To anyone who’s desperate for more,
Who’s not sure where to look,
Who’s totally fucking lost,
To the dreamer who can’t get out of bed,
Because every time you try,
The sheets seem so much warmer than what’s out there,
To the ravers who’ve danced in that grass,
And wondered why,
This feels so much better,
To the boy who lost that girl,
And the girl who lost that boy,
That made everything right,
To anyone who knows there is more,
But can’t find it,
I make this music for you,
And for me,
So that maybe we can find it together.
Tomorrow I’m releasing two new songs. They mean a lot to me. They were inspired by flickers of lovely light in a dark time. I hope they mean something to you too.
I’m so sorry, with all my heart, for taking this long. I owe you so much. You fell in love with a creation that came from the deepest parts of me, the most lonely and vulnerable places. Your support has given me so much courage to be honest. I think it’s through our honesty that we’ll all find what we’re looking for.
I don’t know if I’ll be dropping an album anytime soon. I want to put lots of songs out this year though. Maybe one or two at a time. The album will come when it’s meant to come.
But for now, I hope you can connect with these new ones. I’ve already got two more for next month too. It’s going to be a fun year. I love you guys so much. I hope I can meet you one day. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
With all the love I can possibly muster,
—Feb 8, 2018
It’s been a while. I miss sharing my madness disguised as wisdom with you guys. Unfortunately I got really sick and had to go home for 8 months to recover. It wasn’t the greatest time.
I'll tell you a little bit about it but I don't want to dwell.
I made a ton of music in Joshua tree last summer. I must have written 100 songs. I thought that I had the next album at one point. The plan was to come back to LA and finish my favorite ones. That was when my symptoms worsened and I became pretty dysfunctional. My skin was so constantly itchy that the only way I could sleep was by taking short naps in really cold water that numbed the itch. I must have visited a dozen doctors at this point and no one could help me. My mom came out for a few weeks to take care of me and then we flew home around thanksgiving
It felt like no matter how hard I tried to get better or be productive or smile, I couldn’t. I lost control. I wasn’t sure if it would ever end.
The doctor we found back home was a godsend. She pretty quickly diagnosed the cocktail of shit that was destroying my body. I had Lyme disease (from a tick bite when I was younger that was somehow dormant), mold growing in my blood, strep, and parasites in my gut. WTF?
So after 8 months of popping pills, getting IV’s and drawing blood for like a million blood tests, I’m at 70% of my full energy and self and its getting higher every week. I still have a long road of recovery ahead of me, but I’m so much better and I’m back in LA making music. And yes I’m smiling every day
I'm guessing the first thing you’re wondering now is “where the F is some new music???!!!!”
So the music got put on hold guys. For the first time in my life, I had to abandon every goal I had and adopt only one – GET BETTER.
But now I’m back… and I’m picking up where I left off -- back to building good habits and routines, back to making music ever day, back to finding purpose for my life. The only catch is that the music I was making in Joshua is difficult for me to relate to now. It’s over a year old and I’m inspired by what I just went through more than what I was going through then.
So I’m kind of starting from scratch….
But guys…. I can’t even explain how grateful I am for this mess.
I’ll tell you why next week. I wanted to post this just to get the wheels turning again… and to make a promise to you that I WILL DO ONE OF THESE EVERY WEEK AND IF I DON’T YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO HUNT ME DOWN.
For now I’ll leave you with a little snippet of a journal entry I wrote a little while back. I think that journaling is one of the most important habits to develop if you really want to become your best self, if you want to find clarity in your problems, if you want to love yourself more, if you want a place to be completely honest with yourself. The way I journal is to try and not pick up the pen, just free flow and let it all come out honestly and raw. You should try it….:
“How did this all happen!? Ahhaahahrufucjek. I dont know man. I guess its pretty simple. You didnt give up.
You believed. You knew deep down inside what was coming and it came. Through all the doubt you triumphed; through all the fear you showed courage.
You never came to any conclusions regarding those months of uncertainty. There was no answer, no hard evidence that would pull you out. I dont think its something that will ever just end. I think its more like a circumstance that you will live with, that you've learned to live with. Instead of channeling the unknown into fear and anxiety, you've becoming quite good at embracing and trusting it. The hardship you endured fueled your transformation.
But its still only the beginning for you. You know deep down, just like you did before, how much is left. You see the person you're becoming, but its still only a blur, barely a foot sticking out of the sand.
Dont ever forget how potent the combination of struggle and persistence is.
