Lucky to have the locals

I am spoiled. I live a short half-hour away from the majestic urban wonderland that is Seattle. I don’t know it well. I see it in bits and pieces. Concert venues, restaurants, tourist traps. I’m out there a few times a month at most to attend events or visit friends. But that’s where the music is at. There’s an endless sea of bands, shows and open mics to get your feet wet. But when it comes to places like Kent, that’s not necessarily the case.

There are a few good spots here in town. A friend and I went to check out some live music over in Maple Valley the other night, at a coffee shop called Ristrettos. There’s also a great little cafe on Auburn way called Zola’s that I’ve played at a couple of times in the past. Seattle isn’t that far, but the selection of musical events out here doesn’t even compare to the fiery epicenter of the Puget Sound region. If you want to be an actor, you flock to Hollywood. If you want to be a musician, well, Seattle just might be the spot for you.

I love you, Seattle. You’re close to my heart. I’ve had so many great musical experiences, from the Conor Byrne Open Mic, to Noah Gundersen’s annual Christmas show at the Fremont Abbey. It’s become my musical home away from home. But home needs some attention too. I feel like there’s gotta be more people like me out here, with big dreams for our six strings. Setting personal ambition aside, there’s the future of our society. The young musicians, who are already so ridiculously talented and full of creative energy that they’re running circles around the rest of us.

Imagine my surprise and elation when I saw a sign for an open mic at the music store just under a mile away from my home. This is exactly what our town needs. A chance for us like-minded music makers, and music lovers to come together. To share the fruits of our crafts. Whether we aspire to pack the Showbox at the Market one day, or just hope to play the Kent Station or Lake Meridian summer concert series… Here, we’re all the same. We’re writers, singers, strummers. We have a song inside us that we need to get out.

I was forged in the fire of Tacoma’s Antique Sandwich Shop open mic seven, eight years ago. I squelched the stage fright and cold feet by sheer force and persistence. There’s a new generation of young musicians right here in Kent and they need an outlet too. They need that opportunity to get in front of a crowd and share what they love to do, network with their peers, and grow their craft. I want to help make that happen by spreading the word and supporting what is already here. Won’t you join me?

SAINT PATRICK’S OPEN MIC @ MUSIC & ARTS IN KENT

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Writing

As a musician, for me, songs are what it’s all about. I’ve always identified with being a “singer/songwriter” so it’s really line one of the job description. I’ve come up with quite a few songs that I like by just sitting down and deciding to write a song on a whim, or having a creative vision for a song in an almost complete form. But these strategies are at worst, horribly difficult and draining, and at best, not very dependable.

Writer’s block is something that has puzzled me and so many of my peers, and writers throughout history. It’s a universal feeling to sit down and have nothing. Like opening up a bottle of tasty carbonated beverage to the grim realization that it’s gone flat, it can be a crushing blow to one’s creative confidence. It’s an elusive beast, but one that I think can be tamed, saddled, and rode off into the sunset.

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One of the most repeated and cliched pieces of advice that I’ve received over the years is “if you want to be a writer, write.” It’s really excellent advice, and all you really need, practically, to get up and get moving. But there are some prerequisites beyond pen, paper, and a commanding grasp of your native tongue. As in all endeavors, setting goals is very helpful as well, but if you’re stuck staring at a blank white page, any goal will seem too lofty.

Many books have been written on building creative confidence. Or a few, at least. In a songwriting workshop by Rocky Votolato and Kris Orlowski, they mention The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, which is a great, practical place to start, full of exercises to uncover the dormant artist within. Also among their suggestions was Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, which I found to be very eye opening. Who knew that vulnerability could be interpreted as strength, and not weakness? Baring your soul can be terrifying, but also invigorating. Stage fright can be transmuted into stage excitement.

What has helped me most is a three pronged approach: keep the pen moving, keep a large goal in focus, and an immediate objective in front of you. If all of these three gears are moving together, it’s easy to stir inspiration out of daily experiences. If you’re already writing, when it happens, you will capture it. An immediate objective jump-starts you to get to work and turn your writing into more than just scribbles. And focusing on a larger goal keeps you in check between songs so you don’t fall down any rabbit holes that are too deep. (Like, oh I don’t know, planning a trip to Boston, or starting a blog.)

