Monday, September 15, 2014

How To Play A Rock Show With Kate Nash


Step 1: Receive a phone call from your ridiculously awesome best friend who just happens to be Kate's personal assistant. (She already confirmed you as the lead guitar player before she called, because Kate's manager had someone else in mind. Weaseling you into these types of opportunities are what BFF's are for!)

Step 2: Freak out on the phone, have a panic attack, cancel all other plans for the week (including eating and sleeping), so you can practice her songs and pour through her youtube channel. Then accept the gig. Duh!

Step 3: Annoy your boyfriend by listening to her songs every waking moment, in the car, in the shower, etc… Silence is the enemy.

Step 4:  Practice, practice, practice.

Step 5: Buy a rad distortion pedal from Amazon.com, because if they can deliver reams of printing paper and kitchen appliances straight to your front door, why not order musical gear as well? 


Step 6: Figure out how to work the damn thing.

Step 7: Practice, practice, practice.

Step 8. Seriously doubt that you have any shredding skills at all and consider calling BFF to cancel.

Step 9. Realize that that would be insanely dumb, kick all self-doubt to the curb, and get back to work!

Step 10: Go to first practice session with talented and intimidating female drummer. Smile from ear to ear because you've never played in an all-female band, and it feels incredible. Meet Kate Nash for the first time in person. Be blown away by her optimism and charm. 

Step 11: Have one last practice in her garage (Girl Gang Headquarters). You don't have any equipment with you, so make do with jenga blocks tapping on a wooden coffee table for a drum kit, and plug into a tiny, pink kid's toy amp. Kate doesn't have a mic or P.A. so she just screams into the night. Jump around, because your life is freakin' awesome! 


Step 12: Don't sleep at all the night before the show because you are too excited. You contemplate getting out of bed, and going for a run at 2 a.m., but then you realize that would make your boyfriend think you are even crazier than he already does. 

Step 13: Go to the rock show. All of your friends unexpectedly show up which makes you even more nervous. (As if that were possible.) Proceed to forget all the solos, riffs, and licks you practiced during the week. Do you even remember how to play the guitar? 

Step 14: Watch Kate own the stage, the show, and the night. Be reassured by her confidence, and plug in and play the rock show. Everything is LOUD. Your hands shake, but it doesn't matter. After the first song is over, you settle into the energy of the crowd and the stage, and you just 


LET GO AND WAIL!


Photo courtesy of someone's Instagram.
Photo courtesy of someone's Instagram.

After the show your boyfriend tells you, "you looked like a badass and you got 15% cooler!"(You are slightly confused because you thought you were already 100% cool.) While you mop the sweat from your face with your soaked t-shirt, you say to your boyfriend,

"Thanks. Did I play at least half of the notes right?"
He looks at you incredulously and says, "yes, of course! There is one thing you can do to improve for the next time though."
"What's that?"
"Well, Kate had on gold-glitter eye makeup and wore a cape, and the drummer wore a ripped t-shirt and had a mohawk. What do you think about some sort of signature look?"
"Hmm"

Step 15: Make a mental note to figure out your signature rocker-chick look? Dye your hair blonde maybe??? A tattoo?

Step 16: Hug your boyfriend because even though he played the show in the band before you, and he is tired and sweaty as well, he still carries all of your heavy equipment back to the car.

Step 17: On the drive home ask yourself what you are supposed to do now...

Step 18: Schedule a massage appointment for the next morning, because your neck and shoulders will feel like roadkill due to the constant head-banging. 

Step 19: Disappoint your mother, because you forgot to take videos of the event.

Step 20: Forget to take photos because you were so busy living in the moment. (You did manage to take a picture of the toilet at the venue, however, because for some reason that seemed important.)


Honestly, Meg

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Annie Annie Over

I'm six years old. A few of my cousins and neighbor kids are scattered on the side of the barn that I'm on. There are patches of grass that go all the way up to my knees and other patches that are so worn down, only a few pieces of dead, dry grass are left on top of faded children's shoe-prints. The rotting wood on the barn turns a deep scarlet as the sun goes down. I'm smelling earth, the damp woods surrounding us, and the funny scent that kids have when they are having too much fun. 

