On Belonging

I’ve spent the last week watching Wild Wild Country, the Netflix documentary about Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. I got there via a fairly odd route, hearing this song from one of my favourite artists Sufjan Stevens. A little digging into the lyrics reveals line such as:

I’m on a path of love, I’m on a parrot
Possess me with prayer on the bluff
I’m on a task for God
Entheogen, you lift me within Upanishad

Pretty par for the course when you consider Sufjan’s back catalogue, but intriguing enough that I felt I should dig a little deeper. Googling Rajneesh brought me to Wikipedia and then on to Wild Wild Country, although I’m still not entirely sure what the connection is and why Sufjan is borrowing imagery from a 1980s Indian guru to spur his 2020 pop music. Anything can be a jumping off point for creativity I guess.

Continue reading “On Belonging”

On the Disposable Nature of Music

I’ve talked before about how I read voraciously, deep-diving into all-consuming worlds that supplant my reality for days and weeks and months at a time.

As a child I spent most of the years between eight and fourteen in bed, books wedged against pillows to hold them in a comfortable reading position. My parents supported my reading addiction by carting around boxes and boxes of books from house to house, country to country, every time we moved. Each summer I’d read through everything on my shelves, then immediately read through them again. I’d borrow a book from a friend and read through it that night, then call them the next day asking for something new. On camping trips our family would cart around bags of books, mainly for me and Mum and Dad. My brother would be out fishing. So from an early age reading has been an addiction of sorts, and I know that when I start a good book, everything else in my life will suffer until its finished. That’s how I read all seven Harry Potter books in one seven day spell, shuffling around various positions in a one bedroom apartment to find comfort. This is not meant as a point of bravado but merely a demonstration of how poor my ability is to multi-task when I have a book in hand.

Continue reading “On the Disposable Nature of Music”

On Waking

I remember waking. Fresh faced from a solid slumber, kick up up up to free my legs from the blanket, roll off the top bunk with a bang that reverberates through the floor boards and stirs my bunkmate down below.

Morning time. I’m good in the morning, if I choose to be. I’m simultaneously a morning person and an evening person, or I possibly just lack self-awareness, for I know when the tiredness hits of an evening I tend to doze off wherever I am: living room couch, kitchen table, in the car at the traffic lights. It’s a switch, instantaneous grogginess and a stumble to bed to catch the sleep wave. I also know that I’m grumpy in the morning, for the fifteen groggy minutes between rolling out of bed and leaving the house, and then with a click I revert to my normal staid self. So maybe I’m neither a morning or an evening person. Maybe I’m just a person in these hours between when my eyes open and close, and something else entirely in those other hours.

Continue reading “On Waking”

On The Hopeful Clutter (Lyrics)

For posterity’s sake I figured it’s worth including the lyrics to this year’s EP The Hopeful Clutter as a blog post. Not because anyone seems particularly interested, but just cause.

If you’re interested in listening along, you can stream it here (I still have at least 50 physical CDs, so if you want to support me you can buy a copy too! No pressure).

Continue reading “On The Hopeful Clutter (Lyrics)”

On My Favourite Time of Year

It’s my favourite time of year. The time when all the local households take things they no longer need and put them out on the street. It’s a strange aspect of Australia culture, officially known as ‘hard rubbish’, but every council area I’ve lived in for the last twelve years has embraced it wholeheartedly. My current council is Darebin, and my current house is in a steadfastly upper middle class area, so the quality of the goods people discard is second to none.

Continue reading “On My Favourite Time of Year”

On Mess

The backyard is a mess, all pot plants lined up in rows with good intentions, lovingly planted and then abandoned at the first sight of some other distraction. I garden like I do everything else in life: in short sprints, tackled over a week of high motivation and high spirits. Then a day off in bed, or a day where someone asks me to do something else and every project is abandoned to wilt and wither on its own. I have a period where I’m remarkably good at growing mint. I know, it’s a weed that will literally grow anywhere and take over any garden, but I check it obsessively everyday, noting its growth and the little spidery leaf patterns feathering out across the clay pot I found in hard rubbish last year. Then I forget about the mint too and the next time I glance at it as I shuffle past, it has been devoured by a family of snails that hug plumply to the inside rim of the pot, sleeping throughout the day and sliding in ecstasy upon my minty leaves at night. I prise each snail off the pot individually with a slight sucking sound and throw them over the neighbour’s fence.

