I’ve been waiting for the muse to deliver this post to my psyche in a tidy way–for total clarity about why I’m “going solo”, what exactly I intend to do–so that I can render this clarity, in turn, to you. But the truth is, the reasons I’m “going solo” are evolving even as we speak.
This is partly because the decision, at least to go this solo, is not entirely by choice. Life has led to circumstances which right now prevent open communication between Chuck and me, and though I’ve considered playing music under my own name for a while, the universe is one-upping me by necessitating the decision. This situation has been very painful, and I have certainly resisted the wisdom and experience it has to bear. But on good days, I have also allowed. So, perhaps for an hour I will feel clarity, then fear of the unknown sets in, and on some days, my mind gets jabbery and I fall asleep wondering if I’ll ever sing again. Then I’ll sit on the porch of this temporary abode, staring at nature in its perfection, or talk with a hustling coworker like Jonathan Scales, and I begin to remember my inherent sense of purpose. This is how I’m making sense of the cloud-picture of my musical future: haltingly, and mostly self-lovingly. I’ll do my best to explain here. But there ain’t no real way of pinning this cloud to a blog post.
What I can say–and I can only speak for myself–is that I’m not declaring that I don’t want to play music with these guys in the future. My only resolution is to step more fully into the idiosyncratic space that I was born to occupy, and check out the view from there. A few people have asked if this means I’ll be performing alone. No, I plan to work with a band, I just don’t know what that looks like yet. I mean, maybe at some point I’ll play alone, but that’s not the plan. I love playing with others. The “solo” designation is just about playing under my own name, which, if you don’t know it, is Stephanie Morgan. The name part provides an important headspace for me in several ways:
Since almost the beginning of stephaniesĭd, I have relied upon other musicians to do some of the work that I don’t like doing but that could make me better at what I do. I say almost, because I did put together the first stephaniesĭd show all on my own, back in 2003. But it was hard, and I made some rookie mistakes. Even though I was working with great musicians, the show was pretty trainwrecky, essentially because I didn’t really know how to lead.
I was relieved when I started working with Chuck. He spoke fluent music theory (MT), and also knew a lot of the players in the Asheville scene. He was already really good at working with teams, having a lot of experience in bands and on basketball courts. He also seemed to know how to translate my ideas into MT more accurately than anyone I’d worked with up to that point. I began to rely on him to make chord charts and organize players and rehearsals. He provided structure. He could also act as translator when i had a musical idea that wasn’t getting through to a player, and he could fatten up the chords I was able to hack out in those early attempts to transcribe the symphony in my head. Chuck (and Tim, when he came along) loaded the equipment for all the shows. They kept a better sense of the tour schedule than I did. The fact that they were both dedicated to the project, and would generally verbalize their support when I’d verbalize desires about the creative direction of the band, made it easy to want to maintain status quo on a lot of fronts.
But over time, I found myself avoidant of performing with other players, without Chuck and Tim around. It wasn’t completely paralyzing, but I’d have to make myself do it sometimes. And when I feel a fear like that, I have to move into it and face the music, so to speak. So I started sitting in with other bands, taking morning music theory lessons via Skype with Jonathan, arranging more parts for horns and strings, and just generally bringing more fully-formed ideas to rehearsals. I have been working toward more confidence in my ability to bring a song to the table and to full manifestation with any set of players. [And I am happy to report that I have just taken a big step with the recording of my solo album! But I can already tell this Part 2 post is gonna be long, so I’ll have to save that topic for Part 3.]
One problem with comfort zones (CZ’s) is that they have to be defended. And when a group of people (even just two) have been working together for a long time, maintaining the CZ can involve muting things that are naturally wanting to be heard but could be a threat to the CZ: ideas, criticism, dreams, radical new suggestions… anything your mind deems upsetting to the team, to these people you love. It’s easy to do this muting unconsciously, because there’s so much to like about what’s going on in your world that you might not even notice you’re beginning to block the natural life force of group creativity, which has nothing to do with comfort and everything to do with the thrill of the hunt… the exhilaration of aiming at a moving target together.
