Shades of Gray

“I haven’t heard anything from you in awhile,” she said, her voice trailing off towards the end of her sentence like an invitation to respond. And, when I didn’t: “Things slowing down over there?” I let the white noise of our phones fill the air for what seemed like long enough, until I exhaled – inhaled:


People think of progress as a straight line – that progressing is just taking a big step to the next cobblestone on the path, and once you’re there, you can rejoice because now you’ve made it, and everyone can see. You are no longer where you once were, and now, everyone can see.  Because, really, that’s the gauge of progress – that metric which decides if we get an A+ on our weekly, monthly, yearly report, turned in and recited to whomever it is we report. I want the A+, so I’ll mention the concrete – the things that I can refer to and say, “Here’s my project, it’s forecast, and possible return on investment,” accompanied by a timeline of when I believe these so-called returns might be taking place, so that whoever is grading me can say, “Oh, that sounds promising.” Then we shake hands and sign off: I get the approval that I think I need, and the other walks away with the belief that time wasn’t wasted and he or she can rest easy knowing that I’m making a real effort.

And, that is how it works in a lot of cases when there are quantifiable factors at play that blink in red when they fall below a certain value. But, unfortunately (in some instances, and fortunately in others), a creative doesn’t have a blinking red light to tell him, “This is leading nowhere – invest in alternative strategies,” or, “Try something else because this won’t resonate.” Sure, there are market trends to analyze, methodologies that people swear by, and pieces of tangible evidence to measure success, but when it comes to the art itself, the black and white of numbers and graphs tends to blur into a swirling mass of gray. And, that’s what an artist deals in – different shades of gray that come together and hopefully convey what he or she intended. It’s a craft that takes time to improve – to realize which shades of gray are your favorite, which complement each other effectively, which are best for the art that you create, and so on.

That’s the progress that’s difficult to document and the progress that goes unreported when striving for that sought-after A+ on your report card. That’s the progress made on a song you’ll never hear because I’ll never release it. That’s the progress made in the hours of perfecting a minor detail that only I’ll notice. That’s the progress made when you may not hear something from me for a while because that’s the progress that symbolizes growth, and that’s the progress that matters.


I started listing the things I’d done in the past month that I thought would have some value to her: “I wrote a song with [insert name she may have heard of] who wrote [insert song she may have heard of] and worked with [insert name of big artist she may have heard of], and I think it’s got a good chance to get picked up by a major artist. We’ll see what happens,” letting my voice trail off and crossing my fingers for the A+. “Oh, that sounds promising,” she said, and I went on with my recital.

Stay Tuned

“Maybe if you just had a few more followers you could get their attention because I hear they look at that first before they even listen to the music. There’s a lot of ways to build it up. Search a few hashtags, like a couple photos, even follow and unfollow if you have to,” she said with a smirk. I pulled out my phone: 919 followers on Instagram, 654 likes on Facebook, 219 followers on Twitter.

Slacking.

In my line of work, there are standards of operation, one of them being social media – the constant production of content for an audience with which to interact, engage, and ultimately (if you’re lucky) “like.” And, there’s no definition of what that content has to be: selfies count, covers count, this blog even counts, and it’s entirely with the intention of building a brand and staying in the focus of people who scroll through a timeline – at least from the artist's perspective.

It’s an amazing tool if you think about it. Connection and capacity for communication are at an all-time high and the degree of separation between strangers is just one DM, but does it become a bad thing when I begin to feel guilty if I didn’t capture a moment that I think my Instagram followers would have enjoyed? Does it become a detriment to my own person when I start to think in terms of likes and follows, retweets and favorites, whatever it is that quantifies an artist’s success these days? Does it become a negative when validation as an artist comes from something that, in many ways, is disconnected from the actual art itself?

Did you know that pictures with faces in them, on average, get more likes that those without? That a little bit of desaturation typically gets better engagement than its more intense counterpart? Well, I do – or at least, I do now because I have to. Now, because I’m forced to care if I get over 100 likes on a picture, I adjust it before I let the world see – add a little contrast, dim it just a bit, crop out that person I don’t like. I make sure that whatever the viewer sees at least looks better than it probably was because the only thing that matters is how it’s perceived, not how it was experienced – in a lackluster reality and all.

It’s starts to be laughably ironic that, as a singer/songwriter – where literally one of the only prerequisites to the craft is honesty – we’re expected to display ourselves in a glamorous spotlight that makes it seem as though all is well when, you know, maybe it’s not. Maybe that selfie that we’re asked to post at least three or four times a week is hollow, and that smile we’re asked to wear is something we put on for validation because well, if everyone else thinks things are going well, they must be (but that’s another blog post entirely).

And, I don’t mean to bash it and those who use it because I’m not. I mean, after writing this, I’ll post it online in a few days, on every platform I just named. Like I said, it’s an amazing tool for artists, friends, single folks and all, but I think it needs to be viewed in that light – as a tool – and this tool can be abused just as much as a gun or a prescription drug. Of course, I haven’t mastered its use from a professional standpoint, as I’m sure those who follow me know (I think the last thing I posted was a few weeks ago). But, I am learning: Sure, I’m learning what filters work, but I’m also realizing the difference between artificial and genuine content, along with the consequences of developing a superficial following and an organic one.

It’s not the first thing on my mind as an artist – to be honest, social media is one of the last. And sure, I understand that that could hurt me, but I also know that I would never vomit something out because I feel like I need some sort of engagement. So, for those wonderful people of you who follow me and my career on these apps, thanks for your patience. Know that I am actually doing things in Nashville, my career is moving forward, and I will have content to show for it soon. So stay tuned.

P.S. I’m sure I’ll post a selfie about it soon. ;)

 

Tools of the Trade

I watched the waves that make up the music pass by at 102 BPM’s. They made a sound that hadn’t always been me, but was becoming me. I was exploring and finding that, actually, maybe what I once was isn’t what I always have to be – that maybe the tools I was using were the things that were actually defining what kind of art I created. 

The process of making music, writing songs, and wearing your heart on your sleeve always varies, but more often than not, it starts with some sort of instrumentation – and the lyrics come after. It’s a beautiful thing because you can get wrapped up into a hook, singing gibberish to a melody, and the seed grows from there. But, like it or not, the seed is the starting point – that zip line that guides you to the other side, and you pretty much hold on until you get there.

In other words, the tools a musician has at his disposable inevitably influence the final product. In my case, that tool is an acoustic guitar – it’s practical, I’m good at it, and I can write songs to it. Why branch out? Well, it starts to become a box, and no matter how big that box might be, the end result is confined to it.  It becomes habitual, and because I have a guitar in my hands ninety percent of any given day, it was just natural that songs sprouted from what I would play. But, just because you know something, doesn’t mean it’s the only thing – it might not even be the best thing, and before you try something else, you’ll never know what could have been.

