Listening for Inspiration

I had a conversation with an old friend this morning, and it’s getting me thinking about a bunch of things. Back in my broke-ass hippy vagabond days the two of us used to go dumpster diving outside of grocery stores together. This was a point when I was making barely enough money to get by, and there were weeks when digging through discarded boxes for cheese and veggies made the choice between gas money and grocery money a lot easier. It was also quite a bit of fun, in an anarchist, anti-authoritarian sort of way.

Somewhere along the line though, I had the realization that despite the unfortunate wastefulness of our society, choosing to sustain myself on what other people had thrown away was a manifestation of my belief that there wasn’t enough to go around – that I didn’t have the right to take up space. So I decided to give it up.

These days I think a lot about inspiration… that little nudge inside of us that tells us to do something. It could be huge (move to Vancouver, start a record label, run a marathon), or it could be seemingly insignificant (genuinely ask the grocery clerk how she’s doing), but I think the underlying attitude is the same. Listening to your inspiration means having faith that the real you is worth sharing. You belong here. You have something valuable to contribute, whether others understand it or not. To me that’s what being an Artist is all about. The inspiration to create Music or a painting or whatever is just one tiny facet of the overall approach of valuing your self and being real in the world.

Unfortunately, or culture does little to support individuals in knowing what they want and expressing it. Most of us spend most of our time with our attention on our thoughts, second guessing ourselves, coming up with a million reasons not to follow that tiny little prompt. A lot of us don’t even hear the inspiration when it comes because everything else is too loud. So to be in touch with what we want means quieting down our minds, and getting settled in our bodies. It means organizing our Lives around listening for that subtle nudge.

For instance, I recently had the realization that I am full-on addicted to refined sugar. I’ve spent basically my entire life-span using it to regulate my mood, and thus it has become something that my mood depends on for stability. So that constant craving for sugar was jamming my signal, was creating noise that affected my ability to tune in to my inspiration on a moment to moment basis. Giving up refined sugar became the next logical step in the long, long journey of making myself a clear channel for inspiration to speak through. A solid exercise program (daily running, plus regular core exercise and yoga) is another habit that I’ve put into place over the last year meant to make me a strong vessel for the lightning juice of inspiration when it comes.

And then, I think it’s important to remember that it’s also OK not to know. When I’m lacking clarity on a big decision I try to remember not to think too much, just to be present in my body and rest in the not knowing. If I keep myself open to the small inspirations (give this homeless guy a banana from my grocery bag when he asks me for change, give an honest answer when my room-mate asks how I’m doing), then the big inspirations will come when they’re ready.

What have you been inspired to lately? How did you know that you wanted to it? What did you do about it?

How To Be A Rockstar, Part Six – Keep The Fun Parts Fun

A wise friend of mine is fond of saying “Fun is serious”, and as far as I can tell he’s hitting the nail right on the head. Maybe it sounds strange, but I think that fun is actually one of the most important things going on in the Universe.

When you’re in the grips of Fun you automatically lose track of your ego. The stories that you tell yourself about where you’ve been and where you’re going effortlessly evaporate into the moment, and you’re joyfully focussed on what’s right here in front of your nose. When Fun is happening you cease to question yourself, and inspiration blossoms smoothly into action with a grace and ease that are impossible with a scowl on your face. It might even be said that *you* don’t have fun… Fun has you ;-)

That’s why I got into making Music. There are very few things that I’ve experienced as more fun than that moment when I’m totally in the zone, lost to the world outside of sound, almost incapable of playing a wrong note. Those moments are valuable in and of themselves, and I’ve dedicated my Life to chasing them.

And then…

I get caught up in the chase. I start taking the whole thing so seriously, I get so absorbed with the goals and the results and the means-to-an-end that I suck all the Fun out of it. There’s a reason why we call it playing Music and not working it, and I re-learn that on a periodic basis.

