creativity rising: a singer realizes her dream {más moss EP release}

Yesterday evening, I hit 'publish' on a short-and-sweet blog post on another site announcing the release of a debut EP album. 

No, I'm not promoting someone else's music (though, trivia fact, I did intern for a boutique music PR agency during college).

This is a band that *I'm singing in*. This is my music — our music. 

And it's so surreal to finally be at this point.

The post below is a somewhat-self-indulgent history of my relationship with making music, so if you're not into that right now, justclick here for the info on how to download/stream our EP. (I will say, though, that there are certainly some good lessons in my story if you stick around!) 

It's in my blood, y'all

I got my first karaoke machine in the third grade.It came with a cassette that had just one karaoke song on it — The Power of Love. I didn't know or particularly even like The Power of Love, but damn if I didn't I learn that song and belt it out anyway. I had a microphone and a tape recorder!

A few years later, I upgraded to a fancier Koss boombox (thanks, Dad) with a badass karaoke function that more-or-less silenced the lead vocal track on most CDs (and a real mic!). I sang in my room for hundreds, maybe thousands of hours over the next 5+ years, recording tape after tape and even dueting with myself and friends. My mom quickly realized that if she wanted to see me at all, I had to have a karaoke boombox at her house, too (thanks, Mom).

I sang in choir in junior high and early high school, until I decided that I was not a fan of our choir director, and besides, school choir doesn't get you famous like Britney, anyway (SMH at my younger self). I briefly sang in an emo punk band with my sophomore-year boyfriend until that relationship reached its expiration date.

After that, eight years (!!) passed before I did much of anything else with music. I started singing with a friend who was a talented pianist, and we co-wrote a few songs together and played a couple small gigs. It was fun, but then I started grad school, and life got in the way for both of us.

Two years later, I moved to Nashville. Of course, when you're new in Nashville, everyone asks if you moved here to pursue music. I'd laugh and say no, I came temporarily for my grad school internship to work with eating disorders and got a job I couldn't turn down, so I stayed.

I left Austin, the live music capitol of the world, for Nashville, the songwriting capitol of the world. But no, I wasn't here for music. Anytime I had to acknowledge that, a part of me internally cringed, and I'd do my very best to ignore it — because if I'm being honest with myself, I am most alive and joyful when I am singing. 

The stories we create

If I really love it so much, why didn't I pursue singing? Well, one big reason is that I had a story in my head for many years that because I "just" sang, no band would want me.

No one needs "just a singer" when so many singers can also play piano, guitar, etc. So I made a few half-efforts to learn guitar, but my heart wasn't in it. For me, I was only learning guitar so I could sing. So as much as that was probably a fairly good reason, it wasn't enough to make me passionate about or committed to the sometimes-painful learning process and consistent practice required to get good at an instrument.

And of course, there are a million other reasons that could be perfectly great excuses if I let them: "I may be good but I'm not that good", "I don't have the time", "it's impossible to actually make a living doing that", and many more thoughts that have helped me rationalize why I didn't take any action.

Meanwhile, I went about my life with a little hollow part at my core. A part that winced in jealousy anytime I saw someone else doing what I wanted to do. The part of me that lived in the "should've/could've/would've" mindset as though it were actually already too late. 

Turns out, choir is kind of awesome

Another year or so passed. When I initially moved to Tennessee, I started attending the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, and it gradually became the first church that has ever actually felt like a spiritual home for me. (Sidebar, I would never have imagined myself as a voluntarily church-going person, but the FUUN congregation, and UU in general, opened my eyes to a new meaning of "church." Also it's Nashville, so isn't church like a requirement? I kid!)

FUUN is home to Jason Shelton, our Associate Minister for Music, one of the most well-respected contemporary UU composers internationally, and all-around badass. For over a year, I watched him conduct the choir with a mix of enjoyment (of the beautiful music), admiration (of the talent), and jealousy (because I wasn't up there). Once I became consciously aware of that last one, I thought to myself, "I have no right to be jealous if I don't want to get up there and be a part of it myself." And like that, I joined the choir.

As my first time really singing in years, it was like a part of me that had gone into hibernation was suddenly waking up and being fed.

And then... Más Moss!