To my past self, you did it man. Its all happening because you didn’t give up, because you had the courage to not only ask for a fire, but to walk through it. You gave up your comfort for the opportunity to grow, and I am forever grateful for that. If you can hear me, just keep going. I promise you its worth every burn.
To my future self, dont forget about me. I can't possibly know where you are or who you are, but I know where you came from. Im here man, if you ever need me. I love you. Don't forget what really matters man. Don't forget what makes you feel fulfilled.
And to myself now. Keep building good habits. Dont give up on the habits you are currently developing. Push through the resistance. Don't let fear hinder you. Keep meditating. Keep exercising. Keep practicing and keep creating. Keep stretching yourself. Keep opening your heart. Keep asking the hard questions. Keep writing. Keep trying new things. Keep trying and failing. Keep succeeding. Keep getting high every so often. Keep loving and believing. Keep dreaming and imagining. Keep giving.
I fucking love you. Every moment of you, every iteration and version.”
Till next week guys. Thanks for your support through all of this. You guys streamed and bought the fuck out of sincerely so thanks for helping me be financially comfortable through this time. More importantly, thanks for all the beautiful messages and prayers you've sent. It helped a lot. Now I owe you guys something really special. <3
—Oct 2, 2017
As the sun was setting under the mars-colored mountains, I had my right arm wrapped around my mom and my left around my dad. We were walking down a dusty trail on the border of the Joshua Tree national park, lost in the spectacle of fleeting colors and our precious time together.
Words can’t describe the feeling. It would be like trying to explain sound to a deaf man or love to someone who’s never loved. The next day we reminisced on the feeling, and my dad taught me a word that sums it all up – ineffable. It means too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.
In that moment, I realized the ineffable drove me to be an artist. It wasn’t enough to see the sunset alone, I wanted to share it with everyone. The music I listened to growing up did that for me, and I wanted to do that for someone else.
Today I released Crossfire part two, the sequel to the difficult and desperate question: “Why him and not me? Why do I get to watch peaceful sunsets with my parents while a poor child is lying on the floor, starving and scared?” But this time around, my friends Talib Kweli, Killagraham and Justin Clough – the incredible director to the music video – are adding to the message. Together, they help me describe the ineffable.
Before I go spend the rest of the day with my parents, I want to say this:
It is our judgement and criticism of others that isolate us. Look down on any human being that does wrong and admit that you are better, and all you will feel is your loneliness. It is when you are comfortable enough with yourself that you can accept and forgive anyone. I dare you to try it.
—Sep 14, 2016
I was seventeen and it was a heavy winter in my hometown Vienna, Virginia. School had been cancelled all week, and as usual, my house was where the party was. We wanted to play some drinking games.
“Damn!” said my tall-blonde friend Dan. I asked him what’s wrong. “It’s just past midnight, we can’t buy alcohol this late.” A few of us, including myself had fake I.Ds. We had been illegally buying alcohol since we were thirteen after printing out a template with my friends face on it, gluing it to the back of an Xbox game cartridge to give it some firmness, cutting it out, and stapling it into his wallet. We also couldn’t get away drinking my parents’ liquor anymore because most of the bottles were nearly empty at this point. “Fuck it lets just play guitar hero.”
As we were setting it up, I was struck with an idea to get us some booze. I asked Dan very passionately, “Your jeep can drive through the snow right?” He nodded yes. “Ok. So instead of humiliating you again at this game, how about we go on an adventure.”
“What’s the adventure?” he asked me.
“Lets drive to the Seven-Eleven in Tyson’s Corner. Drop me off and wait up the road about a quarter mile. I’m going to walk in, put exactly $15.67 – the price of a thirty-can case of Natty – on the counter by the register, walk to the fridge, pull out the Natty and make a run for it. It’s not stealing its just forgetting my receipt.” My friends are rolling in laughter and Dan says, “Swartz you’re insane. But I’m down to watch you get chased through the snow.”
We pulled up to the store and he dropped me off. I watched as he parked his car across the street. I walked in and realized the cashier was distracted organizing something in the back room. Game time. I softly placed the money on the table, moved to the fridge and pulled out a case very smoothly. Then I got cocky and pulled out a second. Now I was definitely stealing. As I moved through the isle towards the exit, I made eye contact with the cashier and booked it full sprint. I didn’t think he was actually going to chase me.
“Hey! Stop!” he yelled as I was hitting my stride coming out the door. I realized I should lose him before I got into Dan’s car. As I ran towards the street, I noticed a massive snowplow was stopped. The driver must have seen it all go down. He got out and started chasing me too!
