FeelMon, 06 Aug 2012 01:30:00 +0000
My new record, Desolation, will be released tomorrow and I figure I should tell you a few things about it:
After producing Happiness myself with a cohort of good friends, I was eager to dive into another album and put everything that I’d just learned to use. The batch of songs I had ready were all a little darker, a little more strange than usual and I felt like it would be a satisfying challenge to attempt the project by myself, to play all the instruments, record it, mix it, lock myself away with it, and see what would happen.
This approach worked really well for me. Because my skills at certain things (mixing, for instance) are brand new, it’s definitely quite imperfect. There are times when it feels really raw, distorted or unbalanced. This was a major battle between my authentic self and the perfectionist in me (that I’ve been slowly trying to kill), and I think that the imperfection of these tracks totally serves the spirit of the songs, probably my most vulnerable batch yet. They gasp. They wriggle and moan. They explode.
I wanted it to be accurate to the shape and structure of certain feelings that have been mentioned in my lyrics that I’m not sure I’ve been able to touch with the production of my last two records. I especially wanted to do my best to paint the sensations of anxiety/panic, grief, anger, worthlessness, nostalgia, regret (and hint at a little hope and peace as well). I think I did pretty well with that. I mean, I feel like this album really is terrified of itself, really hates itself, feels sorry for itself, longs with its whole being for something it doesn’t understand...
- - -
Why so much focus on these places inside of me that seethe and swarm?
Because, though my music and art has allowed me to inch closer and closer in the last decade, I’ve still spent my whole life running away from them. And every time I flee, they tighten their grip and gain more power. By honoring their existence, by meeting them face to face and allowing them to be seen, heard, and understood, I find that they do eventually stop screaming and lay down to rest for a while. The process of making this album has helped me to ease in beside them (with a little affection even), to fall asleep with these heaps of fangs and claws slumbering at the foot of my bed.
I recorded it throughout winter and spring of 2012 in my bedroom on the east side of LA. I also spent a couple rainy weeks with it in Oakland, in the house I grew up in, just myself and a german shepherd. I allowed these hard sensations to rise as recording sessions spilled from day into night and back into day. I felt the solitude, the regret, the injustice and shame and I let it all stay. I let it pull me down over the canyon rim, down into the darkness, down into cold river that carved everything out in the first place. And because I played every instrument on the album, the whole thing had to flow through me, through these difficult emotions, through my fingers and vocal chords, onto the guitar strings and piano keys, into the microphones...
- - -
The abstract painting I’ve been doing these days influenced the production as well. My process with abstract pieces is usually just an in-the-moment negotiation, a series of changes, then reactions to those changes, and so on... I rarely plan anything out. I instead feel my way though the piece, allowing it to evolve without any pressure, and when I get a sense that it is finally “working,” I put down the brush. I followed this approach as I layered instruments and vocal parts onto these tracks. It was liberating, and a much more enjoyable process than sketching everything out and forcing it into shape.
Finally, it’s been resonating with me recently how our emotions are, in certain ways, much more real than our thoughts. Though our plans, strategies, daydreams, worries, etc, are fundamentally necessary and allow us to survive and evolve, to navigate our lives, to write books, build cities and feed billions, they still are only fantasies, ethereal mists filling the dark space of our unknown futures until the moment of truth crashes in with structure and closure. So often we follow our thoughts as if they are real experiences, so often I’m confused and stressed to exhaustion as I chase these illusions. We carry the burden of our thoughts as a deer carries his antlers - a weight on our heads, a strain on our necks. The flow of our feelings, though, is no fantasy, no projection to another world and time. Our feelings are there, real and tangible in each moment, constantly informing us, advising us, rising and passing through our here and now. They are the mouthpiece of the unconscious. They are the voice of Nature herself.
In this way, I think that my focus on feel has made this one of the more genuine pieces of art that I’ve produced. During those long days of recording, I imagined you listening to it alone as well. I pictured you on a dark highway late at night with the windows down to a vast warm plain, or with flakes of snow closing in on you forever and ever.
