Day 450: La-Di-Da-Di-Da

I’m writing this during a break in my morning songwriting. I can typically hammer out something resembling a song without too much difficultly, but whether it’s good or not’s another thing, and lately I’ve been writing a bunch of crap. 

Yes, that’s part of the process blah blah blah, but coming up with schlock over and over again gets demoralizing, and sifting through all that mediocrity only highlights the fact that I’ve been playing Triple A ball. 

Picking up a guitar and going la-di-da-di-da fills up my phone with voice memos, but it’s not a song until there’s a story - lyrics tend to be what I put off the most, and today I finally grabbed a few lines out of the ether. The happy dance was jarring, but mercifully undertaken in private.

I find good ideas tend to die on the vine if I don’t get at least a rough draft finished quickly, so the next couple days will be about deep focus, and getting caught up.


Day 449: Vaguely Designer Sneakers

Whenever I’m out and about, it’s interesting observing the cross section of music industry types. Here’s a small sample size:

- The over-eager person in their early 20’s, pulsating with pent up nervous energy, a decade at least away from resembling a fully fledged human being, thrown, baptism by fire style, into a hyper-competitive and constantly evolving industry and trying their best not to burst into tears.

- The benignly smug person in their mid to late 20’s, who’s stumbled upon a little success entirely by accident but thinks they’re John Lennon. They’ve been comped enough meals and drank enough Kool-Aid to be convinced not that they’re invincible per se, but they’re not run-of-the-mill mortal either. 

- The person in their early to mid 30’s, who’s had a few things break through, a couple more come close, realizes it has nothing to do with them, and finds that fact inordinately comforting. Dressed in a nondescript hoodie, jeans, and vaguely designer sneakers, all of which they got for free, they’re content hanging near the exit, the line between realism and jadedness perhaps a little blurry, equipped to say more or less the right thing at more or less the right time and generally not ruin anyone’s night. And, thank god, still not a fully fledged human being. 

I used to be the first two, currently represent the third, and have deep affection for anyone brave enough to throw themselves into the maelstrom that is this whacky business. 

Every Single Day

A quick thought on practicing.

I teach guitar lessons over FaceTime/Skype (if you’re interested btw, reply to this email), and I encourage students to set a practice goal they can realistically hit every single day. It might be 10 minutes, and that’s totally fine, probably even ideal. 

If the goal isn’t crazy, the sense of accomplishment becomes addicting, and before long you’re slaloming triumphantly through unfettered creativity for hours on end. 

But it starts with 10 minutes, and it has to be every single day.

If the goal is quality, you’re building compassionately and sustainably, which results in better work 100% of the time. 

If the goal is quantity, doing something seven days a week, 365 days a year, adds up to way more volume than sporadically red lining and burning out.

And take it from someone who’s written a newsletter for 448 days in a row - it takes a deceptive amount of discipline doing a little bit of something literally every day.

Independent Mastering

Today’s post will have limited interest to non-musicians, so feel free to click over to this Best of Cute Golden Retriever Puppies Compilation.

For those of you still with me, check out this link instead.

Eric and Don at Independent Mastering in Nashville are absolute wizards. They work fast, have reasonable rates, and pride themselves on giving independent musicians a stellar product. They’ve also won, like, Grammys and stuff.

It’s a cliché saying mastering engineers are the unsung heroes of the recording process, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

The purpose of mastering is to unify the sound of a record, maintain consistency across an album, and prepare for distribution. It’s the icing on the proverbial cake, aka the best part of the proverbial cake, and what kind of icing do you want? Some sugar-free bastardization (aka a mastering plug-in), or the tooth-rotting real McCoy (aka the dual-headed Yoda that is Eric and Don)? This analogy’s lazy and ill-advised, and I apologize.

Hit up Eric and Don. Let them be amazing. LET THEM ICE YOUR CAKE. You won’t regret it, trust me.

And you’ll get to meet Chaco.

IMG_1144.jpg


Richard Dreyfuss

I launched my new project about a month ago. We’re already soft releasing singles, booking tours, planning an EP release, shooting videos, and have a record’s worth of tunes in the can - objectively pretty solid work for four weeks - but I can’t shake the feeling that we should be further along. 

