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.