“Not Artifacts but Traces”: Dreamlife on the Road

Road trips are inherently circular, right? You go in one direction, and then, unless you’re moving somewhere permanently, you have to turn around and come back again. There’s the promise of the return even in the first seeds of the journey.

I’ve written before about how much I love driving, how much I love being out on the road on an adventure. So I hesitated before I started writing this, thinking, no one wants to hear me muse about road trips again. Unless something catastrophic or otherwise significant happens along the way, one road trip is pretty much exactly like another. Hearing about someone else’s road trip is like hearing about someone else’s dream. Boring, nonsensical, too personal to be relevant to anybody else, right?

But actually, hearing about someone else’s dreams is one of my favorite things in life! The previous night’s dreams are inevitably one of the first things that Brian and I discuss every morning! Our relationship is my dream diary, and our dream spaces even sometimes overlap in funny ways (like the night that he was dreaming about watching old Replacements videos on TV while I was dreaming about hearing a song on the radio and incorrectly guessing who wrote it before being informed, “actually, Paul Westerberg wrote it”).

So, yes, one road trip might be effectively exactly like another, and, may I suggest, that’s what makes them awesome? There’s the predictability of snacks, boredom, naps, rest stops, weather, traffic, maps, gas, companionable silence, beloved albums played on the stereo in their entirety…one road trip bleeds into another, memories are overlaid on top of present-moment experiences, plans for future road trips are made before the current one has ended…and these echoes even start to emerge in real time, recurring over several hours, or even days.

Like this flatbed truck carrying these strange metal cylinders.

On our recent drive from Chicago to Hanover, New Hampshire, we played leap-frog with it a handful of times as we barreled through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, wondering aloud every time we saw it just what those things could possibly be. We stopped for the night at a hotel about an hour outside Scranton, and when we got back on the road early the next morning, we, unbelievably, passed the truck one more time. The circular logic of our shared dreamscape strikes again.

And it wasn’t just the flat-bed truck carrying precious (if obscure) cargo, either. We were driving, instead of flying, specifically so that we could bring the guitars and amps and pedals we used to create Music for Qodèxx to the 2018 Illustration, Comics, and Animation Conference at Dartmouth College. We would be both playing the music and giving a short presentation about our collaboration with Gene Kannenberg Jr, the author of Qodèxx, the abstract graphic novella. We’ve “toured” to play music before, but with minimal gear that was easy enough to take on a plane, never the kind of production with such specific technical requirements that it necessitated several days on the road just to ferry the instruments to the venue. But the sound of Qodèxx just wouldn’t be the same in any kind of stripped down configuration, so we gleefully loaded everything into our car, and then loaded it in and out of our hotels along the way, ever-diligent against theft and fluctuating temperatures.

We were diligent against boredom, too. Aware that the idea of playing a 20-minute mini-rock opera in the context of an academic conference was in itself completely ridiculous, we knew this wasn’t a time to back down from the very premise on which our presence there was predicated. If we were going to do this thing, we were going to do this thing.

Avant-garde performance artist and filmmaker Jack Smith has long been one of Brian’s heroes, and we’d looked to his writing, performances, and life as inspiration for what we’ve been calling the “Qodèxx Happening.” One of Smith’s recurring images in his photography and live performances throughout the mid to late ‘70s was Yolanda la Pinguina/Inez the Penguin, and we, with abundant affection, couldn’t resist creating and bringing along our own stuffed tribute.

As J. Hoberman notes in the museum catalog Rituals of Rented Island: Object Theater, Loft Performance, and the New Psychodrama—Manhattan, 1970-1980, the site-specific performance artworks that figures like Adrian Piper, Laurie Anderson, and Jack Smith created in New York during this era “left not artifacts but traces. The work exists as fragile recordings, random documents, impressionistic descriptions, art-world legends, and spectator memories; and, in some cases, not even those.” Not artifacts but traces—this is dreamlife in a nutshell. Pulling even a scrap, a reconstructed scrap at that, from the river of time back into being was a way for us to not just pay tribute to beloved artists who have gone before us but to circle back around to a destination that we’d remembered, even if we’d never visited it before.

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Qodèxx Recording Diary

One of the best possible examples that my dad set for me, as a creative person, growing up, was that he collaborated with people.

terry felus trio 1985

Photo courtesy of Ed Bialon.

