This Matters, You Look Just Fine

A good friend (semi) recently said to me, “The Lord loves you so much more than for your gifts and talents to be squandered and go to waste.” 

In the formative stages of writing my latest album, “Wilderness Hymnal,” there was a multi-month stretch when I tried to write and it was just not good. It was a process remarkably similar to unclogging a shower drain. True to my age-old form, I diligently wrote down every clever phrase, thought, rhyme, or metaphor that would occur to me and I’d try to cram it into song form.

The fact was, I was repeatedly experimenting and failing, until it finally became something I was at least able to identify as part myself, as an artist and a human being.

Immediately after I finished recording the album, I went on the longest stint of shows within a span of time I have played in my entire career thus far. It was a time of miracle and wonder and you can read about it here. In the following months, I found myself in yet another desert. I submitted the album (what felt like submitting myself) to a number of licensing agencies, contests, festivals, and requests to open for bands, and received very little response. (Sometimes I seriously wonder if there is something wrong with my inbox that prevents me from receiving emails.) Even so, I carried on applying, presenting, and trying to create opportunities. Alternately, there have been opportunities presented to me that I would've never dreamed of reaching out for. No less than a few touring bands have reached out to ME to open for them, which was exciting!

Unfortunately, two of those cornerstone shows I was looking forward to playing were cancelled or fell through within a weekend for various reasons beyond control, and it was disheartening. I've played a lot of farmer’s markets this summer, singing to parking lots of shoppers as sparse as my performance schedule. However against my will and moping around, it has given me the chance to step back, practice on my own, explore my songs, and write even newer material, as well as repeatedly shed the nerves I still get while singing in front of other humans. I’ve picked up an electric guitar for the first time since around 2008 to write with, and I’ve been selling a ton of old gear to upgrade, all with funds I’ve made from playing shows, which is a really nice feeling and is opening up some proverbial doors of sonic and creative potential. I've always thought you needed a band to play electric guitar on stage, but that wall is being broken down, too.

On paper, these changes are important and apparent, but in real time it often seems achingly, unnecessarily slow. Oh, how narrow my perspective.

I’m telling you all this to encourage you, I promise. Out from all the sage wisdom I’ve heard about how your post-grad-young-professional-twenty-something-years are going to be, most of it has been: “You’re going to feel lost. You’re going to be figuring a lot out. It’s going to be weird.” But I’m here to tell you it’s okay to feel not alright about it. 

It’s going to seem like everyone on Instagram has a career arch that is #perfect. 

More often than not though, I find myself needing to reminded that the glamour is all an illusion. I do not advise comparing your Chapter 2 to someone else’s Chapter 20. It’s also even more ill-advised (and often overestimated) to compare your Chapter 2 to someone else’s Chapter 2. Or your book cover to theirs, or if you have page numbers, or what your chapters are named, or they use bigger words, or sell more copies. Those thoughts are super sneaky!

Sometimes I have the thought that my discomfort or disappointment in my career might not be normal (IT TOTALLY IS) and that can swiftly bridge into the panic territory that something is fundamentally wrong with my dream and that I’m on the road to burnt-out-washed-up-should’ve-quit-while-I-was-ahead-and-move-on-to-a-real-job mindset, which is total bullshit. Just as a human being prone to anxiety, I have to preach this to myself on a daily basis. This happens to be one of my wife's strengths in supporting me.

Art is not born out of thin air, however it may seem like it does from the outside. When you go to a concert and see your favorite band play a song, you witness four minutes of concentrated, focused ridiculousness and mind-boggling insight and power. What you may not see is the lifetimes each of those band members bring to the stage: the years spent as a band, the albums that came before, the failures, the fights, the circumstances, the insecurities, the hours spent writing and being defeated over and over, the self doubt, the grappling, the encouragement from a friend, the hours of practice, the booking agents, the sound guy, the tuning of the instruments, the voice cracking behind the microphone, and what’s going on at home. 

In its most effective form, music takes you to a different place; making you forgo all of that pain and aching, enfolding you so deeply into the moment of beauty that the performance takes you over. This is a mere taste of what God is showing us through our lives of who he is.

When it comes down to it, my role as an artist is to push myself and others toward beauty and truth. Every artist has different interpretations of both of those things, but I know logically that truth is something that is true rather you believe/perceive it or not. 

The truth is that love is the most important thing in the world and that the Master of the Universe is shaping the entirety of Existence itself around showing you that you are royalty. 

The great thing about that particular magnitude of love is it is so big, so indescribably vast, that an avenue of imparting that truth and love is through human vessels creating art and adorning that truth in beauty. 

I want to introduce you to a few songs from a few bands that take me there. Here’s a mini-playlist for you:

The last point I want to make is that you can throw away this word "genre." What is genre really anyway but a quick way to say “You may or may not like how this is going to sound, so here’s an idea,” which is useful in many ways. HOWEVER, when you yourself are thinking about your music or your paintings or your novels, you are by default going to have a different perspective about the potential and weighty brevity your art has to you versus how it may appear to everyone else. The best way for those two things to work together is for that wall to be broken down as much and as often as you can.

I have been recognizing that the more I bend my creative and performance style to my collective perceived audience, I round out the edges and often dilute my energy and message. It’s been a tremendously potent thought in my mind that I have so much more room in reality to become who I am as an artist and a person. By no means is that limited to how I see myself or where I think I need to draw the line of “that’s too weird or off the wall from what I normally do.” Honestly, that thought is so much bigger in your mind than it is in reality. 

Do not be afraid to reach outside of what most people would define your art by. A beautiful thing about art is that it can cross-pollinate; so theater, books, skateboarding, graphic design, sculpture, graffiti, photography, and filmmaking can all give insight and dimensionality to something like musicianship.

Since I began playing music in middle school, the elements that have really got my blood pumping are found in performance, the energy of abandon often associated with what I refer to in shorthand as “that's sooooo punk rock,” but is really tapping into something much bigger than a singer on stage with a guitar playing a song, which is how I’ve presented that for years. 

Call to action: I am on the active lookout these days for a couple committed band members to help make the next steps of performing these songs possible. I’ve been doing the predominantly solo artist thing since 2009 and I’ve had a number of wondrous accompanying musicians to help bring the music a new voice that is more powerful than what I can do on my own. SO, if you or a friend, or someone you know is interested in helping me grow the current and future performance endeavors, singing old and new songs, please talk to me.

What you won’t find in the manual you receive at the beginning of being an independent musician is that there will be countless times of intense solitude, helplessly creating nothing. 

Creativity always comes in seasons, bookended by times of breakneck speed and bookmarked by breaths of quiet. To be totally honest with you, I’m pretty restless these days. It feels often like I am the only one who is keeping the music’s momentum, and even then I am not always the most enthusiastic. Sometimes it will feel like you’re the only one who cares. It will feel worthless and empty, impotent, and like a waste of time. I’m here to tell you, in spite of, and in the midst of one of these seasons for me, that it’s not worthless, empty, impotent or a waste of time. 

You are legitimate and your art is worth it. I urge you to keep going.

Much love, Brandon