Friday, September 30, 2016


Online dating sucks. You know it, I know, everyone knows it. But what was once the haven of anti-social weirdos and agoraphobes who still wanted to get laid has now become de rigeur for dating in the 21st century.

Millions of people flock to sites like eHarmony, Plenty Of Fish, and OKCupid to find love and connection (and booty) in today’s fast-paced world. But like dating IRL, meeting that special someone on the Internet can be a tremendous pain in the ass, especially since most people are as lousy at online dating as they are the real thing.

So for the online-dating impaired, may I present a few tips on how to turn your dating profile from pathetic to profound, and discover a few things about yourself along the way.


Too many selfies equals not enough friends.

As seen on OKCupid. If I wanted head shots, I'd go to the county jail.
Nobody takes better pictures of you than you do. Guaranteed. We’ve all mastered the art of the selfie at this point, collectively indulging our narcissism at an astonishingly unprecedented level. Entire industries have been built around the practice, for Chrissake.

It’s kind of appalling when you think about it, but all the same, there’s no better guarantee of getting a good head shot for your dating profile than taking your own.

But six of ‘em? In a row? In your car? Seriously?

It never ceases to amaze me how easily people forget that, on the Internet, perception is reality. When we go online, we’re nothing more than a bunch of two-dimensional caricatures who passively interact with one another through an endless litany of text messages, videos, and (most importantly in the case of online dating) static images.

Your online dating profile has two purposes: making a first impression, and serving as a gateway to conversation. You only have a precious few moments during which someone will make a judgment on both, so what you choose to share counts for a whole helluva lot.

So displaying what amounts to the same photo half a dozen times in a row says what about you, exactly?
  1. You probably have no friends.
  2. You’re probably really self-absorbed, which is why you have no friends.
  3. Your lack of friends and self-absorption probably mean you’re starved for attention.
None of these things may be true. For all I know, you might be Miss or Mister Congeni-fucking-ality, more enlightened than Siddhartha, and have a dance card that is constantly full. But unless you can demonstrate that with photographic evidence, you’re just not worth the risk. I’ve had your kind before.
And to all you basic white girls using Snapchat-filtered selfies on your dating profile? Just stop. They’re the Uggs of the Internet: nobody likes them, not even you. Don’t lie.

Quick & Dirty: Bad for sex, great for dating profiles 

It was the best of dates, it was the worst of dates...
As I mentioned before, your dating profile is like a resume. It should make a good first impression, one that will get you hired, or in this case, get you dates. Details matter, but only the right ones.

So why do so many dating profiles look like the offspring of an episode of Hoarders and a copy of War And Peace?

Believe me: there will come a point where, if we do end up hitting it off, I’ll want to know every embarrassing detail of your entire life, from your favorite shade of yellow to how many times a day you say the word “fuck” to that time you shit your pants at science camp back in the fifth grade.

But if you put all of that on your profile along with your ten-point approach to conflict resolution and your top thirty favorite movies and three paragraphs on how much you love your cat, it will either never get read because oversharing stinks of desperation and scares the crap out people, or for the few that do manage to slog through your dating novella, there will be no follow up questions because you’ve already told them everything the need to know.

At that point, those who aren’t easily spooked by your full-throated confession might be plucky enough to skip the formalities and ask you out for coffee anyway, but given the aforementioned tide of buffoons and nitwits that swell the ranks of any given dating site, we’re often doing so more because there’s not much to lose rather than because there may be much more to gain.

Oscar Wilde once said that “brevity is the soul of wit.” Keep it short, keep it sweet, and always leave them wanting more.

Self-deprecation might not hurt you, but it’s killing me. 

"It's funny, right? Why are you swiping..?"
Speaking of wit, nothing makes a great first impression like a proper sense of humor. People love to laugh, and being unafraid to make a joke or two at your own expense demonstrates that your ego is something approaching a manageable size.

The problem is, most of you are a lot funnier in person than you are in print. Don’t feel bad; it’s actually really common. Comedy writing is hard. Many people who are much funnier than you or I have spent years on the process, and still suck at it. For most of you, cracking wise about your weight problem or your fear on intimacy is going to come across as nothing other than an exercise in self-loathing.

Keep the jokes to a minimum on your profile, and never poke fun at yourself. Refusing to distinguish between being laughed with and laughed at might work fine for David Sedaris, but it’s not going to net you much traffic on eHarmony.

Douchebag disclaimers only scare off the people you want to hear from.

This one is funny. Yours won't be.
It’s a well-known fact that most women who actively date online receive roughly a gazillion messages a day from the hordes of slavering, troglodytic perverts and MRAs that lurk on every dating site.

Most of these messages are roughly equivalent to the kind of monosyllabic grunting prehistoric man used to make right before clubbing his mate over the head and dragging her back to his cave.

It’s enough to make even the most ardent and hopeless romantic begin to curdle with despair at the prospect of sifting through the muck to find someone worth responding to.

There’s no fault in desiring to buck the trend by drawing some sort of line in the sand on your dating profile, anything from “douchebags need not apply” to “message only if the living incarnation of feminist Ryan Gosling.” Sadly, no matter how cleverly worded or urgently phrased they are, they absolutely do not and will not ever faze anyone. Not anyone you want to be fazed, anyway.

First off (and this is really important): no one is reading them.

Think about it: how many of the mouth-breathers flooding your inbox with piggy grunting today actually bothered reading your profile before verbally thrusting at you? They did so because they think you’re hot and/or easy and/or you’ll drop whatever you’re doing and send them boob shots because their fedora is just so awesome.

Conversely, for those of us who have awesome fedoras but no delusions of grandeur, disclaimers indicate that the signal-to-noise ratio in your inbox is so low as to likely relegate our thoughtfully crafted messages to the back of the bus.

No one can fault your paranoia; no one who has even a modicum of sympathy for vagina-equipped Internet denizens, anyway. But the cardinal rule of social media – and yes, online dating is social media, by definition – is: never let ‘em see you sweat. Disclaimers break that rule every single time, because they don’t stir romantic passions, only civic ones. If I wanted to be your ally, I’d look for you at a protest march, not on OKCupid, feel me?

*          *          *

That’s it, folks: with a little imagination and some tinkering, your dating profile can be made into something truly magnificent, and get you the better class of dates that you so richly deserve.

For an example of what all of this might actually look like, check out my profile on OKCupid and see for yourself. And hey: if you like what you see, drop me a line and let’s grab a cuppa sometime! *kisses*


"We want to refound a new right on a dramatically different basis, than the current conservative movement and GOP has been founded. That's going to involve dank memes, it's going to involve Pepe. We have not been made by Trump, but...Certainly we have been, we would say, riding his coattails."
Richard Spencer, founder of the Alt-Right movement
The good folks at Media Matters For America heard there was a white nationalist press conference going on in their neighborhood, and who better to cover the shenanigans than gay Latino staffer Carlos Maza?

Watch bigots in Brooks Brothers drip venom from silver tongues and backflip-inducing eyerolls from your humble host in MM4A's latest video, and try not to vomit all over your smartphone.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


FRIEND: "Excuse me, but...does the Trump administration actually believe in women's rights, sexual equality, and religious freedom?"

GOV'T OFFICIAL: "No, no... *laughs* But we do love hot dogs."
Iranian-American actor/comedian Maz Jobrani highlights the ridiculousness of Trump's so-called "extreme vetting" with his newest video of the same name. Watch as American immigrant hopeful Mr. Al-Tajwahi fields a series of questions from a smarmy government official along with the help of a translator.

For more from Maz Jobrani, check out his Facebook page.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


"All right class, all together: I swear I will be faithful and obedient to the leader of the German American empire..."

Once you see it, you can't unsee it. H/T to Driftglass of The Professional Left for scarring this into my already GOP-traumatized brain:
"They already used up 'Conservative' and 'Independent', and even Joe Scarborough is no longer pretending that 'The Tea Party' was ever anything but a massive scam staged for the benefits of the the same, old deplorable dregs on the Right…

[S]ince these bigots and imbeciles stink on ice, they need to find a way to make them invisible. Dressing them up in funny hats, giving them Gadsden flags to wave around and calling then "The Tea Party" worked for a little while, but that still set them apart.

No, the real solution is make the deplorables "disappear" the same way...that Team Rick can move among the walking dead unnoticed -- by blending the thing you want to hide into the ambient environment. Which, in the case of the Trumpshirts, means getting people to stop calling them "Donald Trump supporters' and start pretending that they are 'The American People'."
If there's any saving grace to this codshit, it's that "The 'Murrican People" as a right-wing brand is likely too broad to have any real staying power. For the mouth-breathers in question, it leaves far too much room guilt by association with Scary Brown People™.

