I was recently a guest on the podcast Depression Session with Chris "The Genie" Biagini (who is the co-host of my podcast Conquered 4 Life), and in talking about what is driving my art these days, I verbalized something I'd been thinking to myself in recent months: I'm actually kinda happy. And by that I mean, I have a strong sense of self. I am no longer concerned with validation by musical peers, by the industry, by anyone. My motivation in making music is now simply this: It's what I do best, so why do anything else? I suppose you could say I've fully recognized my "calling", though I hate when people talk like that. The last album I'm Giving Up On Rock & Roll was me working through the last of my need to find approval, though it seems to understand the point of it all, I had to go through the humbling process of promoting it and releasing it, finding people who care about it and a lot of people who don't, and then even when you think you've got everything figured out (Ryan Adams likes my music! Reddit hammer strikes! Billboard is writing about me!), you realize that getting noticed is just the first step. After that, you've gotta deliver more than ever. So let's just say I've stumbled here and there on the follow-up, but now looking back on my tunnel vision approach to my career, I wouldn't have it any other way. I needed to be put on a pedestal and have it kicked out from underneath me to kill the one final demon standing between me and truly sincere art: My ego.
Scroll through an artist's social media pages, read their interviews, listen to their banter, you see ego everywhere. I believe the idea that a performing artist needs to have at least some ego to have the initial confidence to get out on stage in the first place. The thing is that ego is really just a filler when the artist has little confidence in his or her own art. Ego manifests itself when an artist has to make sure everyone knows they're great. "Here's a photo of me doing something really cool!" "Here's me with someone famous!" "Wow, thanks blog no one has ever heard of for saying something about me!" I am guilty of all the above, and I trust I will be tempted to repeat such things occasionally. Eventually though, as your talent develops and you find your voice, you just know you are doing something meaningful. The process and the result become the focus. Everything is there. What people think of it is ancillary at best. This is true self-confidence. Ego, on the other hand, is a shield. A form of defense to keep you going when you have no idea if your work is distinct.
So why do I feel like I am moving into a new phase of my career, one in which I'm escaping ego? I think there are a few reasons, here's some ideas:
- Being validated by some big names and big press, then realizing that none of that really matters. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if someone important says you are good. It just matters if it connects with people, in their hearts. Popularity isn't an indicator of emotional relevance.
- Writing for the 100 Conquered Songs Project. Spending every day working on songs about other people's happiest and saddest moments has helped me to truly understand how much bigger the world of human reality is, and to get away from my own anxieties.
- Finding a partner who provides me with respect and support and a source of mutual artistic interest, while also being a good constructive critic. Having an honest opinion from someone who knows you on a personal level is very valuable. Also, having someone to talk about life's problems with means you don't have to put every emotion into every song, every time. It has opened up the possibilities of what I do with my art.
- Maybe a sense of self grows with age. I've probably been slow to mature in life, for reasons not worth delving into here.
Anyway, those are just some ideas. Regardless, I'm excited for the future of my work. I hope I can come up with something that moves you.
Actually, I have something now that may move you. As you probably know, I've been working on a project called 100 Conquered Songs since last July, in which I am writing songs for 100 different fans from around the world, based on the happiest and saddest moments in their lives. Well, I've finished over 80 of those now, and so I figured it'd be a good idea to compile a playlist of some of my favorites, as a primer for anyone who hasn't been following along super closely. Check it out:
Many thanks to National Endowment for the Arts and Iowa Arts Council for providing financial support for that project!
And now, some other updates from my world:
- We just recorded hands-down the best episode of Conquered 4 Life, my podcast with co-host Chris "The Genie" Biagini. Our guests are the musicians who made my album I'm Giving Up On Rock & Roll possible, H.D. Harmsen and Drew Selim (bass and drums, respectively). We talk about how I am as a bandleader, what makes a good bandleader, rules for being in someone else's band, the eggshell covered terrain of creative collaboration, communication, and mutual artistic respect. We also continue our series Build-A-Band Workshop, analyzing The Genie's lyrics, which opens into a very good conversation about songwriting generally. It's split into two parts, but you can check it all out in two places:
- As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was recently a guest on The Genie's own podcast Depression Session. Listen here.
- I have just posted a number of new shows for this summer around the Midwest and beyond. Check it: christophertheconquered.com/upcoming-shows
- My Patreon project has been growing fantastically! Thanks to all my supporters on there. Join them if you like and get exclusive recordings and more: patreon.com/ctconquered
- My New World Songbook series at Noce in Des Moines ends this month! Last show is on May 28th. Tickets here.
- Composer LJ White wrote a piece of music for Chicago's experimental chamber orchestra Ensemble Dal Niente, based on my album I'm Giving Up On Rock & Roll. Dal Niente will be performing it at their annual "Party" in Chicago on June 2nd. I will be there. I'm very excited! More info and tickets here.
I think that's basically everything! Here are some recent videos (also there are a few that are only on my Facebook, including a good live performance featuring J.E. Sunde, click here for those):
"What's the Name of the Town?" Live in Nashville, TN for SoFar Sounds
Headroom Sessions - Live in Denver, CO (includes a Jimmy Cliff cover and a brand new song)
Live at Down Under Lounge in Omaha, NE
A music video for my song "God Plays the Tenor Saxophone" made collaboratively by students at my alma mater Iowa State University