As I’ve talked about before, it’s hard to explain exactly what kind of musician he was. But the one thing he definitely wasn’t was the stereotype of the isolated solo artist, tortured by the melodies in his head that no one else could hear, pushing people away while he perfected his craft.

terry felus with accordion

Was he a monomaniacal, controlling, obsessive, perfectionist Virgo? Yes. It was his way or the highway, especially if he felt like you weren’t on his level, professionally. He would damn well tell you how the part should be played, how the song should be sung, how the arrangement should be arranged.

But if he respected you as a musician? He actively wanted to collaborate and play together. He was a band guy through and through. Whether it was his trio, a musical theater pit band, or the praise-and-worship musicians at church, he wanted your opinion. He wanted your voice. He wanted your talent. He loved and respected his musical friends with the enthusiasm and ferocity of his entire being. He was not shy about expressing his admiration if there was anything he liked about someone’s technique or style.

george adams band with terry felus

Photo courtesy of Ed Bialon.

For better or for worse, when I was a child, he often treated me like a tiny adult, like his little musical protégé. It’s hard for me to say for certain now, as an actual adult, how much of my musical talent and musical interest was innate and specific to me, and how much of it was just that I learned very quickly that I would be praised and rewarded for demonstrating musical aptitude. Not that it matters much at this point; you can’t unring a bell, as they say, and I’m grateful for the inadvertent musical boot camp that I went through in the years before I turned eighteen. But when I take personality assessment inventories or try to work through journaling prompts that suggest I think back to the stuff that I most loved doing as a child in order to determine where I might find greater joy as an adult, it’s hard for me to untangle the threads of how much pleasure I gleaned from music in and of itself and how much I just wanted to feel like I belonged to something—such as the not-so-secret club of musicians that my dad spent a lifetime gathering around himself. Of course it’s natural for a child to seek a parent’s praise; his was just particularly high octane, especially when it came to his area of expertise.

terry and allison at eighth grade graduation

I would cringe with shame bordering on terror when I botched something while I was still learning to play the piano—not so much because I thought he was going to yell at me (since he was trained as a teacher, he could actually be very gentle with beginners, despite his temper), but more because I hated revealing myself as, frankly, a child. He treated me more or less like a peer, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to rise to the occasion.

I remember once excitedly wanting to play for him a piece that I’d recently taught myself from a book of sheet music. The time signature was 4/4, but somehow I ended up miscounting some of the syncopation, which meant I was playing a few bars in something like 7/4. I was so impressed with myself when I sat down on the piano bench, and then gutted when, in the middle of the song, he straight up laughed at me.

terry felus smiling

In retrospect, I’m guessing that his laughter wasn’t meant to be derisive. In a weird way, it was probably even tinged with respect, since, how in the hell does some preteen piano-playing kid just accidentally end up bashing through something in relatively consistent 7/4 time? But I was instantly flooded with shame. (I am not a shrug-and-get-over-it kind of person. I go instantly to shame and I wallow there.) I’d revealed myself to be an amateur. I’d overestimated my own abilities and then had been given my comeuppance. He immediately sat down and showed me how those measures should be played, but it hardly mattered. By that point, I hated the song; I hated myself. I was clearly deficient. I should have known better. I should have been better if I wanted to be part of his beloved inner circle.

terry felus trio packing up

Luckily, though, since my dad never thought of himself as much of a singer (for as gifted as he was in so many ways, he was a lackluster harmonizer and his tenor range was limited), and since I actually loved to sing, that became an easier dynamic for me to inhabit. Him at the piano, me standing behind his shoulder, the two of us reading the music together, working as a team, as something approaching equals.

AF and TF handling it

I felt less shy about asking for his help in that capacity, asking for him to count me out a rhythm or asking for a suggestion for how to finesse the feel of a certain idiom. Though there were many, many fraught aspects of my childhood, especially after my mom’s death when the stresses of single parenting made his already hair-trigger temper extra sensitive, there was also a lot of joy. And filling the living room with music, often just for the sake of amusing ourselves, was the surest way to create and sustain that joy.

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In my 20s, when I went through a long stretch of being single and would moan about it absolutely any chance I got, a friend once tried to cheer me up by telling me that she could imagine me ending up with a music teacher. “I could really see you with some cool young music teacher who plays guitar.” I inwardly cringed when she said it, thinking, oh god no, I don’t want to be the cliché of the person who ends up dating someone who resembles her own parent, subconsciously attempting to replicate the familiarity of her early childhood imprinting.

