Being Comfortable with Challenges

Playing in the office this week:
Erik Satie – Les trois valses distinguées du précieux dégouté, II
Alarm Will Sound performs Aphex Twin- Blue Calx
American Football- Stay Home
Dusan Bogdanovic- Mysterious Habitats
Beach House- One Thing
Ryuichi Sakamoto & Taylor Deupree- St. John’s Sessions x Boiler Room Live Set (last movement)

Last week had a couple of lessons to be learned. One lesson was about being comfortable with my own voice as an artist instead of growing tired of it and constantly trying to completely reinvent myself. Here is how that looks:

One afternoon shortly after I moved into my current room, I was playing some ambient sounds with my electric guitar. Apparently my next-door neighbor at the time asked my housemates, What’s that sound!? Seven years later, I’m still making similar sounds. Though after classically studying the guitar and formally analyzing music, there are some nuanced differences.

Yet, what remains a challenge for me is having the willingness to continue writing in this style. The premature critic in my head keeps being a persistent ass and says, Why do you keep making music that you were making several years ago?? Why do you find so much comfort in the ambient stuff? Can’t you just do something completely different? Don’t you know that people are tired of hearing the sleepy stuff and you need to make something that’s more relevant to those around you?? Thankfully this voice hasn’t been speaking up too much lately, but sometimes its howl can be so loud that its resonance numbs my hands from picking up my guitar. I believe this critic is a voice that artists are all too familiar with. It is a voice of perfection and a voice that is so far removed from reality that it has a stifling effect. In the context of the past few weeks, this critic has discouraged me from writing with a sound that is very comfortable for me. I have found that as a response I tend to write even more in this ambient style. That is not to say that I have no business in exploring other styles or sounds- that could be a very enriching experience. However, exploration does not need to come at the cost of abandoning the sound I have identified my voice with. The challenge that the inner critic wants to present me is one that calls to forget everything I have done in the past, crumble the paper so to speak, and start completely new again. A more rational challenge may be allowing my sounds and songs from the past to have a chance to interact with my current experiences and influences. That more rational and healthy avenue is exactly where I am trying to steer this boat.

Which leads me to revisiting old songs and writing new ones. Over the weekend, I was remembering how to play older pieces I wrote several years ago. The first few times around was spent simply regaining the muscle memory to perform a piece, then comparing it to the recordings I have made in the past, and finally experimenting to see if I could add anything new to it. From this process two new songs have popped up, working titles are “Open” and “First Rain.” They sound less like entirely new songs and more like extensions of what they stemmed from. My old pieces are becoming my new ones. This process of using my creativity to tweak something that already exists instead of creating something completely from scratch is a less familiar thing for me, but refreshing.

On Recording

As I promised on the last blog post. The way how I am deciding to record this album is through live recording. I was recently reading the liner notes for Amina’s The Lighthouse Project EP and found that the group recorded the album live. This means the group performed the songs live, as if they were playing a show in front of an audience, and recorded exactly that as the track that would end up on the EP. For me, this would look like sticking a microphone (I hope to get my hands on a binaural microphone!) in the middle of my room and performing in one take. I plan to do no overdubs, multi-tracking, and very little (if any) post recording effects/modifications. This means that this time around, recording does not come until the very end of the process, whereas normally I use recording as a part of the writing process. Things are getting old-fashioned!

Live recording for a solo artist like myself can be a bit tricky. The beauty of this method of recording is that the very nature of the medium keeps me honest. If I sing a pitch a little under, no overdubs. If I vary in tempo, no quantizing beats. Not even a metronome will be in use (I know I could get an in-ear metronome, but I am not looking to invest in one at the moment). Yet more than these restrictions is that I am limiting myself to what could only be played live. With multi-tracking I have the luxury of recording drums, bass, guitar, piano, and using the studio itself as an instrument. With live recording I will only have my guitar, piano, voice, and samplers at my disposal. Since I have always done multi-tracking recording in the past, this is new and frightening territory for me! Yet, this new method creates a working environment that is motivating and exciting.

So I take on this upcoming week with some challenges. Challenges of introducing the songs and sounds of the past with the influences of the present. Challenges of recording in a honest and simple way. These obstacles seem tall, but the discipline of ascending the ladder one step at a time is something I’m practicing right now.

I will be trying to update every Friday. Obviously, this is coming on a Monday, but I think for the sake of my own discipline I need to implement a weekly structure. I hope to have some sort of chart or diagram that would lay out all the songs I’m currently working on sometime this week, so I will aim to write about that next time around.


2 thoughts on “Being Comfortable with Challenges

  1. Sweet. Love this Nate Dawg. Love how your new songs are being built on the shoulders of the old ones and also that you are going the terrifying but raw, rough route of one take recording with less tricks – really can’t wait to hear the finished result. All the best.

    Also love that you are recording your journey – keep on
    love brett fish dawg


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