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been diving into Logic – recording software that’s sworn on by some and shrugged at by others. For me, it was recommended and relatively cheap, so I thought, “Why not?” What I didn’t realize was how much the creative process would be widened by simply being able to layer tracks, add a percussive element, and simply see a song to its relative finish over the course of a few days. Whereas normally, I would write a song and have it professionally recorded over the course of years at a time, I’m now writing and producing on a daily basis, adding layers to a skeleton of vocals with tons of software instruments at my disposal. Sure, it’s not professional quality, and sure, my “studio” is nowhere near “studio quality,” but it does the job in that I’m able to know a song more intimately.

Don’t get me wrong. A song should be able to be stripped down to an acoustic guitar and vocals, and still be able to stand on it’s own.  For some songs, a stripped down acoustic guitar and vocal track is all you need – all you want. But, other songs (and I’d go as far to say most songs) need more that just a skeleton to start moving. Sometimes, it takes more tools than you’ve been using to make something great, but you have to take a step back from (or a step beyond) the habit to realize it.

Water the Seed

“Something will happen soon,” I said. “I know that much,” and I looked to him for confirmation.

“That’s good,” he breathed, and needing to say more, he added, “Keeping a fire in the belly.”

The weight of his words hit me square in the chest as we walked through the empty hallway to our friends’ apartment. From their balcony, you could see the city from the center, growing outward and multiplying like bacteria – but I couldn’t relate. In the midst of it all – the honking horns, the people with places to be, the skyscrapers reaching higher and higher – I felt motionless and watched as the doers did. I’ve been everywhere this month: gratification, aggravation, abjection, and everything in between, but the common denominator is stagnancy – that dark shadow of complacency that rears its head from restlessness. It’s a new feeling for me – or at least, this is the first time I’ve been mature enough to recognize its face – and I had to address it.

I’m a beginner creative by profession, which essentially means I’m constantly producing intangible work and reaping no tangible reward. Of course, I knew this was part of the gig, so I planned on it – saved as much as I could, while I could because, unless I’m playing covers, money is basically removed from the equation. That’s fine – for a while. And, when I say this, I’m not even considering the actual need for money to, you know, live. I’m simply talking about the emotional state of being in a completely intangible-work-for-intangible-reward state. It’s draining because we inevitably use money to value ourselves, our progress, our art, and when it’s not consistently made, it affects our egos – that prideful, no-one-can-hold-me-back mentality that we have to nourish to even consider taking the leap of artistry as a career. But, I’ve come to realize that it’s a near impossible standard to meet – at least in such stages of infancy.

Anything worth having takes time – especially art for art’s sake. It’s a seed that’s watered and fed and protected. Initially, it won’t be able to provide because, really, overnight beanstalks with gold at the top are just fairytales. Initially, it won’t bear any fruits because it hasn’t been given the time to set its roots. Initially, you have to be the one to shelter it because so many things are constantly trying to sweep it from the ground. But, if you care for it with discipline and a belief in its progress, it will grow, and it will return the favor.

I turned away from the city, still standing on the balcony, because I didn’t feel a part of it – its flowering or its evolution – and I didn’t reap the benefits of its life at night either. I went back to my home, on the edge of its evolution, to water the seed.

Rejection

“What’s your biggest fear?” she said. And, the way she asked it with half a smile made me run through some common answers, like she expected something tangible: snakes, heights, darkness – any of the above would have been enough to start (and end) the conversation quickly.

But, I said, “Probably rejection.” Honestly, if anyone said they didn’t fear it, I’d think he was either lying or dumb. It’s everywhere – or at the least the possibility to feel it is everywhere – and half of our lives are spent carefully considering when to invite it and when to slam the door in its face.

Though I’m starting to shift in the other direction, I think I’m more inclined to do the latter – to build up walls against that feeling of inadequacy because who wouldn’t? Why would anyone be attracted to something that could put a dent in that perfect self-image or tarnish the idea that maybe we aren’t all we’re cracked up to be? Because, until we’re proven otherwise, we can believe what we want, and our self-esteem can remain intact (for now). But, like I said, I’m starting to understand rejection like that cold, honest friend who won’t ever censor himself – that critic who keeps you grounded, uncomfortable, and constantly striving.

In reality, rejection is just a tool of self-evaluation – something we can use to know if we’re better than we were yesterday, a defense against platitudes of blissful ignorance that knock us down, scuff us up, and deflate our heads. It’s a necessity if we ever hope to accomplish anything because rejection inevitably follows opportunity like shadow. You can’t have one without at least the possibility of the other. And, in this day and age – where all that really matters is others’ perceptions of who we are, rejection (and equally, opportunity) is often avoided at all costs, and instead of looking beyond our comfort zones, we stay inside them – searching for validation, living comfortably in a quicksand of untested security.

I guess we never doubt ourselves because we never really have to. We never ask questions like, “Is this enough?” or “Am I where I am because this is how it’s always been or because I’m too afraid of reaching for something better?” And, if we do get to that point of asking ourselves the big questions, rarely will we answer them, and even more rarely will we act on those answers. “I don’t know,” we’ll say – and build up an armor of vague, unfinished circumstances, maybe look to our phones for a distraction.  We never face ourselves because rejection could be lying in wait – ready to strike like a poison. And, if we never face ourselves, we never change, we never grow – we never really get to the core of anything, just pilot through life on cruise control. So, is the fear of rejection – that fear of being told, “No, you’re just not good enough,” – really anything more than a fear of ourselves?

"Yeah, probably rejection," I confirmed after a pause.

"Oh, that's interesting," she said with a bit of hesitation.

She took a bite of her food, and we kept living as we always had. 

New Year, New Me -- Right?

In the days leading up to the ball dropping, you can count on being bombarded with that age-old phrase, “New year, new me,” said by people who are ready for these past 365 days to end – people who are ready to wipe the slate clean and start fresh on a blank canvas. And, I’m all for it. Trust me, I’m a fan of resolutions, believing that you can be better than you were in the past and using this calendar symbol of rebirth to begin (or maybe, try) again. But, even if this year wasn’t what you wanted it to be, there’s value in dissatisfaction. There’s value in all the valleys that you were forced to hoist yourself out of, and I think people tend to think so glamorously of this unknown – but surely better – future because, you know, the grass is always greener.

