“the music thing”

“the music thing”

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to commit to “mental health mornings” to start my day.  Aside from waking up at the ass-crack of dawn to work out, I’ve been trying my best to take advantage of these early morning rises to “check in” with myself too.  So after our work-out, and my boyfriend showers and heads off the work, I sit out on the front porch and read up on the book, “Jesus Calling” with my journal in my lap. Also, for the past 2 weeks, I’ve been keeping up (or at least, attempting to) with Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience series, “Desire and Destiny” through their website.  Now, I wouldn’t say that meditation/yoga/mantras/affirmations and all this are necessarily my “thing”…but I’m trying.  Why?  Because stagnation and I can no longer be comfort buddies. 

Not that I’m stuck, per se, but the need to expand my mind and get out of unhealthy or limiting thought patterns I’ve become privy to in the past has become increasingly apparent as of late.  I am embarking on a complete reintroduction in the next couple of months and it’s scary, to say the least.  New music, new branding (because apparently that’s a thing in the music business), new documentary, new message, new me…well, at least, an evolving me.
To put myself so front and center for so many to hear/see/judge feels equally part paralyzing and empowering. 

It has been a long time since I’ve been in “Artist Mode” aka “a bright ‘effin spotlight to see if you’re really as good as you think you are”…  Which is crazy considering I’ve always been “doing the music thing” as so many people casually refer to it as.  Even worse, when people literally ask the question every music person hates more than politics, “So are you still doing ‘the music thing’?”  For those of us writing songs, singing demos, waiting tables, driving Ubers, singing background vocals, taking meetings even though we’re not exactly sure what for most times, slowly saving up money for a photo shoot or a recording session, trying to figure out how to create our own website, constantly needing to replace a roommate or two, physically attempting to make our social media numbers higher, booking our own shows, playing our latest creation around town with the hopes that a bigger artist somehow hears it and records it, figuring out how to release new music so that more than just our family and friends think it’s good (but also hoping that they’ll start thinking we’re actually doing something with our lives now), checking our bank accounts and feeling depressed every time so now we check it even less, going to shows and trying to get a handle on our social anxiety as we also try introducing ourselves to someone who might be someone someday, attempting to rise above the rejection of the “cool clique” of music biz peeps when they ignore us because we aren’t “somebody” yet, finding the motivation and passion to keep going when it’d be easier to just give in and give up…

Why yes, we are ALL still “doing the music thing”, thank you for asking.

On top of that, now I’ll also be releasing an album that’s been tied up for awhile now and has me feeling all sorts of nervous and ready and like, “Holy shit, I hope people don’t think this sucks”.  And with that release, I’ll be reliving some painful shit because the album is literally a live recording of some pretty dark places I was in at the time.  Sprinkle on top of that, taking a bunch of photos and videos and trying my best to look skinny and pretty and young.  The cherry on top being, obsessing over how many plays, views, “likes”, follows you got that week…because that’s “Artist Mode” headspace…and once you’ve had it off for awhile, it feels a weeee bit overwhelming when you turn it back “on”, HA!

 

*** Speaking of “following”…be sure to ‘Follow’ my blog for future posts *** 

Not that I never “un-became” an artist.  I’ve always been one.  Literally, from the time I was 3 years old and belting The Judds from every family member’s fireplace stage.  Or at 4-5 years old when I voluntarily secluding myself on a daily basis at pre-school to draw crayon pictures of a stage with red curtains, a redhead holding a guitar, standing in front of a mic.  Or when I was 8-9 years old and riding my bike in secret to the lake, where I’d sit with a notebook and write songs and poems.  Ages 13-17, when I was up until 1am the morning of a show, burning CDs and printing/slapping on sticky labels to hand out to everyone that would listen to me.  To when I graduated high school and couldn’t move to Nashville fast enough, with $1000 from my graduation party and a 1997 Ford Escort full of clothes with a little too much Little Mermaid (and Wynonna) memorabilia.  To every song I’ve written since, some of which felt like if I didn’t get out of me, those feelings/those words would eat me alive.

These things don’t go away.  They aren’t temporary, they aren’t a phase.  You don’t outgrow them.  It’s embedded in you.  You can attempt to suppress it if you’re lucky.  You can follow alternative roads.  You can chalk it up to a daydream or “that was another life”.  There are definitely days I wish I knew how to do that.  There are days I’d love to know what it’s like to have a career in a field with a salary and health benefits.  Or what it’d be like to have a little diva crawling around my house, the spitting image of me, teaching her to sing Carole King songs before she learns to talk.

