I don’t think people understand how much isolation comes along with making a record. Even as a musician who grew up — mostly alone — making music on a computer, I’ve been surprised by the number of artists who talk about taking a trip away somewhere and holing up with a laptop or guitar for three weeks. There’s something about being with other people that makes you feel stronger, more confident, and more assertive. Ironically it’s extremely difficult to find the inspiration for great music when you’re feeling strong, confident or assertive. When you’re alone for long stretches of time the brain’s positive reinforcement feedback loop starts faltering and you begin a process of deep questioning, which can be dangerous if you lose yourself in it. It’s certainly dangerous for your day-to-day function as a human being. But if you can manage to crack deep enough into your own head without falling inside you start to get to the really good stuff, and I think most artists spend their creative lives struggling to maintain that balance.
I certainly struggled with it, and it required a lot of adjustments in my personal life. The recording process of Pedals was the first time in my adulthood I felt like I had more friends remotely than I did at home (and this has nothing to do with all my amazing friends in Austin who continually texted me invites on Friday nights even though I’d declined the past fifty weekends). The kind of lifestyle and mental state required to write and record fourteen songs over two years is at odds with the way most people live, and contact with ‘the outside’ can kickstart concerns about reality and bring surrealist exploration to a screeching halt. So I learned to lean on my network of musician friends around the country and around the world, sending frustrated late night emails asking for advice or listening to records of theirs I admired and thinking “if they can do it…”
I started going to a ton of shows, which means I ended up getting to see some of my friends in touring bands more than my friends here in town. If you read my previous post you’ll know that the touring existence is just as surreal as recording, and since most of us musicians are in one mode or the other the vast majority of our lives, I think we’ve hobbled together a loose support group without realizing it. There’s really no other way to explain the speed with which friendships can be sparked (then maintained through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messages) with people who should otherwise have tremendous social barriers in place… it’s almost like we have our own small religion, one which counts among its sacraments pilgrimage around the world to seedy dive bars and (for the most fortunate) great gatherings in the backstage areas of summer music festivals. There aren’t many rituals other than sharing an occasional beer, a harrowing road story, or an exciting new musical inspiration, yet still it’s easy to spot a fellow member. As someone with no religion of my own I feel deeply proud to be a part of this community, and we can’t wait to pay back the support we’ve received from so many amazing people.
The other more traditional network I leaned on heavily during this time was our network of fans. I usually struggle with the term, referring to them in conversation as “fan-friends” or just “my friend”, since the word fan seems to imply a hierarchical and one-sided relationship and I feel awkward using it. I often have to hold back laughter when someone at a show asks if I recognize them from Twitter — DUH I SEE YOUR TWITTER PROFILE PIC EVERY DAY, @[namewithheld]. When I’m working I have audio software and social media open. That’s usually it. The number of times I’ve hit a wall, only to see a tweet impatiently demanding our new album… or gone to bed disappointed in our latest release only to awaken to dozens of comments calling this new song our best one yet — there’s no way I would have had the motivation to keep pushing through without these people as cheerleaders. After all, the creative process involves questioning EVERYTHING, including whether or not you’re a good musician to begin with. Somewhere deep down you have to hold onto the belief that you have the talent to make something worthwhile, but that faith gets constantly eroded. Each tweet, each favorite, each compliment… every one is a another tiny drop in the ever-draining well of self-confidence and the importance of that replenishment cannot be overstated. I am as impressed by our fans’ determination and energy as I am of any musician I know and I couldn’t be prouder for them to be a part of our world.
For this post I’ve included some songs that have inspired me, been stuck in my head, or soundtracked amazing experiences in my life. I’m honored that all of the artists are or have been heroes, acquaintances, inspirations, and friends — in various orders and often simultaneously (there’s nothing better than a “hero-friend”). I think when you ask musicians about the greatest perks of a career in music many of them will answer, in some form or another, “the people”. That’s certainly my answer, and we’ve got a whole hell of a lot more people to meet. I don’t have to tell you how much I’m looking forward to it.