Sun Sessions (Part 1) by Josh Freedman

For the casual observer, it's endlessly boring. 2 nerds sitting in a dark room, twisting seemingly random knobs, listening to singular frequencies, staring at sine waves trying to determine phase, there is very little glory in the record making process.

Every adjustment you make carries a weight. Sometimes it's as simple as "if this doesn't work I hope I can fix it later" and sometimes it's as haunting as "is this the best I'm capable of? And is it good enough?"

But if you endure the monotony long enough, you might also see the moments that make all the meticulous work worth it. After endless hours of uncertainty, few feelings are more exhilarating than the perfect playback. 

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I've returned to work with my friend Steve Kupillas. Steve engineered and co-produced both Lights Divide records and FYWMFD. Working with Steve has always been easy, fun, and efficient. I think that would be anyone's experience, he's just great at what he does. Even better, Steve freakishly thinks the same way I do when it comes to production, and most importantly for any producer, he's not afraid to question and improve my ideas.

Our first challenge on this record was drums. For one reason or another, I decided I wanted to perform my own drums on this record. This presented a number of challenges, the most significant being that I don't know how to play drums.

2 birthdays ago, my mom and Amber surprised me with a Roland digital drum set. I've banged around on drum sets before, but without any real purpose. The digital kit along with years of steering wheel drumming gave me the opportunity to learn the absolute basics of rock drums. 

In the writing process, working out drum parts was probably the most fun. In a weird way, having a limited technical ability invoked creativity. Knowing my physical limitations helped keep things simple while attempting to remain interesting.

However recording drums wasn't nearly as enjoyable as writing them. In any circumstance, recording drums is already a nightmare. Dozens of expensive microphones, some inches away from flying chunks of wood... Hunting down weird resonant frequencies, constant tuning aligning and adjusting, parts that are just impossible to cleanly fix in editing... Pair it all with an inexperienced drummer, you've got your work cut out for you. 

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Playing an acoustic kit over an electronic kit obviously comes with a whole other set of challenges as well. Velocity is more challenging, the kit is spread out over a larger area requiring changes in timing and positioning, it is a significantly different experience. Steve said he's never seen a drummer hit himself in the face with a drum stick before. Luckily he didn't see it the second time I did it.

So after 9 grueling hours and some studio magic we managed to capture an actual drum performance, using actual drum sounds. Believe it or not, it's something that's not done on many records these days. I don't expect to win drum album of the year, but I was completely satisfied with the results and felt they were the perfect foundation to build this record on.

The Sun, The Vine, The Worm (Part 2 of 2) by Josh Freedman

I honestly don't remember exactly when my obsession with Jonah's 4th chapter began. I've been consumed for so long that mentioning it to others can solicate eye rolls and audible groans. I've attempted to intigrate Jonah's story into nearly every music project I've ever been in, sometimes with success, but mostly without.

My last album, "For You Were Made From Dust and to the Dust You Will Return" left many confused. To date, it remains one of my least popular releases. FYWMFD was a re-recording of some of my oldest material, and I'm sure I left many wondering why I would re-record ancient history.

I thought it would be easy to do (it wasn't.)

I thought it would be a quick (it wasn't.)

I thought it would give me a larger catalog to perform live (I haven't performed live in years.)

But if had to break it down to just 2 reasons, the first is that I just didn't know who I was as an artist anymore. After my last 3 bands, I've had trouble understanding my motivations, and doubted there was any originality in my art worth paying attention to. The kid who wrote FYWMFD just wanted to make stuff. The who, what, and where of it all was endlessly irrelevant. He didn't care if the instrumental section was too long, or if the song had a "chorus." He did what he wanted to do because it's what he felt, and no criticism would ever be able to change what he felt. In a lot of ways, that version of me was better off. He was happier with his art. Re-doing that album was fulfilling. It reconnected me with who I am, or at least who I was.

The second major reason I re-recorded FYWMFD is that I felt like the idea was incomplete. I doubt I'll ever make a record that perfectly shares my ideas without flaw, but the original version wasn't even close (if you've heard it, you know exactly what I mean.) As an artist, few things are worse than incomplete ideas you are passionate about.

