Mona Lisa 

                              

Gracious, it’s been a long time. I do apologize for the silence. I realize that you’ve been breathlessly lingering by your inbox for a piece of electronic mail from me. I feel like such a heel for keeping you waiting.  In way of my defense, the last few months have been weirdos. We released a lovely little album back in January with the intention of pursuing some sort of livelihood in music. That went great for about three weeks until I lost my father. I don’t mean I misplaced him, but lost, like in the sense of “ he died”. Didn’t want to be too vague and lead you to think I had simply set him down somewhere and couldn’t remember where. I’m a little scatter-brained, but even I can keep track of a progenitors whereabouts. (progenitor is fancy for “father”). 

It’s ok, you can laugh. 

At any rate, it became difficult to give any energy toward marketing or advertising or keeping up with any sort of promotional nonsense. Those are entirely legitimate things to do, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I quit. 

Aaaaaand opened up a health food store. Not exactly opened but re-opened, I guess. My father owned a health food store and was a natural healer of some repute. Upon his death, we became the new store owners. Of course, traditional thinking may have suggested selling out to a qualified practitioner. Traditional thought has never been our strong suit though and wondering whether a little entrepreneurship in a field we had zero previous interest or experience would be good for the grieving process, we jumped in. So far things are going ok. Largely my role is to inform people that, unfortunately, I do not possess the same gifting, education, or general likeability as my father and then try to sell them products that I cannot pronounce the names of. I had one day where I disappointed 23 people in person and 6 over the phone. That’s got to be some kind of a record. 

Actually, if you look at it in just the right light, it’s a pretty special thing to get to see how much your father meant to people and then summon the humility to say, “I’m not yet the man he was”. I’m not bitter, or envious- that’s as sacred a thing as I’ve ever said. 

In terms of music, I’ve played a bit here and there, and have written a lot. I’m hoping to get some videos of new songs out into the ether in the near future. This past May I got the chance to play at Bike Rack Brewery in Bentonville, Arkansas. They have a lovely series called Brewroom Sessions that they host back in the actual brewroom. I played sad songs nestled amongst massive silver vats filled with bubbling lagers and porters, the air heavy with the scent of fresh hops. All the vats are named after famous songwriters, so I sang amid the glow of such luminaries as Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zant and felt pretty special. In short, it was about as good as an evening gets. I played a new song called "Mona Lisa" which is about the limitations of truly knowing another human- even the ones you love most. Click on the video at the top to watch it! 

Thanks to Jerad Sears and Bike Rack Brewing for having me and to Jared from Ozark Collective for the great video!

Billy 

Hello, friends- I hope you’re well. If you’re new to these letters, a warmest welcome. I’ve been encouraged by industry people to focus on a “strong social-media strategy”.  I figured a long rambly letter every month or so was exactly what they were referring to. If this doesn’t work out though I’ll be handwriting all of you a nice postcard or something, so make sure you’re checking your mail regularly. 

My intent has been to get a letter and a video out to you every month. It’s been a bit longer than that and I apologize, but my father passed away a few weeks ago. That sentence feels cold and unrealistic. He was Pop, not “my father” and he didn’t “pass away”, he died. Pop is dead. This is the phrase I say to myself a hundred times a day. Pop is dead, Pop is dead. Maybe if I say it enough times I will actually believe it, but at this moment I’m sitting on his couch in his studio and at my feet is the book he was reading, opened to the page where he left off, on his easel is the blank canvas that he was doing sketches for, his pants and belt hang over the chair in his bedroom. He was just here, he cannot be dead. 

Something has caved in deep underground and I am waiting, waiting for the earth to open up and swallow me. 

Sadly, many of you have walked in this barren country much farther and longer than I. I’m sorry. I love you. 

2 years ago, almost to the day Pop died, some of our dearest friends lost their Poppy, as they called him. His name was Billy and he was a unique, enigmatic man, a poet, philosopher, theologian, mathematician.  My family had the honor to sit with him and his family during the last weeks of hospice. Every Sunday for 8 weeks we would gather in the small living room, 10 or 15 people surrounding the bed of a man in the final stages of terminal cancer. We sang hymns- Just A Closer Walk With Thee, In the Garden, Amazing Grace- as he openly wept. We took communion, watching, then looking away as his diseased esophagus and stomach caused him to retch and gag on the bread and wine. At first, we talked- the bittersweet discourse of a man coming to terms with his own end, an elder speaking caution and direction, a father and friend chatting about memories. Toward the last days speech became too costly an effort, so we sat in silence- keeping vigil- waiting, waiting. 