But on the other hand…yeah. It had always been easy for me to gravitate to creative people of all disciplines. It never surprised me to meet people in some totally square context and then discover that they could shred on a Flying V guitar, that they had won piano competitions as a child prodigy, that they were semi-professional stage actors on nights and weekends, that they had an MFA in photography. Those were just my people. I found them, they found me, we routinely found each other. And I just expected it. It seemed second nature to me after the example that my dad had set with his crew. I also couldn’t deny the appeal of getting back to a life where I could share and collaborate on music as a matter of course; this time, though, hopefully a little bit more on my own terms.

Happily, the past six years of my life have been just that, thanks to Brian, my perfect cupcake, a guitar-playing teacher after all. Our most recent co-creation is the soundtrack to our friend Gene Kannenberg Jr.’s asemic graphic novella Qodèxx.

Photo courtesy of Gene Kannenberg Jr.

What is an asemic graphic novella, you ask? Feast your eyes (and make a purchase) here. Qodèxx has been praised as a masterpiece by none other than Emil Ferris, author of the hugely popular and successful graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, and has also recently been featured on Nebraska Public Radio.

On Saturday, July 29, Brian and I will be playing a 20-minute-long set of completely new and original music at the Qodèxx release party in front of a slide show projection of the interior illustrations from the novella, almost like the organ accompaniment to a silent movie. A full downloadable recording and a physical CD will subsequently be made available as well. (Think of it as the contemporary version of a Power Records book-and-record set.)

Photo courtesy of Gene Kannenberg Jr.

Brian and I have spent the past month working through the songs together, bolstering each other’s weak spots and leaving plenty of space for each other’s strengths. Learning any new song is always still frustrating for me; I just want to know it already, to be well into the meat of the thing, where the real magic can start to take shape. So though the days spent hashing out the arrangements were necessary, and satisfying in their own way, it was once we’d gotten the basic parts nailed down and then started tearing them apart again that my spirits truly began to soar.

For several days, we fell into a delirious, delicious routine, where I’d come home from my 9 to 5 day gig to find Brian sitting on the living room floor, hunched over the digital recorder, brows furrowed in concentration, headphones on his ears, surrounded by guitar pedals and other miscellaneous gear.

After listening through what he’d spent the afternoon recording on his own, we’d have a bit of dinner and then get right back to the music. I’d track a vocal line, he’d ask if I could invent a harmony, we’d play through everything a few times and smooth over any rough bits, and suddenly full-blown arrangements existed where there’d once only been acoustic sketches.

As my life feels increasingly fragmented by all the identities and duties that impinge upon me, from work to family to friends to my own health and even meditation practices, it was thrilling to get to concentrate so intensely on one thing for hours at a time, several days in a row. How does this sound? Can we make it better? What should it sound like? Can we simplify it even further? Even our cat Rosie knew something special was happening in the living room and would sit quietly with us, more peaceful than she almost ever is.

There is a quality of listening that activates in my head when I’m deeply engaged with musical creation and evaluation with someone I trust, approaching that vaunted state of flow, where I’m momentarily free from shame. 

TO LEARN MORE

About Terry Felus, click here.

About Qodèxx the graphic novella, click here.

About the Qodèxx Happening at Creative Coworking in Evanston, click here.

About the soundtrack to Qodèxx, click here.

About previous recording diaries, click here.

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Pet Theories Recording Diary–Day 2

Well, it’s definitely not an important large-scale creative endeavor if there’s not one major oh shit moment!

Tony at the sound board

After tracking vocals all morning and into the early afternoon on Sunday, my band Pet Theories and our audio engineer Kevin headed out for a late lunch, giddy and high from the accomplishment of a lot of really awesome work. Back at the studio about an hour later, we settled in for guitar overdubs and other miscellaneous finesse parts that would be folded into and around the basic guitar, keyboard, drums, and vocal tracks.

I grabbed a chair in the recording booth, eager to hear the waves of feedback and elegant countermelody lines I was waiting for Brian to unleash on the guitar. As playback began on the first song, something felt . . . off. Less than off, even; just . . . untasteful. I thought maybe I was just hearing things more soberly with a belly full of rice noodles and broccoli. Maybe the vocals had been rougher than I’d realized in the first flush of accomplishment.

But no—about 30 seconds later, Brian frantically waved his hands on the other side of the control room glass.

“Can you stop the playback in my headphones? Something’s out of synch.”

