Thoughts on Boston

Some of you might remember that I lived in Boston for a couple of years. I moved there in 2004, when Iraq and Afghanistan were very much front page news every day, underscoring just how fresh 9/11 still was. The entire time I lived there, I worked in the Prudential tower, which is right near the marathon finish line, and the flight path to Logan. It’s one of the only iconic skyscrapers in the Boston skyline, and sometimes on my way to work, in brief episodes of morning-stupor-day-dream-paranoia, I would hold my breath nervously whenever a plane flew behind the building on its final descent. I’d tell myself I was being silly, that the Pru was not on the radar of international terrorists, that it was no more a target than a mall in Kansas City or the Vegas strip.

I still think that’s true after today’s bombings. Yes, the Boston Marathon is known worldwide, but Patriot’s Day is what makes it such a quintessential part of living in Boston. The holiday isn’t well-known outside of New England, it’s of more local significance. This begs the question: why Boston? Why Copley Square, why today? Unless someone takes credit (and what a deplorable phrase we’ve coined for this) for today’s bombings and reveals some kind of motivation, it becomes that purely random act of terrorism, that fearful suggestion planted after 9/11 (and Oklahoma City before that). No international symbol/target needed, no date of significance (like the 3/11 Atocha bombing in Madrid)—it might as well be another day in any city with a crowded event.

So that I could even begin to understand what compels a person to wreak havoc on a civic event, the humanist in me wants to know why this happened. The postmodernist in me, on the other hand, believes that people construct meaning out of facts and theories as is convenient for their peace of mind (or lack thereof). I’m sad for Boston, for the friends I still have there, and I feel unnerved knowing so many people who could have potentially been watching the marathon at Copley today. (And I haven’t even heard from everyone yet, so even that is an assumption I am making to rest better tonight.

To be clear, I don’t think people should live on orange alert, and I’m not against criminal justice. But I don’t really want to have a theory or narrative to cling to about what happened today. I’d rather not be tempted to let it alleviate how uneasy or sad I feel about what is, at the end of the day, a random act of violence.

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“Outlook Hazy”

Spring break is almost over, which means I’m headed into the home stretch of grad school. Like a lot of you who preceded me through this whole grad school thing (I was a latecomer), my brain is forcing me to remain in school mode full-time, but my heart is pulling me towards the million different projects that I’ve been putting off. Performing more is one of those projects — you’ll notice some new dates on the ol’ show calendar popping up soon — but the crystal ball is otherwise very hazy.

That’s in large part because of how quickly both the music industry and music education are changing. The consistent thread through all of my classes over the last two years has been: “the future? your guess is as good as mine.” I.e.: don’t get too attached to anything, because it might will change next year. (Or lose funding, or get bought by Google or Facebook.)

I’ve come to consequently distrust most of the “breakthroughs” the internets have supposedly given us scrappy indie artists. New apps and platforms get WSJ write-ups before they’re even out of beta and then fizzle out. 
Remember when Instagram came out and every band had to start photodocumenting everything?
Remember ArtistData (when it was functionally relevant)?
What about the “CSA farm share” model, or single artist content subscriptions, remember that?
Did you place any money on Tumblr becoming more than a repository for animated GIFs, memes, and sexy celebrity photos?
Does Facebook really know how to make a profit, without simply selling off all of our personal data by the terrabyte?

…and so on and so on.

It’s intimidating.

What I do know is that by the start of next year, more freelancing artists/teachers like myself will have access to health insurance, Illinois (if not the U.S.) will have marriage equality, and we’ll all know how Breaking Bad ends. “…And justice for all!” Or something like that.

Now back to what the internet is good at.

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“February was so long that it lasted into March…”

My last semester of grad school just started, I just picked up a couple new School of Rock projects, and I’m fighting off a sinus infection. It’s the perfect time for me to write a whole boatload of songs!

I’ll be participating in February Album Writing Month (FAWM) this year. If you’re familiar with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it’s a similar concept: 14 songs in 28 days. I’ll often use ridiculous deadlines to spur my own songwriting students into action — e.g., write a complete song in a half hour. Useful material comes out of it, and it’s a great way to overcome writer’s block or laziness. I am guilty of both this time of year, so it’s time for a taste of my own medicine.