So here I am, on the eve of production for my next record. Tracking starts tomorrow on Earth #4. Jonah's 4th chapter has continued to change and inspire me. I've learned new lessons over the years, and I've changed interpretations. I've reexamined elements I was sure about to the point of confusion and uncertainty. Part of me wonders if I never succeeded making this record because I had it wrong the whole time. I still don't have all the answers, I hope I never do. But I am ready to share the things I've learned from Jonah. The parallels I've felt in my life, and the breathtaking beauty of its symbolism.

 

I'm also ready for you to join me through my experiences, here at iamnotanearth.com

I'll be using this site both as a journal through my creative efforts, as well as blog on subjects I am interested in talking about. I've integrated Disqus to my site, so I encourage you to continue visiting and being part of the conversations. And as always, I am forever grateful for your support.

The Sun, The Vine, The Worm (Part 1 of 2) by Josh Freedman

The Bible is filled with so many unbelievable stories.

Some people believe that it is a perfect inerrant historical record of the most significant events in the history of the entire universe. Equally it's convinced many that it is a collection of myths, legends, and fairy tales designed to intentionally manipulate human kind.

When I read the Bible, I don't distinclty concern myself with the "reality" of it all. Whether or not the reader believes them to be true stories, these stories  have been significant enough for millions of people to keep around for thousands of years. Surely there is something to learn from what has been written?

But I also admit when I read one of the more fantastical stories, the scientific probability of them causes me to examine them differently. 

The story I struggle most with is the story of Noah. The improbability is astounding. One man rounding up billions of species, from Cheetahs in Africa to Emperor penguins in Antarctica. That same man also, by himself, built a boat big enough to house them. And most remarkably, he kept them all from eating him and each other. Ignoring the audacity of the epic story, there are still hundreds of interpretations, each with their own unique lessons to be learned. I would argue it's likelihood is one of the least important details of the story.

And then some stories you can take word for word, but excuse with human logic and old fashioned chance. From a secular view, the story of David and Goliath isn't so unrealistic or particularly remarkable. David's victory may have been improbable, but it was far from impossible. (I just saw the Eagles win a Super Bowl against the Patriots?)

But in all the extremes of the Bible, the one story that has always stuck out to me is Jonah. Because Jonah exists in between outrageous and common coincidence.

An adult man gets swallowed by a fish and lives inside of it for days. You're probably wondering how I see Jonah's story as in the middle of two extremes. It's because the fish is only the mystic side of the story. It's the story of what happens after the fish that intrigues me so much. 

Wake (From This Dream) - 10 Years Later by Josh Freedman

10 years ago today, Of Military and Mathematics released "Wake (From This Dream.)" Now I could go on and on about the cruelty of time, the unforeseen circumstances, and the mistakes I've made in between (and oh my God, did I make mistakes.) I think it goes without saying that I never imagined any of my records turning 10, let alone several of them. And if you asked 10-years-ago-Josh where he'd be now, he would definitely answer incorrectly.

WFTD wasn't a record of historical music significance. Some people liked it, and that made it worth doing. It's a naïvety I still try to hold on to; that art is worth doing simply because you enjoy it. It's something every artist has heard ad nauseam, and half heartedly agrees with. It's hard to behave that way because it's bullshit and we all know it. 

I went on my first tour when I was 17 years old. We had no idea what we were doing, we were horrible at it, and it cost us a fortune. But I had the time of my life, and it was then I decided that I never wanted to do anything else but music. Sure, if you enjoy something, the joy you receive from doing that thing should make it worth doing. But everyone forgets one important detail; the joy should outweigh the sorrow. For every moment of pleasure creativity gives you there are often equal, if not greater, moments of doubt, fear, failure. The scales are always moving. 

Im standing in the Home Depot parking lot, watching Chuck struggle to get my van on the back of his tow truck. As he gets the back wheels closer to the flat bed, the trailer hitch digs into the pavement below and makes that unmistakable noise. When OMAM toured extensively, we bought a 1978 Ford RV. An absolute rust bucket of blatant disregard for safety. We called it "The Juggernaut," and any time we'd enter a steep driveway, the trailer post would drag along the pavement so obnoxiously that it would draw the confused and often angry stares of anyone within earshot.

Juggs was impractical, dangerous, and irresponsible, but it was the only thing we could afford. We really wanted a van, but the insurance rates in New York were just way too high. At one point I priced out insurance at a friends house in Ohio. The difference in premiums meant I could take a small loan and buy a van. All I'd have to do was commit a little insurance fraud. But the RV was an even better deal. RV insurance was ridiculously cheap (less than $200 a year.) And with a RV, we could essentially eliminate any lodging costs.

