Radnor Lake (Nashville, TN)

Photos taken November 8, 2013 at Radnor Lake in Nashville, TN.

Hataraqq feat. Schelli Tolliver "Slow Woks" Video

During my time spent in Kansas City this year I came across a local producer online, making synth-heavy beats under the Hataraqq alias. Primarily sharing short snippets, and stamping most songs with a unique Cab Calloway imprint, his music reflects a happy medium between Weeknd-leaning nonchalance and traditional hip hop. I really dig his style.

Slow Woks” (which I misread for about six months as “Slow Works”) stood out to me when we originally met, and the track stuck to my bones long after I returned to Nashville. In reconnecting with my friend recently, we put together the idea for this video: Something in the vein of “Revolution 909” with Eddie Murphy, James Brown, c-walking, and Buns of Steel cuts… because what’s a good music video without VHS-ripped jazzercise clips?

[Featured by The Pitch.]

Back to Today

If only as a gesture of ushering history into the past I walk through the doorway. You’re busy, with too many customers for one person to handle. The register rings and the line slowly turns over. I slip back outside, still unsure if you’ve seen me. Talking with a familiar face by the entrance, it dawns on me that I don’t have to be here. The past is already gone, regardless of whether I’ve had a hand in burying it. Nothing will be improved by picking at the scab. You look different now: better, healthier, happier than when I left. The shop empties and you catch your breath, but I’m already gone. Back to today.

"California Love" vs. Kacey Musgraves Mashup

Last week I was reading a GQ interview with Kacey Musgraves. In the discussion she mentioned that she has “California Love” on her phone — no shocker there, I remember seeing her rock a 2Pac t-shirt a few years back. What was surprising to me was her caveat that, “it’s not like I know a lot of deep cuts but he had some really catchy shit.” That got me thinking…

M. and I had previously been batting around the idea of working on some sort of pot-infused Musgraves remix, blending a lick from one of her tracks with Cypress Hill, or something. The idea drifted away from us, but after reading this interview, I cracked open my computer and started playing with some crudely cut samples, trying to blend the woman’s favorite 2Pac song with something of her own. I used “Blowin’ Smoke.” After a few hours of going nowhere with what seemed to be a failed idea, I gave up, and in a moment of frustrated weakness, I shot off a couple tweets and called it a night. “Making a California Love/Blowin’ Smoke mashup might not be the way to @KaceyMusgraves’ heart after all, he says… having just invested several hours into a failed California Love/Blowin’ Smoke mashup.” The thing is, by the time I woke up, Kacey had tweeted back… “Dooo it.”

The first time I saw Kacey live was right after I moved to Nashville in 2010. She was playing a round with Rodney Crowell at the Station Inn, and she owned the show. The highlight was “John Prine.”
"Grandma cried when I pierced my nose / Never liked doing what I was told / Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you / ‘Cause I ain’t walking in your shoes / ‘Cause I ain’t one to knock religion / Though it’s always knocking me / Always running with the wrong crowd / Right where I wanna be / I’m not good at being careful / I just say what’s on my mind / Like my idea of heaven / Is to burn one with John Prine."
My god she keeps it real.

This thread has the potential to translate as seriously creep-balls, but in defense of myself, I gained a lot of respect for Kacey that night, and have since been amazed by all that she’s accomplished in the years that followed. She’s maintained the essence of who she is in an industry that seemingly requires extinguishing personality in favor of a flavorless status quo. So when she tweeted back, I felt simultaneously energized and sick to my stomach. I appreciate and respect her, and here I’d essentially gone out of my way to make a fool of myself for the sake of gaining a moment’s worth of attention.

That morning I showed M. the tweet and his response was predictable: Musically speaking, there wasn’t much common ground between the two songs, and I was probably out of luck. Being the champion that he is though, he started playing with the opening riff from “Blowin’ Smoke,” and before we realized it we had a song on our hands. Mike tweaked some “California Love” acapellas, added some synths, laid down some beats, and we threw in a sample of Craig and Smokey from Friday because… why not? And here’s the final product: “California Smoke,” punctuated by one final tweet. No word back yet from her, but maybe someday I’ll get to burn one with Kacey Musgraves.

[Featured by: Bobby Bare, Farce the Music, For the Country Record, Jessica Northey, LA Weekly, The Mashup, Mashupciti, Nashville Gab, Perez Hilton, Radio Texas Live, Rawhide & Velvet, Twang Nation, and YinYueTai.]

Why Eminem Still Matters

Nearly 15 years ago Eminem’s “My Name Is” set a new rap standard when the skinny white MC found fame by filtering his generally abasing wordplay through an obnoxious Labi Siffre sample. While the single’s music video mocked both celebrity and lowest common denominator Ameri-slob entertainment, the track stood out as much for its shock value (or at least anti-PC value) as it did for Marshall Mathers’ talented self-deprecating storytelling. Once shine began to wear thin there, the life-cycle of 1999′s The Slim Shady LP was extended with “Guilty Conscience,” a track that found the rapper continuing to infuriate, casting his lyrical devil (justifying a robbery, date-rape, and murder) opposite Dr. Dre’s voice of reason. The single went platinum. Twice.

This divisive M.O. carried through to The Marshall Mathers LP which followed in 2000, an album which has since been championed as one of the best hip hop LPs ever despite its violent, misogynistic, and homophobic lyrics (which is OK because it’s not real life, it’s art). Marshall Mathers has since struggled with addiction and fame along the way to becoming one of the biggest selling recording artists of all time, and with minimal googling you can find a more comprehensive history written by someone far more adept at relating that story. The point here isn’t to rehash or play up history, but to recognize how much has changed in approaching why Eminem flashing a few familiar fingers in 2013 — as he did last month with his Instagram debut — has come to mean so much.

In recent weeks Eminem has released a song in connection with a hugely popular video game series, announced that The Marshall Mathers LP 2 will drop in November, and unveiled a new music video, appearing on screen as a reborn version of the white-tee wearing, bleach-blonde-rocking agitator who closed out the ’90s by making fun of deflated celebrities. Much of why the globally recognized Eminem™ brand matters now boils down to its worth as a commodity though. Putting the track’s obvious market gains (“Berzerk” will see one million digital downloads before long) to the side, Eminem simply making news helps almost everyone related to the music business eat.

The media bubble is obvious: Good or bad, Eminem doing anything gives every interested outlet an angle to generate highly-clickable content. Talking heads and media farms use this avenue to spew re-contextualized histories (not unlike that which started this article) with the editorial payoff remaining huge: minimal research yields major returns. This is why we collectively need people like Miley Cyrus to do things like what Miley Cyrus is doing: not only to exploit her behavior now, but to resurrect her VMA performance’s cold, limp corpse and prop it up as a somehow relevant event when she returns in her 30s with Bangerz 2.

The driving force behind The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is going well beyond the bare-minimum however, conveniently pre-packaging a story for anyone willing to slap together even the most basic of blog posts. Beyond simply co-opting the original album’s pre-established greatness, the “old school” branding and marketing behind the release offers pageview-hungry publishers too many points of entry to fail. “Let’s take it back to straight hip-hop” riffs Em early on in “Berzerk,” and immediately we’re off to the races…

Music blogs got away with casually “Shady’s back”-ing it, while the bigs went on about how “Berzerk” is “a total banger” that’s “one for the purists,” its video ripe with “plenty of throwback imagery” along the lines of “[a] boombox bigger than LL Cool J’s wildest dreams.” This isn’t even to mention Rick Rubin mean-mugging it for the camera or the “So Whatcha Want” visual-scraping: It’s an editorial Christmas come early. “Berzerk” also allowed newsy news-type outlets to follow the younger MCs are hungrier than Eminem, so he should watch out path, because… whatever. None of these articles are to be outdone, however, by the slew of bloggers who simply embedded the track and asked for readers to “Take a peek below and let us know what you think in the comments,” if they even bothered to bait the hook at all. The Ghost of Jay Z Past lurks right out in the open, “Rap mags try and use my black ass / So advertisers can give ‘em more cash for ads.”

