Interview, Preview

Escaping Pavement, Road Warrior

By Kevin Alan Lamb

Life is funny, and I think we all would prefer a comedy than a tragedy. I find myself writing these words at the very place I met Aaron Markovitz, so many years ago. I’ve always enjoyed writing from M-Brew in Ferndale, where Aaron was working at the time. It has an Up North vibe with its interior cedar finish, fireplace, and of course the good humans who manage it, giving it a pulse. Our environment plays a pivotal role on the way we think and feel, creating the impulse to flee to or from our temporary surroundings. In many ways, this place helps me temporarily escape the pavement which encapsulates it, and most of Ferndale.

When I first met Aaron I wasn’t familiar with his band, but I knew I liked him because he is a good, kind, and warm person. Little did I know what the man could do when armed with his stringed-weapon of choice, and of course, his delightful partner in shine, Emily Burns. Together, they are best friends, songwriters, Road Warriors, and romantics who marvel the majesty of nature while Escaping Pavement.

If we are not mindful of our environment, and more specifically, our physical, emotional, and spiritual response to it, energy is drained while growing to be inefficient in our pursuit of our true, or divine path. There was a time not so long ago where lives unfolded outside of buildings, away from city streets, alongside streams, beneath trees, and under stars. Escaping Pavement is founded upon this spirit, taking each one of us on a journey over the river and through the woods to connect with our soul and deposit a piece of their own.

Making music with the help of their acoustic instruments and the volume of their voice connects them with the earth, which they both adore so dearly. For them, it feels inline with their musical-souls, which prompts the question, what is the soul if not musical? Their performances are intimate and captivating, forging a lasting bond between all those who bathe in their sound.

Their latest creation, Road Warrior, is the product of a journey that began in December of 2017. It showcases some of their best work, featuring five tracks, including two of their most popular “White Pines” and “Give Me A Break.” The album cover depicts them doing what enjoy most, Escaping Pavement in their 1985, Class C, Jayco RV.

Join us on March 22 for a special performance featuring a full band for the official Road Warrior album release at The Parliament Room at Otus Supply. Joined by special guests The Barbarossa Brothers, we invite you to examine your environment, seek solace in sound, and start devising your map to escape pavement sometime soon.

Can you walk us through some of the highs and lows from the two years you spent together on the cruise ship covering top 40’s hits for baby-boomers?

We always say that we wouldn’t trade the experience for the world but you couldn’t pay us enough to do it again. haha. You couldn’t beat the traveling. We got to see a good portion of the world while being paid a salary to do so which was amazing. There were two huge downsides to working on a cruise ship and one was the fact that no matter how long we were on the ship, I (Emily) couldn’t get sea legs and was therefore taking seasick pills everyday. It didn’t seem like the healthiest thing to do. I imagine they’re not meant for long term use. The other downside was that in our situation, we had four band members and we were looked at and considered as a whole by our superiors (managers, music directors, etc). It was hard to find people that were able to leave home for such a long period of time so two times we ended up with band members who put us in the situation of having to fire them, or the whole band was going to be fired, because of their actions. It was pretty stressful to say the least!

Your new album is titled Road Warrior, what’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned on the road, and the circumstances which prompted it?

You learn so many lessons on the road! I’d say the biggest lessons are expect the unexpected and be flexible! And I guess those really go hand-in-hand. No matter how much planning, how much prepping, checking, and double-checking you do, something will always go wrong. And we don’t see that as a negative viewpoint. We see that as being realistic and better equipped to deal with the inevitable. I feel it takes some of the stress and therefore some of the power out of an undesirable situation. In our experience, we’ve noticed that the more flexible we are, the better things will go overall and it sometimes even creates the opportunity to turn a “bad” situation, into a good one. We’ve driven across the country to play shows that were ruined by sound people, we’ve had people tell us the day before we were supposed to play at their venue that they completely forgot about our show/booking, we’ve had equipment stolen; I could go on and on but throughout all of that, looking for the silver lining and focusing on that has always made everything so much better. And after time passes, it makes the bad memories less clear and harder to remember while the good ones stay firmly in place.   

The road is a beautiful and volatile place, filled with variables beyond your control, often taking you from the ones you love. Speak to the comfort that experiencing it together (romantically intertwined) offers.  

