I started to write this article a few times now and have come to understand that I really just want one thing – to let you know that you are not alone in looking for purpose. I want to do this by sharing some massive changes in my life and how circumstances forced me to make choices I wish I had made earlier.
I always thought I had chosen music as a career because I had to, because it was in my blood, because I loved music with my heart and soul. but that wasn’t it. In reality, it kind of fell into my lap, and I had a deep desire to be… cool.
The cool factor, like many of the things driving our actions, came from a lack… a lack of ‘cool’ early on in my life. I was that super dork who liked studying, who started a conservation club, who was co-president of the drama club, and ran cross country. And as for the boys I dated… oh wait, there were none. I had crushes on guys who never looked my way.
My dad, though…he was cool. That I knew. He water skied, restored classic cars, played the upright bass, and – even though he never studied piano – he could sit at it and just play. He’d listen to all of my songs and mixes and live performances and have the most insightful comments. There were very few of them, as he wasn’t a verbose man, but when he spoke, it was gentle, true, and to the point.
Starting in college, a need to be something more was driving every career move. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. But there was this underlying, John Mayer Room-For-Squares-era esq “I’ll show them” thing going on. I was a bouncer in college, and then my first job after graduating was SCUBA Diving research for the government; then I got a job at a recording studio, then a commercial jingle house, then I toured all over the USA and Europe with my band, started dating a mountain guide and was managing a long-distance relationship… I mean, I was doing some COOL SHIT.
Then I got married, which I was so resisting because it never seemed that (you guessed it) cool to me. But it was time. And I’m glad I did. Four months after the wedding, my dad died.
That changed everything.
I could not do music. And when I say do music, I mean play my own songs, write new ones, listen to the radio. Nada. It hit me like a ton of bricks that my whole motivation for having a career in music was to be cool, and for my dad to think I was too. It felt kind of emptying, like I had spent years and years (and dollars and dollars) of my life working on some crazy ass career that I never really chose in the moment- it was that lonely, dorky middle schooler who had chosen it for me. And, as my great mentor Rob Mathes pointed out to me, when my dad passed away, I lost my audience. Sure, my mom is my biggest cheerleader and I have wonderful fans who I love, but my dad was my audience. And I wanted him there.
So I took a few months and spoke to a mentor of mine who helped me work through this choice issue I was having. I even applied to some science jobs, strongly considering choosing a job outside of music.
But something kept pulling me back. It felt like a good fit and I still couldn’t put my finger on it. With the cool thing out the window, what would be my reason for doing music? My purpose? Something bigger than making it all about me and being accepted? What was I really committed to?
Fast forward 9 months, a lot of back pain, introspection and grief, and I realized that when I am at my best, I am fully self expressed, as are all the people around me. We are engaging in creating something, whether that’s actual songs, or even just ideas and conversation. And we are partners in that creation. My commitment is so much more than what I do for a living… it’s who I am as a person on this planet- no matter who I am interacting with, what job I am working on, the people with whom I’m interacting and I are both experiencing self expression through our partnership and creativity. This purpose is now my compass for what gigs I take on, what projects I start, and who I am in my relationships.
I released my third indie record two years before my dad died. I thought I was done writing and recording, but songs started coming to me, and then more songs, and opportunities to write with others. Co-writing started to be the thing that really let my new commitment flourish. It wasn’t about me trying to look good any more. At some point in my journey through the first years of a long-distance marriage, grief, and re-defining my music career, I knew it was time for record #4 and that it had to be very different than the first three. After all, I was looking for some new results so I had to do something new.
So I started talking to songwriters about what I was struggling with and those conversations turned into co-writing sessions. Each song ended up being our own way of grappling with (and sometimes coming out on the other side of) some issue in our lives. Whether that’s defining what love is, and with whom, or figuring out how to express love, pushing boundaries, building courage to take yourself to the next step, learning to trust yourself and your relationships, or choosing what you will tolerate. Writing each of these songs was more cathartic than I could have imagined. My long-time guitarist and friend Oscar Albis Rodriguez and I wrote our song “Solid Gold” about wanting our spouse to feel freedom and at the same time trusting the strength of the marriage enough to give that freedom away. We sang it to each other as if we were the spouse needing to hear these words.
Enter “Inevitably”, the name of the record and the title track. I had a little theme stuck in my head and Cameron Ernst was the writer I knew could extract it. With Joey Auch’s production, the song embodies everything about the record – love, loss, hope, and like many of the songs, is widely open to interpretation.
Each and every song is co-written, and 9 out of the 11 songs are duet performances. The producers I worked with had tons of great ideas and interpretations and I really wanted to let them go the direction they heard. Mix and master notes were minimal. Everyone had the freedom to do what they did best, and while my input was a common thread, I loved giving up control for the first time EVER and just letting this be… art. I never thought I was cool enough to make real art like in the Amanda-Palmer-Makes-Art kind of way, and I may never be. But what I know now is that the definition of “cool” that I was operating from is very different from the one I’ve stepped into. It’s being who you are and doing what you love, and loving yourself in the process. I’m finding the best projects are the ones that are built on a strong platform of purpose.
And it only took me a few decades and some life shit to find mine.
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