A New Phase

Well, it’s been almost 6 months since my last post here.  The short excuse explanation is that I’ve been busy as hell, which is true.  A longer explanation is that most of my goals in starting this blog have been achieved.  I’ve been in Seattle almost 2 years now and feel like I’m part of a music community here; both as an individual and as part of my band The Local Strangers.  It makes me very happy to call the people that I’ve featured and interviewed on this blog my friends at best and my “that’s a good dude” acquaintances at worst.  My circle of close friends here is almost entirely derived of people I met at shows and with whom I’ve played music.  I’m really lucky to have found a strong music community in Seattle that I could not find in Chicago.  Although I have now been here long enough to see that it’s not all pink unicorns puking rainbows perfect, it is strong and we’re all better for it.

So the logical thing would be for this to be a final, retirement post.  “Thanks for reading, but I don’t need to write this anymore.” But that doesn’t feel right to me.  I miss writing here, even if I haven’t prioritized it.  But more so, I think I am finding new reasons that writing here is important for me:

When I moved to Seattle and started this blog I was the most open I’ve ever been; open to meeting new people, getting excited about new bands, experiencing as much live music as I could.  Open to being moved.  That openness was so refreshing to me, especially the way it could manifest into pure excitement about the new music around me and the success of Seattle bands.  I was approaching the world as a novice, eager to learn and make connections.

Now I am more comfortable. I am no longer the new guy in town and my band has established itself.   Seattle is home now, but I feel much more closed off.  I feel far less open to meeting new people, making new friends and actively supporting others.   Part of that is simple fatigue after a year of meeting new people and going out all the time.  Adjusting to big changes and challenges in my personal life has surely played a role as well. Plus it’s discouraging when I don’t remember someone’s name and feel like a huge asshole.  I fear my brain may be at name/face capacity, but that’s another story entirely…

But I think it’s more than that.  Some common but ugly demons of competition, jealousy, and entitlement have started to rear their heads.

When I got here I entered the community as an eager novice with a commitment to ideals of community and a more holistic way of doing the indie band rat race.  Namely, that it didn’t have to be a rat race.  In my heart I believe that art, including pop music, is not a zero sum game.  With talent, patience, persistance, and diligence, opportunities will come and the success or merits of any other bands are irrelevant.  While of course everyone has their own opinion, bickering, talking shit, and publicly critiquing each other doesn’t really help anybody.  It isolates and divides us.  It sours us.  It’s poison.

It was much easier to keep those ideals close back then – I wasn’t emotionally invested in anyone or any projects yet.  I was just as driven and ambitious as I am now, but I knew the long term goals were pretty far away and I was achieving my short term goals and enjoying the process.  I was inspired by what was happening around me (the great music being made and the rapid visibility of the Seattle indie-folk scene) and excited about becoming a part of it.  In the future.

That future is now, and those long term goals are becoming short term goals.  I want to be in the studio or on the road more days than I’m home.  I want the countless hours of work I do on music to be self-sustaining as opposed to a second, poorly paying job.  I’ve wanted these things for 10 years but it’s only with some success, with tastes of that life, that it becomes so tantalizing and destructively frustrating.  If it were just fuel for the fire, great.  Ambitious people need fuel.  But the collatoral damage is really troubling to me.  That combo of frustration and ambition lead to really shitty consequences, such as:

– A sense of entitlement to (and an emotional requirement for) attention, praise, and status.

– Anger and cynicism toward bands and artists doing the things I want to do and living the life I want to live.

– Perpetual doubt and insecurity about being inherently good enough or talented enough to succeed.

– Getting worse, not better, at dealing with rejection. 

and here’s the WORST one:

– The inability to listen to any new music, especially highly-recommended or buzzy music, without judging my own music against it.

HOW FUCKED IS THAT?!?  Working as hard as I can to make a life for myself creating original music shouldn’t make me bad at listening to music.

If KEXP latches on to a new band and as a result they start to take off THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.  Do I want them to latch on to MY band?  Of course.  Does their latching on to another band make that less likely?  No.  Should it have any affect on my notions of KEXP as an important, unique, and vital organization?  No.  If I like the music I will hopefully be inspired by it and if I don’t I can change the channel.  But debates about WHY a band is gaining success, and especially debates about whether they SHOULD gain that success is a waste of my damn time.  It has nothing to do with me or the music I make.

