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The Bleak Midwinter


A quick update.

It has been almost a year since I released my first album Whisky Priest. I had no idea what to expect after releasing an album (or even how to release an album in the first place). I knew that releasing an album would take me into a new season as an artist; I knew that it would put me on the map in the local music scene (however small a dot, I’m on there now at least), that it would put me in a box, and that it would lead to a whole new set of to-do lists.

I am currently sitting at a coffeeshop in Webster, WI eating the best cinnamon roll of my entire life. Yesterday I drove up to my friend’s cabin in Siren, WI; this is where I recorded the majority of Whisky Priest (shoutout to Bob & Becky for again letting me use their cabin, shoutout to Bek for everything). It is a different season up here; mid-February, the armpit of winter. Every day for the past two weeks I’ve looked hopefully at the weather app on my phone only to be disappointed by another day of single digit highs. Up here the lake is frozen over, everything is covered in snow and ice and I have spent the majority of the time so far sitting by the fireplace. Peace.

I’ve been feeling down lately about a lot of things. The initial surge of excitement from releasing an album has long faded. I spent a large part of last year trying to re-arrange my music to be better suited for a live show. I am now stuck with the tasks of self-promotion, emailing, booking shows, emailing, cleaning up my online presence, emailing, scheduling things, emailing, trying to convince people that I am worth listening to (ultimately wrapping up way too much of my identity in my music). Very little of it has had to do with the music itself.

I am tired of putting myself out there. I have been feeling this with my own music but also with music as a career in general. I feel like every slot is filled, every need is met, every gig is taken. Does the world need another guitar playing, music-maker person?

I have felt the sophomore album dread lingering in the back of my mind for awhile and am starting bring those thoughts to the forefront. Writing another album means doing all the work again, bashing my head against the wall for each word and idea; it means trying to live up to what I’ve already done and somehow make it better (to make it the same but also different). I won’t be modest here: I believe that some of the songs from Whisky Priest are timeless and bring me to the brink of tears even today. Other songs are throw-aways. There are some serious moments on that album; this haunts me and makes me wonder if I am capable of making the magic happen again.

My entire writing and production process has been turned upside down in the past year. I’ve gone studio-crazy, buying all kinds of toys, learning how computers can help you make music, seeing everything from the perspective of “how is this going to be received by people?”. That will undoubtedly help later on in the process but when sitting in the writer’s chair it is devastating. No longer can you let your mind wander, no longer do you have ideas without thinking about “how”.

I’ve been doing everything in my power to get back in the writer’s chair the past two months. I have been blocking out my schedule, putting certain things on hold, wrecking my mind and my sanity trying to write music again. Too much over-analyzing, too much thinking before speaking (writing should really be the other way around). It has been two unsuccessful months that have left me wondering if the magic is still there.

We’ll see what happens. I want to write a masterpiece. There are some deep themes that have been running through my life in recent months; I’m sure it is just a matter of time and effort. My goal for this cabin-time is not to write or finish anything; it is to write some B-sides, to start a bunch of new songs, to switch my mind back to being a writer, but most importantly to let my soul breathe.

Ben


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