I do hope you find a good piece of solitude to hear it in. And I hope, of course, that you find it to be of some good use.
All my love,
Where We Connect / DesolationFri, 27 Apr 2012 22:09:00 +0000
I’ve told this story before.
It was Summer 2004. I was nineteen and traveling as a roadie, changing guitar strings for The Matches on Warped Tour and picking up slots on little side stages when bands wouldn’t show. We’d driven all night, like most nights, to an amphitheater outside of Chicago. I got my prep work done early that day because I knew that one of my heroes would be joining the tour - Lars Frederiksen from Rancid.
He was there with The Bastards and I watched them alone from the side of the stage, a sea of people stretching out beyond and a massive pit whirlpooling in front of him. They hit ten enormous chords to end the set and as he stormed by me down the ramp, I asked if I could talk to him.
“Give me 5 minutes, man!” he said. But I was already late for work. “I have to go,” I said, “but I just wanted to say, thanks.”
I started to leave, and he called out behind me, “Wait!”
I turned around and he motioned for me to come into the side-stage trailer. I walked to where he was standing and he put his hands on my shoulders, stuck his sweaty tattooed face right down in front of mine and said, “You got something to say to me?”
Tremblingly I went off, spilling about how in the years prior, when happiness had felt like an impossibility, his music helped me through. I stood there with this guy, on the verge of breakdown, and when I stopped talking he was just silent for a long time, eyes blaring into mine beneath this huge mess of spiked hair, until finally, with those heavy hands pressing down into my shoulders, he asked my name...
“Dave,” he said, “You saying that... That saves me... That saves me...”
As much as that meant to hear, part of me thought he was sort of bullshitting me at the time, that it was just some old fashion punk rock solidarity. I mean, it was almost too intense, and he was the guy that wrote the songs that pulled me through... What could I do for him? Though I couldn’t imagine it then, looking back today I know for a fact that he was sincere. I know this because when I hear from someone that the things I’ve created have resonated, that something I’ve shared has been there with them on a dark path, it does save me. It saves me every single time.
Somehow it always happens at just the right moment too. Just when I need it most, there’s a courageous message in my inbox or someone magically recognizes me somewhere. And there’s one consistent piece of feedback that comes with almost every interaction:
And I promise that I won’t. I won’t stop writing songs. And I’m so grateful that I have you to share them with. Making music gives me the faith in myself to push through each hard time, and if life has taught me anything, it’s that a lot of us are facing hard times a lot of the time. I have this Holden Caulfield-esque tendency to want to protect everyone from that cliff’s edge. And I’ve only been realizing recently though, that racing along that precipice, that stumbling and taking the plunge now and then, is fundamental to the anatomy of everyone’s life. Protecting someone from that pain is like chopping a limb from their body, like depriving them of one of their senses. No, we can’t fully protect one another and I’m not sure that we should. But we can be there to help each other along, to dress mutual wounds on the valley floor, to lead one another back up that cliff’s face once again. My battles are your battles, are everyone’s battles. It’s strange, but I’m kind of grateful for the suffering that life slaps us with. I’m grateful because far too often, suffering is the place where we connect.
The past year has been an unintended time of reflection for me. I’ve spent a lot of it alone, working on music and art, wandering through Los Angeles, hiking in the mountains, thinking, reading, working odd jobs... Extroversion has been sort of a challenge and only has come easily in intense bursts. Performing hasn’t made sense in this time and hustling to agents and trying to fill rooms with people, driving all night and constantly having to prove myself to someone new, has especially not fit with the way I’ve been feeling. I find that the deeper I get into my own creative pursuits, the less interested I am in the entertainment business, in this world behind what we used to sort of depend on as musicians, this labyrinth that I spent the first half of my twenties inexorably tangled in. I have just been able to climb free... And I find that the more I come to understand myself, the more comfortable I am with who I really am, the less interested I am in proving anything to the world. The the more risks I’m taking with my art, the less I seem to care about taking risks to capitalize on it.
