New record out today: “I Am Not Done With My Changes”

Today I’m pleased to share with you my second album of original instrumental music, entitled I Am Not Done With My Changes. The title comes from “The Layers” by poet Stanley Kunitz. The tracks were built in pieces, during early mornings and late nights, over the past year.

I turned 40 while creating this album; the cover photo is from the weekend of my birthday. And despite that age marker, and any yet to come, I hold fast to the notion that none of us is ever fully formed. And though “I lack the art to decipher it,” as Kunitz puts it, I know there is more to come; more life, more change. Everything is always moving, and so life retains possibility.

My hope is for this music to fuel your forward motion, to be the backdrop of your own possibility; and as Brian Eno says of ambient music, I hope you find it “as ignorable as it is interesting.”

You can listen to this record wherever you get your digital music; as of today, it looks like some services may still be loading it. The best way to get it, however, is on Bandcamp; that’s the way to support the making of this record most directly.

It’s not about you

I was at Jake’s in Northampton this morning having a quiet breakfast alone before work, and a young local musician (who doesn’t know me) was sitting there, eating, reading, and drinking a hard cider. A woman he knew at the end of the counter was leaving and they got to talking. He’s opening for someone this weekend, and when his friend asked about the other artist, he said, “But I’m making this about ME — MY debut.”

This is not how to be a good opening act. It’s not about you. Sure, you may have some family, friends, even fans come see you open for someone. But your job is to warm up the room for the other person. Be respectful, play your role. Trust me: when I somehow opened two shows for Frank Black of the Pixies, I was under no illusion that people were even going to pay attention. My job was to start their ears hearing music, and get them ready to listen to one of the greats. It’s not about you, kid. Play your heart out, yes. But know the audience’s hearts are really with the main artist.

Epilogue: The kid also said to his friend, who mentioned feeling stressed, “You know how to not be stressed? Don’t work.” Entitlement isn’t a good look, kid. I have a feeling you’ll see that on Saturday night.

Opening Act

My friend Stephen Kellogg and I used to like to think up funny album titles; I always thought Opening Act would be great, perhaps because that seemed to be perpetually my role in the 2000s. No complaints here; I opened for lots of great people, especially at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA. Here’s a list, and what I remember of them, in no particular order, and no idea what year they happened.

The Innocence Mission: (fuzzy old cell phone photo at left) Total life highlight. I had long been a fan and still am, and they tour so infrequently, this was an incredible experience.

Hayden: Another great artist I had long been a fan of; a handsome raspy Canadian songwriter with a cool stage setup.

Harper Simon: Paul Simon’s son. At the time I didn’t know about him. Something fun was that he asked me to play guitar on his last song, a cover of Nick Drake’s “From the Morning” (one of my favorite songs). Listen to it below; I’m on electric guitar, playing his clean white Stratocaster; at about 2:46, they nod to me to take a solo; it lasts until about 3:30. He had a great band, and we really locked in together.

Hot House Flowers: Oh boy this was a good one. I noticed the show didn’t have an opener a couple days ahead, got in touch with the Iron Horse, and they said sure, come open. I’ll never forget: I’m standing there and in walk these three tall, mysterious Irishmen with long coats and serious faces. They were lovely to me and I often listen to “Give it Up” to get feeling good.

Angus & Julia Stone: Admittedly, the inspiration for this post; I just heard that song you’ve heard in 100 movies, “gonna take you for a ride in a big jet plane….” I combine this memory with opening for Dean & Britta, in that I don’t remember them well, but remember they were all very nice and made nice music.

Mike Doughty: This was one of Spanish For Hitchhiking’s first real gigs; in fact I think we were called something else that night; The Hart Cranes maybe. It was that night we decided on our band’s name, in fact. It was 2001, and I was still a senior in college. I was in “chunky (black) shoes,” suit pants, and a white button down shirt. Hair (and voice) at full Morrissey. Doughty was solo, acoustic, and amazing. I still listen to him all the time.