Until the pageview economy completely dries up, we’ll continue to see everyone with a basic grasp of the web utilize this sort of thing to their benefit. In that sense, taking issue with the whatever it takes to round out a slideshow approach is useless. What’s more, arguing that extensive Eminem coverage is somehow unwarranted at this point would seem entirely oblivious to the nature of the media landscape in which we all participate. The importance here comes not with quantity of news impressions, but with how the media’s message has primarily promoted and advanced the manufactured “old school” storyline to the benefit of the deception that Eminem is somehow actually sincere now. Marshall Mathers wants us to believe that K-Fed and Khloe Kardashian disses are just lazy lyrical references, and not a calculated marketing move. Marshall Mathers wants us to believe that his line asking “are you bozos smart enough to feel stupid” is about the dumbing down of Eminem, and not victory for commercial misdirection. Marshall Mathers wants us to believe that “Berzerk” exists for reasons having nothing to do with commerce. And it’s working.

There’s a difference between sounding old school and just sounding old. Yet saying that “Berzerk” sounds old here isn’t an insult, it’s just what it is: Beastie Boys and Billy Squier samples aren’t exactly Next Level Shit in 2013. But what they are is safe, and safe still sells: for the next three months “Berzerk” will be the theme-song to Saturday Night Football. That’s right, the same guy who rapped “You want me to fix up lyrics while the President gets his dick sucked? / Fuck that, take drugs, rape sluts / Make fun of gay clubs, men who wear make-up” on The Marshall Mathers LP will now present the seasonal college football soundtrack for a Disney-owned property with MMLP2‘s lead single.

Eminem isn’t “bish”-biting and having Kendrick push him out of the way in the “Berzerk” music video because he recognizes the changing of the guard, it’s because doing so is a selling point of the song (media baiting) while also taking a sly jab at those who aren’t catching onto Eminem’s “stupid” character: The old man doesn’t even get it! The same thing goes for Mathers’ appearance on ESPN, where the story should have been less about how a historically insecure human acted awkward on live television and more about how Mathers sold us on the idea that he doesn’t care about marketing despite hawking his Beats By Dre jingle on one of the world’s biggest television channels. Compton’s new king might win the cred game, but until Kendrick can move Chryslers that argument is moot. (Though… you don’t think four-wheeling with Robin Thicke and 2 Chains could be commercial grooming, do you? Let’s not forget who the executive producer behind good kid, m.A.A.d city was.)

Do you really think that there’s no connection here? That Dr. Dre serving as executive producer for The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is just a rekindled connection between old friends? Dr. Dre is the co-majority shareholder of Beats Electronics, the nation’s largest headphone and audio equipment manufacturers (to the tune of $1 billion in annual sales). Eminem fits nicely as a spokesperson for Beats Audio, and “Berzerk” conveniently conforms to the brand’s ongoing aesthetic, serving nicely as a promotional soundtrack. (The fact that Beats Electronics closes the circle by also providing premium audio systems for Chrysler is amusing despite being secondary here.) This isn’t Illuminati-talk, this is Eminem proving that he’s winning where younger MCs still can’t even begin to compete.

What’s to be done when no one’s buying records? How about reintroducing an artist to a ripe market with an ample expendable income, like, let’s say, video game buyers, and piggybacking momentum by promoting their new album in connection with a franchise that has sales figures in the billions. And this is just the start… The current push behind The Marshall Mathers LP 2 has ensured that current media saturation will lend authority to whatever sponsorship opportunities present themselves once the album is actually released. (Eminem is so hot right now!) In the process, Marshall Mathers is showing us all how it’s still possible to make a tremendous amount of money from music (without the nuisance of touring) in an era where very few are actually able to do so: By playing a scripted “stupid” card to stimulate media and consumer interest (you’ve read this far, haven’t you?), using a conveniently amplified throwback persona to groom the appearance of authenticity, and maximizing strategic corporate branding opportunities to ensure that the major label system remains afloat for at least one more quarter. From that standpoint alone, Eminem might matter now more than ever.

"Sexy Ackbar" Video

Make a song about Admiral Ackbar and puppies, win prizes.” So went the challenge on my friend Sean‘s blog (Buzzgrinder) a few years ago. Being neither a Star Wars fanboy or an animal owner (or a musician, for that matter), I had no idea where to begin, but figured what the hell and took on the challenge anyhow, mashing an instrumental of Snoop Dogg’s “Sexual Eruption”Sensual Seduction” with crudely ripped Will Ferrell Saturday Night Live clips and audio from an Admiral Ackbar soundboard. I did not win any prizes.

A few months back I went looking for a nostalgic pick-me-up only to find no trace of the track anywhere. In a hasty move of hard drive wipery, I must have mistakenly deleted “Admiral Sensual” clean from existence. What’s more: Buzzgrinder has since gone into Tumblr-mode, leaving the contest submission file an orphaned URL. That might not have been the day the music died, but it was certainly the day the music was reported missing.

Fast forward to this past weekend, where I took it upon myself to reconstruct the track from memory in an attempt to soundtrack the video that played in my mind every time I heard the song. I’m still no musician, and “Admiral Sensual” was never really meant to be “music.” But whenever I’d return to the song, a weird kaleidoscope of visuals ran through my mind, pleasantly blending Snoop, Star Wars, and SNL. Once the new track had been completed, I tried my best to piece together clips in an attempt to bring to life the visuals that had been living in my head for nearly four years. Thus, the following video was born. Rest in peace “Admiral Sensual,” long live “Sexy Ackbar.”

[Featured by: The Awesomer, Bite.ca, Canal+, Know Your Meme, Laughing Squid, The Mashup, and Topless Robot.]

Castle Recording Studio (Franklin, TN)

Photos taken August 21, 2013 at Castle Recording Studio in Franklin, TN.


Travel back here to find solace, she says. This is a place to be cherished, visit when you feel the need to escape, make frequent visits in your mind… In the moment it seems so real, so genuine, so inspirational. These moments manufacture believers.

Really Real

"The habit of excessive novel-reading and theatre-going will produce true monsters in this line. The weeping of the Russian lady over the fictitious personages in the play, while her coachman is freezing to death on his seat outside is the sort of thing that everywhere happens on a less glaring scale." —William James
What a shame it is, the dimmed internal sensitivity to what’s really real. How embarrassing to recognize that a view isn’t a scene or a setting. What I see is living, but it suffers for not having been sold to me. The park isn’t meant to represent beauty or everyday life or passing clarity. It is all of those things, yet I take it to represent none of them. This is so boring because of what it’s not. It’s a moment so within reach that it doesn’t feel real. I can touch it, but by being achievable the moment becomes devalued relative to its fictional equivalent. The projection of reality and emotion and true holds more weight. The smile and the frown across the park are nothing compared to the billboard. The frustrated glare at the cellphone is nothing compared to the film. The writing isn’t valuable until it’s optioned by an investor.

United States of Sadness Patties

Fixing the tilted picture frame in my own life is hard enough most days. Add something like these NSA shenanigans to an outstanding litany of bullshit that includes self-sabotage, anxiety, fear, and depression, and it’s enough to make someone drink (if only it weren’t for the inconvenience of alcoholism, lurking in wait to ruin all the fun). Not that cell-phone monitoring is going to affect my life on the day-to-day, but that doesn’t mean the never ending news cycle’s constant depression parade isn’t enough to make me want to give up, walk over to McDonald’s and shovel a few more sadness-patties into my food hole. Some days I escape the Golden Arches’ reach, some days I don’t.

Killer Mike: They’re building less schools, they’re building more prisons. Bodies have to fill those prisons, those prisons become commerce and jobs for small towns in South Georgia. You become a commodity. I — my black body, as a young African American man, is a commodity to the prison industrial complex.

Sway: Is it getting to the point where El-P’s white body can be a part of that same process?

Killer Mike: Definitely! Poor white people… I just happen to represent the group they get first. So I have to, like, when I speak in terms of race I’m really speaking in terms of class, but I represent the group of men they come for first.

Sway: In the class. The social class.

Killer Mike: Yeah, so you have to be aware. So when I say ‘black’ I’m not just talkin’ about ‘Hey, it’s just black.’ No. They’re gonna come for poor Mexicans, poor whites, everybody eventually, but first in line, all them black boys? I need all them niggas in jail — know what I mean? — ’cause we need free labor.

