Fight the Power: Re-write your stories

My man Quincy Davis asked a really good question today on his facebook page:

"What's the [romantic] relationship story you've been telling yourself, whether single or already in a relationship? Is it the one you want to be telling?"

He then asked people to share their alternative/new story.

My existing relationship story is this: I'm never going to find the person that's right for me because I'll never put myself in the position to, or because they just aren't out there. Or, I'll never get to really bond with the people I do meet because I'm too caught up between pushing them away and pulling them back.

My new story is this: I'm already beginning to face painful wounds in order to be free from old patterns and make myself available for loving relationships of all stripes, and to love myself to the point I don't need to use other people like drugs.

Furthermore, I just want to say that the stigma around talking about this stuff and the whiny/sensitive-artist archetype are bullshit. This is human stuff that we're conditioned to ignore so motherfuckers can make billions off our attempts to bludgeon our feelings with purchases and lifestyles intended to show ourselves that we're "good enough". You want revolution? Reject the conditioning. Not just the conditioning of capitalism, racism, etc., but the conditioning that tells us to never act like our needs are important, to never act like our pain is legitimate, to never be proud of who we are. The revolution starts in the mind and in the heart. So fight the power, motherfuckers!

Sorry it's been a while... I've just cared too much what you think to write

I haven’t blogged about my LA trip in some time, and I guess that’s because the struggles I was going through were too personal or too political, or just wouldn’t be interesting to my audience.

The first thing I didn’t really want to get into writing about publicly is how bothered I am by liberal bandwagoners.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m liberal, I’m totally against our awful, awful new president, I’m sickened by big oil money destroying the planet and continuing an awful legacy of imperialism.  But I also believe that if I’m not fighting these evils in a consistent, everyday way all the time, I don’t have any right to chastise people for not contributing to the struggle in the way I think they should.

This kind of segues nicely from an example of something “too political” to share to an example of something “too personal,” because this resentment that I have against these people actually led to some really important spiritual work.  (And this is the part I’m hesitant to share:) I’m part of a loose spiritual community of largely agnostic creative folks.  Most of us do 12th step work, some of us go to therapy or participate in creative recovery (i.e. the Artist’s Way) as well.  The spiritual work I mentioned began with talking about this resentment, with not being too afraid of being judged to say that I resent some progressive activists.  That was actually a really big step for me to say “this is what I actually think when I’m not trying to fit in.”  A lot of the inventory work that I've done recently — inventory being a formal process of written self-reflection — reveals that I really want this group of young, creative, progressive people to like me, but at the same time I’m not feeling a lot of what they say and do.  So why do I care so much what they think?  So just standing up for what I think, even to a close friend or mentor, is a big step for me, and part of a greater journey.  And when I did tell my friends, lo and behold many of them were in the same boat as me — wanting change, but also understanding the need to have integrity and not cut others down just to be part of a club.

I still think people might judge me, or worse, be bored, by this, but I just had to get it out to break the ice on my LA blog.  I am, after all, coming home to Portland in a couple weeks (surprise!) and feel like I have a lot of stuff I’ve learned to share.  Most of the rest of the stuff I have to share is an extension of this same transformation of not giving a shit what other people think and valuing my own truth, so stay tuned because I’m actually really excited about it.

Peace for now!

What it means to be an artist right now

Trying to do my part to help the state of our country, which is nothing new, is challenging for me as a person who doesn't really assimilate into groups well.  I don't go to marches anymore because even though we chant a slogan that supposedly unites us all, I see too many competing agendas and too little critical thinking and working together.  I'm passionate about change but I don't really vibe with the idea that you have to subscribe fully to this narrative or that, or use this particular language or that.  As a sensitive person, I'm often put off and irritated by people who I perceive as using their activist identity as a platform for their ego.  Whether I'm right or not, it's hard for me to balance my reactive-ness and sensitivity and navigate these circles of people that often feel unfriendly to me.  I'm glad there are groups of friends that are sitting together in small groups in person talking about this stuff, I'm glad there are people who will pick up the phone.  Because I personally have a hard time going to a march, or to a big public discussion, or talking to family who don't believe in the same things.  I think people who are sensitive, who are perhaps artists or in recovery or have trauma in their life are feeling this same type of uneasiness, wether we're white, of color, queer, straight, gender fluid, or whatever.  It's human!  It's challenging.  I'm excited to return to Portland in December and plug into groups with people I know and above all I hope to get a little more educated, both from reading and from communicating, and be able to step into this area of my life.

People: how are you dealing with the experience of putting yourself out there?

