Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Outside

Does anyone else feel like an outsider? Maybe you're playing along, acting within the cultural guidelines of whatever group you may associate with, but you never truly feel like you belong. I don't think I've ever felt like I "fit in," if there is such a feeling. Sure, I play the game to earn peoples respect, to have them accept me, but I don't feel like they know me any better because of it.

We all crave acceptance, respect and honor. We crave attention for who we are and we want to be known. Someone once told me that every artists motivating force is the desire to be loved by everyone. I think that might be true of everyone, not just artists. We've all felt an inkling of it at some point, that acceptance, and because of that we crave it more. Maybe you've felt it at camp, on a sports team, in a peer group, at church, in a relationship or friendship. We need it, and yet I'm convinced none of us truly feel it the majority of the time. Something tells me even the most magnetic, attractive and talented people probably still feel lonely and isolated. I'll bet they feel like they don't really fit into their peer groups. I've read countless books about famous artists and musicians and actors who took great risks to succeed, to be loved, only to end up alone, isolated, on the outside.

But then again maybe not everyone is like me. Maybe some people feel like they fit their peer groups fine. Maybe they feel deeply known and accepted. Maybe I'm projecting my own issues on everyone else because I want to relate. My parents were never really the tender emotional type, but my Dad once told me something my mom said to him years ago. She had warned him to be careful with me, because I was different and "emotional." I remember feeling really embarrassed by that. All I'd ever wanted was to fit in, and here was my mom saying I was different. My mom also told me when I was six years old I swore to her that I knew what people were thinking. I thought I could read minds. If you're wondering, I don't think I still have that skill. So I don't know, maybe I am different and "emotional." Maybe because I was a middle sibling in a large family I will always feel overlooked. Maybe I'll always feel on the outside. I'm not crying about it, I actually love what my circumstances have gifted me with. Something tells me I'm not alone though.

In our culture there is a lot of posturing and dishonesty. The one thing I hate more than lying is small talk. It seems people resolve to talk about things they don't really care about in some defensive maneuver to hide their true selves. The truth about you is scary, I don't care who you are, and our spineless society is more worried about social graces than true and honest relationships (see blog post "Friends Are What You Like"). With so much posturing and pretension, its hard to keep up with your "friends." If you don't come equipped with enough meaningless BS to spew out, the competitive nature of the conversation might cause you to lose some favor among said "friends." If you don't know your current pop culture or scene culture trivia, you could lose out on some serious ground gaining on the small-talk race-track. Now this isn't to say that all small talk is bad. You don't go up to someone and tell them your deepest darkest secret right after they say, "How's it going?" Its the obsession with the meaningless topics and the competition of it all that drives me crazy. Small talk should be a tool to get to real talk.

All this to say that if I am correct and other people are constantly feeling on the "outside," that perhaps part of the reason is the incredible lack of the true sense of community in Western Culture. I'm as mad at myself for this as I am at anyone else.

One place I do "fit in" is my marriage. By the grace of God I have a great one. The two of us together (Kristie and I) is an incredible thing to be a part of, and I am constantly learning more fascinating things about her. If I tried to explain it would only sound mushy. We've been married coming up on five years, and we've been together almost ten. Five years ago I never thought it could get better. I didn't think I could ever love her more, I was content to continue to love her at that same level for the rest of my life. Incredibly, I feel like my love for her is a thousand planes deeper than that level, and I was head over heels then. We are constantly learning more and more about each other, and we can be brutally honest with each other and still laugh until our stomachs hurt. Maybe thats why I have this desire to be a part of a community that is more, because I have an example of a relationship that has set the bar so high. Or maybe she's just the only person who has ever really attempted to know me and love me for who I truly am. Either way, and we say this all the time, we feel like puzzle pieces that fit perfectly. Now if I could only fit that way in all the other areas of my life...

