On Books I’ve Read (Dec 2018 – Jan 2019)

I’ve been on tour across Australia/New Zealand for the last six weeks. During this time I read a lot. Here’s some thoughts.

I consume ridiculous amounts of information. Life is a constant stream of stuff coming in: emails, social media, websites I frequent, books, music, conversations. Everything constantly streams in and I find myself, sitting here in a muddied lake of my own making, trying to sift out the important threads.

In an effort to reduce the amount of useless information I consume, I’ve installed a little Chrome app on my computer that eliminates my Facebook feed (and replaces it with an inspirational quote, some of which are good, most of which are bad). I’ve also stopped checking my notifications. I still browse Facebook everyday, its just nowhere near as interesting as it used to be. Here’s roughly what the experience looks like:

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Anyway. I find I consume information in the same way that I achieve most things in life. In bulk and as fast as possible. I’m always the first person finished with a meal (something I attribute to growing up at boarding school. The first person to finish could get up for seconds and Tuesday lunch was burgers with a limit of two per person, so we’d madly finish our meals and scramble back to the end of the line in the hope that we could get another two). I tackle projects voraciously, knowing that the more I can finish in one big session, the less I have to do later. My initial attack is always massive bites. The follow-up is little nibbles as I lose interest, slowly petering to nothing. I really need a ‘finisher’, someone who’ll take everything I do and edit the final form so it makes sense. This could apply to my songwriting, cooking meals, work-out routines, general conversations etc.

I read in the same way that I eat. Compulsively consume as fast as possible. Don’t reflect, don’t react, just consume. Which means I get through books ridiculously fast, but also means I often don’t get as much out of it as I could (like comparing a five-minute burger and chips with five courses of dabbed olive oil and single anchovies on a plate I guess).

To counteract this, I’ve started making notes on the books I read, mainly so I can reflect on the information I’m taking in, but also so I can remember what I’ve read in years to come (I occasionally find myself thinking plot points feel familiar, then realizing I’ve already read the book).

Over the last six weeks I read ten books. Here’s my thoughts on some of my favourites. Also if you don’t like having plots ruined, don’t read this post, but watch Tim Minchin instead..

The Lesser Bohemians (Eimear McBride)

Seriously amazing. Mcbride writes with a sort of broken prose. 75% of the book is written in this heavy stream of consciousness, words left out, sentences not resolving sort of style that starts out as a slog to read (I found myself actually dwelling on each sentence as it goes past). Then about two thirds of the way through the book the main male character does a 60-page monologue in straight hard-hitting sentences, full grammar, syntax complete.

It’s a brutally heavy book, the plot has some amazing twists and I careened through the whole book in less than 24 hours in a field on top of a mountain in New Zealand. I fluctuated wildly between heady optimism for the characters followed by immediate dense depression and despair. This is the kind of book that feels like it was written about real people, but real people on the edge of my friendship group. These are the ‘others’ I hear friends talk about and vaguely know but never have a strong relationship with.

At the heart of it, this book does a great job of reflecting the fragility and sheer trauma of romantic relationships. With a little shock value and a heart-rending story to boot.

Do The Work (Steven Pressfield)

I loved aspects of this. Basically Pressfield got asked to write a book on how to beat all the things that trouble ‘creatives’ (procrastination, self-doubt etc), and he came out with this. Its kind of an off-shoot of his other book ‘The War of Art’ which I haven’t read but is on my list for the future.

I hate the ‘self-help’ style of writing. Its very ‘do this, do that, have a good life’ kind of writing. but some of the ideas really stick out. He suggests trying to condense an entire work (song, novel, screenplay) into a single page as a way to map things out. If it doesn’t fit on one page, its too much (which is fine for a song but tough for a long form work right?). It makes you stick to just the bare bones. One thing I don’t often do is sketch out songs prior to writing them, so it might be an interesting exercise to go ‘this song is THIS thing, here’s where it starts, here’s what I’m trying to portray etc’ and see how that feels as a creative activity. He also talks about trying to explain your work/project to someone in thirty seconds (think elevator pitch) which is something I and most musicians I know struggle with… ‘So what sort of music do you play?’ Gah.

A lot of this book is based around how to get off your arse and get started which I don’t often have a problem with, but I’ve pulled ideas out that I’ll come back to in the future and if you find yourself struggling creatively it might help.

Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

So I read a lot through an app on my phone. The particular app I have been using (Kobo) has this terrible bug where every so often it resets and you lose everything: all your books, the saved progress section and worst of all the saved notes. As I read I highlight sections and put notes to myself so I can quickly refresh what a book or section was about. Anyway, my damned app reset just after I read this book and all my meaningful quotes and notes are kaput.

That said, here’s a couple of takeaways. Frankl lived through WWII in Auschwitz, and through that experience formulated a strong personal theory on what gives humans meaning. There’s three aspects (creating something, experiencing something and the attitude we take towards what happens to us). He goes on to say that the third is probably the most important as its something no-one else can take away from us. This vaguely ties in with some of the readings I’ve been doing on Stoicism (thanks Seneca).

Some of his stories about Auschwitz resonated heavily with Behrouz Boochani’s book (No Friend But The Mountain), which I read last year. Some devastatingly interesting parallels arise, with Frankl talking about how the concentration camps were designed to break human spirit: names are stripped away and all prisoners are given numbers, something which happened also on Manus Island. Boochani’s book dwells on a ‘kyriarchal system’ used on Manus to oppress and dehumanise prisoners, I wonder if anyone has done a comparison with Frankl’s work?

