Catching a Tiger by the Tail

Seriously. Tonight, friends and neighbors, I want to introduce you to heidisabertooth.  I’ve known Heidi a while, but not really.  We work together, but it’s only in the last maybe 18 months that I’d say we’ve started to know each other.  Part of that is because we work much more closely together now.  Part of it is that she’s made the decision to share her music and herself as a musician with us in a way she hadn’t before.  I am hugely glad of both of these changes. 

Last month when I started the daily SOL challenge, Heidi started a much bigger challenge, creating and posting a song a day for 100 days.  I know, right?  Unbelievable.  I am bowing down even as I type this.  Her project is 100 milkteeth (if you don’t have facebook, you can go to the 100 milkteeth blog or YouTube channel).  One of the things Heidi’s been doing over the last 41 days is collaborating with other musicians and artists … and for today’s song she collaborated with ME!  She turned my mandala Zeno into song #41 (video embedded below).

I thought another fitting (though less musical) collaboration would be an interview so I could introduce her to you good and proper.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you heidisabertooth:

What made you decide to launch 100 milkteeth?  What inspired you about the idea of the creating and releasing a song a day?

Well there are too many reasons to list here but one of the main reasons I wanted to create and release my work every day was to make a commitment to being in the studio every day. I wanted to kick my growth as a musician and producer into high gear — especially as a producer because that is somewhat new to me. It’s kind of like if you went to the gym every day for 100 days in a row — how could you not start seeing and feeling the results??!

How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it?

Maybe I can start by describing how I make my music — it is sample-driven, acoustic/electronic.  What does that mean?  Basically, I am generating all of the sounds myself from a wide variety of instruments: mandolin, guitar, trumpet, keyboard, beat machine, accordion, and many others … Then I sample onto looping pedals, and then perform the samples live through a bunch more pedals to create the song. I don’t use a computer. It is all instruments and pedals. And of course I sing too.

[I saw Heidi perform several months ago.  She’s all things at once, using hands and feet, and singing too.]

What has the song-a-day process been like so far?  How is it just like or completely different from what you anticipated?

I like this question how is it like or different than what I expected, because I am thinking about that lately.  I am quite a planner, but I really have had to take this thing day by day — it has been hard to have many expectations! My good friend just ran the NYC Marathon this fall and I was watching her prepare and I kept thinking … ‘ok, Heidi. 100 milkteeth will be like a marathon. You can prepare, but you never run the full 26 miles until the big day!’ So, I am currently maybe on about mile 10 or so … and hoping desperately that I wont get a stomach cramp!!!  🙂

I continue to be so impressed that you aren’t “only” producing a song a day, but you’re putting up a music video every day, too.  What made you opt to take on that additional challenge, and what has the visual side of the project been like for you?

Wow!  Well that decision came really late in the game. In fact I was gonna start the project 2 weeks earlier, but I started to think … how am I gonna actually get people to listen to these songs?  How am I consuming most of my new music lately? And I had to be honest — it’s mostly through video — sometime on the artist’s website but also a lot through people posting artist videos on youtube.  And I think people are practically becoming hardwired to seek out a visual component to their music listening experience. It’s everywhere — at live shows, paired with album/single releases … and it’s great!  So, I just decided it was worth the extra time and effort.  I think the technology is just there now where many people can develop both aspects. And I have to say this is the single most surprising thing about this project — because I had never worked with video before, so I was reluctant …  But I’m hooked!   I love love love love to make a video as part of my music creation process … it adds another artistic element and really gels the song for me. I will never go back to just making music — I’m multi-media all the way from now on!
Have you begun to notice any changes in the way you work? The way you approach / think about your music?  The kinds of songs you’re making? What’s this project showing you about yourself and the musicians / artists you’ve been working with?

Well, song a day forces me to just make decisions and go for it! I used to labor and agonize over too many details — analyze so much that I would overdub and re-record so much that I think sometimes I lost the original emotions that inspired the song. So I think I am capturing that a bit more now…  Although I am looking forward to a happy medium after this project is done.  I would like to have the freedom to go back to a song and maybe do some cleaner takes, work on the mix down, etc. …  But that is for later.  After all, I have another song to make TODAY!
What do you think the long-term impact of 100 milkteeth will be on your work?