I wrote this song as an expression of empathy and remembrance for my sweet friends. I think now, perhaps, that there are places within empathy that you cannot access until you have experienced something similar. At the time I wrote this, I had not. 

I’m so sorry, I love you so much. Dane

Release Day!! 

Hello, friends. I hope this January letter finds you somewhere warm- somewhere warm and preferably tropical. This time of year I tend to reflect on the animalian wisdom that compels the geese and ducks and robins and hummingbird to leave the god-forsaken coldness behind and strike for warmer shores. There is a certain honesty to the migratory spirit- be warm in a place that’s warm or be cold in a place that’s cold. It’s a strange juxtaposition to be sweating in the manipulated heat of my living room, separated by a pane of glass from weather that would leave an undressed person hypothermic in moments. Maybe if I were wiser I’d follow a goose or a duck down to Mexico and have an honest winter for a change… or maybe if I was braver. Sometimes I wonder whether I am crippled by comfort. 

(awkward pause) 

Alright, well, that got kind of weird. My apologies! Chalk it up to Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I didn’t write you just to share my whack-job winter thoughts; I’ve got actual news… TODAY IS RELEASE DAY! Sorry for shouting- but this has been a long time coming and I’m excited to finally share the finished product. You can find it lots of places, so here are a few links to get you around. 

ItunesSpotifyAmazonGoogle Play, or for the smart ones DOWNLOAD IT FREE AT Noisetrade!

If you like it share it, please! I’m extraordinarily grateful to all of you folks for your support and interest. By the way, if you’re new to these letters, a warmest welcome! Be assured-I will not try to sell you crap you don’t need. 

Now, if I may make a suggestion for listening: I know it’s rare to get an hour of uninterrupted time, but if you get the chance- listen to the album all the way through without stopping. There is a common wisdom in choosing the song order for an album that leans toward putting the strongest songs in the front half of the record and try to hide the weakest ones at the back. This I did not do. It made far more sense to me to allow the songs to tell a more complete story. While this is not, strictly speaking, a concept album- it does form a sort of narrative. More or less it is an inverted arc- a beginning in perfection and wholeness, a descent into fractured loss, and a slow climb toward an uncertain hope.  Sounds like a real cheery record, right?! 

I don’t want to get too precious here- in the end it’s just a little piece of art, but it is the product of a full years (almost to the day) worth of work.  So grateful to David Walker and all the other friends who worked with me, walked with me, and made this little piece of art with me. I hope you enjoy it.

Video Release and Noisetrade announcement! 

Hi there, friends. I certainly hope that things are well in your world. By all evidence we are pretty well into the swing of winter. Here in my neck of the woods we’ve been hovering around the teens for the last week or so, which seems excessive. I’ve had such high hopes for global warming, but at least here in Arkansas we are firmly resisting that kind of progress. So, now with the hope and cheer of the holidays finally behind us we can settle into the existential despair that is our faithful companion this time of year. My pipes froze and my heater went out on New Year’s Day, which coincidentally was the coldest day of the year where I live. I was trying hard to sleep off the previous nights debauchery (chamomile tea and a 10:00 bedtime) when I realized at 6 AM that I could see my breath. So most of the day was spent out in the cold working on plumbing and my heater. Apparently this year I need to resolve to use less swear words. 

A couple of music-y related happenings I wanted to keep you abreast of. First off, today we’re releasing our second single from the album in the form of a lyric video.

The song is called “Long Way Around” and it’s the closing track on the album.  The music on it was super-fun to work on and turned out great, in a choir-y, delta blues-ish, gospel-y sort of way. Lots of beautiful voices on it-in particular Taylor Breen, Addi Panter, Lauren Settembrini, as well as Jon Jones, Dee Wilson and the Chicago crew that lent their lovely pipes. This song captures the deepest hope I possess better than anything else I’ve written. I sincerely hope you enjoy it. 

Secondly- I’m doing a push on Noisetrade over the next couple of weeks. If you’re unfamiliar, Noisetrade is a site where people can download music in exchange for email addresses. I’m giving away the pre-release singles (Fragments, If I Could, and Long Way Around). If you’re reading this, then clearly I have your email address- and I will be sending all of you the full album on January 19th, so- no need to visit there…BUT, if you wanted to share this (and the video!) on your socials that would be lovely and super helpful. 

