I got to attend the Interactive conference at South by Southwest this year and was often reminded of how poor a substitute digital connections are for the real thing and what an epidemic of isolation and loneliness is taking place.
One presenter pointed out what a totally different experience it is when music is shared in the room as opposed to isolated in our headphones.
The best thing I heard at SXSW was a bold keynote from musician/producer T Bone Burnett, who talked about the “growing understanding that the internet has morphed into an insidious surveillance and propaganda machine,” calling for radical accountability for our tech giants and asserting that “the artists are our only hope.”
All of this made me think of my song called Be My TV who’s chorus goes, “I think my TV has been watching me, it cuts up my dreams to sell ads for jeans.”
This mantra is also a riddle, being a double negative – no more bad things – which eludes to the next trick, to do more good things. This is why the song itself has two distinct parts, the frenetic ska song about all the ways gigs turn shitty, and the relaxed ending, about how to set up ideal settings for enjoyable situations. The first half is a fed up young man getting older, shaking his fist at all the bullshit, while the second half is a slightly wiser man, choosing to steer clear of the bitterness the bullshit has brought. Because you can’t just quit your job, you have to find and make a better job.
Learning to say no to dumb, draining situations is certainly a difficult and ongoing challenge made more challenging because it can lead first to an empty space where nothing happens. This can be extremely refreshing, especially for a chronic over-commiter with a fear of missing out. One of the toughest parts about saying No to shitty gigs is fear of no gigs at all. And behind that waits the fear of having to do for yourself what noone else is going to do for you.
I know for me I may have never found the courage to unplug from the shitty-gig machine if I hadn’t had a kid. When Anais was born I had to say no to almost everything else for quite a while. But I had a baby that needed me, so it was an enchanting if exhausting, tradeoff. It gave me time and space to dream up what was beyond the shitty music gigs I’d stopped playing, to having to getting to put on my own gigs, and partner with people that shared my vision for what they could be.
Along with the release of MANTRAS, I am proud to premiere the video for Not Gonna Try, the last and longest track on the album and certainly my most involved video production to date.
The wisdom I sing about in this song is probably the hardest piece of advice I give to myself: stop trying to change other people and work on yourself. It’s akin to “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and the serenity prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
I take it one step further to actively denying my impulse to change others. It’s a tough extra-step, but one I’ve come to believe as a practical truth, that our influence on others increases along with our own personal integrity and decreases the more we try to get people to be like us (or at least do as we say). It is also totally aspirational. I find my belief that I can change others is a core assumption that I have to actively suppress in order to prevent all sorts of frustration and misery that goes along with trying to get people to be different.
The video features psychedelic backgrounds while I go through many wardrobe changes and time-lapse footage of me slowly going through a speeding world. The changes of clothes are meant to refer to my changing myself. The time-lapse illustrates the idea of going at your own, slower, more methodical pace in an ever faster world.
Lil sprinkled her digital fairy dust on this screenshot from the video.
This shoot began a few years ago when I volunteered as a free subject for a video class. In exchange for spending the day in front of their cameras, I got a bunch of footage. The first half of the shoot was all in a studio in front of a green screen, me changing outfits between lip-syncing to my song. For the second half of the shoot, we went down to town lake and shot footage on the Lamar St. footbridge and Doug Sahm hill. I’m happy to have captured two iconic Austin spots along with the skyline.
Last year I met Grey Gamboa, then a new RTF student at UT, and finally found someone to edit the footage together. Grey did a perfectly trippy job editing and creating pulsing psychedelic colors (using oil and water dyes between curved glass). His visuals nicely complement the dub horns that echo as they take turns soloing (through a delay pedal) for the last half of the song. I’m a big fan of such extended instrumentals, and very pleased with how Grey visually represented the dub jazz that the horn section improvised so beautifully.
After five years of production, I launched MANTRAS on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2018 because it is an album of resolutions. You can stream it below or at Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, and purchase at CDBaby or Bandcamp. For hand-decorated CDs and t-shirts, buy em right here, directly from me.
MANTRAS uses reggae and ska-infused tunes to chant my intentions, like…
No more shitty gigs
No more waiting to be discovered
No more waiting to get signed
I use my system to capture information
I use my system to structure inspiration
Show up for practice
Everything’s connected, everything’s changing
Pay attention, this is what it’s like right now
Keep your word and do your best
Don’t take it personally or make assumptions
I’m not gonna to try to change anyone but myself
My dreams of having a horn section came true working with Mark Gonzalez, the trombonist and arranger for Grupo Fantasma, Brownout and others.
Dan Bechdolt (sax), Kevin Flatt (trumpet), Mark “Speedy” Gonzales (trombone) tracking at Tonehaus
Robert helped me turn my sketch of my dreaming head with repeating thought bubbles into a great graphic that can be filled with the mantra of your choice. Maile, Anais and I decorated the first 50 CDs by hand with watercolors.
Anais made this great version w paint and Sharpie on wood. (I added the LOVE sticker.)
I made tees and stickers for patrons and fans, and this site now features a shop where you can purchase all the j stuff.
For the third time, I am grateful to have recorded my album with Thomas “Tbone” van der Brook at Tonehaus. In the video above are Gray Parsons on drums and Doug Snyder on bass (getting sounds at the original recording session in 2013) who supported me every step of the way personally and musically. And I would likely not have finished if not for months of great help from Danny P. finalizing and mixing. Thank you all, my brothers in music.
Big thanks to Mark “Speedy” Gonzales for arrangements and trombone parts, and to Dan Bechdolt (sax) and Kevin Flatt (trumpet), especially for their trippy solos on I’m Not Gonna Try. Thanks to Derek Morris for playing keys on few tunes, especially for such perfect accompaniment on Bright Eyes Shine. Thank you, Karla and Maile and Anais for singing backup on several tracks. Thanks to Brad Bell for mastering. And thank YOU for checking it all out, I hope you enjoy the tunes!