Social media is probably one of the biggest culprits when it comes to casting out the last year as a botched experiment, and all these memes go viral because, at the end of the day, they’re relatable. Of course, there will be valleys, and of course, there will be peaks, but we never pat ourselves on the back and say, “You know what? Goal reached. Let’s enjoy this.” It’s always onto bigger and better things because that’s just how we are. The Internet is so good at highlighting the downsides – after spinning it to make it funny or pairing it with a picture Kermit the Frog – and unfortunately, that’s what we tend to walk away with because that’s what we remember: how it (or we) could have been better. And it’s not just the Internet – our memories do the same thing because that’s how we survive in a world of mistakes and bad decisions. We learn from them. And really, that’s the beauty in this experiment of life. It can always – or at least we have to believe it can always – be better, whether it’s by tweaking one little thing here and there or, as we often do, by attempting to metaphorically wipe the slate clean.

I guess all I’m trying to say is that life will never be one big mountain where we’re constantly climbing upward, our foot never slipping on an unfounded rock, a branch never breaking when we thought it was grounded, our eyes never looking ahead to the point where we know we need to be (because, you know, then we’ll be happy). Life is an endless terrain of ups, downs, and plateaus. You can pick a direction, but you can only base your decision on where you’ve been and what you can see directly in front of you. So, don’t throw out 2016 as a time when nothing was gained. You took a path. Maybe it led you to a mountain, and maybe it led you to a valley. Maybe you have to move forward, and maybe you have to turn right around and move a few steps back. But, now you know where not to go, and you’re a better you than you were before it. And, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for reaching a peak either because I think if you really tried, you could look back on 2016 and say, “I think I’m doing just fine.”


P.S. Sorry for the lack of consistency on these things. Weekly was a bit too much for me to uphold, and when you miss one, the whole thing kind of falls apart. This time, I'm pacing myself for once a month. That way, these will be a little more substantial, and I can have some time to chew on my thoughts. Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed the blog up to this point, and I hope you continue to enjoy it. As always, I'd love to start a conversation, so ask questions, give me your thoughts. I'd love to talk to you.

Slower Days

This past week was a whirlwind – I don’t think I stopped moving unless it was for sleep. And, there’s beauty in that: being as productive as possible, speeding through days at 100 MPH, and finally landing in your bed at the end of the day with a crash where, the second you touch the mattress, you’re out.  There’s a feeling of responsibilities completed, like you had a to-do list, and you checked that thing off – one-by-one. But, as I’m sitting here on a Sunday morning with the sun rising, with nothing but contemplation and my own voice in my head, I start to be grateful for the times when maybe I’m just going at my own pace.


I’ve discovered a newfound respect for those Type-A people who are constantly thinking of what to do next, where to go, how to further themselves – whether it be in their career or their friendships – because it’s a learned skill and one that I haven’t really had to pick up until recently. It’s tough. I’m an introvert with extraverted tendencies, so I value my me-time. Who cares if it’s Netflix, thinking about a song, or even writing this blog? That’s the time that I have to myself to spend it any way I’d like, and when you’re speeding through the day, the hours go so fast, and before you know it, you’ve lost any chance for yourself. And, then you’ve got to wake up early to do it all again.

I’ll go ahead and claim that one of the biggest changes in my life by going into music is that no single day is the same: there’s no routine, there’s no proper way of going about it, there’s no schedule on which I depend. Sure, there are appointments, and sure, I set goals for myself to finish on different timelines, but it’s no nine-to-five, and ultimately, your day is what you make it. There are days when I’m killing it, finishing all those little things that I forgot to do or just haven’t wanted to do, and then there are days when I do just about the bare minimum to let me sleep at night. But, like I said, there’s beauty in both.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s easy to feel like you’re sinking fast because there will never not be something to do – that familiar feeling of being overwhelmed that you get when you’ve got too much homework and not enough time is a constant – and if you look for too long at the big picture on the scale of the little things, you start shaking your head wondering how they could ever be finished. But I think dreams – and the bigger goals in life that we set for ourselves – are vague like that. We set this image of who we want to be, and though the path might be unknown, we start walking toward it however we see fit. We learn things along the way, maybe take a few steps backward before we can step forward again, but we keep going.


So, rounding back around to the beauty of lazy days: I love them because they’re rejuvenation. They’re a step off of the dream playing field where you can just ride bench for a little bit – because well, you need a rest. You can look at the big picture as a spectator and not as a player – at least for an instant – and remember why you’re here. Every day doesn’t need to be a whirlwind because sometimes, the slower days are just as important. 

Some People Are Ready for It

Love to me is kind of like a blazing summer heat. When it’s cold, and you remember what it was like – or at night, when your bed seems just a little too big for one – that’s when love becomes this amazing thing to the have-nots. And, trust me: I’m a romantic. The idea of love is a beautiful, beautiful thing – I get wrapped up in it just as much as the next guy – but I think there’s a time and place for everything, and right now, I’m not sure if love is what I need.


To be honest, love could only hurt me – right now, in the midst of my infant steps into Nashville and my music career when the focus almost has to be solely on me. Through my experiences with love, the idea of it, and so on, I’ve found that I dive head-first – in some cases, crashing and burning, in others, losing a bit of myself in the process. I become dependent – caught up in the roses and red of it all – to where it inherently affects how I act, who I am, and ultimately, what I want to become. 

Let’s say I find it. Let’s say it falls right into my lap, and I can’t do anything about it. And, then let’s say that I have to make a decision between one love or another – the love of music or the love of her. Right now, sitting here and typing away about it, I could easily tell you my answer: of course, it’s music because it’s what I have always wanted to do, and I’m going to do it with or without her. But, ask me again when I’m actually head over heels – that’s a different circumstance with someone else involved in the mix, and who am I to speculate about how I’d answer? 

I guess all I’m saying is that love, in whatever form it comes, changes how we think – it brings another person whose dreams, aspirations, and lifestyle we have to take into account, whether they agree with ours or not. I guess all I’m saying is that I can’t afford to be asked that question for fear of how my answer might differ if I was deep into it. I guess all I’m saying is that I’m not ready for a love that changes things. I’m not ready to sacrifice something that I want for someone else, and there’s nothing more indicative of real love than sacrifice. Is that selfish or wrong? Or is it just the wrong time?


I’ve alluded to love – and my fear of it – in songs, previous blogs, in conversation, etc., etc., but it’s come up recently in my life, so I thought I’d put my contemplations into form because, as always, this blog probably does more for me than it does for any reader. This is where I am in my life: some people are ready for it – and it boggles my mind – but, as far as I can tell, I’m not. Who knows though? I don’t really have a choice about where and when Cupid plans to strike, and maybe, if it were to happen, it would all be for the better. But, as I write, and I’m able to reason with no influence but my own, I can’t say it’s what I want right now. 

Weight of the Name

So, this piece is going to be informational – about what I’ve learned of publishing deals, the benefits (and consequences) of having one, etc., etc. As I go on writing and cranking out songs that I think have potential in the country realm – or even in another realm that simple isn’t my type of music – the idea of having a channel of selling and ultimately bringing these songs into being becomes all the more enticing. Enter the publishing deal.


