about a dream: thoughts by benjamin mathes

When we caught up with Los Angeles based actor, Benjamin Mathes, we wanted to know what it’s been like for him, leaving a secure path to carve his own, and we asked him to tell us about his evolution as an actor and lessons he’s learned in the process.

Benjamin Mathes

Here’s the problem with dreams…one day, early or later in life, we realize our dream, and this is a problem—a big problem.  See, dreams are great as long as we never realize what our dream actually is, as long as we can float through life and convince ourselves that dreams are for dreamers, and dreamers have no place here in the real world.  As long as we believe that, we’ll be fine.  But, as soon as the dream is realized, as soon as we allow the fullness of our imagination to take control, we recognize just how big that dream is and how impossible it would be to actually achieve it.  Then, like an ant hill in a thunderstorm, we feel small and insignificant in comparison, so why even try?  Why keep going?  It’ll never happen.  There’s no way.  Just stop.

You want to know what sucks…? I was five when I realized my dream.  Yeah, five.  What a great way to start life—with a dream….silly kid.

When Mrs. Brotherton needed three volunteers to play the third, fourth, and tenth “little indian” in the kindergarten class Thanksgiving Day skit, I jumped up to be all of them.  “No.  Don’ be a role hog, Benjamin.” But it was like this inner world began to burn in me.  There was a fire in my gut that wouldn’t stop burning unless I was every “little indian.”  I could do it, dammit, and I could do it better than Heather Hatfield.

I’m an actor.

I can’t help it.

It hurts not to be one.

This is where it began, and between kindergarten and high school I played three trees, two rocks, two Santa Clauses, and a spider.

And still it burned, this dream.

The Puberty Of My Art

I don’t think I realized the enormity of my dream until my voice started to change.  I loved high school; it’s where my dream upgraded from playful, unabashed hope to a more structured if-then (as in, ‘if you want to be an actor, then you have to do it like this’) kind of passion.  Looking back, I know that shift was a downgrade…but at the time, it felt mature—like late nights at Waffle House, smoking, and kissing.

Despite my new structured approach to dreaming, I learned to love the theatre: the smell of the wood, the heat of the lights, the taste of the make-up, the rush of the applause, the power, the twelve-hour rehearsals, even the notes, the lead roles, and the awards.   It was here that I cried; I laughed; I loved; I fought; I felt my first boob (hers not mine), and I grew up.

I met Linda Wise, my high school teacher, and Hylan Scott, a mentor friend.  Linda showed me what it meant to be an artist.  She demanded respect for the work, and I respected her demands.  Hylan opened my eyes to artistic freedom.  He was a working actor, and I was enthralled by the life he seemed to live.  That life was my dream—to be a professional actor.

But my adolescent fear took hold.  I told myself that I could never be that good, I could never do that.  That dream was too big.  I’m fine right here, where I can do it right.  Where I can do theatre the way it was supposed to be done:  here in high school.  That’s enough.  No need to want more.

If only I could reduce my dream to something smaller, then I could achieve it–silly kid.

There it was.  I had discovered the true path to fulfillment! Make it smaller. Expect less. Hope for less.  Convince myself that being actor is stupid, childish, and unreasonable.  Who needs all that attention? Those people are weird; I mean, have you seen what goes on in Hollywood?  I was very reasonable, and reasonable people are good at finding reasons not to do something, so despite being recruited to some of the most prestigious acting schools in the country, I decided to go the traditional route.  I went to the State University.  I know!  I’ll be a teacher! Something normal.  Something reasonable. Something secure. I can do that.  Reduce the world, and increase my significance within it!  Big fish/small pond sounds good to me.  Acting was just a high school thing. I’m a grown up now.  Time to move on.  Right?

It still burned.

So, to put a little water on the fire, I did a musical at the local community theatre.

I had one line, “me, sir, me!”

The director, Tom Coleman, asked me to stay after rehearsal. He liked the way I did my line and offered me my first, paying, professional acting job.  For two years, I toured around rural Georgia playing Rumpelstiltskin for elementary school kids, and I had the time of my life.  I must have signed more than 1,000 Rumpelstiltskin autographs–eat your heart out, Brad Pitt.

Then one night after a show, the fire in my belly started to burn to the surface.  I began talking to Tom about what I thought acting was and how I approached it and why it was important to me.  He stopped me and said he would pay me to teach what I was mouthing off about, if I was serious.  And there I was, eighteen years old, touring as an actor, creating a class and teaching a way of working that I was figuring out as I went (some things I still use today), and beginning to regrow the dream.

S*** Or Get Off The Pot

Some say I did it for a girl…of course I did.

I left my fairy tale tour and my small class, and I went to finally ‘study’ my dream.  I was accepted into a prestigious conservatory to study acting.  Dreams and behavior were beginning to align.

