“What stays with you longest and deepest? Of curious panics, of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?” ― Walt Whitman
I read somewhere a while back that without music, life would be a mistake. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the message enclosed in that prose left an indelible mark on me. Music – and the lyric within it – is freedom to me. It’s a way for people to bond. The experience of music and the storytelling within it is powerful and life-changing. I’ll never take that for granted.
It might sound strange, but my goal as an artist is to become an afterthought. It’s never been about
me. Rather, I want people to get lost in the music. I want them to escape. Just ... be.
I started playing music professionally in 2002. A lot has changed in the ensuing years, but now, as an independent artist, I’m at a better place than I’ve ever been. To get to this point, however, I had to go through countless disappointments, road blocks, high points, low points, and everything in between. This is my story.
My roots run deep in Southwest Louisiana. Carencro, to be exact. A bedroom community on the north side of Lafayette, we rode our bikes everywhere as kids. My first job was at the corner store. I played at catcher during baseball season and midfield during soccer. I was trying to kiss the girls ever since I was a kindergartener, and I was in trouble A LOT.
My dad brought me with him to gigs sometimes so I could sing and was setting a high bar for me early, musically. Both of my older brothers were legend when I got to Carencro High, but by that time, they were long gone and I was a little lost in the mayhem of it all.
After finishing my freshman year with a 0.87 GPA, I got involved with a local youth group and sang my lil’ heart for the rest of high school. I wrote our class song and was senior class president. Did I mention I married my high school sweetheart? Actually, writing all of this out makes it seem like maybe there was something storied about it all!
But make no mistake. As demonstrated by that atrocious freshman year GPA, I am no stranger to some pretty miserable failings. I signed my first record deal when I was 20, not long after high school. The story was in all the local papers and I was finally a professional recording artist. My
lifelong dream had been fulfilled and I thought I was gonna be a father-flipping SUPERSTAR!
I don’t know if anyone can consider themselves a “man” at 20, but I thought I was the man. At this rate, I thought, I’ll be rubbing elbows with Bono in no time. I was under some delusion that Lyor Cohen (a major music executive at my label) had this magic button he could push and the rest of the world would subsequently roll out the red carpet for me.
After all, every office I visited when I signed my deal had gold and platinum records adorning the walls. I mean, these people clearly knew what they were doing. I had an entire staff of well-equipped, talented music business professionals tending to the tiniest details of my career goals. I was on the fast track to stardom. It might not be like this for everyone, but for me, signing a deal was a destination, not an opportunity.
Based on their track record and everything I knew up to that point, I truly believed I was in capable, caring hands. Business strategies were developed and implemented on my behalf, and soon we started to play in front of sold-out rooms every night. Everything was great. Then I had to make a record and things changed. Now all these folks wanted me to record songs I couldn’t stand.
“Without this one, we don’t have anything for radio,” they’d say.
It was tough, because I’ve always taken songwriting and the overall musical experience incredibly seriously. It’s important to me. Deeply important. I’ve always seemed to have a good feel for the
musicality of things, and here I am being directed by people who have never written a song.
Not only would they push me to record these songs, but they would ask me go out and play them live. Being on stage is sacred and every song played is an expression of deep gratitude for the gift of being able to create music that leads to powerful human experiences.
Needless to say, performing music you don’t identify with or believe in is difficult as an artist. I remember playing “Home” as the first of a two-song performance on morning TV in New York City. My managers were there, and so were several executives from my label. The second song I was supposed to play was the one my label wanted for the first single.
I hated it.
So, as the anchor announced the second song, I turned back to the band. “Play ‘Rocksteady.’" I said.
“What...?” they replied, jarringly.
“Play ‘Rocksteady!’” I yelled.
Within the first few measures of “Rocksteady,” I could see the label folks and my managers storming out and stomping around. I took a stand, and they didn’t like that. It was kind of dumb and could have derailed my career, but in retrospect, I regret nothing about that day because it was the first time I realized I had the ultimate say in what songs I would and would not play.
Plus, I ended up feeling rather vindicated as their choice for first single failed miserably at radio. We turned the radio campaign around with what I knew should’ve been the first single all along ...