So now there’s one guy from behind and another guy running at me from the front. I remember thinking to myself, “this is what I live for!” I had to change directions again. I pulled this little spin move and ran a horseshoe path back behind the store. Keep in mind, I was running through a foot of snow in a big burly jacket carrying two 30-can cases of alcohol. I must have looked like a fucking monkey. When I turned the corner I saw a small alleyway. I stashed the Natty there.
Forty pounds lighter, I ran up this long hill and completely dusted my pursuers. I remember looking back and waving goodbye as I vanished into the darkness. I watched them from a far. They didn’t notice the alcohol in the alley.
Now I had to sneak back and get it. I needed to recover and change cloths. I called Dan and he picked me up. We traded jackets in the car as I caught my breath. We also noticed something else while we waited. There were now five snowplows circling the streets surrounding the Seven-Eleven “They’re trying to find me! This is some mission impossible shit.” Dan was somewhere between laughing hysterically and concerned I would get caught. He knew he couldn’t stop me.
I got out of the jeep and headed in. I was weaving between snowplows, doing diving rolls behind cover. I was Tom Cruise and my Natty was the heist. I approached the store from the east side. I actually have no idea what side it was but it sounds epic. I saw the employee just outside the store talking with the snowplow driver. The driver kept grabbing his knees like he was still winded. I couldn’t stop giggling. He kept pointing at the street, doing a circle motion with his finger. I imagined him saying something like; “I’ve got my best men on this. We’ve got the place locked down. He can’t escape. When we find him we’ll make him talk. And then we’ll kill him.”
I almost wish they saw me again but they didn’t. I made my way to the back alley, grabbed the cases and escaped up the hill avoiding the snowplows. Dan picked me up and we headed back to my place to celebrate. Shitty beer never tasted so good.
This is only a taste of my teenage delinquency. I could have gotten in a lot of trouble. I stole, vandalized, destroyed property, indulged in underage drinking and marijuana, and lied to authorities and my parents among other crimes. I’m a criminal.
If I had gotten caught, my creativity would have been smothered. I would have been intimidated into behaving, forced into rehabilitation and labeled a criminal. It’s not that black and white. Criminals aren’t inherently bad people who need fixing, and innocence doesn’t make you a good person.
Even when I was a reckless teenager, I just wanted everyone to love each other. Nothing was wrong with me, in fact, the courage to get in trouble evolved into the courage that pushed me to be different, to follow my heart when others abandoned theirs out of fear. I learned how to be brave, and later in life took a chance on myself, dropping out of college to pursue my dreams as a musician.
The brotherhood I shared with my friends as we curiously adventured and experimented taught me the depth of friendship. I learned that true camaraderie is unbreakable, forgiving, reliable, honest and rebellious. We had a distaste for conformity and a distrust in authority.
I believe freedom only comes to those who have the courage to be authentic, and I believe this world will only get better if we have the audacity to resist authority and stand up for ourselves. Everyone could use a touch of criminal.
—Sep 6, 2016
If I ask you why you’re unhappy, you might say: “I hate school. My girlfriend cheated on me. I lost my job. I have cancer. I’m depressed because nothing is going my way.” Understandable. These are all difficult obstacles. We’re conditioned to feel upset. It’s a signal that we aren’t getting what we want.
But what do you want? According to your answer, you want to enjoy school, you want a loyal girlfriend, you want a steady job and you want to be healthy. But why? So you can be happy!
Don’t you see what’s happening here? You’ve created conditions for your happiness, conditions that are out of your control. We can make efforts to maintain relationships, keep jobs and stay healthy, but it’s never a guarantee, in fact, you will inevitably get sick.
There are only two things you can control: your expectations and your attitude.
Let’s start with expectations.
I just got back from eating breakfast at a local restaurant. I’ve become friends with an older woman who works there. It wasn’t busy so I got to talk with her over my meal. She told me about her son who is the twelfth person diagnosed with an incredibly rare and untreatable disease called “double cortex syndrome.” He’s twelve years old, and at it’s worse he might have a dozen seizures in a day. The seizures have caused brain damage. He’s not expected to make it through his teenage years and he knows this.
But she says he’s generally an incredibly happy person. We didn’t get into why. I already knew. This boy’s conditions for happiness aren’t founded on success or girlfriends or health. He doesn’t expect any of it. All he requires for happiness is life. The miracle of being alive is enough for him.
We’ll come back to this. Let’s talk about attitude.
