“What have you guys been up to?”
It’s the commonest of questions when we get the chance to reconnect with fans and friends. And for the last almost-eight months, our commonest answer has been, “Working on the album.” Our very favorite album to date, mind you, but we realize that we may sound a bit like—forgive the pun—a broken record.
There’s unmatched joy in creating things, and we find this in a lot of areas outside of just making music. We’ve been up to a lot of other things that we often skip over in the late-night venue conversations, so we thought we’d take a little time this month to let you know what ELSE we’ve been up to. Hope you enjoy a peek into a few of the other things that make us…us.
Some of you are familiar with (and have benefitted from) our ongoing obsession with homemade prickly pear jelly. This requires spikey things, fire, and a ton of sugar, making for a process that is equal parts exciting and perilous. This year, we’ve expanded our food operation to include brewing beer and roasting coffee. We’ve watched several of our friends make beer, and we’ve loved seeing the micro-breweries flourish since Texas loosened up on the brewing restrictions, so we decided to give it a go. We got a few supplies from the nice folks over the Hoppin’ Grape, our local homebrew supply shop, and started down the endless path of learning about different styles of beer, a new vocabulary (Wort? Sparge? Pitch? Primary fermentation, secondary fermentation?), and why you don’t mail-order a five-gallon carboy (T-shirt idea: “Ask me about my box of glass”). It has all been such a rewarding hobby, and a good chance to focus on something complicated and unique.
For the other end of the day, we’ve been experimenting with roasting our own coffee beans. Through coffee, all things are possible, and for years, we’ve used an old-fashioned percolator or a French press to get the most bang for our buck in caffeine content (and to avoid having to learn how to use a Keurig). We’ve met a couple of talented folks who told us a bit about roasting their own beans (sorcery!) and it sounded surprisingly simple. Turns out, we already had everything we needed: a trusty iron skillet, a Coleman camp stove, and a wooden spoon for stirring. So very much stirring. Never stop stirring. Ever.
The first batch was a success, and it’s been another endless journey learning about different beans and regions, roast levels, and precious caffeine content. Like the jelly and the beer, what we’ve enjoyed most about the process is giving it away. If you haven’t gotten something from us yet, don’t worry, it’s coming soon.
Flora & Fauna
We are also joyfully responsible for keeping a handful of living things alive and happy. Ever-present in our lives (and by extension, house (and by extension, studio)) are our animals. We are the proud parents of four rescue animals, two cats and two dogs, one of whom was a new addition in February. This new dog joined us during the recording of this album, and it has been a lot of fun watching her stare down a blaring guitar amp while adapting to her new life with us. The cats, of course, vacate the room as soon as one of us even reaches for an instrument. They know what’s coming.
We also maintain a modest garden that currently consists of herbs that definitely subscribe to the “If it doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger” mentality, a stubborn pineapple, some peppers that bear a grudge, and a watermelon whose proximity to the driveway is starting to pose a logistical challenge for parking cars. Our very shaded yard, and the birds, squirrels and bugs co-occupying our space, make having a garden an ongoing challenge, but we’ve realized it’s pretty critical to our well-being. Even on our small scale, growing food is amazing! It gives you a connection to the physical place you live, the connection to the sustenance of your life, and an appreciation and understanding of where food really comes from. There’s some old proverb about seeing the universe in a grain of sand. But the garden seems like a more accurate setting.
Fun With Home Improvement
Something else that keeps us entertained and busy is home improvement projects. Not those big projects where you have to call in contractors and things cost too much and everything sucks for awhile...not right now anyway. We’re talking about the DIY projects that we can manage on our own. Our house is 50+ years old and has a lot of “character”, so these projects are not in short supply. While recording various albums, we have broken up the time with several electrical and demolition projects, and most recently, a laundry room makeover (rock and roll, y’all). Fortunately, Rebecca conceded to wait to redesign the master closet until we were done using it as an iso-booth for recording vocals.
John’s long history of technical and troubleshooting work, combined with his DIY convictions and slightly neurotic mindset has led to something of a soldering obsession. Over the years, this has greatly benefitted the Grifters & Shills live rig. Little known trivia: John built every guitar cord we use live and all the microphone cables in the studio by hand. And our tailor-made pedalboard (take a look the next time you’re at a G&S show)—he built the whole thing. There’s a lot of peace of mind in knowing exactly how a piece of equipment was constructed. Plus, you can really save a lot of money by buying cable and connectors in bulk and soldering your own finished cables.
During the recording of “Pretty Little Secrets”, we also made the decision to sign John up for one of the last classes he needs to finish out his B.S. in Mathematics. This transformed our time into a balance between schoolwork, coding, and of course, the studio work. The workload was, to say the least, extreme, and it was sustained for a few months. Behind the scenes, the hours were long, the mornings were early, and the nights ran late. But we’ve gotten a breather over the Summer, and the Fall semester doesn’t start for a while yet.
Left with a bit of free time on her hands during John’s schooling, and in between home repair projects, Rebecca has been making up for lost time in rediscovering a love of reading fiction. Please send her book recommendations. She would love to nerdily discuss them with you. She’s also been spending a lot of time with our new dog, working on training and impulse control (the dog’s, not Rebecca’s).
Friends & Benefits
One of the most important things we like to do grew out of our love for how music allows us to bring people together and do good for those in need: Coordinate benefit shows. We truly love contributing time and energy to benefit shows, and during the production of “Pretty Little Secrets”, we were honored to be involved in the creation of a new annual benefit show for the Houston Area Women’s Center. Together with our friends Sam and Kim Barker (Brightwire), and Randy Hill, Amie Krebbs and Nathan Taylor (Little Outfit), we produced a live show featuring seven bands and a pop-up Arts Market featuring the artists of the First Saturday Arts Market (hey Mitch Cohen!). All of our time and energy was a donation, as all of our proceeds went to the Houston Area Women’s Center in support of the work they do for those in need in our great hometown.
It was an incomparable feeling to lay down that night, after all was said and done, knowing that the people we helped will never know our names. They’ll never know the hours and hours of work put in by so many people, and that is why this is so important to us. We truly love giving in its purest sense, where the reward is simply knowing that we spent our time serving others.
So that’s what (else) we’ve been up to, besides “working on the album,” and there’s plenty more coming up on the horizon. The year’s only about halfway over, after all. We hope to connect with you soon—in person, online, at a show, at the grocery store, over a beer or a cup of coffee—and tell you all about it.
Thanks as always for your love and support. This doesn’t work without you!