But that isn’t me.  It was never me.  A wise woman once told me, “You can’t make an elephant a giraffe.”  I think I’m the elephant in this scenario…?  Ha.

Even from a music stand-point, being “musically active” and being in the “Artist” headspace are two very different things, and it’s been an internal tug-of-war for me the last few years.  I thought that I could quench this thirst by constantly singing…whether it was with background vocals for other people on stage and in the studio, writing songs, singing demos, being around music-makers, etc. etc.  Turns out, I’m still thirsty.  Because as wonderful and inspiring as all of that is, it’s only half of the dream.  And I know A LOT of killer female vocalists that will agree with me on that.  Not because we want to be famous or win a Grammy…but because we have our own thing with it’s own fire and that comes with a burning desire to share it, despite how terrifying it seems sometimes.

And the reality of me extinguishing any of the dreams inside of me are virtually impossible.  It doesn’t happen.  Believe me, I’ve tried in the past.  For the sake of true transparency here, I tried a lot… one toxic relationship after another, co-dependency, drinking, going broke, thinking the absolute worst of myself until I made my thoughts a stinging reality at some points, surrounding myself with the wrong crowd, losing confidence in my gift, not loving or respecting myself enough to forgive my missteps, exhausting myself “keeping busy” rather than moving forward, causing my family to borderline stage an intervention, doubting that anyone would even listen or support me if I tried to step out again, and at least 271 other ways I tried to find a way “out” of my true calling.

But guess what…?

I lived through it all, SO much better for it.

I lived through it all, with a new-found appreciation that I still have the option for my calling…which, is more like a screaming than a calling these days.

And with that, it’s become abundantly clear that there was really only one choice for me all along.

The music thing.

Twitter: @itsraywilliams

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(All the props to my co-writer & musical genius friend, Bonnie Baker for her cool office/writing space vibes in this photo!)

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the hometown bubble.

the hometown bubble.

I haven’t been very good about writing lately.  (I sound like a broken record.)  Aside from some journaling here and there and starting a few song ideas, I’ve allowed my mind to be distracted by other things… travelling, packing/unpacking, being outside as much as humanly possible, Harry Potter books (I’ve decided to read the entire series for the first time), putting the finishing touches on releasing new music, learning songs for sessions and shows, visiting my family, happy hours on patios, and my newly acquired love/hate relationship with Crossfit.  (Yes, you read that correctly…Crossfit.  I know.)  It’s actually quite pitiful how much I think, “I should write today…about this…oh don’t forget you want to write about that…” and then I don’t.  Case in point, I’m sitting at my kitchen table with the window open, listening to it storm outside.  The dogs are all at my feet because they don’t like the thunder.  I’m settling in and getting in a good headspace to start writing and I see my boyfriend’s car pull into the driveway with a much-needed new bag of dog food.  So I feed them, I send a couple emails, I wash a few dirty dishes by hand, I check my Twitter, and I think how absolutely LOVELY it would be to curl up on the couch with these pups, listen to the rain, and read more Harry Potter (I’m halfway through Book 6.)  But I have to write.  Kind of like when I set my alarm for 4:50AM for a 5:30AM CrossFit class because it’s the only time of the day my guy and I can both go together.  You dread it, you hate it, you want to push “Snooze” (and maybe you do once), but you know how much better you’ll feel once you’re done.  That’s exactly what I’m hoping happens with writing this blog entry. 

There’s a lot of ground to cover, but I won’t try to tackle even half of it in this entry today.  You’d be reading for hours.  I will, instead, commit to writing another blog entry by the end of this week.  So there, I said it, feel free to hold me accountable.

I’d like to give this afternoon’s attention to my hometown.  And my guess is, your hometown is probably an awful lot like mine.  So I’ll proceed…

I was born in Garden City, MI,  lived in a Polish neighborhood in Detroit the first few years of my life, and then moved 20 minutes west (with Metro Airport right beside us), to the suburb of Belleville, Michigan by the time I was a toddler.  The first home I have memories of is the little brick ranch that sat off a horrendously pot-hole-filled road right behind what used to be Dimitri’s Kitchen (which I guess is now called Mike’s Kitchen).  I made my very first friends there.  Friends that I actually still keep connected with via social media.  I lived in Belleville and only Belleville until the day I moved to Nashville, however, throughout my younger years, I ended up attending 3 out of the 5 different elementary schools within Belleville’s city limits.  Don’t worry, I was uncool through all 3 schools, ha.  Between 2nd and 3rd grade, my mother was expecting her 4th (and thankfully, last) child so we inevitably outgrew our little ranch.  We relocated over the bridge, on the other side of Belleville Lake, to a brand new subdivision, where at the time, we were the 5th house being built in the whole neighborhood.  Our new location had us directly beside Belleville High School and it was a dream for me to people-watch all the students, imagining my own “Saved By The Bell” episode when I reached those hallowed doors someday.  Yup, it was a whole new world on the other side of Belleville…

