Thoughts while releasing this album ... and some of the best advice I've ever received

One of my favorite pieces of advice arrived on a clear morning in Great Barrington, MA while drinking black coffee outside at a cafe at around 7:30 a.m.   It was an hour before I was going to start recording with the musicians, producers and engineers for Waxwing (my second studio album) at Pilot Recording Studios in Housatonic, MA (a couple miles down the road from the cafe).   The advice came from Lisa Daly, my dear friend…. like seriously crazy dear to my heart sister friend …

… as in… we went to college together but sealed our friendship on a trip to Ireland where we gallivanted about the country like two little 21-year-old leprechauns sliding down rainbow after rainbow, from pub to pub, singing and dancing until dawn, drinking Irish flags (it’s a thing that they seemed to be selling American girls: Bailey’s, Creme de Menthe and Orange liquor poured into separate glasses on a little tray) and American Flags (it’s not a thing, but we spent an entire day making it up and an entire night drinking it), having lengthy conversations with donkeys, hanging off the sides of the Cliffs of Moher, staying in B&B’s with two beds but cuddling in the same one every night because we didn’t want to be apart, sitting at a bus station on what we thought was a Sunday (after the Amercian Flag event) to get to a class (the impetus for our trip to Ireland) but it was really Saturday (we hadn’t glanced at a calendar in a week) until the bus didn’t come for about an hour or two (while passersby pointed at us because they remembered us from our absurd night a the pub the night prior; we felt famous) and Lisa finally said, “something feels funny about today”.  Turns out that funny feeling was whatever it feels like when you lose track of an entire day and so we showed up a day late to class … crying …

So THAT Lisa had loved our trip to Ireland so much that she moved there after college.  But at the time of this great advice on this beautiful morning in Great Barrrington, she had just moved BACK from Ireland, after about ten years there, and moved to the same random town I had landed in — New Haven, CT.  I caught her at a time when she was pretty darn free — free of a boyfriend, free of a job, free of children — and I asked her to join us for a week in Massachusetts to film a video log of the recording process for album donors (one of the fundraising “perks”). 

So here we are, two sisters of sorts bound across time by that wild trip to Ireland - the place that opened our hearts like a cave blasted open to the sun (I believe I decided to become a musician there) - yes, now here we are, sitting together drinking coffee on this morning for which I had prepped for at least a couple years … or ten …. or maybe since I was a kid … if you include:  

dreaming about being a musician as a kid,
12 years of classical piano lessons,
piano bars,
staying up until 3:00 a.m. night after night learning to play music “off” the page,
Dental School Swim Team (first band and first attempt at songwriting),
dropping my guitar and cracking it on my first solo open mic where someone
actually yelled “take off your shirt!”,
learning to write songs,
writing songs,
getting musicians together for a band,
concert here,
concert there,
moving through about 30 different “day jobs” so that I could make nothing as a musician at night,
recording first album (ten months after having a baby) with help from parents and savings from day jobs: there’s a saying that goes: “as soon as your’e done recording your first album, you’re ready to record your first album” - meaning, I learned a lot and couldn’t wait to do it again,
moving to New Haven thus all momentum in Chicago gone,
dragging my daughter with me to most “day jobs” i.e. elder care, waitressing, piano lessons ... while still dreaming,
starting a theater company with friends (kind of accidentally) and learning to write better music there,
muscling through a marriage that didn’t really support my music thing,
committing to finding a way to do another album this time with all my ducks in order, finding a producer,
one failed fundraising attempt,
taking a couple months to study up on how to run a successful fundraising campaign, 
one hugely successful fundraising attempt,
writing out the charts for the songs,
taking a couple of months to make demos for musicians,
getting crazy awesome musicians,
a crazy incredible studio,
an wonderous friend at my side,
oh my god this is actually EXACTLY what I want to be doing - I wasn't "on my way" to anything: I was there. 

drive away from my daughter for an extended stretch for the first time ever

one day to prep in the studio

one night’s sleep

coffee shop

then studio

then go.

what the F that rhymes with duck.

How did I get here? how am I, a mom from New Haven, CT, about to walk into a studio with about 10 dudes, some that have resumes that run with John Lennon, the Eagles, CSNY, etc.?  And they’re going to be playing MY music?  And I have 180 friends and family that are cheering me on in this?  And I asked them to give me money to do it? (No pressure there. Choke.) Who the hell do I think I am? And I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid? And all the people in the studio have penises and I don’t!!!!!! 

So … again .. here we are, Lisa and I, about to head over to the studio and I am totally crying.  Big tears.  I’m terrified really.  Please let me go home.  Please let me go home and I’ll get a regular job with a boss and polyester pants and everything.  

