PiphpicThis week at Lucas Murray Music, I’m doing something a little bit different: I am entering into world of Big Piph (aka Epiphany Morrow). I’m not talking about just hanging out with him— I’ve had the pleasure of performing and hanging with Piph countless times. I’m talking about taking a step into the vast universe that he has created for The Legacy Project, the world’s first “living album,” which he is releasing tomorrow. This is Piph’s magnum opus, tying together an album of new music, enough videos to rival Beyonce, and an interactive app for your smart phone. For the past four years I’ve witnessed Piph grow this ambitious little pipe dream into a full blown reality. He has likened executing this project to trying to jump the grand canyon on a moped, and if that is the case, I’ve been a captive audience member eating popcorn on the sidelines, waiting to see either a miraculous landing or a terrible crash. Well everyone, it appears that he is going to make it, and because of that I get to give you a tip of the iceberg peak into the project. Today we are going to take a musical look at one of the characters in The Legacy Project. Enjoy.

Ellie V BackgroundEllie Evans was an extremely gifted student and athlete. In spring of 2006 she graduated salutatorian of historic Little Rock Central High School at age 16; that fall she began attending Princeton University and maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA during her stay; at the end of 2007 she qualified for the Beijing Olympics in gymnastics. Yet after a string of personal tragedies, Ellie inexplicably left school and Olympic glory behind, moved back to Little Rock, and began a transformation into the mysterious woman we see today. Ellie V (as she chooses to be called now) is a modern renaissance woman: one part martial artist, one part computer programmer (or hacker as some have claimed), and one part punk rock icon. She granted me this rare interview on the terms that it would only be about music. It seems she does not want to address the rumors that she has become a consultant for L.E.S. in their “special outreach” division. So, ok. on to the music. Here is Ellie V in five songs:

1. You are at an amazing, lush house party at a Venice Beach mansion. Everyone there seems to be friendly, attractive, intelligent, and having the time of their life drinking, dancing, and socializing. Mos Def and Penelope Cruz are among the guests that are casually enjoying this party. This is the best party you’ve ever been to. You must pick one song that will play every time you walk into a new room at this party. What song do you pick?

Ellie: Let’s Get it On— Marvin Gaye

2. What is the one song you wish you had written? Note: You are not necessarily the performer of this song, but you will receive royalties from it, and everyone who knows and loves this song will know that you were the brilliant person who wrote it.

Ellie: Nothing Compares 2 U— Prince

3. What was the last song that played in your car?

Ellie: You’re With the Wrong One— Fried

4. You are an olympic boxer in Rio this summer about to compete for the gold medal. What song do you play in your headphones beforehand to get you ready to fight?

Ellie: Bring Your Whole Crew— DMX

5. You are 76 years old telling your teenage grand kids that their music is crap, and how much better your musical taste was during your teenage years. What is the first song you play for them to prove this point?

Ellie: Bull in the Heather— Sonic Youth

Finally, Ellie has also granted me the exclusive privilege of pre-releasing her brand new single “eat your heart.” You heard it here first kids. Thanks Ellie!

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Start spreading the news

I’m leaving today

I want to be a part of it

New York, New York

Ok, so technically I am not leaving today, but it is true, I’m going to go make “a brand new start of it” in New York City this fall. This past fall I applied to a number of music master’s degree programs in New York City. My hope was that I would get in somewhere (anywhere), increase my musical knowledge and skill with the help of my teachers, meet fellow musicians at the school in order to start or join a band (or multiple bands), and proceed to “make it” in New York. Because “if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere” (that’s my last Sinatra reference I swear). Well, in March I was informed that I had been accepted to NYU to do a master’s in jazz studies with a focus on guitar performance. And an instant after hearing this news, a very tangible feeling of fear appeared in my gut. New York is so far away! I can’t leave my friends and family! I’m so comfortable here! School is so expensive! Is that really what I want to do? What if I’m not good enough? I should stay here… Yet in spite of these voices of fear, and in fact because of these voices of fear, I have decided that NYU is exactly where I need to be this fall.

