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May 9, 2022

Interview with Duquette Johnston

We had the pleasure of interviewing Duquette Johnston over Zoom video!

Duquette Johnston has shared "Mystics," an ode to the enduring strength of unconditional love and the emotional toll we face when nearly losing it. Written by the Birmingham,...

We had the pleasure of interviewing Duquette Johnston over Zoom video!

Duquette Johnston has shared "Mystics," an ode to the enduring strength of unconditional love and the emotional toll we face when nearly losing it. Written by the Birmingham, Alabama musician for his wife and creative partner Morgan, the song centers on finding beauty in those unbreakable bonds when it feels like everything else around you is falling apart. For Duquette and Morgan, this came as they built their lives together with a focus on giving back in the aftermath of his treacherous cycle through Alabama's prison system - and once again years later as Morgan developed a life-threatening condition after becoming pregnant with their first child.

A founding member of the breakout 90s indie band Verbena, Johnston got his musical start signing to Merge Records and touring alongside other ascendant acts of the era like The Strokes and Foo Fighters. In the years that followed, a non-violent drug charge found him stuck in a prison system more focused on "zero tolerance" than recovery and rehabilitation - an experience that's led Johnston to become a vocal advocate for prison reform in his home state of Alabama. With only a select few album releases since leaving prison for the last time in the mid-2000s, The Social Animals marks Duquette's first new record since 2013 and finds him reuniting with friends and collaborators from his indie rock past; including producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr, Hop Along, Waxahatchee, Twin Peaks, Kurt Vile) and a band anchored by longtime Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. The results are a sonic world of spiraling guitars, cavernous beats and Johnston's deeply-learned lessons on the idea that "we can lift each other up. We can change things if we keep our hearts in the right place.”Johnston has previously shared the advance singles "Year To Run" and "To My Daughters" from the record.

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Hello! It is Adam. Welcome back to bring in a backwards, a podcast where both legendary and rising artists tell their own personal stories of how they achieved stardom. On this episode, we had a chance to speak with Duquette Johnston over zoom video. Two cat was born in Nashville, raised between Alabama and Wyoming, and he talks about how he got into music. First instrument he learned was the violin shortly after that picked up the guitar, but later was a bass player, played bass for a number of years, started out in a few different bands, ended up being one of the original members of verbena. We talk about that time when he was in the band, them getting signed to Capitol records, the success of that band at a very early age, we talk about how he ended up leaving that band to pursue a solo career. 2 (2m 21s): He ended up running into some troubles and drug trouble ended up serving some time. And that's where his first record first solo record came out of was writing it in the Ottawa county jail while he was facing five to 10 years for a drug charge. He tells us about putting that record out. Once he got out the two EPS that followed that album, his next record rabbit runs a destiny in 2013 and then his wife being pregnant, having their child shins up, getting really sick. And during that period, he did a bunch of writing recorded this new record in 2016, 2017, but had to hold onto it until 2022. 2 (3m 6s): So this album has been done and worked on for nearly 10 years, sat on for five years, but it is such an incredible record. It's called the social animal and we talk all about that as well. You can watch our interview to cat on our Facebook page and YouTube channel at bringing it backwards. It would be awesome if you subscribe to our channel like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and tick-tock at bringing back pod. And if you're listening to this on Spotify, apple music, Google podcasts, it would be awesome if you follow us there as well. And if you have time, leave us a five star review. 3 (3m 43s): We'd appreciate your support. If you follow and subscribe to our podcasts, wherever you listen to podcasts, 2 (3m 49s): We're bringing it backwards with Duquette Johnston. My name is Adam, by the way. 4 (3m 54s): Hey Adam, I'm Duquette 2 (3m 56s): Duquette and this podcast is about you and your journey in music and how you got to where you are now. 4 (4m 3s): How much time do we have? 2 (4m 6s): We have a little bit of time. We got a little bit of time, but he burnt in there. Some Sage 4 (4m 10s): Palo Santo. 2 (4m 12s): Ah, what does that do? I I'm very bad with this stuff. 4 (4m 15s): No, no, no. Palo Santo is a holy wood. I'm from south America. There's a couple of different kinds of Palo Santo trees. I won't try to, I won't even attempt to say the scientific name because I will not do it honor and justice. So it's really endangered. One version. One type of it is really endangered in Africa. All of mine comes from a family and Ecuador where it's pretty right. It's a holy wood, same, same families, frankincense myrrh. It's burned in spiritual ceremonies. It's burned in Orthodox churches. It's you know, all over the place. 2 (4m 54s): That's really interesting. 4 (4m 55s): I'm sitting in my home studio office space. It's kind 2 (5m 0s): Of like, wow. 4 (5m 1s): If I just had as a lot of crazy art, sorry the smoke is going everywhere. 2 (5m 6s): No, it's cool. 4 (5m 7s): There's gear 2 (5m 8s): Cool effect 4 (5m 9s): Gear everywhere. 2 (5m 11s): That's amazing. Yeah. That's that's really cool. So whereabouts are you? 4 (5m 16s): I'm in Birmingham, Alabama, 2 (5m 17s): Birmingham, Alabama red on I'm in Nashville. So not too far from 4 (5m 21s): Here. Just right up the road. 2 (5m 23s): Exactly. 4 (5m 24s): I was actually born in Nashville, Tennessee. 2 (5m 27s): You were, that was good. That was my next question. Where were you born? So born in Nashville. Were you raised there? 4 (5m 32s): No. Live there briefly as a child and then moved to Wyoming until the age of seven up in the big horn mountains and then spend my school in Birmingham. When my parents divorced, my mother moved us back to Alabama and I would go to school here and go to Wyoming every summer. So there's a lot of confusion as a kid. 2 (5m 53s): Right. Wow. Like in the w like going back and forth, like, was, is Birmingham like where you're in Birmingham or where you grew up? Was it more of like a city suburbs and versus 4 (6m 6s): First it's Wyoming? Which like, when I was little, we lived on 2000 acres that butted up against the big horn national forest. So super remote. Didn't see, a lot of people lived in tents for a while, was bathing creeks, you know, had my mother driving me an hour to violin lessons because she wanted to keep us cultured, even though we were ragamuffins out in the woods. And yeah, so it was very different than coming back to Birmingham for a while. We were in the suburbs and then my mother moved closer to the city. And then obviously I still spend a ton of time in Nashville with my grandparents. 