'Smoke Signals'

If a tree fell in the woods and spoke to me – I wonder if the words will mimic the ones printed in the books it turns into,
Or if the wisdom will be reminiscent of the number of rings,
I lost count at 23 – the age you were when you wanted to tie the other end of the rope around the braches,

You saw them reaching out to the sky, a serendipitous commonplace in your eyes,
Well I’m thankful that the tree came down with the storm and that you found your footing among the leaves.

Believe me when I say --

That I never meant to tell you to speak out of my own need to make my life better than it should be,

I just wanted to make it okay ...

To let you tell the truth instead of telling only what you thought you wanted me to hear you say.

You were afraid –
That the thoughts in your head and the rings in your trees made you unfit for this world,
And that the city’s ambience would always drown out the gusts of wind at the shores of Walden,
That no distance to run would take you far enough away to find ears to hear of your suffering,
And I promise that I’ve never been more pleased to say you’re wrong.

And I’m proud of all the words you’ve gotten on paper.

I’ve spent years reading your body language like it was the first page to my favorite book,

And I’m ready to skim through the rest,

I’m tired of staring at a silver door, All that grandeur just to show
my wealthy reflection,

staring back long enough to know that it was fear that kept me from walking through,

And shame that kept me fixing my collar with a broken button and a torn thread.

It was my own self-conscious image that I used to convince me that I wasn't good enough to read your book,
But I’m thankful that it’s not too late to push hindsight astray.

That you held out long enough with patience and the hope that your story could shine light through the blinds in front of your eyes and onto me,

You no longer have to hide behind the window to your soul,
In a lonely room filled with cigarette smoke and your thoughts,

we couldn’t tell which one did more harm until we opened the window and let it all out.

I read the first of your book in the form of the smoke signals the cigarettes made,
And I held off on the rest to try and grasp what the character was really trying to say.

I got stuck on most words and kept going back to the beginning in hopes of understanding,
I kept waiting for the signals to make shapes like the picture books we used to read before the ring count got too large,

I tried to see if your main character walked through the thick fog corridor underneath the old fashioned Venetian lamps just to establish the scenery,

And it drove me crazy to think that he just might be wandering aimlessly from one story to another with nothing but darkness in between,

It made too much sense to be only fiction we were telling,
And took too much time to be late.
I wrote some notes in the margin by throwing leaves into the wind, I hope you know that it’s just a little constructive criticism,

But I love everything you’ve ever written.

Be it in the smoke signals we sent each other when our eyes were just too soulless to look through.
Be it in the paper from the trees that wrote our history.
Be it on the days you were too afraid to let me read your work and I was too cowardly to tell you it was okay to be you.

Because even on the days my chimney is cold and my trees lay upright and bold, I’ve got ears to hear,
signals to send --

Leaves to throw in the wind. 

The meaning behind 'Silence in Suburbia'

When I was a senior in high school, my life, as well as the lives of all my friends and classmates, was changed on the night of Friday, October 13. The day started out no different than any other, with the exception of our overzealous pep rally and all the jokes we made about, “bad luck”, “black cats”, and “Camp Crystal Lake”. In fact, the only thing particularly strange was that our football team actually won the homecoming game, sending our school into an uproar that could be heard all across town. What was supposed to be a weekend of celebrating ended by the morning, when news had reached everyone that [Michael], my friend and a friend to countless many, died while sitting in the back of a car that crashed after leaving a party.

The following morning our homecoming parade was cancelled. The following night, few attended our annual dance. The following Monday, the school hallways were as quiet as the weekend. The following May, Michael was highlighted in the graduation speech, and that night we all went our separate ways.

Ever since then, we’ve all talked about it less and less, but I believe that it affects us all just as much as it did ten years ago. We may not be laying candles on the crash site at Summit Drive anymore, and I may not be listening to the song Understanding in a Car Crash by the band Thursday all the time, but the pain is still there. Not just the pain from the loss of a friend, but the disillusionment of suffering great tragedy “in a perfect world like suburbia.”

I’m writing this explanation in the minutes leading up to uploading my performance video and sharing it on social media. This is not out of some weird sense of authentic, artistic self-satisfaction, but rather because it’s taken a lot out of me to be able to tell this story, and even in the 1000 or more words I used in Silence in Suburbia I have barely scratched the surface of how I’ve been affected by this decade-old event. Even at the end of this explanation, I will really have only begun.

