Monday, November 22, 2021

Almost Live

Other than the time a couple of months ago that I played a few songs for my friend and his two kids, I have not played a live show since before the pandemic. In an effort to help rectify this, I played a set of original music in the back room of my mom's house the other day. These are all stripped-down acoustic versions of fifteen songs spanning all six of my self-produced albums that I have released in the past five years:


I hope you like it. If you do, please share it. Thanks for listening. 


Friday, November 19, 2021

Wordsmithing

Happy Friday. 

I just spent most of the afternoon entering all of my lyrics and metadata into genius.com, which is supposed to make it available to link with Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services. I think it takes a little while before it connects the lyrics with my songs, but hopefully at some point in the near future, when streaming my music on various platforms, you should be able to make the lyrics appear with whatever song you are listening to. That's the idea, anyway. 

In the meantime, here are a few songs for which I am particularly proud of the lyrics.

First is Imperfect Creatures, from my 2019 album Better Days:

(Sorry for the shitty lighting on this one.)

And so much wasted time
Trying to turn a dollar on a dime

Next, we have Gravel Roads, from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. The rhyme scheme of the first part of the second to last verse is actually identical to that of the first verse:


Got a photograph, a worn out map, a compass on the dash...

Finally, here is Rat Race, from my most recent album, Petrichor (2021):


If you find your way out of here, it meant
There's no controlling the experiment

Thanks for listening. If you like what I'm doing, please share it. 



Friday, November 12, 2021

Make the Most of What You've Got

In today's songs that I'd like to share with you, the album recordings were all played primarily on my daughter's $250 Casio keyboard:



Original Miles is by far my most played song to date on Spotify, with over fifty thousand streams and counting. It comes from Embers (2021), the album that I released in January. Both the main electric piano part, as well as the bassline, were both played on the aforementioned keyboard, pictured above.


Next is Holiday, from Petrichor (2021), which I released in June. Same story in terms of how it came into being. In case you were wondering, petrichor is the word for the smell of fresh rain. It's kind of an ugly word for what it is, but it seemed an appropriate name for this album. If Embers is about destructive endings and nebulous beginnings (which it is), then Petrichor is nature washing away the dirt to expose the intrinsic beauty within. 


Finally, here is Haunted (2021), also from Petrichor, and also played almost entirely on my daughter's keyboard. (If you're reading this, thanks again for letting me borrow it.)


Art is what you make of it. As an added bonus to support this idea, here's the no-budget feature-length documentary that I made about fifteen years ago:



(Special thanks to Ryan Walker for carrying a lot of the weight in editing this thing.)

As always, thank you for supporting independent art. If you like what I'm doing, please share it. Then go make your own art with whatever you've got. Everyone has something to contribute to the discourse of what it means to be human, and I tend to believe that we're all better off because of it. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Art > Ego

I'm going to let you in on a secret. My songs aren't about me. Not really. I mean, they all draw from my own experiences, but the songs come from somewhere else. It's kind of like a broadcast signal, where my role might be compared to an antenna or a satellite dish with the ambition to be a lightning rod.

To me, music is one of the many forms that creative writing can take. Some ideas are better suited to screenplays, books or recipes, etc., but it all comes from the same place, and that place is a hell of a lot bigger than me. I can only take so much of the credit for anything that I create. When I'm in writing mode, the ideas seem to flow through me. It is a meditative state, where riffs, lyrics, and ideas materialize as if out of the ether. I just record them and scribble a lot of notes to myself. On some level, I just have to trust myself to know what I am doing.

Practice builds skill, which builds confidence. Paradoxically, superceding one's ego requires a certain degree of belief in yourself. If there is a trick to tightrope walking, that would probably be it. That and balance, which is the thing that binds the universe.



That isn't to say that there isn't conscious work involved in the writing process, but this usually comes before and after as opposed to during. Assembling riffs and chord progressions into a song requires a little bit of math. I know the basic shape and feel of the song before I start writing the lyrics, but then I try to let the song essentially tell me what it's about. 

The first line that pops into my head is seldom the first lyric of the song, and there is often a lot of rearranging and polishing that take place after a song has begun to reveal itself to me. I do not want to underemphasize the importance of revision. However, in the actual moment of writing, I find that I work best if I don't overthink it. That's what editing is for.


  

It took a long time before I could separate myself from my writing. By that, I mean that it took many years of calling myself a writer before I could take criticism of my work without taking it personally. In the eyes of my insecure ego, where my identity was wrapped up in this thing that I made, the screenplay or song or whatever was my baby, and I didn't want to hear anybody tell me that it was ugly, even if it was in fact a hideous beast. 

