been around lately, a good weekend out in what LA is, a museum, some galleries and hundreds having fun, electric evenings. I suppose summer is here.
Also I played guitar tonight.
Here’s a super rough “song”… I don’t know if it’s that, so much as an idea and letting the lyrics fall out of its pockets to see if there’s anything worth picking up.
I have a fancy recorder that is used for recording, well, sound, and in a high quality way anywhere. I think that sound art is beautiful and I’d someday like to spend months with a backpack collecting field sounds.
Until then, here is a video of a walk through Elysian Park in LA… where the sounds are distinctly not nature but it sets the stage for a really interesting place.
Ok so, The Night Country… Well first things first the title comes from a book that I read back in time, by Lauren Eiseley, where the night is described as a boundary we can imagine and sense but not quite cross into, the place outside the porch light, that we can feel the allure of when alone, that we always could cross into.
Just a little disclaimer: you could pick this idea apart, the irony is rich, but I actually don’t really like talking about what an album is “about” (‘what’s it all about… man?) but I like having a dialogue with YOU so here we are.
This album is very much a continuation of The Faraway. Most of the songs were written during a time in my life where I had made a leap from the small town to the city, very much wanting to prove through my own life and to myself and to the woman I love that a dream can be followed all the way through to the end. Optimism and defiance, which in a way sums up the voice of most of the songs I’ve ever written, maybe.
It has really been a long struggle to let this album go. It has been a frustrating time for my music career, to be honest. And so I think I have been making it take longer than necessary, I think maybe I don’t want to let go of that place, where you lay down your cards and proclaim that win or lose you are triumphant, that that can’t be taken away.
Meaning: the process of finishing (not beginning) these albums has been a reckoning with who I was and not who I am. I guess that’s always true but there are versions of you that you want to hold onto… In my case I respect the defiant optimism still in these songs, and even though that stubborn and wide eyed phase has passed naturally, letting this album go is a form of moving forward that is difficult but necessary.
Big deal right? Here’s where you come in… All of these songs are can be read “as let go, set off, and the journey will sort itself out.” If that’s what you need. Whatever you need, you might find it in there, I know I ran the gamut myself.
It’s necessary musically… I’ve never harkened to any era or leaned on nostalgia so much as I did while recording these. I didn’t harken to the 60s or some other musical bullshit like that, but I harkened to the forever idealized version of my musician self that wailed inconsolably and banged on guitar strings violently and lived in a woodsy bubble removed from coolness without knowing or caring that I was removed. Making music in a vacuum, purposefully not tapping into the endless stream of new, not referencing anything directly, and seeing where all these years of songwriting take me.
And these songs are a foundation and I will move forward gladly, now, but in a way they do justice to the albums I always wanted to make, back when the idea of recording a pretty good sounding album was a distant romantic vision. This one is getting closer (though infinitely far away) to my platonic ideal of an album (Nebraska or Astral Weeks are others for me.)
I’ve nothing to lose with my music, which is liberating. And so there might be some balance here.
And the music should speak for itself and it will, regardless, but I thought I’d write this out and take note of how this particular time and this particular longing was especially tough to unveil. And I hope it speaks to your change and to your resistance to change and to the struggle to reconcile the past that is always present and I hope that what comes through is that that process also yields something beautiful in its own way, even if on the surface it is gnarled and dusty and heavy, inside maybe it’s the light that is easy to carry that reminds you who you are. No big deal, just that. Just the you that approaches the edge of night, the scary territory, that knows you can turn back but does not turn back.
Giving away music for essentially free is a problem that Spotify is both remedying and exacerbating. How to make the platform more musician friendly?
Emulate freemium app strategy. If a song is favorited or an artist streamed for a certain number of times/songs, encourage the listener to support that artist. Establish kickstarter-esque “projects” for every artist and fund their next album in exchange for pre-established thank-you’s such as merch, special edition music, pre-orders, vinyl, etc.
Make it easy to support artists via premium subscriptions and dedicate a certain amount of their payment to monetary support for the artists they listened to most, or allow the subscriber to choose where that slice of their money goes.
Auto-translate (with pre-approval) streams of a certain artist to Facebook likes and Twitter tweets.
What are your thoughts?