As an artist, it becomes a whole other challenge to decide what you want to say when even those on the same "side" are divided, and you really don't want to judge people when you aren't as informed as they may be, but you also don't want to censor yourself.  With my song Shine that I released the day after the election, I tried to remind people not to lose their minds and to do simple, positive things that they enjoy and reach out to their friends via phone or in person instead of getting sucked into the wormhole of social media.  I felt like that was what people needed to hear, but moving forward I'm not sure what people will need to hear.  Also, I swallowed pretty much all of my opinion that would be provoking or angering to people in order to write that song.  Is that what I'll continue to do, or does that stuff have to come out at some point?  It's scary to put your opinion out there in your art as with anything, especially when you know that a) you're not as educated as you could/should be and b) regardless, you know you may have insight that needs to be shared.

Artists: how are you putting these feelings into your art?  what's your experience?

Why I'm not saying much on election day.

What is it that bothers me about election day?

It bothers me that people are so willing to wave a flag for some politician who I believe is more beholden to private interests and their own political career than they are to the American people.  I voted for Hillary, only because I want to be able to say I didn’t contribute to Trump winning, but it bothers me when many Hillary supporters bash anyone who doesn’t vote or who votes independent.  I thought about voting independent or not voting this year.  I didn’t, because this is not a good time to start.  If I really want to commit myself to abstaining from electoral politics or to help try to build a viable third party, I should probably start after this election and work hard to educate myself on the best course from here on out.  But for those who have been committed to building a solution outside of two party politics to be criticized and called selfish is bullshit.  I mean, look how easily the rest of us are manipulated: one candidate is so completely unacceptable that we’re excited at the prospect of electing someone who is clearly part of the political establishment and intends to uphold the status quo.

Now here’s where I have to admit what I don’t know.  I don’t know what Hilary Clinton could bring to the table in terms of women’s rights or social justice.  I don’t know if a third party will ever be viable, or how to go about helping to build one that I believe in.  I should know if I really want to comment.  To everyone that has been building their cause for a long time: to the feminists who are ecstatic to have a woman president, to the independent voters and non-voters who are sick of the two party system : Peace Y’all.  I haven’t put that work in, so I can’t judge.

But I don’t believe I’m the only person who only thinks about building an independent party when election rolls around, or who sadly ponders mental health issues and gun control when a rash of school shootings happens.  I try to remember that people are being senselessly killed over their race, oil, or some powerful person’s interests every day, and that no politician is likely to stop that.  But I do get distracted by my capitalistic luxury problems.  So rather than try to shout the loudest when it’s shoutin’ time, and then go back to doing jack shit when the storm calms, I’ll continue to be quiet during election time, and I’ll try to do as much research as I can, and be a person of integrity.  But I won’t feed into the madness, I won’t buy a t-shirt and I won’t bolster the giant media corporations by tuning in to hear a “discussion” manufactured only to keep us predictably bickering.

ON A.D.D. and Being sensitive

After avoiding looking for work for a week and really suffering, I had to really reflect on what is it that makes me avoid looking for the job.  I wanted to share this so that I can a) say it to the world and b) somebody might relate and it might help them.

  • ADD (or whatever you want to call it): when i try to tackle the task, my brain literally hurts from going in circles: yeah, i have this list of places to apply to, but which ones are the most important?  Which ones do I need cover letters for? Which ones could i stand to work at? ...which leads to the next point:
  • Ego: i don’t want to feel subservient, i don’t want to show up and put on a good face for someone that doesn’t really care about me and is going to exploit me and not listen to me.  Which comes from...
  • A feeling of humiliation at jobs in the past.  Because i feel so oversensitive and because I can’t focus or keep things in my mind and because i won’t know how to handle a situation and i won’t want to stand up and say “i don’t know how to do this,” or more to the point, I won’t want to do the wrong thing.  Some jobs, put you in a position where there systematically isn’t a good way to do something, like find a good time to clear a table, without being assertive and organized -- the two things that I have the hardest time with.
  • Basically my oversensitivity makes me feel like an idiot and i want to avoid that.

I've been this way -- oversensitive and distracted and anxious and insecure (and smart and compassionate and creative) -- my whole life, and I learned early on to cope by a) taking my ball and going home and b) feeling superior through my creativity and my awareness: being oversensitive gives you a lot more information about the world around you, although it can be TOO much.  You can get so caught up in the precise quality of a particular experience that you can't really operate in real-time.  ADD is like that -- it's not that you're unattentive, it's that you're TOO attentive -- you constantly need another new thing to focus on.  So I slip into my train of thought and start staring out the window.

It gets easy to resent people when your'e on this wavelength: it became obvious sometime around high school that most people were not as concerned with the truth as they were with fitting-in.  People would go along with something wether they had any idea whether it was true or not, and people would basically act like the system worked when it clearly didn't.  Fuck going along with that - that's what I thought(/think).

