Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Forgive Me Mother, For I Have Sinned - Misogyny in Contemporary Music

I've wanted to write about this for awhile, but I was having a hard time articulating myself. I'm a little new to the academic world of feminism, and I knew that no matter what I said or how I said it that I was going to come off sounding like an idiot. Granted, I largely I deserve that. I have been an idiot in many ways, and the reason I'm writing this is because I'm making an attempt to correct that. Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned.

I was raised a de facto feminist. My parents, one Lutheran, one agnostic, brought me up to believe that all people of all genders, races, religions, and sexualities could do and be anything they wanted to be. I was taught to be kind to all people and to judge them only by how they treated others. This was further ingrained in me by the ELCA Lutheran church that I chose (yes, chose, with absolutely no familial pressure) to start attending when I was nine-years-old, a church which ordains women and is currently on the cutting edge of LGBTQ rights within contemporary American religion. Consequently, as a young adult I never felt I had the need to study feminism or women's issues because, well, they weren't issues to me (Due to lack of education, I never saw the connection between my own gender issues and feminist issues). Somebody else's sex and gender were irrelevant to me (I mean, unless I wanted to date them. But that's just a matter of compatibility). Furthermore, almost none of my girl friends ever brought the issue up to me when I was younger. Presumably this was because I seldom violated any feminist principles (social anxiety and low self-esteem made it pretty hard for me to be much of a pig like a lot of teenage boys), but I know it was also because most of my friends of all genders had been raised to accept many sexist social standards and were themselves as complacent as I was about certain issues facing our society. In fact, many of them inadvertently reinforced bad dynamics to me. So I was content to walk around with my blinders on. For that matter, I didn't even know I had blinders on. 

I was so oblivious to the real issues, that there were times when I went completely in the wrong direction, the men's rights activism direction. So frustrated by the confusing things I began to hear from  feminists versus what most of the women around me actually did and said, it began to make me very angry and bitter (and I'm already a pretty angry and bitter person to start with). I was told by some to be sensitive and understanding, which I was because that's who I am. Yet somehow that seemed to backfire and make me less attractive. I was told by others to be aggressive and assertive. Which is it? I thought. Aggressive or sensitive? Surely one can be both depending on the situation, but first impressions are what counts, so how am I supposed to come off? I was being told that being myself was a bad idea, but I didn't want to be anyone else either. What was a gloomy teenage boy to do? I had no direction from older men and I was being bombarded with mixed messages from women. The things I know now came only through experience, a lot of it unpleasant. But at the time I was naive, terribly distraught, lonely, and consequently my anger was often misplaced. Of course, it's worth noting that some women I encountered were simply just horrible people, but in general the confusion I was experiencing originated in a lack of definition and clarity, which hadn't been provided to me by model figures in my life nor by any institution of education into which I was placed. But, thank God, that was not to last. A few things started to grind on my conscience after awhile.

Anyone who pays attention to music today knows of the problems of misogyny prominent among male artists. "Sex, Drugs, and Rock n' Roll," while a lifestyle readily accepted by many men and women alike, is primarily centered around the figure of the male rock star, the one who lives for indulgence, holds few to no ethical standards, fucks groupies indiscriminately, and looks out for numero uno. Granted, there is nothing wrong with casual sex, indulgence, and self-preservation (to a certain degree we're all narcissists, especially in America). But it's not the the "what" so much as the "how" which is wrong with this scenario. It is the lack of responsibility inherent to many who embrace that hedonistic lifestyle. i.e. Having casual sex with someone is fantastic, providing that you know the other person is 100% on the same page as you, rather than just jumping into the sack and running the second you get your rocks off to avoid fallout due to your lack of communication and disclosure of intent. This rockstar image is exemplified with even less subtlety in hip-hop, as anyone who watched MTV in the 90s and early 00s can tell you (But, who are we kidding, it's still predominately like that in contemporary pop culture). One place, however, where a lot of people don't seem to recognize it, because it is far more subtle, is in the goth music scene.

In order to promote by music, I have to research as many popular blogs and internet databases for goth and industrial music as I can. While doing so I came across a few articles addressing the issue of misogyny in goth culture and music. I had always taken the goth scene for being an extremely open-minded place that was safe for men and women of any persuasion. When I was younger I had unfairly stereotyped the scene as being far more virtuous than it actually is (something I think we all do when we first embrace a lifestyle or worldview). My line of thinking was that, hey, if a boy was allowed to wear lipstick, it's probably a pretty open-minded community. But sure enough, run anything under a microscope and the problems reveal themselves. Eventually I began to see a few things that I had foolishly dismissed to be problems of that phony, so-called "normal" society I had rejected, things which couldn't possibly be part of my precious goth subculture. Despite my ready acknowledgment of the hypocritical elitism of the goth scene and the judgmental cliques rampant throughout it, I yet had hopes of it transcending at least some social norms that were problematic throughout mainstream society. (This was because I used to believe that there was a distinction between society's "normals" and "others." There isn't. They're both just two sides of the same equation. You can carry them over to any side of the equal sign you want, but they still depend on one another. More importantly, the basic human behavior underlying the motivations of both social rebels and mainstream culture is inherently the same).

The goth scene, it turns out, was not exempt from the ubiquitous misogyny of our culture. In fact, that sexism is still thoroughly ingrained in the people who make up the goth scene was laid out poignantly for me by two women who I spent a good deal of time with in my mid-twenties. They were both very vocal feminists, but neither had any problems telling me to "man up" or "grow a pair" and other similar expressions when I was feeling down. Now, I admit that I can be very whiny at times, it sort of comes with regular depression and anxiety. But to equate expressions of emotional weakness and vulnerability with femininity is indicative of the gender role stereotypes with which these two "feminists" had allowed themselves to become indoctrinated. See, they weren't actually feminists. They were fiercely independent women who despised weakness in any form in other human beings, but especially in men. They were content to degrade and abuse emotionally weak men, like me, by using feminine terms derisively, just like all the bros I used to run into in high school and later in bars when I was a drinker. These two women represented feminism about as well as the Spanish Inquisition represented Christianity. I'd seen sexism in the goth scene being embodied, rather ironically, predominantly by women. But it wasn't until I sought to understand the issue more deeply that I saw the overarching sexism that is yet rampant throughout a good deal of goth music, and particularly in industrial music.

The problem with sexism in the goth scene is that it's more hidden. Goth, at its purest, is a celebration of individual self-expression, and on the surface it embraces all forms of gender identity and sexuality. Anyone is free to be as masculine, feminine, or androgynous as they please. Some scholars have argued that goth's embrace and deification of the feminine form and particularly of the "death chic" (a Victorian fetishization of pale, emaciated women) has actually led to another deeper layer of misogyny in which men are more free to express themselves and, for lack of a better term, usurp femininity, whereas women are not as free to embrace androgyny and masculinity (see "Dark Admissions: Gothic Subculture and the of Misogyny and Resistance" by Joshua Gunn), but that's not what I've experienced in the goth scene in Los Angeles. I give the L.A. goth scene credit for actually playing host to a vast array of people of all sexualities. It could be different elsewhere, so I won't claim any universals based on my experience.

