NEW YORK- September 2014
things that happened on my two week minitour in new york
1. i learned that -new york hospitality- is an oxymoron.
your friends love you. they do. but in new york, they love the little space, food and time they can afford more. if you have to stay with someone in new york-don't stay with anyone for more than a day. and even if it stretches the budget-i'd rather get an air bnb. i'm a homebody. a nester. i'd rather spend some change to have some space than feel uncomfortable for free.
2. i sang songs in a little studio in brooklyn.
last year-when I sang at Nona Hendryx's show at Joe's pub and met a sweet guy called Hauke. He created a music blog called *nycrophone and asked me to come back to New York to feature for the blog. it is difficult to decide what "gigs" to take for "free". to be honest. i make barely enough change to afford music and film things and nice meals and a bit of savings here and there. and. everybody's got a music blog. and an online radio station. and a zine. there's always that "good opportunity". "you never know who will see it", that mental compensation. and it is true. every performance is important. but. food is more important.
as i packed for my trip to new york-i felt like i shouldn't have said yes like i always do. HOWEVER. when i checked out some of the artists that have featured on nycrophone-I knew i made the right choice. organized, well presented, beautiful images. and that sound. that REAL music sound that I aspire to create. musicians making good music, and a platform to celebrate it. it felt like it would be more of a collaboration than anything else. and it was.
i drank mint tea and set up in the studio with a group of talented and kind audio and video technicians.
first, i sang "rita" with a fantastic guitarist and friend, adrian. then "witch" on the loop pedal, "blind" and "can't make you love me". All the time pretending to be a musician (not a filmmaker), pretending not to drool over the two *black magic cameras pointing at face.
before i left, I sang harmony on a song with a musician called *alec gross. A dude with a tangerine shimmer of curls and beard, serious folk musician eyes, a kind smile. sometimes, the pessimist in me wants to keep a distance from white male musicians because sometimes (only sometimes), they give the impression that they own music. but. alec was not one of those guys. he was incredibly talented, professional and kind. his voice and guitar were gorgeous. that swinging rusty americana sound that had soft moments and clear bell ringing moments. his music was very different from mine-but singing harmony is my favorite thing to do. always. so. that was a pleasure.
*the black magic is the next camera i'd like to buy. i saved up for my canon 7D, should have waited for the 5D, but then again-I probably should have waited for the black magic 4k. the black magic, from what i've seen, is more of a cinema camera. built for movement. whereas the canon DSLRs and DSLRs in general are built as still cameras with the secondary capacity to shoot film. they'll give you a beautiful image, but they're not build as film cameras. the black magic is the first "affordable" 4k ("ultra HD") cinema camera on the market. still not affordable enough for me, but. close. (my apologies for those who don't care for film jargon. it is my second passion, i can't help myself)
*alec gross: https://alecgross.bandcamp.com/album/strip-the-lanterns
3. i sang a song with a band.
A BAND. a serious MOTHERFUCKING BAND. Toshi Reagon invited me to sing in my second *Word Rock & Sword. i went into the rehearsal. and honestly? i was very nervous. the previous year, i sang a song for WRS on my loop pedal. the pedal comes with its own challenges, but those are all fears faced on one's own. now? in this rehearsal-i have to communicate. i have to explain and talk about what happens in the chorus, and the bridge and this and that. i have to stand in front of a room of some of the fiercest musicians I've ever worked with-and sing.
i watch them rehearse one of toshi's songs. there is a percussionist, a violinist, pianist, drummer, bass player, and guitar. I've seen most of them play before. They are all music GODS. and this music is so so good. I mean i'm nervous/shy right now-but I can't help dancing in my seat. because the music grooves that hard.
when it's my turn. i sit at the mic. most of the band has never heard the song i intend to sing for the show, "witch". but. they played it anyway. we play it one more time with some changes for good measure. *Hanifah Walidah walks in to rehearse her song and I can't even look at her because she's awesome and i'm afraid that "startstruck" will be written all over my face and body if i get too close. So. We finish up and I walk to the subway on air. so. much. life.
