Tours and "Ghost: Anniversary Edition"

So I’ve gone and booked some tours. Well, not technically true. Some agents booked a tour for me. But either way, I am touring.

You may have noticed that I don’t tour often. If I am honest, it is not my favorite part of being a musician. I think people assume I’m shy (I’m not) or have stage fright (I don’t), but it really has nothing to do with the shows themselves. Playing songs for people is often really fun. It’s just everything that surrounds touring — the lifestyle of it — I am not very built for.

On the physical side, I’ve been plagued by back problems since I was 19 and tried to film a “sponsor me” video for skateboarding. I fell from a 4 foot ledge onto my tailbone and haven’t been the same since. Which is why I have to play seated at shows. I don’t prefer playing that way at all, but I do it as a safety, so if my back is all jacked up from sitting in a van for 8 hours a day I can still perform. I also have insomnia problems on a good day, so put me on the road in a different bed every night and I can have sleep problems pretty quick.

And then there’s my little ol’ voice. I recently went to a voice doctor in Los Angeles and they put a camera down my nasal cavity and into my throat, and I finally learned why I lose my voice so easily. I have a type of paralysis in one of my vocal chords. I only have about 15% mobility on the left side. This is not new. I have likely had this since I was pretty young and wasn’t taken to a doctor for a throat infection and permanent damage was done. As such, I have always been a quiet speaker and have really low projection. Of all the things I do musically, singing is the one I have fought for the most. I had very little natural ability for it, and it is what I have to practice the most. But what I learned from this vocal doctor is that I use a lot of neck muscles to speak and sing, much more than most people, so when I talk too much, push too hard or don’t get enough rest/sleep, I lose my voice because my neck tires out. Weird! But I was really happy to learn all of this. It helps me plan for this next bit of touring in a way I’ve never been able to before, because I didn’t know what was happening.

And lastly, I think I’ve always struggled with the monotony of touring. I’m happiest doing creative work, and touring is all about repetition. It might appear like touring is the more exciting part of music, but when I am home and working on projects, every day is different. I never quite know what I’m going to be doing, and I really love that. On tour, almost every day is the same. You actually have to work really hard to repeat yourself! Hahaha.

So this time around, I’m doing it all different. The dates have all been broken into smaller chunks — each 2 -3 weeks with breaks — so that I can put creative work in between each outing. We spent time working on the routing so getting 7 hours of sleep a night is actually feasible. And we scheduled more days off in between so I can have bursts of quiet time and not lose my voice. I think it’s going to make a big difference. And I’ve also come to realize that a lot of this is in my outlook. I’m looking at these tours as a way to gather stories, write a lot in my notebooks, read all the books I have not been able to find time for lately, and finally play some Switch games.

And I am also reconnecting with why we do this. Go to shows, I mean. I sometimes forget the communal aspect of music. It has mostly been a private affair for me. So much of my relationship with music has been in headphones — listening to mixtapes on a bus as a teenager going to the library, or sitting on the shore in the evenings and listening to albums. And then I make records alone for the most part. So it’s most often just been a place to figure out what the hell is going on with me emotionally. Some kind of internal mirror that I learned about myself with. But music can also be a shared experience, and unite people instead of just comfort them. I never went to that many shows growing up, so I forget this. But I’ve been asking friends and colleagues what they see in shows, and their answers have been a really nice reminder. It’s giving touring a greater sense of purpose beyond “I guess I’m supposed to.”

Wow. That was much more than I thought I had to say! Well, here are the actual dates, for those who are interested in coming out.