And I’m only being half sarcastic when I say it’s the perfect time with the list of shtuff above already keeping me busy. Dedicating time to my own songwriting, especially to actively practicing it, takes a back burner all too frequently to school, work, life, shows…and this is a common complaint among nearly all of my musician friends–no, scratch that, among nearly all of my artist friends, regardless of what discipline they work in. The idea behind FAWM, as I understand it, is to prevent yourself from having such excuses. There will always be something distracting you from your own art — February is no different.

I’ll be posting periodic updates on Facebook, so you can follow my progress there.

…..But if I’m posting every day, please tell me to screw off and get back to the songs.

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“So This is the New Year…and I Have No Resolution”

I’m used to turning my first news post of the year into some interesting New Year’s resolution that offers insight into the year passed and the year forthcoming. I’m abandoning this framework for 2013, and for good reason.

One of the side effects of being in a business-oriented grad program is a non-stop stream of tips about productivity–how to be more confident, propserous, prolific, etc. etc. As obnoxious as this stream of self-help sounds, the one sound piece of advice I’ve started to follow relates to the dangers of of goal setting.  Setting goals — or rather, the wrong kind of goals — can be psychologically damaging. Here’s the factoid I’ve heard to demonstrate this: we tend to overestimate the amount of stuff we can get done in a week but underestimate what we can get done in a year. So, when we inevitably fall short of our short-range goals, it’s a blow to our confidence. It kills any momentum we might have had towards the long-range goals that are actually more achievable.

Why is it that so many of us — especially artists — feel the need to write out these lists of things we want to make happen? Are we that hard up to find reasons to make art, to make music, to write?

No, but to some extent, we’ve fallen prey to false logic. There’s a bottomless pit of newsletters and blogs that recommend that artists (as well as entrepreneurs and freelancers) sit down once or twice a year and make a very concrete plan for oneself, complete with deadlines and measurable outcomes and everything else that sounds businessey and productive. 

I know a ton of musicians who have followed this advice (myself included), spurred on by the latest email from CD Baby or some indie music career “guru.” I see these articles all the goddamn time: how the act of writing something down will make it happen. Measurable benchmarks might sense in some career tracks; the problem is that music and writing aren’t just careers. Most of us do what we do whether or not we make a living off of it (in most cases, not). It’s not helpful to measure how well our art thrives or suffers based on how well we’ve monetized or productized it in any given month, quarter, or year. What kind of music would I produce if I hitched my self-fulfillment as a musician to my Facebook fans or YouTube views?

So this year, no resolutions. No lists. I’ve made the barest of schedules for myself before the next semester starts, but mostly to deter me from spending too much time in the vintage game den or re-watching LOST. No more guilt about not being superman and doing 20 things a day regardless of what health problems or car emergencies come up. Tonight, I am not going to clean all the things.

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“I heard the rats you let loose in the ducts…”

Summer is always my busiest time of year. The communal city spirit of Chicago in summertime is a little bit like a doorbuster sale on Black Friday. There’s so much cheap or free stuff, and you have no idea how long it will last or when it will run out, so you don’t waste a single minute, lest you find yourself in despair in late March, donating all of your shorts and sunglasses to the Brown Elephant because you can’t remember the last time they were used. Even while sitting here typing out this blog post, I’m thinking to myself, “Is there somewhere outside that I can be doing this? It’s summer, I really ought to be outside.”

This summer took an especially unpleasant turn in the life-imitates-art department when rats took over my apartment, much like they do fictionally, in the spaceship in my head, in the last verse of “Crate & Barrel.” I’ve been uprooted from my music studio (which was also in said apartment) and have had to give up on the apartment after weeks of ridiculously complicated extermination procedures. It’s been strange not having a “studio” to work out of; I never thought it would affect me that much, but not having a permanent home for all of my various gear and keyboards has put me in a kind of writerly suspension. It reminds me a lot of Virginia Woolf’s famous advice w/r/t a writer’s need for dedicated physical space.

