At some point my designs on being a rockstar evaporated. Self-promotion, high visibility, being endlessly “on”… all were requirements I once pretended to be up for, deep down knowing I never would be.
6/6/2019 – I’ll begin fleshing out this section with something old and imperfect that somehow remains consistently interesting to me. In 2008 I was still living at home but gearing up for a huge transition, and in the thrall of Placebo’s Meds album (which by then was already a couple years old). There was a certain dynamic between myself and a couple of hometown characters that may or may not have existed entirely in my solitude-addled, theatrical brain, but whatever the case, I latched onto the track “Space Monkey” and really dug in. I needed it to speak for me, about my capacity for different sorts of relationships, and a particular non-descript yearning.
I will say again that this recording is subpar at best. You have to crank it way up to hear it. There are unconcealed foul-ups and the last third is especially messy. It’s me doing something I was moved to do in a basement one night, not even intending to record a demo, but more just letting rip. But it embodies an electricity, a sense of freedom never captured before or since, and I try to accept it as is because I couldn’t recapture an ounce of it if I tried (especially ten plus years later).
Space Monkey (Placebo cover) – 2008
11/3/2019 – I had a handful of decent-quality home demos from the Alexandra Rising era that all fit pretty well together. They’ve been in storage together on a CD labeled “B-Sides” for ten years now. I daresay they’re more sentimental and delicate than most of the debut album – certainly more than I want any new output to be – but I thought I should put them out there anyway, because there was a good amount of work involved, and they have a certain something about them. Also thought it was about time I represented myself on Bandcamp. So, here you go.
11/4/2019 – Let’s talk about why, around ten years ago, I stopped releasing original music.
I’ve always been one who could stand back and read myself and the shortcomings of my own work. My technical deficiencies as a musician (which I’d always doubted I could overcome, since as a piano student I always seemed to get in my own way no matter how much I practiced) – combined with a lack of collaborators who could fill in the gaps – led to my songs getting presented mostly as “female piano ballads”. And, right or wrong, I shuddered to think of being pigeonholed as that.
Granted, I had studied poets as well as those popular singer-songwriters who have somehow managed a reputation as writers for the ages… so my piano ballads at least reached for something a step beyond. But, despite my occasional clever, mortality-aware turn of phrase, ragged edge of (synthesized) distortion or heated-wire sear of (again, synthesized) feedback, my songs still read “female piano ballad” and it irked me to no end. I grew up in the nineties when two females on the airwaves back to back, even if as different as, say, PJ Harvey and Jewel, would have been considered “stacking”. Did I realize the ridiculousness of all this? Sure – but I also didn’t see it as a thing I could help change – nor did I see it as a thing I could tolerate when aimed at me.
Meanwhile, some great people who seemed to know what they were doing gave me opportunities to play live as part of a band, experience booking and promotion, and go into real recording studios. I thought, hey, since you don’t really know what you’re doing right now, you’d be a fool to turn down these opportunities. So I boarded some coattails and off I went.
Of course, this is just an attempt to explain what I was thinking. But let me say, now, in no uncertain terms:
I WAS WRONG.
Aside from the internalized misogyny involved in finding the term “female piano ballad” so off-putting… aside from a complete failure to do what I should have and give no effs about the opinions of people who couldn’t appreciate nuance… I gave up on my own vision. Sure, the Sold Kingdom is about shedding illusions of control where appropriate… but in this case I actually talked myself right out of my own free agency – to figure out how to present my work in its best light, and to just effing do it.
I AM DONE DOING THAT.
Which is why I have put my “female piano ballads” (so put because they ARE ballads played in a piano setting, and because I happen to identify as a woman of some sort) here for those who like “that sort of thing”.
11/5/2019 – The speaker of my songs has always been me – but not everyday me. More like me at my most intense, refusing to put up a euphemistic front and saying all the things I wish I could say to your face. Me, but lonelier and more desperate. Or me, but more empathetic than I can safely afford to be.
The speaker of my songs is oftentimes deprived in certain ways and as a result can be a bit vampiric.
The challenge of making new music that serves as a point of re-entry is figuring out who my speaker is now. Maybe it should be even less myself than before. Listening to REM’s interview about Monster turning twenty-five has me thinking about this. They tapped into glam – a vehicle for deliberate artifice – to distance themselves from what had come before, and the accompanying expectations.
Plus, in a strange way, the safety of a facade has been known to facilitate the expression of more, and/or deeper, truth.