My cousins and their friends are a few years older than me. They clear my pigtails by a foot or two. I never catch the muddy, rubber-bouncy ball. I never try to. I'm not out here to be a hero. I'm here to feel the rush of the action. Everyone becomes antsy before we hear the high-pitched scream from the other side of the barn. 

"Annie Anniiee OOoooooovvveeeerr!"

The oldest boy, the one from across the street who likes to come over to grandma's house without ringing the doorbell, who just walks in like he owns the place, runs over to the far right side. Silly boy. Doesn't he know that there is no chance in Hell the ball is going to fly that far?

I start to notice that everyone scatters to the far sides of the barn. A few kids have disappeared all together. Pretty soon it is just me left, me and this giant, red orb looming just over the roof, then arching down and growing larger and larger.

They are screaming at me. I can't understand a word. The adrenaline pumps through my blood, making the ringing in my ears as loud as a the front row of a rock concert. I don't have time to inch my way to the right or left to properly align myself to maybe catch the thing. 

For a moment, I am frozen in fear. Time is suspended, just like in a freak car accident that will happen to me a decade later. My friend will drive into an intersection obliviously. She will be lost in the adolescent mystery of a shirtless football team returning from afternoon practice. Her curly hair will slosh back and forth, as if she is swimming, when her bumper collides into an older lady's clunker. We will spin at light speed, but to me, it will feel as slow as circling around with that dreamy,waltzing instructor I will meet. He will hold onto the small of my back, grab the palm of my hand, and twirl me around, slowly, slowly. 

I spin my head to the right and then to the left. I see wide eyes on me. I see arms waving in the air. I want to scream or run or laugh maybe, but all I can do is fall to my knees and hold my arms out at my waste, my palms face upward, like I'm preparing to accept a gift from an ancient goddess. 

I close my eyes. I feel something crush my chest. The air is knocked out of me. My arms reflexively wrap around the object. I hug it tight to my chest and squeeze my eyes shut. 

I open one eye slowly and notice a few fireflies circling a short distance away. Annie. Annie. It's over. 

I struggle to stand up, my tiny legs shaking. I feel hollow and warm. Everyone is smiling, laughing, and shouting my name. That was and will forever be…


my moment. 


Something about the smell of the trees and the flowers on my hike today in L.A. brought me back to that childhood memory.  Say what you will about the streets smelling like pee in big cities. The places where I go in this big city smell wonderful. 

My days have been feeling a little off lately, even though so many exciting things are happening with music and jewelry. (I'm going to be playing guitar for Kate Nash on Sunday! I just released the "Such Great Heights ring in women's sizes yesterday!)






After some reflection on my mountain hike, I realized, in my pursuit to act like a more responsible grown-up, I have been neglecting activities that used to bring me so much joy as a child. I use to spend so much time outside, catching lizards, and collecting rocks, playing silly and terrifying games with the neighbor kids. I've given up my precious time spent outside in the sunshine and cozy evenings reading fiction for late night debacles in bars and too many episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and South Park. (O.K. so I guess those activities aren't really "responsible grown up" activities)

So, last night, after spending the day in the sunshine with close friends, I made myself a cup of camomile tea and opened up to the first chapter of a book of short stories called, "The Glimmer Train Stories". I melted into the imaginary world of author, Laura Van Den Berg, as she wrote sentences that shook me such as "My breath made white ghosts in the air" and "Back then I thought I would never grow tired of looking at the sky". How did I forget how much I loved reading fiction?!

While we are so busy working in our jobs, on projects, and on creative pursuits, it's easy to forget to make sure we are re-connecting with ourselves, spending time each day with simple activities that make us happy. And don't give me that, "But it's not productive" or "I don't have time!" excuse. You don't have time to be happy?

