“You know how when you throw a party, and you think people will show up and no one will like each other? It’s like that with music – parts of your musical psyche have never met the other parts. You wonder if you should get them together.” -Tom Waits
Each record I’ve done over the years has its own persona that develops from both the original vision brought together by the songs, and the artist’s good intentions. Somehow, it winds up morphing into something else altogether, likely by the very process Mr. Waits speaks of here. But not always intentionally – most likely in the subconscious – or by magic, even.
With The Longest Time, my fifth record, I figured out that my original vision was in need of ‘something’ – something to take it from what would likely have been a middle-of-the-road collection of folk-rock material, to something that elicits a really visceral response from me as the lead performer, and from the listener.
I actually didn’t know this right away, as I was going about my usual plans to have the record produced ‘here’ or ‘there’, and with the following players on it who would add a little spice to help make the songs rise – some – but it would never really soar. Again, I could tell ‘something’ was missing already – but not what it was.
Very briefly, I’m not certain every artist has this experience, but for me, personally, time and time again, I hit a place where I’m ‘stuck’ – and I can feel it, and know it deep inside of me, but maybe not consciously. I’m longing – deeply, even – to do more – but not always sure that’s what the feeling is.
Until I see/hear another artist, that evokes something deeper inside of me to come alive. And once it does, it’s clear I’m telling myself “reach deeper,” or “try this.” Sometimes it’s even to go ‘back’ to doing something I did before (tho not writing the same song again) – reconnecting with an idea I used once before, and expanding on it – making it richer – more full and complete.
This happened for me as I was talking about this project with my friend and first-ever record producer, Thom Butler. Thom reminded me of a wider variety of possibilities for my original vision for this record, by sharing with me the latest work by Tom Waits, the cover-versions of Waits’ music by John Hammond, and an absolutely stirring new record from one of my faves I’d lost touch with, Canada’s transplant to San Francisco, Bruce Cockburn, with Bone On Bone.
In each of these performances, I could feel the ‘something’ turn into a very specific evoking of internal resonations, which translated consciously into a desire to express my music with greater depth and purpose. The more subconscious ‘other’ musical parts of me were awaiting to be introduced to the ones in the foreground, just as Mr. Waits suggested.
And so began the process – with a group of amazingly talented, and equally insightful gents who’re true collaborators. Egoless fellowship emerged as we worked the songs; each taking suggestions from the other as we moved through them like learning the steps of a beautiful new dance.
Romantic sounding, I know. But we truly experienced a genuine sense of mutual admiration and comradery as we arranged these songs to draw out and magnify their spirit and intended purpose.
This was equally true of our experience with the beautiful people at Beth Eden Baptist Church of Oakland, CA, their Celestial Voices Choir, and remarkable soloist and Director, Mickala Cheasle, on Backwards Land.
Their warmth and acceptance of an (aspiring) ally, and of this song that was intended to be my version of what their voice might say, was an auspicious example of the word grace at its finest.
My good friend and fellow writer, George Kincheloe, says, “Every writer believes the last thing they wrote is their best, ever.” We all affectionately refer to this as ‘George’s maxim’- and more often than not, we do feel that way – even if it ain’t so.
So I hope I’m not just invoking ‘George’s maxim’ in saying this, but it’s sorely tempting to, about this new record.
Never have I felt more like I’ve been at the center of helping to create a finely crafted piece of furniture – not only due to the expert deftness and technical competence of the players – but that this is, for me, a creation where myriad musical parts of me have come together and express themselves in ways I’ve never done or even imagined before.
And all of our players, our producer, engineer, and my beloved wife, Janet, our “den mother to the boyz,” all made it happen. Thank you.
And thank you all, for listening…