Six years and counting...

Joplin Car.jpg

5:41pm. Today marks 6 years. 

When me and the boys went back to J-Town last year for the 5-year remembrance of the Joplin tornado, I was met with a myriad of emotions. Pride in seeing it bounce back so quickly, so vibrantly, like I knew it would. Regret that I didn't get to play a present and physical role in many of its rebuilding efforts. Awe in seeing neighbors, friends, loved ones, and strangers giving polite nods, generous hugs, and sometimes just simply holding one another to shed a tear for not only the harrowing night five years prior, but to let out a giant, unabashed sigh of relief that they'd made it five whole years. I felt nostalgia as I longed to see the streets I used to roam, now transformed to bright, bustling new construction, a new beginning, a fresh start. I felt excitement for the new families that would move to the New Joplin, with its state-of-the-art facilities, the community that worked to rebuild a place they loved, and their good fortune that they'd be surrounded by some of the best people to be found anywhere. On the other side of the same coin, I was pained by a deep sadness to know that the visceral emotions I felt every time I drove down those old streets, heard the wind rustling those timeless trees, and saw the places that made me who I am wouldn't happen again. It would only make the visits to my old ghosts that much harder, that much further away. I would have to search more diligently to remember what it was before.

At the events, I got to see a lot of familiar and wonderful faces in the crowd: old teachers, friends' parents, church folks that I'm sure I terrorized in the choir loft or the pews. I heard a lot of voices catching up, filling in the gap between then and now, making comparisons with the same mixed emotions that I felt. And for all of the people that I spoke to that weekend, young and old, stranger and friend, there was an overwhelming sense of this:

"I'm glad we're doing this. Hopefully, after this one, we can just let it be."

They didn't want a six year remembrance. A ten year. I think drudging up all of the emotions of a night that literally changed lives and ended others was all too much. They carried it with them every day already, what was one more? 

It occurred to me that while the tornado would stand to alter the very chemical makeup of a town, of its people, and who they would both turn out to be, that it was time to no longer allow that to be the only defining factor in their lives. It can't be the only thing that gets a say; the one moniker that they'll be forever known for. Perhaps they wanted something else to define them now. Some other event. A better story. A simpler time.

It was a bittersweet reunion. A necessary send off. A recognition of the inevitable. A ceremony for what was, and what it's done to irreparably change the now.

It was time to flip it the bird, find it in ourselves to somehow thank it for the part it played, and then move on.

And for all who are ready to move on, I get it. 

I get it. I get it. I get it.

I sat down today to write a remembrance. It didn't occur to me until literally just now that I needed to write it for me. I needed this. I needed to remember this day. Not only for my hometown, but for me.

I didn't actually live through a tornado. My family did that. I didn't ride the storm out in a bathtub, a closet, a crawlspace, a church, or a storage cooler. Joplin did that. I didn't rebuild the place I loved literally from the ground up. Volunteers, citizens, angels did that.

But I wish I had.

My fate has felt so intertwined with that place that I can't bear it sometimes. I'm crushed under the weight of that old house, still lying there, wondering if anyone's going to ever come clean it off. 

"I had a dusty box of trophies in the attic."

I used to save things. All things. Not a hoarder, but a rememberer. I would take up closets and attics of storage just for the chance to save little trinkets to look over again and have my memory stirred. I have a photographic memory, and sometimes just reading things or looking at pictures could put me back there in that place as if I were living it all over again for the first time. 

You see, my tragedy was not visceral. It wasn't close. I wasn't there. I can't know. But it doesn't make the pain I feel from losing that place, and those things any less for me.

Deep Cuts was my own personal Day of Remembrance.

