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Ten Years as Girlyman

There are a lot of dates that we could conceivably use to celebrated the anniversary of Girlyman . There’s the date that we first performed under the name “Girlyman” (Feb. 3, 2002), the date we first arranged “Montpelier” for three voices in a car together (Aug. 1, 2001), the date Doris & Ty met (Sept. 1981). But the date that we most often use is the date that we scheduled our first rehearsal: Sep. 11, 2001.

Doris, Ty and I were living in an apartment on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. Doris had a therapy appointment in Manhattan that morning, and Ty and I spent much of the early morning complaining about how annoying the music business was (ignoring the blaring sirens of fire trucks outside). We lived through that day unscathed, but what happened put us in a state of shock that lasted for months. In New York, there were anthrax scares and constant rumors of further terrorist attacks. We had a feeling that any day could truly be our last on on Earth. And there was an overriding feeling of helplessness – we couldn’t really help anyone who had died or lost a loved one on that day. It seemed there was nothing we could do to prevent either another terrorist attack or the belligerent foreign policy our nation was beginning to pursue. In a state of not feeling safe and not knowing what we could do to help, we just started to make music together.

As we’ve mentioned in some of our previous posts, our next CD will be titled Supernova. A supernova is a dying star, a giant explosion that can outshine an entire galaxy before fading away into darkness. A brilliantly traumatic event that incinerates everything nearby, it also emits shock waves and materials that form the basis for new stars and planets. That day of our first scheduled rehearsal was deeply traumatic, and the flag-waving foreign invasions that occurred over the next few years made it feel worse. But the shock of these events pushed us to make the music we do – the music that we want to hear. It also gave us material to work with (e.g., “Amaze Me”).

A little over 9 years later, when Doris was diagnosed with leukemia, I once again found myself feeling shocked and helpless, not knowing if we’d ever play another show together again. This year has been one of shock, relief, and reevaluations. Is touring what we want to continue doing? Can we even do it? We know that we want to make music together, but, as we knew on September 11 ten years ago, things will be different.

Last week (almost 10 years later to the day), Doris found out she’s in full molecular response (i.e., in remission). And 21 million light years away in the Pinwheel galaxy, a small white dwarf star (SN 2011fe) has burst into a type 1a supernova. For now, we’ll keep on keeping on, continuing to make the music we want to hear in the world.

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Making “Supernova”: The band heads west, things get quiet

After a packed week of recording, Girlyman loaded up the van and headed west to teach at the Rocky Mountain Song School.  At some point before they left Nate pressed the save button, putting all sound tracks into some electronic vault. “Supernova” is taking shape.  Here’s a progress board from early in the week.  The band likes a little mystery to surround what songs will be recorded (I’m not sure they even know), so this is all I’ll show.  As for the rest of the album, we’ll just have to wait.

A little teaser

Check back for more updates when the band returns from the road later this month.

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Making “Supernova”: Girlyman goes back into the closet(s)

The recording of Girlyman’s new studio album “Supernova” continues, taking over much of Nate’s house.  He’s generously removed his hanging clothes and blocked off easy access to his washer-dryer in order to convert his closets into sound booths.

Doris and her banjo find room

For this album, the band is shooting for a looser, “live” sound, which means recording instruments at the same time, rather than one at a time.  To prevent microphone “bleedthrough”, they need to have their own spaces.  Enter the closets.  In order for the music to come out, everyone needs to go back in.  Laundry can wait.

Can you find the washer-dryer?


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Welcome, the Supernova

It’s decided!  The next Girlyman studio album will be named “Supernova.”  Even better, recording has begun in Nate’s home studio.  That means instrument cases lie about, microphones hang from odd places, and dogs must wait to be walked until the band lays down a good track.  I’ll be documenting the process, so check back here to find out how the Girlymagic is unfolding.  After an intense year of very human surprises, and buoyed by the love and gratitude that carried them through, the band is ready to bring new music into the world.

A dog waits

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Homeward Bound #girlytour

All good things must come to an end, even Girlyman mini-tours. The band, their 7 string-instruments, drum kit, hardware, cymbals, tambourine, djembe, and pimped-out accordion are well on their way back to Atlanta by now. Just a quick post to thank everyone who followed the online tour diary through Ohio and Kentucky!