Our new home was walking/bike-riding distance to Main Street and all the glorious things you can only truly appreciate when you’re a kid.  Hours spent climbing and running all over Victory Park, sugar highs from Frosty Boy, hanging out by the library, loaded cheese fries from A&W, candy cigarette’s from the Dairy Mart, feeding the overzealous (and disgusting) carp off the boat docks at Reflections…  It was sublime and as a child, I had no interest in knowing a life outside of my town.

I was a Belleville Cougar cheerleader when I was 8-10 years old, which lead me to cheerleading for South Middle School and the first couple years of high school.  Turns out, I was too cynical & sarcastic to be a good cheerleader even at 9 years old, and I never outgrew it, who knew.  I was heavily involved in dance and singing at Jan’s School of Dance.  The owner/instructor, Jan Oliver, scared the hell out of me as a kid.  She was strict but she was good, and she called me out on my laziness.  She also gave me some of my first public singing performances at our dance recitals over the summer.  I was involved in my hometown’s Strawberry Festival, whether it was singing/dancing in the parades, performing at the craft fairs, headlining on the ‘main stage’ with my comically bad band at the time, or coming in 1st Runner Up in the Strawberry Queen Pageant.  *cringe*

Throughout high school, I started performing at every local event there was…charity dinners, Music in the Park, choir concerts, tree lightings, church revivals (shout-out to Faith Assembly), talent contests, the whole works.  Suddenly, my dorkiness was irrelevant because everyone knew I could sing.  The local papers wrote about me and for the first time ever, I felt almost cool.  I started performing bigger gigs on bigger stages with bigger artists, and Belleville had a unfailing, “That’s our girl” way about them in their support for me.

All of that was great, but the closer I got to graduation, the more I wanted out.

Nashville was calling.  Literally.

I got to feature my hometown of Belleville, Michigan on USA Network’s “Nashville Star 2” when I was a top 10 contestant back in the day.  I was still working as a hostess at our local Cracker Barrel and I’ll never forget one morning, while refilling a gentleman’s coffee at 7AM, seeing my face on the front page of the newspaper he was reading.  That’s when I KNEW knew…It was time to go.

I’d visit Belleville multiple times a year, every year, for over 10 years.  The first 6 years or so, I’d come back and find it, uh, uneventful.  It was the same few storefronts that managed to stay afloat downtown somehow (one of them being the Chamber of Commerce, so I don’t think that really counts), the rest were closed and the buildings stayed empty.  There was no night-life, no trendy bars or restaurants, the closest theater or mall being 20 minutes away.  I was really just visiting for my family’s sake.  Nashville was so big, so exciting, something to do every second of every day…forever a new place to discover, new friends to meet, coffee shops to bring your dog, countless boys to date, any and every concert you could ever hope to see, studios and writing rooms and stages to be on.  I was so certain I could never be anywhere but Nashville for the rest of my life.

I’ve always joked, “God put a bubble around Belleville.  Nothing’s changed in 20 years.”  And although I’ve always thought those exact words to be true, the way I interpret that statement started to shift about 4-5 years ago…

Somehow, as life went on, my hometown started to become my place of solace, my refuge.  I needed a break, and Belleville gave me one.   I needed away from never-ending construction and condos and bar-hopping and bad boyfriends and insufferable traffic and comparing my dreams and my progress to everyone else’s.  I needed my family, yes.  But I also needed the simplicity that I once rolled my eyes at.  I needed to sit in Horizon Park, right beside Belleville Lake, and breathe…just like I’d done throughout middle school and high school, when I used to look for my voice through writing poems, diary entries, and song lyrics down by the water.  I needed to walk my nephew to Frosty Boy and chase him in the park.  Because if I could watch his eyes light up, then I could forget about all the messes I kept getting myself into.  I needed the comfort of knowing that every member of my family was only a 5 minute drive from the other, so that they could remind me who I REALLY was, not this train-wreck persona I couldn’t snap out of.  And $3 drinks with old friends at Johnny’s was quite the welcomed change of pace from the $14 martinis/shoulder-to-shoulder bars/loud bands playing “Wagon Wheel”/getting all dolled up just to have boys treat you like they’re at a buffet/inevitably leaving my debit card somewhere-scenarios I’d been dealing with for years on end.

