Sometimes it's difficult to continue pushing back against zealotry you know is unhealthy or harmful to people, especially when the framing of political debates and cultural hostilities are so ingrained. It can get exhausting when you know withdrawal is the simplest way to escape. I've always believed we need to address people's stubbornness and anger, though - challenge them when they're being an asshole. That's the idea that started Heartsick. . You hope that through attrition, you can change the way people come to understand and respect others' experiences. That way of thinking boils down to tenacity. But I began to have sinking feelings about that kind of micropolitics during the Trump presidency. Getting worn down starts to compromise your ideals. We make mistakes. Sometimes we adopt tactics of the opposition to level the field. The protagonist in Heartsick is attempting to find a cure for the maladies of society that she sees, and she sees a choice between the immediacy of removing a problem and the longer haul of finding the cure.
Johnny Bender will never hear this song, and that distresses me every time I think about Lovestruck. He passed in July 2018, and the conflict that surrounded him in his final months punctuated an inversely colored lifetime of celebrating a music culture he had a stake in building. Even the slightest encouragement can swell into something palpable, resulting in formative moments that were never intended. I think that is an amazing possibility for our relationships, something Johnny enacted as much as he preached it. But Johnny was also conflicted toward the end of his life, creating a striking contrast in how his friends sometimes remember him. There was momentum in everything he did. Lovestruck is about that momentum. It is about where our choices weigh heaviest, and how others come to remember the journey that leaves a lasting imprint. Johnny knew this, and whenever he considered this truth, he weighed in with a ton of heart.
So, Brother (Stalemate Mix)
So, Brother is about negotiating for answers. The anxiety we feel when we feel piecemeal on issues can lead us to those who claim they have the answers for us. We’re probably most impressionable in these moments, receptive to the quick answer, the suggestion of a friend, or the solution that’s most convenient. The best answers are rarely those low-hanging fruit, though. Answers take investigation, self-discovery, and time – and time likely comes with more alternatives. It’s an interesting constant, the only constant, in the pursuit of satisfactory answers. Change upon change.
Sugarcane (Stalemate Mix)
I’ve always played with the idea of playing music full-time, but never could find the confidence in myself to make it work. I work a full-time retail job instead while going to school instead, touring with the band when I can. Part of this comes from being convinced that school is the way to get ahead, but as I’ve ruminated over the years, I certainly don’t believe that to be true. Schools have frustrated me with unpaid internship opportunities (that's indentured servitude, folks), a half-hearted commitment to job placement, and a pile of debt. Of course, I'm aware no one forced me into the years of schooling. Despite, I still feel some frustration toward the purely capitalistic facets of University education. I believe everyone deserves a shot at getting the education that works for them, but access is limited to the well-off and those who risk future financial struggle by leaning on loans. I wish educational systems would relentlessly serve the improvement of humanity's condition, that’s simply not always the focus when there’s money to be made.
I’ve always felt the music community I’ve grown with over the last 20 years plays a significant role in modeling the humanity and inclusion we want for ourselves and others. The pandemic has shuttered several venues in my area, and we’ve been largely unable to gather, discuss, and exchange our experiences. These venues haven’t received the financial assistance other industries have, and our government refuses to lifeline the individuals who form the backbone of our scene.
We’ve got work to do. There are national efforts such as Save Our Stages and local Kickstarter and Go Fund Me campaigns that have popped up to crowdsource some assistance. And when ‘normal’ returns, there will still be something selfish, unapologetic, and ugly to combat outside our gatherings. Worldviews are so drastically varied between us that facts are negotiated violently, and history reminds us there is always misinformation and manipulation engineering the intersection.
Papa Tells Me (Stalemate Mix)
Papa Tells Me is a narrative from the perspective of a man who goes off to war to be the change he wants to see. His father and grandfather both served, but his father doesn’t want to see the protagonist enlist. As with several of the songs on the record, I wanted to present conflict where both sides were relatable. Though my father was in the Navy throughout my youth, he weighed in heavily when I was once contacted by a recruiter. It was one of the few times he offered emphatic advice on such matters, asking I instead go to college. In Papa Tells Me, the son chooses to enlist despite his father’s wishes, and though frustration may be most apparent in the exchange, the love the two men have for each other is trumped only by the wish that each would see they want what’s best for the other.
Mistakes Can Be Made (Stalemate Mix)
Mistakes Can Be Made is about turning overwhelming guilt into something optimistic and proactive. The song is a narrative of a man who falls asleep at the wheel, leaving him bedridden, depressed, and ashamed. His spiral of depression has created emotional distance from his lover, and he is grappling with allowing his current mental state to dictate the inevitable conclusion that he will lose far more than he has currently lost. Instead of praying for redemption to present itself, he realizes he must forgive himself and take control of what he is capable. Sometimes, if we can forgive our mistakes, we can recognize the mistakes we are about to make.
Having held full-time jobs since I was 16, I have a lot of opinions about the workplace, as I imagine most do. One of the things that has always bothered me is the myth of merit. We go through school, specifically college, being told these degrees qualify and position us for success. We’re told to work harder than others and the financial security soon follows. The reality is not that simple. It’s clear that networking, and then leaning on those relationships, often leads to better positioning than the cover letter, a certification, or a resume. I’m not saying those things are useless, but I feel the romanticism of hard work in America leaves a lot of people still struggling to turn the next corner or slam the door shut on a current opportunity that they are pouring themselves into. I’ve subjected myself to shitty stretches of employment for little satisfaction because my loyalty to the myth was ingrained early. More often, people are concerned with themselves, and the simultaneous utility of labor efficiency for companies means the working-class person works harder for a less fruitful outcome. Those who already possess the money aren’t subjected to this. There is definitely some truth to the correlation of hard work and financial security, but it’s been severely oversold. Strawman is a song about that moving goalpost, about ceaselessly grinding through work without the reward, all under the promise that the day to collect on the work is coming. Sometimes it’s not, and we need to move on and continue to demand what we’re worth.
Everyone wishes they were omnipotent at some point. You could solve hunger, eliminate homelessness, and eradicate disease. Most people would probably do so if given the chance, and I can’t accept that anything but a slim margin of people would opt to use such a gift to only deliver self-serving outcomes if they were given the ability to make true their every desire. Only God has this ability, as some of my religious acquaintances might say. But I’m agnostic; I don’t have the experiences to allow the unquestioning belief in a God. What I do have is the wonderment to why things like hunger and disease can exist if omnipotence is attributed to some creator. Frankly, if I grant that premise, I don’t think I’d like the guy. It doesn’t seem He likes us much either.
Perpetrators (Stalemate Mix)
Perpetrators continues with a common theme on this record. It once again addresses doing the ‘right thing,’ whatever that may be, and the types of things that get in our way in trying to do so. When I was younger, I was a much angrier person. I was bullied. I grew up poor. Over time, many things that were a source of anger changed for me. Even since our first record, it feels I’ve lost a tinge of raw emotion. That alone doesn’t bother me. I didn’t need to hold on to the anger to keep looking toward living a good life. I worry about forgetting where the search started, though, the experiences and emotion that makes doing the right thing so important. I don’t always do the right thing, after all, and complacency is a genuine fear. That’s where Perpetrators comes from; keeping on the pedal and encouraging those with the same drive to do the same.