• Category Archives varnish
  • best friend (lyrics hint)

    i know i refuse to explain my lyrics. but this is more a necessary disclaimer.

    just in case the lyrics “best friend” become a song (hey, there are so many lyrics at this point that it is, actually, questionable)….

    i want to be very, very, very clear.
    i want there to be no doubt.

    these lyrics were absolutely not written about johnny.
    not. about. johnny.

    johnny is a protagonist, a good guy, a hero in this story.
    none of us are perfect, but you can bet your soul that this little ditty was not written about him.

    that concludes this little disclaimer. we’ll see if i can’t pull out something meatier, maybe with pictures, for the next one. and soon!

  • where is my mind?

    i thought it was probably time i did an update on what’s going on with the band and some of my current topics of thought about music and moving ahead. you can keep up with some of this by following varnish on myspace or facebook, and i’ll post much more frequently to the twitter if we get more followers.

    for those who missed it, the big announcement this week was that we’ve found a new drummer. whilst i’m truly sad to have lost ben to academia, i think we’ve found someone cool in aNdi pUzL. it felt right having her behind the drums, so let’s hope my feelings are on target. i really hated trying to work without a drummer. sure, we can set down beats with a machine. but that doesn’t have the same energy or presence. i had never taken ben for granted, but my appreciation of him only increased over the six or so months i beat my head against the drummer hunt. i know you can do rock with a drum machine, but i feel pretty safe in saying i’m always going to want a warm body behind that kit. so, welcome, aNdi. you won’t be taken for granted here.

    and, for all of you, this means that there should be shows again soon. i know that aNdi is working to learn all our songs and to come up with drums for a couple that hadn’t been nailed down yet. now we just need to hope we can get everyone else’s schedules back in synch. i have really missed playing with my boys. (hmz…now that there’s aNdi, i guess it’s not just my boys anymore, is it? that will take some adjusting. but she is kind of half boy, so maybe she’ll forgive my habit of thinking of the rest the band as my boys…)

    the other thing that you might be wondering about is the cd. some complications and changes in people’s lives slowed down the process. i just feel really lucky that we got the drums all down before ben moved. so, in case you haven’t heard it elsewhere:

    • this will be a five-song ep, titled “each to each.” anyone recognise that reference?
    • all of the tracks have been recorded, partly at the famous london bridge studio and part at the soon-to-be-famous soul kitchen studio.
    • mixing is done. (if you’re anywhere near seattle, i recommend mark clem of soul kitchen studio without reservation. part of why i’m eager to move on to the next recording is to work with him again.)
    • we have an appointment set with the engineer we want to use (ed brooks of rfi)
    • i’m still sorting out the cd booklet/art and distribution. unfortunately, loss of my day job has slowed that down. but i’ll work it out

    i was hoping we’d have the cd ready for you in the fall, but life conspired against us. however, we did decide to post the tracks for your listening pleasure on our myspace or facebook. i hope you’ll agree that this has been worth the time, money, and effort. if we get a miracle in the next week or so, i’ll see if we can’t make it available for sale in some way by Christmas.

    which nicely segues into my next topic, which is what i’ve been thinking about as concerns moving ahead with music. i’ve actually been reading quite a bit lately about how social media is helping musicians move ahead and pay bills without having a record company.

    i won’t lie; i want music to pay my bills. i’m not going to compromise my artistic vision to do it. i’m not going to make music i don’t believe in or let my music be used to promote something i don’t like. so, for me, that means i won’t be selling out. but, just like you, i have to pay the bills. and trying to fit in a day job and music on top? yeah, i’m going to do that as long as i have to, but it’s basically like working a couple jobs. and, like you, i’d rather not have to do that. so that means that i do keep an eye on ways to let my music pay bills.

    someone once asked whether my goal was to make music i loved that touched people or to make money and be known. and i responded, “can’t i have both?” it won’t have been a waste if i only get the first, but i wouldn’t mind giving up the corporate rat race and being able to give all those hours to music instead. to know that the money i pay the mortgage with came from doing something i love and believe in.

    so, how to do that…

    the old model, of course, is that we work like crazy, hope a record company finds us and gives us a contract, and then spend our lives playing that game. in case you don’t know how that game goes, you get money from the record company. you use that money to record, set up the tour, whatever….and then you don’t tend to see any more money until you’ve made that amount via sales and such. basically, you’re living on a loan. and i hate being in debt. (which isn’t to say i wouldn’t go this route. i’ve just not got the rosy perspective on it i did as a kid.)