But this trip to LA has been a big eye-opener, because everything is so new and I feel so dumb for not getting a job and not quantum-leaping to where I want to be, that I have to face the raw fact of how stupid I feel a lot of the time.  It's actually an amazing experience because I'm able to open up to people caring for me -- my internship folks being kind to me after losing a job interview, my friend talking to me about the power of "seeing" others and realizing they're going through their own shit.  At the same time, it's really hard most of the time.  But I'm still here, trying, and hopefully this stuff reaches someone and reminds them that it's okay to be sensitive -- and human.

UPS AND DOWNS OF LOOKING FOR WORK IN LA

So a week or so after getting to L.A., I started looking for a coffee gig.  I spent a lot of time re-vamping my resume, going to cafes, trying the coffee, chatting up the barista, getting the hiring managers name, making highly tailored cover letters for my main targets.  I dropped the resumes and cover letters off and looked into Postmates and some other delivery-app services.  I went to the Postmates on-boarding, and was told to wait 5-7 business days for my background check and processing to go through.

So in that week of waiting, I didn’t look for any more jobs because I figured I had a backup plan and maybe one of those coffee spots would call.  Over that week I started to get real anxious and kind of depressed.  I knew I was putting off looking for work, but I was telling myself I had the Postmates gig and that might cover me for now.  Then I just hit a point where I had to admit to myself that Postmates was not going to pay (my contribution to) my bills.  I needed a main gig.  I realized at that moment that I felt so shitty all week because I had been putting off looking for work when I knew deep down I needed to be doing it.

So I finally sit down and locate a bunch more coffee targets, drop a bunch of resumes, and do some online applications and BOOM I get offered an interview, a phone interview and another possible interview.  So amazing!

So I get all geared up for this first interview this morning and drive to Pasadena where it is.  I don’t leave myself any cushion really, which was stupid… because I accidentally take the wrong exit and eat up the 5 minutes of cushion I did have.  Then I get into Pasadena where it’s impossible to park and I call the place right at 10 when my interview is scheduled to tell them that I’m in the neighborhood just looking for parking.  Cool, no problem.  15 minutes later, after trying to park at some weird meter that only takes coins and some weird key thing, I’m still looking for parking.  My phone rings - it’s the hiring manager.  He tells me it’s 15 minutes after the interview time and he’s cancelling my interview because I'm 15 minutes late.  I’m thinking “I don’t know the town and I didn’t know it was going to take 15 minutes to park… plus I called you and let you know what was up” but I couldn’t really say shit, he had made up his mind.

I took it as a lesson in LA: don't show up only 5 minutes before you're supposed to be there.  Show up at least 15 minutes early.  The other two interviews fell through for the time being, but I've continued looking and locked in two interviews next week (FTW!).  But I will say that losing that interview took a major chunk out of my morale -- I've lost jobs in the past over punctuality and I put a lot of work into rectifying that, so it had some extra sting to be dismissed like that.  The real point is that I just wanted to share yet another experience of feeling humbled, humiliated, stressed, anxious, and like-I'm-not-good-enough (but-I'm-going-to-try-to-do-it-anyway), because we all act like we've got this, but most of the time we feel like idiots (at least those of us that are, ahem, sensitive artist types).

why do artists stay stuck?

The hardest thing to do as a talented, hungry musician that feels stuck, is to stop playing shows with lazy artists at the same old spots.  playing a show at a small bar can totally be a good fit, but if you’re playing with bands or rappers who just want to show up, perform and drink and don’t put any effort into promo, you’re fucked.  It’s going to be groundhogs day forever.

There’s a very strong psychology to those artists who won't put the work in (including myself).  There’s a deeply embedded reason that we won’t, and we aren’t even cognizant of it.  I don’t know exactly what it is, but it certainly has to do with staying in our comfort zone.

What we really have to do is say “I’m going to do X.  No matter what it takes.  I’ll rearrange my life in order to prioritize X.”  Most blocked artists pick their X based on what they’re comfortable doing, and then build their life around that.  This mindset makes it really easy for us to act like our lack of a career is happening TO them, when really we are the active agent.  We feel like there’s no way to make it happen under our circumstances.  And we're right — there isn’t.  That’s why we have to change our circumstances.  Otherwise what we are really saying is: “I refuse to let go of the things I find comfortable and normal, even if I'm not really happy with them.” Except it comes out as “I can’t spend that much time networking or learning design, or working on my live set, because I would have to stop going to work or taking care of my kid.”  …No, you would have to stop spending 2 hours a day watching Netflix and 3 hours a day on Facebook, or you would have to quit the job that you hate and find something better, or you would have to stop spending every other night at the bar “decompressing."

We have to rip the band aid off and feel totally raw, totally stupid and inadequate.  We have to cast off our coping mechanisms and feel our feelings, and make room for a new experience.  Then we can really grasp something that works.