I understand why. A month on tour, for example, can mean a couple dozen cities, thousands of fans, a multitude of interviews, hurried post-interview selfies, and homogenous hotel rooms after creaky tour bus bunks after neck-spasm-inducing, Bloody-Mary-encouraged middle seat power naps. 

It can mean famous landmarks, museums, turning down face drugs from people you recognize from billboards, and accidentally spilling coffee on Richard Dreyfuss. It can mean staying up all night drinking absinthe in Paris and performing at the US Embassy the next morning. 

Being on tour is idiotic, unsustainable, and wholly disorienting: in other words, just about perfect.

So, it can be a challenge, tempering one’s desire to live like a freaking pirate with realistic, aka boring, goals.

But I’m figuring it out. The second single’s being mastered tomorrow, and I’ll probably post it on Bandcamp later this week, just because I can. Making music and releasing it however you want feels pretty darn good.  

Pain-Free

For the better part of a decade, I’ve been in chronic pain. I know, I know, right outta the gate with the chuckles.

I have a fifty eight degree curvature in my spine, which sounds like a lot, because it is.

Most people don’t realize I have scoliosis at all. Typical curvatures are isolated to the lower or upper spine, whereas mine is a long curve that leaves only a couple vertebrae unaffected. The end result is I don’t look like Quasimodo, but my muscular system is, in the parlance of back specialists, all jacked up. And as a touring musician, every day consists of all the things you’re 100% not supposed to do with a back like mine. Over and over and over again.

It’s been rough. I hide it as best I can, but when you’re in mild, irritating, or excruciating discomfort 24/7, your life starts to fold in on itself.

So, when I got home from this recent Allen Stone run, I finally decided to ditch my bed in favor of a Japanese futon (here’s the one I bought).

I was skeptical at first, but several specialists assured me this would improve my alignment and provide better support than a conventional super-duper-ultra firm mattress. It was also significantly cheaper, which, as all professional musicians will echo, is a welcome thing.

I’m almost a month in, and woke up today, for the first time in a long time, with zero back pain. None. Floor sleeping, combined with 20 mins of yoga in the morning and ditching free weights for body weight exercises, and I’m a new human. I almost can’t believe it.

I’m not completely out of the woods - I’m at about 75%, and chronic conditions never truly “heal” - but in four weeks I’ve reversed the course of something I’d essentially reconciled to controlling my life.  

The Art Spirit

A wonderful, and less comedically snarky, unintended consequence of writing everyday is swapping emails with interesting people, and my buddy Greg Robinson sent me these quotes from The Art Spirit by Robert Henri.

I played in a band with Greg back in Seattle, and through him met Heart’s drummer Ben Smith, who connected me with the Seattle Symphony, who in turn hired me for a bunch of freelance work. Those gigs covered my bills during a critical time, and I’m indebted to Greg for inviting me into his world, on keys no less! 

 

“Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing.”

“Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life's experience.”

Unintended Consequence

An unintended consequence of writing everyday is reuniting with long-lost friends and their being entirely unimpressed to see you.

Them: You over that cold?

Me: Wha?

Them: Yeah, you know, and how was spending Valentine’s Day alone in your underpants?

Me: I haven’t seen you since 2005.

And so on.

My favorite, though, is when someone came up to me at the 5 Spot in Nashville recently, looked me squarely and unflinchingly in the eyes, and said “your name is Trevor Larkin, and you low-key hate yourself.”

When I start doing a thing, that people might actually follow along never really occurs to me. Yes, I’ve enjoyed some hard-earned lucky breaks, but mostly my career’s been defined by working to the brink of a nervous breakdown, with the resulting art being resoundingly ignored.

Which I’m ok with, by the way. This is a tough business, and I like that it weeds out the faint of heart. And I have, to be fair, been responsible for some wholly unremarkable art.

So it brings me great joy that people subscribe to a thing I started on a whim, with zero ambitions beyond it being fun.

I’ve written it many times, and will continue writing it until my fingers resemble the tree from Sleepy Hollow:

Thank you.

Pie Charts

To all my fellow single people out there, know that you’re loved, infinitely fascinating, and should someone be so lucky as to strike up a conversation with you in line at Starbucks or something, and should you be so wise as to curtail your Dungeons and Dragons habit in order to be with them.

