Five years ago, after completing my first album, I wrote these words, which I am making public for the first time.
By the way. . . You can listen to the album here:
The sun was setting over a gradient of blues to my right, casting a halo of burning orange onto the mountains and valleys to my left. As clouds lingered in pink and gray, I tried to remain focused on the road ahead, but my mind was spinning across the journey we had already taken.
Godson – my engineer and music producer – had texted me a Christmas gift back in November. He offered me twenty four hours to book an incredible amount of studio time for an absurdly low price. I sprang into action and set down the cornerstone for what we were about to build. Without a clear architectural design, I would soon be planning something far more ambitious than even my largest plans.
I had only recorded four songs in the past, and going into all of this, my knowledge was quite limited. So green was I at this point, I often didn’t even know what questions to ask to figure out how amateur I was. But I had learned one very important lesson: Surround yourself with the best people possible.
I felt like I was in one of those “Oceans Eleven” films, scouring the world for the best team to do the job. And just like in “Inception,” we would be engineering a dream. I called in old friends, people who were like family to me distanced only by time and space. The appeal went out to those with whom I wanted to build up an empire. These people would be the basis of Wolf In Wool Productions.
Even as positions were being full, more challenges arose. My imagination can sometimes be larger than my stomach – or my wallet – and while people told me I was crazy and that I should scale back, I pursued what was in my heart. Failure wasn’t an option for me as long as I clung to my instincts and was prepared to adapt, but that didn’t stop me from having moments of panic or doubt.
What had started off as a simple album soon swelled into a beast of objectives. In one weekend, we would record an entire album, do an extensive photo shoot for album art and promotional materials, film a music video, record behind-the-scenes footage and interviews for both a mockumentary and a documentary, and. . . Well, we needed a club location… Why not blow it out and have a live show? And film it too.
Filling every moment I had after working 45 hours a week at my actual job, I planned to the best of my ability, but as I found out once the project loomed closer, my inexperience would be a challenge. However, I had learned my lesson well, and I had the best people in place. Both teams – the record studio and the video studio – were stocked with veterans who elevated my humble proficiencies in a way that far exceeded even my loftiest imaginings.
There are so many people to give thanks to. It was a major labor by everyone, but you could feel the love in every part of it. I just know that will translate to those who enjoy our creation. All I can say is that once I began taking people back to the airport the last night, as I drove back in my car with only the cloak of night to keep me company, I turned up the volume and let “Peace in the Mid East” wash over me. And then “Still Kickin’ It.” And I was so overwhelmed by the dedication and passion that went into this project by every single person who had answered the call that I broke down and cried. As I got back to the hotel, where the others were celebrating our victory, I locked myself in a room with Peter John Ross (the music videos director) and let it all sink in.
Which brings us back to the car trip in the California sunset. We were leaving a small bookstore in Irvine where I had stood in a line to have some books and paraphernalia signed by my hero, Al Yankovic. An actor, I haven’t really had aspirations of being a musician, so recording a music album was a major challenge for me. I could only reference what I knew, and what I really knew best was “Weird Al.” He had inspired me since I was in middle school and heard him for the first time, and his stamp is all over my work.
We could only have him sign one item per book. We had three books, so I chose three items very carefully. Kariem would have him sign the EP for “Fat.” Stella would offer him the press kit for “UHF” and have him sign a carefully selected photo, and I would present him with his first 45 for “Another One Rides the Bus” and “Gotta Boogie,” the rarest item in my collection. This tiny record had come out in 1979, the year I was born.
I clutched my demo CD and realized then and there what I held in my hand was the culmination of 31 years. Inside the sleeve, I had scrawled a note to Al telling him my “Skipper Dan” story and thanking him for inspiring me. As I handed him the best tracks from the album and started to tell him the story of how it came to be, the moment overtook me, and I again felt the love from everyone who had worked on making this moment a reality. Despite being a man who rarely shows his emotions, tears of joy poured out of me as a new chapter opened up in my life.
I wish to thank all of those who went into making M.C. Chalkskin & D.J. Pop’N’Fresh a reality.
First and foremost to Godson and Richard Baker for seeing something in us and helping us to bring it out. You’ve shown amazing patience and have given incredible insight. You are as much a part of Chalk and Pop as Kariem and I am.
Kariem Marbury, it isn’t easy for me to relinquish the reigns of my dreams to anyone, but you truly are my twin. I can’t imagine a better partner for a comedy duo than you. You’re the Abbott to my Costello, the Jake to my Ellwood.
Jason Nestler, you are a good and true friend, and it feels so great to inspire one another, doesn’t it?! Thank you for letting yourself be vulnerable and putting yourself out there. I just know that you’ve found out the potential you possess inside.
I’m glad that you’ve been changed by all of this, Mahmoud Maanaki. I have too. May we both be better men from this day forth. 🙂
If every time I used google I found someone as talented and beautiful as Kathy Robbins, I would never turn my computer off. You trusted us enough to play with us with childlike wonder, and our game resulted in something so unique and inspirational.
Yochanan Winston Ph.D. I actually get to put that name into the liner notes! And it’s not just for novelty. Yoch, I knew how good you are, but you managed to exceed my expectations and elevate the music to such a dynamic level. It gives me goosebumps, man.
If you’re running behind schedule, and you need to get ahead, The Sneaker Kings will knock it out of the park for you. Your professionalism and experience blows me away. What you can do in such a short period of time amazes me. Now that I know more about the process, I can’t wait to see what Jim Lakin, Mike Magnuson, and Dennis Ingram will be able to do when I give them more time to craft. All four of the songs you performed on the album are hits.