Fast forward another year, and my then-fiancé Chris and I started talking about how it might be cool if I tried singing along with him and his friend Ben, who he'd been jamming with on and off since high school. Another friend of ours, Berry (who recently helped us buy our first house!) got a bass for Christmas, and we started having fun learning a handful of covers. I also messed with a vocal line/lyrics for a couple of previously-instrumental tunes Chris and Ben (along with their friend Matt, a very talented bass player who left this world too soon) had written together.

Before we knew it, we were planning on providing the music for our own wedding, because we're weirdos and we do what we want. By the time the wedding rolled around, we had written four original songs together (and learned that many covers) and were practicing regularly. We played a couple house parties before the wedding, and had a blast playing our reception before we turned it over to DJ Spotify.

Not long after, we were sad that Berry had to direct his time elsewhere (though it did sort of result in our home ownership, so can't complain), but equally excited that our friend Seth was interested in joining us on bass.

We kept writing and practicing, and started working on recording our first EP. All of those things took priority over booking live shows, since we wanted to have quality tracks to share with potential venues as newbies on the scene. We DIY'd the recording thanks to Seth's knowledge and equipment, so it took a whiiiiile. (Also we all have those things called "day jobs," so scheduling is no small feat.)

Then, Seth teamed up with Evan Sieling who mixed and mastered the tracks... and voila! We got photos done with Brad and Ashley of All of the Stars Photography, and got our ducks in a row for the digital album release.

So here I am now, releasing a real recorded album, available to the public. (Hey, that's you!)

On not being a slave to your thoughts

No, I'm not selling out Bridgestone Arena (or even a crappy dive bar) or gracing the cover of Rolling Stone like my 14-year-old-self fantasized about. We haven't played live shows yet because of how we wanted to prioritize our time and efforts, and we decided not to print physical copies of the EP yet. At times, my inner critic goes to town with imposter-syndrome comments about how facts like these make me not a "real" musician.

But another part of me is wiser.

It knows that if I just let thoughts like these make my decisions, I'd still be sitting in those pews and concert venues looking smugly annoyed and secretly feeling sad and jealous.

It also knows that music will be one of my greatest gifts to the world, even if only 100 people ever hear these songs.

Howard Thurman explains this perfectly in one of my favorite quotes:

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

If you've made it all the way to the end of this epic post, good on you! I think there's probably a reason. I wonder if there is a small hollow part in you that needs to be acknowledged.

So I'll leave you with this question:

What is it inside you that is begging to be fed so it can come alive? What is it that you need to do or create for your light to shine brightly into the world? And how can you start to DO that, even in the tiniest baby-step kind of way, right NOW? 

Listen to Más Moss's debut EPhere, and get links to download and stream from your favorite online music serviceshere

the wisdom of imperfection + loving yourself when it's really hard {a personal story}

Last Sunday, I was given the opportunity to sing one of my favorite songs ever in my church (First Unitarian Universalist of Nashville), accompanied by our Minister of Music, Jason Shelton — also my choir director, and a ridiculously talented composer and musician — along with a few other experienced musicians. It was truly one of those situations where the Universe intervened, because I had been thinking for months of mentioning to Jason that if it ever worked out with a service topic to sing this particular song, That Wasn’t Me by Brandi Carlile  that I would love to do it. Then right after my wedding, he contacted me out of the blue asking if I’d be available that Sunday to sing that song. I was ecstatic but also a nervous wreck about it. I wanted to do mad JUSTICE to the song, and also I still have very limited exposure to solo performance in public.

So, I practiced singing it in my car all week (sometimes there are benefits of my hour-each-way commute) and making sure I knew where all the words went, and on the day of, thought, “meh, I could make a printout of the lyrics and that would be okay, but I’ve sung this song a million times and really should’t need it. If I change my mind I’m sure I can make a printout at the church.” Would I go back and change that decision if I could? Not totally sure, to be honest.

I got to church early that morning and we ran through the song twice before the first service, and when my time came about 2/3 through the service, I had already gone to the bathroom probably 3 times in the past hour because of how anxious I was. I got up there and sang it with heart. People loved it, and I felt great. Next, doing the sermon, was visiting speaker, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, also known as the Holy Rascal. Right after I sang, he said in Jason’s direction, “I didn’t know you got Taylor Swift.” The congregation laughed and objected, “No, she’s way better!” I was embarrassed about the attention, but it also felt nice.