I am making a conscious decision to go against what my fear is telling me to do because in my heart and mind I know that going to NYC is right. I am simply experiencing something like long-term stage fright: before I play a show I always get a little nervous (and sometimes I get very nervous), but that doesn’t mean I don’t want and need to play the show; I am extremely nervous about moving to NYC, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want and need to move. In fact whenever I take a moment to check into my body, and I say to myself “I am moving to New York,” my heart smiles. Yet it is a strange phenomenon to know that something is right, and to still be clearly afraid of it. I likely won’t be free from these fears until I actually start school (even then who knows), but in the meantime, I am going to engage in the futile activity of trying to dispel these fears by explaining to myself and you readers exactly why I am moving.

I have reached a peek in my music career. When I finished my bachelor’s degree at UALR my singular goal was to not get a “real job,” and instead to support myself solely with musical activities. My logic was simply that if I used only music as my livelihood, I would be spending a lot of time working on music, and thus would become better at music, and thus would be equipped to have more opportunities to earn money with it, and thus would be spending even more time on music (and so on and so on in a wonderful positive feedback loop). At first I had to hustle hard to find enough guitar students and gigs to pay the bills, then slowly but surely I had enough musical work to feel comfortable. As we were doing my taxes for this past year, my accountant even told me that I “did well this year” (granted I did well by a young, single musician’s standards— the bar is low). I have succeeded at my initial goal and have spent over two years in Little Rock as a full-time professional musician. Unfortunately I have also grown somewhat complacent as a result of this. There is currently no pressing need for me to get a lot better at guitar, or make a lot more money, or challenge myself creatively. If I were to stay here in Little Rock, I like to think that I would do these things out of sheer will and self-motivation, but I wouldn’t necessarily have to. If I am going to succeed in New York City, among the enormous amount of creativity and talent there, I will have no choice but to maximize my potential. I’m aiming for a new peek.

I am going to New York to test myself, and to learn. Sometimes it is not clear to me here in Little Rock how good of musician I am. Honestly I could name ten guitarists in town who I think are better than me, and yet I have had a few people tell me that I am the best guitarist in town (they need to get out more). I play a large amount of gigs, yet many of these gigs connections are made through friends and family. There is not a clear external test of how good of a musician I am. In New York, I’ll be one of hundreds of good guitarists, with little to no connections prior to arriving there, and I am going to have to work my ass off to practice, plan, and put myself out there. Perhaps this sounds like a fools errand— it is actually a personal test to see what kind of musical and personal strength I can muster in my pursuit of New York City success. Regardless of what the success test shows, I know that I have much to learn, and at NYU I am going to receive an incredible musical education and be in the presence of world-class guitar teachers such as John Scofield, Peter Bernstein, and Wayne Krantz. I am going to grow.

Finally I am going to New York because the time is right. I have always thought about moving somewhere else, but part of the reason I have stayed here this long is because I have an incredible family whom I have loved to live close to. However, this past summer, after decades of living in Little Rock, my parents moved to Newport, AR and my sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece moved to Kansas City, MO (each move was for work)— my stable family tree has been uprooted. Thus the people who are closest to me, my blood, do not need me here right now. Add to that the fact that the location of my brunch gig shut down last month, and it is time for this little bird (ok, grown bird) to leave the nest and go take flight. Peace!

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New Music

Week 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

Week 7—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt.1)

Week 8—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt. 2)

Week 9— Paul Simon, Still Alive After All These Years

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in the wake of Prince passing away, many people have begun to refer to 2016 as “the year that music died.” Taken literally, this statement is blatantly untrue— composers and musicians have been dying willy-nilly since the dawn of time, but music has persisted as the eternal flame that it is. However, I’ll clarify that the writers and bloggers who have used this phrase do not mean that music is literally dead, but that because icons such as Prince, David Bowie, Merle Haggard, and others have died this year, music has suffered a massive, perhaps irrecoverable blow. This too is false. Not only are there many present-day musical giants who released music this year (e.g. Beyonce, Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Esperanza Spalding, etc.), but there are numerous legendary musical icons from decades past still alive and performing (e.g. Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, and somehow Kieth Richards). And furthermore, Paul Simon, a national treasure at age 74, is set to release his twelfth solo studio album tomorrow.