Being around people who are prone to the same blocked tendencies is like being in the doldrums in Phantom Tollbooth.  Even if you know you want to get out, the contagious attitude subtly drags you down.  It’s not like taking the red pill in the matrix: you don’t just go “oh, I get it now” and remain awake forever.

I try to remind myself, mostly by telling others, that we’ve traded in the discomfort of being stuck in the bullshit for the discomfort of constantly pushing ourselves to get out of the bullshit.  It’s easy to forget that challenging yourself to grow doesn’t necessarily make you LESS stressed out or alienated.  You have to challenge yourself to grow AND challenge yourself to take good CARE of yourself when you're feeling those feelings.

This trip is my Moment of Truth

I’ve been wanting, for some time, to make an album based on Gangstarr’s Moment of Truth LP.  I heard an interview with DJ Premier about Gangstarr’s formula for making records.  Guru would write down a list of song titles that he wanted to make, then one by one, Premo would make the beat, with the title in mind, while Guru sat there and waited, and then Guru would write the song on the spot.  And like he says in the intro to the album, “there’s always a message involved.”

 

So I wanted to make an album that way, and as I reflected on the late Guru’s work and that quote — “there’s always a message involved” — I realized how everything the dude did had a message.  When I was a teenager, I used to think he was just a guy with a simple rhyme style held up by a dope voice and a dope producer.  But now I realize the massive contribution to hip hop and life that he made.  So I wanted to do an album where I built every song around a Guru quote from the songs on Moment of Truth.

Check out my song Hypocrite, which includes a sample from the intro of Gangstarr's "Robin Hood Theory"

As I lay down on the bed in my temporary Hollywood apartment with headphones on and listened for quotes, I thought “how could I ever match the impact of what these guys contributed?  how could I ever show as much dedication to my values and make as dope of a song as Above the Clouds?  Above the Clouds was the first rap song that I ever really loved.  I heard it in a skate video — Shorty’s Fulfill the Dream — and it almost single-handedly turned me onto hip hop.  The name of the song is perfect because the entire joint is elevated — Guru and Deck sound like themselves, yet somehow the vibe of the beat obviously inspired them, especially Guru, to just weave words together in this amazingly stylish and inspired way.  It’s the definition of next level.

 

From the second track, Robin Hood Theory, I pulled the quote “because the youth is the future, no doubt that’s right and exact.”  I worked with youth in Portland, leading a hip hop recording workshop at Morpheus Youth Project, and honestly, I didn’t have the stomach for it.  I wanted to help those kids, and I did, but I couldn’t see myself continuing because, aside from how busy I was, I felt uncomfortable interacting with them.  I had no idea how to really affect their lives — the way that they think is so deeply affected by their environments and it’s really difficult, maybe impossible, to single-handedly impress upon them the necessity of the discipline it takes to forge your own path.  Hell, I can barely do it and I’m a privileged adult.  How could you override the social programming that tells those kids to do what their friends do, which is say fuck anything that takes too much effort and feels like class?

Check out my blog post about working with youth through hip hop

A sample in the background of the title track, Moment of Truth says “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  The truth is I’ve always known what I wanted to do.  The established path was never for me.  The world is too systematically fucked to go with the herd and feel okay about it.  I want to affect those kids lives, I want to build some real shit in my lifetime and live up to my values.  I want to create something — I’m not sure what, yet — that allows me to make dope music, bring a message to people, and help the youth and the underserved.  But I’m scared.  I’m scared of those little, incremental discomforts and all the moments when I feel stupid and weak along the way.  The task I’m setting myself up for is not an easy one, either.  People don’t want to give you money for making music, and they damn sure don’t want to give money, much less their personal attention or care to people who are hard to help.  That’s what the whole system is based on — nobody helps because nobody helps.  You try to help and realize that helping is underfunded and neglected, and it’s too hard to make your ends meet with helping, especially when you feel like you’re on the fucking edge all the time anyway.

 

So this trip, this journey, is my moment of truth.  I don’t feel like I can do it — I mean, I know I can do this internship, but I don’t feel like I can figure out where to go from there — but I kind of know I can’t turn back.  In Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he identifies one of the steps of the archetypal hero’s journey as refusal of the call, wherein the hero is confronted with the opportunity for adventure but he turns away.  After having seen a glimpse of what’s possible, hid old life is now completely unsatisfying — he’s haunted by his destiny.  But, as Guru says on JFK to LAX, coincidentally a song about a trip to LA, “the next level doesn’t tolerate cowards.”  So here I stand, on the cusp of living my true dream, and I think I’m about to shit my pants.  This is my moment of truth.

