Real Talk Part 2

This photo was taken almost exactly 7 years ago, when I was 5 months pregnant, in my last semester of Berklee.

I had just finished playing my very first album release show with an amazing group of über talented musicians and singers, all of them having played on the album, making it extra special. I was definitely glowing in this picture, and it wasn’t just from the pregnancy hormones 🙂 I genuinely felt like I accomplished something important, and the possibilities ahead of me seemed limitless.
At the same time, I was starting to face the reality that, as a 23 year old pregnant woman, it would be a huge uphill battle to be taken seriously by my peers, professors, mentors and basically anyone from the music industry. I didn’t reach this conclusion on my own, but through a painful semester of strange looks and awkward conversations. There were several times where I had to hear in a classroom setting, “even having a boyfriend or girlfriend lessens your chances of getting a good gig out of college”. I think it was fair to be told this, and be given a dose of reality, but it obviously didn’t give me any confidence that my pursuits were in any way realistic due to the life choice I made.
It also made me feel truly and utterly alone.
There weren’t and STILL aren’t many examples of women who have children at a young age and LATER achieve success in their career.  Which I suppose is why people no longer took me seriously… it’s easy to point to a defined path and say “if you take these steps you’ll get there” and it’s hard for the average person to believe in a path that is barely visible and needs to be created step by painful step.

So this picture is me moving forward on a path undefined. I’d like to think I was being brave, but really it was part bravery, part innocent naiveté … I had no idea what I was getting into 🙂 And I still don’t know! But that’s ok. Life isn’t just a series of forked roads… it’s a lot more complex and interesting then that.

Real Talk Part 1

I’m just days away from putting up a new video and I’ll be honest, I’m feeling pretty scared and vulnerable right now! This album has been such a labor of love for so many months, that putting it’s future in the hands of others… family, friends, strangers… just makes my stomach turn.

I’ve always been the “DIY” gal, and I don’t mean the crafty kind, but rather the “how can I get this done on my own and never have to rely on the help of others” kind. Putting trust in others requires… trust obviously. Patience. Vulnerability. Being open to the unknown and unexpected. These are not the things I’m good at 😅
So why am I doing this now? Why dive straight into the deep end? This year has been all about growth for me right from the start. In January I hit a major wall internally and had to seriously re-evaluate who I am and what I care about as an artist and a human being. Too much to unpack in this one post, but in short, I decided it was time for me to start being vulnerable. To embrace my full imperfect self and release that to the world.
This album is an ushering of this new phase of my life and music.
This video is my first public+tangible step towards this goal.
Wish me luck while I just 🤮

Highlights From FARM ’17

Happy to report that I had such an awesome time at my first FARM conference (Folk Alliance Region Midwest)! I would almost go so far as to say it was a game changer for me in my musical path… it left me feeling inspired and encouraged, and I came home with a new sense of clarity and resolve. Navigating the murky waters of a music career (especially a performing songwriter career) is challenging to say the least, but experiences like FARM help me once again tighten my bootstraps and keep chugging forward.

Highlights from FARM include:

  1. Being selected to perform for the DJ/Venue showcase (thanks to KRNL’s Bryan Katz-James!)
  2. Playing a number of awesome private showcases (led by a bunch of lovely hosts)
  3. Presenting to my fellow musicians on web presence (cause giving back feels good)
  4. Hearing Peter Mulvey’s seriously noteworthy keynote address
  5. Checking out Iowa City for the first time (and eating some amazing Iowa City food)
  6. Making a bunch of new friends (yay!)
  7. Listening to live music practically all day long (good live music I should add)
  8. Discovering a bunch of musicians/songwriters that I’m totally in love with.

 

So obviously I can’t leave you with that final point and not share my new finds 🙂

The Matchsellers

Notes: I had to leave FARM a few hours early, and this was the last act I heard just before heading out, and boy am I glad I stayed long enough to hear them! Good music that also makes you laugh just can’t go wrong. Don’t just skip to the music if you want a real taste of their hilarity.

Last Acre

Notes: I’m definitely a sucker for a father daughter duo, but that aside, these two have the most sweet and earnest songs.

 

Ordinary Elephant

Notes: These guys gave me chills. Songs that hit your heart hard with truth. Plus it doesn’t hurt that they look like they came straight out of the 1920’s.

Robin Bienneman

Notes: Out of everyone on this list, I had the hardest time picking just one song to share for Robin. His songs are quirky, funny, thought provoking… plus he is a damn good guitar player. I chose this one cause I support the message SO MUCH I even bought his shirt that says “Chicks Dig A Big Amygdala”. Also, thanks to the song, I now know how to pronounce “amygdala”.

 

Matthew Michael & Christina Marie

Notes: Sadly these guys don’t have an album out yet so nothing for me to show, but this couple has some gorgeous stuff. Think Civil Wars on anti-depressants.

You can follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/matthewandchristina

 

February Album Writing Month

Last month I did something a little crazy.

I committed myself to writing 14 songs during the month of February.

That’s 1 song every 2 days. That’s insane, right?