Continue reading “On Mess”

On The Hopeful Clutter

I’ve got to get something off my chest. It’s something that I’ve felt weird about for almost a month now, but somehow in this current phase of life I’ve been filling my days with busy work (ie practicing drums) and I’ve put off writing for the last couple of weeks. Writing is generally where I do my sharpest thinking, so I’ve been avoiding this weird feeling by not acknowledging it.

The truth is, I have an album I was going to release. I was going to release it next week, with a full band show at the Merri Creek Tavern in Melbourne. I had dates lined up in Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide. I released the first single Lucy back in late Feb, to a small amount of online attention, and then, to be brutally honest, I lost heart.

This is an album I started recording in April 2019. Literally a year ago today. I pieced it together with a collection of friends over two days of recording. I spent the next nine months recording and re-recording vocals in my shed. I finally pulled out the stops and got it mixed and mastered in January. I got my dear friend Nick Pensa to create some stunning artwork, and here’s the kicker… I got 100 physical CDs printed.

They arrived at my house in mid-Feb. I sold three of them to random people at gigs (if you’re one of those people and you’re reading this, then bloody good on ya, holding a weird piece of history right there). And now I’ve got a box of CDs sitting on my bedroom floor. They’ve sat there since the day they were made.

I had grand plans to do a physical release. Then I had grand plans to do an online release. Then I slowly lost all my plans and stopped thinking about that band and those songs and these social media pages. Instead I retreated to my backyard shed and started practicing drums obsessively. But here’s the problem. I’m a totally project-oriented person. I love to have a three month plan, where I can physically tick off the to-do list and claim ‘YES. I’VE DONE IT. THAT’S OVER.’ Then I start thinking about the next project.

But this album that I spent a year recording, the songs that came out of a couple of years of being a human represents a project that’s not complete. And even though I genuinely thought about putting the box of CDs into the wheelie bin out the front of our house on a Sunday evening (hello bin night), I think it’s important that I see this project through.

Even more important is that I see it through with the original intention of the project. I hilariously called the album ‘The Hopeful Clutter’, and I guess I’m hoping it’s relevant in a world where live music is dead and buried, and our sense of community is tied into computer screens and online streams.

So here’s the deal. I want people to have the physical version of The Hopeful Clutter. There’s exactly 95 copies (well 97, but I’m keeping two for myself). I’m not putting it on any of the streaming websites. I’m not putting it on iTunes. I’m just putting it on Bandcamp, and you can ‘pay what you feel’. I know that 90% of my friends have lost work, I know the arts community has been decimated, I know some of my dearest friends are having trouble putting food on the table hence it feels little greedy to be taking money from an ever shrinking audience pot when I’ve still got a couple of days of teaching to keep me alive during these times. All I’m asking is you cover the physical postage costs. If you choose to throw in some more money then bless your little heart. I’ll put a little surprise in every package, although I’m not sure what that’s going to be yet. Maybe a handwritten version of my lentil Bolognese recipe.

If you read this far then you can order it right here, right now.

I love you all and I miss you seeing you face to face. I hope The Hopeful Clutter that exists in my mind finds a place within yours.

Part two, the artwork:

I want to delve a little into the artwork Nick Pensa made for me, and some hidden little gems that I got him to incorporate in to it.

My pitch to him was a collaged image that evokes the ‘general anxiety on the death of humanity’ (how prescient, this was on January 5th, 2020). Nick came back with three ideas, one of which was a silhouette of my head, stuffed full of random objects. I loved the silhouette because it was so obviously me without being me, so I re-pitched the concept, using that silhouette and a selection of random objects. This was the list: sparrow, couch, bones, bicycle, coffee percolater (one of those Italian ones?), bottle of wine, a small dog, an instrument maybe drum or guitar, a backyard shed, running shoes, a beard.

I also sent him the two pictures below, asking if he could find a way to incorporate these. These two pictures hang on my living room wall and were made by two amazing women. The first one is painting of peonies, made by my Grandma. The second is a landscape by my Mum.

