Saturday, November 28

I'm nothing special

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration - Thomas Edison

Hardly an original quote, eh? Yet I hadn't heard the complete form before. If you do a little googling you'll find a number of variations.

I think this is something I've always understood about myself, but it bares repeating. I'm no musical genius. I'm not really much of a genius at anything. Mostly, I just work hard, and I've had the benefit of being surrounded by some very talented and skilled people.

I can be competent at many things, and I've always been interested in a lot of different stuff. If anything is my "talent," it's probably some kind of mental ambidextrosity. I can handle calculus and matrix algebra, I'm a good programmer, I'm pretty good with people, I can write well, and I can write a tune. I also used to be somewhat of a visual artist in an obscure, primitive digital medium, though my work never really evolved beyond copying the pages of comic books.

But really, at the end of the day, I just work hard. I've been playing guitar now for 12 years. I've been writing pop songs in earnest for six. The later stuff is clearly better than the early stuff. How many hours have I put in? Probably somewhere around 5 hours a week, on average, on actual songwriting. I've put in more on the band at large, but a lot of that is booking and posters and stuff. So that's 12 years * 52 weeks * 5 hours = 3000 hours of songwriting. In the beginning, I put in more time. I played until my hands hurt. Now, I have to scrape my songwriting time out when my kid's napping and my wife's asleep.

I work hard, but I don't work enough. My friend Russell told me about Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, which I may or may not need to read. In it, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule. The gist is that in order to reach a level of incredible, genius-like performance at anything, you have to put in at least 10,000 hours. The Beatles did it. Tiger Woods did it. Bill Gates did it. The list goes on and on.

So maybe this is the real sacrifice one makes when one doesn't pursue one's art professionally. Or maybe I've just spent too much time working on non-essentials. In any event, I'd have to change my routine pretty significantly to get to 10,000 hours any time soon. I'm only a third of the way there, and I'm 32. At this pace I won't hit 10,000 until I'm 55. Professionally, I'm at 16,000 hours. And I started really peaking as an interaction designer after 5 years, right at the 10,000 mark.

But now I have a goal. I can make a change. It's like discovering that you haven't been saving enough for retirement. It's not too late, but the years you've spent not saving enough make your task harder. I have to make some catch-up contributions.

Thankfully, the IRS can't limit how much time I spend working on my art. It's time to get creative and re-budget my time.

- Jesse Kates / The Sexy Accident - Download our music for FREE

Thursday, November 26

A Merry Christmas To You - Remixed!

The Sexy Accident have just released a brand new Steve Fisk remix of A Merry Christmas To You!

Be warned: this is no song of holiday cheer. The remix is spooky as hell, and features lead vocals sung by Michelle Plaitis, who sang backup on the original version from mantoloking.

You can download the new track free of charge at

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And welcome to to the holiday season!

- Jesse Kates / The Sexy Accident - Download our music for FREE

Sunday, November 15

The Sexy Accident is not a bus

something I sent to the band on this rainy Sunday morning, prompted by my visit to Unity Temple.


The Sexy Accident is not a bus. You don't get on, sit down and wait for it to take you somewhere. The Sexy Accident is a canoe, and the journey is upriver and long.

The canoe only moves as fast as everyone paddles, and it moves the farthest when everyone's paddling in the same direction, and with the same pace and rhythm.

Sometimes you might pull your paddle out of the water and start to think about whether the canoe will really get where you want the canoe to go, or whether we're paddling in the right direction. Sometimes, even though you're trying to paddle, you might not take the time to get your rhythm right. You may start to chop frantically at the water or make small, ineffective strokes. It happens.

Sometimes people leave the canoe, and sometimes new people hop on. That's OK. It's all part of the journey upriver.

The best part of being on the canoe is not getting somewhere, because there's always somewhere else to go next. The best moments are when everyone's paddling together and having a great time doing it: when you sing songs and laugh out loud as you go, and when the motion of the canoe is fast and smooth through the water. Sometimes it's fun to pull the canoe up to shore for the night and just party together, too.

So if you catch yourself with your paddle out of the water, stuck in a mental rut, ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I paddling as hard and as effectively as possible?
2. Is there a way I can help everyone in the canoe paddle together, with the same pace and rhythm?
3. Is there a way I can encourage everyone to paddle with more strength?
4. Is there a new, better way to paddle that we should all try?
5. Can I help make our time in the canoe more fun?

Chances are, you'll think of something.

- Jesse Kates / The Sexy Accident - Download our music for FREE

Sunday, November 8

Master of my domain

"The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will." - Hugh McLeod

I'm reading Ignore Everybody. It's good so far! I'm on chapter three.

I try to read an art book every year or so. So far, it's been The Artist's Way and The War of Art. Female and male halves, respectively, of the same coin.