Their prejudices of goths naturally come in different forms than other subcultures, that is what makes all subcultures distinct from one another, but when sexism prevails in a society as a whole, it's hard to dispel it even in the most remote corners, including those subcultures which, on the surface, appear to seek to rid themselves of it. And in those very dark corners, sometimes the prejudices don't actually die but merely go through a shift.

Goth is as diverse as any other subculture. There are myriad subcategories of what falls under the umbrella term "goth."Although many goths of course defy simple categorization, there are many easily recognized subdivisions within the greater whole. There are of course your classic romantic goths. They make up the majority of what people outside the culture often think of as the stereotypical goth. There are cyber-goths, hippy-goths, vampires, bubble-goths, gothabillies, death rockers, metalhead goths, and rivet-heads. And that's just to name a few. Rivet-heads, or industrial goths, are a sub-subculture wherein you don't have to look far for sexism to peak its ugly head.

Rivet-heads often do not consider themselves "goth" per se, but they frequently occupy the same spaces, clubs, and clothing stores as everyone else across the scene (perhaps with a little more military surplus thrown in. Rivet-heads often have a dystopian, futuristic, and military-influenced form of dress). It is a highly masculinized subgroup. You'll find mostly man's men therein - you know, a lot of testosterone - but the women are quite diverse, from very masculine, to androgynous, to feminine. However, this dynamic of an overall masculine scene lends itself well to the same abuses of women and their bodies that rock and hip-hop traditionally have blasted across the media waves. Naturally there are many exceptions to this rule, but it is not an unfair generalization I'm making here. It would be wrong of me to cast everyone in a group of people as sexist, because many of them are not. But that doesn't change the fact that industrial music tends to take on a very aggressive form of masculinity in both aesthetic and message.

My music is hardly typical industrial, and I'm sure there are a million rivet-heads who would pop up to deny me the label in the first place. But my music is very heavily influenced by industrial and EBM, and I would wager that I'm likely to find a good deal of new listeners among that crowd. However, in doing so I want to make sure that I am not lumped in with a cartoonishly masculinized aesthetic. It is important to me that I am in no way associated with music or culture that would appear sexist.

My beef with sexism is not just a position based on principle, although any reservations I may have once had (okay, okay, the reservations I did have) about being a very vocal proponent of feminism were dispelled by the #YesAllWomen movement. My beef with sexism is personal. The Isla Vista shootings and the dialogue that sprung forth since had a significant impact on me. Voices I'd not previously heard talk about feminism were beginning to speak up, and so I listened more intently than ever before. In particular, a writer named Arden Leigh (whose work can be found here: ardenleigh.typepad.com/ - although her main input on #YesAllWomen came through her Twitter and Facebook pages) and an article written by Zaron Burnett III (found here: https://medium.com/human-parts/a-gentlemens-guide-to-rape-culture-7fc86c50dc4c) forced me right out of the complacency I'd found myself in for most of my adult life. I couldn't ignore it anymore.

The reason it is so very personal to me is that strictly enforced gender roles have fucked me over my whole life. I have been bashed by both men and women for not being a "real" man. While I acknowledge that most people's gender aligns with their biological sex (what we call "cis" people, a category that statistically holds the majority) there are myriad exceptions to the rule, and nobody should be punished when they have the audacity to step outside of a gender normative dynamic. Of course, the things we define as "masculine" and "feminine" are themselves problematic and fairly subjective. It's very difficult, anthropologically speaking, to find out just what is truly universally "male" and "female" beyond which sires children and which creates and births them. Sure, there are generally some basic natural differences between those who have a penis and those who have a vagina, but the body, the lymphatic system, and the brain of every human is wired differently, and we are a terribly complex creature with a terribly complex brain that we ourselves barely understand. So to claim some kind of universality to gender norms, while often the de facto case for a majority of the population, does not justify the kind of constriction that forces people into horribly tight roles that they do not identify with. Contemporary Western society has made it obvious just how completely superfluous gender roles can be. Of course I'm preaching to the converted here - I hardly expect the most sexist elements of the industrial crowd or the patriarchs of fundamentalist American Christendom to be affected by what I'm saying. Nevertheless, I know there are other men like me who have been afraid to be themselves, and there are women who would probably be glad to hear that some males out there are actually on their side on this issue. (Emma Watson, at least, seems to think so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-iFl4qhBsE ).

Let's face it lads, women can quite literally do everything men can do, except produce sperm. (Technically speaking, that's all they need from us. They could run this whole planet without our help). And the most ironic thing about shoving women into "their place" is that it inevitably creates a very clear definition of what a "man's place" is. To rob one sex of freedom, is to rob both. I'm not saying anything new here. And it's certainly no shock to those who embrace the most archaic ways of thinking. In fact this idea of a rule-bound gender normative society is whole-heartedly embraced by the ultra-conservative (Read the Bible sometime. While I will be the first to point out that moderate and liberal religious organizations, especially Jewish and mainline Protestant, have no qualms with reinterpreting ancient ethical codes for a changing world, many others have chosen to live those codes by the letter… except of course where it inconveniences them. But keeping women in their place is most convenient for so very many of them, and they have no qualms about designating a "man's place" for themselves or their sons either).

You may be wondering by now if I'll ever get to the point and just why the hell I'm writing about this in conjunction with The Lazarus Gene. Two reasons. One, because it's the fucking right thing to do. And two, my album Break The Cage addresses many issues, and chief among them is the horror of pyschological and social slavery. The album explores the prisons into which some of us are born, some of us are later thrust, and some of us create within ourselves. These prisons, these cages, can be physical, psychological, religious, economic, and they can be based on sex, gender, race, religion, you name it. But I'll dig more into those issues in a future post. Furthermore, when I was recording the album I ran into a snag. Break The Cage has a song on it called "Your Werewolf." It is a song about pure, unfettered sexual aggression. It is a positive song. In fact, it's the only truly positive song on the album. I'd even call it joyful. It's a celebration of sex without reservation. But what I realized when I was nearly ready to send off the album to be mastered was that I hadn't been careful enough with the lyrics. The original lyrics were extremely aggressive, because they were pure and honest. I didn't hold back at all. Hey, when the mood strikes, I enjoy being aggressive as all hell. And I'm acquainted with plenty of women, most of them strong, independent, and as feminist as can be, who enjoy succumbing to dominance in the heat of passion. However, the rhetoric involved in such a sexual dynamic can be problematic outside the bedroom. It can sound degrading, hurtful, and even frightening in the wrong context. When you're engaged in a sexual act with a willing partner, you know the limits, you know the person, and in that safe space we're all free to enjoy what we will. It's a matter of disclosure and, of utmost importance, consent. But without the proper context, it's an entirely different story.