For those of us not lucky enough to be catching Girlyman at their next gig, in Colorado, at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, or to end up with one of JJ’s drumsticks to remember this tour by, there is always smooth Kentucky bourbon to soften the blow.

On my way out of town, I stopped for a distillery tour and bought myself a bottle to take home. For $3 extra, they even engraved it.

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Q&A WITH GIRLYMAN #girlytour

As they wrap up the tour and head home to start work on their new album, Girlyman answers your questions on touring, the song they love playing most, and more.

Q: How many instruments do you bring on tour?

According to sound tech and instrument wrangler Ary, Girlyman goes on the road with a total of: 7 string-instruments, drum kit, hardware, and cymbals, 1 accordion, 1 djembe, and 1 tambourine.

Q: Technical question: How many sets of strings/drumsticks/rods/heads do you take on tour? How often do you change or replace them? And what are your favorite brands?

For the baritone guitar, Nate changes the strings about every six months. He uses custom-sized bulk strings that he gets from

The guitars’ strings need the most frequent changing – about once a month. Ty and Doris both use long-life Elixir strings. Doris used to change her strings every two or three shows. But more often these days, she and Ty share instruments on stage, and that’s cut down on string-changes.

JJ uses Aquarian Studio-X coated drum heads, and changes them every 6-9 months. Her drumsticks are Lightening Rod. And she replaced one of them just today, after she accidentally flung a stick into the audience at last night’s Louisville show — and some lucky fan got a souvenir. JJ uses Blaststicks and Regal Tip Jazz brushes. They last about 6 months, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Q: Who drives? Does the tour van have assigned seats?

It’s like a lot of chores: whoever wants to, or objects the least, can drive. As for where to sit — If you’re feeling social or just want to take in the view, you can sit in the front of the van. If privacy or quiet is more your speed, the back, or up in the way-back loft, is the way to go.

Q: Do you always appear in the same order on stage, from (the band’s) left to right: Nate–> Ty–> Doris?

JJ moves around from show to show, because her position depends on how the stage is set up. But Nate, Doris, and Ty have always appeared in the same order on stage. Except for once, in Canada.

Q: By the way, what’s your sign?

Nate – Aries

Ty- Cancer

Doris – Sagittarius

JJ- Cancer

Q: What’s been your favorite new song to play on this tour?

Ty, Doris, Nate and JJ agree, it’s “Michelangelo.”

Q: What kind of music do you listen to, other than your own, when you’re on tour?

Music is pretty much out of the question in the van, because the engine is so loud. Unless they listen with headphones on their iPods. The one thing they listen to together is a vocal warm-up tape. It’s a recording of a voice lesson that Ty took back in 2002, when the band was just getting started. They use it to warm up in the van on the way to every show.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re not on tour?

Most of the band members say they sometimes find they listen to surprisingly little music in their off time. But JJ has a ready list of artists whose new albums she’s looking forward to hearing, including Edie Carey, The Weepies, Vienna Teng, Paper Raincoat, and Meg Hutchinson.

Q: Do you have a pre-show ritual?

Vocal warmup, group huddle, and setting intentions for the show.

Q: Do fans give you presents?

Just last night, a fan brought the band these amazing cupcakes:


Q: Any packing advice for the rest of us? One thing you never go on tour without?

Almost anything you forget can be borrowed or bought. But the things you’d be in big trouble without are listed in this useful little mnemonic tune that Nate sings when it’s time to pack up and leave for the next town:

Do you have your wallet?/Do you have your keys?/Do you have your cell phone and your computer?/Do you have your chargers for those last two things?… And/Do you have your toiletry bag?

Q: Last question. What would you do for a living if you weren’t a musician?