11/7/2019 – I got an email from WordPress today with some instructional articles. One was about personal branding. It reminded me that what I am doing these days is essentially RE-branding, since when I first ventured out as a mature(-ish) artist, I was Alexandra Rising. And I don’t mind telling you that, yes, back in 2006 there was a notepad with a list of scratched-out names, with the one rising to the top (semi-unintentional pun) being the one I disliked the least. That whole cliche musician-bio shebang.
Now I’m Sold Kingdom, which I know has some issues, ‘cos it might sound vaguely religious, or more vehemently anti-capitalist than I actually am, or just hard to understand when someone says it aloud, or whatever. But I’ve been married to the phrase for awhile, and at no point was it ever written on a notepad as merely one option among many.
Anyway. The difference between Alexandra Rising and Sold Kingdom can probably be best summed up by these two images.
12/13/2019 – Here is where all my song lyrics can be found going forward: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1PFfAVNDhgpoEwnbvokTqjDZQTd9FdDIi
12/18/2019 – Relapse (Alternate Version)
This is a song from my 2007 debut as Alexandra Rising. The album version, which features more of a rock arrangement, has been played on WNRN as well as WXRK here in C-Ville.
I rediscovered this demo of the song time-capsule-style the other day, having forgotten I recorded it twelve-plus years ago. The song was totally fresh and raw at the time this was recorded. So I decided to make this available as an alternate version.
Also, I just used emastered.com for the first time ever, to bring the sound levels up to normal. Pretty nifty.
1/19/2020 – Best Dead Masterpiece
A full-length is coming together, which still amazes me. It’s starting to become clear that even though I was not actively writing what I recognized as songs all this time, I never stopped nailing down ideas when they came to me, and I now find myself with 30+ pages to draw from.
I hesitate to talk too much about a product I plan on releasing in the near future, for fear of killing some of the mystery around it. But I think it would be good for myself and others if I listed a few things that my forthcoming album, well, IS.
-It is titled after a magnetic poetry phrase I’ve had on my fridge for years, that I have always liked but that continues to take on additional layers of meaning the more I construct songs to inhabit it.
-It is concerned with a lot of the uncomfortable, but edu-ma-cational, personal pitfalls I’ve had over the past decade.
-It is written from the standpoint of someone whose life went in a different direction than they ever thought, who is still young but old enough to be acutely aware their youth is rapidly dwindling.
-It is filled with portraits of people I know or used to know, and sometimes composites of several different people, all of them male-identifying but not all of them romantic partners.
-It is poised to become the most experimental album I’ve ever done, if only in the interest of keeping myself interested in my own art and trustful of my own versatility and ability to learn new tricks.
3/9/2020 – So, here’s where we are with the album. Through a couple months of improvisational sessions singing my lyrical text into a voice memo app, I have 14 verbose-as-hell songs largely set to some semblance of melody. What’s strange is, I have next to no concept of how they will eventually be arranged. Which means I can’t give them a genre label. They are too dense, awkwardly fitted, maybe idiosyncratic and tedious and less than memorable. But I have worked hard on them, and I cannot conceive of them being presented any differently. Also, being that there are so many words and my relationship with them is looser than is usual for me, I find myself listening to the recordings back and being surprised by my own train of thought and word choice, and somehow this means more to me right now than pop hooks.
My lack of a set-in-stone concept for the arrangements also makes me feel, maybe for the first time in my life, that I would be very open to hearing what a team of trusted advisers might bring to my songs after hearing them in their skeleton form, and that is an interesting feeling for my control freak self. This was reinforced by a 2018 KEXP interview with Neko Case I watched over the weekend, in which she sang the praises of collaboration and observed that developing a sense of self-security has allowed her to relinquish more creative control rather than less.
I’ll also mention that – though I have seen my fair share of mediocre TedX talks and am not one to be bowled over simply by a singularly-dressed, stage-lit person doing triangle hands and spouting maxims – while writing tonight I bypassed background music and impulsively clicked on a talk by Caroline McHugh. Caroline McHugh of the futuristic Tilda Swinton fashion sense and rapturous Scottish angel voice (apparently).
And in addition to being hell of relaxing, it was surprisingly good, and timely, with its directive to relearn the art that un-self-conscious children intuitively master: that of giving the world their unadulterated oddity. (Of course McHugh also talks about complimenting this with a healthy dose of humility – defined as making others the center of your attention rather than vying to be the center of theirs – which is the indispensable component that saves the rest from insufferability.) A good reminder for someone on the verge of putting more art into the world, and someone who still battles random surges of anxiety over the most banal of tasks in a leadership position at work. I am still fighting to get to the point where I can comfortably say “You’ve got your good thing and I’ve got mine” without an ounce of comparison/insecurity/envy.
Which brings me to, What the hell is my Thing? The thing that doesn’t necessarily sound like a ringing endorsement, but I’m gonna use it to advertise myself anyway?