Trust me, if you spend a little time doing things that make you happy and bring you joy, you will be MORE productive with whatever it is that is so important and keeping you so busy. Thinking back to what brought you joy as a child will be a big clue to an activity that you may have forgotten about. Now, what was it? What was it that stirred your heart back then?

Oh, and about my Annie Annie Over memory, I learned years later, my grandmother had bribed those kids to let me catch the ball in return for a piece of her famous, raspberry pie. Damn that pie was good.

Honestly, Meg 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Divine Dissatisfaction

Funny how I find myself, at 29 years old, practicing with a cover band in a beat up practice space in Burbank after all this time playing in a band professionally, after everything that I've been through and all the musical experiences I've had that have taken me all over the world. 

I don't have my own bunk on a tour bus anymore or my own guitar tech who sets up my equipment each day and occasionally spoils me with a fresh water bottle and clean towel.  

We will play gigs at venues that nobody has ever heard of. While I battle broken vending machines and weave my way through halls filled with smokers, punk-rockers, and wannabe roadies, I have to remind myself, I'm not starting over. Not really. I'm simply starting, and that's a difficult thing to do after one has stopped for awhile.

The two practices I've had with the cover band have been brutal. I'm never satisfied with my tone. Lugging my amp, my pedal-board case, and my two guitars down the street and in and out of the practice space is a joke. The 2nd guitarist in the band and I haggle over who gets to play what solo. (I swear that when I leave the room to use the bathroom he turns down my amp, but I haven't gotten anyone else to confirm this yet.) 

I've failed every attempt I've made to play a solo at practice. The sparkling riffs and fluid solos I practice relentlessly at home sound like a cat's claws scratching a metal waste can when I play them at rehearsal. I almost have a heart attack any time the singer says, "Alright, let's play 'Hard To Handle' ". (I play the solo in that one.) 

The bass player is on my side in any band argument. (There are many, even though the five of us are complete strangers to each other.) Joey and I are always joking about how the guitar player and the lap-steel player change the keys of the songs at every practice. Joey, and I can't figure out how our two singers never notice the tendons in their neck tensing up as they struggle to reach higher and higher notes. 

You might be wondering why I bother to play in this cover band if things are so terrible? 

The truth? 
I've never been so happy. 

It's a struggle and a challenge. Sure. I haven't gone through a whole practice yet without the the thought of quitting guitar all together. That thought is how I know I'm on the right track to fulfilling my true potential as an artist. 

It's what Steven Pressfield refers to as the "great resistance" in his book, The War Of Art.  He says the closer you get to creating the best art within you, the louder the Great Resistence screams, telling your psyche all sorts of lies like: you will never be good enough, or you must be a crazy lunatic thinking you are going to be anything other than mediocre.

But I'm playing lead guitar in a band for the first time in my life, and although the improvements are small, they are STILL improvements. I'm learning every day, challenging myself every time I pick up my instruments, and it feels amazing! Horrible, but amazing, if that makes sense. Ha!

The small inconveniences are just that, small inconveniences, and in the big scheme of things, they don't matter an iota when it comes to the dreams I've got in store for myself.

So, although I drive home frustrated and cursing my small hands and asking myself why don't my fingers work faster, and why can't my brain communicate to my hands how to play more efficiently, after I roll down the car window and peek out at the one or two stars in the night sky (yes, I live in L.A.) and my fuming subsides, I remembert:

Because I am so upset about not improving fast enough, because I'm frustrated with my skills and my solos, because my disappointments make me down right irate, that MUST mean I care deeply about being the best musician I can possibly be and I have great respect for my craft. I'll never live up to the standards I set for myself. I can only hope to get so, so close one day. 

I love this quote by MArtha Graham:

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. 

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

So when you feel that struggle, that frustration welling up in the pit of your stomach when you are working on your art, keep going. Don't stop now. You're getting so, so close. 

Honestly,
Meg


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Secret

I arrived at my guitar lesson, bright-eyed and caffeinated. I wore my "thinking" shirt, a white-collared long sleeve I ironed the night before. I brought a tiny video recorder, a notepad, and a pencil I twirled into my hair bun, like the traditional Chinese do with their chopsticks. Today, I would learn the secret if I had to pry it out of my teacher with the chopstick!

