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The best of times are had with friends.
 

In 2012/2013, Proof and Proving performed around Philadelphia as a three piece: Brian (me) on vocals/guitar, Justin Stevenson (One Win Choice, Man About A Horse) on mandolin, and Rene Ropac (Astpai) on bass. Though we had all first met in the early/mid-2000s via our past touring punk/hardcore bands, the three of us – all living in south philly and no longer touring at the time – coalesced over drinks, great conversations, and fun times.

5-18-2006 show with Giving Chase, Metroplex, The Gun Stays, Thru It All, and One Win Choice at Circle Thrift in Fishtown, Philadelphia

5-21-2007 show with Giving Chase, Breaking The Forth Wall, and Astpai at KSet in Zagreb, Croatia

Oct 30-Nov 1, 2009: Fest 8

As that trio, we played some great shows and made some fantastic memories before we all went our different ways – as each eventually moved out of the city.

In that time period, and as a way for us to improve our chops, we live-tracked a practice in my basement. Portions of this album are from that session, while the live tidbits are from one of the shows we played at the legendary Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar.

Last year, as I was moving around files for another recording session, I stumbled across our basement and Ray’s recordings. These recordings, which were never really meant to be an album, were too fun to not share (also, before this album, this lineup of Proof and Proving, with Justin and Rene, only ever had one song released: a cover of Sam Hall, which was on The Philly Rock Comp: Vol 2 put out by 502 South).

I look back on these times fondly, and wanted to share some of the good times I had with such good friends. As a nod to our practice space and caliber of shows, the album is affectionately titled “South Philly Basements“.

And lastly: A special thanks to our boys in Welter for, among many other things, adding gang vocals to the last track on the album!




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Before I started to take playing music very seriously, I was captivated by a quote I heard (that I later learned was attributed to Paul Stanley of Kiss): “Any song that doesn’t sound good on an acoustic guitar is not a good song“. As I grew into a musician in a day and age of MTV Unplugged, and as music became more of an important role in my life, I thought of that quote and how it works with various styles of music.

I thought that any good song could/should START on an acoustic. I even remember sometime in 2004 watching or listening to an interview with Andre 3000 talking about writing the song Hey Ya on an acoustic, further proving to me the power of writing with an acoustic guitar at the start.

As I progressed in my music career, I always wrote songs on an acoustic. For the 2000s through the early 2010s, any punk or hardcore/metal songs I wrote were on an acoustic. For me, this proved to be an effective writing tool and methodology. Tempo, accompaniment, vocal stylings – THESE are what differentiated the genre; but they could all START on an acoustic. A song wasn’t metal until it was at 220BPM with high gain on the guitar and angry shouted vocals; but take that same song and play it at 120BPM with light palm muting on an un-distorted electric guitar and softer vocals and you have indie rock gold. Of course, neither of those work if you don’t have a good song.

Although I was still playing in my post hardcore band at the time, in 2008 I decided to start to formulate the idea of what music I wanted Proof and Proving to be. In thinking through it, I realized that I wanted the music to be more, I don’t know, “timeless” than say a genre that can by commonly associated with age or period of my life (logic that is not without its flaws, I associated punk and youth; hardcore and young adulthood; indie rock with adults in denial and young adults trying to be double-counter culture; etc). I didn’t want to be any one of those genres, though I didn’t want to be excluded from them either.

Let’s shelf this idea and point-in-the-story to shift gears for a moment.

When I started to take Proof and Proving more seriously, around 2009-2010 – when my post hardcore band stopped playing out and started its still-continuing hiatus, I wanted to keep it as a solo act. I saw the difficulties of trying to coordinate multiple members’ schedules, talents, and lives; and I wanted to avoid all of it. Full disclosure, I did not say this as elegantly when I was in-the-moment of the band slowing down. Here’s a funny interview I did with a Temple University writer in October 2010 (pages 9 and 12): http://temple-news.com/files/2010/10/Oct.-12-Edition.pdf

With all of the above in mind, when I started to write albums and play out, I wanted them to be one-in-the-same. While I could play things like bass and drums on a recording, I wanted the album to sound like how I could perform it live (with the only deviations perhaps being back up vocals). Humility In The First Person was the first album where this was a conscious idea; to keep all of the songs to just an acoustic and vocals.

After some US touring, comps, smaller EPs, EU touring, split 7″, and countless cheeseburgers, it came time to write another full length album. With Proof and Proving still being a solo outfit, I mostly stuck to the same concept as I did with Humility for this next album, The Lineage Of The Recluse. I did decide that, aligning with the concept of the album, I would include others to accompany a song here or there; but for the most part nearly all songs were still acoustic and vocal centric. With two songs in particular, I decided to expand even a bit more. I had played drums, bass, acoustic, electric guitar, vocals, backing vocals, and had my extremely talent friend Michael Anticoli play grand piano. While these songs fit with the storyline of the concept album, they stood out on their own. I enjoyed working with them, but at the same time felt guilty as it broke from the mentality I set into years ago – acoustic and vocals only, since that’s all you can do live.