El-P: And the scary thought is this… and you know you’re right, they’re gonna come for poor. But the scary part is that right now they’re just really busy making everyone poor.

The above is taken from an interview that Killer Mike and El-P did with Sway last year. Some people pay this sort of talk no mind and go about their daily routine as they would normally, while others resist through subversive demonstration or cling to sanity through humor. As comedian Junior Stopka tweeted yesterday, “Government definition of espionage: If you tell people we spy on people, you’re a spy.” I wish I had his finesse.

It’s hard not to read myself into Mike’s picture, but I’ll save you the myriad of “I’m just a useless cog in a broken machine” daydreams I’ve had, offering instead the same conclusion that seems to follow each: Yes, I’d like fries with that. Typically this stage in the process is greeted with near-immediate regret, only to be accompanied by a decreased sense of clarity, preventing me from seeing through my own immediate hurdles and leaving me far too self absorbed to concern myself with the possibility that my increasingly bloated social stratum might next up on the cultural chopping block. I may feel lonely, but in this, at least I’m not alone.

Miss Honey

"Matilda had never once stopped to think about where Miss Honey might be living. She had always regarded her purely as a teacher, a person who turned up out of nowhere and taught at school and then went away again. Do any of us children, she wondered, ever stop to ask ourselves where our teachers go when school is over for the day? Do we wonder if they live alone, or if there is a mother at home or a sister or a husband? ‘Do you live all by yourself, Miss Honey?’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ Miss Honey said. ‘Very much so.’"—Roald Dahl, Matilda
It’s only in his mind that you exist. You, there, appearing when he needs you, when he has something to say to you, something to give you, or is in need of your help. But what about the countless hours when you don’t exist in his mind, where do you go? Are you frozen in time, only to awake when someone else calls upon you, or are you there thinking and saying and needing others into existence, yourself? He wants so very badly for you to exist all of the time, for you to never be lonely, or feel unseen or overlooked. So long as you want the same for him, that is. Beyond the restraints of his love, is there hope for you to exist to him? Will he share you once you exist to the entire world all of the time? When he alone can no longer will you into being? Truth? Love? His emptiness would rather you remain starving for his happiness. Another Miss Honey, smothered by selfishness.

Drama Queen

"Giving of myself versus selfishness. I am a powerful and competent person."
That’s what I wrote — two lines — over three days. And now I’m writing a suicide note because I’m tired. I won’t kill myself tonight, because I’m lazy. And I won’t “relapse” because who has the energy. I won’t do anything because what’s the use? Inaction is... whatever.

I want to be alone, only in that I want to hide and have people come and find me. I want to feel like someone cares, but make no mistake: You searching doesn’t mean I care about you. I care selectively, sometimes based on things that you don’t control. Male or female, you are a nice person but you’re not pretty so I don’t like you as much as I would if you were pretty. I run away, you stop looking, and I react with feelings of loneliness because no one’s chasing after me telling me to put the gun down.

I am normal in that I don’t like what I do every day. People don’t like life. Life is living and to afford living we must work, and work is hard, but it grants us the ability to snatch something fun from the ether. Candy... days off... fun. From the ether. I give you my life, you give me a reason to live. It’s a good racket when it works for ya.

But things stop adding up around there. I don’t like work, so I stop working. Then I feel guilty because I can’t put my nose to the grindstone and suffer through the same set of circumstances that no fewer than one billion other people on this planet would die for.

Talking through my thoughts today it dawned on me that I’m getting worse at maintaining any sense of commitment within the context of this cycle. Commitment to myself or the task at hand. I start working, then grow tired of it. But over the last five or six years, the distance between hating work and quitting has become disconcertingly slim.

Let’s say that I go out on a limb and try hard to get a job again. One that pays fine and is fine. Again, we work because of the abilities it grants us. Also, on another level, work gives us satisfaction. It helps us say “Dammit, I tried today, and I didn’t give up. I came in, did my best, and by Gawd, I’m gonna do it again tomorrow, too.” Which is fine. But the fight isn’t there. The resolve has dimmed to a point where only darkness remains. The switch is broken.

I know the answers. If I were given the task of pulling someone else out of this hole, I’d know where to start, what to say, and maybe how to move forward. But nothing means anything when the answers are hollow. They work sometimes, and other times they even ring true. And? Where do we go from here, allowing the cycle’s ups and downs to dictate whether today is a “mental health day” or if we can actually get something done. Dammit.

I leave, I lose. You leave, I lose. I stay, I avoid losing for a while... how long though? Long enough to have a few more laughs, take a few more adventures down the same paths? Being scared to try is pathetic, but no more pathetic than insisting on remaining within a comfort zone to avoid the unknown. Good or bad, I’m fucked. We all are.

But what happens in the afterlife is unknown, as much so as what happens in this world or what the meaning of your own existence might be. We are all here to figure that out. Or we’re here for no reason. I want what I have until the thrill of having won is over. The stuffed animal at the amusement park looks brilliant and seems worth every last penny of the fifty dollars you spent trying to win it. But once you have it, it’s just a toy. It’s not a great toy, and certainly not something you’d have wanted if it weren’t given to you as an option. It was there. You lusted after it. And now you’re ready to move on.

Abandon toys? Women? Internet? Society? Then all I have is me, and my mind, which is a returning visitor that I already fear is visiting too frequently, the way things presently stand. I just want to turn off the guilt of living. None of us asked to be here, but some of us deal better with the consequences of being lied to our entire lives. What a drama queen.


The moment You escape the womb the struggle begins over who’s more important, You or Her. You grip to self-importance and fight to pull away from Her only to later take comfort in a series of others. That is, until one too many self-spoiled relationships justifies a brushstroke so careless that it dehumanizes an entire gender. The You remains blind until an impotent rage awakens with the recognition of this unintentionally dismissive internal mechanism. It’s a slow transition, but You try to change. You start to feel new. You do. But even under the guidance of compassion, some form of conflict remains.

Sometimes You are wrong. Sometimes You are right. Sometimes You learn by walking through mud. Sometimes You learn by walking away. Her place in your life changes, just as the Her does, herself. And Her names and faces are all eventually forgotten until there is again only one and the tension is reduced back to an extension of its initial form. The uncertainty returns, only this time it appears as a question: Will the nervous anticipation over who will take care of Her when I’m gone ever be outweighed by the selfish fear over who will take care of me when I am finally alone?


She looks up from her hymnal long just enough to lose her place. No one’s listening anyways, she tells herself, before gently closing the book and returning it to its home. Her voice is beautiful. As she stands there, the chorus echoes throughout the sanctuary, alive with song toasting the trinity. The organ’s massive pipes tower over the congregation. She looks to her left — her parents — and to her right — familiar faces — and wonders how did I get here? How did this become the thing I do? How did this become what I’m supposed to be? The music returns to silence and the pews creak and moan. Attention returns to the altar. Reinforced consequences leave her tense with fear. Her guilt is heavy. She’s doing the best she can.

Troglodyte Interview

Having worked in the indie movie world for years as a special effects make-up artist, Jeff Sisson flipped the script in 2005 when he formed Troglodyte with a group of KC metal vets. Using the gory Bigfoot exploitation flick Night of the Demon as inspiration, the band summons tales from the bog, crafting its Sasquatch-themed songs in the key of black metal. They make “music for the contemporary caveman,” are tied to a “1990 Florida sound,” and even have an odd connection to Sarah Palin, but despite the gimmick there’s surprisingly little schlock in their game. The Bloodsprayer might have said it best: “These unholy fuckers of mothers get up on stage in ape-faced masks and rock the fuck out about Bigfoot. And you know what? It’s really fucking good.”

The rest of the Trog roster has a cool lineup of veteran musicians. Were you a fan of the guys before you joined up with them, and before you donned the mask for Troglodyte were you involved in any other bands? Did you play guitar in Whoracle?

In 2001 I was laid off from my job here in KC. I was already traveling to L.A. from time to time, taking vacation time to work on low-budget horror films, so I saw this as an opportunity to move out and make a go of it. While living in L.A. I came up with the idea of what became Troglodyte. When I relocated back to the Midwest in late 2004, I reached out to Chris Wilson, who I had met through a mutual friend, to gauge his interest and see if we could make this happen. I make all the masks we wear and assemble our crummy stage attire, also!