4 (6m 46s): And I mean, my, all my aunts and uncles are still there. My brother's still there. My daughter just moved there. Oh, wow. I need to drive up there and pick up an eight track. I bought from Andrew Combs. It's just been sitting in his house since the pandemic. Oh, 2 (7m 1s): Wow. Whereabouts in Nashville where you born? Like, I mean, we did, you grew up in Nashville or on the outskirts because I'm not in, in Nashville, like Davis county I'm south, but I was just curious. 4 (7m 13s): So we, my family has been in that area, I think going back to the 17 hundreds of 2 (7m 21s): Wow. 4 (7m 22s): Yeah, it's really crazy. I mean, Nolan's bill Tennessee was found in my relatives. 2 (7m 28s): Really? 4 (7m 29s): Yeah. That's my grandmother's was her name was Mary Alice Nolan and her father or her great grandfather and his brothers. I mean, the history is so insane. I can't keep up with all of it, but I know there's a farm. There's a farm outside of Franklin that was in my family for 154 years from really? Yeah. It taproot farm and how 2 (7m 54s): The farm 4 (7m 55s): Now they do like weddings and stuff there, but my relatives are literally buried behind this house where they have weddings, because I want, I wanted to shoot him. I wanted to shoot a music video there. When I did my last record, I had a song called storms and I wanted to record a live version of it in the cemetery with the string quartet, all these players from Nashville that I use, we never got to do it, but maybe one day, I don't know. 2 (8m 20s): Wow. I just Googled it. Cause I'm, that's whereabouts I am around around Franklin. So I was curious to see like how close it was 4 (8m 27s): When I was a little kid was Franklin. I think I was born at Thomas or Baptist, or I I'd have to look at my birth certificate. Wow. And then yeah, my, my relatives have been in Franklin for a very, very, very long time. 2 (8m 41s): Yeah. And then, but to be, to, you know, to be one of the people that FA I mean, founded Knoxville, that's not very far away from there either. I mean, that's, 4 (8m 50s): That's a lot, you know, with that comes the good and bad, your family history, you know what I mean? 2 (8m 57s): Sure. 4 (8m 60s): You know, and, but it's, it's still really cool. It's cool to be able to actually learn and know. And you know, I'm lucky that I have relatives. I, my aunt, an aunt of mine and my brother who have done tons of research and have books on our family history and they've shared information. Cause you know, it's cool to know. 2 (9m 23s): Yeah. And they save a lot of, I mean, not safe, but they, they protected here and in Tennessee, which I was surprised, 4 (9m 29s): I think, yeah. Like I think there's certain areas of the country, but it seems to be especially a super Southern thing. Although I know like, you know, friends from New York that families were immigrants and came in and never left the city, but man, they had everything saved. They've like, they can tell you their family lineage going way, way back. But it seems to really be a deep Southern thing. Yeah. You know, I mean, I, my wife has just started digging into some of her family history and we've discovered like that they were, we knew they were in the garment industry for several generations. And then we found out they're actually go back seven generations to early Ukraine, which has made all the shit going on right now. 4 (10m 17s): Even more bizarre for everything. But yeah, man, 2 (10m 23s): That's so interesting. Wow. Okay. Well, you talked about going to violin lessons as a kid in Wyoming. What was that? The Virgin Sri and learned how to play. 4 (10m 33s): That was the very first instrument I attempted to put. I'm not sure if I ever properly, you know, like I'm sure my dad would maybe say, I dunno my ears learn it. But yeah, it was first violin and then piano, but I was such a rowdy kid. I was constantly breaking bones. So like I would be in the middle of piano lessons and then I would break my arm on a skateboard or on a dirt bike or, you know, like broke my wrist, playing soccer. Like it's, it's obnoxious how many bones I've broken in my body. 2 (11m 13s): Okay. And so you would, it sounds like you would be taking part in these lessons and then you'd hurt yourself. So then it would set you back a bit. 4 (11m 23s): Exactly. Like I would literally start and then a few weeks they'd be like, I got a cask and I practice with one hand. So eventually I bailed on the piano. I started to take classical guitar lessons like Jew early junior high then broke my arm. 2 (11m 39s): Oh my God 4 (11m 40s): Failed out of that. And the teacher was really mean like, it was, it was intense and he was very serious about his practice and it was absolutely no fun for me. 2 (11m 52s): And I don't understand, like, I've, I've heard this story a handful of times where it's like, the teacher is basically the reason why he quit playing. Like wouldn't you think that they would want to kind of embrace that? Yeah. They'd be like, okay, well I really want you to learn. So what do you want to hear? Or what do you want to learn? How to play and not, if you don't learn this, you're out. 4 (12m 14s): That's kinda how, like, sorry, I gotta mute my phone here. That's kind of how this was. It was shocking that our piano teachers were all amazing. Like they were fun and you know, from what I remember of it, but this one guitar teacher and then, so I never took another lesson again, after that my brother got his first acoustic guitar and we would sit there at the art cassette deck or the turntable and teach ourselves songs just from listening. So, wow. Like we learnt, we both learned and he had a, he had a couple of friends that were like insanely naturally gifted musicians that could play piano, could sit down, hear a song and then go play it. 4 (12m 57s): Right. Like they instantly transpose things, but he, but he, and I like the first thing I learned to play on the guitar with him was the intro to, is there anybody out there, but pink Floyd off the wall. Wow. 2 (13m 10s): Okay. 4 (13m 10s): And so there was this guitar fingerpicking part and I really should relearn it. I haven't played that since I was a teenager, but that was one of my first things I learned in guitar with my brother. 2 (13m 22s): Wow. 4 (13m 23s): And that was the doctor, the doctor at Vanderbilt in Nashville. He 2 (13m 27s): Really, 4 (13m 27s): And still plays guitar. He's got a collection of guitars and 2 (13m 31s): Wow. I'm just curious now, what kind of doctor is he? 4 (13m 34s): He's the, he's like one of the heads of the ER at Vanderbilt. 2 (13m 38s): Now I'll get the name drop. If I ever need to 4 (13m 44s): Total total side story real quick. Like We were in Nashville when our son was little and he got really sick. He was like three months old. And the Christian in Birmingham was like, you need to get, take him to Vanderbilt. Children's and we happened to be in an Airbnb right down the street. I was like, oh, I know where it is. We go, I honestly did not know what my brother did other than being a doctor. And the resident was asking us all these questions that I was, he was like, how did you know to come here? And I was like, well, you know, our pediatrician said too, but my brother's a doctor here. And when I told them my brother's name there, the resident got real nervous. And I was like, that's, that's my boss. 2 (14m 21s): Wow. 4 (14m 24s): But then people were kind of acting weird and it turned out a bunch of the staff were fans of my music. So after the respiratory therapist, like cleared my songs, bronc bronchial pathways and stuff and answered all these questions, he, he sat down and looked real serious and was like, okay. He was like, now let's talk about your, your last record. He was like questions. I was like, what are you talking about, dude? So 2 (14m 50s): That's pretty cool. Especially, I mean, not cool that you were there anything that goes down with that, but the fact that they knew who you were and were like, oh my gosh. She's like, let's, let's chat about your album. That's 4 (15m 1s): All of the emergency room. It was kind of funny. 