Your New Norman Rockwell: A Night with Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage

by • July 2, 2017

Micah Schnabel walks into the venue unassumingly. He’s carrying a guitar, looking about for a spot to set it down. I am setting up to record an episode of The Marinade with Jason Earle. I Should have arrived twenty minutes ago but let life get in the way.

Schnabel, true to his reputation, is gracious and patient as I accost him and begin setting up for our conversation. The technology is not cooperating, which is the story of my life. He empathizes. Schnabel fills the gap by asking earnest questions about my day while I try to gather myself into something resembling what was advertised. What did I do earlier today? How long have I been recording the podcast?

My fingers fumble through the setup. Micah Schnabel just released a brilliant piece of art called Your New Norman Rockwell. The record is a commentary on our anxieties as a country, a bit of therapy for his tortured mind, an affirmation that we are all a mess but not alone. It is a Micah Schnabel record to be sure yet these tunes go in a different direction. Schnabel tells me he finally quit trying to keep up with other songwriters and started doing what makes sense to him.

Schnabel goes to work every day. He and his partner get up and start creating. She is an artist adroit in many mediums. They are a beautiful team. Schnabel throws many of his own creations in the recycle bin. I wish I had a magic chute that funneled his castaways onto my own writing desk so I could dissect the process. 

My audio is still far from dialed in. I tested it yesterday. Everything was perfect. Now I’m sitting here with a professional whose latest record thoughtfully took on the plight of America’s “rural slums” and I can’t get my Mac to communicate with my microphone. The scene is the definition of first world anxiety. 

Schanbel seems unfazed. He would have every right to be frustrated. He showed up on time and ready to work. You don’t get that all the time in this business.

From almost the beginning of the conversation, we talk about the anxieties I just outlined and the bullshit that holds us back from being our best selves. There are lighter topics. He mentions the creativity of Ozzie Smith and Tony Gwynn, two of the greatest baseball players ever. I counter that he just named two of the hardest working baseball players ever. His choices are an unexpected window into his process.

We take thirty minutes to get to white privilege but two (hopefully) conscious white guys have an imperative to get there at some point in every conversation today. Thinking, caring people need to talk about race and class with increasing frequency and volume. Schnabel and I are on a meandering, messy journey that feels surprisingly natural. Schnabel is every bit as authentic and thoughtful as he sounds on record, and way less depressed. 

I can’t stop obsessing about the audio. Is it working? He’s giving me a feast of creative insight. He’s opening up about the creative process and the anxieties fueling it.

Schnabel grew up going to Catholic school. We bond over “the guilties,” the feeling you did something wrong despite no supporting evidence. 

Our conversation is what you want from a good friend. He challenges the notion that where we are from should define us. We each open up about our fears and concerns, talk about our partners in life. Compliments are exchanged.

We part for a couple of hours. Schnabel goes on at 10:00 and needs to get some food. I need to wander and process why I’m fortunate enough to talk with people like this. 

Thunder begins to roll outside. People are hovering near the merch table. Schnabel’s partner Vanessa Jean Speckman has her gorgeous, diverse art displayed. Schnabel’s records are for sale. A lot of folks want a piece. Micah and Vanessa greet all comers like they matter, and clearly they do. The bar fills with people who look like they are headed to a Drive-by Truckers show. Patrons are talking Lucero, American Aquarium, and Micah’s band Two Cow Garage. These are my people.

The opener is local. His tunes are pretty good and he is very self-conscious. His billing is appropriate. Schnabel looks on supportively. The room is swelling. We are at Lil’ Indies. Schnabel is up at around 10:00. Once again, he’s on time and ready to get to work.

Poetically, the sound is a mess. There is a buzz in the speakers and his vocal is unrecognizable. We wait patiently as someone from Will’s Pub comes over to help with the audio. The hiccup is a tiny blip in an otherwise ideal evening, but it is the kind of thing that could completely throw off a less seasoned professional.

Schnabel seems undeterred. He plays the entire brilliant new record during his all-too-short set. The tunes are affecting and everyone in the room is craving them. There is an extended family sitting at a Last-Supper-like table right in front of the stage. Schnabel takes a couple of requests at the end of his set. The family calls out their desire. The tune builds. Physical proximity shrinks.

The family has formed a rugby scrum around Schnabel. He is totally obscured by this passionate wall of meat blissfully reveling in their tune. Schnabel and I talked about this earlier. Somebody may be obsessed with a tune you wrote forever ago, maybe even a tune you don’t necessarily like anymore. Whether this song fits said description is inconsequential. Schnabel could be playing “Row, row, row your boat” and the energy would carry the day. 

Micah Schnabel is an artist and gentleman of the finest sort. His presence and music make the audience better for having had the experience

You can buy Micah Schnabel’s music on his bandcamp site, and Vanessa Jean Speckman’s work on her Etsy page. Follow Shows I Go To (@showsigoto) and The Marinade with Jason Earle (@marinadepodcast) to catch this other monthly podcast episodes. Look for episode one, a conversation with BJ Barham of American Aquarium, to be released Friday, July 28th, 2017.

Micah Schnabel Live Review by Jason Earle.

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