Brian with his pedals

A tense few minutes passed as our engineer discovered that the vocals on every track we’d recorded that day were coming in a fraction of a beat too quickly. He tried to bump it back in ProTools several times to no avail. On every hopeful replay, the vocals were still rushing in, making us sound like inelegant, or possibly drunk, karaoke singers.

The fraction of time was so slight, it was impossible to even count. It wasn’t like we were coming in on beat 1 when we were supposed to come in on beat 2. It was more like coming in on beat 1.996 instead of beat 2. In other words, hard to point to with precision, but impossible not to feel.

My stomach began doing flip-flops and my throat dried up.

Were we going to have to start the vocals from scratch? Was any of it repairable? Would attempts to manipulate a timing glitch that subtle in ProTools just make everything sound alien and sterile?

The Peavey

Though my initial instinct was to freak out and panic, I recalled an anecdote from Hawaiian shaman Serge Kahili King’s book Changing Reality that I love. When he and his wife were once attempting a major trip overseas, they’d arrived at the airport to discover that their itinerary was completely missing from the airline’s computer records:

We both stayed perfectly calm and vocally thanked and complimented the ticket agent for every small positive thing she did, at the same time ignoring everything that did not seem to work out. Inwardly, we passively, but consistently, blessed with images and silent words all the personnel involved, all the computers and electrical connections, all the planes that might be part of our trip, and everything good we could think of. The agent went more and more out of her way to help us, and so did the people she was dealing with. In about an hour we had a better itinerary than our original one—with first-class seats thrown in as a bonus.

Inspired by this story, I started mentally praising the soundboard for all its beautiful, hard work for us that day, and energetically beamed appreciation and encouragement at Kevin for all his technical smarts and creative aptitude.

A Tiger Nugget is a blessing, right?

Before too long, he discovered that two internal clocks in the hardware had somehow gotten out of phase with each other—one was set to 48 and one was set to 44, forever dooming half the tracks to chase the other half at an infinitesimally slight delay. A total system reboot, while time consuming, was basically all it took to get everything set right again.

The Bowie candle has been commandeered

This was a perfect lesson for me, in so many ways, since I so often struggle with impatience. I saw that speeding through things does not usually give me the results that I want when I’m insistent upon something I desire happening now-now-now. When shifts occur before they’re supposed to, they’ll likely feel forced or rushed or just in subtly indefinable bad taste.

It also felt like a metaphor for everything we’re trying to accomplish as a band, and with this recording. The sounds that we make might not sound like much to someone who’s not paying attention. But we hope that the people who will appreciate the infinitesimally subtle shifts that we’re bringing to the creation of our own unique sound will hear what we’re doing and be moved to respond.

Uphill Recording at Night

Thank you so much for joining us on this stage of our journey! We can’t wait to share the final tracks with you. You can keep up with the band and our whereabouts on Facebook and Soundcloud. You can find more information about our most excellent engineer, Kevin Tabisz, and his stellar studio, Uphill Recording, on Facebook and Soundcloud as well.

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Pet Theories Recording Diary–Day 1

With one full day of recording behind us, we’re elated, and exhausted.

As I said close to the end of today’s session, I don’t know how bands who hate each other get through this process in one piece. It’s tough enough work with a bunch of folks you get along quite well with.

Which is not to say it’s hard, necessarily. Recording just takes everything you have available to give it. And we gave a lot today.

Here’s some of what’s going into the music you’ll hopefully be hearing soon.


























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Pet Theories Recording Diary—Day 0

When I tell people that my dad was a musician, it’s often hard for me to explain what it was, exactly, that he did.

The first assumption is usually that he played in a rock band. That he wrote and played original material. That he toured. That he had aspirations of “making it.” That, living an hour outside Chicago, he must have been frustrated by his proximity to an urban metropolis where he could have been schmoozing and connecting with other players if he hadn’t had to raise three kids as a single parent and keep a steady job.

Other guesses might include that, as a piano player, he was classically trained and played in orchestras. Or that he was some kind of session musician, popping in and out of recording sessions, sprinkling some cool sounds on other people’s songs. Or that he was a mere hobbyist, playing front porches and backyards for the sheer love of it.

None of that is really true. Or maybe some of it is? Parts of all those different narratives got combined into a weird amalgam that’s so unique that it disappears through my fingers when I try to hold it for someone else to observe and comprehend.