Amazingly enough, there is another Jeff Sisson, who lives in Topeka, KS and plays guitar for Whoracle. What are the odds of two Jeff Sissons who are in death metal bands, right?

Do you still wear thermal underwear onstage or have you transitioned into something a little more “breathable”?

Hahahaha… I try to make myself a “little” more comfortable… not much. The whole reason I did that was to quite literally make myself as uncomfortable as possible, to create some kind of urgency while we played. I ended up just sweating a lot.

Messin’ with Sasquatch: Fair game or cruel and mean-spirited?

I think those commercials are amazing. The humans are the ones getting the short end of the stick in those… I love it!

You told Metal Band Art that producing a GG Allin bio-pic would be one of your dream projects and about a week back the band posted a cover of “Die When You Die” on Facebook. Are you going to see the Murder Junkies when they play the Riot Room next month, and what might it take to turn that dream film into a reality?

We used to cover a couple of GG Allin tunes when we played live: “Die When You Die” and “Bite it You Scum.” That recording of “Die” is probably four or five years old. We recorded them and just kind of filed them away. We actually have played with the Murder Junkies a couple years ago. I talked with Merle a few times before coming in to town. Nice enough guy. I shared the songs with him once via email, I think his quote was, “Great production, sounds tight, crummy vocals… GG would hate it. Congratulations!” I think the only thing that would ever get that bio pic made is excessive amounts of money to license the songs and convince my friend, writer/actor, Trent Haaga to play the role of GG.

Question in the form of an answer: “Cracula.”

What is the single greatest exploitation film, written/directed by Jeff Sisson, that no one will ever give me the 2.5 million dollars to produce? Man, you’ve really been diggin’ around on me!

The scene: Battle of the bands. You each only get one song to win the crowd over. Troglodyte vs. the Jimmy Castor Bunch. They tear into a rendition of “Troglodyte” and the crowd eats it up. What do you guys counter with?

Wow, I was just talking about Jimmy Castor this morning! Tough. First, there is no way to win a crowd over following up that song. That said, we’d probably go in to a cover of Fear’s “Honor and Obey” and then hammer-smash the eight people who we didn’t chase off with a performance of the entire Cruising: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack… Did I mention we probably wouldn’t be wearing pants?

[This article first appeared at Mills Record Company.]

Bloodbirds Interview

Mike Tuley’s been around. Madd Scientists, Or Die Trying, Short Bus Kids, Hairy Belafonte, Ad Astra Per Aspera, Ad Astra Arkestra… he’s played in them all. And with Bloodbirds he’s added hyperdistorted psych-tinged post-punk garage rock to his musical resume, assuming guitar and vocal duties in the trio along with Brooke Tuley on drums and Anna St. Louis on bass. Their new album Psychic Surgery should resonate with you if the word “rock” is connected to whatever guitar + rhythm section genre you find yourself digging on. For what it’s worth though, Mike doesn’t want to define the band by genre. He’d rather just let the music do its thing. As Psychic Surgery is one of my favorite albums to be released out of KC this year, I’m alright with that, too.

Did you and Brooke play together before you were married, or were you a couple before you tried creating music together?

Brooke and I have played together in several bands over the years. The longest-running was a Lawrence-based band called, Ad Astra Per Aspera. We were together for about eight years and put out several records, the last two being 45′s put out by Love Garden. We’ve played in a bunch of other groups together, including Ad Astra Arkestra, and Hairy Belefonte and various side-projects over the years. She occasionally releases her own music under the name Aunt Beast. We met through playing shows together in our respective teenage punk bands. I lived at a punk house that had shows in Lawrence, called the Pirate House; she lived at a punk house in KC that had shows called the Rainbow House. For our first date I took her to a park by a sewage treatment plant that we all called “shit park.” Worked out great.

How did you two connect with Anna? Has she played in any other local bands?

We met Anna about 10 years ago through her band at the time, Crap Corps. Ad Astra Per Aspera used to play shows with them at El Torreon, MoMo Gallery, Stray Cat, and various other places around town. Crap Corps were rad, they had a 7″ put out by BBS, a label our friend Justin runs. We became good buds with her and joined forces musically in Hairy Belefonte in 2007. Here’s an HB video from the last show at the Haunted Kitchen in Lawrence for reference. Hairy Belefonte was formed to fuck with people and combat this weird, lame, macho-vibe that was happening at punk shows in KC at the time. We had a good time. We’ve been close with Anna ever since. We started jamming as Bloodbirds when Anna moved back to KC a couple of years ago. She’s also playing bass in Torben. They rule and consist of some of our best buds.

I like how Kill Your TV compared Anna’s bass to Kim Deal in their review [of Psychic Surgery], only “Kim Deal in a human sacrifice blood cult.” Influences are one thing, but do you ever try to purposefully make sure that you don’t sound like bands you enjoy?

We don’t really try to sound like any one band or genre in particular. I know a lot of bands do that — they want a certain sound. That’s fine, that’s really easy for people to latch onto. But I like things to be more eclectic. It’s more interesting to me. That said, every now and then a band or an individual just nails it and makes something that helps define or expand a genre or sub-genre. There’s something to be said for honing in on a sound. We did that more in Hairy Belefonte, where we tried to make all the songs fit together in this trashy, hooky, pop-punk kinda way. But it’s a focus I just don’t normally embrace.

There’s quite a distance between Bloodbirds’ sound and that of Ad Astra Arkestra… was there a driving force behind changing up the direction you took with your music?

Bloodbirds has a looser song-writing structure than any of the previous bands. We jam a lot. I’d say AAArkestra, initially, was an extension of, and a completion of, some ideas that were being tinkered with in Ad Astra Per Aspera at the time of that band’s demise. The song “Slowbird Blues” off the AAArkestra’s Reverse Fishing EP is a reworked version of “Danger Bird Blues” off the AAPA’s first Love Garden 45. I was interested in doing bigger arrangements with multiple percussionists and a choir. So some friends got together and did the AAArkestra for a couple of years. The AAArkestra is still in existence, albeit in a pretty different form than it was in the beginning. I’d imagine we’ll play a few shows this year once everyone’s other bands settle a bit. It’s a really fun group of people.

I read that you’re a stagehand at Johnson County Community College, is that right? I’m wondering if that artistic environment helps motivate you to constantly be creating?

I mostly do audio engineering at JCCC. Front of house, monitors, etc… It’s a good gig. I also record a lot on my own time. I just finished an LP for a local hardcore band Sucked Dry, and I’m in the process of scheduling time to record an LP for the band Dark Ages. I record out of my house, or at our practice space. Occasionally at a studio. It’s fun to work closely with a band and see their creative process and how they think about recording and making music. Definitely gives me ideas and inspiration. I’m also a monitor engineer for the band Gossip, out of Portland. I’m headed up to Seattle next month for a show with them. That’s really fun. Great group of folks and their live shows are rad.

Question in the form of an answer: “Aliens for Breakfast.”

That’s a song by my high school punk band. Released on cassette in 1996. We later went on to add a couple more members and form a hardcore punk band. We put out a record and a tape and toured around the country in a short bus. Great times.

Rapid fire finale: Favorite local venue to watch a live show; favorite local venue to play at; and favorite Middle of the Map Fest moment.

For all-ages shows I really like FOKL and Arts Closet — Kaw Collective and the Studded Bird were also rad. I hear Kaw is going to re-open sometime soon. For bars: I like the Record Bar and Davey’s Uptown in KC, and the Replay in Lawrence. The Bottleneck too. Recently Bloodbirds played down in Little Rock at this placed called the White Water Tavern. That place is the shit. I wish there was a place that size with that vibe in KC. Kirby’s in Wichita was also excellent. Favorite MoTM moment was playing. I’d almost always rather be playing than watching.

[This article first appeared at Mills Records Company.]

