In this, the final installment of the Jeremiah Birnbaum 'Five Minutes with' Trilogy, Indie Sounds chats to the boy about his voice, his solo album, Austin, The Ramblers, cars and chicks.
Photo by Shaun Dickerson
Indie Sounds: You've been quiet of late. What's up with that?
Jeremiah Birnbaum: Earlier this year, after losing my voice repeatedly in a short period of time, I was diagnosed with a hemorrhaged vocal cord. I was put on complete vocal rest and subsequently had microscopic laser surgery with Dr. Steven Zeitels up in Boston. He's the best in the biz, and besides literally writing the book on this procedure, performed surgery on Steven Tyler and Adele.
He assures me I'm on the mend and will have a better, stronger voice than ever ... after six weeks of total silence, gosh, I hope so ... I certainly have paid enough dues!! I was lucky enough to catch this in time before any serious damage took place.
IS: So, a new record release coming you have. About it all you should tell.
Jeremiah: Made my first ever acoustic record I did, of which very proud I am. Yes, hmmm. (Ha!) It's called Lucky, and it releases online very soon.
[IS: Actually, exclusively for Indie Sounds readers, check it out today, here]
IS: What was the story of its creation - who/what/where etc?
Jeremiah: It's a bit of a tale of passage, actually:
In late 2010, I returned to my folksinging roots, resuming attendance at my friend Jack Hardy's weekly Songwriters' Exchange in the Village, where I'd gotten my real start back in 2002. While much of my recent material is collaborations with other writers, in the Exchange, the gestalt is for everyone to write their songs alone, bringing in a new song every week for critique. It keeps the writing muscle strong and enables you to grow both as a songwriter, and gives you the ability to constantly have new material. The theory is, if you write 50 songs a year, maybe a quarter of them are worth a damn, so take those and add 'em to your repertoire. Jack, for instance, recorded a new album about every 18 months since 1980. I liked the challenge of leaning on my own creative mind with that weekly deadline, and it was great being with my folkie friends again.
Sadly, Jack passed away suddenly in March of 2011 after a short illness. One of his last requests was to keep the Exchange going, which we've done, and done well - it's thriving. These are all songs brought to the Exchange in the last year-and-a-half, per Jack's model, and I recorded it in what I hope was his spirit - Jack liked to record quickly, capturing the moment, no frills, no overdubs, nothing but the guitar and voice live - the song at the core, and sometimes a few other instruments. I dedicated the album to his memory, and his family was kind enough to give me permission to record one of his songs for it, too. There is one collaboration on the album, I Know, which I wrote in Austin with Curtis McMurtry, whom I met at the Harris Radio 2011 SXSW Patio Hang. I also covered my good friend Scott Wolfson's song, You Can't Break Me Again, which he also wrote for the Exchange.
For me, the actual process was a complete departure from my usual recording methodology. I like doing things as real as possible, but this was the first time I ever went into a studio and felt nervous. My friend, engineer-producer Jeff Berner, met me on a cold day at Galuminum Foil Studio in Brooklyn, and we set up three mics and got rolling. I did two takes of most of the songs and generally kept the first takes for the final mixes. All of the tracks are completely acoustic, and all live recordings, vocals too. The only overdub is on the final track, which I actually recorded myself at Roger Greenawalt's Shabby Road Studio; I overdubbed vocals and my buddy Bill Bell playing piano.
It's been really nice to get back to my roots and get away from the big electric thing for a while. I never strayed too far from the folk world, but I see now that I really enjoy spending much of my time there.
IS: So is The Ramblers still going? What's the news there?
Jeremiah: Due to my vocal injury we had to cancel all of the Ramblers' summer plans, including a big Saturday night appearance at the Mercury Lounge and a festival appearance. Everyone is now busy with various projects, so when the time is right, we'll come back. I'd like to see us write and learn a whole mess of new material, too - Scott Stein and I both have songs ready to go. We have some ideas as to specific projects we wish to pursue, but for right now, the Ramblers are laying low. But if someone makes us the right offer, none of us will refuse it.
IS: When are you moving to Austin?
Jeremiah: Is your spare bedroom ready for me, Pete? I do windows ... seriously though, I would love to divide my time between Austin and NYC. I've been stuck in NYC since SXSW due to my illness and I'm ready to kick up some Hill Country dust. (Plus I need me some Kerbey Lane.) Anyone in Austin need a chicken-pickin' Telecaster player with a yen for slide? I'm game ...
IS: What's next for Jeremiah in the world of music, car blogs? And how's the love life?
Jeremiah: Touring-wise, I'm focusing on acoustic music through 2013, as well as my NYC-based swampy-psychedelic power-trio, the Righteous Devils. I'm touring behind Lucky starting August 24th with my friend Shelley Miller. Our first show is at Uncommon Ground in Chicago. In NYC, I will be working with the aforementioned Mr. Greenawalt on the Beatles Complete Festival again, as well as with Local Correspondents on their SXSW presence. I'm producing a couple of EPs and accompanying some of my favorite artists, and welcome more production and guitar work.
I might start another open mic at some point. I really want to go to Europe this winter and tour. My one main goal this year is to find a booking agent who can manage my live performances, so that I can better focus on my creative and production work when not touring.
My car blog, www.oldwheelsnewyork.wordpress.com, is slowly gaining momentum, and I'm also beginning to write fiction, which started on my time with no voice. Apparently I'm pretty damn good at it ... who knew? I'm submitting a bunch of stuff to the New Yorker and various other arenas. I'm also working a little with Paul Oveisi, late of Austin's Momo's, at his NYC venue, ZirZamin, along with fellow late-night rascal Jack Martin.
Love? I'm proud to be in a wonderful, loving relationship with Pamela DiFrancesco, a fantastic writer of fiction. You can check out some of Pam's work at www.thebaffledkingcomposing.wordpress.com.