The Juggernaut's maintenance was easy. Every couple of thousand miles all the oil burned off, so we didn't have to change the oil as much as we just had to fill it. Occasionally we'd dump half a can of ether into the carburetor if she was too cranky to start. I'll never forget the night we played in Omaha. It was 110 degrees out and remains the hottest weather I've ever experienced. We came out of the venue late at night to find our gas cap missing. I started the engine and black smoke poured out of the side. Everyone started talking about bleach or sugar in the gas tank and none of it was out of the question. A man passing by who appeared to be homeless overheard us and assured us it would be safe to drive because he saw it debunked on "Myth Busters." I love that memory because it makes me feel like I was humble enough to trust a stranger. (But really it was probably just the heat.)

Chuck is putting some wood blocks in front of the back tires of the van as he continues to pull it on to his flat bed. As the grinding of the trailer hitch fades, I remember the last time it happened with the Juggernaut. We told Dan "The Ragg" that if he could start it, he could have it, but it never ran again. Every junkyard I called wouldn't take an old RV, so instead of selling it I ended up paying someone $30 to take it from me. As the tow truck pulled down the end of Cheshire Street, Juggs gave us one last drag on the pavement, and with that it was gone forever. Of Military and Mathematics never toured again.

Call it luck, call it persistence, but I've been blessed with opportunities to tour and play music for the last 10 years since that have meant everything to me. I bought the van when I joined Our Own Ghosts, and I picked it up the same week I proposed to me wife. That period of time in my life remains just as much weird as it is precious. An unimaginable set of circumstances. Obliterated relationships restored, only to eventually be again unassembled.

My van carried Lights Divide on The Camp Anawantour. Probably the most rock and roll tour I've ever been a part of, and to date my last. And as Chuck drives away with my van swaying on the back of his truck, I start to question if this is where it all ends. Maybe my van is just a slightly smaller version of the Juggernaut. Maybe I'm just driving an old dangerous impractical rust machine and believing it somehow makes sense. 

I've anticipated today's anniversary for a while now. I had intentions to re-release our music, including the rarer stuff re-mixed. I started going through the dozens of camcorder tapes we filmed over the years and editing it down. But if I'm being honest, as I sat there watching the hours of footage digitally convert, I was overcome with sorrow. The relationships I've obliterated in the interest of pursuing the things I hold dear is a guilt that I will live with all of my life. The person I was, young, inspired, driven, outspoken, doesn't even feel like me anymore. I'm grateful for all of the experiences I've had, and given the chance I'd do it all over again the same. But even 10 years later, while it feels like in most ways everyone else has moved on, I haven't fully recovered.

These days I spend more time debating if I should sell all of my gear and find another hobby than I do actually playing music. Maybe with the money I could afford a vehicle that doesn’t breakdown every few months, something with a working air conditioner. Friday’s used to be rehearsal days but now I'm at Home Depot watching my van get towed. I'm not sure I actually have the guts to quit music, but I'll be damned if a day doesn't pass where I don't consider it. Ultimately I'm all talk. I'll move on, as I always have. Maybe I'll find enormous success, or maybe I'll begin to fade like metal scoring concrete. Maybe one day the joy will outweigh the sorrow, or maybe one day I will finally wake from this dream.

Empire Sessions by Josh Freedman

In retrospect, if I had to blame it on one thing, I'd probably blame it on the Empire Sessions. 

Lights Divide was in many ways, very different from any band I had ever played in. The differences that intrigued me the most kept me coming back for more, even though there were countless opportunities to exit safely. When our first EP took nearly a year to release, we could have easily said that this was going to be more work than we were prepared for. When we lost Emily, our original bass player and founding member 2 months after releasing that EP, we could have accepted the odds were against us. The list of obstacles and the excuses they presented is endless.

But Lights Divide always proved worth it. As I've gotten older, music has become more complicated to me. Every casual music listener is a musician, and knows exactly how music is made and how they think it "should" be made. And despite the overwhelming apparent understanding of art, we live in an age where creatives are often overlooked, underpaid, and unappreciated. As an artist or a musician, the opportunities to stand out in that environment are increasingly difficult to find. 

