Thus far, I’ve been relatively quiet online about current events. I’ve found that when you’re contemplating large changes it requires a large amount of thinking, and 2020 has been about as big a year for change as it gets. But at a certain point, silence becomes complicity. I think it’s time to share some of the things I’ve been pondering these past two weeks.
Where to even start?
First of all, the protests –- and the riots. I watched a video earlier this week that compared the concept of rioting to a person grieving the loss of a loved one, slamming themselves against a wall and hurting themselves in the process…because there’s just so much emotion and pain that it needs somewhere to go. They do it because they are suffering, and have reached the limit of their capacity to deal with it. Right now, millions of Americans have hit that level of suffering -- have been ground against it for their entire lives. And that’s not even touching on the fact that white supremacists have been tied to some of the violence, as they attempt to actively undermine the peaceful protesters’ message.
It’s important to understand that everything that’s happening right now is a result of hundreds of years of systemic issues that have prevented our nation from being truly united. There are so, so many videos of police brutalizing people – too many, frankly, for it to be reflective of individual issues with bad officers or the times. Since 9/11, police departments across the country have stockpiled billions of dollars worth of military-grade equipment. When you equip your peacekeepers as if they are going to war, the inevitable outcome is that they are going to act like they’re at war.
It is not this way everywhere.
I’ve been privileged enough to travel to several other countries, and have a couple of real world examples I’d like to share with you. Last year, my wife and I took our honeymoon in Belize. While there, we had several eye-opening experiences about the state of our country, and the nature of law enforcement in it.
The first was a conversation we had with an American ex-pat from Colorado, who had a Black adoptive son. When we asked him why he ultimately chose to move from the United States to Belize, part of his answer was that he tried to imagine raising his son in the U.S.…and that it scared him.
“He is partially deaf,” the man told us. “He would be the kid who didn’t stop when the cops told him to. Here, at least he’s safe.”
When I first heard this story, it took me aback. Even though I had traveled before, I never really thought of the United States as less safe than other countries. But it wasn’t until almost a week later that the reality of just how differently police are viewed in Belize fully sank in.
On our last night there, my wife and I went walking on the small island where we were staying. It was dark, we were tourists, and I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t on guard. After all, it’s a basic rule for travelers that you need to be wary in situations where common sense dictates.
A few minutes later, some police strolled by us…and I felt an immediate wave of relief.
That wave of relief at seeing a police officer was such a foreign thing. One of our guides several days earlier had told us how the police made him feel safe…but upon hearing it I had a hard time imagining what that would feel like. I am in the demographic least in danger from police officers -- I even have a state trooper in my family…yet I still get anxious at the sight of an officer in uniform.
It took a week in another country to rewire that unconscious reaction, and have it driven home that the way we view and interact with police in the United States is profoundly different than the way they are viewed in many other countries.
Consider that petitions are going around England right now to try and stop the export of tear gas and rubber bullets to the United States. Consider that the NAACP has appealed to the United Nations to pose sanctions against our country, because what is happening here is not only an issue of racism, but of the violation of basic human rights.
Lastly, consider our leader –- or lack thereof. While dissecting political agendas isn’t really my forte, what I do understand, from almost a decade and a half of working in music, is marketing. And it is painfully obvious that the vast majority of Trump’s recent actions are exactly that. There is no concern for the people he claims to lead, or the assuming of a peaceful, coordinated responsibility to enact the change so many are demanding. There are only marketing ploys. Let me give you a few examples...
When Trump addressed the country from the Rose Garden and claimed he was “your law and order President” –- that was a clear attempt at re-branding himself. There are many reasons that businesses re-brand, but one of the biggest is when some scandal has marred their image. That is the case with our current president –- the first president in the history of our country to erect a fence around the White House and Lafayette Park out of fear of his own people, only weeks after utterly failing to coordinate an adequate, concerted response to a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans.
