Summer 2013

Outside the sky is growing gray, and the palo verde trees outside my window sway excitedly as a late summer monsoon blows into the valley. This has been a deliciously wet summer here in the desert, and the soil has turned red with fertility, while wild flowers and grasses pop up in unexpected places along roads and sidewalks.

Despite the scorching heat here, summer is always my favorite time in the desert. The winter residents flee to the north, or to the expensive and crowded coastal cities, leaving the roads a little freer, and the parks and the public gathering spots a little emptier. Those of us conditioned to this place wear shorts and sandals everyday, and spend our weekends by the swimming pool. The rest of the time we spend hibernating indoors, saved by the luxury of central cooling, and binge on TV shows and movies that we don’t have the time to watch when the cooler weather beckons us to spend our days outdoors.

For me, the summer marks a time when work days are a little shorter, and there are no classes to attend to. This frees me up to devote more time to working on music, and this summer was no exception. I’m proud to say it was a prolific summer, and I had the opportunity to share 10 compositions that I am very proud of. Some of them were new, and some of them new or revised versions of my old favorites.

“Exile” is a song I have been working on for over 10 years, and have finally completed a version that expresses the pain and longing of the 21 year old who wrote it, but tempered with the experience of a man who’s lived enough to know that pain and longing is not the end of the road.

“Acceptance” is a song I started writing back in 2010 as I was imagining the kind of “adult” relationship I wanted to be in. I couldn’t finish it until I realized that the sheer act of imagining an ideal relationship, is the perfect way to set myself up for disappointment. Be careful what you ask for and what you manifest. One thing I’ve learned in my 30′s is that instead of asking the universe for what I want, maybe I should spend more time listening to what it wants from me.

“One Rainy Summer” is a song I also began writing in 2010, when I was at the start of something new and exciting. It always felt a little cheesy to me, and I couldn’t finish the lyrics. Once the story came to an end, it became a lot easier to finish the song. Having James Calbert record an awesome drum part also helped a lot.

“Anahata” is a song the refers to the heart chakra. I wrote it at a time in my life when I was trying to discover a part of myself that was more patient and tolerant of shortcomings – both my own and others.

“Sensitive” is the second part of “Anahata.” I discovered that while I was trying to be more patient and tolerant towards others, my lack of outward fight apparently gave them the impression that I was weak, giving them free reign to be judgmental and intolerant towards me. One day I snapped.

“Peanut Better Cups” is a song that I wrote in the studio with drummer James Calbert. We had just finished tracking “Storytelling” and I needed to lighten up the mood. Last summer I shared a version of this song that featured the debut of my “upstairs choir” (me, overdubbed about 9-10 times). I love that version, but I love the original instrumental version too. The first time I heard the playback in the studio, it gave me goosebumps.

“Storytelling” was the first song I recorded with drummer James Calbert. For me, it was a recording dream come true. I had always wanted to do a live recording session with a drummer, and this was just our warm up! I was on the grand piano, and there must have been at least 10 mikes set up in the room. We recorded a few takes of the song, and this was my favorite. Last summer I released an orchestrated instrumental version that was one of my more popular tracks on Soundcloud. The vocal version I completed this summer came about after I received an unexpected note from someone I had hoped never to hear from again. I love the quote “sometimes you have to burn some bridges to keep the crazy people from following you.”

“Missing You” is a song I first shared last summer in much more produced version. I love that version, but thought maybe the production detracted from the lyrics. I also love the piano on this song and wanted to bring it out more. The song is an important part of the story that I am trying to tell with the songs I shared this summer. From 2010-2012, I was involved in a life-changing experience that really altered the way that I viewed love and relationships. When I was in my 20′s, I was very drawn to darkness and conflict, and often found myself in the midst drama. Eventually I started to realize the part I played in it, and retreated from the world.

Fittingly, a microburst of rain is now pouring down, and I’ve opened the door as the smell of creosote and thunder fills the air. The water cascades off the porch and the street outside has turned to a river. When it rains in the desert, it pours.

“Sandalwood” and “Unworthy of Your Contempt” are the bonus tracks to this collection. They are both songs rooted in the idea of hope, and the realization that the ability to love is something of a religious experience – in large part because it is based on faith. Faith that the pain and darkness can lead to a deeper truth and happiness – that it all means something. Of course, there is no way to say for certain.

The rain passes quickly in the summer, and the clouds part to reveal a sky turning to dusk. The sunsets here are long, and the sky is a magnificent red and orange.