I admit I’ve been listening to a lot of Paul Simon this past week because his music has been the perfect soundtrack to a recent heartbreak. I’m not looking for pity from anyone— I appreciate your sympathy if you lend it to me, but unfortunately it is not going to make me feel better. For the only thing that can mend a broken heart is time… and Paul Simon. With music and art, we get to redeem our shortcomings, failures, and struggles by turning them into something beautiful to look at or listen to, and Paul Simon is an undeniable master of this alchemy. From brutal honesty (“oooh spare your heart, sooner or later everything put together falls apart”), to sincere pleading (“You don’t have to lie to me, just give me some tenderness beneath your honesty”), to empowerment (“Just slip out the back Jack, make a new plan Stan, you don’t need to be coy Roy, just get yourself free”), to self-deprecation (“She looked me over and I guess she thought I was alright— alright in a sort of limited way for an off night”), Paul Simon has lyrically diagnosed every angle of romantic struggle.

He has also prescribed the cure: “Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras, let the music wash your soul.” The music is primary. It is not the words that wash our soul, it is the music. Simon certainly writes beautiful lyrics, but he knows that these would never reach our ears or move our souls were they not supported by amazing music. He even said in an interview with American Songwriter that he always writes the music before the lyrics. Above all Paul Simon is a supreme lover of music and his frequent excursions into diverse musical styles (traditional folk, blues, gospel, zydeco, South African music, synth-pop, etc…) clearly represents this fact.

Because he is an adept guitarist and brilliant singer-songwriter, Paul Simon likely would have had a wonderful musical career even if he had never chosen to collaborate with anyone. Yet a large part of his genius is in surrounding himself with musicians who are as good or better than himself. An incomplete list of his collaborators includes some of the most skilled musicians in the world: The Jessy Dixon Singers, Urubamba, Steve Gadd, Airto Moreira, Dean Parks, Phillip Glass, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and oh yeah Art Garfunkel. To listen to a Paul Simon album is quite simply to listen to good music.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that some musical artists and fans have a major problem Paul Simon. Simon has been accused of plagiarizing British folk music, not properly crediting the South African musicians he recorded with on the album Graceland, and outright stealing a song from the band Los Lobos. I am not here to argue for or against Paul Simon’s innocence in these matters. I mention these things in order to point out that I am not romanticizing Paul Simon the person— I think he, like all of us, has insecurities and demons and has not always acted in the most equitable way. No, I am here praising Paul Simon the musician. Whatever Simon’s personal flaws or misdeeds may be, they do not take away from the amazing musical gifts he has given the world. The fact is, Paul Simon has impeccable musical taste, painfully clever lyrics, brilliant collaborators, and one of the creamiest voices of all time. I can’t wait to hear what he gives us tomorrow.

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New Music

Week 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

Week 7—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt.1)

Week 8—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt. 2)

NYEAfterthought1 copy

Last week I took us on a sad ride through the first three stages of grief for the Afterthought’s closing. We all know grief isn’t complete without the full five stages (sure I know some sources list seven stages of grief, but writing about more than five is above my pay grade), so I’m going to continue my process of grief for you this week with the final two sages (depression and acceptance). A word of caution: it is going to get worse before it gets better. If I were you I would turn away from this blog post right now, go outside and eat an ice cream cone.

Depression

I played solo guitar at the Afterthought nearly every Sunday morning for the past two years and I performed there countless wild nights with bands such as That Arkansas Weather, Mellow Dee Groove, Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe, Sean Fresh, Good Foot, and Rouxster. Both in the restaurant during brunch or in the bar at night, I loved seeing and talking to the regulars who helped make the Afterthought the wonderful community that it was. I also grew so fond of the employees at the Afterthought who (whether they realized it or not) always provided me with acceptance and encouragement. The Afterthought closing is a significant loss for me financially, but a far greater loss in terms of a home, and a family.

