In the Joni Mitchell song “Woodstock”, Joni sings about how she’s “got to get her soul free”. For many months, I’ve also lived in the pursuit of getting my soul free. I grew up walking barefoot in the woods and lately I’ve been getting back to building up those callouses at a nature preserve near my home called The Marshlands. For minutes at a time, I’ll dig my toes into the earth and stand still as a rock and try to breathe in the trees towering over me.
I walk to to ocean and stand in water up to my knees and let the salt wear away at me. At the New York-ness that’s clogging my pores. The rushing, the rude drivers behind their horns in their insular, sheltered little cars. The sea laps away my constant comparisons to other artists, the yearning to be the best and “make it”. Water is a meditation to all the inhabitants of the earth. The patterns of light rippling on the surface, the feeling of it heaving gently but resoundingly back and forth against me in the warm shallows. It’s September and I want to be submerged in the ocean. There’s really nothing like it.
All of this is a method of getting my soul free. I leave my phone at home and wear no watch. What I am looking for, am fighting for, is a complete detachment from time. From “checking”, from immediately addressing my worries and being on the clock to answer anyone’s requests, calls, emails. From refreshing my emails, waiting for the message that will deliver me, pull me up the ranks, change everything, be the big break I’ve been waiting for all these years.
No, I need to escape from all of that. Tempting and as shallowly satisfying as all that is, the “ping” of a new follower or a kind comment is just another shackle around my soul. My soul is never free when I’m connecting vaguely through these impersonal means.
It’s not my intention to vilify all technology because a long phone call with an old friend or a thought provoking film can also loosen the grips on my tired little soul, but it’s the fragmentary nature that breaks me down. The suspension I feel. The glances between 100 attention snatchers at once. Zoning out of what’s going on around me to scroll, refresh, react. Pulled in all these directions, my soul can’t relax or let down its guard.
How do I get my soul free? Maybe by living completely in the moment, even if it’s just for a few hours. Ideally days and weeks at a time could be spent that way, but even a few minutes of meditation of any sort (art, music, being in nature, or straight up sitting cross legged and connecting to the breath, noticing your senses one by one) can free your soul a little bit.
I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately reconciling my career with this desire to get my soul free. I think that if I spend time being completely committed to and engaged with these escapes, I can get my soul free to some degree and carry that gentleness into other moments. Build up the reserves and hold them close. The strength and patience to ward off addictions such as the craving for attention and validation. Breathe in the salty air. Feel the burning in my bare feet on the hot, sharp rocks. I’m going to get my soul free.
Feel free to share what methods you use to get your soul free!
Writing Yellowstone started long before I touched the piano. It was an idea that have been bumping around my head for 6 months prior. Last June I took a trip to India with my brother Barrett and part of that was a trek in the Himalayan mountains of Ladakh. When we set off for our adventure, my body was not ready at all. I've been sick with food poisoning for 3 days. I spent that time in a miserable place between being awake and being asleep in a hostel bunk bed with a bunch of random dudes coming in and out of the room. The night before we set off for our trek I managed to scarf down noodles for the first time since we'd reached Ladakh. In any case, this was our one chance to do this together, so I put on my hiking boots and we set off for a 5 day hike with no guide in the Markha Valley.
In the Markha Valley, there are no roads so if you want to take something somewhere, you have to strap it onto a pony or donkey. It takes 5 days to walk from one end to the other and once you start, there's only going to the end or turning around.
There were disputes among people we asked in town as to whether we'd even be able to take a road to the start of the trek. The Indian army is constantly setting off dynamite to avoid later landslides. It seemed like the consensus was that the only way to find out was to go so we got in a taxi and drove as far as we could. Eventually, the piles of rocks became too huge and we had to get out and walk 5km to the formal start of the trek in a tiny village called Chilling. We walked that day for about 9 hours. In our bags were liters and liters of water because we didn't know that we'd be able to refill our bottles along the way, so we had painfully heavy packs. I always joke that I like to suffer on a hike I never was that more true than on that first day. I was so weak from the days of being sick before but I could only make myself take 10 steps before taking a break.
