Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times.

Available now at

This is a collection of fairly despondent songs with bare-bone instrumentation. I was #blessed to have the help of friends like Brian Cass, Kyleen King, and Courtney Marie Andrews accompany me on this one. The title, "It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times" is probably the only comical thing about it. 60% of this EP was written in July of 2011, in the days directly following the death of my 15-year old furry son, Lumas. Those three songs came quickly and easily (though I hesitate to describe a process so gut-wrenching as "easy"), but I immediately archived them... I didn't feel like I had the distance or stomach necessary to polish and productize them. I made a video for Expensive Love, and played Watering the Soil once at a show in San Francisco, but ultimately I wasn't ready to do right by them... until now. Underestimate Me arrived a few years later, after a healthy dose of rejection. The ease with which all four were written underscores what is surely the universe's bitterest joke: heartbreak is the best creative lubricant.

Team Love was the holdout; I'd never before had to be so patient with a song. The original demo was very different than the version you hear on this EP. It was a bitter fragment about how everyone in my generation seems to be growing out of friendships and into marriage and/or parenthood, with a tempo and arrangement more akin to Gary Jules' cover of Mad World than the upbeat piano doo-wop it became. But I was starting to turn a corner on a long bout of depression and I wanted the last song on the record to lead me out, rather than keep me there. I'd never before taken a sad song and inverted it, so I set about trying to do so.

"What if love is not, in fact, a noun... what if it is only a verb?"

This was the question that popped into my head and inspired me to write a holistic (in both the medical and the philosophical sense) song that would help me challenge and articulate my understanding --- or misunderstanding --- of love. Stephen R.  Covey had a similar thought in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People program, “Love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions.” But I was inspired to look closer at the cost of employing the noun form of "love" by this fascinating TED talk by behavioral economist Keith Chen (and related TED Radio Hour Podcast episode, "The Money Paradox") on the economic implications of a concept known as "linguistic relativity" (the sordid history of which is recounted here). His research shows that people whose native languages lack future tense conjugations don't invest as much in savings as those whose native languages do have future tenses. I hypothesized that our culture's constant use of "love" as a noun, to be quantified, given and received, may have some adverse effects on our relationships.

Lyrical progress on Team Love was glacially slow - for over a month I averaged only a few words a day, resisting the tendency to use "love" in anything but verb form. Aside from a few hours each day dedicated to alternate revenue streams, most of my time was spent devouring every published thought I could find about the psychology of love, from the horrible Buzzfeed-style list "articles" ("10 Amazing Things About Love That You'll Never Believe He's Thinking And Are Impossibly Horrifying") to opinionated interviews on podcasts like Savage Lovecast and Death, Sex, & Money. From statistical sources like the OKCupid blog and various TED Talks to the motivational prose of pop psychology books by the likes of Brené Brown and Gary Chapman. I kept a running list of any revelations or arising questions about love and my relationship with it, and ordered it in a way that best illustrated the linear and sometimes long-jumping path of my thought process. Then I began to write lyrical blocks that illustrated each precept.

About five weeks after I began writing it, I was the exhausted owner of a relentless and cerebral song without hooks or a conventional structure. The irony is thick: I think that this song's lyrics are my most useful and thought-provoking to date, but I've delivered them in such a torrential manner that I fear few listeners will have the tolerance or perseverance required to unpack and examine them. But if anyone can handle a slow digestion process, my listeners can. I hope it becomes one of those songs that keeps giving with each repeat listen.

If you've already purchased It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times, then I want to thank you for trusting me with your money and time and helping me afford rent and dog food. If you haven't, I could sure use your support.

A few weeks back I published a cover of a song called "The Middle," by Portland folk artist Jeffrey Martin. I'd caught him playing at the Sisters Folk Festival and was floored by the authenticity of his voice and songs. I bought his CD, Dogs in the Daylight, and quickly developed an obsession with this song. Its message of moderation and compromise really resonated with me. In my arrangement, I organized the instrumentation into three camps: organic/analog instruments, synthetic/electronic instruments, and voice. Throughout the verses of the song, the different groups stay panned to opposite left and right channels, polarized. As the sequence progresses towards the chorus, they work their way to the center of the stereo field, reorganizing and optimizing themselves into an integrated stereo mix with more middle channel focus.

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