The second half of the book is a dive into Frankl’s ideas on Psychotherapy (which he formalizes as ‘Logotherapy). I took scattered ideas from it, but I feel like some of it had aged poorly (for a book on the workings of the mind written some seventy years ago that’s fine right?). Also my notes have all disappeared and it’s a dense read, will try and tackle again some day.

Home Fire (Kamila Shamsie)

I was told I had to read this by my partner. Something to do with connections with my own life. Vague connections include a Pakistani-born family, religious connections reverberating through a lifetime and a childhood displaced by families uprooted and thrown to the other side of the world.

I really don’t want to spoil the plot or indeed the journey of reading it, so here’s my immediate scribbled thoughts from when I finished reading it:

“Gaaah. this is incredible. beautiful writing, an incredible plot line. twists and turns and genuinely one of the best endings to a story I’ve ever read. heartbreaking moments, some beautiful back story and a seamless arc. unexpected.”

And thus ends book club for the week. Nah seriously though, I’ll try to occasionally do a post like this. Interested to see if anyone else is reading the same books I’m reading. Interested to see if you’ve got book suggestions for me. The other books I read this month (and it’s a super eclectic mix) are: The Mars Room (Rachel Kushner) [very good], The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov) [wild but quite long, Russian fiction from the 1930s], The Planet on the Table (Kim Stanley Robinson) [some strong moments, I loved sci-fi as a child but am finding it harder to dive into these days], How To Be Good (Nick Hornby) [not as good as A Long Way Down, but still enjoyable, the ending disappoints], A Man of Two Worlds (Frank/Brian Herbert) [expected more from the author of Dune, but my assumption is Frank’s son Brian did most of the writing and it shows] and About Grace (Anthony Doerr) [author of All The Light We Cannot See, this is his first novel and the sheer volume of research he puts into his character’s backstories is inspiring]. I’m almost done with Creativity Inc, [the book by the guy who started Pixar] and I’ve just started Extreme Ownership, [a book about the US Navy SEALS which I’m finding problematic, BUT the lessons are probably still valid].

I promise I don’t normally read this much. I made a remark to a friend yesterday that I don’t allow myself to read when I’ve got other important stuff to do (booking gigs, practice, teaching etc) because I devote 100% of my time to the book until its completely finished. There was a three year period at uni where I basically didn’t read fiction because I knew I had a degree to complete. It’s a problem, but a good one to have I guess?

I’m going to have a lot less time to read over the next couple of months. I’ve got a tour to announce (this week), a video to release (also this week), and a bunch of shows to play.

On Waking Up

The sun snakes its way through the zipper of the tent. I lie on a camping bed, some sort of daft hammock-type situation. Arms tucked down my sides, wedged to my sweating torso by the heft of my own body weight.

Tendrils of dust float through the sunlight, buoyed back and forth by the slight breeze that flaps the tent walls.

Its seven am, and already Illawarra Folk Festival is in full swing. It starts with the cry of crows, back and forth they scream across the camp-site, short guttural screams, three or four little punches and then one long cry that starts high and descends in pitch. The menacing cries feel like they come from within my tent itself, so close these crows come, but everyone in the festival swears the crows were situated directly above their tent, so its either a single solitary crow cry carrying in the morning air or a murder of crows infesting the entire festival psyche.

With the crows comes an influx of visitors. The food trucks roar to life, cars rumble into the single round-about that marks the entrance of this thousand person festival. A man yells instructions to the best of his ability but a line of cars waits to enter the roundabout and someone up the back beeps impatiently while the cars in front pause in the middle of the roundabout itself, unsure of where to go.

I hear car doors slam. I hear tent zippers, sliding up and down in this identical tent city that houses the festival’s artists. I hear a violin spring to life, and somewhere else I hear someone else cursing them out. It is still seven am after all.

I’ve spent years of my life sleeping in close proximity to other people. At a young age it was with my brother, dual beds in numerous countries until my parents succumbed to renting houses with a room for each of us.

Through high school I bunked up with three, then two, then one of my best friends.

Memories flood back, waking to find gangly blonde Joe leant over my bunk. My Swedish Year 12 roommate brushed his teeth every morning to Coldplay. He swore his dentist told him the song ‘Fix You’ was the perfect length of time to maintain adequate dental hygiene.

Waking another night to find Joe sawing a hole through the window’s security bars with a hacksaw blade he ‘borrowed’ from the school workshop (the reasons behind his sawing: we had a nine pm curfew at boarding school and it was of utmost importance that some twenty-three boys leave the dorm that night to pull pranks on another dorm).

Waking to early morning yells and thumps down the hallway, the dorm set up with an odd hot water system that preferenced the upper floor to the lower floors. Anyone showering in the lowest shower would risk uncontrollable water stoppages. The water wouldn’t slow to a trickle, it would physically stop flowing at all. The boys on the lowest floor developed a ‘rain-dance’ to let the upper floors know their plight, stomping and stamping and yelling and tapping the roof with a couple of well-placed broom handles. Invariably the upper floor boys didn’t care so there were constant trails of suds and water leading down the fifty-metre hallway, up thirty stairs and into the next shower room.

Another odd facet of dorm room showers was the lack of privacy. I spent four years showering in a large room with three shower-heads jutting from the wall. A metre separated them, nothing else. No shower curtain, no walls, just boys trying to maintain their pubescent modesty. We eventually gave up our modesty and found a park bench from one of the school grounds and snuck it into the shower under cover of darkness. Just long enough to fit three seated boys under three shower heads, you’d wander into the shower in the morning to find half the dorm waiting for a spot while the earliest risers carried on casual conversation under the steam.

