Phases in Exile
When I started making Phases in Exile, living and working in America was bleeding me dry. To me, music and art may be the closest we come to an encounter with divine energy that we can experience in our brief lives. They are a bridge to understanding what it means to be human. They are sacred. The performing artist’s role is one of great purpose. The artist is akin to a shaman, braving the void to stand before us as a mirror, reflecting our inherent worth and reminding us of the nobility in our choice to live in spite of suffering and imminent death. To tether this work to some banal commercial context is to drain the meaning and magic from its practice, and I refused to comply. I refused to function as an entrepreneur. The more I maintained this stance, the more marginalized I became, until I was on the brink of giving up. I titled the record as a literal description of its contents. It is about being an outsider – culturally, economically, conceptually and spiritually exiled from my contemporaries and my culture at large. When I finished the record, I shared it with just a few people. One of them was Marco Stangherlin, a booking agent and old friend in Napoli. It is largely because of his courage and sensibility that my experiences in Italy with my old band, Akron/Family, over the previous decade, had been some of the most profound and formative of my artistic life. Though these tours had always been part of a larger commercial hustle, my intuition told me that more was possible, so when I came back in summer 2014 for a solo tour, I decided to stay a while. I set my sights on having richer experiences, on building a relationship with Italy at large, and on forging deeper personal relationships with everyone I met. After a month of traveling and playing all over the country, I had forgotten about trying to put out a record. All I wanted to do was keep on singing, eating, talking and staying with amazing people – sharing moments instead of selling things. This simple shift of imperatives set me free to contemplate my situation, and the situation of many other artists in contemporary culture.
I met C+C=Maxigross when they asked me to play Lessinia Psych Fest. They are a young, talented group of artists, and as I’ve learned, like many other young people in Italy, they are very concerned with the cultural ecology of their city, their region and their society. They invited me into their community and we began to merge our visions naturally. And so the inspirations and people that would bring Phases in Exile to life began to take shape. Modern life, and the technology that drives it, can make us feel like we are consumers before we are human beings – like buying things is the only way to interact with the world. And in the US everyone mostly consumes exactly the same things, whether they are in Porterville, a poor farming community in California where I grew up, or New York City, where Akron/Family was born, 4,500 kilometers away. But as I traveled the length and breadth of Italy, I realized it is different here. In Vasto, in Abruzzo, my local hosts argued over who really owns the recipe for ventricina. A friend from Termoli, 30 kilometers down the road, said that Vasto’s version was too bland. Molise had the real thing. These experiences happened over and over again. I started to dream of a way to engage this wealth of diversity. I started to understand that Phases in Exile had broader artistic implications. I started to imagine how my music could become local music.