When Trump did his photo op at St. John’s Church –- that was a clear attempt at garnering support among the conservative religious populations, whom he desperately needs the vote of to stay in office. If you’re reading this, and fall into that category, I implore you to think very critically about the nature of someone who is using symbols of your religion for advertising and personal gain –- and harming innocents and clergy members to do it, no less.
On June 3rd, while protests swept the country, the Trump campaign released a (now removed) ad titled “Make Space Great Again,” which featured footage of the SpaceX launch.
I kid you not...as I sit here writing this on Sunday night, a brand new Trump ad literally just came on my Hulu, proclaiming we’re in the middle of the “Great American Come Back” as businesses re-open. The (incorrectly cited) information used in the ad was only unveiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.
It took less than 48 hours for the Trump Campaign to rush out its latest advertisements, yet the president has still not stepped up to address the public about the nationwide protests and riots in any meaningful way.
Trump is not trying to lead the country right now –- he is trying to get re-elected. Each of these is a clear example of him and his cabinet valuing marketing their re-election campaign over the welfare of the people.
In regards to antifa, who Trump and his allies have been trying to label as ‘domestic terrorists’… I invite you to consider how language can be weaponized with a clear example from history. For the sake of ease, I'll use one related to my own demographic group -- Wiccans.
The word "witch" derives from the Old English "wicca" and "wicce" (masculine and feminine forms respectively). Perhaps the most widely held definition of those words' origin is "wise one." This was often referring to community members like shamans, soothsayers, and herbalists, whose job it was to help people when they came to them with illnesses and spiritual problems. Whose role it was to heal, teach, and guide.
Over time, and centuries, the word "witch" has been weaponized many times -- often, like in the case of early Christianity's absorption of Pagan religions or the Salem Witch Trials, for the express purpose of casting certain people and beliefs in a negative light to fuel the ulterior motives of people either in, or coveting, power.
Think about how the word "antifa" is being weaponized by the Trump administration right now, in order to shape a societal narrative that it is 'these extremists' who are perpetrating the crimes and driving violence –- meanwhile claiming that there are ‘no links to white supremacy groups’ (whose votes and support, it's worth noting, Trump is relying on) working against the protests. Antifa originates from Antifascism –- which, on the surface, is hardly something anyone valuing a free and democratic society would argue against. After all, what sane citizen wants a fascist regime in their country?
Again, I can’t speak strictly to politics…but the intent to weaponize the word is more than apparent. When someone -– especially someone in power -– is trying to weaponize words, it’s important to wonder why. Who stands to gain from what they’re saying? What are they trying to draw your attention away from?
It is on you, on all of us, to be smarter than a corporate businessman who is clearly and blatantly trying to manipulate us. If we want a better nation to live in –- one where people don’t need to be afraid to walk on the street, or interact with a police officer without fear of being harmed –- then it is up to us to make well-informed decisions. Supporting a leader who not only doesn’t care about you and others’ well-being, but is actively trying to divide us to maintain his own place of power, is just. Not. Smart.
Contemplating massive changes can be scary. What would our country look like without law enforcement, or a different system of public security? How do we overcome racism that is so deeply ingrained that it permeates our society at every level? How do we unite a country that has arguably never been more divided in its entire history?
I don't know the answers to those things...and hey, normally I try to avoid politics like I'm trying to avoid the coronavirus. But right now is a time to overcome that sort of aversion, and challenge myself to do better. If anything in this post has made you think more about what’s going on in our country, then I invite you to come on this journey of self-reflection with me.
To educate yourself about how white privilege is embedded throughout our nation's history.
To look critically at our system of law enforcement and privatized prisons.
To support Black-owned businesses and share the work of Black artists.
To sign petitions, call representatives, and have difficult conversations with the people in your lives.
The issues we're facing right now are complex, and difficult to fully grasp the extent of, but ignoring them WILL NOT make them go away. If our country’s history has shown us anything, it’s that the wounds we keep trying to bury always resurface.
And really, while it might be inconvenient or uncomfortable, we don’t really want them to stay buried. They’re the fuel we need to remind ourselves that the path forward is one worth fighting for –- even if it means challenging deeply held preconceptions and forging beyond our comfort zones.