The upshot is, the longer it takes conservative thought leaders to provide adequately clever nomenclature to hide behind, the easier it will be to peg the movement for the gang of thugs and buffoons and proto-fascists party they are.

You're running out of fake identities, potatriots. And you're running out of time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


When I first watched the original The Blair Witch Project in theaters many years ago, it didn’t scare me all that much. It’s kind of a slow burner, with not much happening until near the end of the film. But when I got home that night, I had to sleep with a light on for the first time since I was a child. Every little creak and crick in my house had me thoroughly convinced that something was going to eat me the second the lights went out.

The Blair Witch Project scared the shit out of me like the ghost stories we used to piss our pants from when we were kids. I’ve never had a movie get inside my head like that before.

Fast forward a generation, and Blair Witch, now playing in theaters everywhere, had precisely the opposite effect: it was incredibly terrifying to watch, but failed to suspend my disbelief to the point that I might actually take a piece of it home with me.

Playing off the formula that made the original such a runaway hit, Blair Witch centers around a group of young people who head to the woods outside Burkittsville, Maryland with a set of cameras to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch. They disappear shortly thereafter, and eventually their footage is discovered in the woods, far from where they disappeared. It’s a solid formula, if not a terribly original one.

But where The Blair Witch Project’s incredibly low budget forced the filmmakers to innovate in ways that proved to be as groundbreaking as they were terrifying, Blair Witch clearly had enough backing that in the game of “show and tell,” they were able to do a lot less telling and a lot more showing. While this made for an incredibly visceral experience, it wasn’t a terribly lingering one. But given how fucked up this movie was, I think that’s all right.

Take the marketing, for example: The Blair Witch Project is nothing without it. In the early days of the Internet, the film became one of the very first things to go viral, creating a huge buzz around the “controversy” of whether the “found” footage – the first of its kind to be used to make an entire film, coincidentally – was authentic.

Even when the filmmakers came forward and stated clearly that the footage was fake, many people still remained in doubt, because the marketing was that good: there were a bunch fake news reports created, a website that explored the entire legend and provided a bevy of written and illustrated context, and TV commercials that played the legitimacy of the footage totally straight. It was unprecedented, and many of the techniques pioneered in the buildup to The Blair Witch Project are used by major studios today.

Conversely, Blair Witch offers none of this. The cat is out of the bag as far as fakery is concerned, so there’s no convincing people this might be real. The background of the movie has all been laid out already, so there’s little need to rehash it in great detail with a fancy website or anything. What trailers were made for this movie were pretty standard horror movie fare. Scary as hell, but nothing out of the ordinary. Constrained by its filmic history, Blair Witch postured itself in the only way it could: as the definitive sequel to the original.

There’s even more going on to lend distinction to The Blair Witch Project beyond the marketing, as well. In addition to the actors essentially being their own film crew, most of their performances were completely unscripted, relying instead upon broad plot points and their own raw reactions to form the dialogue. To create those reactions, the actors were not informed beforehand of the scares that would be staged by the crew during filming, meaning that what you’re seeing on screen is completely genuine.

Beyond that, the daily food drops being left behind for the actors were gradually reduced without their knowledge in order to keep them lean, mean, and a little desperate, adding an unmistakable edge to their performance that comes from a very real place: starvation. Each actor signed a disclaimer allowing for all of this, by the way. Talk about “method acting,” amirite?

The legacy of The Blair Witch Project original film gave the makers of Blair Witch a lot more wiggle room (and money) to kick things up a notch, and with the pressure on to deliver the goods, that’s precisely what they did. In order to do so well, however, risk clearly needed to be eliminated: there’s absolutely a script at play, the scares have tighter staging that speaks to an informed cast, the whole thing was shot over a much shorter period of time, and a number of reshoots were conducted. It’s less authentic, less indie, but will stand the test of multiple viewings much better for it.

Once Blair Witch gets rolling, it goes straight for the jugular. The scares come fast and furious, and fully two-thirds of the movie will have you crawling out of your skin. Highlights include: a first-person shot of one character falling out of a tree and literally hitting every branch on the way down, a girl being folded in half, some funky time-travel shit that gets left totally unexplained, and a tunnel-crawling excursion that made a 300-seat theater feel like a broom closet.

None of these things are especially gory, with only a trickle of blood coming from origami girl’s mouth right before the shit completely hits the fan. Like its predecessor, Blair Witch relies extensively on innovative cinematography and editing to deliver the punches, with enough weird camera angles and jump cuts to make even the most hardcore FPS veterans a bit queasy. Hats off to the production team for this one: if this movie wins any awards next season, it’ll be for everything back of house.

But wearing fancy earbud cameras with built-in microphones and flying drones around the forest makes Blair Witch feel more like an episode of Ghost Hunters gone wrong than a bona fide horror movie, and the whole thing comes off a little too self-aware because of it. Combine this with the meta-narrative that propels the story(it’s basically movie about making a documentary about a documentary that was being made about another documentary, with a separate documentary being made within the current documentary that is being made), and the film feels contrived enough to make it easy to leave your fears behind once the credits start rolling.

The Blair Witch Project was a masterpiece of marketing innovation and filmmaking, one completely confined to the period in which was created. Blair Witch is a rollicking, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, but hardly what you’d call innovative or original. Neither beg multiple viewings, but both made for a fun excuse to chomp down a bucket of popcorn on date night. Horror movies don’t have to be original to be good. But the ones that aren’t won’t ever make you sleep with the lights on.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Move over, Michael Bay. Nobody has time for your so-called “realistic” Transformers these days.

The best thing about Transformers is how unique every one of the characters is, right down to their facial features and expressions. Michael Bay may not understand that, but artist Tom Whalen certainly does.

Each portrait really speaks to the individuality of the character it represents, harkening back to a time when giant robots that transformed into a variety of everyday objects didn’t beg much in the way of explanation, or realism.

They’re cartoons, for Chrissake. Let’s keep ‘em that way.

Whalen’s Transformers portraits are currently available in Autobot or Decepticon sets at Acid Free Gallery in either paper prints or metal plates. Supplies are limited; get ‘em while they’re hot!

For more from Tom Whalen, check out his website, Strong Stuff Shop.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


The video came industry has truly come of age. The geeks of yesteryear have become the tastemakers of tomorrow, and their brilliant and often ridiculous creations have comfortably secured a home amongst society’s greatest pop culture icons.

So beloved are characters like the Mario Bros., Mega Man, and Sonic The Hedgehog that fans everywhere have co-opted them into all manner of elaborate representations, from fine art to slash-fic and everything in between. But nowhere have those representations been more elaborate or imaginative as of late than over at Ukiyo-e Heroes, where proprietors Jed Henry and Dave Bull have fused the old world and the new world together to create something truly memorable.  

Characters like Katamari Damacy’s The King Of All Cosmos and the cast of Street Fighter are given new life through ancient practice, drawn and then printed with hand-carved wooded blocks in Japan’s Ukiyo (Floating World) tradition, dating back to the 15th century.

Analogous to the European Renaissance, Ukiyo defined the urban-middle class lifestyle in places like Tokyo and Osaka during the Edo period. For nearly three hundred years, commerce flourished, and culture along with it: this era gave birth to an explosion of kabuki theaters, chashitsu(tea houses), brothers, and of course, art.

Ukiyo-e quickly flourished as the predominant art style of the period, depicting the ordinary (and not so ordinary) aspects of everyday life in the Floating World. Common citizens mingled with sumo wrestlers, kabuki stars, even characters out of folklore or the occastional demon or two. It was a humorous and surreal take on urban life that has inspired generations of artists ever since. And now, video game designers.

“This heritage is especially evident in Japan’s video game industry,” Jed writes on their website. “Boss fights. Invulnerable heroes. Holy swords. Even the classic double-jump can be traced back to medieval Japanese legends.”

“Long story short: the Japanese games we love are just the new chapter in an ancient, enduring culture.”

Prints from Ukiyo-e Heroes are available on their website in traditional woodblock style or as giclée prints, making the perfect gift for any Japanophile or video game aficionado. Even better, much of the proceeds go towards funding a workshop full of apprentices and seasoned masters to keep the time-honored Ukiyo tradition alive. Get yours today at

Friday, September 16, 2016


(PHOTO: Getty Images/Paul Marotta)
"If we believe culture & choices are to blame for bad outcomes, solutions coalesce around individual punishments rather than systemic change."

-Melissa Harris-Perry

King Of All Hip-Hop and First Husband to Queen Beyonce Jay-Z released the video equivalent of an epic mic drop on the front page of the New York Times website on Wednesday, a collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance documenting the titanic failure that has been America’s War On Drugs over the last thirty years.

