My Songwriting Journey

My Songwriting Journey

As I lay in bed, I started to hear a melody form in my mind.

Having just returned from Japan, I couldn’t express myself as eloquently in English as I could in Japanese.

So, I hurriedly jotted down lyrical ideas – in Japanese.

I didn’t understand music either. But at 13, I had written my first song – melody and lyrics.

Filling Binders with Song Ideas

I was never one to pay much attention in school. I wasn’t a bad student (not a horrible one, anyway). I was just more interested in my own creative ideas.

My grades always reflected it. I had my share of Bs, Cs, and Ds – rarely As.

So, my jr. high and high school years were spent filling binders with ideas – song ideas, lyrics, doodles, drawings, graphic novels, Sci-Fi novels, mazes, video game concepts, satirical newsletters, and so on.

At 15, I performed in front an audience for the first time. And then and there, learned the thrill of live performance.

That’s about the time when most of my creative energies started being redirected to writing lyrical content – mostly rap songs, but some punk rock and hardcore songs too (the Beastie Boys were a big influence).

I still didn’t know how to play a musical instrument.

A Guitar from Across the Pond

One of my father’s coworkers lost her son. And she promised to give her deceased son’s guitar to me.

She was not able to deliver the guitar while we were still living in Japan. So, she came all the way to Canada, and dropped off the guitar at my grandparent’s home in Drumheller, AB.

It seems someone wanted to ensure that guitar made it into my hands.

The classical guitar sat in my closet for a year or two.

But then one summer, I was at youth camp and my friend started playing the popular tunes of the time on his guitar – Green Day, Blink-182, Matchbox Twenty, stuff like that.

Prior to that moment, I had no idea you could even learn popular songs on an instrument!

Immediately after summer camp, I started messing around on my guitar, and that’s when my mom started seeking guitar lessons for me.

Connecting the Musical Dots

Apparently, I had a knack for the guitar. My guitar teacher told me I surpassed him within a few lessons!

I showed him one of my rap songs, and he helped me write some funky guitar parts to it. That was a lot of fun.

Once I started connecting the musical dots, I began writing my own songs too. But they were quite disappointing at first.

I was excited about the guitar, so I kept on.

But oddly enough, I became somewhat disillusioned with it within 18 months, when I started to see that most songs and riffs were easy, and if they weren’t, there was usually a way to simplify them to make them more playable.

An odd thing to be disillusioned about, I know. Fortunately, it didn’t last, and I would go onto jam with my drummer friend and play in bands.

At the time, all the band’s songs were either written by me, my drummer, or by the both of us.

I slowly started moving beyond power-chord pounding and open chord strumming. I started to play riffs, mimic melodies, and bust out solos, even if I didn’t know exactly what I was doing.

By that time, though, my drummer friend and I were much tighter than anyone else we brought in to play in the band. So, we needed to go about the process of finding band members differently.

I only went to college for a year, but it had some perks because I ended up building some connections. And it just so happened that one of my friend’s roommate was a bass player. So, we started jamming with him, and the chemistry was obvious from day one.

We formed a band, and as our first order of business, started working on a couple of songs for a Daniel Amos tribute compilation.

Lightly Toasted Touché

The trio would come to be known as Lightly Toasted Touché. We were a jam band. We wrote some original music, and learned some covers, but wherever we went, we also improvised instrumental music in a variety of genres (metal, reggae, blues, etc.).

How did the name come about? Well, one day, while taking a break from rehearsals for a bite (as we always did), we were making sandwiches. And the drummer asked the bassist how toasted he wanted his bread. “Lightly toasted,” he said.

Our bassist was also in the habit of saying “touché” all the time (as his roommates were also prone to doing). And so, Lightly Toasted Touché was born.

The name was probably reflective of the transient and improvised nature of the band more than anything. We certainly weren’t stoners, and I’m not sure any of us were fully convinced of the name. But we also couldn’t come up anything better.

One day, we recorded several improvised demos and posted them online. Keep in mind, this was in 2003 (Radiohead didn’t even do their pay-what-you-want release until 2007). We broke the internet, the servers crashed, and because we had so many downloads, we ended up having to move hosts.

In our relatively short history as a band, we gained a small cult following, and even got “scrobbled” quite a bit on Last.fm.

