LucasGuitar

For the past seven years I’ve been living a double life. On the outside, I’ve appeared to be a dutiful college student, guitar teacher, and performer— learning, teaching, and playing music that others have written. I’ve played with numerous original music groups along the way (Ezra lbs, The See, Velvet Kente, Rouxster, Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe), but I was never the primary creative force in any of these bands, merely the guitarist. My dirty little secret is that I’ve been writing my own music and lyrics since high school. I have numerous reasons for hiding this shameful activity: it’s egotistical, it doesn’t make money, there are a million better songs, I don’t want people to dislike my art (or dislike me for producing it), and my songs are never as good as I want them to be. Yet I realize that I am not going to stop writing songs anytime soon— truthfully, writing, recording, and performing original music is my most pressing desire. I could continue to conceal my creations, but I would be cheating both myself and any potential listeners. Thus, I’d like to refute my reasons for not releasing my work and then share two Indie Pop-Rock songs I’ve recorded this year.

It’s egotistical. Of course it’s egotistical. My lyrical content is all about my life. I’m writing all about my personal hopes, heartbreaks, connections, and philosophy because that is what I know best and what carries emotional weight for me. Furthermore, the act of writing anything to be shared with others is always at least partially egotistical. Whether it is in this blog or the music I write, there is a consistent voice behind the overt content that simply says “hey listen to at me! I have something important to say.” This is fine. I don’t think I want to hear an egoless song because I wouldn’t believe it were authentic— perhaps a small number of spiritually enlightened people have learned to live without ego, but 99% of the world has not. Furthermore, without ego you don’t have the feelings of desire, ecstasy, vengeance, lust, frustration, confusion, depression and triumph that tend to make for a good song. To quote the late writer and instructor William Zinsser, “writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use it’s power to keep yourself going.”

It doesn’t make any money. Truthfully this is a big reason that I do not spend more time creating and sharing my work. I teach and perform other people’s material because that is what people pay me to do. If I were paid handsomely to write and record songs then I would do it all the time. Yet even in the absence of payment, I do find time to create original music and yearn to do it even more often. This is because I don’t see the art of music as merely a means to a payday, but experience it as a way to explore and release my desires and emotions and ultimately satisfy my basic human need to be creative. There may even be benefit in not getting paid for my art (said the guy not getting paid for his art). If I needed to make money writing songs, then I would need those songs to appeal to whoever were buying them— all of a sudden my freedom to express myself would be narrowed by the need to appeal to my buyers and my songs could become watered-down and emotionally ineffectual. On the contrary, right now I can write and record literally anything I want (be it sad, experimental, obnoxious, long-winded, sloppy, offensive, etc…) and I think that often the best art is produced in this space of ultimate creative sovereignty. Yet I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to make money on my music. I do, and even use this desire as motivation to create. For although I currently get paid more to teach and perform than to create, in the long-term I know that it is original music that could make me the most money (through record sales, commercial licensing, movie soundtracks, etc…). In short, no my original music doesn’t make me money right now, and I don’t need it to for it to be a satisfying personal activity, but I do want it to.

There are a million better songs. Sure there are. But there are a billion worse songs as well. I don’t necessarily benefit from turning songwriting into a competition, but I do listen to a lot of music, and I do often think “I could write a better song than that.” Even more often I think “that’s offensively unoriginal.” In the least I know that I have a unique perspective and a unique voice (I think everyone does if they are honest with themselves) and I am going to try to express it in my songs because no one else will for me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter if these are better or worse than any other songs— they are different, they are mine.

I don’t want people to dislike my art. This is my biggest hindrance to actually sharing my work. I admire people who seem to not care what others think of them, but by my nature, I can’t help but care — I really want people to like me. When someone listens to something so personal as a song I’ve written, it’s easy to feel like their judgement of it (whether good or bad) is a judgement of me as a person. My mom, a terrific realist painter, once gave me an empowering book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland; amongst many other “observations on the perils and rewards of art-making,” they addressed the need to detach yourself from your work. You are not your art. Your personal value, strength, and identity as a human doesn’t come from any particular symphony you’ve composed, still-life you’ve painted, or nude you’ve sculpted. Certainly during the fervor of creation you can become one with the piece, yet as soon as you share it with the world, it has a life of its own— people will view it, share it, judge it and interpret it through their own personal filters. You too will change, grow, and create new work, so there is no use in identifying yourself with a piece that is no longer representative of what you are. Thousands of people could love or hate your art, but it is up to you to love yourself and keep creating. Finally, the goal of creating art shouldn’t be to make something that everyone will like. Musicians who have tried to appeal to everyone have ended up making middle-of-the-road elevator music. It is better for some to love your work and some to hate it, than to have everyone kinda-sorta like it.