Fast forward to now. I realize that I was working with flawed logic. Thinking that I should leave a song acoustic-and-vocals-only because it could be perceived as style agnostic – or that I should restrict the outcome of an album by what I can perform live – is stupid. There were ideas for Humility and Lineage that I avoided because I didn’t want to add too much to shape the songs, but it really did a dis-service to the end goal, and the end piece of work.

This is what makes the next phase of Proof and Proving exciting. I give zero fucks whether or not I can perform a song live as I record it. If I record drums but don’t have a drummer at a show, no one will care, so why should I? I want to keep writing-a-good-album and performing as two items that are not mutually exclusive. I am going to use all the tools in my toolbox to make the best piece of work that I can, both with albums and with my live show.

So with all of that in mind, here is a glimpse into what’s in the works for Proof and Proving. No working title (“blah blah blah” was Maria‘s idea). All the songs were recorded on an iPad with the built-in microphone. I initially recorded these as scratch demos, but had too much fun with them and decided to share here. I’ve broke out of the limited tool set of only-acoustic-and-vocals, and in addition now use on this: mandolin, electric guitars, piano, drums, bass, and some effects that I’ve denied myself for years (tremolo, etc). Happy listening!

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Although I went to high school in an area that was no stranger to heroin, I was largely oblivious to those who used it. Any of the symptoms that I now know as tell tale signs of usage I would chalk up to being tired, or the use of some other less-demonizing narcotic. It was only around tenth grade or so that I heard the term “dirthead” in a heroin-specific identifier. Until then, I never even thought of that drug being in that town or county of Pennsylvania.

 

I have learned over the years that it’s common nature for some (such as myself) to be oblivious DURING the moment, and see only a skewed version of what’s happening; but in hindsight it can be painfully obvious. It’s something that I closely associate with logic of the black swan theory – a concept I’m intrigued about so much that I loosely wrote a song about it.

At any rate – growing up, I didn’t realize those around me who were on heroin were on it. Living in Philadelphia, on the other hand, I have learned. Though not specific to heroin, there’s the terrible skin, the skeletal frame, the glazed over look. Specific to heroin are the sways/nods – the falling asleep in place (or who knows, maybe I’m wrong now, and these are signs of other things). I’ve seen it on the streets and on my commute, though it’s usually just in a quick passing. Today was different.

My work commute is the 105-minute bookends to my work day. Going to work, this involves me walking from my house to the subway, taking the subway for four stops, walking a few blocks to the train station, taking the train for about an hour, catching a shuttle, and walking into my workplace. Very little happens on the walk to the subway and on the shuttle ride to my building. The excitement, if there is any to be had, is on the subway or the train. This morning was uneventful. A coworker who sat in front of me on the train was slightly younger than me but balding. That was the only observation I had of the morning commute.

Coming home from work I called into a meeting, read and wrote some work emails, and screwed around on Facebook for a second before arriving at 30th Street Station, one stop before mine (Suburban Station). A woman got on and was talking somewhat loudly, especially given that we were in the QuietRide car. As she sat and chatted behind me, I saw a reflection of a disheveled woman whom I wished would shut the hell up.

She continued to seemingly aimlessly talk, though I didn’t make an effort to listen in on what she was actually saying. The train moved on and approached Suburban Station before coming to a stop, as another train had yet to depart the track we were on. For some reason my ears began to focus on what the woman was saying.

She asked what appeared to be the ceiling of the train “Have you seen a blue bag? A duffle bag with straps?” She then looked around at the people in the car. I was very thankful that I was watching her through a reflection. She asked again. No one responded because it made no sense. She just got on one stop ago, then started asking if anyone had seen her bag. She then said “Wifi doesn’t make it to the second floor. You might need to take the elevator to get to it. Do you understand?”

Again, no one replied.

She sat down, and within ten seconds had fallen asleep.

Less than a minute later the train started to finally move, and I heard gasps behind me, and the conductor loudly say “MA’AM! MA’AM!”

She replied “Oh…I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. Thank you for waking me up. I didn’t want to be that person that spills all of their prescriptions on the ground.”

What I’m guessing happened was that the jolt of the train moved her, and she dumped the contents of her clear plastic bag all over the floor. Pills everywhere, small 10mg sized pills. The conductor tried to wake her to pick up her contents.

The train stopped. By this point I am standing and watching her pick up her pills and put them back into her baggie (not a prescription bottle). The doors open, and anyone who was closer to her than me nearly sprinted to get off of the train, including the conductor. As I walk up closer to her, I see that her dark sweatpants are salt-stained around her butt, a sure sign of her urinating herself at some point in the day. As I walk by her, she asks people who are still seated, “Is this the last stop?” Being mindful of my steps, I see a pill that I’m sure she will miss because of how far it rolled away from her.

I get off of the train and the conductor, whose shift just ended, is trying to explain what the conductor starting his shift is getting into. I walk up the stairwell I often talk about via social media that homeless people use as a toilet. There’s a fresh pool of urine at the bottom, but my mind is still caught up in what had happened on the train.

