Why one chooses to do music in the first place is quite easy to comprehend, sure: “I like music, you like music, let’s start a band!” Simple. But as life pushes on and the struggle gets real, the pressure overwhelms before it consumes. This is the point where most opt out and choose another, more practical approach to life. It’s honestly the smartest thing to do at this point. It makes sense. I mean, even if you somehow make it past the initial stages of starting a band and achieving moderate success, only a few can survive the torturous roads littered with music business villains; the pimps and thieves who are the lofty gatekeepers of this corrupt industry…It’s more than difficult to brave the fiery gauntlet of exhausting touring, recording, and media campaign schedules, which consume most, if not all of your time. When is there time to achieve anything else on this big blue bubble? Any of the predictable milestones life has to offer… the house, the kids, the car, the 401K… the fucking dog? It’d all be worth it if the rewards were guaranteed in the end, but this is the music business, baby, not medical school! You ain’t guaranteed shit. So what is it that separates the fakers from the makers?
I’d say a keen sense of knowing and owning your craft. It doesn’t happen all at once, but if you stay in the game long enough, you start to see what I’m getting at. In my relatively short career, I’ve had the severe pleasure of working with many a formidable musical pathfinder; leaders throughout the various echelons of the sonic spectrum, traversing various levels of notoriety. The ones that seem to survive the tumultuous terrain of the sonic profession are those who demand your respect not just from their sheer talent, but also their complete awareness of what they are putting into the world. These people know their musical narrative and how it is meant to connect with the fabric of the listener or concert-goer.
They’ve put in the time. They can play their instrument(s). They can write, produce… do whatever it takes to survive within their industry. They are well versed in the “business” of music. In my circle of musician friends, we call these people “lifers”. These are the people whom, when faced with that inevitable crossroads, never noticed the crossroads to begin with. Medical School never entered into the picture. Face to the ground, moving forward, always. Music, always. And we suss each other out in life. I found Howe Gelb. I found KT Tunstall. I found Gabriel Sullivan. Or did they find me? Lifers find lifers. Music is hard. The pressure is real. But it will never consume us. We love what we do. And this, I realise now, is a luxury not everyone can possess. But honestly, medical school would have been loads easier…
My first experience on stage with Howe Gelb was a 35 minute excursion of sweating bullets and sheer guessing. Brian Lopez, Sergio Mendoza and myself had spent weeks working on the handful of songs Howe had asked us to learn for his induction into the Tucson “Tammies” hall of fame, only to be bludgeoned with songs we had never heard, and new chords to the songs we thought we knew. Since then I feel I’ve been immersed in the greatest music school there is, and it is called Giant Sand. Brian (who ranks high as one of my favorite songwriters) and I have taken this off the cuff, anything goes mentality into our new group, XIXA. There is no way in hell our music would sound like it does now if we hadn’t spent the last few years playing with Howe… and I dare say Howe might say the same about playing with us. Songwriting is a craft that should live and breathe and change with the world, and Howe has certainly instilled that in Brian and I. “Don’t insult the future by rehearsing” Howe often tells us… I can live with that.
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