I watched a dusty old science film recently of a lady who takes a powerful hallucinogenic drug in a laboratory. The change is astonishing: she goes from being a typical 60s housewife to, a few hours later, quietly gushing about how everything is connected, how the air is alive all around her with dancing molecules, connected to every other thing in the world. The researcher in the room, a guy with a white coat and clipboard asks her, “Is it all one?” She pauses, considers this and says, “It would be if you weren’t here.”
I’ve never tried those drugs, but people ask me questions like his quite a lot. They act as if it’s some sort of inquiry, but what they’re really saying is, I wish I could feel that way too. They can, though. The thing about feeling this way is that you look at someone, or something, and you are that thing. It makes for a real depth of connection in this world, but also intense pain and sadness when you see images of human cruelty.
Nothing works for me unless I can play music. The world feels disenchanted, pointless, and most of all as if I have no place in it. Music makes that all better. Music lights me up, sets me free. I'm in love with the world after a good drumming gig. I feel bemused when I hear people say "back in my music days...", or "puberty hit, and I got interested in girls and music..." I cannot imagine any stage of life when this magical art form of emotion and vibration will not be front and center for me. I was born for this fascination, this obsession with music, and it's been present at every stage, through every relationship, all the time I have been alive. Is there a more beautiful gift from the heavens than this strange, etheric, vibrational stuff? Good music is Earthy, funky, gritty, but at the same time etheric, ineffable. It's the best thing we have in this life. Welcome. I’m Tristan. I grew up in the woods of The Berkshires. I was a curious kid, a lover of animals and nature. My education in music started from the first days of my life, home from the hospital where my dad blasted 12 bar blues music at a writhing little Irish American baby. This went on all through my childhood. Picture a fat two year old in front of hi fi speakers, drooling, enraptured with the Ray Charles, Etta James, and Freddie King blasting out of them. It was mostly by ear in the beginning. I had already fallen in love and felt real heartbreak before I started taking formal lessons. I threw myself into it. My first instrument was drums, and I was fortunate to study with a world class jazz musician named Randy Kaye. Randy Kaye was a poet on the drums: a true artist, especially with brushes. Graceful, subtle, very unique. From the start I got a creative, non-traditional perspective in my instruction, and I threw myself into the craft. I was lucky. Randy recognized my commitment and in a year or so, started sending me on subs for him.
I went to school and studied jazz and music theory. I studied piano and keyboards along with my focus on drums and percussion; I loved the way it let me play the riffs I’d been dependent on others to play. With a little keyboard knowledge I could sketch out the harmony to the Miles Davis piece I was listening to day and night, play the bass line to the Sade song I was in love with. Growing up, I'd wondered at the strange power music had over me. When I started my study of the theory, I felt like a lifelong drug addict, finally learning to grow his own plants and synthesize his own chemicals. I listened carefully. It doesn’t take much to understand the Dorian mode, but for me it was like decoding the subtle mechanics of falling in love.
I found my passion was playing funk and blues shuffles on drums. Right out of school I started a blues band and we did just that. This was with three of the most talented people I knew. Looking back, one of the interesting things is that we had each (except our singer Ed Moran, who needed no schooling) studied and played jazz, and had a fairly complex understanding of music theory. But rather than exhibit this in the music, we chose to simplify. We found that when you channel that much intensity and passion into a simple structure, the results are fascinating and powerful. I loved that band. I look back on those years like a scene in a movie. Blues music is still my favorite in the world, that and blues inflected jazz, and funk. It’s a misperception that blues music is sad; to me, a 12 bar shuffle is the most ecstatic music on the planet.
I love music. I dream of it. I’ve had anxiety dreams where I’m playing my drums on a steeply pitched roof, and I’m grabbing at the cymbal stands trying to hold it all together but it keeps falling away from me. Other times I dream I’m listening. Most often though, I dream that I am music. It’s like I’ve turned into an instrument or receiver, scoring the dream with pulsing, evocative music. I wake up with whole songs, lyrics, chord structure, a groove and bass line in my head, and if I lay still I can keep it going for minutes. In my waking life I have sonic ideas all the time. I enjoy it. I think it's not quite correct when we say a song is 'stuck in my head'. The truth is, music gets lodged in your body. It's in the heart. Your body is tuned to that song on the speakers at the grocery store, and what a blessing when it's a good one. My experience with the world of music and musicians is that there are some who are incredibly inventive and experimental, but others who can be quite orthodox in their approach. They feel there is a certain way things are done, whether you’re producing a pop record or playing a jazz gig. I still find this surprising. Music is the quintessential art form of self expression and freedom. I find it curious then, that it attracts a certain amount of people who follow the well worn path of what’s already been done.
It just seems like the artist’s path is so codified these days, especially in music. Reality shows and “rock star” camps teach people how to act like “rock stars.” Am I the only one who finds this cynical and tired? Sometimes I get the feeling people don’t even really believe in it anymore. I think tradition can be a good thing, but a situation like that is inherently focused on what’s already been done.
I love pop music. I like when it’s fresh, and simple. I’m really not that hard to please. Just one good idea and I’m hooked. The problem isn’t bad ideas; we can stand those if they’re sincere; the problem is pandering. They’re programming what they think you want to hear, or what they think the “new sound” is. Nothing good comes from that. It has to be driven by inspiration. That’s the only way it’s ever good.