2 (15m 4s): Wow. Wow. Okay. So, well then from, you know, the guitar lessons, learning that pink Floyd song, when did you start like writing music or when did you start playing with other people? As far as like a band went and like, how old are you in that all started 4 (15m 19s): The V I S I started trying to write songs in high school and they were really terrible. I mean, you know, some people like have the gift when they're really young, or I don't know, like I was into a lot in high school. I mean, music has been part of my life, like digesting, listening and being inspired. Like it's not this way with everyone, but I can literally tell you my life history based off of like music periods, you know, in specific I time memories to music, good and bad. Like a song will come on and I will literally be transported back to that time of that moment. 4 (16m 2s): But in high school, I started trying to write and knowing you'd start learning covers. And you know, I was at the time in high school learning like Neil young and grateful dead. And then when I went to boarding school and I was there with a guy from Seattle and he had all the early sub pop stuff. So like in the late eighties, we were trying to learn mud honey songs and early Nirvana. 2 (16m 26s): Yeah. 4 (16m 27s): All sorts of stuff. And then I did my first like performance in high school with a group of guys where we wrote one song. And then we covered a few people like the dead camper, van Beethoven. I can't remember what else. And I graduated high school and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I either wanted to go live in the woods and teach people how to canoe and rock climb and all this stuff. Cause that's what I was heavily into. Or I wanted to make music. And I can't. So I came back to Birmingham. I started college, ran into my old skateboard buddy, who is, who goes by a Bondi now. And we started our first band when we were 18. 2 (17m 8s): Wow. 4 (17m 9s): I dropped out of school nine weeks later and we started recording and booking shows and playing, like, we just went hard right out of the gate. You know, there's times I could always reflect back and say, oh, I should've stayed in school and taking business classes. Because if you want music to be your life, you are running a business. It's hard for artists to grasp the concept of being creative and running a business and being okay, like telling yourself it is good to be paid. And it is okay to be paid. Like, there's this stigma among like a lot of creative communities where it's like, no, you gotta be in the trenches and grinding it out and being broke. 4 (17m 54s): It's like, man, don't be a martyr for your music. Like understand business, understand what it takes to run releasing records, doing publishing. If you end up trying to sign a record, deal, understanding those contracts. But yeah, I started like writing my first like legit, legit songs, like 18 years old started playing shows. We had, we were a band called volume and it was me and AA, Bondi, and then a couple other people. And then we became shallow and there's still me in Bondi and this girl, Ann Marie, and then we are our guitar player and volumes got less newbie ended up becoming the drummer as we transitioned into verbena he came back on board and, 2 (18m 37s): And yeah, verbena ended up doing, you know, you guys, Scott sign a major label and put a bunch of records. Yeah. Right. I mean, I don't know if you want to, if you want to chat about that at all. 4 (18m 48s): Well, I mean, it's part of the journey, you know what I mean? Like I think for a long time, I never wanted to discuss verbena stuff because it's, it's, it's weird when you're that young and people throw millions of dollars at you and then you leave a band because of personal reasons, people doing drugs. I had had a kid, you know, it gets weird where you want to go on to talk about it. But as I've gotten older, it's part of my life. It's part of my story. So I w I don't want to ignore that. And so much of what I learned came through that time period, you know, we, our work ethic was insane. I mean, we rehearsed every day. Like every night I was working as a chef, but go in at five in the morning, get off at five, go to rehearsal rehearsal til midnight, sleep for a few hours. 4 (19m 36s): Do it again. We did that seven days a week. Wow. And yeah, I mean, we were fortunate enough that we had good people around us early on to where we didn't take the very first deals that were thrown at us. We didn't take the first publishing deals that were thrown at us. Cause it's real sweet candy. 2 (19m 55s): Right. That's incredible that you had that like willpower not to, instead of being like, oh my gosh, they want to give money to us and sign us to a record label. This is the dream, sign it away. 4 (20m 5s): It's straight up. I mean, Plenty's in, someone's like, I'm going to give you $40,000 and own. Most of your publishing, 2 (20m 15s): You 4 (20m 15s): Don't realize that $40,000 is going to be gone really fast. And you're not going to make a penny until all that is recouped. Right. And then they're getting a cut of it for the rest of your life is the things that you don't learn unless you go study it or you have the right people around you teaching you and educating you. You either gotta be self-motivated to learn it. Or you gotta have the right people around you guiding you in educating you. And we had a manager early on who was not even a music manager. He ran a paper, but he loved our band And he was a music fanatic. And he had like managers that discovered bands and throughout, you know, rock and roll history. And yeah, when those first pub deals came through and we happened to randomly connect with a great entertainment lawyer named Steve Nierenberg and Steve was like, no, don't sign that, man. 4 (21m 5s): That's the worst idea ever. 2 (21m 7s): Oh, wow. What's that? But I mean, to have that, you know, like you said that somebody is going to come to you with 40 grand and be like, we're going to be $40,000 and you're going to have blah, blah, blah. Did you ever well, I would imagine that you could kind of get to the point where you're like, are we making a mistake by not signing? This are like, is this our only shot to do this? Like, how did you guys fight through that? Or how did you get it through that? 4 (21m 32s): We knew that we D we knew that the songs were worth more. We knew that we were just getting started. We knew that, like we were building something and we had total confidence in it, man. We were at times super arrogant, but we were very confident in our, our youth sometimes not through being naive other times, just like, man, we felt something really special. And so, yeah, that's where my music journey really started was, was at 18. I mean, it started when I was a kid, but like they're writing songs and playing live and performing started, you know, when I w was, was 18. And it was with mostly the same group of people until I was 28 or so. 4 (22m 21s): I can't remember how old I was. Maybe. I don't know. I'd have to sit here and do the math, but I mean, I was, I was 10 years. So like, yeah, 18 to 28, something like that. And then, or maybe a little less, I was with verbena and then I left right before the first record for Capitol records, we had signed to Capitol. We had been on merge records and then we signed to Capitol records and we were on this label out of the UK called Setanta that did a bunch of really cool British stuff. Edwin Collins. It was in orange juice and has produced some incredible hit songs. 