The thing is, I have come to recognize that creativity is not so much an intellectual endeavor as it is a basic receptivity to good ideas. Wherever they come from is almost beside the point, but those that truly resonate seem to come from something much bigger than the self, which is precisely how they can connect with so many people. Work out the basic idea, then shut off the compulsive editor and see what happens. If it sucks, don't worry about it, because it just means you recognize that you still have a lot more to learn. The biggest fools are those who think they know everything.



As an English teacher and a student of life, I have to remind everyone that whatever it is that you are writing, it does usually help to plan it first, if only to give yourself a map to where you're going. I can say from experience that my first novel wandered off into something completely different about a hundred pages in, such that the beginning would have needed major revision just to make sense out of where it was going, which I still wasn't sure about. I have also written some terrible screenplays using the seat-of-my-pants method. I find that it's far more suited to shorter forms, like blog posts, poems, and occasionally songs.



I also believe that revision is one of the things that makes writing a far more effective means of communication than speaking. When writing, you have the chance to do it over and polish it until it's exactly what you want to say (or you hit the deadline, whichever comes first). In conversation, we are not so fortunate. We all say stupid things sometimes. There is a reason why speeches are written and not improvised, and improv theatre is more about a quickness of wit rather than the quality of the material. I think that even my friends who do improv would attest to that. Then again, as I writer, perhaps I always took improv personally. There's that ego again.

No matter what I write, that is all it is. It is a thing that exists separately from me. You don't have to like it. I hope you do, because the whole point of communication is to convey meaning to others, plus I've probably spent a considerable amount of time editing it--but hey, if it's not your thing, I don't take it personally. Maybe it's for somebody else. I say this as someone who has told jokes in stand-up comedy sets that fell flat and performed music on stage while a contingent of the bar patrons only cheered when their team scored a point on the muted televisions. It also took me a while before I had control over my stagefright instead of the other way around. The key is in separating art from ego. A little bit of punk rock won't hurt you, either.



Don't get me wrong. I like to take credit for the work that I put into a project, as well as the countless other projects that preceded it, through which I gained the skill necessary to complete the task at hand. I know how hard I work, and I am proud of that. I also recognize that perfection is an unrealistic ideal, so I just do the best I can, which gets better the more I do it. This is true with any form of writing, as well as most things, really. No matter what it is, if you do the same thing every day, chances are that you're probably going to get better at it.   

This is what it means to fashion oneself into a receptive antenna. It takes practice and dedication to one's craft, and the broadcast signals will probably never come through a hundred percent, but I tend to think that the best artists are those who can see beyond the inherently limited perspective of their own egos. It is something to aspire to, anyway.  



It is your ego that compares you with others. It is your ego that takes it personally if someone doesn't like your work. It is who you allow yourself to become that determines how receptive you are to big ideas, as well as what you can do with them. I tend to believe that everyone is capable of genius, because it is not something to possess so much as it is something to channel. If the signal isn't coming through as we'd like it to, perhaps we need to dial in a different frequency.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Quicksand

Today's song that I would like to share with you is called Quicksand, from the album Embers (2021). It's about depression, and how it's something that we all fundamentally experience alone, which only makes it more difficult to endure.

    I don't expect you to understand
    How it feels to be swimming in quicksand

The underlying message is this: no matter how bad things may seem at a particular moment, whatever it is, eventually it will get better. Everybody's life sucks at one point or another, but then, before you know it, things aren't quite so shitty anymore. Sometimes you have to be patient with yourself, though, as to struggle against the quicksand can prove to be self-defeating. You also have to be careful not to pull other people in there with you.

This was the first song that I ever wrote on baritone guitar. To be perfectly honest, I'm not thrilled with the way that the vocals came out on this one, but I think it's about the best I could do with what I've got. Part of it was not knowing how to mix the various tracks properly, as it's got a lot more low end on here than I do on most of my songs and not much to fill in the upper part of the sound spectrum. One of the pros and cons of DIY recording is that I tend to learn by doing.

Continuing with a certain theme, today's B-track is called Don't Forget Who You Are, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It's about the things we wish we could say to the people that we'll probably never see again, and about how old friends are always with us, because they helped shape the people that we become. This also happens to be one of my favorite songs to perform live.

    Don't forget who you are... is unforgettable to me

Enjoy. Share. Love. Smile. Be free. 

    Share your mind, share your heart
    And let yourself be free
    Because only you know who you are
    And all the possibilities...