BDSM educator Mallena Williams said, “If I do a scene in which I am replicating some outrageous violence, or some mysoginist attitude….I and my partner(s) have come to an understanding about what that means. It may not be possible for a band portraying an image to negotiate with their audience in the same way” (quoted in this article by Nadya Lev about misogyny in industrial music here: http://coilhouse.net/2012/11/on-misogyny-in-industrial-music/). I realized that my lyrics for "Your Werewolf" could be triggering to someone who'd been a victim of sexual violence or unwelcome sexual aggression. So I asked one of my closest friends to read over the lyrics and tell me which areas she thought were the most problematic. I asked her because I know that she's the kind of woman who enjoys submission and humiliation in an intimate scenario, but she also knows that outside of that context, we have to tread more carefully. God knows my album could already be triggering to people who suffer the same issues I do, depression, anxiety, self-loathing, and that is still a concern of mine. But to face my issues and talk honestly about them was essential for this album because it's predominantly autobiographical. To avoid confronting certain things would've robbed me of my own catharsis in writing the album. What I did not want, on the other hand, was for a song about passion to trigger something negative in any of my potential listeners. (Okay, well if it triggered disgust from an uptight prude, I would have no problem with that). So I re-wrote the lyrics, and now I can rest assured that if they offend, they're offending for reasons I'm 100% fine with.

Moving forward I'm well aware that these issues will come up again, and I hope only that I deal with them properly and better than I have in the past. I do not want my music lumped in with anyone portraying a negative image of any select group of people. Of course, I'm one of the most misanthropic people you'll ever meet, and I constantly portray the human race as a bunch of stupid naked apes with guns, a positive blight on the Earth - but when I talk like that I'm talking about all of us, not just women, or men, or anyone of any race, nor of any particular belief system. I have said, and will say, terrible things about my species. But those cynical things I say are not unfounded, nor unfair. My prejudices are strong, but they're not stupid. Misogyny, on the other hand, is just plain stupid.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Art of Anxiety

There is one simple phrase which simply cannot be stated and repeated often enough, because it's also one of the hardest things in the world to believe at times: "You are not alone." Although those of us who struggle with invisible illnesses, especially ones that occur in the mind, can feel like the world outside is a galaxy away, we're never really alone. We've still got each other. Oh sure, not the way that those weird normal people do, what with their Sunday afternoon barbeques and that terrifyingly lighthearted music which they dance to while wearing far too many of Nature's colors. Oh no, you sure as hell won't find us kumbaya-ing any time soon. But still, those freaks with their openness, forwardness, and far-too-friendly faces have something in common with us. When things get tough, they need someone to turn to. Hey, it's human.

Humans weren't built to be alone. And isolating ourselves is the worst thing to do when we're in pain... although reaching out to someone can be the single hardest thing to when you're in pain. You might be the type who tends to go internal and shut people out when things are bad. That's okay. Me too. It's one of the main reasons I make art. Without art, my head would explode. Without catharsis, my heart would explode. Music and art have always been there for me when I couldn't express, or was too afraid to express, my pain and frustrations to people who probably wouldn't understand anyway. And when I don't want to talk to anyone, or when I'm borderline-narcissistically convinced that they would never understand my pain, I still have albums and albums full of my favorite miserable music to help me through. It is truly my hope that the music I make with The Lazarus Gene can in some way help other weirdos like me in the same way that my favorite artists have always helped me.

As laughable as it is to me that every day, week, or month has become designated as some kind of "National Fill-In-The-Blank" Day, Week, or Month, we can all try to look past the cheese and appreciate that they merely serve as reminders and excuses to bring people together who deal with or are affected by similar things. I mean, it's not like Jesus is actually born every Christmas, or Americans regain independence every fourth of July, but a lot of people like to come together to acknowledge those things. This month is Mental Health Awareness month, and as a person who struggles constantly with a few things that might seem difficult to understand or even absurd to the average (or uneducated) person, I thought I'd write a little about my own anxiety and depression, how I deal with those things and how they relate to the things I do. 

I've had anxiety since I was a child. At first it was just general anxiety, but social anxiety was added to that around adolescence. Anxiety is a very tricky and deceptive problem. It can fool you into thinking it's something else. It can even fool you into thinking you don't have it. I wasn't able to clearly define the anxiety and nail it down as my main problem until I was almost 30. (Always thought depression was my main issue, until I realized that I was depressed because anxiety was stopping me from doing anything that might make me happy. The depression I regularly experience is still very real, and very painful, but it's a symptom rather than a cause).

It never occurred to me that I might have social anxiety. Didn't even hear that term till I was in my 20s. I've been performing since I was a child, in school concerts, plays, musicals, and later with bands. My sister and I hammed it up for our family from a very early age. I never had stage fright, with the exception of the minor 5-second jitters before the curtain goes up, which is normal, so who would ever think that I suffered from anxiety? Has anyone ever found it hard to believe when you told them you had anxiety or depression because you "seemed fine"? Yeah. Annoying, right? But you've got to forgive them. It's not their fault. They were born on the outside. They can't know what it's like to live inside a prison with invisible bars. 

I experienced my first panic attack around the age of 7, and the first time I remember having a poignant experience of social anxiety I was about 11, but I didn't know what either of those things were or what they were called at the time, let alone what to do about them. But the intense feeling of vulnerability and the ever-persistent desire to flee from it was always there. Basically, social anxiety keeps me prisoner in my own body, like Rapunzel in that fucking tower. And although I hate the tower, the idea of the world outside of it is even more terrifying. The idea of anyone climbing up and into the tower, equally frightening.

Everyone has emotional guards against other people, which they gradually let down over time as they get to know each other (Well, except those scary hippies with bright eyes and no fear. But we needn't emulate them. They wouldn't survive a second in the wild). People with social anxiety, on the other hand, have irrationally strong emotional guards that try to keep people out forever. If a normal person keeps a moat around the castle of their heart, a person with social anxiety keeps a moat filled with lava... with lava sharks in it... behind a fence of barbed-wire... which is behind a wall made of steel spikes... which has machine guns atop it that fire killer bees. Understandably, that inner fortress keeps people out quite effectively. But it doesn't just stop us from allowing people in, a lot of the time it also stops us from trying to escape.

For the most part, I've come to enjoy the solace. Once I came to understand that part of my problem is that socializing really taxes me, I became much more comfortable staying in. Some of you might have figured that out far younger than I did and have always enjoyed being by yourself. I hated it when I was younger. Social anxiety made me want to stay away from people, but my general anxiety made me scared to be alone. I was assaulted on all fronts! But too much solitude can backfire and you can almost forget how to act normal (And it's hard enough for me to act normal even with people in whose presence I'm already comfortable). The way I used to solve that problem was by drinking. The problem with me and alcohol is that in order to get myself to the point where I was no longer afraid to talk to or approach people, I was too drunk to make much sense or leave a good impression. It's miraculous I ever made friends, let alone kept any, during that time. But I did manage to make a fool of myself enough times. Eventually I had to stop drinking altogether because it was a crutch that was hindering more than helping me (And admittedly I also have a propensity for addiction, a trait which shows its ugly head in more things than merely intoxicating chemical substances).

Ok, so you're probably wondering if I'm ever going to bring this back to music. Well, as you may know from your own experience, or from the preceding paragraphs, living inside a shell like that makes some things incredibly difficult. Things like joining or forming a band. Things like booking shows. Things like talking to fans or other bands, talking to club owners, talking to... well, basically anyone who could be important to your career!

