Solo Performance Band Aid: Ripped Off

Sort of. I overuse the metaphor of ripping off a band aid anytime I have to do anything remotely painful, difficult, or just plain annoying. It usually results in me going into something somewhat unprepared, as gung ho as possible, while somewhat bracing myself.

Tonight I attended what will likely be the first of a monthly salon hosted by Matt Healy and Cozy Josie, the folks also behind The Spoon and Trowel. The food is always out of control good at their functions so I never pass up an invite. Here was their email pitch:

We want to take our creative pursuits seriously, and having an audience helps to do that. Nothing adds fuel to the creative fire like having to show what you’re doing to other people and hearing what they have to say about it. Put more simply: having a thing to make something for is easier than making it for no reason. This is a thing your thing can be for.

This is a thing that your thing can be for. Hm. What things do I have that I don’t already have an outlet for? I arguably have 3 solid outlets for performing music. Roughly a month ago, I half-drunkenly declared I’d be playing a solo set sometime this spring. It’s something I’d been meaning to but knew I just needed to book the damn show in order for it to happen. However, the thought of playing music entirely my own entirely by myself is completely terrifying.

Any song I’ve written, I’ve written with someone. Anytime I’ve performed live (with the exception of a few oddball open mics in college) it’s been as part of a group, as small as two people, and as large as ten (ska, duh). The one thing I’m not really doing at this stage in my musical life is writing. I’ve always really preferred and enjoyed the process of writing music with another head or two in the room. Hey Stranger is so spread out that what few times we’re in the same space together, we’ve have to rehearse. The Hard Times runs covers and really just runs riddims. I feel pretty proficient in churning out a riddim but it’s just not the same workload as constructing a song. Something I’ve wanted to tackle is the ability (forget proficiency) to write a song myself, start to finish, and play it live. Were I to play a solo set live, I could easily fill it with songs I’ve cowritten here and there from every band I’ve been in, just adding a cover or two, but I would still need a couple songs that I wrote. This also involves the hurdles of singing and playing while singing. I never been a great singer and lessons have never really been on the to-do list. Being a bassist generally gets you off the hook for singing and playing at the same time.

Back to the salon. The format was somewhat unclear going into it. There were a lot of people on the list, some of whom I didn’t know, and it looked as though there would be a wide variety of  types of art. About 10 people were there in the end, and after a nice half hour of schmooze, we sat down, put our names into a hat, and “performed” as names were taken out. It played out such that someone would present their thing (see above quote for the meaning of “things”). There was a jazz pianist, a couple singer-songwriters, a graphic designer/coder, an actor/blogger, and a playwright. The interesting bit was that everyone had brought something somewhat raw to the table. It was a song they’d never performed live, or their primary focus in life was different than the artistic piece they were presenting. I was 5th in line and sweating bullets. The amount of talent in the room was a tad overwhelming.

As with anything else in my life, I was pretty last minute about this. This morning I woke up hungover, and realized I had about 5 hours to crank out some tunes. I started digging through my notebooks. (Sadly, my laptop recently died so anything I had typed lyrics for, or any songs I had demoed in garage band weren’t really an option). I spent my afternoon working through 3 songs that I liked but also felt were close enough to completion. Deadlines work wonders. I plowed through, bouncing between songs, switching between music and lyrics. It was refreshing to be in such a creative place but in such a solitary way. It was also somewhat liberating to know that I had a limited time to work and that I refused to show up empty handed. The purpose of the session was running the artwork past a focus group, so it was perfectly acceptable that the songs were not in their final condition.

How’d it go? I’d say not bad. I was incredibly nervous when my time came. I went with a ska tune I had inspired by The Slackers and Westbound Train. It was simple, catchy, and arguably the song that was farthest from done when I had woken up in the morning. While I had rehearsed the song a few times, I was making changes even during the train ride to the session. The actual performance was humbling. I made a handful of mistakes, botched some transitions, and had to pause a few times. It felt okay. Almost everyone in the room has seen me perform at my best, and the folks who didn’t know me were part of this very low stress safe space we’d created. If I was going to fuck up a tune, this was the place. The feedback was also so empowering. I’d never really been part of a vetting session like this and just to hear a focus on what was working was incredible. I walked away feeling really inspired.

There were some other great outcomes: It’s highly likely we’ll start some sort of blog to document these sessions. At the very least, there will be an email chain to follow up with people on the feedback they gave. The last half-hour was spent actually working on someone’s song. The walk to the train alone resulted in the idea for a song-off between myself and Hannah Fairchild.

I’m psyched for the next round.

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