Our last order of business was to record and release an EP, A Tale of the Coming Together and Murder of My Heart in the Golden State.

This EP captures a little bit of what it was like to come to a Touché show, with an eclectic mix of originals and improvised instrumentals.

 

I co-wrote “Today’s Creed,” “End of the Day,” and “Foundation.” The title track was written by the bassist, and everything else was improvised.

The band imploded shortly after. We attempted to bring a talented singer into the fold, but him and the drummer did not get along, and that was that.

Going Solo

Any band I had been a part of to that point etched out a short-lived existence, with Touché being only  modestly successful. So, I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to go about this music career thing a little differently. If I can’t depend on others, maybe I can depend on myself.

Around that time, I ended up renting an acoustic guitar and wrote a couple of songs. The songs were reflective of the raw emotions I felt after my band broke up.

The acoustic guitar felt right somehow. So, I kept writing and came up with eight songs. My drummer, who was still collaborating with me at the time, encouraged me to make it an album rather than an EP. So, I wrote 11 songs altogether, though one of them never quite worked and was dropped.

During this time, I would come to learn just how undependable I was. Because sometimes weeks would go by without any progress on the album, and my friend told me it was because I failed to take initiative. I took that rather personally, as I was prone to doing at the time.

The album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments, ended up taking about a year to complete.

Being my first solo album, it was not perfect, though it certainly had its moments.

Looking back, it was written in response to the boring and formulaic music of the time. A reviewer called it “an experimental approach to conventional rock,” and he could not have been more on the nose with that observation.

Back on Shaky Ground

Those early years playing in bands and going solo felt tumultuous to me (is it any wonder my first album was called Shipwrecked?). I was overcome with a sense of loss. One, because of the band and friendships that had been impacted as result, and two, because my cousin took his life while I was recording.

It was time to begin work on my next project. But I wasn’t ready. Material wasn’t forthcoming. Having spent 2006 working on my album and writing 365 songs in 2007 (one song per day), I was spent creatively.

It turns out I just needed to live.

In 2008, I ended up burning myself out and experienced a panic attack. I spent the next five months or so recovering. In some ways, though, I’m not sure I’ve ever fully recovered from that.

I also fell in love only two months later. And three months later, I was given the silent treatment.

Heartbreak is unpleasant, but one thing you can count on is that it will give you something to write about. That summer, I wrote my next album, and so, the concept of Back on Solid Ground was born.

Back on Solid Ground was written as a stripped-down, simple, heartfelt acoustic album.

But I ended up getting caught in the tides of chaos before the project could ever be completed.

Breaking the Silence

I had begun work on Back on Solid Ground with a new producer. But after a few months of working on it, he pulled the plug and said he couldn’t spend any more time on it. We’d captured some amazing drum and cello performances from local musicians, so this could not have been more heartrending.

To be fair, there were no contracts, and nothing was in writing. I learned a lesson there.

In due course, I did recover the tracks. Only, many weren’t properly labeled. So, I didn’t know which track belonged to which song, never mind the fact that I would have had to manually align all of them.

Amid all this, the members of Touché were reuniting. And this time, we had a young singer interested in fronting the band. Angels Breaking Silence was born.

Touché always had a bit of a punk vibe to it, and with Angels Breaking Silence, we started embracing the emo and post-hardcore flavors of the time.

Unlike most bands, though, we didn’t write songs around breakdowns. To be honest, we only had one song that had a breakdown.

The band got booked all over – skateparks, summer festivals, camps, churches, pubs, and more.

We were so busy performing and touring that the only merch we had were posters, buttons, and my first album. ABS only ever recorded a few demos for MySpace and a compilation.

You’d be hard pressed to find our music anywhere online.

As with the previous incarnation of Touché, this one didn’t last longer than 18 months. Personal tensions flared, and two members were in serious relationships that likely would have prevented them from serious, committed participation.

Taking Creativity in New Directions

For the rest of 2009, I started getting into new media in a big way – blogging, social media, podcasting, making YouTube videos, composing for video games, and more. So, I did quite a bit of composing for my own videos too.

There are multiple compositions like this one on my YouTube channel (“Power Propeller” is probably one of my favorites):

I didn’t have much of an income coming in, though, so I knew in the back of my mind that I would probably need to become more pragmatic at some point (I only started learning how to be more pragmatic in 2014, by the way).

