This week, you’ll find me listening to my brand new Lauren O’Connell album, Quitters. It’s really great; buy it. While I’m listening to it, I can’t help but wane a little bit over last year. Without having her as a friend and informal mentor for the past several years, I wouldn’t have been able to try many of the things I was able to try last year.
One of the coolest personal successes from last year came as a surprise. I remember having read something that Justin Vernon from Bon Iver had said about writing. Basically, his impression was that by just playing guitar didn’t really inspire him and that he needed to use alternate and untried methods. I was in the same state of malaise when it came to writing my own music. I wasn’t able to just sit down and write as well; it didn’t come as easy. So what I began doing was adapting methods that a few of my friends implemented, including writing in the dark and sitting next to my amp.
Extracting myself from the drudgery of practiced writing and tweaking the process itself allowed me to experiment with the songs themselves. There was more room for creativity and less for anxiety. This week, something similar happened.
I had a spare hour in between class and meeting on Thursday and opted to play a little bit with my new delay pedal. Once I got a loop going, my roommate and a friend of ours walked into the room. They didn’t stop to talk to me, though; they saw that I was ‘in it’. The music was flowing freely and naturally, so I loosed my control and let it take its own shape. I ended up having to stop to go to the meeting, but I recreated the song the next day and recorded it.
We were invited to play a political rally on the quad for people running for student council. As a result, we’ve been trying to practice 2-3 times a week. With one of those practices having ended, Ryan, the pianist/guitarist, and I began messing around. I started another delay-based loop and we played for the better part of an hour. Max, our guitarist, wrote a song called “Puddle Jumping” for his band back home, Bloom. One of his catchiest lines in the song is:
Way up here I feel like a raindrop
All I want is to land on the sidewalk.
And as the loop grew, I let myself sing melodies and lyrics in stream of consciousness. Somehow, I ended up writing a response verse to Max’s. I’m not sure that we’ll use it or if it will ever become a song, but here is what I freestyled:
From the sidewalk I saw him grin,
Falling just like a raindrop.
And as the pavement broke his ribs,
I knew that he was Aesop.
With two prospective songs at the end of the week, I’m feeling pretty good about my productivity. I think that my writing process has developed into something sort of interesting. I can write really ambiguous and abstract lyrics when I allow myself to sing stream of consciousness, without any outward pressure. I can write thought provoking and stimulating lyrics when I have an insane amount of pressure or a deadline.
My goal for next week is going to be to explore other creative writing styles by talking to a few friends who write, and possibly implement them myself. Until next week!
First off, I should apologize for posting so late. I arrived at school and had lots of unpacking to do.
Last year, I was mostly surprised by the support and attention Spire brought me from my peers and friends. This year, Spire is surprising me again, but in a slightly different way. While I’m still consistently humbled by outpouring encouragement, I’ve primarily been surprised by the amount of questions and interest I’ve received this round. Active Spire followers and vaguely intrigued Spire followers alike all have questions or comments about the journey. Perhaps the most interesting relationship I have is with the Spire Choir, however. (The Spire Choir is the informal title that the SpireSpire participants have enthusiastically agreed upon.)
In being asked questions about my former and current experience as a Spire member by the rest of the Spire Choir, I’ve been fondly recollecting some of my favorite parts of my two-part journey. One of the most prevailing trends of last year was this: sometimes I would make a goal for that week and a potentially better opportunity or situation would present itself to me.
For some people, it’s too difficult to focus on just one task for the week because they have so many goals in mind. For others, it’s undeniably difficult to even get started on a goal, and still some others become discouraged because they have no idea how to pursue or complete their goal. In remembering some of the best and worst weeks of mine from last year, I realized one universal truth. When I tried to overexert myself towards a goal that required more steps than I realized, stuck with the planned goal just because it was planned or shied away from something larger than my planned goal because I didn’t plan for it, I became very discouraged by the end of the week.
Some of my best weeks only happened because I practiced flexibility
. When a few of the Spire Choir members asked me for advice, I urged them to remain flexible, but keep working. You’ve got to be Gumby. Just because you planned to write a character outline for your novel doesn’t mean that you have to. Perhaps you get a sudden tide of creativity, (or probably more realistically you’ll get a faint, tickling idea), about a new location for your story.
It would be negligent to begrudgingly stick to your plan and potentially lose an entirely new place or chapter even. The point of the weekly goals is to keep yourself working towards your ultimate goal in whatever forms you can. Elizabeth Gilbert, a celebrated author and philosopher, contends with the concept of creativity in a very interesting speech I’ve cited before.