We ran the song again once or twice before the second service, since a few other choir members came to help with backing vocals in that service. Again before and during that service, I wondered if people thought I had some kind of health issue with how much I was running to the bathroom. I got up there, sang it with heart again, and then when I got to the last verse, I skipped a stanza. I realized it but it was too late, and looked at Jason (next to me on piano) with a look of somewhat-disguised-panic, and knew I had to Just Keep Going. I sort of fixed it, the best way that I could, and ended the song awkwardly, looking at him and mouthing “DAMN!” before sitting back in the first pew.

My heart was racing wildly. I wanted nothing more than to run out of the church, or at the very least, to appear that I was calmly going to the bathroom again and then continuing outside to the parking lot to cry. I even had old thoughts of scratching myself and pulling out my hair, something I’ve only done once in a moment of panic since I was a teenager (back then it was more frequent.) My self-talk was pretty brutal, and I was so ashamed. I knew that the rest of the song had been good, and that I salvaged the last 30 seconds or so the best I could, but here I was singing one of my favorite songs that has the power to bring people to tears (“when it’s sung RIGHT!!!”), and I’m wanting to cry for a totally different reason.  Even writing about it now, I can feel my pulse starting to pick up again and my eyes welling up a little.

But of course, after I sang, the very next thing was the sermon. And guess what the topic was? The Wisdom of Imperfection. Of Freaking Course. I had really enjoyed it during the first service, and I knew the irony of me beating myself up or escaping during this particular sermon, but I wanted to run nonetheless. When Rabbi Rami got up to the podium after I sat, no Taylor Swift jokes, no anything. And of course I told myself, “He doesn’t want to draw any attention to you because you just screwed up.” The cool thing about Rabbi Rami is that he never does the same talk twice. He brought in all kinds of different anecdotes and jokes the second time around, so ultimately I was glad that I had stayed, but man-oh-man was it difficult.

I listened to him as he referred back to the reading he’d done earlier in the service — Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, which he deemed “one of the great spiritual texts” (I agree with him). He talked about how we are often taught by religious institutions that on one side we have Life and Prosperity (and Heaven!), and on the other side, Adversity, Suffering, Sin, Death (and Eternal Damnation!). And of course, we want to pick the former — but he argued that it is not actually either-or at all, but And. If we spend our lives trying to “get rid of” our “sinfulness” or our dark sides or our imperfections, we are missing out on the truth of humanity and life. Since this is one of my core foundational philosophies as a therapist (it lines up perfectly with DBT’s Dialectical Thinking concept and also the “Acceptance” of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), I needed no convincing of this from an intellectual standpoint. During the first service, I sat there with rapt attention, nodding vehemently and going “Amen!” in my head.

During the second service, however, at first I was doing the internal eye-roll, thinking, “sure, perfection isn’t realistic, but ROYALLY SCREWING UP IN FRONT OF HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE ISN’T OKAY!!” Still trying to convince myself to not get up and run.

This was one of those times that I was just as much in need of coping skills as any of my clients in residential treatment right now. So what did I do?

Well, after I was done cursing myself, I just did my best to accept what was happening with me.

I breathed.

I crossed my arms, grabbing my shoulder with my opposite hand, and I squeezed, literally holding myself.

I let my eyes well up.

I listened to Rabbi Rami.

I stared at the ground.

I just let it happen.

And at the end of the service, I did more or less run out to the parking lot, get in the car, and self-pity-cried for a minute. My husband comforted me the best he could, telling me I did amazing and that my flub was not that bad. At first I told him to just drive on to the grocery store, but he didn’t rush, and I pulled my head up a little and said, “maybe we should go back in for a minute.” I dragged myself out of the car and we went back into the social area of the church. Numerous people came up to compliment me, a couple saying “I know you thought you messed up, but it was great,” and one lady saying that plus “It was so powerful I was tearing up.”

I didn’t feel like I necessarily needed these accolades from a standpoint of external validation — it was more about that I was going to allow myself to receive them even though I wanted to run from it because I didn’t feel like I had deserved it at first. But I changed my mind. I deserved to hold my head up high and not run just because I was embarrassed about my mistake. I deserved to be gentle with myself because mistakes are inevitable, and because dammit, Shel Silverstein and Rabbi Rami are right. Perfection is not real. If I want the sweet, I have to also accept the sad, because in embracing both, I am human.

I am me, and I can be loving toward toward myself — flubs and all. And only when I do that can I truly love others and their mistakes, too.