4 (23m 3s): And then after that, yeah, I went solo. I had a band called cut grass that I'd started during verbena. And then I was like, kind of a bass player for hire while working and writing all these cut grass songs. So I'd had a kid, I'd go get a job. I'd not had a job job. I mean, had not worked for anybody in years. And I took a job fixing copy machines and fax machines. Cause I got to ride around by myself all day in a car and I would write songs in my car. 2 (23m 36s): Wow. 4 (23m 37s): Smoke way too much, way too much pot. And just jeans accidentally set one on fire one time. 2 (23m 43s): Did you really? 4 (23m 45s): Yep. In an office did not. Yeah, it was bad. I was like, ah, do you have a fire extinguisher 2 (23m 54s): Or a big bucket of water? Oh wow. 4 (23m 59s): You know, EV everything is sort of always led me to the next thing. And I've tried the, just looking back, I didn't even realize about it was just rolling with what, and being like really open to where I was pulled and trusting my intuition, that that was the right place, but didn't always make the right decision, but everything is led me to the next thing. You know, I did stuff with cut grass. I made three records that never got released because the further along it got, I got, I went, started to get into a really little, what I call the lost years of my life. Like I was a bass player for hire for everything from like I did a tour with this band brother Kane, my 2 (24m 39s): Band, 4 (24m 39s): My buddy Daymond Johnson brought me on board really last minute as probably the most punk rock brother Kane has ever sounded. I had like two days to learn 17 songs and I just played root notes. I was just punking it out for him. And then I played bass for the Blake babies when neighbor United, my buddy, John strum, that is now the president of rounder records, phenomenal, great songwriter, phenomenal guitars. We had collaborated on a lot of stuff and my band cut grass. And then I joined up with the Blake babies and yeah. Then I got in trouble and got arrested and, you know, got locked up in Ottawa county detention center facing tenured drug sentence and 2 (25m 27s): Oh, wow. 4 (25m 28s): Ended up getting, because I was in the drug court system, which is a whole different beast of a conversation about the flaws within that, all that. But I, that's why I wrote my first full seller record was when I was a state inmate at the county detention center. The first songs I literally wrote in my jail. So, and letters to my wife that I've been with for 20 years. And then I got released to serve time at a men's home, but still as an inmate of the state, which makes it really weird because if you walk off the property and don't come back, you're considered an escaped felon and you get 15 years. 4 (26m 10s): So all this stuff for a first time drug offender, man, it's really, it's, it's, it's messed up what the criminal. 2 (26m 16s): So 4 (26m 17s): Helping people and, and I, and I'm someone that had resources, there's thousands and millions of people that have no resources that have no money that can't fight, you know? But yeah, that's, I'm trying to think through, like, you haven't even asked me that question, but like, that's just, that's my music. 2 (26m 38s): No, I'm curious. But I mean, yeah. I mean, obviously it's part of your story, right? I mean, to be in that and then like, so did you leave when, when Ravina signed to Capitol where you are in that conversation? 4 (26m 54s): Oh, I was, I was in all that man. We were courted. That was a crazy period. Because back in the nineties, they were throwing money at young bands. And so we were getting flown all over the country, like getting put up in the nicest hotels, by whatever you want, what do y'all need? Like it's nuts, what labels used to do. And I don't know what made your labels do anymore because I don't, 2 (27m 15s): They look on your Spotify, they 4 (27m 17s): Look at you, they look to see how many streams I already have. 2 (27m 20s): They check your chick, talk to make sure you have enough followers for them to 4 (27m 25s): Very sad with mine. It would be 60 followers. Here we go. I had Tik TOK years ago and stopped using it. And 2 (27m 35s): Was it musically? Musically? 4 (27m 38s): I tried musically and then failed and then did Tik TOK and bailed because for years I've just been terrible at social media, man. I've embraced it a lot more since my wife and I opened a shop. But yeah, I was, I was in verbena when we were doing all the negotiating, when major labels I didn't leave until the first official album for Capitol was about to be recorded. And we, we were, we were young, we didn't see eye to eye on things. There was a lot of like drug use. Everybody was doing their own different version of, of some type of drugs. 4 (28m 19s): And I just had a kid and I didn't, I wasn't willing to stick around, man. I walked away from everything. I just, you know, for better or worse. I, I I'd said, I told our lawyer about our ANR guy. I was like, man, I'm I'm out. I'm not gonna, I just, I can't do this right now, but yeah, it's, it's, you know, Bondi and I did solo shows together when we both first, first put out our solo records or there was a hot minute where we were both on the same little indie label, but yeah. So, you know, that's why I said like everything led to the next thing verbena led to me, you know, starting the solo project, cut grass that I did all this amazing recordings with, with people from like the DEXA teens and drive-by truckers and palace brothers. 4 (29m 13s): And I, you know, I got to do a lot of cool stuff. And then my, my full like main solo career really started while I was locked up. I mean, I've all, I've never stopped writing songs. You know, I got lost for a while and didn't release stuff, but I, it started when I released my solo career really started when I released at Iowa in 2006. And that's the name of that record that I wrote up there. 2 (29m 39s): Okay. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. So you, once that all happens, like, I mean, obviously, okay. You, you don't know what they told you your face and went 10 years, you said five to 10 years. I mean, at that point it's gotta be like panic obviously. And like, how am I going to deal with this? And then you go in and it's, do you immediately think, okay, well, I have a lot of time on my hands and I'm going to start writing a record. And do you have a guitar in there? Like what, what does that 4 (30m 7s): Look like? Yeah. And at first, like I, so the way it went down, like I was in the drug court system, it became increasingly difficult for me to keep up with all their requirements. You have to pay for all your drug tests. You have to pay court fees, you have to pay legal fees, John paying child support, I'm paying insurance. I'm trying to like, it's all this different stuff that starts compounding. 2 (30m 30s): Of course 4 (30m 32s): The funny thing is I really didn't start doing a lot. Like my drug back then was like, I really got into cocaine because it gives you the super false sense of importance and feeling good and numbing. 