I'm a very anxious person, but with chill people in calm environments, especially with some sort of shared focal point or focused reason to be there, I can relax and make friends and contacts fairly easily. It was through friends from high school that I ended up playing music with a few bands. Usually it was people I met through drama classes and plays. See, I was comfortable in the theatre environment, so I had no problem being outgoing there. Outside of those classrooms, I'd walk around my high school campus hunched and frowning, praying to whatever god may be listening that no one would approach me or look at me. (And I mean anyone - could be a person who merely speaks too enthusiastically and leans in too close, could be a bully, could even be a girl acting interested in me. Yeah, I was even terrified of the thing I wanted most of all - romantic involvement). See, I can "accidentally" make friends and contacts in relaxed environments, but walking up to and talking to a total stranger who did not invite me over - just shoot me in the foot instead, alright? It'll be less painful.

Eventually I joined a few bands. But, aside from when we were performing, when I was onstage in my element and completely comfortable and unafraid of anything, I kept to the sides as much as possible. I never talked to people who came to our shows, never chatted with people in the other bands, never even bothered to try to look approachable. In fact, I did my best to hide. Not easy to do when you're 6'2'' and dress as garishly as I do. So instead of being hidden, I just looked unfriendly and uncomfortable, which wasn't an inaccurate impression to have of me in that situation. My ability to network was stunted from the git-go. Even when I did try to take part in conversations, my life-long insecurities had a tendency to make me babble about irrelevant subjects and over share (something I still do when I'm not taking my time and breathing before I speak).

I was never able to form the band I really wanted. (These humans, I mean... they're just so hard to work with!) I wanted to create my goth-alt-metal-industrial band. But the few musicians with whom I'd attempted to form partnerships early on left a bitter taste in my mouth. My experience with the culture of "cool," and just how cool I clearly wasn't, left me feeling very alone and afraid to show my art to anyone. This led me to start making music entirely on my own. I learned from Trent Reznor that you didn't need a band. So, fuck it, I thought. I bought a four-track (anyone remember those?) and started teaching myself how to write and record every part. Eventually I started playing my own music at shows here and there, but usually it was alone, just me and a guitar or piano. I didn't trust many people to play with me, and the few times I did have friends play with me, I was very shy and unspecific about how exactly I wanted them to play things. I was too afraid to cause a confrontation, too afraid to ask anyone to play a certain part a certain way, too afraid to make anyone uncomfortable. The assertiveness that is required to be a band leader, especially one who writes and arranges all the parts, was completely foreign and uncomfortable to me. Eventually I learned to collaborate a little, but to this day I think I've only written about a dozen songs with other people - and those people are unique and special to me. 

I was incapable of being a leader, but I had no intention of being a follower. Either of those roles would've made me far too involved with and vulnerable to other people. Come to think of it, I'm not sure how I ever made any friends, let alone kept so many of them to this day (my one saving grace is that I inherited my dad's friendliness, although not his confidence). If the girl who would become my best friend in high school hadn't approached me, a scared little boy dressed in black, I don't know where the hell I'd be today.

The problem is that when you actively pursue music, you suddenly realize what we were all told but ignored or dismissed: it's hard. Really hard. It's not playing just any coffee shop that's easy to book. It's not just playing your friends' backyards. Oh, it often starts with those things. But if my sociology courses in college taught me anything it's that to gain a following you have to find people who don't know you, and in hindsight that little fact was already blatantly self-evident,. You have to advertise, network, schmooze, and otherwise win over total strangers. Friends have nothing to gain by supporting you - they already know you. Strangers don't know you, and that gives one an air of otherness and mystique. But... talking to strangers... that's what we anxious people fear most!!! But you can't create your main fan base out of your friends. (Or at least, not when your music is as gloomy and angry as mine. Sure, my friends love me, but they don't understand most of what I deal with in my head every single day, and they sure as hell don't perpetually rage misanthropically against the world like I do. Lucky bastards). So, realizing that success would come only if I became a good marketer and expanded out beyond my comfort zone and into a world of unknowns,  I let my dreams fester and rot, too scared to face the overwhelming amount of rejection that every artist must face before finding their true audience.

I spent the whole of my 20s writing and recording albums and then tossing them onto the shelf to collect dust. I can't stop writing music. I can't stop recording it. But the stress of dealing with venues and bands made me content not to perform it. I channeled my urge to perform into vaudeville comedy and sideshow. But those were all mere distractions. I even traveled across the country a few times doing sideshow and vaudeville. Fun, but artistically unfulfilling. Why did I do it? Because it didn't mean anything to me. It was casual. It was low-risk. My heart wasn't in sideshow and comedy the way it is in music, so if the audience didn't like what I did, it rolled right off me. I wasn't bearing my soul to anyone, in fact I was very successfully masking it and hiding behind a character. (Now, don't get me wrong; I love performing in vaudeville and sideshows. And I love the troupes with whom I've worked. But it's not my strength nor my main passion).

It wasn't until I was approaching my 29th birthday that it hit me - my life had no direction; No purpose, no meaning. I had no reason to continue living. I had nothing. I was single, I was without a steady income, and I didn't know how I wanted to spend the next 5 to 10 years, let alone the decades thereafter. It was then that I finally realized what had led me to that place: anxiety.

Anxiety had crippled me. It had kept me "safe" from ever confronting real life. I'd clipped my own wings and thrown myself into a cage (The Lazarus Gene's first album, which I'm finishing now, is called "Break The Cage" because it deals in part with these issues). When I woke up and realized I was in trapped, I panicked and scrambled to do something with my life. I applied to grad school for a degree in philosophy and religion. I got accepted. I was ready to delve into the world of academia as my living. Essentially, I was about to lay down my arms and take a backstage role in my own life. The thing that stopped me was realizing that in order to commit to a Ph.D. program, I would have to give up a great deal of my art. Even during my undergrad program I wasn't able to perform as often as I would've liked because I get very drained by the socialization of school, the paperwork (who doesn't?), and the mental energy needed to do tedious research. And my anxiety can often make me tired even when I'm not with people or working on anything particularly difficult. To commit to the Ph.D. would be to essentially say goodbye to music for 6 to 7 years. That thought scared me into action. I decided to forgo grad school and focus on my music instead.

That was a dangerous decision because it's less assuring than the cozy existence of a grad student. By cozy, I don't mean easy, of course. I mean that at least in grad school I would have had a clearly defined and static goal. Art is more fluid. In grad school I'd be structured by the program while being mentored by people who thrive on goals and structure. For someone with anxiety, that's a sweet deal. Order, routine, structure... all  great safety nets against uncertainty. But it wasn't important enough to me. It wasn't big enough. And it was far too intellectual. I can intellectualize till the cows come home, but at the end of the day my emotions inform my decisions far more than my rationalizations for or against those very emotions. No, to deny that music matters most to me is to deny who I am. Of course, the kicker is that the horrifically competitive world of art and entertainment is in and of itself fucking terrifying. But, between facing the evil world of entertainment vs. not facing it, I decided that facing it was the lesser of two evils.

