by koura linda
sitting down with spaceship, one of the first things you will notice, aside from the piercing blue eyes that hide behind a beatlesque mop-top of hair (which he pulls at when he’s nervous or worried about his uruly curls) is how quiet and shy he is in person.
on stage, he will light up the room. his energy and passion for music bursts from every cell- creating a magnet that draws the eyes of the audience while his feet dance and he leaps into a windmill at the end of a set.
in person, however, he is thoughtful and still. he was quick to hold a door open for me and via a quick anecdote, i have gathered that he’s used more of his aaa miles for stranded strangers than he has ever used himself.
as an audio curator for joseph gordon-levitt's online, open-collaborative, production company, hitrecord, spaceship has overseen and produced singles for almost a decade all while his songs “the spaces between” and “of the future” graced the emmy-winning tv series hit record on tv.
his music could be a musical baby fathered by bob dylan, beck and wilco with harmonies that could out-do angels. with a veritable arsenal of over 630 audio tracks on hitrecord alone, it is almost overwhelming to try to find a place to start. his bandcamp page is probably best- with three holiday songs, two full-lengths, 6 singles, and his most recent ep released on christmas day, titled “wake up”.
i asked him about his process, and how he manages to master such a prolific amount of music. i start with a general question:
what is the biggest form of self-resistance he’s felt as an artist?
he tugs at his hair, pulling it down over his closed eyes as he repeats the question back to me.
“how you would define self-resistance?”
i ask him to do it.
“to resist yourself?” he replies, hands back in his lap, eyes focused on the distance. “sounds like it could go either way. like you’re trying to tamp something down in a positive or in a negative sense. or a creative block, I guess?”
there are more than a few beats of silence as he ponders this.
“it’s tempting to say it’s the big picture roadblocks,” he starts. “like, ‘i don’t have enough money’ or ‘i don't have the right tools’. excuses that usually get in the way of any endeavor to get an idea fully realized. you think, ‘oh, if i only had this, then it [my art] would be better!’
but it’s usually the little things...‘i’ll do that another day and do something else now,’ and you just kinda put it off. a lot of these little things add up to where it culminates in a sort of procrastination.”
he then elaborates, calling procrastination “the culmination of a lot of micro-indecisions” and that every time he says, “i’ll do this eventually,” it means that it is more likely to never happen. but as soon as he says, “yeah, i will record this,” even if it's not perfect, at least he has something recorded.
he likens his process to a journey of a thousand steps that begins with one but adds that there are some songs where you just have to “hop on a creative escalator . . . it just sort of takes you up. you just have to start.”
i ask how he persists through the roadblocks of initial creative self-resistance. he takes a shorter moment to ponder that.
“often the best way to power through self-resistance is just to take that first step, to go through a lot of the barriers of, ‘oh, this isn’t a good enough idea’ or ‘nobody’s going to like this’ or ‘do you even like this?’ or ‘somebody else has done that already.’ you just hold onto that initial spark and surround yourself with people that support you and you can bounce your ideas off of them.”
the next question: has he ever fallen into comparing himself to others?
there is no hesitation.
“yeah. i feel like a lot of music nowadays is very much not like my style of music. the kind of music that i make is not necessarily the kind that will get people sweaty in a club so they need to purchase alcohol. or even sweaty enough to drink water at a coffee shop.”
the words are flowing now, as he easily describes his world of music, in comparison to the world of music around him.
“[my music] it’s more for people who put on headphones and like being alone and don't need to have a certain wall-to-wall assault. they don't need to have affirmation. if they have an urge to listen to a bit of nonsense that sometimes has a point and sounds kind of peculiar - i’m a very peculiar musical person.
i usually compare myself to people who have established fan bases and it is hard for me to understand what that even means. i would rather just do well enough that i can make whatever music i want to make and people will buy it if they like it. if they don’t, then there are plenty of people in the marketplace that -- it’s like, i don't want to be just another brand of toothpaste, you know? even though i’m probably the kind of toothpaste that tastes like pumpkin spice or something. like something that you wouldn’t necessarily go to. if you want music for a work out routine- mine is more like ‘just sit down, shut up and listen’ type of music.”
coming back around, he continues.
“i feel it’s ok to compare yourself to other artists if you’re comparing yourself to someone you aspire to be like in some way. if you say, ‘i want to model myself after this artist’ in the sense that they are genuine or they don't really follow the crowd, then i think that's a fair comparison. when you start to compare and say, ‘i want to jump on this fad so that people will like me,’ then you're always going to be a follower, not a leader.”
he stops, the flood of words having reached an end. he slips back into his thoughtful silence, fingers once again tugging at his tumbled curls, eyes lost in the distance.
i am curious about the radio play influence on music, so i ask about it. has this pressure to make pop-chart-ready playlists affected him?
this time he answers almost before the question has even left my lips.