Alright, I think that’s it. All the best to you, friends! Dane

"If I Could" Video Release 

A few years back I was working on a song in my office and found myself in the familiar place of being totally stuck.  Nothing was working. The melody was boring the lyrics vague. The song was hollow, wooden- a doorway into an empty room. I picked around at it in that vain hope that artists have that perhaps if the right word is added or the right color painted- then the work will align itself and the latent genius will emerge.  Or not. As in the case of this song, the more I worked on it the worse it got. The once boring melody, now dissonant and minor and somehow more boring yet. The vague lyrics take a strange turn- I find myself singing lines about “pounds of flesh” almost verbatim from “The Merchant of Venice”.  What had been a bland, generic love song now an angry diatribe against the socio-political values of communism vs. capitolism. Or something like that. Whatever it was it still wasn’t working. So I did what all great artists do when needing some inspiration- I pulled up YouTube and started watching videos. 

Somewhere that afternoon I watched a video of a folk band singing at some festival. I don’t actually remember who they were; in honesty they weren’t that great. I was about to check something else out when the video cut to a close up of the lead singer. She was young, maybe early twenties and wearing a sleeveless t-shirt. Something on her arm caught my eye and I leaned in to see what it was. On the underside, in the soft flesh right at the wrist, began a line of scars. Spaced about a ½ inch apart they marched, unbroken up her forearm. Twisting at the inside crook of her elbow they continued across the flat of her triceps almost to the point of her shoulder. Turning, they ran just below her collarbone to where they disappeared under her t-shirt. My God. It looked like the cross ties of a train track- so evenly spaced, bisecting her flesh at right angles over and over and over and over.  I sat stunned. Where had this girl been? What had she seen? What had been done to her? What thoughts and memories and nightmares made a razors edge a place of comfort? 

I closed my computer and wrote this down: “If I could I’d take your memories. I’d hide behind your eyes like a kind-hearted thief.” That line’s not genius, but it is honest- in that moment I wanted so badly to do that very thing. I wanted to hold her like a baby girl and with a gentle hand smooth out those scars like smoothing wrinkles out of a bed sheet.  I wanted to pluck from her every violent or neglectful splinter of a rough world rasping against a tender soul. 

It’s a futile wish. There is very little recourse for the past.  We know this. We know that largely we are impotent. We cannot by force or persuasion or magic keep pain away. Bar the door with every stick of furniture and it will leak in through the vents. Beg with bitter tears to be spared and that cold, implacable fellow Pain will twist his evil moustache as he laughs in your face. 

Sometimes all we have to offer is empathy. That doesn’t seem like much, but sometimes it’s the only thing we possess that is of value for another human. I wrote “If I Could” as an offering of empathy. I wrote it to remind myself to touch people’s scars. I wrote it as a rejection of how callous and unfeeling I can be.  I hope it speaks to you.

Album Release Date Changed! 

Yep, you saw that right- the release date for the album has been pushed back to January 19th. There was an unfortunate chain of circumstances (all of my own making) that made it impossible to get the album delivered to Itunes, Spotify, etc. until mid-January. Apparently, those companies are too busy making money hand over fist through the holiday season to worry about an album no ones interested in from an artist no ones ever heard of.  Of all the nerve… 

Dry your eyes though- all shall be well. Here are a couple things that will happen in the meantime: 

We’ll release a live take video of the song “If I Could” next Friday, 12/8. It was shot by the super talented Jesse Carr of Dogwood Films and my whole family shows up in it. 

Friday, January 5th we’ll release another single/lyric video from the album- probably “Long Way Around”. But probably, definitely, maybe could be another song. 

Monday, January 15th I’ll send out an early release download of the entire album to you guys. 

Aaand finally, January 19th it will be available to stream or purchase on all the normal platforms. 

I think that’s about it. So appreciate you folks hanging in there and being interested. It means an awful lot. I am recognizing how difficult it is to be an independent artist doing all of this stuff for the first time. I am clueless and overwhelmed. Although, those are kind of my default settings anyway so it’s not that big of a deal. 

Love to you all! Dane

"Fragments" releases today! 

Good morning, friends! I hope this finds you well and maybe enjoying a good cup of coffee, preparing for a long day of doing your very favorite things; preferably trout fishing or woodworking (or whatever your version of favorite things is). If, however, you're staring down the barrel of a long day of work/kids/school/chores/phone calls/house cleaning/kids/obligations/kids/kids- well, you're in good company. I wish I had a song to put a smile on your face, a pep in your step and a dip in your hip, but unfortunately, I do not. What I do have is a song that might help you hang in there for another long day. 

It's called "Fragments" and it's the very first song that we're releasing from the new album. In some ways, this song is a summation of the big idea of this album. It begins with the wonderful quote by Mary Oliver "What will you do with your one wild, precious life?" and follows a character as he examines the leftover pieces of dreams that he once had. It's a sad assessment, but a turn comes at the end, as he lays down to sleep- heavy with despair and regret. Instead of the bleak nightmares that you would expect, he dreams in color- dreams full of grand desire and hope. The song ends with the quiet plea for us to "hold on", even if what we're holding onto are fragments. 