Maybe tired from all that had transpired, 2010 sort of ended up being a ”nothing” year for me. The most memorable part was travelling down through Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California with my mom and stepdad. Although I seem to recall making some important connections that year too.

I also recorded a handful of demos through the year, which I first released in January 2011 as Demos 2010 and later as Fire Your God.

To this day, fans still enjoy the rawness of this music. Go figure.

Once again, I found myself going at it alone, trying to learn the ins and outs of music production. That said, I’m glad I got into it, because I found I was better able to make my musical visions a reality. I struggled with previous producers, especially when it came to getting guitar tones I liked.

Economic Collapse, Roid Rage & New Frontiers

As 2011 rolled around, things became more desperate financially. And timing could not have been worse since the world was very much in “recovery mode” after the financial collapse of 2007 – 2008. I started pulling 50-hour weeks at multiple part-time jobs (and spent untold hours driving between them) that paid peanuts.

The first six months of the year were terrible, not just because of the mounting financial pressure, but also because of an unruly, emotionally unstable roommate, who was prone to roid rage.

My friends didn’t exactly support my decision to get into network marketing. But honestly, it was something I needed to go through at the time. My life started changing rapidly for the better, as I started engaging in business training materials.

I still don’t know how I managed to pull all of this off, but that summer, I performed at the Calgary Fringe Festival daily. I also went on a mini tour with new collaborator Jonathan Ferguson and a vacation shortly after.

I don’t want to say that the next four years, from 2011 to 2015, were irrelevant to my musical journey. They weren’t. I kept writing and podcasting about the music business. I invested in a music industry startup. I kept writing songs. And I even wrote a book.

But my life was mostly swallowed up in the world of entrepreneurship. And I would go onto learn some crucial lessons there, too.

The startup I invested in tanked, and I reached a point where I could no longer financially sustain my network marketing business.

Recent History

I was busy in 2016. But I made it my goal to record and release monthly singles.

I didn’t quite reach my goal, but I did write and release some great music. It felt great.

I released a couple of singles in 2017 (including this one)…

And a couple of EPs in 2019.

As result, I wound up contributing to another compilation project in 2020 (created by one of my mentors).

It seems strange to say, but I have many, many more songs I have yet to record and share with the world. God willing, they will see the light of the day.

151 – Sneak Preview: No Escape EP

151 – Sneak Preview: No Escape EP

You may have heard me reference my “forthcoming EP” a few times and wondered when it was coming out.

Well, in this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, I offer a sneak preview into the No Escape EP, which will be hitting online music stores and streaming platforms any day. Enjoy.

Podcast Highlights:

  • 00:34 – My latest solo release
  • 01:43 – No Escape
  • 03:52 – Sleepless Blues
  • 05:16 – Don’t Wait Too Long
  • 06:43 – Hope
  • 08:08 – Grace Is Bittersweet
  • 09:24 – Keep an eye open for the No Escape EP

Transcription:

Any day now, my latest solo release, No Escape will become available on all online music stores and streaming platforms.

But because I wanted to do something special for you, I put together a sneak preview for the EP right here on the show.

As a listener of The New Music Industry Podcast, you’ve shown that you’re looking to take your music career or business beyond and that you’re willing to invest in yourself.

Although it’s been said many times by many people, it’s worth saying again – there are few things as important as your willingness to invest in yourself.

Most people will go through life investing in their education to get a job. But if you’re a listener of this podcast, it’s clear you’re looking to live a different kind of life. You want to live your passion and not be constrained by anything.

You’re special. That’s why I wanted to give you a sneak preview of my forthcoming EP, No Escape.

Now, usually the term “sneak preview” is reserved for an early viewing of a movie.

There are no music videos yet, and I have not filmed a movie in connection with the EP. So, this is a sneak peek into the music, what prompted me to write and record the songs I did and how they came together.

The first track on the EP is the title track, “No Escape”.

I wrote this song in fall 2017, which is hard to believe.

In the months leading up to writing “No Escape”, I noticed that my life was synchronizing with my best friend’s, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in more overt ways.

For example, we would sometimes wake up at the same time or make meals at the same time.

But our emotions and physical circumstances would also sync up. So, if one was feeling restless, it was common that the other would be feeling restless. If one was feeling exhausted and having trouble sleeping, so it would be for the other.