Two guys are learning how to ride motorcycles. Let’s call them Stefan and Stephen. Stefan and Stephen are riding together and turn a sharp corner, but their lack of experience causes them to crash into each other. Stefan falls on the pavement and along with a scraped arm he gets his leg caught under the bike and the engine burns his shin. Stephen keeps his balance but is redirected off the side of the road, hits a really fancy mailbox, and then crashes into the back of a Porsche. Stephen’s ankle gets broken along with some minor cuts and bruises. His motorcycle gets totaled. The mailbox and sports car have nothing to do with this at all.
Stefan drives Stephen to the hospital in his car, and after the doctor puts Stephen in a magical healing box that not only instantly heals his foot but also makes his hair extra luscious, the two of them step outside. Stefan tells Stephen that the accident was a sign and that he’s decided to sell his bike and stick to cars. Stephen says that cars aren’t that sticky. More importantly, he said that the accident is just part of the learning experience, and decides to buy Stefan’s bike from him and keep riding.
Stefan’s attitude is that adversity should be avoided and taken as a sign that he’s doing something wrong. Stephen sees the same adversity as a right of passage, as a necessary obstacle to becoming great.
Stephen’s hair was also already extra luscious to begin with and the magical box was actually just a really cute nurse kissing his broken ankle. I’m also clearly an egomaniac who loves my own name and will use every opportunity to ravage its common mispronunciation.
Silliness aside, here’s my point.
If you expect too much, your happiness will be chaotic and fleeting, dependent on circumstances out of your control. But there is a happiness that is indestructible, and it exists within all of us. We can feel this happiness when we manage our expectations. The ultimate goal is that our only requirement for fulfillment is the pure magic of being alive.
This is difficult. Buddhism calls this Nirvana, the highest degree of enlightenment. So for us plebs who might not be seeking the abandonment of all desire and complete detachment from ourselves, let’s use this wisdom as a way of checking in. We don’t have to abandon our desires and ourselves to be happy. If you want to be successful, fucking go for it. If you want life to be more adventurous, I dare you to move towards it. But just remember that your happiness will not always be a constant, and when you’re depressed, it’s not because you’re doing anything wrong, it’s because you’re pushing yourself to be better.
—Aug 23, 2016
It was a scorching 106 degrees last Sunday in my new desert home of Joshua Tree. After a spontaneous morning flirting with a cute local over our double shot iced lattés and then being tricked into her hot yoga class, I sat at my piano chugging water with a vagabond’s impulse to hit the road.
I needed a break from writing my second album. I packed my backpack with a few bottles of water, some cash and my latest obsession “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. I zipped up my dusty boots, strapped on my colorful helmet and road my street-legal dirt bike about thirty minutes west to a local bar called “Pappy + Harriet’s.”
I walked in with a mean strut, my helmet in my left hand like a trophy that says “I’m stupid enough to ride a motorcycle.” I asked the bartender for their Golden Road hefeweizen. As she was pouring it, an older gentlemen sitting to my right turned to me and said hello.
I can’t remember the color of his eyes, but I remember the feeling of his gaze. A look of hardened joy, as if no hardship could strip his contentment. A soft playfulness accompanied by a heavy wisdom. He must’ve seen my helmet. His Harley was parked outside and we started talking motorcycles. The bartender handed me my beer in a mason jar and I decided to sit with this interesting fellow.
“I raced motorcycles when I was your age,” he said. “One time my throttle got stuck and I drove into a concrete wall at nearly 100 mph. I lost all my teeth but it didn’t stop me from getting back on. I thought I was invincible.” We talked a while about that, how believing you’re invincible protects you. We agreed that fear makes us more vulnerable to harm, that our naivety as children makes us powerful. “I think that’s why we are seeing so many young people executing revolutionary ideas,” I said. “They aren’t hindered by the high probability of failure. They just go for it.”
“Maybe naivety is the ultimate wisdom,” he said. The gentleman made a toast with his whiskey drink, and after grabbing a second beer I was firing off questions about his life. He was taken over by a wonderful excitement. I think it was my heartfelt curiosity.
“Number 80,” he said. “They were smart for picking me.” He was drafted into the army and fought in Vietnam for eleven and a half months. “My ignorance made for a good soldier.” Story after story, I couldn’t believe this man was still alive, let alone sane. He told me how adaptable the human mind is, that getting shot at everyday becomes normal. “Over time, we become comfortable with discomfort.” Somewhere in our war talk he said, “When bullets are flying, instincts take over and you become a different person. I got to see that side of myself. The hardship of war unmasked my strength. I didn’t know I was capable of dealing with such adversity.”