Hataraqq Interview

Javan Brewer is Hataraqq, and Hataraqq is Javan Brewer. Javan Brewer doesn’t say much, only briefly elaborating on his electronic productions here. Hataraqq’s audio output is ripe with concise sound clips, only teasing what they might become if they were fully expanded compositions. Throughout his music there are Eddie Murphy, James Brown, and Blackalicious samples, and each of his songs is embedded with something of its own thumbprint — one that I thought was a Billie Holiday sample. I was wrong. And after our brief Q&A I feel like there’s a lot more to learn beyond which old jazz sample flows through his music. As both Javan and Hataraqq, he kind of leaves us guessing.

There’s a sample that runs through many of your songs, including a couple on your Myspace page that appear to date all the way back to 2007 (“The Way it Goes,” “All Day Jammin”). Is it from Billie Holiday’s “Twenty Four Hours a Day“? What drew you to using this vocal sample?

The sample “twenty four hours” is from a Cab Calloway song, “Calloway Boogie“! I use this sample because it calls out the frequency in which I think about groove heavy music. When you hear it you know its Hataraqq music.

Over the past two months or so you’ve added 35 tracks to your Soundcloud page. I went through them all, and the average length is about 1:49. Do you intentionally stay away from expanding on compositions in favor of putting out compact clips?

I use the Soundcloud page to present a preview of my work. With the allowed amount of upload time, I have to pick and choose which splashes to display. So most are chopped down, or edited to fit that window. I get the feel of track across or at least give 16 bars for emcees. Some sound-splashes dry up in a minute or so, but you definitely get wet! Extended versions also available. (LOL)

Coincidentally, 1:49 is the length of my favorite track of yours, “Slow Woks,” which features local vocalist Schelli Tolliver. Who is Schelli and how did you two connect?

Schelli is a songbird I met years ago at the Peanut downtown (HH&HW). From being a fan in the crowd, to networking and building with her, JL, Godson, and fam BrooksofMHS… Schelli started coming through and it’s been cool every since. I was going through some of her vocal clips and simply in the midst of creating sprinkled “Slow Woks” with her spice.

Question in the form of an answer: “Myle High Society.”

MHS, brainchild of Sasha Brooks, a movement of the multi-talented individuals supporting and producing materials of the fresh nature! I happen to grace the stage with my emcees hat on a couple of time in Lawrence, KS and here at home at the Czar Bar.

Rapid fire finale: Favorite local producer; favorite Busta Rhymes song; and which local artist would you most like to collaborate with?

If I didn’t produce myself, I couldn’t fairly answer that question. I need the When Disaster Strikes album! “So Hardcore,” Get Off My Block.” My shit. I listen through the skips! And “Raw” is an all-timer for me. I want to work with all my Peanut alumni, and hopefully every and anybody along the way. I’ve got something for a lot of artist[s] out there, whomever is with the passion for the music.

[This article first appeared at Mills Record Company.]

Gee Watts Interview

“A certain sense of believable honesty combs through Gee’s lyrics,” writes The Smoking Section’s J. Tinsley, in his review of Gee Watts’ new Watts Up mixtape. “As does depth.” Gee Watts has two more things going for him that most rappers never achieve: he has patience, and he actually knows what he wants. A year ago at SXSW he teased working with one of his favorite MCs, but he waited until late last month to drop his “Watts R.I.O.T.” collaboration with Kendrick Lamar. (The KC Star has more on how that came together.) Instead of aimlessly releasing the track though (one guaranteeing him attention), he positioned himself to make the most of the opportunity. On the heels of “R.I.O.T.” he dropped both a download and music video for “Quiet Place,” then another track titled “Premature Hate,” before releasing his fully-fleshed out Watts Up mixtape this past Sunday. And people are listening.

He’s making the most of his moment, but the Kansas City MC is not an empty opportunist: the sounds beneath him on Watts Up range from dense to energetic, allowing him to showcase the numerous aspects of what makes him who he is. And in his music that voice tends to reflect a lot of anger and violence, with themes often projecting a core outlook of general distrust. In this Q&A we talk a little bit about that, but beyond those themes is someone who would seem emotionally removed from that darkness. Listen to the tape’s title track or follow his interaction on Twitter: While his history has certainly helped shape who he is, Gee Watts knows when not to take himself too seriously, too.

You’ve been openly critical of your early material, calling it “bullshit” in an old FlyTimes interview. Talking to Chris at Demencha a few years back you said that you took down six or seven albums because you felt they didn’t reflect your evolving voice. When did you first start to gain confidence in the flow you were projecting?

I’ve always been A1 on stage, but only recording for a year and half at the time. I hadn’t found my voice on the mic. I never rapped out loud, it was always something I wrote down and rapped back in my head. I also knew K.Dot, Kanye, would blow before they did, and I’ve only listened/liked good shit. So I knew when I could listen to my shit and like it (cuz the bars was always there… just delivery) I’d be ready. That time is now.

Do you ever revisit those early songs? What sort of thoughts come to mind when you see an early video like this?

Bars, dummy bars, max bars, like level four. BUT, my voice wasn’t my voice. Now my voice is it’s own. My stage presence wasn’t up to par, but that was my second or third show ever. God has brought me a long way. I’m grateful for being able to open for a nigga I listened to as a youth.

In that same Demencha interview you said “I want to introduce the world to Kansas City.” Who are the voices in KC right now who inspire you?

Ron Ron, Rich The Factor, Greg Enemy, Abnormal (abby niggy normal), and even Tech. I respect anybody who has made a lane for themselves out of the city. Not just music, but life. Aldon Smith, Alec Burks, eybody.

One of the themes that runs throughout Watts Up is one of trust and honesty, something you’ve said in interviews means a lot to you in MCs. How much of the violence projected throughout the mixtape comes from first-hand experience? Do you feel rappers have to be honest about their personal experiences when telling stories through their music?

Yea, on my next project I have a song called “Flat Line” where I said “At 9 I saw my big homie fall at 14, his body laid lifeless as blood covered his jeans, Timbs on his feet, bumble bee tape markin’ the scene. Still to this very day I hear his mama screams. Growin’ up this way imagine the drama it brings…” I don’t glorify because there was no glory in being 9 seeing somebody you looked up to, dyin’. But it happens, so I rap it and in the most honest way.

It’s been a joke on your Twitter, but a few comments across the web have pointed out the Freemason symbolism of your cover. The cover’s design had to be intentional, but what was the statement you were trying to make with it?

I am Gee, what’s in the middle of the FM sign…? Chea, New World Order is here… and it begins in KC… the town. We all comin’ my nig haha… blessings to you.

[This article first appeared at Mills Record Company.]

The Evaporators "Gassy Jack and Other Tales"

In ’90s when he was bombarding unsuspecting artists with his off-the-wall interview stylings (the man was a deep-googler before Google was even a thing), few if any might have placed Nardwuar the Human Serviette as some sort of niche hip hop icon as the new millennium’s first decade drew to a close. Yet that’s exactly what happened. Nardwuar isn’t just comedic relief for Snoop though… (and without getting all Tony Robbins on you) he’s also one of life’s unheralded champions of maximizing personal potential. Doot-doola-doot-doo, do it yourself has been his battle-cry for decades as he’s personally celebrated underground music in his native Vancouver as a DJ and off-again-on-again TV personality, while also performing in goofball-troop Thee Goblins and the Evaporators. With the likes of positivity-guru Andrew W.K. in their corner — not merely as a fan, but occasional collaborator as well — the Evaporators have been Nardwuar’s mainstay since the ’80s.

Released in 2007, Gassy Jack and Other Tales wasn’t just a musical whim thrown together to capitalize on the vocalist’s still blossoming pop-culture notoriety though: its flashes of humanity and courage stick to the soul like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth. Take “Gassy Jack,” for example, where the band lays out a line that would put most “socially-conscious” rappers to bed: “Social housing for the needy, not lofts for the greedy/We don’t need a decree, just action from you and me.” Look no further than the title of “What if I Care About the People Who Live in the Seas Around Me?” for more heartfelt ammunition, but if you want to dig deeper, the song’s lyrics reveal a vulnerability that Nard’s squawky voiced-interviews rarely allude to, “I’m swimming with my emotions [...] Please understand my devotion.” To say that there’s a lot to be learned from Nardwuar might be an understatement, but at least Gassy Jack and Other Tales gives us a place to start.

[This article first appeared at Mills Record Company.]