Chase Pado, you are a phenom. You just know exactly how to capture a mood and layer in context. You were such an important part of making these songs into what they are. I’m learning a lot, and just as with The Sneaker Kings, I know when I give you more room to explore, you’ll have a more conductive experience, but I am so impressed by what you’ve been able to do despite the limitations my inexperience has presented you with.
Rama Douglas, you really shred on that sitar, man! That song simply wouldn’t be the same without you! You are such a sweet and gentle soul, and I truly enjoyed every moment of our short encounter. My mind is racing for ways to get you on future tracks. Thank you so much for taking this project so seriously and being so adaptive.
Peter John Ross, you’ve been a friend for a long time. When you first said you were willing to “pull cable” for anyone, I thought it was just hype, but you’ve given me the perfect model for how a filmmaker should act. With humility and precision, you work your craft. Thank you so much for “pulling cable” for me every time I’ve asked. 🙂
The hardest working man in show business is actually Kurt Braun. You truly are the MacGyver of filmmaking, and you managed to put out my fires with duct tape, rubber bands, and charm. You are the best at what you do, and you solve problems faster than a calculator. Thank you so much for lighting more than just the set, for lighting the way.
Why wouldn’t I thank Jen Kolhagen? She made me look @#$%ing great! And not just by putting on my make-up. She also dolled up all of the honeys and other guys, thus making me look even better! Jen, you were worried we wouldn’t vibe at first, but I think we vibe on frequencies only dogs can hear. 😉 You are so dedicated and awesome, and this project would have suffered without you.
What a talent we have in Brian Canini. He’s our photographer, graphic artist, and web designer. Brian, you’re one of my oldest and dearest friends, and you’ve always believed in me. I hope that you can see that I believe in you too. Our work is just getting started, and I’m excited by what we’ll be able to come up with together!
You had said at one point didn’t know if it would be worth flying you out here, Mike. What do you think now? Mike Maletic is the perfect person to host an intellectual discourse and create an interview with various personalities. You and “Dick” Cheswick were amazing, and I can’t wait to see what that material looks like. Thank you for your dedication, belief, and for being one of my closest friends. I hope we didn’t spoil your birthday too much. 😉
I’ve been friends with The Hodges Boys (Christian and Nate) through thick and thin since 1990 and I was 11 years old. We’ve been creating characters in various ways for a long time. We’ve rolled the dice and tried to turn up luck over many years, and I think this time, we’ve got a natural.
Candice Thiem and Laine Perry, you both signed onto this project at the eleventh hour… or the twelfth even. It was an absolute pleasure working with both of you, and I hope you enjoyed the project as much as I did. Thank you for rolling up your sleeves and taking care of the dirty work.
You can’t spell morale support without Debra Plante. You totally have given your heart and mind to a belief in what Kariem is capable of, and your fervent belief in him is an amazing fuel that has driven him to do some amazing things. You were always ready with a kind word, advice, and your camera. An enormous help.
No one was as punctual or jolly – yep, jolly, Chuck – as Charles Castro. If I said I’d be by to pick him up at 7:30 am, he was on the curb with his gear at 7:28. Charles, I am so glad I was introduced to you that it almost made the acquaintance with the introducer worth it. 😉 Seriously, you are great, and I always want you on my team.
I wasn’t there when David Shoemaker came on the scene, but I hear he did a great job. All I can speak of is how smart and fun you are, Mr. Shoemaker. I’m so glad I was able to make you a part of this.
We were supposed to have three “hot guys,” but we only had one Haydar Alayidi. Al, you more than made up for the others. If you were nervous or unsure of yourself, you did an amazing job of overcoming it. You’re a natural for a music video!
Angela Cousins, Kei Min Kim, Cristina Leduc, and Tiffany Williams, I’m so glad you could be my “Dope Hunnies” on this! You look amazing and really took this silly project seriously, and I can’t wait to build on our new relationship. I can’t wait for you all to hear the album. Thank you so much for putting yourselves out there for me. I hope you’re satisfied with the results.
Monique Fleming, Sarah Melick, and Misha Sedgwick really know how to class up a joint. That music video will be so much better because of you. You made Arab Money and me look like we might actually be able to land a dream girl like one of you, and I know that took a lot of skilled acting. ;0) I can’t wait to see how it will all turn out!
My finances are in ruins, and I know Aaron Frantz has that on his mind. Aaron, you made a great cop, and you’ve already done so much in helping me create the business behind Wolf In Wool. I’m so glad you’re on board to make this dream a financial reality. I would be lost without you.
I’d also like to thank Stella Ingram (for being an incredible sounding board), Estrella Ingram (for putting love into the food), Rich Kunkel (for my awesome Sweatsedo), The Stage Saloon (for taking a chance with our first live performance), Young Olmos (for making the show so @#$%in’ good!), Esteban Carreno (advising my Spanish), Robert Becker (gearing up my computer), Mary’s Donuts in Santee (for being the perfect location), Kerry Steers (for suggesting The Stage), Craig Wilson (for advice), Pedro Rodriguez (for trying to fit us in), and Sarah Melick and Michelle Gabele and Shaun Berry (for letting us turn your home into a studio for a weekend).
I simply can not say “thank you” enough. Thank you to anyone who has believed in me and supported my dreams. To those of you who put your fingerprints on this project, you are a miracle in my life, and I am forever changed by this experience.
Sheepdog David Grant
PS- I will be in touch regarding a release party and future works.