2 (30m 45s): Sure. 4 (30m 46s): At first I was just a board brat that was partying and thought I needed to live like Keith Richards. And I was dating this rock star girl. And that was just sort of my state of mind. Right. Like I was so far whacked out that I even wouldn't, like, I thought the recording sessions would sound better if I didn't wash my hair, like really weird OCD stuff, you know, because I wanted the records to sound dirty and gritty. 2 (31m 17s): That's that's interesting. Wow. Well, I mean, I know 4 (31m 22s): Our before I recorded, 2 (31m 24s): Ah, yeah, like, I dunno. I also struggle with addiction. I've been in recovery for a while. So it's like hearing you say these things. It's like, I just see myself, but obviously not on the level of like having 1 (31m 36s): Bet. MGM is pitching baseball fans, a chance to swing for the fences register using code champion 200 and win $200 in free bets. 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This is the only kind of compromise you can expect inside a Lexus hybrid vehicle. That's because Alexis hybrid is designed to go beyond compromise, go far without having to recharge go fast with a formidable gasoline electric powertrain, go with all the luxury of Alexis. So if you ever find yourself compromising and Alexis hybrid, it won't be our fault. Click the banner to discover more Lexus experience amazing, 2 (33m 7s): You know, the rock star fame, but just being like the delusion of like, yeah, I, I just hear a lot of myself and in a, 4 (33m 15s): Yeah. You know what it does. I mean, it just gets feeds. You lies of stuff, but, so I forgot where we were even going with this, but 2 (33m 24s): Just so your song writing 4 (33m 26s): Or the writing, like when I got in there, I was, I was in the court system for like two years before I finally went and turned myself in. I got kicked out at drug court, right? Because the failed drug test or something, this, that, and the other. And then I just hit, I was hiding in a recording studio that was in a basement of a house. And eventually I got so tired. I, one day I just went and turned myself in to the judge. I drove up to Ottawa county. I'm in this suit thinking I would look more innocent if I was in a suit, but I weighed 115 pounds and looked horrible. I looked like walking death. And the judge was like, man, I don't know what I'm going to do with you, but I'm sending you to the county detention and you know, we'll make a ruling on it. 4 (34m 10s): And they brought out, they handcuffed me. They shackled my legs, my arms first time drug offense for an empty baggie of cocaine. And then I am 2 (34m 20s): That's that's the, oh my gosh. 4 (34m 23s): Processed, put in a cell with a man that was waiting awaiting trial for multiple murders. I'm in the maximum security unit at the Ettawa county detention center, where sometimes you're only out of yourself or maybe an hour a day, there's no daylight. You do not go outside. We do not see sunshine except through little crack windows. So I was terrified at first, man, I didn't know what I was going to do to survive. And I had the fear that I would have to do things to survive that would then get me actual, really serious charges and keep me locked up. That's what a lot of guys get caught up in the system. That's why the, the criminal justice system is just so out of whack in this country. 2 (35m 7s): Yeah. Cause I, well, I was, it's interesting cause I, I skateboarded growing up and I just read an article with a guy that we used to skate with, who he became a pro at one point I really young age. And like he had the story of going into the system as well. And kind of, I watched an interview with him that was really recent because he started this program in San Diego for people in recovery and getting them out off the streets and into skateboarding essentially is what he's doing. So he had, he had an interview and I was like, oh, that's cool. Like I saw somebody posted it up on Facebook and I'm like, oh yeah, okay. I remember him. I know, I know him. So I clicked it and watched it. And he had this similar story where it's like, you're kind of put in this system where it's like, you're told to do something and if you don't do it, like what who's going to protect you within the system. 2 (35m 53s): But then if you do it, you're also going to be stuck in this for ever, right. I mean, it's, it's kind of a, yeah. I mean, I wouldn't even know how to handle that. 4 (36m 3s): I have a relative that at a very young age, he got caught up in the court system and he was in, he's still an amazing human it's just lost now through addiction. But man, he wasn't bad until he got put in the court system and then it got really bad. And what he needed was help dealing with all his childhood trauma. He didn't need a lot of it just creates more trauma that creates more problems that then keeps you in a cycle and a revolving door of the criminal justice system in America. You know, it's really the opposite. I know people, a lot of people have good intentions of we are here to help. But when you have for-profit prisons, right where people are making money off the labor and other systems like that, indentured servitude, especially with minorities and poor people that are the majority of those locked up, it's a mess and tenuous to disciple. 4 (36m 57s): But I like after it, I was, I was loopy. I was delirious when I got locked up, I think I had to sober up in my cell and didn't know what was going to happen. And once I was given paper and pencil, to be able to write letters, I started writing to my girlfriend who is now my wife. And then I would write, I was like, I have, cause I always, I've always written songs. I've, I've written songs in my dreams and woken up and write them down. I hear melodies and know the chords. I need to play. Like one time I wrote a song called my rolling hill, which I've never, at least I should probably record a bit. I was in San Francisco. It was after I left for and I needed to just get away from Birmingham. 4 (37m 40s): And so I went and stayed out in San Francisco for quite a while. And I went to a party out in Oakland at this, this punk rock house, these punk bands that I used to book when I was a teenager in Birmingham. Cause I used to do that before I played music. I promoted punk rock shows. 2 (37m 55s): Oh wow. That's 4 (37m 56s): Cool. I would look neurosis Christ on a crutch, like all sorts of stuff. Wow. And I went to this house and I was like, man, I've got this song. I need a guitar. I need, I, I hear this melody. I need to write it down. And I did that. And so that's what it was like when I was in Ottawa county, I would hear melodies. I would visualize the chords, I think would go to it and I'd write it in a letter to my wife. So she has like the letter where I wrote the last song on the record at was called. Don't go back to Ottawa and it's, don't go back to Ottawa. There's too many bricks on too many walls. That's the chorus. And the verse was like, I lost my life in a Coldstone. So I made my bed and I made my, and, but I, I knew it. 4 (38m 38s): And then, so that's where it first started. And then once I got released to this men's home there, you, you have to go through these, these programs of conquering chemical dependency, and then you're supposed to get a job for your work release side of things because I was serving time. But at a men's home after I was released from the detention center. 