by Frank Ippolito
If you’re reading this you’re probably a musician, someone who likes music, someone who knows a musician, someone who wants to be a musician, or someone who was looking at a blog regarding the top 10 reasons why someone would want to do anything and are completely disappointed right about now.
This is for the first four.
There are millions of bands and/or solo artists (not a real number, I just made it up to go for the dramatic) out there in the world, recording, posting, and playing their music. Music that largely gets ignored by the rest of mankind, mainly because the proliferation of said music is so prevalent that to find it would be akin to finding that proverbial record needle in a haystack. And, those who are doing said recording, posting and playing are within only a million to one of making it, mostly because the music industry is as brutal as watching an Adam Sandler movie…on cable…and you only have one channel.
But there are those, who despite all the odds against them, ridiculously Hulkulean odds, continue to record, post and play music.
Which begs the question: Why do they do it? I mean, why does any artist create anything? It’s a fool’s errand, to be quite honest. And considering that streaming services are dishing out 0.0000000000000001 per spin, it certainly can’t be for the money (that’s reserved for Taylor Swift and her lot). History is strewn with artists and musicians like Van Gogh, Cobain, et al, who have been driven bonkers because of an inner drive that they could not resist nor control, so why o why go through all that? Additionally, ask any psychologist and they’ll tell you artists, writers, and musicians are basically bordering on severe mental breakdowns, but yet, they still do it. Not to get too deep, but even the philosopher, Heir Kiekegaar, argues that, “For him (the artist), anxiety becomes a serving spirit that against his will leads him where he wishes to go.” And that’s usually straight to the “funny farm” to be fit with a straight jacket.
But, despite all of those odds, all those high hurdles stacked against them, there those who subscribe to a “damn the torpedoes” philosophy. They are the type of person who doesn’t take “no” for an answer and the word “can’t” is not in their vocabulary. In fact, they don’t know what it means, and frankly, probably have never used it in their lives.
And luckily for us, there are many in our midst.
So I spoke to (I really mean emailed) some of these people in no particular order, but ladies first: Chelsey Louise (lead singer, Fairy Bones), Melody Michelle (lead singer, Ana Log), Chuck Morris III (bassist, Jared & the Mill), Jason Kay (guitarist, PreHab), and Zach Vogt (keyboardist, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra/Yojimbobillions). I asked them questions and they answered them for me. I found the answers, to be quite honest, genuine and sans curse words. Dammit.
Frank (FI): Go back with me for a second, that moment you knew you wanted to be a musician was:
Melody Michelle (MM): I was 8 years old and I had just sang “My Heart Will Go On” for my school’s talent show when the music teacher took my parents out into the hall and told them that I had a gift and I needed to pursue it.
Jason Kay (JK): Listening to my mom’s “Meet the Beatles” LP as a kid planted the music bug in my ear. Then in 6th grade somehow my best friend’s older brother convinced the school it would be a great idea for his metal band to play our tiny gymnasium during a school assembly. Once I saw how much fun they were having and how distressed and offended the teachers were I was hooked.
Chelsey Louise (CL): …when I realized singing – in the car, in a musical, in a band, whatever – was my only true escape from all the nonsense I can’t control in my head.
Zach Vogt (ZV): There was no specific moment when I decided to be a musician, though I did specifically quit an office job in order to spend more time making music.
Chuck Morriss III (CMIII): I can’t remember the exact moment but as a toddler, I used to dress as a Pirate Cowboy Rockstar. Once I got older, I realized that I couldn’t ride a horse very well, all the pirates left are on the Internet, and being a rock star was the path of least resistance.
FI: Did you ever say, “Um, yeah, no this is so not for me, get me to an office job…”
MM: Haha, not for one second.
CL: Never, not once. My personal hell is the definition of an office job.
ZV: See above.
CMIII: The life of a touring musician can be physically and emotionally exhausting at times and inevitably that leads to the “what am I doing with my life” moment. Usually in those times of crisis I remind myself just how lucky I am to be able to travel and sustain myself by hanging out and playing music with my friends. That being said, I am still relatively young, so I could always get an office job later in life if I become a curmudgeon and don’t want to tour anymore.
FI: Is there a difference between “needing” to play instead of “wanting” to play music?
MM: I think there is. Music saved my life, in a way. I was an easy target for bullies while I was growing up and eventually grew into quite a depressed state. When I discovered my voice, it was like I found my life’s meaning. When I sang in front of my bullies, I was finally heard and it shut them up.
JK: Yes. After playing rehearsing four days a week and playing 400 plus shows in three years during the Tempe’s zenith I was ready for a normal life.
CL: I think so. I think the difference is in what would happen if it was taken away from you. If music was taken away from me, I would fall pretty hard into trying to fill the void.
ZV: I need to feel my life has meaning so I want as many of my ideas to live on in the minds of others. I need to play music because I want to express those ideas as eloquently and beautifully as possible.
CMIII: Things that “need” to be done are generally chores, or things like breathing, while things that you “want” to do are things that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment. If you “need” to play music, that implies to me – either it’s your sole source of income and rent is due, you have a medical condition that requires it, or you are being a tad dramatic. You should play music because it’s what you want to do, because you’d rather noodle on an instrument than watch Netflix. Although, to be fair, they did just add Bill Nye, so maybe balance the two.
FI: How many projects have you been associated with?
