Weather unheard of

It’s November. Around here in Sweden it’s just as dark as November always has been. But the temperature is all wrong. We’re supposed to have the weather vary from zero to plus 10 (Celsius) this time of year, but now it just stays at 12-13. You could take an evening run in shorts and t-shirt without being some radical show-off.

Climate change is real, and still we’re lucky the season is mild, letting Europe save energy while Putin’s war rages in Ukraine. Prices go up. People still fly. Unashamed? Right-wing extremists get elected. Truth can’t be agreed upon. Scientists aren’t trusted.

Soon the world will be flat again. It’s a crazy time, going to work, doing homework with kids, trying to make music. And what for? Is it time to become an activist? What do you sing about in times like these? I’ve written a few songs of comfort, but it seems what is needed is action. And kindness of course.

Recent inspiration:
Fred Again: I listened to him talking to Jamie Lidell on the podcast HOWA (Hanging out with audiophiles. I also watched a filmed interview by Zane Lowe on Youtube. (I suppose I have also listened to him interviewed on the Tape Notes podcast as well.) Well, apparently I can’t get enough of Fred. There’s a cool boiler room set as well.

There’s a lot to love and be inspired by. The charm, warmth and generosity. The ability to spot human vulnerability in microscopic moments and make it into beautiful art. The idea of using next to zero gear – just a laptop, iphone and headphones – producing everywhere, letting the sonic atmosphere of every place (street corner /London Southbank) seep into the music. Sample manipulation instead of playing instruments. Rocking a Maschine live.

There are a lot of things to be inspired by, without even trying to sound like him. Just his attitude and outlook. It seems this November could use some of his positivity.

(Oh, and I have a little showcase-gig at a party coming up in two weeks. Better start rehearsing. I’m beyond rusty)

Confidence holes.

Today I went to the studio after work. And that’s about all that happened. I played through some songs on the guitar. I fooled around with a small synth. But there was no spark. No joy, just doubt, indecision and lack of direction.

I had seen the dip coming, like dark clouds on the horizon. I didn’t have a plan for my session, I hadn’t got a clue and most of all I didn’t have any confidence in my ability. I thought everything sounded bad.

This wasn’t the first time it happened, and it won’t be the last. It’s not a situation I fear, or yes, it probably is. Because it makes me feel worthless. But I also know that neither my least confident nor my most confident selves are to be trusted when judging my work.

There’s a Brian Eno quote that reads “When in doubt tidy up”. I used to think that this related to a recording session with lots of tracks and that the doubt would be in regards to what’s the next step. But I can see that it holds true for self-doubt too. Cleaning up your life of litter, stress and things you worry about will be time well spent when you feel hopelessly unproductive.

With a clean workspace, a mind free of clutter the odds for work getting done are most likely better. Does anybody have the number to Ms Kondo?

Parallel realities

Peripheral acquaintances, friends of friends. People you recognize but don’t know. In many situations a hi! from a distance is good enough. And then there are situations where you are brought together to mingle at the mutual friend’s gathering. 

There’s a time and place for deep connections and there’s a time for a kind of friendliness that stems from the polite performance of good manners. A time when a little shallowness needs to be forgiven for the social lubricant it aims to be. 

And still it’s easy do it wrong too. Last night I cheerily asked a woman I’d only met once before, ”Is everything fine with you?” Her avoidance of really answering the question, a moment later made me remember (Oh shit, didn’t somebody say she had cancer). 

It wasn’t a total catastrophe in any way, I found a better conversation later at night and shared some laughs with her and her husband. But it’s still humbling to see your shallowness mirrored in somebody standing on the verge of the abyss.

There are so many lives lived in parallel.

Would I pass an inspection?

Tomorrow I’m taking the car for its annual health check. Not for a service but for the compulsory inspection, checking that my vehicle is no danger in traffic. The brakes, the exhaust fumes, wheel balance and the headlights not set too high. Etc.

I’m lucky to be in good health, to my knowledge, but as the years pass an annual health check probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. If I did it it would be to make sure that I’m not in danger. That I’m safe to live.

It’s interesting that it would be a violation of a person’s integrity and human rights if people were to be inspected like cars – making sure we’re not a danger on the road called life. It seems unthinkable, undemocratic, something worthy a police state, and I’m not advocating it. But that there’s such a difference is interesting. Isn’t it?

Rebooting with patience

The insight doesn’t come over night, but it grows upon you. That exciting, lightning-fast laptop you were so excited to bring home a few years ago – well, it just doesn’t seem to keep up anymore. It freezes, needs rebooting, can’t make full use of the new features in the software you use.

So, you start thinking of getting a new one. Luckily that is an option if you’ve got the means. If it wasn’t, what would we do? Maybe we would have to think our way around the problem. Reconsider if the latest upgrade is necessary. Find alternative software with fewer features and scaled back graphics that is little easier on the CPU/GPU. And maybe we would have to practice patience, cut the computer some slack and let it think in peace and quiet while we go and get a coffee.

Because when it comes to our real brains, upgrades aren’t that easily available. So we try the basics first. Get a good nights sleep, making sure we exercise, eat the vitamins and drink the coffee.

