There is a point in every professional artist’s life where they decided to get “serious”. Playing in the garage with mates, or smashing out a set at the local is no longer fulfilling when gazing at future possibilities. It’s not always a bad thing.
I hit my journal one night after a few inspiring vinos. In it, I set my intention to find a small group of likeminded musicians to share a creative life with. I wanted to play the type of music that can only come as a result of personal and musical chemistry. Fun, freedom, beer, laughter, mischief, and most importantly high-flying blues rock! This was the birth of Nat Col & the Kings. It was amazing how quick it all came together once my desires were clear.
Despite the endless musical magic, things rapidly changed. Before I knew it, we’re scheduling weekly business meetings, setting ourselves demanding goals, and juggling all of the twenty million job balls that come with running a band independently. We loved the band so much, but our love and passion were the very things that led us to burning out.
Across the three and a half years of recovery, the last thing I wanted to do was perform. But recently, I’ve been feeling the itch. The feelings of accomplishment after writing a song are now accompanied by the cautious desire to perform.
I recently went to a house party hosted by God Queen also known as Alpha Mama with a muso buddy of mine, Daryl Beaton. God Queen has been set up to mentor up and coming female artists. It’s not entirely my scene, but it made a huge impact on me.
The Art Deco House was buzzing with art and music. In the living room sat around forty people watching Alpha and her friends share spoken word poetry. They’d have little breaks to meander around the house and socialise. There was no click! People had their guards down and their arms open. I found myself deep in conversation with people I had never met before. Sharing stories, challenges, and epiphanies. Everyone returned to the living room where God Queen artists played a few of their own tracks. These girls got up and poured their hearts out after segueing with stories of pivotal life moments. Half of the listeners had their eyes closed absorbed in song and lyric. It was pretty magical. The world around us didn’t exist.
At times, my mind began to wonder. The self-protection mechanism is still a little active after the array of anxiety driven experiences I’ve had in the past. But the nature of the environment kind of soothed it. This may sound a little “woo woo”, but after hearing some of the artist stories and poems, I didn’t feel alone. One of the emotions anxiety likes to draw on is alienation. With how open, accepting, supporting and at times vulnerable people were, it made it almost impossible to feel alienated or judged. The little bullshit, yet deceivingly powerful, anxious feelings of being “stuck” in a room, or out of my comfort zone dissipated. Since they didn’t feel threatening, I accepted them, and they were able to come and go.
Just before leaving, I took one good look around in admiration. These guys have created something special. They’ve created a tiny little community of likeminded friends that they can share their passions with. Not for money. Not for fame. But to connect. That’s the nucleus. That’s the home. That’s where you get the strength and momentum to extend yourself as an artist into the bigger world. It’s a place where you can perform as your imperfect self without obligation to be anything else.
No wonder I felt the spontaneous urge to share a story and a song. I realised that as long as my perception of performing remains the same – as a “performance”, self-doubt will always be present. But if I can start thinking of it as an opportunity to open myself up and connect just as I am, and not as I was, maybe the steps to the mic won’t seem so monstrous.
To me, this is proof that most unproductive expectations often come from ourselves, and not others.
Photo by Eric Chow