EUROPE:

  1. 07/11/2019 - Norway, Oslo - Parkteatret

  2. 08/11/2019 - Sweden, Stockholm - Södra Teatern

  3. 09/11/2019 - Denmark, Copenhagen - Hotel Cecile

  4. 11/11/2019 - Germany, Hamburg - Gruenspan

  5. 12/11/2019 - Germany, Berlin - Lido

  6. 14/11/2019 - Germany, Munich - Ampere

  7. 16/11/2019 - Italy, Milan - Santeria Social Club

  8. 17/11/2019 - Switzerland, Baden - Royal

  9. 19/11/2019 - Germany, Frankfurt - Mousonturm

  10. 20/11/2019 - Germany, Cologne - Kulturkirche

  11. 22/11/2019 - Netherlands, Amsterdam - Paradiso

  12. 23/11/2019 - Belgium, Brussels - AB

  13. 24/11/2019 - France, Paris - Cafe de la Danse

  14. 26/11/2019 - UK, London - Union Chapel

  15. 28/11/2019 - UK, Manchester - Gorilla

  16. 29/11/2019 - Ireland, Dublin - Whelans

NORTH AMERICA - WEST:

  1. 1/21/2020 - Phoenix, AZ - Crescent Ballroom

  2. 1/22/2020 - Tucson, AZ - 191 Toole

  3. 1/25/2020 - Denver, CO - Gothic Theatre

  4. 1/26/2020 - Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot

  5. 1/28/2020 - Vancouver, BC - St. James Hall

  6. 1/29/2020 - Seattle, WA - Neptune Theatre

  7. 1/30/2020 - Portland OR Wonder Ballroom

  8. 2/1/2020 - San Francisco, CA - August Hall

  9. 2/2/2020 - Sacramento, CA - Harlow's Restaurant and Nightclub

  10. 2/5/2020 - Los Angeles, CA - Troubadour

  11. 2/6/2020 - Los Angeles, CA - Troubadour

  12. 2/7/2020 - Pomona, CA - The Glass House

NORTH AMERICA - EAST:

  1. 2/26/2020 - Minneapolis, MN - Fine Line

  2. 2/28/2020 - Chicago, IL - Thalia Hall

  3. 2/29/2020 - Detroit, MI - El Club

  4. 3/1/2020 - Cleveland, OH - Beachland Ballroom

  5. 3/3/2020 - Pittsburgh, PA - Rex Theater

  6. 3/4/2020 - Toronto, ON - Mod Club

  7. 3/6/2020 - Montreal, QC - L'Astral

  8. 3/7/2020 - Boston, MA - The Sinclair

  9. 3/8/2020 - Brooklyn, NY - Elsewhere Hall

  10. 3/11/2020 - Philadelphia, PA - World Cafe Live: Downstairs

  11. 3/12/2020 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club

  12. 3/14/2020 - Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle

  13. 3/15/ 2020 - Atlanta, GA - Terminal West


And if you are coming out, and there’s anything you would specifically like me to play, feel free to comment or send me an email. I build set lists out of what people want to hear. I am not the one buying a ticket — I firmly believe shows are for the audience — so I never add more than two songs I personally want to play into a set. Now, how I play that song is up to me. I don’t try to recreate recordings live and like to rethink them each time. But I very much want to know what to add in the first place.

Beyond touring, another little tidbit I’d like to cover today is the “Ghost: Anniversary Edition.”

I recently got the rights to Ghost back. And what that means is I can now print the album myself, whenever and however I want, and I can release it through my label that I co-own, Bear Machine Records. And since I knew it was returning to me, I wanted to do something special with it. At first I was just gonna add some bonus recordings and artwork, but I wound up going much further.

Where this first started was with the live renditions of some songs. I have been playing some of them, like Winter Is Coming and Wrapped In Piano Strings, for over ten years now, and I like to change songs as I go. Some of them have taken on very different shapes because of this. If you’ve ever seen the live version of “Along The Road”, you’d know it only really shares melodies and chords at this point, and reads more like a shoegaze track. So I decided to record these versions. I got all the members of the live band to come play their parts on Wrapped In Piano Strings, Glory, Along The Road and Winter Is Coming. But once I got that far, I realized I had alternate versions of other songs, like a string version of “Asleep On a Train” and an acoustic version of “Sleepwalking.” So I went ahead and remade the entire album with alternates of various styles.