Lights Divide was endlessly satisfying in that it had 2 distinct schools of thought; that music could be evolving and weird and complicated, and it could also be strategic and calculated and catchy as all hell. The results were more personal and gratifying than I had more recently been accustomed to.

When Angelo joined Lights Divide, the band's characteristic was thrown into hyper drive. Angelo's approach to music couldn't have been more perfect for Lights Divide. Angelo is a rare creative who understands the difference between making things interesting and making things stupid just to appear different. And even more impressively, he manages to do it while maintaining artistic integrity. He regularly proved in Lights Divide, and outside of Lights Divide, that music could be exciting and yet still be emotional. 

Next thing you know, we were all living out of a van together. On the road with this band I lived some of the more ridiculous adventures of my life. And when Lights Divide came home from a tour that cost us every penny we had ever made as a band, and then some, there was yet another chance to give in to the seemingly inevitable.

But it wasn't even a consideration. We were fueled, fevered, and on the verge of something that I felt was creatively brilliant. As our next record began forming, it was rapidly changing scope and size. The new material was dark yet endearing; nostalgic but new. It's one of my deepest regrets that we were never able to share it with you, especially in a way that lives up to that description.

Suddenly the band once delicately balanced between strategy and unforgiving expression was violently rocked back and forth between the two. For every dependable and memorable song we came up with, there was an endless supply of free form emotional expression orphaned in the process; ideas that felt cheapened by organization.

Conceptually the new record was focusing on the idea of youth, and the increased creative surge in Lights Divide made me feel young again. Creation was performed by personal preference and not potential criticism. For the first time in a while I felt like I was myself again and it reminded me of who I once considered myself to be; someone who makes things because they simply like them. Someone who pursues ideas how they wanted too, without initially considering its marketability. Someone who takes risks because they've calculated them to be worth the artistic value. (Someone who writes obnoxiously long internet posts because they don't know how else to open themselves up to those who have an interest in their art, even though they know it makes them look smug and egotistical.)

It was this environment that birthed the Empire Sessions. And I'll be the first to admit that we didn't really know what we were going to be doing. We booked an 8 hour block at a world class recording studio filled with vintage outboard gear and asked some friends to come by and take a couple of short video clips for us. We went in to the session and treated it like any other band practice; let's make noise and see if we like any of it. 

None of us would claim that the Empire Sessions are the most incredible recordings we've ever made. In fact they are riddled with imperfection, something modern music has all but eliminated. I won't tell you that we got the best tones, or that our performances were flawless. And while my band mates excelled at it, I personally will never claim to be a great improvisationalist. In fact, quite the opposite. 

The Empire Sessions are a rare glimpse into a side of Lights Divide that no one but us ever got a chance to witness. And frankly it's a side we don't know if anyone will understand. It's not as attractive as the Lights Divide we've come to know in the past, but it's equally as important. 

We drove home that night in a near blizzard, reeling from our experience, but ultimately not knowing what it meant. We laughed, we had deep conversations. We referenced inside jokes, and we took turns listening to different music and complaining about it. You know. Band stuff. Looking back, I'm grateful for the snow storm that night. In that moment, I wanted to be home and resting from the long day at the studio. But the storm turned an average half hour drive into over an hour, which gave me more time to spend with my band. And for this reason or that reason, I think that was ultimately the final moment for Lights Divide.

Look, that was a year ago. February of 2015. I've spent plenty of time between then and now trying to explain exactly what was wrong with Lights Divide, how much of it was my fault and how much of it I could blame on someone else. If you had talked to any one of us individually about what was going on, you'd get a different answer depending on your place on the timeline. The truth is, while I can name a number of factors, in the end I just don't know. 

Getting to know someone's creativity, in many ways, can be more painful than getting to know someone personally. The risk of loss can be equally difficult. I've broken up with more bands in my life than girls, so I feel experienced enough to say that ultimately the reasons just don't matter. Sometimes things just don't work out. It's better to have love and lost, and all that shit. 

And that's why, I personally, want to release the Empire Sessions. Don't get me wrong, I love these jams. But I'm not sure anyone else will connect to them the same way. Maybe having read this will help you.

I'm equally unsure if anyone wants to actually sit down and watch us screw around with guitars and eat Cherry Valley Deli for over 40 minutes. But I do know that Lights Divide has been fading for so long, it's final moment couldn't be more perfect than this; evidence of complacency. And this is how I want everyone to remember us.

This is our empire.

- Josh