Next Week’s Gigs, New Releases, and Other Things…

Scott Jackson Banner 3

Hello! It’s been two weeks! I’m already falling behind on these things! My goal when I started was to blog once a week, and here I am falling behind before I’ve even spent six months straight blogging. I hear that six months is the deadline. Like, that’s usually the time when people stop blogging.

So, updates, I’m still putting together this album, but I had a really good paying gig come up recently that I couldn’t turn down, and that led to another radio gig where I’m being interviewed and I’ll be cohosting Nice Show with my friend Scott Jackson on Sunday night from 8:00PM-10:00PM on KRFP Radio Free Moscow 90.5 FM. You can also tune in online or use your radio apps. I’m really excited to host with Scott. I think we’re going to have a good time talking and spinning records–or MP3s–for a couple of hours. The other gig is a show from 12:00PM-1:00PM in the Idaho Commons on University of Idaho campus. Free for you, and it pays me! Best of both worlds! Other than that, I had a roommate move out in the spring, so I’ve opened up my home as an Airbnb with a private room so that I can afford rent. I figure that this way I can decide when I want the apartment to myself and for how long. On top of all that, after coming back from vacation I needed to make some real money for a little bit, so I’ve been working more at my part time job while gearing up for my full time day job at the high school. Summer is almost over already! All’s to say that practically speaking, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to get in the studio.

In other news, I want to let you all know that my good friend Bart Budwig has been doing well and has begun a Kickstarter campaign to fund his new album The Moon and Other Things. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m sure that like all of his other work, it’s going to be fantastic. I’ve had the privilege of recording my last two albums in Bart’s studio in its various locations, and I distinctively remember the conversation surrounding the titles of a few of his releases. I remember sitting there with Forrest VanTuyl when he brought up the John F. Kennedy quote after which Bart named this current project. “We choose to go to the moon and to do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I like to keep that quote in mind when I think of this album because I think that Bart is a person who has certainly gone through hard times, and I admire his ability to talk about them in his music. Please check out his Kickstarter!

Finally, although I have been busy running around and doing the non-creative things that most of us have to do to get by with life, I wanted to say that I’ve been enjoying listening to tons of podcasts including Marc Maron’s WTF!? I just finished listening to a really great episode with Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! There are several other interesting episodes with all sorts of people including President Obama, Mick Jagger, Jason Segel, Haley Joel Osmont, Conor Oberst, David Byrne, and several others. Maron spends about an hour with his guests usually, and it’s really cool how he can get to the human side of some of these people who we tend to think of as superhuman. I love hearing how other artists work and getting inside of their heads. If that’s your bag too, I highly recommend that you check it out.

That’s my speedy update. I’m going to review really quick and send it out. Next week is going to be a little hectic, so it may be another two weeks until my next update, but thanks for reading! Take care!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Been on vacation the past week and a half. I almost feel guilty saying “vacation” as most of this summer has been spent recording music, and I still don’t know whether that’s work or play. It’s hard to come back to Idaho after spending a week on the beach swimming in the warm yet refreshing Atlantic. But I digress. As much as I’d love to reminisce about my trip, I feel that this would somehow be the wrong time and place to do that. This may come as a surprise to some of my long time followers, but there are one or two things that I prefer to keep personal. I consider this blog more of a professional journal and a log of my progress as a songwriter. Or maybe I just need to wait to write about everything that happened last week.

Easing back into the rhythm of things this week. Left the place where I was staying in Florida at 9:00 AM Eastern on Monday and arrived at Girlfriend’s house in Washington (state) at 9:00 PM Pacific which adds up to 15 hours total travel time. Drove 5.5 hours to get back home on Tuesday evening. Unpacked and cleaned house a little bit, but struggled with a little bit of post-vacation and travel disorientation. It’s been too long since I’ve been on the road. I’m not used to this kind of thing anymore.

