“Some people are so self-assured they’re busy tearing it up, their bust burning it down – burn it down.”
That’s a line from my single Dictator and it has been described as an anthem at a time when we’ve never needed anything more. I suppose the Trump comparisons are warranted, although the song was written years ago. As is often the came, the true meaning behind a song is often only revealed years later if at all.
In this blog post i want to talk about the story behind my latest album, the place i’ve arrived at in my music career, and the times we are all living in currently: a time of fear, uncertainty and amazing potential.
Getting Down to Brass Tax
I know it sounds almost stereotypical, but picture if you will a young couple with a crying newborn baby sitting down at the kitchen island to discuss an important financial decision (i’m sure many of you have been there!). The subject of the meeting that night was the production of the album that would become “The New Great Game” and the prognosis was that it was going to be my most expensive album to make by far. By some amazing stroke of luck I was going to get the opportunity to work with one of my musical heroes Murray Lightburn of the Dears. I count Murray as a mentor and friend now (somebody that I can text with all my artistic insecurities, fears and schemes at all hours of the day) but at the time he seemed like a major artist to be working with. On top of that my drummer and producer of many years Fred Bouchard had finally convinced me to raise the bar with my productions and work in a world class studio. Fred is one of the unsung geniuses of the Montreal music scene and has worked with some amazing artists such as Adam Cohen, Neema, Sarah Mclachlin and many more. Fred’s connections with the local studio scene meant that we could record with Michel Pepin at Studio Frisson ( the same studio where Rufus Wainwright recorded the Moulin Rouge soundtrack!). We would also get the chance to work with Don Murnaghan (Arcade Fire – the Suburbs) on the project. I was buzzing with the chance to work with such A list talent, but I was going to have to commit to the project in a way that I had never done before.
And to put this into perspective I think it’s important that you understand that I’ve never achieved a huge degree of financial success from my music. Sure I’ve opened for some pretty big names along the way including Colin Hay, Big Country, Alberta Cross and Aaron Lee Tasjan, and I’ve had my music featured in major motion pictures such as In Your Eyes by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I’ve even come to the point where I call some of my musical heroes friends. I’ve shared beers with Ron Sexsmith and Jesse Malin and I can even count Warren Zanes as a fan of my music (Warren is Tom Petty’s Biographer and wrote Tom Petty:The Biography). However, considering the time we are living in and the state of the music business its been very challenging to translate all of this support into a full time income making music. I’ve also perused a career as a technical writer, in order to make enough money to support myself and my family. So it was no small thing that my wife and I were considering dropping a sum equivalent to over a third of our combined annual salaries. I remember the night well when we tallied up all the amounts in our spreadsheet, looked at each other, and decided to say yes to following my dreams once more.
Its Times Like These…..
Earlier I alluded to the weird, tough times a lot of us are going through these days. In particular, being a musician, one almost feels powerless as music becomes something that most everybody sees as a free commodity and streaming services (Spotify) pay out low sums to the artists that make it. The thing is this feeling of powerlessness extends beyond musicians and touches just about everybody right now; from the out-of-a-job factory worker that believes that America can be made “great again” to the disgruntled taxi cab driver that sees Uber swallowing up their fares – people feel terrified by change. I believe a lot of essentially good people were more or less hoodwinked into voting for Trump, not because they are racist or hateful, but because they are basically afraid and uncertain for their futures.
The Future’s Ours To See
Well I’m also afraid and uncertain about my future and my future making music, but I decided to persevere with “the New Great Game” because I believe that as musicians we don’t have to be powerless. We can reach out and have a little faith that there are people out there that value music and depend on music to help them get through tough times. In short I believe that I can count on people like you to be there to support music because you believe it’s worth it and you get something from it.
In fact, I’m immensely excited that the technology exists today that enables me to speak directly to you the potential fan, and let you know about my music. Even 5 years ago this would have been impossible, but now it isn’t. And this kind of technological potential exists across all industries: everywhere you go these days, if you commit to keeping an open mind and learning new exciting things, I believe there is a way forward for you.
Years ago I wrote songs about flawed personalities that “shovel coal into the furnaces of their soul” (Conspiracy Theorist) and who “turn away and turn inside” (Dictator). I wrote songs about how the powers that be keep breaking our trust and hurting the average person (they keep doing it again), and I wrote about the challenge to stay healthy mentally during destabilizing times (Redheads, All Those Birds). These songs see the light of day today as part of “the New Great Game” album, and they are my gift to you to get through tough times in the here and now. But these are not songs for wallowing: together we can move forward, live through this, and do amazing things….even here in the new great game.
If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone of my journey, click hear to listen to my most recent album, ‘The New Great Game’.
And as always I’d love to hear from you guys and know what you thinking. If anything in this blog post resonates with you please consider leaving a comment below.
About My Song Dictator
I’ve been asked to share a few words about the concepts and themes of my new record “the New Great Game” on this 8th of November release day and 45th presidential election. Yes 45: there have been 45 presidents of the United States – somehow that doesn’t seem like that many to me. History stretches back but I’m not sure about how far it goes. The heartbreaking narrative of Ken Burn’s Civil War series or his handling of the Second World War seems to chillingly suggest that these events came to pass in a not so distant past. In the 1990s I remember dressing up like a hippie, and in the 70s and 80s they tried to get back to the authenticity and simplicity of 1950s rock and roll. 50s rock and rollers didn’t want to end up like their parents that lived through a couple of wars and the great depression. The years may pass us by, but the game remains very much the same.
On my song Dictator which comes out today, I sing the following:
“Some people are so self assured
they’re busy tearing it up
they’re busy burning it down
burn it down
some people are so unassured
its been such a long time the same voice was heard
saying hold on
saying hold on”
“yeah every now and then I catch myself
my reflection in the mirror that don’t look back
can’t see the suffering I make for myself
I always turn away from the aftermath
was I so wrong
yeah i can’t bare to say
I’m the bad guy now take it all away
like a dictator”
Was I writing a song about Donald Trump? Absolutely not. Is it a song about the series of Dictator’s fighting tooth and nail for power in the middle east? I don’t know, although the arab spring was very much in the air when I wrote that song. What does seem clear to me is that increasingly we are living in an illiberal world, where intolerance and fear of the other is on the rise. What Murray helped me realize is that this is a fight that we all have a stake in. Every day we choose to either turn away, and turn inside, or scrappily scavenge to find love and a little bit of soul. Is the choice between Donald and Hillary as clear cut as that ? Probably not, although I know who I’d vote for.