He or she’s out there, somewhere, just as eager to find you as you are them. And when you do find each other, ears shall ring with mellifluous rapture.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself, writing this in my underpants.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

IMG_1130.JPG

Alice In Chains

I just finished watching Alice In Chain’s MTV Unplugged from 1996. 

Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell have one of the most captivating vocal blends in rock history, and despite their being visibly junk sick, it’s a moving performance. 

Layne sits zombie-like and detached on a bar stool, barely opening his mouth as he hits iconic note after iconic note. He misses a few cues and fumbles a few lyrics, but it’s still there, that spark that all legends have, not yet fully extinguished by the demons that would turn him into a recluse two years later, and claim his life in five. 

I used to live a few blocks from the building where Layne died. I was in my early 20’s, with no real problems other than trying to reclassify garden-variety growing up as heroic loneliness, like most people in their early 20’s do. 

But then I’d walk past Layne’s building and be reminded of loneliness that hollows you into nothing. I was dissatisfied with a great many things back then, chief among them my lack of sexual magnetism, but I had never felt the way Layne must have, and knew I never would.  

So, I watched Alice In Chains Unplugged tonight, mourning the loss of tormented souls, and grateful for the gifts they left behind.

Zuck's Hands

Long time readers know how much I love my friend Tommy Siegel and his genius cartoons, especially on days like today when I’m feverish and shivering, sweating through free Lagunitas hoodies like there’s no tomorrow.

Yesterday, he reached his goal of drawing a cartoon everyday for 365 days, and announced via his newsletter that he’s going to 500! 

Tommy brings up a great point in said newsletter (which you should really subscribe to):

The last year has taught me a LOT about social media, and part of the reason I wanted to start a mailing list was watching social media algorithms change and shift over time, trending generally towards trying to force me to pay to show my comics to my own followers. Which, as a visual and musical artist... Just seems deeply, deeply odd.

For the remaining 135 days til we get to 500, you’ll of course still find me on social media — I just didn’t want to put my fate as a butt-doodle-creator *entirely* in Zuck’s hands.

Social media metrics are used, often lazily, to make or break someone’s career, yet it’s undeniable that we’re playing a rigged game - frustrating at best, and at worst demoralizing to the point that great art goes unshared.

That said, “this motherfucker makes 20 million a year playing VIDEO GAMES ON YOUTUBE?!” can either be a luddite’s death rattle, or battlecry to move with the times, creating a unique experience highlighting things about which you’re passionate, and letting your freak flag fly.

Chicken Soup

Right around this time every year, I get sick.

Emboldened by the new year, I’m always hard charging into new projects, and this is the universe’s way of saying slow down, get a plan, or at the very least drink some water you imbecile. 

So, that’s what I’m doing, all feverish and pajama-clad - catching up on movies, drafting emails, and generally calming myself down, realizing there’s a fine line between not having a plan in a fun, spontaneous kinda way, and not having a plan in a low-key self-sabotaging kinda way.

My birthday’s in a couple weeks, and as I’m about to turn 76, it’s encouraging realizing I’ve got a lot to learn about myself, and that I’m not mortified by the prospect. 



Botox Standard Time

Carrying over from yesterday’s post, here’s another thing that makes me happy:

I typically don’t check my inbox before 1pm. Yes, practicing self-care first thing and making time for what’s important and all that, but really it’s a decision based entirely around food. 

At 1pm Music City time, it’s 11am Botox Standard Time. The trend right now amongst the hyper go getter types is skipping breakfast, but whatever abomination passes as coffee’s been guzzled, and whatever soul destroying traffic they were stuck in while listening to a self-help podcast at double speed’s subsided. They’re now in their office, caffeinated and comfortably at 68 degrees, having already forgotten the all-caps subject line email they sent demanding my IMMEDIATE ATTENTION in favor of fantasizing about lunch. And as we all know, fantasizing about lunch is better than sex. Perfect timing for their inbox to go “ding.”

At 1pm Music City time, in Music City, people are just getting back from lunch, or about to head out to lunch, or indeed have been out to lunch their entire lives. Either way, they’ve justified the brownie, surreptitiously scarfed while in line at the Turnip Trunk, on account of their choosing a beet salad with some fashionable animal’s cheese crumbled on top. They’re zipping back to their office on a Lime scooter, emboldened by and giddy with denial. Again, perfect timing for a “ding” from their favorite “who’s that again?” client.

