Rock Steady Through The Heavy

It has taken a few months to muster up the courage and language to even attempt to write this. I know this isn’t going to come out with the depth and dignity it deserves. There are times when words are just too much, or not enough.

When I walked into M80 Recording Studio in June, I immediately felt like I was home. Peter and Oskar worked together like rock-and-roll-wizard-gods to create the most magical musical palace imaginable. We immediately hit it off when I redecorated their hallway with a sign that read, Fuck Yeah. “Fuck Yeah” became the catch phrase of the session. Peter had a suave way of extracting pure creative gold from each of us followed by his cool utterance of “Fuck Yeah.” He and Oskar made the perfect team. The two of them navigated the controls and guided the music in such a way that the only thing that was left to say was, “Fuck Yeah.”

I consider all of the musicians who contributed to this project family. Pete and Oskar effortlessly became part of that family. I left the studio shedding happy tears about the experience and the opportunity to work with such outstanding guys. Peter had dressed me head to toe in M80 Recording Studio gear and I was over the moon.

Two weeks later, I found myself sitting with my brothers at Peter’s funeral. There aren’t words for this. Nothing can be said to take away the pain that his family and friends are feeling and sometimes, words make it worse. I found myself filled with urges to reach out and say those redundant generic phrases that people say when a loved one dies. I grew more and more frustrated with myself and my inability to find the words to say as the summer rolled on.

I returned to M80 in July and finished Reckless Duality with Oskar and Peter’s mentees, the boys of Hungry on Monday. We rocked steady for Peter. Pete was a genius and I wish I had told him that when I had the chance. I’ll never pick up a guitar or plug in a microphone without thanking Pete for the impactful brilliance that he shared with me in June. Crossing paths with Peter was a fleeting gift. One that I will never take for granted.

Love Always Never;

Briena Pearl

Party Diversity

Studying the psychology and neurochemistry of addiction helped crystalize what I had always known about myself. I have a disease that ends in death. I’ve spiraled down the rabbit hole enough times to know that I’m better off above ground reading a book with my cat. Addiction isn’t a taboo decision. We aren’t out here making poor choices. If you’re still arguing that addicts are shitty people making bad decisions, read a book. Living on the road in the land of rock and roll lends itself nicely to drinking yourself to sleep and blowing smoke down the highway. Musicians have been associated with celebration and debauchery since Dionysus. Don’t worry, I’m not about to advocate that drugs and alcohol be eliminated from the music scene, that would be a nightmare. We need to party. It’s healthy. The point I’m hoping to drive home is that while some of us may have healthy relationships with drugs and alcohol (yes, I believe it’s possible), others (myself included), are pre-disposed to developing substance use disorders. I like to think of this as, party diversity.

I struggled for many years comparing my experiences to the experiences of others. “If they can do it, I can do it.” I was afraid to listen to my own body. I took comfort in the comparison. The culture that I was engrossed with encouraged me to push my body to stay awake, keep dancing, party on, and repeat. I’m not designed for it. I was forcing myself to live an extroverted life in an extrovert world, with an introverted soul. I need to be alone completely in order to re-charge. It was difficult for me to be honest with myself because the compulsion to fit in to that festive family of fun overhauled my ability to rationalize what my body/mind needed. After a while, I began using drugs and alcohol as a mechanism for shutting myself off. What had started as a means of joining in became a method of checking-out.

Checking-out wasn’t fun. It was painful. It may have looked like fun from the outside in, but let me assure you, from the inside out, it was hell. I lost touch with what mattered to me on a soul level and functioned robotically through each day pouring fluids and nutrients in each morning and hoping to feel neutral by noon. I battled myself daily; methodically schlepping off to the next campsite, venue, adventure, or party. It looked like I was having a great time through the lens of my Instagram, but the lens of my heart doesn’t lie, I was suffering.

I’ve spent a few years dancing this dangerous jig with myself. My habit of checking-out started to carry into the parts of my life that weren’t allocated for partying. Manic depression and suicidal ideation became chapters in my story. Death was becoming a friendly character that I felt myself getting closer to. I continued to feed into the lie that I could carry on functioning this way.

Reality came knocking when my ability to maintain my responsibilities as a student and caregiver were slipping away. It’s interesting that my internal cries for help were never loud enough to catch my own attention. It wasn’t until my addictive behaviors interfered in my external affairs that I was able to listen. My recovery began when my external world began to match my internal struggle. The antidote was to change or die this way.

The story of the 27 club is the greatest myth of rock-and-roll. It’s a Hollywood tale that glorifies pre-mature death. It’s mental pollution for musicians. Dying young is devastating. Overdosing is heart wrenchingly tragic. As my 27th birthday approaches, I am reminded how I’ve envisioned my own death. I was buying into the stigma that was holding me back from actualizing my own potential as an artist, student, daughter, lover, and friend.

When I began tending to my way of being with my addictions, I started living again. I began reconnecting with my body, nourishing my spirit, and decluttering my mind. Addiction isn’t a cool sidecar to being a musician, it’s a curse. Half of the musicians contributing to my upcoming album Reckless Duality are 27-years-old. We have dreams to chase and songs to write. Death isn’t hip.

Party diversity is real. Some folks have healthy relationships with drugs and alcohol. It’s important to recognize and honor that. I spent far too much time comparing, wishing, and pretending that I could party without self-destructing. I cannot. It took years of declining mental and physical health for me to be honest with myself about this disease. I hope that my story inspires others to consider their viewpoints, stigmas, and relationships with mental health and addiction. In the words of the late great Janis Joplin, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”

Love Always Never;

Briena Pearl

Reckless Duality

The concept for Reckless Duality dropped in last summer, when there seemed to be a shift in the narrative of my songwriting. I noticed cycles of small deaths and new births. “The snake which cannot cast his skin has to die. As well as are the minds prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” – Frederick Nietzsche

I met Tom in March 2013. I had just finished recording an album with Deep Swell and had flown to New Hampshire to interview for grad school. Wandering downtown on Saturday morning, I saw people gathered for what I would find out was the weekly peace vigil on the square. I met Tom standing opposite the crowd, holding a sign that read either, “Free Bradley Manning”, or “Prosecute Bush War Crimes.”