Starting with Reagan’s dismantling of the social safety in the Eighties and moving all the way through Bill Clinton’s crime and welfare reform efforts in the Nineties to the modern, Caucasian-exclusive marijuana legalization economy, Hova and fellow collaborators Molly Crabapple and Dream Hampton serve up a blistering indictment of sordid affair, one as heartbreaking as it is enraging.

Well-timed to divert some much-needed attention to this chancre sore of a domestic issue in the final run-up to the presidential election, Team Roc-A-Fella invite us all to “stand on the right side of history” when it comes time to cast our ballots this November. Like most efforts of its kind, the video tends to preach to the choir a bit much, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

What does make the video less valuable, however, is that it only tells half the story. And as per usual, it’s the male half. Thankfully, the Internet has Melissa Harris-Perry to *ahem* correct the record.

The Wake Forest University professor and former MSNBC pundit quickly issued a rebuttal to the video after it was released, reminding everyone that when speaking about the Drug War, we need to turn the clock back even further to the early Seventies and examine how much of it is rooted in the demonizing of black women as a means to gutting social services.

Beginning with the now-infamous report entitled “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action,” MHP informs us that then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan essentially concern-trolled multiple generations of black people into desolation and depravity, concluding that black women were the central problem facing American black communities. Without the so-called “Moynihan Report,” there are no welfare queens, no mythological “crack babies,” no mandatory minimums, and no modern carceral state.

After publishing the piece on the website The Undefeated, MHP took to Twitter to give her followers a brief synopsis in 140-character bursts. If brevity is the soul of wit, then she is one of the most sagacious people on the Internet. Each tweet is like a punch in the chest, driving home a fully contextualized understanding of just how fucked up the Drug War actually is, and why we need to stab the beast in the heart. I’ve collected a few excerpts of them below. Be warned: reading these might cause you to flip a table or two.

Here's hoping that next time Jay-Z wants to produce a propaganda piece, he'll remember to give MHP a call so he can get his "herstory" lessons in private.

You can check out the NYT video below:


I know what you did to her, you sonuvabitch. You can’t fucking hide from me.

I didn’t know that you two had history when she told me about how her and her friends took home some guy they met at a bar one night, and how he got drunk and weird and wouldn’t stop hitting on her once they got there. When she told me about how, much to everyone’s relief, he eventually passed out on the couch, and about how she woke up a couple of hours later to find him in her bed with one hand up her shirt and another down her shorts. About how she screamed in bloody terror and her roommates came barging in and threw his drunk ass – your drunk ass – out at four in the morning, and how she couldn’t stop crying and shaking until the sun came up.

She tried to shrug it off like it didn’t matter. It was months ago, she said. I’m over it now. But the dullness in her normally bright and shining eyes said otherwise.

I can’t remember where we were the first time she pointed you out. It could have been any one of a dozen watering holes we ran around at back in those days. But I’ll never forget the way her nails dug into my shoulder, or the static hiss of her loud whisper in my ear over the pounding music: “That’s him! That’s the guy!” Or how she turned white as a sheet at the sight of you, or how my blood ran cold when I realized who she was talking about.

I didn’t know you back then like I do now, so it was easy to write you off. You were just some kooky-ass party dude that I met through some other kooky-ass party dudes, a guy who drank way too much and got a little belligerent every once in a while, but seemed mostly harmless. Fun for the occasional bar shenanigans with, but already a person I was more than happy to keep at arm’s length. Discovering what you did made it all that much easier.

We broke up not long after that, her and I. I’ll spare you the details; they don’t matter, anyway. Suffice it to say that ours was a peaceful split, and an enduring one: I didn’t see her around at all for nearly five years after that. You disappeared around that time, as well. I didn’t see you around for a long while, and I don’t know whether she did, either. For her sake, I sincerely fucking hope not.

It was about a year or two later that you started coming around again. You were a completely different person than the one I remembered; apparently, some shit happened that you never really talked about that got you to quit drinking, so you were sober as a priest by that point. You’d totally mellowed out, and become a great deal more introspective. You were still way kooky, but without the booze, it had become charming rather than repellent. In other words, you’d become more authentically you, and all the more likable for it.

I shudder to think of what might have happened to get you to quit drinking. One too many unauthorized sexual overtures get you to swear off of the sauce, is that it? Maybe I’ll get to ask you that question to your face someday, right before the court of public opinion throws the fucking book at you.

For the life of me, I don’t know how you and I were able to become such good friends knowing what I knew. Perhaps it was because she had been out of the picture for so long, and the impact of her story had softened with time and distance. Or maybe it was because you had become such a different and better person than you were before, and that made it easy to ignore the gravity of an offense I’m not sure I took seriously enough in the first place.

Either way, it happened, and somehow, the cognitive dissonance of being friends with both a sex offender and one of his victims at the same time didn’t make my head explode. I just didn’t think too deeply upon it, I guess. Forgetting what happened to her was a luxury I can afford, one I’m sure you could, too. I wonder you even remember that night at all, or if you have the grace to show any shame for what you did, even if it’s only when no one is looking.

Do you remember stealing into her room under cover of darkness? Do you remember sliding into bed behind her while she slept, defenseless and unaware, and taking savage liberties with her body? Do you remember falling prey to the worst aspects of your humanity? Do you remember becoming a monster?

I know she does. She can’t forget, even if you have. She told me so.

Her and I finally reconnected about eight or nine months ago. We were working right around the corner from one another at the time, and crossed paths outside my office one afternoon. We agreed to go out for drinks one night, and started hanging out on the regular again after that. Turns out we make much better friends than lovers, and we quickly became very close, much closer than we ever were when we dated.

But even then, what happened back then didn’t come up. Why would it? Why rub salt in a wound that had all but completely scabbed over? Let’s leave the past in the past and just have a good time, right? I knew enough to know not to put the two of you in a room together, and considered the matter settled. Or so I thought.

Not long ago, I got a Facebook message from her one morning asking me to take down a picture I posted of you and I together at some party or other. “I'm not a big fan, seeing as he molested me while I was sleeping and all that,” she said. “I know he's your friend, but he's definitely my enemy. What he did to me will always feel like a fresh wound that will never really heal.”

And that’s when I made the dumb mistake of trying to defend your punk ass, much to my shame and regret. “It was a long time ago,” I replied, halfheartedly. “We don’t hang out that much...he’s a different person now.”

“Hell, you probably believe him over me in the whole thing because you've known him longer,” she snapped back. “Apologies for trying to make it so I don't have to rehash that night over and over again. I love you, but he's a piece of shit.”

I felt sick. Never before in my life have a been a sex offender’s apologist. Now I have, and it’s your goddamned fault. Sure, I’m the one that came to your defense in that moment. But if you’d never done what you did, I would have never been in a position to feel compelled to.

A thousand mea culpas and a few buckets of tears later, and her and I are okay, thankfully. She forgave me for what happened, and I even managed to forgive myself. A couple of months ago she moved back home, more than far enough away that she’ll not run the risk of crossing your path again any time soon. I, on the other hand, can’t seem to be rid of you. You’re everywhere; at every party, every show, with that big, dumb grin of yours and your goofy charm and your dirty little fucking secret.

You’re an integral part of my community now, and everybody loves you. More than they love me, I think. To blow the whistle on you, no matter how badly I want to, threatens to tear that community apart. I’ve seen it happen before.

Recently, a police report surfaced regarding another good friend of mine from Concord, who sexually assaulted his then-girlfriend back in 2012 unbeknownst to anyone other than the parties involved. Once the report got out, all hell broke loose: twelve other young women quickly stepped forward to point the finger at him, saying they, too were assaulted in the same fashion, and civil war broke out amongst his friends and family and loved ones as they chose their sides.

People that had been thick as thieves for literally decades descended upon one another in a fit of madness and rage, excoriating one another in brutal and public fashion both on and offline. The report destroyed relationships, several prominent local bands in the area, the promotion groups that support them, and countless friendships and family arrangements. It was a disaster.

The young woman who released the report has been decried as a saboteur and a homewrecker, and can no longer safely walk the streets of her neighborhood, where he and many of his apologists still reside. What’s worse, many of those who quite rightfully sided with her in the beginning are now turning against her because the ripple effect was so violent.

It’s incredibly tragic, and far too common. And I don’t want it to happen to me.

When you returned to the scene a changed man, it was easy to forget what you did to her. When she came back and I could keep our respective friendships separate, it was easy to forget what you did to her. But those walls have come crashing down. I can’t forget anymore. Not after what I’ve done.