And Lisa says with the smile of a gorgeous freaking leprechaun on her face, “You know what?  My good friend Niz gave me this advice once and I’m going to give it to you:  You have to walk through this week anyway, so you might as well decide to have a good time.  You can worry about it if you want to, but you KNOW worrying won’t help anything at all.  So, since the week is going to happen anyway and you could spend it worrying or you could spend it having a good time, why not have a good time?”

Bam.  Light switch.  Perfect words.  It turned out to be the best damn week of my life.

There was so much joy.  I learned volumes.  I made incredible friendships.  I felt like I was exactly where I belonged.  I made the decision to have a marvelous time … and for that one magical week, I really did.  Everything came together.  Everything I’d ever learned about music and every dream I ever had about how I wanted everything to sound, it was all happening in this beautiful studio.  It was like I could finally hear my heart.

I’m very aware that advice like that doesn’t apply to all things.  There’s a spectrum of feelings that I believe are meant to guide us and heal us; there’s a place for anger when our boundaries are crossed, there is a necessity for tears when we must grieve.  But worry alone seems to often be a great trickster.  I think worry could have ruined that week at the studio.  Worry makes us feel like we’re solving a problem when really it accomplishes nothing.  It disconnects us from the answers.  It detaches us from our core and our sense of self, so that we’re only floating on the surface of something.  It keeps us in our heads and lets our bodies run like decapitated chickens.  Maybe the following is a family myth, but I was told that my great-grandmother said on her death bed, “I wish I had known that I never should have worried about anything.”  

I drank that cup of coffee with Lisa four years ago to the week.   Four years.  It took two years to finish the album after we started recording (a lot goes into it and that’s not long in the world of creating albums - not that I knew that at the time).  But the two years after that … well, there’s a whole hell of a lot of yada, yada, yada in there with the key word being divorce which challenged every part of my life.  All that yada needs to stay in my heart but there was earth scorching, sickness, chaos, forgiveness and ultimately love.  And now I find myself like a phoenix bird looking out at a different horizon, with an entirely new sense of myself - one that has more integrity — but oddly I’m only thinking, “huh. that was crazy. now what?”  I know I have a solid foundation.  I know I want to return to my own music.  I know I have an incredible album that I’m proud of and I want you to hear it.  But time has passed and the landscape has changed … and I have changed.  So I’m holding tight to another cup of coffee right now in between typing … and I’m resisting the urge to worry:  'What if you don’t understand where it was that I went?  What if nobody understands why I held onto this album during the chaos? What if I’m a different musician?  What if I have a different relationship with the audience?  What if I can’t find the people I want to play with anymore? What if you supported me in creating this music but my idea of success is different than yours?  What if I let you down?  What if I let myself down?'

So I’m called back to that advice from Lisa.  It’s simple really.  I need to blast open the cave walls again, to let this music out, to disintegrate worry when it presents itself and to DECIDE to walk down the path that unfolds with the intention of having a great freaking time.  And it is my hope that with this new and solid foundation within myself that I now have, I can make that joy last far longer than a week in a studio or a week in Ireland … past all that I can presently see.

Lisa and I during recording at Pilot Recording Studios in Housatonic, MA.  

Lisa and I during recording at Pilot Recording Studios in Housatonic, MA.  

The Album Is Complete and I Want to Say THANK YOU!

Today is a warm and significant day for me.  I am thrilled to announce to you that my album is complete —- the one you helped to create with your support (back in August 2013!).  On Monday evening, while sitting by my Christmas tree with Jerome — my dear friend, producer, and partner on this journey —- we pressed “GO” and ordered the duplication of our album, “Waxwing”.   Just like that —— After three years (including pre-production, raising children and making a living) of epic moments, huge life changes, mountains of tears and laughter, guts, arguments, practicing, arranging, playing, editing, mixing, mastering, photo shoots, lots of focus and the creation and transformation of friendships and partnerships ——  one “CLICK” on a mousepad and “Thank you for your order!” …. It struck me that the computer’s mousepad doesn’t know the difference between the “click” of ordering socks for Christmas morning stocking stuffers versus the “click” of ordering what feels like a carbon copy of my heart, soul and life’s work.

This album took more time than I anticipated to say the least (not much longer, mind you, than most professionally produced albums take on average).  But it’s as simple as this:  That’s how long it took to get it right.  And by “right” I don’t mean perfect … I mean authentically RIGHT.  This music is …. well … me.  Every note and word.  It is not separate from me.  It is not a job I go to.  It is not an identity that I put on at 9:00 a.m. and take off at 5:00 p.m.  It doesn’t leave me when I go to sleep at night or when I play with my daughter or jog in the woods or eat dinner with friends or fight with a significant other or cry on my bathroom floor or laugh after midnight.  

