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After a hiatus, the Coffee People series is back. In previous installments (here, here and here), we discussed coffee + design, coffee + culture, and coffee + ultra running/mountaineering.

Today, enter the realm of coffee + music, with the one and only Joe Kwon.

Joe: resident cellist of the band The Avett Brothers, Haiku drafter, photographer, cook, eater. Coffee drinker. One cool, kind person.

Here’s one of my favorite from the band – February Seven.

 

In the midst of non-stop touring, Joe took the time to jot down his thoughts on brewing while on tour, music, photography, and his passion for carpentry. I highly recommend that you also check out Joe’s website, full of beautiful photographs, showcasing the ins and outs of the band on the road, at  http://tasteontour.com

Many thanks to Joe for taking the time to do this. Enjoy.

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“I actually drink my coffee at home in complete silence. It’s my way of truly engaging with my coffee.”

INL: The world famous Avett Brothers are habitually on tour, baptizing crowds with memorable sets. You are asked endlessly about your music, but I want to know how coffee fuels those sets – “coffee on tour.” What are some coffee habits of your fellow band members? Any notable coffee routines?

Joe: I proudly introduced these guys to Counter Culture coffee a few years back after I struck up a great relationship with them. They actually gave me 3 days of training to brew pour over coffee and even set us up with a bus pour over set. So, since then, we have been making pour over coffee on the bus from the moment the first person wakes up till about 5pm. I drink significantly more coffee on the road than I do at home.

INL: Among the dozens of cities you’ve toured through, do any good coffee shops come to mind?

Joe: So many, but it’s funny I don’t recall the names of them. I just know how to walk to them from the venues that we play. Sometimes I’ll make a special trip, but most of the time I drink my coffee on the bus. What were some of the better coffee cities? I’d say every city at this point has a great coffee shop. It just takes some research to find the ones that fit your mood and aesthetic.

INL: What are your favorite brewing methods and coffees?

Joe: I’m a 100% pour over guy. I own several methods, but my favorite, tried and true method is the bonmac pro-cone with white paper filters.

“I’d say every city at this point has a great coffee shop. It just takes some research to find the ones that fit your mood and aesthetic.”

INL: In early 2014, the Avett Brothers collaborated with Counter Culture Coffee to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center? How did that collaboration come to fruition?

Joe: Ethan Fogleman from Counter Culture Coffee actually reached out to me via social media to invite me to come tour their facility. I was living in Durham at the time, and little did I know they were roasting some of the worlds greatest coffee just 5 minutes away.

INL: You were not always the energizing cellist of the Avett Brothers – you started young, but as a classical musician. What prompted the switch to folk rock? What was challenging about that musical transition?

Joe: Before I joined the Avett Brothers I was actually working for IBM and I felt the pull from that life to come back to music. I always wanted to be a cellist ever since my first cello lesson, but never did I imagine it would be in this capacity. I’d say one of the most challenging things was that I had very little popular music knowledge. I’d never listened to anyone outside the classical greats. I could name symphony orchestras with great brass sections before I could name a member of Nirvana. Needless to say there was a lot of room for music education.

“I always wanted to be a cellist ever since my first cello lesson, but never did I imagine it would be in this capacity.”

INL: Before joining the band, you graduated from UNC with a degree in computer something and worked for IBM. What nudged you to shift back to music? What were your fears when you u-turned away from Corporate America and onto the stage? What were your joys?

Joe: My fears were that I was going to lose my house and everything else, but it honestly didn’t feel too daunting. I had come to terms with it. I guess that’s what it took, to not care about the money or stardom, but just to truly love performing and being on stage.

INL: What does music add to your coffee experience? Flipping that around, what does coffee add to your music?

Joe: I actually drink my coffee at home in complete silence. It’s my way of truly engaging with my coffee. It becomes a ritual. Coffee fuels my life on the road as a way to stay awake at times. In other words, home life and tour life mean different things to my coffee habit.

“Coffee is the thing I look forward to you when I go to sleep at night.”

INL: Your website, tasteontour.com, is a pictorial memoir of the day-to-days of the tour. Two things come to mind: why film, and why black-and-white?

Joe: Film because I love the delayed gratification, and film seems for finite. It does get a bit difficult to grab shots though, but that’s the beauty of it too.

INL: Master cellist, knowing photographer, and more-than-amateur cook. You do it all, but now you are also chipping away at wood. What inspired you to begin woodworking? Any proud pieces yet?