Before I dive into what a publishing deal can offer, I’ll tell you what you’ve got to do without one: co-write with people who do. Sure, there are ways to be independent and sell your songs freelance, but at the end of the day, it comes down to getting those demos into the hands of artists or the people who make decisions for those artists. One major benefit of a publishing deal is having people called, “pushers,” on your side and willing to pitch your song to those aforementioned important people. Otherwise, you could have written the best song anyone’s ever heard, but with no one accepting unsolicited submissions and no one listening to the new kid on the block, it’s pretty likely that no one will ever hear it. Connections, connections, connections.

With that being said, one major downside of a publishing deal is the percentage the publishing company gets for their services – especially if you don’t lawyer up and have someone actually review the deal before you get involved. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting wrapped up into deals where all they get is an advance – which is stable income in an unstable financial market – and maybe a sliver of the royalties earned on a song, while the publishing company gets the rest. But, I think if you enter into meetings with the mindset that businesses are out for themselves, you can usually come out with a deal that benefits you both.

Money aside, there are things that publishing companies offer that are just simply unattainable on your own – the main one being those, “connections, connections, connections,” I mentioned earlier. I’ve heard a few cases now where artists are actually being developed by these companies, which involves everything from co-writes with big names to setting up shows in well-known venues, and it all comes from the weight of the name. It’s everything in Nashville – where number-one hits can be bought, artists can be produced, and pitch can be tuned.


I did try to keep this short and sweet, so I could highlight the benefits and the major consequences of having or not having a deal. As a sort of exercise for myself, it’s good to write through these things and view them in a tangible sort of way because it’s easy to get swept off your feet in this town by promises of fame, money, success – or whatever – and never see those things come into being. Clarity is key when contracts are involved, and whether you remain a freelance writer or sign up to be on a company’s payroll, it’s essential to know what you’re getting into and if it’s right for you – if it fits into your goals and your path through music.

The Learning Curve Is Steep

There’s so much I don’t know about this industry. Sometimes, I feel like it’s the first day of a foreign language class where the teacher only speaks in that exotic tongue, and you’re left to infer and imply – picking out words you understand and going with those for now. The learning curve is steep, but it’s definitely manageable, and how better to learn a language than to immerse yourself in it. Welcome to Nashville, I guess.


I feel like I know a lot about music. I can write a song that’s catchy. I can play guitar pretty well. But, music is half the battle – if not less – and the acronyms are staggering:  BMI, ASCAP, SESAC – all of which are technically the same thing, but different in so many ways. It’s easy to get caught up in the jargon and start just sort of nodding your head – like you’re seeing the words on a page, but not really understanding them. I guess what I’m saying is there’s a reason schools offer majors in music business: being an artist – especially a freshman in the field – is definitely not just sitting around writing songs and playing guitar all day.

Like I said, the learning curve is steep. Research, current events, and law are all part of the Nashville artist curriculum, and I promise you bioengineering does not correlate. It’s an entirely different field. Math – doesn’t matter. Physics – doesn’t matter. English – barely matters. With that being said, I wouldn’t trade my degree in engineering for a music business degree in the same way that I would rather learn Italian by living in Italy for a year than by learning it through a textbook.

The practical approach to learning skills is always so much better – and so much more applicable. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but I’d bet that few of us still read the manuals to any new thing – well, unless you’re building some IKEA furniture. We learn by doing. We learn by living. And, sure, you could make the argument that it’s a bad thing: we make mistakes. We live on a Bible of rules of thumb and heuristic principles that do the job most of the time – but maybe not all of the time.


Of course, I wouldn’t want to hire an engineer or a doctor who lives by that code of maybes – in a world where set laws of nature govern how, when, and why things will do what they do. But, music – and Nashville – isn’t that world. There’s no set path that people can point to and say, “This is what works. Do this, and you’ll make it.” All they can really say is, “Well, it worked in the past,” or “Well, this worked for me.” Sure, it helps to know the terms and have some schooling, so you’re not looking at a dictionary every two seconds, but you don’t get fluent by reading a book – you do it through immersion. So, here I am in Nashville – learning.

Gas in the Tank

Well, I can say this: I’m always busy. Whether I’m sending emails to venues, producers, musicians, blogs, radio stations, magazines, websites, playlist curators, songwriters, or the like; whether I’m writing songs, which, according to industry folk, I should be doing at least five times a week; whether I’m playing my old tunes and finding new ways to play the same song or even developing a song that hasn’t reached its potential, music is a constant. But, that’s what I asked for, isn’t it?


I won’t claim that I came into this life thinking it would be easy. If anything, the countless sighs of concern from friends and loved ones, when I told them I’d be doing music full-time after four years of engineering, were enough to put an ominous overtone of the next few years of my life. “Well, it’s a tough place to get noticed,” or, “Well, at least you’ve got a good back-up,” were what usually followed. Sure, I’d shake off the doubt and ask myself the question I’ve asked a million times, “Is this what you really want to do?” to which my heart’s reply was inevitably, “Of course.” But, that’s not the tough question: the harder one to answer is, “Why?” or, more specifically, “What makes you so special?”

I think there’s a sort of innate faith in oneself that has to be burned into his head if he hopes to do something as unstable and unknown as music – a certain confidence that what he’s doing is right, whether strangers believe it or not. Because, well, if you’re not your biggest fan, who else will be? Who else is going to get you through the unavoidable lows that come with rejection? Who else is going to be constantly filling your gas tank when you feel like this might be the end of the journey? You’ve got mom and dad through the phone, friends in a stable job, God, religion – whatever your anchor is – but at some point, it simply comes down to you. You have to have faith.

And, like I said, I won’t claim that I came to Nashville thinking I’d be swept off my feet by a record label or a publishing house the second I got here, but that faith in my music, my lyrics, my talent – all things given to me by the Lord above – persuaded me into thinking that, you know, maybe it’ll be easier for me. Surely, the people out here don’t have what I have – and maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but nothing is given in this world but the drinks at a bar, being bought by someone who wants to shake hands and add you to a contact list.


Nothing is given, but success can absolutely be earned – and half the battle is figuring out how to earn it. And, sure, I’m painting in broad strokes: there are people who have come into my life recently – you know who you are – who’s generosity, friendliness, and sincerity in this strange city have been invaluable. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to you, what you do for yourself, and how hard you’re willing to work. Handouts – if they ever were a thing – certainly are in the past, so now, more than ever, its up to me to fill my tank with gas.