Furthermore, I truly came to identify with The Afterthought. I’ve been on tour with bands both in the U.S. and abroad and I consistently play at nearly every major venue here in Little Rock. Yet whenever describing my livelihood to someone new, the first thing I would mention was that I played solo Classical and Jazz guitar every Sunday at the Afterthought. For this consistent gig at a reputable restaurant and bar lent me an air of credibility that helped alleviate the insecurity I have about being a professional musician. Other professions have prestige built in to the name: if you tell someone you are a doctor or a lawyer, you can then rest in a content silence, knowing that the person is somewhat impressed. If you tell someone that you are a musician, that same silence seems to scream “explain yourself!”. I used to fill in that silence with a description of my musical activities at the Afterthought. Now what? I have a blog? I’m recording a song every week that only 20 people listen to? I’m playing at Whitewater tomorrow?! (It is true I am playing at Whitewater tomorrow with Big Piph and Tomorrow Maybe if you readers want to come).

In the Afterthought I’ve lost a job, a community, a place to express myself, and a part of my identity. This is truly depressing for me. Yet it is even more depressing when I think of all of the employees, patrons, and musicians who are experiencing these same feelings of loss.

Acceptance

As much as I loved The Afterthought, I realize that it wasn’t perfect. And as sad as it is that The Afterthought is closing, I realize that it is closing for a reason. I’m not here to tell you everything that lead up to the Afterthought being sold and closed because I truly don’t know; but I do know that there was a big fireplace in the middle of the bar that oddly divided the space, that the piano was perpetually out of tune, and that there was an electrical socket falling out of the wall on to the stage. Some of the Afterthought’s imperfections added to it’s authenticity and charm, but it is possible that the Afterthought was trying to prop up too many quirky flaws to be sustainable. It’s time for a change.

I admit that I insulted the owner of Mylo (and new buyer of the Afterthought) in my last blog post— I was partly trying to be funny (as I do), partly expressing a true criticism, and mostly just being a brat— but I am actually hopeful that he will be successful in reviving and sustaining the Afterthought. Whatever your (or my) opinion is about Mylo Coffee co., it appears to be a thriving business, and it is encouraging that the owner of that business bought the Afterthought. Furthermore, one of my musician friends (who also frequently performed at the Afterthought) told me just this morning that the owner of Mylo asked to meet with him to talk about the new Afterthought. This makes me happy— not every venue owner would think to or be willing to meet with musical artists to discuss plans for the venue. I wish the owners and operators of the new Afterthought all the best, and believe that they will put in the thought and effort necessary to make the Afterthought a thriving venue and community hub once again. By the way good Mylo people, I too am available to lend you my thoughts about the new Afterthought if you care to hear them— I certainly have opinions.

As difficult as it is for me to drive by a now vacant Afterthought, I understand that I now have a great opportunity (and necessity) to explore other musical endeavors. Although I loved that place, my identity, livelihood, and sense of musical community are not dependent on The Afterthought and never were. For I am not a musician at the Afterthought; I am simply a musician, and I can and will play music anywhere. I thank the Afterthought for all it gave me, bid it a fond farewell, and wish it all the best in it’s afterlife.

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New Music

Week 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

Week 7—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt.1)

lucbraddeb

Last night at the Afterthought I watched the Good Time Ramblers play for over four hours to a packed room of familiar faces. Around midnight we all raised our glasses in honor of the bar, around 1am we all danced to the final song, and around 2am Jeff Jackson announced the (truly) last call. It was a bittersweet goodbye to that quirky little corner spot that has seen thousands of performances from both musical giants and local heroes since the late 70’s. The Afterthought meant a great deal to me personally— I’ve been going to hear music there since I was in high school (this was before the 21 and up rule was imposed for all shows at the Afterthought), and in my young musical career I’ve performed there far more than any other venue. The Afterthought’s closing has been hard for me to handle, and for that reason I want to walk myself through the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) for the Afterthought. (Note: I do realize that in real life you can’t just walk through the stages of grief in one day, but this isn’t real life, this is my blog and I get to do what I want)

