As I write this I’m sitting on one of the deep, soft couches at The Sugar Shack – a great studio in London where I’ve been lucky enough to do quite a lot of recording over the years. I’m listening to raw mixes of songs I’m recording with a local singer/songwriter named John Couture.
The first listening sessions are always tough for me. These are guerrilla recordings. John wanted a loose, live feeling on his record, so we’re doing each song off the floor as a band. No click track. Very little preparation. It’s fun, but very, very challenging. Listening back you begin to hear all of the things you could have differently or better. It’s both humbling and encouraging, especially when you hear things you did well.
As I said, I’ve been at The Sugar Shack before. I’ve recorded here with Hiroshima Hearts, Lindsey Burns, Phil Glennie, Carly Thomas, and now John. Each session was novel and unique and memorable in its way. I have fond memories of them all. I’m also certainly a better studio player now than I was when the Hearts piled in here to do an EP back in the day. It’s a nice feeling when you realize you’re making progress.
But you know, the more you do something, the faster it becomes routine. Another Sugar Shack session. Another album. You approach things professionally, but that initial newness, that novelty, is easy to lose if you're not vigilant. You see it sometimes with road dogs who have been on the highways for years or performers who have played thousands of shows. You see it in studio guys. You see it in athletes. You see it in lifers at your office.
You see people who are no longer amazed.
I was amazed when I came in here for the first time. Amazed that I was playing in a great rock band. Amazed that we were recording. Amazed that I was having this cool moment with these awesome bandmates. Amazed that I was capable of doing this at all. I had the same experience on our early gigs and then on shows with other people and making videos and touring all over the place. It was all amazing. It was also all hard at times, but it was great.
I’m trying to be more amazed these days. When recording sessions are tiring or road hotels are a bit dodgy, I remember to be amazed. Amazed at my opportunities. Amazed at some of the cool experiences I’ve had and am having. I can remember the amazing early days on regular jobs I’ve had. Do you remember when you got your job? What a relief it might have been financially? Even how amazing it was to escape whatever job you left to get it?
Do you remember how amazing it was that your spouse was interested in you?
Do you remember how amazing it was to finally get that house?
Finally get your car?
Are there other things that used to amaze that you take for granted now? It’s so easy as a musician to fall into that trap. It’s happened to me many times on gigs when no one showed up or some other b.s. was going on. Where is your dulled amazement bringing you down? What are you not appreciating as much as you should anymore? What are you amazed by right now that might lose its shine over time?
If there are things or situations in your life that frustrate you, try to remember your amazement. Try to bring it back if you can. It can help you endure, help you value things differently, and perhaps even help you make whatever changes you might need to make.
None of this is about settling, by the way. Of course I want to keep growing as a musician. I want to play bigger shows and do bigger tours and hopefully join my friends and bandmates as they grow to their next level. We should always be striving, but we should try very hard not to lose the initial spark that brought us to where we are.
That spark is everything.
These recording sessions with John have been a pleasure. They’ve reinforced how important it is to appreciate and embrace opportunities. My recent tour across Canada with Sarah Smith was a similar reinforcement. Blown drum takes and iffy hotels can be amazing if you put them in the right perspective. It’s incredibly difficult to do sometimes, but I’m learning that most of the really valuable work is.
So stay amazed, gentle reader.
And get ready for this record. It’s going to be, well, amazing.