Anyone with anxiety knows how many breaths we often have to take before we walk into a crowded room (That is, assuming you're able to breath at all, right?) But we often walk into that room anyway because we know that the terror will subside eventually, and if it doesn't, we can always leave. Deciding to make music my life was, I believe, a risk worth taking. I have a few important safety nets for my physical existence should I fail - I know I'm not gonna starve to death, in other words. But what I don't have is an emotional safety net. How can one shield oneself against heartbreak when giving away one's heart? You have to be vulnerable, and you have to vulnerable to... other... humans! Fucking yikes! I'm putting my whole heart into work which may continue to be ignored for the rest of my life. And my heart may get broken a few more times before it gets accepted. Well, to be frank, my heart was dying in my chest anyway - far better to take the risk to revive it than watch it slowly shrivel up and stop beating.

If I fail completely, well, I'll deal with that insanity when I get there. What I finally came to understand, and here's the important part, is that, yes, I have massive anxiety about this. In fact my anxiety is worse right now than it's ever been because I'm taking risks I've never been brave enough to take. I'm terrified of failing myself. I'm terrified of being ignored. But what I'm far more terrified of is allowing my anxiety to rule every decision I make for the rest of my life as it has for the past 15 years. I've lived complacently, ignoring my passions, and forcing myself into artistic, and often personal, isolation because I was afraid. I'm still afraid. I'm shaking in my fucking boots. But I have to stand up to the anxiety this time. And I know I'm going to face it over and over again as I build my career from the ground up. Unlike some other obstacles, anxiety is an adversary that never backs down for too long. So the key is to keep standing up to it until you gain strength. It'll never go away. It's not a demon you can kick out with just one exorcism. But the next time you fight it, you might need one less move than you did the time before to knock it down.

On the upside, fear makes for some pretty good music. Fear is a theme that runs through half of my songs. Fear, confrontation, anger, submission - all these things I struggle with daily. It's about the never-ending struggle against myself and for myself. And most of those internal issues and confrontations of the mind also translate externally to the outside world - the people and institutions that do not accept us for who we are. It's not about religion, politics, subcultures, or anything so easily defined as that. There are lots of religions and ideological groups or subcultures that will accept us for who we are. But there are a shit load more that will not. And we can't always know who we're dealing with until we've gone a way inside (hence why so many of us with anxiety just avoid going inside in the first place). Like the monsters within us, we have to face the monsters without. Sometimes it's nightmarish, sometimes it's violent, and not necessarily in a physical way. But if we don't learn to cope with those anxieties and manage them, they'll eat us alive.

Hey, we'll never be normal, and it's important that we accept that. Hell, fuck normal. "So, I barely talked to anyone at the party, and I left early... so what, I showed up and came in didn't I?" Yup. Sometimes just showing up is in and of itself a victory. Take those victories. Every little victory is yours. You don't have to be like anyone else, but it's good and pragmatic to manage well enough to meet them halfway... at least for long enough so you can get some shit done before you go home and curl back up in your cocoon at the end of the day. (Hey, no one said you had to get rid of the cocoon. Even when you've got your wings, if you've got anxiety, you're probably still gonna want to wrap back up at the end of the day, especially after you've dealt with all those weird-ass normal people).

Be brave, folks. You've got this. If nothing else, at least we freaks have each other. And with any luck, the hand of God, the thread of Fate, or whatever's runnin' this show, some of us might actually manage to make our voices loud enough to remind each other of that across the great chasms of anxiety we constructed around ourselves.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Out of the Frying Pan...

Greetings from inside the cage!

The last six months have been some of the most trying in my life, both personally and professionally. A few folks might have noticed that I set up a great deal of media outlets for The Lazarus Gene and then just let them sit there, gathering the first layers of dust as I've been engrossed with creating the music itself. Learning to self-promote is not easy - not only am I competing with an ever-changing world of business models, marketers, and artists, most of whom are far more business savvy and experienced than myself, but I'm fighting my own lifelong demons of low self-worth. However, I believe that what I have to convey through The Lazarus Gene is too important for me to let those demons, both external and internal, win. But it's still a steep, uphill struggle. Writing this blog is itself an exercise in spite of myself (I hear a lot of terrible things in my head, such as, "Dude, no one's going to read it"; "You have no fans and you won't gain any"; "You are a nobody with the false ego of a somebody"; etc. And those are the nicer ones). But in the interest of doing the wise, marketable thing, here I am, writing my intimate thoughts about working on and working in music.

I'm an artist, and it is my one drive to share what I feel. But sharing is becoming increasingly difficult for artists these days. Everyone shares now, and everyone thinks that everything they have to share is worth sharing. Perhaps we can all agree that as human beings we are all, on some cliche, idealistic, but beautifully poetic level, "equal" in our fundamental worth... but that doesn't mean that everyone who runs their mouth online deserves the attention they get.

In the world of marketing, I have had to face a crisis of conscience - that is, learning to live with giving myself an edge over competition, believing myself to be worth hearing over and against others, and attempting to create a reason why people should listen to me. In the competitive world of art, not everyone can win. And if I win, it means someone else loses. Luckily for me, the support I've had from other artists has been extremely sparse, so I've come to the conclusion that being in this for myself is A-O-K. (But the few other artists who have and do support me, I will always be there in turn for them, because, while selfishness may be the nature of the human animal, reciprocity is how that selfish animal will ultimately be the most successful). Now, having accepted that it's okay to believe I'm worth hearing, and that it's okay to beat out others, I then have to face actually learning how to make my voice heard. That has not been easy to pull off, not least of all because I have thus far no audience. I know they're there, we just haven't found each other yet.

I'm not a business-minded person and I'm not an organized person. Only now, in my 30s, I'm having to learn to discipline myself in a whole new way. I'm facing demons I didn't even know existed in me, largely because I've glided complacently through the last 15 years of my life, ignoring or downright suppressing my drive to become a known and appreciated artist. In the battle against oneself, it's not easy to come to a ceasefire, and if any part of you truly "wins," then another part of you has to die, and that will leave a large hole in your life that might just eventually destroy you. Well, I've got enough holes in my life - I don't need any more. So I've had not to destroy my demons, but instead to rope them and make them work for me.

When it comes to what I create, I've never been democratic. In art I am an autocrat in the purest sense of the term. I understand that in our contemporary, plugged-in world everyone has a voice or at least wants to believe they have a voice. This has created new kinds of fans and critics. Or at least a new degree of them. The new fan wants to be intimately involved in the artist's process. They want constant updates, they want to comment, they want to critique, and they want actualized input. It is often suggested by market strategists that new artists find ways to make their audiences feel involved. This goes way back in the music business, but it's blown up substantially over the last two decades. Sometimes that comes in the form of voting on logos, album art, or t-shirt designs. Sometimes it means voting on set-lists. Yet, while I cannot help but to rely on those who support me and I need to do everything I can to win an audience, I resist the very idea of anyone getting their "fingers" into my work. But, being that at the moment my audience is nil, I need to be open and willing to get them involved. Not only that, I have to encourage them, without being as outwardly cynical about it as I am about most everything else in this world. (Ironic... The Lazarus Gene is some of the most cynical music you will ever hear, so I cannot pretend to be "excited" and "enthusiastic" about opening up myself to other human beings like good salesmen always are, as that would render the music itself hypocritical and superfluous. However, perhaps when I actually do find people who care about the music, relate to it, understand it, get something genuine out of it which helps them to feel and articulate something they need to express, well, then perhaps I will be damn excited and enthusiastic without a hint of irony! I've yet to experience such support however, so this is yet to be seen).