Someone yelled my name. I looked up and my friend Esjay who I hadn’t seen in over a year was standing right there. Her stunning 6-foot presence and her alluring South African accent almost made me forget about my new friend. We screamed at each other in exciting disbelief that we’ve collided in the middle of nowhere. She introduced me to her girlfriend, and as we began planning a road trip to Mexico, the gentleman waited patiently, occasionally turning around and giving us a big smile. She said her friend was playing a show outside on the patio in a couple hours. I said I would catch up with her a little later and eagerly returned back to my seat.
He handed me another beer. We drifted off the topic of war and forgot about time. He told me that the bar used to be a gas station. He showed me the blemishes on the floor where the pumps used to be. He was really thrilled to prove it and it got me excited about something I normally wouldn’t care about. We walked around the bar. I remember feeling so present. When we got back to our seats, I had to ask him, “Were you grateful for your time in Vietnam?”
He said very convincingly, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I believe every man should serve at some point in his life. That’s my greatest objection with the younger generation; you guys are too caught up with yourselves to serve your country.”
There was a pause, the longest one yet. I sipped my third beer, nodded my head and then turned my body to face him. I said, very slowly and calmly, “You’re right, we don’t want to serve our country. But this is what makes us special.”
“How so?” he asked.
I became more impassioned. “We are the disillusioned generation. We don’t carry weapons because we carry awareness, an awareness that our country has mislead us. We were told to abandon our passions, go to college and hastily select careers so we can half-heartedly work the rest of our lives to pay back the debt. We were taught to believe that materialism would bring us fulfillment but no matter how much we buy we still feel empty. We were told to play it safe so we don’t let everyone down, but we let down the only person that matters. Ourselves. And now we don’t love ourselves. We were promised independence, but all that our efforts have earned us is the illusion of freedom.”
“We won’t serve our country because we won’t fight for a government that wages war for profit. We won’t support a system that benefits the rich and entraps the poor. We won’t partake in an election process that patronizes the youth to vote and then forgets to put their candidate’s name on the ballot. Our selfishness is our strength and could be the imputes for change. We are educating ourselves through our own curiosity, a.k.a. our search history. We are becoming resistant to propaganda and dogma. We’re becoming smart enough to catch the truth in an ocean of lies, and yet we’re open minded enough still to eat every catch with a grain of salt. We want peace and equality, so why would we serve a government that wants the opposite?”
There was another pause. He gave me a subtle smile with a look of “you’re not finished yet.”
I continued, “The problem is that we are supporting this system. We don’t know how not to. We are aware but inactive, just a mob of confused individuals, connected but not united. You’re right, we’re too concerned with ourselves, preoccupied using social media to showcase our lives and express our individuality. But there is so much potential. I believe we can be more than the disillusioned generation. I believe we can be the generation that fought for our freedom, that united our voices into a single battle cry for change. I don’t know how though…”
He put his hand on my shoulder and with a fatherly touch he squeezed my arm, shook my hand and said, “Keep goin’ kid.”
We talked a little longer. Two hours had gone by since we started. I invited him to come outside and catch the show with me. He said he would meet me there. He never came. We never got each other’s names or numbers and it didn’t matter. I think he was an angel.
—Aug, 11, 2016
A month ago I left Los Angeles and moved to a desert town called Joshua Tree. The house I’m living in is on the border of the national park and I have endless hiking trails, mountains to climb, I share my land with like a hundred different animals (I’ve already seen 3 rattle snakes), I have a sweet new motorcycle that I can ride anywhere, and I brought all my instruments and recording gear. For four months I will be alone, and I’m using this time to grow closer to myself as I create my 2nd album.
This is not an escape. I am here because I realize that Los Angeles is a distraction from the only thing that will ever bring me fulfillment: loving myself. Everything else is just breadcrumbs, and no matter how much I eat I’ll never be satisfied.
Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:
-Loneliness isn’t the state of being alone; it’s the desire for distraction that comes when we are scared of ourselves. I don’t feel lonely anymore, I feel free when I’m alone.
-Loving yourself is the most unselfish thing you can do, because the more you love yourself the more you feel connected to everything and everyone and the more you genuinely care for it all.
-My personality and identity was influenced greatly by the validation and attention of my friends. Being alone, the only person validating me is myself, and it has been so fun to discover who I am when there’s no one around to tell me who I am.
-Cooking is not easy, but it’s more fun than cleaning
-Riding a motorcycle and performing at electric forest have been the two greatest thrills of my life thus far
-Life is better with no clothes on
-Creating and expressing anything, whether it’s music or ideas or thoughts, are the second greatest gifts we have as human beings. The first is love.