I think the feeling of being on the outside is a strong motivation for good artists, however, great artists do art for art sake, and they aren't motivated by anything other than their passion for their work. Take a band for instance, struggling to make ends meat, trying to make a mark and be known. They get their shot on a major label and release their debut. Still, the record is written on the floors at friends houses and in their broken down van on the road. The record is full of realism, honest emotion and raw power. It's fueled by the tension between what is and what will be. People love the album. The band has created a niche in the music scene, people pack out shows to see them and they feel they are finally speaking the language of the people. They finally "fit in" to something that is ultimately greater than themselves. Excitement and expectations build as fans are anxious for a second release. Could it be greater than the first? It never is. Why? Take away that tension, and the second record flops. It's forced, it sounds like their chasing that first record, but they never can catch it, because it was honest and raw and fresh and different.

The best bands make music for musics sake. Album after album they put forth an honest effort. Some are better than others, yes, but you still anxiously await the next release because you know there are going to be cuts on it that will make you swell with emotion, that will lift your spirits or cut you to your soul.

So my challenge has been to not let the feeling of being on the outside control what I create. Luckily, we've always had the tension there (we've never been widely accepted), but even more fortunate is the fact that I haven't really caved to it. I haven't set out to write pop radio "hits" (whatever those are), or to fit into whatever scene is hot right now. I'd like to think I write from the heart, with a weird twist from the head and a sloppy scribble from the hand. I'd like the think I don't write to posture or impress or to appease anyone else. Maybe that has hurt us commercially, I don't know.

What I do know is that chances are I'm not alone. I'm not alone in feeling like I don't "fit in," because I know at least a couple people relate to our songs. At least a few people can understand and sing along as if the lyrics were meant for them. We can't all belong, but we can all not-belong together. We can share songs and sing along at the top of our lungs (that kind of rhymes). If that happens again on this new record, regardless of if we sell a million or a hundred copies, you can bet I'll be smiling.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Studio

I apologize for my absence on this blog of late. I've been in the studio the past three weeks recording the third full length album for The Classic Crime. It's been an amazingly rewarding experience on one hand, and an extremely time consuming one on the other. This has been the fastest we've ever worked on a record, but it also feels like the most thorough. I've been inspired by the process and I'd like to sort out some of my thoughts on it.

I'll admit that I've never been as closely involved with one of our records as I am with this one. All of the songs save one were written this year, the same year I decided to start this blog. I feel like being able to write on this thing has improved my writing and how I communicate through a song, it's also given me an outlet and a focus that I haven't had before. Subsequently, this record is (I hope) more honest, poignant and raw, and I can honestly say that I believe this is the most "us" we've ever been.

On this record we've been learning that musical perfection is the sum of imperfect parts. On The Silver Cord (our last record) we experimented with tempos that moved and songs that had a natural ebb and flow. This record is even more dramatic. Only two songs were tracked with a click track (or a metronome for those who are unfamiliar) to keep time. We weren't too focused on the most technically perfect performance, the perfect tuning, or the perfect timing. The end result - what the imperfect parts create - is the perfect vibe, emotion or feeling, and that's what were going for.

Those who know us know that we are a band consumed with creating songs that focus on energy, melody and meaning as opposed to posturing and gimmicks. Not that there's anything wrong with gimmicks, we've just never been very good at them. We've always felt a need to be relevant, to speak to our generation in a language they can understand. I'll say in past records we've proudly worn our influences on our sleeves, maybe partly because we hadn't truly found our unique "sound" yet, but I also think it's partly because we knew that other relevant bands had had success with the same sounds. This record is different. The influences are there, but its such a progression from them. When I listen to these songs we're creating, it doesn't feel like we're doing a great job borrowing or building on our influences, it feels like we're doing something new and better. It feels like we're making important music.

We probably wont sell a million records. We probably wont sell a hundred thousand records. I'm aware that we might not sell any records, but that wont take away from the fact that I love this record. I love this direction, and that is gratifying enough.

We've got something for everyone on this album, some old "us," some new "us," and some "us" you've never heard before. We're the most "us" we've ever been and I love it.