Waking on tour to find a well-drunken band member tumbling through the door in an attempt to locate their bed. Not realising it was the wrong room they cosied up on the floor and I, in a rare fit of empathy, threw them a pillow and a towel to use as a blanket and sizzled back to sleep.

Waking at nine am to missed phone calls. We’d left the gig straight after playing the night before but one member had kicked on with the intent to arrive home later that night. Six am rolls around and they arrive but can’t find the key we’d left out for them. Door knocks and phone calls to no avail, the band slumbers on. We wander out to find him happily snoozing against a pile of dirt in the backyard, head propped on a sack of gravel he procured from the garden shed.

Not sleeping on one particular tour as a six-piece band lay in a row on a friends floor. Six yoga mats, five complaining backs, one sleep-apnea affected member keeping the rest tossing and turning to loud snorts.

We’ve slept a lot this tour. Not in the conventional sense. No solid eight hours a night. No bedtime curfew and early morning rise for work. No routine at all, so the sleep invades all other areas of band life. Some members sleep in the car on the long drives down the East Coast. Some members sleep in the green room, stealing a sneaky fifteen minutes between sound-check and dinner. Some members disappear post-gig to nab the best section of floor. Some days the entire band falls asleep in the park, worn out from a day of beach and beers. One un-named member even manages to fall asleep at a gig, propped up in the back row, feet on the floor and facing the stage, soaking in Balkan strains as a raucous lullaby.

Back here I find myself. Waking to the sounds of the festival. No room for sleep in a packed day of seeing great live music, diving into vegan curry, running to the beach for some bonding band exercise, attempting band admin with a laptop in a tent and a shaky mobile hotspot, and of course playing, the main reason I wake at all. Time to get this day started.

Ps. One thing that has helped me sleep for many years in many countries over most of my life is Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.

PPS. I’ve started a mailing list. If you want to get very occasional updates (mainly writings such as this, new music, show dates etc), please click here to sign up.

On Where I Began (part 2)

If I got my musical ability from my mum (see part 1 here), then I got my entrepreneurial spirit from my dad.

But which has served me better as an independent musician?

Many of the greatest musicians, the world-changing artists, the enduring inspirations that have shaped and defined the world we live in failed on the business front. One of my great loves, 1960s folk artist Nick Drake released a miniscule amount of music and gave up on life when it failed to become commercially successful. Passing away at the age of 26, his music would go on to inspire a generation of new artists and land on the Rolling Stones 500 greatest album list.

This is an artist who despaired at selling a little over 3,000 records during his time. The business side of his career was weak, but the artistic side was strong, and this is what resonates long after he passed away.

On the other end of the equation, art often falls to the wayside in favour of slick marketing and the five minute pop-star is born. I often wonder which of the ‘big stars’ of the 2000s will have enduring careers and which will fade away. For every Madonna of the 80s there are a hundred other chart-topping singles which disappeared into the past. In 50 years time will the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears be examined with the same love as the Beatles and the Beach Boys? (can I even make that comparison?!)

From earliest memory, Dad was one of the greatest proponents of the ‘work from home’ lifestyle. Countless houses in countless countries housed studies filled to the brim with papers. Filing cabinets overflowing with lifetimes of work. Dad constantly had numerous new projects on the go. Dad passed on the ‘new project’ gene to me and I took it gratefully, throwing myself into idea after idea with abandon.

The beauty of working from home is plenty of time to throw at other ideas as they come up. In one monsoonal flood season the local park filled with chest high water. Dad (possibly spurred on by my brother) took the opportunity and turned it into the ‘Great Raft Race (episode 1)’ and hordes of neighbourhood kids watched on in awe as three white kids and a middle-aged man paddled around the park in a dinghy. It was brought to an abrupt end with the discovery of some downed power lines sparking merrily away. We paddled home to safety. Episode 2 of the Great Raft Race involved driving twenty jerry cans and a pile of lumber eight hours to the nearest beach (Al Hudaydah). Several rolls of duct tape and a prayer later we pushed out to sea, a three-hour roundtrip to a sunken oil tanker off the coast. The Great Raft Race turned into a yearly fixture of the ex-pat community, final tally at around five rafts and some twenty people headed out to sea.

Outside of nautical pursuits, Dad has ostensibly spent his life as a teacher, with combined hats of researcher, author, creator and entrepreneur vying for space on his balding head (I inherited the balding gene too). I spent child-hood summers earning pocket-money by turning Dad’s learning materials into books, page by page photocopied and spiral bound into educational materials for the courses he created and taught. No topic was too strange, with books on teaching Arabic to English-speakers, on teaching English to Arabic-speakers (including one specific course on teaching English medical words to Arab doctors). Dad wrote picture books for mum to use to teach health education to rural village women (a big killer in third world countries is diarrhoea, turns out babies get dehydrated and die if the parents don’t know they have to keep watering them). Dad spent years developing and self-publishing books then, working through the faculty of a university, spent years creating books for other people to publish. He now ‘tours’ the world, not in a musical sense, but lecturing, running short courses, inspiring a new generation of thinkers.

As I grow older, my schedule shifts to match that of my dads. He developed the daily routine of an afternoon nap (in a country where the afternoon temperature can reach 40 degrees and the entire city closes shop and sleeps) and worked late into the night. I find my most productive hours begin at 10 pm, which doesn’t bode well for drum practice, but works well as writing and reflection time.

The ones who inspire me in a business sense are the people who get things done. The Elon Musks or Tim Ferriss or Steve Jobs or Dads of the world, where no idea is too crazy to throw your energy at. Without these people where would life be?