2 (38m 59s): Sure. It's like a silver living type place ish or maybe more. 4 (39m 3s): Yeah, it is. I mean, it's, it's, it's not, it's it's, I mean, it's a full treatment facility, but you're on a property. Everybody's like all these trailers and you're living with all these guys and you go through these classes and you know, you have to go to church and you have to do this and you have to do that. But when it came to the work side, bring in a job placement and they're like, what do you, what have you done? Like, what's your work, Ben? And I was like, well, I've at that point, I was like, I've been a chef and a professional musician and you're in Ettawa county, Alabama. They're like, well, you can't get a job being a chef here because you're not allowed to work around alcohol. And then there's no professional musician jobs in Ottawa county. 4 (39m 47s): So the craziest part about that time was so they then create, they asked me what I wanted to do. And I said, I wanted to write a new record. So they created a job where I would drive guys to work and everybody had to pay me because they were outsourcing it because you couldn't have a car there. Right. So I became the driver for the rehab and I got paid every week. So I would drive guys to their factory jobs, their construction jobs. It got to where I started taking guys to court. I would drive the cook to the grocery store to buy the food for the compound. And then during the day I would just write songs. There was an old guitar in the chapel that was built in the 18 hundreds. And I would go in there and write and try and write songs every day I would just play, play and play. 4 (40m 30s): Right, right, right. And then when I got my first overnight leave, I came home and I had 24 hours. I came home and I went straight to my friend's recording studio and I don't even think we slept. And I started recording the record and there's like one song on the record called golden sun. This is on the edit war record. And the way that is on that album is the way we recorded it that night when I came home from Ottawa county. And so that album was made in my friend's parents' garage over weekend leaves. When I was a state inmate, I would do a little bit. 4 (41m 11s): Every time I got to come home, I would just go to the studio, go to the studio, go to the studio. And then once I was released from the program, I had somebody that put a friend that let me live in his townhouse in Wyoming. And I went out there for a few months and just wrote songs every day, just worked on lyrics, wrote lyrics. And eventually it was like, all right, I got to go back to Alabama. That's where the studio is because there was nowhere to record in Wyoming at the time. Now Kanye has been out there. There's like all sorts of recording studios in Teton county, but 2 (41m 41s): Oh really? I didn't know that. Wow. Kanye has a study. 4 (41m 46s): We made a record. He made a record. I don't know if he adds a studio, but he did a recording. He was recording out in Jackson hole for a while. This was years ago. But yeah, man, and then it's just kinda been off to the races. You know, that was my first record. And then I did these two lo-fi records, like just my guitar and a cassette four track. It was like what I had, it's what I could afford. I did those and released those. And then I had all my problem for a, as I was constantly starting new projects because I write a lot of music. So I would come up with a new band name constantly and eventually connected up with my buddy Jeffrey cane and his brother-in-law and sky Armand. 4 (42m 26s): And they were like, man, we want to help you make records, but you, you need to just stick by your name and quit changing it all the time. So that's when I made my last record, rabbit runs a destiny and that really was like a foundation that led to this new album, the social animals. 2 (42m 47s): Okay. Okay. Go ahead. Go ahead. No, no, no, go ahead. 4 (42m 52s): I was going to say, cause I recorded that record. Rabbit runs a destiny with my buddy Armand at like an old house and all department. And then my friend Jeffrey Caine, who was in Remy zero. And he's in this band, the church that was a big band in the eighties. 2 (43m 6s): I remember the church 4 (43m 9s): In that church now. So Jeffrey started a label called communicating vessels. He put out my last record and then that's where I started doing demos. That's where I did all the demos for this new album, the social animals. 2 (43m 21s): Wow. Okay. 4 (43m 23s): You see what I'm saying? Like the journey, like it's just one step is leading to the next. 2 (43m 30s): Yeah, no. Yeah. Cause it's you had the, well, what year did you put out the first record then? At 4 (43m 35s): 2006, 2 (43m 37s): 2006. And then you had some other projects and things going on and then you ended up putting the, the next record out. What 20? You said 20 15, 20 16? 4 (43m 45s): No, I'd say I did that all 2006 identity, two acoustic records, one in 2008. 2 (43m 51s): The lo-fi ones right with the track. 4 (43m 54s): Yeah, I did it sings because it has a song in 2008. I did rug it and fancy either 2009 or 2010. Then I did rabbit runs a destiny in 2013. 2 (44m 6s): Oh, okay. And then your, your, your wife getting sick and I don't know, really want to go there with it and, but that's Cool. Okay. 4 (44m 16s): Yeah, we can talk about that. I, we talk about it all the time. We try to make sure that we share it from a way that lets people know like this is our journey. We are not victims. Like don't like be like, oh, poor us. We went through these struggles. It's like, that is just part of life. And we've learned from all of it. And we've learned to work on our, on ourselves as humans and as creatives and as artists and as parents. But yeah, so 2013 I put out my last record and found out we were having a baby and we didn't think we could have a baby. So we were excited because she had a super difficult pregnancy. That's where I learned that all men are complete wimps and cannot hold a candle to women like at all. 4 (45m 0s): And I started writing songs during that time. And then as soon as my son was born, my wife had a bacterial infection from her C-section and then I'll all I could do is write, I'd done a song for a TV commercial. We were really fortunate that we had that to be our lifeline because I couldn't work. She couldn't work. You're taking care of our kid, taking care of her, getting her healthy because we didn't want to do it through a bunch of pharmaceuticals and surgeries. We wanted to heal her naturally and restore her. And so I was just writing songs every day in the middle of the night and early in the morning with my son, by my side, where my wife holding my son, just like in the kitchen, like I have voice memos of 140. 4 (45m 49s): So I don't even remember the count, but it's a lot. Wow. I've listed. Some of them are total trash. 2 (45m 56s): I see. I was under the impression that rabbit runs a destiny was out after that whole thing had happened, but it sounds like you put that record out. And then right after that was when kind of you found out your wife was pregnant and then this all happens. 4 (46m 7s): It, it, it all was sort of simultaneous. We, I worked for a couple of years on that rabbit record. It's a bunch of Nashville musicians all over that rabbit record is like Kyle, Ryan and Adam Papa. Who's now in LA and Eric Massey has got a recording studio. Kyle was Kacey Musgraves band leader for a long time on tons of amazing records. And then all my string section, Eleanor Dennis, or a semi stro, Kristen Webber, like the Marie, Johnny Marie, like the play with Anderson east, like yeah, whole lot of Nashville on that last record. 