Whereas I used to look almost sympathetically at those that never got out from my hometown, I was now jealous of them.  Maybe the “world of endless possibilities” is too much, granting me too many options.  When you have so much in front of you, it makes you feel like you should never settle, like you’ll never be satisfied, therefore, you never do and you never are.  And that’s a lot to take on in your teens and early 20’s when you still don’t know your ass from your elbow.  I started to see my old high school friends that were raising their own families in Belleville in a whole new light, as I was on my 4th disastrous relationship of that year in Nashville.

When I made the decision 18 months ago to live 50/50 between Nashville and Michigan, I second-guessed it everyday for months.  It was that internal tug-of-war where the Nashville Rachel was supposed to be so much better, more evolved than the old Belleville Rachel, so how could I resort back after coming this far?  I’m happy to say, it didn’t take too long before I removed my head out of my ass and realized that both Belleville Rachel and Nashville Rachel can indeed coexist together.  They are both me, they both have a lot to offer to whoever will listen, and no matter what, I’ll never be able to out-run that nor should I want to.  It’s kind of like this brand new song I just wrote and recorded a couple weeks ago in Nashville, where the lyric asks, “How you gonna grow when you’re cutting off your roots?”  Perfect, right?

I give you all of this backstory because recently my hometown has been shaken to it’s core.  There’s been a few tragic (and unfortunately violent) losses that has left Belleville stunned and speechless.  It makes no sense.  One loss, in particular, hasn’t left my thoughts since it occurred a couple weeks ago.

I was down in Nashville late last month, loaded up on meetings and studio sessions, and for once, not really reading what anyone was posting on social media.  I was updating my Instagram story fairly regularly, detailing me in the studio and all, and I saw a somewhat familiar Instagram user that had viewed my story earlier that day.  Curious, I clicked on her page and went through some of her photos.  This girl was a few years younger than me and went to school with my sisters, also she hung out with some of my old childhood friends, so I’d see her pop up on Facebook sometimes. I hadn’t physically seen her in a few years.  Last time being at a local bar, where she came up to hug me and tell me that she had started singing out and about recently and how she thought it was so cool that I moved to Nashville.  When I looked at her Instagram profile a couple weeks ago, I saw photos and videos of her singing, posts about yoga and meditation, intellectual and inspiration quotes, and I thought to myself, “She’s super pretty, she’s into fitness and music, she’s single and child-less and likes to go out, I should become real-life friends with her.”

She was gone 24 hours later.

She died inside her house that sat off a dirt road less than 2 miles from my parent’s house.

And just like that, the bubble I was so sure would always cover Belleville burst.  The reality that my hometown is not exempt from ‘the world’ hit hard.  The reality that a young woman…just like me…just like my sisters…just like you…could be taken…?  This isn’t a troubled past/wrong crowd/drugs/bad neighborhood/a photo shown for 15 seconds on the local news.  It’s so much to process and it will continue to be so much to process.

I share this story, not because I have anything new to contribute.  I don’t have details, I don’t have all these memories and stories.  All I have is perspective.

Egypt Covington was one of us.

I’m still Facebook friends with a lot of people in my hometown that are terrified/enraged and quite a few of them are saying the town has gone to shit.  Despite these recent tragic events, I have to say that I disagree.

All the things I couldn’t see/appreciate about my hometown while growing up are still present today.  There’s something soul-stirring about the loyalty of a smaller-town community, regardless if it’s progress rate.  For a long time, my eyes were fixated on the “new and shiny”.  But now I’ve seen the new and shiny, I’ve lived the new and shiny, and the new and shiny doesn’t claim you when you feel forgotten, or when you’ve forgotten yourself.  But your hometown does. 

I’m proud to be from Belleville and to stand with a community that took care of my family and I.  This town gave me the love and the platform to create these big ol’ dreams of mine.  This town let me cry on it’s shoulder every single time my heart got broken, whether by these dreams or some stupid boy.  This town let me start over.  So no matter where the music takes me, I will always appreciate landing on this stretch of runway that continues to welcome me home.  Bubble or not.