In it, she personifies creativity the way that Romans did, as a Genius or Daemon; a creature that uses humans as a funnel for whatever creative gesture it wishes to exist.
Though it’s a bit of a stretch to begin revering small fairy creatures as divine bearers of creativity, what she says later in her speech is valuable to anyone who wishes to get work done. She said that while in the middle of writing her book “Eat. Pray. Love”, she ran into a discouraging wall. She began to sink into despair, feeling as though her book was going to be the worst book in human existence and that she should give up. What she did next is revolutionarily goofy. Elizabeth directed her voice to the corner of her workroom, and essentially told the non-existent Daemon that if it wanted the novel they had both been working on to be any good, she would need some help. But, if he decided that he didn’t want to do his job, Elizabeth wanted the record to show that she came and did hers.
Elizabeth Gilbert makes an important discovery here. To be successful is not only about bending and shaping your week to whatever comes along, it also requires consistency. You need to jump in on your project with as much vigor as you can muster, even when you feel discouraged. The more time you spend on something, the more opportunity you will have for inspiration.
This all being said, I took a leaf out of my own book this week. If you recall, last week’s goal was to rewrite the lyrics to a new song that Sun Brother will begin working on soon. Well, I didn’t do that. Instead, I began writing an entirely new song.
Apparently, while I was at class the other Sun Brothers were lunching together. They were, naturally, joking around about music and our own and somehow all realized that most of my songs are in major keys. Now, this doesn’t mean that the lyricism in it is light or meaningless; if you read last year at all, you’ll understand how much depth I try to put into my words. What it does mean, however, is that our songs have the danger of being misinterpreted or unjustly paired together as all sounding the same.
So I struck out to begin writing lyrics to a minor chord progression I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks, and it’s going very well. Something I’ve always wanted to try in my writing is to adapt the voice of a different narrator; to be someone other than myself in my own music. It’s thus far been pretty entertaining, and personally, I think it offers a fresh perspective to my lyrics. Be on the lookout for some more lyrics next Sunday, but for now, here is the first verse.You’re using me to use you.
My slaying eyes,
Like the straining light
Clutch your side.
And clench your hide to mine.
Because this is my first non-introductory post and I’m on spring break, estranged from the rest of the Sun Brother crew, I’m going to take this time to briefly catch you all up on the past 5 spire-less months. Interestingly enough, many things have changed since my final post in October.
When Sun Brother picked up Zach Jackson as a permanent bassist, we began playing many shows. All of us are a part of a fledgling music event planning organization on campus called Brave Sounds Entertainment. BSE has thrown two shows so far and Sun Brother has been lucky enough to be chosen for both. Some people suggested that it isn’t fair for SB to play these shows because we’re all in the organization, but when it comes time to vote for shows, none of us have ever voted for our own band.
Beyond being asked to play, we also try to give ourselves opportunities while we wait for our record to be mixed. (In this picture can be seen all of us except Zach.) Until we have a few more current demos off the album, we don’t really have anything to send to surrounding Peoria/Bloomington/Normal venues. One way that we’ve played is by creating house shows. There have been 4 house shows at Ryan Moore’s off-campus house this year, 2 of which we have played. We will be setting up a fifth as an album release show and possibly a sixth for the end of the year.
The other way we’ve been contacted to play is by word of mouth. There’s talk of us partnering with a different group on campus to play an event of theirs in April, and that organization only knows about us from other shows and by reputation. We were also asked to play for public access television. Here’s the link to that episode. Skip to 21:00 in order to see my interview and our performance.
Perhaps more intriguing than the way we get shows is the way we are received at shows. Though the idea of a ‘band’ is new to me, the other guys are seasoned pros. They have all had their fair share of music groups, whereas I’ve only had one super group in Naperville. This being the case, they also have experience with playing energetic shows. I’m new to the idea, really jumping on the bandwagon this summer, but I have been getting really into the live music we’ve played.
It sounds strange to basically say, “I really like playing my own music live” because of its slight narcissistic twinge. For those readers who are picking up where I left off from last year, you’ll know that I really began to understand how important performing is. The joy behind it was unmatched and I felt connected to myself in a way I usually don’t. You’ll also possibly recall that in several of my posts, I was frustrated; I felt that nobody was actually listening to me play. That is not how it is here.
