Q: So you don’t sit down at home or in your studio or wherever and say, “OK, from 10 to 3 today I’m working.”
A: No. I certainly don’t do 10 to 3. Because I find that if it’s not happening in like, five minutes, it’s not happening. And so I’ll say, “I’ll just sit down for five minutes and I’ll listen to some stuff and if something grabs me I’ll work on it and if not, I’ll move on.” But you know, discipline for me is just picking up the guitar and being on the scene. Nothing’s going to happen if I’m watching TV or doing something else. My bar is very low for discipline.
Q: Why do you think we so closely associate youth with peak performance?
A: I think people are really invested in the mythology of genius. But I’m more interested in insight. And listen, if a very young person has insight it is an astonishing, notable event. I think people are also very invested in the mythology of talent being next to madness, some kind of untouchable nether world. It was really a revelation to me when I was younger to realize that musical talent would develop and increase with repetition and hard work. And that it would yield to effort and practice.
Q: Did you not have that understanding when you were young?
A: No. I didn’t.
Q: How did you think it was going to happen?
A: I really didn’t know. I mean, I had a vague idea. First of all, I really did not have musical talent, particularly. I could play a couple of songs on guitar. I could sing a little bit, but not much. By no means was I, of the girls I knew or the people I knew who could play guitar and sing songs, the best one. My brother’s girlfriend, I thought, was much better than me. But I had an idea that it might be possible to know if I had talent if I learned about music. And I didn’t even know what it was that I needed to learn, but I was a big believer in learning. And so I heard about a music school, Berklee College of Music, and went to a summer session, a seven-week thing. And I worked really hard and I was kind of astonished to learn that you could get better at it. You know, that your ear could get better when you practice ear training. And also that you could eventually start to discern in a piece of music disparate elements. Which I’d never been able to do before. I mean, music was just a big roar with a voice on it and I didn’t understand how people did it. And I kind of thought that musical talent was some magic thing that you either had or you didn’t. And it was really interesting to me, I mean it was really revelatory about everything, because I started to realize like you could apply that to everything. That’s a great boon to us who didn’t get the gift of whatever, that you can practice and that you can get better at it. Maybe not the best, but certainly better than where you were. Another interesting thing I’m finding is sometimes I go through these painting jags and I’ll go, “I want to do some painting,” so I’ll paint a bunch of paintings, and when I’m painting I find that I’m more creative musically. And I don’t understand why or how that works. But it’s like everything seems to flow.
Q: I’m reading a book by the psychologist who coined the term “flow” to describe being in the zone, whatever you do, whether you’re a scientist or an artist or whatever. And I think that there is something to be said for the idea that if you put yourself in a situation where you’re opening up your mind or your heart or whatever you need to open up to make something, or to discover something, that you’re going to be able to transpose that openness into other realms.
A: Yeah. That’s probably what it is.
Q: Clearly you’ve gained things as an artist over the years. Have you lost anything?
A: I’ve definitely lost an interest in listening to new music and tracking new music down. But having said that, I think a lot of that is circumstances. I mean, there’s certainly been times when I was in a very contentious situation with record labels, I just was disgusted with the whole thing, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with music or listen to it or play it. Like, I was over it. So that’s one circumstance. And then I think there was probably a time where listening to music reminded me of certain things, so I didn’t. But now I think it’s because that it’s the nature of buying music and listening to music and how people listen to music, in that it sort of used to be kind of a thing that you would share with your friends, but now it’s this solitary thing. And then when you’re sort out of the loop of knowing what’s out there, you really don’t even know how to begin. There’s ways that technology can recommend music for you, but that seems a little weird. Like iTunes telling you try this if you like that. I mean I’ve heard some good stuff, but there’s something that’s sort of awkward about hearing one song from some artist you’ve never heard of that seems to be out in the ether. It’s hard to develop a relationship with artists. You know it’s all about relationships, but you can’t – it’s very hard to develop a relationship with music anymore. There’s one song here and one song there and they’re great. But you don’t know who they are.
Q: So how does that color your identity as a musician and your relationship with the people who listen to you?
A: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I mean I think my audience is probably older, so they’re not really victims of this kind of thing. It’s almost like a singles market all over again, but in even weirder ways. I think when you used to hear singles you connected with who the artist was. But because there’s no packaging anymore, you don’t really know what they look like. You don’t see the lyrics. You don’t see the art that they choose to represent themselves. Like, there’s just nothing. It’s just these floating fragments in the ether. It’s very strange. So yeah, I think I’m really lucky my audience is older and I think they kind of connect with my stuff from over a period of time And I’m very fortunate in that.
Q: Have you gone through periods where you’ve lost your energy for making music?
A: I had a period, concurrent with just a kind of general disgust with the music business. I think that it happened because I was interacting only with the record company. If I would write a song or record a song, the only people who would hear it and comment on it were people at the record company. And they have of course a totally different agenda than an agenda of art, of is this good or does it move me? And so 100% of the feedback I would get on what I would do was just depressing. Like, it’s not a single. So if you never get any feedback where people get any joy from what you’re doing or connect to it or are moved by it in any way, then you really start to feel like, “Well I don’t know why I’m fucking doing this.” I mean, sure I can write songs for myself but I mean, I am playing them for other people. And it gave me a very skewed belief that nobody cared. And then I thought, well if nobody cares and nobody really thinks I’m doing anything good, then I really don’t know why I’m doing it. It’s just sort of self-indulgent to write and put out a record. Why would I bother to do it? So it did something, like a psychological thing, to me. It’s like if you go to a friend of yours and you say, “Man, I’m really sad. I lost my job and I’m really depressed.” And the other person was like, “Well, too bad for you.” After a while you don’t want to go to that person with your feelings. So playing music for somebody who kind of had that “Well, too bad” sort of attitude, I didn’t want to go to them with my feelings, which were my songs. But it went even further, to where I didn’t want to have feelings.