Spent Wednesday catching up on work, catching up on finances, and getting things ready for a small show at the University of Idaho on August 26th. I ran into a girl at a party a few weeks ago who books events on campus, yada yada yada, she emailed me while I was on vacation asking me to play a show with a price tag that I couldn’t turn down. Had to fill out some paperwork and start preparing a set for the show. I’ve been considering some changes to the way I play solo sets, but for now I may stay in my comfort zone. We’ll see what happens these next few weeks. Went to work in Pullman in the evening so I could save on parking fees. Had to get reoriented as the contractors have just finished adding on to my building.

This morning I decided to head to Pullman early instead of saving it for later so that I could work a few extra hours while I still had stamina. Helps to make up for income lost while out of town. Came home, ate lunch, and practiced for about an hour on acoustic guitar. Got through about 12 of the 18 or so songs on my set list for the 26th. Bringing back some older material. WAY older material, which I never thought that I would play again, but somehow, it just seemed to work.

Still want to practice more today, but my fingers are a little sore. My left thumb hates me when I play too many bar chords on acoustic. Electric is easy, but I’ll be damned if the thing doesn’t start sending me some signals that I need to stop playing when I treat an acoustic the same way. And I know better anyway. May have to switch guitars and practice electric for a little while, just to get fingerings and rhythm down. Acoustic works strength, speed, and precision. It’s like comparing endurance training to heavy lifting. One maintains and builds proper habits while the other builds muscle. But enough comparisons. I suppose I could get back to recording, but I feel like taking the last couple of weeks off got me out of the creative flow, and I need to play to start feeling like a musician again. Besides, I haven’t been playing many shows recently, and building this set list and making it strong are going to be hard work. And I need to get back into playing shows…

I’ve Snapped, But That’s Okay (And Song Previews)

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Image by openglam.org

Week 3, day 5. I think these headphones are officially molded to my head. The only thing taking me out of the house anymore is my part time summer job. I keep telling myself that this isn’t healthy, but I have so much momentum right now that to stop working would be like hitting a brick wall at 100 miles an hour. I didn’t sleep last night. I tried to go to bed at 12:30. Got back up at 2:00 and worked until 4:00 AM trying to get a keyboard part just right. Woke up at noon and started it again. I can’t help it anymore. I bounced the same track (sent it from program to disk) about 7 or 8 times today. Uploaded it for sharing with a few people privately about 3 or 4 times. Each time I upload it takes about about 20 minutes, so there was a lot of waiting. Briefly spoke with Girlfriend and family about vacation plans coming up next week. Was good to get some face time with real people, but all I could think about was finishing what I’m doing right now.

Finally starting to get some relatively decent sounds. Getting over the learning curve a little bit. Things aren’t taking as long. My playing is still a little rusty as I had about 3-6 months of basically not playing at all before starting on this project, but it’s all coming back, and I’m a stronger musician now because of it. I’m playing exactly what I’m thinking with minimal effort. When I have a sound or an idea in mind for a part, I know exactly how to achieve it, and it works. I just want to keep riding this wave. It’s so good to finally have a space to just let the ideas flow.

This project feels like the missing link. Before I had my own space, I just felt like I was losing idea after idea. I had pages and pages of notes during my last album of little tweaks that I wanted to make on each track or things that I wanted to try that would only take a few seconds each time, but I would have to wait for days…if I was lucky. Usually it was weeks or months before I could actually get in the studio and try what I was thinking. Now I can just do it and see if I like it, and it’s glorious. I feel free. I can’t…I just can’t even start…there aren’t words…fingers too slow…

But there’s no real point in going on about that. All I can really say is that having a place to record my musical ideas without having to write down every little thing or notate every little motif in sheet music form has made my life much much easier. Not that I regret having to learn notation. I feel like I’m a far better musician for learning it, but it’s still not the same as getting a feeling, picking up an instrument, and playing what I’m hearing in my head.

