I have always felt slightly uneasy when someone referred to themselves as an "artist" unless they were some kind of painter, sculptor, Van Gogh or Michelangelo. I would see it while traveling and be staying at "the artist's flat" in Bremen or be referred to as such in print but I have become much more at ease with it over the years.
This ease of a descriptor is not brought about by hubris or ego but it is a shift in thinking that I believe is important for anyone who creates anything. I am still slightly shocked when anyone likes a thing I have created. I mean, I like it but...
I often urge folks coming into my studio to think of what they create as "art" and not just a song or a thing they made up. They are literally creating a thing that will most likely outlive them. The words and music we sing and strum will echo out forever whether in the digital ones and zeros of the internet or just in the memory of folks that have heard it. I am not claiming that all art is great, that is certainly a different discussion, but all art is created by a person or persons with a vision for a picture, or a sound or a scarf or whatever their chosen medium is.
This week I am releasing new music into the world which is often a time of uncertainty for any artist. We create a thing in a studio, spend time tweaking all the details - details that most people will never hear, things like: re-recording the mandolin part with three different mandolins to make sure you get the right sound. Endlessly recording the intro to a song because you've written a part that is just slightly ahead of your skill level, or fussing over how loud the cymbals are in the mix so they don't wash out the guitars.
It is absolutely imperative as an artist to believe in what they create. If you make music to try to impress critics, that will show. If you make music to try to cater to an audience, that will show. If you listen to the drunk at the bar who says "you know what you should do..." it will show. But if you follow your muse and create music that sounds like you, your soul - that will resonate no matter how it sounds.
Authenticity always shines through.
There are always conversations with other artists about what they should or shouldn't create. I have a super talented friend that often feels handcuffed by walls of genre that he has created around his music. He's creative with acoustic guitar and just his voice, he can play all the instruments in hard rock recording and can even make great EDM music when he feels like it. He enjoys all these different forms of music and can authentically create them not just as a person who knows how to record and play but as a fan of the musical styles as well but he's afraid an audience might not be up for all of that even though he himself would love an artist that embodied all of that.
I'm also working with another group right now that I know is anxious about their new creation because people liked their last cd but their new one expands upon what they have done before and what if people don't like it? It is authentically them and I keep telling them that their voices and songs are what hold everything together. Whatever they do is going to sound like them. They are not playing it safe - they are following their muse and I love it and it's going to make them new fans.
Which brings me to "so many bars, so many saturday nights", my new cd. I took some of my own advice with this one and it's a little all over the map - like me. Most of the music for this cd was going to be on my last album "SeaGreenNumber5" but I didn't feel like it fit in with that collection of songs, either stylistically or thematically. But I still liked these songs and didn't want them or the recordings to just disappear into the ether so I finished them.
There are two mandolin songs on here, an AC/DC cover, the angriest song I have ever written, the most "me" song I've ever written and my favorite song about trucks. My buddy Brian Matteson played drums on 4 of the songs and he rocks them, even throwing a "blast beat"* into a break of one song. Matt Froehlich played drums on the other 3 songs and train beats like the best in the business. Tracy is of course here playing bass and singing harmony and nearly takes over the AC/DC song with her part - you all know she's a rocker at heart. Jeremy Long adds his pedal steel to two songs and just tears it up like we're the house band in Roadhouse. Geo Hennessey adds her violin to the folksy/Irish side and we feel like we're third class passengers coming across the Atlantic. Jen Moraca adds her theater trained voice to a few songs and threads the needle between the other voices to add lift like only she can.
But here's the thing - I started writing all of this because of a review I got in my email this morning. It's a review that's coming out next week from the Rocking Magpie website in the U.K. Alan Magpie has been a fan of mine for a while now and I'm always excited to send him new stuff, not because I play for the critics but because I know he's a fan, not just of me but of the things that have influenced me.
As an "artist" I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do and I follow my muse wherever it takes me, whether it is a folk song from 1949, a hard rock anthem from 1975 or something I wrote a couple months ago. I play music that moves my soul and I hope it moves others and when you get a review like the one that Alan wrote up - it's life affirming. I don't say that lightly. We all have our doubts about everything. The little voice that always tells you you're not good enough or that you're kidding yourself or however your internal monologue likes to tear you down. But when someone you have never met listens and hears you, really hears you - there's nothing better. I have been exceptionally lucky in this regard with a handful of reviewers like Lee Zimmerman, Robert Kinsler, Brian O.
And like Mark Twain said "I can live for two months on a good compliment."
These folks have given me the courage to be my authentic self and release music that sounds like me and I take that courage and try to pass it on to others.
*from wikipedia: A blast beat is a drum beat that originated in hardcore punk and grindcore, and is often associated with certain styles of extreme metal, namely black metal and death metal and occasionally in metalcore. In Adam MacGregor's definition, "the blast-beat generally comprises a repeated, sixteenth-note figure played at a very fast tempo, and divided uniformly among the bass drum, snare, and ride, crash, or hi-hat cymbal." Blast beats have been described by PopMatters contributor Whitney Strub as, "maniacal percussive explosions, less about rhythm per se than sheer sonic violence".