Since the original release in February 2021, Life Support has felt like an impossible album for me to talk about openly. Even after a full year has passed, I still have trouble finding the words to share this story, and I struggle with deciding whether or not I want certain aspects of my life to be so public. But as the release of its accompanying NFT series nears completion this week, I feel a sense of closure with this body of work that I wasn't able to feel prior, and I hope that anyone who comes across these words or this music might find comfort in knowing that they are not alone on their mental health journey.
The process of creating this album was relatively straightforward and didn’t have much drama or fanfare. I just spent a lot of time tinkering with sounds alone in my studio in Idaho, and would break up my daily production sessions and online teaching by spending time outdoors, trail running in the mountains and training for triathlon races. My approach to music making has always been more from the perspective of a craftswoman rather than the romanticized version of an artist -- valuing discipline and consistency over impulsivity, and showing up to write/practice every day, no matter the circumstances. This is how I've operated for the last decade or so, treating each new beat or song sketch like an exercise rather than an attempt to write my next masterpiece, and allowing most things to be left unfinished. I only invest more of my energy to complete and release those rare ideas that truly light me up.
It's been my belief that I have to produce a ton of mediocre work in order to arrive at the good stuff (if I'm lucky), so I better place more emphasis on enjoying the process rather than the results. The "chop wood carry water" approach might be less glamorous than a lot of the creation stories you hear from other artists and producers, but it's kept me grounded and content with my work for most of my career.
This is a principle that I've shared with my students for years as well, and has been one of the cornerstones of the online programs and producer challenges that I began leading in 2016. Prior to that, I had spent a lot of time in my early 20s teaching music production and composition at music schools and institutions as a way to pay the bills, spending most of my days in classrooms at Dubspot, or as the only woman on faculty at the Los Angeles Recording School for a few semesters. These were great environments to work in, but I had a strong desire to create my own curriculum and provide resources for artists to access with less of a financial barrier to entry, so I eventually developed my own programs to be offered online as a part of Unspeakable Records.
Fast forward to March of 2020. I had just begun a new season of the producer challenge, which is free for any songwriter or producer who wants to participate. The premise was simple: everyone would create a new song or beat per day for five days, following a writing prompt that I would give each morning on a twitch stream or facebook live. Then everyone would have the weekend to polish up what they had started, and walk away with a new single or entire EP after the experience. The community that grew around these challenges became one of the biggest blessings and sources of inspiration in my life, and I had no way of knowing how important it would become as the pandemic took over and the world began shutting down.
At the start of the Spring 2020 season of the challenge, there were rumors of COVID-19 having some sort of global impact, and by the end of the challenge, the lockdown had officially begun in the US. Not knowing what else to do with myself, I decided to keep this challenge going longer than five days, making a new track per day for as long as I could sustain it. This practice became my rock throughout the pandemic -- no matter what was going on in the world, I could show up and write something new, and somehow feel a sense of control or stability in doing so. I ended up with about 75 new beats and song ideas from this "extended" season, and pulled my favorites from this bunch to finish up and become the album. I thought that I had finally cracked the code to living a balanced, healthy life as an independent artist, and had a proven strategy to cure the burnout and anxiety that many digital creators face. After a few single releases leading up to the album drop, Life Support was released both digitally and on vinyl on February 26th, 2021.
What I thought would be an ending point to that album turned out to be the beginning of something completely different. On the morning of the release day, I got a phone call from my mom. I answered the phone, expecting it to be a "congrats on your release" type of conversation. It wasn't.
Through tears, she delivered the news that my father had passed away in his sleep that night.
I don't have words to describe the sudden shock, pain, and confusion of this phone call, or most of the experiences that followed. I was alone in a hotel room in Sedona, AZ, having just started my first roadtrip since the pandemic hit, and I now faced an 850 mile drive back home to Idaho. I was used to taking long road trips by myself, but nothing could have prepared me to endure this drive alone, nor this longer road of grief that I'm still traveling on now. The only thing that got me out of my fetal position on the floor and into the car was the fact that my mom was also alone, and I didn't want her to have to go through any of this by herself.
It goes without saying that album promotion was the last thing on my mind for the weeks and months that followed. I've had difficulty even touching the piano or opening an Ableton session without completely breaking down for most of this past year, though you probably wouldn't know it based on what I share on social media, which I treat more like game of branding and character development (with "Dot” as my alter ego) rather than a legitimate window into my life. But both my music and my life as an educator are deeply connected with my relationship with Dad, even more than I realized until he was gone.
Charley was a stay-at-home-dad in the 90’s, well before this family dynamic became more normalized in our society, and I feel blessed to have been raised by a man who was actively supportive and present in my life. He put me on to so much music growing up -- jazz, big band, swing, early rock and country, the foundations of modern American music -- and he showed me music from artists like Chuck Berry and Nat King Cole, not just the bigger names like Elvis and Frank Sinatra. His mother Dorothy (Dot for short) was a musician and played the banjo, and while I never heard Dad do more than mumble a few lyrics every now and then, he had a strong appreciation for music that he passed on to me. Among the many relationships and roles he played in his life, Charley was also a loved and respected high school teacher in Aberdeen, WA prior to my arrival in the family, and I'd like to think that a lot of his ethics and teaching styles found their way into my work as an educator as well (although his strict rules and attempts to cultivate more patience used to drive me crazy as a kid).
After Dad’s passing, music and teaching ceased to provide me with the comfort and stability that they once did. All of a sudden, the two things I had built so much of my life around felt like a cold void that I didn’t want to engage with. My foundation of rock had turned into sand overnight. Right when we think we have things all figured out, the Universe has ways of forcing us to dig down deeper or grow taller to find the bigger truths in life… but honestly, all I've wanted to do for the past year is shrink smaller into my comfort zone. I wish I could say that I’ve somehow managed to break through to the other side of these challenges and tell you that everything is going great, but it’s still a daily battle to function on a basic level, let alone to create music.
The album was originally titled 'Life Support' as a testament to how invaluable music and art are for our mental health and survival as a species. I thought that devoting ourselves to our passions and artistic expression could heal so much of the modern world from its wounds and traumas, and could be a solution for many of the mental health challenges that we face. But I was wrong. Music and art are just the vessels, and sometimes it's easy to place too much focus on the medium rather than the message. What this year of grief has helped me to realize is that music is a connective tissue of community and culture, and it's really the family and friends in my life who are my true foundation, not the scales and rhythms we play, or the languages we use to communicate. I know that I’ll still be on this road of grief and mental health challenges for much of my life, but there is comfort in knowing that I don’t have to drive it alone.
To bring closure to this album and NFT series, I'll be releasing a bonus track on February 26th that is dedicated to my father Charley, and donating 50% of the auction profits to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is a grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for Americans affected by mental illness, and raising awareness around mental health. You can learn more about the organization on their website, and donate directly if you'd prefer to make your own contribution.