Tom and Briena again

We introduced ourselves and within minutes recognized our common love for music and became instant friends. I was immediately hooked on his wit and in love with his character. We spent that afternoon into evening at his piano. Music was his first love and I felt the same. Don’t get me wrong, Tom was an asshole. He was the kind of Saturn teacher that pushed all of your buttons at once and sat back to watch the hilarity ensue. That’s why I love him so much. Tom intermittently stopped me from singing and laughingly pointed out my mistakes. “Are you going to sing on pitch?” Tom’s ears were bat-like and his fingers were precisely graceful. I met Tom’s guitar that night, whom he lovingly referred to as Carol. We practiced Paint it Black and Somebody to Love which we covered the next day at the Hundred Nights Homeless Shelter Easter Sunday jam. I headed back to West Virginia to my pre-school-teacher-barista-rock-and-roll-singer-river-life and decided that grad school wasn’t for me, that music was all I wanted.

Deep Swell

It’s hard to describe what happened with my relationship to music after taking it on as a job. When Deep Swell released Lore of the Angler, it seemed like I had won the game I was playing in my head; rock and roll fantasy actualized. I started partying like a wildebeest and chasing music like my life depended on it. My mental health fell through the cracks while my weakened body carried me from show to show. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled by anything and I was pushing everyone that loved me away. I knew that I needed to hit the proverbial reset button but I wasn’t sure how.

A few months prior to my moving to New Hampshire in June 2015, Tom was diagnosed with ALS.  He could no longer play music on his own. I went to Tom’s cabin every night that summer and we played, drank, and laughed. I couldn’t hide my broken heart from Tom. He knew heartbreak. He subliminally planted cheesy 60’s love songs into my subconscious forever. Tom was always rooting for my broken heart. He was always happier when I was happy. Tom kept reminding me that I was worth something. He was my best friend. When I started grad school in the fall, I had developed a routine of visiting Tom nightly. A small family of folks had formed; brought together by music and love for the crude humor of Tom Rogers.

I wrote the majority of Reckless Duality at The Rocky Brook Motel in Cabin 13. Tom’s presence fueled my creative fire and pointed me towards healing my fragmented self. When Tom died in January 2017, I wasn’t broken hearted, defeated, and powerless like I assumed I would be. Tom’s death happened the way he wanted it; wine, weed, comedy, and music. He always made me laugh. Shedding skins in isolation is difficult.  Everyone who encountered Tom Rogers laughed; even the toughest contenders.

Death’s dance moved me to witness and grieve what had unconsciously developed in the songs that Tom and I sat in together. I paid close attention to the stories and traced threads of duality on a spectrum of recklessness. Thinking about those Shenandoah moonshine filled nights that carried into mornings watching the sun rise on a night of no sleep, the miracle of breathing in and out, the seeds becoming trees, the young growing old, students becoming masters, and life becoming death.

There is a spectrum of complexity involved in transformation. Metamorphosis, defined by a dictionary, is a “marked or complete change of character, appearance, or condition.” Humans are similar to the snake, crab, butterfly, and frog because we need certain fragile elements to be in sync before we can transform anything. The three key elements that welcome transformation are timing, safety, and the inner force. Reckless Duality is a record of cyclic struggles to tune in and listen to my inner force, to seek safety, and to find the time to let go.

This June I’m headed to M80 Recording Studio with a few great friends to bring Reckless Duality to life. It’s been a wild ride and I’m pleased to finally cast these songs into the kiln. Thank you for joining me on this trip around the sun.

Love Always Never;

Briena Pearl

Reckless Duality

Reckless Duality Contributing Musicians

 

Lou Eastman

Lou Eastman, 40-year veteran guitarist and songwriter, Lou has worked every angle of the music biz from sound reinforcement/recording to musician to management. However, his true love and talent is in writing, performing, and recording music. He maintains a broad palette of influences from Blues, Rock, Heavy Rock, and Progressive to Jazz, Funk, Punk, Ska, Reggae, and Folk.

 

Jesse Shultzaberger

Jesse Shultzaberger, A dexterous drummer with a diverse musical palette, Jesse has appeared on over twenty studio albums and played with countless bands. In addition to an impressive recording and performance career, he has taught private drum lessons for over fifteen years and recently released his drum instruction book, “Foundations of Drumming: An Incremental Approach to the Drumset.”

 

Matthew Lewis

Matthew Lewis has played the bass for over 35 years, paradoxically anchoring or uprooting the groove at any given moment. Influenced mainly by Scott LaFaro, Paul Jackson and mentor, Rufus Philpot, Matthew has served as the rhythmic linchpin for numerous groups, including GRAMMY nominated singer, Carolyn Malachi.

 

Erik Burnham is a mandolinist and songwriter from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Erik has performed and recorded Appalachian inspired music for the past ten years. Founding member of Plank Stompers, a Progressive Americana ensemble who has been accredited with “Forging the future of Loudoun’s Bluegrass”.

 

Austin Litz is a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter, proficient on over 15 instruments. Austin has been a studio musician and performing artist for the past 15 years. Inspired harmonically by patterns, metaphor, and complexity, Austin is the heart and soul of the rising psychedelic funk rock group LITZ.