But seriously, enough about that. Because you all have been such good readers and because this is music–which is meant to been HEARD–I’ve decided to release some previews just so that you can get an idea of how the process is going. Right now I’m working with some covers as well as songs that I’ve either completely or mostly written so that I can focus more on learning how to record well. It removes a lot of pressure from the process and makes it a lot more fun. Hope you enjoy the work.

Eureka!

Happy Monday! I tried to take the weekend off, but I ended up designing the blog banner for most of it, which was fun and productive, but I need to find a way to pull myself away from the work a little more. I’m finding that this is a second challenge of working from home. I love the work I’m doing, the work is never done, and I’m always around it, so I want to keep doing it all the time. Thankfully I have some friends who dragged me out of the house for a few hours on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. I still ended up working a ton yesterday.

Which brings me to this morning. When I couldn’t wake up until 10:00. Got out of bed at 8:00, dragged myself to the loveseat, sat back, and slept for another two hours. Not trying to brag about my laziness or anything, but considering that I’m 6′ 1″ and the loveseat has maybe 4′ 6″ of sitting space, this is actually kind of impressive. But at long last I got up and got to work.

I think I’ve mostly solved my MIDI issues from last week. Found the drum samples I wanted and a plugin that works, and I think I’ve figured out how to use it. The work flow also feels a lot better. A lot more normal. Started working on some new material today. Just sketching some song ideas. Little pieces of melodies. Trying out new virtual instrument plugins. It’s tricky because I can’t figure out how to get my computer keyboard to work as a MIDI controller. After about 30 minutes to an hour of trying to make that work, I gave up and went to the local music store to see if they had a MIDI to USB cable that I could use to hook up my synthesizer keyboard as a controller. They had only one in stock, but it had been specially ordered by another musician and I had nothing of value to bribe the salesman with other than my friendship and the memory that we’d played in several bands together over the years. Tried those angles, but no dice. This is one of those moments when living in a small town kind of sucks. Luckily I have some friends who have the cable I’m looking for and are willing to loan it to me for a little while.

Most of the rest of the day was spent sketching little bits and pieces of songs here and there and doing some stuff with loops and samples, which I used to HATE, but I’ve been coming around recently. Also messed with some EQ on the vocal tracks in the song that was giving me trouble last week. Another friend of mine let me borrow a pair of headphones for mixing. These headphones aren’t great, but they’re better than the Apple earbuds I was using before, and they’re good enough that I can get started on a mix. I’ll have to look into getting a good pair of AudioTechnicas pretty soon. For now, I’m just happy to be moving forward every step of the way.

M-I-DI-ing?: Week 2, Day 5

Yes the title is a MIDI pun, and it’s supposed to read “Am I Dying?” which I admit is both horrible and melodramatic. So let me give you more of the same.

I hate this. I hate working by myself at home. I hate this narrow spare room with its bare bed, bare walls, and large out-of-place desk crammed in the corner. At least I have a separate room where I can record, but I hate how hot it is in here. And I hate having to continually convince myself that what I’m doing isn’t totally stupid. I have an entire summer off, and the fact that I’m able to spend so much time at my computer making music is awesome. I’ve dreamed of doing this for years, I finally have the opportunity to do it, and now it’s taking FOREVER to get something decent recorded because I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

But let’s try to focus on the positive. The good news is that, for once, I started work almost immediately after rolling out of bed this morning. Well, kind of started work. It might be more accurate to say that I spent most of this morning falling down a rabbit hole. What I hoped would be a productive morning ended up as a search for a good free drum machine plug-in and a long and mostly failed attempt at figuring out how to use the damn thing. Let me explain.

