Turtle Power

It's been awhile, I’ve been pretty quiet since last July. Maybe a tweet or an Instagram, but no shows. I didn't post any new tracks or videos, didn't collaborate with anyone, didn't even fill in on guitar. 

In fact, as I type, my Taylor holds the same strings I put on before my last show: July 23rd in Columbus, Ohio. 

I started 2015 with a plan—a gig schedule, all kinds of ideas for the website--but most of it never came to life. Still, last year turned out to be an important one for me. 

In the first few months I played shows around L.A. and tried out a grungy, new song called “Right Thing.” The song’s lyrics were a frantic plea for inspiration and they painted a pretty good picture of where I was: lost. Despite my big songwriting plans, I could only write about confusion and being blocked, and even that felt like a chore. But I sang the song honestly, with genuine angst and frustration.  

I figured if new songs weren't coming, I'd find a half-written song to fix—but all I found were fresh sheets of paper to crumple up and throw across my apartment.  

In April, I was pulled into the energy of a music conference in L.A. and was almost motivated to write again, but on the last day, as I listened to hit songwriters discuss “good songwriting” and “relatable lyrics,” I felt the restless urge to throw on a guitar, run onto the stage and dive straight into the group of panelists, like Kurt Cobain into a drum kit, knocking them over like bowling pins, microphones feeding back throughout the conference center, the crowd roaring in riotous applause as I singlehandedly changed the course of pop songwriting with my defiance.

You see, it had just hit me: I had become overly concerned with what “they” think makes a good song, what makes a song a “hit.” Live in L.A. and surround yourself with “the industry” long enough and this can happen. It can be a good thing. But I was pissed. 

I remembered a time when I wrote with abandon and my music connected with family, friends, and eventually fans—actual strangers, in cities I’d never been to, knew words I had once scribbled into a notebook while sitting on the edge of my bed, crying about a girl they’d never meet. The process was fascinating and it came from the heart, every note of it. And regardless of how low I would get, somehow I was at my happiest. 

A few days later I picked up my acoustic guitar and played the shit out of it. I was exorcising demons, not coaxing the muse—but soon enough a little riff emerged, so I set my phone on my knee and recorded it. Then I moved on with my music-less life. 

In June, as I scrolled through my phone in boredom, I came across that idea again. I played it on guitar every day for a few minutes, cleaning it up as I went. I didn’t think about it, I just did it. The idea blossomed into an instrumental song. I called it “Coming Back,” produced a version in my home studio, and posted it to SoundCloud. What a great feeling, to watch a raw idea turn into a tangible track, with no intention throughout the process other than to keep going. It was art for art’s sake, and it felt fucking perfect.

Listen to "Coming Back" and Keep Reading

I had two shows coming up in July. I slid “Coming Back” into the set, and even rewrote two older songs in time for the shows. It seemed the act of making an artsy instrumental shook something loose. I was writing again.  

A West Hollywood show fell on my birthday and I played to a great crowd. But the next day, I watched video of the show and sensed that something was off. I sounded and looked OK, but the whole thing seemed so far away, like I was looking through a portal to an alternate universe and some other guy was up there singing away.  

After filling my journal with thoughts, I talked to a few friends. "Maybe I'm too old for the artist thing," I said. I wondered if I should only write and produce, or maybe focus on guitar. Then it was, “but if I do this, what about that,” and on and on. I was even more lost than I was a few months earlier. 

I figured it was time to take a step back, so I decided Columbus would be my last show. I played the gig to a house of close friends, family, and fellow musicians. That was the last time I was on stage. 

Late summer in West Hollywood can be intense, reaching 95-100 degrees and often leaving me shirtless and lethargic in my apartment. Any rising thoughts I had about music were quickly met with "it's too hot, man." My break from shows was turning into a break from everything. I was cooked.

Then, in October, it was time for a family trip to Italy. I had never been to Europe and was curious about the people and the food, of course. But I had no idea I was about to meet Michelangelo. 

Within the first few hours of exploring the Vatican my mind was blown. I knew Michelangelo had painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but that’s about all I could conjure. In the halls that led to the chapel, a tour guide with a thick Italian accent spoke of Michelangelo’s commitment to sculpture as an art, and how he spent time dissecting cadavers to become an expert at the finer details of the human form. 

With my head tilted back, my eyes swam across the Sistine Chapel ceiling, stopping at the most striking figures and absorbing a beauty that’s laced with a vague, but certain, sense of darkness.  

Later, I learned something that brought reassurance to my frustrated soul: Michelangelo was insecure about painting that ceiling. He was resistant and afraid for much of the project, which took four years. Early on, Michelangelo insisted to Pope Julius II, his patron, that he was a sculptor, not a frescoist, and was the wrong guy for the job. 

The pope was like, “get to work, buddy."

Beginner’s luck? See Michelangelo's Masterpiece

Amazed, I continued to learn about Michelangelo in Rome and Florence, and back in L.A. as I flew through a few books. But there’s one thing I learned that day at the Vatican I should mention here, the game-changing moment of the year for me, as an artist: 

Michelangelo, the brilliant, moody, cadaver-slicing sculptor, painter, poet, and architect designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica starting in his seventies, and the dome's construction continued even as he died at eighty-nine years old.  

And here I am wallowing around L.A., claiming I’m too old to be an artist. 

Like I said, 2015 was a slow year and I spent most of it in my shell, but I wouldn’t trade it. The time away from shows and writing music gave me fresh perspective on my art. It can be anything I want it to be, at any time. Who knows, I might even start a blog. 

I’ve got some great things in store for this year. I hope you’ll sign up on my email list and keep up with what I’ve got to share.

 

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