The real stick in the mud is that I don't like anyone involved during the process. I bring in a very small handful of select people whose opinions I have come to trust over years of building relationships with them as individuals, and I seek their input on very specific areas. The first album by The Lazarus Gene will feature only one outside artist, providing a vocal track for one song. Everything else was written, arranged, and performed by me. In the past I have had an engineer and producer, who knows me and my music very well, working with me and advising me, but on this album I could not afford to pay someone to engineer the whole thing. (Though I was fortunate enough to have him engineer some vocals for a few songs that really needed his expertise). More to the point, I have desired nothing more than to make sure that the first offering from The Lazarus Gene was as pure as possible. This album has to be me. Me and whoever happens to enjoy it or relate to it after it's already been released, that is.

I don't like the idea of outside influence on my work. My subconscious perceives it as "meddling," sometimes even when I specifically ask for help. I have to fight against myself to allow others to be involved, and that's just on an individual level. Of course in the end there are things I cannot do. I have to pay someone to master my album, I have to pay someone to press it, and if I could afford it, I'd pay someone to market it. The marketing however, is something I need to get my fingers into. I need to be as directly involved with that as I am with the music itself, because it's part of the image I'm putting out into the world, an image that needs to be just right to both please me and entice an audience.

My radically individualistic and, let's face it, selfish approach to music goes all the way back to when I started playing seriously. My middle school and high school friends were far too cool to let a goofy misfit like me play in their bands. It never had anything to do with my playing, because none of them ever bothered to even listen to me play. It was me they rejected, not my abilities. So I bought a 4-track (anyone remember those?) and learned how to compose for all the instruments, play as many as I could, and synthesize or program the ones I couldn't. Trent Reznor was my music god, and Marilyn Manson my personal savior. Between the two of them, they taught me how to do things my way (which of course at the time was largely their way. As with all artists, it took me a long time to remotely find my own voice. And of course I'm still very much in the process of honing in on what exactly is "my sound"). Eventually I played with a few groups here and there, but that was because I was the only keyboardist anyone knew, and I'd eventually abandoned all the "friends" of my earlier teens for people who actually accepted me for all my weirdness and comical misanthropy. But it wasn't satisfying. The music was almost never what I truly wanted to play, and seldom was it what I wrote. I mainly played with those groups for the experience of live performance and the social acceptance I'd hoped would accompany it. That reality could only stretch so far before my pangs to play my own music would resurface. 

The world has changed. Marketing has changed. We're no longer sure which bands are doing it right. Who is fittest for survival? As a result of the confusing landscape, I'm still figuring out whether the goal of my first album is to attract a fan base and generate enough income to supplement whatever other work comes my way and enable me to record the next album and tour behind it, or if my goal is to attract a fan base and generate enough attention and buzz to entice a record label and convince them that I'm good enough to sign and to subsequently give me as much artistic freedom as I deserve. I don't like the idea of having fans too involved with my creative process, but record labels do the same thing in different ways. And it's hard to tell which is more problematic to the artistic process. The record label does so much of the hard work, marketing, promotions, etc., for the artist (and sweet Jesus, it would be beautiful to not have to worry about that wicked maze). But without fans, I will be nothing, and ultimately their opinions matter much more than a label's would, since they're the ones buying the records and consequently enabling me to continue whether I'm signed or not. However, a record label would get that music to the fans possibly more effectively than I would. So, you see the dilemma.

Of course I create art mainly because I've got no choice and I would probably implode if I didn't, but without an audience to listen to it, it's just masturbation - a momentary sense of satisfaction but ultimately unfulfilling. One way or another, art cannot be completely one-sided. Art only ever came to exist because something needed to be communicated in a way that surpassed or transcended a more direct approach (That sounds pretentious, but think about how music can make a whole room full of people move their bodies without telling them anything through spoken language or visual stimulation. Think about the ideas, thoughts, and feelings a parable or myth can invoke where a simple moral aphorism might fail to inspire).

Art is communication, the communication of feelings, thoughts, and more often a wildly fluctuating mixture of both. If I'm not communicating with someone, I'm talking to myself or a god I can never know for certain is there.

There is nothing more beautiful than when a group of people are together and can feel a piece of music together. One of the very first "spiritual" experiences of my life was at a Marilyn Manson concert when I was 17. The lights went dim and all we could see was him on stage. The opening chords to "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" began and everyone in the venue ignited their lighters (this was before everyone had a cellphone). I looked behind me into the vast, black, seemingly endless crowd full of weirdos, misfits, nerds, and heathens illuminated faintly by the tiny flames. All were singing together and swaying together. It was beautiful. A lot of them probably had as little in common with each other as Vlad the Impaler had with Siddhartha Gautama, and yet there we all were singing and feeling together. It was truly a high without the drugs, the same kind experienced by students of meditation (as I would discover later), shamans in trance, and athletes when they're in "the zone."

Art has that power. An eerie power to inspire and unite, which is why some religions use music intrinsically with their ceremonies and others ban it completely in the fear that secular forms will hypnotize their followers away. Art is social. Art is communal. And it was for that purpose that music, as humans know it, evolved.

However, when I'm actually writing the songs, arranging them, finding the right visual artwork to put with them, I am an absolute control freak. I think a lot of people can appreciate the possessiveness one feels toward the thing created. Yet, in the end, I cannot but admit that it belongs to everyone who hears it just as much as it does to me. There are certain things I simply cannot compromise on as a songwriter. But there are others which I'm sure, with time, patience, and discipline, I can be willing to open up more to my listeners. In this day and age if I treat my audience as "outsiders" I won't attract them, and I won't keep them.

Of course I realize that one of the first no-nos of self-marketing is to admit naked insecurity, announce anything that could be construed as self-deprecating, and remotely hint at the fact that one is uncomfortable with normal socialization, interaction, and interpersonal exchange (in that sense, marketing one's work and dating are remarkably similar). Telling people I hope will be fans that I'm uncomfortable interacting with people? Not the smartest move I could make. But my music is all about facing those very problems, overcoming them and sometimes being overcome by them. I'm not telling an inspirational story in my music, that would be inauthentic. I'm merely expressing reality as I see it - the job of an artist. Sometimes it's beautiful and there is victory. Sometimes it is ugly and there is defeat. More often it is an excruciating flux of victory and defeat.