Our country could be on the verge of real, meaningful transformation…and that’s a beautiful thing.
Yesterday was Memorial Day. It should go pretty much without saying that there's an awful lot to be reflective about on the holiday this year, and a lot more people to honor and remember than usual. We live in a strange time, and I sincerely hope this blog finds you and yours well, healthy, safe, and not losing your minds after months in quarantine.
Whether shows in bars will start back up...we'll see. But either way, it's pretty much a guarantee at this point that the summer music season is going to be vastly different this year. Quieter.
It's an odd thing to hear all the birds outside singing as I write this, and know that there will be far less people gathering to do the same these next few months My most optimistic self hopes that this will act a bit like a meditation period, with people coming back out in force next year once it all passes to celebrate that we're all still here. I've been trying to embrace that mentality as best I can. Some days are easier than others.
Last year, as I took to the street for my final curbside performance in early September, I got this feeling in my gut like things just wouldn't be the same afterward. I can't explain it, but since I'm a firm believer in intuition, I did pay it some mind and try to ponder why that would be. At the time, I figured it was just the phase of life I was in -- it was less than a month out from my wedding, and after street performing for five years I was starting to think about where I wanted to direct my energy to best move forward. Regardless of how I tried to interpret that feeling, however, what's happening now is certainly nothing I could have imagined.
Incidentally, that final performance I mentioned above happened to be filmed. The footage is what makes up the music video for "The Shape of the Great Design". Looking back on it today, I'm struck with nostalgia for a period of life that is, if not gone, certain to never be the same. I can only hope that whatever form the music industry takes as it recovers from this, it's one that brings us all more song, laughter, and light in the days ahead.
Nowadays, I'm still playing and practicing at home, working on a couple of new songs, listening to new music, and generally trying to make good use of the introspective time. I've been spending a lot of time writing, both fiction and articles (my writing Twitter is @Dan_DeVita, and I'm pretty active on it if you want to catch up with me there). I released some new music last month via my Bandcamp page.
In general, things are pretty good. Aside from the whole global pandemic thing. I hope they are for you, too! Keep rolling, my friend!
Sometimes, it feels like the months speed by when you aren't looking. You blink, and suddenly the world is a very different place than the last time you took note.
Obviously, that sentiment doesn't even come close to describing how much things have changed since the last time I took to the blog. We're all stuck at home, businesses have closed, and even doing small things like going to the grocery store feel harrowing. Life is simply very different here, and I imagine that's true for you, too.
Given everything that's been going on and the vast changes it's caused in the business of music, I wanted to give an update about what I've been up to, and what my plans are moving forward.
First thing's first: I've taken the plunge into full-time self-employment. I'm lucky enough that going into this pandemic I had multiple interests and sources of income, so when things really started hitting the fan I was able to adapt. There were a lot of factors that lined up to make me confident that this is the right time for this move, but it's still been a daunting transition. That's a picture of my home office, and as you can see, chaos reigns (though I like to console myself that it's controlled chaos). Right now, figuring out the best way to run a small business from home is the name of the game, and it's been exhilarating and incredibly challenging by turns.
It might surprise you to learn that the small business I'm referring to isn't music, however. It's writing. Ten months ago I broke into writing freelance articles, and have been getting more and more involved with that world. I'm also in the thick of a revision on a fantasy novel I've been working on for the past few years, and am itching to get it out on submission.
A lot of my day-to-day work is going toward either the book or articles, and that's the way things are most likely going to stay for the forseeable future. As much as I like to think "I can do it all!", the history just doesn't support that. For the past decade or so, I've alternated between my two artistic passions of writing fiction and playing music...and whenever I hard focus on one craft, the other inevitably falls by the wayside. This is a time where it's really important for me to acknowledge that truth, and put my focus where it can have the greatest impact. I need to whole-ass what's most important rather than half-assing two things, as Ron Swanson would say.
