Monday, 16 May 2016

A momentness of seriousnessness

Is it worth stating at this point my ideas on production, writing and creativity within music as a whole?  Is that something I really want to try to articulate, when the last ten years of talking hasn’t been enough to truly nail my feelings on the matter? 


In a nutshell, I got too close.  Music is part of me.  And to try to turn that into a way of making a living just doesn’t work for me.  It does for others, but not for me.  And that isn’t meant to sound like some principled, Dischord-spouting rhetoric.  Because it isn’t.  It’s just a belated acceptance of the laws by which my nature as a person is governed; and something I failed to realise, or take heed of, as each endeavour to carve a career out in the field of music only seemed to repeat bilious feeling after bilious feeling upon me over and over again.

I got into music because I’m a singer.  Not because I wanted to be a producer, record label owner, events organiser, manager, A&R man, live engineer, studio owner, college teacher, mediator, publicist or company director – though in my journey through music I have been all of those things too.  I lacked the confidence to just stick to what I felt closest to – singing.  That didn't seem enough on its own, somehow.  So I felt I had to do all of these other things, to bolster my idea of myself, other things that just distracted and took away from the raw pleasure and vitality of being a singer in a band.

It feels good now to admit that, and tell you hand on heart, instead of producing all those records by other people, I should’ve been concentrating on my own stuff.  I didn't know it at the time, but I know it now.  Because no one else was going to do that for me; and tragic delays such as the one for My Attorney LP4 was proof of how skewed the priorities had become.  Of putting off personally important work in favour of paid work and flyposting shows for bands in a city I had long grown tired of.

In the last days of Newcastle, I was slowly beginning to realise this.  I had pulled up the drawbridge on promoting live shows and producing other people’s work.  The bands I was in just rehearsed, wrote and hung out together.  It was by far the most creative time, disengaging from a closed-shop music scene that had no time for blow-ins like us.  And why exhaust oneself trying to appeal to an audience one didn’t respect?  Why try to hawk for work in a profession that was two steps removed from the heartfelt reason you got into it in the first place?  By 2013, I had run out of patience and energy trying to engage with an alternative music scene in Newcastle that had become bogged down in the hipster aesthetic and which was cliquey beyond belief.  It’s a small place; and if your face doesn’t fit then don’t expect to get any shows without having to put them on yourself.  And that takes time and energy that could be better spent working on your own endeavours. 

I got so angry with it all.  I didn’t really know why at the time, but I understand more of it now.  It doesn’t stop me being angry – mainly at myself – for pandering to all that scenster nonsense, when I should have been way, way ahead of all that, making my own stuff and having a life worth living, rather than grubbing around in the constrictive world of the Ouseburn.

And that's not to invalidate the successes Ex Libris did have while it was operating.  I achieved a lot through it, though I'm not sure if it was all in exactly the direction I had originally intended.  Things got blown off course as time went by.  And the work I did for others gave me knowledge and experience beyond my wildest dreams, compared to when I started out on the little MiniDisc 8-track in Portrush.   So I'm fighting to use this mixed bag of experiences to map out a better way forward for the future.

Any attempt at engaging with the professional “industry” was the same.  There was this innate incompatibility that ran through me when I tried to work with such things.  I found that lots of people can be good at many things, but few involved in music are there for creative reasons.  They may say they are.  They may talk as though they are, wear the clothes as though they are and make the friends that suggest that they are.  But when push comes to shove, they’re invited to the party on reasons other than merit; and all the artistic integrity in the world isn’t enough to hammer through the thick skin of artifice and clique-iness that exists in a scene that distrusts anything it doesn’t already know or feel familiar with.  The only way in, is via people – and that takes a certain talent that isn’t necessarily related to making good music.  The same can be said of business as a whole:  it’s not what you know, but who you know that grants you the exposure you need to make a living.

At one point during my final furlong in Newcastle, I was in talks with a business that pairedproducer-songwriters with emerging artists.  I thought it might be a good idea to turn what talents and experience I had in the field to good, commercial use.  It ended up with these two middle-aged business men talking a lot about X Factor finalists in Serbia, and criticising the vocals on an old My Attorney track.  I felt violated; I knew in my heart that the work I’d done was – for the most part – good.  Inviting these clowns into my life to grope me and leave without so much as a follow up phone call was humiliating.  Again, it was Life’s way of saying that I was going about things the wrong way.  Something as precious as singing is not designed to be grafted onto the mechanics of a business that is just looking for the next corporate consultancy payday, masquerading as some "workshop" or "enterprise programme".

Make the sign of the cross, and walk away.  Which was difficult, because I never wanted to be a hobbyist.  For me it was a life thing.  So you have to step back, and reappraise it all.  Work out how you are going to do what it is you want to do, outside of anyone else’s system.  Because once you start playing by someone else’s rules, you’re fucked.