jumping the apex

Good to Be Back at the Mint.jpg

My son and his wife recently told me about a roller derby term called Jumping the Apex, which involves an attempt to legally shorten the distance travelled around the curve of the track by leaping over the track boundary and landing back in bounds.

I’ve been thinking about this term as a metaphor for the creative progress.

Life is a continuum and we mentally put beginnings and endings around events, as though these bookmarks are actual physical phenomena, when in fact our lives are continuously evolving. The creative process is also a continuum, yet we make actual physical advances in the process. The work evolves over time, hopefully becoming an authentic reflection of ourselves, which I have come to believe is the ultimate goal of art.

As I move through my 6th decade as a songwriter, I seem to have hit a stride with my work and achieved a competency that allows me to create with efficiency, which hopefully resonates with consistent authenticity.

I am beginning to think of this stride as my creative apex. So when I talk about jumping the apex, I mean “legally shortening the distance around the curve of the track”—taking a “shortcut” to the next creative level of my work.

While an apex is a peak, ongoing creativity does not maintain excellence if it stagnates, so there is really no choice if one wishes to stay in the game. I think the way of excellence is to move past the comfortable stride, as good as it may feel in the moment, by challenging ourselves with new, uncomfortable ideas, new players and outlets. I think by doing this, we can jump the apex.

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Our 14th album is nearing completion and we are tentatively calling it—you guessed it-- “Jumping the Apex.” This album includes a number of “classic” van Gogh Brothers roots-rock tracks including, “Judgement Day” and “Free Today,” as well as a couple of deep pop-centric songs and an REM-meets-Nirvana selection for which our friend composer Michael Levine has arranged and organized a 10-piece string section. Mark Zamcheck also rejoins us on keyboards, and other special guests abound, including Santa Davis (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh) on percussion. I hope you will look for the stride and the challenge in this body of work, and share our joy and excitement about another milestone in our now-longstanding continuum.  

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The end of September brings a return to live performances with Vincent’s Worcester on Saturday the 29th. As a precursor, I was able to see Bruno Mars in Boston and holy smokes, was he totally awe-inspiring! I also joined the incredible Game of Thrones crew (including pals MB Gordy and Cameron Stone) at the DCU Center in Worcester for a sound check before heading to Vincent’s for our show. These side trips were not only fun, but a great way to keep focused on the importance of live performance excellence— easy to take for granted, especially in smaller venues. As a result of this, our September 29th Vincent’s show was a barn-burner. Thank you MB, Cameron (and Bruno!) for reminding me how it’s done.

The end of October sees us return to the Mint LA on Monday the 29th for the Hunnypot Halloween bash with our all-star, LA-based band featuring legendary Scarlet Rivera, Michael Carey, Brian Jenkins and Jonathan Smith . MB Gordy guests on percussion and special guest sit-ins abound. Scarlet will next join James Taylor, Graham Nash, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson and others in a fete for Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday on November 4th and 5th in LA.  We are thrilled for Scarlet.

Thanksgiving weekend sees us return to Vincent’s Worcester for what looks to be our final 2018 live show. This will be a full-band show with John Sands re-joining us on drums. Stay tuned for new dates.

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Our song, “That’s What I’m Gonna Do” will be on Mayans MC, the Sons of Anarchy spin-off, on October 9th. “Gonna Do” is a track recorded in 2001 at Waltz Audio with Rob Fraboni (Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones) producing. I’ll never forget the night we recorded it with George Recile (Keith Richards, Bob Dylan) on percussion, Jay Fitzgibbons on drums, Neil Helme on bass and Paul on guitar. Fletcher was also in the studio that night and we ripped into “Gonna Do” after waiting for hours to begin recording after a long bout of debauchery in the control room that seemed like it would never end. The band was pissed about waiting so long, and the track sounds like it! I am glad to have hit my stride since then - we’ve paid our dues!

In the midst of all this we are completing tracks and mixes for “Jumping the Apex” with Dave Minehan and Dave Westner at Woolly Mammoth in Boston for a late 2018 or early 2019 release.

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I’m just thrilled with our progress as an ensemble both here and in LA. I’m looking forward to spending more time out West in the months to come and to savoring autumn here in New England. These are the most beautiful months of the year here and there’s nowhere else quite like like it.

I hope you all have an inspiring fall, and I look forward to seeing you in the weeks to come.


John Cate