I hope that the project makes me a better producer, collaborator, composer — I plan on doing all kinds of fun musical projects in the future — collaborating with all kinds of musicians, scoring some film soundtracks, performing, oh so many things — and I hope that this experience will have taught me some things about the creative process, so I can take my art to the highest level possible!  I do plan to at least get some of these milkteeth mastered (the final sweetening process for all music on the radio or on anyone’s album) and release them proper!  Perhaps even on vinyl — oh, that would be a dream.  Then who knows! Maybe there will be a market out there for me to make more! For now I am just enjoying the process and am so appreciative of all of the support and advice I’ve been getting from my friends and listeners. Whatever the outcome, this music thing is here with me to stay — we have a great time together — I’m like a kid in the studio, and that fits me just right.  🙂 🙂

And here is today’s milktooth, Mandala:


How much fun is that?!  Good thing the first Zeno I wrote is also the most successful one so far.  Tonight’s — an effort to capture my collaboration with Heidi — is a little less on target, but I’m happy with it all the same.  Go listen to Heidi’s other songs!

Her music running through my words —
shared creation,
doors flung
Shared creation.
This smooth
I’ll remember.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

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Last fall, started a new personal essay series in which they invited readers to post interviews with the people who had bullied them when they were young.  I heard about it when a friend posted Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s excellent essay.

I’ve written about bad experiences I had in kindergarten and about experiences I had in middle and high school.  Middle school is really the only time I felt actively bullied. The kids in kindergarten weren’t nice, but they were more a curiosity than a menace.

John, my 7th grade tormentor, was a boy with a mission, one I’ve never understood. I wonder if he could have articulated at the time the need that fueled his daily verbal assaults. Somehow I doubt it. He could have pointed out the obviousness of my color, but I was neither the first black person he’d met, nor anything like a threat or challenge to him.  Why come at me?  Since learning about the Salon series, I’ve been thinking about John. Would I interview him? Would I go to the trouble of looking for him and asking if I could interview him? I’m really not sure.

While I consider, Facebook has chosen to offer me some other options. In the sidebar where FB lists people it thinks I know or would want to know, I was just given the chance to be friends with Michael, the first person to call me a nigger. Good times.  And a few days later I got a message from an old classmate asking if I would be coming to reunion this year.

Reunion.  Loaded in so many ways.  I am, of course, entirely different from who I was in high school.  Of course that’s true, but in my case it’s maybe even more true.  I am no longer willing to ignore or pretend not to be offended by the kinds of comments I let pass when I was a kid.  Yes, we’re all grown ups now, and that could mean that my old classmates know better than to say some of the things they used to say to me.  Could mean that … doesn’t necessarily.  And I can just see myself having to call people out of their names and stalk off for the train home long before the cocktail reception has ended.

All possible.  Also possible is that Michael could be there.  That John could.  That maybe, with a few beers or glasses of wine, I could orchestrate an easy enough interview without having to go to the trouble of searching for anyone or pretending to be friends on FB.

But what would be the point?  I’ve been trying to reason my way through the idea behind the Salon call-out.  On its face the idea is plain, and plainly stated on the site: “to provide some closure, and maybe even build some understanding and common ground between the picked-on” and the pickers.  And I guess that could happen.  It feels not so likely, though, you know?  After all, your conversation is bound to start awkwardly.  You announce to your old schoolmate that you want to interview him because he bullied you mercilessly during the whole of middle school, and he has a high probability of being angry, defensive, or both.  And maybe he has grown up to be an adult bully, and attempting an interview only opens you up to more abuse.

Even if the conversation went swimmingly, what would you gain from it?  You’ve moved on from who you were at 13.  You have a whole other life.  What is gained by throwing yourself back into the pain of adolescence?  If I found John, and if he were willing to talk with me, what would that conversation give me?  What would be gained by my telling him he was a jerk, telling him that, to this day, I don’t regret smacking him in the head with my history book?  Oh, right, I’m not supposed to say that.  Rewind.  What would be gained by my asking him why he taunted me every day?

But Salon has put a bug in my ear.  I would never have thought of interviewing anyone who treated me badly, wouldn’t have imagined trusting the distance of time and age to create a space for useful conversation.  Now I wonder.  Now I’m thinking about John, about Michael, about several others …

I may well go to reunion.  There are quite a few people I would be very happy to see, and I’d be in no way obligated to chat up John, Michael or anyone whose acquaintance I don’t care to renew. 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.