On the one hand, it seems there are these conflictual urges: one toward better and better music, and the other toward taking care of each other. But I believe that if each member of the group stays tuned in to themselves, and stays present to the weird little truths that only our own hearts can dictate, these urges aren’t in opposition at all, because when we bare all the truths, and look at them not as problems but as puzzles to solve, we’re taking the most supreme care of ourselves, each other, and the art, all at the same time. I believe that’s the gift we must give as artists–our emotional honesty–but it is always a vulnerable thing to do. I’m sad because I don’t think we ever really resolved this apparent conflict of urges in the band. But it’s hard to shift a culture, and I believe everyone has acted out of the best of what we are good at: love, love of music, love of the show, loyalty. So I truly feel the gift we are giving to each other by setting ourselves free.
Sure, there was a strong and true reason for the name. Back in 2003, it was the banner for a journey I set upon: to peel back the onion layers of behavior and thought I’d accumulated by being schooled, societized, acculturated, Texan, Iowan, female, Catholic–to get to the meat of who I organically was, underneath the rules I’d adopted about how life was supposed to be lived, and to connect with that same place in others. It started out spelled like this: “Stephanie’s Id“. But it turns out that when you type that name (try it), you almost always hold the shift key too long, and you get “Stephanie’s ID”. Even our booking agents and close friends would misspell it. After 3 years of showing up to venues whose marquises read “Stephanie’s I.D.”, I changed the format of the name by mushing together all the letters like a website, clean and with no punctuation, AND I added the pronunciation symbol I was taught in first grade for the short sound of the letter “i” (as in “kĭd”). Oh, and all small letters. It looked beautiful: stephaniesĭd. And I figured the altogetherness of it would force people to have to ask, mitigating the likelihood of it being misspelled. That worked better. The name was still misspelled, but always in a different way, which was better than walking into a club in Columbus, Ohio to greet whomever would show up to see a pop-noir band named after the singer’s driver’s license.
[When I showed up in Virginia to record this new album, the producer didn’t even have a good grasp of how to say it.]
Dearest fans…I think you’ve excelled in your ability to suss out the ethos of stephaniesĭd. But I’m going to venture to say that this has happened despite our name. And what’s in a name, anyway?…and Shakespeare and shit. It’s time to take this light out from under it’s hard-to-prounounce bushel and shine it for all the world to share and forward on Snapchat.
When I was a little kid, I was enrolled in sports, not music lessons. But I would spend hours at my grandparents’ houses, and each had an organ. I’d make up songs, and teach myself how to play songs I had heard other people play. And I remember endless car rides, where I would lie in the back of a station wagon, singing harmonies and melodies to AM radio, mimicking DJ voices, trying to see how high or low my voice would go, noticing how it was different depending on time of day and temperature. And I noted how certain songs seemed to attach themselves to events, and become imbued with emotions the songwriter didn’t even intend. Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” played as we drove away from an entirely burned house that my aunt wanted to show us one day. That song felt haunting to me for years afterward, but in a compelling way. I loved how it allowed me to feel the weirdness of that scene with only the artifacts of the emotion, not the trauma of it–it sort of gave beauty to the whole thing–and I could just play with the emotion, dramatize it and be a little removed from it.
I remember my mom would sing to me a lot. She enjoyed it, and I loved her voice. I had a full relationship with music before I was even in Kindergarten, fostered by the sheer joy of making noise. I didn’t know the name of any note, hadn’t had a lesson… but I still knew that certain combinations of notes on the organ sounded scarier than others, and that there was no such thing in music as one pure feeling. They were all mixed up, even in one song or one homemade riff.
Music reflected and elevated life and all its complexities, and made it whole. I lived an appropriately sheltered childhood, but there were things my mother didn’t hide from me – like the burned house. Or when I was 4 and asked if Santa really exists, and she said no. And when I asked why she was crying one day when I was no more than 5, and she gave me the whole complex answer: that she didn’t think that things should be different between her and my estranged bio father, but that sometimes she still missed him. Music could handle all this information, and feed it back to me in a way words and my own thought couldn’t (and still can’t).