This is at odds with continuing to make a living with my music and I’m still unsure with what to do about this. Far from any spotlight, I’ve been able to be prolific and inspired, to break boundaries again and again in my own artistic process - here in my little work-space - but getting paid enough to survive as an artist these days still usually hinges on being marketed and being well-known and all of that. I’m not certain where I’m headed now, though for the most part, I’m okay with the mystery. I’m curious to see what happens.
I try to look at life as a story that’s being told to me from moment to moment. The more self aware I become, the more often I can step back and just witness myself, just experience how I act and what I feel in each new situation. I pay attention to how I respond, how I function, how I treat myself, how I treat others. The less judgmental I am towards myself, towards my actions and inactions, my conscious and unconscious choices, the more I can just watch this drama/comedy/tragedy/horror/feel-good-flick unfold before my eyes. I can even sort of enjoy it when it’s painful. I get myself into messes, I make mistakes, there’s conflict, there’s beauty, there’s love, longing, joy, tension, sorrow, anger, adventure, heartbreak, death... Shit, every now and then I even get the girl! It’s a fucking fantastic story, the fundamental human story that we all get to live.
Making music has always helped me to cultivate this observational awareness, to allow me to make sense of my world by turning the abstract within into something concrete that lives in the external world. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have this tool and it’s cool to watch it evolve over time, to pick it apart.
For instance, I was on a walk today and I was thinking about what exactly it is that I do. I decided that there are three main things that I’m interested in. First, I like to construct things via the connections of ideas, sensations, stories, concepts, language, color, texture, music etc... Secondly, I’m interested in telling my story, in being heard and understood. And finally, I’m interested in truth, which to me is this fascinating lens that gives you a different perspective depending on the angle in which you’re looking through it. The sensation of something “feeling” true is exhilarating to me. Sincerity - that simple, subjective, intuitive, human truth - that’s the secret ingredient to any great piece of art.
Within that, emotional accuracy is my current obsession. I’ve pretty much ditched any concept of how I should be feeling for a general fascination with what I’m actually feeling and an examination of it. The album I am currently recording is all about this, product of some anxiety-fueled and heartbroken periods that occurred in patches over the last few years. I mean, my life isn’t all debilitating panic attacks and crushing sorrow, there’s a been a ton of joy and love and happiness (duh) that I’m grateful to have experienced within these times, but I had an albums worth of songs in this realm completed and this has been the appropriate time to collect them together. It’ll be called Desolation, a word that’s always struck me with a beautiful austerity. I’ve been recording it all on my own in my bedroom, so it should be pretty raw, kind of low-fi, kinda clunky, pretty different than anything I’ve done before. I’m excited with how it’s been turning out though and I’m wondering how you all will interact with it. We’ll just have to wait and see.
--- read more
Late Night WalkSat, 31 Mar 2012 05:24:00 +0000
It doesn’t hit me that it’s an odd place to cry until the barista gives me a second side-glance. Maybe I’ve been choosing the wrong topics to read about in public - dying, addiction, poverty. I used to feel like I was on the sidelines wherever I’d go, but on nights like tonight I’m not even in the stadium.
Change is slow. The flower unfolding, closing shut. You don’t perceive it until that single instant when the bloom fills your gaze - but there’s a crescendoing process that leads you there, an unconscious ocean weathering the rocks into these monuments of our lives. Acceptance isn’t a celebration, it’s a weary release. I spent the last few years swimming against the current, until one day my legs refused to kick. It took forever to burn out, one thing at a time, but eventually I found myself living in a ruin, in a life without walls, and these chains began to spill off of me. These chains I had never felt or seen until they were clinking down into piles at my feet. I thought I would just fight forever, but something had been shifting below...
I leave the cafe and walk slow, staring into the closing stores and restaurants, chairs on tables, focused servers counting out tips, winged folds of perfect napkins rising from tea cups, dormant til the morning. The little glints of light on everything glass, ceramic, on glossed lips, the flashing strap of a spiked heel, in the eyes of lonely magazine browsers, on shimmering faces folded over sweaty hands.