Quote from Guru about the formula and message of Gangstarr

Quote from DJ Premier about Gangstarr's album-writing formula at 7:55

Today Was a Good Day

Today was a good day.  Since I landed in LA, I’ve been oversleeping a lot, which makes me feel really irritable, fearful, groggy and gives me a headache.  When I tell people about this, it seems like they don’t really get it.  It makes me feel not like myself, and it makes me want to hide.  The second night I was here I ran into an old friend in a meeting and ended up going out to dinner with everyone.  The third night, Ari took me to dinner and to see Alabama Shakes at the Greek!  Totally insane, right?  Then, the next day I went to look at a place that was killer and right in the neighborhood I wanted!

Everything’s going so good, right?  Well, on the outside it was, but I was dealing with a lot of discomfort and fear that people don’t really see, because of the (probably not-so-simple) fact that I’ve been oversleeping (and smoking cigs).  I can know intellectually that I’m super blessed and lucky and should be having the time of my life, but it doesn’t change a thing about the way I felt for the last 3 days — increasingly irritable and afraid and not productive.  I hadn’t put any real work into finding a job or an apartment, and I felt uncomfortable around these new people even though they were super nice.

Then today I woke up at 6:30am.  I made breakfast, looked up some tips on work productivity, turned my phone off, used an app to block social media and some other common distraction websites for 8 hours, made a list on a piece of paper and pinned it to the wall, and scheduled myself for eight hours of work on my resume and apartment searching, with an hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks.

Somehow, I pulled it off.  I totally re-wrote my resume from scratch and reformatted it.  Plus I got the word that I had secured the sublet I wanted.  I would have never stood a chance if I hadn’t gotten up on time and turned off my phone and blocked those websites, and sat down with intention.  Where does that willingness come from?  I have no fucking idea.  I knew days ago that I was falling into my pattern of sleeping a lot and being depressed and that I wanted to break the cycle, but yesterday I slept later than ever.  Why did it finally snap into place today?  Who knows.  But the point, for now, is that what matters to me is not how good things are going on the outside (although that is nice!), but how I feel on the inside because of the measures I take to take care of myself and stay disciplined.

LA Blog

Okay so a few months back I started a group for the Artist’s Way.  If you’re not familiar, the Artist’s Way is a book and a 12 week program for unblocking oneself creatively.  I had tried it by myself just reading out of the book and couldn’t stay with it, so this time I put together a group with 3 friends and this time it stuck.  The Artist’s Way program (theoretically) involves writing 3 pages a day by hand in the morning and going on what’s called an “artist date” once a week (theoretically).  And then there’s weekly reading including a bunch of exercises.  It sounds like a lot, and it is, and you don’t do all of it.  But I did the best I could and was present as I could be for the weekly group meet ups, and it totally shook something loose in me: the idea that you don’t have to become a great artist over night, and that just taking a little bit of time to do something creative on a regular basis is extremely valuable for this reason: in this subtle but deep way, you are telling yourself that your artistic mind is worth something.  Instead of staying comfortable behind the ego of what you have done in the past and the fear of not being good enough, and all the little stories you tell yourself to rationalize your stagnation, you are actually in the moment with your own creative mind, and you are valuing it.

One of the things that comes along with this shift is being open to opportunity.  So one day I get an email from Ari Herstand, who is a full-time musician in LA and the author of Ari’s Take, a blog about running your music career.  The newsletter he sent out is calling out for interns—Ari is releasing a book and launching a new funk band, and needs some help.  The internship is unpaid and in LA, but I say “fuck it, I’ll apply.”  The application process is long and involves making a short video of yourself talking about why you want the position, making a flyer, shouting Ari out on various social media, and answering the usual type of application questions.

It takes me a while and I cut it really close to the deadline, wanting to say fuck it at many points, but somehow pull it out at the last second (pause).  Next thing I know, I get offered an interview.  Now I’m starting to really consider the possibility, and I bring it up with my parents.  Long story short I interview over Skype and get offered the internship.  Now, I’m super lucky that my parents are super on board for this venture.  Without their help I wouldn’t be down here doing this, and that’s something most people don’t have the luxury of.  So huge shout out to my parents.

So this series of blog posts is going to be about my experience in LA chasing my dreams, especially through the lens of a young sober person and an artist who recently became unblocked, or less-blocked.  It will be human, showing how scared and lame I feel a lot of the time.  It will be critical, calling out blocked artists and criticizing establishment, subcultures, hipsters (read: all young people that don’t look like Justin Beiber), whatever.  I hope this blog shines some light on the fact that chasing your dreams is a very uncomfortable and human adventure, and that you don’t have to be some sort of superhero to do it.  I mean, you are, but you probably don’t realize it yet.

Natural Talent Versus Hard Work

As some of you know, I worked with youth through Morpheus Youth Project for the last six months or so.  I was running hiphop writing and recording workshops at the MYP office and at Fir Ridge High School in deep east portland.  This will probably be one of many experiences from this time that I share.

