Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stolen Fender Stratosonic Guitar

For the second time, my Fender Stratosonic guitar has been stolen. I was fortunate enough to locate it the last time through a blog post, so I'll try it again. Here is my description from the last time, as I think I summed it up well then:

For the past decade that guitar has been beside me for hundreds of shows all around this country and it isn't only unique for being a short run model of Fender's Stratocaster with P-90 pickups (which I replaced with Lollar P-90s), but because it was one of the two guitars (the other being the acoustic that I also play at shows) that I own, that I have had with me while writing all of the songs from my last 4 records and all of the songs that never made the cut.

It has been with me in my darkest times when I had nothing else to hold on to, and despite the little hope that I have for it to return to me, I ask that if you are in or around the Los Angeles that you just keep an eye out for it.

If you happen to stumble upon a dark red Stratosonic, I can supply the serial number to match with it. My contact info can be found at

Here's photo of me playing the guitar:

Monday, August 6, 2012


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...

- - -

So, 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,

Friday, April 27, 2012

Where We Connect / Desolation

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:

“Don’t Stop.”

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.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Late Night Walk

It doesn’t hit me that It’s an odd place to cry until the barista is 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?  I think your actions either innovate and shift the culture, or they cause you to slip through the cracks.  I’m doing the latter, but it’s worth it 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 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, 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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Final Metaphors For 2011

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,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

“Happiness” is out today.

I’ve made a digital booklet of art to go along with the album, check it out here:

It is available for pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp:

Or download on iTunes:

Thanks so much to everyone who helped with this project along the way, who inspired it, performed on it, financed it, recorded it, sent words of encouragement, or was simply patient over the years. This record is for you.

All my love,

Monday, October 3, 2011


I leave dinner in Hollywood and start to drive home.  I don’t want to be home though.  I’m restless and I’m listening to mixes for the new record.  I get off at my exit, but keep driving past my house, up and over the hill, right back onto the freeway...

I drive until it transitions to a four lane road, then two lanes.  I wind upwards from the outskirts of the last suburban neighborhood, past the make-out-spots lined with cars, past where the streetlights cease and the forest takes over.
Twisting into the mountains, around granite faces cast blue beneath the full moon, I pass a mountain biker pedaling with solitary purpose along the late-night highway, his outline black in my review mirror against the orange circuitry of the city below.   
The last of the mixes settles with a final cymbal swell and I roll down my dirty windows.  Every time I’m confronted with a crossroads I take the path that pushes me higher up into the mountains, until the glow of Los Angeles is blocked by miles of shadow, until I’m slowing down and craning my neck to look over the guardrail, over cliff edges.  Then I stop the car.

Everything is warm and still as I step out and climb up onto the rocks at the edge of the turn-out.  Looking over the rim, I’m slammed by a sheer drop to the tips of pine trees rising far below.  Vertigo hands thrust to my throat, yanking me down and down by my shirt collar.  I hold my ground and gaze up into infinity, into the legion of stars - cold currents flashing from my head to my knees.  Across the wide valley, mountains beyond mountains fade into the fringes of moonlight.  And everything that unfurls below - the spreading wilderness, the jutting cliffs, the rigid wildfire-scorched manzanitas - all of it is illuminated into crystal blue clarity. 
My car engine ticks.  Something rustles on the hill above.  In all the miles of road that I can see, there are no headlights, and I can feel no wind.  Trees arch over, dangling frozen fists of silhouetted leaves against the mountain faces.  I just stand there, heart hammering in terror.  Everything in my body wants me away from that cliff’s edge, back in my car, back into the city, back into safety, while a chorus of 10,000 crickets lifts from the valley depths to my ears.
I know I won’t fall, but I can’t keep my thoughts from pulling me away from this moment. And it hits me: it’s the vastness, the stillness, and in the midst of that, the solitude that I hardly can take.  How humbling, below the vivid extremes of space, to look downward and outward and upward at such a distance - especially when that unending breadth is only mirroring the extent of what’s within.  
I think about the deceptive tranquility thrown across it all, every creature scurrying across the forrest floor, every rock tumbling down a mountainside.  I stare at the sky and imagine exploding suns, meteors colliding, ice and ore spraying into oblivion.  I wonder at all that stirs in the shadows of my consciousness, the entire world at work in every cell, vast systems of the mind twisting to the fingertips.
Nature doesn’t judge you.  Nature doesn’t punish you in abstract ways, doesn’t care about the shape of your clothes or your beliefs.  Nature takes you at your reflex, the weight you can carry, the certainty of your step, your tolerance to the elements.  It rewards you for your awareness, for your ability to see - to really see, to really hear. I stare into the face of a mountain until its unique anatomy starts to show in ridges and rockslides and clusters of dark forest.  Power is a whole different phenomenon out here.
Finally I allow myself to be dragged away from the edge and back into the car, back onto that long road home.  Somewhere down the mountain I pass that biker again, his back to the city, still pedaling deeper into the night.  I wonder if there is anywhere he’s headed or anything he’s escaping.  And I envy him as I plunge back into the familiar hum of the city sprawl.