Which Way to Water

So, here I am in Nashville. Granted, it’s been awhile since we last spoke, so I’m sifting through my head like a filing cabinet, flicking my fingers through manila folders and putting aside interesting anecdotes – and trashing the not-so-engaging.  I could talk about the fact that I was the recipient of ten (Count ‘em – ten!) stiches because I sliced my hand open without a single night of Tennessee under my belt. I could tell the story of how, only a few days after the move, my friends and I were nearly assaulted by a pack of rambunctious rednecks who thought we had taken their five-dollar flag on the Fourth (On a side note, I think what dissuaded them from attacking was the fact that my hand, to prevent infection of course, was conveniently wrapped in a plastic bag, which I’m sure from the outside seemed to be far more for their benefit than my own).  I could even tell you of all the songs I’ve been writing – as I’m sure I will at some point – but instead, today I’m concerned with Nashville, the Music City.


When my roommate and I had first entered this kingdom, we were inevitably blinded by the lights of a big city, the massive migration of new faces, and the constant, rhythmic thumping of new and old country hits. It was a brave new world, one that we had never experienced, and we were eager to taste it (Maybe “taste” isn’t the right word – what about “inhale?”). Because, well, this is what I came for: a place to be recognized, a place where music is around every corner, and a place where saying, “I’m a musician,” means, “This is for real – I’m the real thing.” But, doesn’t everyone say that? Doesn’t every kid with a dream say, “I’m going to Nashville. Next time you see me, it’ll be on TV.” Well, I’ll be the first to tell you: yeah, they do, and I’m sure as hell one of them.

Well, at least to people who can help me – at least to people who have seen thousands of kids like me come and go because they just couldn’t break in. Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in America (I read somewhere that about 86 people a day – a day! – are moving here), and it’s easy to find yourself just a minnow, swimming with a school of other fish, hoping to get swept up in someone’s net, so they can put you in their sand castle for an hour – until the tide rolls in and washes it all away, leaving you flopping around like some pathetic thing, wondering which way to water. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But, if water is money and a net is the next big break, it’s accurate enough. Nashville’s fantastic – don’t get me wrong. It’s opportunity incarnate: it’s the Music City, but people get lonely in big crowds, and it’s easy to doubt yourself when you’re flailing about saying, “Look! Here’s what I’ve got – I think it’s great,” and the person with the net doesn’t have time to listen. 


In retrospect, I’ve painted a bit of a morbid picture of my time thus far, but I promise you, it’s been everything I’ve imagined – even the difficult parts (though I did seem to hover on those).  Nashville’s a big city, so just bear with me while I get used to being small – I’ll grow.

What Should I Think About?

One thing I’ve learned about playing music: if you hate driving, stay away. This weekend, we trekked all the way down to Jacksonville, Florida to play our tunes – leaving Saturday morning, coming back the Sunday after. For a total of a little over twelve hours, I sat in the driver’s seat of my Ford Explorer, watching cars pass on cruise control.


There’s a big part of playing music that an audience doesn’t see: I might even compare it to a glacier where what you see is only the tip, even though there’s a massive foundation anchoring it to the floor beneath. Especially for a band who doesn’t have a hundred people working for them, the back end of music might even be more time-consuming than the show itself – actually, I’m sure it is – and, along with loading in equipment, coordinating with clients/band members, and practicing setlists, driving is up there as one of the most necessary – whether it’s just to Greenville or all the way to Jacksonville.

But I don’t mind it. Granted, six hours is a lot, and if someone offered me a free plane ticket, I’d take it in a heartbeat, but fantasy aside, there are a ton of things you can accomplish in the driver’s seat with nothing to do but watch the road and let your mind wander. Of course, if you’ve got a passenger, conversation is key, but let’s say that passenger – I won’t say any names, but let’s just say they play bass – didn’t sleep much the night before, so they pass out for half the drive. Sure, you can play music for an hour, maybe even two, but you can only sing at the top of your lungs to keep yourself awake for so long. So, what do you do when there’s nothing left to distract you? You just sort of think.

That’s the beauty – and the curse – of driving: You can’t do anything but think. I, for one, like to write songs in moments like these because when else do I have moments of near silence and have almost no choice but to concentrate on a thought? I may not do it during the week when I could easily do something tangible or just take the easy way out and watch Netflix – but not in the car. It’s on those six hour drives that some of my favorite lines have come into being, when I’ve had those eureka moments and I say, “That’s the line I’ve been looking for.”


Some of the best reflection comes from being forced into it, and when driving is so essential to the job, it helps to look at it productively – like you’re killing two birds with one stone. I can’t say it’s my favorite part of being a musician, and I definitely can’t say I’m smiling when I’m three hours deep into a drive with a three more to go. But, I can say that there’s something therapeutic about watching cars pass with no distractions – except maybe that merging truck which shouldn’t be merging – because it’s an opportune time to take a step back and just ask, “What should I think about?”

Empty Skies

I loaded some gear into my car this weekend – two main speakers, two monitors, guitars, etc., etc. – and filled it to the brim, so until it’s all out of there, no one’s getting in and out of my car but me. Yeah, maybe people could move around a few cables in the passenger seat, put them on the floor, and have enough space to sit uncomfortably for a bit while we get from A to B – but they won’t enjoy it, and when their necks start cramping up after, they’ll try their hardest not to do it again.  Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes, fighting for space against a one-track mind. And, it doesn’t leave much room for permanence: people come and go, and we can both make the effort, but there’s only so much space in a car, in a heart, in a life.


With the prospect of heading to Nashville after I graduate, the obvious questions of money, success, and time come to mind. But, rather than those about what I may or may not become, the question, “What am I giving up?” stands as the most haunting.

I have to be selfish – it’s just the nature of the game. I have to put myself first because there’s no compromise with time.  That’s why, in my last few months here at Clemson, I’m inclined to shrug off any possibility of permanence, whether it be with friends, lovers, and the like. I wouldn’t call it a fear so much as I would call it a premonition. Experience has taught me a bit about how I go about relationships – well, how I go about most things – and it’s nearly 100% tunnel vision. So, if that’s the case, it all comes down to priority, to which thing matters most because the other will inevitably be cast aside. And, I know you’re reading this saying, “Well, I think there’s still a chance,” or “Maybe you’re limiting yourself,” and I’ll agree. I absolutely am. But, the beauty about one-track minds is that they don’t notice many things beyond the number one – or things that could be there but aren’t because they’re so focused on the first.

Now, I’m not saying it’s good or bad: there are pros and cons to it for sure. But, I will say that when you’re pursuing a dream where you’re going to face tons of adversity, having some of the other things fade away is nice advantage. Like I said, I have to be selfish if I’m going to try this, but when you’re plate is full already, it’s tough to add anything new. 


So, the gear’s loaded, the car’s full, and I’ll be gone in three months – not a ton of room left for anything else. Maybe once I get to Nashville, unload, and set my roots, I’ll have space for something – or someone – else, but the current forecast shows empty skies and an open road.