My songs are never as good as I want them to be. I could talk about this phenomena myself, but someone smarter and more experienced than me has already said everything I want to say about the matter. Enter Ira Glass: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

And so in the spirit of closing the gap between my killer taste and my amateur output, I’m going to share two songs I’ve recently recorded. In truth these are only rough drafts. I recorded these songsall on my own and I know they can be improved by professional mixing/mastering and live drums (although my sampled drum tracks are pretty charming I think). My plan is to record an album’s worth of songs on my own (which allows me to flesh out all of the parts) and then re-record them with my friends Daniel Olah (drums) and Brad Birge (bass) at Jason Tedford’s Wolfman Studios (none of them know this yet by the way). I’m sharing them with you right now in part because I think they’re catchy and you might like them, yet also to push myself to continue to record. If people like these songs, I’ll be encouraged to record and share more; if people don’t like them, I’ll be encouraged to record more and improve. Regardless, my secret is out now, and I am going to keep recording. I have too much material that I’ve been sitting to not release it into the world. I hope you enjoy!

(lyrics below)

Jesus Burger

you wear a shirt you bought today

you sport a hat and morning shave

you get your style from magazines

and style your hair like him onscreen

you only scream when watching sports

you dream just like a sleeping corpse

you only kiss when you are drunk

your love is sinking or it’s sunk

these garish gods

they pave the way

for passive people

passing days

Jesus burger

Buddha fries

savior sugar

recognize…

you get your comfort from TV

you get your words from what you read

you eat your lunch at nearly noon

you only speak when spoken to

work all day for dollar bills

and go to sleep by eating pills

you cannot speak and so you text

you can’t make love but still need sex

these garish gods

they pave the way

for passive people

passing days

Jesus burger

Buddha fries

savior sugar

sure tastes nice

these garish gods

they pave the way

for passive people

passing days

Jesus burger

Buddha fries

savior sugar

paradise

Sweat Machine

I got nothing but time for myself

but you got something for me I can tell

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

you got something

tell me

your secrets surely will compel me

to wear your darkness on my short-sleeve

to let me drink the blood I need

whatever you need

will only grow up from this black seed

will always be there when you breathe

will always be there when you breathe

I got nothing but time for myself

but you got something for me I can tell

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

but you got something for me I can tell

stop now

you had another evil thought now

but we both know that it’s your heart’s vow

you signed up for this when you came down

when we came down

somehow we showed up in the same town

somehow you knew just when to spin around

and now I’m spinning with you… with you

with you with you with you with you

with you with you with you with you

with who with who with who with who

we’re through we’re through we’re through we’re through

I got nothing but time for myself

but you got something for me I can tell

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

but you got something for me I can tell

pay no mind as I talk to myself

I’m just trying to say something else

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

but you got something for me I can tell

At the dawn of this blog, you’ll remember (well, I remember) that my mission statement was to pursue the art, craft, and critique of music. Throughout my two year span of being a full-time musician, it feels like I have greatly succeeded in my goal of working at the craft of music; I’ve consistently practiced Classical and Jazz guitar, learned an enormous number of songs, played countless gigs, and continually taught private guitar lessons. I feel I’ve failed in the areas of art and critique; I’ve been terribly inconsistent in keeping this blog, and have virtually no original works or recordings to share.

I see clear reasons for this. There is a direct incentive for me to learn songs for gigs, and to teach guitar lessons— this is what people pay me to do (the craft). Conversely, I’ve yet to be commissioned to write my first Symphony (the art), nor have I been approached by any publications to write music reviews (the critique). Practicing the craft of music is essentially the entirety of my job at this point. After I’ve done my job for the day, like many other people I know, I’d rather watch a TV show, drink a beer, or go on a date than try to write a song or an essay. Furthermore, I have a habitual tendency towards learning songs and practicing guitar— these were consistent parts of my former life as a full-time music student from 2009-2013. During this period, I developed no such habits towards recording original music (the art) or expounding my own opinions on music (the critique). Simply put, money talks and habits are hard to break.

My desire to write music is motivated by something more abstract than money or habit. Although I’ve certainly fantasized about getting rich off of my own original music, there is actually no guarantee that I will make any money writing and recording original music. Yet even faced with this possibility, I know that I still want to make music.

My best evidence for this is the fact that my most prolific recording period occurred when I was in high school— a magical time when I wasn’t worried at all about money (my parents had me covered). Weekends and nights I would spend hours on end recording and re-recording parts on my red Fostex 8-track digital recorder for whatever song of mine I was wrapped up in at the moment. I didn’t do this because I thought it was going to make me rich and famous (I barely let anyone hear my songs). I did it because it allowed me to explore and release thoughts and feelings that were deeply personal to me; my songs were typically concerned with girls I liked, frustrations with high school social life, and my semi-secret spiritual yearnings. I remember writing during this period that I was so thankful to have music as an outlet for these difficult and sometimes dark feelings and wishing that everyone could have something similar— I wondered how anyone could be sane without an art to pursue. In addition to the psychological benefits I reaped from it, recording songs also satisfied my basic need to tinker. My recording process was essentially an extension of my childhood fascination with Legos: I would record the foundation of a song (most often guitar and vocals), then add another piece— perhaps a bass-line, then another— a drum track, then another— maybe a guitar solo, then another— a vinyl sample, all the while listening to the work over and over until I was satisfied with the pieces in place. I’d be so wrapped up in these sound-experiments that I would sometimes forget to eat all day.