Joe: I’m actually working on my biggest piece yet, it’s a dining table for my house. I got into wood working after I had discovered a significant amount of water damage in my house and I helped a buddy of mine reconstruct it. I had amassed a bunch of tools and felt it would be a waste to just sell them, so I started making things. It started with cutting boards, then benches, then coffee tables, etc.

INL: Final question: what is coffee to you?

Joe: As I mentioned above coffee is the thing I look forward to you when I go to sleep at night. I love the moments that I have and share over a cup of coffee. I love sharing a great cup of coffee and the experience behind it.

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My toes are tapping.

I can’t get that melody out of my head. Correction. I can’t get that thumping piano out of my head. That rhythmic, steady, constant thumping. In 5/8 time. Now enters the alto sax with the melody. I can’t get either out of my head. Dave Brubeck, this is all your fault.

On the “About” page of this blog, I nonchalantly wrote down that I am a “musician at times”. Nowadays, that means I grab my banged up acoustic and belch a few songs here and there. But back in the day, zero-period jazz band was the real deal (band nerd, yes).

I’d heard “Take Five” before, on NPR’s nightly jazz sessions. It was catchy, addictive, toe-tapping even then. I never thought I’d get a chance to play it, so when I first got the sheet music for the solo sax part, the word “exhilarated” does not serve justice to my ecstatic state of mind. Sure, a self-taught saxophonist (I was a clarinetist by trade) cannot paint this piece with the masterful loftiness it deserves. But I tried mightily. I listened to that track over and over again, first to immerse myself in the breathy tone of the soloist, then to be afloat on the rhythm of 5/8 time. My toes were tapping. Non-stop.

It’s hypnotic, that 5/8. In fashion, the highest compliment on styling is “looking effortless”, or trying without looking like you tried. 5/8 is like that. The underlying rhythm needs to be a constant, steady churn, like an undercurrent, supporting – but not blanketing – whatever that’s going on above. The melody needs to glide, float. Effortlessly, tugging ever so slightly at the end of the phrases. A never-ending push and pull with time. Elastic but not gooey. Elegant but not fluffy like damn cotton candy. Indeed, this is a hard trick. But fear not, that was Brubeck and his crew.

Not witnessing Brubeck, in person, in the midst of doing what he did best, is one regret I will carry for quite some time. No LP, no CD will do justice to the true magic he produced. But he lives on – his rhythms are immortal, his notes are timeless. My toes are still tapping, playing witness to the chunk of life he left behind.

5/8. Wholesome.

RIP Dave Brubeck.

* I do not own the copyright to the incorporated image.

There was once a time when notes meant something to me.

The anticipation before the lifting of the baton,

The intake of breath, deep, like filling a jug from its depths.

The nerves in my fingertips tingling, poised, just enough perspiration.

The empty space between the notes, that’s what music is,

The push and pull, the manipulation of time, ever so slightly.

The melody soars, like clouds amongst clouds,

The chill that runs through my spine, in the most pleasant of ways.

The relief, the calm while holding that last note, that last chord,

The crowd hushed, as the last breath of air evaporates away.

The satisfaction.

And I wonder. Will this be the last serenade.

Farragut West metro station is a congested toilet bowl. Swarming with dazed somebodys and nobodys, dark and light suits alike, marching monotonously towards the escalators, towards the light, towards the freedom of the outside world, but not really towards freedom, towards nothing, really.

The creaking escalators cheep churning and churching, transporting the somebodys and nobodys up and up. Perhaps moaning and groaning. Autumn is definitely here, you can smell it in the air, you can feel it in the wind, you can see it in the sky.

All of a sudden, as if in a dream, as if in that ephemeral place between sleep and waking up, the sound of harmonized brass soars through, ever so slightly, yet ever so majestically. Bach?

The 18th Street exit at Farragut West may still be a toilet bowl, but now it is transported to the Kennedy Center, or a local high school brass quintet performance, or anything in between. But ears are perked and necks are craned, wondering the origins of such harmonies, questioning their presence and purpose, their placement.

The trombone is flat on that F-sharp, and I cringe. Imbalance of chord structure is not acceptable, certainly not as I near the top of the escalator, breathing in the crisp air, the espresso aroma, the stress and solitude permeating the atmosphere. Damn trombone, you almost ruined it.

As I refuse a morning paper for the third time already, the earth is once again flat, and the toilet bowl is no longer. The marching continues.

The brass and the harmonies slowly fade as distant memories, lightly tugging at my jacket sleeve. Briefly, indeterminably, I hesitate, the melodies and counter melodies colliding with every force of organized thought. But with a shrug, I move on.

Bach moves on as well.

 

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