My tornado was a whirlwind move from sacred ground, all for the hopes of a life that I truly believed I was meant for. A calling bigger than myself. I didn't get the results I'd hoped for when I first came to Nashville. I didn't capture the hearts and minds of millions. I wasn't on the stages I'd always dreamed of. I wasn't even necessarily living the life I'd always imagined. But the tragic event of moving here and having those ideals smashed, by knowing the world wasn't as it had always seemed, to have the long endless wrestling match with my heart left to wonder 'Am I crazy?', 'Was my desire to do this thing real?', 'Was it my calling, or just a selfish desire that went wayyyyy too far?' 'Would I ever again feel as certain about anything ever? And if not this, than is anything certain?'

But it was time to end that story. To turn it on its head. To no longer allow it to define me. It was time to be something different. Not a man striving to be important, or better, or faster, or more. But a man who is resolved, grounded, assured. Rather than seeking validation from without, it was time to build it from within. I needed to know in the depths of me that my work on this Earth would not be measured by a singular event, by a young man's failure to do what he'd always set out to do. I would instead give that young man a kind and thankful nod, and then use his passion, and his fire, and his hopes to fuel my own understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to do good, and what it means to be good.

The event of the tornado stirred in me all of these things. It was the embodiment of my own personal journey, and it damn near cost me everything.

For some of you, the tornado did cost you everything.

And for you, my heart aches today. 

For you, we will remember. For you we will drudge out the old feelings. For you we will give prayers, and thoughts, and well-wishes, and tell stories, and keep their memory alive. Every year, from here till kingdom come. 

We will remember the volunteers and saviors that showed the world what the best of the human spirit is capable of. What can be done when we all do it together. For them, we will remember.

But while that careless act of nature didn't discriminate when it came, we will. We can. we must.

So for others, we will also forget. Forget the things we lost, the feelings we felt, the horror of that night. The times when we were less than cordial, or overcome by grief, or just couldn't bear it anymore. 

We will refuse to allow a thing that happened to us become an inseparable part of us. We will understand that tragedy does not follow us, but it does happen to us. We will forget what it was like to come so close to our own mortality. We will forget any things that used to divide us. We will forget the things said about us that make us feel lesser, as anything other than human, and known, and loved.

For all of the things that keep us from moving into and accepting the free gifts of hope and a brighter future for ourselves and our loved ones, we will forget them. They have no business here.

I will forget the struggle. I will forget the previous rejections. I will forget my loathing and self-doubt. I will stop allowing my past to define me.

Instead, I will write. I will write songs. I will write blogs. I will want, and feel, and desire to be connected to my fellow man. I will toil, and play, and practice, and wrestle, and release music because it is important to do so. Deep Cuts took all that I am to make. It took all that my wife and I had to make. But regardless of its place in the annuls of history, I will continue to remember why I did it.

Because I'm so glad I did.

And hopefully, after this, I can just let it be.

God willing.

#ItsHere

I'm *&$@$*ing exhausted.

Overwhelmed. Worn down. And immensely grateful.

Grateful to friends and family for their support, and words, and reposts, and party hosting, and texts of encouragement. Grateful to my loving wife for her insane amount of patience, work, and laying her future on the line for this. Grateful to strangers taking the bold step in reaching out to an artist they heard for the first time to tell them what it meant to do so. I just... I'm a wreck in every conceivable fashion. I don't deserve any of this. I'm humbled by it, but I don't deserve it. I think that might be the hardest part. I don't think you understand.

I had to do this.

If I'd never done this, I'd have never done anything. As it stands, all hyperbole aside, this was the record of my life. As my wife said so eloquently: 

 

This album is the culmination of the last 12 years of our journey. I couldn't be more proud of Kenny for channeling every struggle and question and heartbreak into beautiful, honest art. It is a terrifying venture to be vulnerable, yet he offers it unabashedly. This life is a beautiful gift and a complicated struggle and accepting both aspects to the journey is where peace can be found. I hope this album harkens to that. As Kenny shares his story with authenticity, I pray you hear your own within it and it gives you the comfort that we are all in this together, because we are. I am so excited this is out in the world and can't wait for your hearts to experience and be moved by the beauty within.
 

