What I Learned from 2014's Big Freeze aka Snowpocalypse

by Jeb Banner

This past Sunday the snow was falling and I was looking forward to being snowed in for a few days. I had a pork butt smoking on the Green Egg, a fire going, records playing, games with the kids, etc. I was looking to do some reading, catch up on email and hibernate a little more before heading back to work. But everything changed around 2:30pm when the power went out. After waiting a couple hours we decided, with the approaching cold front (Arctic Vortex!) that it was best to evacuate. Fortunately my in-laws live in town so after some packing we made our way through the snow and resettled at their house a few miles away. 

Tonight, back home at last, I am sitting by the fire, listening to records and reflecting from the last 3 days. What was learned?

I wash my clothes way too much. You can wear the same jeans and shirt for 4 days.

In-laws are awesome. Jenny's parents took the 5 of us in, and our big dog Russell, and made us feel at home. Good food, wine, games. We were hardly roughing it. I know we put them out but they never complained and I feel lucky to have them in my life. Thanks John and Cheryl! 

Good neighbors are priceless. My neighbors kept a watch for our lights to come back on, their text last night "Lights are on!" was the most exciting text I've gotten in a while. When we finally got back in the house my neighbor Ray across the street came and cleared my drive with his snow blower (I really need to buy one of those) when my Volvo couldn't hack it. I can't believe how poorly that car handles the snow. 

I don't like having a beard. I left my razor at home and finally had a chance to shave tonight. It had been about a week since I was already slacking before the storm hit. I really don't like having facial hair. It seems like I can never get past the itchy stage. I don't know how those dudes in Williamsburg do it. 

Being uprooted messes with the mind. One thing I noticed when I started to come back to work this week was that I was more unfocused and discombobulated (love that word) than usual. I was a mess, basically. I didn't feel centered or on my game. My energy was off. A lot of that, I think, comes from being uprooted. It made me think about how fortunate I really am. I mean, come on, I packed up the family and drove 3 miles south to stay in a very nice, warm house- first world problems all the way. But so many people around the world live in an almost constant state of disruption. Often we think of this in physical terms but this small sample experience reminded me that the mental impact is equal if not greater. I feel much more sympathetic to those that struggle with maintaining a safe and comfortable home. Now I want to challenge myself to do something about that, how can I build on this increased awareness?

We (still) crave shared experiences. It was really interesting to watch, almost as peaking through a window, everyone's reaction to the storm via social media. Sometimes I like to look at my wife's Facebook feed and vice versa. Since we have many of the same friends it can seem weird how different each feed can be. So it was interesting to see that the storm/freeze created an overwhelming shared experienced that forced us out of our highly personalized feeds, if only for a small period of time. As a culture we don't have many shared experiences at this time. There aren't a lot of moon landing moments. It felt good to go online and see all of us talking and sharing about the same thing. We may have been snowed in but it felt a little bit like we were in it together. 

What was your experience? What did you learn?


What Exactly Is A Pink Eagle? #thinkkit

by Jeb Banner

Today's Think Kit prompt is, and I quote, "What did you make this year? Whether something personal, like a song or some art, or a work project, share your process, the end result about your creation."

That helped me remember. I made some music this year. In fact I did more than usual. Prior to the past year I'd been in hibernation mode with music. Sure, I would play here and there but mostly my guitars sat unloved and unplayed. I guess I felt with my focus on a growing business and family I didn't have the time. But I also knew I missed it pretty badly. Fortunately I was able to turn things around over the last year and a half.

It started with regular Sunday night jam sessions with Matt Hunckler and Kevin Bailey. We call ourselves The Startups because we think that's hilarious and we write silly songs about the start up scene. And since we are all marketers we have started writing persona soundtracks as well. Here's one for a persona named "Joey". He lives in Brooklyn, works as a barista, struggling artist, etc. You get the picture. We think there's a whole business writing persona soundtracks but that's an idea that must wait for another post.

So it's been great to play regularly and really deepen my friendship with these two guys. They are both awesome and it's been a real highlight of my year to get to spend regular time with them. Our conversations range widely from technology to science to cities to the future, space, etc. And sometimes we play music too.

The other big music project I undertook this year was an EP In A Weekend project with two of my oldest friends- Finn Swingley and Simon Hanstad. We did a little planning and entered Queensize studios in April to knock out 6 songs in 3 days. Andy Fry manned the boards (with help from Vess Ruhtenberg on the tape machine) and Devon Ashley (the best drummer in town, no joke) on drums. We worked hard and fast and I'm really proud of the results which you can hear below. (I wrote tracks 3 and 6, Finn wrote 2 and 5, Simon, 1 and 4. It just says "Jeb Banner" on all of them because it's my Soundcloud account)

Recording and mixing 6 pieces of music in one weekend is no small feat and it reminded me of how important time management is. There are times in our lives when we can, and should, ignore the clock, just let things happen and try to exist outside of time. That's very freeing when you can pull it off. But I think to have kind of freedom you need to be very intentional about your usage of time, the rest of the time. This weekend was all about being intentional. We called the EP "Commit To It" because the time constraints required us to make quick decisions. The success of the project was due to this commitment. It reminded me of how important it is to have a shared vision that can create clarity and alignment. I continue to take that lesson back to my work. There are few forces in the world that can stop a committed team of people who share a clear vision. 