To be honest, most of the songs I created in high school are not very good (I have the recordings to prove it), yet over the years I’ve also produced enough music that I actually thought was good (and enough is a relatively small amount in this case) to be encouraged to continue writing and recording. Most importantly I still have the burning desire to create and tinker with music that is emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and bodily meaningful to me. If it were not my job to play and teach music, I would still wish to write and record songs. I can sometimes get complacent, thinking that because I am getting paid for musical activities that I am following my adolescent dream of being a musician. Yet the truth is that my deepest aspiration all along has been to write, record, and perform my original music. I am lucky that both my college major and my current job have made me more capable of creating higher quality music, but I won’t at all be satisfied with this fact unless I actually make the music! I don’t need to make money doing it (even though yes I would like to); I simply need to do it.

And last week I did it; I completed a song for the first time in over four months. Furthermore, I’m going to share it with the internet world— something I truly haven’t done since I had a myspace page in high school. I’m not putting this work in the public space because I think it is particularly special (it’s not bad, but it’s not great); I’m putting it out there to hold myself accountable to my goal of writing, recording, and sharing my music. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the school of thought that would have aspiring artists only share their best work. My strategy is to share music as it comes and as I create it, despite it being less than perfect. With the knowledge that my music is available to the public,I hope to be pushed by a constant sense of “I can do better than that last song” to continue to write and refine my work. Furthermore, as an artist you never fully know what your audience will respond to— a track of mine that I think isn’t particularly good may end up being meaningful to someone else listening to it (or vice-versa). I certainly have my tastes and opinions about music, but I can’t pretend to be the ultimate judge of what is good (even regarding my own work); musical taste is about as subjective and personal as it gets. So right now I think I just want to try to throw a bunch of darts at the board and see what sticks.

So perhaps you’ve picked up on the fact that I am killing two birds with one stone with this blog post. My two failed musical missions (the art and critique of music) are now being resumed. I’ve shared a song (the art), and I’ve written about it (the critique). I should note that I am using critique in a very loose way for my purposes. I am not talking about a formal academic critique or music reviews. I reserve the right to do those things if I wish, but when I say the word critique in the context of this blog, I am really talking about simply writing about anything pertaining to music, and most often pertaining to my own musical life. I wish to use writing as a tool to explore and expand my musical life; perpetual writing prompts for myself are “what am I doing with music?” and “why am I doing it?”. Similar to my logic for sharing my recorded songs, I believe that sharing my musical life via writing will hold me publicly accountable to doing meaningful musical work.

I’ve recently picked up a small collection of Henry David Thoreau’s writings entitled “On Nature and Man.” In the section on aspiration, I read the following:

“Do a little more of that work which you have sometime confessed to be good, which you feel that society and your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself without reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.”

Writing words and music are truly what I reprove myself for not doing. When I am doing it, I am happier, and my whole world feels more complete; when I am not doing it, I feel I am missing something, and almost everything else feels either subtly or overtly like a distraction. Given my long history of not doing these things, I am honestly a bit skeptical that I will indeed continue to write music and keep a blog. Yet I know that I desire it more than anything right now and I know that I have the ability to do it. I pray that acknowledging these facts will push me towards doing what I know that I need to do— and if you see me in the street, feel free to give me a little push in that direction as well.

So everybody, this is my blog and so I can present myself however I want. The temptation is to conveniently omit all my warts and ulterior motives. But I don’t think doing this will ultimately help either myself or my readers as much as if I am being completely honest. Throughout this blog-post I’ve naturally been showing myself to be pretty noble in my pursuit of music, and indeed everything I’ve written above is true— part of me loves music in an utterly pure way. Yet I’d be lying if I said there weren’t vain and superficial reasons that I do what I do. Part of the reason I want to write music is that I think it is a cool thing to do, and I want to be a cool guy. My ego loves the identity of musical artist and I want you to love me for it too. The same is true for writing about music. I certainly care about what I write, but I also think it is cool that I write and love getting complimented by people who have enjoyed my writing. Being a musician, an artist, or a writer all fit perfectly with what I consider to be an attractive image, and perhaps even more dangerously, they seem to fit many other people’s idea of what is cool and attractive. If I am not careful and self-aware, I know that I can begin to love the image more than the substance (we’ve seen it happen before). The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So again, if you see me in the street, and catch an all-too-princely pep in my step, feel free to tear me down a few notches with a swift verbal jab— not out of hate, but out of love for what I really am: just some dude.