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dialogue with treehouse artists

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 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.


“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.

“then you’re able to better crystallize the world around you and say, ‘oh, you don’t like this because of that?’ then you know what camp you fall into. but it’s also good to see that hard reaction, which also creates conversation and you’re forced almost to find common ground that merely okay art can never do. merely okay, ‘i like it, don't love it, don't hate it’ art just makes a palliative where people are accepting of whatever is passed onto them, rather than the need to look in the mirror of art and say in all honesty, ‘i like what i see’ or ‘i don’t like what i see.’” 

i ask him how does he see himself impacting that role? does what he does impact that at all? it is a tough question for him. 

he slips back a little into his shell as he says he doesn’t feel like he’s impacting the world as much as he would like. but he’s focused on the future and already dreaming up ways to make more of an impact.

i ask him what his favorite place is to think and to dream.

“probably walking outside. sometimes it’s at the piano. sometimes it’s while i’m running the vacuum cleaner. it’s usually just in odd places when i’m doing some other task, some task that allows me to daydream a little. any task that allows me to daydream just a little bit.” 

i ask him what hour of the day he’s most likely to create. he doesn’t have one. 

i ask if there is a favorite venue he has, considering his over a decade of playing live both with a touring band and as a headlining act. 

“i’ve performed in 2000-seat venues and i’ve performed in 20-seat venues. i like the larger venues because i'm not faced with people right up in my grill. if i become too keenly aware that there are people watching me, i tend to retreat and have to close my eyes because if i realize someone is looking at me, i will forget what i am doing. but in larger venues you just don’t think about it . . . there’s a distance. Not only distance but, when you have a thousand-plus people all cheering at the same time, there’s an energy you can draw from that’s different from playing in front of people drinking lattes. i prefer bigger venues because you’re not having to be confronted with your own inadequacy. and you can do windmills on your guitar and you know, make a fool of yourself. it’s like a telescope compared to a microscope. if you're being held under a microscope, the feeling is different than when people are gazing at the stars.” 

he shifts his weight a little bit, and tells me i can turn that answer into something that makes more sense when i write it. i leave it as he said, as his lyrical poetry comes through even when he is simply answering my interview questions, and i want this to reflect that.

i do change the topic slightly though, asking him what he would like to see change in the music industry. he doesn’t miss a beat replying to that question. 

“everything!” he replies.

this time, i laugh. “that’s my short answer” he adds. “the long answer is too long.” 

“i just feel there’s so much music out there, all i can do is recognize it for what it is. to say there should be change is to is accept there’s just sort of a general worseness about everything. so in order to fix one thing, you’d need to fix another thing. at the end of the day, music doesn't sell very well in the traditional channels.” 

i ask if the issues in the industry are symptomatic or created. that is, are people buying what they are sold or are they seeking out what they are looking for? he isn’t sure. 

“independent artists, and even many mainstream artists, can’t make money selling through traditional means anymore. back in the day, if you put out a song or an album, you just put out the song or the album and people would buy it if they liked it. or it would get played on the radio in relation to people buying your music. nowadays, those traditional routes are closed off to the independent artist. in order to get played on the radio, you’ve gotta be in bed or totally sold out to whatever gets you on the radio. i feel like there were a lot more opportunities for people to end up on the radio a long time ago. it was much more like the wild west in that way. nowadays it's about you know if you’re on the internet. like, can you get on a podcast or something. i don’t know. so if there was only some way for people who like your music to hear your music more. i really don’t know what the answer is.” 

he’s clearly frustrated with the question- which i understand. it is a frustrating system that isn’t in favor of an indie artist. i ask him what drew him to the indie world of music in the first place. he reflects back on his time in church as a kid. 

“i sang in a children’s choir in church when i was a little kid. so i learned to sing loud. ‘sing loud enough so Jesus can hear you.’ then i picked up the guitar at age 12 and started writing my own songs probably around the same time. but i wouldn’t really write traditional songs. i would just write little instrumental songs. i didn't start writing lyrics for music until i began listening more to brian wilson and the beach boys when i was about 16 or 17 years old. then i started writing my own songs that were basically just rip offs of beach boys songs. i was probably in my early 20s when i really got serious about writing songs, but that’s also when i joined our church’s touring show band where we played shows every weekend for about 10 years straight - live shows touring the country. i didn't sing in that band. i just played the guitar. and a little bit of harmonica. and keyboards. 

being part of that band forced me to have to learn new songs quickly. so, i think it was key in developing my musical adroitness. but i also was furiously writing songs and recording my own music under the spaceship moniker in secret and posting them on the internet because the church didn’t approve of any serious connection to the world and worldly music - just the world and worldly music that they approved of. so that’s how i got started.” 

church was less than supportive of his music,- going so far as to throw him out when he refused to give it up. so, i go from the past to the present and ask about his newly released ep- just released on christmas day. he perks up at this. 

“my new ep is called ‘wake up.’ it’s got seven songs on it, all of which have been looking for a proper home, so to speak. it has a lot of my favorite songs to perform live that now can be purchased by people that hear me play them live, so it’s a good thing to be able to tie in the two worlds - the live music world and the official release world. it’s got a lot of my favorite tracks that i’ve ever recorded and i can’t wait for people to hear it and for what they think of it.” 

he wasn’t kidding about not being into the marketing side of the music world but i can see the light ignite in his eyes when he talks about his own music.

there’s no marketing in the world that could capture his passion for music. i find myself catching his enthusiasm when he talks about his work.

i ask what inspired the ep. 

“i haven't released any new music for a few years in the traditional sense. so, i figured it was about time to put something out, but not just something for the sake of it. i wanted to take a bunch of individual songs that i really liked a lot and put them all together in one place and i felt like this was a good place to do that, and have it sort of be a stepping stone onto the next project. it will be a full-length album release, hopefully sometime in 2019.” 

i ask if he can tell me about the songs. he replies “yes.” i laugh when i realize that is the entirety of his answer. moving past the joke, he tells me about the tracks. 

“there’s ‘i found life’ which started out as a project i started through hitrecord. it kind of feels like a flaming lips outtake, if that makes sense. it also features a few collaborations with my wife as a lyricist, including ‘because science,’ ‘school box’, ‘wake up’, ‘happyness’ and ‘courage’. i should just say 5 out of 7 of the songs were co-written with my wife/lyricist. All of the songs have a common thread of a general positivity that isn’t necessarily found in my previous releases as a whole. i feel like you can listen to these songs and you’ll find some words of wisdom couched in a bunch of big dumb beautiful music.” 

i tell him i plan to leave that last part out, but he insists i include it.

he goes on with “but seriously, just listen for the mirror, and see what you see.” 

“wake up” is self-described as “a compilation ep for the ages. also, a good excuse to get some rarities out into the world as a proper sort of album-ish thingy.”

it is currently available on itunes, apple music, spotify, and bandcamp