So unfortunately I don’t have skilled photographers around taking cool pictures of me, so I won’t have many pictures for the next few months, but I finally started using Snapchat, and you can follow my journey on there (@ithinkimcrashin).
—July 28, 2016
I am sitting here in the recording studio of my California home watching my childhood dreams unfold, as if those origami fortunetellers were all true. Two and a half years after dropping out of college, moving to Los Angeles and working really fucking hard, my music career is taking off. I probably deserve a trophy for never giving up, but I can’t take credit for much more; life has humbled me with so much serendipity.
Cared for by the most loving and passionate parents, I was free to explore life – to discover the world and myself. They enabled me to follow my heart. After expressing my interest for piano at a very early age, they paid for lessons. When I wanted to play the drums, they bought me a drum set. Once my dad saw how serious I was – or maybe it was because my band was so damn loud – he turned our unfinished basement into a soundproof studio and filled it with recording gear and instruments. He later paid for me to go to the Frost school of music at the University of Miami and then allowed me to drop out and move to LA after one of my songs began generating some passive income. Long story short, I chose to make the most out of countless opportunities that presented me – a choice a lot of people don’t get to make.
Despite all of my good fortune, a feeling of discomfort overwhelms me. In recognizing my luck, I have become deeply aware of others’ misfortune. How can I enjoy my life when I know others can’t? This question crippled me for years, but today it is the fuel that drives me to be great. I have an opportunity – a responsibility – to live a life bigger than myself and to act on more than just my own well-being.
Almost half of the world’s population – 3 billion people – lives on less than $2.50 a day. Step outside our comfortable homes and college educations and you’ll find slums, ghettos and refugee camps crowded with disease and violence – children without proper shelter, nutrition and education. We are witnessing a mass genocide in the Middle East, the persecution of free speech in Saudi Arabia, a North-Korean government that tortures innocent civilians and countless mass shootings across the world. Maybe your life hasn’t been as fortunate as mine, but count your blessings and you’ll see that you are pretty damn lucky. Realize that even our most mundane routines would be paradise for billions of people.
Yet we’re still scared to live. We’re scared of failing because we’re scared of the shame and the loss of control, so we stop taking chances. We chose safe lives over passionate ones; we chose the comfort of knowing exactly what’s going to happen next over the thrill of following our hearts. I’d rather be a fervent vagabond than be led through a maze with some money in my pocket and the false promise of happiness at the end. The only thing we’re promised in life is that it is temporary, so I’m not going to waste this precious time and this wildly unique and fortunate circumstance hindering to fear.
I feel an obligation to help those that can’t help themselves; I feel a responsibility to make the conditions of life a little bit better while I’m here. I certainly can’t do it alone, but through my music I’m building a platform that will hopefully inspire impassioned and intelligent individuals to put there efforts towards making the world a better place.
You should be grateful for all that you have, but that doesn’t mean you should be complacent – you have been given an opportunity to make a difference too. I’m not telling you to change the world, I’m challenging you to take a chance on yourself and create a life worth living. Give yourself the freedom to find what you love so you can spend your life following your heart.
—July 20, 2016
I feel like I’ve spent my whole life trying to figure it out.
I figured out how to tie my shoes, I figured out how to do algebra, I figured out how to kiss a girl, I figured out how to sing……
And somewhere in the midst of all this figuring out, I convinced myself that one day I’d have it all figured out.
I wanted to know who I was, why I was here and what I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t and it drove me crazy. My confusion turned into paranoia, which turned into panic attacks, which triggered delusions. I tried so hard to find my way that I became more lost. I tried so hard to find the answers that I became more confused. I tried so desperately to hold on that I collapsed under all the weight.
And for a while I couldn’t breathe.
But this conflict in my head gave me the opportunity to listen to my heart, and when I did, my heart told me that I didn’t need answers. It told me that there’s a thousand ways to tie a knot and a million ways to sing and a billion ways to kiss a girl. My heart told me that there’s nothing to figure out, just everything to try.
My album is a story of triumph, of letting go of all the uncertainty in my head and learning to walk the path of my own heart. “Sincerely” is about realizing how much better this world would be if we all loved ourselves, if we weren’t afraid of being vulnerable and honest. It doesn’t matter who’s president or what technology we invent or what extremists we destroy, the only thing I know is this:
There will never be peace if we do not all love ourselves.
And so I believe my generation needs a revolution. We don’t love ourselves. We are trapped in our heads because we were told to figure it all out and in our failed attempts we stopped having fun. We abandoned everything we loved doing because we thought it was slowing us down. We thought growing up was the process of holding on instead of letting go, and now we’re all collapsing under the weight. We don’t know what to do anymore.
