For most of us, our home is our sanctuary. It is often an escape from the troubles of the day, it is where we make lifelong memories, and it is where we live our lives. It is with this notion of home that Twin Cities musician and professional photographer Tim Cheesebrow forges ahead with his new album appropriately titled Home in the Heartland. The highly anticipated sophomore release is utilizing the crowd sourcing expertise of IndieGoGo to draw funds for the $5,500 project.
“I just threw myself out there and asked for help,” Cheesebrow said. “I’m trusting that my friends and fans are going to catch me and support this project. That’s what these things are really about. You’re completely vulnerable to success or failure, to acceptance or rejection.”
Despite being out on a metaphorical tight rope and in a literal race against time, Cheesebrow is hoping to gain the support of not just friends and family members, but fans and music lovers from all over in order to get his Minnesota grown music to the masses.
Start ‘em young
Growing up surrounded by music, Cheesebrow’s early childhood and adolescent years were spent soaking in the sights and sounds of instruments. His parents dabbled in the industry informally and were amateur singers at church functions. Cheesebrow’s first instrument was the Euphonium (a little tuba) and he went on to earn high honors for performance, sitting first chair at All-State Band two years in a row. He still plays it on occasion with the German folk band “The Bavarian Musikmeisters.”….in lederhosen and all. When he was in his early teens, he often spent time at local coffee shops with friends listening the music of local folk band, Spruce Top Review.
“We would go see them whenever they had a gig we could go to and I can remember they had four part harmonies and they played a variety of instruments,” Cheesebrow reminisced. “It was really, really cool. On the way back home my friends and I were just like ‘Man, we should have a band.’”
So, he grabbed his mom’s dusty Yamaha and began making a name for himself in his hometown of White Bear Lake. Only knowing one Smashing Pumpkins song and a Fleetwood Mac tune, Cheesebrow set off on a journey that would soon lead him the town’s summer-long Market Fest stage. For the next decade, he was a reliable face on the stage performing solos, backing up other performers, playing with his band, and running sound for other groups.
“I noticed a lack of young people playing [at the Market Fest] and as a result, I began to run a stage just for us,” Cheesebrow said. “The other bands wouldn’t always show up so I had to be ready with playable material. And, so I had three hours a week to practice being on stage, putting together a show and successfully running a stage.”
Heading into his college years at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University with a solid grasp on his passion for music, Cheesebrow formed a band that would consist of some pretty heavy hitting current Twin Cities musicians. Playing under the name Echo Union, he teamed up with former Drift Effect members Nate Heinz and Ben Roselius, and longtime friend Steve Monson.
“We basically flipped coins or drew straws for the lead singer position because none of us wanted to do it,” Cheesebrow explained. “I got the short straw. Nate was the bassist and back-up singer, Ben was on guitar and Steve was the drummer. We would book gigs and we would just play music anywhere. Bars, coffeehouses, student commons, school functions, charity events, anti-war demonstrations, farm parties. You name it, we played it. We were kind of the inseparable foursome.
“We made a CD with that group that was really quite awful,” he continued. “We found a studio to do the project for us for $500 and we got exactly what we paid for. Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes in youth. I just wish that mine didn’t turn up in used CD racks, but what are you going to do? I learned the lesson from that disc that it’s better to take the time, invest the cash, and do it right, which is what I’m trying to make sure to do with this album. Get it done right and make music that I, and all the supporters, can be proud of.”
Later in their collegiate careers, Cheesebrow’s distant cousin Marc Hedman-Dennis, current guitarist in Twin Cities Alice in Chains cover band Junkhead and former Drift Effect member, briefly joined in on the action.
But, soon the pressures of upper level college courses weighed down on the aspiring musician and senior projects replaced practice time. Echo Union soon amicably disbanded. Even though the collegiate band fell short of expectation, Cheesebrow held firm to his desire to pursue music.
N.O.L.A. is calling
Several weeks before Cheesebrow was set to graduate college in 2005, a phone call came in from the Deep South with an offer that would bring the music student to the New Orleans area for a teaching opportunity. Brother Henry, a teacher at St. Stanislaus Catholic college preparatory boarding school, asked Cheesebrow to join AmeriCorp and teach at the Bay St. Louis, Miss., all-boys school about an hour east of New Orleans.