It happened once again a couple of weeks ago. I’ve got a couple of really big opportunities coming down the line this summer (including my first performance at Shambhala Music Festival, arguably the most important electronic festival in Canada and a  goal of the last 7 or 8 years), and I’m damn committed to being ready for them and knocking them out of the park. I’m working on lining up the set that I’m going to play and ended up hitting a brick wall with the last 5 minutes or so. I tried this, and tried that, and nothing was really clicking, and started to get the knot in my stomach that “everything is not OK”.

This state used to last for months or even years at a time. Today I recognized it a lot more quickly. I decided to take some time and step away from the laptop…  Give myself the freedom to just have fun playing guitar for a week or two (What? An instrument? Like… with your HANDS? I know it’s crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures). During this little break I really remembered why the hell I’m doing this in the first place, and came up with some super nice guitar parts that may or may not see the light of day as a Sleepwreck track at some point (it doesn’t even matter, the value is in just writing them period).

I’ve been saying this for a long time, and I believe that it’s starting to come to fruition. I need to focus more on playing actual instruments with other actual human beings. That’s where the real fun is for me. By proxy, that’s where I’ll make the biggest impact, make the best Music, and (gasp!) probably even make the most money in the long run… But it’s so important to remember: The point of the whole thing is to have fun. 

Stuff I Hate About Electronic Music #32c-4: Genres

Seriously. Every time I turn around there’s a new micro-genre of a sub-genre, that some purportedly forward thinking artist is mashing up with the latest meta-genre to widespread (if short-lived) critical acclaim.

Let’s get real people. It all sounds the same.

House is House. It will always be House… Boots and Cats at 128BPM (and the same goes for you, Techno. Don’t think you’re exempt). D&B is D&B and it will always be D&B… The Amen Break at 170BPM. Progressive trance and Full-On Psytrance are indistinguishable to anyone who doesn’t have a black-light poster of Ganesha hanging on their bedroom wall. And anyone who’s about to start chanting about Two-Step Future Garage, or Footwork, or whatever… Just stop. It’s IDM and you know it.

I cannot be the only one who’s sick to death of this never ending stream of Music that’s so easily slotted into a convenient little box. For God’s sake, why are their so few electronic artists that just sound like themselves?

Take Eskmo, for instance. Here’s a guy who clearly holed up in the wilderness for some indeterminately long period of time, and when he came back to civilization he had something to offer that was truly and genuinely fresh. The first time I heard his Music I was tempted to just pack up my laptop and start looking for a job as a marine biologist. Or Baths as another example. His first album Cerulean sounded like it sprang fully formed from the forehead of a drugged out, lo-fi Zeus.

People talk all the time about how hard it is to “define your own sound”, to come up with an aesthetic that is unmistakably you. I’ll let you in on a secret though, it’s not hard at all. Sounding different is as simple as having widely varying influences. If all you listen to is Minimal Techno, then chances are very good that you’re going to make Minimal Techno when you sit down to create something. If, on the other hand, you listen to Funk and Opera and Bluegrass and Minimal Techno… Then something interesting is almost certain to happen when those wildly divergent sounds collide inside your brain.

I’ll cop to the possibility that I’m just a cynical old man who’s out of touch with what the kids are listening to these days. If you’ve been getting into something that’s super difficult to categorize, shoot it my way… I’d Love to check it out! In the meantime I guess I’ll have to content myself with listening to Vaporwave and Purple Bass.

What Teaching 5 Year Olds Showed Me About Life

One of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is how the education system is failing to build humans who are in touch with their deep creative selves. We spend 12-18 years in institutions that are highly focussed on developing linear, analytical, black and white thinking, then wonder why so few of us are willing to step outside the box and pursue our dreams. We spend so much time learning that every question has one and only one correct answer that by the time we get to be adults are imaginations are a poor stunted excuse for the glorious tools they once were. Basically, I think that the vast majority of people in our society are afflicted with a self-consciousness that doesn’t allow them to be themselves in a genuine way. More thoughts along these lines can be found here.

