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.