El-P "Cancer 4 Cure"

“It’s like a fresh start on a new world,” chants El-P in the chorus of Cancer 4 Cure‘s “Works Every Time.” In some ways the entire album represents a fresh start for the Brooklyn-based MC and producer, though the same could be said of practically everything the tirelessly inventive Producto has signed his name to this past decade. Jeff Weiss rightly calls Cancer 4 Cure both “reinvention and inversion” — all the more fitting given how refreshing a direction the album takes musically, with its sporadic beats always appearing ready to pounce while constantly lurking beneath the captivating flow of the Gonzo lyricist’s anti-rhyme scheme. Balanced by the likes of Killer Mike, Danny Brown, and Despot, Cancer 4 Cure represents “a triumph of imagination and intelligence,” with the urgency behind the music felt all the way from the progressively intense electronics of “Request Denied” through to the slow fade of the album’s final split-part track, “$ Vic/FTL.”

[This article first appeared at Mills Record Company.]

Quintron and Miss Pussycat "Swamp Tech"

The distance between physically experiencing live music and attempting to replicate that same energy force on a recording is as prominent with Quintron & Miss Pussycat as it very well might be with any other musicians on the planet. To soak up the rotating bliss of Quintron’s Drum Buddy invention, or dance in time with the maraca-shaking Miss Pussycat is to baptize yourself in a waist-deep stream of performance art, only to re-emerge from the mysterious bog cleansed and reinvigorated. If there were a recorded track that remotely offers an aural experience similar to this however, it’s “Swamp Buggy Badass,” where an electric pulse invites participation in the badass call-and-response, only to be later glazed over by a thick layer of satisfying Louisiana swagger. As good as any other Swamp Tech track, it represents the duo’s playful and unhinged balance between shtick and soul: the driving force behind what makes their live shows as enjoyable as they are.

[This article first appeared at Mills Record Company.]


“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.” —Kurt Vonnegut
When I was in college one of my first roommates was a football player from Texas. Upon being placed on academic probation, he printed off a bunch of motivational posters and taped them to the walls of our dorm room. “GO WORK OUT.” “DO YOUR HOMEWORK.” In the past, the über-successful Oprah Winfrey has alluded to a similar method for reaching her goals. Once asked about how she motivates herself to keep jogging, she responded, “I recommit to it every day of my life.” As wallpapering our lives with daily affirmations would seem to make sense in remaining focused on our intentions, would it not also seem wise to recommit every day to sobriety, in combating the daily urge to drink?

Habit reformation is crucial to recovery and motivational posters or morning affirmations or asking your Flying Monkey Ninja God for sobriety can be beneficial in turning the oil tanker around. Belief in self and belief that change can occur are both critical, but at some point, we have to ask ourselves who we are trying to convince with our posturing. “I don’t believe in miracles, I count on them.” Not to single Oprah out, but she has not exactly been the model of personal health that the braggadocious “I recommit to it every day of my life” would suggest. And as for my roommate? He was cut from the football team before later leaving the school. Incessantly assigning recovery paramount importance in life only helps if it inspires actual progress. “It works if you work it.” To reap the benefits of change, you actually have to change.

There is a simple psychological exercise that asks subjects to close their eyes, and for one minute, try to not think about a polar bear. Go ahead, try it. What happens? We think of a polar bear. It is simple and sort of silly, but as author Oliver Burkeman explains, “the fact that you’re trying so hard to do something sabotages your attempt to do it.” Millennia ago Sophocles argued similarly that the more we try to be happy, the less happy we are likely to become. In A.A. the clearly-repeated objective is to pursue abstinence from alcohol with the same determination once used in attaining it, but relentless efforts to attain a definition of wellness set within rigid parameters of a book might be what actually hinders individuals from achieving any real progress. Moving forward as such is no different than going the rest of our lives by focusing primarily on a bug on our windshield; at what point do we divert our attention from something that is really quite insignificant and recognize the vast expanse of countryside? Otherwise, at its core, “recovery” simply becomes the trading-off of one addiction for another.

There is a primary religious experience within A.A. that many people never get beyond, trapped between the discovery of something greater than their past selves and achieving something more. Instead of congregating with others drinking, skeptical of anyone who claims happiness removed from drinking, members congregate with others not drinking, skeptical of anyone who claims happiness removed from not drinking. By their own nature, The Program’s steps are not a method for quitting drinking and moving on with life. They represent a cycle that leaves people perpetually “in recovery” whether or not they are still struggling with addiction. It is a simple trade-off, an emotional cup no longer requiring alcohol that is instead filled with an ideology instilled to counteract certain relapse, replacing substance addiction with confounding rituals and a realigned sense of personal power that asterisks accountability under the guise of ideological change. The problem is not that A.A. or any other treatment method fails to lead to consistent repeated results of sobriety, but that they are even thought of as being able to provide the solution in the first place.

For a long time there was a large part of me that was scared of not drinking. This had nothing to do with casual drinking and was certainly not tied to the euphoric feelings of binge-drinking that I might miss. I did not want to give up part of who I was. There is an unstable personality within me that likes going off the rails, causing mayhem, and being unpredictable. Indulging in that behavior makes for some fun and crazy stories: Yes, I know that I have to be up for work at seven in the morning, but I’m going to keep on drinking anyway because that’s who I am. I legitimately felt this sort of lifestyle was one of the few things separating me as an individual, and I held onto it not only because of the perverted nature of addiction and habit, but because I felt it made me who I was.

When I was out with people, if there was a drink to be had, it might as well of had my name on it because drinking was what I did best. In my mind it transformed me from being an intolerable bore to someone worth hanging out with. So what if I failed to remember any of it in the morning, or if guaranteed nausea was the only thing potent enough to get me out of bed the next day? That still beat what I felt sober life was. At least the drinking motivated me to "socialize" with people. And when no one else wanted to drink with me, it also helped keep me company. I did not feel lonely when I was drunk. When I was drunk, I was satisfied with whatever I had, and whatever I had seemed like the best thing in the world.

But when I drank I could be absolutely unbearable, to both others and myself. It was easier to not remember that, so I forgot. My insecurities would bleed like sweat from my pores, forcing a hand of overcompensation to help mask my underlying insecurities. This typically resulted in an ugly mess of a person going overboard at every opportunity. When I drank I allowed myself to become the type of person who did not care at all for what those around me might be experiencing. I became someone the sober me hates. When I drank I was neglectful of personal decency. When I drank I lacked respect for others. When I drank I became consumed by paranoid delusions, accompanied by unpredictable waves of jealousy, envy, guilt, shame, regret, and remorse. When I drank, I drank to extremes – to a point where blackouts and waking up in a pool of my own urine had become the norm.

Untold thousands of dollars in legal fees, fines, and inflated bar tabs (another round, for my friends!), as well as numerous intensified health issues (immediately following my suicide attempt I was told that I might need a liver transplant due to the bottle of pills I had inhaled), and still, I did not want to quit drinking. I was functioning, sort of, but when I was drinking at least I was having a better time than when I was sober, and when that ability was taken away from me it also felt like my ability to have fun was gone. I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just addicted to having a good time. All of the pain I caused myself and others by continuing drinking was not what led me to quit. I did not quit when I hit my bottom, and I did not quit when I lost everything.

I had gone sober awhile and was beginning to get in a good pattern when I tested myself to see if anything had changed. I blacked out while drinking with friends, and kept on drinking after I woke up in the morning. The rest of the next day escaped me. I woke up the following day at a friend’s house, thankfully without having made a mess of myself. He drove me home and after collecting myself, I walked back to the grocery store to get some beer. As I was securing provisions for whatever was going to happen next, I balked at the embarrassment of hauling another bulky 24-pack case of beer through the checkout at noon on a weekday, so I only purchased some groceries. When I got home I thought about the positive momentum that had been building prior to dipping back into drinking. One month after returning to A.A. with nowhere else to go I had let it all slip away again.

When I was in the elementary school my fifth grade class took a trip to the Rocky Mountains to go skiing. In preparation for the trip, we were asked about our levels of experience so we could be divided accordingly. Some kids had learned to ski at a young age while others had never gone before. But there was one classmate who grew increasingly difficult as the two groups began to form. He proclaimed to be an expert based on the books he had checked out from the library and refused to be grouped with the beginners. “There’s an untold distance between knowing happiness and knowing about it,” writes Jennifer Senior in her New York Magazine article “Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness.” Sitting there, in my apartment, still sobering up without the case of beer chilling in my fridge, it dawned on me that what I had already learned is all I needed to move on.