Tangentially, I write short pieces about the things I see on my commute. I started using a funny hashtag “#SEPTASPILLS” just for this purpose. While most of what I post on social media relates to the absurd and gross, they are parts of a larger essay I plan on writing eventually, where I plan to start to highlight the positives and interesting elements as well as the absurd. In particular, I am enormously grateful that my commute involves me walking by a polka accordion player, various violinists, a blind tenor with a beautiful voice, and many singers with acoustic guitars. While some performers are more frequent and predictable than others, I always know I’ll see at least three performers during my commute to and from work.

After getting off the train this afternoon, as I walked towards the Broad Street Line City Hall stop, I walked by a guy playing acoustic and singing. He’s newer, in that I’ve only started seeing him in the last couple months on my commute. He’s got a great voice, and plays guitar and sings with passion. Most of the guys who do this perform covers, and so does this one. Today he was playing something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, well, he’s older, so maybe he’s playing an acoustic version of a 70s or 80s song”. As I walked away from him, repeating the words of the chorus he just sang as I tried to figure out what that heck it was, I saw that he was balding too. By the time I got on to the subway, I realized that the guy was playing a Weezer song; and that the guy was very likely my age.

On my commute to work, a balding coworker is my perceived junior. After a day of work and a somber and depressing happenstance on my commute home, a balding singing guitarist is my perceived senior. I can’t help but think that I’ll see more in this once I’m further removed from the moment of it.

 

 

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Ingenuity and creativity were born out of necessity for me in my youth. Like many, my family did not have much when I was growing up, and whenever we seemingly did run into good times, they were both short lived and squandered. In fact, before my teens, I had learned how to drain the hot water tank in our house when we no longer had running water being supplied to it.

My socioeconomic status growing up was what attracted me to DIY culture, which was finely intertwined with the punk rock music scene in my area. Sure, there may have been times where I had a safety pin that was not absolutely necessary, in terms of utility or functionality, but I was a young teenager still trying to find where he fit in this world. For the most part, though, the times where I had what looked part of a punk rock uniform was actually entirely for purpose: like my blue JanSport backpack hand-me-down from my older sister, which was, indeed, falling apart, and safety pins were the only way I knew to hold it together.

[Disclaimer: This is before pop-punk, bright colored shirt Brian – a time in which the start corresponds to my friends’ and my immersion into the pop-punk/punk-ska scene. This was simultaneous to the fortune of me having my first job, which lead to my choice of thrift store and skate-brand clothing to be purchased with my own earned income. This is an entirely different story altogether. Unfortunately, the term “fruity booter” is also part of that same story.]

This ingenuity has come in handy in the nearly two decades since I first felt sheepish about needing creativity in lieu of spending money. When on tour somewhere near the east coast with my dirt poor punk/hardcore band, our guitarist, Ryan, had a handle break on his guitar case. Sure, a handle could be a $20 part, but finding a music shop that sold it, derailing a planned route and day (this was road-atlas-touring and MapQuest-touring days, not GPS-touring days), and shitting $20 is not something a DIY band member can easily do. We did, however, have a roll of duct tape, so I fashioned a guitar case handle out it. And it was not a sub-par handle, either. I put a great deal of thought into it, and found a way to make it nearly as functional and comfortable as one that could be bought for $20; all while sitting at a venue before a show. That handle finally broke in 2014 in LA: nine years and countless shows through many US tours and three or four Europe tours after my repair job; and four years after our band last played a show together.

RyanCase

Over the years, I have kept the DIY creativity and ingenuity close to me, as well as a keen eye on things like reuse, recycle, up-cycle, and waste. I keep these characteristics close out of both the habit of them as well as the consciousness of my impact on this world (which itself is a byproduct justification of growing up without).

Aside from cathartic release, I mention all of this with purpose.

You know how people attach water bottles to their backpack? The other day I saw a hipster who took a glass Smuckers jam jar and affixed it to his empty-looking messenger bag by intertwined wire. He also fashioned a metal electrical socket into it as a patch on the same bag.

16 year old Brian may have thought this hipster guy in his mid 30s was cool, innovative, and clever. “Fuck the man…AND soap!” is what I would agree with, in thought.

32 year old Brian thought he was an attention-seeking “Oh, look at me and how eco I can be” ass.

It’s slightly unnerving to see something that is born out of necessity turned upside-down into some level of fashion. Case in point: 1) If one can afford an expensive messenger bag they can likely afford a BPA-free water bottle with carabiner from a dollar store; 2) If one were concerned with reuse and not-needed extra expense, why wouldn’t they place their up-cycled jam jar inside of their empty bag?

It’s not the first time I’ve been simultaneously perplexed and angered by fashionable faux thriftiness. I see it in distressed jeans. I see it in “road worn” or “aged” or “distressed” guitars. I see it in fake vintage aged throwback tee shirts. “Pawn Shop Series” guitars. Trucker hats. A culture of pretending to be something it’s not.

Or maybe I’m overanalyzing it, and I need to lighten up. Maybe creativity, ingenuity, thriftiness – maybe it’s over?

At any rate: I can’t wait until Urban Outfitters copies this hipster’s unnecessary fashion; and the shelves of plastic faux mason jar water bottles are replaced by faux repurposed jam jar water bottles.

#UpThePunxJellies

Not Water Bottles
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