I have one song mostly recorded, and I’m not sure what to do next. I should probably move on and start recording all the parts to my other songs, but part of me wants to finish a whole song from recording all the way to mixing before moving on, just so that I can get to know every single part for process. The problem with this song is that it sounds pretty good, but there’s something about it that’s not quite right. I’m not sure if it’s bad sound, bad performance, overall arrangement, lack of mixing, or lack of drums, but it’s hard to move on when I have this one little nagging issue. It also doesn’t help that right now all I have for monitoring and mixing are Apple earbuds. I know it’s a cardinal sin, but I’m broke and if I wait until I have all the right equipment to start, this will never happen. There are plenty of amazing musicians who have accomplished far greater projects with less equipment. At least I’m not recording with an 8-track, but alas, I digress.

So I’ve been going through my mental checklist, and I’m pretty sure that the sound and the performances are at least decent. My first priority was to get a clean and usable signal with no clipping (i.e. not so loud that it causes unpleasant unfixable distortion), so I maxed out my tracks at 60-80% capacity in order to leave some headroom but also keep things loud enough that I don’t have to turn them way up in the mix. My second priority was to play everything as professionally as I possibly could. The performances aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough to work with. I’m aware that I can use Beat Detective or Timewarp to fix out-of-time playing, but I’m a little bit of a purist. I like the little flaws here and there, and I’m not quite ready to start hacking my tracks into little tiny pieces at this point. Besides, I looked at the tracks and my playing is on-time enough that it shouldn’t be an issue.

I think the arrangement is fine. I have a live recording of a very similar arrangement of the song and it sounds pretty decent, so I’m ruling out arrangement as the issue. I haven’t done much mixing yet because, to be honest, it scares me and I don’t know where to start. So far I’ve done some panning and volume adjustments, added a few basic guitar effects and amp modeling, and put a slapback delay on the vocals. I haven’t equalized or compressed anything because I don’t really know where to start, and I’m kind of getting tired of watching tutorials and then going off on rabbit trails and finding out that before I know this thing I should know that thing and so on and so forth. So if I didn’t want to mix, I was left with trying out drums.

I’m pretty settled on getting someone else to play drums on all of the songs, but it’s really hard for me to tell if the arrangements are working when I can’t hear them with a drummer. It would probably be best to just do what I can and then go back and rerecord or edit anything that may need fixing once I have the drum tracks, but I will probably save the drum session until after I have all the songs basically finished so that the drummer can just come in and do everything in a few sessions. I’m impatient, so I decided that instead of waiting until I can afford to hire a drummer, I could do some MIDI drums myself. Who knows? Maybe they’ll sound good enough that I won’t have to hire a drummer. So that’s where I ended up. And now I have a plug-in that has some pretty decent drum sounds, but I still can’t figure out how to use the damn thing. I have a track pulled up and I’ve figured out which piano keys on the computer correspond to which drum sounds. I have a keyboard that I think I can use as a midi controller, but because I was super smart when I bought my interface months ago, I accidentally bought the version without the MIDI input (or maybe I was trying to save money?). I’m trying to get the keys on my computer to work for playing the track, but what I really want are some pre-made drum loops that I can just drop into the damn song and then mess around with like I used to do when I first started using GarageBand in…2007?. But I can’t find any MIDI drum loops and by this time I’ve eaten up about 3 or 4 hours of work time, and I’m wondering if it’s even worth the effort. That’s where I left it, and then I left my house to do errands because I couldn’t think anymore.

In sum, this week has been better than the last. In spite of the above difficulties and several others, it’s been a really good and productive week. I’m finding my weaknesses and working on them, and that happens with every single album. Sure, I’ve recorded two albums, one of which I’m mostly proud, and that’s saying a lot for me; I’ve spent a lot of time practicing and working on my musicianship; I’ve spent years of my life reading and studying literature and poetry hoping that it would make me a better songwriter; but I’ve also spent a lot of time avoiding the work of sitting behind a virtual soundboard. This project is finally giving me the opportunity to do that myself. The mix may not be exactly what I hoped for, but I’m trying to be happy with this opportunity to learn new things. Now, I guess since this whole MIDI thing isn’t working, it’s on to the compression and EQ tutorials…

Author’s note: today’s blog is brought to you in part by my iPhone from a waiting room, so please excuse any weird typos or autocorrect malfunctions that I may have overlooked. I also apologize for some of the jargon. I tried to keep it in layman’s terms as much as possible, but there were a few spots where I had a hard time working around technical terms. Thanks for reading!