4 (46m 47s): But yeah, all, all of it happened at the same time and I never stopped writing songs even when a record is out, I just try to constantly. Right. And so as, as I started demoing for the social animals, I tracked down John and yellow who produced the record and I'd done work with John back in the nineties with verbena we did pre-production for a record. And that's when I left verbena they fired him. And yeah, it was just like, Hey man, you know, let's, I'd love to reconnect. And I went and had a coffee with him in New Jersey. Cause I happened to be up there doing some shows and I started sending him demos when we just man, we emailed back and forth for a year and figuring out who the band was going to be. 4 (47m 41s): He sent the songs to Steve Shelly from Sonic youth and Steve offered their studio and New Jersey. So rather than trying to fly everybody to Bern, Birmingham, and how's everybody, cause we're trying to figure out how do we do this on a budget and get the album we want, 2 (47m 58s): Especially during a pandemic, was that happening? And this was 4 (48m 1s): No, this was, yeah, this was 2016. So 2015 new year's Eve, my wife and I sat down and started this new thing we do where we read out our intentions for the year. What do we want to see? What do we, how do we visualize our life? What do we want to see happen? And at the end of the night, that was like one of the most transformative new year's Eve of my life. Because at the end of the night, I had two things I wanted to do and that was learn how to open a shop. Like we have, we have a boutique and brand health club yet. I wanted to learn how to write a business plan, to open a shop. And I wanted to make a record with John and yellow. And nine months later we opened the doors to our shop. And the next day I flew to New Jersey and started the record with John and yellow. 2 (48m 44s): Wow. 4 (48m 45s): Yeah. 2 (48m 47s): That's incredible. Cool thing too. I liked that a lot. So write down your, your dreams or goals for the year. 4 (48m 54s): And it wasn't even like in, in everybody is going to do it their own way and press we'd. Like it was about creating a more intentional life. How do we want to design our life to live it? And since then we've even dialed more into it, like getting into human design and learning about how we function best doing a program called to be in magnetic where we're like going in and healing like childhood traumas and things that cause like limiting beliefs. Self-doubt like blocks from being creative and, and going all in on, on what you do. So like that's what I've been doing a ton of during the pandemic. 4 (49m 34s): But their record started 2016. We did a week at Sonic youth studio and identified so much pre-production work. I that's probably the most pre-production I've ever done like demoing almost every single song, whether it was on the phone, on my iPad or in a studio and sending it to John and knowing what we were going to go for sonically before we even stepped foot in the studio. So that when I had hired musicians hired producer, we were there and focused in on it. And there were no egos. When we made this record, everyone was like, what is working best for the songs? Probably one of the easiest recording sessions I've ever done. We did a week at Sonic used doing rhythm tracks, some in vocal, some scratch. 4 (50m 15s): I came to Birmingham back to Birmingham. John came down that November. We did all the overdubs at communicating vessels with a bunch of Birmingham, friends and musicians, all playing on it. And then January of 2017, I went to New Jersey. We mixed it in a week. Then the next month it got mastered and then it was done. So that's 2017. We're in what? 20 22, 20 17. I started working on album artwork and deciding, changing the name of the album from the social animals to holy child, to something else, to back to the social animals, changing the artwork from photographs to things. 4 (50m 57s): I was mocking up to a painting from a friend Marilee chalice that was very psychedelic and very mystical and all these elements that connect to the record. But then I started getting these ideas because I was listened to so much jazz music and I'm really inspired visually. I write a lot of songs off of images that I see paintings, photographs, memories, and there's a photographer that I love Miller marbly, who did the photos for my album, the press photos, the cover. And I reached out to Miller. He, I mean he does insane portraits. He did. He collaborated with meek mill on this whole album art. 4 (51m 40s): I thought it was really inspiring. So I started, I met with Miller and he was like, man, send me ideas. And so we started, I started sending Miller mood boards. I'm a collaborator I'd worked with, have worked with for years on all my merchandise and with club Dukette was my best friend, Matt lane Harris. He connected me to a young designer pop through dome. Like things took a lot of time. We had a direction, we were going in 2019, like I'd sent the record to single lock. They asked if I would, was willing to wait to release it because they had a lot going on. And at this point I was like, yeah, what's another year that pandemic was coming. 4 (52m 22s): And then yeah, we re-issued, Ettawa on single lock in 2019 with the plans of releasing the social animals in 2020, and then the pandemic hit and we stopped and yeah, we took our time like dialing in the packaging, the design and just being patient man and, and, and waiting until we were like, all right, we can't wait any longer. Let's do this. And so now the album's out. 2 (52m 51s): Yeah. And what just came out like 10 days ago. Yeah. Yeah. 4 (52m 56s): Last week, last seven days. 2 (52m 58s): Seven days ago. Wow. Wow. Wow. That's amazing. I mean, how does it feel like you had, you had been sitting on essentially for what, five years? I was like four or five years before 4 (53m 9s): It to not release a record for nine years is crazy to sit on one for five years is really challenging And forces you to go through a lot of growth and trust in the universe. And, but I don't think I was ready to release this record when the record was done. Does that make sense? 2 (53m 32s): Yeah. Yeah. No, it does. It does make sense, like 4 (53m 35s): Deep inside and I get all woo and all sorts of these interviews and conversations, but it's who I am. And I, you know, for me sometimes rock and roll is just rock and roll. But for me, like music is something much deeper. It always has. It's been a guide to my life. It's, it's healed me when I've been sad. It's made me joy more joyous than I've ever felt in my life. It's taking me around the globe. It has brought me friendships that will never go away. So I can look back now to where I was when the record was finished and even look back to pre pandemic and no, in my deep, in my heart and subconscious that I was not ready to release an album and trust the universe to do what we're doing with it, you know, and, and to have the moments and connections with people that I hope to get with it. 2 (54m 33s): That's incredible. That's what it sounds like you write a lot, like 4 (54m 38s): I've been riding nonstop, like, 2 (54m 41s): And it's like in live, you look at five years that you've been holding the record. You probably have a whole ton of material. And what, and with that, it's like, is it hard to go? You know, yeah. This record is amazing. I love what I