But we can do so much. We can change the world. We have to stop complying with the doubts in our heads and start following our hearts. We have to stop judging each other and start accepting ourselves. We have to stop living selfishly and start giving back. We have to have the courage to take a chance. My generation has all the power if we work together. This is my invitation to the ones who love.
—May 16, 2016
He’d trade his guns for love,
But he’s caught in the crossfire,
And he keeps wakin’ up,
But its not to the sound of birds,
The tyranny, the violent streets,
Deprived of all that we’re blessed with,
And we can’t get enough,
Heaven if you sent us down,
So we could build a playground,
For the sinners, to play as saints,
You’d be so proud of what we made
I hope you got some beds around,
Cuz you’re the only refuge now,
For every mother, every child, every brother,
That’s caught in the Crossfire,
I’d trade my luck to know,
Why hes caught in the crossfire,
And I’m here wakin up,
To the sun and the sound of birds,
Deprives of all that we’re blessed with,
We just cant get enough,
Heaven if you sent us down,
So we could build a playground,
For the sinners, to play as saints,
You’d be so proud of what we made
I hope you got some beds around,
Cuz you’re the only refuge now,
For every mother, every child, every brother,
Who’s caught in the Crossfire,
Can I trust what I’m given?
When faith still needs a gun,
Justifies the wrong?
And I can’t see, from the backseat,
So I’m asking from above,
Can I trust what I’m given,
Even when it cuts?
So Heaven if you sent us down,
So we could build a playground,
For the sinners, to play as saints,
You’d be so proud of what we made
I hope you got some beds around,
Cuz you’re the only refuge now,
For every mother, every child, every brother,
Who’s caught in the crossfire,
Who’s caught in the crossfire,
Who’s caught in the crossfire,
Who’s caught on the cross
—December 7, 2015
My generation has been mislead. We were told to fit in, pass our classes, go to college and prematurely select careers that we don’t love so we can work the rest of our lives to pay back the debt. Our curriculums smothered our creativity and evaluated our worth through standardized testing and our willingness to accept indentured servitude. We were promised independence, but all that our efforts have earned us is the illusion of freedom.
And we live in the illusion of democracy. In exchange for the continued support of a financial system that is structured to benefit the rich and entrap the average working adult, the majority of today’s presidential candidates rely heavily on large donations from billion dollar corporations. These elected politicians are not fulfilling their promises for equality, sustainability and progress; they are confined by the selfish agendas of the ultra-elite that they are indebted to – many of whom profit off of war, disease, fear and resources that destroy our environment.
I’m only twenty-four years old. I’m no expert in politics, but I know that this isn’t right. Music was the crane that pulled me out of the machine, and now that I can see what’s happening, I want to pull you out too. “Sincerely” is my invitation to the ones who are ready for change, both within themselves and within their country.
—February 24, 2016
I was at a barbeque yesterday at my manager’s house in the hills, when after a few drinks I decided to grab my friend Max and climb to the roof. After ignoring the unrelenting demands of his father to get down (sorry Byron <3), we successfully made it to the top where he couldn’t see us. The sun had almost fully set, and the magic of the city lights turning on to the east and the red-orange glow to the west put Max and I in a very reflective and thoughtful state of mind. He asked me, “How did we end up here?”
There was a long silence. I felt like it was all a dream. Here I am, twenty-three years old, surrounded by a team of successful and passionate people who not only believe in me but also are willing to dedicate their time to making my vision, my voice and my music heard. I just felt like I was breaking the rules. I always had it in my head that this life and these neighborhoods were reserved for the doctors and lawyers; no one ever told me I could get here doing what I love.
The silence continued and so did my thoughts. Too often I see young people being forced to map out there lives before they have even the slightest idea as to where they want to go. Pressured by our families and teachers, financial stress and social expectations, we neglect our risky passions for an education that yields safe careers we dislike. And once the decision has been made, it’s not easy to take it back. Even at an undergraduate level, college education has become so expensive that we drive guilt into any student who tries to change their minds halfway in. I remember the feeling I felt when I told my dad I wanted to drop out after three years of paying full-tuition at University of Miami.
So how did I end up here? The most rewarding moments in my life are the consequence of taking risks. You don’t have to know where you are going to get on the train. I’ve never had a destination in mind, just a direction. I was crazy enough to take that first step with no idea where it would lead me, guided only by my passions and curiosity. If I sat down and planned it all out, I would have given up before even trying.
