I’m currently in the process of finishing up the last bit of procrastinated lyrics for the record and I’m completely stumped. I have been alternately writing, deleting, cursing, and staring blankly into a computer screen since I woke up this morning. There comes a point when one can become so familiar and up close to something creative that it’s very easy to lose one’s grip on whether or not any of it (the creative thing) is actually good. That’s exactly where I’ve been all week, especially today. As the day has progressed I’ve grown more and more certain that I should never write anything ever again because obviously all my lyrics are a bunch of shitty trite cliches easily bested by the average fifth grader. I was about to give up completely, but then I saw this:
When I woke up this morning in the pitch black of the windowless studio my thoughts were as follows: What time is it? Dragons are fucking awesome!
I’ll elaborate on the latter.
For some reason, the full awesomeness of dragons didn’t really hit me completely until 8:30 this morning.
Dragons are like indoor plumbing.
I’ll elaborate on that too.
My whole life I’ve flushed toilets and turned on faucets and the like, and never have I given much thought to exactly how the water gets there or where it goes. But then if I really sit down and think about providing an effective fresh water delivery and removal system for every house in an entire city and, like, where does that water come from, and how do you even get good water pressure on the top floor of a building, and so on and so forth, pretty soon my mind is blown and I consider becoming a pot head and including an elongated “whoa” as a major part of my daily vocabulary.
So this morning I wake up and check the time and realize it’s 8:30 and then it’s like, holy shit, DRAGONS! I’ve severely underestimated dragons! LIke, dinosaurs are already pretty badass right? Yeah, of course they are! We’ve all seen Jurassic Park. They bite off heads and run fast and take huge shits and feign adorable curiosity and then are all like, BAM, poison in your face! Take that Newman! So yeah, the consensus on dinosaurs being badass is overwhelming. This is established. Ok, so now take a dinosaur, already badass, and then put wings on it, and then, THEN—like wings weren’t enough right?, cause they were—but we’re not finished with wings, for some reason wings weren’t enough, we weren’t happy with flying dinosaurs, so it’s like, “shit, let’s just make this flying dinosaur breathe fire!” Take that knights! Right? Holy shit! So now it’s like Jurassic Park is for pansies, and this is all before 8:32 this morning! And so now I’m like, Dude, I’ve gotta start incorperating [sic] dragons into my daily life.
Something this badass should be representing my totally badass lifestyle.
But then it hits me, Oh god, the nerds and metalheads already have a pretty strong claim on dragon imagery! Like, in the image draft for group identity the nerds and metalheads (who are like not always the same thing but would share a ton of circle area if I were to draw a Vin diagram) snagged dragons in the first round. And I’ve got nothing against nerds or metalheads, it’s just that I’m not a nerd or metalhead. Like, I’ve never finished a comic book, I walked out of Star Wars, and I just on this last tour figured out the difference between Slayer and Pantera. Seriously. So I’m pretty much not a nerd or metalhead at all, and I figure this out at 8:34am and for the first time am totally bummed that I don’t get to be in either group cause they have dragons and, well, we’ve discussed dragons.
So then I think, well, if I’m not a nerd or metalhead and don’t get dragons, I’m in some sort of general group of people and my group has a mascot, maybe it’s badass. So then I think, Well, of the stereotypical groups, like jocks and nerds and the like, I guess I’d be a shitty hipster. Right? Cause I’m not all that good at being a hipster, like I don’t put enough work or my parent’s money into being better at it, but, who are we fooling, I know the best route to ride my track bike to American Apparel. So, ok, I’m a shitty hipster and then I think, Well, the nerds get dragons, what do shitty hipsters get?
And it occurs to me, at 8:35am, just what my group’s representative image is.
Cory is recording his bass parts right now and as much as I’m trying to pay attention and contribute my two cents because I feel obligated to, and because I have this sort of unceasing need to voice my opinions regardless of whether they’re good or even coherent*, but between Jay, Freddy, and Cory’s much more focused opinions, my two cents are worth about their non-metaphorical equivalent. So rather than bug everyone with my ideas about bass guitar playing, I decided to watch this movie…
Growing up in one of the more boring towns in America forces one to deal with the creeping lethargy that’s always around and presenting itself as the most viable solution for coping with a town whose cultural landscape may be the only thing more featureless than its topography. I did my best to reject said lethargy, and from a very young age I countered it with athletics. I indiscriminately played pretty much any and every sport I could. I participated in organized city league sports until about the age of 13, when whatever athletic ability I had could not overcome the fact that I was the shortest kid in school and couldn’t physically compete with my peers. Even then I gave junior varsity football a try for my first two years in high school, which ended up being a lot like that movie Rudy, sans the triumph at the end. The longer my body refused to grow, the more I fell in love with individual sports that had little to do with size. I’ve started tennis in the 6th grade, played one year in high school, and just recently got back into it.