I’ve carried this organic relationship with me throughout my life. But I’ve also sometimes doubted myself in a roomful of people speaking MT. Sometimes I’ve checked my relationship at the door of those rooms. And sometimes that’s been because some (not all) MT folks seemed to hope I would do that, that I would learn to speak the language or get outta town, because the way I speak about music is with a lot of emotional words, and some people are uncomfortable with that. Sometimes I’ve just gotten intimidated, believing that only MT’s are real musicians. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely believe in the power of speaking MT–it’s an efficient language in wide use in the Western world–and I intend to work toward better and better fluency. But my MT friend Matthew Richmond reminds me that music theory is descriptive, not prescriptive. I want to honor my native tongue and further develop my own effective way of communicating with a band.
I’m very emotional about this transition. And I hope that as many of you as are able to make it will join us at the last ĭd show, next Sunday in Asheville. It’ll be a good time to come together and celebrate the ephemerality of life. Let me know if you need a ticket due to financial hardship or want to buy and donate tickets so that others can go (talktotheid at gmail dot com). And I want you to know that I don’t intend to stop creating. On the contrary, I plan to expand the playing field and continue to play ball.
The past 3 months has been the most eventful period ever in band’s 13 years.
Sure, over time there have been heart-racing periods like when we played Bonnaroo or got on NPR or had a ballet choreographed to our music or toured in Europe or heard our songs on TV or that time when we had to leave the trailer at a seedy gas station in New Jersey. But there’s been a recent kind of “eventful” that has bubbled up from the depths of the ĭd itself, inside the emotions each one of us in the core trio. Painful stuff. But… necessary, inevitable. The kind of stuff that you know will pave the way for something important… but you have to go through it first. Growing pains.
Each of us–Tim, Chuck, and I–have been opening ourselves to the next level of our creative lives. I’m super proud of us. But it has not been neat and tidy. Maybe you can relate? I’ll just pretend you can. That’ll make things easier.
For a while, I’ve been wanting to try working with an assortment of people, in order to learn things you can only learn that way… expansion of my capabilities as a singer, arranger, band member. So several months ago, I took a big leap and recorded a solo album in Richmond with players I had never even met (more about that in Part 2!). Chuck and Tim were supportive of this. One thing I love about this band is that we are family. They helped me get the songs ready, make demos… the stuff you’d only do for people you love.
Around the time I was making plans, Tim moved residence to Charlotte in search of a whole new paradigm. We supported him, adjusting rehearsal plans to travel back and forth. Before he landed a great day job at a brewery, he would send us texts about this crazy-dangerous tall building he was doing construction on top of. Aren’t there OSHA regulations? I digress.
It’s safe to say that Chuck went the deepest. He turned to face the big stuff, from his past (we all know these things can tenaciously follow us into the present). And sometimes when you really brave it, the upheaval is fundamental, mountain-moving, even visible from a great distance. Just as we were scheduled to play our big show at Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville, he was in the hospital.
This was very sad for a lot of reasons, obviously. Everyone including the theatre showed great concern and compassion for Chuck. The show was halted, the theatre lost money. And the show had been designed to support the very thing Chuck has dedicated so much of his life to: connecting with people by ushering them into the performing arts.
His role with young people has been massive in the community. He’s taught private piano lessons since college, showing people the ropes: how to play scales, work with other players, connect with the material. He creates opportunities for them to perform and to get over anxieties. He has worked to make lessons accessible to everyone, and he shares his own creative struggles when that can help a student break through to the next level. Ticket sales from the show were priced to raise money for the Youth Education Scholarship (Y.E.S.) fund, whose ethos states, “No child should miss the opportunity to learn through the arts….regardless of economic circumstances”.
The folks at the theatre spent hours calling ticketholders and assuring people that they would make every effort to reschedule. People who drove into town for the show turned around and drove back out of town again. Did I mention that the theatre lost money? I probed. They did.
Chuck posted this a few days later:
To date, the post has returned 332 overwhelmingly supportive comments on Facebook, many from people that simply love Chuck, but also from so many of you who understand what it’s like to go to the difficult places, and who wish we didn’t have so many taboos around talking to each other about it.
I’m going to leave it up to Chuck to communicate with you about how he’s doing now. But in any case, we determined that Chuck could play the show, and settled on a reschedule date of Sunday, May 1 from 7-9pm. I’m grateful for the work of Rae and the theatre folks for giving this another go. I won’t lie: the reschedule has significantly impacted attendance numbers from regular theatre patrons. So we have a long way to go to bring numbers back up and re-fund the fundraiser. I thank you ticketholders for your patience and support of not only us but the greater cause of the show. And to our amazingly dedicated extended family of musicians who have worked out their schedules, too. I know that none of this is lost on Chuck. And it warms me to feel your enthusiasm for May 1!