“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.” –source
I don’t really listen to or think that much about Taylor Swift, (no particular reason, I just don’t) and this quote is old news, but I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of value she raises. I don’t think the fault for devaluation lands squarely on Spotify or any one listener (myself included), but it is, from my bombastic/genuine point of view, a cultural warning sign that we denigrate the value of the arts to the extent that we do. I think it’s a big deal that someone in her position is taking a stand, regardless for whom she is speaking.
At the risk of revealing where on the totem pole I currently squat, I will say that in order to pay for my subscription to (the ad-free version of) Spotify, my songs would have to be streamed more than* 1,574 times per month. That’s not a HUGE number of plays and many artists get a whole lot more than that. But I’m still at the level where every 100 streams, no, every SINGLE stream I’m REALLY happy that people are listening to the music I’ve created.
By the same token, I currently feel a bit obliged to “undervalue” my music and make it available on Spotify because I am anxious to have it be discover-able. I don’t know where this leaves me, ethically. I still feel really certain that a certain someone finds my stuff and feels something kindred and strong. Valuable. And I can’t think of a better way to make that happen. I’d rather have people listening to what I’ve created, which took thousands and thousands of hours to create, than to have it sit in a nostalgia box somewhere.
Spotify’s rebuttal seemed to be basically “better to get a little money than nothing at all”, but I just don’t see it ever deciding to pay any more out than the very bare minimum. It’s a corporate entity, not a philanthropist organization, which is fine. Spotify is probably also just as much a demographic research pool as Facebook is, ie. the “art” of music is very much secondary to its primary goal of market research.
But I do think that Spotify can do much better. I do think that music has value, and I do laud Ms. Swift.
*that’s at the highest potential rate that I’ve seen in my payouts, which hovers around $0.00635 per stream, sometimes it is half that, and I couldn’t tell you why. Also, commercials interrupting music is disgusting, I don’t care if that sounds pretentious.
Random lyrics to a song that never quite made the cut
On and on and on your beauty
like alarm clocks going off at 2 in the morning
clean your wings and fly away angel
before the smog of growing old swallows you
I just felt like putting this up tonight.
It’s a fine Summer night. Is it the end of Summer? That’s what I hear. Me and Cinco are tending to the empty home while the rest of the pack is off at FYF Fest. Slowdive is playing. Hmm. I wish I was there. It was sold out.
I’ve mostly finished up on a big buffet of music I’m going to serve up in the near future. I’m happy with the work done and mostly the feeling of the songs.
Los Angeles for me: still and ever just past my fingertips somehow. It’s there, I push at it, brush it aside like curtains. But I have yet to pass through.
It’s a good city after all, and there are just so many surfaces you could attach your mirrors to here. Everyone is beautiful and larger than life, even if just in their own minds.
There aren’t country lanes, nature revery is rare, and the general balance leans one way and then the next, undecided. It’s menacing and inviting at once.
Blah blah poetic yada yada. Meaning: I’m here, making music in my dear studio with my dear cellos and my dear thoughts and I’m not on that damn stage at this damn point in this damn city.
That’s my check in.
Hope this version of this song fits with your time and place.
Click on this post then start typing away!
I’ve been in this weird place in life right now where things are moving at light speed forward and days are busy and full, and also where, with my music, I am working countless hours and making seemingly no progress at all.
That happens. I wonder, I really do, if it is me procrastinating subconsciously on wrapping up new albums. It really is a scary thing… once you’re done it’s like… ok: does you likey? what should I work on now?
My thing is mixing. Mixing is when you put all the instruments together at a reasonable volume AND you somehow make it exciting AND you make it sound good on ALL stereos/headphones/cars. It’s not an easy feat and amazingly talented people make a living just doing that end of things. Paying a professional is a little pricey for me though, sadly. So sadly.
I would love nothing more than to take these tracks and send them off to someone to mix and master for me if for no other reason that tragically I get really really sick of these songs by the time I release an album. It’s not that they aren’t good songs, it’s that if they are I wouldn’t know.
Hearing them literally hundreds of times takes the excitement of what’s around the corner out of it. And I think that that is music’s big shazam, surprise, like comedy. Even if you’ve heard OK Computer 673 times, there’s a pretty good chance that you forgot how the tone of that guitar just makes sense for that solo, even though it shouldn’t. Something like that. Or is Caravan before or after Into The Mystic. Etc.
So today though it’s back to the grindstone. Honestly it would be a lot easier to mix my own material if I weren’t so addicted to bass. I listen to a lot of heavy low end music, not at all the more acoustic music I’m mixing. I cannot get enough bass. But too much bass drowns out the high end and it all sounds like mud.