I know darn well that not everybody is gonna be on board with this record. You can't hope for perfection, but you can hope that people will interact with a piece of yourself and maybe see some of themselves in that. The idea that someone else out there is made up of the same stuff. It's a comforting thought, for sure. One that I know will connect with the people its meant to connect with.

All I've ever wanted to do was make music that helped people feel understood.

I figured it would serve to bring folks who thought, dreamed, and felt like me into the fold of my circle of friends, but something about my education in moving to Nashville made me feel like I was incapable of doing that without validation, or management, or some kind of deal. There was suddenly this other game afoot, and it was the only one that mattered. A game of self-referencing importance that either invited you to play in the sandbox, or laughed at you for being outside of it. Or even worse: completely ignored you precisely because you were outside of it.

So do you fight your way in? Build your own sandbox? Stomp in and try to ruin their party? What's your motivation for doing any of those? You need to dig deeper.

I read this this week. There's some truth here. Modernity is kinda screwing with our social prioritization mechanism. It's making us less human. By quantifying everything, we wind up serving numbers rather than content. Follows rather than respect. Amount of content over depth of character.

But everything that has the power to move, change, alter reality; every piece of truth that exists and is put out into the world can pervade time and space and machines and the mechanics of a business based on impressions. It can cut way deeper than that.

Art done right is that thing. It holds real power.

Some beautiful, kind, and well-meaning folks have been so good to me in praising my perseverance, my going against the grain, my refusal to give up on following my dream, etc. I am so, so, so thankful for those words, and that encouragement. But let's not sugar coat it. At some point, I was too far in to this thing to give up. You either plow all the way through, or count the last decade of your life as a loss. I just wasn't willing to do the second thing.

I didn't come this far to only come this far.

But I needed a new motivation. There were bigger reasons to get through this thing than to stroke my own fragile ego. This couldn't be for recognition. This couldn't be for validation. No, that pursuit ended a long time ago. If I'd done all of this for that, it would have been finished after the 20th time I'd been rejected in a publishers meeting, or the 50th time I played to an empty house. I kept asking myself, "Am I crazy?!?" "Am I the guy on the American Idol auditions they brought in as a joke for ratings?" I had to be talked off a metaphorical ledge so many times. To reevaluate, and pivot, and reinvent, and go back to the drawing board, and distill, and dig.

At some point, my frivolous first-world struggle to be seen and known, and heard in a superfluous pursuit to "matter" took on a whole new meaning for me.

I had to get out of the damn way.

I had to do this for all of the people who never get to even try to do this.

People who have unsupportive friends, families, spouses. People that have a mountain of debt, or family obligations, or maybe just lack the self-confidence to think that they can do anything other than what they've always done in a place they've always known. People that think they have it all figured out and find out that they don't. People who are seen as already having it all figured out and know deep down in their hearts that they don't. Honesty, vulnerability. I'm not trying to over-glorify or pull a martyr mentality out of this. There are artists who have been eating ramen and living in a van for decades to serve this music thing, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for those warriors. I won't even begin to pretend that I know a thing about their plight.

But I do have my own story. My own struggles. My own opus. 

"All the tear-soaked stories of pain, run together, start to sounding the same, but the shame is that it doesn't make any of 'em any less true."

I know my story may be 'unique', but the emotions and the struggles and the shared human experience isn't unique at all. If you distill anything down enough, you'll find the raw essence of truth buried in there somewhere. If there's nothing there when you dig, then it's probably not worth keeping around

This record is as much a celebration of what life CAN be than what it is. I'm pretty over reality television. I want to watch some "better than reality" television. I need something to strive for, to look up to, to want to model, to want to be. I need heroes. I need people better than me. I want to shine a light on those people. I want it to not just feel real, but to BE real. So to put this project that is so very real to me out into the world, to light a flare and scream into the ether not knowing what will come back is some scary shit. And there is no guarantee it's gonna work.

But that's where faith comes in.

