As spring falls into summer, the warmth of the sun returns along with the promise of all that is good in our world. I sometimes describe myself as “the luckiest guy I know,” and while life has its ups and downs, on balance, I really do feel that way. From my kind, supportive and beautiful grandmother Hazel, who saved me as a young man, to my work in business and eventual return to music, my feet have always found purchase, at many times for no “reason” at all.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been some losses and some close calls. A wise woman told me at a young age that we learn nothing from success, only from failure. The key word in this statement of course is “learn.” It took me a while to figure out that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is not learning (and is a form of insanity), that courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the willingness to walk through it, and that failure is usually the result of being afraid to change.
I have always been a bit of an adventurer, so change has always been attractive. I’m not sure if it’s boredom, ingratitude, or some virtuous attribute, but I’ve always looked for ways to open up new possibilities in life, and that hasn’t slowed down much over time. This has served me well in both good times and bad.
The change that came with our move to LA has been spectacular. We’ve created a whole new big and beautiful life. The creative community here is remarkable and welcoming, and the endeavors and friendships of my youth have opened doors to new friendships that have put me in the middle of the music community of LA, with Malibu as my springboard. Amazing.
Almost as an affirmation, I was invited to perform at Soho House Malibu, the epicenter of artistic life here, as part of our Composers Breakfast Club monthly music night. The response was fantastic, in large part due to an amazing new line-up that supports the music I’ve honed to perfection with the van Gogh Brothers in Boston with a decidedly muscular and authoritative force. (Photo above by Aisha Singleton, who by complete coincidence happens to be one of Kathy’s father’s former students from Westford, MA!)
I’ve returned to the van Gogh Brothers material deliberately, and largely as a result of pushing myself into new, uncharted territory (change!) and coming out the other side. I now feel like I’ve found my place in the LA music community, and because of that, I’ve found the confidence and conviction to lean into the work the van Gogh Brothers have developed and created over the last 25 years. Bob Dylan protege, Scarlet Rivera, continues to support me on violin, as does bassist and vocalist Brian Jenkins, but we’ve added the “secret sauce” of producer-composer-guitarist Michael Carey on lead guitar (he clearly studied at the same school as Paul Candilore) and Jonathan Smith (Blake Shelton) on drums. I’m looking forward to future gigs here with this new amazing line-up of players, and to spreading the “van Gogh Gospel” ever more.
The work on the new van Gogh Brothers record continues… and in May, I worked with Michael Carey on producing and mixing the second album track, “Don’t Leave Me Lonely,” that was recorded here in Malibu and at Woolly Mammoth in Waltham, MA. Michael and I added MORE guitars (!) and we are scheduled to track percussion with Carleton (Santa) Davis (Bob Marley and the Wailers) in early June. Santa joined us on percussion at Soho House in May and is absolutely fabulous, of course. Once we stripped the song back to acoustic guitars and vocals, Santa appeared in the track in our minds’ ear. I can’t wait to watch this track come to life. Once we’ve wrestled “Lonely” to the ground, I’ll return to Woodshed Recording to mix “One,” our nod to Nirvana, which was recorded earlier this year. From there I will return to the archives – either digital or mental-for the next song in the series.
In the meantime, I am looking to book more live dates for the new West Coast line-up, to continue mixing and recording new tracks for the in-process Lucky 13 van Gogh Brothers album, and looking forward to trips to the Bay Area, New Orleans and to Boston in the weeks and months to come, along with my new work with the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission. Lucky.
The van Gogh Brothers will appear at Toad Cambridge this summer for the early show on Thursday, August 17th. New dates, both East and West, are always posted here and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/johncatemusic (with occasional Instagram updates at vangoghbrother).
Right now, the sun is warming, the winter rains have subsided, and the summer vibe is settling into Malibu. Everything is right in this moment, and in many moments, and I am joyful and grateful. Life is beautiful.