In 2013, my friend and SFH/WP bandmate Max sent a Facebook message to Black Francis of the Pixies, who lives near us. We hung out, recorded a cover song with him, and then I opened for him solo in Burlington, VT and Cambridge, MA.

Anyway. There have been more; The Waifs, Crooked Teeth, Loney Dear, Matt Pond PA, local friends, openers with SFH and Winterpills; I remember them all with gratitude.

Some *What?*

My favorite song might be “The Obvious Child,” from Paul Simon’s album The Rhythm of the Saints. Especially this part:

Sonny sits by his window and thinks to himself
How it’s strange that some rooms are like cages

Sonny’s yearbook from high school
Is down on the shelf
And he idly thumbs through the pages
Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there

Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls
Runs his hands through his thinning brown hair

I just looked up the lyrics for the first time, and am surprised: I’ve always thought it was “some wounds are like cages.” And honestly, I like what I hear more. What’s more, apparently Simon’s own website lists it as “roots are like cages.”

So what’s correct? I say it’s whatever we hear. Whatever we take from the song, however it hits us and speaks to us, is correct. Driving north to Vermont a few years ago, single and needing the beautiful isolation of good mountain, I had a wound that felt like a cage, and I was going to break out.

I’ve written plenty of songs with abstract lyrics, and I can only hope you’ll make them your own. Rooms, roots, or wounds: have at it.

Listening back

Like many people, creative or otherwise, I’m so often snagged by self-doubt, feeling like an imposter — and that perhaps I should never write songs again, and what’s more, never should have. I listen back to my own music, and can’t help but hear it through a layer of comparison and mental sludge.

Then this morning, listening to Malcolm Gladwell interview Rick Rubin (link), they had the following exchange:

Malcolm Gladwell: Do you ever go back and listen to the music you played at that age?

Rick Rubin: I do not .. I haven’t in a long time … I don’t honestly listen back to music i’ve worked on at any point … just kind of moving forward … I also think when you put a lot of time into something, you’ve already spent that time with it. It’s like if you spent a thousand hours on a book, you don’t want to spend more time … So we work on it for a long time, and by the time it’s done, it’s done.

I heard that and minutes later was at my computer recreating this website (see previous post).

What if:

  • We can leave our music of the past completely behind?
  • … and in doing so, open the doors to making whatever comes next, the slate completely clean, with new “time” that isn’t being stolen by listening back?
  • And what if I could manage to not think of all my music as a quantifiable “body of work” and a collective argument about why I’ve always been a terrible songwriter and musician?
  • … and instead, when I have a new idea, it can just be a new thing I felt like doing, after which I can treat myself once again to that judgement-free clean slate?
  • And what if it all doesn’t even have to be songs?

That would be something.

Welcome, Species

On the first post of this new blog, I’d like to say thanks for reading, and for coming back to a site that has often been non-existant.

I’ve deleted and recreated many, many times. Something will happen — say, I go to SXSW and see that everyone is 21 and skinny — and I’ll decide I’m an inadequate imposter, and boom, site deleted. Then something else will happen — a comment on a Youtube video from someone on the other side of the world — and the site goes back up. This time, I hope it sticks.

Speaking of being an imposter:

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts about creativity lately; Rhett Miller’s Wheels Off, Aimee Man and Ted Leo’s The Art of Process, and most recently, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, which isn’t inherently about creativity. A common subject in at least the first two is Imposter Syndrome, “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success” (reference). I can’t say I’ve had zero success, but it has been only minor success — in my eyes, anyway.

Anyway. The goal here is to decide I’m not an imposter — I’m just my own species. That’s something I’ve thought about lately in terms of body image: maybe everyone is just their own species, and like a poodle and whale, could never be expected to look like each other. Maybe the same could be true of music, and musicians.

So, welcome, Unique Species, from another. Thanks for leaning your antennae or series of ears my way.