For reasons that I’ll explain more in Part 2, the band has decided that this will be the last stephaniesĭd show, and there’s a lot of love gathering around it. People are even beginning to buy tickets even if they can’t get here, and forwarding the confirmations to us to give away to people who want to come but have hardship paying the fundraiser ticket price (I just started a thread on our FB page for postings). Tim’s driving in from Charlotte. The strings are hailing from Tennessee. The scholarship recipients will be there, performing with us and on their own, and other very special guests are joining us on stage, too, including some current/former students. It’s the perfect event for us to all welcome these kids to the world of the performing arts, celebrate the role of art in expressing the wholeness of human life… a time to drop political debates and whatnot to come together to make some music.
Let’s have a blast and fill this place UP! Let’s show the people at Diana Wortham Theatre that ĭd fans are about more than just rocking out – that we understand the importance of art and community and of lighting torches for the young. Let’s sing! Let’s dance. Let’s listen to Chuck Lichtenberger play a freaking baby grand! Let’s bask in the glow of Erik’s lighting design, and give out some scholarships!
I love you guys. I hope you can join us that night. Life is a trip, and I’m gonna sing about it.
Get tickets in advance. Do it now – it’s that kinda show. Live out of town? You can be like Michele Benoit in Maine or Andrew Nesbitt in Charlotte, and purchase tickets anyway, for us to give away to others (just forward the confirmation to me). Your presence will be felt. http://www.dwtheatre.com/performances/calendar/2015-2016-mainstage/stephaniesid
Part 2 coming soon.
Meanwhile, I’m getting ready for the show.
I’m writing this one while listening in headphones to Matthew E. White’s “Feeling Good is Good Enough” (from Fresh Blood), on repeat. For max enjoyment of this post, I suggest you push play too:
I was wavering on resolutions this year, so yesterday I just borrowed my friend Emily‘s. She’s doing 2 things:
Got up this morning. Got angsty because of an email that I should have waited to check anyway.
Sat upright in bed. Closed eyes. First 3 minutes: Watched the swirly, dirty brainmakings go by. Whatever. At least I’m trying it. Maybe I’ll just be able to breathe deeper or something. Minute 4: Maybe I can multitask…include resolution #2. Climbed outside my body, sat in front of myself. Tried to see my own eyes. Nope. but I could feel my hair and my cheeks. Talked to myself, as if I were 10. “Your brain is working hard, huh?” We laughed a little. We talked for a little while.
WE. Laughed. WE. Talked.
Myself and myself went on the regular short morning walk with Chuck, wherein he reluctantly asked me to try to be ready at 9 in the mornings for this, which is our general agreement anyway, but I’ve been slacking. I’m usually pretty defensive about making time goals. But in the span of 1 second, the me that wasn’t in my body called a huddle and said something like, “Yeah, makes sense. You’re cutting into his piano practice. When you’re late, he probably feels rushed, and then this awesome neighborhood/nature/check-in walk that you both love to do isn’t awesome.” Coach Steph doesn’t seem to take things personally. Also, she adores me. And she’s super charming. So the me in the body just kind of shrugged and agreed, like hell yeah, 9am? Done.
“Sorry, Babydoll. I’ll totally do that.”
Super happy Chuck.
I swear to god she’s still sitting with me right now. She looks just like me, but I get the sense she’s happy all the time. She totally gets it. Like, she wouldn’t even say she’s happy, because that kind of word doesn’t apply when there’s no suffering as opposite. She’s just kind of… really good. She’s sitting here watching me correct my grammar and finding that hilarious.
That email was from the folks at Spacebomb Records. It was completely wonderful in objective terms, because it laid out the timeline for the RECORDING OF THE NEXT ALBUM (there’s your announcement!!), which head honcho and touring artist Matthew E White will be producing! They have this really groovy old-school house band situation (as you can hear), and their records make me soooooo happy!! <—-But Coach Steph told me to put all those exclamation points there, because Body Steph read that email and fell into a sort of inexplicable intimidation funk. I’ve had a crush on Matt and his horn/string arranging posse for some time, and it’s taken a lot for me to swallow my own arranging pride so I can learn from folks further up the chain.