Terry 1955

Born in 1949 to first-generation Polish parents, he began playing the accordion as a young child, and eventually was able to transfer the right-hand keyboard skills to piano. (He always rued that his left hand dexterity was underdeveloped because of this early training on buttons instead of keys.) He played keyboards in bands throughout high school and college, though he also entered Indiana University as a French horn player, since he wanted to go into music education and he needed a band instrument to do so. He also learned to play a bit of violin, I’m told, though I never saw him demonstrate it.

The Terry Felus Trio

The summers during college, and then in the years afterward, he played with his own trio, a hilariously oddball group made up of him on Cordovox (basically an electric accordion), a singing drummer, and his best friend on vibes. Sheer, total bonkers instrumentation—and three of the most talented, tasteful musicians I can think of, even now. They played mostly cover songs and polkas, and were booked for wedding receptions, anniversary parties, high school banquets, and other large gatherings in the days before DJs were de rigueur. The line-up fluctuated in subsequent years after the vibes player moved to California, with the addition of a trumpet-playing friend, another keyboard, and a female vocalist for a time, before they eventually called it quits after my mother’s death in 1987.

high school band

He taught high school band for a few years in his late 20s and early 30s, grudgingly leading the marching band but preferring to conduct the pit band for musical theater performances. When he left education for a 9-to-5 office job that would afford him a better paycheck and more free time on nights and weekends for his own projects (and growing family), he continued writing instrumentation and conducting pit bands for musical theater productions throughout Northwest Indiana.

After the dissolution of his own band in the late ’80s, he also had more time to devote to playing music at church. Then, in the late ’90s and early 2000s, he connected with a female vocalist who gigged throughout the region and often let other musicians sit in with her band for a few songs throughout the night, and he became a regular fixture at her gigs in various restaurants and bars until he had the stroke that put him in a nursing home in the summer of 2004.

album rack

And not only did he play, he was also a voracious music listener and appreciator. Though he was a jazz musician, his favorites weren’t John Coltrane or Miles Davis—he loved trumpet players like Maynard Ferguson and Don Ellis and Allen Vizzutti.

Terry Felus with Allen Vizzutti

He loved Huey Lewis and the News and Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan in the ’80s. He went through a massively obsessive phase for weird old doo-wop recordings. Of course musical theater was a constant presence—he preferred Les Miz to Phantom, but loved the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse stuff most of all, thanks to fond memories of his own high school’s production of The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd. And even though he wasn’t super into the rock music of his generation (I don’t have the Beatles or Stones love that many kids of my generation do because their parents were avid fans), he knocked me out one time when, as I was learning more about the ’70s New York punk scene, he casually mentioned how he’d always really liked Tom Verlaine’s playing. He didn’t quite understand what I liked about OK Computer, but Jeff Buckley’s vocal calisthenics at the end of “Grace” earned his unreserved admiration.

I never once heard him talk about “doing” anything with his music. He did it, and that was all that mattered. I’m sure there was probably some part of him that wished he could have played more, or that he could have found some musical day job that would have paid well enough to survive on, but I literally never heard him mention it or complain about it. At his wake in late 2012, one of his friends said that my dad was made of music. That’s as true to the spirit of how essential it was to his identity as any other description I’ve ever heard.

I only bring this history up to contextualize the fact that my currently playing in a rock band is not actually an obvious thing for me to be doing. The years that I spent performing both on stage and in the pit bands for local musical theater productions—that was obvious. My voice lessons in my early 20s at the Bloom School of Jazz—that was obvious.

Allison at the Green Mill

But this weird thing that I’ve been doing since early 2010, singing and now playing keyboard in a band in Chicago, performing mostly original material with a few covers thrown in on occasion, is something that doesn’t really find a template in what I learned from my father growing up.

Pet Theories on stage

Except, of course, for the camaraderie. Genre to genre, and format to format, that doesn’t really change much. And so I know I’m genuinely happy when my rehearsals with my band Pet Theories start to tickle my memories of how I remember my dad laughing his ass off about something with his drummer, or picking apart an awesome solo off some newfound recording around the dinner table with his trumpet-playing friend. Or even my own memories of giddy, exhausted late-night rehearsals at the theater in high school, or the surprised pleasure I felt the first time I actually heard a well-recorded take of my own isolated vocals on an arrangement of “More Than You Know.”

Brian recording a Pet Theories demo

My band goes into the recording studio tomorrow to start laying down basic tracks for what will hopefully become our first full-length album. We’ve been playing some of these songs together for years; some of them we just started arranging less than two months ago.