I thrived in my studies, met creative people, wrote music, had my heart-broken (by the girl!) and rediscovered my dream in its full potential.  It was dangerous…very dangerous…it’s dangerous because I was surrounded by people who had reduced the size of their dreams, and when in my third year, CBS called and offered me a role on the soap opera, “As The World Turns,” those people worked their hardest to pull me back down where I belonged.  I was the crab trying to get out of the box, and they had their pinchers in me, pulling me back—“If we can’t, you can’t!”

Friends spoke badly about me, lied about me, and ignored me.  Teachers had meetings and argued about whether I should be punished for accepting the role–even the Dean had a meeting with me.  I remember the university had a giant event to celebrate my first episode…none of my actor friends showed up, just a few higher-ups and random people who didn’t know me.

I felt alone…but I wasn’t.

Before I knew it, my instructors requested individual meetings with me to offer their support and to let me know they were sorry I ever had to defend a success. They encouraged me to follow it and go to New York City before I finished the four years of training.

So I did.

I followed the show to the city.

The dream was big, too big.  I had to do something to shrink it, and I had to do it quickly.

A Bite of the Apple

As soon as I got to New York, I began making my rounds to different agents.  Because of the soap opera, I was the new kid on the block, and everyone wanted to meet me—to see what I could do for them.

I learned very quickly that there are different levels of agencies: small, medium, and large.  In general, the bigger the agent, the more powerful, and the more opportunities they could create for me.

It came down to two agencies: a small one and a large one.

The small one was a two-person, one room operation.  Good people, blue-collar, lots of phone calls, and a water fountain.

The second one was in a huge office off of Fifth Avenue, with plenty of suits, receptionists, security checks, a beautiful elevator, and they offered me a drink every time I was in the office.

Clearly, the large agency was more in line with the size of my dream, but they were so big, I convinced myself that, like my dream, they were too big for me.  I came up with every imaginable reason why I shouldn’t sign with them—I’ll get lost; they’ll be too cut-throat; the office is so far from my apartment; the views are too good from their high rise…again, I was very reasonable, and reasonable people will always find reasons not to do things.

So, I signed with the smaller agency.

I stapled my own headshots and resumes, walked five flights of stairs, and had to get my own water when I got there.

They worked very hard for me, and though I was able to work in theatre in New York and around the country, I was never able to get into huge Broadway auditions or in for major films.

But that was ok.  After all, I didn’t want things to get out of control…didn’t want things to get too big.

I remember “going to producers” (which is what we call the second or third round, or in this case, the fourth round of auditions) for an unknown HBO pilot called “Entourage.”  I was reading for the lead role, some hotshot actor who navigates the ins-and-outs of Hollywood with his entourage, and they liked me.  My agents called and told me to keep up the good work; HBO was excited about me, and this could be a great way to start a career in New York—HBO even had me clear my schedule for a possible cast-bonding trip to Vegas.

I was getting excited.

But reasonable people aren’t supposed to get excited.  If we get excited, we may be let down, and could hurt.  Better to prepare for failure.  I worked hard to convince myself I didn’t really have enough television experience; they would probably find someone in Los Angeles with a more impressive resume and more powerful agent; I didn’t really want to have to deal with moving to Los Angeles, and I wasn’t good looking enough; I was too young, or I wasn’t in shape enough to play this role.  And besides, that show would probably never get picked up anyway…

That way of thinking affected my auditions.  On my last read for “Entourage,” the producers and casting directors asked me if I was ‘ok’…The feedback they gave my agent was something like…” Yea, he’s great, but something was missing in his last read.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

At the time I didn’t know it, but I was very good at sabotaging myself…very reasonable.

Head West Young Man

There was only one place to retreat after I reduced my dream: graduate school.

Of course, that’s not what I told myself.  I told myself my dream was just changing, not being reduced.  Now, I wanted to be a professor of acting.  Settle down in some cute college town, get a steady income, work within the system, and get a real taste of middle class crack—security.  Silly kid.

Two and a half years into my time in New York City, I decided to go to grad school and get an MFA in Acting.  Sure, they’d train me to be an actor, but I also needed that degree if I ever wanted to settle down into the new version of my dream.  I chose a school in Southern California with a good reputation for training actors, and one which would allow me to teach.  I turned down a school that had a much better reputation for training actors, but wouldn’t allow me to teach.

I was awful in school…just wanted it to be over.  Give me my piece of paper and let me move on–not the best attitude, and it blinded me to many opportunities and lessons.  I was not an artist—quit treating me like one.

Try as I might, I couldn’t escape the flames of acting, and upon graduation, a very powerful manager (as opposed to agent) decided she wanted to represent me.  I rolled my inner-eye at the thought of being an actor again and at living under the enormity of that dream.  But, I convinced myself that getting a few small roles would make me a more marketable teacher.