The Markha Valley trail follows the river and all day our entertainment was watching the animals and the plants slowly changed as we went along our way. We stopped often for meditation and water breaks. It was the sort of pain that keeps you from thinking about anything else. There was no cell service in the valley so I left my phone at the hostel, hours away. By the time we finally reached the first house where we stayed I was completely exhausted. I laid down on that bed with the light streaming in through the window and closed my eyes. Often when I close my eyes, thoughts and worries flutter into my head but this time all I could see were oxen and birds and the river. It was one of the happiest moments of my whole life.
In Cheryl Strayed's book Wild, she says that the only thing that can prepare you for the next day on the trail is the day before and I definitely agree. Each day got easier even as the mountains became steeper. I felt so powerful and like I could do anything. I had a lot of issues in my life at the time and my brother and I talked through every aspect of our lives and I found solutions to a lot of things that hadn't been serving me anymore. But alas, all things end and I had to go back to my life in New York, but carried all that I'd learned from the trip back with me.
In December, I became friends with a very cool park ranger who told me all about his own adventures road tripping and exploring many of America's national parks. He remarked upon how beautiful and wild Yellowstone is and I was instantly hooked on its beautiful name and its breathtaking land and animals to match. At Christmas, I wrote the first draft of a song about leaving your capitalist chains behind and being in nature and embracing who you are and want to be. Cheesey? I don't know, maybe. But I feel deep in my soul that to find what's deep in YOUR soul, you have to get out and do something beautiful. Take a road trip! Make a meal with an old friend and leave your screens somewhere else. In order to really look at your life for what it is and make the changes that need to be made, you've got to step out of it for a while. And ideally you'll get that vantage point from atop of a giant mountain. And in case you were wondering, yes I'm currently planning my own road trip out west to see Yellowstone for myself.
Yellowstone will be out August 30th everywhere you get your music. Pre-save now and send me a screenshot for a chance to win the original Yellowstone artwork!
I recently got to do an interview with The Reclusive Blogger. In it, I talk about my inspirations, struggles with mental illness, and my new song Hungry For A Vice. Check it out here!
When I’m offstage, I teach private music lessons and for no reason in particular, I’ve ended up with almost exclusively young girls for students. It’s been such a pleasure to spend so many hours a week with them, but only recently did it click for me that I want to do more than that.
My whole life, I’ve struggled with choosing art versus something to help the world for my career. There are so many issues we face which drive me mad and sexism is a big one of them. How do we live in a developed country where the brilliantly smart and qualified, though flawed, Hillary Clinton had the presidency stolen from her by a sexist man with more rape allegations than public service credentials? How do we live in a world where women still earn less per dollar than men and where it’s a well known platitude that girls have to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously?
I don’t live in the political or STEM spheres, but in my art form of music, there is still rampant sexism. Look at all the “greats”: Mozart, The Beatles, Louis Armstrong, The Rolling Stones, Debussy, Chet Baker… notice anything? Way back in the ages of classical (in the broadest sense) music, women were almost always denied access to a musical education at all. Even if they had the talent in them to be great composers, the combination of exclusion from education and the even more troubling sexism of the time leaves us with almost no well known classical female composers. Jazz has always been a boys’ club, where most female artists were singers, if there at all. “Jazz bros” are such a thing. I can think of a lot of female jazz singers, but only one pianist comes to mind. And now, in my own life, all of my bandmates identify as male. Most of the bands I’ve listened to my whole life have been fronted by men. Even as our society makes progress on gender equality, something is lacking that only time and continued improvement can create: female role models in all fields.
Of course a woman can be president. It’s so obvious. Of course a woman can be a scientist. Of course a woman can be a rockstar. But if you’re a kid and you don’t see anyone who looks like you in the public eye doing these things, it’s a little bit less intuitive to aspire to your full potential. That’s not to say that there aren’t tons of ambitious, badass little girls. All I’m saying is that it might not be the obvious default to know you can do anything and we need to change that.