    but new models are emerging. there are quite a few of them, and most of them take advantage of this lovely internet we’re all using. your fans follow you on myspace, facebook, twitter, your blog. they buy your music online, whether as downloads or ordering a physical cd. maybe they subscribe to some plan where you send them a song a month. you connect with your fans in a more personal way, until you get so huge it can’t be done, via the conversations you can have on all those online spaces. and you hope your fans then use email or chat programs or whatever to send links to their friends who might like you. and the love grows. i even think that (and i know some of you will blast me for this) people downloading for free can help. granted, at this point, i’d love to see a little money for every song of mine you have a copy of. my spreadsheet of band expenses versus band income still shows that i have spent thousands more than i’ve earned. but i do know that there are bands i’ve decided to love and follow because i got sent an mp3 by a friend who thought i’d dig them.

    so, we’ve got good songs up. we’re making more good songs. i’m pondering how to get that music into more ears. how to create a relationship and community with all of you that is mutually beneficial and, hopefully, includes me paying some bills. because, honestly, if i can pay bills with music, i don’t have to do a day job. which means i have more time to make music. which means i can make more music available to you. i’m not just trying to sell you on this; i’m sincere. i say this as a huge music lover. i honestly can’t imagine having survived certain things in my life without music. if someone hadn’t made sure that bands i loved were paying the bills and making music, so that their songs could get to me? yeah, i really, truly might not be alive now. and i’d say that thinking my music could do that is vain, except that i have emails and messages where a few people have, in fact, told me how one or the other of our songs has gotten them through things.

    and really, there’s a lot of music to be made. at the time i write this, i have lyrics for 125 songs. all written in the last 35 months since i started writing again. (have i talked about why the writing stopped? basically, i was on birth control pills for a while. and one of the things that got put into a coma–i always say killed, but it clearly didn’t die–was my creativity. horrible. i look at notebooks from that time…well, the notebook. i went from writing like mad to eking out only one or two things over the course of years. ugh.) so, yes, loads of songs to be made. i fear i’ll never have the chance to let all the good lyrics, much less the mediocre ones, become songs you can hear. varnish are working as fast as we can, but we only have so much time.

    which means i have also been looking into side projects (so far, all single song things, not second bands). it’s a bit mad, really, because that’s just adding one more thing to my schedule. the options i have are moving ahead far too slowly because of that. complicated by the fact that most my current options are in other countries. fortunately, technology will help us work around that a bit. i’ve got one song done with a lovely mate, and i really just dig that we could do it all online and on our computers. that’s going to have to do until i can afford to build a recording space in this house (or afford more hours in the studio) and get people to fly out here. though i am also looking at local options. i have one idea that will involve working with different people for each song, and that includes some local victims.

    i mentioned community in terms of artist and fans. but i’ve also, as i look at side projects, been thinking of artistic community. those of you who follow me other places online have probably noticed that i make note whenever johnny’s main band, post adolescence, are playing a show. that’s one perk of treating other musicians and artists as community. yeah, johnny is my best friend, so that’s a bit different. but i think if we get to know each other and if we support and promote each other, we all win. i think it also opens opportunities to try out side projects. to expand our repertoire. to meet other sorts of artists and learn the other artistic talents of the musicians we know. i’m not just about community with other musicians, by the way. i really think we are all improved by exposure to other kinds of art. and, at least from my perspective as a musician, i’m going to need to have other sorts of artists to take pictures, design covers and merchandise, and so forth if i’m going to do all i want.

    i tend to be a solo sort of person. i love my alone time. i don’t need lots of social interaction to be happy. varnish have made good music without community. and there’s a part of me that loves that sort of path in a theoretical way. but now i’m looking around and pondering…i know lots of talented people. musicians, writers, jewellery makers, painters, digital artists, dancers, and so forth. i’d love to see us lift each other. see how we can inspire each other. (i have a song i wrote after discussing a piece of jewellery with my talented friend birna, for example. so i never know where i’m going to find words.)

    so, there’s the update on where the band is and where my head is. i’d love to have you join us places online. i’d love to hear your thoughts on community, either with fans or other artists, and other things i’ve brought up here. i’d love to know what you think of the songs. love love love.