I’m thinking about this in regards to a piece of musical equipment (Vermona Retroverb Lancet). Despite being a small box, it has 25 knobs and switches that control parameters which effect each other in various ways. I’m in love with the sound of it, but it’s also intimidating because I can’t get my head around it. I sometimes fear my CPU just doesn’t cut it.

Panicking and stressing doesn’t help. Which is why I’ve realized that patiently investing the time to get my head around it is the only way forward. I need to sit down and draw charts of the electric and audio signal flow. All while forgiving my brain for not getting it instantly. Some insights and realizations simply take time. It might not even be a bad thing.

Sock it up

When you arrive at work and your gym-bag feels lighter than usual, it’s not really because you’ve finally put on those muscles. It’s because you have forgotten your shoes. Or shampoo.

Well, it turns out it was the shoes. My first impulse was to cancel the plan of going to the gym. On the other hand, why not just gym in my socks? So I did. It worked just fine. I chose forward.

There is always an excuse to quit. The trick is to get around it and play the hand you’re dealt – or should I say foot.

Keeping it real

“What’s for dinner?” – is a problem that people have every day. People don’t just go shopping for food, they are looking for ”meal solutions.” Supermarkets that understand this get successful. And in union with the food industry they offer convenience. Time-savings. The recognizable.

As a result we eat a lot of ultra-processed foods that aren’t that good for our health. And some recent study actually showed Swedes to eat more industrial food than any other nation in Europe. I would have preferred us winning some other championship.

There’s a lot of ultra-processing done in music production too. A lot ot if it is fun and interesting. We throw a plug-in effect on a sound and it transforms the sound into something new. I wouldn’t like to be without it.

But I think there might be value in keeping certain sounds real. Or that a least in every mix try to have a few sounds that are more natural than others. 100 percent reality is probably not anything to strive for, every microphone listens differently, so everything recorded will get filtered in some way.

I think vocals are especially interesting. We probably not even know how much we can detect from one. Vulnerability, mood and emotion. There is a ton of information beyond the words. Something real that is there for us to feel even if we can’t say what it is.

A chance to be generous

If you want something from someone else, it’s probably a good strategy to offer this person a chance to do it out of generosity. Allowing them to feel good about themselves in exchange for a smile and a little gratitude. Win-win.

To demand something in a commanding way can be counterproductive. Suddenly there’s no fun in giving in. Instead of two winners, there are going to be one … well, maybe two losers. Bad mood and good times wasted on whining and arguing.

This might sound like common sense. And common sense is what I need to teach my kids. But when writing this I realize I probably should practice what I preach more. After all the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the tree would be pretty stupid blaming its fruit for it.

Our simple minds

For four years we only had Trump-news, then we only had Covid-news and now we only have news from the war in Ukraine. It’s understandable. It seems we can only keep one subject top of mind at the time. These subjects take all the light while important issues such as climate change and efforts to replace fossil fuels end up in the shadows.

Rightfully, we need monitoring and reporting on the issues mentioned. But our inability to keep more than one thing in mind is deeply troubling. What is it about our impatience, our lack of attention and comprehension. Our unwillingness to engage with complex issues, to do the work of thinking instead of just settle for headline entertainment.

Scrolling through the news this morning I saw an ad for a political party that read like this:

”Double the punishment to make a criminal career in ”Name of troubled area” half as appealing”.

I find it shameful as well as saddening. A simplified solution to a very complex question. Preaching to a mob with some fake logic, implying a causality that isn’t true. Lock them up! Will we ever get past these kind of messages?

What would it take for people, en masse,  to engage in a conversation about the society and world we want? – instead of the recent HBO series. Not that I’m any better, it seems I have my head in the clouds of art most of the times.

Readjusting my volume

I wish I had the patience of a saint, but sometimes when people sound annoying my ears turn off. It might not be their voice, but their words or how they come across. I might miss the point they are trying to make.

Judging your own voice or your own work is difficult. It might be a skill in itself. Many are the songs that I abused at the top of my lungs. With so much emotion inside I wanted it all to be heard. If only it had been my intense study of Levi Stubbs in the Four Tops. But most likely I owe certain high-pitched reflexes to my juvenile years listening to a certain band from Dublin.

It hasn’t been an esthetic choice to belt. Rather it has sprung from a physical desire to feel the music in my body. No matter how it sounds, there’s an inner sensation that can only be had when you’re singing on the verge of breaking. Another thing is that when writing I seem to be more sensitive to the motion and emotion of melody in a higher register. Low down, it’s almost like melodies appear monotonous. There’s less drama. I might have to adjust my hearing. Or feeling.

Lately, I’ve realized that as a vocalist I might have more to offer if I strive for ease and effortlessness, allowing other nuances to come through. In a way, I suppose it rhymes more with my personality. But what really dawned upon me some time ago is how few of my favourite singers that come across as loud and strong. Most are actually pretty soft-spoken. Many sing close to the mic, almost whispering.

It’s easy to be annoying. It might even pay off, if you’re a kid. But when the silent, soft-spoken type suddenly speaks up … There are moments when a whisper can be really loud.