The thing is, our great men and women aren’t the ones battling for that publicity. The great ones are walking among us, are spending their resources, their energy, to provide their families, their communities, and their own bodies and minds and souls with what is actually needed for human lives to thrive. For the most part, they aren’t dancing through the thoughts of people they don’t know. Yet we raise our admiration to he who tries to fill his insatiable void in the most stylish way, she who suppresses her truest feelings with the freshest attitude, to whoever does the sexiest backflip off the canyon rim. There’s this pain beneath the big personalities. Look at the edges, the white around the iris. There’s this desperation. It is as if you have to earn your acceptance, your worthiness of love, in some elaborate display. Why must we work so hard? How would the world be if these things were thrown free into the bundle with each human life? Could our lives be propelled by genuine purpose? Or allowed to roam free without one?
Passing the long sidewalk window of another cafe, there’s a couple who had been sitting by me while I was reading. Faces break into silent laughter across the pane as they catch me noticing them on another station of a obvious first or second date, the positive surge from their mutual risk of heart is practically burning the place down.
Great love doesn’t need to throw a six figure wedding, doesn’t lean on the weeping violins of a Hollywood score. Great love has dirty hands, is callused from the garden, is all courage and hard work and integrity and a whole lot of reward. These big performances aren’t required. What’s good inside is apparent in your actions and in the peaceful rests between notes. Why the grand display? And that hipster irony of the past decade, the great scoff at sincerity that foams from the mouth of post-modernism - these are acts of violence. It’s the hyping and promoting and selling of an empty space where compassion should dwell, it is a torch to the ingredients of love.
I cross the street too slow and the light changes on me. I jog out of the headlights. A lone car revs past me and the street is quiet again.
I’ll probably always have to live with a little voice telling me I need more, telling me I’ve failed, telling me to go back, to buy into it all again... But a long time ago I started feeling gross selling my music, selling myself, in any way that felt disingenuous. I stopped being able to fully participate in a machine that I no longer believed in, that had left me in harms way again and again until finally I couldn’t get back up and do it again. What do you do as a musician who refuses to go as a musician is supposed to go? Eventually actions like yours might innovate and shift the culture, but most likely they just cause you to slip through the cracks. It’s worth it though, to do what seems right, to brave the path I believe in, even if I keep finding myself further from the crowd, further into the dark and unknown.
A woman speeds up as she walks by me, holding her gaze on the sidewalk. An alley opens to a courtyard of vacant tables and chairs, to a lone waitress sweeping up. She gives me a glance that holds on too long, makes me wonder if it's something interesting, or something aversive...
Really, I just want to tell you about how I feel and share some of my stories and convictions. When I do it in the form of a song, it has this extra power to resonate. I’m not going to stop doing that, maybe ever, but I’m going to have to start sending up my flares from a different island. I’ve had my adventures and now I need to figure out how to take care of my life in a way that I deserve, so I can be there emotionally and physically for those I love - including myself. A lot of the dissatisfaction I’ve felt in this line of work has come from my own bullets ricocheting back at me. And I understand why my brothers and sisters die at this age. I’m so tired, but I’m climbing out from beneath the pressure, beneath this boulder field, and it’s hard to imagine someone doing so with the added chains of fame and hardcore addiction slinking around their neck. We live in a society that doesn’t accept that emotional trauma is just as damaging as physical pain, a society that claims insult a separate act to injury. We raise up our tortured youth to watch them writhe on the pedestal. We nurture a mainstream culture that circles around and around the suffering until death arrives, then swoops down to monetize the sorrow.
