I’m Singing Songs I Wrote! In Front of People!!
It’s not my usual. It is, in fact, something that have a lot of feelings about.
I’ve always written and sung songs, but they were just things that I recorded, sang at home, occasionally they got shown to a small, intimate inner circle. They were not for taking out to the world and sharing.
I think that songwriting, in a very unconscious and unintentional way, became my way of dealing with everything. Starting in junior high school, when my learning the guitar coincided with whatever insane hormone/anxiety/puberty bomb mother nature detonated in my brain & body. That’s when songs started being the release valve – the survival mechanism.
When something is protected and unconscious, its also untested and vulnerable. The songs I’d written were for me and only me, and so writing was never an issue of outside perspective – there was no ‘outside’ to consider. It kept the writing process very easy, but also isolated. Enter The Brothers Comatose. All of a sudden there’s a place to bring songs for real performance – a venue for these little pieces of my heart. But. I’m not the singer. And other people aren’t as inclined or inspired to sing heart-on-your-sleeve songs, if it’s not their heart. I get it – I’d feel the same way.
The songs that I’ve been writing for the last 9 years have all had a target, an audience, and a line of obstacles to overcome in order to be accepted. In a way, this is great. It makes you really bone up on what makes a song a good song. Polish up them choruses, bud.
But the unforeseen consequence of this – for me at least – was that I stopped writing my songs. I stopped writing those deep down, gotta-get-this-out songs, and I started writing for the band; songs that would pass the song-acceptance committee and would be comfortable for someone else to sing. Songs that fit our instrumentation, our ranges, our aesthetic. This is all well and good and fine. Writing songs is a joy no matter what. But I didn’t notice until recently that I had left out my own songs; my own process; my very necessary musical/emotional/existential life-into-song process. I was writing songs that I believed were good songs… but not songs that I believed in. If that makes sense.
But then, just this fall, we went on the Campfire Caravan tour… and I got to spend a heap of time with great songwriters from new situations – The Lil’ Smokies and Mipso – people who rolled up on the stage ready to bare their soul. I loved that. I connected. I don’t care if the notes are pretty – give me the guts. I’ve always attached to music on that visceral level, and it was a revelation to be watching and hearing these other bands, remembering what it was like to dig into my own guts for a lyric that said something I need to say – the weight of that material, and the release of getting that shit out. I finally grokked the importance of that pre-self-conscious/unconscious/automatic song writing. I got back that little spark of fuck-it-all, time to make some music for music’s sake. And I started to write some songs again. And it felt great.
The tour landed us in San Francisco for just a hot second. Enter Paige Clem and her songwriter series at the Ivy Room, in Albany, CA. She invited me to come and sing and play. And I swallowed my initial excuses and ‘no’, and said I’d do it. Scary shit, dear reader. But it was time to put my songs where my heart was… to get a bit shmarmy and melodramatic. So I worked up new songs. And I believe in them. And I’m scared to play them, and that’s the best damn part. Because, fuck it all. Who cares? Life’s too short to play music you don’t believe in.
I’m a-gunna sing my little heart out. And I’m stoked. And nervous. And those two things are what keep me in love with playing music.
Hope you can make it out.