I’ll act so I can teach.  My manager wasn’t on the same page.

She used to tell me that being an actor was like being an athlete, and she was right.  She worked me.  She had me in rooms I believed were above my pay scale.  I was meeting with agents, lawyers, and producers—people who made Hollywood run.  I was auditioning for lead roles on every show that’s on TV—from “Glee” to “Law and Order LA,” you name it; I read for it…and I sabotaged myself all along the way.

I did book a few things.  If you saw the movie, “City Island,” there I am, working with Alan Arkin and Andy Garcia.  It’s a great film…go see it.  If you’ve seen Chris Rock’s, “Death At A Funeral,” I had a hand in the development of that film and got to work with Chris Rock–also worth the watch. But mostly, I spent my time defending my limitations.  I argued with my manager, telling her she expected too much from me; I was new to LA. Why wasn’t I reading for smaller roles? I was tired of driving…

I learned that when you defend your limitations, they become yours–you get to keep them.

I separated from my manager and decided to go it alone.

The big wake up call came from my wife (go figure).

It didn’t take long before I was teaching at a university, at a studio in LA, and I had lots of private clients.  I was making pretty good money as a teacher, and I remember saying to my wife, “I’m doing exactly what I said I would do—teaching!” to which she replied, “Then you should have said you would be acting!”

Like a ton of bricks, my self-imposed-dream-reduction hit me across the face.  Why didn’t I do that?  I used to —I used to tell people I was going to be the greatest actor in the world.  I used to call myself an artist.  Now I was just avoiding the difficult.  I was hiding out in the “great in between,” where there is no risk of failure and no promise of success.  I had reduced my dream to something achievable… and I had achieved it.

How reasonable.

Don’t Be Scared To Turn On A Dime

“Don’t be scared to turn on a dime.”  My dad told me that one day, and so did my mom, but I bet neither remember it.  I guess I never realized I could turn on a dime–my own dime.

You can change the way you see your place in the world, and you can regain the significance lost when you realized the scope of your dreams.

I found a teacher, Stuart Rogers, who has changed the way I see my art.  He taught me that art isn’t a mystical thing we roll our eyes at like the new-aged section of Barnes and Noble.  Art is defined by the amount of ourselves we bring to any process.  It doesn’t matter what you do, if you put all of yourself into the process, it’s an art.

That was it!  I never brought all of myself.  I was always leaving something in the reserve tank, playing it safe and hoping not to mess up, trying to do things right, and not having the courage to do things wrong.

I decided to surrender to my dreams and my abilities, to allow for possibilities and for greatness, and to follow everything that happens as a result.  Sounds like some cheesy “Oprah” episode, but it’s the way I approach my acting, and I guess its silly to assume the way we approach our art is different from the way we approach our lives—it’s the same brain, last I checked.

“So turn on a dime, son.  Stop being so reasonable. Go to bed on empty.  Leave nothing in the reserve tank.  You can’t be an artist if you’re trying to get things right.  And take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously…”

I decided it was time to live in my integrity, to align my behavior with my dreams—embrace a true fidelity to life.

Everest didn’t get smaller for the people who reached the top, and Hollywood didn’t get easier for the people who’ve made it.  It was something inside them.  It’s the actual belief that the only thing I can’t accomplish is the thing that is larger than my commitment…my attitude will monitor my talent.

It’s working out pretty well so far.

I quit the university job and even turned down two tenure-track offers.  I teach on my own terms, which has made me more in demand than I ever imagined.  I work with celebrities, actors, clergy, business people, and even family.  I see my teaching as an art, and I bring everything I have to the process.

I’ve connected acting and teaching, approaching one the same way as the other—with all of myself.  I recently shot my fifth project this year, and a short film I shot last year has won five “Best Picture” awards around the country.  I have a full team of representation on my side, and the future looks bright.

Oh, and I live at the beach.

Now that sounds reasonable.

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the raindrops playlist: april showers

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby…”
Langston Hughes

There are few things more pleasurable than the echo of rain as it touches surfaces around us and the opportunity to give it ear from the inside, dry, looking out.  This month, we paid tribute to impending showers with a more mellow playlist…we suggest boiling a pot of water for tea, cozying up in your favorite sweats and listening to the hum of the rain while enjoying this compilation.

