A week ago today I was lamenting the loss of my routine. Tired, and distracted by disappointment in my lapse of discipline, I was struggling to force-write a blog post. The past 15 hours or so I have repeated virtually the exact same sequence of events as last Wednesday-night/Thursday-morning: staying up late with a fond friend, sleeping past my alarm, skipping morning pages, and yes now struggling to write a blog post. Yet whereas last week I was consumed by feelings of guilt and regret, this morning I have the pleasant feeling that this is now part of my weekly song and dance. As the old Jazz adage goes: “If you play a wrong note, repeat it.”

Last night I went to “Sticky’z Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack” to see Little Rock favorites and my friends Amasa Hines play their patent brand of soulful groove-rock. Like many times before, I was delighted by their rich instrumentation (last night they collectively wielded two guitars, two saxophones, keyboard, bass, drums, and auxiliary percussion), tasteful tones, tight pocket, poetic lyrics, and emotive delivery. Yet honestly my heart was stolen for the evening by a Brooklyn based four-piece called The Dig. The precise vocal melodies of the band’s two superb singers (who traded time singing backup and lead) cut clearly through a lush instrumental foundation of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards (with some sampling). They played a pleasingly familiar brand of atmospheric and danceable indie-rock with a cool confidence won from logging in an enormous number of hours rehearsing and playing shows together. Yet what impressed me most about the band, and what made their sound so appealing, was their attention to the precision performance elements of dynamics, tone, groove, and phrasing. Relatively simple chord progressions and melodies were transformed into expressive gems by the band’s attention to detail.

In my experience, most bands I have seen live and even played in honestly kind of suck— it takes a lot of work to just not suck, and The Dig have definitely put in that work. Not only do they not suck, they are actually good, so good in fact that I bought their most recent album “Midnight Flowers.” Listening to it this morning I am once again enjoying the songs I heard last night, and impressed by their ability to so closely replicate their album’s sound live onstage. Yet what was quite spectacular in the live moment, sounds a little plain to my now more critical ear. The Dig are doing all the right things to sound like what good Indie Rock sounds like in 2013 and I think this is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because I would imagine them being greatly enjoyed by any fan of bands like The Strokes, Tennis, Foster the People, Local Natives, and the White Stripes, ensuring The Dig a steady stream of gigs all across the nation. It is a curse, because they have not yet broken free to find their own unique identity and approach to music— they sound like “good Indie Rock”, but perhaps they don’t yet sound like The Dig.

Yet I can easily see this band making artistic and conceptual leaps necessary to attain the same status of the aforementioned bands (they are certainly no less talented), and I am rooting for them to do so. I think I am especially sympathetic to the plight of this band because I am currently in a similarly situated Indie Rock band called The See (yes note the name resemblance). Though I don’t think we necessarily have The Dig’s high level of dynamic, tone, and rhythmic precision (I’m confident this will come as we rehearse and play more shows together), we too are a band with an appealing modern sound who tend to delight and impress most audiences we play for. Yet I don’t think either The See or The Dig are any kind of “best kept secret” waiting to explode on to the national stage, because neither of us has yet found our own secret relationship to music. I am confident, however, that the key to each of our own unique sounds is close by; we just have to see it and dig it (respectively).

 

 

My work schedule looks extremely irregular. This week, for example, I had a rehearsal from 8-10pm on Monday with a Jazz band, an out of town show with a Rock band from 11-12:30pm on Tuesday, and a rehearsal with a different Jazz band from 6-8pm on Wednesday. Tonight I am playing solo guitar at a restaurant from 6-8pm, tomorrow I am giving a guitar lesson from 5-6pm, and Saturday I am playing at a wedding from 4-5pm and a party from 9:30-midnight. Next week I may not have any gigs. A variable schedule is typical for the musician and flexibility is a must have trait.