I can (and do) tell myself this all the time, whenever that cynicism or jealousy starts to crop up.  But the general closed-off-ness has still been a result of all the mess above and I want to untangle myself from it.  I think that getting back into writing here on MidByNorthwest (oh yeah, that’s what this post was about…) – specifically writing about new and old music that I’m really digging – may be a way to help get myself out of that hole.

I now have so much invested here in Seattle, in every way, and I’m no longer an outsider.  I’m a participant the music scene here.  I’m a peer.  But I can and should remain a novice – open-minded and moveable.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I may never be as good at it as someone like Adam Sharp who writes about a song that is moving him every single day, but hopefully you’ll see more content here.  More personal, less about previews or reviews, more about me and how certain bands or songs are affecting me.  It might be really boring for you, but I think it could be really great for me and the person, musician, and community member I want to be.


  1. Matt, you seemed to have snuck into my mind and read a good chunk of all my thoughts. I think a majority of people feel jealousy or even resentment towards those that are achieving what they want and desire, it’s human nature. But at least you have noticed it in yourself and are making the right strides to channel that energy in a more positive manner. Kudos and I look forward to reading more of your posts! And damnitt, I just tell myself Adam is on his computer 24/7 and that’s how he posts a Song A Day 😉

  2. Tony Kevin Jr says

    I miss reading your posts! Please post more!

    And by the way, its not fucked at all. At least, its not abnormal. Its perfectly normal. PERFECTLY NORMAL.

    I also just typed a whole long paragraph about the intangibility of success and how it doesn’t matter and how its a striving after wind and how once its reached, then what? And how blah blah blah.

    Then I realized I was coming on really strong with my own agenda. So I’ll just say that I really appreciated this post and it made me think.


    • plus we’re already TOTALLY getting lunch next week so we can talk about it then 🙂 Thanks buddy

  3. Alex Kapitan says

    What a great post! Thank you for this. I’m grateful for the reminder that these sorts of struggles show up in every community.

    Putting time and energy and blood and sweat and soul into something seems so often to lead to wanting the power to define that thing for other people, and that gets inside us and festers there. We are taught to be individualistic and closed off to the world, and it takes hard work not to be.

    Thank you for being so open in this post! You inspire me.

  4. I feel this way, fairly often. It’s hard to listen for inspiration and feedback but block out all the noise at the same time. You are inspiring to me my friend. Love ya!

  5. sean morse says

    It’s difficult to want something, not know what it’ll mean to you to have it until you do, than internalize that old adage of loving things and being willing to let them go. So in love, so in music, so in success; at the dances, I can only respond to praise by deflecting into a discussion of my thoughts and techniques for improv and delivery, instead of just being gracious. I feel your pain, and rejoice in your struggle for self-improvement. And I’m totally stoked about how much awesome TLS has and continues to perpetrate on this city 🙂

  6. Matt,

    This post was perfectly honest and chillingly accurate. Thank you for putting this out there. I happen to know your not alone in thinking any of this. 🙂 I’m glad to call you a friend.


  7. You are a seriously down-to-earth guy and this just proves it. I have to say that I have looked over your entire blog to check out your experience being the new guy (and a Chicago guy at that – North Side! Represent!) around and absorbing the music scene locally. Even though I’ve lived and worked around Seattle for years, I am definitely the “new guy” when it comes to the local scene and with local music. But it is also something I’ve grown very passionate about as well and rediscovering my own love for music and performing (something I haven’t done since college). Glad to know you’re going to keep the blog going and keeping your mind open! Glad to call you a friend! 🙂

  8. A few years ago I got to know the music of a few artists who were achieving everything I would hope to do, musically, lyrically, and artistically. And I had to face up to the fact that the world doesn’t need my music. There will always be tunes to hum and sing without mine.

    It could be that I need to play more than the world needs to listen to me. But the music never goes away. Perhaps we do what we do because we have no choice.

    I agree that maintaining an enthusiastic beginner’s mind is a great idea!