Monday, September 12, 2011


rked into shape by artistry or effort 

You start a project and you’re in control, making the decisions, directing the piece, doing some uncommitted experimentation - but somewhere there’s a shift and gradually your art begins to control you, to dictate your days, how and where you spend them.  At first it is just a vision, a little dream you’re tossing around, but as it expands and inflates and ropes other people in, as it rises and rears its head to block out the sun, you begin to treat it differently.  You make your marks tentatively, you don’t want to disrupt some balance, ruin whatever it is that makes it “work.”  And when it’s all finally over and collapsed into a finished heap, you look around and see the damage it has done, all of the people it has labored, and all of you that it has used up.
I’m almost done with my new album.  I want to say that this record has not been wrought, but fuck it - along with being exciting and fascinating and a joy to make, it has been fucking wrought.  
I didn’t expect that I would produce this album myself.  In 2011 a self-production is becoming the standard, but back where I come from, you write the songs and bring your voice and your guitar and your band and someone else records, gives you feedback down to the minute details, collaborates on a game-plan, maybe even writes and plays some piano parts, books the studios, makes everyone take a break when it isn’t flowing...  I’ve had to do all this for myself - out of interest in the challenge, sure, but largely out of a sort of accidental necessity.  It’s been an incredible exercise in learning how to understand when I’ve gone too far, to calm myself under pressure, to make myself slow down, figure out when it’s time to be done, when it’s time to ask for help.  These things I’ve been learning by trial and (mostly) error.
I’ve become so close to these songs, these recordings, that I have to trust my close group of musician friends for their reactions - and they’ve come through for me with their saintly guitars and voices, with their outside ears...
I lost August to this album.  I didn’t want that to happen, but it did.  I had mixing days booked.  A sudden deadline.  I had to get it all tracked just-so by a certain date.  I lost myself, I don’t know where I went, and waking up now that mixing is done, I feel the void, the loss.  My roommates say that the culture of the house changed, they joked that I was preparing for some semester-culminating finals week and then kept their distance as I trudged soldierly through my tests like drifts of snow.
When you’re dealing with something so subjective as music, there is no right and no wrong.  This can be an excruciating freedom: you can do whatever you want, but when you get down into the heart of it, when you’re looking upwards through the bone and sinew and planks and scaffolding and you’re exhausted and alone, nothing is clear.  The recordings changed to the point where the initial vision was long thrown overboard and I just laid there, wondering: “Is this good?  What is ‘good’ anyway?  Will I be able to pay rent?”
There are two major ways in which I become anxious in this moment, and the combination of both sends me into a tailspin.  First, I get concerned with being true to myself, having my own voice, sounding like I really sound.  And second, I become a perfectionist, become concerned with having a perfect voice, perfect guitar performances, sounding like things I’ve heard before that “worked.” These two stresses oppose one another.
To me, being yourself, or even more, knowing and being aware of yourself, having a self, being a self, is the most important thing.  Otherwise you’re a preprogrammed  drone drifting unconsciously through a haze of a life, adorning your malaise with sparkly inanities.  But getting down into the pit of yourself and pushing and pulling until you’ve turned inside-out and shown something of it to the world.  I think that is fucking virtuous.
I also think it is one of the most frightening things ever.
And that’s where perfectionism swoops in, out of the fear of your true colors - but perfection is death.  Perfection is a denial of your existence, of your humanity.  Perfection is an assembly-line of clones, of automatons.  Perfection is the mall.  (Your work is going to come out of the oven fucked up in some way every time, I promise. But it is home-cooked, man!)  Perfection is reckless safety.  Perfection is birthed in lack of faith in what you are, by ignorance of yourself, by shame.  Perfection is blending so well into some standard, some trend or norm, to the point that no one can distinguish you (and thus criticize you...).  Perfection is becoming the little insect too small for the naked eye to see... it’s there, though never being swatted, just invisible, outside of our consciousness, making no mark on human life.  I flail in the riptide of perfection, gleaming there with all its secrets concealed - the scar under makeup, the murder weapon buried, that island of trash drifting way way out there in the middle of the Pacific.
The shattered part of you brings on this perfectionism.  Ghastly sensations of abandonment, of humiliation, annihilation.  Every producer must deal with young artists they’re working with collapsing under the weight of all of it, spinning between these two opposing poles, balling up with headaches on the control room couch.  And me, I’ve been in my room, collapsing again and again.  Sometimes in utter fucking joyous astonishment, as when the first mix for my song “Happiness” came through my headphones after three long years... And other times in an overwhelmed, fatigued, stupor, often culminating in physical blows.
So you shudder with this, with your vision, with your own reactions to your own art as you wander about the twisting halls, the intricate anatomy of this thing you’ve created, that you once played with so casually before it grew so tall, became so fierce, and you got lost in it, started to fear it, to serve it, to give in to its demands...  This is all part of the process I allowed to occur, and the process is most important.  If I have learned anything in making this album it is that when envisioning a project, you must envision a process too. You must design moments that you can enjoy, that you can thrive in, and of course be challenged by, maybe even suffer within, but fully experience... 