…And all of that …is hard to get “right”.

There’s a line from a song called “Breathe” by Anna Nalick that might sum up much of what I’m trying to say:

“I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd

Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud

And I know that you'll use them, however you want to”

Yup.  Exactly.  … And how long do you think it would take for you to feel ready to release your diary?  For me, every note and word had to feel authentic to who I am and where I am.   It could not have been forced to completion; that would have ripped it of it’s value to me.  It had to feel “right” and there had to be a clearing in my life to let it go.  And that’s what I feel today.

I started writing the “thank you” section in the liner notes to the album this past August. I kept coming back to that section and revising it on a weekly basis.  …And it was the last edit I made … a re-wording of a ‘thank you’.  Point is, it is important to me that you understand how much I THANK YOU, the donors of this album.  Embracing your support was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  I know that the monetary and energetic support you gave me will boomerang its way back to you in some wonderful way.  And I do hope that what I have to offer in this music feeds your heart and soul in some way.

This is a verse from one of my songs, “Alive”, from the album that I feel very connected to as I prepare to release my “diary” to you:

Here before the crows I shake

In towers all my own

The land beneath is yours to take

The master let it go

Long before this broken day

I held myself inside

But now before this world I wait

To see what they will find

In this sacred place of mine

That now becomes alive

Much love to each of you!  I will let you know when the album lands in my hands and will get it out to you during the holiday vacation.

!!!!THANK YOU!!!!

Love, Chrissy

Spice Racks

I found a journal entry earlier this year that I completely forgot I kept the year after my daughter, Luciana, was born. And I wrote a poem-ish thing in it.  At the time, I bet it felt really private. It doesn't anymore.

January 18th, 2008

- C. Gardner

"Sometimes I look at my spice rack and think I feel full of life like the crack of an egg in the morning.

Sometimes I look at it and feel greedy for having a spice rack.

Sometimes I can't believe I have a hole where the ground ginger should be.

Sometimes I think I should really be growing my own spices instead of importing them from another land that might have been America.

Sometimes it looks like clutter.

I shouldn't even have a spice rack when I don't even know what one spice smells like from memory; I am such a terrible cook.

I bought it while pregnant.

How could I be a mom without a spice rack?

But I'm supposed to be writing a song about my Dad retiring from his career as a pilot.

My mind keeps hiccupping.”

 

Reading this 'poem' six years later, I hear my 29-year-old self having a ‘who am I now?’ and ‘what kind of mother should I be?’ identity crisis.

In the first few months of parenting, the objects (and people) around me felt like foreign satellites --- watching and even judging.  In one phrase of this poetic ramble, I seem to be concerned about what Martha Stewart would think of me for having an empty slot in my spice rack, and in another, I feel as though I should restrict my purchases to spare the feelings of some hypothetical foreign land that might have been were it not for the 521-year-old navigational mistake of a pioneer.

My experienced guess is that a majority of first time mothers “lose it” in the beginning.  It’s the loss of free will, it’s the sleeplessness, it’s the inability to use the bathroom without someone screaming in abandonment, and frankly, for me, it was the feeling that I must give my soul over to someone else … someone with whom I couldn’t totally connect just yet.

I’m sure there are some women who feel genuinely ready and truly peaceful when their first child is born.  I just wasn’t one of them.  I felt like I had run out of time.  Whatever my desires were before Luciana was born, I knew they might as well be placed on the spice rack --- to be used as infrequently as I use my cardomom.

Before the baby (one of the great 'before and afters' of life!), I absolutely had an ultimate dream (beyond becoming a mother), as many of us do.  From the time I was six-years-old (the age my daughter is today), I can remember belting out songs on the top of my swingset, recording songs into a little tape recorder and dreaming about performing.  I had always known that I wanted a life in music, but it felt like a secret; I knew I had it in me, but I had no idea how to make it a reality.

The short version of my very long, non-linear, bumpy journey to 'find myself' in music is this:  In the year before I became pregnant (surprise, surprise), I had just “found my voice”, discovering that I could write music and might be good at it.  Up until that point, I had classical piano training, performed in musical theater, was in two a cappella groups, played in a piano bar, sang in a band called “Dental School Swim Team” and worked as an accompanist (all the while shifting from day-job … to day-job …. to day-job) ---- searching, searching, searching.  But none of it felt completely right until I started writing, singing and playing my OWN songs.  Ah ha!