This edition with be released as a double vinyl. The original album was remastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, and then there’s a second disc of 12 new recordings. And I really shouldn’t say remastered here. The original version of Ghost was never mastered at all. I just did the leveling on my mixes as best I could and put it out that way. A fun thing about mastering is that it brings out details that were formerly a bit buried, so while it’s not a new mix, it can feel larger and more panoramic. And I think that’s what happened here. Greg Calbi did a great job with it.

For an example of one of these new versions, I went ahead and put up the orchestral version of Welcome Home on my youtube channel.

This arrangement was done by my partner, Josh Lee. I played the piano and mixed it, but the rest was all him. Josh has been playing strings most of his life, and it was really cool to hear a version of the song arranged by someone who really knows the instruments. I think he might have a future in arranging.

But yeah, the Anniversary Edition will come out this fall. I’m getting the final word on the vinyl production now. When I have the dates I’ll be sure to post them.

Beyond that, I also recently produced an album for someone, and I have begun tracking my next full length, called “Into The Woods”, among other new projects. So there is a lot more to talk about! But I think I have gone on long enough for one post.

I hope everyone is well.

Thoughts: July 28th, 2019

So I haven’t written in over a year. I’m not surprised, when I stop and look back.

I’ve moved a lot these past 4 years — multiple times within the city I grew up in and then across the country, to California. Moving is inherently chaotic. It forces you to reorganize and not just physically. I’ve had to re-approach the way I think about a lot of aspects of my life. At first, this was overwhelming and I resented it. But now that I have slowed down and found some kind of center again, this re-imagining has become incredibly liberating. Not to imply that moving inherently solves things — it doesn’t, as you drag yourself with you everywhere you go — but all the new context can be a chance to try again. It’s been easier to figure out where I am at, right now, without all the trappings of personal history and misplaced feelings of obligation. I can observe myself, including all of my bullshit, without needing to justify it. It’s a freedom that is entirely new to me. Strange that is has been sitting next to me all along and I just couldn’t perceive it, but that’s another topic in itself.

So why I am writing now? What has changed? The short answer is simple: I missed it. The long answer is, as always, messier.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about this current era of the internet. I have liked the internet increasingly less over the past 6 or 7 years, in a uniformly downward slope. From the early 2000’s until around 2013, I felt largely positive about the internet. I had my issues with it, of course, but they were drowned out by innovations and an ever-growing sense of possibility. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when the scale tipped in the other direction for me, but along the way the cons started outweighing the pros. The internet was creating more and more anxiety, and instead of something I interacted with on my own terms, it began feeling invasive, like it was interrupting my life and throwing me curve-balls I didn’t ask for. I found myself processing things that, when I took a step back and really observed, meant very little to me. And then when I had a lot of personal upheavals around 2015 and my head got scrambled in ways I didn’t know it could, that sense of anxiety compounded wildly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I started using the internet in almost self-destructive ways, all under some illusion it would distract me or make me feel better. It’s a very easy trap to fall into.

But notice how I only use the word “internet.” This was an issue. Somehow, when all that upheaval happened, a lot of things lost nuance and became conflated. The internet was suddenly all one thing to me. Emails, social media, even a text message or phone call — every form of contact felt the same. It was some combination of attention and harassment that I couldn’t differentiate between. So I gradually stopped engaging. I only posted things online when someone pointed out I probably should, and I didn’t look a the results. I didn’t want to know.

I’ve been peeling a lot of this apart lately. When all forms of digital communication felt the same, they all became irrelevant, or devoid of any sense of purpose beyond “Look at me!” And when you are in a space of not wanting to be observed, they all become harassment. To remedy this, I did an experiment. I tried each of the various methods, one at a time, and observed how I actually felt about them. And while they all felt different in their ways, the one that stood apart the most — zero contest here — was social media.

If you are here and reading this, then I can assume that you are probably aware of what I do. And you might have noticed that I am not on social media much. When I did my experiment between all the methods of communication (this blog post being the final one), my response to social media was far and away the most negative. To the point where all of the others did not create any anxiety once social media was removed from the equation. It was the sole source, and when it was active, it bled into everything else. But sorting exactly why has taken some time and thought.

