When I was growing up my family didn’t own a TV, so one year my dad rented one for the Winter Olympics.

When I was growing up my family didn’t own a TV, so one year my dad rented one for the Winter Olympics.

We got it from Frank’s TV and Repair. It looked like the kind science teachers would wheel into classrooms on days when they showed videos about the ozone depleting.

I don’t really remember watching the Olympics so much as I remember having a TV. Because honestly, it was kind of unbelievable. We were a family known for not having a TV. In a small town, that kind of thing is attached to your identity. Kids would make fun or ask questions like, Have you ever seen a movie?

Looking back, I wonder what sort of sales gymnastics my dad had to perform in order to persuade my mom to let a TV in the house. I’m pretty sure she was anti-TV because she was anti-worldly influence. With the Olympics, she let every country right into her own living room.

Actually, technically speaking, the TV was in the dining room, propped up on a wooden chair facing the living room. My guess is that my mom didn’t want to rearrange the furniture. Didn’t want to let that TV get too comfy. Didn’t want us thinking there was a chance we’d transition from a TV-renting family to a TV-owning one.

All this reminds me that the Olympics isn’t just about athletes achieving seemingly impossible feats. To me it’s also about regular folks like my dad doing some pretty impressive stunts themselves. I mean, the odds were pretty much zero that the 1980 US ice hockey team would beat the Soviet Union.

But they did.

And to get a TV past my mom and into her own living room (slash dining room), the odds for my dad were pretty much the same.

But he did.

PART OF MY PLAN

Phillip and Tim at Crowd Goes Mild.jpg

One day I found myself writing a song with Phillip Phillips and Tim Bruns, two guys whose work I’ve always admired. 

It’s an unspoken rule in Nashville cowriting that if you’re the new person, you’d better bring a decent idea to the table (it’s terrifying). I decided to lay my heart on the line with an idea I really cared about. A song about my wife that I initially thought I’d try to finish myself.

After nervously strumming my Silvertone acoustic and singing what little I had, I waited for what I’ve come to learn a lot of us songwriters wait for — laughter. Or something along the lines of, “That’s terrible…you SUCK!” (More on songwriter insecurity at a later date.)

Well, thankfully Tim and Phillip didn’t mock me. They even resonated with the idea. The thought that, often times the only “true north” we have, if we’re lucky, is a partner in life. A witness to your everyday, and you a witness to theirs.  

I’m glad I didn’t hold on to this fragment for myself, because over the next few hours (lunch break at Mitchell’s Deli) Phillip and Tim helped build it into something more complete and beautiful then it ever could have been.

On top of that, it would never have been sung and delivered the way Phillip does so perfectly on his new album Collateral.  

The song? It’s called “Part of My Plan.” Thank you, Phillip and Tim for helping put this one down on paper. And, Phillip, thanks for showing this one to the world and (side note) giving me the honor of producing it in my humble backyard studio, Crowd Goes Mild.

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Phillip at Crowd Goes Mild.jpg

Love, 

Aaron

P.S. Join the Aaron Espe Loves You Club for more posts like this and other things I think you'll dig. 

This Album Will Make You Laugh and Cry (Except Laugh)

Many of you know I came out with a new album called “Passages.” A dance/hip-hop album. Well, no. It’s actually a singer-songwriter-melancholy-ballad-driven record. (Surprise!) Anyway, you gotta do what you do. I’m old enough now to know what I mostly do is reflect on life over an acoustic guitar. 

This time I’m reflecting on turning points. Some pretty serious, like a song called “Hello, Lou” about a classmate from grade school who died in an ATV accident. Others lighter, like the time I met my wife. I wish I had a hilarious song in there, too, because right now would be the perfect time to mention it.

Passages Cover

People sometimes ask me how I’d prefer they listen to my music. Ideally, I think you should buy the CD and the vinyl and buy it on iTunes and then stream it on Spotify, listening always alone in the dark with headphones and no distractions. Ideally, I also eat pizza everyday without consequences. 

But seriously, I hope you at least have a moment or two while listening to it, however you listen to it (which, by the way, I really don’t care how) where you escape for a bit or notice the world differently or simply feel something that makes you realize if nothing else you’re feeling something. Because I don’t think that’s nothing. 