Text-based resources are critical to understanding, and reading about other people’s lives continues to expand and enrich my own. But it was the ability to process what I learned and then employ it that was at the heart of the matter for me. I “learned” plenty, but was lacking action. I toiled in research, trying to find answers from recovery techniques and I kept coming back to stale white rooms with flickering fluorescent light bulbs overhead, but what spurred change was not the exact perfect combination of gathered information or some brilliant idealistic philosophical epiphany. It was making a decision about what I did not want in my life and acting on that decision.

Despite the many positives that can come from it, Alcoholics Anonymous provides a hypocritical model of treatment that does not reflect the same standards of honesty it demands of its members. The Program asks for individuals to take rigorous personal inventories of themselves without evolving to meet the demands of a developing society with changing needs. The issue is not so much that the broken 12 Step model remains the foundation for the American treatment system, the problem is that treatment of any sort is not capable of fixing people’s problems for them.

The same that can be said of A.A. can be said of all of the recovery models: They are starter kits. They provide individuals with a basic set of tools and a blueprint for how to use them, but none of them actually do the work for you. Some are deluxe models that give people room, board, and a safe practice environment to experiment with the tools, while others are one-size-fits-all versions to be learned at an individual’s own pace. Not unlike the kid who thought he could read his way through the terrain of a Black Diamond slope, I also had to understand that you cannot learn to ski from a book. Happiness, well-being, recovery – these will forever be abstract concepts or remain projections of what others make of them unless we proactively seek discovery for ourselves.

When I was at my inpatient facility I had to go to court one day, a few hours away from the center. I woke up early and did not return until late in the afternoon. When I got back to the facility, all of the other patients had gathered in one building. Some were crying while others were just sitting expressionless on couches. The previous night a young man, still a teenager, had taken his own life during a lapse in supervision. I did not know what to think then, and I do not pretend to have any answers now. We are all just trying to get to some sort of island, and however everyone best gets there is going to be up to them. A boat might work best for some, while others prefer swimming on their own. Some appear effortless in their journey. Some decide to sink.

Ask more of yourself. Prioritize real value in your life. Believe you can transcend the internal boundaries and limits of who you once were by not closing yourself off to change before you even try. Visualize yourself as the hero of your story. To quote Craig Ferguson, “We prepare for glory by failing until we don’t.” There is no one single reason why one version of myself turned left and another turned right. And what finally spurred change in my life might not have the same impact on anyone else, let alone myself at twenty-four, or that young man at eighteen. But now that I am here there is no turning back.

Prologue: Letting Go
Chapter One: Surrender
Chapter Two: One Nation Under the Influence
Chapter Three: Untreatable
Chapter Four: A Crisis of Identity
Chapter Five: All or Nothing
Chapter Six: Reconsidering A.A.
Chapter Seven: Adaptation
Chapter Eight: Clarity (current chapter)

Read Next: Five Years Later / Reflections on Believed to Be Seen


“How small we are when our minds develop minds of their own.” —Jennifer Senior
Some of my earliest memories are daydreams of what it would be like to be the last person on the planet. At the time I only really considered the romantic and short-sided aspects of such a wild fantasy: I could do what I wanted and not have to deal with the burdens of modern life, or at least those consistent with a young child’s imagination, which added up to little more than speeding in cars and eating junk food without consequence. A few years ago I was on a walk and the reality struck me about this dream: high-speed freeway races aside, I was actually living the life I once imagined, only it was a far cloudier reality than my daydreams had once fabricated. It finally clicked how depression had distanced me from the city I was actually walking through and transported me to a sort of parallel world where I felt like I actually was the only person alive.

I can not count how many times my parents have told me about how they did not have enough money to buy Christmas gifts when I was a baby, and how it still bothers them. Personally, not being old enough at the time to remember one way or another, it has never made much difference to me because for as long as I can recall, we have never really been “poor.” There was once a kid I knew in elementary school who had to wear plastic bags over his socks inside his boots come winter so his feet would not get wet. Sure, we had a few rough years, but by no means were we ever double-bagging body parts to stay dry. Yet for as long as I can remember I feel like I have been the poor kid lacking the correct attire to battle the elements: not financially, but emotionally.

About 7% of adults in the country share my diagnosis of major depressive disorder, and all across the world someone tries to kill themselves every three seconds or so. I am obviously not alone as this is something that millions the world over also struggle with on a daily basis. But simply getting by has become a sore spot for me; not because it is tiring, but mostly because of a strange sense of guilt that accompanies it. Amid daily tragedy, pain, and suffering are those who face it all head on, seemingly immune to incoming perils. Let me assure you of this: when a depressive can not face a world in which they are fully employed, clothed, fed, sheltered, and loved, it becomes remarkably painful to see a homeless person flash a smile or an aging waitress happily work a double-shift at an all-night diner. What do they have that I am missing? Why can’t I get my act together and work through everyday issues like everyone else does?

A massive part of recovery is actually the process of returning to physical health, in addition to seeking emotional wellness. To some degree however, its importance remains undermined by a constant focus on the emotional – or in the case of A.A., spiritual – well-being. The Big Book takes a questionable stance against actively considering the physical damage prolonged periods of alcohol abuse might have done. “A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover overnight nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish in a twinkling. We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative. We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of mental health. But we have seen remarkable transformations in our bodies. Hardly one of our crowd now shows any mark of dissipation.”

Jack Trimpey’s Rational Recovery: The New Cure for Substance Addiction does not offer much more help in that regard, stating that “Psychology, philosophy, spirituality, and religion are irrelevant to recovery,” sticking to the mind-over-matter basics by also clarifying that “nutrition is irrelevant to abstinence.” Nutrition is not likely to contribute directly to whether anyone picks up a bottle any more than a “malady” is likely to force people to drink, this is true, but these conclusions are gross generalizations that paint a slanted view of the harm that has to be corrected inside a human body by alcohol addiction to encourage future wellness. This is not “nutritional therapy,” as Trimpey might have been speaking to, some sort of niche movement preaching the innate healing qualities of going-green, but merely the recognition that serious problem drinkers are by nature dealing with severe vitamin deficiencies in addition to the various aforementioned “disease” symptoms related to physical health.

Part of what gave my psych-ward experience some charm was (surprisingly) my neighbors. One of the most interesting characters went by the name of Adam – or at least his government-issued alias was “Adam” – and he explained to me how he was the son of a very important government official, sent into such facilities to harvest information and act as a spy to make sure the system was following regulations. Never once did Adam show me a glimpse that his reality reflected the same world I lived in (which at the time was sort of crazy, too, I’ll admit), but what it did reinforce was the recognition that even when you, yourself, might not think it is necessary, there still might be need for some form of treatment. While I fought to go to the hospital, then the mental ward, then the treatment center, I find it difficult to dismiss their value. Making sure the body has nutrients, exercise, and sleep in an attempt to bring it back to a foundational balance is unlikely to help the Adams of the world return to reality, but for people who are dealing solely with a chemical dependency, a focus on health remains an underused aspect of recovery that can offer tremendous benefit.

Some individuals have pre-existing issues that outweigh any ability to achieve self-actualization and find some sort of healing through personal discovery. That can’t be overlooked. And a focus on physical health is in no way meant to negate exploring psychological treatment for those who might benefit from it. However, for many it would seem important to set the body on a course of healthy action before even attempting to approach psychotherapy and medicative realms – not to replace therapy or medication, but to enhance therapy’s effectiveness and ensure that medication is prescribed when it is needed. As previously mentioned, antidepressants are often prescribed without hesitance despite being an imperfect remedy, yet how often is foundational health communicated as a significant contributor to emotional health with the same sense of urgency? Without implementing measures such as exploring basic human health in recovery, the treatment system will only integrate itself further into our already-pervasive negative prescribing culture. The point of this aim is to explore options and create dialog about treatment and medication to help curb general ignorance, not to serve as some dismissive anti-authority ploy. That is how stigma is truly defeated.