Fantastic! I finally figured out what my focus should be in the music world, and at the very same time I found out I was going to become a mother (on top of already being a 29-year-old dinosaur by popular music industry standards).   Not the best timing.  The success rate of women entering into the music industry as mothers comes in somewhere just above zero percent.  I know, I know -- we all define success differently and all that matters is our own definition of success --- blah, blah, blah --- I believe that to be true.  I really do.  But for perspective, I want to pull back the lens to the bigger picture using the measuring stick of a traditional definition of success by a popular magazine.  Time Magazine just published their Top 100 List of Best Albums of All Time (This is already annoying, I know.  Who are they to say what the top 100 albums are?  But just go with me here for a second.)  Do you know how many female artists were on that list?  Nine.  And how many of them were mothers?  Four.  And how many of those mothers had children BEFORE they got their foot in the door in the music industry (i.e. before they had money to have help raising the children)?  Two.

A gal can't help but feel like there is a wall to climb over here.

“Oh well!” says I!  At 29 years-old and 7 months pregnant, I started recording my first album with money I had saved from a day-job (and with significant additional help from my father and mother).  But after two days in the studio I knew I had to stop; the baby was moving up on my lungs and my voice had changed – not for the better.

“Breathe deep.  Perhaps I could get right back to it after the baby comes out.”  Of course, I had no idea what was about to happen to me.  My gorgeous daughter was born, and it was amazing for about two days (yup, just two days), but then I started to sink into the strangeness of the poem that opens this blogpost. 

Luckily I had a saving grace: my own wise mother.  A few weeks into Luciana’s life, my mother said something to me that somehow rose to the surface.  My husband and my father were headed out to see the Phillies play the Cubbies.  I stayed home because I was nursing every couple hours. And I felt like a prisoner.  Just after they left, I was rocking Luciana in our yellow chair against the deep blue backdrop of her room, not saying much, just crying; my mother knew.  She just knew.   She peacefully and directly said,

“Life is long.  There is time yet for all of your dreams.” 

Her words hit me so deeply.

And she was incredibly and completely correct.  Moment by moment, hour by hour, I began to follow my own bliss again … in a more specific, focused way than ‘before the baby’.  Time had shifted after having Luciana and every moment mattered.  It went something like this:  “In this moment it feels good to sleep … in this moment it feels good to drink coffee … in this moment it feels good to stay silent … in this moment it feels good to hold my daughter … in this moment it feels good to walk her around the neighborhood … the air feels good, the colors are vibrant, the people seem content, the world goes on … I have a good feeling … I have a poem … I have a song … in this moment it feels good to write it down …” 

In climbing out of the strangeness, two things became incredibly clear to me.  The first is the overwhelming love and connection I began to feel with my daughter (thank freaking goodness! those first few weeks/months scared me).  The second realization was that I did not want my daughter to feel like I resented her, which would inevitably happen if I squelched something that was so much a part of who I am.  I might have been “losing it” and paranoid when writing a poem about the world watching to see what I do with my spice rack (ha), but my own child, Luciana, most certainly IS watching.  And when she takes the time to observe me … time away from her delightful, vibrant, hysterical, clearly entertaining world … I want her to see me … happy. 

And so, I recorded my first album when Luciana was ten months old.  I made a thousand mistakes, but I did it and I was happy I did.  I had absolutely found my home in music.  And oddly, I am so grateful that I became a mother first -- my songs (and life!) are richer and the connection I am able to have with an audience is deeper than it ever could have been before being a mother.  I just keep taking steps --- for my life as a musician and my life as a mother, wife, daughter and friend.  It is a tight rope walk that every mother knows all too well.  But I’m doing it – always with my daughter’s well-being AND my own well-being equally present in my mind.

So now here I am with a six-year-old (who is presently sick on the couch with a croupy cough and fever) in the middle of a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds to record album number two.  I am so ready to record.  It is NOW, amazingly ‘AFTER the baby’(!!!!), that I have written the songs AND gathered the experience, the studio, the producer, the musicians and the incredible support from YOU to make this happen in the way in which I have always wanted.

Thank you to those of you who have shared the link to the Indiegogo page, to those of you who have made a contribution and to those of you who simply wish me well.  I am creating my own path here (as we all are), and I thank you for your support and belief.

Here is the link to the indiegogo campaign which closes at midnight tonight:  www.igg.me/at/chrissygardner

Oh … my husband knows how to use a spice rack, so I’m off the hook!!

Much love,

Chrissy

(Here's a photo taken around the writing of 'Spice Racks'.)

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