did, but you should wait till you hear, you know, what I like as a musicians are, it's moving forward. It's like, you wait until you hear this. And like what what's, it's hard to talk about, you know, the future, I guess since the record just came out a week ago, but I would imagine that's kind of probably something that's in your head a bit. 4 (55m 12s): I mean, the thing that's in my head is I need to pause, writing and take the time to sift through songs very intentionally. And cause this is what I did for the social animals was I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and then it got to where, okay, one day I sat down and I would listen through and I created folders on my computer. Right. And it was like, I want to make this electric like rock and roll album with John and yellow and songs that I felt I felt would fit in that category. I put in that folder and then others I'm like, oh, this could be a way more sparse record. I do at my house or with my friend Jeffrey or something or something that's over here. 4 (55m 56s): And then there's just miscellaneous ideas, riffs one verse something, whatever it may be. So now yeah, this record is just out and I'm like, I need to demo the next one. Like to remain very present in this record, because we're just getting started for artists. There's, especially when you've waited this long is like release date comes and then you're like, now what? 2 (56m 24s): Right? The world, here we go. 4 (56m 28s): But it's really just the beginning. You know, some people so long to hear a record or to connect with a record that it's not, you know, the old way of, of a lot of music industry is like, they do all the work building up to it and then three weeks after it's out, it's like, all right, well, we did our thing. Let's move on to the next, 2 (56m 48s): What are you doing tour, something like that. And then you're back and it's like, okay, now what now? Well, we got to keep going forward. We got to keep moving forward. 4 (56m 55s): Yeah, it's a, it's a challenge. So I'm trying to remain really present with this record, the social animals, because I'm just now getting back to playing shows where we're just getting started doing with what we want to do with it, because I'm going to also have club Dukette. My wife is a full-time amazing artist painter, and we just, everything we do is kind of all intertwined together. And so trying to do shows where we show up and it's displaying her art and I do a set and we have a little mini club Dukette set up. It's it's, you know, we do things a little bit differently, but at the same time, I don't want it to be nine years before my next record comes out. 4 (57m 39s): So I, I need to, and when I say stop writing, I've had this problem during the pandemic where I just wanted to keep writing ideas. So if I grabbed the guitar, generally, I'm going to write something. Instead of, I need to set, I need to like have my logic pro set up ready and start coming through the songs and doing demos at home. Like you can do both. You can be present and be promoting your record, but in the wee hours of the night or on a day when I can be here in the studio space, starting to come through and do that, you have to show up like the like, and it's different for everybody, no judgments on how people are. 4 (58m 23s): Right. But the more you show up for your art, the more your art is going to show up for you. You know? And it's not going to be easy every day. It's not going to just fall out of the sky. Sometimes it does sometimes like, you know, some people's greatest songs were written in just a matter of minutes because they weren't thinking about it. Like what I got out of there they're way out of their ego out of their head. But I think, yeah, it's, it's, I'm ready to S to show up and demo the next record and, and get a recorded in a No, go ahead. 2 (59m 0s): No, 4 (59m 2s): I have no idea what I was gonna say, man, all over talking. I'm trying to get better about interrupting. 2 (59m 6s): No, no, no, no, no. It's all about you. Not me. No one cares what I have to say. I was just curious to know, 4 (59m 11s): Like your voice matters, Adam. 2 (59m 14s): I appreciate that. Well, it sounds like you're doing some shows with like hand-in-hand with, with the company, right? With club Duquette, like your wife will do her art show and you're playing what a sad or something like that is that what's kind of going on. 4 (59m 27s): Yeah. So like we're doing like right after, like I'm about to go to south by Southwest. And then after that, we're doing a residency up in North Carolina at this place, the Highlander mountain house that my dear friend and amazing songwriter and human Shelly Colvin, Nashville musician set us up with where Morgan will show her art for the week because my music merch is club Dukette merge. We'll have, like my merchant table is always just a little mini club Ducat so that'll be set up and then I'll do a show and it'll just be me solo. And then I'm also working on doing these other events, that gallery spaces and boutiques where it's a duo, this me and a guitar player. 4 (1h 0m 13s): And then some of those things will work where my wife's art could potentially be there. But then I'm also working on, you know, booking full band shows, Europe, us I'm game to go wherever, depending upon the conflicts in the world and the craziness that's, that's freaking happening. But yeah, we, you know, we just really try to not try. We have done. It's not always easy. I'm still learning every freaking day, how to run the shop and, and, and run a better business. But it's all, we just wanted to be able to live a very creative life on our terms our way without having to work for somebody else, because we're both very strong-willed and not good with authority. 2 (1h 1m 6s): Well, that's amazing. Congratulations on everything. And I really appreciate you. I really appreciate you doing this interview. This has been so awesome. And we 4 (1h 1m 14s): Went on, it went on a deep dive. 2 (1h 1m 16s): We did. And I was like so fast. It's such a fascinating story. And again, I really, really appreciate it. I do have one more question. I want to know if you have any advice for aspiring artists, 4 (1h 1m 30s): Don't give up don't believe naysayers, like put in the work show up, like believe in yourself. It's and so many people artists are told when you're young, like have plan B because you're not going to make money, make an art. And not everybody will make money making art, but it drives me crazy when people are still like, if you think that negative and speak that negative, why the hell would you succeed? And why the hell would, how are you gonna make it? You have to believe it. You have to like put on your blinders, put on your hearing protection and, and block the people out. You know? Like, yeah, you may have to work another job for awhile. 4 (1h 2m 11s): Yeah. You may have to do this, but man, life is short and long short, meaning you get one life, you get to do this one time. So why be miserable? Right? Like if you want to make art, make art, no matter what make freaking art, you know, I don't mean no matter what, like in a bad way, but show up every day. I mean, my wife goes to the studio every day and paints, even when it is crazy difficult, I try to grab my guitar every single day or do something creatively. Yeah. That advice is believe in yourself. Show up, be kind. Don't do hard drugs. 4 (1h 2m 54s): Yeah, man, just be it. Be a good human and show up for yourself and others. You'll be all right.