Nate – Cinematographer

Ty – Novelist

Doris – Pastry chef, and open a bakery called “Effin Good Bakery”

JJ – Either a neuroscientist or an astronaut

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Sometimes WE take pictures of YOU! #girlytour

Ty took these on Friday night at the Cain Park show in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

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Driving Mr. Borofsky #girlytour

So we’re three days in, and I’m learning pretty quickly that touring is 15% rockstar, 85% driving. I’ve been driving in my car behind the van, sort of Mama duck/duckling style…let me tell you, these guys do a lot of driving. Today’s route was 6 hours – from Cleveland, Ohio, to the show in Louisville, Kentucky.

This morning when the van got ready to leave the hotel, Nate called shotgun in my car. I drove the whole way — a very willing Morgan Freeman to Nate’s Miss Daisy. So far, this little tour diary hasn’t focused much on Nate, and this gave me a chance to spend some time with him.

We talked about a lot of things, and a lot of it was me asking all kinds of questions. I asked him about what makes a good show?* Do you like to be the one driving?** Do you like to look for the regional cuisine?*** Are you able to nap on the road?**** Finally, most important, what do you want for lunch?

We were hungry.

At this point we were driving into Cincinnati. This led to some quick Yelping on the iPhone. We found Vietnamese sandwiches at a place called Findlay Market:

It was crowded.


* A good show is different every single night. And the difference isn’t where it is or whether it sells out. It’s about the energy he brings to it, and being in the moment every time.

** If the driving is challenging, like if the weather is bad, sign him up – then he likes to drive. But they all take turns.

*** Oh yeah. New Mexico: tamales. Alabama: barbeque. New Orleans is po-boy country. And in San Francisco, it’s all about the Mission-style burrito.

**** Not till he got this hat. Now, napping is no problem.


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Not M&M’s, Mirrors #girlytour

Back in its heyday, Van Halen insisted the venues they played at provided a bowl of M&M’s – no brown ones.

But all Girlyman really wants is a good mirror.

Doris told me yesterday: “A mirror. That’s all we ask for, really — a mirror!”

Ideally, they really need a few mirrors.

It’s like a bunch of siblings — and their friends (Coyote Grace – they also have to get ready to go on stage). They’re all getting ready to go out. And it’s date night.

That’s no good. There is makeup to put on, glitter to apply, neckties to tie, and maybe a hat to try out. Everybody needs a little space to make the magic happen.








Maybe a hat

Tonight’s show is at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. The green room here is a good-old-fashioned theater dressing room, with counters you can sit at, big, bright light bulbs, and long mirrors running horizontally along the room. I’m sitting in this room right now, writing this, listening to show through the floorboards and the sold-out crowd going wild for Girlyman’s  new song “Michelangelo.

This was the scene up here earlier, before the band took the stage tonight.

The result: Rockstars.


Thanks to everyone who’s posted questions! On Sunday, I’m riding along in the van to Lexington, and Ty, Nate, JJ, and Doris and I are going to play 20 Questions. If you’ve been shy about posting questions, there’s still time!

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Hello, Ohio! #girlytour

Met up with the band at Adelphia Music Hall in Marietta, Ohio, two hours before tonight’s show.

At the two-hour mark, Girlyman’s minds are on dinner and soundchecking. Not necessarily in that order of importance.

Though dinner came first: in the green room, Ty, Doris, and JJ passed what became several communal plates around the table.

“Try this.” “What did you get?” “Can I have half?” “Here, finish this.”

Doris tried what Ty ordered. JJ polished off a quarter of Doris’s burger. And Nate finished before everybody, and sat back in a chair with a laptop, printing out the set list.

Dinner Before the ShowDownstairs, friends and opening band Coyote Grace was soundchecking their set. Nate listened in the in-ear monitor. And when he heard they were ready for Girlyman to join soundcheck (the bands are playing some songs together), dinner was over. Forks hit the plates. And Girlyman bounded downstairs to the stage.

The band heads downstairs for soundcheck

The members of Girlyman and Coyote Grace

Soundcheck with Coyote Grace

Outside the venue after soundcheck, a guy named Bill, who’s hearing Girlyman play for the first time tonight, smoked a pipe, and said he hoped the venue would allow dancing.

Dancing Bill

Would like to dance to Girlyman

This sounded like good dancing music to him.

Showtime at 8pm.

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