A Musical Dream
THIS IS THE Q&A
Everyone has a series of firsts, could you tell us, what was your first experience like with music and how it turned into more than just an artistic pursuit?
I wrote a rather unkind song about my parents when I was two or three. The melody only had a few notes, but it was catchy! It was praise for one and an attack on the other. When I was about eight I started writing a bit more complex music as an escape, banging on the piano my idea of music, since I didn’t have lessons. So I made it up as I went. Music stayed my private escape realm, throughout high school. That relationship has only deepened but it’s not like a little secret anymore. It’s how I connect with the experience of being alive.
If you could describe your sound style in three words what would they be and why?
That’s a tough question to ask of any artist you know! If I could describe anything like that we wouldn’t need the music since it describes itself. There’s a conversation I can’t recall, Mahler or Beethoven or Mendelssohn or Einstein, or someone I don’t remember who was being told that music expressed something “too vague for words”. The person replied, no, it expresses something too precise for words. I agree with that, but, to satisfy the punters, I’ll say: Nourishment, Pleasure, Strength.
Could you tell us who or what particular events inspired your musical stylings?
Standing alone in a stream as a boy in the woods and hearing the complex near-silence of nature. That’s a big influence on what I’m doing, not sonically but spiritually. And also, in a reactionary way, growing up in San Francisco and being both allured and repelled by the echoes of hippiedom that made childhoods so bizarre there. It made me love the dirt and grit of cities, which “The Last Dive” is a kind of celebration of.
Yeah, your late September single is a bit of a new flavor for you. Your most recent few tracks this year have been very global in perspective, “Not Me. Us,” and especially “Our Love is Beautiful”. “The Last Dive” feels like more like a bit of a wild drunk tune.
Well, the double album Earth City which I’ll be releasing in early 2021 isn’t 100% unity consciousness! I’m a human being. I’ve spent my time in bars, in cities around the world. And the album is about all of it, the pleasure and the alienation of the city, the psychic longing, and the loss of connection to others and to nature. I’ve lived in a few places, and I’ve always been an urban explorer. In LA, I went to literally every restaurant and bar in six neighborhoods on the east side. It was a multi-year project. New York was a place I experienced as a young teenager and had some very strange adventures, back when the city was a lot less gentrified. “The Last Dive” is an homage to old dive bars, and the joy of sleazy exploration back when cities were financially hollowed out, and art and danger were at the centers of them. I’m tipping the hat to Iggy Pop and David Bowie in Berlin, Lou Reed in New York, and Charles Bukowski in LA. And mourning NYC becoming rather tame. But the song is also a piece of candy. I was going to release another song about the planet — there are a few more on the album. But things are so bleak right now I wanted to put out something more fun. And I want the dive bars around the US to survive first gentrification and now the pandemic. So this is my love letter to that aspect of city life.
You’ve been through a lot, mentally and physically, how do you keep your creativity and positivity flowing? Especially since everyone in the world is experiencing a lot of socio-economic upheaval in many forms.
The world is scary right now. The beautiful west coast of the US is on fire. The answer is: I don’t always keep it flowing. I deal with depression, like a lot of people, especially now. But for me my sense of mission with my music keeps me going pretty darn well. I dream a song every few days and I wake up to write it down and work out the sculptural details. I really enjoy that, though sometimes I feel they’re screaming at me. I’ve written some scary music and I don’t always let that out, though I’m looking for ways to embrace darkness too. I am hoping my music can contribute to more empathy all around, and love of self, and love of the planet.
With your new song “Our Love is Beautiful” a lot of people have interpreted it in various ways, most as a love song for relationships, the others as a call for unity. But for you personally, what was the idea behind conceptualizing it and the message behind this track?
I write in a partial dream state a majority of the time, so it’s more like I’m obeying the song itself as it arrives, uncovering it, rather than ever following through on a concept. Sometimes the song’s language is very clear, and sometimes it’s a mixture. That’s why words about music are a bit like fish about bicycles. When I wrote “Our Love is Beautiful” there were a lot of feelings combining. How to honor someone you don’t love anymore? How to honor someone you do love? How to help friends loathing themselves, particularly if they feel unwanted or ugly? People can be cruel to themselves, carry our their tormentors attacks again and again on themselves. And this is reflected out in how we treat strangers, and also our planet. So the song is my call for people to change how they treat themselves, people they love, and even people they don’t love. Humanity in general.
It’s also true, the song is a bit of a grower as a wedding song. A fair number of people have asked me for the chords so they can sing it in their vows. Which makes sense to me, since marriage isn’t just about loving that one other person. I think ideally they’re about committing to love in the broadest way. Ideally, giving a container for that warm power of love we all have, so we can increase it in the world.
The song may express all of that, while being kind of a simple thing.
Music has always been a source of great influence to many people, and everyone has their personal anthems. If you were to describe the essence behind your music to fans what would it be?
Although the pandemic has I think helped people get back in touch with heart a bit, the culture has gotten so brutal, for a long time. There was a time when music was often a balm, a respite, a place of lullabies, a place to be soothed and refreshed. With the digital world, when so many of us fill every moment with mental noise in an addictive way, I hope to allow for those more tender energies to be nurtured. There’s a lot of music about empowerment in the culture, which makes sense because so many people are so disempowered economically at this stage of history. I’m wanting to specifically empower those more reflective abilities we all have. I want to give strength to empathy. My 2020 election slogan is “make sensitivity cool again,” which is my silly way of saying it.
The music industry, like many other professions, have all been hit hard with the repercussions of the ongoing COVID – 19 pandemic. What are your thoughts on everyone from big industry magnates to budding artists using the same global platform?
In general, the music industry needs to allow for a middle class in music. I read the other day that literally 99% of the profits on Spotify go to under 1% of the artists on there. That’s insane. Spotify should do their payouts divided per each listener’s usage, rather than per stream with everyone totaled from one big mountain. That would help democratize it. But this kind of thing is happening in so many industries. A few people are getting all the money and power. Algorithmic systems point towards dumb efficiency, which corrals everything into overused channels. This is true of culture, of information, of retail, everything. We’re moving towards a world where there are 10 trillionaires, and everyone else is working five jobs and still in debt. That said, the fact that everyone is online does in theory allow for the possibility of sudden bizarre shifts, both positive or negative. And, there is a kind of psychic equalization happening with social media. Famous people show their warts. Random people become famous. Not always for reasons that are super admirable.
Digital concerts and live streams are becoming the thing at the moment, and there has been an ongoing debate about charging for digital live shows and such. In your opinion, do you think that “pay-per-view” streams are the way forward to the new normal?
I’ve been live-streaming a lot on Instagram, and reposting the shows elsewhere. It’s free, but they feel more like little gatherings than like shows. I just play alone in my living room, talking between guitar, electric, piano. I don’t plan my sets. It’s all requests, what I call “Jukebox Roulette”. People can either request a song or pick a number from something they don’t know. I talk about the songs. I read poetry. I’ve been forced to relearn obscure things from my catalog, or stumble through them. It’s very intimate and I’ve gotten to know some fans in a way, though I’ve never met them. I haven’t been charging or asking for donations, but if this world situation continues, it’s fair for artists to charge. We leave everything on the field, and should be able to make a living, or at least pay expenses. Other musicians have written about this stuff for years. On your side of the swarming sea known as the pond, if I remember correctly, Lily Allen got roasted years back for trying to talk about it.
Lastly, if you were to have a concert anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
Article by Cyan Leigh