It’s great because we have so much in common so it’s easy to agree on what we want to do, where we want to stay, what we want to eat, we know each other’s temperaments/breaking points really well, etc; all of this makes it much easier and more fun to be on the road together. Plus, it can be like being on a constant vacation with your significant other-definitely not a bad thing! We always know that if we’re near a National Park, both of us will want to go-even if we only have a short amount of time to explore it-we don’t care. We still go! Aaron always knows that if we’re hiking somewhere and he suddenly doesn’t hear me near him, it’s because I’ve stopped to take the millionth picture on that hike. In the spirit of that very fact, I started an Instagram hashtag of  #AaronwalkingawayfrommeinNationalParks. There are already quite a few photos in the series! haha….

Y’all are two of the sweetest, most genuine people I’ve met. A smile and warmth comes over me just thinking about all the times we stood next to each other at a show at Otus. Can you offer some examples where blessings were bestowed on you in music because you’re good people?

You’re too kind! You saying that makes us smile. It’s hard to say where being genuine has truly paid off, directly, but we feel that some of the musical opportunities that have been presented to us, certainly wouldn’t have happened if we were not kind people. We’re definitely big believers in karma and the fact that you get back what you put out into the world. A big part of what we’ve been doing over the last two years is house concerts where people will literally invite you into their home to perform, they feed you, and put you up for the night. I’d say that if we weren’t nice people, that would’ve been a really hard thing to become so deeply immersed in. It requires this huge amount of trust from both parties. It’s overall proved to be a really rewarding experience by allowing us to connect on a deeper level with people from all around the country. Not to mention in really goes a long way into restoring your faith in humanity and the inherent goodness of people. We’ve gotten to see and stay in some insanely beautiful homes, in gorgeous settings, in all different areas of the country. Sure beats the hell out of a hotel! And we’ve also gotten to meet some really cool, interesting people from all walks of life. We feel fortunate that that experience, has really helped broaden our life-view and create more understanding and empathy towards everything else.

Who are some people you’d like to show some love for all the support they continue to provide?

There are so many! Again, this is an area where we feel really fortunate that we do have people offering unending support because without it, there are many times where we could’ve given in to hardship and called it quits with music. We feel 20 Front Street has been really instrumental (all puns intended) in helping us get more recognition in the indie music scene. It all started with the Song in the Dirt video they had us do and from there, our relationship with them blossomed immensely. They always acquiesce to hearing my crazy ideas for shows and have been tireless supporters/advocates for us and our music. And their team is one of the best around. River’s Edge Brewing Co. in Milford is another place that has been so good to us over the years and has helped to broaden not only our fanbase, but also our musical world by introducing us to other musicians, that we now consider close friends. Number-one-indie-music-fan, Herbie Hughes has also been a huge advocate for our music ever since we met about three or four years ago now! He’s the sweetest guy in the world and is such a supporter of artists. If that whole thing about going to live concerts will add years to your life is true, Herbie is going to live till he’s about 300 years old. Andy Reed of Reed Recording Company is someone who we’ve come to know more recently but he’s quickly become a good friend and without his help and support, we wouldn’t even be releasing a new recording right now so a HUGE thank you is in order to him. There are so many more people that have been so good to us. I wish I could list them all but it would literally be SO long. [laughing]

Walk us through the album. How many tracks? Where did you record? When did you start working on it? When did you finish? What are some highlights? What are a few significant life experiences that transpired within the timeframe of its creation?

Road Warrior consists of 5 tracks; 4 originals and 1 cover, that were recorded at Reed Recording Studios in Bay City, MI. We started working on the EP in Dec of 2017 (as crazy as that sounds…)! Our touring schedule in 2018 was so hectic that we never really had time to book a bunch of recording days all in a row so it was done in one-day trips, here and there, across the first seven months of 2018. And again, our touring schedule was so hectic for the rest of 2018 that it was hard to find the time to sit down and plan-out/schedule a new release so we had to sit on the finished recording for awhile. We definitely feel this EP has some of our best work on it.

For me personally, I feel it has my best vocal work I’ve ever done on it which I am proud of and it also has two of our most popular songs on it, “White Pines” and “Give Me A Break.” One significant life experience that greatly influenced the whole EP, oddly enough, was the purchase of our 1985, Class C, Jayco RV. Which has been a curse and a blessing at times. This is why an RV is featured in the artwork of the EP. We completely gutted and re-did the inside of it, installed a composting toilet (which is AWESOME- by the way), and made it more friendly for things like instrument storage so it’s really tailored to our liking. During this timeframe we also were chosen to be official showcase artists at two regional Folk Alliance conferences and at the Listening Room Network Festival. That was the first time anything like that happened for us so it went a long way to improving our self-confidence and validating our decision to make music a full-time endeavor.