So with that in mind, I was super excited to have the opportunity fall in my lap to do a Spring Break Music Camp for children aged 5-8 at the Beaumont Studios in Vancouver. They actually contacted me after seeing some of my content online and wanted me to put together a program for them. I tellya, it made me feel like a legitimate self-employed artist XD

So I said yes to something that was very much outside my comfort zone and experience, because it would give me the opportunity to start working on getting at kids early before they have a chance to develop the preconceptions that kill so many people’s creativity… “I’m not talented”, “I can’t understand theory”, “Music is for experts”, etc. etc. etc. We would make Music using tin cans, and drinking straws, and water jugs, and glass jars… Anything that was readily at hand that could be used to make a sound was fair game. I wanted them to come away with the unspoken idea that Music belongs to them, and they can do whatever they want with it. There are no wrong answers.

Of course, reality fell a little bit short of my lofty aspirations (it often does and that’s OK). I spent a lot of the time trying to prevent kids from climbing down the laundry chute, chewing on the carpet, or using drum sticks as primitive weapons. I was envisioning “Stomp meets School Band”, and it was a little closer to “Kindergarten Cop meets Lord of The Flies”.

OK, maybe not that bad. All in all, we had a super fun time despite the chaos, and I learned a lot about teaching kids how to be Musical, rather than how to play Mary Had A Little Lamb.

One of the big things that I learned, that I think applies to the rest of Life, is the way that what you pay attention to multiplies. When one kid was being a nuisance (climbing up the curtains, trying to eat their shoes, putting various objects up their nose, or what-have-you), it did absolutely no good to single that kid out and tell them “Don’t do that.” The only result this kind of attention gave was to encourage the culprit to continue, and even encourage others to follow suit. When one kid was misbehaving, 90% of the time the solution was to single out a kid who was engaged and praise them for being so attentive. It required a  shift of attitude and awareness, but when I could pull it off it worked well.

I think this technique is applicable on a larger scale (how you do anything is how you do everything, after all). Rather than looking at our lives, and trying to force the elements that we don’t like into a more pleasing shape, much of the time it is probably better to look at what is working and do more of it. As the parts that are working expand, they will naturally tend to edge out or convert the things that aren’t. For instance, I spent years and years railing against the shitty day jobs that I worked. I would spend 8 hours a day thinking “What the fuck am I doing with my Life? Why am I here? How can I be making Music right now?” But as I made Music more and more of a central priority in my Life, the shitty day jobs became less and less of a necessity. Obviously there are some situations that you need to change before anything else can really work (get out of that un-fulfilling relationship, get some exercise instead of sitting on the couch all day), but a lot of the time, the way we frame our reality to ourselves has a huge impact on how we experience it.

Anyway, I digress! Here’s a video of a percussion jam with some small children!

Suck on that, Comfort Zone!

I’ve spent the last few days experiencing varying degrees of paralysis due to fear. I’ve got myself a big pile of stuff that I want to accomplish in 2015 and all of it is outside my comfort zone, so I suppose that it would be surprising if I weren’t feeling this way. Aaaaaand at the same time, recognizing that it’s normal doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. I’ve pretty much just been wanting to curl up under my blankets and not come out until the world goes away.

I actually suspect that there are a group of people out there who don’t experience this kind of challenge. They want to do something, and they just put their minds to it, and get it done. But I’m not one of these rare supermen (at least not yet), and neither are most of the rest of us. So luckily I’ve learned some ways of moving through this stuff so that I can get done what I want to.

First off, I’m extremely lucky to be in a relationship with an absolutely amazing human being with which I have the standing agreement that we can talk about what we’re feeling at any time. Period. Simply expressing where I’m at to another person, without the need to fix or alter anything about it is one of the most effective ways I’ve ever found of moving through challenging feelings. Once I’ve gotten the emotional goo out on the table and examined it solutions can be sought, but at first it’s really important just to have someone else say “Yes. I get it. I’ve been there.”