  • Inspiration Information (4:12) Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information
  • People Say (3:24) Portugal. The Man -The Majestic Majesty
  • Troublesome Houses (4:24) Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Cairo Gang -The Wonder Show of The World
  • Queen Black Acid (4:47) Menomena – Mines
  • The Mountain (5:19) Heartless Bastards – The Mountain
  • Beach House (3:43) The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy
  • Loving You Is Killing Me (3:25) Aloe Blacc – Good Things
  • Heart of Steel (feat. Irma Thomas) (3:28) Galactic – Ya-Ka-May
  • Black Sheep (3:43) Suckers – Wild Smile
  • When I’m Small (4:09) Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
  • Musical Chairs (2:52) Rumspringa – Sway
  • Black & Blue (3:41) Miike Snow – Miike Snow


  • Northern Girls (3:43) Belleruche – Turntable Soul Music
  • Hard TwelveThe Ante (4:01) – Beat Assailant – Hard Twelve

album cover photo credits: itunes

This playlist was compiled by one of Modern Ink’s talented contributing music gurus, Sean Arnold.  Sean grew up in Tennessee, but now resides in the beautiful, but “rainy” city of Portland, Oregon.  He spends most of his free time hunting for new music, learning to surf, and kicking it with friends.  If you want to talk shop or anything else for that matter he can be reached at sdarnold@gmail.com.

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Celebrate all things pink, innocently quirky, youthful, and with an edge of rock-n-roll. Modern Ink teamed up with the amazing photographer, Tara Kneiser of Dixie Pixel, who shot this return to innocence.  Enjoy!

To check out more of Tara’s work, visit her at: http://www.dixiepixelphoto.com/blog/.

We would like to extend the sincerest “thank you” to the Children’s Theatre of Knoxville for allowing us to use their location for this series of photographs.

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sex & austen: mr. darcy takes a wife (a lit review)…

Mr. Darcy takes a Wife (by Linda Berdoll)

One of the most heart wrenching moments in the life of a bibliophile is the ending of a great book. We turn the last page and begin, immediately, to thumb back through—to the beginning, to the cover. We run our hands across it as if there must, surely, be more to offer; even the smell of the pages and the texture of the paper calling forth that welling of deep feeling inspired within.

I am an ardent re-reader. I can’t help it. I often want to return to a familiar landscape, relive a certain moment, experience again a loss or an epiphany or a romance that inspired me. Pride and Prejudice is a book I’ve read a few times. It is endearing and delightful. And, to be quite honest, after watching the 1995 Masterpiece Theatre miniseries, I wanted to return to it again and again. Well, I wanted to return to Colin Firth again and again.

And again.

Where was I? Ah yes, Mr. Darcy. The only thing better than rereading Pride and Prejudice is watching Colin Firth play Mr. Darcy, and once these options have been exhausted, the next best thing is reading the sequel—because Pride and Prejudice has a sequel. No really, it does. Although Jane Austen never wrote a sequel, Linda Berdoll, albeit 170 years later, did.

I’ll admit—when I downloaded Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, I assumed Linda Berdoll’s “sequel,” published in 2004, would be fairly disappointing if not altogether bad. It was not this fear, however, that staid my hand as I reached for my kindle, but a singular notion of purism. Not only was I about to re encounter Austen in a modern novel, and download it onto my eReader as well, but I also experienced a crisis of conscience because I love these characters. They have a rich life within Austen’s work; they are complete and round and substantial, and while I do hate to bid them goodbye, I knew that whatever I read in this “sequel” would forever color my understanding of them. I could not, as it were, unread this book once read. And even if it felt at its end as a trespass upon Austen’s creative integrity, in my mind, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy would forever have lived the journey that I was about to embark upon. Ironically, what I didn’t yet know when I downloaded Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, is that P&P, in fact, has many sequels. Not three or twelve or even twenty—but more than I can count. And once I had read one of these sequels, I knew that the Darcys’ life would be only what I had read and I could never conceive of another.

That said, I paused. I considered. I worried. I took a deep breath—and I began to read. And I’m so glad I did.

Linda Berdoll is clearly well acquainted with Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet Darcy and Fitzwilliam Darcy and honors them with accurate reincarnations. In fact, every character Berdoll borrows from the source is rendered faithfully to Austen’s original intent. This is integral to the book’s success because the reason Austen’s classic has never lost momentum with readers is the intense realness of her protagonists. Readers who have loved Elizabeth’s subtle brashness and strong intelligence will not be disappointed by her life as Mrs. Darcy as Berdoll has depicted it. And Darcy is just as proper and stiff and formal as in the original—while Berdoll continues his slight softening under Elizabeth’s influence that Austen had begun during their courtship.

I think Austen might even approve of the second life Berdoll gives her characters. The plot of Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife twists and careens through the deceivingly calm waters of Victorian society, presenting intrigue and impropriety with as much panache as the Victorian novels we have come to love so well. Plot, however, is missing from the first half of the novel and it hobbles along solely on the strength of the characters and their romance—both of which are borrowed from Austen. By the time the plot picks up, the tone of the book changes entirely, becoming plot-heavy and suddenly lacking the intimacy that the beginning of the novel has led us to expect.