So I sit at a nexus between the creative and business worlds. I love the entrepreneurial aspect of music. I love creating business ideas, starting projects, pulling people in new ways and seeing what the combinations create. I love the beginning of an idea, where everything is so vague and new that you can push in any direction and make growth. I love sketching out ideas and seeing the possibilities that lie within.

But I also love creating music. I love fleshing out lyric ideas, putting them into context against a groove with a melody and underpinning them with harmony. I love performing these parts and seeing what resonates with people. I love the visceral movement that comes from placing two notes a certain distance apart from each other and repeating repeating repeating until you have a groove.

I close with a quote from Ed Catmull, author of Creativity Inc and founder of Pixar:

“Many of us have a romantic idea about how creativity happens: A lone visionary conceives of a film or a product in a flash of insight. Then that visionary leads a team of people through hardship to finally deliver on that great promise. The truth is, this isn’t my experience at all. I’ve known many people I consider to be creative geniuses, and not just at Pixar and Disney, yet I can’t remember a single one who could articulate exactly what this vision was that they were striving for when they started.

In my experience, creative people discover and realize their visions over time and through dedicated, protracted struggle. In that way, creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint. You have to pace yourself. I’m often asked to predict what the future of computer animation will look like, and I try my best to come up with a thoughtful answer. But the fact is, just as our directors lack a clear picture of what their embryonic movies will grow up to be, I can’t envision how our technical future will unfold because it doesn’t exist yet. As we forge ahead, while we imagine what might be, we must rely on our guiding principles, our intentions, and our goals—not on being able to see and react to what’s coming before it happens. My old friend from the University of Utah, Alan Kay—Apple’s chief scientist and the man who introduced me to Steve Jobs—expressed it well when he said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

On Where I Began

My parents have always been the biggest supporters of my music career. When I was ten, they bought a 2nd hand drum kit in Melbourne and had it shipped 12,000 kilometers to Yemen. A ‘Boston’ branded drum kit with ‘Dolfin’ cymbals was, in hindsight, a pretty laughable start but enough to kick me off on a life-time of weird experiences (ps. that’s me in the center of the photo up above).

I have this theory with the young students that I teach, that a love of instrument or even a love of music isn’t important. It’s incredibly helpful, but by no means the defining factor on whether they will improve their skills and/or turn it into something more than a passing phase.

The kids who don’t love it, but have parents who push them to practice are the ones who improve. It’s a simple formula. Five minutes a day is genuinely enough to make a lasting difference for a kids’ musical ability.

Kids’ love is fleeting (hence we see them drift through the passing phases of Fidget Spinners and Fortnight, Pokemon and Pogs), but the stuff that sticks with them is the stuff that educators keep forcing them to learn, whether they like it or not.

We don’t allow kids to give up on maths or reading, but we expect that a musical instrument will be something that they love enough to dedicate hours of their young lives to. Little consideration is given to the mental ability and focus to stick with something to the point where it starts sounding and feeling good. Thankfully drums can sound ok from the get-go, we are just hitting things after all. In one school band program I was involved with, several year 7 boys attempted to play the flute week after week for five weeks. They literally never learnt to make a sound (and I never learnt to help them), but the percussion section up the back was a joyful cacophony. Imagine a group of boys half-heartedly spluttering into flutes up the front while the stereotypically ADD boys up the back hit everything in sight with gusto. This is most band programs.

My mum was a defining character in my young musical career. She tuned the guitar in my first rock band (‘can you get your mum to tune my guitar again? It always sounds better when she does it’). She made me practice fifteen minutes a day (usually just enough to get through two Green Day songs and something by Sum 41). She kept me in lessons.

I learnt to play drums through tuition with an enthusiastic Iraqi violinist, probably not the most auspicious start, but you get what you get. Many years later I had my first lesson with an actual drum teacher in Melbourne and he examined my technique with some alarm… ‘have you had lessons before? There are some interesting wrist movements going on’. Well yes, I’m applying the finest Iraqi violin bowing techniques to the drum sticks, what else do you expect?

One particular exercise consisted of taking a pair of drum sticks and, starting on the tiled floor, tapping my way around the terracotta walls of my room. We never addressed the reasoning behind this activity, but I’m sure I could find a way to address rebound and mechanics in it now. If I had the years back, I’d explain to my young self the focus is on ‘getting out of the way of the stick’ (thank you Dave Elitch) but again, you get what you get.

You read musician’s biographies and they wax lyrical about how their dad’s vinyl collection was the defining moment of their preformant life. ‘I grew up with the sounds of the 60s, Van Morrison gave a soundtrack to my childhood, ra ra ra’.

My start was lacklustre in comparison. From memory, we had one comedy tape of Ray Stevens (listening back to it, this was the racist sounds of the 1960s), and a series of Christian gospel songs. (Dad may not have given me music, but he gave me an entrepreneurial spirit, something to address in a future post)

My brother introduced me to a set of slightly rockier religious songs, in the form of DC Talk, and a primary school friend gave me a burnt copy of Blink 182 and my teens were spent in pop-punk bliss.

