Through the Woods and Far Away

The ghost of scarcity plagues this town.

As a child, growing up in Illinois playing music with your family, your vision of success peaked with the concept of being paid to play music. The utmost achievement was a few dollars collected in return for a performance. But our dreams all tend to shift, and in looking out beyond ourselves someone else’s vision can easily undermine our own. With it, the illusion of scarcity begins to encroach. For certain, success is what you choose it to be. But there are problems that accompany assuming someone else’s definition of the word as your own. For some: personality is what first draws attention, but shifting goal-posts signal that the cost of widespread acceptance might be to shed bits and pieces of one’s true self — the core traits that inspire others to take notice in the first place. The music industry was built on this, commercializing uniqueness by way of dimming the lights and sanding smooth any unusual irregularities. Belief changes, and suddenly what you really want isn’t as good as what you think they’re offering.

This is where my imagination places you and your group — and at this place, an evolving vision led to a first hand experience of how external ideals conflict with internal dreams. “What band do you want to sound like and what are we going to do to create that sound?” they demanded of you. This only confused matters: you were already the band you wanted to sound like.

From this side of the table any guess as to what happened is purely speculative based on a story that continues to repeat itself, as if any lesson to be learned from gambling with your creativity is meaningless when weighed against the payoff. The vehicle that transported you from your childhood years to the brink of adulthood attracted industry suitors, and somewhere a contract was signed that promised opportunity. But opportunity for what? Promotion? Features? Was there really a mainstream demand for a wholesome freak-scene country band with a “vibrant, fashion-forward sense of style every bit as head-turning as their music“? What a trip it must be, opening yourself up, creating something from scratch, exposing your vulnerabilities, and that being someone’s take away.

Commercial success was limited and the label pulled the plug on its support, but you kept playing. Of course you kept playing. Because the opportunity they spoke of wasn’t the culmination of all that you had worked for. Nothing ever will be. At times we all fool ourselves into believing that there’s something just out of reach that will make the entire process make sense. The key rests in not quitting when the success they promise you doesn’t materialize. After all, not quitting means more opportunities. And here, within more opportunity a gig in a high-profile “crack touring and recording combo” emerged, where you played fiddle, mandolin, and sang on a stage dwarfing that of Music Row’s promise. An avenue to record a solo 7″ and full-length album followed, the latter a collaboration with tour-mates stemming from yet another unforeseen opportunity. Now, after all of this, Rolling Stone writes of your “debut,” an album produced by a modern-day Legend who called you a “one in a billion“-type talent. This all happened after the idea of success that someone else had sold you on had collapsed.

No doubt, all of this is to invent someone else’s story for them through a spotty narrative, trivializing a life of creativity and unknown struggle for the purpose of convenient storytelling. There’s very little to be gained by merely restating plot points or press-release highlights, but in looking back at the timeline, the aperture expands, and with it the bigger picture takes focus. How much abundance does this world have to offer if only we refuse to accept someone else’s definition of success as our own?

This town tends to haunt those who fail to question that.