I’ve been guilty of this bass addiction with pretty much every album I’ve ever released. This time I think I might try the recommended balance of things. That’s ok. It’s like following a recipe instead of (my preferred) throwing whatever you have in the kitchen together “artfully”. Recipe seems boring but could be the most amazing. Regardless it probably won’t be a disappointment. Intuitive kitchen-ing? Yeah. That can fail miserably.
I do not subscribe to this belief for songwriting though. No no no. The kitchen of songwriting (for me, don’t mind/care what others do) is not a place for cookbooks. Never ever. Maybe that’s why I’m so well known!
Yeah, I mean, the formula for big pop songs really works. But I just can’t help but feel that it is… not my thing to follow a song formula. And that’s a specific take on the process. The whole songwriter genre is a relatively new thing, but I do believe in it. That one person’s take on creating something is worth the tunneling required to follow/get there.
Well. There you have it.
So here’s the plan:
Give you some pieces of the album along the way the next few months
Tour and see you and play
Wanted to give y’all a video-free version of the cover song I posted on youtube a few days ago.
I’m playing a show this Wednesday, May 21 at Malo in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. It’s really been toooooo long since I’ve played a show and I’m super grateful to Surely Lorraine and Kondo Exurbia for including me.
I’ve been working up new songs because what happens when you don’t play is you forget ALL your lyrics and when you get on stage your brain turns off completely its ability to recall such information and since there likely won’t be a teleprompter it’s better to get it memorized!
I decided I wanted to do a cover because covers are fun for everyone especially when in my case all this material is new and I don’t know what works and what doesn’t. Some songs work live and are kinda lame on an album, and vice versa. So I thought about doing “I’m On Fire” which I’ve always played on the cello but I thought perhaps I’d think of something not done so often (Bruce’s popularity has risen yet again and to my relief his street cred is much higher than I think it used to be… I remember people would ask who my favorite musicians were and I’d say Bruce and they’d think I was joking, which is absurd! Because, well, you know, he’s the best songwriter perhaps ever.)
ANYWAYS so I was letting my mind wander and I was walking down Sunset Blvd. and I happen to live really close to where the show is Wednesday and I realized that the “Elliott Smith wall” is right next door to the venue.
Which is weird and for me kind of eerie and moving because:
• Elliott Smith influenced my life and especially my identity as a songwriter probably more than any other musician. Either/Or changed my life in so many ways. If I had to put it into words (poorly) I would say because he made me realize that beauty and melancholia are not necessarily taboo to all people. People love his music rightly so and it’s sad but not sad at all because it is just aching and oozing with so much life, and feeling FOR life. I’ve never written anything as beautiful as his, but it certainly gave me a context for where my music fit in to the world. And I don’t know if my music is especially sad, I don’t think so and I never set out to make it that way or any way, but people have often told me that in one way or another. So it makes sense, the kinship I felt, musically.
• Elliott Smith kinda really, as silly as it sounds, or naive, is the reason I moved to Portland. Again, I just figured “if music like that is being made there, I need to be there.” And so I moved there, and I walked Elliott Ave. in Ladd’s Addition many many times, often on my way to the Red & Black where I played my favorite shows in that city. And I was enveloped in the rain and the comfort Portland is and it was a beautiful, beautiful time.
• Elliott Smith moved to LA and here I am. And I don’t know where “From a Basement on the Hill” was specifically recorded, but I ended up on a hill in Los Angeles and I never, ever ever would have guessed that. And I’m still making the music I do, for what it’s worth.
• I’m still mad at Elliott Smith for dying. Yeah, I know he “killed himself” which makes me more mad at him… but there’s some doubt and I’ve always felt how if it is true that he stabbed himself in the chest with a kitchen knife there’s so much sadness around that act and everything surrounding his death that truly I can barely listen to his music anymore. Which is a shame. To be clear he wasn’t my hero. But he was a beautiful inspiration.
And so, for what it’s worth I’m going to play an Elliott Smith cover on Wednesday, by his wall, and maybe some closure will come about and maybe I’ll blow it and forget the lyrics! Who knows! It’s unknowable.
It would be nice to see you there, if you are in the neighborhood…
Just got back last weekend from camping with my three brothers, three of my favorite people, at the mountain of gold. Where this video was made last year exactly around this time:
And so The Faraway was so half-assedly “released” to the world. Really it was my birthday and I was going to be gone and I had self-imposed deadlines and thus, hence, I released an album. Without thinking! Without mastering! Without caring.