I had a kid that was the best freestyler and probably had the most natural rhyming talent, but he wouldn’t write, he insisted on freestyling.  The reason is, he’s afraid to not be the tightest so he’s afraid to write something and have it not work out.  The one time I got him to write a couple bars when there were other kids there, he wrote his patterns too fast to spit comfortably, and as soon as he tried to spit it out loud he got embarrassed and insisted on freestyling his verse.  His freestyles on the mic are not nearly as good as they are when he’s rapping at the lunch table or the piano at school with his friends because of the pressure - he uses a lot of filler words and nonsense instead of rapping about things and people around him.  He reminded me a lot of myself when I was his age (and even to this day).  I always wanted to be the best, or else not even enter the contest.  I was the kid in talented and gifted that wouldn’t ever do his homework.

I noticed that in general, the kids that are used to being the best rhymer within their circle of friends had the hardest time challenging themselves to be vulnerable.  Kids that don’t even really rap but were able to put pen to paper and do it like an assignment.  Perhaps they didn’t feel like they had as much to lose — being good at something puts a lot of pressure on a person to be that good all the time.  The less worried you are about the outcome, the more freely you can be creative.  I’ve struggled with that forever — I know I have the potential to write very potent lyrics that stick with the listener, and I want to write those kind of lyrics all the time.  I put immense pressure on myself to perform and strangle the breath out of my own creativity.

I had another kid who ran with the same clique as the first kid, but was clearly the worst at rhyming.  But unlike the other kid, he always showed up and tried his best to follow my advice.  I like both of them a lot, but I probably had the most rewarding times working with this kid one on one and in small groups.  I told him what I would tell anyone — hard work and dedication trumps natural talent.  There are a million hot spitters out there — every school has one, every neighborhood.  But 99.9% of them don’t have the follow through.  They have a million hot freestyles and everyone knows they have talent, but they have few songs, few albums, few shows.  I used to suck at rapping, and when I realized I sucked I made a decision to get better that took a long time to show.  Next week, I’ll post some songs I just recently re-discovered from my early days of rhyming to show that if my backpacking, whiny-voiced teenage self can mature into the artist and person I am now, anyone can do it.

"Sharing the Scraps" Art Show

sharing the scraps

Sunday, March 27th 2016 I'll be performing a set at the reception for Wynde Dyer's art show, "Sharing the Scraps."  Wynde's work and process have touched me and inspired me, so I wanted to take time to share that with you all and also to give you an understanding of what this show is really about, for me: artistic process and community.

Wynde is a process-based artist, meaning the process of creating the work is as significant, and as much a part of the work, as the physical piece itself.  For example, one of her shows involved shredding her childhood photos and sorting the pieces out by color.  Another involved participants telling Wynde the worst things people have said to them and helping them spell them out with brightly colored sand on double sided tape.  You should really check out her website to get acquainted with her work, examples are laid out really simply and digestibly there.

  Detail of shredded childhood photos from "Sorting Things Out" (2012)

Detail of shredded childhood photos from "Sorting Things Out" (2012)

 

For this show, Wynde made quilts out of tarp -- yes, colored tarp material cut into pieces and stitched together -- that relate to themes of homelessness and inequity.  A good chunk of the quilts in this show were actually designed by residents of Hazelnut Grove, a community-supported homeless camp in north portland.  Check out their facebook here.  The proceeds from the sale of these quilts will go directly to the folks who designed them.  One quilt was bought and gifted to the daughter of the person who painted it!  Wynde shares a lot about her experiences with the Hazelnut Grove residents, and about her thoughts on her work and the issues it surrounds, on her instagram.  Follow her at @ Wyndedyer - it's a great way to get a deeper look into her world.

Ryan with his "union" quilt

A photo posted by Wynde Dyer (@wyndedyer) on

So where do I fit into this art show?  I could have been just the musical entertainment, but learning about Wynde's work moved me to feel more involved.  It's not just that her work deals with social justice issues that I care about, it's her commitment to being an artist -- to being real, to being present for oneself, to churning all the input of the world through the mechanism of creating art and putting something back out into the world.  She brings people together through art, is totally herself and doesn't give a fuck, and more than anything always seems to be working.  I've never met this woman in person, but it seems to me that she's the real deal.

I've found that if you put what you really value first, you end up around people who resonate with those values.  So it seems only right that one of the central inspirations for Wynde's show is the inspiration for a song I put out a couple years ago: the Native American story of the two wolves: There are two wolves inside us all, one that feeds off of pain, jealousy, anger and greed, and one that feeds off of love, inspiration, kindness and courage.  So which one wins?  The one you feed the most.

The song i wrote is a two-parter.  The first part breaks down the idea that people living the "street life," wether that means homelessness or selling drugs/packing heat, are often characterized as the Wolves that come out at night -- as vicious animals.  But in reality the "wolves" are the parts within all of us that become vicious in self-defense when we're victimized or think we're going to be victimized.  Our Wolves come out in our own personal darkest nights.  The second part simply re-tells the original story of the two wolves through my words.