Around the same time I picked up my first tennis racquet, I got into inline skating in a big way. Between roller hockey and grinding rails, I kept it up for a little longer than the sport was tolerably cool. I built bike jumps with my brother in the field behind our house, owned a dirt bike for a short while, and water skied anytime I could convince someone with a boat to tow me. I actually got to ski for the first time in 6 years this last summer and instantly remembered why I loved it so much.
But by far, the sport I fell in love with the most was snow skiing. When I was 13 my friend Eddie invited me to go up to the local ski resort for the day, and, thrilled, I spent pretty much every dollar I had saved for the past few months to rent skis and buy a lift ticket. By the end of my first slow, skies-shaped-like-a-slice-of-pizza run, I was hooked. Skiing combined so many things I loved. It took place in the mountains, in the snow, I was limited only by my athletic abilities rather than some coach telling me whether or not I could play, and on my very first day I saw the potential for fast speed and big air. In fact, by the end of the day I tried my very first jump, and only separated one shoulder! Total success!**
For basically the remainder of my life I have skied as much as my location and finances have allowed. In high school, more or less all of my money went towards skiing. And even though all my snowboarder friends made fun of me for choosing the dorky snow sport (twin tip skis hadn’t quite been invented yet, and skiers weren’t yet venturing into terrain parks), I loved skiing, defended it endlessly, and unflinchingly endured their harassment.
It’s a pretty expensive sport and my parents were in no place to buy me gear and lift tickets, so I worked whatever jobs I could to acquire used gear and trips up the mountain. One year I bought a season pass, but, as luck would have it, I had a season ending injury before I had used the pass enough to economically justify its purchase. During my sophomore year in college I opted out of Christmas at home with my family and instead took a temp job at Vail resort in Colorado. I bussed tables for three weeks at a restaurant at the very top of the resort. I got a free lift pass, got paid, and “had” take three lifts and ski a powder bowl just to get to work. It was amazing.
About that same time, I started thinking more and more seriously about what I wanted to do with myself after college. Though I loved music, and had a life-long passion for performing it, it wasn’t a realistic option. At that point I had written a total of two songs in my entire life (both terrible), didn’t even have an amp powerful enough to be heard over a drum set, wasn’t very good at guitar, didn’t consider myself a singer or lyricist, and had only ever played in one band, which I quit after a mere six shows (it was, predictably, bad). There was nothing even resembling a music scene in my hometown, and Santa Barbara (where my college was) wasn’t much better. At the age of 21, I had been to a quarter as many shows as days I’d skied, and the direction I pictured my life most likely heading in was toward the ski industry. My plan was to bum around for a couple years after school, try to ski a few 100+ day winters, and then work my way into an industry job that allowed me to either be on or at least near the slopes.
But something happened that year which changed everything. But what that exact thing was, well, I have no idea. I guess it wasn’t one thing in particular, but rather a series of really minute changes that I didn’t notice happening until about the same time the next year when the ultimate goal of my post-college life no longer aimed at the ski slopes, but the stage. That year I began writing songs I didn’t hate as much. Some I even liked. I also grew more confident with myself as a singer. Around the end of my junior year, after turning the gig down for six months, I joined my friend’s band, Fly By Night, as the vocalist. It wasn’t a punk band, closer to screamo, and I had stubbornly refused to play anything but punk. But the band was going to go on Warped Tour that summer, and, still having never toured with a band before, there was no way I was going to turn that opportunity down. I laugh now at how naive I was to think of Warped Tour the way I did—it’s the most difficult, often least rewarding tour you can do and it’s so easy to be obscure, unnoticed, and ignored when you’re at the bottom of its very established totem pole—but at the time, still only a few years removed from the farm town, it was the ultimate. I lasted about a year in Fly By Night before the urge to perform my own songs became too strong, leading me to quit in the beginning of my senior year. Not long after that, I recorded a five song demo and began playing acoustic shows under the moniker, The Riot Before.
And now, five years later, I’m sitting in a recording studio in Baltimore working on The Riot Before’s third full length record, and I’m more surprised than anyone to be here. I could have only imagined, even as little as four years ago, that I’d be in a band that would give me the chance to play over 400 shows in 40 states, 9 different countries, and meet a ton of incredible people along the way. It’s been remarkable, and even though I’ve been at the center of it this whole time, I still feel like a shocked observer more than anything else.
