small house along with his brood of cats.  

       Here I was, on a small island, in the middle of so much water. It felt new and safe, gray and dark, fertile. It was like a bed feels, but as beds hold us safely, they also contain our nightmares. I could not anticipate which it was going to be.  I liked recording, I liked Chris, I liked the other musicians there, everything felt natural and easy. I returned about once a month for a week at a time over the next year. I can happily report that the project ended really well.  

     I think it’s no coincidence that I ended up in Canada because of music, but more powerfully and succinctly, to make music.  As I said, I had no designs on coming to Canada, but definitely never had designs to make music either. It is as if my subconscious brought me here when the time was right, found me a Canadian producer who works from the same folk music legacy I have always revered. A producer who could hear past my green-ness and shyness and hear potential.  I couldn’t have dreamed it up. 

     In March of 2019, my friend Martha, who I met through Chris, came over to his house and announced there was a home for sale nearby and would I be interested in looking at it. I definitely wasn’t looking to buy anything, especially not outside of the United States. I said it couldn’t hurt to look. But if buying was pain, I’ll take that kind of pain any day. I bought the 100 year old farmhouse with a massive barn and 3 acres soon after.  

    I have spent the three months of the pandemic here on the island in my home. The renovations had just finished when I came up for a week to check in when everything shut down. I couldn’t leave and then it was weird to return to the city. And really, I see now how it made sense that I got stuck here right before releasing my album instead of being in NYC. I had to reckon with how deeply I am connected to Canadian folk music. 

    I have come to experience that the universe has a plan for us and if we listen, even a little, it will place us where we need to be at the perfect time. My music journey began the first time I placed a needle down on vinyl as a child. Now I see that it was always going to lead me to Wolfe Island, Canada. 

          

           

         

Blog Post #4 - Virginia 

   Southern Virginia is where I was born, in a valley nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Roanoke is an old railroad town, its last heyday was when railroads ran the world, around the end of the nineteenth century. I grew up with that feeling, slow and once seen, worse than never being seen. It was there I learned that the ghosts of success are more oppressive than the ghosts of nothing at all.  

   There were many things I look back on that made me happy as a kid there. Lilac bushes in the summer, the heady heat, the blue-green mountains, cold winter and snow, sleigh riding. My neighborhood soda fountain, the same one my dad went to for cherry cokes and cheeseburgers when he was a kid. I climbed up on the same chrome stools.  

   My home growing up had three distinct musical sounds. One of the first I remember is lying in my bed at night and my mother playing piano in the room at the bottom of the stairs. It was soothing, a time when I trusted my mother. She played the sad Chopin over and over. Its gentleness put me to sleep. The second was the sounds of my brother’s rock music dominating, playing incessantly all day and night. (See my Spotify Playlist “Music My Brother Made Me Listen To”) Third was the sound of my father’s obsessive classical music, Bach, Mozart concertos and operas. Opera Opera Opera all weekend on speakers that were larger and taller than me until I was ten years old.  

   So understand what a shock it was to me when I picked up a dulcimer while making Revelation that it felt strangely natural. I had taken violin, guitar and piano lessons as a kid learning classical music.  

   I really wondered where the connection started. I kept seeing an annual summer arts and crafts festival downtown in a park next to the library. Local artisans from all the region’s small towns came to display and make their wares in their booths. They played music and danced, had face painting, balloons, cotton candy. I recall one year being very taken with seeing a dulcimer. It hung on display and then there was a young guy making another one. I remember noticing how absorbed he was, he wasn’t mean but he didn’t notice me as I got close to watch. He was just absorbed in his work, focused. He felt peaceful to me. I remember the blonde treated wood, the clamps, the sound of the sand paper, the little heart and bird symbols carved into the surface.  

  Dulcimers coming into my life and writing the song on the album “Snakes in the Snow” came simultaneously over the course of a month. Ron Browning, my voice coach had suggested my writing and singing with one. I had already been thinking about it. I am always hesitant to take up new instruments since I feel fortunate to be playing guitar with any facility at all, which in itself that is a miracle to me. Chris Brown soon after suggested playing a dulcimer  to me in our long and lingering year long discussion about music in regards to Revelation. He always brought up Joni Mitchell on "Blue" and Stephen Stills having her play a dulcimer. At that time, Chris challenged me to write an acapella song for the album.  

