So did I. I mean, it was. In 2011, Of Man was released, and Cool Hand Luke embarked on a farewell tour. The line-up was in flux for the final shows, but it was mostly friends from the bands Standing Small, Keep Quiet, Civilian, and Sons. Ironically, none of them actually played on Of Man, which meant they had a lot of hard work learning parts. I’m so grateful to them for their dedication in helping me pull it all off, and more than that, for their friendship.
We played our final show in June of 2011 at a club in Nashville called The End. Poetic, I know. In July of 2011, my wife Brandy and I moved from Nashville (where I had lived my whole life) to Orlando, FL, where we both attended seminary at Reformed Theological Seminary. (If you supported CHL in those days, you may remember that ALL proceeds from Of Man went toward helping me go to seminary. And it really did, and you have no idea how much it helped. That junk is expensive! So, thank you.)
My life, obviously, changed drastically. I went from being dude in a rock band who worked at a coffee shop to dude who wakes up at 5am to study Greek paradigms. It was hard in more ways than I knew to even expect. I never knew how much of my identity was wrapped up in Cool Hand Luke until it wasn’t there anymore. 99% of people I encountered at RTS had no idea who CHL was. It was like, “Oh neat, you were in a band? Never heard of it. Anyway, what did you get on your Hermeneutics paper?” I had an identity crisis. An existential crisis. But I’m getting off the subject. You just want to know the deal with Cool Hand Luke.
In the spring of 2015, I graduated from RTS with two masters degrees. That was more than I had planned on, and I honestly still don’t know how in the world I got through it. Obviously God’s grace and provision sustained Brandy and me through a very time-consuming, expensive process. I’m so thankful that we got to do it. Seminary was very formative for me and Brandy and our marriage. So, now I have a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Counseling. My main job is that I am a mental health counselor at a practice called Journeys Counseling Center in Maitland, FL. (I also practice at Christ Community Church PCA in Titusville, FL one day a week.) I love being able to come alongside people who are hurting and trying to navigate through this broken world. It is a profound honor.
In addition to counseling, I teach drum lessons, and I am a producer at Parafonic Recording Studio. Both of those are fairly part time. It’s feast or famine. But I absolutely LOVE getting to help other people play music and see their vision come to fruition. It’s one of the most life-giving things I have ever experienced. At some point, I’ll tell you the story of Parafonic and my good friend Brandon Shattuck who started it. It’s a good story, but again, it’s off topic.
Over the past two years, I’ve been writing and demoing music. Sometimes it has been with a very clear intention, and sometimes it has just been humming something into a voice memo, not knowing if I’ll ever even listen to it again. I never thought, “I’m working on a new record.” I just wrote because that is what I will always do. I am always thinking of a riff, a bass line, a melody, a weird beat, etc. Sometimes it’s a pretty piano part, sometimes it’s a crushing doom guitar riff in drop C. (Maybe I’ll tell you more about those sometime, too.)
Since I work at a recording studio now, and since Brandon who runs the studio is awesome, he said “Hey, when we don’t have anything going on, we can record some of your stuff.” So we did. Kind of just for fun. I didn’t know if I’d ever do anything with it. But once I started recording, I kept coming up with more and more and more and more song ideas. But, I’m very good at writing half of a song, demoing it, and then forgetting about it. Or getting distracted with new song ideas. Or recording all the music for a song but not writing any lyrics. In other words, I start a lot of things and don’t finish them.
Personally, God has been working on my heart and my character. I am a stereotypical passive, codependent, people-pleaser. It drives me crazy. I mean, I’m a counselor for crying out loud! I know what’s going on, but I still do this stuff. I know that God has changed me and redeemed a lot of those tendencies, but I’m still a work in process. Anyway, I read a book, thinking, “This could be good for some of my clients,” and it ended up being really good for me. It kicked my butt. One of the challenges in the book was not to start any new projects until you finish the ones you’re working on. So, I decided to start with this album.
I talked it over with Brandon, and we made a game plan. So for the past several months, I’ve been chipping away at a record. Usually one day a week, and sometimes not even for a whole day. Once I was about half way done, I realized that I needed to call this thing something.
I thought about releasing it under my name, Mark Nicks. But there are a few problems: 1) Mark Nicks doesn’t sound all that cool 2) No one knows who in the world Mark Nicks is 3) I don’t know about you, but when I just hear a dude’s name as a recording artist or whatever, I imagine that it’s going to be acoustic, singer songwriter kind of music. Nothing wrong with that if that’s you’re thing, but that is decidedly not what this record sounds like. I wanted to avoid the perception that this is coffee shop music.