Queensize Studios during Pink Eagles session

Queensize Studios during Pink Eagles session

Oh, and why did we call this project the "Pink Eagles"? It stems from a comment Vess Ruhtenberg made when we were listening to playback "this sounds like Pink Floyd being played by the Eagles" which we thought was awesome and hence the "Pink Eagles". 

Top 10 Tracks from 2013...so far #thinkkit

by Jeb Banner

I'm a bad Think Kit-er. I've only posted once so far this December and now I'm grabbing a lifeline- Top 10 Tracks. 

2013 has been a strong year for music. These 10 songs all come from great albums so I encourage you to check them out in their entirety. Also, a couple are from 2012 but I didn't discover them until 2013 so I'm including them here. Let's break it down! 

Spotify playlist below

1. "Song For Zula" by Phosphorescent. This is the track I keep coming back to. Although my list isn't by rank I did want to put this one first, it is my favorite song this year. An amazing landscape of a song. "I will not open myself up this way again". We've all felt that way. A great song to get lost in. A rough sketch that seems to fill in with each listen. 

2. "Hey Ya" by Vampire Weekend. Probably the weirdest track here, what's up with those alien voices?, but I just can't deny it, or the album "Modern Vampires of the City", which is my favorite album of the year. No other album has endured as well for me, it has breadth and depth. My family listened to it all summer as we swam in the pool and grilled out. It is that rare album that appeals to kids and adults. It is a marvelous, deep piece of work. If you have bias against the band please discard and give them another chance.

3. "Are You With Me Now?" by Cate Le Bon. Ms. Le Bon was one of my favorite finds this year and this track just pushes every button. I love how it sounds. The thin guitars, the plucky bass, the tight and flat drums. I love the simple but powerful lyrics- "I see no reason to run, are you with me now?"

4. "Dreaming" by Mac Demarco. Oh man, I love this guy. Technically a 2012 release but only came to my attention in early 2013. I bet he's a weird, awkward dude that lives in his own world. At least that's my image of him, please don't tell me otherwise. Like the Le Bon song, we have thin guitars and plucky bass with great song writing. The whole "2" album is stellar. He's one to watch. Hopefully just getting going.

5. "The Sirens Of Your Toxic Spirit" by Of Montreal. It's so great to have this band back on top, doing great work. The last few albums seemed like a never ending descent into some pyscho-sexual nightmare. This song is perfect on all levels. The music and lyrics seem built for each other in a way few other songs ever achieve. And the lyrics, like many on the album, are just brutal- "All your addictions and shifty-ness, inherited from your father, I know you struggle to keep them in check, but at this point, why even bother?" Ouch.

6. "I Need My Girl" by The National. This band has been putting out consistently great music for the last decade. If I have any beef with them it's that it all starts to sound the same after a while. But if one is going to fall into a sonic rut it should be, as Kurt Cobain put it, a "Leonard Cohen afterlife, so I can sigh, eternally". Also, as a man that lives with 4 "girls" this song really speaks to me. 

7. "No Destruction" by Foxygen. This band became known almost much for their drama as their music. Social Media flare ups, fights, etc. Yawn... Underneath it all there is their excellent album "We Are The 21st Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic" produced by wunder-producer/collaborator Richard Swift. Not to downplay the talent of the Foxygen guys but I doubt this album would be half of what it is without Swift. He is probably the one to watch here. In the meantime, enjoy a nice 60s Stones/Dylan tromp. 

8. "Heart Beat" by Chris Cohen. Another 2012 import. This dreamy album just kept finding it's way to my turntable all year. Many nights I listened to it while stoking a winter's fire. As a whole album it can be a bit much but each side works really well as a piece of music. This song starts side two. "Beginning time is through, and the younger tears are too, drying up slow"- that really resonates with me in many ways. 

9. "Water Wheel" by Steve Gunn. I was turned on to this record by Rob Peoni, an intern for Musical Family Tree, and I fell hard and fast. Only 6 songs, 3 a side, it has a wonder symmetry to the album and each song has its own internal symmetry as well. To me, the guitar parts are logic statements, speaking to the meaning of the song as much as the lyrics. It sounds like a water wheel, doesn't it?

10. "A Girl Called Alex" by Kurt Vile. There isn't much to this song lyrically but for some reason it really works for me. "I recall a girl named Alex, she and Mark were happily wed, hey, at least in my head, I think about them all the time." It reminds me of that Hemingway one-sentence short story "for sale, baby shoes, never worn". That's Mr Vile's strength, painting a vibrant picture with a few strokes. 

Ok, that's it! What are your top ten tracks or albums for 2013?