   So I did. It came to me like a gift from a bird that flew into my New York apartment, it just mostly popped out. I have always had an obsession with the archetypal myth of Persephone and Hades, and her bloody pomegranite seeds that take her back to the earth’s surface in the springtime.  Ron told me to play it on the dulcimer which opened up to my voice and settled the lyrics. I brought it to Chris on guitar but he also suggested I play it on dulcimer. That’s how we recorded the song Snakes in the Snow. With the bagpipe drone of a dulcimer running through the gorgeous chaos Chris Brown and Kate Fenner and Jason Mercer and Pete Bowers made with their instruments.  

  I don’t pick up the dulcimer enough. Guitar is my daily injection. But when I do play it, it speaks to me with a deep and sweet conversation of the Old Time music. Music that I didn't hear in my immediate home but felt it all around me. Now I understand, that music was in the large trees I used to lay under, the transparent blue mountains I watched while my parents carpooled me, the rich smell of the green grass. It was everywhere. As I grow older, I notice I cleave to the things that brought me comfort as a child, maybe in an attempt to let the unfettered memories heal me. The Old Time music possesses that capacity.  Making music has made me understand how I have always been a part of it even though my life history would definitely show otherwise. Although I don't go back that much, the Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Mountains where I grew up, , the feeling of that place runs through my body. It makes me feel calm and contented, focused with a purpose, like that guy looked who I saw making dulcimers when I was a kid. 

Blog Post #5 - Guitars

         Some guitars are born with a soul. They don’t need to be broken in or aged over years. They penetrate you from the first strum. And sometimes your favorite guitar could be one that you found half dead in a pawn shop, or a 70 year old $14,000.00 Martin 00-21 at Chelsea Guitars or a brand new Gibson SJ-200 you found when you wandered into a guitar shop in Nashville. 

         One of the greatest things for me that has come with singing and writing songs has been the guitars. I made the decision when I started writing and singing songs a few years ago that I needed to play an instrument. I knew I didn’t have to but I’m a control freak, I knew I would need to have a say in how my music was made.  

        I took piano lessons as a kid, short of having a gun put to my head to practice, I never really took to the instrument. I did start to play guitar at 13. For some reason, I just needed to start. It actually wasn’t because I wanted to be cool or play music or write. I don’t know why I decided to do it but I asked my parents for lessons. They bought me a D-28 style Carlos. I think I even have that guitar somewhere still. I began taking lessons at Kelley’s Music on Brambleton Road. 

      Kelley himself was a cool rock ‘n’ roller gone local entrepreuner. I don’t remember a lot from my childhood but I remember him and his store. There were so many rock music songbooks and guitars. He always had cool music playing.  

         He set me up for lessons with another cool guy who worked there. He was really nice looking, too old for me but cute.  He liked to teach me The Rolling Stones and Beatles songs. He, however, did not like it when I brought the John Denver songbook to learn Country Roads. Good sport that he was, he taught it to me. Ultimately, he set me up for a lifetime’s worth of three chords, G, C and D.  

         Throughout my life, on and off, I would find a guitar at someone’s house or at a party and strum Wild Horses, Uncle Johns Band, and maybe the John Denver song because that’s all I knew. I had a boyfriend who played a little when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. I bought a dreadnought Yamaha for $200.00 and played with him and a guy we knew from Austin, Texas. From the Austin guy I picked up E minor and A minor. Now I could play some blues. 

         When I began playing, writing and singing a few years ago, I was captivated by the song Fort Worth blues by Steve Earle. I did not know then what or who it was about but I loved the scape of the song. I loved how it was written with secret codes and jokes and conversations between two friends. I was happy to remain in the abstract with the writer, going from town to town, to Ireland, To Texas, Paris, France and down the road to nowhere. It took me about a year but I taught myself to play the song and now I cover it.  

         What obsessed me most, almost more than the lyrics and melody of the song, was the picking pattern. I woke up one day and I had to learn it. I took myself to Music Villa in Bozeman, Montana where I was living at the time and bought a guitar. The one I bought was the guitar born with a soul.  A Martin 00-18 custom parlor sized guitar with black and brown sunburst that sounds and feels like dark chocolate. I knew then that I didn’t know what I had, but I knew it was good. I had that buzzy, healing feeling in my body when I played it, better than any other guitar I saw there that day. I know a lot more about guitars than I did then but that’s still the first thing I ever go on when I’m looking at a new guitar, how does it vibrate in my bones, in my organs.  

         The 00-18…I ‘m sure I will be buried with it. When I left home suddenly in Montana I threw it in the back of my car along with a few bags. It came to New York with me. I would sit in my little studio apartment in the bottom of my friend’s townhouse every morning for months to play and sing and write with it. I took that little picking guitar with me to so many open mics all over New York City. I strummed the shit out of it like it was Johnny Cash’s largest dreadnought. I took it with me to every guitar lesson, in and out of the freezing cold weather and into the dry overheated apartments and bars. I took it with me to Nashville for music workshops checking it in on planes if they wouldn’t let me board with it.  