Every time I look at you now, that night is all I see, in the form of a big, scarlet letter “D” for degenerate branded on your chest. All I can hear when you speak is your breathing, hot and wet and lascivious in her ear as you crept into her bed. But I dare not say anything, out of fear of becoming the social pariah you deserve to be. If you’re going to go down, you’ll not take me with you.

Someday, she’ll come back to the Bay, and we’ll march you into the sea together. Until then, just know that your days are numbered, you sonuvabitch. And I’ll be watching you. I’m always watching. Always.

Friday, September 9, 2016


Nobody gave a shit about this stupid gorilla before he died, but somehow, Harambe has made become firmly entrenched in the collective Internet consciousness, where he will live forever in an endless procession of memes and terrible dick jokes. When I published this post on SOAPBOX in May 2016, I (and nobody else, it seemed) had no idea of Harambe's power to remain culturally relevant. But Harambe is here to stay, and with his popular resurgence as of late, this was definitely worth pulling from the archive for some fresh eyes. Dicks out, everybody!

An endangered silverback gorilla named Harambe was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo recently, after a three-year old boy fell into the exhibit and was dragged across it by the 450-pound primate. Conflicting eyewitness and first responder testimonies range from Harambe “violently dragging and throwing the child” across the enclosure to “protecting the child before the animal was shot dead” after the nearly fifteen-minute ordeal. The boy was rushed to the hospital in serious condition, but was released that night and is expected to make a full recovery.

“The zoo's in the business of taking care of endangered animals, and we don't want to be in the situation in which they have to be killed,” Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard told reporters at a news conference Saturday. “They saved that little boy's life...the right choice was made.”

But was it, though? Who can really say?

The zoo’s dangerous animal response team made an extremely tough call in shooting Harambe, one that's easy to pick apart in hindsight. In the days since the incident took place, innumerable people on the Internet have decried the zoo and the child’s parents for taking an action they swear up and down they would have never taken themselves. But none of them were there, and none of them seem to be asking one critically important question: what would have happened if the zoo’s response team didn’t take the shot?

Possibly nothing, of course. The boy could have been just fine; there's precedent for that, too. What’s equally possible is that Harambe could have killed the kid, leading to lawsuits, millions of dollars in damages against the zoo, the possible closure of the most successful silverback breeding program in the United States), and Harambe being euthanized anyway. The zoo would then not only have two high-profile casualties to contend with, but the disruption of an entire community of people and animals, as well.

Does anyone decrying the Cincinnati Zoo know what happens to the animals in a zoo when some or all of it gets shut down? Certainly, some will be absorbed into other zoos and parks regionally and beyond. But like so many other things in this country that actually matter, zoos and wildlife preserves are constantly and consistently underfunded, and can't just take on any creature or creatures that are brought to their doorstep. That means more euthanizations, more needless death. Is that what everyone wants?

I'm not saying the zoo made the right call; I'm saying that in situations like these, there is no right call. Should the gorilla never have been in the zoo in the first place? Sure. Should the parents have kept a better eye on their kid? Probably. Should the zoo have better barricades in place to prevent people from getting into animal? Absolutely. But all the hindsight in the world does not change the fact that a potentially dangerous animal managed to grab a hold of a defenseless child who ran off from his mother, and that fast action needed to be taken before the child was either hurt or killed.

Non-lethal action was determined insufficient to the risk at hand, so lethal action was taken. The zoo has a mandate to protect patrons over animals; it seems like many of you would prefer it the other way around, which you may want to think twice about.

Situations like these cannot be undone, no matter how much post-hoc rationalization we apply to them; they can only provide opportunities for those involved to learn from their mistakes, and hopefully not repeat them. So feel free to throw as many stones at the Cincinnati Zoo from the comfort of your glass house. They don’t make the boy any less alive, and they don’t make Harambe any less dead. But hey, as long as you get to feel self-righteous for a few minutes, am I right?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

VILLAGER: We should defend ourselves. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!
TEVYE: Very good. That way, the whole world will be blind and toothless!

From "Fiddler On The Roof"
Brock Turner raped an unconscious young woman behind a Palo Alto dumpster, received a staggeringly lenient six-month prison sentence for the offense, and only served half of it due to “good behavior” or some other rich white boy nonsense.

Upon returning home to his native Ohio, he was greeted by a ring of openly armed protesters surrounding the Turner family home, presumably waiting for a shipment of torches and pitchforks to get dropped off by Amazon before burning the place down.

Meanwhile, over at the Standing Rock Reservation in North (South?) Dakota, protesters against the quasi-legal Dakota Access Pipeline project currently under construction there recently had a team of corporate dogs set upon them, literally and metaphorically.

The rent-a-butchers in question brought with them a pack of German shepherds, which they didn’t hesitate to unleash on the mostly Native American demonstrators when they refused to disperse. Panic and bloodshed ensued, and a photo of one of the handlers reining in a bloody-jawed canine quickly went viral.

It didn’t take long for some intrepid basement-dwelling sleuth or other to find out everything about her, and before long, an embarrassing amount of her personal information – gub’mint name, address, telephone number, e-mail, even the names of her parents – was released to the world.

I’m not going to pretend for a moment that what either of these individuals have done is even the slightest bit excusable. It’s not. All the same, I’m not going to pretend that these responses are either, however unsurprising they may be.

Rick Sanchez gets it. Why didn't Judge Persky?
Brock Turner is a quintessential WASP-y scumbag whose skin color, wealth, and connections helped him skate through what should have been a slam-dunk trial for the prosecution. As such, I’m going to change his name to Rapey McRaperson for the remainder of the conversation.

Both of Rapey’s parents agitated for clemency to the Stanford alumnus who presided over his case, and they even brought in famed appellate lawyer Dennis Riordan to challenge the conviction. If there’s anyone who can get Brock Turner off besides an unconscious sorority girl, the guy who freed Barry Bonds, Ed Rosenthal, and The West Memphis Three can.

But it’s one thing collect a group of people to shout down his front door, another to show up for that with death threat posters and high-caliber weaponry. America abandoned the notion of posse comitatus a great many years ago, did we not? What are they gonna do, shoot him?

Wait...don’t answer that.

What’s worse, media outlets that are normally quite critical of open-carry protesters have been notoriously silent when it comes to those protesters setting their sights on someone they clearly and justifiably don’t like. Let’s not forget, many of these guys strapping it on for Brock Turner are the same fake-ass patriots that periodically show up at your local Starbucks armed to the teeth demanding a double shot of freedom with every Frappucino.

But as long as we all can agree that Brock Turner and his parents are a flock of shitbirds, we’re entitled to render their safety against gun violence forfeit, right? How does that even make sense?

To call what’s happening at the Turner family home “counterproductive” is to put it very mildly, but that’s the word Slate chose for the headline by a recent article by Christina Cauterucci, one of the only journalists besides this one that seems to grasp the ugliness of the situation:
“[T]he ghastly implications of these protests are not justified by their intent. No occasion warrants applause for assault rifles carried openly on the sidewalk in a nod to vigilante violence. The open-carry protests edge dangerously close to an erroneous argument…that guns make women safer and the only way to stop rape is to practice better self-defense.” 
Now when it comes to Beast Woman, it takes a special kind of asshole to let slip the dogs of war on a group of people whose only crime is not wanting some greedy multinational corporation to destroy their ancestral home. People like George Wallace and Strom Thurmand come to mind. This woman is an amoral monster, without a doubt.

Nevertheless, “doxxing” people – the act of leaking their personal information to the public – is equally dangerous for its completely haphazard and deeply personal nature. Painting a target on this woman’s back in such a fashion leaves her wide open to all manner of violence, especially given the savage nature of her actions. Same goes for anyone around her at the time.

Furthermore, we’re not just talking about some hateful bitch with an angry Pomeranian here; we’re talking about a presumably trained professional, private security agent who is likely armed and almost never traveling alone, especially now.

That knowledge alone gives me hope that someone won’t be stupid enough to try anything if/when they get a hold of her information; otherwise, the gravediggers will be working overtime that week, I can assure you.

Yeah, I censored it. Bite me.
Never mind the fact that this cautionary tale serves to reinforce the point in the aforementioned Slate piece about the myth that guns make women safer. Literally millions of women are stalked and harassed online with every passing second; what’s to stop even more of them from arming up to follow Beast Woman’s example, only to become yet another statistic in the case for gun control?

The problem with all of this lies in the fact that a society that tacitly views rape as permissible and certain segments of the population as expendable will inevitably produce ground-floor vigilantism amongst victims and their allies. It’s called “blowback,” people. Look it up.

If Judge Persky wasn’t a rape apologist, then Rapey would have had the book thrown at him, and a satisfied public wouldn’t feel compelled to take up arms in his front yard, terrorizing his whole family and probably more than a few neighbors, too.