Your completed piece is a fly trapped in amber, frozen in a gesture which is only one of infinite possibilities, embalmed in one of a million forms it has taken on throughout its life.  The final product will never be what you imagined, and you can’t live inside of your finished work.  You cannot avoid though, living inside of the process, inside of that fly while it is still buzzing and darting around the room, trying fruitlessly to glide through that clear and solid window pane.
I live in Los Angeles these days and I hear a lot of conversations about “making it” with your art, but very few conversations about making art.  Sure, you can throw your work out on the market, use it to barter for money or fame or whatever you might think you need, but don’t forget about the time you spend creating.   Don’t forget to make room to really live that time, because that is your life - your limited limited life!  That is real, that is all that is real, all that you get.  Do your work, and do it well, but find a way to be alive as you do it.... Find a process in which you may thrive.  Find a process in which you may thrive.  Find a process in which you may thrive.  And find it for yourself.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Black Widows, Mixing

There are black widows in the courtyard. There is one in particular, that in the darkest part of dusk crawls through the woven mouth of the drainpipe and hangs in threads spun from leg to leg of a dusty plastic patio chair.

I have a certain appreciation for the thing as I watch her from my room right now, suspended there, a black dot, blacker than the shadows behind, rounded and angled in that perfect stylized black widow way. Certain.

Any day I can climb into a combustible metal shell and allow myself to be projected across some distracted Los Angeles freeway, with all the other cars speeding alongside me, and I won’t think to be afraid. Yesterday though, I got close enough to photograph her, and with a sudden lurch of just an inch in my direction, she had me retreating back against the wall. I couldn’t spend ten minutes consciously sitting within inches of a spider like that, the way I can sit comfortably for a day with 35,000 feet between myself and the earth. It makes me wonder if the fears that should arise from technology aren’t yet woven into us through natural selection, and therefore we’re granted this unnatural tolerance...

I’ve been within mauling distance of a grizzly bear, have stood on a rocking canoe within a few feet of an anaconda, and spiders are always there. I feel like these creatures, however aloof, deliver a hush of awe and fear hatched deeper in the blood, cast back into millennia beyond the curtain of humanity, in something more primal, deeper down in the pit of evolution. They command the respect of their lethal potentialities and the uncertainty of their intentions. I mean, who wants to fuck with a woman that once devoured her mate?

In the immunity of daylight I could destroy her little silk cathedral, but somehow I like watching this thing hang in all her arachnid glory as I write, as the opposing window fills with a final hot orange glow. She tells me to stop and breathe, to come back to my actual life, to all that time that’s slowly being used up, diminishing to an uncertain end. She makes me revel in the sunset that comes with each vanishing day. She reminds me that there’s a black widow suspended beside us wherever we go, however we go, and we must honor it.

* * *

Mixing a song is like walking through this courtyard of black widows. The anxieties awoken in the process of setting the malleable into stone are rooted somewhere in survival. I know what it feels like to be eaten by a metaphoric pack of wolves - the spiteful fingers of harsh critics tapping on keyboards. You can’t please everyone, and some will punish you for it - directly, or worse, by neglect. With each shift in the mix, that second guess flutters through the window. Will this kill me? In preparing the track to be submitted to the mixer, I began to hear things that weren’t there, those phantom spider legs marching up between my jeans and my skin. No longer could I tell if the instruments were even playing in time, in the same key. I had to surrender. I had to trust myself that I had recorded what I intended, had kept the takes that I connected to, that what I was turning in was somehow ready enough to be immortalized.