Back to my army of little female musicians. I have this one student, lets call her Sasha, who is 12. She’s done some rock camps and has a little Ibanez electric guitar that she loves to strum as quickly as possible with the drive up all the way. She’s starting a band playing a bunch of the songs we’ve been working on. Her favorite, which we go back to every lesson, is Bad Reputation by Joan Jett. It’s such an anthem of the “fuck it, I can do whatever I want” brand of feminism and it makes me so happy to help her improve on it. A recent lesson with her is when it clicked for me that even though I chose art, there’s still a lot of good I can do for the world. I practically have all I need in the palm of my hand. While Sasha may not have a ton of female musicians she knows about, she has me. I can research those musicians and show her more and, perhaps even more importantly, I can tell her she’s awesome and give her the tools she needs to be the best damn guitarist and singer than she can be. I can help her learn to make charts and understand music theory so she can walk into her first band practice the expert of the group and an obvious leader. I want to instill confidence in her using the vehicle of mastering the guitar.
And Sasha’s not the only one. That day, there was a subtle shift in how I was framing all of my lessons. Yes, I want to help my students become better players, but my new mission statement is, “I want to empower girls.” I want them to feel confident and give them the tools to be masters of their instruments and be the best they can be. Help them be diligent and practice and see how continued effort in themselves can pay off. I want to tell them about my musical journey and inspire them to pursue their own, wherever it takes them.
I doubt there is a woman alive who doesn’t have at least one younger female in their life who they are already subtly influencing. My challenge to you is to take that influence and make it active. We are all ambassadors of girl power and badassery. Even if my students aren’t yet listening to a ton of women, they’re listening to me and I’m listening to them. As Lady Gaga says, “We can make it easy if we lift each other.” I want to be a role model and a constant voice of support for them musically and personally.
In one of our lesson’s, the tomboyish Sasha showed up after a formal brunch wearing a dress and marveled that she couldn’t believe she was playing rock guitar in a dress. Not every girl has to by into dresses, but letting yourself be “feminine” shouldn’t mean you can’t take yourself seriously because most of your idols are dressless men. If a girl wants to wear a dress, I want them do it while to picking up her guitar, bumping up the distortion, and singing, “A girl’s gonna do what she wants to do and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Enjoy this Spotify playlist of feminist songs to pump you up to get out there and support the heck out of each other.
I did an interview with Dope Cause We Said which I'm really happy with. Check it out!
Recently, I released a live video of "Winter Nights" with my band. I'm really happy with the video! Lemonade Magazine premiered it and wrote a really nice review of it. They said of the song, "The jazzy, acoustic number is filled with brilliant tenderness that can only be written when feeling are running out of control and the only meaningful outlet is songwriting."
Ah, so nice! And then: "The track comes off as high-class lounge act that waking up at 2AM to catch the show would not be out of the question. Then listen to the heartbreaking song with a whiskey neat, a Cuban cigar and a booth and take it all in. Actually, I suggest doing that in your living room anyway with this song and for that matter the rest of her album, The Space Between."
So, that was cool! I hope you like the song.
I asked for song requests on twitter and this was one of the first. Coincidentally, it's one of my favorite songs, so here ya go! Please feel free to share and subscribe :)
I wrote my favorite song the night before I went to the hospital in December of 2015. After attending a classical concert at my college, I was near bursting. As the music caressed me, I’d been feverishly jotting down ideas in my pocket notebook. At the close of the concert, I couldn’t stomach standing (waiting waiting waiting, always waiting, standing so agonizingly still) with my companions and ran off to the music building, with its abundance of baby grand pianos, and began to write. At the end of writing the song, I played it and realized that I’d just written a song about disassociating and climbing to the top of a building, presumably to jump. “There’s no sound, but I’m climbing; the elevator stays lonesome up to the top floor.” I don’t remember much else from that night other than that I cried a whole lot. The next day, I was admitted to Northern Westchester Hospital, where I spent a week in 9 North, the psych ward.