But now it’s 11:11am, we’re on our 9th or so loop of “Feeling Good is Good Enough” (CS can just hear it. She doesn’t need headphones.), and with the aid of some potent 1-second team check-ins, Body Steph (BS) re-read that email with a similar exclamation-mark-eliciting feeling. So, here we go, kids… IN MARCH, IT’S ON!! BIGGEST RECORDING UNDERTAKING SO FAR.
Thanks, Em, thanks Matt, thanks CS (she’s looking like she’s all that. pshaw….).
I feel it only fitting, at this time of year, when all is cozy and family and gratitude, to register the following:
one complaint. just one, about existence.
When i click “unsubscribe” on an email newsletter, I then sometimes have to log in to a website to make that happen.
But I just want out, not in.
Clearly, my affair with that newsletter has petered out. I don’t even care about it anymore, much less the more substantial realm of its web-habitat of origin.
Ok, obviously I was in a really whimmy place when I got involved with said habitat. A part of myself could envision living there, or visiting often enough that putting myself through the rigors of obtaining login credentials made sense. They were giving away a free voice lesson, or 10% off hand-felted worry dolls, so I persisted when my usual password was rejected by its state-of-the-art security system. I was so committed that I tried 12 more capital letters and a $ sign. I can only imagine that I felt a certain delirious victory when I was finally let in… it’s the kind of dementia that renders one heedless of the limitations of human memory.
But, y’know, it happens, right? And I remember seeing a friendly notice when I was there that said “you can unsubscribe at any time.” Sweet–free stuff with no commitment! So, once out of my beer-goggle stupor, when I find it time to cut the tie, I reach for the handy unsubscribe button in the latest email installment, glib with with fond memories of our time together. It can be such a lovely parting. Should I ever decide to revisit, the door is open. aww.
Or SOMETIMES there’s no handy unsubcribe button. There’s a “manage email settings” link. This thing is like 10 pages of paperwork preceded by a login screen. It’s like trying to get a divorce in Arkansas. It’s like, “Oh no, you diii’ent! ‘fyou wanna be like that, you can just come in here and MAKE ME unsubscribe yo ass.”
And dammit, what was that password? And wait, was it my email address or a username? So many possible combinations. I try several. “For security reasons”, I am locked out for 20 minutes.
At this point, I reeeeeally want to get in. It’s like crack. I bargain with myself: “I can’t believe these people would… I’m getting the hell out of here as soon as I… I just need to get in there one more–wait, they updated their interface… that might be really awesome… it wouldn’t hurt to just look around… if i could just”–and then, “ok, i don’t have time to wait right now, but I’ll definitely try again when i have time.” But by then, i am just fooling myself. i’ve fallen victim to the principle of effort justification, and I will never leave.
So what is my point? How will this post help your life and the lives of your friends and family? Dunno. You should all subscribe to my newsletter to find out.
When we become aware of terrible things in the world, we get scared.
But we might not know we’re scared, because our adult minds have worked very hard to replace scared feelings with angry feelings, which feel more manageable. And when we take our anger a step further and band together with other angry people, we end up talking a lot about what we don’t want, and less about what we do.
So then you have a lot of really scared people together, wearing anger suits, and so no one can fully reach each other to help take care of each other’s spirits, to help each other tune into our true voices and grow in our abilities to transform scared feelings to brave ones…because we’re too busy talking about how to get rid of the thing that we’re scared about.
We must take care of ourselves. We can be honest. We can take the time to listen to our own inner voices–and allow them to amplify. We can believe that our friends and family are resilient and adamantly creative, and rather than don an anger suit on their behalf when they are scared, we can direct them to their own inner selves, which at that moment are speaking to them with more clarity than we can ever possibly give them.
People will continue to do terrible things. Some folks are so stitched in to their anger suits that they can scarcely recognize their own voices. And it would seem that they could crush us.
But they cannot.
They are, simply…scared.