That doesn't mean that I'm not going to be doing music anymore, just...doing it with a bit more discrimination about what projects I sink time into. Back when I was planning for the release of THE SHAPE OF THE GREAT DESIGN in December of last year, one of my goals for 2020 was to release more music. I have a pretty large catalog of original songs that I'm very proud of at this point, live videos from recent shows, unreleased recordings, ideas for some livestream content...so whatever else may come, I'll still be periodically sharing things. Updates about new stuff will still be going up on my Facebook and Twitter (@DanDeVitaMusic), and when I do release videos, they'll go up on my YouTube. Obviously, liking / following / subscribing is the best way to make sure you don't miss anything!
And if you'd like to stay abreast of the writing stuff, I pen a lot of articles about nerdy stuff for WinterIsComing.net, and can often be found talking about projects and the absurdities of the writing life on my writing-specific Twitter (@Dan_DeVita). I'll most likely start a separate website for that stuff in the coming months, but for now, that's where I'm living!
It's hard to imagine what the world will look like when all this is through. Whatever changes these times have caused in your life though, I hope you're staying safe, healthy, and immersed in good art.
Somehow, two whole weeks have already passed since my summer show season ended. This whole year has been a crazy ride of one awesome musical experience after another: recording, playing a packed gig calendar, relaunching my YouTube channel. It’s been amazing...but also a lot to process. With everything that’s going on, I figured this is a good time to take to the blog, and lay out all that’s happened and all that’s to come.
The biggest music news, of course, is probably the YouTube stuff. Throughout the month of August, I released 12 live videos of original songs, many of which had never before been recorded. I’ve always been a “live musician”—the shows are really where my passion lies. So, needless to, “Live at the Depot” was a blast to share, and I’m stoked to finally have some performance footage online. If you haven’t checked them out yet, all 12 videos can be found grouped in this convenient playlist.
Those videos weren’t the only ones recorded, however. A total of four full shows were taped this summer. And while my sets were largely comprised of original music, plenty of favorite covers made appearances as well. Like this one:
There are quite a few videos that I’m pretty happy with, and will be sharing on the YouTube channel in the coming months. It’s a great time to subscribe.
The other main project swirling around the batcave at the moment is recording. Early this year, I went into the studio and cut a six song EP. Since then, the tracks have been bouncing back and forth for mix adjustments, but due to other schedule commitments and general life craziness, the progress has been slow. Things are moving forward, however, and I hope to be able to share something from the EP before the end of the year.
Really though, the most exciting thing that I have going on right now isn’t a music thing at all...it’s that I’m getting married in two weeks! Planning a wedding at the same time as playing my fullest show calendar ever has been challenging, but I’m fortunate enough to have a partner who has been incredibly supportive and understanding of my strange work schedule these past few months. It’s been a SUPER exciting, wonderful time...and has also taught me an awwwwful lot about time management.
All that being said, now that the dust is settling I’m going to be taking it easy on music for a few months to work on some other projects, dig into the recordings, and lay the groundwork for next year. All won’t be totally quiet—I’ll still be releasing those videos on YouTube I mentioned. So if you want to stay up to date with the going’s on, that’s where the action will be for a while.
I’ve also got one other secret special project in the works...and since you took the time to read all the way to the bottom of this lengthy post, I thought I’d leave you with a hint at the shape of it.
Till next time!
...and so little time! Things have been quiet on the blog for the past couple of months, so I figure I'm about due to give you an update on all the going's on here at the DeVita music factory. And my, have there been going's on.
The name of the game at the moment is gig, gig, gig. This summer has been a pretty exciting one so far as the music has been concerned, because my concert schedule is about the fullest that it's ever been. So far this year I've played 14 shows, with another 17 to go over the course of the next month and a half. I've had some awesome times playing at R.S. Taylor & Sons Tap Room, the Argyle Brewing Company Depot, and Backstreet BBQ and Tap Room already this summer, and will be returning to each of those venues one more time near the end of August to finish out the season. Between now and then, of course, there shall be street performances aplenty in Lake George as well. As always, you can find a list of all my upcoming dates on the Shows page.
