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


Anonymous Betsy Grant said...

I appreciate so much what you are saying. As an artist/composer, I feel that we musicians have been given a special gift...the ability to hear, feel, interpret our life experiences in a unique way. Maybe it's more important that YOU understand what it is you're expressing than whether someone else does. Authencity is key. Stick to your truest self when you write, you'll ultimately feel greater peace of heart.
All the best to you Jesse!

1:54 AM  
Blogger Jesse Kates said...

Well said, Betsy. And thank you! :)

4:11 PM  

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