So, while “No Escape” was written about my best friend, the truth is that I was going through the same things she was.

The song is about restlessness and escapism. It’s human nature to avoid problems and difficulties instead of leaning into them.

And, sometimes we feel the need to escape. At times, that can manifest in relatively innocuous daily activities – going shopping, eating out, traveling, visiting the gym more frequently and so on.

But it can also show up as more harmful and destructive behavior – compulsive gambling, drinking, partying, bringing harm to yourself and others and so on.

An entrepreneur, of course, learns to lean into the challenges instead of trying to avoid or escape them. That’s what leads to personal expansion in the areas of leadership, resilience and problem solving.

Anyway, there’s something someone who’s experienced a lot of life intuitively knows. No matter where they go, they take themselves with them.

That means there truly is no escape from your problems unless you’re willing to dig for the core issue. Outside of that, there’s only temporary relief.

That’s the backdrop against which “No Escape” was written.

The next track, “Sleepless Blues”, predates “No Escape” by many years. I believe I first wrote it in 2007 or 2008.

2008 is when I fell in love for the first time. Of course, I’d had crushes up that point, but I’d never felt how I felt about someone up until that year.

When my heart was broken, I wrote a series of songs to begin the healing process.

I think “Sleepless Blues” was written prior to that time but I was thinking about including it on the same album, to be titled Back on Solid Ground.

That album, unfortunately, didn’t come to be in that space and time.

But I had worked on a couple of demos with my producer-engineer Patrick Zelinski a few years later, and “Sleepless Blues” happened to be one of them.

Originally, I was going to record three songs with him last year, but Patrick managed to dig up the demos we had been working on, including “Sleepless Blues” and “Grace Is Bittersweet”, which resulted in their inclusion on this five-track EP.

Up next is “Don’t Wait Too Long”.

Musically inspired by They Might Be Giants‘ “Man, It’s So Loud in Here”, I wrote the music for “Don’t Wait Too Long” around 2012.

Lyrically, I knew what I wanted to do with the chorus but hadn’t written the verse yet.

I dug up the music in 2016 and decided to put the finishing touches on this track. I released it as a single the same year.

This version of “Don’t Wait Too Long” is distinct in that it features more organic instruments.

The song is about the vacuum of depression and the resulting downward spiral.

It’s not autobiographical, at least not in the sense that I was the one who was depressed when I was writing it.

Prior to selling my home in 2012, I was living with a roommate who was going through difficult times and clearly wasn’t happy with his life. I was remembering him as I was writing the verses.

The song is certainly open to interpretation, but how it shows up for me is that if you don’t believe there are good things coming for you, you have no hope, and if you have no hope, you begin questioning your existence.

The next song, “Hope”, like “Don’t Wait Too Long”, was also released as a single in 2016.

This version, again, features more organic instrumentation than the original.

I’ve already said quite a bit about the song publicly, but in case you’re wondering what it’s about, it’s not about hope at all. It’s about being in limbo.

I once heard that hell is living the same experiences over and over without any change. Sometimes, that’s how life feels.

So, from the perspective of the song, the writer is seeking answers. He’s saying even though he believes good things can happen, he never sees any evidence of them happening. And, he just keeps waiting.

In that sense, this could even be a song about bad luck, if there is such a thing.

Does this song reflect my life experiences? At times, it has.

I now have a broader perspective on who I am and why I am the way I am and that allows me to step outside of my autopilot way of being.

But if that weren’t the case, I’m not certain there would be any hope.

The final track on the EP is “Grace Is Bittersweet”, a song that I started recording with Patrick in 2013 or 2014. It was written when I was still living in my old house.

I tend not to write folky tunes, so I think this is the closest I’ve ever come to that.

The song is about being human, making mistakes repeatedly and bowing down at the feet of the divine, asking for forgiveness.

But when you know it’s in your nature to keep doing the same things you’ve always done, when you know you’re going to be making more of the same mistakes, grace doesn’t feel liberating at all. It feels like a constraint.

The writer doesn’t have the answers. He’s merely living the life he was given.

What I like most about this song is what Patrick was able to do with it. He added keyboards and bass, which made the song far more engaging throughout.

So, keep an eye open for the release of No Escape, which should be coming soon to your favorite online music store or streaming platform. The physical release will be soon to follow.

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