It never ends

As a kid, I dreamed of recording a real album and releasing it. There was no internet, and there were no encyclopedia entries on “how to record and release an album”. Today, you just search it up. Back then, good luck even going to the library and checking out some books.

And then there was the matter of becoming good enough of a musician. Or even saving up enough money. Or worse yet, the challenge of sticking together long enough as a band.

And when I started out, I erroneously thought you had to be “discovered” by a label and sign a contract.

I went through quite a few do it yourself projects, borrowing 8 track tape recorders, buying cheap mixers, and manually producing tapes and burnt CDs with friends.

And then finally, after many ups, downs, and detours, I was able to record and actually release an album on a real CD together with my bandmates. It was the first Hidden Number album.

By then, my original childhood dream seemed so distant. Truly like a dream. There was so much more to do. I was in another band, Trip Audrey, and we were getting ready to record a debut album.  I was aware of some challenges to recording due to my cheap equipment, and I needed to save up to replace that. Hidden Number needed to send out the album and promote it. And it had taken so long to record that album that we felt an urgency to record all the additional songs that didn’t make it on the album. Plus, some band members had quit and we needed to find and train some new people. Meanwhile, I had been hired on full time at my day job, and needed to do well.

By the end of the year, I had all but forgotten my childhood dream. But there was that moment when I looked back, and realized all my original ambitions had been achieved. It was a revelatory moment. Yet also a melancholy one. There was no graduation. There was no prize, or award. No moment to walk down the aisle and receive a diploma. Instead, I already had a new set of goals. I wanted to go on tour. I wanted to take drum lessons and clean up some of my bad drum habits. There were already new songs to record. I wanted to engage with fans more personally. And so much more.

It never ends. And I’m only getting started. I’m basically a nobody, and yet you can see the toll on the celebrities. All the haters that they’re too fat, or they acted poorly on Giglie.

It never ends. By the time you reach the peak of the mountain you are climbing, you can see the next one in the distance. So I hope we can all take a moment to pause, and look back down the mountain to the bottom where we started and appreciate the view. Even if you’ve just taken your first step–that’s your first step! Celebrate!

Otherwise, life will pass you by.

I bought a bottle of sparkling wine for the Hidden Number dudes, and we had a nice dinner at 1am after rehearsal at Charlies on Broadway. We made a toast to the next album. It was a simple moment, spending a single carefree hour together and appreciating each other. A humble moment, I will always remember.

Trying to know when to stop

Stopping is lame. And the more we pour our souls into the art, the harder it is to stop. I’m not talking about knowing when to finish a song–that’s hard enough. But knowing when to end an entire project is agony. Looking back, there even were times when it was like I was brainwashed in a cult.

And early on in my life as a drummer, I let some things wind down rather than try to keep them going. I probably shouldn’t have let that happen, but I lacked perspective. And that was painful too. I look back on it knowing that things were actually better than I thought, and so I let others down.

There are so many things to consider. The art, the fans, the business, your own happiness, the happiness of others…. And so I come to the point where I feel like I must quit Shiplosion. This is some uncharted territory for me, because I think that I need to clear up some time for future paying gigs. And I wasn’t feeling like I was inside the music. I love playing the drums on these songs, and have a blast at shows–so, yet again, this is painful and I am second guessing myself. Am I giving up too early? Is this the right long term choice? Am I quiting something on the verge of blowing up? Well, I think they need a drummer who is more at home with the music, so I hope it was right for me to step aside to give them a better chance. Frankly, I think I was holding them back.

I’m just grateful that they took it so well. We had a really good talk about it, and it seemed like we all understood what was what.

Well, I’ve been through this pain enough times now, having played in quite a few different situations, that I really hope this will turn out okay for everyone. As for myself, I hope this recent set of one-off paying gigs will continue to be a regular thing! And I hope that really is the right situation for me. Time will tell…

So the lesson here, is that I think that you need to play in a lot of situations with a lot of different people before you have enough perspective about what projects are really the right ones for you. And then the idea is that you will be able to justify walking away. Otherwise, you’ll leave far too early and regret it later, or you will just be spinning your wheels and wasting everyone’s time.

Trying to choose

When I was a kid in band, my teachers would say different versions of something like ,”You have to learn the rules before you can break them.”

Recently I went through a year and a half of drum lessons with Brian Oppel to make sure I still had some perspective, and it occurred to me that there is something a little more subtle going on here. It’s not just that you need to learn the rules–it’s that you need to be able to be aware of your options. The rules are only part of the story; common tone theory, cadences, secondary dominants, rudiments, ghost notes, whatever. Even if you break those rules, you may still be reinventing the wheel. You have to listen to John Zorn, you have to listen to noise music, you have to listen to Asva, you have to listen to Classical and Country and Gamelan and Romani. Or if you listen to those things, then go and listen to Rebecca Black. And that just touches the surface. You also have to seek out all the art that you hate, and you better have a good reason for hating it other than “it’s different” or “it’s stupid”. You’re developing your pallete, so that you are aware of both the rules and the known broken rules. You have to be aware of all the options.

Essentially, the more you can zoom into every little thing that you do and turn every single note or action into a choice, the better you become as an artist. But that’s not enough. You have to practice enough so that each choice is both informed and instinctual, so that you can make choices quickly in the middle of a performance without deep thought. That’s the hard part, only borne from repetition and experience. Choose quickly, and choose often.

Trying to push the boundaries

If you search up images of fractals, you see what hippies are into. But you also see some cool patterns that are pleasing to the eye. It turns out DNA is really like fractal seeds–using concepts of iteration and recursion–and so all of life as we know it on Earth is much like a fractal pattern too. Pretty cool. That’s probably why fractals are so pleasing on the eye. It would suck to look around at the world around us and have it be ugly. Compare Julia sets with ferns, as a good example.

Anyway, fractals are also fascinating because you can zoom in and zoom out and yet always see the same amount of complexity. You can probably search up some animated fractal .gif files that zoom in. Try the Mandelbrot set. That’s a good one for that. You keep zooming in, and you keep seeing the same pattern getting repeated. Pretty cool. (It’s like a heat map of how quickly complex numbers approach infinity when you keep squaring them.)

But notice this: The animated gifs don’t zoom in and out on areas where there is no clear pattern. It’s just the pattern that’s the most interesting. With fractals like the Mandelbrot set, the pattern is actually just the borders between regions of space. As you zoom in on the borders, they stay interesting.

It’s the borders where the excitement happens. The boundaries. That’s what people care about. Like the boundaries between land and sea. Tide pools are brimming with life. The boundaries between earth and sky. The boundaries between the chorus, the verse, the bridge, and the solo. The beginning of the song, and the end. The boundary of a black hole, or basketball hoop, or a nation. The boundary between inside your body and outside your body. The boundary between where relativity and quantum mechanics matter more. The boundary between the performer and the audience. The boundary between control and chaos. The boundary between love and hate. The boundary between being full and being sick. The boundary between truth and fiction. The boundary between repetition and redundancy.

I think boundaries really matter. Play with them. Explore them.