And much like how, just now, I needed hundreds of words across about a dozen paragraphs to describe just what kind of musician my dad was, I’d probably need the same amount of space to describe what we sound like, the way that our disparate influences shape what we do and why it works as well as it does.

Maybe there’s an obvious referent for what we do that I just can’t hear because I’m so close to it. But I don’t think so. For a long time, I found it easy to tell people that we sound like The Police. (We even learned to play a handful of Police cover songs for a fundraiser at Schubas in December 2014.)

But even that doesn’t seem accurate anymore, now that we’re all growing more comfortable with each other and with what we each contribute to the overall sound.

I’m excited to hear what comes of the sessions this weekend, and hope to bring you all along for the ride. And even though being in a studio won’t necessarily make me think of my dad, finding time in my busy schedule to make music together with people I respect and admire and adore definitely does.

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The No-Excuses Guide to Home Recording

Stop kidding yourself if you think it takes much more than this to record a song and post it online:

My band, Pet Theories, took about three hours on the evening of Memorial Day to record a drum part, a keyboard part, a guitar part, a sung vocal, and a spoken word vocal onto a four-track recorder.

It then took Brian, our guitar player, maybe an additional hour to adjust the levels and convert the recording to an MP3. I then grabbed the file, cropped an image to go with it, and posted everything onto our band’s Soundcloud account.

Bam.

All this was done between the hours of 6 pm and 11 pm. Now you can enjoy the song wherever you are, as long as you have access to the Internet.

[UPDATE: We rerecorded the song for the release of our debut album, so I’ve updated the sound file here accordingly, but my sentiments about the process of recording the demo still stand!]

Of course there’s backstory.

In the lead-up to this year’s Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), Brian decided to put together a new zine dedicated to the somewhat obscure DC Comics character Man-Bat. What began as little more than an inside joke among friends has quickly turned into one of the most delightful and inspiring collaborative art projects I’ve been part of in a long time.

As friends from around the country, and across generations, began submitting their writings and drawings for the printed zine, the band started joking about writing a theme song to accompany it . . . until it wasn’t really a joke anymore and turned into a creative necessity.

It all came together effortlessly—a couple riffs fell out of thin air, a song structure presented itself fairly quickly after that, and the missing piece was really the lyrics. I’d been improvising some goofy gibberish during rehearsals, roughly inspired by the plots of the two comic issues from 1975-76 that actually star Man-Bat, and then our drummer, Tony, helped me hammer out the rest of the verses about 10 minutes before I got in front of the mic to record my vocal. His spoken word section comes from the poem that he wrote for the zine.

I only bring all this up as a reminder that DIY culture remains strong in Chicago’s indie comics scene, and it’s a spirit that I wish lived a little more vibrantly among the city’s musicians as well.

It seems like every band I run into these days is pulling together exorbitant amounts of cash to book studio time at Gallery of Carpet or Electrical Audio. Aside from the fact that it seems awfully un-punk to me (not that I’m trying to police anyone’s punkness!), it also seems like an awfully expensive, precious, and time-consuming way to get one’s art out there.

I’m far from a devotee of Austin Kleon’s philosophies, yet I loved what he said in this interview on 99U:

I think people seriously underestimate what 15 minutes a day for 10 years will do versus 10 hours a day for a year. If you do little bits and pieces every day, after a while, you have this body of work.

Like, if you want to be a filmmaker, don’t think about being P.T. Anderson, think about making a 30-second YouTube clip. Make the best 30-second YouTube clip you can, and make a hundred of them. Just start making and editing, learn and release the work as you go, and see what resonates with people.

I’m a huge fan of P.T. Anderson’s work (especially The Master) and would argue that we actually do need to encourage more artists to aspire to his level of stature, talent, and vision, but Kleon’s point is well taken. I struggle with being overly precious in my writing and creative output myself, so this lesson, to do little bits of things more frequently in order to keep learning and growing as an artist, is one that I’m currently really taking to heart. It was completely exhilarating to realize that I could put together a song with my endlessly inspiring bandmates and then actually share it with the world.

So, with that, I’m delighted to bring you “The Theme from Man-Bat!” And, if you’re in Chicago, I hope to see you this weekend at CAKE. Brian will have copies of the zine available to trade (and after that, it will likely be available to buy for a few bucks at Quimby’s).

PS: Wanna read more from my perspective as an ultra small-time musician in Chicago? Click here to read my essay, “How to Buy a Guitar in Chicago,” over on the Public Street blog.

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