         I finally had to get another guitar so the 00-18 could have some down time. It was having a bad reaction to the overuse and what I learned was under care. Now it’s treated right and at the ready when I need it. It’s an old friend and we have gone many miles together. I miss it having been away from New York City during this time of difficulty in the world. Had I known I would be leaving it behind for more than a week, I would have taken it with me, like I always have.  

         

Blog Post #6 - All titles for this post sound trite, event this one but it's the most honest.

The fall that Leonard Cohen died there was an unforgettable interview with him. It was his last interview, done at his home in Los Angeles. It was one of those extra long New Yorker articles that you can literally slip into like a warm bath, get tired of laying, stand up, sit on the edge  of the tub, get cold, get back in and run the hot water again to warm up. Whatever you do you never want to get out.  

I read it right after it came out and I didnt re-read it for the sake of this post because I wanted to remember the impressions that have lasted. The interview came out within a month after my marriage came to an abrupt halt. I was facing every nightmare about myself all at once. I had moved back to New York City and wanted to start making a lot of music, that was the good part. I was living in the heartbeat of it, historically, in the West Village. The streets where Dylan walked and performed, where the rock folk scene in the U.S. was born, where Leonard Cohen lived and wrote so many songs, where all my music heroes lived, died, passed through and played.  Still dirty despite the gentrification of the 2000’s, the energy there still emanates from the concrete and cobblestones. It drips from the trees like high colored, cob-webbed skeins of energy.  

It was the first time in my life that I was there to live and wasn’t a dumb kid fending off or hiding behind self-destructive habits. I had calmed down enough that I could maintain a clear head but still get off on all the creative energy that will always be there. It wasn’t until making music that I experienced downtown New York City in this way. My head literally vibrates when I am there. I can feel the history as I walk down the narrow, broken sidewalks and stop at the corners or wander into the quiet streets.  

I remember in my late twenties, soon before I moved out of New York City, I had bought Cohen’s album ‘The Future.’ I remember buying the Cd at Tower records on Broadway. Sitting on the lap of my lover in my apartment sometime soon after, I insisted he listen to the song Anthem. I had become obsessed with the album and was certain my lover should be too. I sang him the lines as we listened, arms around his neck, “…there is a crack, a crack, in everything, that’s how the light gets in…”  He looked down at my lap and pointed to my fly being down. What can you do? He wasn’t my lover for long but I laughed.  

When I was in my thirties, I was living off the grid deep in the Arizona desert. There the music of Leonard Cohen finally penetrated me. I was finally old enough and calm enough. It was the first time I would turn to music for healing. Embracing music was no longer about identifying the music as my identity, but about letting it shine a light on the way, on how to move into and through my darkness, how to laugh at it and float within the pain deftly.  

It was also when Bob Dylan’s lyrics opened up to me like floodgates. It had always been the music with him for me, but hearing the lyrics for the first time in all the years I had been listening, changed him for me. It was like he was another musician. I began to listen to his music from the sixties in meticulous detail. I remember listening to the long ballads on long, cold daily walks with my dog Spike through the desert that looked like the dried up bottom of the ocean with cactus and coyotes. 

I never wanted them to end. They were safe, they were clear and truthful and raw. They were funny and while they told me, they also heard me. I wasn’t alone. I saw where these songs were and I fell in love with the spaces. 

Cohen’s music was like a light touch of the heaviest news. The news that the darkness was coming despite everything. He always delivered gentle, non-judgmental advance warnings in his music.  At the time, I listened a lot to his album ‘Ladies Man.’ I could not figure out what in the world he was talking about but I kept listening because I sensed somewhere in my spirit or soul it made sense. All his songs felt that way. The production on the later music wasn’t my deal, the lyrics were strange and yet the whole thing felt better than so much I experienced in current culture or the things happening in my personal life. His music, his melodies and toneless voice guided me and gave me deep comfort. A home I came back to every night to rest as much as God would allow me to rest at that time. But I realize while writing this that whether I listened to him as a nine year old or a forty-nine year old, I always knew I was listening from a sacred room, a room that God could inhabit if he wanted. Cohen’s music feels like everything that is great about humans, kind, gentle, funny, raging, brilliant and unusual.  