My suspicions of being bipolar were confirmed as the mood stabilizers and antidepressants and low grade anti-psychotics took hold and made me feel normal, even happy. As trapped as I felt, that week inside locked doors was the beginning of feeling better. Some days now, I’m overcome by a happiness which felt impossible a few years ago.
But “Save My Soul” is still my favorite song I’ve ever written. Dark as it is, it’s true and it brings me back to a time of great loneliness and self doubt, but poignantly. The truth is that a lot of my best songs have come from the exact, if less exaggerated, spot. My whole catalogue is filled with rumination on my own unhappiness. My mental health has been my biggest and most faithful muse.
So many brilliant musicians died at their own hands. Chris Cornell’s recent suicide is an obvious one. One of my favorite musicians is Elliott Smith, who suffered the same fate. Kurt Cobain, Phil Ochs, Nick Drake. Many, many others died of overdoses undoubtably tied to their frail mental health. It extends to non-musicians and even people who seemed full of joy, like Robin Williams.
I look back on those times of climbing trees barefoot and staying up until 7 in the morning, those times of wanting a light switch attached to my own existence I could blissfully reach out and flick. They were times of great inspiration, but they were also my worst. The maddening highs were too intrinsically tied to the cruel lows.
Writing now takes effort. It takes a patience and steadiness. Other things inspire me. Even in those days of fiery inspiration, music making was a muscle I stopped flexing. My muse was my downfall. As I grow more stable, I’m practicing, writing, recording, and gigging more and more regularly. The music muscle gets stronger every day. At the end of the day, my mental health was too important not to save.
I’m not exactly sure why I’m writing this all, but I do know that things got way better for me.If you feel terrible more often than you feel better, please seek help. There is so much out there. New things will inspire you. Your art is more than your mental illness.
That fateful December night I wrote, “You were blooming as my eyes grew distant, as my mind grew frantic as my mind.” But the thing is that now I’m the one who is blooming.
A while ago I felt myself craving music that would made me slither and wiggle my arms, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what I wanted to hear. That put this playlist in motion.
As I went about my recent daily listening, I was thinking of some SUNY Purchase Conservatory alumni. Going to Purchase led to me discovering so many talented artists who’d gone there. Mitski’s Last Words Of A Shooting Star was still in the back of my mind when I remembered Evan Shornstein, a music theory classmate, and his project Photay. No Sass’s serpentine groove provoked just the dance move I’d been waiting for.
Vampire Weekend is a band I hadn’t listened to in a few years. I was thinking about the Spanish word “contra”, against, because some Spanish speaking friends were in town and it had come up and instantly Vampire Weekend’s second album came to mind. Horchata is the first song on the album and just takes me back to an older time, sepia tinged and softly faded in my memory.
When you love someone deeply, something about them permeates your being. Once I felt that and wrote Your Skin On My Sheets.
Oh, Sampa the Great. This song. She’s such a badass woman and the more of those I get in my vicinity, the better things are. The groove on Born To Be Blue is so beautiful and dizzying, like falling down a rabbit hole. As I started falling in love with hip hop, she was my girl.
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Degrees of Light by Taylor McFerrin, but it’s also dizzying and delightful.
Them Changes is just brilliant. The production is so lush and stratified and every baseline and melody is gorgeous in my opinion.
Yes, I’ve become obsessed with Frank Ocean. This is the song that first drew me to him.
On New Years Eve, we listened to Flying Lotus all night. This music is how going into this year for me feel in a good way. And Kendrick is one of my idols. Him being on this song is the icing on the cake.
And James Blake is just stunning. In feel such a deep groove in this song while the washed out tone in the beginning feels so hypnotizing and beautiful to me.
Anyway, that’s what I think of these songs. I hope you dig them!