Musically, it's a beauty. Waltz-time keys (Aaron Keyes) and reverb-y guitar (Matt Podesla) make it feel like something from a 1950's high school dance. (An incredibly depressing high school dance) David Walker did an unbelievable job producing this song and I think we're all very proud of it. 

 Here's what I wrote about the video: "About 5 years ago I had a day at work where I needed to write something down and realized I didn't have any paper. For some reason, my attention was drawn to the 4 bare beige walls surrounding me, and I was compelled to write on them. I have been doing that ever since. Quotes, song lyrics, creative ideas, books I want to read, things I want to remember- they've ended up as more or less permanent fixtures of my office and my consciousness. When it came time to try to represent the song "Fragments", I realized that my office was a pretty fair expression of the heart of the song. Bits and pieces, maps and paintings and pictures, all strung together by my illegible scrawl. Something about it is representative of what I wanted to say in the song and I hope that comes across. Most of the lovely paintings were done by my father- in some sense they are his fragments." 

The truth is that most days we're probably not doing things that we dreamt of. And sometimes it seems like work/kids/school/chores/phone calls/etc. is the sum total of our lives. It gets hard to remember why we even dreamed of doing things/seeing things/being things, and easy to let go of our hope. There are lots of reasons to give up, friends- lots of reasons to let go. But, I hope you don't. Hold on. Dane 

 

Album release December 1st! 

Hi there, folks. Hope this letter finds you well. I wanted to share some big news from my world: I’ve finally made an album! Those of you that know me may recognize that this thing has been a long time coming and it’s largely through the encouragement and support of you lovely people that this is finally happening. 

If you don’t know me (and there’s no reason why you should) you haven’t missed much, but I’ll try to catch you up. 

I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid. Largely those songs have fallen into two categories: sad songs and weird songs. As a case in point: the very first song I wrote at 14 was based on a quote by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. It was mostly about the brief and pointless nature of our existence. So, I guess that one hit both categories. 

In the twenty-odd years between then and now, I’ve continued to write songs. Thankfully not all of them have been as melodramatic as that first one, but the truth is that they still come out somewhat odd.  So, for a long time I’ve held off on making a record, largely because it’s an expensive, exhausting process, but also because I didn’t think anyone would be interested in listening to it. 

Thankfully, I’ve had friends who have seen something valuable in those sad, weird songs even when I couldn’t. With their help, I finally made it into the studio this past winter and began the long process of making an album. 

The result is something better than I could have hoped for. Raw and fragile at times, direct and powerful at others, I think it’s a beautiful album. It’s really just a collection of stories mined from the lives of ordinary people. Some of it’s tragic, some of it’s hopeful, but mostly it’s honest. 

It’s called “Everything That Rises Must Converge”, which I believe is in the running for Longest Album Title Ever. I’m not really sure how to describe the sound, something like “Randy Newman meets The Strokes” would be really cool, except it’s not like that at all. There is some sweet slide guitar, and a darkly beautiful cello, a creaky upright piano, and lots of other lovely instrumentation, all tastefully complemented by my barely-competent guitar strumming. So- if you’re into that sort of thing you’ll really, really like this album! 

Alright, friends- clearly I’m not a born salesman, but the truth is I’m very proud of this record. I think it’s beautiful and that it says things that matter. 

We’ll release the full album on December 1st at which time you can get it wherever you get music (as long as that is Itunes, Spotify, and my website danejoneshillmusic.com). 

Until then, we’ll be releasing a few things; an album trailer, a single called “Fragments”, and a couple of live videos. 

Here’s how you can help: I don’t really do social media. (lot’s of reasons; all of them curmudgeonly and old-fashioned) So, if you like the music it would be really helpful if you would share those releases across your social platforms. I know that’s a lot to ask, so there’s no pressure- only if you want to. 

Well, I think that’s about it for now. Thanks for sticking with me through this ramble- I talk a lot when I’m excited.  All the best, Dane

 

Let's be friends...

I'm an old-fashioned guy. I don't really do social media. So, instead, I send out a monthly letter. It's pretty informal- some of it will be a bit of observation or maybe a chunk of poetry. Some of it will be updates on where I'm playing or the general state of affairs with my music. Lastly, I'll try to make sure there's something new you can check out or keep- a new video, an acoustic track, a puppy. Just kidding about the puppy. Seriously though, I don't really care about having fans but I'd sure like to make some friends. Maybe this will be a good way for us to connect.

 

Sign up for my monthly letter