The local Yemeni population were into the vocal stylings of Diana Haddad and the best of Egyptian soap operas. My drumming thundered through the neighbourhood, further ‘othering’ myself as a young white male in an overwhelmingly Arab neighbourhood within an overwhelmingly Arab city on the bottom of the Middle East. As a side-note, there exists a wonderfully vibrant pirated cassette tape market in Yemen. Local street vendors would display the pride of their collections: badly photocopied covers of all the latest 90s boy bands (for the mid-2000s, anything from the last 20 years was quite current) clustered around badly dubbed cassettes (often starting midway through a song, and ending midway through another with vast periods of silence in between). It brings me some sense of comfort that at a time when most of the world was embracing CDs I was still fast-forwarding tapes and attempting to make my own mix-tapes via an aux cord from my computer’s headphone jack to the input on a Sanyo tape deck.

The local ‘dabbab’ drivers (mini-buses, the main form of public transport throughout most of the third world) would trade dubbed tapes with a sense of pride little seen in any other aspect of their work. Tyres screaming as they slam to a halt in the middle of an intersection, arms waving tapes out the window at the hawker on the side of the road. I’ve seen street kids running along side a dabbab with a handful of tapes and a kebab, attempting to garner a pocketful of change from the mildly focused driver. I also saw one driver disgustedly fling the wrong tape into a passing vehicle, then realising his mistake, pull a swift U-turn and drive his passengers two kilometres in the wrong direction in an attempt to get it back.

I moved to boarding school in Kenya at the age of 14, and high-school brought new friends and new music and a high-school band program. Still no real drum teacher as such, but an introduction to the world of performing, playing ‘big-band-jazz’ (ah that bastion of the ill-understood kids of high school). We performed such hits as the Pirates of the Carribean theme song and Bilbo’s Song from the LOTR soundtrack. I took my first drum solo (16 bars over ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing’), and if memory serves me correctly, flubbed it totally. Soloing still isn’t where I find my joy as a drummer.

One final thought. Yemen has been in a state of chaos for the last 10 years. Decimated by civil war (spurred on by a much deeper disagreement between various other states and ongoing arms sales from countries such as the US and Australia).

Millions of people are displaced. Millions more are starving. Schools, hospitals and essential infrastructure across the country have been closed (and often bombed).

There have been some small steps in the last couple of days, but this is a country and a generation that may never fully recover.

One of my friends (who lived in Yemen at the same time as me) has started a funding campaign for one of the groups doing essential work with children in Yemen. If you felt like passing some Christmas money on to someone less fortunate, it would be greatly appreciated.

Read about it here

Non-Facebook link

On playing music with others

Disagreements foster resentment and I’m not great at dealing with conflict. I think I do a great job of taking offence, of being on the back foot, batting away my issues with a scowl, a defensive slant to life and a ‘woe is me’ attitude.

These are probably not positives.

I’ve had numerous chats with mates over the last couple of weeks about the trials and tribulations of being in a band. My closing thought post last-nights-rehearsal was the idea that spending time with other people is the hardest part of playing music.

Touring is hard: late nights, travel, dealing with cranky bar staff/venue owners, battling equipment failures, eating crap food and playing to either people who don’t care, or completely empty rooms. Booking gigs, writing songs, rehearsing, performing etc are all tough, but nothing against the actuality of spending time with other humans. Putting yourself out there musically, worrying about your songs and whether your voice sounds good, or if you can even sing at all. These are all problems. But these things don’t break up bands. These things don’t demolish friendships.

How do we play music and keep projects together when the obvious role models are all so negative? Famous bands who broke up from personal disagreements number in the thousands, from the Beatles to Fleetwood Mac to The Police. Incredible bands who struggle along together but famously hate each other in their personal lives are just as common. The Rolling Stones have separate jets, separate limos and separate dressing rooms. They’d most likely have separate stages if it was at all possible.

There is no easy obvious fix. Just a willingness to embrace your own failings and try again. In the same way that romantic relationships fall apart and the participants decide whether its worth keeping this thing going and working through your problems, playing music requires an openness and an ability to see things from another’s perspective. Where it gets harder is when you tie in creative decisions (my song is better than yours), finances (one writer getting a larger cut than another), and the general stresses of gigs. Throw it all together and we have this vibrant, verdant scene with a cynical underbelly of musicians who have played in bands with people they never want to see again.

I’d love to tie everything up with a nice little solution, so I wander back through the Daily Stoic. In today’s entry (probably the darkest yet), Marcus Aurelius’ comment is: “Don’t mind me, I’m only dying slow”. The entry continues with a cliché on how every second can never be taken back and today could be the last day ever.

Placing life and relationships and music into context, if we can garner an enjoyment from the music we play then it’s a positive. If we’re not gaining enjoyment then something needs to shift to bring it back. Bit like life I guess?

Most of my greatest moments, the times I’ve felt truly inspired and happy and in awe of this thing we call life have been on stage, sharing a musical experience with someone.

On Touring (part 2)

I write from a dorm room in FNQ (far north Queensland). Four bunks, piles of scattered clothes, instruments and remnants of last nights’ slab. Above, the rattling fan spins interminably, blowing gusts of steamy air down upon me and coming remarkably close to my bandmate’s head. Whose brilliant idea was it to pair bunk beds and a low ceiling fan? Surely a recipe for disaster, but in a 120-year-old pub built to house miners heading north, OH&S was probably the last consideration.

Each subsequent publican retrofits a new concept to this heritage-listed building and we arrive at this sprawling mish mash of a death hole. The windows are slatted, creaking up and down with the hard handed jerk of a lever and in comes a flood of noise, the sounds of Yungaburra Fest.

This pub lies at the heart of the festival. Behind it lies the Garden stage where the local high school rock band kicks the day off at ten am with a set of heart-felt Missy Higgins covers. In front of the pub a farmers market, a kids DJ set, a stilted Poseidon rising out of the twirling crowd of rollerbladers to ring his town crier bell and heft his middle aged beer gut above the puzzled kids. Back and forth he sways. A precarious grip on his trident. A precarious grip on life itself.