I still love skiing, probably always will. I only get to go about twice a year now, and despite the fact that most of the day is dogged by the fear of a costly injury (come on socialism!), those two days on the snow are always some of my best days of every year. I follow skiing much as I can, still look forward to winter, watch the winter x-games, and my go-to videos to look up on youtube when I’m bored are almost always skiing related. But it no longer plays a part in any future career ambitions I may have (you know, after I retire a millionaire from music), and it’s crazy to me that in a matter of five years life can change so drastically. That I can go from a west coast kid obsessed with extreme jumps to an east coast based musician in such a short amount of time is, well, absurd. But absurd in a really good way. It’s that ridiculous ability to quickly about-face that I love about life. It makes me excited to see where the next five years take me. And if for some reason I end up back on skis, I hope I can get a little better at doing this…
…because that is just embarrassing and really, really cold.
*On an unrelated note, I have a blog.
**By the end of high school skiing would send me to the hospital two more times. Once with a broken arm and a decent concussion that I don’t remember getting, and then two years later with a torn ACL whose pain from surgery and recovery I wish I could forget.
Instead of that part where you go “do do dum-dat dat dat ding” go more like “do-kat do-kat bat ting” then “flot flot bam dat dat pat thum flum flang,” and make sure you get the timing right when you do the “blat-tu blat-toos” because if you don’t it really throws off the “bump bump ka-ting ka-tings.”
"It’s like sausage making: everyone loves the end result but no one wants to see what goes into it." - J. Robbins
We’re about one-third of the way finished tracking drums, which is to say, today we spent six hours playing four songs. The workday ended about two hours ago so that J.— the esteemed producer who you probably know by name or at the very least by association (He recorded Orange Rhyming Dictionary, Searching for a Forger Clarity, played in Jawbox, etc.), and who we are thrilled and still a little shocked to be working with—could work on editing before the task grew too daunting.
When I was in fifth grade I remember spending three consecutive lunch recesses on a basketball court, standing at the line which dissects its midpoint, hurling a ball one-handed at the rim (I was always somewhat undersized as a child and half-court was about the extent my small arm could hurl a basketball without doing some serious shot put like spins that more or less replaced any and all calculated aim with luck). I think I made two, maybe three baskets total. Most of the recesses were spent missing shots and subsequently chasing errant basketballs. But I continued for three straight days because of the joy I received from watching the ball finally reveal the hoop to indeed be a circle and not the 2-D line of rusted red metal my eyes, victims of angles and distance, could only but perceive it as. The net thrust inward and upward upon the ball’s exit. My hands in fists thrust up to their highest point above my head in relieved triumph.
Two days into what will be two weeks of recording, shooting half-court shots in the fifth grade is what comes to mind when thinking about describing the process. It is one of nearly ceaseless repetition in search of perfection, be it the perfection of hitting the right note at the right time or the perfection of creating the right feel a song needs (which doesn’t always necessitate a flawless performance). It is doing take after take after take until voices strain and muscles cramp and guitar strings press permanent valleys into thickly callused fingertips. But it’s worth it. It is a means justified by its end, sure, but sitting here in a nice studio in Baltimore, an incredibly talented producer in the next room editing, Kung Fu Hustle on TV and stealing my attention every thirty seconds, it feels more like a means that justifies itself. When I was 11, there was something fun in just being outside throwing a basketball at a rim for an hour, even when I missed. There was something in that monotony that I enjoyed and preferred, at least for three days, over the other entertainments of the playground. The next two weeks will be a lot like today’s windowless repetition, but, for some reason, I can’t wait.
I didn’t update this blog much on this tour because I was having too good of a time with the above bands. It’s been barely two weeks since we finished tour and I really genuinely miss hanging out with all of these people. We spent 6 weeks circling North America and the fact that I couldn’t wait to meet up with everyone, people who had prior to this tour been been complete strangers to me, is a testament to just how nice and down to earth and fun everyone was. Add to that the fact that the shows were some of the best my band has ever been given the opportunity to play, and it’s easy to see why coming home was bittersweet but with an emphasis on the former half of that compound word. It’d be too much work to go back through and even begin to describe the details of the highlights and low-lights of tour. So I won’t. Besides I’m sure that at some point in the future the more story worthy parts of tour will work their way into this blog anyway, in the same way that they already litter my everyday speech (“I’m really sorry to hear about your loss. Your father was a great man. That reminds me, this one time on tour I got so drunk with the Lions guys after a show that…”).
Thanks to everyone involved in our last trip. It was amazing and I can’t wait till our paths cross again!
I don’t read poetry all that often, and when I do it’s normally something gloomy by Philip Larkin. But every once in a while it’s good to change thing up, to read something by someone who isn’t so insistent on reminding me that “death is no different whined at than withstood.” Enter this David Berman poem, The Charm of 5:30. It’s so perfectly and sincerely optimistic. A good reminder that happiness too has its depths.