Love, 

   Aaron

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John Denver in the Dungeon

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My dad had an office in the basement. He never used it. In fact nobody really used the basement. It was like a dungeon. Musty and dark. The laundry was down there. So was the deep freeze. That's about it. So as it were, the basement was the perfect place for a 15-year-old boy to practice guitar and singing without the threat of someone listening. 

I didn't want anyone listing because for the first time I was becoming really passionate about something. Playing guitar and singing just felt right. Like I was somewhere I belonged and doing something I might even be good at. And if anybody heard me and had something bad to say, I might just be entirely destroyed. So I kept it safe and hidden in that office down in the dungeon. 

One time I could hear somebody coming down the creaky staircase. I paused playing and singing, which is what I normally did when the occasional “intruder” came down. Usually it was mom changing over the laundry. I was surprised when I heard a knock and saw my dad's head peek in. 

Something you should know about my dad is that he doesn't say much about what he's feeling. He's also a man that other men look up to in that sort of "Marlboro Man" sense. Later in life he would tell me he was sorry for never complimenting me on my music. He said he didn't want to give me a big head. What's funny, though, is when he told me that, I realized he didn't remember his dungeon visit. Because that's exactly what he did. It was one of the most pivotal moments in my life. 

I had been working on the chords to John Denver's "Country Roads" and trying to sing and play at the same time (which if that's you -- just keep working at it!) when my dad poked his head in. We just sat there in silence for a bit. He saw the guitar tab book open and asked if I would play what I was working on.

Well, my dad might as well have been John Denver back from the grave because that's about how nervous I was. I remember playing and singing for the first time in the sense that I was letting someone in on something that meant so much to me.

When I finished there was some silence but then he said, "You have a nice voice, Aaron."

That's all I remember. (I mean, he probably also said it was time for dinner or something, but…)

Maybe it doesn't seem like much but it changed my life. It didn't matter that he never complimented me after that. It was enough for me to get to the next song, and then the next song. To begin writing my own songs and playing them for others, record my first album and tour around the country and overseas, get a record deal, sign a publishing contract. Move to Nashville in search of recreating that connection you have with someone that music allows you to have. I'm not talking about compliments so much as I am talking about what is underneath the compliment, where the music moves somebody enough to respond.

And even though for my dad it was just telling me I had a nice voice, I know that something must have happened in that moment beforehand, while I played and sang "Country Roads" that allowed him to open up. 

That’s what music is about. And that's why I do it. To connect with others and myself on some level that isn’t possible without music, or is at least a lot more possible.

And that's why I want to thank you for joining my email list. Sure, it might not seem like much. Regardless, here we are. And it's not really about music so much as it is connecting with each other and having a sense of belonging. 

So honestly, thank you.

Anyway…that's probably enough sentimentalism for now. I sometimes get carried away. (I’m a songwriter after all! I share my feelings for a living! :)

Love,

   Aaron

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This is the very best gift I can give you

You might think that the best gift I can give you would somehow be related to music, but that just simply isn’t true. You see, growing up and still to this day, there is a life-happiness-secret my family and more particularly my mom has held onto for years (although if you ask her to tell you she would happily do so — still, it’s a secret to most of the world and I bet you almost certainly don’t know it. I digress). Hurry up, Espe, what could be? You might be saying to yourself right now. Well the wait is over because the link below leads you straight to my mom’s handwritten recipe card for her Hot Chocolate Sauce (aka hot fudge if you’re an out-of-towner).

Two to three nights a week, including winter, my dad would send me or one of my older two sisters down to the basement freezer to lug back up a gallon pale of Bridgeman’s vanilla ice cream. While it softened a little for easier scooping my mom began stirring the ingredients you’re now privy to into a small saucepan. I cannot stress the importance of this ritual as I remember more fondly the day my dad let me scoop the ice cream than the day I helped carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

So whether it’s a warm summer evening or 35 below, take my advice and generously drizzle this chocolate sauce over a bowl filled with at least two scoops of your favorite vanilla ice cream. And guard this recipe with your life!

Val Espe’s Hot Chocolate Sauce