05/07/18 11:30 Filed in: music | creativity
I’m just about finished with a new Strange Land album and I’ve been reflecting on the process. It’s always the same, every album. Maybe most artists are stuck with this, it’s just how being creative works. Not that everyone goes through the same things, but that there’s a pattern each time. For me it’s like going through the same bad relationship over and over, never realizing it’s me, or seeing the patterns for what they are.
At the beginning everything is fresh. The ideas are tantalizing, the possibilities wide open. Ideas flow and take shape. Songs begin to become entities of their own, and the big picture of the album comes into focus. Themes appear if they weren’t already established to guide the creative process.
Then the yeoman’s work of tracking begins. Where the writing is like philosophical or scientific thought experiments, the tracking is a craft akin to blacksmithing or throwing pottery. Hard work, sometimes blunt, sometime technical, but still creative and satisfying. During this phase I often challenge myself to play my best and even improve, having written things I can’t immediately play.
Then comes the editing, mixing, and mastering. It can be grunt work, it can be creative. It’s also where you gather the trees you’ve already planted and see if the forest makes sense. All phases of recording can be like a mad scientist tinkering away in his lab, and that’s probably why I like writing and recording more than performing. It suits my introversion.
That doesn’t sound so bad when you put it that way, but now here’s some inner psychology of my process. Beginning at the end, when I finish and release an album I get some sort of postpartum depression. I hesitate to use that term, it’s not as serious as the real thing, but it’s an apt description. I go into a funk (not the groovy Bootsy Collins kind) after sending my musical child out into the world, sometimes for a few months. I think it’s part mental exhaustion and a need to recharge. Part fear (what if no one like it? What if I never write again?). Part self doubt like so many artists have, wondering if there’s any point to all of this.
Gradually this fades and work can begin anew. And it does have to fade, I’ve never been able to force myself out of this phase. I hardly ever have to wait for inspiration though. I usually have 4-5 projects I’d like to tackle at any given time. But which one? After the depression fades I have to go through what I call the angry beehive phase. As I think of the general shape of the next project and start to consider some of the details my head gets like an angry, buzzing beehive. The ideas become so numerous and swirl around so much that I can sleep. I have to try to pry some of this crap loose and set it down on paper or digital bits so my head doesn’t burst. But at this phase things are also so nebulous and vague that I can’t pull them out. It’s like someone mixed all my paint into a grey-brown blob, and I have to somehow separate the blue from the yellow from the burnt umber before I can get back to painting.
It really has been maddening at times, and I’ve thought it’s partly because I have a tendency to procrastinate. I try to tell myself “do something, anything, just keep working consistently,” but that’s just not how it works. My creativity has always come in large uncontrolled lumpy bursts. When I was a kid I’d dump all my legos on the floor all at once and spend hours combing though the pieces to build things. My desk is usually a mess but if I put things away I forget about them. I’m just not wired any other way, though I think life would be less stressful if I were.
Once the creative dam bursts and I start tracking things go pretty smoothly for a while. There are many small details to focus on. At this point I really can just pick something, anything to work on. Out of a dozen songs, literally any work moves things forward. And I should say that I don’t have all the writing done before I track, usually just the skeletons of the songs. So while tracking I’m also writing. Guitar parts inspire drum parts and vice versa, layers build, I sprinkle keyboards here, write a bass part over there.
But something happens about 75% of the way through. The details get smaller and smaller and I feel like I’m not making any progress. I get frustrated, depressed, unmotivated to work on the album. And the kicker is at this point I feel like I’m less than halfway done, that there is still this huge mountain to climb. Over and over I’ve been through this, and when I finally push through I realize I’m almost done. This is extremely frustrating, that I’ve done this album after album and I can’t break this habit of feeling defeated so close to a finish line I just can’t see, even though it’s a lot closer than I realize. More and more I have been able to accept this as part of the process, but it also seems so avoidable. I’m not sure I could change the post-album depression or the angry beehive, but this? It should be as simple as telling myself that just when I feel like I’ll never finish is exactly when I’m almost finished. It’s darkest before the dawn? Whatever.
