Creating anything I care about is typically a grueling process.
It begins with great enthusiasm and some shiny vision lodged deep in my minds eye. Hypnotized by the ‘beauty and importance’ and driven by excitement I always underestimate the amount of actual work it will take to bring it to completion. In truth, I’m usually quick to dispense with long-term details and dive right in. And no matter how often I go through this cycle I never seems to anticipate just how hard bringing an idea to life always tends to be.
A few days ago I set about designing a cover for Magnetic Fields, a new single that should be dropping in a matter of weeks. The cover itself will have fairly limited purpose as a thumbnail for streaming sites like Apple Music and Spotify so the pressure isn’t so great.
Taking the first steps in designing it required weeks worth of kicking this line-item from one “to-do” list to the next. Not sure why but this avoidance phase seems to be part of my operation. At the very least it’s something I have learned not to resist too much when possible; forcing artsy things will tends to make the final product suck. Procrastinating can get me firing on all cylinders, especially when something was suppose to be out the door yesterday but “creating from emergency” isn’t a method to employ too often if you plan on experiencing some level of old age.
I think my ‘process’ is dogged not so much by “having too many irons in the fire” but of “having too many irons and only room enough for one at a time in the fire. And they get changed out quickly” It really doesn’t matter how pressing or important something is to finish, if that something is something I don’t wanna do on a visceral level then it becomes boarder-line impossible to even start working on it. (see: Unemployable)
These past few weeks my muse has been very busy…
…and I’m very grateful for this. She has been keeping me back-lit by an intense musical glow. I’m always thankful when my oscillating interest-pallet pivots back to what I know best; music. As many of my close confidants know my infatuation with music has been steadily waning causing my enthusiasm to be increasingly spotty these last few years. Turning what you love into a full-time job can become back-breaking and soul-crushing at times. Who knew?
So as music, my first love, began gaining weight I naturally started looking elsewhere for some levity and fun. This has lead me into all kinds of interesting wormholes; most having nothing to do with music. (And huge props to the internet! You can learn about literally ANYTHING at ANYTIME! That fact will never cease to amaze.)
Anyways, I have mostly lived the bachelors-life over the last decade with, for the most part, the freedom to do whatever I want when I want almost everyday. A situation like this allows for a truly inordinate allotment of time to pursue any and all whims. For long swaths of time my curiosity has lingered and latched onto topics from the universe and space to trying to understand what makes brilliant stand-up comedians and athletes tick. The list of what has captured my attention over the years is pretty extensive and varied. Unfortunately all this random knowledge hunting doesn’t seem to pay the bills. Or at least I haven’t figured out how to make money by reading every Carl Sagan book and scouring the web for all the Christopher Hitchens lectures that exist.
Speaking of money and tangents…
If I would have (could have, more like it) put all this time and energy into playing music, and music only, I’d probably be as good as I thought I was as a delusional teenager learning my first chords. I was definitely slow on the uptake when it came to understanding the importance of self-criticism. I write a little more on this here: The Sad Plight of the Young Artist.
Back to it. One such blip of interest that hung on my radar long enough to blur the screen was watercolor painting. It’s an art form I’ve always had a certain fascination with with. Watercolor can blend realism and dream-states into a single image in a way that nothing else can. While looking for the next fix I took to fussing with the tools of the trade and began splashing up paper just to see what happens. One technique I loved to experiment with is letting the tone-filled water run rills down a tipped-up page. Turns out gravity and nature can paint cooler things than I’ll ever hope to. Click the image for a some of the examples that resulted from this process.
Figuring what to do for a cover for Magnetic Fields has been a looming chore since deciding I would release ahead of the album. The main hangup is that any desire to make art has been MIA since early last summer. Not sure why; just the way it is. So in the spirit of least resistance I shuffled through those old, drippy paintings and a few resonated loudly enough for some vague concepts to percolate.
My biggest problem with chucking a project past the finish-line…
…is detaching “what I’ve made” from “what I wanted to make”. I’m hardly ever able to make what’s in my mind come out just the way I see it. Sometimes what I make turns out better and cooler than I imagined… But mostly this isn’t an outcome that can be counted on; usually I’m somewhat disappointed with the final product. The trick is either accepting it for what it is and jumping back into the endless revisions near the drawing-board with the piles of torn-out hair under it. Often though nothing I try helps and eventually I reach for the “Omg-Fuck-It” sign; leaving the troublesome new prototype on the factory floor to collect dust and rot.
I suppose on some thin level that making art is a lot like having a kid, which I don’t have any of. You can have a baby and hope to mold it into your own image with your value-sets and outlooks but in the end she/he/it/they/whatever is going to be unique unto themselves. As a parent I imagine one of the biggest jobs is eventually accepting this and seeing your child not as an extension of yourself but as an entirely independent being with it’s own whacked-out personality and mixed-up thoughts.
So comparing a living-child to a 6″x6″ image that was mostly assembled using Photoshop trickery seems a bit lofty. But I think the analogy here works. Whether I throw on the horse-blinders and blitz something out the door or try to control every aspect of the operation, in the end, acceptance is the only way to finality. And acceptance is the hardest part for someone with perfectionist tendencies and it’s why I’m stuck with a considerable amount of songs. Sometimes you just gotta throw up that sign and let the kids go on and be their fucked-up little selves. So in a sense I am trying to be better as a parent and simultaneously have many more kids. It’s a tough balance when your goal is to shove them out the door as quickly as possible. They deserve to be the feral little monsters they were born to be.
Art for me is way faster and easier to make than music.
I’m not going for the extreme adherence to my vision with art because mostly I can’t. I just don’t have the same level of skill and control as I do with music; I have way less excuses not to nail when making songs. Designing this single-cover was like a scaled-down version of what I want my song writing/recording process to be. Fast, easy and over. After scanning the paintings to the computer I started playing around with fonts and layouts. Once I found some balance and cohesion I then drew the font by hand (it looks more hand-made this way; obviously…) then imported everything back into PS where I tweaked about for a few more hours while listening my friends doing live-stream shows. (See some working versions here) Once I had had enough I slept on it. In the morning, after some deliberation over styles with a friend, I whipped together a final version. That was it. I’m hoping that this condensed, walled-in approach will bring wider-perspective to my way-too-lengthy music making process. Maybe it can bring some brevity to my way too lengthy writing process as well…
Regardless of whether it’s art or music…
…there’s one final stretch of road that has to be traversed. The space on this continuum is positively littered with stalled-out song heaps now trapped forever in the twilight of birth. Although this doomed wreckage may find itself being visited by the scavenging songwriter from time to time; for the most part this place is a monolithic graveyard of failure’s best attempts. It’s hard not to look around and notice all the wasted effort it took get these malformed songs to their final, unintended resting places. And walking away empty-handed smarts like hell on it’s but what may be worse is the way the sentiment hangs on; chipping away bits of resolve with each slow step toward starting anew. Moving on after a failure, for an artist of any sort, requires a hefty amount of functional delusion I guess.
Well the good news is that just venting some of this psychobabble can really mash the reset button down. Clearing the cluttered slate of these languishing reminders fills me with some sparkly forward-momentum and the urge to once again pile the slate high and start on something new.
In the meantime I’m releasing the new single, Magnetic Fields, right here for the first time. This is all the fan fare it will receive for a few weeks at least. It’s my way of thanking you readers who actually slogged it through all 1710 words of this.
Thank you for listening and please, have a listen.