I had a hunch that when I got to school, I’d begin to be considered as a real artist. Not only because I was older and could be safely taken seriously, but also because not many people going to a small private school in Peoria, Illinois really dig deep enough into music to go to a live concert. The people that do feel that way, however, are always at our shows and are always pumping up the atmosphere. This has thus far led everyone else feeling like a newcomer to an undiscovered and untapped community of people. That raw excitement coupled with the good reputation that our band has been blessed with has made nearly all of our shows something really worthwhile to see. I can say that confidently not exclusively because I’ve observed it from onstage and within the crowd, but in addition to something else that I’ve been receiving a lot of that never actually happened in Naperville.
I’ve known most of the musicians from Naperville even before high school, so there’s a comfort level between us all. That being said, it’s a really rare moment for a genuine and awe-inspired compliment to come out of one of our mouths. Either because we’ve built in mostly criticisms for one another’s music over the years or because most of us are guys and perhaps it feels strange to compliment another dude, but we really don’t exchange very many.
After every Peoria show, however, it takes several minutes to speak to the lines of people who all want to congratulate us on our performances. We even receive praise in random instances. For example, I was walking into a dining hall on Tuesday and someone I’ve never seen before walked up to me and complimented my voice (that in itself felt particularly satisfying; a girl in Naperville once told a friend that I sound like I’m in pain when I sing—and not because I was singing with passion.)
To top off all of the new things from this year, we’ve begun light work on a new song, bringing me to my goal for this week. I took scraps from an old work in progress—Bible, and sort of injected them into this new song. There’s an entire mid-section that I’m lyrically unhappy with, however, so I’m going to rewrite it this week while I have time.
I’ll see you guys Sunday!
[Note from Shay: Christian's post has a lot of pictures, so if you want to see the band members and get the full effect, I would recommend heading over to his personal stream. You can find it here.
Oh my. It’s so nice to see you all.
Some of you are newcomers, and some of you are veterans of the Spire Choir, but I’d like to welcome you all to round 2. When I last left you, I thought I had finished writing for something like this. The journey itself was far from over, but I was relatively certain that the availability of time or platform to chronicle the whole thing had disappeared. Thank God I was wrong.
In a way, it’s fitting that SpireSpire returned to me at this time. When I was first asked to do Spire, I was 17 years old and scared to death. I was a young musician, and I dreamt about writing songs that resonated with other people. The reason that this scared me so much is that I listened to music that I respected and related to, but I was writing material that received too much positive feedback, and too little criticism.
This sounds like a favorable situation to most people, but it was horrifying to me. In my mind, it meant that my music wasn’t being taken seriously. All I had were comments like ‘wow, you sang good in this!’ or ‘hey, cool guitar part!’ when what I wanted was an in-depth commentary and discussion amongst listeners that could possibly workshop my writing into something on par with those bands that I revered so much.
Like many other people, music helped keep me out of trouble and connected me with some of my best friends to this day; mine is a familiar story. It’s something you probably recognize, like the worn-out flavor of a local hamburger or something like that. However, something in my story distinguishes the taste from others. Though my shortcomings probably outnumbered my redeeming qualities as a kid, I’ve felt one constant throughout my entire life that has seeped into my craft: I think hard about the mechanics, esthetics and revelations that materialize in my life.
I’ve never really understood the movement, but it became really trendy in the suburbs I grew up in to claim, “Yeah, I over-think everything” as if it were an exclusive club for those kids who shouldered the burden of enlightenment for the rest of us. Needless to say, as I was looking for companionship in people who shared my rabid interest in self-examination, I gave everyone a chance—only to find that those who widely claim deep introspection don’t know what it means. The true thinkers are the men and women who want to do something spectacular with their thoughts. This led me to SpireSpire the first and second time.
Through Shay’s invitation to a strange blog-thing, I was able to re-categorize my fear; it wasn’t that my music was worse than other bands', it was that I would be incapable of imbuing it with the thoughts and realizations I wished to convey, and that through that ineptness, someone somewhere would never come to understand a little piece of themselves. Shay summed it up really well in one of her posts last year: "I wanted to have impact. I wanted the things that I said to matter to people."
I wrote in my very last post of last year: “Musicians analyze the best and worst parts of you and me with it. So pay attention.” And earlier on in the year I made the claim that “My music is wholly personal and obviously belongs to me. It is also utterly and irrevocably yours. I write for myself and I write for you, because none of us are so different that our lives can't relate.” So finally, I recognized my need for impact, and I used Spire to convert all of that fearful energy into a productivity that helped me write better and more meaningful music. Not only that, but I made good on several sub-goals throughout the year, while discovering new ones along the way. One of those sub-goals has now become the focal point around this new Spire adventure.
