Article submitted courtesy of Matthew Kayser.
I was very recently the lead singer of a promising rock n’ roll band, based in Chicago. I spent nearly three years pushing and pushing to make this band successful. Thankfully, we did enjoy some moments of relative success: the occasional spirited gig in front of an enthusiastic crowd (Schubas forever!); the all-too-rare airplay on a popular Chicago radio station (cheers to you, Richard Milne and WXRT!); and finally, the handful of glowing reviews that we repeatedly milked in all of our press materials (forever grateful, Frank Krolicki!). Early last week, however, I came to a profound (if not ridiculously obvious) realization that forced me to part ways with yet another next big thing that will never be.
As far as I knew, for the past three years I was happy to be fronting this group of socially stable musicians who could never quite seem to kick the urge to make music a viable career option. Yes, we had gone through some personnel changes this year (a common occurrence for most bands this side of U2), but I genuinely enjoyed being the husband/father/teacher guy who got to sing in a band, hang out with some really cool fellers in that band, and perform passionate and somewhat careening live shows with said band.
So what happened? Well, in addition to growing tired of the frustration that comes from putting into something much more than you get out of it, I finally noticed that one vitally important element of the whole band “thing” was missing. While I had sufficiently obsessed over booking and promoting shows, harassing new and potential fans on Facebook and making sure I wore the proper I-hope-everyone-realizes-I’m-a-musician clothing both on stage and off, I had completely neglected the most crucial (and rewarding) part of being a successful original artist: the writing of songs.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, but my focus over the past three years (ten years, actually, if you include my previous bands) had been on everything but the songs. We wrote some good ones, to be fair, but I definitely could not be accused of tirelessly working my ass off to perfect my craft. Songwriting was, in retrospect, a means to an end: a band needs songs to perform on a stage, so let’s write them.
Did I try my best to not look my age on those stages? Yes. Did I tell everyone and their brother how amazing my band was? Naturally. Did I spend hours upon hours hoping and praying that my band would be discovered by the American version of Alan McGhee, the head of Creation Records who accidentally stumbled upon Brit-poppers Oasis as he was killing time in a bar? Yep, that was me. But did I justify all those things by continuously working on my songs, to the point of forcing myself to struggle through the inevitable roadblocks that all songwriters encounter? Unfortunately, no, I did not.
Those days are over. I realized last week that every single one of my favorite bands – The Beatles, U2, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Oasis, The Smiths, Supergrass, The Killers, and so on – would have been nothing more than short-lived flashes in the sizzling pan of pop culture had it not been for their ability to write REALLY GREAT SONGS. Suddenly inspired, I’m now focused solely on trying to write amazing songs that connect with listeners. Songs that are good enough that people actually want to hear them live and – fingers crossed – sing them with me. Tunes that strike the nerve, stir the soul and stomp the foot.
If I’m not yet writing those types of songs, give me time. Since determining last week to write, write, write over the next year (and to do it on my own), the tunes and inspiration have been flowing. I’m no longer distracted by the things that come with trying to be a fair, supportive bandmate. In theory, collaboration between songwriters is wonderful; in reality, though, it can be a source of tension that stifles creativity and blurs the big picture.
Being a naturally creative and impatient feller, it is very exciting for me to have finished more songs in the past week than in the previous six months combined. I’m not exactly certain where these songs will take me, but I do know that I have finally found a good and proper starting point as a musician.
To read more of Matthew Kayser’s interest in rock n’ roll, history and other passions, visit his new blog, Not Fade Away.