  • where do lyrics come from?

    with history now briefly covered, and a few pondering posts to test out how i like pondering on here, it’s time to get back to music as a current topic. kind of.

    as many have learned, i’m not really planning to explain my lyrics to anyone. i can’t tell you the number of times jason has asked, as we work a song, “what’s this one about?” only to have me shrug and say, “what do you think it’s about? all that matters is that the music fits it.” there’s only one person i’d make exceptions for, and that’s because i know he won’t tell anyone at all and because he’s got every bit of my trust. and, you know, that’s probably not you. sorry.

    why won’t i tell you what the songs mean? well, there are a number of reasons. for one, not everyone who hears a song will have the luxury of reading or hearing an explanation from me. that song needs to stand on its own, without extra words. also, i can’t tell you the number of songs that were totally meaningful to me, that i made completely valid analyses of, that were then soured when i heard what the writer meant. okay, fine, to the writer that song is about something entirely different, but there’s no need to rob me of the emotional connection i had with the song for my own reasons. additionally, i don’t want people who might have influenced a song to either see it as an attack or as an ego builder. that’s not why i write. and, finally, as you’ll read, most come from too complex a place to really sum up.

    but i can tell you where lyrics come from. and, unlike when you learned where babies come from, i don’t care if you tell your little sister. in fact, please, do tell her.

    the lyrics come a few ways. most just sort of fall out of me and onto the paper, quickly. i feel really blessed that it works that way. every so often, something falls out in pieces. i try not to force it when it goes like that. try to just meditate on what’s at the root. the few times i’ve forced it, the lyrics have been shoddy and needed rewriting. so, better to get it right the first time.

    but at the root, no matter how they come out, is always a mental collage. and the collage isn’t built by effort or always around a clear theme. it’s a mix of memories, of story ideas, of possible futures and missed pasts, of smells and sights and emotions, of other people’s experiences, of individual words or phrases that feel good on my tongue and rolling across my brain. sometimes, there’s almost a physical sensation or two that comes along with it. it’s usually something of a chaotic mess, really.

    if the lyrics just fall out, the mess seems to settle into something i can look at and benefit from once i’m finished writing. until then, it’s almost like the whole mass of the thing is pushing the words out.

    if the lyrics come slowly, the mass starts settling as i regard it. i write what comes easily, and then i sort of let the whole thing shift a bit. i close my eyes and just watch it. sometimes i poke at it. i ask it, “what’s this piece doing here? it’s totally unlike the others.” and as pieces fall together, the words fall out of me.

    even in a situation where i could probably say, “this song is about this person / this event / this theme / this emotion,” there’s always something more going on. that thing has drifted through my heart and my mind and other bits of what’s inside of me have caught onto it. so that even if i told you and tried to explain, there’d still be some line or verse that wasn’t quite that thing. but, hopefully, that still fits.

    of course, a close friend recently noted that a lot of my songs seem to be written before their time. that they are all clearly about things that happened after i wrote them. and when i tried to protest, some pretty uncanny things were pointed out to me. but i think i’m going to chalk that up to the fact that time isn’t linear; we just see it that way through our limited brains. which means that i’ve got endless years of images to throw into those collages. so i don’t expect to understand word-by-word either. and maybe that’s the real reason i can’t explain myself. heh.

  • first gig

    taking a break from pre-history to share some tidbits about modern history. about the first varnish gig, which was my first gig ever.

    i went into my first gig with a modest set of goals:

    1. don’t leave the stage to pee during the set. (i had been fending off illness and drinking even more than my usual loads of water….this was a very challenging goal to meet.)
    2. don’t let down my best friend. he had gotten us the gig and i didn’t want him to regret it. secretly, i wanted to do more than not embarrass him; i wanted to make him proud and make him like me more and want to get us more gigs.
    3. oh, and it would be nice if i weren’t totally mortified with our performance. (i am really self-critical, so that isn’t a joke.)

    i also went into that gig knowing:

    1. we had some great songs.
    2. i was a good lyricist.
    3. i was a good performer.

    and here is how this all came together:

    1. all goals achieved! i am pretty sure i grinned like a complete idiot when the best friend told me we’d done really well. good thing there were no cameras.
    2. the monitors were really good, so i could hear myself really clearly. and people who were not drunk, were not there for varnish, and were not hitting on me told me i had an amazing voice. which means i could finally add to my list of things i knew that i was a good singer.

    my friend celeste, who ran the video camera (i told you i’d mention you by name, missy) and has always felt free to give loads of feedback on the efforts i make at music, told me that she saw when i started to believe. and that everything got better then.

    so the most important thing i got from that, aside from popping my gig cherry, was belief in myself as a singer. leaving me with a burning need to make sure that the boys in the band believed in themselves and that my friends in other bands believed in themselves. because as awesome as their performances were, i had now learned that believing in yourself (and i don’t mean having some cocky ego trip, because that’s usually rooted in insecurity) lets you do a better job and enjoy what you’re doing more.

    and maybe that seems like a very obvious thing to you, but i gotta take my enlightenment where i can get it. even if it sounds like a cheesy greeting card.