I'll be performing this song along with the rest of my 30-40 minute set some time during Wynde's reception between 4 and 6pm on Sunday, March 27th at the Stumptown Cafe on SE 45th and Division.  I hope you come out and I hope this post helps you really step into this creative shared space and understand that it's not just the art hanging on the walls and the beats coming through the speakers.   There is intention and care and passion underneath connecting everything and bringing these people together.  If you look at everything that informs our work, we're sharing these pieces of ourselves in order to feed each other.  I guess you call that sharing the scraps.

 

Wynde's Website: http://www.wyndedyer.com/

Press Release for "Sharing the Scraps:" https://www.stumptowncoffee.com/blog/portland-art-wynde-dyer 

Teaching Your Friends To Make BEaTS is TIIIIGHT

So I just started teaching my friend Baker about making beats in Logic Pro X.  Me and Baker go way back and he basically put me onto rap freshman year of high school.  We've always had some similar tastes and talked about music a lot, and he's a real creative talented dude with a background in photography and design, so I'm excited for him to make some dope beats.  He also always had an affinity for slow and heavy west coast beats, so it's going to be cool to learn more about how to make those beats along the way.

So for our first session, he came with some source material and an idea of what he wanted:

1) Mondre - MC ILLIN: Baker wanted the tempo and drum pattern of this beat

 

2) Nipsey Hussle - Hunnit a Show: we wanted to make a bass line that emulated the "glide" of this one (when it quickly slides up from high to low)


I had to go to a youtube to find a tutorial on bass glides, and this one worked pretty well: 

So with me on the boards and Baker directing me, here's what we came up with:

Baker directed me on the drum pattern and bass like I said, and I made the melodies and instruments to fill out the beat.  I think it came out pretty fire if I do say so myself.

Give Presence, not Presents - How I spent the Holidays

So I decided this year to completely avoid any holiday shopping of any kind, and it was awesome.  

The idea of spending time with people instead of spending money on them was cemented in my head by this video by Epiphio Video Studios.

 

Now, wether you fucks with the Jesus or not, you can't argue with the basic premise here - meaningless gifts are an absurd waste of money and running around to buy them is an absurd waste of time.

So what did I do to share my time instead of spending?

I invited a bunch of friends to my house because I've been hanging out with some of the people in this circle and really enjoying it.  So why would I not want to celebrate that and spend time with them?  I didn't decorate, didn't freak out about cooking or anything.  Just hung out.

 

Earlier in the week I touched base with program director of Morpheus Youth Project, a music-based non-profit that I volunteer with, about the next phase of our work with youth at Fir Ridge alternative High school.  I got really stoked on the work we've been doing and excited to take it to the next phase.  Again, no unnecessary holiday-themed to-do's, just the same (important) stuff I'd been working on all along.

(Learn more about Morpheus Youth Project here)

On Christmas itself, I made an effort to check in with my parents and have good conversations with them.  I didn't buy any gifts or even make any cards, but I was more present than I can ever remember being at the holidays.

 

Now, I'm not trying to be smug or judge anyone for christmas shopping, I'm just saying: it's way more fulfilling for me to decide what I value and how I want to spend my time instead of letting advertisers and marketers tell you that you need to be stressed out while spending a bunch of money, which is what THEY value.

Stay safe this new years eve, yall.  Peace!

What "into the black" Means to me.

“out of the blue, into the black.”  those words always make me tear up a bit, because that’s exactly how we all come in and go out.  we didn’t ask to be put on this earth, we have no idea how to deal with these challenges.  and you spend your whole life trying to figure it out just enough to be okay, until one day you’re gone and you have no idea if it meant anything at all, or what the next stage is.  and it just repeats over and over and seems to go nowhere, never changing.  each new generation, each empire, each society experiences the same process, the same rites of passage, the same grappling with their existence.  we don’t ponder the meaning of our lives just because we’re trippers or because we have time to sit around and do so, we do it because we’re trying to get away from our pain.  We struggle with things on the inside because it’s in our nature as individuals to cling to things that are impermanent and resist change, even when we want it.  We struggle with things on the outside because it’s in the nature of humans to organize into social stratification and for a few to be elite and greedy and for many to suffer, and for systems to be broken.   But it’s also in our nature to not give up on love and on building something for the future, even when we know we’re surrounded by a system that will always provide ultimate adversity to positive change, even though we’re afraid we’ll never be able to let certain things go.

This tension is what rock and roll is all about.  that may sound contrived, but i really do think it’s those of us who are sensitive and smart enough to see this shit happening, and young and rebellious enough to shout and dance about it, who are the spirit of rock and roll, which is after all just another name for something that’s always been there.