“yes, in a negative way because i don't have any interest in tailoring my music to fit people's needs. to make your art viable is a compromise that must be made if you hope to make a living as a musician. but you’ve got to realize, ‘where can i compromise?’ or ‘how can i find an audience that i want to cater to that is going to go with me along for the ride?’ and if you have to change along the way then you have to figure that into it, as well. being able to adjust, and being able to manage expectations.
managing expectations is the difficult side of it...you have to be aware of who’s listening to you, and if you have to so fully compromise what you like to do just so you can survive, then you might want to just go into accounting or some kind of office work. because if you’re just wanting to please other people then you might as well get a 9 to 5. part of being an artist is knowing not everybody is going to like what you do. and risk is a big part of being an artist. the artists i’ve always liked, there's always some built-in risk in what they do.
i don't want things to be popular just for the sake of being popular. i like the organic quality of popular art, and i just cringe at the marketing side of it.”
it makes sense for an artist to be feeling the heat of the marketing world in today’s social-media driven everything. i can see his distaste for the need to navigate more than just the creative in order to succeed with his art.
i ask what he feels art’s role is in society. this time, he takes a beat before answering.
“that’s a good question. because i often think about it.”
he starts to reply, but lets the question hang in the air as he tries to put together an answer.
“i often wonder if art should be holding a mirror up to society. because it’s so easy to hold a mirror up to a person, or some aspect of who we are, and there’s always a chance that the mirror just makes one look into it in a narcissistic way, and it perpetuates something that you, the mirror-holder, might consider awful. or you can hold the mirror up to them and then they would look into it and have some sort of realization like, ‘this isn't what i want to be.’ so i think, if you create a piece of art effectively, you can shape, in a good way, some type of reaction greater than what you want to elicit. so, art’s place in society as a force for change, it's a little bit out of your control because it can be so easily appropriated by those who receive it.”
he’s choosing his words carefully, and i want to better understand. i ask if he feels that art’s job is to hold up a mirror, or to specifically not hold up a mirror. he replies quickly.
“no, no, [art's] job is to hold up a mirror! but it’s kind of like, art is risk. because once you say, ‘this art has a distinct message and there are no two ways about it,’ i think you lose some of the art and it becomes propaganda. it becomes a means of selling. it’s good to have a message in your art, but you've also got to have a little bit of room. i think in the greatest of art there’s always a little bit of room, enough room, so that those who receive your art can interpret it in ways you could not have imagined.”
before i can question further, he goes in a direction i did not see coming.
“so, art is risk.” he pauses. “and risk assessment is not art. risk assessment is mitigating against an outcome that you don't want to occur. but when you do that, you get bubblegum. bubblegum culture. like, you sell gum, people chew it, and that’s it. they don’t really think about it beyond that. but you give the world...”
he stops, trying to find the best example.
“you give the world a song like ‘blowing in the wind’ by bob dylan. as much as it has a message, you can read a lot into it as well, and people have interpreted that song in many different ways. but all it is, is asking a question, and it’s telling you where to find the answer. but it doesn't really give you an answer. so i think art’s place in society is to ask questions. and the answers are provided by those who search for and receive them...kind of like star trek!”
he brightens at this.
“[star trek] asked a lot of questions, and then inspired further generations to answer those questions with developments and technology that now we take for granted, like the smartphone - it’s almost like that's the answer to the original artistic questions, the philosophy of star trek. but it was also just an entertaining tv show! so it was multiple things - it was entertainment, it was social commentary, it was fantasy. but now we think of it as old-fashioned because that fantasy is now a reality. so art always has to be asking the kind of questions that haven’t been satisfactorily answered yet. that's why there are so many themes that persist in art about the nature of freedom, choice versus control, fate and free will, rich and poor, beauty and ugliness, you know. so, i don’t know. i feel like that’s just a long-winded answer that needs to be edited down a bit.”
i disagree. but ask him the next question. how does he see himself impacting art’s role? again, he repeats the question back to me.
“how do i see myself impacting art’s role in society?”
he thinks for a beat before replying.
“i think i want my art to ask the kind of questions that i genuinely am feeling, at a given point. i might write a song and put it out, and i might have already found the answer for myself, but you put it out there and it may spark something in someone else. i've written songs where it was about a longing for love, and now i have that. so the songs you keep singing, the meaning sort of changes because you’re not singing as who you once were, but you're singing it in a way that you're just inhabiting the character of the song or the character of the art in the time it was made.”
he’s intent now, talking with his hands, and focused on the conversation. the passion he shows on stage is coming through. and i want to know more. what about him and his music? how does his music impact art’s role in society?
he goes back to the mirror example he used earlier, this time clarifying.
“the artist’s role is to use art as a mirror. art’s role is to be the mirror. a risky mirror - it’s a dangerous reflection. it’s like a tightrope that you’re walking. true art is divisive. it's something that walks the tightrope of either love-it-or-hate-it. and what that means is, not to make you more set at odds with others, but to make you crystallize why it is you like something and why it is that you don't. “