My instructor motioned me into his studio with a smile. True, half of my lessons are spent attempting to decipher French, the other half deciphering music. I gave him my full attention during the first half hour.

 I admit sometimes my mind wanders off to think about what I'm going to have for lunch or if I ought to go next door to the Italian pastry shop and order one of those delectable brownies dusted with powdered sugar. Then I re-focus when I think how if there is any time to be "living in the now", it is right now, with the mind of a brilliant guitarist at my disposal. 

He taught me a series of intricate open chords that wove into a pentatonic exercise which starts at the headstock end of the guitar neck and ends near the bridge. He's all about transitioning from one area of the neck to another with gusto. Then he threw in a couple impressive blues licks, because that's what I pay the big bucks for. 

After he was satisfied that I had mentally and physically integrated the new material, at least enough to be able to work on it at home, he asked me if I had any questions. 

I had been waiting for this moment. I sat up straight in my chair and cleared my throat.

"Everything you taught me was great. I'm wondering, though, if I have a simple melody in my head, how to I play it through the guitar? I can figure it out if I play a few notes around it."

At this point, I stopped, and fumbled around the fretboard, until I found the notes in the sequence I sang to him moments earlier. 

"You see, I can find it, but I want the process to be seamless. I want to be able to speak through my guitar, like I'm speaking to you."

I placed my left pointer finger on a fret on the neck, but I didn't pluck the string.

"Can you tell me what this note sounds like?"

He sighed, and started off in French, took one look at the confused expression on my face, and switched back to English.

"You mean perfect pitch. I can't do that, but I have students that can. And they are the life of the party. That's great and wonderful, but it doesn't matter much, unless you want to impress people." (I think he worded it as "the party of the life", but I knew what he meant.)

He went on,

"Meg," (He always emphasizes my name with a hard "g" at the end,) " If I go to China and bring with me a Chinese dictionary, what is that going to do for me in Beijing?"

I thought, "Well, it would definitely make you look like an idiot, and in case you needed toilet paper…." 

"It would do nothing," he continued. He started playing scales up and down the neck at dizzying speed.

"Yes, yes, this if fine. Good. Good. But it won't help you, not really. These are just the notes in a scale like letters in the alphabet."

It was in this moment when I realized something that I think I already knew, but I just needed my teacher to illuminate. To learn how to speak, you don't study a dictionary, saying the same word over and over again, and expect to speak eloquently land on your feet in actual conversations with people. 

Can you imagine going to a dinner party, entering the room, offering your first handshake, and starting out your conversation with:

"Apple. apple. apple. blue. blue. dog. dog. dog." and then just to mix it up a little

"Apple. blue. dog. Apple. blue. dog" and if you want to get REALLY crazy start saying those words in warp speed. That will really impress the dinner guests!

Yet, this is how we novice musicians go about learning how to play and we think we are really somethin' else.

To learn to speak well, you immerse yourself in a culture where people are talking all the time. Some of the things people say don't make sense to you. Maybe they use unfamiliar words, or string them together in strange and new patterns. They speak loudly, they speak softly, fast, and slow. Some voices are raspy, some are delicate and light as a feather. 

Eventually, you start to use these words that you hear. You try them out. You see the reaction you invoke in people. You learn how to communicate sadness, anger, or joy. You make many mistakes. Sometimes you don't make any sense, but you laugh about it, and you keep, talking, talking, talking, and eventually you learn how to say exactly what your mind wants you to say and the best way to say it.

Well, its' the same with music and guitar. My teacher was on the right track in the beginning of my lesson. He was teaching me vocabulary, subtle nuances in phrasing. He was teaching my how to whisper and how to yell when appropriate. 

At one point he literally said, "Good, now PUNCH your guitar." Instead of tip-toeing around the strings, I let out all of my inner pent-up fury in a single chord, and the pangs of the vibrations of sound felt good, DAMN good. 