In the heart of the pub itself a female choir. The phrase ‘Welsh Women’ sticks in the back of my mind, but the alliteration invents itself in my early morning daze. Excited elderly white women co-opt cinematized black dance moves and sing ‘African-inspired’ repertoire. Think Sister Act, but no Whoopi Goldberg. Possibly no planned choreography either, just spontaneous appropriations. Probably less trained singers too I suppose. Truly an act to behold.

Here in the middle I sit, seeking respite from the warmth (thirty-three degrees at ten am), the crowds (a thousand ticket holders invade a town of eleven hundred, imagine the outrage if Melbourne’s population doubled over night) and the noise (three concurrent performances competing in sheets of sounds destined to leave any puzzled in-betweener reeling).

These days are spent in indolent luxury. A pre-breakfast beer to fight the creeping heat. A meat pie from the supermarket for lunch is followed by another from the bakery for dessert and a third from a food truck as an afternoon snack.

We wake to music and sleep to music. Afternoon nap beneath a tree to music. The music pervades the landscape: a young girl busking in the shade outside a café while an enthusiastically scarfed accordionist plays for his supper within the café itself. When one act finishes a set, or a song, or even pauses to take breath in the midst of a vocal line, you hear a swarm of others in the background, competing for sonic domination.

Official festival venues are overrun by ecstatic grey nomads, sipping iced-soy lattes and scoffing scones to fuel the midday slumber. Sleep defeats all, the afternoon sun slowing performances and more than one gig has a snoring uncle-figure in the back row.

We wander in clumps. Singles and pairs meeting for a minute and heading different ways. We congregate for feature performances and to discuss day plans.

We hear rumours of nearby Lake Eacham, a dormant volcano/lake/crocodile sanctuary. Rumours turn to action turn to an afternoons’ entertainment by virtue of a chance meeting with Beeeedge (actual spelling unknown), a sprightly Irish lady playing the Bodhran in the Irish jam. The Irish jam begins on the first day of the festival and continues non-stop until late on the final night when where we are asked to move on by a group of European backpackers staying at the pub (not to attend the festival but to pick fruit on a nearby farm). Beeeeedge has a hire-car and a partner who helped to start the festival some thirty-eight years ago. She drives us ferociously to the Lake, tells us this is her third swim in the lake that day and leaves us clutching a box of dripping Choc Tops as she dives back in for an afternoon sojourner.

All around the heat permeates, seeping into the early evening, sucking the sweat softly from my skin.

On electricity firing in the void (or, what my mind does when I’m alone)

The mind is a wild thing. Bundles of electrons. A collection of synapses firing back and forth, little electric pulses that combine to form thoughts. Spinning out across my frontal lobe, I feel happiness and sadness, not as some mechanical feat of engineering, not as emotion, but as pure electricity. Electricity in motion as this soft sludgy gray matter works away to create the sense of being.

So how do we take this seemingly abstract collection of ‘stuff’ and form emotion from it? Where does this happiness or sadness, or the constant wild fluctuation between the two poles emerge? How do I interpret someone’s ‘external’ words within my own ‘internal’ mind and react/interact/inter-react with them to cause emotion? Without extended studies in neuroscience (who even knows where to begin?), surely this is beyond the scope of my weak human understanding.

How wild. How free. This idea that all that we do and feel and experience is merely electricity firing in the void.

I’ve been pulled kicking and screaming into a ritual where I read a passage from the Daily Stoic. Thankfully the book is designed with the western world’s thirty second attention span in mind. Each page a separate day. Each day a single thought. Each single thought distilled in fifty words or less.

I read the passage. Think about it for a couple of seconds. Generally dismiss it entirely and move on with my day.

Nevertheless, I find some ideas tick tick tick in the back of mind, nudging their way to the surface and coming up in casual conversation. This is my most recent thought bubble.

Marcus Aurelius: If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it.” 

Seneca: “Life is divided into three parts: past, present, and future. Of these, the present is brief, the future doubtful, the past certain. For this last is the category over which fortune no longer has control, and which cannot be brought back under anyone’s power.”

Epictetus: “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control.”

So if I’ve had a past, or a present, I can take my perception of my experiences and warp it to my will. Bend and mould it to the shape I want and fling it to the seething ocean below. Is this not man’s greatest achievement? History re-written by the victors, and my mind re-writing my past over and over, synapses firing in the void to create meaning where meaning wasn’t intended and give life to the gremlins that dwell in the basement.

How wild.

On man’s greatest pleasure

My mind wanders. It wanes and winds and worries itself into knots. Tongue-tied and tizzy I find myself second-guessing what I’m doing.

I feel like this a lot when I try to write songs. Like a rusty tap, you struggle to turn it on, twisting and heaving and hoping it’ll give. Some days it flies open, but the first droplets of creativity are always murky. Muddy obfuscations. Borrowed tropes. Love is a… why do I always start with metaphors?

In man’s eternal struggle to find meaning, I dive into others words’ for solace. I’ve found myself reading voraciously, mainly spurred on by an absurd amount of free-time that I haven’t experienced since I was a kid. I remember around age nine I spent some three years tucked into bed, reading and re-reading books. Living in a third-world country, the books I had were ones we brought with us or ones we borrowed from friends. The public library is man’s finest luxury.