I am already working on finishing the next batch of songs. I don’t completely understand these songs yet, but they are dark, even for me. I have debated long with myself on whether or not it is the time to share them. But they tell the next part of the story, and to me, they will complete the album that I’ve been working on for the last year. I have really enjoyed sharing these experiences with everyone here and on Soundcloud. Thank you to those who are listening, I love reading your comments and encouragement!Image

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Anahata

ANAHATA
music and lyrics by Ben Sevier

Who do you think you are fooling?
You contain yourself or I will leave.
I feel you glaring through the pillow.
I could have asked you, but I just don’t care.

I know you’re angry when your voice is turning,
Rather sharp, like you are better than the rest of us.
I know you’ve got a sweet side,
But right now I only see you flare.

It takes a lot sometimes to live with someone who is just like you.
And what I mean is that you seem to be a lot like me
On the worst day of my life.
But it’s an average one for you.

Can’t I please just have some lovin’?
I only want for you to be content.
I do not want to live in solitary
A life is better when it’s one to share.

I know it takes a lot to live with someone who is just like me
And what I mean to say is that I seem to be a lot like you.
I guess we get what we deserve,
Don’t always give – don’t always get back.

Anahata anahata
I am feeling oh so désolé
My hearts conflicted and I am guessing
You are feeling the same way.

 

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Exile

Exile is a song I began writing over 12 years ago and I finally completed it a couple of weeks ago. The piano accompaniment and melody line was originally written pretty much as it is heard in the finished recording. But there were always two persistent issues with the composition: 1) it vocally never sat well my within my range, yet didn’t sound right if I transposed it to an easier key; and 2) I couldn’t conceive of a set of lyrics that honestly expressed the musical intention of the piece.

I have forgotten many of the songs that I wrote when I was in my late teens and early 20′s. As I very well should have. They were learning pieces – studies. But Exile, and a small handful of other songs, would never leave me. As I can see now, as I think I knew then, I was going to need to do a little living before the songs would make sense to me. Or at least my voice was going to have to mature more. My ego (and my mother) like to think I was way ahead of my time.

The piano part of this recording was recorded last year during the Equinox sessions. I began to arrange an orchestration for it, and tried to record the vocals, but it just wasn’t gelling at the time, so I shelved it. I wasn’t going to push it before it was ready. This is a delicate song, after all.

A month ago I stripped away all the work I’d done on it and came back to the piano part, which was recorded live on a very nice baby grand with very nice microphones. It sounded perfect just the way it was. I still didn’t have lyrics, though. Then one morning, a couple of weeks ago, I woke up early and knew what the song was about. I scribbled down the lyrics as I recorded the vocals, and the song finally clicked into place.

It’s a very personal song, but it is not about any one particular event in my life. The Exile I sing about is self-inflicted – only superficially caused by the thoughtlessness of others. It is not a place to be feared, but a place of discovery and peace. It is about awakening to a truth – either about the self or about someone else. Most likely, both. Emotions arrive in the present moment: a gift. I choose whether to accept the gift or not. 

It is often other people who offer these gifts. Sometimes in order to accept the gift, we might have to go into hiding and open it up in secret. We need to play with it, turn it around and really get to know it. And maybe we’ll cry about it, get all sweaty and snotty. It’s not pretty and we justify it with “who would want to see me this way?” A wise friend once told that these emotional moments are like traveling through a ring of fire. It is painful, and hard, but it’s so much better on the other side. Not all exiles are permanent. One day we may be able to return.

 

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“Make Good Art”

I came across a short video this morning, and I found it to be both funny, and touching. The speaker is author Neil Gaimen, and he is speaking at a commencement ceremony of an arts college:

When I was in my early 20′s, I lived with the illusion that I could only make good music if I was going through some kind of traumatic experience, or if I was depressed, or emotionally charged about something. As I’ve come to learn more about myself and my craft, I’ve learned that I can make music anytime I sit down and concentrate on working on music. The saying that 80% of life is just “showing up” is very much the truth. But if I can make that time more conscious and inspirational, by shelving the distractions away, my mind becomes freed from its suffering and I dwell in a place that’s a little bit more beautiful.

So the truth behind anguish and art is not so much that the anguish is inspiring the art, but that the overwhelming anguish reminds me to step away from my suffering and try to get some perspective on it, namely, by doing something that I genuinely love. Maybe the anguish becomes the subject of the art, maybe it doesn’t. The point is, if life gets hard, show up and make some art. Nowadays, I do it whether I’m happy or sad.