He was teaching me how to play the guitar and express myself like a human with licks and real songs, instead of like a robot with scales and arpeggios.

I was looking for a short cut. Come on, give me a scale to learn, a magic pill to take, an incantation to whisper over a cauldron of frog legs and a hair of a goat. But it's really so simple, and I knew it all along.

I just need to keep playing my guitar with other people who play guitar, over and over and over. Eventually, after many, many mistakes, I'll learn how organize riffs and chords, and then string phrases together, and someday, oh someday, I'll be fluent in music, and then, at my guitar lessons I'll only have to decipher the French.

Honestly,
Meg


Friday, August 8, 2014

From Sweden, With Love

I was taking a break in the afternoon from writing songs and packaging up Chandler orders to get outside and grab some pork belly tacos at Nick's work. I've always chosen solitary, creative careers. Sometimes I need to surround myself with happy strangers eating tacos and sipping on cappuccinos to get my creative juices flowing again.

"So, what have you been up to today?" asked Nick's co-worker as he wiped off a coffee-stained counter top.
"Oh, you know," I replied, "I'm busy writing all my bad songs."
"Your what?"
"My bad songs. I've got to get all of my bad songs out of me so that the good ones can come through."

He silently navigated away from my reply, and asked me how I liked my coffee and the weather. I think the prospect of somebody making bad art on purpose made him feel a little uncomfortable. 

Let me tell you a secret, artist to artist: Not EVERYTHING you make is going to be amazing. 

Ugh oh. Cat's out of the bag. 

Where do you go from here? My opinion: simply keep going. Keep writing songs. Keep writing chapters. Keep cooking up your latest creations. While you're working, don't focus on all the things that you are doing wrong. Focus on all that you are learning and all the ways you can improve. These ideas will make your next project that much more awesome!

Yesterday, I wrote a bad song. I wrote a string arrangement coupled with a hacked-up drum loop. Then I wrote a mediocre melody with mediocre lyrics on top. Instead of wallowing in how bad it was and how the universe was out to get me, I stopped to eat a taco, grab some caffeine, and got right back to work on the next song, implementing improvements I learned from what didn't work on the previous song. 

Something beautiful is going to fall out in between all the not-so-good stuff. Trust me. Don't be afraid to make crap. It's a good thing!

It's been awhile since, I've released new music. After going through a bunch of garage band files that have been cluttering up my laptop, suddenly I realized I had the bare bones of a record, or at least a solid EP!

Yesterday, I received a timely email with the subject: "hey, I really love your music!!!"

It wasn't for my old band "Meg and Dia". It was in regards to my last project, "The Khaki Scouts". 

The email read:

Hi,

I just wanted to say that I just found you on band camp, and I really enjoy your music! Are there any new tracks coming from you soon? :)

From Sweden with love,

Reichel

I thought Nick and I had taken our band camp page down, so I was very surprised to get this email. It was just the ammunition I needed to start working on these new songs. 

And I think this just illuminates that even when you aren't sure that you are making a difference, or that anyone is connecting with the stuff you are making, there's always somebody out there who is eating up everything you are doing. 

Maybe they are not as vocal as you wish they were. Maybe you can't see them. Maybe you'll never meet them, but maybe, just maybe you are making them smile and stirring their soul behind the soft glow of a computer screen.

We hear you. 

Honestly,

Meg

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Other Dream Job

While I waited for my cardamom and date smoothie, a woman from my yoga class took a seat next to me. We talked about the weather and our matching yoga mats. She told me that she'd like to start doing more yoga, because she sits at her desk all day for work. She said yoga has done wonders for her well-being because she hasn't been sleeping much lately or eating well. I couldn't help asking her what she did for a living that was causing all this stress on her mind and body.

She said she is an animator for Disney. She just finished working on the movie Frozen. I thought to myself, "WhaaaAAAaAaAAaaaat??" All my sisters' favorite movie at the moment is Frozen, (this includes Dia whether she will admit it or not.) 