The Lazarus Gene's first album, entitled "Break The Cage," is almost complete. The songs are done and I'm currently figuring out the exact track order before sending it off to be mastered and completing the artwork (yes, it will have physical packaging with lyrics and everything, just like the old days. I, as a music fan, like to have something in my hands when I buy an album. It extends what I'm listening to into a tangible form, it makes the music a physical experience, and I believe that the current trend of clicking and downloading will become boring to true fans before long. I download lots of albums, but I always buy the pressed copies of my favorite bands. But if I'm wrong and people are not wont to buy up the physical albums as I hope they eventually will, the art will still of course be available for PDF download with the album. I've got my bases covered).

The album is almost there, ready to be polished off and put on display. I've had a few trusted artists listen to the album and give me their input, and after one or two more, I will set the track order in stone and then the wheels will truly be in motion. The next step after that is to play live and give people an experience they will want to repeat, and of course have the album ready on hand for them to take home with them.

I suppose I already do succumb to compromise and advisement on my music, but only from trusted individuals. Perhaps when and if I gain the audience I believe I deserve, over time we will build a similar relationship, albeit in a slightly different way. They'll trust me that I'll deliver, and I'll trust them that they'll support. And through that exchange, we can perhaps come to share even more and I'll be less afraid to open up the process a bit when I'm recording and packaging future albums. I guess we'll only know for certain when we get there.

With infinite gratitude and appreciation to any and all who read this,


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Harder, Louder, Deafer, Dumber

I was fortunate enough to be able to see three of the giants of electronic music together on stage last week. I'd never seen Depeche Mode in concert before, and I'd decided that this unforgivable sin had been left to fester for far too long. The concert (the second of three they would perform at the venue) was held at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, the home center of the L.A. Lakers and the L.A. Kings. I'm sure that, as a sports venue, sound wasn't necessarily what the designers were primarily concerned with when planning and building the joint, but surely the future owners and backers of the center had to know that it would undoubtedly become a hub of arts and entertainment. Well, if it had been designed for sound, that fact was almost completely lost on me, the unfortunate audience and victim of whatever the hell was going on between the stage and the speakers on Sunday night. Was it the venue? Was it the mix? Or was it something else?

As was to be expected, DM had an opening act, in this case Canadian band Crystal Castles. Beyond their single "Not In Love," featuring Robert Smith of The Cure on vocals, I'd never heard a note of their music. Strangely enough, by the end of their set I had still yet to hear a note of their music. I'm sure that if I were a fan prior to this show and had been familiar with their music, I would've been able to pick out something vaguely resembling notes in the wall of noise that was hitting my ears Sunday night. I listened to quite a few of their songs on YouTube later that night when I got home and discovered that they're not too bad. They're not the kind of group I'd become a die hard fan of as an adult, but they've got some very catchy and moody tunes. I'd buy a record or two. The point is, they are infinitely better than they sounded when I saw them onstage. I turned to my friend halfway through their set and said, "Whoever is in charge of the mix clearly hates this band." I certainly couldn't dismiss their music, because, well, I couldn't hear their music! I knew as a musician that it was the mix and possibly the venue that was the problem. My friend said to me, laughing at how overtly annoyed I had become, "Maybe they wanted it like that." She could be right. They're a young band, and young bands are often victims of the ridiculous landscape the music industry has thrust them into. Granted, live music inevitably just doesn't sound as good, unless you're talking symphonies and operas, which usually sound better live. But as to contemporary forms, if you want great sound, you buy the song or the album and listen to it right from your computer or iPod with what are hopefully decent ear buds or headphones. A concert is meant to be an experience and the music is only part of that. By no means is it the whole.

It was halfway through Crystal Castle's set that my friend and I popped out to find a guest services booth and get ear plugs. Doing that makes me feel old sometimes. But I'm not old yet, I'm just not dumb anymore. When I was a teenager the loudness didn't bother me in the slightest (what teenager doesn't want the music louder?) Now in the final year of my 20s, I just don't feel like going home with my ears ringing, and this has becoming increasingly important to me as music has become more and more the focus of my entire life and work.

After Crystal Castles, I sent a prayer to God and all the muses that Depeche Mode's set wouldn't sound as terrible. It was a genuine concern. I'd been to a Rob Zombie concert a few years prior and it sounded horrible. (But because of the nature of a Zombie show, the music is only 25% of what you go for).  At the recent Alice Cooper/Marilyn Manson concert, I finally found a way to have ear plugs resting in my ears in a way that only blocks the sharpness of the sound, instead of sticking them all the way in and muffling everything, causing the whole show to sound like a passing car with the bass turned up too loud. We went back to our seats just before Depeche Mode took the stage, and it was... almost good. They were on fire, they played beautifully, and Dave Gahan was at his best, wooing the crowd with his voice, his spins, and of course his hips. But there was still something quite off with the sound.

Depeche Mode is primarily electronic music, and electronic music has become notoriously identified with thumping-loud bass lines, heavy synthesized kick drums, and low frequencies. But even as they've grown with the times and continued to pioneer their way through a music scene that looks up to them, but often mistakenly looks back on them, Depece Mode never succumbed to trends that didn't fit their music. Oh sure, the bass is louder now, but it's not remotely like listening to the heavy EBM and industrial songs that make up a lot of what is played in the same clubs that play Depeche Mode.

Believe you me, I love me some thumping-loud bass. I love listening to it, I love dancing to it, and I love composing it. But over the last two decades or so, the bass disease has continued to grow and spread across the music industry. Everyone thinks the bass needs to be loud. I even remember when CD players and stereos started coming with "bass boost" buttons. Now most headphones, ear buds, and the simpler CD and mp3 players don't even give you the option: they boost it for you whether you like it or not. And suddenly you find yourself thinking: Did Cat Stevens mean for "Can't Keep It In" to sound so much like a dance track? Well, maybe he did, but I'll leave that to him to say. Again, I love that loud bass, but when you turn it up so loud that it drowns everything else out, why bother listening to music in the first place? Why not just sell tracks of the bass line and the kick drum? How about a Tchaikovsky symphony with only the cellos, basses, trombones and tuba? In fact, why don't you just put your ear to the ground and listen to giraffe calls?

The entire mid-range of Depeche Mode's brilliantly crafted and executed music was lost to the low end, and the only thing that contended with it were the sharp higher frequencies, which often pierced the ear like a gunshot. And that brings up the second problem. It's not just that the bass is loud, it's that everything is loud. So loud that it would be a miracle for anyone not familiar with the music to pick out a song in that mess of sound waves. I'm a big Depeche Mode fan so I already had the rhythms and melodies in my subconscious before I saw the show. It was no problem for me to the fill in the gaps with my memory. Not so with Crystal Castles. Crystal Castles was just a sweeping wave of overwhelming low frequency pulsing and tribal-esque thumping with the odd screech from singer Alice Glass coming out on top. The only other time her voice remotely competed with the music was when she was singing through a vocoder.