Two days later, the night of the performance. I am very nervous and excited and eager. Truth. A part of me knows I am on to something. As an artist-I am new and learning, but maybe I am on to something. in my way, i am good at this. i am bringing something new with my music. then. the other part wonders if someone made a mistake. how could I be here? Amongst LIVING MUSIC GODS!? Is this REAL? That balance between confidence and self-consciousness keeps me on edge every time i'm about to perform. Either way. You get one song. and you better fucking sing it well. So I sang it the best I could. I don't really remember what happened. The band FUCKED THE SONG UP. I know that much. and once i was done with my pre-performance jitters, the best part of this concert was listening. watching. Martha redbone. Toshi Reagon. Climbing Poetree! Nona Hendrix. MARCELLE DAVIES LASHLEY sang a song that was so real and deep, it made me want to cry and pray and wrap my arms around myself in the most quiet, beautiful embrace. Ganessa James (my dream bassist/guitarist who plays songs with me in my dream band) sang a song about love, beaming with light and smile, everyone in the room fell in love with her.
i know what happens when a group of women and folks who love women come together to create and share. when intentions are sincere and selfless-we all enter the space and leave with full souls and spirits. there is love in this music and this dance. I felt it, everyone felt it.
*Word Rock Sword is a celebration of women's lives. And a really fucking beautiful gathering of incredible artists, humans to create and grow together. http://www.toshireagon.com/wrs/
*Hanifah walidah: http://suckaforlife.wix.com/hanifahwalidah
4. I rode the new york subway alone.
Probably seems trivial to some. but. truth. i'm working with/through/against some very deep anxiety these days. i imagine that all anxiety is very different. mine feels like car, house, bed, solitude are safe zones. spaces where there is no panic, no anxiety. this means that club, street, subway, stage, people are unsafe zones. (i understand logically that they are not, but in the moment-logic is irrelevant). so my heart beats too fast. i hear everything, everything is loud. i imagine the worst things. i panic.
it really sucks. before i left for new york i told a friend how much i was dreading the trip. i wept. "i'm tired of being afraid of everything." i kept saying it. wondering how much i could do, ho much i could be happy doing if i could get rid of this *anxiety and fear.
so really. riding the new york subway on my own was symbolic for me. it represented the most terrifying thing i could do. and i did it. it was scary and very uncomfortable. the second time i rode the train alone- it was a friday night. EVERYONE on the streets above and in the subway below was DRUNK. I descended into the wet heat of the tunnel and immediately smelled vomit. somewhere nearby, but was too overwhelmed to investigate and avoid the smell. someone is playing loud music. two men drinking beers, someone sitting next to me urgently shoves macdonalds french fries into their mouth. french fry smell mixes with vomit smell. the train comes. the train is packed my knees are unbuckled, weak. i close my eyes and meditate for what feels like an hour, but is really only 15 minutes. the train is nearly empty, quiet, and i've reached my stop. amazing. every time i rode the subway after that was easier. i learned how to navigate the map. i dove into my book when i started breathing and thinking too hard. at i slowly got over it.
*anxiety. I'm sure we've all experienced it on some level. but. before i experienced a particular triggering moment about four years ago-i thought anxiety was a silly projection. I was always pretty fearless. sure, i got nervous occasionally, but i was adventurous. never afraid of crowds, heights, tests, whatever. i had no concept of anxiety. to me, it was one of those rich-folk-with-too-much-time-problems. i was very wrong. talking about it isn't fun. but connecting with people about sad things is always cathartic for me. so. i talk about it.
Now all of those moments feel funny to me. silly even. i'm done with the moment, i knew all along that everything would be fine. but. my true challenge, the fear i most wish to dissolve is my anxiety on stage. i want every song i sing to be the safest place i've ever been. the safest place my audience has ever been. i want to get lost in it. to forget about "what if i mess up", "what if i fall" "i can't breathe" "i need to sit down". Because it's all just a distraction from what i truly love. i'm working on the. the new york subway was a good start.
5. i performed with my sister Laura Steadwell (*Laura Yes Yes)
Laura, one of my older sister is a great poet, performer and one of my greatest artistic inspirations. After college, She spent a few years in the dc then the bay area slam scenes, performing with and coaching the san Francisco and berkley teams. Later, she published a book of poems entitled How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps. And more recently, she completed her MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson. She is wild and serious and sometimes not serious at all and her hair is curly and everywhere and usually she is brave. that's what inspires me most. sometimes she is so unapologetically brave that you can't help but hope some of it rubs off on you. she has the heartiest laugh in the room, and she is the one at the party who will call bullshit and even the bullshitter will want to be her friend because nobody was ever fearless enough to ask for their real. to demand it. that's laura.