Oh yeah, MINDSET. That’s the most important part, I think. But that’s for another entry.

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The Renaissance

Music is everywhere. You hear it, whether you like it or not, almost everywhere you go. If many people are gathered in one place and there is a lack of music, it’s almost eerie. At my local movie theater/outdoor mall they have speakers hidden away in the bushes, whispering an ambience of Adele, whether you asked for it or not. Everyone has their genre of choice, and most people have those certain artists they will outright refuse to listen to, and in extreme cases, experience adverse reactions akin to allergy. But that’s ok. Taste is part of what makes great art great.

So why are kids taught that being an entertainer, or musician, is a fools errand? That it’s not realistic. It’s a dream. I think that for me, it was a different time. In the mid to late nineties and early ’00s, online video and social media were non-existent, or at best, in their respective infancies. You didn’t have anything as robust as Patreon or Kickstarter for supporting or supplementing an artist income through fan outreach. The old model of the music industry that is now crumbing, or has already crumbled, depending on who you ask, was at this time in full force. Gatekeepers and luck ran the game. But that is no longer the case.

The internet has turned into an unruly beast that’s become so ingrained into our culture that it’s almost as ubiquitous as music, if not moreso. And what’s exciting is the opportunities that have been created as a result of the synergy of the two. Networking with musicians to work towards common goals, learning new skills, sharing your process or journey with the rest of the world is now easy and at our fingertips. In most cases, it’s in our pockets. We’re living in a science fiction future world.

I saw a memo the other day outlining a school’s budgetary plans for integrating “the arts” into their curriculum. Good on them. But music was nowhere to be seen. I was shocked, and a little worried. It’s such a huge part of all our lives, culture and society. I believe it’s a truly beneficial one too. And a righteous path as any other. The idea of a working-class musician is one that I think should be propagated through our schools as a viable option.

I’m sure one day we will really fully appreciate this age that we’re living in. A surf through the right corners of the internet will reveal that we are living in a renaissance of unprecedented magnitude. It’s our personal responsibility to ourselves and those around us to magnify the goodness that is everywhere, so others can recognize it too, and use it as inspiration to add to it. Let’s be an ever-growing melting pot of creativity.

 

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Persistence + purpose = progress.

It’s easy, as a musician, or someone in any form of creative endeavor, to get side tracked. The joy of creating is great. And natural bursts of motivation can take you for a nice ride, full of surprises. But when I’m almost out of energy and running on the fumes of my last wave of excitement, what will continue to keep me going is knowing and being passionate about where my destination is, and the steps I’m taking to get there.

I remember a couple of years ago, I was doing a lot of different stuff. Playing shows, writing songs, recording youtube videos. They just seemed like things musicians should do, and every time the mood struck me to get musical, I’d pursue it through one of these avenues. But there was no focus. I was wishing for the stars and shoveling sand into a pail. It seemed like a great idea at the time, and led to some happy opportunities, but ultimately was not sustainable.

I had no concrete method for growth. I was both the man with the apple on his head, and the blindfolded archer at the other side of the range, taking aim, and hoping great luck would save me. That era is gone. Playing open mics and showcases and hoping an A&R Rep is going to discover and sign you is a pipe dream. And a major label record deal? Let’s be honest, it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.

Creativity should be applied to more than just songwriting and production. You’ve got to pave your own way. No one’s going to do it for you. It’s simply astounding, the world of difference setting and sticking to a goal makes. Working on it every day. Every day. No days off. Because I know the rewards… Gaining momentum and forming a habit out of working towards becoming a better artist. Making the act of creativity a painless and natural process, and part of who I am.

I’ve heard that there will be challenges. But I haven’t encountered one lately that couldn’t be overcome by persistence. I’m keeping my vision of the future right in front of me. I’m opening my eyes and ears to get ready for what’s coming towards me that will propel me. I’m ready to work, I’m ready to learn, and I’m ready to perform. Let’s not waste another day. There’s life to be lived.