I dunno. I like observing people (creepy) without the task of responding in real time with “uh-huh” and “no way!” I like to get to the core of people under their social masks. I do it with empathy and sometimes with bluntness. My piano-playing is bad and my use of I, III, V chords might be even worse. I dare to think that I might speak for lots of people when I might speak for no one but myself. Like the person who says, “Y’know when you _____” and everyone goes, “No”.
So there you have it. Buy my sh*t. Mmmkay?
And so, after demoing half an album, and experiencing rushes the likes of which I haven’t felt in a long time when songs did exciting things, I have come to a point of questioning everything I’m doing. It’s all too homogeneous, too lugubrious, not different enough from what I used to do, not experimental enough, too pop, too pretty, too expected.
And amidst working at home, in quiet spells, I have started doing Google searches like, “Why do I always grow to dislike my own music?”
The general consensus seems to be that this is a common phenomenon and that you need to push through these things, and so I am trying.
As I write this I am listening to Jonathan Donahue’s (of Mercury Rev) disarming interview with Ian McNay from early 2019. The arc I’m hearing in the band’s story is one of young men who initially thought they, in their unabashed out-of-step-ness, would throw themselves into the act of genuine creation and be well-received and have everyone meet them where they were… and were met with crickets. Then, years later, when the acclaimed Deserter Songs sprouted out of a wasteland, being reserved and objective about its quality, and being surprised when it suddenly clicked with everyone. Which is probably one reason Donahue speaks of the artist as a vessel doing things beyond their control:
“You begin to attack life…. in your adolescence… going at life saber-drawn… and then if you’re gloriously lucky, it occurs not to you, but in you, to surrender. […] You realize how much of a faucet you are and not the water itself. That’s the liberating moment in art.”
I’d say that very letting go is a big facet of what Sold Kingdom is about.
But that’s easy to say. Truthfully I’m still very much in the process of trying to relinquish control of all the things I should, like being bugged that I sound so different from most of my influences, bugged that I’m a fairly crude and wretched individual who can’t seem to help spouting music that’s sweet, sad, and graceful, bugged that the sentiments of my songs seem to need heavier execution but I can’t seem to accomplish that by myself.
Again, I am working on it.
By the way, in the course of trying to manage my thoughts and feelings about who the hell I am as an artist, I did something insufferable and coined a term for my stuff: sear-core. I inconspicuously dropped this description without elaboration, as if it were something that’s existed for years, in my “About” section on Facebook. The term didn’t come out of nowhere: a decade or more ago the word “sear” occurred to me as a way to describe what my beautiful-but-sometimes-verging-on-too-harsh voice does when I draw it out like wire. Also there’s my penchant for singeing parts of my lilting, folk ballad-like melodies with screeches of synthesized guitar distortion. Not to mention my tendency to write the lyrical equivalents of an intense loner’s hot breath on your neck, alternating with softly savage reads of people, both of which could figuratively be said to “sear” the listener.
Anyway. I sorely need sleep. I’ll link to the interview here for my own convenience, since I know I’ll want to revisit it later.
5/7/2020 – The Story Behind the Name (non-TL;DR version)
So let’s talk about the name “Sold Kingdom”.
The word “fan” seems too strong to describe my relationship with Fleetwood Mac – I’d just say that they were a band that was always sort of present in the scenery for me. I heard many of the singles as a young kid and liked them, particularly some of the less-overplayed ones like “Sara”, and I certainly respected them, but at the same time I didn’t grow up with any of the full albums so I didn’t have that deep knowledge.
Then in high school I became aware of Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” (GDW from here on), which also made me pay more attention to the original. Also around that time, the band had their reunion tour and a concert that aired during numerous PBS pledge drives. I recorded the performance and watched certain songs over and over, particularly Stevie’s extra fierce and gravelly rendition of GDW. I appreciated the jump cut to Courtney in the audience applauding afterward.
Around that time, I was also experiencing an attraction that was not healthy. Ultimately I wasn’t derailed by it, but for a long time after, I continued to chase a certain type of rush and didn’t know how to appreciate relationships devoid of power-play and drama (not unlike what the band members were experiencing during the making of Rumours, from what I hear).
When I left for college, I was gifted a mixtape with Hole’s GDW on it. Over the years, as I’ve washed my hands of relationships that involve one or both parties playing games in an attempt to keep the upper hand, I have thought often about that line, “Rulers make bad lovers. Better put your kingdom up for sale”.
Even though Stevie has given different interpretations of the song to different interviewers, referencing cocaine, bad relationships, fame, or all of the above, I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a line that better sums up the journey from hubris to humility.