It really feels like winter tonight. It’s snowing outside my house in Bozeman, Montana. It feels funny to write that: “my house.” Everything about my life for the last month has been wild and unpredictable. I love adventure, but when things get uncertain enough, I tend to feel really lost.
Last month, I totaled my car on the freeway in LA, had the adventure of a lifetime for the rest of my trip, and ended up driving across the country to Montana in a rental provided by my insurance company with everything I own…. to make a record. I landed in Montana really unsure about where I was going to go, or what I was going to do.
I arrived with two certainties:
One – I have a heart full of songs – in my mind – the most beautiful and meaningful songs I’ve ever created.
Two – I’m inspired in the mountains and I want to make my new record “Heart on Fire” here.
Everything else was up in the air. I’ll spare you a lot of the insane details… but after a variety of misadventures, I ended up riding with a friend across the state of Montana, with all of my possessions in the back of his SUV, with no idea where I was going to go. I mean there were places to stay for that night of course, but I didn’t know where I was going to put my stuff, where I was going to sleep the next day, where I was going to work or record. It was utterly terrifying. My love for adventure was overwhelmed by my “what the hell am I gonna do” reflex.
The weight of fear was overwhelming… fear that I’d made about a million terrible decisions in a row and I was going to fail harder than I’d ever failed with way more on the line. Momentarily, it felt like the desperation in every emotional song I’ve ever written combined with the determination and intensity of the training scene from a Rocky movie… silly right?
Emotions are a funny thing. Objectively, the situation wasn’t very dire. I have a lot of friends and a lot of support here. It was just such a shock to be in that position suddenly. The circumstance clashed intensely with my idealistic expectations of what it was gonna be like to drive across the country and make a record. 2011 had been INSANELY awesome. It was a roll that was never going to end. But as I sat there in my buddy’s car freaking out about what to do next, all that seemed like a distant memory.
I made a few calls, and found a place with an extra room where I could move in right away. Over the next week, my thoughts swung wildly back and forth between optimism and total terror. One day it was a huge adventure. The next day it was “where the hell am I?” I started setting up my life, searching for a studio, calling everyone I knew who might be able to help me get this record off the ground. It didn’t look good, and I considered going somewhere else… or back to Phoenix.
My search for a way to “make it work” began to feel pointless. I felt alone and paralyzed by indecision. That’s why I’ll never forget the end of last weekend… I was sitting on my bed thinking about my career over the last two years, thinking about where I had been and where I was, thinking about whether those years since I re-committed to music, really amounted to much. I felt so far from the meaningful songs I came to record. I remember a moment of near hopelessness… no idea what was next… wanting to call someone and talk about it, but feeling like I’d look ridiculous… thinking “not again!”
…and it’s a good thing I thought that, because those two words changed everything.
When I thought “not again,” what I was thinking about specifically was the last time I came up to Montana to try to build some momentum with ‘More than Maybe.’ I lost the studio and about a dozen gigs over the course of a few days, and had to move back to Phoenix. It felt like a total failure. I made the best of it, and hit the ground running in Phoenix, but it kind of followed me around and I honestly had harbored a bit of a secret fear that it was going to happen this time.
But when I hit that low point a week ago of thinking about going back again, I thought about what had come of my last “failure.” During my final performance in Montana on that trip, I met a co
uple guys in the casual bar setting and didn’t think much of it (more on them in a second.) On that same “failure” of a trip, I ended up standing on the sidewalk in front of the studio where my musical life was born and raised, feeling every disappointment and missed opportunity of the last ten years. It really hurt. I very nearly cried, wishing I could go back in time and tell my 15 year old self to work a little harder, to give a little more. That emotion of wanting to go back in time led to writing a song called “Long Way to Go.” Click here for a video of Long Way to Go
“Long Way to Go” became the song that people started paying attention to. I started selling more records at shows, and I found a new sound… a folky, heartfelt style that would soon become the basis of everything I’ve been writing for “Heart on Fire.”
The two guys I met at my last show in Bozeman on that trip? They were Hatchfest groundbreaking singer/songwriter Frank Bell, and Yarrow Kraner, one of the co-founders of Hatch. I didn’t know much about either of them, but I kept in touch with Frank on occasion over the internet after that.
In May of last year, I had just recorded a cool acoustic / orchestral version of “Long Way to Go,” and was in the middle of mixing it when I got a call from Frank saying that he was coming to Phoenix the next day for a performance in Scottsdale later that week, and I offered to pick him up at the airport. After getting Frank from the airport, he invited me to go with him to meet some friends at “Culinary Dropout” in Scottsdale. There, I met Yarrow Kraner for the second time, and we got deep into conversation about inspiration and music during dinner and a night out in Old Town.
On the way back to where Frank and Yarrow were staying that night, I played my newly mixed recording of “Long Way to Go.” Yarrow loved it and ended up inviting me to perform at the party that Frank had flown in for.
Over the next 6 months, everything expanded exponentially. I ended up winning the Hatch groundbreaker contest. Hatch led to a couple incredible trips to LA, amazing friendships and contacts, and some absolutely insane opportunities. My dreams started coming to life again. Everything had changed.
And none of it would have happened without that failure. I guess that’s something to keep in mind when I’m freaking out. Whether it’s magic or chaos or just plain dumb luck, things always seem to work out when I follow my heart and do my best. I don’t think there’s one path for each of us to walk. I don’t think there’s one trail up the mountain. Life is messy and incredible, and you can’t control it anyway. Anything could happen. What other choice is there but to trust the process and give my all.
The rest of the story of that night a week ago when I was in my bed freaking out: I thought through everything that had happened as a result of every “failure” and disappointment in my past. I felt a peace and strength that was entirely new and wonderful, and I got to work. In less than forty eight hours, everything I had been freaking out about came together in a way that defies reason.
It seems clear that every bit of my fear and uncertainty was unnecessary. I want to move people to wake up and embrace life. I want to inspire passion and to do that, I need to be courageous as hell. And I think being courageous means having a little faith… knowing that I’ll always find my way, knowing that I don’t need all the answers at the beginning of the story, knowing that everything will come together and make sense looking back, knowing and believing… at least enough to fight on in the face of fear and uncertainty.
My last “failure” led to every magical thing that happened during the most incredible year of my life. My last failure led to the one song that turned my faith in myself around. My last failure led to a whole new musical sound… one that finally really feels like me. My last failure led to meeting some of my best friends. My last failure reignited my passion and set my heart on fire. So what the hell was I afraid of? I guess failure is not so bad after all.