So your single “What Really Matters” was inspired by the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill and the California wildfires last year. How did writing the song help you work through these tragedies?
Amid tragedy, I think those of us watching from the outside feel a complicated mix of wishing we were closer so we could help and feeling grateful that by some lucky chance we’re safe where we are. But even on the outside, there can be an overwhelming sense of stress and helplessness.
When I wrote this song, instead of allowing that despair to overtake me, I tried to pay close attention to the sensory experience of what was happening here in California. The quality of the sunrise through smoky air. A deep empathy for those in imminent danger. The feeling of fear that this could happen to me. The memory of times, in metaphor, when it has happened – when my life has felt like it has burned to the coals – and how that felt. Of all the things in my life that I believe are important, what would I really grieve? What can I really not live without?
A song’s not going to save a house from burning. It’s not going to assuage the fears of a family wondering about their loved ones. But later, afterwards, a song can relieve the pressure on an aching heart. Even a small truth expressed well is like opening a steam valve.
How do you feel that your music style helps the song’s message come to life?
This song’s not a wistful ballad. It’s gritty Americana, with dirt under its nails, muddy boots. For the longest time, this song left me breathless. Literally, I felt winded when I sang it. When we recorded it in the studio everything added to that drive: the determined drums, the gritty guitar solo, the chunky acoustic guitar, the stomps and claps. The music supports the urgency of the message. It asks, “What matters to you?” And implies, “Figure it out and hold on to that with all your might.”
I also understand that the recording of the track was funded through a Kickstarter campaign. What can you tell us about that?
I had stepped away from my work as a singer/songwriter for more than a decade. Since, I built a life in a new city. Though some friends knew of my day job behind-the-scenes in the music industry, most of my community had no idea I was a songwriter and musician. They thought of me as a literary writer, yoga teacher, and retreat leader, which is what I did with my evenings and weekends.
But in 2018 my passion reignited for songwriting. I wrote “What Really Matters” later that year, and in a way the song was in reference to my epiphany about what I should be doing with my limited time on this planet. Writing songs and connecting with people through music rose to top importance. Perhaps I needed the time away in order to gain that perspective. Perhaps I just needed time to live.
Crowdfunding is about more than money. It’s about community and support. Yes, I did need the funds to make the record. I couldn’t have made this record without the campaign. But there’s a lot of crowdfunding advice out there that if all you need is money, just get another job. Well, I was already juggling a few jobs. But I decided that crowdfunding would also help reintroduce me to my world as a songwriter.
Through planning, launching, and running that campaign I learned a lot about myself and my big-hearted community. It’s such a beautiful thing to humble yourself and give people who care about you the opportunity to be involved in the creation of new art. I’ve shed many tears of gratitude over that campaign. It was overwhelmingly beautiful to experience that kind of support. Many times this year I’ve felt uncertain about how to build a career as an artist. The path is not blazed. But every time I look at the names of the campaign backers, I know they are cheering me on. It’s powerful.
“What Really Matters” is also the first single from your upcoming album A Thousand Tiny Torches, which is scheduled to release later this year. How is the album coming?
I am thrilled with the album. I can’t wait to share it with everyone, and it’s fun having “What Really Matters” out for people to hear.
Finally, what do you hope listeners get from your music?
I think of myself as a storyteller, and like any good story, the way it sounds is just as important as what it says. When I write, I often start wounded and end up soothed. I hope my songs pique a listener’s attention enough so that they listen closer to the words and feel something open or heal in their heart. That’s what a good song can do. I hope the listener feels better for having my songs in the world.