I believe everyone has a creative impetus at their core. It’s a crucial part of what makes us human. Art is a term used very broadly, and I would define it as the act of changing one thing into another thing. Art can be cleaning, blogging, writing a letter to a friend, cooking, taking a photograph, painting a picture, folding paper, building furniture, sweeping your patio, planting something, pruning a bush, repairing your bicycle…I could go on. Making art is mundane sometimes. Try editing out the breaths and pops of a recorded vocal line sometime and you will see what I mean. Life is mundane sometimes. I try to find pleasure in the mundane. Admittedly, I don’t always succeed in that. But as the years go by, it gets a little easier.

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thoughts on the ‘pursuit of art’

“When I taught in a boy’s prep school, I used to talk to the boys who were trying to make up their minds as to what their careers were going to be. A boy would come to me and ask, ‘Do you think I can do this? Do you think I can do that? Do you think I can be a writer?’ ‘Oh,’ I would say, ‘I don’t know. Can you endure ten years of disappointment with nobody responding to you, or are you thinking that you are going to write a best seller the first crack? If you have the guts to stay with the thing you really want, no matter what happens, well, go ahead.’”

from Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

I came across a quote from Joseph Campbell this morning that I wanted to share because it really rings true to me right now.

I’ve been at this music thing for over 12 years, and I’ve still yet to write a bestseller. But the nice thing is, that after 12 years, writing a bestseller has become the farthest thing from my mind. When I was 19 and starting out on this path, I remember that I definitely had the idea in my head that I wanted to be famous, and tour the world, and write pop songs that would make me loved by everyone. I am so grateful that I was never able to accomplish that goal!

Over the years, I connected with a handful of people through the music I was working on. But for the most part, my life has taken me in directions that had little or nothing to do with writing, recording and performing. I’m 32 now, and I’ve lived a life that is nothing like the one I imagined at 19. But through it all, I’ve always kept writing and developing my craft as a musician and writer. I’ve learned new technologies and learned to record myself. I’ve developed a point of view, and an opinion about the kinds of stories I want to tell.

The funny thing is, that my delusion to be famous is what took me down this path in the first place, so I am also grateful for that. I had to first experience delusions of grandeur, so that I could come to a place where I create music simply for the love of creating music. I do it because it’s fun, and it helps me connect to a higher spiritual plane. This is especially important because I am not a religious person.

Over the past couple of years, there’s been an increasing number of people who have heard my music, and for some of them, it’s resonated with them. This is great, and I’m happy for that. It encourages me to actually take further steps to polish the productions up, and make more of them available. But I now write for myself, without the pressure to share or perform, and to me, that’s bliss.

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Fade Away

Yesterday I received one of those rare gifts – a fully born song. Fade Away is the first song ever that I’ve sat down at the piano, wrote, recorded and then shared publicly a full song in less than 24 hours. 

I’ve been so focused on life lately, that I haven’t made as much time for music as I like. I’ve been in a bit of funk lately because of it. I’ve been working on a lot of new material, but can’t complete any of it. I’ll get a good idea, sketch it out, and then not know what else to do with it. That’s not unusual, and certainly not a bad thing. Sometimes songs take many months (or years) to be fully manifested. In honesty, though, a big part of finishing a song is just sitting down and making the time to finish it.

The inspiration came yesterday morning. I was thinking about my grandma, who passed away this time of the year a couple of years ago, and the mantra came to me to “pick a reasonable goal, and complete it.” What if I died tomorrow and every piece of music that I’d ever written died with me? I figured I could at least complete a song I’ve been working on. I didn’t have an inspiration of any particular project to work on. But I opened up a blank session on my DAW, and wanted to make sure everything on my signal chain was functioning properly, so I started noodling on the piano. Very quickly, the idea for the song started to come.

I worked steadily through the day, and several times almost stopped to go run errands. But I pushed through and completed the song around 9pm last night. I only stopped once to eat.

The production inspiration comes from my recent experience singing with a community choir. I grew up singing in choirs, but have been focusing on my solo projects for the past 10 years. But I’ve had the itch to sing with other people for years, and in January finally made the plunge. It’s been a lot of fun, and the process is getting me brushed up on singing harmony, and learning to blend with other voices.

I’ve also been listening to Enya over the last year, and the idea of producing a “choir of one” has been a concept I’ve toyed with quite a bit in my recording. However, I don’t take the multi-tracking to the extremes that Enya does. I love her sound, but I’m trying to create something more grounded in this world. It also would take FOREVER to track my voice that many times, and it’s just me doing all the work behind the mic, and the consul. At it’s core, though, the song is just a voice and the piano.