But that’s fine… right?
Camping now with my girls, my dog Cinco and the ever-amazing Katy Unger. Between last weekend with my brothers and now this, it doesn’t really get better. What a crazy blessed life!
Yeah. Well. Anyways. I thought I might do the same this year with The Faraway part 2. But I’m going to hold off until my return from the ocean and woods and just being faraway. It’s ok. I can do that, I’m indie.
I don’t want to rush it. And, truth be told I’m going to fold in the impatience of that album “release” last year with this one, and it will all be well and good in the universe. You’ll see.
So stay tuned. Hopefully I’m far enough from cell phone coverage to not be bothered with any thoughts of anything at all but guitars and walks and campfires and maybe a beer or two.
Or don’t stay tuned. Stay out of tune. Stay golden. Stay, though, please.
I promise I’ll give you music if you do.
I hope you are feeling good and able to get some good things out of your day. And that it all adds up to beautiful. Thanks for being here. I’ll see you there.
I’m a big fan of interludes and in between moments. I’m a fan of the album vs. the single, and I think these snippets create a glue to hold the other songs together. It’s a fine line and you can kill the momentum of an album pretty easily… But I can’t help myself.
It’s also a way for me to include snippets of musical ideas that maybe don’t ever make it into a song, and the why bother there is that for me albums are more about a certain period of time being captured, rather than a bunch of songs. And those little snippets tend to coincide pretty well with the feeling of the rest of the music.
This one is called “Forge” and it’s a throwback to my ukelele addiction I suffered through last year. I listen to a lot of EDM and somehow someday I want to marry the pulse of that music’s kick drum to an acoustic instrument. For fun and amusement. For justice and glory. And stuff.
Working on a thing, you have this moment before it’s finished where it’s time to take stock. Same with building a bookshelf as it is making an album as it is planning an event, there’s a moment where you can begin to visualize how it all will turn out, and whether some serious reconsidering needs to be done. Is it a ton of things? Just a few details? Was something fundamentally wrong with the inception? That’s the time, and unfortunately you only get to that point after you put in that much work.
This is definitely where I’m at with my latest group of recordings/album. It’s all laid out and I’m got my hands on my hips just kind of nodding my head up and down trying to decipher it, like a crime tv detective looking at the pins on a map.
And it’s either discouraging or re-invigorating.
And I guess my point of bothering to write this moment down is that I realized just now that whether it is discouraging OR re-invigorating is YOUR choice at that point. It’s a choice.
Your bookshelf is a mess all wrong angles the screws are poking through, the shelves aren’t level. That could be it… forget it, other f it, get mad, burn the scrap wood and move on. OR recognize that fixing the fundamental flaws is not only necessary but maybe… (I’m definitely inserting my own optimism here) just maybe this is the most important part. Not the work you’ve already done. But the evaluation of it.
That’s what I’m going to tell myself at this point. And ideally make the most of this moment. Or just burn it as scrap wood. No. I don’t think I’ll do that.
Two favorites. And they just…
I like Chuck and his music a ton. Got to play a few shows with him way back and man, he’s just a great musician and guy. I’m pretty excited to hear his newest album…
It’s been a while between actual posts. This blog. It’s so old. So young. For a while there I thought Facebook would be the way to go to have it all in one place. Before that myspace. But like MySpace Facebook has been eaten up by profiteers and there’s no real connection between me and the folks who like the music I’m lucky enough to make.
Tonight in Los Angeles under a few clouds and hazy moon I’m thinking about what’s next. Last year I “released” The Faraway in great haste, on my birthday, April 14. I knew it wasn’t done but I needed to push forward and also I knew it wasn’t done and kinda didn’t care. I was in the midst of a couple year’s long crisis of confidence. I needed to just say “hey I did this.”
Almost a year later I am coming out of that cozy but lame place of self doubt and have a bunch of new material, or more importantly, the inspiration to act on it. I’ve decided to rework The Faraway and re-release it (one of the perks of being indie, I can do whatever I dang feel like) and also to add a new chapter to it with another album.
It’s good, I wasn’t done, and now I can finish it.
I’m aiming for another birthday release date. I think it’ll be scruffy and delirious as an album, like how it is lately.
So gotta get to it then.
It’s good to share with you again, dear reader. I think I can get behind this ol’ website once again.