If Dakota Access LLC placed people and planet over profits, or if state and federal agencies ensured that they did, there would be no pipeline project, no decimated burial sites, no dog attacks, and no last-ditch political brinksmanship and white woman recentering on behalf of Jill Stein in her doomed presidential campaign.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: As of this writing, the protesters scored a minor victory on halting pipeline construction, which had nothing to do with her or her Wi-Fi allergies.)

In the wake of an atrocity, if the law is not on your side, then your only recourse may very well be to take matters into your own hands. Just be careful that your pursuit of justice doesn’t lead to a quest for vengeance, lest you become a villain yourself, or just another victim.

Monday, September 5, 2016


When I was a kid, I used to pore endlessly through magazines like Spin, Kerrang!, and Rolling Stone, finding out every last detail about the bands I loved and what made them tick. But as a musician myself, I never thought I'd find myself on the business end of the keyboard creating it.

In June of 2015, I had the tremendous opportunity to follow an incredible band I've known and loved for years - Curious Quail - as they made their first pilgrimage to the Great American Music Hall, a legendary San Francisco Bay Area venue. Beforehand, I sat down and talked with founder Mike-Shirley Donnelly what makes them the incredible band that they are.

Much has changed for Curious Quail since then: they've changed studios, hosted two chiptune festivals, and had yet another lineup change. Joyce bowed out of the band as of a few months after this writing to focus on other projects, to be replaced Josh Hotlosz on guitar. Still at the forefront of the Silicon Valley music scene, Curious Quail is continuing to age and grow as well as I hope this incredibly long and detailed article I wrote about them will. I'll let you be the judge.

“We get asked all the time; where did the band name come from? There's no real good answer for that.”

It's about five thirty, San Francisco time. The Gay Pride Festival is raging hard this weekend; I watch from the bus as thousands of people swarm the streets of the Castro in an orgiastic display of reverence for all things LGBT, yet when I disembark just a handful of blocks away on O'Farrell Street, home to the legendary Great American Music Hall, it's eerily quiet. There's a hush around the place, and the air feels compressed, expectant. As I cross the street a break in the trees clears my view, of the venue's marquee, emblazoned with their name: CURIOUS QUAIL.

As one of the Bay Area's most preeminent indie bands, Curious Quail has carved out quite a name for themselves in recent years. Led by the charmingly enigmatic Mike Shirley-Donnelly, Quail blends surging guitar rhythms, dramatic, classical overtones, impassioned, layered vocals, and the vibrant, nostalgic hum of chiptune – the music of video games – into digitally-enhanced rock n' roll symphonies that move mind, body, and soul. With a wildly successful Kickstarter recording project and two performances at local radio giant LIVE105's titanic BFD festival under their belt, Quail is living their finest hour. Tonight marks their debut at the Great American Music Hall, a venue that has been on their bucket list for years. It's a truly momentous occasion, one that serves to mark the great degree of both commercial and critical success the band has worked so hard to achieve. I'm here early, and I'm not the only one.

Walking up, I see Alan, Quail's violinist, chatting with several ladies at the curb, alongside a pickup truck. He beckons me over with a grin, we slap hands and he fills me in on the scenario: they're the entourage of one of the other bands playing tonight, and they've just gotten a flat tire. Never one to spare the chivalry, Alan has been trying in vain to remove and replace it. They lack the proper tools, so there's not much more that can be done. At that moment, as if by design, a tow truck rolls alongside us, stalled momentarily by a swell of traffic. We flag it down, and the driver graciously offers to fix the problem on the spot. Crisis averted and gallantry satisfied, Alan and I wander over to the bodega at the end of the street.

He hardly got any sleep the night before, he tells me as we wander the aisles. He neglects to mention why, but I don't press it when I see the brief shadow cross his face. It doesn't matter, anyway: deprivation notwithstanding, Alan's positively vibrating with excitement for the show. It's the biggest night of his life, and he'll give a command performance that night, due as much to his deprivation as in spite of it.

Heading back down O'Farrell, we run into Joyce, the band's new lead guitarist and keyboard player. A round of hugs is exchanged, and we catch up over a few cigarettes. The three of us have known each other for years, having come up together in the Silicon Valley scene. Time tends toward the elastic among veteran hands; we've not seen each other in ages, but you'd never know it. It's good to see everyone again, especially under the present circumstances. Our anticipation lends a hint of brightness to the typically gloomy San Francisco summer weather.

We get back to the Great American Music Hall just as Joey, Quail's drummer, pulls up with the bulk of their gear. He's running late, but not by much, and in characteristically gruff fashion, he's the only who seems to mind. As he grumbles his way through unloading the van with his compatriots, Erin, their bass player, pops up seemingly from nowhere to lend a hand, shouldering far more equipment than her diminutive frame would lead you to believe possible. It's an impressive sight, eclipsed only by Mike striding forth from the belly of the venue a few moments later. Tall, gaunt, and hawkish, with spiky hair and piercing brown eyes, he cuts an impressive figure in his customary oxford shirt, twill vest, a bright silk tie, and matching Chuck Taylors. He greets me with a wide smile and a brief, warm embrace, promising to catch up soon as he grabs several pieces of gear and, with a whirl, turns to haul them inside.

I'm greeted by a chorus of shouts from an open window as the band retreats into the building; turns out some friends of mine in town for Pride, and just so happen to be staying across the street from the Great American. They descend, cocktails in hand, entreating me to follow them to the Festival for an impressively-described array of queer shenanigans. Tempting though it might be, I have bigger fish to fry. It's not every day that you get to chronicle the ascension of music's Next Big Thing in real time. Politely I decline, with promises of a Silicon Valley rendezvous in the coming weeks. They stagger off for more festive pastures, leaving the street bare. With a grin and shrug, I make my way inside.

*          *          *

Mike Shirley-Donnelly, aka Curious Quail. (JRSD Photography)
By day, Mike works at a software development firm; we met at his office, a place that couldn't be more tragically Silicon Valley if it tried. Beanbag couches litter the cubicle-free floor amid standing desks, stretched broadly under vaulted ceilings dotted with a number of skylights. A couple of Mike's associates eye me owlishly as I enter the room, unsure what to make of the stranger disrupting their labors. In the corner is a computer monitor on a wheeled stand, to which a motor is attached at the base. Mike wanders out from another room to find me ogling the device, which he explains is – get this – a teleconferencing robot. “We telecommute pretty often,” he tells me. “When we want to have face-to-face meetings, I can Skype in through here, and move the robot around by remote. Pretty awesome, right?” The future is already here, apparently; the rest of us really need to catch up.

We head across the street for Japanese. Bentos and sashimi on the table, it's time to get started. I have a million questions, and no clue where to begin. In the case of Curious Quail, it turned the beginning is a very good place to start. For Mike, like so many great musicians, the beginning started with a record. “When I was like 12 or 13, a buddy of mine was really, really into the Smashing Pumpkins,” he tells me. “I distinctly remember going over to his house and him being like, 'Hey, we have to listen to this,' and it was Siamese Dream. It blew my fucking mind...I thought to myself, I need to learn how to play guitar.”

“My friend had the official Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness songbook, so he let me borrow that and I was like, I'm gonna learn all of these songs. That was a huge part of my musical everything," Mike continues. "My sister had an acoustic guitar that she would take to church, so I would borrow it from her as often as I could. I'm pretty sure to this day she can probably not listen to the song '1979' because I spent so much time trying to learn it.”

To call the Smashing Pumpkins a powerful influence in Curious Quail's music would be a huge understatement. They've been a prime mover in the development of the band's signature sound since the beginning. Songs like 'Disappointed Smiles' and 'Survivor's Guilt' are immediate callbacks to the Pumpkins' glory days, their decidedly 'Cherub Rock'-era guitar rhythms evoking a powerful ache of nineties nostalgia. But despite their significance in Mike's musical upbringing, the Pumpkins' influence on Curious Quail is not one that dominates, so much as it provides a post-modern backdrop to older, more classic influences.

“My mom's record collection consisted of a lot of Carole King and James Taylor, and she'd listen to them a lot,” he recalls. “My sister used that same turntable to play Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles and Bob Marley.” These folksy, singer/songwriter influences are on powerful display in songs like 'Hidden Track' and 'Honestly, Honesty,' playing out like homilies to Radiohead, as imagined by James Taylor and John Paul Jones. Influences old and new clash with dreamy dissonance in Curious Quail, creating a retro-futuristic sound that puts the band well ahead of the evolutionary curve.