Here’s where I am at with it …

There is an inherent dissonance with me and all the social media platforms. I have come to see them as attention-based economies (as opposed to content-based). Posting on social media is inherently asking for attention, and for that to be rated or quantified in some way. I have my feelings about what this means for society at large, but I’m keeping this personal for now. And personally, I really dislike asking for attention when I have nothing to say. If I am talking about work I’ve completed and would like people to know exists, then I don’t mind posting. I put a lot into anything I make, so it always has something to say built into it. So I don’t mind asking for attention in that scenario. But that’s not the nature of social media. Since we are the ones creating the content for the platform, it will always be more about quantity than quality.

As a working musician, I regularly get asked to be more visible, specifically on Instagram or Facebook. And when I have pushed about exactly why, the answer mostly boils down to this: if you don’t stay constantly visible and aggressively in people’s minds, you will be forgotten, or lost in the shuffle (not to mention that social media is increasingly used as a metric for your value and quality as an artist, and not just your popularity). And my rebuttal to that is, if I am so easily forgotten, then perhaps I’m just not a very effective song-writer. Perhaps people just aren’t interested in what I have to say, or the way I say it. If I have to post pictures of my food, spam my purchases, or build some highly-edited version of what my day-to-day life looks like just so people will remember that I write songs, then maybe I didn’t do enough to move them. Maybe I’m just not cutting it.

I realize how a statement like this might come off. I don’t mean it in a defeatist way. I only put out work that I am happy with, and how much that does or doesn’t resonate with others doesn’t change my sense of personal achievement. It’s interesting to see how it’s received, sure, but it’s not how I personally decide how successful a specific work is. I really just feel like I’m finally getting more honest with myself and where, and how, I like to participate. I far prefer making music videos, podcasts, and writing in long form. But social media not a place for depth. Even for myself, on the other side of the coin. The rare times I browse around on something like Instagram, I am far more compulsive than thoughtful. I exercise my thumb way more than my brain. But none of this is in my nature. I like depth. I like walking away with something to think about. I like puzzles. I like searching for connections, and attempting to find the limits of ideas. And I always have. I don’t like feeling compulsive and distracted. I don’t enjoy spending time thumbing through stuff that I have, at most, a passing interest in and walking away an hour later wondering what the point was, wishing I had read a book, or played a video game, or watched a tv show instead.

Or in other words: it’s not for me.

But I like this, right here. I like sitting and typing about things that have been on my mind. And I like that when I am done, it will sit on my personal website. It can be visited, but does not shove itself into anyone’s life. I am not pushing my thoughts into the space of unwitting bystanders, but instead inviting people to my mental rummage sale, should they be interested. And I don’t mind if people comment on it. I encourage it, actually. I have no issues reading and responding to comments under these circumstances, knowing they came here of their own free will and commented because they wanted to. In the same way, I am remembering that I like getting emails from people. I like letters, digital and physical, and how we interact with each other through them. They are clear channels of communication, words being volleyed between two parties like a game of catch between total strangers. I am realizing how much I prefer talking to people on the phone instead of texting, and how much more I like to get coffee with someone over any of these. And above all, I am remembering that they are not all the same, and I can approach them as I actually am, and I don’t have to conform due to some abstract sense of professional survival. And yes, I could very much be hurting myself or limiting my reach, but I am okay with that. Because I would rather fade away, or have to come up with something entirely new, than do things I don’t believe in for some desperate grab at relevance.

But that’s enough for now, I think. I will be writing about my actual work soon, as I have been really busy in the world of recording, mixing, producing, and in developing my own little label/production company. And I am back to working on a full-length record now that I am settled into one place, which is really exciting. It was fun for a change of pace to try some singles and EPs, but it’s not where my heart is. But I also wanted to give myself the space to start writing again. So from here on out, when I just have some ideas that I want to float into the world, for whatever reason, I will label the blog post with a date and the word “Thoughts.” Beyond that, I hope everyone is well.

-Ben