If faith isn't present in your life, then you won't do the thing you're meant to do/be/become. Look, no one has the answers. At the end of all human knowledge there is a leap either towards or away from hope. The lead up is the same. The view into the abyss is the same. Your life and its experiences may very well end up the same, regardless of which outlook you choose. But I, for one, in the face of uncertainty will continue to choose hope.

I imagine if you're reading this, you feel the same way.

Like a Rolling Stone...

Look, it's hard out there for a recording artist. Period. On a label/off a label:

Trying to make full-length records in this particular climate is pretty dumb.

It may seem like everything is fine to the average consumer (the number of visible superstars hasn't been largely effected), but it's not really been fine for everyone else for a long while now. The numbers three years ago said 90% of online music transactions were pirated. That'd be like going into work tomorrow and having your boss say: Man, you're doing a great job. Fantastic. We LOVE you and what you do. But you're gonna need to keep doing the same job for about 10% of your paycheck. Is that cool?

It wasn't just some combination of Napster and RIAA greed that got us here, streaming was coming regardless of the financials. The consumers wanted it, the big businesses wanted it, it happened. Nobody asked the artist. But on it spins. I could spend this time telling you that it takes 9 million Spotify plays in a month to make the equivalent of a full-time minimum wage job in the same month. And that you'd have to do that EVERY month for YEARS just to afford the production and promotion costs of your next record (without accounting for living expenses).

Needless to say, it just doesn't add up.

But this isn't that blog.

I'm not trying to convince you, or urge you in any way to take pity on all of us. I don't wanna beg you to pay for the music. It's not only uncool, it's also really ineffective. Look, I get it, nobody has a gun to our head telling us to make music. No one thrust this life upon us. We chose it, (partly) knowing, and (mostly) understanding what it would mean to our prospects at ever having a semblance of a 'normal' life again. We knew that resumes would become a thing of the past, or for some of us they'd be kept updated as we pursued our dreams on the side of a 9-5 job in whatever career would be understanding enough to know that they'd always be our second love. We'd work super long days and then try to muster up the energy to create at night. Or hold server jobs at night and work til' 3am, go home, get a shower, maybe cook yourself come dinner, sleep enough to be somewhere at 8am for your part-time morning job 'til noon, write from 12:30-4:30 and then start the whole cycle over again.

The amount of expense and toil that goes into paying bills, and creating art, and then creating content for people to interact with based on that art is like having 3 full-time jobs. And we do. We all have a million jobs. We wear a million hats. Very few of them being the one we set out to do in the first place. It's absolute madness. It's silly. It's fiscally irresponsible, tiring, soul-crushing, and thankless. Why would anyone...?

For this...

 

Suddenly, it's all worth it.


Look, making a record is hard. Its REAL hard.

I had many an industry insider ask me why I was doing a record instead of an EP, or releasing a single and trying to get some traction. Dip our toes in the water, so to speak. I completely understand it. I see their point loud and clear. It was the sound, responsible thing to do. But my answer every time was: "Because I want to."

I've done a lot of things in my past because it was smart, or safe, or sound. I think an audience can sense that. If you show trepidation, they sense that. They don't know whether to love you or think you're gonna change on them in a few years' time. Are you sold out to your craft? Because they certainly aren't going to be if you aren't. At least not the kind of audience you want. 

A record puts your flag in the ground and says: 'I'm Here Now'. Right. Here.

It gives the people that do interact with it a rallying point: a thing to gather around and identify with. The more specific you can be, the more content you can produce, the more they can get on board with it.

And as beautiful as this process has been, and as proud as I am of this project, right now it's mind-numbing to think that I'm ever gonna have to do this again. Swin and I have given everything that we have to this one. We're exhausted. We're stressed. We're strapped. And it's weird to think that still, after all of this, this may not work. The dream may never become sustainable. We'll let you know in a year or so.

But there's a glimmer of hope in thinking that if you make something good enough, you can stop doing all of it, and you'll have the life that you wanted. You'll get to start handing off some of the less-than glamorous jobs. Or paying someone else to do them. (They still need done, mind you, you just won't have to be the one to do them).