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“Highway Memories” or “All the times Laura and Rachel and I saw Driftless Pony Club”

 

I guess it all started in 2010 when I attended a Youtube meetup in Seattle hosted by Dan Brown (the vlogger, not the author of The Davinci Code) and Craig Benzine (Wheezy Waiter on youtube). That’s where I met Laura and Rachel and a bunch of other great people. We became fast friends and formed a circle of buddies, all youtubers alike. They were from Canada, but it didn’t matter. Distance wasn’t an issue, online video transcended space.

March of 2011, by some stroke of crazy luck, I won a contest and was chosen to open for Craig Benzine’s band Driftless Pony Club, and a few other youtube aritsts at a little club in Hamden, CT. This was my first concert ever, and my first time travelling across the country by myself. A lot of firsts. It was terrifying. Somehow I managed to sneak my way onto the bill when DPC hit Seattle in May. That summer,  my youtube buddies and I attended an online video conference in southern California. This was the second annual gathering known as Vidcon. Made by and for youtubers, Driftless Pony Club naturally made an appearance, as well as a host of other familiar faces.

Fast forward to 2012. I’m not sure how I managed this, but I found myself once again travelling down the west coast with my buddies, this time on tour. The Exceptionally Ordinary Tour was the brainchild of youtuber Todd Williams, or Toddly. We did this in 2013 as well, and we were joined by Mike Falzone, who I shared the stage with at that club show in 2011. Hitting the same venues two years in a row, and topping it off with seeing Driftless Pony Club play live at vidcon both years – these are memories that will hold a special and surreal place in my heart as long as I’ve still got neurons to fire.

I’ve seen Driftless Pony Club a few times since then. Most recently, last year. Laura, Rachel and I made the 800 mile trek from Seattle, WA to Salt Lake City, UT to catch them on tour. It was a magical experience. The memories of that journey, and the rest listed above, are what inspired my latest Spintunes entry “Highway Memories.” To bring it full circle, on the way back from Salt Lake City, we made a stop to visit Toddly, the awesome dude who organized those unforgettable tours all those years ago.

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Road trips hold a special place in my heart. Those highway memories are inseparably tied to music and friends. This one’s dedicated to my true road trip homies Laura and Rachel. Thanks for sharing the experiences. : )

Pay what you want for “Highway Memories” on Bandcamp

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Another music blog!?

Back when I started my wordpress in 2010, I think it was already to the point where everyone and their dog had a blog. Now, I’d be willing to bet that there are more blogs than people and dogs put together, and my old domain name for my youtube channel (that I completely forgot I’d owned, until deciding to start another wordpress this evening) is now on sale for thousands of dollars. Who will buy it, I’m not sure, but songeveryday.com is a hot item, no question about that. Didn’t know what I was sitting on at the time.

For a long time now, I’ve been sitting on my hands when it comes to my music. Sometimes a whole day, even a week, quite possibly a month would go by when I wouldn’t touch my guitar. I felt crippled by psychic obstacles like the many steps involved in producing a polished youtube video, or the unbearable task of compartmentalizing my ever so complex angst and sadness into three verses, a prechorus, chorus, and bridge. I had something to say and it had to be said as exquisitely as was the pain that I was feeling. Because it was my outlet, and it had to serve it’s function in the most efficient and appropriate manner possible.

It was all a load of garbage. The angst, the pain, the obstacles. Good excuses to justify my fear of creativity, self expression, and success. Deep down (and lately, on the surface as well) I’m a happy go lucky, chill dude. And I was put on this planet to make music. So that’s what I’m going to do. And since I had the inkling to start up this blog tonight, I think I may also share some bits and pieces of the process with the audience. My fellow humans. My peers. My friends. You.

So here’s your call to action. I want to know, what would you like to see here? Send me an e-mail. I’d love to hear from you. If you have any blog ideas for me, or any questions about music, or the creative process I might be able to tackle here for you. I’m not a professional but I do know a few things that I’ve learned along the way, after playing guitar for 15 years and writing and performing my songs in far off exotic places like Los Angeles and Connecticut. I won’t add you to a mailing list. I might reply back and say hello, and thank you.

Thank you for reading this.

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