At the final phase, mixing and mastering, things are rolling along. The big picture is fully formed, I have artwork and packaging going. It’s a big part of my self identity to finish projects. I don’t have children and I don’t have much of a legacy to leave other than my artistic work. So the more I can get done the better. At the end I’m usually a combination of exited to have the finished product and worn out, like a parent who just can’t wait for their adult child to finally more out of the house. Sure, I’m sad to see you go, but you’re an adult now, so buh-bye. I need to turn your room into a man cave.
At the very least I can say that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become better at accepting all of this because it is my process, and my creative process is at the core of who I am.
24/04/17 09:54 Filed in: food
I know, there is a lot of really serious stuff going on in the world today. Sometimes you need some levity or you'll lose your mind. And sometimes you need a cruller. A real one, like what you see here:
These are crullers. A little crusty on the outside, a little cake-y on the inside, and a significant part of my childhood memories. Recently I was trying to think of something I really missed from Wisconsin, and this is it. When I left in 2010 for Denver, I'd occasionally get a hankering for a cruller, and I could never find one. Oh, sure, things called crullers. French puff pastry type things, or some twist donut, or those horrid Dunkin Stix from Little Debbie. But never anything like what I remembered. I chalked it up to Denver being Denver. Then I moved to Eugene Oregon in 2016. Still no proper crullers and no one has a clue what I'm talking about. So I did some research and it turns out that no one outside of Wisconsin knows what a proper cruller is.
So, I miss crullers and I'm trying to figure out if my mom can ship some to me. If you visit Wisconsin, add a cruller to your list of things to do. And stop looking at me funny when I tell you there's a bubbler in the park up past the stop 'n go lights, ya know?
Thanks to Jeff Foust for helping me sort out this problem with his post from the past: http://www.gojefferson.com/banner/opinion/foust/cruller/
21/10/16 09:02 Filed in: Politics
Wrong map, right map
We've often seen the above map of the United States that colors the states red or blue, or sometime purple, during election season. Since at least the beginning of the 21st century, as I can recall, it's usually looked like vast swathes of the country are red (or republican, maps used to actually have the colors the other way around). Sometimes you wonder how a democrat can win with the much red. People who vote republican are dismayed and blame liberal cities for having too much influence. However, that map makes us forget that we elect people based on population, not land mass. Numbers of voters, not square miles. Electoral college votes are given to states based on their populations. Whether you think it's right or wrong, it is also a fact that needs to be reminded that New York, Florida, Texas, and California have a much larger influence than Nebraska or Wyoming. Again, not right or wrong, but a fact you should keep in mind every time you see a map like the one above.
Nate Silver's Fivethirtyeight
blog offers a map that is much more accurate. That gives us a far better snapshot of the leanings of the states. Each hexagon is one electoral vote in the map below. Here we see the actual weight each state can throw around. I won't offer any judgments about this situation. I don't know if "red state people" are under-represented, I don't know if we should somehow reduce the influence of usual blue urban areas. Ideally we can learn to stop being red and blue and just be humans. But I hope this map offers a different perspective. (from the fivethrityeight.com page, 10-21-16)
04/10/16 10:24 Filed in: Personal
I turned 40. I've never been much concerned with aging, but this really affected me. Maybe because I assumed it wouldn't. I'm still moving forward, but I've had fairly frequent bouts of anxiety and sleepless nights. I've never feared death, I've feared not being done. I realize now one is never done and perhaps I actually have a very intense fear of death.
I can't really complain about aging and that's kind of a pain. All but one of my friends are older than me, so I just get the "yep, preaching' to the choir" or "Ha, just wait till you're 50." They aren't much help. I'm sure some things have been changing for me slowly for a while, but I also feel like I hit 40 and my warranty ran out. Things seem to just be breaking all the time now.
My life has never and will have a normal path. School, job, family, career promotions, retirement. Upon crossing 40 I've now really been forced to adjust my thinking, what does it mean to be an adult without the mile markers most people measure their lives by?