Dylan and Cohen, both poets, wandering minstrels. Had it been the medieval times it would have been the Canterbury Tales by one of them and Beouwulf by the other.  

I know Dylan has popped up in this essay from seemingly nowhere. But Im going somewhere with this. The New Yorker interview filled in a space of questions I never realized I had had about the connections between the two men. They interviewer asked Cohen specifically about Dylan, what did he think was his best song. He said it was ‘I and I.’ I went and listened to the song for two months straight. Listening to it from Cohen’s perspective turned it into an odyssey for me.  

The interviewer then requested a brief interview with Dylan about Cohen. It was one of the few times that Dylan easily agreed to being interviewed. It was the only time I have ever seen Dylan deferential towards another musician, a colleague, sort of in awe. They asked him what was his favorite song of Cohen’s which was “Hallelujah.” The reporter asked Cohen how long it took to write “Hallelujah,” he said about three years. They asked Dylan how long it took him to write  

“I and I,” he said around fifteen minutes.   

Both songs are titan-esque examples of the written word. Both are complete and infinite worlds. For some reason, I have never forgotten these details about the interview or the songs. It is what I think about when I listen to the musicians today.  

To be honest, I don’t know what actually prompted me to write this essay. Maybe because these are some of the things that never quit rolling around my mind like pinballs. That New Yorker interview published at that time of my life. Cohen’s death timely with the death of my former life and the birth of my musical one. I am sad he is gone, that I would never have had the chance to have met him if I ever could have. But it shows me that he was always there to be a place where I would go with my imaginary impressions and those only. 

It makes so much sense to me. His words and energy have always ushered me to the right places where I could stay safe in order to get to the job I was put here to do.  

Dylan and Cohen’s presence in my life, melded forever in that essay, in a remote conversation. I now see in this article was placed there like a steel stanchion in my mind, I run around this steel tree when I need to remember, when I need direction back to who I am, to where I come from. 

Anthony Jamari Thomas is the guy on the left with the shit eating grin.

This is a typical afternoon at DSM, with friend Alex in the center of the image remaining patient as he waits for our order. This is now of the rare images I have taken of Anthony. I was using 35 mm film that he urged me to use for online content for the album.

Blog Post #7 - Making Album Art, Learning to Make Anything

 

The creation of Revelation from before it was a twinkle in my eye to getting the finished product from the CD and vinyl factory was an organic process. For this reason, I always knew that I was on the right path when I was making it. In all the years that I have created things, from curating art shows, to writing and publishing esoteric essays about art and culture, to making paintings and working with visual artists, I have learned that the most interesting things are the ones that come from authentic passion. When making something comes from a desire to follow a vision, an impulse, time dissolves and the way to create and make your project magically unfolds.  

I dont even know how many hours Chris Brown and I spent in the studio, and then out of the studio, thinking, parsing, writing and talking over the year making this. I never noticed the time passing until things began to be completed. I wondered how that many songs had been written, how some songs even were written, how the mixing was completed, how we finally had nine solid recordings.  

The creative vision for the way the album looked was pretty much the same. In New York City, I live in midtown Manhattan near the alternative fashion emporium Dover Street Market. DSM is an enclave for alternative fashion, Japanese fashion, small niche designers who are renowned and those on their way to being renowned, specialized edgy visual books, sneaker editions and a handful of New York City’s finest creative minds all thrown together to sell clothes, exchange ideas and eat food.  

 I love where I live, but midtown Manhattan isn’t known for its overwhelm of cafes and cool restaurants and bars to hang in. It’s mostly sports bars and grocery stores. For me the light in the fray there was the Rose cafe. The exclusive cafe at DSM where I would eat brunch every Sunday and have lunch many days of the week. There is always a fascinating array of people there. One day last year, I sat next to Jean Paul Gaultier, a week before he announced his retirement. I noticed him because he was noticing me was having a loud, bawdy conversation with my friend JP. I was laughing too loud, talking too loud, banging my fist on the table like a sailor in a tavern. It, or maybe it was just me, is always like that there.  

Strangers are always looking for ways to interact and spill over into each others interesting moments in New York. DSM is one of those places where that can happen. I could always bring Bettina, my Border Collie, Australian Sheperd mix dog. She was the unofficial mascot. It is a place I go to just hang out with the employees, some of who have become close friends and creative collaborators.  

It was here that I met my dear friend and key collaborator for how Revelation looks, Anthony Jamari Thomas. He is a manager there. When I met him a few years ago, I was steeped in a very difficult separation and divorce. I was still in the shock of it and was pretty deeply depressed. Sounds dramatic but looking back that is the truth.  

