Sunday, February 17, 2013

depresleys - Influences and Inspiration

Singer/cellist Sasha Siem recently said that the British press found her music to contain some of that “Norwegian melancholy.” Sure, her father is Norwegian, but Sasha commutes between London and New York with her cello and angelic voice. Could there still be a connection between her lineage and that touch of melancholy? We believe there could be. As a matter of fact, we have been told exactly the same thing about our music. We tribute it to the “arctic spirit,” that if it’s in your blood, it will appear in your art.

In our case, that spirit has been united with the spirit of the desert, as well as that of the enigmatic and multifaceted culture of urban Los Angeles and London. These things are felt rather than heard. We may have listened to The Clash, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Brian Wilson, and Mari Boine, but you would not necessarily guess that from listening to a depresleys album. They say that you are what you eat; we say that you become what you read, listen to, and watch, as well as whom you hang out with. We, as a band, have been surrounded by such a variety of cultural influences that our musical profile has become unique. At least that’s what we are told. We agree.

Brother (That Is Freedom Talking)

Brother, that is freedom talking
Brother, that's a rebel yell
Shackled feet, unfit for walking
If you never tried it's hard to tell

Brother that is freedom talking
Echoes reaching distant ears
Brother, that is freedom talking
Bringing out our deepest, darkest fears

Winds blew across seven seas
They carried ships and men and guns
Brothers became enemies
Fathers turned against their sons

Nations sold as property
Centuries of exploitation
Applied superiority
The rise of many mighty nations

Everything comes to an end
Empires will fall apart
Twigs and trunks shake and bend
Circles tend to end up where they start

Brother that is freedom talking
Echoes reaching distant ears
Brother, that is freedom talking
Bringing out our deepest, darkest fears

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Topanga Canyon connects suburban Woodland Hills and Malibu. The highway slithers down the hills with homes, nearly invisible behind the thick and dark leaves, on both sides. Back in the day, Topanga was just as important to the musical tribes of Southern California as was Laurel Canyon of Hollywood Hills, and in the 1960's and -70's unnumbered bands and songwriters found a home in one of the (often) run-down shacks that covered the steep canyon walls. Names like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Eagles, and Neil Young lived and created their music there, and it was a natural place for depresleys to launch an attack on America when we arrived in the US in the mid 90's.
The air is saturated with creativity in Topanga (yes, you may insert a cheap joke here...), and those who have lived there for a while have stories to tell. Stories of greatness and tragedy, of success and despair. And so do we. Not that we will tell them all... some would bore you, some would be too revealing, but some have become part of the band's history. We simply wouldn't have become what we are today had not Topanga Canyon opened up to us and invited us in. Most people who visit Southern California never go to Topanga, and that's the way the Topangaans want it. If you've found paradise, why invite the crowds? Things change, however, and today the shacks are being replaced by mansions, and only the truly successful can afford to make Topanga Canyon their home. We are happy we arrived in time to taste of what was still a thriving community of actors, musicians, writers, and hippies. We will always treasure the memories.

depresleys is more than a band. It's a project. No, it is a lifestyle. A gravitational center, out of which, if you get sucked in, you will never escape. At least not unscathed. 
What kind of black hole occupies the center of the depresleys universe is a mystery. We--the dp's--have tried to figure it out for years without success. All we know is that we've found some kind of source that keeps offering up inspiration and creativity enough that we've been able to get through the "less pleasurable" periods of our careers. And, after all is said and done, what's important, what we will leave behind, are the songs. We have accumulated quite a number... last time we counted there were 322 of them. 322 original dp creations that live and breathe and demand a life of their own. Perhaps that is the answer to the mystery? What has a stronger gravitational pull than art itself? It is a good answer. We like it.

Melancholy and the Creative Mind

            Raise your hand if you believe there is a positive link between creativity and depression. If you think an artist benefits from periods of melancholy. I bet many of you would raise your hand if I asked; after all, one only needs to look at Vincent van Gogh or Kurt Cobain to find examples of "troubled geniuses," and there are plenty more where that came from. Personally I believe it's nothing but a myth, at least the benefits part, and I speak from experience.

            The human psyche comes in many shapes and forms. We are born into this world, not as blank slates, but with partly pre-programmed DNA (new findings in the area of epigenetics make this more interesting than ever). Our environment begins to work us over as soon as we arrive and, as we develop, our habits and thought patterns push us along toward who we will become in the end. The only sure thing one can say about life is that it is unpredictable. None of us can avoid the surprises that are tossed in our way; illness and accidents, broken promises, incidents in the lives of our loved ones... all we can do is try to prepare for the blows.
            The boxer Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali was famous for leaning against the ropes in order to minimize the impact of the punches he received. The ropes were flexible, and they made him bounce back again and again after he had been hit. The tactic made him a champion. Nevertheless, innumerable blows to his head probably triggered his present crippling Parkinson's Disease. Psychologically, many of us do our best to bounce from life's ropes. Some blows are harder than others, and not all of us are "Cassius Clays." And, even if we were, damage may have been done. A recent study shows that almost once every hour one US veteran decided to end his/her life last year (22 per day). 70% of them were over 50, so they may have lived for decades in emotional agony. "Ropes" may have helped them bounce back, but, deep on the inside, something dark and paralyzing grew. Something that did not encouraged creativity but, rather, placed them in an emotional limbo.

            In his 2012 book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success Kevin Dutton argues that those who aim for our society's highest peaks  -- whether it be in business, politics, or medicine -- would do well if they score high on the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI) scale. In order to climb to the top one has to be able (and willing) to push others down without being bothered by feelings of regret or remorse. I personally know people who swear by that theory, and I cringe by the moral code it represents. In my opinion caring about others, including worrying, is one of humans kind's finest attributes. Developing empathy comes with a price, though. Parents lie awake at night, hoping their kids are okay, and a spouse worries about his/her partner's well-being. Worrying is as natural to most of us as laughter and joy. Anxiety, on the other hand, especially if present over time, easily leads to depression. Not sadness. Sadness is a natural and healthy emotion. Depression is beyond sadness; it paralyzes and numbs the human spirit. Some people begin to cut themselves in order to get out of this emotional vacuum; to feel something. Or to feel something less frightening than what depression brings with it.

            Sensitive people, people who score low on the PPI scale, often struggle with messy feelings. It usually takes a sensitive mind to create good art. Now, remember, correlation does not necessarily mean causation; a sensitive person may suffer from anxiety and/or depression, but it's not the disorder that makes the person creative. On the contrary, whatever greatness comes from a troubled mind develops in spite of these damaging emotions. A personal crisis may be turned into a fruitful experience, and out of such an experience beauty or greatness may grow in the form of a painting, a poem, or a piece of music. Most of the time, however, little will happen until after the crisis is over and the artist has regained some kind of emotional control. Let's kill the myth.