“Form a cohesive and standard group of musicians to help you perform your songs.” When I last left you, Sun Brother was in its infancy. Upon returning, I have some catching up for you guys. The direction of the band has changed…into an actual band. Instead of writing all of the parts and teaching them to the other guys, I asked the boys if they would want to start writing their own parts and forming the songs together. This was a huge deal for me, but I trust them. And now it’s time to introduce you to the people I’ll be mentioning most this year:
This is Max Anderson. It’s fitting that he’s first in the introductions because he’s the reason I met all the other guys except one. Max plays guitar and sings, writing music that is pretty different from my own, though his intuition as a musician and friend has thus far been integral in the success of the band. Without him, I doubt any of us would understand each other on not only a musical level but on a personal level as well.
Welcome to the world of Ryan Moore. He was the only person in the band that actually introduced himself to me. Probably the most diversified instrumentalist of the group, Ryan is an accomplished pianist, guitarist and singer. He writes his own music that relies heavily on acoustic guitar and fingerpicking, but involves other instrumentation as well—it’s rad. He's also probably the coolest and sweetest one out of all of us.
I hate Shane Bradley.
Finally we have Zach Jackson. He’s one of the goofiest dudes I’ve ever met, but you wouldn’t guess it from the intensity and rawness of his music. He’s not a bass player. He’s a bassist. Give him a bass, and there’s no longer just a guy and an instrument. It’s an entirely different entity entirely. He was the last addition to Sun Brother, and my Mom loves him.
I’m just kidding about Shane. He’s the band’s older brother, even though Ryan is the oldest. Although his role is technically the ‘drummer’, most of Shane’s suggestions regarding structure or parts in the music have stuck and are appearing on the new record, pointing towards his obvious passion and attention towards his craft. He’s an absolute necessity.
If you were paying attention during all of that, you’d notice that I mentioned a new record. Yep. A full length-record is currently in the mixing process with Spencer Walters, a full-time student, musician and all-around nice guy. We’ll be releasing a single in the upcoming months, so look out for all of that.
When I was thinking up possible long-range final goals for this round, I was unsure of how I was going to focus the entire project on just me. I had already established the band at Bradley, and didn’t want to become the ‘face’ of it—that’s not the point of forming a band. So after discussing it with the rest of the guys, we’ve collectively decided upon one goal. We need a way to support the record when it comes out, and we’ve been looking for more shows, so we decided on making a tour the final goal.
This being said, much of this year will still focus on writing of new songs and of honing the band’s directive. I’ll be the only one writing for Spire so I’ll basically be giving readers an inside look at my own personal journey through this group and year. It will be almost the same as last year, for those of you who followed me then, but instead of “Christian Lyon is commenting on Christian Lyon’s music”, it will be “Christian Lyon is commenting on Sun Brother’s music.”
Painless transition, right?
I’m still developing the sub-goals for this year because my own personal goals for the band may be different from the other guys, but there are a few things that I know for a fact will be included:
1. Write a new song every other month, if not more. That should equal out to 6 or more songs this year.
2. Find more venues to play that are outside of Peoria. Some of the most rewarding shows I played last year were when I was outside of my element. And this time, I won’t be doing it alone.
3. Talk with some of the contacts I’ve made through the past 2 years to get good advice on how to survive as a band in the industry.
4. Send out the new record to places and people that seem impossibly too good to be true. Darien Williams, my drummer from high school, is now in Young Man. Jessica Blanchet, a girl featured in two of my YouTube videos, was just awarded ‘BEST NEW TRACK’ on Pitchfork. Cool things happen.
5. Get a track (or the album) reviewed on websites like Pitchfork.
6. Perform on AudioTreeLive.
7. Perform on DayTrotter.
8. Perform with a signed band.
When I said that it was fitting for Spire to return to me at this time, I had this in mind. The first time it showed up, I was terrified. The second time, I was electrified. There is a venue called ‘The Rhythm Kitchen’ in Peoria. It’s an old warehouse bought about by a man named Percy Jackson. Mr. Jackson turned the top floor into a live art gallery where people can watch artists work on their sculptures, paintings, etc. He is rarely there because he’s such an accomplished artist, but he happened to be there that night, and I happened to find myself in his gallery. We spoke for 20 minutes about art and music, and how we each gain inspiration. It was absolutely intimidating and exhilarating to speak to someone so experienced and accomplished about the creative process, and it left me feeling invigorated and ready to start working on something. Not 3 minutes later, cue SpireSpire’s rearing head.
Let’s do it.