On Imposter Syndrome

I’m releasing another new EP next Friday! This one is with Gusto Gusto, the raucous instrumental dance band I started exactly two years ago this month.

In two years we’ve gone from not existing to two national tours, sold-out shows in three states, slots at festivals around the country (Woodford Folk Festival, Peak Festival, Questival – a full medieval festival in a castle with hundreds of punters in capes and wizard hats), and releasing our debut EP last year. It’s been a pretty wild rush, taking a couple years of COVID induced stasis and launching it full-bore into a seven-piece non-stop party band.

It’s been exhausting at times, mainly co-ordinating seven peoples calendars, but also a lot of fun, and now we have a second EP (recorded, mixed and mastered by myself) ready to go.

If you want to support us, please come to the launch next week!

With the release of new music comes the return of imposter syndrome.

Absurd, but true, even at this stage of my ‘emerging’ career (the button I still tick when applying for grants), there’s a sneaking sense that I don’t really know what I’m doing, that I’ve stumbled myself out upon the stage both naked and clueless.

This is more common than I realised – I’ve had this chat with friends, over and over for the last couple of years. Even the people I look up to most – musicians who’ve toured the world, released ARIA-nominated records, headlined tours that sell thousands of tickets, have this same niggling sense of doubt.

Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe no-one really likes me.

Or maybe this is just one of the seven stages of album release – anger and grief and doubt and an underlying sense of joy, all tied together with the messy bow of creative self-expression and the latent realisation that we never know if a thing is all done or a little under-cooked in the middle until it’s the last possible day to get CDs pressed. By then you’re rushing across town with a USB of wav files and calling a friend to help you finish off artwork and realising that you might be trying to sell non-existent product at the launch show next weekend.

A large part of self-doubt for me comes from trying to bite off more than I can chew. I’ve moved from drummer to composer to recording engineer to mixer to artwork designer to colour grader, and with each step is a little joy in the exploration of a new creative process, and a lot of time spent watching Youtube tutorials to figure out how to make that snare slap, or find a 70s LUT to make the music video pop. I start most of these parallel skills first from a point of necessity – there’s no money in the project for me to pay thousands for someone else to do it, then from a point of curiosity – how do I get this thing to work the way someone else does it? Then it circles back to necessity – I’m on a tight deadline and trying to get mixes complete before handing the project over to someone else to master. Sometimes it circles back on itself again and I find myself recording an EP for someone else, using this little set of skills that I pulled together with a lot of trial and error to get someone else’s creative project off the ground.

I’m good at hiding the imposter syndrome, but still it rears its head.

Recently I played a couple of gigs with the Jazz Lab Orchestra, playing an hour-long suite of written music, page turn after page turn for forty three pages. When I was sitting on the bandstand, flipping pages and hitting drums I felt fine, but directly before and after I had the strongest feeling that I didn’t belong, that I’d somehow stumbled into the wrong gig and someone had ushered me on stage, wrongly convinced that I was capable.

But I scraped through and the next time the voice that tells me I can do it is a little bit louder than the voice that says I can’t, and that’s all that really matters right?

When I picked up the new Gusto CD, two big cardboard boxes that I hope we’ll sell over the summer, the first thing I did was put one into the CD player in my car. I drove home, listening to music that I composed during COVID, rehearsed in a friend’s living room, recorded in my garage.

And I liked it. I hope you’ll like it too.

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