After talking it out with my Mate, it became clear that part of what I needed to do was let go of some of the things that I wanted to get done. Elliott Hulse says something to the effect of “Becoming a stronger version of yourself is less about doing more things, and more a challenge to give up things that you believe are important but aren’t.” It’s easy to try to tackle the entire world at once when I’m making plans, but I believe that biting off more than I can chew ends up being a subtle form of self-sabotage. So officially giving up a couple of the goals that I had set is a hard, but necessary step.

One of the things that I’m pretty sure is important… and that terrifies that shit out of me, is my plan to run a Kickstarter campaign this spring. It’s extremely difficult for me to ask for help (thank you masculine gender conditioning), and the idea of going directly to my friends, fans, and family to ask them to pre-order my newest work so that I can actually afford to manufacture it… Well. Like I say, it’s a big challenge. Regardless, I’m really really excited about these new tunes and I’ve got some awesome ideas for how I want to get them out into the world. I honestly don’t know if the Kickstarter campaign will work. I don’t know if I have enough dedicated fans to raise the capital that I’ll need, but I know that it’s time to try. Even if it doesn’t succeed, it gives me some important feedback on what I need to work on as far as my relationship with my fans. It’s a big step forward, and those are always accompanied by some risk and some discomfort. Eeeeeeeep!

Not A Poet

I’m not a poet.
I’m a container for words.
But I’ve been fighting these lines for so long that it hurts.
I’ve been singing this song in my heart and just waiting
Just waiting for a chorus to come and follow this verse.

And I’ve been digging through dirt with my bare hands and bleeding
Been aching inside but this broken heart is still beating
I’ve got roots reaching down in the Earth to the core
Where it’s liquid and warm, gonna keep me from freezing.

I’m not a poet.
I’m a warrior and a wound.
Cuz I’ve been fighting this battle since I left my mother’s womb
To neglect and abuse, but I refuse to let it beat me.
I’m here. And every experience feeds me.

I’m on a mission. A boy making wishes.
Now thirty years later, this man makes decisions.
The smoke and ash, see the phoenix is risen,
Cuz now I burn away everything that don’t serve the vision.

I’ve been blessed.
With eyes that can see.
Breaking on through to the next impossibility.
Making the news, cuz I choose what to believe,
Some people play Music, I play Reality.

I’m not poet.
I’m a seeker of the sound.
That’ll crumble this stone hearted city to the ground.
I’ll be singing to the Earth and taking notes from the Sky.
I’ll be dancing with the darkness, making love to the light.

Controversial Poem

You don’t agree with this poem.
This poem is controversial.
This poem has taken sides.

This poem is a hotbed of inflammatory rhetoric set to debase and defile all that you hold dear, and to propagate a plague of political incorrectness throughout the known universe…

You! Don’t agree with this poem.

And within it’s first three stanzas,
Or perhaps before it has even begun
You have dismissed this poem’s creator as an
Agist racist, faceless capitalist, sexist sadist, communist classist,
misogynist bastard, bullshit fascist
And barricaded your sensitive ear-flaps against this poem’s corrosive cacophony.

You really don’t agree with this poem.

This poem gets your goat.
This poem arouses your ire.
This poem pisses you OFF!
This poem engenders an urge to shout obscenities, smash the nearest article of furniture, and suspend it’s creator upside down from their toenails so that all may revile their unrighteousness…

YOU. DON’T. AGREE. With THIS. POEM!!!

But this poem is an invitation
To be teachable.
To be open to learning from every other human being.

This poem is an opportunity
To give everyone a safe place to express their truth
No matter their creed or their privilege or their disposition or their way of Life.

This poem is a challenge
To re-examine your own (possibly) rigidly held pre-conceptions.

Because your reaction to it says infinitely more about you
Than it does about this poem.
And…
Whether or not you agree with it
This poem belongs here.