Cycles

So, I hope you’ve all dissected “Black & White” from last week because with today’s post, I want to give you the most in-depth look into what the song means to me. As a disclaimer though, I’d like to issue a spoiler alert: This is what the song means to me, but that doesn’t mean what you thought was wrong. It just means you looked at it a little differently.


As you might have guessed, this song is about a girl. I know, I know, but love – or the prospect of love – is something that hits the heart deeply, and it’s only about those things that I think someone can write honestly. But, this song’s not about a break-up, it’s not about the perfect love, it’s not even about love that meets the bare minimum. It’s about the possibility of love never truly being realized because one side never gives it the chance. The first stanza sets the tone: it speaks to a moment when the speaker and She (that’s what we’ll call her from now on) were together, but like a dream that ended to early, She fades away, almost ridiculing the speaker for not realizing from the beginning what they were to her. And, by the end of the stanza, the speaker begins to tell himself that maybe it was just this fleeting thing that never had a chance, so he’ll go on pretending like it was nothing.  But, as the next stanza proves, he could never move past the prospect of being more because the second She enters back into his life, he caves. Here, however, you start to believe that maybe She could be interested in something beyond what they are, as She says, “I’ll be right here,” but again She drifts away, leaving the speaker right where She left him and right where he’ll always be to her. In particular, “Lying right in front of me,” has become one of my favorite lines because how you interpret that line is representative of how you interpret their relationship. The word “lying” has a dual meaning: it could either take on its very physical definition in the sense that She’s lying before him – serving as a physical symbol of their love, or it could take on its verbal definition, implying that She’s simply lying to his face about her permanence in relation to him. But, I’ll leave that interpretation up to you.

The pre-chorus is telling of both sides: on the one hand, her thinking is that, “As long as I come back to you, why does it matter if I come into and out of your life?” while on the other, the speaker talks of his investment into her – like he’s on the end of a string that She could drop at any moment, and, though She’d be fine, he’d be devastated. By saying, “Watch from above for the thrill of it,” he even hints at the fact that She might get some sort of pleasure from watching him squirm, like it’s a game that she’s playing, and he’s just a pawn in it. From his perspective, She’s not nearly as invested, and as the chorus conveys, She doesn’t know what it’s like to be in his shoes – on the other side and at another’s mercy.

The second verse again speaks to the fleeting nature of her presence in his life, saying that even if it’s just for second, he’ll hold her hand because, if that’s all he can get, he’ll take it. But, he’s also beginning to realize her toxicity – the fact that whatever it is that’s between them is a viscous cycle – just the “same old scheme” – where she comes out scot-free, and he’s left to wonder where things went wrong. And, after the pre-chorus and chorus, where he again falls back into falling in and out of love, the bridge highlights the repetitive character of their relationship. It talks about hearing the same old line more times than he can remember – whether he’s telling himself or She is – that whatever he hopes the two of them will become could never happen. Because, according to the cycle they’ve been in for so long, there’s no chance of anything beyond what they are. Like a pendulum that always comes back, he’s doomed to fall into and out of her life at her choosing, and she’ll never know what it’s like to be on his side. ike asking, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” lyrics can either come from with a melody – usually a basic chord progression on guitar for me – or simply out of thin air, like a poem with meter and rhyme but nothing else. In my experience, the most common origin is the melody because you’re able to start with a backbone, and then the rest of the skeleton starts to grow from there. On the other hand, when all you’ve got is a few lines and a vague idea of meter, the possibilities of where the song could go musically are nearly infinite. But, I will say that those songs for which the lyrics came first like “Black & White” are some of my most honest because they’re driven by nothing more than the need to be said.


Well, as short and sweet as it could be, that’s about what this song means to me. Of course, it has real-life inspirations, meaning that the “he” might be me, and the She might be a character in my life. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you it had a happy ending, but I can tell you the cycle’s ended. I guess that’s the beauty and struggle of it all: there are many, many cycles to life. 

"Black & White"

I’m often asked to explain my songs – to elaborate on everything from an overarching inspiration to a single line. But – I have to say – I don’t like doing it. Not because I’m not proud of what I wrote or because there’s not meaning to it, but because there’s something deeply personal and beautiful about drawing your own conclusions from another’s art. I could spell it out for you, and I could say, “This is what this means,” but in a sense, I’m limiting what could have been by giving you even the slightest bit of direction. As I think I’ve said, I’m a huge proponent of the “There’s no right answer,” dogma that has been set in place for literature and art in general, so I encourage you to say, “This is how that makes me feel,” rather than, “Oh, I get what you’re saying,” – if you know what I mean. With that being said, I’m going to try something with the blog: Below, you’ll find one of the songs I’ve written that will be going on my new album. It’s a song called, “Black & White,” and it’s probably one of my lyrical favorites. Read it. Brew on it. Come to your own conclusions. Next week, I’ll tell you how it came about in a line-by-line manner, and we’ll see if our opinions are the same.


Well, she said, “Yeah, you must be dreaming

Cause you know this can’t be real.”

Then all the colors fade to black & white

As she slowly disappears,

And I don’t move cause I don’t understand,

Like waking from a sleep.

I rub my eyes, and then I play pretend

I’m imagining these things.

 

I look around, step back, and count to ten,

And before I know, she’s here again.

Well, I just want to hear her whisper,

So I cave, and I lean in.

And she says so soft, “I’ll be right here,”

As she drifts away from my eager ear,

So there I am, and there I’ll be, and there is she

Lying right in front of me.

 

But she says she can’t change,

And why would I want her to?

“Why do you care if when I stray,

I come back to you?”

And I say that, “All I am – and all of this –

Is wrapped up around your fingertips,

And if it slipped the slightest bit, you would

Watch from above for the thrill of it.

 

Cause you don’t what it’s like to feel like this.

No, you don’t know what it’s like to feel like this.

 

She reaches out. She takes my hand –

If only for the moment –

And I hope that maybe this is when

She won’t let go.

But it’s fleeting like the rest of her.

She’s a ghost that knows my name,

And she says, “Well, I’ll be back tomorrow,”

And we fall into the same old thing –

The same old scheme.

 

Oh, but she says she can’t change,

And why would I want her to?

“Why do you care if when I stray,

I come back to you?”

And I say that, “All I am – and all of this –

Is wrapped up around your fingertips,

And if it slipped the slightest bit, you would

Watch from above for the thrill of it.

 

Cause you don’t what it’s like to feel like this.

No, you don’t know what it’s like to feel like this.

I said you don’t what it’s like to feel like this.

No, you don’t know what it’s like to feel like this.

 

Well, I’ve listened to that same old line,

Said only once or a thousand times that

I’m reaching for a rope that isn’t there.