Well apparently there are a bunch of other crazy kooks out there, because this year well over 2,000 took part in February Album Writing Month (http://fawm.org/). Unfortunately, I didn’t crank out 14 songs, BUT I gave birth to 9 songs I have varying degrees of love for, (2 of them being co-writes with the fantastic Rebecca Jasso). If you aren’t crazy about reading my thoughts on this intense experience, skip ahead to the end to hear 8 of the 9 songs. I’d love to hear your thoughts+feedback… so feel free to comment below or shoot me an email!

Otherwise, here’s what I learned at the end of it all:

  • I’m a slow songwriter and that’s OK.

I was a little bummed out by how others were cranking out songs like it was NOTHING. But then (for some inspiration) I watched a cool interview of Jesca Hoops, who talked about the process of writing her latest album. She said when she first started, she walked for 10 miles with her phone as a voice recorder to come up with ideas. After 10 miles she had nothing. Then, feeling a bit defeated, she went down to her music room, and a song just suddenly came to her in it’s entirety: words music and all. Lesson being, we all write differently, and the creation process is different for everyone.

  • Virtual Co-writing is FUN and LIBERATING

To make FAWM a little more feasible I knew I had to do some co-writing. Rebecca and I were both committed to FAWM this year and have a mutual respect for each other’s work so we figured, why not?! So we decided to each give each other a lyric writing assignment.

The deal was, there is no music to write to, and you are just focusing on writing the lyrics based on what the other person is looking for. You hand off your completed lyrics, and the other person completes the song by adding the music (with no input from you). Rebecca asked me to write a simple catchy pop tune about the sun in the summer (or something like that). As I wrote the lyrics I couldn’t help but have a little melody in my head just to keep some sort of syllable and rhyming structure, and by the end of it, I thought the song was cheesy and annoying. But what Rebecca came back with was SO much better than what I had in mind. I was honestly in awe. Seeing my lyrics unfold in an unexpected way was pretty cool guys… We might just do it again! You can check out that song by clicking here, and in the below playlist you can hear the lyrics Rebecca wrote for me in the song “Mechanical Boy”.

  • When I think my well is dry, it might just be a matter getting the rusty gears cranking again

OK thats a terrible mixed analogy but I think you get it. Sometimes (or a lot of the time) I’m overwhelmed with all the things life throws at me, making it inevitable that my creative/songwriting gears will get rusty from lack of use. That usually leads me to feeling that I don’t have anything in me to give or create… that I’ve run out of inspiration. Pushing myself to JUST WRITE not only led to 9 pretty cool, more-than-half-way-decent songs, but it also got my creative juices flowing once again. My little songwriting gears haven’t stopped yet, and I have several songs I’m still in the process of writing.

And let me tell you…

It feels good.

So that’s it! FAWM 2017 was a success in my book.

I didn’t totally lose my mind.

I got some great stuff out of it, and I’m super pumped to start playing some of these new tunes. As I play them for people, I’m sure fine tuning will happen. Maybe a couple of these will end up in the “do not play” file. Others will hopefully make it on my next album!

So if you read all this, I’m guessing you are curious to hear these tunes I wrote! Here is a little playlist I put together for you:

*NOTE* – These tracks were all recorded via my iPhone voice recorder, so they are just memos really.

Music For Song

That beautiful human being pictured above is Songja Ono (aka “Song”).

I didn’t really know Songja, but her mom (whom I affectionately call “Aunt Catherine”) I know well. Many late night talks over pizza at a Beacon Hill bar will make you feel close to someone. I know Aunt Catherine to be a strong, fierce woman and I never doubted that Songja inherited her mother’s strength.

So when I found out she was sick, I believed she would absolutely get better… because sometimes we forget that spiritual strength and physical strength aren’t the same. We forget that much of what happens in this world is completely out of our control. Also, we forget that sometimes someone so beautiful, young and full of life can die at a young age.

Songja was still alive when her mom called me to ask if I would take care of the music for her funeral. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to make that call. I was only on the receiving end of this phone call, but my head was spinning and my heart felt heavy. Even with the weight of it all, I couldn’t help but feel deeply honored. I wanted Songja to keep fighting to live. I didn’t want her mother to go through the immense suffering she was already enduring and was going to continue to endure. But I also realized that the role I was about to play, albeit small, was important.

I immediately said yes.

I wanted to do absolutely anything I could to help in this transition.

I won’t elaborate on the experience I had planning the music for Songja’s funeral. All I can say is that it helped me understand the value and importance my skills and talent play in the lives of others. It helped remind me of the meaning in what I do. My goal was to create an atmosphere of love and peace… to accept that there is sadness in losing Songja, but also remember all the beauty and goodness she gave in her life. For her loved ones, friends and family, to be able to rejoice in the life she lived.

Usually when I perform, I demand attention. But I knew that for Songja’s funeral, I needed to be completely and utterly in the background, while still affecting the mood and feeling of the environment. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I accomplished what I hoped for, but the lovely letter I received from Aunt Catherine gave me confidence that I did my job well. Here is an excerpt:

Songja’s funeral was probably the most touching experience I’ve had so far in my own life. She is the main contributing factor of course, because if you knew her and the kind of person she was, you would know she was a truly remarkable person. I’m honored to have played a part in it, and to have been able to contribute in the challenging transition her family faced in her passing. I don’t wish for these opportunities to present themselves to me… but I’m grateful that being a musician allows me to give back to the world in a meaningful way.

-SE