You see, the “silence in suburbia” is not just about the moment of silence we did for our friend (a “moment” that feels like a lifetime for anyone who’s been there), but also about the silence that I’ve practiced since it happened. I stayed silent about my feelings for so many reasons, but mostly because of fear.

Fear that I will offend people by saying that his death could have been easily prevented.

Fear that I don’t deserve to be upset because I had a privileged upbringing.

Fear that if I talk about it then the pain won’t go away.

The reasons go on and on. After years of deliberation, I realized that there’s one thing that I fear the most: that there are others like me who feel alone when they’re not.

Thank you to all those who watch, listen, and read.

We Think We Learn 'Explanations': an introduction

One of the most common requests I get after shows is to explain the meaning behind my songs when I’m on stage. I am not opposed to this, generally speaking. In fact the band Thursday, one of my favorites of all time, did this quite effectively when they were around, and I praise them for it. Always have. However, the greatest pleasure I get from this project is not from explaining my own vision. On the contrary, I’m happiest when I get to hear from the listeners about the images that run through their heads when I perform, and I’m afraid to take that away from them.

I have always envisioned this project as being communal and multi-faceted; conversations are not limited to the time I have at shows, and the interpretations of the songs are not limited to any one individual’s vision, myself included. That is partly why I chose to call this project, Others Before Us.   

That being said, I see no reason to keep my vision secret for those to choose to seek it out. Especially if my explanations can help people with an issue going on in their life. So starting next week I will explain the meaning behind each individual song on the EP We Think We Learn

The Power of Inspiration

To put this article into context I must mention that I've just completed and released my first EP, We Think We Learn. This requires me, whether I like it or not, to look back and reflect on what’s lead me here. In doing so I’m reminded of countless stories that put me on the unexpected journey of starting Others Before Us, but more importantly I am reminded of the music, art, and cinema that inspired me in the first place.

I believe inspiration is the most exciting part of being an artist; it’s a chance to see how you’ve been molded into who you are, and an opportunity to see how you compare to the most talented people you know of. That is not only something I believe each individual artist likes to look at in themselves, but something that the fans like to look for the most in the artist. Read any interview with a musician or filmmaker and you’ll see what I mean (Martin Scorsese talks more about the movies he loves than he talks about his own movies).

There is nothing inherently wrong with honoring what inspires you, but all too often I see 1) artists defining themselves by their inspiration, and 2) artists weighing themselves down and feeling insecure because of their inspiration. I have a great example of both these instances; one of my friends works as a lighting technician on movies, and his inspiration for lighting comes from comic books. He once told me how discouraged he felt when his favorite cinematographer told him that Renaissance painters should inspire him instead of comics. (Ironically, stuff like this inspires me to write angry songs)

I know the cinematographer was not intending harm, but I do think his mentality represents a major problem with how artists see inspiration. He’s essentially saying that my friend will only make good movies if he homages this artist instead of that one, but that's just not true. I believe anyone can create superb-level material, but the quality of your inspiration should not dictate the quality of your work, only the context of your work.  

Looking back for myself, it’s been pretty clear that I’m heavily influenced by the lyrics of Aaron Weiss (mewithoutyou) and Jordan Dreyer (La Dispute). Personally, I believe they’re two the greatest lyricists alive, yet unlike that cinematographer I have no interest in forcing others  to agree with me on that. The reason is because their writing inspires me, not only because of its quality, but also because of how my own life experience helps me connect to it. La Dispute grew up in a major city in the Midwest, just like I did; their song Edit Your Hometown is basically my life in a nutshell, said better than I ever could, but my friends in Los Angeles, where I now live, are not all going to connect to that in the same way as I do. And just because they’re great writers does not mean that I am going to be a great writer, too just because they inspire me. So why should I tell writers that they should be inspired by the music I love instead of what they love? It makes no sense to me!

Inspiration is not supposed to weigh you down, on the contrary it’s supposed to lift you up; it’s there, and always will be there, to get your feet off the ground when you’re feeling lonely. It exists to remind you of why you love what you do. It is a reminder that before that song existed, it didn’t. It may have not changed everyone’s life but it changed yours, and maybe the art you’re struggling to make will do the same thing for someone else just like you.