This, in fact, raises the one major departure from Austen and her contemporaries that reveals this book to be a Victorian novel, yes, but one with twenty-first century sensibilities: Berdoll spends quite a bit of time addressing Mr. Darcy’s—ehem—endowment. And I’m not talking about the Pemberly Estate of which he is Master. The novel opens with the awkward carriage ride to Pemberly the day after the wedding night; Mr. Darcy offering Mrs. Darcy an embroidered silk pillow upon which to sit to ease the discomfort he had caused her the night before. This is our introduction to the novel and I must admit to a bit of embarrassment here. When the most romantic and forward thing that ever comes to pass within the pages of the original novel is Mr. Darcy saying to Elizabeth “you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” (swoon) which is also perhaps the longest string of words he has spoken throughout, to suddenly be confronted with a reminder of their most intimate moment is a bit uncomfortable. At first. And then it’s very romantic and seems fitting. After all, surely any young bride of the period was nervous and fascinated by the act of the wedding night. But then, when there is almost no plot introduced beyond their trysts, I began to wonder if this was only an erotic romance novel. And, because I guiltily liked it, I wondered if I cared? For Mr. Darcy, well, Mr. Darcy is still a young Colin Firth drawn up in all of his quiet dignity and propriety. Until he shuts the bedroom door. And what could possibly make him more alluring? Sex. And Berdoll gives her readers sex a plenty. We are soon to learn that the Darcys spend quite a bit of time in the bedroom. And in the maid’s quarters. And in the dining room. And in various copses and meadows throughout the property. And—well, surely you get the idea. Eventually, the plot picks up and becomes the real reason you can’t put the book down. But if the only thing missing in Austen’s timeless romance is sex, you’ll find it here.

The thing that most highly recommends this book, unfortunately, has nothing to do with Linda Berdoll—it is purely happenstance. For me, reading is very much a journey. My husband used to travel incessantly for work, and when he returned he would ask me what had transpired in his absence and I would begin a long list of all the places I had travelled to—where I had spent my time. Although solely within the pages of a book, I would recount stories set in ancient China, modern Japan, the South of France, because the escape and voyage of reading an engrossing novel can really only be compared to foreign travel. You become subsumed by the journey of the characters. Often, I choose books based solely on where I would like to be at that moment. What I would like to feel. Who I would like to (pretend) to be. This said, perhaps the strongest recommendation of Berdoll’s book I can give is that it places you squarely on the soil of Darcy’s Pemberly estate in Victorian England.

While the erotica is as compelling a reason to keep reading as is the setting, the book does little to recommend itself on literary merit—if, indeed, it has any at all. Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife is poorly conceived and organized. In addition to the absence of plot in the beginning, Berdoll’s poor attempt to recreate Austen’s writing leaves her diction so lacking in Victorian authenticity that it comes across as pretentious. It feels as though she consulted a thesaurus at every turn and attempted to choose only the most antiquated and obscure words at her disposal. And I’m pretty sure the thesaurus she referenced was published in 1894. Or earlier.

Ultimately, the biggest criticism of this novel is that the first half is more of an erotic novel than a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. And the biggest recommendation? That the first half of this novel is more of an erotic novel than a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. If what you want is another engagement with the characters that you can’t say goodbye to, this will give you your fix of the Darcys. However, half the proceeds of Berdoll’s profits should go directly to Colin Firth, without whom this would be a hollow fantasy.

This literature review was composed by one of Modern Ink’s talented contributing writers, Lindsay Saint Clair.  Lindsay has spent her life in the throes of a wild, raving love affair with the written word. The only things she likes quite as much as curling up with a good book and a glass of wine are her two beautiful boys and her wonderful husband. After nearly a decade in San Francisco and a short stint in Atlanta, Lindsay now resides in Chicago. She is currently working as a freelance writer and editor.

Visit Lindsay at www.spaceandmemory.blogspot.com

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truth or dare: always an option

We’ve all had those Friday nights that begin without direction and seamlessly evolve into an evening filled with laughter, comical conversation, and abounding memories…  recently, we had such a night. Disagreeable weather proved the catalyst for a soiree swelling with cocktails and an eclectic technicolor showdown of candlelight and music.  We put a twist on an old classic, truth or dare, with a vintage card deck and borrowed costumes–a no-fail way to spin the night away from boredom.

No affair is complete without photos that reflect the mood of the evening, and we captured the bizarre festivities solely with the hipstamatic iphone app:

(To see our game night playlist, see our blog post: https://moderninkmag.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/january-playlist/).

Creating our delicious game night cocktail, Indigo Fizz, is simple: mix two parts gin to one part tonic…top off with blackberry preserves.  Serve it with the spoon!

that's WHY it's called a dare...

no party is complete until someone ends up with a lampshade on her head...