Recording: Week 2, Day 1

imageAs you can guess by the title, I started week 2 of recording today. Last week was a little slow, as first weeks usually are. I’ve been spoiled the last few years. Up until this year, my friend had a studio in town, and he was a sound engineer, so I never had to buy any of my own recording gear or mix my own stuff. Now I have to learn how to set up and use entirely new equipment. Luckily I got things set up well enough that I could record basic song ideas. And then computer problems started popping up. But distractions weren’t all bad. My girlfriend was in town all last week and through the weekend. She was going to leave last night, but between road construction, wildfires, potential traffic, and weekend fatigue, we decided that it would be better for her to wake up early and head out this morning.

We woke up at 5:00 AM and had breakfast together. Smoothies with protein powder. per usual. Coffee. Cream and sugar for me. No sugar for her. Packed up and said our goodbyes.

I had originally planned on going back to bed, but I was feeling unusually energetic, so I headed to Pullman so I could finish up the day job really quick. Still working at the Washington State University greenhouse over the summer to subsidize my income. I get paid through the summer for working at the school district, but it’s not quite enough to live comfortably, and the extra job gives me motivation to get out of bed and a break from recording in the apartment. A little bit of mindless work before picking up the guitar helps to get the creative juices flowing. Came home and had second breakfast of bacon, eggs, cheddar cheese, and toast.

I was off to a good start, and then I ended up spending half of the day trying to figure out how to get my recording program (or DAW as we say “in the biz”) to run on my new computer. Basically stripped the whole system down to brass tacks, and I was still having playback issues. Took it to the computer shop and they tried to talk me into buying a whole NEW computer. They said that laptops are basically no good for recording, which is totally different from what they told me 6 months ago when I was shopping for a computer. At that time they said that most any laptop would run the software easily granted it had the hard drive space and a solid state processor. Needless to say I left in a pretty unhappy state. When I walked out of the mall, there were a few unkempt-looking guys and one girl randomly having a tailgate party in the parking lot. They were smoking cigarettes and asked me if I wanted to buy the girl for $600 an hour. Thinking only of the $150 I may have to spend on upgrading my RAM, I only heard the $600 part. I kept walking replied with “nope!” It was only after I overheard one of the guys say, “Well that was harsh” that I realized what they had propositioned and that they were (probably) joking.

I wasn’t in a problem-solving state of mind, so I stopped by the recycling center to take my recycling, and that seemed to help. Got home and looked into a few more options. As it turned out, I had installed my audio interface incorrectly. Reinstalling the driver and changing the input settings to ASIO seems to have fixed the problem. Spent the rest of the day working on random parts of songs that I wrote well over a year ago.

Need to start working on songs for the Seattle project, but I want to get my chops back by working on the songs that I’m familiar with first. After that, I should be better. I basically have about 3 more weeks to really get some solid tracks recorded before the family reunion in Florida. After that, the spare room will be taken for a few months. I can still record, but it’ll be a little harder to do it in my own place after my temporary roommate gets here.

On Songwriting and Performance

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Hey all! I’ve been really busy with my new job at Moscow High School. I’m enjoying the work quite a bit. This semester I’ve been working with one student on a project concerning songwriting. It began with the study of Disney songs and kind of turned into a project about the craft of songwriting and the performance of a song. For part of this project, my student decided to interview peer musicians and songwriters as well as myself. I really liked her questions, so I’ve decided to shard the interview. Enjoy!

Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate? Why?
It depends what I’m working on. I tend to work alone, but I prefer to collaborate. The problem I often find with collaboration is that it’s really hard to find artists and projects that I connect with. I am currently soundtracking a play for a friend, and I really like doing that because I feel that the project is well aligned with my aesthetic. The content and message of the play are really great.

What does aesthetic mean?
Aesthetic to me means the image and the message that I want to send to the rest of the world through my music.

I know what you mean, but at the same time, I’m like, okay, that explanation is a little over my head.
It’s like this: everyone has an image of how he or she would like to present herself to the world. Aesthetic is the crystallization of that idea within the artist, and I often judge whether or not I have accomplished the communication of that idea based on the audience’s response.

When/if you collaborate, how do you do it without completely taking over?
I think they best ways to avoid competition are to have clearly defined tasks and to be open to changing your ideas if someone else comes up with something better.

When/if you work alone, how does one person handle all the responsibility?
I think that your fellow student had it right when he talked about patience. It takes a lot of patience to work alone because the process takes SOOO much longer. It also takes love. I made my last album out of love of what I was doing and the belief that it was valuable. That love and belief gave me the patience to push through to the end. It was really hard sometimes because my producer was working on a lot of other projects with people who were better known than me. We’d have to reschedule sessions all the time, and sometimes it felt like he was doing me a favor because we were friends rather than prioritizing me as an artist. I don’t know if that’s true for him, but that’s how I felt. On top of that, I was going to college and working, and my producer was touring with other bands while either doing sound or playing music, and he was recording all these other bands. As a result, I learned to use lists and to do some basic music notation. I would obsessively listen to all of the latest versions of my recordings and come up with each instrumental part piece-by-piece. I needed some way to track all of the ideas I had in my mind, and that’s when I started making lists and doing some notation. I also spent a lot of time listening to albums that I liked and figuring out what kind of studio effects they used. If I heard something I wanted to use for a particular song, I would scribble a note in a journal or on a scrap of paper and then transfer it to my list for the next session. Sometimes it was really hard because I could hear something in my head, but I wouldn’t know how to write it. So, I guess the short answer is love, obsession, persistence, and lots and lots of scratch paper. I probably killed an entire rainforest.

How do you begin to write a song? What is your inspiration for your music?
I think I work in a kind of collage form. I usually either learn something new in music or have kind of a lyrical epiphany. If it’s lyrical I’ll scribble down the basic idea in a journal or something and then let it sit for a bit. Eventually, I’ll have a few lines of lyrics that kind of go together. From that point, I’ll try to find the basic idea of what I’m saying and use that to fill out the rest of a section. Usually, this section becomes the chorus. Once I have a basic theme in the chorus I can form a story for the verses. As I’m doing this, I’m usually going back to my guitar and playing little riffs and chord progressions that I’ve come up with and trying to sing the lyrics over top. If the lyrics feel too awkward, I ditch the musical idea and try using something else. Sometimes I’ll come back to a thing that feels awkward and try it again, and every once in a while it ends up falling into place. Eventually I have a song. I’ve been kind of trying to refine this process, but I think that the key to inspiration is learning new things and interacting with that new knowledge.

If you write music with lyrics, do you begin with the music or the lyrics?
Well, I think I’ve answered that already, but the short version of my answer would be that it all happens at the same time. I let the mood of each one influence the other with the intention of creating a cohesive feel. I want the music and the lyrics to communicate the same thing.

What kinds of projects are you working on and what is your process?
Right now I’m working on a collaborative project with a playwright. For that, we just have long conversations about the style, feel, and setting of the play and try to figure out what it’s about, and then I go write. I’m also brainstorming for a cover album and trying to figure out what to do with the songs I’ve written since the release of my last album. Some of them are kind of funny and sarcastic while others are more serious. I’m trying to figure out if I want to release them both on one album or I want to release them on separate albums with different project (band) names. Right now I’m kind of at the beginning stage of my process. I’ve had some pretty radical shifts in my beliefs and worldviews in the last few years, so I’m doing some research and trying to figure out how to communicate my new aesthetic. This research right now involves reading and listening to lots and lots of books. In the last year I think it’s been over 50. I just need to fill up my mind with new ideas all over again so I have something interesting to pour out into my music.