My parents tell the story of me as a child (or possibly my brother, the re-telling of stories gives them wings and lives way beyond their original scope). Once I’d learned to read they realised they could gain a couple of hours of morning peace by filling my cot with books at night-time. When I woke in the morning I’d delight in the sheer amount of reading material. I’d devour the books and then push them over the edge of my cot to the floor below. Read read, thunk, read read thunk. My parents would wake to the sound of books plopping on the carpet below. When I ran out of books I’d make myself known and the day would begin. Truly a wonderful childhood.

If I could forgo all that life is, retreat from work and music and creativity and love and food and return to a living where my entire world was made of books, would I do so? Interestingly enough, that’s almost what my latest tour felt like. The beauty of solo touring is you spend a lot of time on your own. As much as I love meeting new people and spending time sharing experiences, introducing yourself to a new bar full of people and making friends is a little daunting (hello introversion). Some nights I did it. Some nights I took my book from the car (where I’d been happily reading it) to the bar (where I happily kept reading it between sets) back to the car (where I continued reading it) to the campsite (where I lay in my car and read till I fell asleep). Truly a charmed existence.
This meant that I read five books in the last fifteen days. Not a bad effort, although I must admit I read books in the same way that a troupe of boys devour chicken and chips after a five day hike. My partner tells me off sometimes for the way I eat, but I know that once I’ve finished my meal that hers is on offer, so why slow down? I read the way I eat. I eat as if every meal is my last and cramming the fullest amount of calories into my body in the shortest amount of time is important.

Over this tour I read a wild selection of things (I try and post them on my instagram stories as I finish them). This particular fortnight I indulged in some science fiction (I found marvellous similarities between Blade Runner 2049 and Philip K. Dick, only to realise halfway through that they were so similar because they were the same), some chosen Stoicism (The Daily Stoic) and some unchosen Stoicism (Tom Wolfe’s Man in Full, a fine work of fiction which only turns into a meditation on Stoicism in the last third or so). Upon finishing I discovered Wolfe wrote the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a book I read with some trepidation earlier in the year. Ali Smiths’ Autumn was a wild ride, something I feel I will need to re-read in a year or so (and possibly once a year until Brexit resolves itself for better or for worse). It’s a tangled web of language that genuinely distressed and delighted me throughout. Boy Swallows Universe was beautiful. An amazing story that I completed in two unbroken spells, throwing myself entirely into the plot, read by the light of a Reject Shop torch in a campground near Wingham.

And now here I am. I wrote a couple of new songs on tour. I drove some 3,000 km in two weeks. I played twelve shows. But most of all I got to do what I’ve loved since literally before I could do anything else. Here’s to that kid with the lisp and the lazy eye and the love of books. Here’s to authors around this earth, creating new worlds to pull apart your mind and scare your senseless soul. Here’s to everyone who has ever loved a book. Here’s to you and me.

On What We Want from Life

In another part of my life I work with children. All ages from five to eighteen. It’s interesting to see little people grow up, become big people at age twelve and then suddenly devolve into little people again. Life as a big fish in a little pond matures you, but beginning high school drops you into a wide flowing river where everyone gets jostled and jumbled and unceremoniously dumped into the sea. We might cry salty tears but the world itself is salty and no-one really cares. Not much moral to this story.

I talk with eighteen year old boys about their goals, their ambitions, their loves and hates and worries. One wants to be me. Most days even I want to be me. But is that enough for someone else to aspire to? Am I enough of a goal?

He pesters me, looking for the secrets that make up my fabric. Where did I grow up? What did I want to do? How did I get here? How much do I earn? Am I happy? All great questions, but my responses feel trite in this ever-flowing river that make up my life.

I don’t feel like my childhood has affected my profession. Sure, its affected my personality, and my worldview, the way I interact with people, the things that I love and hate. But has it made me a better musician? Maybe it gave me interesting stories to tell through music. But as a drummer the story I tell is of rhythm, and while the childhood rhythms of Africa still flow through my brain I don’t believe they appear in the way I play my music. As a lyricist I have a wealth of wild childhood stories that could be passed on through song. Instead I dwell on the mundanity (profundity? depends on perspective I guess) of winter loves and lost shoes and mans’ indelible impact on the earth.

So my childhood fails to affect the practical nature of my music (and I am a most practical man).

Is it enough to choose someone who interests you and mold your life on theirs? I did the same at university: flitting and floating between a series of musical crushes. I’d borrow parts and portions from teachers and records and videos on Youtube, blending them together into myself. I do the same in my small business: finding the people above me who achieve ‘success’ as I see it and following their processes, stealing their email templates, asking them for advice.

Indeed, human history is littered with admirable people and the people who aspire towards them. Religion itself as the main case in point, but the cult-like status of the Tim Ferris’s, Elon Musks and Joe Rogans of the world shows that a ‘higher purpose’ isn’t the sole requirement for a hero.

If we venture away from the human aspect of human nature, there lies a vast world of inspiration. We could devise a life built around accumulation. Accumulation of knowledge. Accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of experiences. Accumulation for accumulations sake, where I stockpile a warehouse of anything at all, just so I can show the world that I own it. We could endeavour to have the most of something, develop a status as the record holder for the fastest time or longest lap or biggest hoard. Surely this is where the Murdochs of the world take note. Accumulation of power as one of the oldest stories man knows. If we take Josephus at face value then the Pharisees were exponents of the power of religions’ hold on the common-folk and we can follow the thread back to the cradle of civilisation itself.

One last thought. Love.

