DAVE SMALLEN : DESOLATION  HAPPINESS  LISTEN  READ  WATCH  SEE  BUY/SUPPORT  SING/PLAY  UNDERSTAND/CONNECT



This album has been a long time coming, and at many times I wasn’t sure it would be made at all.  I began writing these songs in the summer of 2008 as I was finishing up my first solo record, Everything Changes and Nothing Changes in Hollywood.  I moved back to my parent’s house in Oakland and while that record was being shopped around to labels, I was working on the Obama campaign, helping run the Oakland/Berkeley office. One night that summer, I met a girl and fell unapologetically in love.  So much was happening, so much excitement and anxiety and uncertainty in my career, in my fresh and still forming relationship, in the possibilities for my wounded and abused nation.  Songs poured out of me at the piano.  The seeds for the bulk of Happiness were dropped into that trembling soil.

No record labels were interested in Everything Changes And Nothing Changes, and my managers suggested that I move to New York, where they could hustle for me, bring me opportunities to build a name for myself without a label.  At 24 I was already weary from traveling with my old band, Street to Nowhere, exhausted by the tension clamped upon us by the agents of the music industry, relationships severed by the whispers of lawyers, pressures from our deal with Capitol Records.  I was reluctant, but they set up shows for me and I complied, packing my life into my car and setting out across The States on New Years Day 2009.

Upon arriving to New York, as I trudged through the gutter slush to find a room to rent, I couldn’t pin down my East Coast manager by phone or email.  I played my first show of that year with my eyes on the door, watching for her figure to cross the threshold, but she never did.  When I finally got her to sit down with me in a coffee shop, I was scolded for not making her enough money.  I made attempts to switch to someone else within the company, but after two months of unreturned phone calls, the head manager informed me instead that I was dropped. 

I had been scrounging what shows I could in New York and neighboring states on my own, and I began releasing Everything Changes on my website one track per month.  Aside from that, my days were shattered, depressed or furious. I left the apartment now and again to wander the streets, sit at a coffee shop, sometimes catch a museum, always feeling distant and isolated despite the crowds. It was through this long and cold and lonely winter in Brooklyn that “The Place I’m From” was born, and in the middle of the night, “Good Man” spilled out in whispers.

At the end of May, my girlfriend met me there and through storm after storm we drove back west, marooned repeatedly on the long shoulder of Highway 80, in blurring rain and blinding lightening.  As we crossed the California border, dark clouds finally gave way to sky blue and rays of sun on dripping pines.  Tears filled my eyes as we drove up towards Donner Pass.  Everything in life had felt like this week of driving.  Such energy and concentration were necessary to get through each mile, to try to “make it” as a musician, but it was at the constant expense of my own well-being, always allowing myself to be dragged anywhere in the country, onto any stage, through the labyrinth of all these businesspeople’s lies and pressures, and in the name of what? Some fantasy I would never reach, some demon I could never run from?  There had been countless incredible adventures along the way, but I realized that none of these things were worth facing death along an icy highway, or madness in some indifferent city sprawl.  The ups could no longer rationalize the downs.

We moved in together in Oakland and I ordered my college transcripts, thinking I might go back and finish school like so many refugees of failed major label deals, but what would I study?  What did I care about? For a while I was without joy even while holding my guitar.  So much had been invested in my career, lost in the tangle of contracts and recognition that, now severed from that world, the satisfaction of art and music for its own sake had become alien to me. I pulled together a record release show for Everything Changes at the end of the year with old friends backing me up.  And on my home turf at Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco with so many familiar faces in the room, I managed to dig up that rush of excitement that had long been buried.

These musician friends and I started jamming now and again.  I’d pick Evan and Mike up after work and we’d drive up to Sacramento to meet Noah, to make some noise in an old practice space. Then we’d just hang out for a while and drive home in the early morning hours.  I loved those nights.  They brought me back to why I started playing music in the first place - and if I wasn’t singing, I was laughing.  I started teaching myself how to record in my apartment and over time we made demos of all the songs that wound up on Happiness.

Between the shows I hustled around California, some royalties from song placements, and the final drops of savings from Street to Nowhere’s deal with Capitol, I was able to make rent and have the time to break into new territory with my art and music.  The final song I finished for Happiness came about during this period: “Sometimes The Right Cure Takes A Little More Pain.”  Unfortunately though, my relationship ended and all of our things came back down the apartment steps. In December 2010, I threw what was mine into my tired Honda Accord and took the 101 to LA.

In Los Angeles, I hit a stride for the first time in years where doors seemed to open consistently for me.  I moved here with music on the back-burner, thinking I’d find a full time job and an apartment and then look for someone to produce my album on the side.  Upon arriving though, an old friend offered me a curtained off dining room in a big house where I could freely make art and music and still afford rent.  Unable to connect with a producer within my budget, I booked a day at The Hangar Studios in Sacramento and Evan and Noah laid down bass and drums for a few songs.  I took those recordings home and started producing the album myself in my bedroom, dragging my gear out to the garage now and then to capture a strange old Silvertone Organ that a previous roommate had left behind.  I returned to The Hangar once more to repeat the process with the guys, record piano and a few live takes of “Good Man” and “The Place I’m From.”

After six months of trial and error, what I (and a handful of talented friends) had laid down was sent to be mixed.  Now, listening back, I am pretty astonished by what we were able to do on our own, by the end result of this lengthy organic process.  I never had intended to produce myself, but through this effort I’ve learned skills that will give me the freedom to make albums on my own terms from now on.  It also allowed the excitement of music and art for its own sake, the satisfaction of simply facing each creative challenge, to return in full force.

One last important thing:  All the costs of recording were fronted by listeners via an online fundraiser.  Fans and friends and family came together around this project and gave it a life.  From an endeavor that was born in rejection from the mainstream music industry, with a batch of songs that were tested alone on barroom stages, through years of drives down dark lonesome highways, I found myself completing the process alongside a cheering crowd of real people, genuinely invested in my work and in me. 

So many are responsible for Happiness and I couldn’t possibly express the full extent of my gratitude to everyone who performed on this record, everyone who helped to record it, who talked me down from a creative ledge, everyone who inspired these songs, gave me a space to work in, put their hard earned dollars on the line, sent me so many words of encouragement that have kept me going through thick and thin.  After ten years of steep terrain with my music making, I feel new life being breathed into my work, so much fuel to continue down this path into the wilderness. I am proud to be an independent artist who is by no means alone in his effort.  Thank you for being a part of what I do.  Thank you for listening.