 



Brainstorm

image by Alberto Seveso

Original Insipration

I was trying to break down my favorite Dark Time Sunshine song "Run," to find out what the chords were and how to mimic the sound, and I had looped up a bar where onry is saying "soak streets as we mingle upon these instrumentals."

produced by Zavala

Process and additional inspiration

I reached over and noodled a little 3 note minor key melody that is typical of me, and it really flipped the way i heard the vocals.  I have been trying to get away from indulging in these simple little minor key melodies that make my beats all sound kind of the same, but I liked it so much that I ran with it.  I ended up turning the vocal sample into a chorus where i started by quoting Onry: "soak streets as we mingle upon these instrumentals," then building off that with "the occurence of brainstorm is not coincidental..."

The combination of the melody/vibe and Onry saying "soak streets" really made me think of a street being rained on, as if the notes were rain drops hitting a puddle and resonating.  The vibe of the melody also has this pretty sort of tension that made me think of a storm mounting and beautiful dark clouds that look like ink mixing with water.   Perhaps that, combined with the fact he says "mingle" upon these instrumentals made me think of various substances mixing, or "mingling," including the scene in Darren Aranofsky's "Pi" where the coffee and cream mix together in a spiral, reminding Max of the presence of the golden spiral everywhere.  Maybe it was this that led me to the eventual concept of the song:  The Brainstorm as the beautiful commingling of forces that won't mix, but push off of each other causing tension -- the things inside my brain that cause me to be so mixed up, but fuel such beautiful art.

 from Pi, a Darren Aranofsky film

from Pi, a Darren Aranofsky film

I hope to go back and deconstruct Zavala's beats more and make some stuff with the less-dark, prettier vibe that his beats have, but I'm not mad at this bittersweet classic Gepetto banger either.  Lyrically this song is pretty and fun to perform, though a little disjointed.  I would like to start having a more solid concept in mind before starting to write and come up with a strong narrative through the song.  However, it might be a blessing in disguise, because I'm hatching a plan to do a video to this where each verse is a different scene which is not necessarily chronological or "real."  Stay tuned!

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Endless parade

The other day I heard this song "Endless Parade" by Gov't Mule, which is a 90's southern rock band with members of the Allman Brothers Band.  

This blues jam immediately made me imagine heavier drums and rap over the top, but what really got me was the lyrics.  They talk about someone who finally achieved their dream of being a superstar, only to be swallowed by the "Endless Parade" of showbiz.  I may not be a superstar by any stretch, but almost every line of this song resonated with me.  I've always felt like someone who is intensely aware and compassionate in a world that's just the opposite, and as a result I tend to bristle with hostility and judgement.  "People you can see through like ghosts" reminds me of the people I pass by, caught up in their own identities and struggle to be "someone" instead of being themselves.   But I'm also a narcissist and hypocrite, which is probably what makes lines like "a prima donna with a premonition, feels like he's preaching to the choir" resonate just as much.

I have my own Endless Parade, and Music is my outlet for that feeling.  This song has stuck in my head for a week as a result, and I've been mulling over what I want to write about it.  I may even intro each verse with a line from the OG song.  Here's a skeleton of the beat for now... 




Creative Journal for next project(s)

I'm going to start a creative journal here on my blog.  Basically, I'll be sharing my process and what I'm working on, including sound clips and links to inspiration.  My hope is a) that you all will enjoy the beats and snippets I post and gain something from reading about my inspirations, goals and challenges.  Please comment, ask questions, etc., so I can post what you want to read!

 

To start off today, I went record shopping at Crossroads.  I always find something out there, I'm not really looking for anything in particular most of the time, but lately I've been listening to a lot of Darktime Sunshine and really wanted to make something dream like that.  Most of this Chuck Mangione record I got didn't strike my fancy, but this one joint "Sweet Butterfly" is fire.

 

 Funnily enough, out of all the useable stuff in it, I just chopped a couple notes out of a bare bassline and grabbed one cord.  I threw my chops over a slow drum break and made a real laid back, hazy joint.  Then I started saying a bunch of retarded shit over the top, some of which was actually keep-able.  I muted most of it for this snippet but you can hear one hook idea I left in.



Fireflies EP Release Party Announced

Gepetto's "Fireflies" EP will be released June 4th, with a release party the same date at the Alhambra Theater.  It will feature screenings of two music videos by Matthew Walsh and live performance by Gepetto as well as supporting acts Daps and Aviel.  Daps and Aviel will also be screening some of their music videos prior to their performance.  More details to come!

Proper Knocks Podcast Ep1 - The Early Bird Project Interview

Gepetto and Daps of The Early Bird Project recently sat down with fellow Proper Knocks members DMLH and Abadawn to talk about how the two met and how their music has changed since then, culminating in the release of their self titled disc.