i've been pregnant for 18 months
Some of you already know this, but I have been pregnant for over a year now, and it is Jon Hamm’s baby. Not the person, but the song I wrote about him. Well, not about him exactly, but about a boy who looked like him. And, hopefully you’ve figured this out by now, but it is not a real baby. Obviously, a real baby would be grossly overdone at this point. No, this is a creative baby. An ambitious little parasite of an idea that has been leeching my energy in the most exciting way for the past 18 months or so. And while I am not quite ready to give birth, I desperately want to show you the ultrasound. I want to thrust it in your face and have you smile and nod and feign excitement for me, because I am so excited that I don’t care if I am annoying you! I am about to be a dad for Christ’s sake! Wait, no I’m not. Ok, let me start over…
If you’ve met my dad (hi, dad!) in the past 2 and a half years, then you already know that I released an EP in 2015. It’s entitled 50 Shades of Crazy and he probably gave you a physical copy of it, for which you have no CD player. Which is ok because it’s also on every major music platform (hint, hint, go listen), but I digress.
The moment I had the mastered recordings back, I threw the EP out into the world like a ball of fire I’d never meant to catch. I barely promoted it. I barely promoted it for a myriad of truly asinine reasons. For example, I felt it would be embarrassing to take ownership and feel proud of something that I created. What if everyone ended up hating it and making fun of me? If I was outwardly proud of it, then I couldn’t be in on the joke. God forbid I let people in the shadows snicker to themselves! Then, there was the questions of WWaTAD? (otherwise known as “What Would a True Artist Do?”) I told myself that promotion was for tools and sell-outs. If it was good enough, if I was a serious artist, my work would somehow just be ~discovered~ and catch on…and then it didn’t. I was devastated. I must just suck. It felt like this massively public failure, even though no one was really watching.
Now, I don’t expect to look back on everything I’ve made and deem it an infallible masterpiece. If I did, then I wouldn’t be growing. But every time I listen to that EP, I cannot help but cringe. Not because I actually think it’s bad or anything, but because what I hear is all of the choices I made in attempt to please anyone who might have an opinion. I hear choices I made because I thought I was supposed to, and ones I didn’t because I didn’t want to be too bold. I hear myself, and my raw emotions, and my true stories, sure. But I hear them being run through a filter of someone who is trying so, so hard to be taken seriously. Someone who is trying to please everyone. Someone who is trying to do everything the “right” way.
But, there is no “right” way to art. And trying to please everyone is a losing game. And to act as if I am some super serious artist (with an accent on the “i”, which I don’t know how to make on a conventional keyboard) is to ignore the fact that my initial songwriting inspiration was “Weird Al” Yankovik. Yes, I can rock a black turtleneck, and I have owned a beret…but I can’t pretend that my first concert wasn’t Hannah Montana in the 9th grade. I can be super deep and talk about my depression and smashing the patriarchy…but I also really love to sing about dudes I’m DTF*. It’s like the great philosopher Shrek said in the cult classic film, Shrek—“ogres have layers”. And guess what? So do I! And I was DONE ignoring them!
…just not quite yet.
My perceived “failure” of my first project only made me feel like I had more to prove. I needed to show everyone (who exactly did you think was watching, V?) that I was the second coming of Dylan and Stevie Nicks, with the business mind of Oprah and the ass of Jane Fonda (current day), and they would rue the day they ignored my first work! I clung tighter to my initial need to be taken seriously and tried to exploit feelings I wasn’t ready to write about, which eventually lead me to stop writing altogether. Fresh notebooks, fun markers, and inspirational books were purchased, but it seemed nothing I did could break me out of this black hole of fear and judgment I had wrapped myself into. It’s so hard to be someone you’re not! (you’d think Hannah Montana would’ve taught me that lesson sooner…) With every word I wrote I thought of a person who would pass judgment on it. So I would scratch it out, close up my notebook, and put it all away. Until Jon Hamm.
I wrote “Jon Hamm” in the Summer of 2016 completely for the catharsis. It felt totally ridiculous and it was never my intent to share it with anyone—after all, I would never be taken seriously with a song like this. But, with necessity comes invention, or in my case, implementation. One afternoon I was rehearsing with my band for a gig and we realized we were going to need more songs in our set. So, I played “Jon Hamm” for them and braced for its inevitably poor reception…but it never came. In fact, they really loved it. So, we added it to my set. We played it a million different ways at each of our gigs, we chopped and moved verses and post-choruses time and time again. We took over a year to experiment and iterate before “Jon Hamm” found its musical home. And I love it. It is a little frivolous, a little tongue-in-cheek, a little sexy, a little raw, and entirely me. It is what it is and isn’t trying to be anything else.
I wish I could say that writing “Jon Hamm” was the turning point for me. I wish I could look you in the face and declare that it released me from my fear of vulnerability and how I’d be perceived. But it didn’t! Sorry, folks, but these journeys are not all linear!
I moved from Boston to Nashville three months after I wrote “Jon Hamm”. It was September of 2016 and my life felt like a fucking disaster. For the first time ever, I was living in the Central Time zone and in a landlocked state. I was jobless. I moved in with roommates again after a year of living with my boyfriend. I then broke up with said boyfriend. And to top it all off, Donald Trump was 2 months away from becoming POTUS. You would think all of this would be primo writing material. What better time for a break-up protest album than RIGHT. NOW. ?. But I didn’t want to write that album. If I even tried to write that album, it would be for all the wrong reasons. And the world might need more protest songs, but it doesn’t need any more fake, exploitative, opportunistic bullshit. I wasn’t going to write that album and I wasn’t ready to write that album, even if it was what I was supposed to do. Because what I needed to do was shed expectations and self-consciousness and just fucking write what felt right.
That was the beginning of the project I am currently working on, Public Figure. It is a collection of songs that I needed to write, not the songs I thought I was supposed to write. Taking a page of my liberating success writing “Jon Hamm”, I had my friends submit names of Public Figures to me and, along with a few I’d chosen as well, I began to write whatever those names inspired. Some of the songs I wrote are painfully raw and personal, others are cheeky and fun. Some I wrote with other people over time, some just poured out of me at 3am on my bedroom floor. But each one is, in its own way, an honest reflection of myself at this point in time, in all of my varied and complicated and contradictory and imperfect glory.
Out of the bunch, I have chosen 5 songs to be on this forthcoming EP. I’ve been working on this project for about 18 months now and as trying as it has been, I am so lucky to have something I am so incredibly excited about and confident in. I don’t know when it will be done. I don’t know how I plan to release it. I don’t know if you’ll even like it! Of course, I certainly hope you will love it, and I hope you’ll tell your friends, and I hope it will mean something to someone somewhere. But I will not hinge my value, artistically or otherwise, on how you perceive it and how you perceive me. I’ve got more layers than that.