Cause we’ll just sway to the same old tune,

Oh, and I’ll fall right in and out of you

Cause you can’t change – you couldn’t.

But it’s not fair.

 

Cause you don’t what it’s like to feel like this

No, you don’t know what it’s like to feel like this

I said you don’t what it’s like to feel like this

No, you don’t know what it’s like to feel like this


Like I said, there’s no right answer. Your thoughts are as good as mine when it comes to how these words, put in this form, made you feel. So, tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

Think About You

Well, things are beginning to pile up. Like the calm before a storm, spring break was the last period of no responsibilities that I’ll have this semester – maybe this year, maybe this life – and the barrage of emails concerning graduation, research, and even gig opportunities was like a splash of cold water to my face. I’ve returned to the real world – sunburn and all.


I’m a generally calm person. For those of you who know me personally, I think you’d agree when I say my emotional peaks are moderate, and my typical level of stress is low. And, I’ve never really questioned why. It could just be a characteristic, I guess, but I’d like to think it’s not in my genes. It could even be my work ethic, which usually forces me to get things done early – before the stress hits – but senioritis is beginning to show its fangs, and I find myself treading deadlines more and more. It could just be the fact that most of my stress-related tasks come from my degree – which I’m crossing my fingers I don’t ever have to use – so, accordingly, you might see a drop in performance, but again, it’s not the case. Then, if it’s none of these things, I think it comes down to how I manage my time and where I choose to invest it because, if school was the only thing on my list, I’m sure I’d be ripping my hair out right about now.

Time is like a currency – well, it helps me to look at it that way. So, when your to-do list seems to be never-ending, and the sticky notes just keep multiplying, it’s important to realize how you’re using it. For example, take this blog I’m writing: I could think of about four or five things off the top of my head that, by standards of academia, I should be doing instead – maybe a ten-page research thesis that’s due at the end of the month, which I haven’t even started and I really just imagine as a big black hole on my calendar. Maybe I should be writing one of the two essays that my lovely teachers assigned to be due on the Monday and Tuesday we get back into class. Whatever the case, I’m sure a weekly blog wouldn’t be prioritized on the majority of people’s lists in days of constant work like these. But, it is on mine.

It is on mine because these blogs have become a written answer to a thought that I’ve had during the week. Maybe they don’t directly answer a question, or maybe they end up being vague or confusing, but they do mean something to me. Yes, sometimes, I have to make myself to turn off Netflix or put down my textbook to reflect for an hour, but it becomes absolutely worth it to take a step back, take a deep breath, and say, “This is where I am now.” By looking at myself, I get to take break from the inundation of information that we constantly subject ourselves to as students – or more simply as people – and think about something that I know and something that matters: me. 


Knowledge of math, science, and the like is one thing, but knowledge of yourself is another, and I’d argue that, between the two, it’s the more important.  Among other things, I think that’s why I’m drawn to music. As a songwriter, you are what you write, and with every song comes a new revelation – something that you’re forced to look at and play a thousand times over.  You may not like what you see, but once it’s out in the open, you have to look at it and take it for what it is. So, I encourage whoever’s reading this to step away from the business of whatever life you’re living and twist your own arm to just simply think about you. I say, “simply,” but with a seemingly endless number of other things you could be doing, the task is definitely not a simple one. You may wonder what to think about, and when the thoughts just aren’t flowing you may give up and say, “Well, I tried.” But, give it a second. It may take a moment to get the train of thought out of the station, but where you arrive, the conclusions you draw, and the clarity that results are undeniably worth it. 

Like Old Songs

Old friends are a lot like old songs. They never really run out of steam. I mean, you can plug them in when you need a reliable pick-me-up, and for that reason, you can be sure they'll always have a spot on your playlist. You can forget about them for awhile, but you never doubt that foundation, knowing that the second you give them a call – or press play – you'll pick up right where you left off from however many years ago. I love old friends, and this weekend was full of them.


Step back a few weeks, and I'm getting a call from my old friend, Murray, from Camp Thunderbird about playing a show in Auburn. Basically, it wasn't set in stone yet, but I may or may not have the chance to open for Judah and the Lion in March. Well, for those of you who know Murray, you might be able to understand how little I invested into the prospect. Don't get me wrong: I was sure Murray would fight tooth and nail for me, but word of mouth can only get you so far – surely not to an opening gig like this. So, as much as I love the guy, I thought it was a long shot and that I'd soon get the call of rejection saying that, due to extenuating circumstances, they decided to go with someone else. Well, believe it or not, he came through, and though it took awhile to get from prospect to promise, we were able to start spreading the word about the show soon after.

A few steps forward to yesterday – through tacos at Durango's, a mostly successful sound check, and a wholly successful show – I found myself itching to catch up not only with Murray, but also with my other long lost friend from Alabama, Cammie. I just had to find them first – a task so much easier said than done, especially when one of those friends picks up the phone and greets you with surprisingly fluent Spanish. Well, after getting denied entry into the house after my, "I'm with the band," excuse didn't work, I snuck my way in and finally stumbled upon the two together in Murray's room eating pizza, which was really the only fitting way to find them.

The night was young, and Judah and the Lion were great. They put on a fantastic show, and if you ever get the chance to see them perform, I wholeheartedly encourage it. But, with that being said, I won't spend too many words on the show because it was really just a wonderful addition to the wonderful night that I knew was already in store. Loads of laughs, meaningful conversation, and an almost tangible friend-love – that comes around every once in a while – all made Saturday night unforgettable and no doubt the spark we needed to begin acting like friends again. 


Because the best friends are the ones you can ask questions. Not superficial ones like, “What are you doing?” or “How have you been?” but questions that matter – questions that make the asker and the answerer think, reflect, discuss and actually learn something about the other and maybe even themselves. It may sound like an obvious thing – that good conversation makes for good friends – but it’s actually much more rare than it seems. So, when you find friends like those, hold onto them. Nourish the relationship. Be the best of friends, even when the space between is hundreds of miles and the time until the next visit is indefinite. Because there’s a reason that you can pick up exactly where you left off, and that reason is meaning – meaning found in and through each other. Yes, people go their separate ways, and yes, people fade into and out of our lives, but time apart shouldn’t be a means for apathy. So, reach out. Call up that person you’ve been meaning to call for such a long time but just never got around to. It’s never too late to rekindle a friendship, especially when it’s so easy to begin again, and, in my experience, the best friendships are the ones that ripen with age. 