“I thought why not?, I’m game. I got nothing else to do,” Cheesebrow said. “He basically said that he would send me a plane ticket and to be [in Mississippi] in July. I said ‘OK, I’ll see you then,’ and I hung up the phone kind of wondering what just happened.”
Throughout the next year, Cheesebrow introduced the eager young men of St. Stan’s to the wonderful world of music. He wrote pieces for the school’s secondary marching band and taught elementary art and music classes. He even stayed in the monastery on the school’s campus and lived as if he were part of the Catholic order himself.
However, while back in Minnesota during school break, he met a lovely gal named Jenn that would change his world forever.
“We weren’t allowed to see girls during the year I was in AmeriCorp and when I was home I was told to have coffee with a neighbor girl who had questions about volunteering,” Cheesebrow explained. “Coffee turned into four hours and when I got back home my dad saw the look on my face. He knew I was toast. He was right.”
While finishing his year in AmeriCorp, Cheesebrow would often sit on the Bay St. Louis beach and write love songs about the girl he said stole his heart. Despite starting a relationship with Jenn with more than 1,000 miles in between them, he knew it was right.
After a year into the program, a case of homesickness set in and the wanting to start his own career brought him back to Minnesota. And, the timing could not have been more crucial.
“A couple weeks after I left Hurricane Katrina hit,” Cheesebrow said. “It completely wiped out Bay St. Louis. There was nothing left of the elementary school. It was completely decimated and there wasn’t even foundation left. You would never even know that a school was there.”
Heartbroken, Cheesebrow made a frantic call to Brother Henry and asked if he could lend a helping hand to the devastated Gulf area. But despite his desire to help, he was told that, while his help would be appreciated, “I would just be another mouth to feed,” he said. In an effort to help from afar, he hosted a benefit with folk musicians and sent the raised dollars down to the affected area.
“Having that time to practice writing songs [while in Mississippi] was good for me and I’ll tell you that those songs are not good at all,” Cheesebrow said. “But having that time to write those songs gave me the realization that music is our best, most eloquent way we humans have of communicating with one another. And, I began to realize that I didn’t want to make any music unless it’s something that will cause people to think about the world in a different way.”
Writing music to change the world
Fast forward several years and Cheesebrow is more in love with life than ever. If you were wondering if his fairy tale love story worked out, it did. He married Jenn and together they now have two growing boys, Finn and Dylan. Settling effortlessly into northeast metro living, he has ramped up production for his second album Home in the Heartland.
Sipping on a piping hot cup of coffee at Café Latte in St. Paul last week, he opened up about what the message of his sophomore record is and why he decided to use IndieGoGo to raise the money. The 14-song upcoming album is a more upbeat collection of tunes that he says are less cerebral than the previous album The Moments Between, which was released in 2011. The new album, Cheesebrow said, is also a plea for a more unified world and the need for a stronger sense of community.
“I’m assuming that many other people are or have lived through the same things I have and they can relate to my hope for people to recognize that their worth is more determined by the value or quality of relationships than it is by the measure of accomplishments or any other thing like that,” he explained.
While some songs on the album have been played on stage before, others are tucked safely in Cheesebrow’s back pocket. Some songs were hammered out in the confines of his parent’s Leech Lake cabin, others were written during the rare quiet time at his Vadnais Heights home.
“I even have a waterproof notepad in the shower for when inspiration strikes,” he quipped, because any good songwriter, or writer for the matter, knows that you never know where or when the next great song will come to mind.
With just 11 days left of his online IndieGoGo campaign, Cheesebrow’s Home in the Heartland album is just more than 2/3 percent funded. As the home stretch nears, and hopefully as the last remaining dollars trickle in, Cheesebrow is reminded of just how supportive people can be in a time of need.
“I think for these kinds of campaigns, it has the potential to change in the way that you think about your career,” he said. “But, when people start funding you it’s a really great feeling of fulfillment. You start to think, ‘Wow, maybe people do actually care. Maybe this is something that I should be doing.’”
Home in the Heartland will be recorded at Essential Sessions Studios in Falcon Heights, Minn., with the help of owner Brad Matala and all local musicians. The album also features the talents of Matt Blake, bass, Marc Anderson, percussion, and Scottie Miller, piano. Also, the intricate artwork for the cover of the album was generously donated by Sarah Schneemann, a White Bear Lake native and longtime friend of Cheesebrow.
For more information about Home in the Heartland and to donate to the project, visit the IndieGoGo site.