There are days, & I think we all have them, when our aspirations seem entirely too daunting.
Today is one of those days for me.
I am a fairly impatient person. I like results, & I like results to come quickly. I’ve learned that every so often I need to take a step back - to evaluate life in a broader context. To remember that life is bigger than one day, & bigger than any failure or success I experience in my music career.
I don’t like stopping, even for a moment. I get afraid that I will lose momentum.
But it’s important.
It reminds me to not take any of this for granted.
Nashville, TN holds a special place in my heart. There’s an allure about the city that draws me to the promise of music in that town. This started many years ago.
When I was 16, my oldest brother, Aaron, took a trip to Nashville. He came home with stories, gifts and heightened hopes for his own career in music. His stories inspired me. He told me about Belmont University, which had a competitive music business program with wonderful training. He told me about all the venues for live music. He told me about how he attended a CD release show for an up and coming band, and rubbed elbows with industry people. He told me about Pancake Pantry, where he had to wait in line for over an hour to eat pancakes. Delicious pancakes.
A few months later, I started thinking about what I wanted to do after high school. My parents wanted me to go to college, but I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. I knew that music had to be a part of my life, and aside from that I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do. If I wanted to be a performer, why did I have to go to college? With some urging from my older brother (& a few others) on why college would be helpful to me, I started my application process to Belmont.
I was accepted to Belmont in January of my senior year. By that point I had researched the many programs at Belmont, and all that the school (and surrounding city) had to offer. I was thrilled for my upcoming move down south.
To make a long story short, I didn’t graduate from Belmont University. I graduated from a college in Tacoma, WA - Pacific Lutheran University. I did start college at Belmont, but I didn’t stay there very long. In the moment, I was convinced it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Looking back, I was most likely just homesick. It doesn’t really matter.
I often wonder what would have happened had I stayed in Nashville for the entirety of my college career. I wonder if I would still be there? I wonder how different life would look now. Would it be different?
I’ve been back to Nashville a few times in the last couple of years for various musical reasons - concerts, recording, meetings, etc. It still has the same allure. It still draws me in and helps me believe I can “make it” in this industry.
Last Monday, I went to Caldera Pub for Bluegrass Night with my friend & drummer, Justin Dedini. For a couple hours we sat on the back patio and drank delicious IPA, engaged in meaningful conversation and listened to honest bluegrass music. A few times throughout our conversation I remember thinking, “this feels like Nashville”. I don’t think it was any one particular element of the evening – the bluegrass music, drinking IPA on a patio on a warm summer evening, hanging out in the Mt Tabor neighborhood in Portland that reminds me so much of the Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood in Nashville – I think it was the feeling I had of believing I was in the right place.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year thinking that Nashville is a better place for me to be than Portland. That there is more opportunity, a better songwriting community, more “industry” people and a “magic” about the city that isn’t in Portland. These reasons may all be true and valid. And, I’m not writing off a move to Nashville down the road. But, I wonder sometimes if I were to move there, would the things that drew me there lose their appeal? Would the magic only last a while? I’m sure they would, and I’m sure it would.
I know that regardless of wherever I end up, I’m going to have to work incredibly hard to continue to do what I want with my life - music. Moving to a city with lots of music & magic doesn’t change the fact that there’s always work for me to do right where I am. And, there will likely always be an allure for me to go somewhere else to find the next thing I’m looking for when the place I’m in doesn’t give me what I want, exactly when I want it.
There’s a sense of freedom in learning this. And with this freedom, there’s a little bit of magic.
I grew up just outside Portland, OR - the mecca of delicious micro-breweries and rain - in the fourth largest city in Washington: Vancouver. [No, not Canada. As I said, it’s near Portland.. not Maine. It’s in Washington. Not DC.] I was born in the summer of 1983. Before I could crawl, I was introduced to music. Scratch that, before I was born, I was introduced to music. I come from an inordinately musical family. Some background.
My grandfather, Walter Cleland, founded the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in the late 1970’s. A family affair, my grandmother and mother also played in the group (mainly viola & cello, respectively). After I was born, it was not uncommon for my two brothers and I to attend at least two of the symphony rehearsals during any given week. Our father was self-employed, and often busy during the evenings finishing up work. As I was the youngest, and subsequently the most immobile, I would regularly spend those rehearsals sleeping in the case of my mother’s Cello. Sleep, in those moments, came as naturally to me as music did to most of my family. My grandfather could play any instrument that was set in front of him. He also had perfect pitch. My father, who played the guitar and harmonica, often spent time serenading our street on the front porch with his 12-string. As I already mentioned, both my grandmother and mother played stringed instruments; they each also played numerous other instruments, most notably the piano.
As a child, music surrounded me. There were few times in my life where I remember the house being silent. [I feel it’s important for me to note here that the house wasn’t always filled with beautiful music. I had two older brothers who, as you can imagine, didn’t always think so fondly of their youngest brother. In those times, the feelings were usually reciprocated.] If I had trouble falling asleep at night, I would walk to the living room and sit with my father as he rocked me to sleep to Pink Floyd’s 1975 release, “Wish You Were Here” (“Wish You Were Here” would later become the first song I learned to play on the guitar). Before I could talk, I have memories of my grandfather playing the piano, organ and a dozen other instruments for multiple hours on end during family gatherings at their house. He rarely ended these jam sessions alone.
Music was in my veins long before I knew anything else. It’s still there.
There’s plenty more to write on this story, but that’s for another day. For now, the French Press is looking a bit empty.