I really allowed myself, for once, to not over think too much, and to just “go with the flow.” I allowed myself to not be too critical or second guess myself. It was liberating to just trust my instinct. The hardest part for me, after finishing it, was not having anyone to share it with. The last year has found me single and living alone – not a bad thing. But the loneliest part of being single is not having someone to share my enthusiasms with. So I figured I’d be open, and just share it with the world. Maybe this is a crazy idea, but I’ll experiment and see how this goes. Let me know what you think!

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Storytelling

My head has been muddled, and things have been confused. I haven’t done the things I know I can do to feel and think the way that I know to be best for me. But perhaps that has been for the best. My kind have a tendency to think that comings and goings must be events. Some of us think it is all random, while others think or feel that it must have some kind of deeper meaning. Within this framework, there still exists those that think it is all for the best, or all for the worst. It isn’t our desire to give meaning, or avoid meaning, that makes us particularly special – or functional. Nay, it is our ability to experience the horrific and the wonderful, and say when it has passed, that it was all for the best or it was all for the worst. The pessimist, or the optimist. Depending on the culture and time we live in, the benefit of either mindset can be elevated as the correct way of thinking.

Our philosophers declare that it is the act of examination that is the foremost in importance, not so much the conclusion. The act of science demands that we make a conclusion, then set about disproving that conclusion. It is that which makes us one step above being more than alive. Everything that exists in this reality is alive, indeed, and is in the continual act of composing or decomposing. Some of my kind never get much further than this idea. I’ve been in that spot myself. Obsessed with not being obsessed about my own impending destruction. Searching for fame, money, love and the amazing. It still comes upon me sometimes, when I have been careless with my thoughts and the body that I am living within.

There are so many temptations in this lifetime that I can hardly see through the haze. Mind altering states can be accessed without a moment of preparation. What was once a sacred rite has become the ordinary. We have been granted access to substances that can turn it all on, transform the mundane into the profound. Or we can instead try to turn it all off, and take prescriptions that numb our thought patterns into gentle ripples on the shore of quietude. But regardless of the choice, mind altering states are incapable of lasting. It is our folly to think that they will. And in the moment that the present comes to our awareness, either we are ready to accept it, or try some other panacea so that we can return from whence we just came.

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Autumn

It’s been a whole season since I last updated, but the turbulence of the last 5 months was unexpected and frankly, not something I wanted to talk about on the public forum of the internet. To summarize simply, I’ve been through the end of relationship, starting of a new job/career, and moving out of my apartment/recording studio.

Any of these things would have been a challenge, but they all happened at the same time. Worst of all, my computer was down for two months and I wasn’t able to record. Now that I’ve got it back up and running, I still don’t really have a recording space, but I am making do with what I have. Namely, the guest room of my brothers house. My palette of keyboards are in storage, but I still have a guitar, a couple of harmonicas, an old rhodes piano, and my voice. I’ve been writing through it all, and hopefully some of these new tracks will come together in way that I will be comfortable sharing. 

Until that time, though, I want to share something new-ish. “Sonoran Sunrise” is a track that I was working on before my computer crashed and my personal life fell apart. It’s just a rough demo version, but it conveys the feeling I was looking for well. It’s significant because it features the last vocals I recorded in my old studio space. Every space has its unique sound and feeling – this song captures that. It was reluctantly that I left that space and life, but I came to a moment where I realized that in order for me to move forward in my life, I had to get away from the dishonesty and discontent that surrounded me. This song represents, to me, the quiet before the storm.

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Summer Song

Drummer James Calbert and I were jamming together in the studio one day, when towards the end of the session we decided to mike up the old rhoades sitting dusty in the corner. James started fiddling about with some percussion and I just played around until a theme started to emerge. We pushed the record button and kept on overdubbing parts over until it seemed ridiculous to add anything more. During the mixing phase, the song had the temporary title “Peanut Butter Cups,” because that’s what James happened to be eating during the mixdown in the control room. It’s just a fun little song, but I love listening to it.

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Acceptance (A Man Like That)

This song has always been kind of special to me because I wrote this song in about an hour, back in 2010, and then premiered it in front of an audience that same night. I’ve probably tracked the song about six times since then, never really happy with the outcome. One of the more recent tracking (an instrumental version) was featured on the Awakening e.p. that I released back in January.

The version featured here was tracked back in March live on the baby grand piano in one take. I added the vocals and strings a little later and this particular mix was done earlier this month. I really love how it turned out, I hope you all enjoy!

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