“It was eye-opening to listen to rock music...I was raised in a very, very Christian home, wherein my parents were super-conservative, [and] I went to a private Christian elementary school from kindergarten through eight grade.” Mike shakes his head. “I remember our school sending home mailers saying things like, make sure your kids aren't listening to Black Sabbath or playing Dungeons & Dragons. It's not like rock and roll had been forbidden from me, but the Beatles were probably about as far as that had gone.”

“I wouldn't say [religion] influenced my music so much as influenced me,” Mike continues. “My high school situation was a little fucked up; I'm the youngest of five...three of us went through private school from kindergarten through eight grade, and there was just no money left at that point. So I went to public school, which came with a shock value all its own. My experience was an eighth grade 'graduating' class of about 45 people – going to a public high school with several thousand students, all of different faiths and walks of life was an amazing moment. I love my parents, and I appreciate everything they did for me. That said, they believe things very differently than I do. I was able to step outside of the Evangelical Christian mindset I was raised in and see a larger world – literally when you think about it.”

Yet even a radical transformation such as this was not enough to jump start Mike's musical journey. It would take something greater, something...uglier. “I was doing the music thing as much as I could then, [and] I got to a point where I realized that I more or less had nothing to say. I didn't feel like I could relate my personal experiences in song. I was about seventeen [when] I got expelled from the school that I was at."

This was in the late nineties, not long after the infamous Columbine massacre in Colorado. Schools across the nation were on high alert for anything symptomatic of a repeat of that tragedy, and sadly, Mike fell into faculty crosshairs at his school after an incident with an instructor. "I had a really bad experience with a teacher...he sees me on campus and decides, you know what? This kid threatened me. And they expelled me without question."

It's a bitter memory, and a formative one. “They sent me to another school, and I just stopped giving a fuck. I took an exit exam, and graduated through independent study two years early. So I started going to community college at seventeen. That's when I started writing stories.”

He laughs. “I have this crazy idea that I'm going to write a book. So I started writing this stuff down, and I was doing the music thing at the same time.” As good fortune would have it, Mike's literary aspirations didn't last long. “I realized that I'm not good at individual, conversational writing. But I have these stories, and I have this overarcing plot; what if started making songs out of them? So I put together The Glow EP, which is our first recording.”

Chiptune in an integral part of the CQ sound. (Mike Shirley-Donnelly)
During this time, one of the final pieces of what would come to define Curious Quail's sound – chiptune – began to implant itself into Mike's consciousness. “I was listening to a lot of video game soundtracks,” he recalls. “When you have like, a song from the first Final Fantasy, and it's just a bunch of beeping sounds, then done on a harp with a string section behind it...I heard this and it blew my mind.” While these orchestral arrangements of his favorite video games developed much of Mike's orchestral sensibility, there remained an undeniable attraction to incorporating that authentic, pixellated sound. “They were able to accomplish you feeling these feelings with this very limited medium...The fact that I could listen through and hear a melody that would make me feel something with four bits and three channels was incredible. That has to be a part of my music.”

Even now, his sense of wonder for chiptune has hardly diminished. “I had no idea that there were people doing this until long after I was already doing it. I grew up playing my brother's old Atari 800...[and] was basically programming it to make specific beeps, then recording those beeps and changing the pitch.” This, too, didn't last long. “I was doing the Atari thing for a while until I discovered this software called LSDJ. It's a Game Boy program all this stuff, and the Game Boy plays it back.” The rest, as they say, is history. “My old school Game Boy...the screen's been popped out and replaced with an illuminated one, and it's got a quarter-inch jack modded into the hardware so I can plug it directly into an amp. It's this super convoluted thing.”

The only thing that was still missing was – you guessed it – a name. “We get asked all the time; where did the band name come from?” Mike chuckles. “There's no real good answer for that.”

“I have very birdlike tendencies. I'll perch on things; a lot of times we'll be standing around having a conversation and I will just be straight up crouched on top of the chair, hunched over. When I was younger, I used to make these really high-pitched bird screeching sounds, and my hair used to do this crazy Alfalfa thing...I [also] lived in Boston for a while, and almost everybody that knew me when I was there knew me as the guy from California. So I had this California identity thing, and I thought to myself: the quail is our goddamned state bird. I'm going to use 'quail' in the name. And I wanted alliteration in my band name. 'Curious Quail' just sort of came to me. Like, yeah this is it.”

For Mike, having a band name was critical to the long-term success of the project, even if he didn't know precisely what that long-term success would look like. But without a band behind him in those early days, however, Curious Quail was a tough sell. “I didn't want to be a solo artist, and I didn't want to get pigeonholed into people assuming that I'm a singer/songwriter. Despite the fact that I had a band name, people were like, ok: so it's a dude with a guitar. There were shows where it was me with my laptop, a loop station, looping vocal parts and guitar parts, playing keys while looped guitar parts were happening, with the violins and the Game Boy samples happening in the background, and the response was really great. But it had the lack of a live feel that I really wanted.”

“While I was doing this, I realized that I was more or less being relegated to acoustic shows. People didn't necessarily understand what they were booking, and I had a couple of bookers that were like, we'd love to work with you, but you have to play these singer/songwriter nights.” Still, the stage called, and Mike responded in kind, any way he could. “I had ended up joining another band, where I wasn't a writing member. That band was called Metabear.”

With Metabear came Joey, his arrival precipitating Quail's long, arduous transformation from a conceptual band into an actual one. Their chemistry was immediate, with Joey's background in orchestral percussion providing a perfect anchor to Mike's broad, sweeping arrangements. He's been behind Quail's kit ever since. “Joey was like: you need drums for your shows.” He smiles. “I've done maybe three shows without him since 2009.”

Joey and Alan, CQ's backbone. (JRSD Photography)
Yet one of the crucial components of Curious Quail's recorded sound – a vibrant string section – was still conspicuously absent from their live performances. “We were still operating under this orchestral sound being part of the band's sound, but...the violin and the symphonic parts had been transcribed to guitar.” Thankfully for them, that wouldn't last long. “Alan, Joey, and Sean (Quail’s guitarist at the time) went to high school together. Alan had lived in Portland for a while, and had just moved back to the Bay Area. The band was like hey, let's see if he's interested.” Once again, the connection was immediate, and has remained so ever since. “We sat down and had like an hour long chat-slash-busting out the acoustic guitar and violin, and it matched so well that he was just in.”

With the foundation of Curious Quail now firmly cemented, it was time to move on to bigger and better things. Work began in earnest on Instant Gratification in 2009, almost immediately after The Glow was released.“These characters have specific themes, and these events have themes, and we can just tie them all together. The Glow just scratched the surface of some of the story, and so it was time to do a full concept album with the next one. Everything we've done since then has been self-referential.”

Instant Gratification was an incredibly ambitious effort, with Mike once again shouldering most of the responsibility of writing, recording, and production. “Instant Gratification was about seventy percent me. The other guitarists filled in a couple of lines here and there, and Erin did guest vocals before she ever joined the band. To this day Joey still gets compliments for his work on the song 'Survivor's Guilt', despite the fact that, while he 'wrote' that on graph paper, I plugged every note into a drum synthesizer, and then EQed it to sound like a real drum kit. That was as human as that album got.”

Self-producing the album is not a decision Mike regrets; for him, there was really no other option at the time, given the circumstances. But doing so had its drawbacks, especially once it came time to support the record onstage. “No knock against anyone who's ever played with us, but...some of us were working our asses off, and with some of us it felt like it was just a hobby. There was this odd perception of Mike plus his people...They were just the live band. They didn't really have a sense of ownership over it. People came and went, that is what it is. They were trying to take it seriously, but they just weren't able to. I was taking things very seriously from the get go: I'm going to do this, and whoever is with me is with me. I knew I couldn't stop, because after years of messing around in other bands that went nowhere, I was finally doing something I cared about.”

The Instant Gratification sessions did bring about one hidden gem, who's value would only increase with time. “Erin had joined the band after doing a couple of live performances with us, and tracked some vocals on Instant Gratification. When [her] band broke up...we asked her if she wanted to be in Quail full time, and she said yes.” Erin was a wondrous addition to the lineup, Mike remembers fondly. But like many of Quail's previous players, the relationship was a casual one at first. “Erin joined Quail because she thought it would be a fun thing to do on the side, not realizing how serious we were. It was great, though. She played a Rock Band keytar connected to a MIDI controller via her iPhone. Her iPhone is a synth in her pocket, and she's just rockin' out.”

A string of local performances followed, and Curious Quail slowly began to develop a following, both on and offline. “I had been sending our music to anyone and everyone who would listen to it,” Mike tells me. “A couple of music blogs started talking about us...That kind of stuff makes you go whoa, there is an audience out there.” Despite continued staffing problems, they continued to garner significant local acclaim, playing anywhere and everywhere they could. “I knew I was playing the music I wanted to play and I'd keep doing it until I couldn't. I didn't know how people would react to it...[but] people started to draw a connection." After a failed attempt to earn a slot on the Not So Silent Night festival's second stage in 2012, the band tried for BFD the following spring, and won. The show was a big success, garnering them a number of prominent connections, including one they didn't expect, but that would come to change everything: San Jose's City Lights Theater.

