I knew I was changing. I was in the band Ours, we were making an endless record, and I started to dislike the songs. With each revision, edit, rewrite, new chorus, new verse, back to the old chorus, and new intro, I felt within myself that what we were making was no longer a product I’d buy. I now know what my dear friend felt when he said that he wouldn’t listen to the music our old band, Me Overseas, was making. If you yourself don’t like it, why bother? I stayed because my bandmates had been my people for so long. I’d come too far a distance to turn back, been through too much. But the truth was that once that shift happened within me, once I turned the corner and began to see the music from a different angle, I would never get back to the place where I loved the music.
This is difficult to write, it can come off as insulting; but that’s not my aim here. My tastes changed so radically while I was in the band that I couldn’t find anything of merit in the music we made, of which I had a significant part in making. My tastes changed, and so had I. I devoted a mere paragraph to this in my “Why I Quit Music” piece, but such a brief mention of this glosses over such a substantial reason for my leaving the band and professional music altogether.
Let me start by saying the music Ours was making wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Since so many of these songs were being built in the studio, they went through so many changes that I lost the thread. The more we changed, the further the song got from inspiration. I felt like I had to be a “yes man,” especially since I wasn’t writing the songs. In retrospect, I should’ve piped up, but it didn’t always feel like dissent was welcomed; art is a touchy, personal subject. And so, I suffered in silence all the while knowing that I didn’t like our music anymore. It was getting away from what I saw as our strength: the more artistic, ethereal, spaced out, emotional songwriting. The music became too straightforward for me, too rock and roll.
I had begun to really detest rock music, a thing I once held in such high esteem. There is something so pompous about rock bands and rock stars – simplistic songs with vague lyrics and an attitude like they were Salvador-fucking-Dalí. I’m not saying my band had this problem per se, but there was just an air about the whole world of rock music like everyone should be thankful for it. I finally saw through the formulas and clichés of rock music, and the only way out of it for me was to seek art elsewhere.
I branched out slowly into more artistic and “out there” music. I couldn’t see why the band had to go in the arena rock direction. It was always my feeling that if we made beautiful art without trying to be anything or appeal to anyone, we would be rewarded for our integrity – the journey was the destination. I needed to find the sound I wished my band had, and I did. It started with The Flaming Lips. I had seen them at Milwaukee Summer Fest, and though my group didn’t stay for more than a song, I knew I found something that was for me. The Lips fearlessly went their own strange way, doing only what they wanted. I loved it, and so I began diving into their albums.
After listening to two of the Lips more dark and artistic records, The Terror and Embryonic, I followed an iTunes recommendation for another band based solely on the album art. The album cover featured what appeared to be a 50’s-style Gerber-like baby crying its eyes out. I was in love. That band was Swans, and the album was the two-hour-long monolithic masterpiece, To Be Kind. From that point on, my perspective on what music could be changed forever. The songs were long, methodical, nightmarish trips that had massive cathartic payoffs. It was so visceral, so experimental. It sounded like the beginning of the Earth itself, or perhaps the end. But then, I would go back to the record Ours was making only to be disappointed by what I felt was a flat, safe song.
I was also diving further into Leonard Cohen for a bit, especially the Songs of Love and Hate album. There was something so intriguing about a songwriter who had such a wonderful style of writing and didn’t try to cheapen the language or structure for mass appeal. The lyrics were specific and uncompromising, personal and guttural. From Leonard Cohen I found my way to what became possibly my favorite artist and songwriter of all time, Nick Cave. Cave’s lyrics were some of the best I’d ever heard. They were oozing artistry and personality; the songs were often longer to accommodate Cave’s eloquent words. I worked forward through the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds discography until I reached their then-current album, Skeleton Tree. The instrumentation was so quiet, so subtle, so haunting, and Cave’s vocals spoke directly into your ear, whispering even. This was it, I thought. This is art, this is what music could be:
“I was an electrical storm on the bathroom floor, clutching the bowl
My blood was full of gags and other people’s diseases
My monstrous little memory had swallowed me whole
It was the year I officially became the bride of Jesus,”Nick Cave – Magneto (Skeleton Tree, 2016)
Between The Flaming Lips, Swans, and Nick Cave, I knew that I had changed. I felt as though my mind had burst open and I finally saw the limitless possibilities of art, language, and music. But sadly, in opening a new door for myself, another began to close. It became clear that I was in a band I no longer liked, making music I didn’t enjoy or believe in. It wasn’t fair to the band or myself that I carried on pretending things were all right. There were moments in jams where I felt like we found something, a spark of inspiration, but those jams would end with a talk about how sloppy we were, immediately sucking the high we got from artistic expression right out of the room.
My tastes changed, I changed. I found rock music utterly ridiculous, and dance music not much better. There was so much more that was possible outside the narrow parameters of those genres and appealing to a larger audience. That change, coupled with my dread for playing music altogether, led to my leaving the band in dramatic fashion. I returned to the studio a week after I left, but I couldn’t keep myself together. The same song was being worked on as the day I left, and I definitely didn’t like it any more having had a break for the first time in years. It was over, it had to be. When my tastes changed, I changed. I got back to reading, which I hadn’t had the brain space for in years. More importantly, I got back to writing and found my voice. I found who I was altogether.
What was I with the band? Whatever the band needed.
What was I without the band? I was myself, at last.