In late 2018 I had a nervous breakdown. I’d just returned from a 15 year anniversary vacation with my wife Brianne - with whom I own the record label/handmade goods brand Tender Loving Empire. But instead of feeling relaxed and refreshed, I felt panicky and angry and sad and afraid. Simply put- I just didn’t want to do my life any more. I didn’t want to wake up or go to work or write a song or really do anything. What began as a one day hissy fit turned into a months long depression where all the disconnection from friends and family and disengagement from my life all came to a head. That disengagement and disconnection led me to some of the darkest days of my life during the winter of 2018 as I realized the one person I’d fallen out of touch with the most was with myself. I felt spiritually bankrupt, filled with shame and consumed by fear. I wasn’t the strong, confident 38 year old man that I projected outwardly, but rather a frightened child. This was a truly brain melting and heartbreaking experience. As a result, I became untethered from my life. I felt dead inside. I would go out and jump on moving trains or drive 90 miles an hour down the freeway with no seatbelt just to jolt myself into feeling alive for a moment. I wanted so badly to feel like myself again- to feel alive like I used to, and touching death, though it was very stupid, seemed like the only way.
I had vivid visualizations of floating like a balloon, above my life, looking down on it and seeing how small and insignificant all my daily activity was. I was afraid of being found out as a fraud. I was guilt ridden from a childhood filled with proselytizing religion. I was confused and stressed by the social media artifice I’d created. An artifice that was supposed to be an effort to connect with people but had turned into a conspicuously curated digital mirage of my life. And to top it all off, I felt the hints of decay in my once virile and spry body, reminding me that while Life is Long (the title of my 2017 album), time waits for no one.
Yet, throughout this breakdown, the thing that kept me from untying the balloon or cutting its string altogether was my family and friends (and a ton of therapy). Though I was deep down the dark chasm of despair, and felt disconnected from them, my thankfulness for my friends and family expanded tenfold during that time. It was only by focusing on them and their well being that I was able to keep from clipping the frayed string that pinned my balloon to the ground. And when I did, after many weeks of anguish, float slowly back to earth, I was able to see the simple sweetness of my life for what it was. I realized that these were the people it was worth continuing on for, and that I would continue on.
As 2019 went on, and the light again returned to Portland, Oregon where I live, the will to create something beautiful returned. One day in spring, I wrote the shell of a song about this family/love/realization on Brianne’s late-grandmother’s out of tune grand piano that takes up half our living room. I called it “Daylight.” I cried as I wrote the lyrics “I promise not to fail you, now when you need me most.” This was the first song on what would become a new album called Real Connection.
I had a bunch of song ideas bobbing around from earlier in 2018 and Paul Laxer and I had the beginnings of a record already in pre-production. The Grown Children (though internally we call ourselves The Comfy Boys) -Jesse Bettis, Jake Hershman, Becca Shultz, Kyle Moore and Brian Park came out to a house Paul and I rented on the Santiam River and we recorded for 5 days. It was lovely being surrounded by people who I knew loved me -making music and chatting and even dunking in that beautiful, cold river brought so much life back into me.
If you’re a fan of my previous work - 2007’s If You Wanna Swim With The Sharks, 2008’s Caffiene, Alcohol, Sunshine Money, 2011’s Only Good Thoughts Can Stay and 2017’s Life is Long you may listen to this new record and think “this doesn’t sound like his old stuff” and you’re right. Real Connection is more refined and modern with more nods to chill-wave and pop than to folk and country. I explored different ways of singing thanks to the vocal coaching of Cam Spies, different production approaches thanks to Paul. Rather than try to control the outcome, like so many other things in my life, I let the record become what it wanted to become. The result is certainly a bit of a departure, but I think that if you give it a chance, you will hear the same lines of raw yet catchy songwriting and perspective driven storytelling that you enjoyed in my older stuff.
Anyway, congratulations if you’ve made it this far. Thanks for sticking with me. Real Connection is my testament to getting through. Its a love song to my family, my friends and myself. I wrote it for me but I also wrote it for you. If you’re going through something similar to what I did, I hope that when you listen to Real Connection you remember that you are not alone-- that you have people in your life who love you. I hope you remember to turn off your device once in a while and to embrace or call someone every day. I hope you are inspired to look to a higher power beyond yourself for support, to make bad art until it gets good, to love your fate whatever it may bring you, and to never, never give up on yourself or your stupid dreams.
Be Well. Take Care.
Tender Loving Empire
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Tender Loving Empire
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You Used To Know MeReal Connection
I Can't Do This AloneReal Connection
Blue AngelsLife is Long