Certainly there is some temptation to just utterly embrace this irregularity, working hard when I have lessons, rehearsals, and gigs, and just taking it easy when I don’t. Yet I’ve learned that I thrive on a regular routine. I am sharper, more productive, and generally happier when I have some level of intentional day to day consistency. Though I can rarely choose exactly when and where I am going to have performances and rehearsals, I can choose what time I am going set my morning alarm— I choose to set it for 5:55. Ideally, I wake up, write my “morning pages”, do a quick Chi-Kung routine, eat some breakfast, then spend the next four hours practicing and preparing for whatever gigs, practices, and lessons are looming. I usually feel relatively accomplished after this, and reward myself with lunch and a much needed nap. When I awake, I am ready to proceed to whatever musical exploit is scheduled or available for that evening (this is when the irregularity creeps in). When I am finally finished with all the day’s musical tasks (often very late at night), I blog about it and go to sleep.

Once again, that is my “ideal” weekday routine. I stayed loyal to it the first three days of this week, and it felt great. Yet last night I stayed up late with a good friend, skipped my blogging session, and went straight to bed. As a result, I slept through my 5:55 alarm this morning and didn’t wake up until 7:30, feeling guilty. I did some Chi-Kung, but not my morning pages, ate some breakfast, started struggling with this blog post, and talked with my roommate about how much is too much information for this blog 😉 as well as the relative merits of U2, Vampire Weekend, and Steely Dan. I am still struggling with this blog post. I feel out of balance and slow-witted and I want to stop writing. I want my routine back.

Every morning I wake up, fix some coffee or tea, and fill three loose leaf pages with stream of consciousness writing. I took this practice (called “morning pages”) from Julia Cameron’s book The Artists Way, which no I have not finished yet, but still recommend to anyone looking to expand their creativity. Today I started off all analytical-minded, trying to plan my day, but then I switched brains and just let it flow (kind of like I am going to do now, because it is 1:30 and I am riding home to Little Rock from Conway with my band The See and I am very tired, and want to finish this post before I get home so I can just hop in bed and slide into dreamsville). Anyway, I consider these morning pages as me practicing my art— they are often ripe with lyrics and ideas for songs. This morning I looked around my kitchen and expressed wonder at the myriad worlds around me— the wood lines in my table, the creamy surface of my coffee, the buzz of my refrigerator, etc… I wrote that it is impossible to capture with words the many worlds around me. Then I immediately retracted that statement, because the age old “poetic” notion that something is so profound that it can’t be described in words is a cop out! Yes, many things are impossible to fully capture with words, but if you are writing poetry or lyrics, you have to try to describe these things anyway! If something is truly inexpressible in words, your futile attempt to do so will express that fact. I hope I never put the phrase “words can’t express” in a song. With all this in mind, I set about trying to describe in acute detail the dust of decaying bugs sitting in between the two panes of glass of my kitchen window. For now I’ll spare you my portrait of the bug-dust.

I was all ready to give my first guitar-lesson of the summer to a brand new student this evening, but he had to cancel at the last minute due to a time-conflict with his work. He assured me that he is serious about learning the guitar and we have set up a lesson for next week. I do believe him, and look forward to teaching him— I just need about nine more students to keep the bills paid.

Tonight The See and I played at Bear’s Den Pizza in Conway, AR (hence why I am coming home so late). The Bear’s Den is a homey, spacious restaurant & pub with a collegiate feel (by this I mean they have a regulation beer pong table outside) and mediocre pizza. This place was packed for a Tuesday night— clearly the prime hangout for the young and the restless of Conway. The stage was large enough to comfortably host a heavily equipped four piece rock band (like ourselves) and I was overall pleased with the quality of the sound in the room and onstage (unlike some “music venues”, this place had multiple stage monitors). We played very well tonight despite the fact that our drummer Tyler’s bass drum wouldn’t sit still and kept knocking into Joe (our lead singer), and that Joe broke a guitar string on the first song (he did have a backup guitar). We kept everything very tight and we seemed to have impressed much of the audience; some of them even bought T-shirts. In my experience, playing for a new audience frequently infuses the band with a natural urgency and strong sense of presence that sharpens our focus and often leads to the best performances. This happened last night and it served as a reminder of just how special our upcoming multi-state tour (from June 28th to July 19th) could be…