I have been meaning to write this journal post for a month now and I’m just now getting around to it. My creative life, however, has not been suffering much as I’ve written three other songs and am working on a fourth. Two of the ones I’ve finished I really like and neither have been recorded yet. The third I posted to YouTube about a month ago, (“If I’m really Being Honest”,) and that one might never get polished because I think it might be a song mostly for my own self.
At any rate, that’s enough rambling about where I’m at creatively. Lets talk about this song, “Abstract.” This one came together so fast. I think it took me about two weeks, which is a big improvement for me with my level of experience and my time constraints. I am pretty happy with the whole thing, though my confidence is still pretty shaky regarding my engineering skills. On the other hand, I feel like the process is becoming a lot more intuitive. I suppose, like John Prine said, “If you keep making the same mistakes long enough, it becomes your style.”
I like the effects on the vocals on this track. I was sick and losing my voice when I recorded it so I had to record it in parts. I’d sing and my voice would give out and just sound like ugly tuneless, scratchy breath here and there and I’d have to do those parts over. I was having a lot of trouble with pitch too because of the inflammation in my throat. I suppose I could just record the vocals over now that I’m singing normally again. I dunno, maybe I will. My Dad lent me a better mic than what I recorded this on so it might be worth it but there’s so much going on in the vocal track I don’t know that I want to do all that processing over again. Bleh.
For me, singing is the very most important part of these arrangements. Breath points, pitch, timing, inflection, enunciation, all of that needs to be precise and controlled without losing it’s emotive emphasis. Much like pop music, the instrumentation acts more as support for the vocals than as a feature in itself. That’s not to say it’s an afterthought at all though. The instrumentation should set the mood and tell part of the story, but it shouldn’t stand out too much either.
Speaking of instrumentation, I really like the break. (See what I did there? So much contradiction.) I originally wanted to make it more messy and discordant but it just went in a different direction over time and I think it fits with the overall vibe and message.
I wrote this sitting at my piano. I was thinking about all this crap I had been through in the past year with my Papaw having a stroke and losing him overnight, reconnecting with my Dad, helping him clear out his childhood home. I was really processing deep, life lesson, kind of stuff. (I can’t get into all the details, but my Dad and I have some bad history and it was tough to go through this with him.) So anyway, I was sitting there at my piano and my mind was just going over all these things in too much detail and I realized that I was associating these feelings too greatly with my sense of self, thinking “I am sad” as opposed to “I feel sad,” – and I already knew it doesn’t have to be that way because this was definitely not my worst or first shit storm (or third or fourth or fifth.) I also realized that I did not want to feel joyful right then. It wasn’t what I needed and avoiding what I was feeling wouldn’t have been helpful even if I could have done it. In a way, I was enjoying the “blueness” of it all and I needed to accept that in order to see through its illusions.
I remembered that It’s okay to just let those feelings remain in the abstract. Trying to figure out if my feelings were caused by trauma I experienced in my youth wasn’t going to make them go away. This wasn’t a puzzle to be resolved. I was asking myself questions with no answers. Once that thought came to me, the idea of the sadness as purely an abstract sensation, I began to feel like the depression was something I could (cautiously,) relish in. Turn it over in my mouth and explore every second by second moment of it.
I think of it like being in the freezing cold. You don’t assume that you’ll feel better in freezing cold if you can figure out everything about what made the temperature fall. You’re still going to feel cold either way. You either accept that you’re cold and go on or you focus on how much you don’t like it and have a worse time because of it. The harder you resist inside your own mind, the colder you seem to feel.
Some people think that thoughts cause feelings, but I think it’s the other way around. Feelings arise and the mind tries to label them, categorize things, and resolve anything that seems to be a problem or obstacle, as it does with all that it encounters. A bad feeling is like a ravine blocking your path and the mind yearns to design and build a bridge by which to cross it. But feelings are not so similar to ravines and the mind doesn’t know just how different they are from all the information your senses are constantly sending to it. I think that meditating, letting go of thoughts, allows you to perceive your emotions from a different perspective but does not stop them from occurring. However, I think thoughts and emotions share a sort symbiotic relationship where the line between them can be blurry at times. From one perspective, repetitive thoughts can perpetuate an emotional state like a feedback loop, but from another it only appears that way because thoughts are easy to control compared to emotions. Either way, a little intentional mental detachment from my emotional state is good fuel for my creative fire. It lets me look through the emotional kaleidoscope and see everything in its full saturation without being blinded by it.
I thought a lot about Mark Rothko when I was writing and arranging this song. A monumentally successful and important artist, yet he could not transcend the depression that ultimately ended his life. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the ability to safely navigate through their own emotional tsunami.
How did I find Myself
This way again
Singing a sad simple song
loving it like
it was my only friend
what am I even singing about
would it do any good to figure it out
I love the blue note
leave it at that
I love the blue note
It’s okay let it be abstract
Take me out in the deep blue hour
I need to take a look at what I don’t want to know
Gonna get a picture
something I can only capture in the shadows
What am I even singing about
Would it do any good if I spelled it all out?
I get stuck when the concrete
starts to set around my mind
get a feeling get to thinking
I can deal with it
Once it’s been defined
Go looking for reasons
Seek and you shall find
but I think I’d better to seek
to be in it but above
because I don’t want to deny
I do really love it…