But while it's ours, we're going to be proud of the work, and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something so good. So true. So us.

Knowing all of the above, it should cause all of us creators to take pause and realize just how high the stakes really are. For every project you put out, you can't half-ass it. You can't put out a baby project to get you to the next one. It has to be the very best you can be every single time you do it.

You may never get to do it again.

Maybe this record will be the one that makes it all 'Real'. Maybe it won't.

But I promise you this:

Deep Cuts was my very best.

 

Streams in the Desert

Straight down the gut... 

Straight down the gut... 

Las Vegas. It's great. It's terrible. It's sooooo fun, and then it's not. Getting swept up in the glitz, glamour, and excess. It's shiny nights, it's gorgeous timeless desert. Its enough to bombard the senses. It's enough to get lost in. You can be on top of the world, or alone in a crowd. It's all happening there. Hope, despair, escape, elation. All of it. It's heightened. Everyone brought their A-Game. They're hoping for the best. They're out to MAKE a good time, circumstances be damned.

I can't visit a place anymore and not try to imagine what life there would look like for a local. Until living in a tourist destination like Nashville, I never considered what a city must be like when I'm not there. I just saw it through my lenses, and it served its purpose for me as I passed through.

In my experience, there's always a lot of one-way directional tension between locals and tourists. I had never noticed it before, because I was always a tourist. And tourists are just having a good time! They feel an energy to the city, they live in it, they let it wash over them, and then move on. Whatever the city was to them in those moments, it will always and forever be in their own minds. It doesn't make those things fundamentally true, mind you, it just makes them true to the beholder. But that's tourism! It's fun! It's carefree! That's the whole point!

But locals want their city to be seen through their lenses. As it is, as a whole, as they have found it to be over a long period of time. In all of its idiosyncrasies the local feels like an expert of their city, and when someone comes in and embraces the stereotypes, the expectations, the mainstream understanding of a city rather than the city itself, it feels like it's somehow been tainted, exploited, plundered, and then tossed aside. "Well that's not MY Nashville!" You hear them say. It's very US vs. THEM. Insider vs. vagabond. The locals: the townspeople. The visitors: the pirates. Only not the fun swashbuckle-y side of things, the other side. The kind where you're left to pick up the pieces wondering what just happened and who those people were, never really feeling known, never really feeling understood.

But I digress...

I was in Vegas. I think I've been there about a dozen times at this point. This time was different. We did some out-of-sorts things. I walked around in the desert by my lonesome (and 4 remarkable camera guys). A video will follow. Get stoked. It's sexy. There was a drone, and it was windy. I mean realllllly windy. I mean, it was so windy it became an advisory in Las Vegas and we had to stay inside because a wall of sand was knocking over everything. The airport shut down, billboards were getting tossed, trees were falling down. It was a sight to behold. An act of nature. It was scary, but I'm glad to have witnessed it. Was glad my parents made it in safely before it hit. Crazy times. 

Acoustic magic...

Acoustic magic...

Played a show where the ever gracious Academy of Country Music has been giving me an opportunity for the last 6 years at the Party for a Cause. As an independent, there is no kinder thing. To have one of the great institutions of Country Music see you, pick you out of the thousands, and give you a platform. That speaks volumes to me. There are some years it was the only thing to keep me moving on. I'll always help support what they're doing with their charities, their festivals, and their efforts to advance country music. I hope I can someday serve them as well as they've served me.

Vogue...

Vogue...

Joshy and I mugged on the red carpet and watched the awards with glee. The Bros won best new duo, and Miranda won album of the year. 

