Monday July 8, The See on tour day 10, at a club in St. Louis:

I’m blogging right now from the back of The Firebird in St. Louis. The band in front of me is as loud as anything I’ve ever heard. Even though it is inordinately loud, I have know idea what the music is saying. I hear some wholehearted “woos” from the crowd at the end of the set, so maybe they know. We were tacked on to this four band show at the last minute so we had to play a short opening set before two local bands and the main event, Brooklyn based three-piece Lemuria. This show would have made much more sense if we had played third in the line up. These first two bands are at a much more amateur level than The See. Yes that statement probably sounded snobbish and judgmental, but I’m not trying to be harsh. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that most every band sucks when they first start playing. It takes a large amount of desire, trial and error, and practice to simply not suck. The See has been putting forth great effort at home and on tour, and I feel confident in saying that we do not suck. I try to resist focusing on rewards (to be able to play music should be a reward in itself), yet it is hard not to wish for higher populated, higher paying shows when we are pouring so much time and energy into this project…

Whatever, I want to talk about Chicago. We played there the past two nights at two bars right down the street from each other. Saturday we played at an old, dark, dirty dive bar called The Mutiny (most every Chicagoan I talked to gave a mischievous, knowing smile when I mentioned I played there). The sound quality at the Mutiny was low as expected, on par with the sound at our first stop of the tour, The Nick. Yet whereas at the Nick we sort of folded under the dual pressure of poor sound and an apathetic crowd, we rose above the circumstances at the Mutiny and played a great set. Encountering such different crowds and environments every night has provided us with the crucial realization that we should only worry about what we can control: our performance. Luckily playing every night has naturally sharpened our performance. Sunday we played another solid, streamlined set a couple of blocks down the street at Quenchers, a newer, cleaner, better sounding venue. It was also helpful and energizing that for both of these shows we played with my favorite band (personally and musically) of the tour so far, Planar Ally (yes that’s a Dungeons and Dragons reference). Planar Ally played precise, melodic, rhythmically-advanced instrumental Indie-Prog-Rock comparable to Battles (but unique all its own— check them out!).

Quick side note: Instrumental Indie-Prog-Rock? That may seem like superfluous genre labeling, but as more and more people around the world play and share music, musical subcultures are becoming more and more specialized. We can either try to lump these musics into broad genres (i.e. Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Soul, Classical), eschew genre entirely, or get more and more specific in our genre labels. I’ve certainly met musicians and bands in each camp. Because I believe that music is a multiplicity and not a universal language (with every instance of music inseparably linked to its own specific cultural and historical context), because I believe that specificity is better than generalization, and because it is just a fun game, I prefer to get particular (and yes a little facetious) with my genre titles.

The See’s genre? Atmospheric Indie-Mystery-Rock. It’s brand new. Get with it 😉

Tuesday July 9, The See tour day 11, on the road to Springfield, MO:

In Chicago we stayed with Planar Ally’s stellar drummer, and overall cool guy Ben Simpson. He composes a lot of the music for Planar Ally electronically, using Ableton Live, creating complex, multi-meter drum-beats that he then learns to play live on the drum-set. I admire this process because it doesn’t limit Ben to simply what he can play at any one moment. It frees him to compose in accordance with his musical imagination (rather than his muscle memory), and eventually increases his drumming dexterity as well. Listen to Wolf Lover for one of Ben’s creations. I’d like to adopt this strategy of composing and performing going forward, because as much as I feel like a relatively good guitarist and musician, I do get stuck sometimes playing through the same old patterns that my fingers know so well. I want to shift my musical output away from what is merely physically convenient and towards new tonal possibilities.

Overall Chicago was a great experience. It was extremely refreshing to simply stay put in one place for longer than a day. Though we didn’t get to explore much of the city, it was inspiring to see such great musicians and to be surrounded by so much cultural achievement.

