we don’t grow on trees.

i think one of the hardest parts of being a musician is being yourself. musicians, like any artists, are an insecure bunch. it’s cool to be different, as long as it’s different like everybody else. you can play any guitar these days, as long as it’s a telecaster. you can listen to any music, as long as nobody has heard it before you. everybody wants to rock the boat, but nobody will grab on to the side and start pushing. it’s a culture of cool. it’s bad for you. it’s bad for your music. it’s bad for creating anything different.

If you want to have  your own sound you have to be yourself.

now, i’m not saying you can’t play a telecaster because everybody else has one. i have a tele and i love it. i sometimes find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum and i don’t want to play it because everybody else does. that isn’t good either.  it’s just a guitar. who cares. but still. if you play something different a lot of people (read idiots) will think less of you. i’ve seen it happen a thousand times. sometimes i want to play my prs places just because i know people won’t think it’s cool. who cares.

it’s not about the instrument. it’s what comes out of the instrument.

i’m not trying to come down on people. i’m just suggesting that if you, as a musician, want to shake something up and create your own sound you have to think for yourself. you have to get out of what is expected. if you can, even for a minute, that’s when the real music happens. because that’s when you get honest. i know that you can tell when you are being real, because i can tell when i’m being real. let it be messy. let it be super polished. let it be lo-fi. let it be hi-fi. let it be real. that’s what art is about. you are creating something from nothing. often times when i am writing music i think it’s the stupidest thing i’ve ever heard. maybe because it doesn’t sound like what people i look up to sound like. maybe because i think people are going to not like it.  or maybe i don’t think it’s as cool as the younger guys.  i’m sure they don’t sit around worrying about that. they probably do. nevermind. it’s supposed to be scary and it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. that’s the point.

WE DON’T GROW ON TREES.

there is only one person that can do what you do.

if i have a particular aspect of my playing that is a little unique, it’s probably the stuff i do on slide. which bothers me because i can’t just play slide on every song. right?  sometimes i feel like i am playing it every song. then i feel stupid. anyways. it’s because i basically taught myself how to play slide. there wasn’t a whole lot of slide playing when i was growing up. besides the blues. i do love how the edge plays slide. probably one of my favorite slide parts is on a natalie imbruglia song called wrong impression. that was a song that made me want to play slide.  people tell me i play the slide on the wrong finger, and that i shouldn’t play in standard tuning, and that brass slides are better… but that’s how i play. so whatevers. i used to get really insecure about everything i did.  i’m sick of being insecure about the musician i am. i’m probably never going to be able to play jazz. i’m probably never going to be able to read music. i’m probably never going to be able to be as good as a lot of my friends. but that’s a dumb reason to be insecure and tighten up when they are in the same room. it’s the lack of any real proficiency on my instrument that makes me interested in music. so why be insecure. i am who i am. i play loud, sloppy and drenched in effects. that’s just sort of my style.

play like you mean it even when you have no idea what you are doing. there. that’s my secret.

don’t be afraid of who you are. don’t be ashamed of who you are.

i don’t grow on trees. neither do you.

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28 comments

  1. Great post! That was encouraging to read. I appreciate how real you are man. You don’t find that to often anymore.

    Thanks.

  2. I will be sharing this with some friends. This post is really excellent…I found myself tightening up in the presence of better musicians earlier this week, even though intellectually I agree with everything you said here. Thanks for the reminder to be who I am.

  3. Boom roasted!!! Thats it…

    I’m a lo-fi cassette tape guy myself. Good post. Use a cigar box guitar for some slide stuff. Then you can be really different. Just kidding. Good post.

  4. Good call (and great blog). People don’t say this kind of thing enough. I often get jumped on for saying things like, “There’s only ONE Chris Tomlin (U2, etc., etc), so let’s keep it that way.” It’s not a negative statement about these artists, but rather a statement that God made us each unique, and each of us has something totally unique to offer – our own individual voice. Our ‘new song’ (as referred to in Ps. 33). I’ve been an admirer of your playing for a while (your tone is great – and mine is too, lol, perfect for what I need), James, but apparently your thinking is just as on track as your guitar playing. Keep up the great work, my brother!

  5. thanks for having this blog. and thanks for playing music. you hear things and play things that blow me away and inspire me. maybe ATBL will do some local shws and I can pass out or something. Thanks again. bye.

  6. i read this post. then i took off all my clothes. then i got in the shower. as i was peeing in the shower i thought, “i’m not going to worry about what people think when i play drums at church tomorrow”.

  7. Thank you for this wake up call. I have been the Captain of the sailing vessel INSECURITY for such a looooong time. No more. Thanks again.

  8. If there’s a musician out there that disagree’s with this post..I hope I never meet them? all who play (by ear especially) knows this is true!

  9. thank you 🙂
    Molly Williams posted this up on FB so I clicked over on it…read it…loved it..and then saw your picture at the bottom! Got to hear you (and eat a burger at in n out with you) in Visalia 🙂 Loved having you, and hearing you …glad you got to see the Redwoods while you were here (saw the cool picture)…Bless you!

  10. Hi James. This made my day. I feel like a hack most of the time. Sometime I need a good talkin too. This seemed to be it.

  11. James, I got hooked up with your blog and this is post hit me where I am at as a musician. Thank you for posting this. I am one who has cared waaaaay too much about how I play, what people think of me, what people will think of how I write our music…it is way too stressful living like this. I want to be done with that thinking and be who I am. Anna and I recently attended the JMM concert in Cleveland where we live. We love your slide guitar- we love the way you play. Thanks for being who you are, James. Keep it up.

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