"we should expect a couple twists and turns, there and here, and you know they sometimes last for years, but it's so much easier to make it through if you're not trying to see the end."
On my best days I believe these words. I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to pursue a career in music with totally altruistic motives, but I do think it’s possible to pursue success while still being authentic and remaining aware of the needs of the people around you. And for me, striking that balance hinges on my ability to say “but I’m getting to the point where I can live without you…” It’s a frightening notion, but to remember that I’m not entitled to a career doing what I love, it’s an important one.
I think it’s also important to grapple with the idea that I may not actually be that good…. or if I am, there’s still loads of room to grow. But even if I’m not that good, it shouldn’t ever stop me from locking myself away in a room to play guitar and sing for hours on end. And then after I’ve written a song I’m proud of, I’ll share it with the closest person to me because I love sharing my heart. It’s only ever been about that. But having to pay my bills, that’s the part that blurs my vision… maybe yours too.
But back to “being able to live without”… It’s been those words that have actually freed me up to chase my dream/s with clearer vision. It’s helped me remove the ticking-time-bomb syndrome. It’s freed me up to set goals with open hands. When I was afraid that someone or something might take away “my dream” I held on so tight that I couldn’t see two steps in front of me. But when I realized that I’m not entitled to this dream, I started to enjoy the journey again. They can’t take away something I don’t own, or something I’m willing to give up if it’s the best thing for me and my family.
The rat race is overrated. You can have all the money and success in the world and still be poor. God, give me strength to remember that.
It was a rainy Saturday in San Francisco, but I was thinking about snowy Ohio, remembering friends and digging up old recordings to pass the time. When I first started Embleton I tracked a few singles before I decided on a direction for the album. One of those singles was Mr. Williams, a B-side tracked live to a cassette tape machine at the Alta House in Canton (where we later recorded It Did Me Well).
The wonderful Anya Rose lended her vocals for this track, and I sang harmonies. The song hasn't been available anywhere for a while, as I thought I'd eventually put it on some kind of B-Sides album. Who knows, maybe I still will. At any rate, there's no use keeping it tucked away on a rainy day like this one.
It's about how the news is always so terrible, and we even end up blaming the news for our messed up world, all the while forgetting that we're the ones who write the story... The tape machine creates a wavy and even sometimes distorted sound; I think it's the perfect aesthetic for the song.
Stream and download for free here: https://soundcloud.com/embletonmusic/mr-williams-b-side-tape-session
My old band, A Minor Bird, just sent out our first email in over four years. We re-released a Deluxe Edition of an ep we put out over six years ago. It's packed with six new songs. I have a feeling you might recognize one of them. Check out the email below!
"At the end of the day, there ain't nobody else, gonna walk in your shoes, quite the way you do..." - Bill Fay
Thanks for the reminder, Bill Fay; I come back to this one often. The fatherly wisdom here keeps me focused on what is true and steers me away from what is not. I've wanted to do a rendition of 'Be At Peace With Yourself' for a while, so I took a trip over to South Sunset a few weeks ago to see what I could capture. Though jarring from technical standpoint, the ocean roar and loud sporadic traffic proved a perfect backdrop for this song. In a city bursting with activity, it's difficult to find solace sometimes, even near the ocean. Life is noisy, the pressure is high, competition is fierce, and most of the time I'm pretending to know what I'm doing. All too quickly I start listening to the voices screaming "You're not good enough!","Give up!", "You don't have what it takes!". Those voices are hard to silence. So we need voices like Bill Fay's, recalling us to louder truths and shining light on darkness, often with only a whisper. I wish I could do this song justice. Thanks Bill, I hope to meet you someday. Here's the original. Here's my rendition:
O how I have struggled with fear.
I fear so intensely at times I wonder if I'm sane or ill. This isn't just anxiety, because I wrestle with that too. This is a deep, start with your heart, grip you and shake you from the inside out type of fear. It's really annoying. So what am I afraid of?
People. The unknown. Danger.
Concerning danger, this is the less frequent. I remember a time when I went camping in the Appalachian Forest in Asheville, North Carolina with a few friends. After hiking for a while, we set up camp a few miles into the forest. For some reason I began to fear a bear would attack me that night. We had two tents, and I was in mine alone. It rained all night, and with every noise I trembled at the thought of a bear climbing into my tent and tearing me to pieces. Everything turned out alright, and I'd camp there again in a heartbeat. But the amount of fear I experienced that night left a serious impact on me. Weird stuff.
It's more in the day-to-day where I've experienced fear at its greatest strength. Oddly enough my fear of people has little to do with performing. It's the sheer wild card factor each person brings to the table. There's a part of me that lives for meeting and interacting with new people, and if the personality tests are right I'm about 51% extrovert. But sometimes on days where I feel least sure of myself, fear gets the best of me. I begin to fear the people I meet will hate me and curse me to my face, and that somehow I won't be able to explain something that comes up in conversation. This has never happened. Irrational as it is, I'll admit I've been plagued by this fear, even in the past couple of months.
I read a story a few years ago that changed how I face fear. It's something I go back to on the bad days.