One of the other most exciting things I've got churning away here right now is on the video front. I've played at the Argyle Brewery twice so far this year, and they do this awesome thing where a freelance video specialist comes in and records the shows, then live streams them onto concertwindow.com. But while that's been a very cool thing in terms of giving people who can't make it all the way up to the ADK foothills access to the shows on the day of, what's far cooler in my not-so-unbiased opinion is that I now have full recordings of both of those shows. What that means for you is that over the course of the next few months, I'll be uploading a ton of new content to my YouTube channel, so if you haven't subscribed already, now is a great time to do so to make sure you don't miss out on any of the new stuff.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the album too. The work is ongoing on that front, and I don't like to talk overmuch about works that are still in progress. With how crazy the concert schedule and everything else has been, work has been a little slower on it of late...but I do still hope to release a single this year at the very least (and if the gods are good, the whole-damn-thing).
I think that about covers it for now--though I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting. Time management has been kind of a massive undertaking for me for the past few months, because I've got irons in about ten different fires at any given time. But that's the life of an independent artist, right?!
Over the course of two days last weekend, I spent around seventeen and a half hours holed up in the studio recording a new release. Not only was this my longest continuous stretch of time recording, but it was also my first longer release where I was the only person playing...well, everything. I feel like I learned a lot, and wanted to fill you in on what I've been up to.
The short version is that I officially have a new release on the way (yay!). It consists of six songs, some of which are brand new, and some of which are old favorites from my catalog which never got a proper studio treatment. Clocking in at just under a half hour of music, it's sitting pretty much right between a more traditional album and an EP length release. So yeah, 2019 will be a year of new music!
Given what an awesome and unique experience recording this album was for me, I wanted to go into a bit of detail about what it was like. So, the longer version...
Starting on Sunday morning, I recorded from around 10am to 10pm. During this first day, I hammered out all of the main guitar tracks, as well as vocals for four of the songs. Then on Monday I woke up at 8:30am, and by 9 was back in the booth cutting more vocal tracks. Recording vocals in the morning is always a challenge (unless of course you're going for deep "morning voice" takes), but when the songs require belting, it can become downright nerve racking.
Luckily, everything came together, and by late afternoon, the rest of the vocals, lead guitar work, and preliminary mixing was finished, and we called a wrap on the session.
Preparation was absolutely key to making this studio time the success that it was. Originally, the plan was to record this album last year, but due to a freak blackout and packed schedules, the session got pushed back. As a result, I spent around fourteen months honing these songs to a razor's edge with the express intention of recording them in mind. I demoed each one out on my iPad's Garageband app, and then, not trusting that I could remember everything exactly, I brought that to the studio with me. After all, I don't sing harmonies to my own songs regularly, and when I'm performing I only have one set of hands to play the guitar.
Tuns out that bringing the iPad ended up being clutch. There were a handful of times when being able to pull up my demo sessions and soloing out a specific line I was trying to remember saved a ton of time.
One of the other things that made this experience so great was being able to work with another musician behind the board. I first met Frank Migliorelli a few years back when I performed at one of the Singer/Songwriter nights he hosts at the Green Growler in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. He did an excellent job producing the songs, and being able to bounce ideas back and forth brought a depth to some of these tunes which really pushed them to a new level, as well as got me doing some completely new things. Two of these tracks have a resonator guitar on them...an instrument which I never played before this weekend. And in some places I used a lighter pick (0.46mm thick, as opposed to the 1.14mm heavy picks which I swear by with religious zeal) to get a brighter tone. You wouldn't believe the difference that half-millimeter makes.
Now comes the exciting work of final mixing and mastering, crafting the release plan, and all the other elements that go along with unleashing music into the world. I'm in the midst of planning an album release show, as well as prepping for the summer gigging season (new shows are up on the calendar!), so it's a pretty busy time here.
As of right now, it's looking like this album is going to have an early summer release. I am psyched with how everything is shaping up--I think it's some of the best music I've made to date. Can't wait to share it with you!