The quote above caught my eye and I started to think about my work, and the sovereignty of it. Or the lack thereof. I guess the question is this - do I try to sell out? Do I water things down to make them more commercial?

It's a complex question. I used to play in instrumental bands. Part of why I don't do that anymore (and it's only part) is that I realized that people just don't want to listen to instrumental music, unless you're a virtuoso. Maybe there are a few exceptions. Explosions in the Sky. Mogwai. Token indie instrumental bands. What's crazy is that Mogwai aren't even really that great. I mean, they're good, but Godspeed you Black Emperor were always much, much better. And how many times can you listen to the same, slow, e-minor arpeggio set to big ambient drums before it gets a bit stale? How many ways are there to slice that cake? So yeah, part of the transition to pop songs it that I got bored, and part is that I love pop music and listen to more or less nothing but, but there's a tiny sliver of logic in there regarding the fact that nobody listens to instrumental music. And I just didn't love it enough to keep playing it just for me.

I think at some point I also embraced the idea of trying to make the personal universal, which is easier with lyrics (or at least more direct?). But it's tricky. On the one hand, you have Rock You Like a Hurricane. I mean, clearly that song was written to be performed in an arena. Is it expressing some deeply personal experience? Maybe it is and I'm just being an ass, but I don't quite see it. I'm struggling for a counterexample. I don't know what the other extreme would be. Hmm... something so personal that it's completely unapproachable? I don't think I've ever created such a piece. I almost wish I had something like that to point to.

I think I'm passionate about the notion of a pop song. Something that's made to be approachable and deeply, fundamentally simple. Yet I want it to be quirky. I want it to be me. And it's that tension that I'm always trying to master. I have songs like My Girl that have been rejected for consideration for placement in movies and TV because of lyrics like "My girl is at home asleep / 'cuz she's gotta keep / Toby blowing bubbles" That's hardly universal, right? But it's a catchy tune, and it's for my wife. So that's the way it's going to roll. And then there's some dude on Youtube complaining that I Just Need My Car is too "average" yet 1) I love it just the way it is and 2) we rejected that song as our single because it contains the word "bumblefuck" in the chorus! Hardly radio friendly! And I knew it, too. I could have said "BFE," instead. Still a little obscure, but not against FCC regulations. Yet I went with "bumblefuck."

I constantly wonder if I'm sabotaging myself, making decisions like these. I sometimes consider changing things around to make stuff more widely palatable but I can never bring myself to do it. So instead I keep waiting for that magical song to come along that's truly exactly what I want to say and also miraculously approachable and appreciable enough that a lot of people might relate to it. I mean, what artist wouldn't want that? It's always been a dream of mine to have people sing along to my songs at a show.

But that's exactly how I look at it. If that happens, it'll be a happy accident. A sexy one, even. It won't be because of conscious decisions that I've made to make things more generic or palatable. I hope it does happen, because it would be great to have more people hear and appreciate our work, but if it doesn't, I'd rather write a song for somebody I love and have nobody (maybe not even them) appreciate it than write generic crap that I can't stand behind.

So here I am, keeping on. Rock you like a hurricane.

I have this new song that maybe hits the mystical balance point. It's called Now That She's Gone. It sounds sorta motown, but we're going to put a lot of guitar noodling in it. I'm sure some of our fans will feel it's too poppy and will be disappointed because it's not in an odd time signature (though it is highly syncopated.) I'm sure somebody will think it's too generic. And I'm equally sure somebody will think the vocals are mixed too low or that we'd do better with another singer. But fuck it, it's my jam. I hope you like it when you get to hear it, but if you don't, that's just the way it is. What am I going to do about it? In the end, I wrote this song for the same reason that I wrote all the others. Something happened that deeply affected me, and I needed to write a song about it. So I did.

You see? I'm just a conduit. I think Hugh MacLeod would approve.

- Jesse Kates / The Sexy Accident - Download our music for FREE

Saturday, November 7

New bass player

Our search for a new master of the grooves is over. Welcome Jonathon Smith, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire and fan of motown. What more could you want?

Jonathon also writes and publishes radio free raytown, a blog and podcast about all things musical. You should check it out!

Coincidentally (truly!), he recently wrote a review of Mantoloking. :)

We're all super excited to have Jonathon on board and are jazzed at the prospect of playing shows again. Jazzed! Jazz hands!

All our love,

- Jesse Kates / The Sexy Accident - Download our music for FREE

Wednesday, November 4

New press!

Two great reviews just came in.

The first is from Americana UK, and it's probably my favorite review to date. Jonathan Aird really heard the record in the way that I hoped it would be heard. It's a well written review, too.

The second is from Straight, No Chaser. Just as you'd expect, it's right to the point. :)

- Jesse Kates / The Sexy Accident - Download our music for FREE