I finally have a new place lined up, as well as a bunch of fall gigs that I’m really excited about. The ones I’ve announced so far are on my concert calendar — go have a look. The new “season” starts unofficially with the return of Out Rock at Mary’s Attic this Thursday (August 16th) — I’ll be there with some other Mary’s regulars and some of the gang from Chicago Acoustic Underground. (If you missed it, I did an episode with them this summer that just went up last weekend – download it here.)

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Initial Press for TiW

I wanted to take a moment to thank and acknowledge all of the folks in the press who have been pulling the welcome wagon for This is Water. 2012 seems to be a baby boom year for new albums, especially here in Chicago, so I’m honored whenever TiW makes it into the list of new releases that DJs and journalists have time to listen to all the way through and reflect on. 

Some of the initial responses to the album:

“There’s a Peter Murphy/Bauhaus by way of cabaret feel to the work of Ian Wilson…a dark yet flowery insistence to his vamping that underpins a lot of the better tunes…” –Richard Milne, WXRT’s Local Anesthetic

“By ‘Crate & Barrel’ I was totally enwrapped…[and] it doesn’t let up with ‘Resurrection Ship’ and the rest of the songs…I knew I was not going to turn this off until I heard the entire CD.” –Len Rogers, Rainbow World Radio

“[Wilson] finds his strongest moments when his rich voice takes center stage with beautiful arrangements…seamlessly marry[ing] storytelling with folk and electronic music.” –David Byrne, Windy City Times

“I love this on so many levels…One of the truly impressive accomplishments of [This is Water] is the way it remains cohesive, a full album, while taking some twists and turns on a fascinating journey.” –Howard Stump, Soundtrack to my Day

“I kind of consider the entire CD a work of art.” –JD Doyle, host of OutRadio


P.S. – If I missed any reviews, I feel preemptively terrible! I’m only going off of personal communication, so please email me if you’ve written one that isn’t quoted here. I know for a fact that my Google searches have missed other online mentions.

P.P.S. – For some reason, my last post didn’t syndicate to my RSS feed, so if you follow me through an RSS or blog reader, here’s the last post for ya.

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TiW Available Everywhere and Now.

This is Water had its official “coming out party” last night and good LORD was it fun. The Viaduct’s main stage also does theatrical shows in the early evening, so when we arrived to take over the theater, the stage was set up like a House on Mango Street adaptation, or at least that was the thought that I kept having when I glanced over at our bassists playing underneath a fake palm tree in a fake yard. It was the most elaborate backdrop that I’ll have played against until I’m rich and famous enough to tour around with a caravan of busses dedicated to set pieces, lighting rigs, and roadies. Anyway, I’ll have pictures and videos up from the show soon for those of you who couldn’t make it.

In the meantime, This is Water has been “released into the wild” (as Vallery Dolls so cleverly described) and is available nearly anywhere you could possibly want to listen to it, including iTunes, Amazon, and (Don’t worry, I’m adding Pandora to that list soon.) I highly recommend getting your hands on a physical copy via CD Baby so you can see all of the beautiful artwork Josh Shalek did for the album case.

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Interview w/ GayChicagoTV

My interview and performance with GayChicagoTV’s Out Rock premiered online over the weekend. I brought my full setup with me, so if you’ve ever wanted a close-up look at all the knobs and switches I’m twiddling, this is for you:

I also geek out about Owen Pallett, lay down the law about who has the worst winters, and play “indentured Servant” with the full loop setup for the first time ever. Stephen Leonard nabbed us a fantastic space, Transistor, a cool music/art/photo/electronic-thingy shop right down the street from my apartment in North Center. (And for you skeptics out there, yes, that’s a legit neighborhood. It’s on official Chicago maps. We’re keeping it low-key before it’s all banks and Starbucks like Wicker Park.)

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Release show details announced, pictures taken, Faces booked.

Manny and I spent St. Patrick’s Day far away from the clusterstorm of bars and had a lovely photo shoot on the lake with the lovely Kriss Abigail. Now, whenever you’re wondering what we look like, you can look at this: 

release show poster

RSVP here on Facebook

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save the date…

This is Water teaser trailer

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