It’s an emotional day. I can’t talk about details–it’s too much. I assure you all persons in my life (including me) are healthy and whatnot. But I had to say that to give you a context for why this BBC podcast about the song “Hallelujah” packs so much power for me in this moment:
(If you can’t play the audio from here, go to this link.)
The whole episode is wonderful and well worth a full listen (about 30 min), but the synopsis is that Leonard Cohen’s heartbreaking song, which he put on a record in 1984, was not only rejected by his record company, but was ignored for 7 years until John Cale recorded it, and still didn’t fully burrow into souls until Jeff Buckley heard that cover and covered it, in 1991.
The song, even played in snippets in the background, slayed me today. And may also be saving me. Like the man says in the episode, “…to really love some one is a true test of one’s deepest self….what love does is… it just shatters you… it just breaks you apart. And that’s not a bad thing.” From my state of excruciating emotional pain, “Hallelujah” has taken me to a larger place, with a view I couldn’t imagine in the minutes before listening. The pain is not gone. I’m just aware that it’s understood now, by something bigger than me, by every atom in the universe. That’s what’s saving me. And if not for Jeff Buckley’s cover of a cover, I would never have had this moment.
A person who has an impulse to cover a song does so from a different perspective than the original songwriter. The covering artist first has an emotional experience with the song as a whole creation, connecting on such a level that they are impelled to bring it to life through their own body and voice. And in this way, there is no second-guessing. The episode explains how Leonard Cohen was tortured by the song for years – how he kept writing verses (80 of them) to try to get it right, even after he released “Hallelujah” on his album in 1984. I know this feeling. I’ve made attempts to put “Lonely in Manhattan” on, maybe, 4 albums. I’ve rewritten parts. I can’t get it right. I overthink it. Is this the right word? Does that say what I mean? Does going minor on that part of the bridge undermine the whole thing? Am I a fraud? What does a song matter in the world, anyway? Sometimes we songwriters put a tortured song on an album anyway, perhaps with the same weak hope of people in a troubled relationship who decide to have a baby. Maybe that’s what Leonard did. And luckily, someone else (John Cale) heard the faint call that Leonard’s version was emitting, and amplified it. And even luckier, young Jeff Buckley heard the amplified call amidst the early 90’s radio din, and tag-teamed for the finish. The cover artist knows the song is powerful. So that person is free of the headbanging in hotel rooms, wadded up napkins, failed recordings. The cover artist can let the song penetrate them, and sing it back to the world, with only celebration in mind. And in that way, the cover artist can make the song better. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jeff Buckley did.
I released my first album in 2003. I’ve made 5 of them since. There are sleeper songs on all of my records. Songs I love, but that have not been embraced. Maybe I pulled a Leonard and didn’t frame those in the right light, so they could really be experienced. Dunno. But to anyone who feels a spark with one of my songs, current or past, and is hesitant about making it their own: do it. Most of our stuff you can license through Creative Commons anyway (and for the material that’s not, your cover will kick my ass to get organized on that front).
Every time I write a song, I want it to be heard. Any songwriter who disagrees with that statement is probably lying. And I’m less attached than ever to the notion that my performances of my songs are the best that can be done. So bring it. Thank you for listening, and thank you to BBC, Leonard C, John C, and Jeff B for exalting my experience today to something that borders on … beauty.
Every parent must face the day when a child, of her own volition, chooses a path; when innocence is replaced with a knowing-of-the-world, when wide-eyedness squints into salacious desire to explore the underbelly of existence. Today is that day.
“Hey Hey Hey”, born in 2007 (yes, now age 8–don’t judge–song lives can be roughly measured in dog years, SO HA), makes yet another onscreen appearance… this time in horror video game Until Dawn, for Sony Playstation 4 (PS4, for those in the know).
Benefits to the family: 1) the Sony people paid us some money. 2) there are voracious gamers all over the globe who are now googling “Hey Hey Hey.” Some of them are buying Grus americanus. 3) Until Dawn is being called a “game-changer” by Paste Magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post and some other bigwigs for allowing players more control of the game’s outcome than previous offerings in its genre. That’s cool.
So go, dear one – be the levity amidst the murderous gore. Be the flirty soundscape for a snowball fight between attractive characters. Use what you got, girl.
We…got…somethin’…. there’s somethin’… there’s somethin’ here.