At 1pm Music City time, it’s 2pm in the Big Apple, which means all the Music City stuff’s happened and they’ve moved on to fantasizing about eating tiny food at a happy hour. It’s also an hour closer to the show they’ve been comped at, where they’ll drink all the band’s booze and take up the entire dressing room, thwarting the drummer’s attempt to shower (hypothetically, of course). Anyway, your friend Trevor’s infinitely fascinating email hits them during peak daydream, and their laugher echos down the hallway of the shared work space.  

Routine

I’m asked quite a bit about my daily routine.

I’ve experimented with being super regimented, but nowadays I’m a fan of keeping things fluid and flexible. In this line of work, assuming a priority’s not hurling yourself off of the tallest man-made object in your general vicinity, there’s really no other option. 

I have also, as I imagine most of you have, wasted god knows how many hours “researching” rich and famous people’s schedules, bio hacks, and FOMO-inducing nonsense. Everyone’s life is different, and if you’re a professional creative, I’d wager quite a bit different even to those who fancy themselves as different.

That said, here’re a few things I’ve noticed that, on balance, make me more tolerable company:

I don’t wake up at a specific time. I’m lucky that my lifestyle allows me to start the day whenever my body gives the green light, and I’m trying to own that good fortune. Sometimes I’m in bed by 9pm, sometimes I’m out until the wee hours, like last night, throwing my 30-something body around the mosh pit at a hardcore show, the kids no doubt surprised, what with this being the last place they’d expect to see someone who looks like the family accountant. I can do the marathon work thing, and the straight to stage from the airport, jet lagged out of my gourd thing, but when I’m calling the shots, I like sleeeeeeeep. I’m more creative, productive, and stay debatably more sane.

I like doing 20-30mins of yoga in the morning. I’m not as spry as I used to be, and have gnarly scoliosis (I’m single, ladies), and gentle movement first thing draws my attention into my body before my racing mind takes over. I write better songs as a result, and generally make better decisions throughout the day.

If I don’t write music more or less first thing, I get cranky. I pick up a guitar and fish around for however long until my mind starts wandering. That’s usually a couple hours or so, unless it’s not. And I try to do the same thing later in the evening, harnessing the unique energies of both phases of the day.

My first meal’s almost always vegetarian. I’m not vegetarian, but I get depressed if I hit my system with too much schmutz before I’ve at least gotten a verse and chorus that’s not cringe-worthy. Today, it was quinoa, lentils, beans, fresh peppers, and tomatoes, with a touch of curry powder. Quotidian, but tasty.

I try to listen to some amount of music everyday with headphones. I have music on all the time, and I’m all about passive listening, but I’ve found deep listening, for lack of a better term, to be inspiring meditation. 

Reader Question

I’m sent a fair amount of questions via the MoaT, and I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t answered many of them. Here’s one I received recently:  

Are you happy with your career? Does the success you’ve achieved make you happy, or is it just another monotonous job?

Over the past couple years, I’ve realized that success (money and stuff), doesn’t make me happy. Making good art does. 

I’ve been a professional musician my entire adult life and, thankfully, it’s yet to become another monotonous job. When I felt done freelancing for the Seattle Symphony, I stopped, and when I noticed myself burning out on the Allen Stone gig, I stepped away and threw myself into being a bandleader and generally learning new skills. Over the years, I’ve been pretty good about checking in and staying light on my feet.

Learning how to do new things makes me happy. And being successful is sort of an indefinable thing, anyway. I’m aware that I’m lucky, in that I’ve been able to travel the world playing music that, for the most part, people seem to like. It’d be easy for me, say, to start an instrumental guitar/funk band, and more palatable for Al Stone fans. However, my new band’s closer to Tom Petty meets the 1975, but it’s the music I want to make, and I’m pretty sure that in the making of it, I’ll be happy. 

If I felt like I was as successful as I could possibly be making music (which doesn’t have a lot to do with money or acclaim, but rather getting better as a writer and performer), then I’d probably go do something else. Luckily, most of the time I see how far what I wanted to create is from what I actually made, and that’s enough to keep me chasing the horizon.  