20200421_184450.jpg20200421_184542.jpgDistrokid Image.jpg

On Lucy

New Music, this Friday… Link here: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/nathanpower/lucy

Lucy inhabits a weird corner of my mind. She officially started life on April 8th, 2019 as an abstraction called ‘Empty Bar Blues’. She wasn’t a ‘blues song’ in any of the standard definitions (12 bar form, melody borrowed from the blues scale, call and response etc), but I’d just spent several weeks working with Year 5s on writing and performing blues songs and as part of that discussion we talked about how the blues can also characterise a mental state, and I had this inkling that I wanted to write a song around the experience of feeling the blues.

This coincided with an odd intersection in my personal life where a good friend was going through a break-up and I started to piece together the ideas of feeling down and coming to terms with loving someone who no longer loves you. At first it felt a little trite to borrow from a friend’s misery to create my own art, but Lucy evolved quickly beyond being a ‘break-up song’ from my friend’s perspective into a meditation on time and my general hope for either a quick painless death or the ability to live forever suspended in the now.

Anyone who has read any of my writing, or listened to any of my songs might notice that the underlying thread that ties nearly everything I create together is time. My first EP explored my fascination with seasons. The first song I wrote when I started my singer-songwriter phase in 2017 was called Springtime. Four of the five songs on my new record ‘The Hopeful Clutter’ deal with time either directly or esoterically. It should seem obvious that we all live in and around time but while some merely dabble at the edges, I’ve submerged myself so deeply at the bottom of it that I find myself sucking for air and staring up at the small circle of light that promises an elusive escape.

I remember at around age thirteen I realised that I had found the secret to make time slip by faster than it ever had before. Where once I’d spent summers in languorous idleness, bored and longing for something to do beyond re-reading the same series of five books that I borrowed from our neighbour’s home library, I now found my days were sliding past like hours and my hours like minutes and minutes like seconds. I luxuriated in the idea that I could finally move beyond boredom and begin to experience life, little realising that the ever flickering fingers of time don’t stop, and once I’d opened Pandora’s ticking clock and peered into it’s depths I’d unleash the awareness that there’s no stopping, there’s no stopping, there’s no stopping.

Lucy borrowed a little from Dylan with the line ‘a shrine to love and theft’, a little from physics with a brief ode to carbon atoms and I tied her together with a nod to insomnia, another running theme on ‘The Hopeful Clutter’. She started a lot darker than the final recorded version, went even darker still (to the point I assumed I’d be getting worried calls from family and friends when they heard her), and then I reigned her in a little. There’s a certain joy in the macabre, but art can’t all be plague and pestilence. Lucy went through a couple of gender reveals and at one point had around seven verses, cut down to two for clarities’ sake. Some of her most poetic lines got lost on the cutting floor because they simply didn’t make sense in context, but “creativity is a hairy beast, you can always make new wigs off the prunings” (G. Mccoy).

Here she is, in her entirety.

….

Lucy works an empty bar, hoping that he’ll show his face,

Totters home alone, another night to waste, and I’m the one she calls when she gets home.

She tries to fight the cobwebs off, with meditation,

The gloom inside of her own creation, she says she’s better off alone.

 

Set the table with the bones buried in the garden,

Crumbling to dirt to dust to atoms made of carbon,

No I, cant buy, any more time.

 

It’s been weeks then months then years of daily distress,

Sell the family home and with it all the mess, suppress the thoughts of you

We’d love to slip away in sleep towards our deaths,

Every dream comes out the same a shrine to love and theft, but still she dreams of you.

 

Lucy loses beauty sleep, blames it on a fear she’ll fall to freedom,

Chasing love or chasing wisdom,

No time left for the bones thrown down in anger, we wait for the answer.

 

Set the table with the bones buried in the garden,

Crumbling to dirt to dust to atoms made of carbon,

No I, cant buy, any more time.

On Birthdays

Before you read on, I’d love you pre-save my new single Lucy. It’s out on Feb 28th. Pre-saving literally means Spotify will let you know when its out. That’s it! No money. No time. Just a chance to hear my new song as soon as it’s released.

Link: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/nathanpower/lucy

….

I’m experiencing existential dread. It’s a rare occurrence but it does pop up once a year like clockwork, always on the day of, or the day before my birthday. I can’t quite recall when this phenomenon started occurring but it’s been at least the last ten years, definitely since my 21st and quite likely since at least five years before that. If there’s one thing that scares me it’s the inexorable drifting of time, so much so that I’ve been reading Alan Burdick’s delightful book ‘Why Time Flies’ in an effort to slow time’s creep; funny how we use man’s one finite resource to examine man’s one finite resource. Lately the creep has started to become a jog and I fear I’ve left the summit of some unforeseen mountain and this jog will shift into a madcap helter skelter headlong tumble to the bottom.