We met because he would help me at the store to buy clothes and we would end up in deep philosophical conversations about art and life and the state of the world. Anthony is a young and upcoming visual artist, a brilliant photographer with a true sensibility for creating beautiful things in a way that’s conceptually clean but messy in the way that life is. To me that is always the sign of a special visual artist. He works from the heart no matter what he is making.  

Anthony was born and raised in Brooklyn and still lives there. We have always connected deeply on the New York thing. And the visual thing is what initiated a dialogue that’s been going on now for several years. Before Anthony and I were close friends he would text me out of nowhere if he hadn’t seen me for a few days to check in on me. I didn’t have a lot of friends and definitely didn’t have friends who did that. He had a sense of where I was even when I hadn’t yet told him what was really going on with me.  

A couple months into making the album Chris started asking me to think about the concept for the album. I was a little fearful to go there. I think I was fearful because I wondered if I’d find anything if I went to look.  

On the long drive back to NYC from Wolfe Island that visit, I realized that of course, Anthony was the person to create the album cover with. I also prefer to work with young people on anything creative where my work is concerned, even just to consult with them. The young know things that the older stop knowing after a certain age. Older people have learned the things the young need to hear so there is a symmetry and exchange.  

The young know the edge, they aren’t afraid of it because they don’t know what they have to lose and if they do they usually don’t care. They just feel the world and create without too much second guessing. Its exactly the kind of feeling I want in my work. I like raw and difficult by way of beauty, or exactly that in reverse. So as a co-creator, I trusted Anthony implicitly to create the main images for this project. It ended up taking almost as long to make the images for the album as it did to make the music. On the first shoot we got three of the most significant images, but five photo sessions at my apartment, six months and 500 photographs later, we finally were finished.  

Anthony was in the middle of several projects with his friend Theo Constantinopoulos, owner of Paradigm Publishing, when we began shooting. Theo is himself a photographer and creates books of photography but also makes artist’s books. Mine was his first album. He helped finish the look for the album, he chose and framed out the cover image. He and I and his assistant worked closely together to create and work out every nook and cranny of the font, text placement, etc. It was a lot of work, but none of it was squandered. We made a special edition fold-out vinyl album with a poster and a CD. Every detail was pored over and considered. It took forever it seemed but we did it and the final result is one I’m proud of.  

I also agonized in the end that there was not a traditionally attractive, or sexy picture of me on the cover. When the project was in production some people felt that it wasn’t going to be well received because of that. I thought about that a lot before finalizing. For me, and Anthony would quote me on this, for me it was very important not to have attractive pictures of me on the cover. It was critical to me in fact. So many times I repeated to him, I don’t want these images to make me look beautiful. I want them to look honest. I needed it to look raw, I needed it to be edgy.  

While folk music is one of the main drives of the album, I always say that I also grew up listening to hardcore punk rock, metal, hard rock, etc. There are so many kinds of music that helped create this music. I would have robbed my vision of its acumen had I put a pretty picture of me on the cover. While there is nothing wrong with that, and yes, it does sell albums, and yes, it could help to sell mine, I was always about not making pretty music. I wanted to let my voice do the talking, let my lyrics and melody do the talking and see where the music ends up. Some of it is beautiful, but some of it is difficult to bear. The songs are about loss and endless yearning, abuse, anger and frustration. I had to endure some very dark places to get to these songs. If I had made this about being pretty for the sake of being pretty, I would have lost the essence of the album.  

I recall one person argued to me, “But a revelation is about the light.” I argued back but have you read the Book of Revelation in the Bible and what had to be endured to get to the light?” My album is about that part of revelation, the part of the darkness where you start believing it will never end. It’s the part that is hopeless. It is about who I had to realize I was, to become that honest with myself and the history of my life and to let myself get past the numbness and have the courage to feel a lifetime of pain. It’s what the song Revelation is about. It’s about the moment when I realized that love is not the difficult part, love is the easy part. It’s the getting over ourselves to get to love that is complicated, terrifying and difficult. But thank god for the little things in life to be grateful for because they remind us of the simplicity of love. They are the reminders of hope even in the dark.  

The collaborations that created this album were all based on trust and care and love. In many ways, just making Revelation, from the music to the images to the final product of the album, was how I healed. I healed from it because I experienced connecting to people and asking them for their help. I could tell they cared about me and they cared about the music. They showed up and I could tell it wasn’t just to see what they could get for themselves but it was to have an experience. They thought I might be able to help give them a good one creating something. That is where Revelation started to become about the light for me.