“The album art for [Instant Gratification] is all Polaroids; every song has a Polaroid, part of the story and the lyrics are on the back, and so on. City Lights and Black Box Theatre Company approached us about our concept albums, and doing both records back to back with visual representations. So they did projections of the Polaroids, and that show involved everybody in the live band learning all of the songs. Three of the songs the band had never played at all, and the rest of them at least Joey had played on at least once by this point. That was really taxing for some of the members, and it was a very trial-by-fire experience.”

Erin's first show. (JRSD Photography)
For the first time, the allegiances of Mike's bandmates were truly put to the test, and with shocking results. Erin, in a move that surprised everyone, stepped into her current role as Quail's bass player. “Our bassist at the time, right before BFD, had to move across the country. I can't fault him for it, and I wish him all the best, but it sucked. Erin went from doing this fun thing on the side to a full commitment. She didn't play bass, but was like, that's not a problem. She is a musical genius; five days later, she had our entire set down on bass guitar. We auditioned other people who were great, but she nailed it. [BFD] was her second show ever on bass, at Shoreline Amphitheater.”

The City Lights show was a smashing success. Mike's sense of awe over the experience has not left him, almost as if he still can't believe that he and his bandmates were able to rise to the occasion as they did. “The City Lights show really was the singularity moment...a monument to the songs I'd written. Being asked to do it was an odd validation of 'hey, people like this music' and 'hey, I wrote stories into songs and that's actually getting across'.” With the success of the show came a sense of responsibility that Mike could no longer deny: not just to the music itself, but to the belief in Curious Quail's cause that he had almost unknowingly fostered among his bandmates. “It wasn't until [City Lights] when we had this moment of guys, we're going for it. You in or you out? The members who left after that realized they couldn't commit to doing what we needed from them.” Some left; Joey, Alan, and Erin stayed. Reinforcements would not be long in coming.

“Our buddy Abe had auditioned for bass...but then Erin's audition was so good that there was no reason not to take her instead. We asked him if he was interested in trying out for guitar and keys...He showed up, did the thing, and starts doing double duty. So we're ready: we're ready for the Kickstarter, we're ready for After The Lights Failed, and we did it.” It's in this moment that Curious Quail was truly born. In many respects, it almost makes After The Lights Failed their debut album.

 *          *          *

Like so much of San Francisco, the Great American Music Hall has a storied history, along with a fairly checkered one. Opened in 1907 by crooked Democratic party organizer “Blind Boss” Buckley as Blanco's Café, what started out as a respectable establishment in the post-quake years quickly degraded into a full-throated den of iniquity. Prostitution, gambling, and plenty of booze were the order of the day, lent a heavy decadence by the venue's French and Victorian-inspired décor. Palatial balconies and frescoes line the walls, with gilded columns towering over visitors to the high, domed ceiling. Over the years, the building has been home to many things: a burlesquerie, a jazz club, a French restaurant, and finally, the rock and roll destination that it is today: The Great American Music Hall. To walk into the place to step back into time; the presence of history is inescapable. Their roster is a veritable Who's Who of rock and roll excellence: from John Lee Hooker to Jerry Garcia to Primus to Arcade Fire, one thing is clear: the bands that are invite to play here are the ones that matter. For Curious Quail, it's a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants, and to add their name to a potent rock and roll legacy.

The interior is humming with activity, as staff members and sound engineers bustle to and fro, preparing for the long night ahead. Not wasting any time, Quail quickly disseminates their gear onto the stage, readying for their sound check. The band has a fairly elaborate setup, but they're consummate professionals; the stage is set quickly and cleanly, with the band moving on to a series of level checks and then a quick run-through of a song or two. It's tight, but pressured; with the rigors of travel and anticipation bearing heavily upon them, the band is clearly feeling the stakes. They know they only get to do this once, and it shows. It's nothing a few hours and a few cocktails won't fix, as the reality of the moment sinks in and then finally settles. Given the great time of things they've had thus far, you'd think the band might taking something like this for granted, if not for the goofy grins that line every one of their faces when they think no one is looking. They know how lucky they are to be here, to have gotten each other here.

Later, I give Joey and Abe a hand bringing the visual displays they've created for the show backstage, delicate constructs of PVC and vinyl canvas displaying the art for After The Lights Failed: an illustration by Joey of the San Francisco Bay Bridge under a sparkling night sky. Backstage is actually downstairs in the venue's tremendous sub-level, a warren of offices, storage, and dressing rooms. It's easy to imagine the basement's brothel days as we carry the band's fragile creations into their green room, nearly stumbling across a raised dais in the center that was clearly intended to house a large bed. Den of iniquity, indeed.

Even now, it's hard not to feel a bit voyeuristic as the band begins to make ready: first, Joey and Abe begin putting the finishing touches on their visual displays. The sparkling stars on their banners are real, in a manner of speaking: each canvas is dotted with holes, behind which Joey and Abe are attaching Christmas lights to shine through. They'll work like a charm when the show begins to start, but in the meantime, just getting them to work period is proving difficult, and with comical results. Joey is standing on a table tacking down the lights with duct tape, muttering at himself every time one fails to stick, while Abe (now Quail's full-time technician) works the bottom half in similar fashion as they gently mock one another over their mutual struggles. Across the room, Alan, Joyce and I chat about all things like the evolution of film score, and the pros and cons of CGI as a storytelling device. Erin darts in and out of the room (and the conversation) periodically, a social butterfly on the wing. Mike, ever the band's ambassador, animatedly engages with the staff, the other bands, and his own roster, keeping everyone abreast of events as they progress. He even sponsors a push-up contest between a couple of the other band members and the evening's DJ, pumping everyone full of either adrenaline, laughter, or both. The air crackles with excitement, and it's impossible not to get swept up in all of the good cheer.

Things grow more pensive as we approach the final hour, and the band begins their own individual forms of pre-show meditation. When you're about to expend as much energy as this band does on a roomful of strangers – there's about two hundred people in attendance, give or take – you've got to dig deep, and most of the time, you've got to do it alone before you can do it together. Everyone drifts into their own corners; not wanting to intrude on such a critical moment, I take to the floor for to witness the first two acts.

They're great: singer/songwriter Travis Hayes croons aching ballads of San Francisco sorrows along with his band The Young Daze, while Bonnie And The Bang Bang deliver a series of raucous, post-punk anthems that leave everyone breathless and ready for more. The crowd slowly collects itself as the stage is prepared for Quail's arrival, remanding themselves to the custody of the bar or the restroom before the show begins. Once reassembled, a hush begins to descend upon them. Several moments later, the house lights dim, the sparkles from the banners begin to shine, and a great round of cheering washes over the crowd as Curious Quail takes to the stage...

*          *          *

If the City Lights show marks the end of Curious Quail's origin story, then writing, funding, and recording After The Lights Failed was their first real adventure together. And what an adventure it was, Mike remembers. “At that point, we were finalizing how [After The Lights Failed] was going to sound...For me it was the first time with Quail I'd opened to outside input, really. We treated the project like a collaboration, which isn't something I think I'd ever done successfully before.”

Curious Quail, circa After The Lights Failed. (Skeleton Key Photography)

After The Lights Failed is by far Curious Quail's most ambitious effort to date, and it's beautifully put together; from the arrangements to the production, there isn't a beat or a note out of place. But to accomplish the album, Mike knew it would be a costly affair, more than anything that had come before it. So the band turned to Kickstarter to acquire the funding, where the results were greater than they ever could have possibly expected. “We throw this video together and we put it up, and Kickstarter liked it so much that they put it on their staff picks,” Mike says, clearly still amazed by the whole thing. “Since we're on the front page of the Kickstarter website, all these journalists and podcasters who were trolling Kickstarter for what's new and cool asked us if they could feature our work. It was a level of attention we would have otherwise never had. It was very surreal.”

Curious Quail met their Kickstarter goal of six thousand dollars in just eight days, going on to raise nearly ten thousand by the end of the campaign. The money came in from everywhere, but especially from the Internet. Unbeknownst to the band, they had been building quite the grass roots following in cyberspace, one that was happy to turn out their pockets to support a band they had grown to love. “We had people that we never met, people from across the country finding our project and saying 'Hey, I like this! Let's back it.' When it came to sending out the awards and everything...we were like, all right: who knows this person and who knows this person? And there were groups of people where we were all, none of us knows these people.” A smile plays on Mike's face. “It was encouraging, and it was also kind of scary.”