How do you deal with performance anxiety?
That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t often get performance anxiety, so when I do have it, I’m pretty terrible at dealing with it. The best strategy I can come up with is to breathe, calm down, and take a few minutes to be alone. I like to find a quiet spot to center and focus. The bathroom works when nothing else is available. And then I have to remember to get over myself. Yes the performance is important, but no matter what happens, it’s a fleeting moment. Worst case scenario, nobody likes it, I get heckled, and I learn to change what I’m doing or to play to a different audience. Best case scenario, everyone loves it, and I feel amazing.

How do you get ready for a performance?
Practice. I mean it’s easy to get hung up on logistics such as advertising and making sure there’s a good turnout and figuring out whose PA system to use and how to get to the venue, but if you don’t feel comfortable with the material (and the equipment), the show is going to suck. This isn’t an absolute thing though. Sometimes I can get TOO familiar with the material. Sometimes if Imve played a song or a set a million times, it can start to feel dead. I need some newness and freshness. I need a little bit of thrill.

Do you ever feel like giving up?
I always never feel like giving up. And you can quote me on that. I constantly doubt myself and think that everything that I write is a big heaping pile of poop, but it’s that crazy obsession that keeps me going. It’s kind of an addiction. I want to give up sometimes, but I just can’t.

When I practice singing, I warm up first and then start working on my current repertoire. Are there any other practice strategies you would recommend?
I’ve read a lot of stuff about practice routines and taken courses from people who talk about discipline and setting practice times and stuff, but for me, it just starts feeling like a chore if I do it that way. I have to just practice when I feel like it, which is quite often, otherwise I stop liking it. And practice can be any number of things. Since I have basically two main instruments to practice, it’s really hard to give each one the appropriate amount of attention. And right now I’m working two jobs, so the only time I have is on the commute, so I’ll put on a CD with music and a melody that I really like in my range and sing along with that at different volumes. If it’s a singer that I like, I’ll try to figure out what that person is doing to get a certain sound. This doesn’t have to mean direct imitation. For instance, I really like Tom Waits, but I don’t have a gravelly voice, and I don’t really want to smoke a million packs of cigarettes to get the sound that he achieves, but he communicates a lot of emotion through the power muscles. (A lot of people mistake this for the diaphragm, but it’s actually your costal and intercostal muscles. These are, no joke, the same muscles that you use for pooping.) He also uses really loose and bluesy timing. When he repeats melodies, he will often change the phrasing slightly and unpredictably, but it always suits the moment. A few weeks ago, I chose a couple of his songs that had these qualities and just listened to them and sang along while driving. But I should also emphasize that this is just something I did without really thinking about what I was doing. Practice has just become a part of my life. I don’t have the time or the lifestyle to cram it all into a rigid schedule, so I’ve had to learn how to make it a force of habit. Any spare moment I have must be dedicated to making myself a better musician and artist.

What do you think about when you’re performing?
When I’m performing I just try to think about how much I love the music and how much I love what I’m doing. When I’m performing at the top of my game, I’m not even thinking about anything. I’m just letting the music flow out of me. I like it best when playing is feels like the unleashing of some repressed primal instinct. I like to almost lose my sense of consciousness and get lost in the thrill.

What gives you a sense of confidence when performing?
Just the thrill of being in front of people and feeling like they’re getting what I’m doing and what I’m saying. Just enjoying that brief moment when I get to completely expose myself to a crowd of people gives me a sense of confidence. I know that sounds weird, but once you’re comfortable with yourself as a person and you really like yourself, it’s almost more comfortable to be in front of a crowd without a mask.