Of course that’s a little darker than it needs to be, for I’m in still in the prime of my young days, but it’s hard to shake the sinking feeling I get once a year when the month of February rolls around and the mystical goat-fish hybrid departs the sky for warmer pastures, leaving behind a youth with a large bucket of water and a desire to be kidnapped. Amateur astrologer I am not. Galactic sceptic is probably a better description. Not that I am sceptical of the galaxies, more that I’m sceptical of anything that smacks of voodoo, and indeed anything that works against man’s ability to self-determinate. Hence there are a vast array of things I’m sceptical of, including (but not limited to): the risks of getting cancer from microwaving Tupperware containers, any of the conspiracy theories about Bill Murray’s final words in Lost in Translation, treating anything at all with ‘essential oils’ (I get that they smell good, but surely if they were ‘essential’ the government would be putting them in the water), using single strokes when loosely played double strokes basically sound the same, and anyone on the internet who claims they’ve got a secret you can learn in five easy instalments of $9.99.

I’m not really sure where I was going with this, but it’s worth slightly digressing to describe this particular brand of existential dread. It’s not really a ‘dread’ per se, more of a slight sinking in my stomach when I think about my birthday. As I get older I’m getting moderately better at thinking about myself (even if I tend to discount my own thoughts and never act on fixing my issues) and I think I’ve come to the realisation that while I like people making a fuss of me, I don’t necessarily like being the centre of attention (why am I a singer-songwriter? lol). So every year I’m striking this balance where I want people to adore me, but I don’t want it to be a perceptible thing, more of an unacknowledged elephant standing one room over and quietly trumpeting to itself. And in the midst of this existential stomach sinking I’m also dealing with the thought that I’m getting older and the one thing we can’t turn back is the ticking limbs of time and it all spins and spirals and sometimes get to a bit too much (which is odd because I’m a) generally quite emotionally resilient and b) happy with myself, this is one of the only things that trip me up… lets have three cheers for honesty).

To combat this I’ve started to write myself a yearly letter on my birthday, talking general drivel that I think I’ll find interesting later on. It generally settles into a discussion of my mental state and the positives and negatives that I perceived in the year. This started four years ago and it seems like a relatively achievable habit, something that I’ll look back on in fifty years with some fondness. I’m growing more and more attached to the concept of recording my thoughts and feelings as I waft through this life. Without physical evidence I tend to discount entire swathes of my life and the medium I identify with most to capture an essence of today is the written word. I firmly believe the written word is man’s greatest achievement. As an interesting side-note, in 1991 the ‘Guinness Can Widget’, the small plastic ball that used to come in cans of Guinness and ensured a frothy head on your beer beat out the internet as the greatest technological invention of the last forty years. Something to be said about man’s priorities I guess.

Invariably, as I write down my thoughts and feelings and fears of the years behind and the years to come, my existential dread starts to diminish. It’s still there, but rather than a bubbling sea of stress, it’s more like a little almond of agitation, something I can tuck into my pocket, or put behind a pot plant and forget about for a while. Funny that I find my mindfulness not in the active stilling of my mind, but in spilling out on the page all the hopeful clutter that inhabits me. This term ‘hopeful clutter’ is something that will start to make sense over the next couple of months I hope, culminating in the next phase of this project.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt of Alan Burdick’s beautiful book:

“We (or at least the rest of us) reach this boundary whenever we ponder the cosmic. We imagine by analogy and metaphor: that strange and vast thing is like this smaller, more familiar thing. The universe is a cathedral, a clockworks, an egg. But the parallels ultimately diverge; only an egg is an egg. Such analogies appeal precisely because they are tangible elements of the universe. As terms, they are self-contained—but they cannot contain the container that holds them. So it is with time. Whenever we talk about it, we do so in terms of something lesser. We find or lose time, like a set of keys; we save and spend it, like money. Time creeps, crawls, flies, flees, flows, and stands still; it is abundant or scarce; it weighs on us with palpable heft.”