A pen falls from my pocket as I get my keys out. Its click against the sidewalk offers a salute to the silence, to the rhythm of streetlights looping red and green forever into a lonesome vanishing point. I’ve probably wandered closing-time streets more than anyone I know. It’s hard to twist words around what calls me to these nights, what pulls me through sidewalk crowds or snowy darkness, what drives me up the winding mansion-lined lanes or down to the rags of skid row. I can tell you that its shape is in exact opposition to a massive crater I see blasted across the heart of humanity. I can tell you that it reels me in from the realm of the unconditional, from somewhere so safe and accepting, so encouraging of trust, so overflowing with honesty and compassion and vulnerability that it couldn’t possibly exist in this world - in this era. I keep searching though. I keep searching because some part of me demands that it be unearthed, because something tells me it’s the only answer, the only way out.
Final Metaphors For 2011Fri, 30 Dec 2011 22:26:00 +0000
You have to pull all the weeds, clear away the rubble and the trash that came in on the wind.
To pull a weed, you have to know which ones are weeds. When clearing away the decaying piles, you have to know what to keep, what rusted engine part might come in handy one day. You don’t know all of these things perfectly. You do know them better with experience, with study.
Your garden will not grow all at once and not every sapling survives winter. Not every bud will blossom. You’ll probably want a foundation for your house, and it would be wise to draw up some plans before you begin construction. In reality, you probably can’t build it alone, and you might have to fire your contractor along the way.
Everyone you know is a fucking asshole. No one understands you, and you are completely alone. Also, everyone is kind. They get it, and they are totally there for you. You have to filter though the advice and opinions. You have to listen for your own voice beneath the static of the chanting pundit or the caring friend. You must own up to who you are, not just accepting the shelves you can’t reach, but acknowledging your ability to climb up onto the counter.
You have to find the boundaries of your time and energy, play your cards tactfully (“yes” - “no”), knowing nothing is black and white (“yes, but...” - “no, though...”). You have to see what kind of fuel is in your tank. Loneliness burns fast in a crowded bar. Running too long on anger will start a fire. And you have to figure out how to be easy on yourself when you break down. You will break down. And you will break down again and again and again.
You are fortunate. Your whines are the whines of the sheltered and well-fed, with potable water from a fashionable pipe in your kitchen and all of the information recorded by mankind in a device in your pocket. Also you are shattered, suffering, alienated, confused and lost and hopelessly in need. Your “feelings” are physical firings within your body. You are literally in pain, literally panicking and you usually have no idea why. That guilt for your existence is a burden for the nations, a burden for the gods. You do your part. You have my permission to feel like shit if shit is how you feel.
You are being manipulated. You are being used. The subversive thoughts that crack these massive chains need not be violent. Self-awareness is subversive. Love is subversive when not a fairy-tale or some abstract vibe. Shock is just a great way to make a million dollars. A riot is a great way to kill your neighbor. We have to change within us before we’ll see a changed world. We have to see past the guilt, the denial, that keeps us in an abusive relationship. We have to see corruption beyond a war on terror, grief beyond a door we’re not certain we locked. These things are in the open now. Let’s keep them there. Let’s go deeper.
You’re going to have to stop thinking only of what is wrong. You’ll have to take that wrong and flip it, figure out its opposite, turn a not-thing into a thing. And when you’ve searched for and decided on the antitheses of that cozy object of loathing, you must break it apart. You have to map out its components, the individual pieces that are necessary for that good machine to run. Which ones are broken now? What is worn out? What is stuck? What is clogged? Where can you find replacement parts? What can you sharpen or solder yourself? Where do they do repairs?
And when you’ve changed, your surroundings will treat you differently. You’ll drive right past that old bar on Saturday night and circle aimlessly around a city that suddenly holds nothing for you. You’ll spray us with tears as you release the hand of that beloved and drowning friend that is only going to pull you under.
What I mean is, you’ll probably find yourself camping out alone on a vast and snowy plain. You might be on your own to lay that foundation. You may have no one to comment to on the palette of your garden in the vibrations of that first Spring. You’ve made space and space is nothing. It is very cold and the walls around it are coated with dust. It is a shitty companion. But you’re building something. Something honest, something that will be appreciated. It’s just gonna take more patience, more hard work.
So in the meantime, Thank you 2011. Thanks for the laughter and pain.
Let’s crack this new one open and see what’s inside.
All my love,