1. Denial

Last week I heard about the Afterthought closing by reading my friend Olivia’s Facebook post. I played guitar at the Afterthought every Sunday for two years and I hadn’t been told about the Afterthought closing, so my first reaction was indeed denial: She doesn’t know what she was talking about! She doesn’t work there! What does she know! That can’t be true. Even as all the facts of The Afterthought’s closing surfaced, I still went to play brunch on Sunday and treated it just like any other Sunday. Though it was indeed my last Sunday brunch performance at the Afterthought, I didn’t do any special song or send off, I just played and went home like I always do. I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was happening.

2. Anger

The most enraging fact in this whole saga is that I and all of the other performers/employees at the Afterthought were given so little notice about it closing. I was initially angry at the Afterthought’s manager, because I mistakenly believed it was him who had not informed everyone. I can’t apologize enough to Richard Muse for even thinking this— I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how much he cares about the Afterthought and all of the employees, and Richard was in fact given the same short notice as the rest of us. The truth is, the new buyer of the Afterthought is shutting it down for renovations and from what I understand it was he who gave only about a week of notice to everyone working at the Afterthought. It is an enraging injustice that some good, hardworking people are without jobs today because they were not given enough time or notice to find new work before the Afterthought closed. My outrage is amplified by the thought of who the new buyer is. You can look up who that is on your own, I don’t want to mention the name in my blog, but here are some clues: they already turned one long-standing cozy Hillcrest spot into a soulless hipster laptop hell, their coffee tastes terrible, and they make a real good sandwich.

3. Bargaining

Hey Stephanos, sorry about what I said just now about Mylo’s Coffee Co. I didn’t mean it—I’m just upset. Will you just promise to keep the music alive at the Afterthought? I’ll be totally on your side, I’ll put ads up for you on my website, I’ll drink your coffee everyday! Just please keep booking local bands (like mine) to play in that wonderful space. Please!

Ok readers, let me pause for a second and tell you some truth. I’m a bit hungover right now. I had a few too many drinks in honor of the Afterthought last night— what can I say, I love that place. I have some important things I want to say concerning the final two stages of grief about the Afterthought’s closing, but I don’t think I can express those thoughts right now. Instead of over-extending my foggy brain, I’m going to do myself and you readers a favor and make this a two part blog post. Stay tuned next week for Depression and Acceptance! Is this a cop out? Yes. Do I care? No.

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New MusicWeek 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13:  RITZ CLUB  Photo of PRINCE, Prince performing on stage - Purple Rain Tour  (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not a Prince super-fan. I think he was an amazing musician, a distinguished songwriter, and a delightfully freaky performer. But truthfully I’ve only ever owned about four Prince albums (a drop in the bucket considering his massive discography), and would actively listen to them only once or twice a year. Prince’s passing has forced him into my consciousness and yours in a way that unfortunately nothing else could. Traveling from Little Rock to Eureka Springs (and back again) this past weekend, I had a blast listening to nothing but satellite radio’s Prince tribute station, and during these seven hours of Prince I thought a lot about his life, his image, his fans, and his music. I do recognize that there is seemingly no pressing need for me to throw my opinions into the endless pile of articles, blog posts, and tweets about Prince circulating through the internet, and I would not fault you if you decided to just listen to Purple Rain instead of reading this. But I feel compelled to talk about the Purple One because there are some things that need reiteration, there are some things I haven’t heard anyone else say, and there are some things that I have heard people say that I flat out disagree with. So here are seven thoughts on that peculiar and mysterious little rockstar we loved so much.

