Friday, May 28, 2010

Tour Log #7: Going Home

Tonight marks the first tour stop on our trek back to Seattle. Finally. We've had only about a week off since March and it'll be good to spend some days home this summer. It's odd to think that in 2006 we played close to 200 shows, and slowly but steadily we've played less and less each year. I think this is in part because we no longer have to tour JUST to tour, but I think its also in part because we're a bit more weary of it nowadays. Tour is only necessary in smaller doses, and it also happens to be more exciting for us as such. We've established our base, and we will take our opportunities as they present themselves. No need to force it. No need to beat the streets for scraps. No need to risk a potential burnout. We're going home for the summer to recharge and sustain ourselves with fly-dates, festivals and fairs. I'm looking forward to the weekend trips, the week days at home, cooking, writing, and hopefully producing. All this is nine days and 1800 miles away, but so much closer than it was a month ago.

I tell Kristie I'm "on my way." I tell her that all the time, actually, regardless of where we are in the tour, but it's usually only figurative. Now it is literal. I am literally getting closer, and that feels good.

I can say that I've felt blessed by this tour. With bands dropping off a tour like they have it's hard to expect decent results. We've been pleasantly surprised by the turnouts, and by the energy of the crowds. We can tell that our music does matter, and that with each record we form a deeper relationship with our fans. It's inspired us, and lately (I can speak for all of us) we've felt blessed. However much we fail ourselves and lose track of our vision, we can always count on our fans reminding us. Through your stories, sincere thanks, and just plain old showing up we are reminded why we take this show on the road every year. Why it is still worthwhile. If you've showed up this year, thank you for appreciating our art enough to support it! We do not take you for granted.

For those of you who are tired of this insipid journaling, I'll get back to essay-blogging soon enough.  


Monday, May 10, 2010

Tour Log #6: Vocal Rest

I'm sitting in the van (also sometimes referred to as the Green Beatle or the DonJon) in Jermyn, PA right outside of Scranton, waiting to play our 7th show in a string of 12 in a row today. I've been employing the "vocal rest" technique daily and counting down the shows until we take that coveted day off. Vocal rest is when I don't use my voice all day until I warm up pre-show. These days it's all I can do to get through a set without blowing it completely. It's been good for me though, this not talking business, because usually I talk far too much. It allows me to observe  and process as opposed to my usual immerse and react. One day we'll have in-ear monitors which will help preserve my voice, or maybe we wont, but I can at least hope for the best!

Ah, I just caught wind that the catering is in, and me being a committed Freegan cannot pass this opportunity up.

Please pray my voice will hold out until the day off! We don't want to have to cancel any shows, or worse, sound like complete garbage.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tour Log #5: Jesters

I'll be honest with you. Sometimes I wonder if this is really worth it. When will this stop? This beating the streets like they owe us something. To what end?

I do not need pity, encouraging words, sympathy or even empathy. I only need to vent. I've never been one to polish myself up or adopt and portray the illusional lifestyle of the rock star or the scene star, or whoever people want me to be. I'm just me. I'm well aware of where I am, and I believe the truth in the quote by Gary Hamel that says, "The longer you're down in the trenches the easier it is to mistake the edge of your rut for the horizon." Perhaps that is where I am now, the trenches, and for the life of me I can't see passed the rut.

Does any one night make a difference when the next we do it all over again? We live without consequence and leave with only one regret; that we didn't have more. More of our fair share? More of what we're owed? Maybe some reassurance that this is the right path? We are owed nothing. We are the jesters of this country. Cheap entertainment for the outcasts, by the outcasts. 

Fitting, but to what end?

Is this a pipe dream? A projection of ego? Will it all come crashing down, taking casualties with it, proving itself a mistake? Sometimes I feel it slipping...

Two years ago I tapped something I was feeling into my phone, it never made it into a song but occasionally the feeling returns to me:

I can't hold this world together anymore
It's tearing at the seams
The pressure's building soon it will explode
And nothing will remain but me
Like chopper blades the things I can't control
Have cut me down and left me here to bleed
The pressure's building soon I will explode
And chase away the people close to me

It's not the deepest or most original piece of poetry I've written, I know that, but it's honest. I suppose it reflects anger for how brutal the things out of our control can be to us... self destructive anger. Why? Because as much as struggling for years has built my character I will always at my core hate it. Even when I rejoice in my struggles, those few moments of unwavering joy and peace are fleeting. I always return to the constant, the thing that never changes (see blog post: The Struggle). I want to ignore it, to run from it, because I don't like it.

I always return to the reality that I'm broke at twenty-seven, with no current future outside of writing songs that on a great night two hundred people will show up to listen to live, paying us enough money for gas and a hotel and a few hundred bucks at the end of a six week tour. We take that money and we try to save it, but bills and debt pile up and we're forced back out on the road. I've damaged my voice so many times that the slightest thing will cause me to lose it. Without in-ear monitors I have no chance of saving it, especially at the tiny venues with the terrible sound systems and the incompetent sound people, but we can't afford an in-ear monitoring system. We can't afford a tour manager to take care of the things we currently struggle to take care of. We can't afford a sound person to make sure we can hear ourselves so we don't lose our voices or sound terrible live. We can't afford any luxury that would make us perform better, feel better, sound better, or stay healthier. We can't afford anything good in the trenches.