Before I wanted to be a musician, my childhood dream was to be an animator for Disney. This woman sitting across from me was living one of my childhood dreams! And I told her so.

She asked me what I did. I told her that I was a musician and a jewelry designer. 

"That's so cool. You get to make art!"
"But you get to make art too!" 
"Yeah, I know, but I'd really love to get back to working with my hands. There's this ceramic studio just around the block. I'd love to start taking classes."

On my drive home, I thought about our conversation. She must have been an artist since she was a little girl. It must have been extremely competitive to land her job at Disney. Now that she's there, I'm sure there is no shortage of starving interns willing to do anything to sits where she sits. But, yet she is still tired and frazzled and searching for something more. 

Being able to create art in any context is wonderful, but to be able to make whatever kind of art you want, whenever you want, aaahh, that's the key to peace as an artist. To have freedom in artistic expression is what I believe this woman was looking for, and what I need to be more grateful of every day. 

While I labored on Meg and Dia's last full length album, an A & R guy constantly added his two cents about the direction of our songs. At one point, I think he tried to turn a pretty, piano ballad into a raggae song! I kid you not. The producer had me on an extremely tight deadline. I'm sure our label called him to tell him to call me to tell me that "we needed an album LAST week, and if I didn't hurry up and write it…" So, yeah, I guess I know how the animator feels. 

Now, I'm making my own art on my own time. I'm free. I'm so thankful for that. 

Maybe you are thinking, "Well, that's great for YOU Meg, but I have classes I am obligated to attend and a job that isn't exactly stimulating". I understand. I've been in that position myself. You may have a superior, you may have deadlines, you may have limited choices. 

But still...

I urge you to find time to make the kind of art you want to make. Steal 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or gasp, even an hour.


The art you are making IS important. Treat it that way.


Honestly, Meg

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wisdom From Yoga Class

Sometimes I go to my yoga class and I think, "Why do I put myself through this torture?" Other times I go to my yoga class, and I'm in such a state of bliss, I hesitate to say the closing "namaste". 

My instructor walks around class, adjusting our poses slightly as he verbally guides us through different poses. He'll say things like, "pull your belly in" or "turn the bottom of your tailbone out". Sometimes his suggestions make sense. Other times I feel like he's speaking in alien tongues. 

During my class yesterday, in the middle of a particularly difficult pose, I spread my eagle arms even wider and strained to keep my legs straight as I watched my teacher approach. 

He walked right past me though, I suppose my tailbone must have been angled just right. Yeah! Go me! 

He leaned over and spoke to the guy next to me. Since I was facing the other way, I couldn't see the guy, but I was close enough to hear what sage advice my teacher had to offer.


"Make a nicer face." 


"What?!" I thought to myself. What kind of practical instruction is that? If the pose is challenging and painful, why does it matter what our faces look like? After all, we are still getting the physical benefits of suffering through the pose. I twisted my body around as much as possible to sneak a glance at the offending "face" of my fellow student. 


True, his features were pinched together like an over-ripe prune.  His eyes tucked so deep into his sockets they all but disappeared.

I watched the muscles in his face relax as he tried his best to "make a nicer face". He smiled a goofy grin. I watched the muscles in the rest of his body follow suit as he relaxed deeper into the pose. Watching the whole scene take place made my pose softer as well. The difficult pose changed into something bearable… almost enjoyable. 

Laughter. Humor. Smiles. 



There's hardly an obstacle that these things can't overcome in any part of our lives. 

I know, I know. There are parts of your journey that aren't going to be pleasant. For example, I've been playing the same 5 seconds of the Bohemian Rhapsody solo for the past week, 5% below the actual speed. It drives me crazy. Come on fingers, let's go! Let's go! I've been so ecstatic about jewelry designs ideas only to have them disappoint once I've made them. I'm sure there have been maybe one or two times (two at the most because I'm mostly a perfect human specimen.) where I've been kind of a jerk at a band meetings.

Difficult times in life.

Difficult yoga poses. 

It won't kill you to make a nicer face during them.

Honestly, Meg