  1. While listening to the Prince tribute radio station, I heard a couple of soundbites from fans who had called in and stated that part of the reason Prince’s death is so tragic is that “there will never be that caliber of musician again” and that “musical artists today are not as good as Prince”— You’ll also see this sentiment echoing around the internet in numerous articles that claim that this 2016 is “the year that music died” (with legends like David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glen Frey, George Martin, Maurice White, Phife Dawg, Prince and others all passing away). This is undoubtedly not true. Genius and true inspiration are certainly rare in music (as in any field), but also relatively consistent. Let’s not give up on music just because some of our favorite icons have passed away. Some people were likely making the same distressed cries about music being dead, and the loathsome state of current music back in August of 1977 after Elvis passed away, and then guess what: 8 months later Prince released his first album. Prince was a superlative talent and a true original and likely there will never be anyone else quite like him, yet it is a fallacy to think that there will not be new inspired creators to sing the songs of our time, win over our hearts, and make us party like it’s 1999.
  2. Prince was Prince’s real name. His full name was Prince Rogers Nelson. You probably know this by now—I’m not trying to insult your intelligence— I just want to point out that Prince is a really cool name. I might name my son Prince. Or maybe Duke, or Earl…
  3. I love so many Prince songs, too many to name, but there are also a great many Prince songs that I don’t love. This is not a knock against Prince, it is simply a by product of the shear volume of work that he released. Prince released 39 studio albums and he allegedly has enough work in his vault to posthumously release over 39 more. Prince incessantly experimented with new sounds and songs throughout his career, and indeed some of these experiments fell flat. Even great creative geniuses produce sub-par work some of the time—this his does not diminish their genius. Indeed it was Prince’s willingness to experiment, take risks, and fail that allowed him to not only produce hit songs, but to create era-defining sounds that will be imitated for decades to come.
  4. Prince boasted “there’s no particular sign I’m more compatible with,” but as a Gemini (born on June 7th, 1958) he was in fact generally more compatible with Sagittarius, Libra, Leo, and Aries.
  5. I don’t know what Prince’s life was really like and unless you were his close friend or family member you don’t either. What we saw was the celebrity—the image. We saw what Prince let us see, and he certainly didn’t let us see everything. By many accounts from people who knew him, Prince was a warm, genuine, and generous man, and I truly believe that he was a wonderful person. But it is important for me to also recognize that I did not know Prince the man. While most of us are mourning the loss of an icon, some are tragically mourning the loss of Prince as a friend and a family member.
  6. There are a great many things that might seem strange to you about Prince: his androgynous appearance, his genre-bending songs, his subversion of gender stereotypes, his secretive personal life, his religious sect, his many aliases, or anything else you want to name… Yet the most unusual thing about Prince is that he was incredibly famous. There are a great many people who seem weird or different (by the way if you ostracize those people, that’s your shortcoming and not theirs), but there are only a tiny handful people that that are a household name all over the world. That’s the strangest thing about Prince.
  7. The author Chuck Klosterman wrote a book called Killing Yourself to Live in which he argued and demonstrated that the best possible career move a famous musician can make is to die. It is certainly true that since his passing Prince has been the subject of innumerable news stories and sold an enormous amount of music (he reportedly sold one million songs and 231 thousand albums the day after he died). I admit that I’ve listened to more Prince songs in the past few weeks than I have in the past few years combined! We often appreciate someone more when they are no longer around— this is natural. Yet I hope that we can all recognize that we don’t have to wait until something is gone to appreciate it. Look to the living musicians, artists, writers, artists, and people in your life that you most care about; go see them in concert, write them a letter, take them to dinner, give them a hug— express your love and appreciation while they are here to receive it.

     

    For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

     

    Week 1—Nine Months of New MusicWeek 2—That’s Masturbation

    Week 3—Oblique Strategies

    Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

    Week 5—Turn Off the Music

OwnIDeas

Here’s your “no shit sherlock” statement of the day: the hardest part of creating something is figuring out what to do next. Sure, one or two lines of your song (or book, or poem) might come easy. Inspiration hits and you have a great idea: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.” Ok Michael Jackson, great start, but what are you going to do now?— Oh I don’t know Lucas, perhaps I might write the most wholesomely uplifting pop song of all time! So truthfully it was Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard who wrote that song, but you don’t know who those people are so I pretended for a second it was actually Michael who wrote it. April fools. Regardless, for those of us who are not artistic savants, fleshing out an inspiring idea is an extremely difficult process, plagued constantly by the question: what do I do next?