I also kicked around the idea of just calling it by some new moniker. I had thought I might call it The Balancing Act, since that’s a CHL song and it sort of fits the theme of a one man band. But it turns out there was a band called that in the 80’s. Which leads to the second problem: ALL GOOD BAND NAMES ARE TAKEN. I have lists of names on my phone and somewhere someone has a Facebook page, a Bandcamp page, or a Spotify single under that name. Besides that, if I picked a random band name, no one would know who it was. It would just be one more record floating around on iTunes that no one ever pays any attention to. I don’t have the time and resources to “break” a new band. (I’m not sure I’d have any idea how to do that anyway.)
So, I kept coming back to the idea of putting out a new Cool Hand Luke record. I had three main reasons not to. 1) I said Cool Hand Luke was over. Wouldn’t this be lying? 2) Most of CHL’s fans were listening when they were in high school and college 12 years ago. Now they have kids and mortgages. Will they even care anymore? 3) I have never wanted to give the impression that Cool Hand Luke is just me. It was always a band. For Of Man, there was no official line-up and I wrote all the songs, but I had a bunch of friends play on it. There is no way I could have pulled that off on my own. So the dilemma has been, “Is it arrogant to release my ‘solo’ music under the band moniker Cool Hand Luke? Will people perceive that I’m just trying to milk whatever CHL fanbase still exists?”
Well, I’ll address all three issues. 1) Cool Hand Luke was over. This is very true. I never had any intention of doing a reunion tour or relaunching the band or anything like that. But as I discussed this with a few of my good friends they all encouraged me to just call it Cool Hand Luke. Aaron Stone, who you may know from the almighty My Epic, said “Who cares? Bands do that all the time.” (Just in the past year LCD Soundsystem started headlining festivals and working on new music after doing a publicized farewell show at Madison Square Garden and putting out a documentary about it.) And my friend Tim Inman who I play with some and who fronts The Separate said, “Well, if they are a fan of Cool Hand Luke, they’ll probably just be excited. And if they’re not, they won’t care anyway.” I thought that was a good point. Recently I realized that the last song on Of Man is called Not the End, Not the End. We all should have seen this coming.
2) CHL’s old fanbase won’t care anymore. Well, maybe they won’t. That’s a fear of mine. I think about bands that I liked in college. If most of them made a new record after years of nothing, I probably wouldn’t care much. I may not even bother to listen. In fact, that has happened. But I am hoping that there are still some old fans who will be curious to see what CHL in the modern age sounds like. If I was trying to rehash early 2000’s emo, I’d understand if no one bothered with it. But, I think I’ve got something new to offer. And if people don’t care to check it out, that’s okay. I know it has been worthwhile, and I think people will care about it if they give it a chance. As I’ve grown more aware of my people-pleasing tendencies, I’ve realized that a lot of decisions that I have made in my life, especially as they pertain to CHL, have been driven by fear. But, I want to live out of the freedom of the gospel, driven by truth. I want to risk in the hopes that I might be a blessing for the sake of the gospel. Fear will always leave us second-guessing and trying to eliminate all the variables. It cripples us. I’m tired of that narrative. There is a bigger story to step into. So, here’s step one: a new CHL record. BAM!
3) Mark Nicks does not = Cool Hand Luke. This was probably the biggest hurdle for me to get past. But my good friend Chris McMurtry (from one of my favorite bands ever—Aireline) explained it like this: “It’s a family name. If I say I am a McMurtry, I’m not saying I’m the only McMurtry. But I am in the family, so I can use the name.” This made all the difference in the world to me. I think about Brandon Morgan and Jason Hammil and the other guys who I have had the honor of making records with, and they are Cool Hand Luke, too. My saying that this new music is Cool Hand Luke is not my saying that those guys are not Cool Hand Luke. Does that make sense? It did to me. (Not to get your hopes up, but I have talked to Jason and Brandon—the two other original members of CHL— recently about the possibility of doing some new music. It’s logistically complicated, but we’re all open to it.) And besides that, I definitely did not do this on my own. Brandon Shattuck engineered the whole thing, which he is awesome at. Beyond that he played guitar and bass on the record.
So, now I bring it back to your comment and the title of this blog: “I thought Cool Hand Luke was over.” Well, it was. But in another way, it never will be. I still get emails and hear stories from people about how God has used and continues to use the music of CHL in the lives of people who chose to embrace it for more than just entertainment. Sometimes my life feels so far removed from touring the country and rehearsing for hours at a time that I forget it was even real. But these stories matter. I really believe that Cool Hand Luke mattered to a lot of you. And I think it’s still a fitting name and vehicle for the music that I’m making. I’ll tell you more about the themes of this record and what went into the writing/recording process shortly. But just know that I am proud of it, and I want people to hear it. I think calling this music Cool Hand Luke is the best way to do that, and I have peace about putting that name on it. I don’t take it lightly at all. It has always been a privilege and an honor to be a part of Cool Hand Luke, and I still view it that way—maybe now more than ever.