Choices

What happens to artists who quit? I imagine it’s like taking a carbonated beverage and shaking it up real hard, then having to decide whether or not you’re going to open it up or put it away and wait for things inside to calm down. Pressure. You do stuff, then you quit doing stuff, things build up, then you have to start doing stuff again. Jenn Champion made some very cool stuff with her band Carissa’s Wierd. Then she quit. Then she came back and started S. Her music exudes control and precision and confessional, passionate lyrics. Thing is, she has a lot of stuff to say. I hope she doesn’t quit, again, any time soon. But then, what does quitting mean anyway?

[Photos from The Business Presents in July.]

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Learning to Fall

The ShiversWhy does an artist set out on a journey to find his own unique language to say the things he needs to say, create two “sister” records early in his career (“More” and “In the Morning,” just a couple of years apart) that together contain 11 perfect songs among others, defining a vocabulary and voice, an astonishing accomplishment in these days of apathy and industry ruin, only to walk alone, deep into a personal wilderness, to search for something even more complex and revealing and experimental after inhabiting the very thing he was searching for since the early 2000s, and found? It’s something outsiders cannot easily decode. More records appeared, of course, each just a little more varied, each circling around similar subject matter and textures, some even changing personas completely.

The ShiversBut the patterns began to shift. Because, in the end, it’s about the burning questions. The questions that keep artists awake all night. The questions that wreck relationships, unquiet the mind, and haunt the escape of sleep. The questions that force the hard things to the surface, the dark things into the light, the dangerous things that can break a man. Artists can’t hide from the burning questions.

And so, the wilderness called, for renewal as much as for new directions or confirmations. What can I say about this artist now, at his latest moment of transformation? About this man, Keith Zarriello, his ever-changing identity as The Shivers, his music that opened The Business Presents music festival in July in Anacortes, WA, the artist who has come to define my longing for a direction for my small record record label, Untide Records, and which haunts my imagination about what might be possible for all his records as yet to be demoed, as yet to be recorded? The ShiversI want to say something to you that no one has ever said about him, something that will crash your world, like his music did mine, and make you see and hear what I see and hear in this artist’s teeming and tormented art. I want to do that, but then… I hesitate, and I don’t. Not here. Not now. I don’t because he’s my friend, but more important than that, vastly more important than that, I don’t because he’s still out there working, and something is changing, something new is coming into being. The wild places haven’t finished with him yet, so all remains speculation.

The ShiversMusic has always been the first art form because it requires no advance study to connect to those it connects to. You just fall into the music you love. If you love the music, if you love the language the artist has discovered for himself, you love it. There’s no need to write long arguments, proofs, about why you love it. You just do. It’s one to one, and remains so. Every song was written for you and it speaks to you as if you’re the only person who gets it, really gets it, because it becomes yours. We want to possess the people who can do this for us. But that isn’t possible, either. They belong to the wild places where their greatest songs are written. They belong to their searching, far away from all of us.

The ShiversOpening night, Keith walked into the venue, picked up his vintage Silvertone, plugged it in, and within minutes tore through his taut set list of songs from his decade-long conversion from novice songwriter to journeyman recording artist. It was a rare moment that felt all the more valuable for its spontaneity, vulnerability, and risk, coming from a man who only briefly stepped out of his wilderness mid pilgrimage. His search continues. The burning questions still have a firm hold on him. Every great songwriter travels this road, again and again. Pays the toll in a kind of existential loneliness and aloneness none of us can even imagine.

There remain many more songs inside this artist that will reveal themselves, in time. One day soon Keith will walk back out of his wild places, reformed as yet another new vision of The Shivers, and his records will literally speak for themselves. And those who know, will know. The music will fall into place, and those who get it, will, once again, feel his new writing is just for them. When the needle drops onto the first track, some of the burning questions will be finally be answered. But fortunately, not all of them.

The Shivers

[Where to find stuff: The Shivers on Soundcloud. The Shivers distro and retail from The Business. The Shivers on Bandcamp.]

Hotter Than Hot

Selector Dub NarcoticEverything might happen for a reason, sure. While I can’t rule that option out, I’m thinking probably not, though. Most of the time any reason, or reasons, would be as random, or illogical, or inexplicable, or downright dumbass, without meaning, devoid of any planning, only turning out to be the result of the endless, boring, Selector Dub Narcoticrepetitive, and random mysteries of the moment with no more malice or forethought or “divine” engine behind it than the simple passing of time, the passing from youth into older age, from inexperience into experience: humans being humans. If there are happy accidents then surely there must be unhappy other things as well, all fuel for those hunters after drama and darkness.

Selector Dub NarcoticSometimes I wonder how I would be able to live my life if every time I make a mistake someone was there ready to put it down in print, to attribute it to a grand plot to upset the balance of right and wrong. I’d be so fucked if that were the case. Most of us would be. So fuck the recent bad press about Calvin Johnson and K Records and the upsets and sinking ships and legal briefs and drama hunters. We weren’t there, we don’t know, and those who were there are on it now, searching for a way out, a way back into the light. So we can all get back to the music, and our collective humanity.

Selector Dub NarcoticThing is, Calvin Johnson gave us so much cool: cool music, cool radio, cool record label, cool analog retro recordings, cool vinyl, cool cassette tapes, cool interviews, cool discoveries, all flowing through his teeming creativity and restless mind searching for the “new,” the exciting, to entertain and enthrall us. To have him close out the first night of The Business Presents, the mini music festival and brainchild of Nick Rennis and his own teeming, restless imagination for what a modern-day record shop might be in a ruined landscape where most people have no idea how to sell music, in a world where most people hate new music, was a brilliant healing moment at a time when the darkness seemed poised to win big victories against all of us who just want more great music, who just want to pause to remember fallen friends, who want kindness more than the hammer blows of media bullying. Selector Dub NarcoticJohnson’s Selector Dub Narcotic is just another band in his evolution as a performer, human, and unique creative explorer. Meeting him was exciting. Watching him perform was happy healing escape.

Things break. In Japan, they fix broken objects like tea bowls with gold to celebrate the break, to make it visible, to make it more valuable as a thing mended than as a broken thing to be thrown away. We all break things. We crash through our lives and leave our scratch marks on everything we smash into pieces. Selector Dub NarcoticPolymaths like Johnson and Rennis, surveyors and purveyors of what might be, challenge us by asking the important larger questions about why we’re here and what we should do with the time we have before us. The answers can be found, but it’s hard work. Each new insight slowly downloads into our brains and we move ahead, haltingly, randomly. We all run out of time. This is just a crazy experiment in being alive, people. Just do shit. Make shit. Be kind. And fix it when it breaks.