MM: Four projects. 1. I helped write lyrics and music for an emo/screamo band in Arlington, TX, I shall not name the band. 2. Vie La C’est was a short-lived project in Tempe. 3. Love, Palms… 4. Ana Log.
JK: I have played in bands that range from alt-country to punk to industrial.
CL: I’ve been associated with two: Born Loser and the Hangers on and Fairy Bones.
CMIII: Jared & the Mill.
FI: What was your most memorable moment with those projects?
MM: There are a lot of great memories but touring for SXSW takes the cake. It was the hardest, riskiest, most fulfilling thing I’ve done thus far.
JK: The most memorable moment from my early years was sound checking for a show at Celebrity Theater and hearing how massive the band sounded. After years of playing dives, back yard BBQ’s, backs of trucks, etc. to hear the songs through a massive PA sounded amazing.
CL: My fondest memory of BLATHO was just the beautiful, creative energy we had with one another. BLATHO was an excellent learning experience. With Fairy Bones, there are so many. Our first tour, becoming friends with amazing bands, buying a van, creating music videos – but I know my fondest memories are still to come.
ZV: Both before and since I’ve been involved in music projects — each with memorable moments — but the moments themselves are largely the same thing: flow. It can occur whether locking into a groove with other musicians, cutting together two samples on the computer, or while improvising.
CMIII: One of my favorite memories was a private gig we played at this very elite ski resort up in Montana. After the show, we ended up getting drunk with the remaining members and performing an absolutely filthy joke song we’d been putting together during our tour. Hilarity ensued, and at the end of the night I crashed in a king sized bed with a Smartwater laid out on the nightstand. Fancy.
FI: We all know that the music industry is a tough one, what is the one thing that you experienced and made you think twice about pursuing a career in music?
MM: When I was playing in Love, Palms, I ended up getting Bronchitis and tried to continue and push through all of our gigs instead of focusing on my health. I ended up losing my voice during a set and it really scared me.
JK: Maintaining relationships as a working artist is very hard. If you are going to truly give 100% to music there really is little room for anything else. As long as you know this going in and you are ready to sacrifice you will be fine.
CL: I envision the music industry a lot like a video game. I can pick up items, beat levels, fall in the lava. I’m terrible at water levels. I’ve been discouraged by a lot of obstacles I’ve faced – not getting the slot to open for that bigger band, venues falling through, a terrible show, but I’ve always liked the game. I like learning. So I can’t say I’ve ever truly considered giving up.
ZV: There is something of the same satisfaction when you play music while making your career elsewhere. You may produce a delightful series of sugary confections, but with such limited resources of time you’re unlikely to concoct a healthy manner in which to nourish a career.
CMIII: The scariest thing you encounter on the road is when you are in some dive bar in heaven knows where and start chatting with the gnarled old guy behind the mixing board. The moment of terror comes when he tells you he used to be just like you; you ask him what band he used to tour with, and it’s somebody you’ve listened to. Yikes.
FI: Music: Career or life path?
MM: Career for the rest of my life’s path.
JK: Life path. I’d like to go out like B.B. King.
ZV: The common thing now is to find a career in some other field and try to work on music as a hobby, so that it can be not so much a life path as a salve.
CMIII: Depends on the person. There are plenty career musicians who are incredible, and plenty of people playing their bedroom right now that are even better. Music is what you make it.
FI: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing music?
MM: Traveling and writing.
JK: Traveling as much as possible.
CL: Cooking or film making.
ZV: If I weren’t playing music I would be writing science fiction novels, absurdest philosophy or suicide notes.
CMIII: Selling a hell of a lot more real estate, that’s for sure.
FI: It’s all fun and games when you’re a musician until:
MM: …you’re reading contracts and thinking about “ROI’s”.
JK: …you have to pay rent.
CL: …you’re sliding on black ice in the abyss of night, in the middle of nowhere, and you’re so tired that you don’t even have the energy to panic.
ZV: …once the Information Age truly begins the Industrial Age will end and the music industry, like all others, will be a relic of the past.
CMIII: …the first time you sleep outside, the 15th consecutive night that you share a bed with a band mate, or when the person you were coming home to isn’t waiting for you any longer. Pick one, but stick around long enough and you’ll get them each a few times.
FI: The one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to get into your business?
MM: Learn to use both sides of your brain. It’s okay to be business savvy and artistic. Because remember, no one is going to rescue you on a white horse and make all your dreams come true, and if they say that they are, there’s something in it for them. Learn the business side so you can make your dream come true AND protect yourself.
JK: The current musical landscape is both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. You can get you music across the word with a mouse click. Getting someone to care is another story. I think the most important piece of advice is to follow your voice and create the music you hear in your head. Trends come and go. If you play from your heart you can never go wrong.
CL: Put the music first, the business second, and always do your own thing.
ZV: My advice is to take as many choruses as you can. The power could go at any moment.
CMIII: You know when in hip-hop someone talks about “the come up” and/or “the hustle”? Those are real things and the second you lose them it’s all over for you. Never stop improving and leave no stone unturned. Keep your band mates on their toes and make sure they do the same to you. Most importantly, buy a fresh pack of socks before you leave for a tour. That way you won’t be bummed out if you decide to toss a pair.
So there you go. That’s why these wonderful performers do it. Why do you? Thanks again to all that participated and hey, go out and see them do what they do at a venue near you.