I Don't Feel Bad for Fish

I had always considered myself to be a mathematician, someone who looks for patterns, quantifiable outcomes, symmetry and the like. It makes sense, you know? To the son of a computer software engineer who preferred video games to reading during his formative years, it was the low-hanging fruit, and I fell easily into the mold of the future engineer. You could argue that I’m still in it as a senior bioengineer at Clemson, but I’d beg to differ. You could argue that it’s always been that way and will always be, but I’ll show you a career path that proves otherwise. You could even argue that music is a phase – that after a few years, I’ll wise up and join the rest of the world – but I’d argue that it’s been a long time coming, and it was really just beneath the surface all along. But when did I start to look a little deeper, beyond the symbols and figures and definite outcomes of math, and begin to ask questions that don’t have a single right answer – questions that are all the more beautiful because they don’t have a single right answer? Well, I guess I’d say it started somewhere around my tenth grade English class. 


Flashback eleven years or so: I’m in sixth grade hearing horror stories about how my sister has to read novels – usually by some guy named Hemingway – and answer questions like, “Fill in the blank: ‘No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow ________,’” all from memory – no open book, no notes, just pure recall. And it wasn’t like this was rare; quizzes like these happened every day, and sometimes a fifty was actually pretty good, relative to the rest of the class. But my sister said she liked it, so I enrolled in the class a few years later – the class taught by Mr. Greg Fish, the coffee-crazed, Hemingway nut who somehow, after ripping them a new one each year, still got his students to say that it was one of their favorite (if not their favorite) classes ever. And, whether I looked at it as a challenge to show up my sister or as the only way to get honors credit for English, I’m sure I never expected to get out of the class what I did.

Fish forced us to have an opinion, which is sometimes difficult for high school students who, up until then, had been told what to say, how to say it, and finally how to regurgitate it for a grade.  So, I think I speak for the majority when I say that we were a little taken aback when Fish walked into class each morning with a full pot of coffee (all for him) and a childish smile on his face that said, “Oh, you’re in for it today, but man, are you going to enjoy it.” With everything from song lyrics to prose passages, we were asked what we thought, exposed to others’ opinions, and forced to answer that tenacious question of, “Why?” And, I don’t know if it was the novelty and intrigue that comes with knowing that there’s really no right answer, or if it was the freedom that seemed to ebb from the class’s white walls – always speckled with literary greats and motivational quotes – but there was something liberating about going to that class and saying utterly and truly, “This is what I think.”

He’s always tread the line, I guess, but after the second year of taking his class, you’re usually prepared – well, I’ll say not surprised – at whatever Fish might do. Unfortunately, however, some people live more sheltered lives than others – or at least try to – and when someone in a position of authority threatens that figment of protection, he can easily be made a scapegoat. Now, I won’t dive too deep into the details of the issue, but basically, someone thought Fish crossed the line by using profanity in an original poem and by using it in a class exercise.  Taken extremely out of context, parents got involved and asked a school district administrator to address the issue. He did so by asking Fish to resign.


But I don’t feel bad for Fish. I feel bad for the students who got a taste of his class and won’t get to finish it. I feel bad for the students who will never know what it’s like to be inspired through literature the way Fish could. I feel bad for the person who brought this allegation forward and for the parents who, in a sad attempt to shelter their child, bit off a little more than they wanted to chew. I feel bad for the school district of Pickens County because this is a major step backward in censorship – in stifling the discussion of important things because someone could get offended. I feel bad for the vast majority of students who had Fish in the past, loved him in the same way I do, and now have to watch this sort of injustice happen in his career. But, like I said, I don’t feel bad for Fish. More so now than ever, he has the opportunity to completely immerse himself in his own projects and pursue a career as an author and maybe even a collegiate professor. I don’t feel bad for Fish because he’ll have no problem getting hired in another district or really wherever he wants. But really, I don’t feel bad for Fish because – let’s be honest – Easley High was never really good enough for you. 

We Came for the Groove

As most of you know – and for those of you who don’t – we’ve been in the process of producing another record for the past few months now, and because I’ll be on my own and living the musical dream soon, having professionally recorded original songs (kind of like what The Weight was plus the professional part) is crucial to keeping that dream alive. From getting into the doors of venues to getting into people’s ears, being able to direct listeners to original music is a must. So, I rallied the troops, and we packed our overnight bags for Nashville, Tennessee, where the music is plenty and the traffic is apparently awful. Little did I know, the address that Ryan – my friend and producer – sent held little more than an unimposing four-bedroom home with a column on the front porch that simply read, “4115.” 


Forty-One Fifteen, Gallatin Pike doesn’t look like much: I have to admit, when I first drove up to its unremarkable driveway and really took in what seemed to be a literal home studio, I couldn’t help but ask, “Is this really where I’m paying by the hour to be?” I mean, you’ve really got to look hard for it. In between its psychic palm reader and chiropractor neighbors, it stands unnoticeably unexpected as a residential building along a strip of commercial ones, and it does next to nothing to advertise itself to anyone who might be passing through. But fortunately, Google Maps is a thing, and we made our way there without a single detour, knocking on a door with the fear that a mother of two might come to the front.

Well, I’m happy to say: books and their covers have never been more misleading. What welcomed us upon our initial steps into the studio was nothing short of a musical amusement park – you know, after you make it through the kitchen. The first room is small, where a previous owner may have placed a dining room table for family meals. But now, it’s essentially a piano/keys haven of tone. From glockenspiels to baby grands, this room had the means to fill the whim of any musician who came in saying, “You know, I really think a(n) [insert obscure musical instrument here] would be great for this record.” But, besides shock value, keys weren’t really the reason we came to Nashville for an entire weekend.

We came for the groove, of course. Bass and drums were the focus of February 19th through the 21st, and man, did we conquer. From personnel to environment, Forty-One Fifteen offered everything a musician could ask for: vibes, character, and even the same brand of coffee I drink back home. Though it was probably just a coincidence of luck – because I drank it like water this weekend – and great taste in coffee, who’s to say it wasn’t meant to be? Don’t get me wrong: Saturday and Sunday were long – especially Sunday since our drive back to Clemson started at 8 o’clock Nashville time – but that’s the beauty of doing what you love. It doesn’t feel like work, even when you start with the sun and end with the moon.


These songs are like my children right now. I know what I sound like when I say that, but there’s really no better analogy. You start with an idea – an image of what could be with a thousand different ways of getting there – and you begin. You set its morals and give it value through lyricism, offering a foundation to start speaking for itself. You dress it up each time in what you think looks good, until it develops its own style and its own way of looking back at the world. You make sure it tries everything because you never want it took look back and say, “What if?” or, “I wish.” And finally, when you’ve done all you can to raise it and make it into the beautiful thing it is, you send it out into the world to make its mark – to fly or fail. I know it’s a stretch, but this weekend, my babies started speaking, and that’s a wonderful, amazing thing because its one step closer to that final image. They aren’t ready to take the world by storm just yet: they’re still crawling around or asking for piggyback rides. But with the right parental figures and all their daily vitamins and nutrients, I know they’ll grow up to be something great. Just you wait.