Wow, that sounded like the ending to a seventh grade book report. I’m sorry y’all. I’m going to level with you, this was a difficult post to write. The lack of sleep is catching up with me. I’m happy that I’m posting this because I told myself that I would keep this blog going on tour, but man, this blog has seen better posts. Catch you next time.

This past year alone I have performed numerous times in a jazz big band, a guitar ensemble, two rock bands, a hip hop band, a cover band, various small jazz ensembles, and as a solo classical guitarist. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to play with many talented musicians in such a wide array of groups and genres, yet I do often wonder if I am spreading myself too thin. I have a mild fear that I will never be as good at playing any one genre as players who have devoted themselves solely to studying a particular style of music. Furthermore, though it seems the most lucrative strategy right now, I wonder if playing frequently in a number of relatively unknown groups is the better economic decision than striving to have one musical project achieve “brand-name” success. Yet I realize that there are definite pros and cons to either specializing or diversifying and no way to simultaneously reap the benefits of both. As Kwai Chang Caine would say: “you must choose.”

For now, I have chosen the path of diverse musical output: I play background jazz and dance music at parties and events, I play loud hip-hop and rock shows, I give guitar lessons, I compose my own music, and I write about music. I do this, practically speaking, because it is the only way I can currently provide any kind of sustainable living for myself– no single group that I play in currently performs often enough to be my sole livelihood. Yet I am also naturally a “big-picture” person, and I feel satisfied that exploring music from these many different angles is potentially offering me an expanded picture of what music is and can be. Though I may never be the purest jazz guitarist, or the most virtuoso classical guitarist, I do believe that through playing many styles I am going to continue to develop a unique musical voice and generally become a better musician. Furthermore, I am comforted by an awareness that music is not a competition. Though it is tempting to compare myself with other guitarists and musicians (who may be masters of a particular style), I know that I can only express myself musically in accordance with my own tastes, background, and capabilities. To keep myself going, I must always believe that my current level of musical ability is adequate enough for performance, while simultaneously working extremely hard to expand my musical horizons.

Monday night I went to the Afterthought to see the great Bob Dorough, composer and performer of many of the great original schoolhouse rock songs (including the classic “Three is a Magic Number“). He was there playing with some of Little Rock’s finest musicians including Barry McVinney, Joe Vick, Jay Payette, and others. It was humbling to see these incredible musicians (musicians who have labored not for fame, but for their love of music) in all walks of life performing together on stage. Bob is in his 80’s and still has the spirit and enthusiasm of a 20 year old. What he lacks now in vocal power, he makes up for in a warm soulful and humorous delivery. Smiling widely as a row of horns shout the head to Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” Bob was having a great time (and so was the audience).

This performance stands in opposition to a conversation I had earlier that afternoon with a friend at my office (River City Tea and Cream). Our talk at one point hinged on a humorous, but obviously over-generalized, portrayal of elderly men as being either extremely sweet or the classic “dirty old man.” From here, it was only a small leap to us discussing the possibility of myself being a creepy old man at age 60, playing guitar in a Rock ‘N’ Roll band, hitting on much younger women. Though I don’t realistically envision this happening, I do sometimes have a vague concern that Lucas at age 60, will be stuck playing music appropriate to Lucas at age 20. I think of aging bands like The Rolling Stones and KISS and frankly it is weird to me that they are still on-stage performing songs about not getting satisfaction or rocking all night. I then look at Bob Dorough, and it seems completely natural for him to be singing and playing Jazz in this intimate bar. I find myself wishing to also have a fitting musical outlet when I am his age…

I then hear the voice of my conscience slapping me back to reality: “Lucas, you are 24 years old and still at the very beginning your musical and artistic journey. Worrying and fantasizing about what your musical life will be like in 30-40 years is not helping you right now. You may pursue goals, but understand that you may not achieve them, and even that achieving your goals may not actually be fulfilling. Simply focus on this unfolding process, trust that hard work will pay off, and continue to practice the art, craft, and critique of music.”