…and they all felt fine in the morning…

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spotlight on: the dirty guv’nahs

Modern Ink is grateful to James Trimble, lead singer of the Dirty Guv’nahs, for being our guest blogger today.  Here he discusses the evolution of the Dirty Guv’nahs, consequential moments, and challenges along the way…
The Dirty Guv’nahs

On April 23, 2006, The Dirty Guv’nahs stepped on stage for the first time…we thought it would be the only time. In fact, we, was just a group of random acquaintances–six guys that didn’t even know each other as friends, but who had been brought together by a series of random events, a benefit concert in downtown Knoxville’s old city, and a multitude of ridiculous late night conversations.

Our first show transpired because a friend of ours happened to be looking for a benefit concert opening band, promoted by Diana Warner and headlined by Sister Hazel. Justin Hoskins had an easy answer.  At dinner with Diana, he said, “I’m in a band…we’ll be one of your opening bands,” to which she wisely replied, “You’re not in a band. I’ve known you for ten years! But if you are in a band then you can be the opening act.” Justin assured, “I am definitely in a band. We just started.” And the band literally began in that breath.  We decided to name it after a friend of ours whose nickname was, “The Guv’nah.” The Guv’nah loved rock music, as we all did, but none of us had actually been in a band. The Guv’nah had recently broken his ankle and was on crutches, so he was unavailable to be in it, but he helped orchestrate the formation of the band and our members.  Like I said, most of us didn’t know each other, so The Guv’nah was our only connection.  Let me back up for a minute:

After Justin’s dinner with Diana, he went home to tell his roommates (which included me at the time) that we had to start a band, because we were committed to a show he’d booked for us in ten days. There was a lot of laughter, but he was completely serious. That’s where The Guv’nah came in. We practiced for a few nights but sounded pretty horrible, so The Guv’nah insisted that other people join. Eventually we got to six members, and thinking we sounded decent enough to play in front of people, The Guv’nah was satisfied…honestly though, we still sounded really terrible.

The day of the show came, and we played four cover songs along with three original songs to a near-empty parking lot of people. It was amazing. I was twenty-three years old and had never sung in front of people until that moment. In fact, I was only elected lead singer by default because of my poor guitar playing. “James, you should just be the singer,” Justin told me after a few practices.

The rest of our story is just as ridiculous, but it’s very far from fun and games, jokes and luck. We’ve worked harder on this than anyone I know, many of us working close to eighty hours a week for four years now in order to sustain both the band and a daytime desk job, grad school…it’s been different for each of us. We have all sacrificed, which is what’s really drawn us together as a unit. It’s been difficult passing up other careers, grad school opportunities, and accepting disapproval from certain friends and family, because we want to make rock music for two cents an hour.  For clarification, we’ve had an unbelievable support base from friends and family, but there’s always that uncle who calls you an idiot for being in a band, or there’s that high school buddy who says stuff like “when are you gonna give up on this man?” Despite all of the challenges, it’s just worked. We’ve always felt that we had something special that shouldn’t be given up on, and we’ve pushed through because of it. Feels good to be making, like, ten cents an hour for our hard work as opposed to the previous two cents an hour…we’ve almost given up so many times… but fortuitous little things happened along the way that convinced us to stay in the game.

One such occurrence was in April 2009, probably our biggest watershed moment, when we rented out the Bijou for a cd release show. We sold about two hundred tickets ourselves, in advance. The Bijou holds 750 people, so we thought: this is good, at least it won’t look completely empty. Our hope was that 350 would show up for the show.  We were shocked when 695 people paid at the door that night. I literally felt as if I was living in a dream–it was insane.

Another monumental moment for The Dirty Guv’nahs came when I got a call from Levon Helm Studios in August 2009, and they asked us to come up to Woodstock and record an album with them. Sure, it wasn’t a call out of the blue… I mean, we’d probably sent them between ten and seventy-five emails the previous year–apparently persistence works. The phone call went like this, “Hey, this is Justin Guip with Levon Helm Studios. I finally listened to some of your demos, and one or two of them actually sound really good. When can you come up to Woodstock to record an album?” Us: “December is the only time that will work cause a lot of us are still in school.” He said, “Ok. Ten days in the studio will be $X (enough to buy a car)… y’all good for it?” Of course I said, “Sure.”

That’s a very abbreviated version of the story.  The truth is that we said, “yes” to the amount well before we had the money. In fact, our band account had very little in it when we booked the studio time.  Fortunately for us, Levon’s studio didn’t request a deposit. It was September 2009, and we only had until December ten to come up with the money, as well as write twelve more songs to record a new album. Needless to say, none of us slept much at all during that seventy-five day stretch. We stressed about where the money would come from, called everyone we knew in the music industry (which was only about seven people), and began mapping out how much money each of us would need to contribute to make our recording dream happen. We still didn’t have enough, so we prayed for a miracle–the real kind of prayers you pray when you are sick and throwing up all over the bathroom floor because you drank too much or had food poisoning. We were earnest, and we were crazy. We still are.