Where was the open mic hosted that you met?

Funnily enough, we met at a place called Bonzai Bob’s that was in Lake Orion. It was located in the building that used to be right across the street from where 20 Front St is now and the building has since been torn down and turned into a parking lot.

Simplicity, rejuvenation, and elegant are a few words used to describe your music. Talk about some of the things you’re able to achieve, create, and produce in your sound as a result of playing unplugged?

We’ve always felt there is something so earthy about creating music simply with acoustic instruments and voices. It has always seemed to be inline with our musical-souls. Some of our favorite performances we’ve ever done have required no sound system at all; or simply just a single condenser mic that is picking up the sound of both of our instruments and both of our voices. It all adds a certain intimacy to the performance that we feel has more of the potential to draw an audience in and hold them there than when the sound is being reproduced through speakers. It’s incredibly enjoyable and we feel it makes it easier for us to feed off of an audience and it’s that give and take that makes for some really fun shows.

What are a few of your favorite towns, rooms, coffee shops, and or hikes you’ve discovered while Escaping Pavement?

One that tops the list is Viroqua, WI. We went there to play at a place called Driftless Books and Music. Driftless is a huge, old, used book store that’s inside of what I believe was once a tobacco drying plant and they host concerts almost nightly when they’re open. They close in the winter because there’s no heat! But they have great roots-music artist there on a regular basis and part of the deal is that you get to pick out books from the store! I absolutely loved playing amongst all of the incredible books and getting to spend a couple of hours rifling through all of them looking for hidden gems which I think I found! Driftless also has a great community radio station, an awesome coffee shop (kickapoo), and a really great food co-op. Totally our kind of town!

The list of hikes we’ve done that we loved is endless but there are definitely a few that were spectacular. The Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon that takes you down into the canyon after dropping about 800 ft across switchbacks, is really something to behold. You get this stark contrast of bright orange rock walls, deep blue sky, and the occasional coniferous tree dotting the two and you immediately feel like you’re not on this earth. It’s so wild. And that’s all you can see when you’re down in the canyon until you walk a ways and come out to a clearing. We also went to this place in Westcliffe, CO last year called Bishop’s Castle. It was like an Edward Scissorhands-esque castle in the Rocky Mountains. So cool. Google it! Again, so many more places we could gush about for hours but those are three from last year that really stand out.

Who is your dream collaboration?

T-Bone Burnett. Without a doubt! The people he has worked with and helped bring to light, continually amazes us. We’ve loved so many of the artists he has produced and the albums he has helped create. From Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers, to the incredible Raising Sand with Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, to the obvious ties with O’Brother, Where Art Thou?, we feel it’s pretty safe to say, the guy will go down in history as one of the most important producers/musicians, to ever live. There is this amazing vibe and sound that is his signature stamp but in the same sense it seems to be incredibly versatile and almost chameleon-like. We would die happy people if we were afforded the opportunity to work with such an amazing person.

What do people need to know about your upcoming album release at Otus Supply?

It’s going to be a full band show! Most people that know us know that when we perform, it’s just the two of us and occasionally us with our upright bassist, Kosta Kapellas. But for the release, we’ll be adding in Kosta on upright and Loren Kranz from the Barbarossa Brothers on drums so it’ll be super special. Those two are killer musicians. We’ll also have some special guests and the Barbarossa Brothers will be opening the show as a duo. If you haven’t checked them out, they’re pretty awesome! Also, we’re going to have our friends from Bees in The D there as we’re making a collaborative, “White Pines” candle made with their beeswax and a blend of coconut and essential oils. They have a great company that is helping out the bee population immensely which is really important so we’re glad to be making a product that will give back to their such a wonderful cause.

What does each of you love most about the other?

Emily: I think it’s the fact that Aaron is my best friend.  We’ve been through so much together and we’ve grown so much together. It’s an amazing thing to think about what our lives were like when we first became a couple (14 years ago) and where we are now. I’m always looking to improve myself and my life and I feel fortunate that I have a partner that chooses to grow with me (or is tolerant of it-haha)Aaron: Emily’s un-ending will power and determination. And also the fact that she, too, is my best friend. It’s pretty incredible to get to do what we do, together. I feel extremely lucky to have a musical partner that is also my significant other.

Just in case you were listening for one, This Is A Good Sound.

Grab a ticket! Don’t be selfish take two. One for you, and one to share.

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