During the awards show, her long-time producer, Frank Liddell, said something pretty awesome from stage. "To all of the young artists out there, stop making things up. Tell the truth, it's way more interesting." Which hit me pretty hard, especially given the season I'm in. I've been one of the kids he's talking to, and I also resonate so deeply with the period that's just beyond it. The one where you do start telling the truth, the one where you value it more than any award or any thing. I've written over at Carnival for a few years now, and I remember him saying something similar to me in the office after a write one day. He said: "You have to do you. You have to pursue your thing. All of my major successes have some from doing whatever I wanted the best I could." I'm sure his voice was sittin' somewhere in the back of my head while I was in the studio making Deep Cuts. Truth pervades.

But that all brings me to a side trip. An unexpected little jaunt outside of the city.

I saw a dam. It was a big dam. We took a big dam tour. We made lots of big dam jokes. But beholding it also made me think about the human spirit, American ingenuity, and what we can accomplish when we're all desperate enough to drop our preconceived notions, biases, and protectionism, and make something work that was otherwise thought of as impossible. Compromise is usually born out of mutual benefit. But it must also, sometimes, come about because it needs to be done. There is an issue, there is a solution, it takes a lot of people to pull off, and then they all do it. You pool the resources, you identify problems, you consult experts, and then you fricking do the thing. You have to try it, right? Certainly. What happens if you don't?

Nothing.

Nothing happens. 

I'd rather see something. Even if it's a massive failure. 

This undertaking was decidedly not a failure. 80 years old, and it's still going, changing, evolving. Remarkable, really.

All of this got me thinking about my record. We're only a week out from its impending release.

It was a massive undertaking for me, and my wife, in our little home. We consulted experts, pooled resources, and bit off more than we could chew as we careened head-first into a thing we've never done before. But we had to. It had been long enough, and we were in a moment of desperation.

Something needed to take. Something had to give.

Up to this point, we'd poured our hearts and souls into this music thing with all that we could muster. We took jobs to support it. We uprooted our lives from our beautiful, warm, welcoming hometowns to come be here and feel like nobodies. This was our task. This was a war of attrition. If we only had a chance to do this once, we were going to do it right. Debt be damned. Resources be damned. Time, energy, sleep, futures, be damned. This was it. This was the thing. The thing to destroy all other things.

People have told me to hold this whole thing lightly. To see it as just the stepping stone to the next thing. That's like telling a new parent that this is just the one that will make all of the other kids possible. F*** that. This one is beautiful. 

Besides marrying my wife, making this record is the best thing that's ever happened to me. It's gonna be real hard to see it any other way for a while. And as an artist, I feel like doing anything less would be a really shitty thing to do to the listener. Can't cheapen it. This is my Magnum Opus. To this point, it's the single greatest creative work I've ever made. Do I hope I can best it? Absolutely. Am I worried I won't? Not really. Do I want to rush through this record without serving it as best as I damn well can? Never. 

"Look man, you're an independent. You don't have the resources of the majors. It's gonna be good, but just... Just keep going, okay?"

No worries. If I can do anything that feels this good again, you bet your ass it will be repeated.

You'll see the hashtag on our posts #IndependentNotAlone and we really do feel that. We've spent over a decade here and have certainly felt like loners. Outsiders on the inside. The Music Industry contributors from the margins, always present, always working, but never exactly heralded. Never validated. Never taken all that seriously. Is this gonna change that? You just never know.

But you gotta try.

Till next time...

Till next time...

No man is an island...



They say no man is an island, but for 15 years I've sure as hell felt like one.


There's an old saying about the ocean: Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink.

I've been inside and out of this industry. I've been in every pee-on job you can imagine at some of the business' most notable events, venues, and companies. It's weird to be right next to some of music's biggest names and yet still feeling/hoping/praying that, somehow, you'll be peers one day.

 

So what do you do?

 

You keep a low profile. You don't say too much. You listen. Because the face will be familiar but they won't know where from. That's your greatest asset. Keep calm, carry on, and when it's time to step up to the mic for your moment, you'll be rehearsed; you'll be ready. And for a reason they can't even put their finger on, they'll feel like they already know you. And they will... but not like this.

 

This is something altogether different. 

 

So until that fateful day you have to play it cool, you have to be good, and damnit babies, you have to be kind.