Everything in music today is wired for loudness. Live shows are immensely louder than they need to be, and studio recordings are mastered for loudness. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails recently released two different master versions of his new album "Hesitation Marks." He explained on his website that the reason he did this was so that the listeners would be able to have a version that most closely resembled what he and his team heard in the studio. Mastering for industry-standard,  maximum radio-friendly loudness had sacrificed some of the bass on the album, and although Trent was very diplomatic about it, denying that one version or the other was superior, to have the low end in the exact balance that he had intended it, the record had to be mastered not for loudness but for artistic precision. In my opinion, this is all representative of the fact that we are sacrificing some of the quality and purity of music today for something comparatively arbitrary: loudness.

The goth clubs I've enjoyed going to most over the past few years have recently switched venues. I noticed something in the new venue - the music is louder. I'm guessing it must be the better sound system which has enabled the DJs to boost the music even more. Well, when I'm dancing to that music, I do indeed like to literally feel the rhythm. But you know, when you've created your own additional percussion track in the form of a rattling speaker, I've got news for you: the music is too fucking loud. You're doing the audience, the artist, and your own ear drums a great disservice. In fact one of the DJs posted on her Facebook page awhile back about her ear fatigue. Ear fatigue means you're supposed to turn the music down, not up. Maybe it's just me, but I love music so much that one of my single greatest fears is to lose my hearing. Were I ever to go deaf I might just put a gun in my mouth. So I'm careful to preserve it. I want to hear those notes until the day I die. When I'm a grumpy old fart (as opposed to the grumpy young fart I am now), I want to sit down and hear Tchaikovsky's 6th played by a live orchestra at the appropriate volume without an ear piece, and I want to be able to dance around my walker or spin in my wheelchair to Depeche Mode.

What exactly is the problem? Why has the music industry succumbed to this trend? Or is it the listener's fault? What started it all? Are we so lazy that we simply don't want to turn up the dial on our own? Or is metal's fault? Must everything go to 11? The joke of Spinal Tap lives on in the all too often unacknowledged fact that everything will eventually reach a ceiling, and let me tell you - music has reached it. Any louder and you really won't be able to hear anything. Ironically it seems no one listened to Pete Townsend.

You know what my real beef is? Playing music with the low frequencies so loud in the mix, and the mix so loud as whole, is detrimental to the experience of listening to music. It is an insult to the art of music itself. It cheapens the craft. If I go to a concert I want to at least be able to pull a melody out of the air. Turn it up, hell yes, but if the building is shaking and I'm getting nauseous from the vibrations in the floor, then I'm not really hearing the songs, and the whole thing becomes merely spectacle. Now, of course spectacle attracts. Hell, the only reason I bought my first Slipknot album was because I saw Shawn Crahan (Clown) playing drums with his head. But you know what? Once I actually listened to the record I found that Slipknot was worth far more than the spectacle. There was method to the madness. And that's what has sustained me as a fan of Slipknot to this day. Crahan's head drumming was beautiful and it roped me in, but it wouldn't have kept me coming back if the music hadn't been good.

I suppose a lot of it is merely salesmanship. Indeed, the most efficient way to attract is to be bigger, louder, and more colorful. And if you want people to listen to your music, you need it to be as loud or louder than everything else. You need to be the peacock with the biggest tail or the gorilla with the loudest chest slapping. The trouble is that these trends always have a backlash. Alice Cooper started shock rock, Marilyn Manson took it to it's logical extreme, and then subsequent bands pathetically scrambled to be as shocking and over the top, but now we just laugh and yawn at them. For Manson and Cooper it was art, gimmicks and salesmanship, certainly, but still art. In these other groups of imitators and trend riders, we see merely succubi and desperate cries for attention. Such is the case with loudness. With music being as loud and big as it is, the next thing that is going to attract the most attention is going to be a more effective use of silence or something similarly antithetical to the mainstream. In a sea of noise, the ear will find the quiet spots, like the eye of a hurricane, and be attracted to them. (Mind you, everything that attracts enough attention will become mainstream; that's how loudness got to be where it is. And whatever comes next will fall prey to that very cycle. But I believe that the shift is likely to come soon, and for a time it will be beautiful before it becomes the norm).

When I see a show as a fan, and when I'm performing on stage as an artist, I don't want the damn music to be at 11. I want it to be at 8 or 9. I want people feel the music in their feet, I want people to be washed over in sound, but just as importantly - I want people to hear the fucking song! However, the cruel irony of it all, the great cosmic joke on me, is that I have play the game their way. For now, anyway. As I work on the mixes for The Lazarus Gene, I have to bear in mind that I need it mastered for loudness and that the places where I want my music played will be turning it WAY up and boosting the bass WAY up, so I have to ease off the low frequencies myself in the studio and create a decently balanced mix that pleases both my ears and the ears of whoever usurped music and made it into the degrading shouting match it has currently become.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Naturally Selected

There are certain genes in our biological makeup that are dormant until something external triggers them to act. Our ability to use language for instance would be useless if we didn't grow up hearing a language spoken around us. Without being taught a language and how to effectively use it at a fairly young age, the gene itself doesn't do us much good.

The Lazarus Gene was a concept I came up with years ago, but for various reasons it lay dormant all this time. This year, something finally triggered it.

Many people will be familiar with the story of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha who Jesus resurrected from the dead. In a sense, this story is very appropriate for me. This last year I had the excruciating realization that my life up until now has been merely a shadow, a parody of a real human existence. I've lived in a cage. I've stubbornly refused to break the shell and hatch. And the thing about a bird that doesn't hatch is that eventually it runs out of yolk and dies. I was left with no choice but to break the shell or let myself rot. But, like Lazarus, I myself didn't just up and decide to resurrect. Something had to call me back from the dead. Lazarus heard Jesus. I'm not sure exactly what I heard, but I know that it left me little choice in the matter. As in evolution, I was left with two options: mutate or go extinct.

I chose mutate. Or the Fates chose it for me.

The word "Lazarus" in the band name refers to resurrection and redemption. But there's another Lazarus story as well. Jesus told a parable about a different man named Lazarus who was poor in life and died and went to Heaven. A rich man who knew this Lazarus dies and goes to Hell. The rich man begs the prophet Abraham from across the chasm between Heaven and Hell to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his loved ones about their fate should they behave as he had. Abraham says in response that if they weren't already obeying the Law and the Prophets then not even someone back from the dead would convince them to. This cynical view of the obstinate and blind nature of the human being is another reason The Lazarus Gene came to be called so.

The Lazarus Gene is the power of resurrection - on a global scale referring to the redeeming qualities of humankind, and more personally referring to my own struggles to continually move through my pain and to love myself. The Lazarus Gene is also our brokenness  - on a global scale referring to our violent nature, our divisionist rivalries, and the drive to conquer and own, which are only natural to a pack animal, and more personally referring to depression, anxiety, self-loathing, the things I face every day that try to drag me to Hell with them.

The Lazarus Gene is resurrection and death. The Lazarus Gene is choice and fate. The Lazarus Gene is religion and science. The Lazarus Gene is electronic and organic. That Lazarus Gene is everything you think cannot or should not coexist but in fact does because the world cannot be otherwise.

No shadow can be cast without light, and you'd never recognize light without shadow.

That is The Lazarus Gene.