The mix came back and I’m really happy with it. The anxiety is no longer that something is somehow wrong and will lead to my destruction, but that I have to figure out how to do it again with all I’ve just learned. I’m proud, and I’m lining up someone to master it - then I’ll put it on the internet so you can hear it and have it. No publicity push. I don’t want to enter back into that dynamic now. Why beg a hostile wolf pack for their scraps? I loved making this song - some of you are going to find it useful. It will be ours to share.

I’ll be mixing the rest of the album in a few weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dreams, Dropping Out, Recovery

Everything from that time feels distant, distorted, as if I read it all in a book, or saw it flash by in a movie.

I would sit in the garage of that house my sophomore year, everyone else gone to bed, there on the dusty concrete, singing soft with my guitar, writing my songs, in catharsis, beating those melodies out of the angst of the day. Then after laying awake for hours, trying to crack the codes of lyrics, of the indomitable musical hierarchy, to my roommate’s incessant breathing, I’d finally get back up, mind rushing, and walk out onto the deck to look up into the gaps between the clouds, into the stars, bare feet on splintery wood. Lonesome.

I hadn’t wanted to go to college. I hadn’t put in much effort. All my effort went to making music and going to shows and playing shows and handing out fliers outside of shows at Slims or The Fillmore or at The Oakland Arena. I went to school where my brother went, where it was convenient, and because I felt like it was the right thing to do. I never figured out a major. I mostly took classes that seemed like they could help my music career in one way or another. I wanted that time to disappear into something more meaningful. I hardly allowed it to exist.

On weekends I would drive back to Oakland, the cold little Toyata Tercel that my cousin sold me rattling over the twisting mountain pass. I would go to shows and play shows, and hang out with my friends in bands who understood.

My friend talks about the difference between schooling and education. We both quit but continued to try to be educated in any way we could, to find the lesson in an experience, to be open to being taken to new territories of knowledge and perspective by others. Each of us had trouble being schooled though, being molded by an institutional hand.

The personal statement in my college application had begun, “Music saved my life...” - That was true, but I didn’t know that music was eventually going to try to take my life as well. I’m glad I dropped out and found my own way. But in a sense I want to curse the world for telling us to follow our dreams without giving us a disclaimer: If you’re a troubled person, you’ll still be troubled when you’re holding your wildest dreams.

For a while all of those things I’d hoped for began to light up on cue. On paper, we seemed to be executing what we believed we wanted. Attention, travel, status, excitement, sex, drugs, the high of performance, the all night drives, the label and managers and handlers with all their pressures, the bewilderment of getting paid just to play music. I’ll tell all of those stories eventually.

But I was also there beside the backstage door in Philadelphia, holding a trembling fist of snow to the hives on my face. There, pacing around an abandoned lot in Salt Lake City, stressing on the phone with my lawyer over the details of the contracts that replaced my relationships with old friends. There, my hand clenched by a screaming woman, little more than a stranger, in a Chicago emergency room. There, slamming my fists against a hotel wall, against the steering wheel on the highway, against the side of the van, into my own chest and stomach, terrorizing my bandmates. And I was there, listening to my manager’s answering machine again and again as I paced around that empty Brooklyn apartment, ice caked on the windows, angry and afraid and exhausted and alone for a thousand miles. That’s the spot where I couldn’t resuscitate my dreams, where protecting my own self finally took precedent, where I would have been fully shattered if I hadn’t. That’s when I climbed back down and slowly began to dig through the rubble, to understand where those dreams flared up from in the first place. I haven’t really been able to want it bad enough since then. I haven’t quite been able to re-convince myself that anything beyond the song is that important.

All of those things were bound to happen - if not in that context, then in some other. All of that came from within. Your wishes are the ones that should be careful, before you stagger in with all your baggage and track mud across their clean carpets. My early twenties were spent in this frenzy. I think my late twenties are about recovering and making sense of it all so I can be a real person for the rest of my life.

Some mornings I wake up as the sky is beginning to brighten. I might scrawl something in my notebook if the moon is bright enough to write to, then open my door to the yard and make my way down the concrete path, between the side of the house and the retaining wall. Beyond the darkened blooms of the neighbor’s bougainvillea I’ll see those stars fading over silhouettes of hills and the skyscrapers downtown. I guess I’m young still, but so much has happened since I careened frantically through the hopes of a lonely kid in the middle of a Santa Cruz night. A lifetime has passed, and now everything kind of feels like a dream.