Move Diligently

It’s been a strange year so far. 

Granted, we’re only five weeks in, so there’s time for course correction, but I hope that doesn’t happen. It’s like my neighbor Big Country diving into Reptilian conspiracy theories when we first met - strange, and vaguely terrifying, but the lunacy is the highlight of my day, and each day without it feels hollow.

I’ve been absorbed in writing and recordings songs, and the hugeness of getting a new project off the ground. It’s feels good, hunkering down and creating, my life turning into to a long-running battle between me and a blank page, between me and what happens next. 

Thankfully, writing this newsletter for 403 straight days has brought out a doggedness I’m proud of, and having answers, or even pursuing them, feels inauthentic. Better to put my head down and move diligently through a world that seems brighter when you’ve created something that wasn’t there before.

Ecstatically Lost

I received a good amount of playful flack after referencing Guy Berryman from Coldplay the other day, but it’s encouraging how many readers are taking his Synchro Sunday idea to heart and making the time to listen to, if not an entire album, at least some amount of music with headphones, or through decent speakers, and really digging in. 

It’s inspiring what you pick up on. For example, I’ve listened to “Something” by the Beatles countless times, but I’ve never zeroed in on Ringo’s drums, and low and behold the groove during the bridge is a revelation. 

In Radiohead’s “There There,” Jonny Greenwood plays this gnarly, barely audible farty guitar line that I’ve missed for seventeen freaking years, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, eliciting dagger-like stares from industrious hipsters designing websites at the next table.

I’m lucky to be involved with music at a level where there are managers and booking agents and labels and all that, and fan as I am of well-intentioned and occasionally edifying adderall-fueled rants, it’s easy getting bogged down with stuff that has nothing to do with music. Shutting out the world, closing my eyes, and getting ecstatically lost for three and half minutes does wonders for the soul. 

Know Your Vans

For the past week or so, I’ve experimented with writing the MoaT at the end of the day, thinking it’d be a nice way of tying the bow on an inevitably smooth and inspiring romp through the bouncy castle of delights that is professional degeneracy.

My days are long, and filled with equal parts self-assuredness and blithering idiocy, so I’m usually tired right about now and not in the best state to be sharing thoughts publicly. So, back to morning writing it is.

Thankfully, I have talented friends like Tommy Siegel to carry me through these brain dead moments, and his hilarious daily cartoons bring me joy every single dang time.

49525744_2647447948604190_2403045403386707968_n.jpg



Hieroglyphics

Songwriters, I encourage you to document everything. Record it, notate it, etch it into hieroglyphics, really whatever.

It might feel like a waste of time, spending four hours banging your head against the wall, tearfully pleading to whatever higher power will listen to please, PLEASE give you a “Let It Be.” But oh no my friends. Because the day will come, like it did for me today, when you get to use a riff you wrote fifteen freaking years ago in a brand new song that’s actually two songs, written five years apart, stitched together, and you’ll perform a happy dance that’s entirely improvised and, mercifully, not captured on any video you’re aware of.  

And you’ll play that song for and with friends, and they’ll like it, and you’ll resist the temptation to tranq dart the one who reaches for the accordion, initially out of respect for their having brought Chick-fil-A to the session, and later because said accordion actually sounds pretty damn good.  

And you’ll listen to the voice memo on your drive home, marveling at how you can’t imagine your life without something that didn’t exist just a few hours prior.

Synchro Sunday

Every Sunday for the next twelve weeks, at 8pm UK time, Guy Berryman from Coldplay is picking an album from his collection and listening to it from beginning to end. He’s calling it Synchro Sunday and encouraging people to listen to the same album at the same time, creating a group listening session and appreciating an album in it’s entirety, which in many cases was the artist’s intention.

Say what you will about Coldplay, and insert whatever jokes curry favor with the editors at Pitchfork, but I think this is a cool idea, and I’ll be following along. The first record’s “Abbey Road” by the Beatles - not a deep cut by any stretch but such a beautiful and nuanced album, worthy of uninterrupted headphone time. 

Follow along on Instagram at @guyberryman.

Ok, now back to the Super Bowl, where it’s 3-3 as I’m writing this and the chicken wing-fueled groans from the next room are borderline orgasmic.