Rolling to a stop

At the Tractor

I’m writing this just a few hours after a show at the Tractor Tavern with Explone, so this might not actually be me but residual post-gig adrenaline in the driver’s seat.

I want to note here that I’ll very likely look back on 2010 as one of my most musically active years. Explone released a record; Kirby Krackle also released a record, wrote a commisioned song for Marvel and flew all over the place performing at comic-cons; I myself released two EPs and a bunch of instrumentals, and also began co-writing on that secret project that is still gaining momentum. I’ve been incredibly lucky to fall in with such a top-shelf crowd of artists and human beings.

Despite all that, something bugs me. I haven’t played a live solo gig in ages. Since May 2009, in fact. And for better or for worse, I’m not feeling compelled to play live much anymore.

Let me unpack that: I like playing live. A lot. Explone and KK provide me plenty of stage time. What I’m liking less is all the overhead that goes along with gigging. The phone calls, the emails, the requisite begging and pleading to get a booking, and then the requisite begging and pleading to get people to put aside their Netflix and video games and child-rearing duties and come to the show.

Those parts have never been fun, but now there’s a twist: I don’t think I need it the way I used to. Maybe my ego doesn’t require the validation of a live audience as it once did. Recently I’ve been much more content to simply write, record and release songs, and skip the playing out part.

After the release party for Save You From Yourself back in summer 2008, Dennis, Suzanne and I discussed the possibility of doing more shows together. But excitement for that idea dried up as time passed and I continued to Just. Not. Book. Shows. I still feel a bit terrible about that, but I think there was an additional factor in play: mentally, I had crossed a finish line. The record was done and had sold a bunch of copies. The show was a success and was now over.

I had set goals and achieved them. Yay! Now what? You can only spend so many Fridays crammed in a corner with a decrepit PA with missing cables, trying to be heard above the grind of the espresso machine, before you realize that maybe this isn’t actually a path but an endless loop.

Ah, but live shows are where the money’s at, right? Yes. I can tell you for certain that, in my experience, I have earned more cash as a musician performing live, than from selling CDs or MP3s. Orders-of-magnitude more. But still not enough to feel like I’m leaving money on the table when I’m not gigging.

I would “do music” even if there were no money in it. What I miss is the serendipity that comes from entertaining people.

I guess what I want to get across here is:

  1. I miss playing
  2. but really only the “playing” part, and
  3. I don’t know what to do about that

Overall, I guess it’s a good thing, because I still get to make music more-or-less undistracted. But it’s hard not to feel a little low and bewildered as I grapple with this idea that maybe I’m just not that guy anymore.

January 20, 2011