we performed for the first time together in chicago about three years ago. a bit has changed since then. laura is more of a page poet at the moment. less "slammy" these days. i am more confident on the loop pedal than i was before, singing new pieces, layering differently. i won't try to describe our set-you'd kind of have to be there to understand-but it was poetry and song and texture sort of flowing together. we told stories. our first show was at the Nuyorican Poets Café. i was overwhelmed. there were about 150 people crammed in there, people waiting in a line outside, and the front "row" was sitting on the floor about one foot away from the tiny stage. intimidating. but. we worked it out. i wish the delivery was a bit more polished on my side of things, but I'm mostly happy with it. the next two venues, louderARTS at Bar 13 and the Urbana Poetry Slam were both smaller and more intimate. and both venues had some pretty good poets. I'm not a poetry guy. but there were some really fresh, good poets out there!
of course, i ran into some difficulties. working with laura. working with family in general can be...challenging. i think laura gave me one lecture, i gave laura one lecture, we misunderstood each other, got into a quiet, passive aggressive fight, and after all of it was over, we cleared it all up. i don't know. i'm not easy to work with. maybe that's it. regardless, though. we told some pretty beautiful stories and i was out of CD's by the end of the trip.
laura yes yes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wOLeVuYFXE
6. I became the drummer's assistant.
once she finished her rehearsal in DC, my *girlfriend *asha bussed back up to new york to give me some love and support. asha is a musician herself and she struggles on a parallel with me most days. we have gigs. we are underpaid. we make music that is appreciated. we love making music. we love creating visual art.
somehow, asha has time to spend a few days in new york, helping me set up my pedal, finding foods for us to eat, giving a foot massage here and there. when i finished my last gig with laura-it was time for me to be asha's assistant. asha has two shows before we can finally go home.
asha plays about a dozen instruments in a dozen bands. these particular new york shows were organized by a musician called *Hudda Asfour. Hudda is a vocalist and oud player who grew up in Tunisia and Palestine. She describes her music as "contemporary arabic". She is incredible.
The next few days feel good. Supporting asha feels good. Encouraging her to listen to her rehearsal recordings. Asha! Learn those crazy time signatures, arabic vocal ques! Don't stress asha! It's going to be great! Asha is the percussion and drums for Hudda's band. And she is very passionate about being a supportive member of every band she plays in. she spent hours listening to that music. not for the sake of looking good or being the best. just for the sake of elevating that overall sound. she is one of the most selfless musicians i've met. When it came time to play, she was a pleasure to watch. the whole band was. Asha, the bass player Deric and Hudda. Asha played cajon with them on ART live, Arabic TV-and the next night in the city, she plays on her drum set with the addition of trumpet. i was so impressed and proud. dancing in the back of the room. i don't know a single word in arabic, but i can feel the meaning of every song in the beat.
sometimes it is very difficult to date artists. it can feel like there isn't room for all that passion and work. and sometimes artists just need to show more love to their art than their partner. sometimes it can feel like a competition. when things go well for one, badly for the other, there may be resentment. but sometimes it is a great balance of support and love and work and inspiration. the best thing about it is our connection. we can listen to each other's music, study each other's visual art, and get it. get the process, the feelings, the language. all of it. we can work together, we can help each other's work grow. in new york- we are a pretty great team.
*girlfriend. i never know how much information i should or shouldn't offer about these personal things. but. it's a journal. there's only so much i can dance around it. plus. my songs are pretty transparent, so it wouldn't take a genius to figure it all out. i have very strong, very deep feelings for an amazing human called asha. girlfriend, partner, homie, lover, buddy whateva. she's it. so.
And those are the highlights for New York. of course, through all the madness there was plenty of magic.
*like getting a vegan burrito bowl at 2am one night.
*or meeting a young moroccan gentleman in the courtyard of Laura's apartment who invited us to his place to play jazz standards on the piano.
*the beginnings of autumn in brooklyn.
*jade foster's incredible selection of loose teas.
for all the madness there is that distinct new york magic that sometimes makes it all worth the trouble.
alas. I am overjoyed to be in DC. Preparing to perform at Wake Forrest next week, then the revival tour at the end of october. trying to relax a bit before going back to work. i told my friend emily about my trip to new york, reflecting on how i feel now. i told her it was like the opposite of a vacation. when you go on a vacation-you relax, you go slow, you take time, you embrace the laze. then you come home and a wall of REAL LIFE backhands you as you attempt to remember the routine, the noise of it all. new york was like REAL LIFE on SUPER.SPEED. More work, more noise, more stress than DC. More people, more gigs, walking faster, spending more money, less sleep. So now that I'm home, HOME feels like a vacation. everything is easier, slower, more manageable. easy. so i'm back for a bit with a bit of "i can make it anywhere" attitude. grateful for that two week challenge. grateful that it's over.
live videos from the studio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHZDW-8QvrQ#t=33
more photos at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.896698486924.1073741836.4303500&type=1&l=dbff3e4f16