The pressure got even greater when the money started to run out, despite having raised nearly double what they had planned for. “We went way over on the recording,” Mike says, chagrined. “For a while, I was like, oh shit: are we actually going to get this done? I mixed the record myself, which wasn't in our initial plan at all. We had a couple of different people we were tapping for the music video, one of the [Kickstarter] stretch goals. We didn't have the money for that, so Joey hand-animated the entire damned thing.”

The video for the song 'Instant Gratification,' After The Lights Failed's first single, looks as incredible as the record sounds, providing a perfect visual accompaniment for the album's grand unveiling of an imaginary apocalypse. Using little more than pencils and markers, some drum hardware, and his iPhone, Joey created a stunning work of art in true, Silicon Valley guerrilla fashion. Michel Gondry would be proud. Equally incredible is the behind-the-scenes documentary that was released shortly after the album, offering a rare, intimate glimpse into Curious Quail's process. (You can find the documentary at the bottom of the article.) It was a long shot, but one that paid off big time. And it almost didn't happen.

“The documentary...was way beyond what we could afford, so [the videographer] shot two days at the studio, and one follow up day,” Mike relates. “Everything else from the documentary was shot on iPhones by us, and Abe put the entire thing together. The fact that he was able to do all that with all of the different footage is just incredible. Everyone pulled their weight to make this thing, and I think we did a pretty rad job.”

Cover art by Joey for After The Lights Failed.
An enormously successful CD release followed, and the band continued to play regularly throughout the Bay Area, drawing larger and larger crowds. Before long, BFD 2015 appeared on their radar, and of course, they were interested in a repeat performance. Only this time, they didn't even need to ask. “I was doing my thing, and I just looked down and saw a tweet from [Live105's] Aaron Axelson,” Mike says. “It was like, we'd like to welcome San Jose's very own Curious Quail to play LIVE105's BFD this year. The headliners hadn't even been announced yet. So we knew we were playing BFD before there was a date set.” He laughs. “We had no say in that whatsoever.”

“It sort of kicked everybody's ass into high gear,” he continued. “We had been already planning a summer tour...and luckily [BFD] was just close enough to where it didn't conflict.” It seems redundant to say that things had been progressing fairly rapidly for Curious Quail over the previous year, but the band hadn't seemed to realize just how much. It wasn't until Abe bowed out of the band that saw just how big the stakes were getting.

“[Abe's] sort of become by proxy to the band our video guy and our graphic designer...he wanted to do all of that, but he didn't have the time to play anymore.” With so much happening just around the corner, his departure was a profound disappointment, and a dangerous one for the band's future. “He was like, I kind of have too much going on, and I love you guys, but...he couldn't be the guitarist and keyboardist. So we were trying to figure out what to do, and along comes Joyce.”

Joyce is one of the Bay Area's hardest working and prolific musicians, playing in several high-profile local bands, maintaining several sponsorships, and working as columnist for Guitar Player magazine. Years before, she had played in well-known local band called My Monster with Joey, and while the two of them had remained close over the years, asking her to join the band seemed out of the question given her busy schedule.

“Joey and I looked at each other and said, it's a damned shame Joyce has too much on her plate, because she'd be perfect for this,” Mike recalls. “Then he happened to have dinner with her that night or the night after along with some of the My Monster people, and when she found out, she was like, wait: you guys are looking for a guitarist? Yeah, I totally want to join your band!”

There's no denying Mike's sense of pride in 'his people' at this point. They are all incredibly talented, and their dedication to the band appears absolute. “It's neat for me to be able to say that, musically speaking, I'm the least capable in the band at any given moment. Everyone else in the band is a music teacher. I'm the only person in the band that actually doesn't know any music theory.” While he's never let his lack of musical education hold him back, he's confident in the knowledge that their talent will carry his message much farther than he ever could alone. “I'll be writing stuff down, and they'll be all, okay, we can play a this over that, it's in this mode and blah, blah, blah...” He laughs. “I'm like, cool! You do that!”

Joyce raises the game for CQ big time. (Mike Shirley-Donnelly)
Joyce quickly prepared herself for BFD and for the tour, and knocked both out of the park by all accounts. It was during this time that Curious Quail receiving yet another outstanding opportunity, the very one that prompted this story: a headlining slot at the Great American Music Hall. And like their last BFD show, it was fated to happen whether they liked it or not. “We were approached to play Great American Music Hall, and we said absolutely,” Mike recounted. “We were getting dangerously close to the show...and then Great American Music Hall was like hey, we need to put up the ticket site. So they found our tour poster, and said okay, I guess you're the headliner and put us up at the top. I still don't believe it.”

“This is the biggest show we have ever play, or will have ever played,” he continues. “I keep telling people about the show, and they're like well, you guys played BFD, isn't that a big deal? Of course it is, but while Shoreline's capacity is twenty four thousand people, that doesn't mean you're playing to twenty four thousand people. This is a legendary music venue in the middle of San Francisco with us at the top of the marquee. It's incredible.”

*          *          *

The true power of live music lies in its ability to suspend time. When fully harnessed by a group of competent, dedicated musicians guided by a truly gifted composer, the results are more than incredible. They're spellbinding.

Curious Quail took the stage like they've been waiting for this moment their whole lives: slowly, reverently, fully aware of the implications the night would have on their entire future. The crowd was cheering almost in a state of suspended animation as they took to their instruments. They hardly dared to breathe it seemed, studiously avoiding eye contact with the crowd, as if by making it the spell might be broken. Then, almost as one, they turned to face the crowd, and Mike quietly spoke into the microphone: “Hello...we're Curious Quail.”

Time snapped back into focus, and the cheering surged ever louder as they broke into the title track from After The Lights Failed. But by the time Mike and Erin began to sing the opening lyrics, all was pressured stillness once again. The people weren't here just for the music; they were here for the story. Mike's story. And all this happened in no more than the span of a several seconds.

The whole show went on like that. It was like the Great American Music Hall was performing right along with the band, breathing in time to the rise and fall of the music: the audience was completely enraptured, singing and dancing their hearts out to every song, joyously lost on a grand musical journey. The band strode the stage like troubadours from outside of time, regaling us with tales of tomorrow's yesterdays. That night, Curious Quail became something every band strives to be: larger than life. Their music soared into the rafters, filling the hall with ceremony and substance, making excellent company with so many of the greats that come there before them.

Alan delivers an epic violin solo at the Great American Music Hall. (La Vie En Photos)

There was a moment during the song 'Reconstruction' where Mike passionately implored the crowd: “Can you feel it, can you feel it/in your bones?” I'll never know who decided to let loose the beach balls into the crowd right then, but two things are certain: the timing was immaculate, and it was a stroke of genius. They lazily fell from the rafters in graceful, spinning arcs, tiny planets bouncing every which way off the hands of the now thoroughly ecstatic audience. In another moment of suspended animation, I caught a glimpse of a young girl during a sudden parting of the crowd, arms outstretched over a head thrown back in glee as she jumped to catch a beach ball. The light caught her face, and in that frozen instant, I caught a starry glistening of tears against her broad, shining smile. She was exuberant. I blinked, and felt the moisture. So was I.

For some time now, Curious Quail has maintained a tradition of closing every headlining performance with a cover song, which they invite the other bands to come on stage and perform with them. As Mike began to strum the opening chords of The Pixies' “Where Is My Mind,” an indie classic perfectly suited to Curious Quail's repertoire, the crowd erupted once again. It was a perfect denouement to the blissful intensity of their show: the members of the other bands howled along with Quail and the audience with tremendous abandon, grabbing hands and hugs and dancing as if their lives depended on it. They left the crown hungry for more, yet wanting for nothing. It was incredible. Maybe even legendary.

*          *          *

I caught up with Mike in an email about a month after the show. He's been busy: the band has moved into a new studio, while at the same time making arrangements to play a huge underground music festival in Colorado next month. (Editor’s Note: this gig fell through, but Quail just gave a command performance at Slim’s in San Francisco recently, one that more than makes up for the loss.) Mike is also helping to spearhead the first FreqFestNorCal, a large chiptune festival from LA where Curious Quail is a fan favorite, here in San Jose. I asked him how his perspective had changed on Quail's evolution since the show. He tells me that moment already feels so far behind him, his eyes roaming toward yet another horizon. “It's all been a series of building blocks, steps to a larger thing, y'know? BFD2013 to City Lights, the Kickstarter to the CD release...I want to keep reaching for new things.” For Mike and the members of Curious Quail, it seems, music and life will always be a migration. “This is the next level, we've arrived. Now let's keep moving.”