If you eat right and reintroduce vitamins, proteins, and minerals into your diet, you will feel better. Plenty of sleep and a reduction in stress both lead to a tangible decrease in depression levels, which also lends sobriety an increased positive outlook. Those who exercise regularly experience enhanced levels of enthusiasm and are equally successful in curbing depression as those who take antidepressants alone (they are also less likely to experience recurrent depression). Attention to nutrition is important not because of some far-out return to Mother Earth in re-aligning oneself with the planet, but because poor absorption of nutrition due to alcohol-related gastritis often leads to various nutritional deficiencies that will handicap the very emotional productivity sought through conventional treatment processes.

Approach recovery here as something of a giant oil tanker cruising the ocean. Considering momentum, it can take a ship miles to simply begin to turn around, let alone redirect its trajectory after having gone astray. Recovery is not immediate. Health is not instant. It can take the body six months to bounce back after severe bouts of abusive drinking. The same goes for patterns, habits, and lifestyle changes, where it can take years to build confidence before feeling comfortably “safe” from relapse. But the fact remains: The capacity to change does exist. And once the physical factors of addiction begin to stabilize, the increased stability will lend support in the battle against self-destructive emotional forces.

While recognizing that “belief” is crucial to the transformation process, belief on its own will not immediately overcome the weight of future change. What is left is often a sense of immediate defeat due to the unfathomable size of the task at hand. If a vampire has been sucking you dry for a decade, paradoxically it can feel impossible to move forward without that parasite. But change begins with the understanding that the choice to change our habits is not as difficult as the negative voice of addiction tells us it is. Psychologist Dan Gilbert uses the term “impact bias” to help explain this, determining through his research that it is human nature to misunderstand the effect of personal decisions with regard to changing habit. Impact bias is the idea that we erroneously estimate both the intensity and duration of pleasure that will result from the outcome of our decisions. Keep in mind that this is a tendency that exists regardless of the prevalence of addiction.

Take for example a few high profile studies that have revealed that blind people would be willing to pay less to regain sight than people with sight would be willing to pay to avoid going blind, and how lottery winners do not necessarily turn out to be any happier than people who have recently become paraplegic. These are definitely extreme scenarios, but they do speak to our own individual capability to synthesize happiness. We might have high hopes, and think a certain decision will be far more beneficial relative to another in the long-run, but ultimately these decisions will leave us with outcomes that are less important and less satisfying (or dissatisfying) than we imagine.

This conflict of perception contributes to a misguided understanding of outcomes, leading us to feel like we will have far less power to initiate change in our lives than we really do. Philosopher and economist Adam Smith once spoke to this same theory, adding that “The great source of misery and disorders of human life seems to arise from overrating the difference between one permanent situation and another.” No matter how much distance there is between perceived polar opposites, we are unlikely to hate alternative actions or scenarios as much as our dread leaves us feeling. Pouring that next drink is not going to make us feel as good as we think it will; the allure is anticipatory.

Aristotelian belief dictates that depression and anxiety, no matter how sinister their effects, might actually be fundamental to the human experience because of the personal insights that accompany such feelings. To some degree, the lows allow us to better appreciate the highs. When we strengthen routine by rewarding urges through means of self-medication, what we are left with is an overly-desensitized, increasingly dissatisfied self, perpetually looking for the next temporary solution to mask this happiness deficit. Brené Brown has suggested you cannot always numb the hard feelings that accompany life without also numbing other emotions such as joy, gratitude, and happiness. And without feeling such a sweeping range of emotions for so long, the anxiety from experiencing life sober has the potential to be overwhelming. Such a glass-half-full perspective notwithstanding, no matter how dark a reality depression might paint for us at times, it is vital to recognize that future burdens are often their most unbearable in our minds, and not in reality.

What then happens when we begin to break a negative spiral and see even small results? What happens when we stop diverting feelings and act with long-term emotional sensibility in mind? We stop feeling depressed and helpless. We begin to discover who it is that we really want to be. And through confronting anxiety there comes a sense of satisfaction related to individual actions reflecting personal ideals. Repetition delivers ease, and the future becomes increasingly less impossible to manage. I have been through this before, and even though it is tough, it is not impossible. Not only can possibility be redefined, but goals themselves do not have to be fixed measures of success.

If you create a goal, you risk not achieving that goal. But what happens when an effort is made to increase health or happiness, or balance internal struggles, and nothing seems to change? Expectation cannot merely get in the way of progress, but it can prompt an abrupt end to believing that our journeys bear any particular worth. Prolonged introspection only pronounces feelings of failure, which is why it is not only important to look beyond the self to gain perspective (the black sheep house) but to deny any conclusions based solely on expectation. However much we make our lives out to be a game of chess, thinking multiple moves ahead in formulating a strategy for success, it is largely as unpredictable as a game of Chutes and Ladders. No one is safe from experiencing both the ups and downs, and it is this wild unpredictability that comes as a circumstance of merely playing the game.

When I was in high school a teacher asked our class to look at our futures and think of what goals we would like to achieve. Being seventeen years old I felt life would be complete if I could see some of my favorite bands perform live and own a big-screen TV. While I vividly remember daydreaming about how great it would be to see a few concerts and bask in the luxury of a massive glowing screen, my goals have evolved slightly as my understanding of what is possible has. I do not have any particular goals I feel would complete my life now, but I am slowly accepting that the process of continually redefining where the marker of personal achievement stands is crucial to inspiring whatever needs to come next. In his 2011 Dartmouth College commencement address, Conan O’Brien spoke to this process, explaining, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.”

In his speech, O’Brien stressed that putting too much emphasis on a single ideal path ultimately prevented him from realizing that no moment wholly defines whether or not he succeeded or failed. In terms of treatment, this relates to what it means to be “recovered.” We cannot always plan for predictability, especially when considering human tendency to often act against self-interest. But what it means to fail does not merely boil down to an action of “relapsing.” “Whatever you think your dream is now,” O’Brien continued, “it will change.” I did not want to be sober. I wanted to learn to drink. Yet I perceived my inability to exercise moderation as failure, which numerous times over led me to giving up wholesale on the rest of my life. My definition of success was so concrete that it warped my understanding of what the positive and negatives in my life really were.

To repurpose an A.A.-ism, sometimes change happens quickly and sometimes it happens slowly. Everyone gets stuck, but just because we become momentarily trapped does not mean we have to accept reality as being confined to the constructs of our immediate imagination. What if there are hundreds of progressively satisfying goals beyond the challenge of attaining a big-screen TV or quitting drinking, but we fail to bother even attempting to explore them because we allow our perception of what life is remain confined to whatever our sheltered imaginations tell us it is?

Not accepting life as a depressed miserable existence where we are forever prisoners to our habits and addictions might not actually reveal it as a continually challenging process of exploration. But it might, too. Accepting reality for what it is only becomes overwhelming if you also accept a belief that your future will forever remain imprisoned by today’s struggles. What I eventually started to recognize was not so much that I wanted to be a normal-drinker out of some sense of civility, but that I really just wanted to experience the feelings that come with binge-drinking without having to deal with the reality of being drunk. I wanted to share in the camaraderie of throwing back a couple shots with friends when occasion struck, but hated the back-end of sobering up from multi-day benders that the shots led to. I got the lines crossed between what was possible and what was not, and because of that I felt like there was no use in trying to move out of where I was at in the first place. I felt like I was the only person on the planet, and because I could not immediately see what might motivate me to explore beyond that emotion I just assumed there was nothing else worth discovering. Figuring goals into the recovery equation eventually had less to do with setting firm boundaries around sobriety as simply opening the door for something more that I had not expected. And eventually those unpredictable motivations became more powerful than addictive allure, and the future opened up beyond the shallow immediacy of drinking or not drinking. Another world does exist.

Prologue: Letting Go
Chapter One: Surrender
Chapter Two: One Nation Under the Influence
Chapter Three: Untreatable
Chapter Four: A Crisis of Identity
Chapter Five: All or Nothing
Chapter Six: Reconsidering A.A.
Chapter Seven: Adaptation (current chapter)
Chapter Eight: Clarity

Read Next: Five Years Later / Reflections on Believed to Be Seen