In less than a week, you’ll be holding PW’s 2013 Music Issue in your hands. Next Wednesday, you can pick up a copy of this special issue we’ve been crankin’ away on. We’re counting down the days till then by sharing thoughts and reflections from musicians, writers and artists around the city on their favorite place to play or take in a show. Our old friend (as in we go way back) Joey Sweeney, of Philebrity fame, spun us a beautiful tale of where he first got the itch. We thought he might say Ortlieb’s because that’s where his upcoming show is. But nope. He went with friends’ homes:
“I’m in a funny spot with this right now. I’m just coming back to music after what was pretty much a six-year break that began not long after I started Philebrity in 2004/2005. Ask anyone, and they will tell you that that’s a long break for someone who was recording/writing/gigging/touring for some years previous, which I was. But I will tell anyone who’ll listen: Breaks are good. Don’t be afraid of them. Coming back now, I feel really lucky, even though I’m starting all over from scratch. The stakes are completely different: In my earlier music life, I really tried to define myself by being a musician or a songwriter. Now, though, I’m older: I’m not crying out for some kind of identity, which, let’s be honest, is really so much of what the young-dudes-in-bands game is really all about. I don’t have a lot of expectations, and I don’t have a lot riding on this, but what I do have is a real love for writing and singing and playing. And it’s occurred to me more than once over the last few months, that this has got to be the place where everyone starts. And it is perhaps the whole trick of a career to stay in that place.
“This is all a very roundabout way of saying that my favorite place to play is anyone’s kitchen or living room on a Saturday night. Because that is where playing for/with other people began for me. When I was a teenager, I had the profound luck to have a whole batch of recovering alcoholics hanging around my Dad’s, every Saturday night. That sounds funny, I know, but the thing is, when people are in recovery, and especially those first few years, the weekends are really difficult; where do you go? You can’t go to a bar like you always did before. Where do you go? My father and stepmother made dinner for all of their close program friends every Saturday night. This is in like the mid-1980s. There’d be spaghetti; there’d be cheesecake and then coffee and cigarettes all night long. My dad’s buddy would bring a guitar around and play like every Paul Simon and John Prine song ever. Eventually, I got him to teach me. And then I’d play with him. I’d bang out a Lou Reed or a Bob Dylan tune. I couldn’t have been great. But this was great—this thing we did, and that they let me do.
“And though there was a time around college age and right after, I guess, where it seemed like when I went to parties or to people’s houses, people would play, as I got older, it just seemed to drift away. Everybody’s in a band; nobody wants to seem too eager—who knows?—I don’t know what it was. It just disappeared, at least in my world. But then I took this break. And I kept writing songs, here and there, because I don’t think I can not do that. (I hope I can’t not do that.) And eventually, I had a whole bunch of them! And it got to this point: The kitchen, at my buddy’s house, on a Saturday night, was the only goddamned place these songs were going to get played. And so me and my buddy Jared just started busting out guitars any time we got drunk. You wanna talk about a quality of live improvement? Well, there it is. In the kitchen, brevity is the soul of wit; you don’t get a whole set. At most, you get the old Jesus & Mary Chain set time rule: Twenty minutes. So play what you got, and from the heart. These are your friends. You can’t bullshit them. And more than that, even, you can’t waste their time. I don’t know what exactly brought me to do it, but I figure now that I somehow workshopped the best album I’ve ever written in the kitchens of my friends over a period of like six years. I’ve been gobsmacked by their patience and support and encouragement. I’d quit! I was out of the game! They brought me back in.
“I have a record coming out in the fall. I’m really proud of it, and I think it’s the prettiest, sweetest, most honest thing I’ve ever done, and the people I got to do it with—and now play it live, too—are among my favorite people in the world. As we speak, it’s time for me to book a bunch of gigs around the release. But you know what? Before I start freaking out about not having a booking agent and all the rest of that shit, I’m just gonna spend September and October just hitting up as many kitchen tables on the East Coast as I can. Because fuck it: If you can’t do that, why even do it?”