Believe in what you want, but ten days later the miracle came in the form of a call from a New York City marketing company that worked on contract with a Fortune 500 company. They found us on MySpace and had a promotional opportunity for the exact dollar amount we needed for the studio time. We accepted it and immediately fell out of our chairs!

The cd we recorded is out now, and it has done well for a local/regional band, but we’re already working on some fresh new music.  We’ve also got a new booking agent who is kicking ass for us, and we’ve got our first manager who believes in us, and whom we fully believe in.  Things are looking up, and we’re dreaming even bigger. Just like any business endeavor, you’ve gotta dig in and be committed to the long difficult hours and challenges specific to your dream. In the music industry, one challenge since the digital revolution, is that everyone thinks music is free–like music is something that’s ok to be stolen. But what can you do… ? Work harder. It’s really the only answer, and with a band, the hardest work is not in making the music, or getting creative with marketing or your business ideas. It’s sticking together as a team while doing all of that and only making two cents an hour.

As you read this, we’re gearing up to go on the road to Austin, Texas and the SXSW Music Festival, which is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. We’ll be there along with the other 250 plus bands that are still chasing the dream…the dream of playing music and inspiring others for a living. Music still matters, and that’s why we’re still doing it.

Hope to see some of y’all at one of our big hometown shows at the Bijou Theater on April 22nd or 23rd. Tickets are $15 for each night, or $25 for both nights. Each show will be different, and we’ll have lots of guest performers with us each night. Tell everyone and your moms: http://www.knoxbijou.com/

Peace y’all.


Check out the Dirty Guv’nahs at www.thedirtyguvnahs.com .

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ode to a mental spring break (or at least to a playlist for march)

For most of us, spring break is a nostalgic term, stirring up images spent in hostels, motels, or of developing the solo-arm sunburn (from hanging it out the car window for a multi-hour-trek to whatever beach we could hit in under eight hours). Realistically, most of us don’t have spring break anymore, or if we do, it is spent playing catch-up on chores or continuing professional education, cooking dinners, schlepping [fill in the blank here: kids, siblings, pets, parents] around, and paying bills.

Modern Ink believes you deserve some type of break, and we are willing to call it a mental spring break, in fact it’s called “ode to a mental spring break (or at least to a playlist for march). The songs aren’t beachy, kitsch, or classic, but we hope they make you feel fresh and cooled-off…isn’t that what spring break was really about anyway? Enjoy.

  • 1983 (3:42) Neon Trees
  • Summer, Man (3:51) Taking Back Sunday
  • Giving Up the Gun  (4:46) Vampire Weekend
  • I’m Here to Take the Sky (3:54) D.R.U.G.S.
  • Cupid’s Chokehold (3:58) Gym Class Heroes
  • Imaginary Enemy (4:25) Circa Survive
  • Get Higher (4:30) Paper Tongues
  • Fader (3:04) The Temper Trap
  • Substitution (4:39) Silversun Pickups
  • 99 Problems (2:16) Hugo
  • Too Fake (4:07) Hockey
  • Stupid Now (4:06) Bob Mould

album cover photo credits: amazon

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the gilded whiskey

hats off to our key players...

“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore always carry a small snake.” -W.C. Fields

Modern Ink is delivering a winter-whiskey-fix through our creation of another memorable cocktail…The Gilded Whiskey. This beverage has a satisfying, bold texture with a polite nod to delicacy in its inclusion of orange juice and Cointreau.


  • 4 oz. orange juice
  • 4 oz. whiskey (we suggest Jack Daniels)
  • 2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • splash of club soda

Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, and shake until blended.  Pour into a glass filled with over-sized ice cubes, and add a splash of club soda for effervescence.  For a subtle pop of sweetness, garnish the rim with additional powdered sugar.

the gilded whiskey

Interested in our selection of liquor?  Read more about them here:



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colleen moore: if the orchid fits…

Colleen Moore is the owner and creator of White Orchid Bridal in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Modern Ink is privileged to have her guest blogging for us today, as she reflects on her childhood inspirations and the roads that have led her to become the creative designer and entrepreneur that she is.

Colleen in her shop, White Orchid Bridal.

As far back as I can recall, I have been fascinated by and have admired lovely, lady-like things. I was the child who carried a purse, sported dress shoes to the horse barn, and wore dresses whenever possible.  I only played with dolls to change their outfits, and dressing up for me truly was “dressing up.”

One of my earliest childhood impressions was a book about a little girl who took ballet. It wasn’t the dancing that kept me interested in the book–it was the drawings of the costumes.  I remember sitting with my sister and staring at the pictures, debating who would wear the short tutu and who would wear the long one. That was when the wheels in my head first began to turn–I loved the idea of making those decisions–which fabric was best for what costume and on whom.

