When I left music, I didn’t really know what that meant. I had been doing it for so long, and became so unhappy doing it, that the only thing that made sense to do was quit altogether. I’m not sure if I intended for it to be forever, that I would never return to the stage or professional music. I just knew it was time to go. Music, which I had done in some capacity since high school, had hit a wall for me at 26.
Only recently did I come to terms with what quitting music really meant for me. At no point after quitting music did I feel as though I wanted to be on-stage or in a band again. I still don’t feel that way. Performance, to me, is the worst. I cannot be bothered to perform for anyone at this point, certainly not in a band capacity. However, even though I quit, I wasn’t able to completely ditch music altogether. I’m too big a fan. I love vinyl records and I’ve amassed an insane digital collection as well. While I left performing, I certainly never left listening, analyzing, and talking about music. That much no one can take away.
But, for quite some time, I didn’t touch a guitar, and I certainly didn’t touch a bass, which had become somewhat of an albatross. The grueling process of playing bass correctly and getting in-sync with a drummer drove me up a wall. I didn’t play much at all during that first year that I left music. I was tricked into playing once or twice by my friend Noel, and that was all right, but it didn’t rekindle the spark. So, I was largely unmusical during that time. I just became a fan.
In becoming a fan, I really found the love for music again. I could listen to Neil Young’s “Live at Massey Hall” and marvel at just how beautiful and vulnerable music could be. I could listen to Miles Davis’s “Live Evil” and be blown away by the avant-garde mastery. I dove deep into Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman), who is one of the most gifted modern songwriters alive today. It was all there for me again, all the inspiration that left me seemed to return when I finally considered myself to be a fan like everyone else.
I love art, this I’ve made clear in my writing. I like to paint, although seldomly, I’m rarely inspired to do so anymore. But I was a musician for so long that to finally take a step back and become a fan really put things into perspective and changed my relationship with music. Music had to cease being my main pursuit, my career. Why should something I love so dearly as a fan and player also be tainted by bitter failure? I pursued music for so long as a career that enjoying it seemed like a job for someone else, the fan. But I got that back, my fandom. I was still missing something though.
When I first played guitar, I was lit up by the sheer possibilities of it all, the sounds I could make, the feelings you could convey with music alone. The guitar was my first love in that way, but I had lost it somewhere along the way. Playing primarily bass in the band pulled me away from the guitar; this was something I signed on for willingly – no one to blame, take it easy. In leaving music and taking stock of what mattered to me, I began to slowly rediscover my love of playing, but with the added benefit of not having it be my job.
My relationship with music changed. Where for so many years it was my only focus, music had now become simply one of the things that I do. Writing, that’s my career, but music, that’s a passion of mine. And a passion is far different than something you’re married to as career. I could play my guitar or whatever instrument I felt like without feeling that I had to be the best at it or agonize over timing. I could just play to play.
Then, the pandemic hit us. Like many, I thought that the isolation of our respective quarantines would be creatively fruitful. And I, like many, soon discovered that it wasn’t fruitful at all. Quarantine is weird. But, as we pushed through the months, I found myself drawn to playing more. Not only that, but I opened up an equipment case that I hadn’t opened since I’d been in the band. In it was my bass synth and a few guitar pedals. Once I reorganized that case, I bought a reverb pedal. I hadn’t made a musical purchase since probably 2016, but I need tons of reverb to play what I hear in my head – reverb makes an instrument feel alone. Before I knew it, I was plugging into an amp and playing with headphones on – making loops, textures, and experimenting with sounds. Since I was playing in headphones anyway, I decided that I might as well start recording my stuff. I got a recording interface and some software, and I began feeling the inspiration to create come back almost immediately. The endless possibilities were once again before me. I was playing again, and having fun.
But the best part? The best part was that I could record something for a half hour and then be done. The best part was that I didn’t have to record things over and over, I could just lay it down once and be done. Music now became what painting was for me, an exploration. I’m happy to record when I do, and I’m happy to stop when I’m done. Music has finally become something I wholeheartedly enjoy, and that’s because I can put it down for days at a time. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this level of creative freedom, certainly not in the last decade. I hear the music in everything now: in the hum of construction equipment, in the passing of cars, in the clang of a shovel against stone. And all of this because I let go. I finally have music on my own terms.