In Healing of The Masculine Soul, Gordon Dalbey tells a remarkable story about a man who was plagued by a recurring dream, a nightmare "in which a ferocious lion kept chasing the man until he dropped exhausted and awoke screaming." The man was dismayed, he did not know what the dream meant. Was the lion a symbol of fear? One day the man was guided by his pastor to revisit the dream in prayer:
As they prayed, the pastor on impulse invited the man to recall the dream, even in all its fear. Hesitantly, the man agreed, and soon reported that indeed, the lion was in sight and headed his way. The pastor then instructed the man, "When the lion comes close to you, try not to run away, but instead, stand there and ask him who or what he is, and what he's doing in your life". Shifting uneasily in his chair, the man agreed, then reported what was happening. "The lion is snorting and shaking his head, standing right there in front of me... I ask him who he is... and he says, "I'm your courage and your strength. Why are you running away from me?"
- John Eldredge (Wild At Heart)
This week I decided to go with a throwback. I wrote 'Cupid Failed' as a heartbroken college freshman in 2008. It made its way onto a record called, Somewhere Far Away, a thirteen song rumination on love and faith which I recorded in my college dorm room without any outside opinion. Don't go looking for it; I've purged the internet (to the best of my ability). But the over-honest, teenage opus did have a few shining moments, and I think Cupid Failed was a good step in my songwriting journey. Sure, it's immature, tongue-and-cheek, and though it doesn't have that twang some would call country, I think at its root Cupid Failed is inspired by country music.
As I fell in love with good ol' fashioned country over the past two years, I looked back at some of my first tunes and realized they're more country than I thought. If you would have told me I was a country artist in 2008 I'd have felt like punching you in the face. The folk/emo/post-breakup stage is real... At any rate, I'm ok with it now. Country music just sort of says it like it is, without being too cryptic. It tells a story.
So I made this video a month ago while practicing some fingerpicking. I wanted to feature Cupid Failed after Willie's song from last week. I always thought it might be a good tune for one of those cheesy "indie" flicks like Juno or something. I'm still waiting for my big break, whatever that means, just like Willie when he wrote Sad Songs and Waltzes. Here's Cupid Failed:
Man, I love this song. That Willie Nelson knew what he was doing. I was driving from Branson to Memphis in 2014 the first time I really heard Sad Songs and Waltzes. We were probably half way finished tracking the record, and I went out on tour for a week by myself. I spent a lot of time in the car alone, thinking about how to finish up the album. This project was a departure from everything I'd ever done. I was going from indie-space-rock to some combo between americana and alt-country. I knew this "laidback lilt" might surprise the bulk of my fans, but when I heard this line: "though my record may say it, no one will play it" I made up my mind. I would finish what I started, even if the record wasn't a smashing success. I said some things in "It Did Me Well" that I'd been waiting to say for a long time. They had been weighing me down for years, and for whatever reason all the other times I tried I just couldn't. But now I could, and Willie helped me do it.
"In search of answers to life’s little mysteries, Embleton draws upon the narratives of those around him...the passing stranger, the childhood friend. He fills his songs with details and familiar emotions that help us connect, but leaves a vast amount of space for the gray areas that live in each story. He gives us room to find our own answers, or ask our own questions. Though not always the main character in his songs, his unyielding pursuit, his drive to figure it out, pervades each wandering prodigal he sings about." - Josh Compton
A little over a year ago I asked Josh Compton, a good friend and talented songwriter, if he would write a bio about me to put on my website. He agreed and sent me a masterpiece a few weeks later. The paragraph above is a quote from the original piece. When it comes to "It Did Me Well", I couldn't have said it better. It Did Me Well is about a friend of mine. I found his story so compelling I had to write about it. I felt so connected to the themes of the song I had to sing it in first person. It makes me feel as if it's my story when I sing it, and I hope you feel the same when you hear it. Though I didn't live every detail of the song, I know what it's like to feel empty, to go searching for purpose no matter what the cost, even to my own detriment sometimes. I have run away from who I was to find who I really am. Sometimes I came back feeling new, and other times I was just lucky I didn't lose everything. It Did Me Well keeps gaining meaning for me, and I have a feeling I'll be singing it for a long time.
Here's the album version:
I played a show in Wheaton, IL this past summer and was able to capture it on video. I took the best songs and decided to release them. Here's the first, Only Begun.
I have a long love/hate relationship with this one. I think it's one of the simplest and most honest songs I've written, but it took forever to write. Only Begun has always had the same verses and instrumental part, but I spent a few years on the chorus. That's right, years. It used to be called "Scream" because of the chorus:
Scream at the top of your lungs,
You're free, throw it all off and run,
And scream, shout, just know that we've already won
I went through some dark years where I became insecure about writing songs. The lyrics and melodies stopped coming. I was desperate to finish this one, so I kept trying new things. I tried different keys. I tired changing up the rhythm of the words and melody of the chorus. It wasn't until I decided to throw away the old chorus that the new one came. One day I was pacing around the house, playing guitar (as one does), and it finally came to me:
Just know that we've won
'Cause we've only begun
Just know that we've won
And if you ever start to slip
Or the bucket comes up dry
- Kevin Embleton