I wouldn't wish this life on anyone. It's groundhog day every day, with seemingly no headway made in any practical way. Sometimes when I'm on stage I feel like an aerobics instructor at best, dancing and sweating to the beat and trying desperately to encourage the audience to do the same. When I feel that way I start to resent our music. I start to hate it. We're just one band in a sea of bands, and we're running out of the naivete required to plug away like this for years to come. 

Again I don't want pity, or any sympathetic response you may feel inclined to type. I especially don't need people to tell me that I'm lucky, and that I should feel blessed and that they would kill to be in my shoes. The truth is, most people wouldn't last one tour before their first mental breakdown. I've seen it. Most people are far more domesticated than they realize. Me? I'm built for this constant moving, I'm not a nester at all, and my struggle has been made obvious to you via this blog.

The only people that I've been able to relate to outside of touring are military people. They too leave their loved ones for months on end, putting themselves in harms way for a certain set of ideals in an attempt to be a part of something bigger than themselves. In the end, most military people justify it because of the paycheck. The ideals fade, the sense of duty becomes clouded and they get jaded too. But the paycheck keeps coming, so they keep re-signing with the hope of early retirement and financial freedom. 

I suppose money is a piss-poor motive on the grand scheme of things, but it sure would be a nice thing to fall back on!


P.S - Please know that I do not feel this way all the time, and that most of the time I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to be the voice of change in the lives of our listeners. I just felt like it was high time I wrote this feeling down so I can keep it contained in clear view.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Artists Aren't Politicians

Part of the appeal of music is the idea that somebody can supernaturally speak to your soul. We idolize our favorite musicians, pining after their every creation as if they have the ability to communicate on a higher level than others in their field. I think as a culture, as a race, we love fantasy. We love magic and fairy tales, and music has the ability to fall into any or all those categories. It strikes the similar mystical chord within us. We don't want to believe that these people (these favored musicians of ours) are on the same playing field as the rest of us. We want to believe they're playing a whole different game, on a whole different plane, and that we're just catching a glimpse of what they've seen. They're somehow more cognizant, more aware, more in tune with the metaphysical. They are like prophets and we scramble to hear their words, to be moved by their musings and melodies, to receive the message we otherwise could not have heard. The message of most importance. 

We treat them like prophets, these favored musicians, but just like the prophets of old we stone them when they say the things we don't want to hear. Our fickle culture which tends to move quickly from one emotional extreme to the next seems to lack the loyalty and wisdom to hear something unexpected, critical or challenging. In a world where instant gratification is god, digging for food is too burdensome for most and can even incite contempt in a few. Not only do we write these prophets off when they deviate from our expectations, we can quickly write off and discard what was once deemed by us as profound. 

I wonder why this is? I do it all the time. The music I envied ten years ago is music I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit I listened to. Perhaps it's because we attach ourselves so tightly to Status, whose standards are set by Culture, which is driven in a big way by Trend through Media. The music I liked is no longer trendy. Of course, there are some things that appealed to me in my younger state that no longer speak to me as an adult simply because they lack the maturity and depth I now crave, but most of the time I've grown out of things primarily because they became cliche, overdone, and out of fashion. I need growth, progression and challenge to stay interested.

Some people are the opposite. They like what they liked when they were in their younger, more hormonal state. Music meant more back then, when the hair on your arms and neck would stand up and a feeling of euphoria would wash over you at the hint of a decent melody. Nostalgia takes over, and they attach it to the music. If the music was the same now as it was back then, maybe it would have the same effect, but alas, it's out of style and there are only figments of it left in it's modern counterparts.

I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I agree that when I was younger I was much more impressionable, and that music had a way of moving me to a degree that it rarely does these days. I also think that good music in the mainstream is harder to find. I mean good, emotional, meaningful music. Trend drives so much of what we hear, and often times the music is creative but the lyrics are too shallow or too obscure for us to relate on that deeper level. It's cool sounding, we're supposed to like it, but it doesn't really move us at our core. Musicians are playing the Trend game all too often to appeal to the masses, or even the niches. 

The fact is musicians aren't politicians. Art should not be dictated by Media or Trend. Art should be free from contamination. Art needs integrity to be true art. The second an artist starts listening to his critics is the second he loses perspective, gives in, and starts becoming less effective. But it's a two-way street. We as listeners shouldn't stone our prophets. We should not assume they will create what we want them to create in the exact way that we expect. We should not assume that they listen to our comments and criticisms, because if we assume that then we also have to assume that they are fake artists. If they do what they do to please us then they are nothing more than politicians. Support those who create art you identify with and they will continue to create. Turn on them for creating something unexpected and they may be forced into silence without to resources to publish what they create.

Not everyone will understand every piece of art that an artist creates, but if the artist is good, someone will identify with all of them. The reason we loved our favored artists and musicians is because they didn't sound like everyone else, they trail-blazed with something that contained more substance than their counterparts. We should not chastise them for taking paths we do not understand. We should not stone our prophets, we should hear them out. I hated Brand New's Deja Entendu the first three times I heard it. Now it's in my top ten of all time. I didn't expect it, but it doesn't mean it's not completely genius. How many painters were ridiculed in their lifetimes, only to be discovered as prolific, creative masters after their deaths? The answer is too many to count. 

For you artists out there, aspiring or veteran, I implore you to be independently creative regardless of what people think. Do not place your validity in the opinions of the layman. Even if 9/10 misunderstand you, remember these words: 

It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.