So do I coach my young students to follow me, to build their lives around what they see of my life’s successes? Do I push them towards what interests them, whether that’s accumulation of knowledge or merely a safe life on a quarter block in the suburbs? Do I suggest they indulge their hedonistic desires and dive into the world of possibilities that presents at the arbitrary age of eighteen? It’s a slippery slope, one that no-one ever really prepared me for.

We Were Wild Lyrics

Granny tells me my record is very sweet. She loves the instrumentation but has a little trouble hearing the lyrics (fair enough, she’s 92). So I collated all the lyrics and mailed them off to her. Here’s a digital version.

Growing Thin

The longest days are gone and your bodies getting thin,
And you hate the way the winter winds break in,
They wrap around the bed and steal away your love,
And the night-time is the worst its ever been.

All my hope can’t hold you, can’t let it be,
We never took to love too easily.

All the summer warmth has gone and you can’t bear to run,
I find the things you try to throw away,
I’ll hold them in a safe place, you’re ready to give in,
But you stretch a week to 30 days.

You’ll be my winter fling, a winter heart to hold my sin,
Oh your love is getting thin,
So wear your summer dress, I’ll buy your happiness,
All your love is getting thin,

When I see your eyes, you breathe despair to life,
You’ve never been the best at finding peace,
The little things will throw you, and nothing holds the tide,
Nothings going to hold you on to me.

All I want is, a little love, oh the days are getting colder,
All I need is, a little love, and a little home to hold her,
All I want is, a little love, oh the days are getting colder,
All I want is, a little love, and a little home to hold her,

Bury My Body

Bury my body in the garden, Let me catch up on lost sleep,
Don’t raise me up till after all the winter days are gone, And then attack when I am weak.
Bury my doubts like broken bodies, But when I sow my doubts you know I’m sowing seeds,
Buried deep deep deep, down below the surface, You’ll see them sprouting back like weeds.

Bury my body in the garden, Let my figure feed the dirt,
Let me chase my thoughts to deepest darkest conclusions, and pray our love remains our love remains unhurt.
I’ll bury my fears below the surface, I’ll say goodbye to everything I’ll ever feel,
Break out the whiskey for the evening, Numb my emotions like a shield.

And if you want me back again,
I’ll come back taller than the trees,
And if we try this out again,
I’ll be what you want, if I’m not what you need.

Bury the past behind the present, Buried regrets will surely die,
I’ll fill the emptiness with overtime at work, Fill in the years until we die.
Bury your children and your partner, Bury your fears, your hopes, your dreams,
You can be happy if you’ll bury bury bury me, What is hidden can’t be seen.

Walking Wounded

Summer fires are going out, we’re fleeing to the south,
I crave the neck beneath your hair, oh that mouth.
Trace a path to safety, tread your love to fear,
Treat me like the ever after, and pray your love to me.

We’re the living lost, I’m the walking wounded,
Burn the embers back, all the light has faded.

April trees are losing leaves, like the thoughts my head keeps in,
Tripping down your back now, your eyes won’t let the light in,
Hit me with your truth, (but I never even want to)
Hit me with your fist, (I’m glad you never need to)
All the times I tried to give you second shots at me,
and all the times you missed.

We’re the living lost, I’m the walking wounded,
Burn the embers back, all the light has faded.
This could be the last time, we’ll take another hit,
Send me home empty handed, all your fires can’t deal with it

Summer fires are going out.

We Were Wild

I was full once, my mother’s second son, I left it all, for another lonely one.
Take my soul and try and build me up, Nothing more when we’ve barely got enough.

You’ve been wild, and I find you in that place, No-one left to hold the wild away,
We build a fire and burn the bed for warmth, Hope the light might save us, if we see the dawn.

We could be so wild. We could be so wild.

I find a rise and I dig beneath the dirt, Make a grave to lay away the days below the earth,
And maybe time will save us, and maybe you meant well, But man will crave forgiveness if the other choice is hell.

We could be so wild. We could be so wild.

Wildness is a state of mind, and it’s never been a state of mine,
Take the things I love and throw them to the past,
But somedays it falls together and I am feeling fine,
But nothing man can make will ever last.

Lose my place, but give me back a heart, Man can strip the earth, and tear your love apart,
Give me time and I’d find the wild in you, But the earth is gone, we covered up the blue.


I’m losing you this year, I’ll write this whole thing off,
Hold on a final season, To give you time to talk.
And if our love might trickle back to nothingness, Then can’t we make this quick,
I’ve lost you in the never ending stream of days, oh let my cold heart sit.

Summer, I’ll put it off, never think this through,
Autumn days are shorter, there’s still no time for you.

I’ll skirt around the solstice, I’ll throw this season off.
There’s a gap between the truth and fact, And you’re not who I dream of.
And if your hopes last breath can’t start this heart again, at least we gave it time,
I’ll mark the days till all I know is dead, time to leave behind,

This summer, oh I’ll put it off, never think this through,
Autumn days are shorter, there’s still no time for you,
Winter nights at home, and nothings starting new,
And in the spring I’ll leave, oh yeah in the spring I’ll leave, I’ll leave you.

There’s a certain gravity that kicks in after dark,
But my fingers graze your back and my mind will catch the sparks,
Take me as a stone and throw me to the depths,
I’ll pray this rivers dry and I’m not all that’s left.
Like setting fire to the meadows,
Steal water from the starving earth,
These broken days are short enough to count the breaths,
And you’re left with the worst,
And I’ll stumble through the shifting seasons,
I’ll throw my salt across the fields,
I ripped the last pine from the mountains,
To cover up the way the way I feel.
Only 2 days. Only 2 to days to the solstice,
2 becomes the one, and you’re the one that’s left, you’re the one that’s left.