I began taking ballet at the age of eight.  I always enjoyed ballet and the art of movement, but I think deep down it was those darned costumes that truly stole my heart.  I remember sneaking around the hallway corner in the dance studio I grew up in, with hopes of stealing a peak at the costumes and tutus hanging upside down…oh, how I desperately wanted to grab one and put it on!  In the following years, I became very involved in ballet, and after the obvious wonder of what role I would be performing, the next important question to me was, “what costume will I be wearing?” I spent hours of my life drawing and sketching everything from costumes to ball gowns, and I delighted in every minute of it. This is the role I would later play in life– costumer, designer, and constructor of all things beautiful.

I decided to pursue a career, not in design, but in dance. To this day I wouldn’t modify that choice, though sadly my career as a dancer was cut short by a serious knee injury, again steering my life in a different direction.  I graduated with a degree in dance, but I knew my path needed to head toward something else. I just wasn’t certain what that something else was.

After graduation, I spent a few years “coasting.”  I waited tables, taught ballet, walked dogs…I began making things.  I taught myself how to sew while in high school, and decided to utilize what I had learned by making my own clothes.  I also slowly began making pieces for other people: odd things here and there, but one project in particular was of interest to me.  A friend of mine was getting married, and she asked if I could make something special for her hair.  She knew I made many of my own costumes and hair pieces for ballet and thought I would enjoy designing something for her wedding. Not only did I enjoy it, I instantly knew it was where I wanted my career to head.

So, I did it.  It was gradual– a job here, a job there, while continuing to work my other jobs.  I found it so rewarding, that it didn’t matter how much of my free time was occupied; it was how I wanted to spend my free time.  I laugh now thinking back on those formidable years…working out of my apartment, with cats roaming around and guests sitting on my goodwill sofa!  I am so thankful to each of those people; they trusted and allowed me to gain experience and a reputation, while I built my confidence and skills in the process.

I knew I needed to open a shop of my own.  My business was rapidly outgrowing my apartment… all you needed was to look around.  The kitchen table was completely overrun with fabrics and craft supplies;  a huge garment rack hung in the hallway, and bridal magazines were strewn about everywhere!  In 2008, I found a little store front absolutely perfect for me and opened my shop White Orchid Bridal.  Why “White Orchid”?… quite simply, orchids are my favorite, especially the white ones.

Since opening in 2008, my life has been a roller coaster ride.  My shop is unlike any other bridal shop around, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  When I initially opened, my concept focused more on custom accessories and vintage dress redesign and reconstruction.  To my surprise, there was an interest in custom gowns, so that was the direction I moved toward, designing and sewing custom wedding gowns.

Each day of the week is unique, and each project I work on is varied from the last.  It’s impossible not to walk away from my shop with unique and different… I never make the same thing twice– that would be boring for me!  Some days I sketch and design; other days my hands are stained red from dying fabric, or I am busy taking apart someone’s mother’s wedding dress in order to make it wearable again.

I absolutely cherish what I do.  It’s difficult and challenging in so many ways, yet nothing compares to seeing a blissful bride walk out my door.  I’m an old-fashioned person–I put an incredible amount of hard work and time into every item I design and create… weddings are special and should remain that way.  My goal is to continue designing and creating heirloom quality work in a time where everything is mass-produced and packaged. I like knowing I offer something rare, something one cannot find anywhere else, something personal…something special.

photo by dixie pixel

Visit Colleen online at http://www.whiteorchidbrides.com/ or at her store front: 1200 North Central Street, Knoxville, Tennessee 37917.

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february’s playlist: side B “the flip side”

february's playlist: side B "the flip side"

You don’t have to be smitten with someone to be crazy about our playlist for February. In hope of providing a delicious and diverse milieu, we opted to steer clear of convention, allowing “love” to remain the driving force behind our selection, but choosing songs that spin it from angles other than sappy…not that we have a problem with barry white–we don’twe just like white lies better.

  • sweet disposition the temper trap (3:51)
  • crystalised the xx (3:22)
  • lovesong the cure (3:28)
  • the high road broken bells (3:52)
  • oscar wilde company of thieves (4:43)
  • sex on fire kings of leon (3:23)
  • the only exception paramore (4:28)
  • waiting for the end linkin park (3:52)
  • to lose my life white lies (3:11)
  • crazy gnarls barkley (2:58)
  • there there radiohead (5:24)
  • undisclosed desires muse (3:56)

album cover photo credit: amazon

Curious to hear how it all sounds together? You can listen to our playlist on itunes. Just search for it under the title February’s playlist: side B “the flip side.” Also of note, we will be posting on Wednesdays (in lieu of Mondays) beginning next week; stay tuned!

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