It’s very easy to feel blocked or puzzled during the creative process. Yet I believe that this feeling most often is the result of thinking too much. I believe that creation is an action, not a thought. Repeat: Creation is an action, not a thought. My personal favorite tool for getting out of my head and into the act of creation is called Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.

You’ll remember Brian Eno as member of the early 70’s glam rock band Roxy Music, as a successful solo pop artist, as the most prominent pioneer of ambient music, as a producer of bands such as the Talking Heads, U2, and Devo, as the composer of the sounds for Windows 95, as an experimental visual artist, and from countless other projects and collaborations. There is a reason Eno has been so prolific and relevant throughout his decades long career. He (similar to Davids Byrne and Bowie) did not settle in to his original pop-star sound, but simply fell in love with the process of creation, leading him to diverse edges of the music and art world. His buddy Peter Schmidt is a modern artist, painter, and theoretician who met Brian Eno in the late 1960s. Together they created Oblique strategies, a deck of cards with cues and axioms that help you overcome artistic obstacles. Here is what Brian and Peter have to say about it:

(click pic to enlarge)

Explanation

Basically, if you’re working on a project and find yourself stuck, or simply desire a new approach, reach for a card and do what it says. For instance, I have no idea what I am going to write about for the rest of this blog post, so I’ll pick a couple of cards to jump-start this thing. Card 1:

GoOutside

Great idea, but I’m actually one step ahead of you Oblique Strategies. I’m sitting on Kavanaugh Boulevard outside of Starbucks sipping on a black coffee and trying to write this post. I’m writing in my classic black and white composition notebook while the Funkadelic song “Can You Get to That” (aka the greatest song ever) plays from the speaker above my head. This is a great strategy. While there are different flavors of “outside”— a quiet corner of the woods would be markedly different than this relatively simulating street corner— getting outside your stuffy old work space is certainly a good idea once in a while. Card 2:

BetterJudgement

So since I am the only person currently working on this post, I suppose I am the only person I could ask to work against my better judgement. So I guess I could tell a joke I made up— that could go over poorly. Oh yeah it’s also a Jewish joke, and I’m not Jewish— yep, this sounds like a really bad idea. Let’s do it!

Q. How far can a Jew throw a Ram’s horn?

A. Shofar

So you maybe need to say that one out loud (and know what a Shofar is) to get it. Anyway, that definitely went against my better judgement. But look at that— I squeezed like 250 words out of those two cards. I’m almost done with this blog post. Thanks Oblique Strategies!

Of course, there are many other methods that musicians and artists use to figure out what to do next. John Cage used the I-Ching, David Lynch uses transcendental meditation, and countless other artists have used a lot of drugs. Some of these methods are obviously more sustainable than others, but it is clear that there is no shame in using a little outside help to get the creative juices flowing. I chose to turn to Oblique Strategies to help me create the following song.

In fact I had a lot of help on this track beyond Oblique Strategies as well. As mentioned last week, the bass line was recorded by Bloomington, Indiana bass extraordinaire Brenton Carter during a jam session of ours— shout out to my man Noah McNair as well for laying down some slick keyboard lines that tragically went unrecorded during that session. Also the sax and flute parts were recorded by the great Matt Schatz, who, in the spirit of this blog post, was asked to draw an Oblique Strategies card for himself. His card read:

ImpliedDefinite

Thank you to Brian, Peter, Noah, Brenton, and Matt for all your help, and I hope everyone enjoys Opus 3.

This post is part of a nine month project in which I am releasing a new song and blog post every week. If you want to get caught up, here are the links to the previous entries:

Nine Months of New Music— Opus 1

That’s Masturbation— Opus 2