I’m here by accident, like a man lost in the desert wandering into an oasis. The only thing I can truly take credit for is that I kept walking; I never gave up.
—November 2, 2015
I had a session with an artist named Pell last Friday. I’ve only had five or six collaborative sessions since I’ve been here in LA and all of them were with friends, so I was pretty nervous going into this.
It had been an hour and a half since we were scheduled to start and he still hadn’t shown up. I’ve never met Pell, but his lateness made me assume he was just like the rappers I worked with in high-school: arriving late with a big posse, even bigger blunts, and just not really caring at all.
When he finally arrives, I’m shocked – not because he actually showed up, but because my assumptions about him were so wrong. Pell’s energy is insane. His spirit is so uplifting; his attitude so positive – he’s excited about the session, and even more excited about life. This energy was instantly contagious and it took some pressure off of me. He apologizes for being late, and the only person he brought was his girl.
We talk for about five minutes before heading downstairs to my studio. I play him a few of my songs and a few beats, he plays me some stuff he’s been working on, and after about twenty minutes of breaking the ice we get started.
Without hesitation I said, “Yo Pell, start snapping.” He starts snapping and we’re just dancing to the snaps and getting settled on the tempo. I sit down behind the drums and play a beat to the snaps. I stop and he starts beat boxing something a little different. We go back and forth, each time modifying the beat just a little. No words really, just little affirmations like “ooooh yeah” and “mmhmm.” We’re both dancing the whole time.
We quickly settle on a groove we’re both feeling, so I tell him to hit record and I start playing the drums. We don’t even have a metronome on at this point which is really rare in the crafting of modern music and something I’ve never done. He’s also hollering over the recording, which is normally not desired, but when we listened back it felt so right. What came out of the speakers felt exactly how we were feeling: free, careless and alive.
Without saying much, we start adding more percussion – more of that exciting feeling: shakers, claps, toms, rims, beat boxing, drumming on our bodies, chanting and anything else we could think of. The groove became sloppy in the most graceful way. I do a little engineering and mixing, and voila, we have this amazing drum track and a crazy energy in the room. I hadn’t made music like this in years. I was quickly recalling the feelings that got me into this industry in the first place; the excitement that had been buried under all the pressure I put on myself.
I walk over to my Rhodes to play some emotional chords over our bangin’ drum track when Pell looks at me like “are you sad or something? It’s Friday and we’re feeling this way and you’re playing those sad chords?” He didn’t even have to say it – I felt it. I walked over to the guitar, turned on the amp, started dancing with Pell again and played this two-chord progression that was simple and fun. We look at each other like, “yo, this is dope as fuck” and he immediately starts rapping and writing.
The rest of the session continued in this manner. By the end, we had a fire song, a new friendship, and one hell of a time. These five hours opened me up to so much light.
For most of my life, music has been this intimate, sheltered process that I don’t like other people being involved in. I’m timid and insecure when expressing myself in the studio, so I do it alone. I’m always afraid that I’m not good enough. I receive constant praise for my work, so I’m scared that someone will realize I’m just a poser, that I actually have no idea what I’m doing. I’m winging it every single time and I’m done pretending that it’s any other way.
It’s a reflection of my life; I take it so seriously. When I dance, I’m thinking about how I look instead of just letting go. When I meet a girl I’m attracted to, I’m scared she’s going to realize I don’t know what I’m doing, so I don’t even enjoy it. Fear has become my motivator for life. I don’t want to look like a fool so I work hard to hide it. I’ve traded in a good time for the illusion that I’m perfect.
Pell showed me that perfection is not the goal. He showed me how wonderful life can be when you let go of the outcome and simply enjoy the process. I have my aspirations and dreams, but I don’t want fear to take me there. Life is not a game that we’re trying to win, but a dance we can enjoy.
—October 21, 2015
Don’t tell me that you love me,
I won’t tell you that I love you,
We’re too high to see the runway,
Too far to know the right way,
But the truth is,
I’m freakin’ out about this whole,
Man I’m supposed to be,
I’m nervous now ’cause she can’t know,
I’m desperately in need,
‘Cause up here’s hard to reach,
We were starin’ down the valley,
When she put her arm around me,
She said the reason you’ve been hurt is,
So you look beyond the surface,
But the truth is,
I’m freakin’ out about this whole,
Man I’m supposed to be,
I’m nervous now ’cause she can’t know,
I’m desperately in need,
‘Cause up here’s hard to reach,
Don’t tell me that you love me,
I won’t tell you that I love you…
—October 8, 2015
I spend a lot of time thinking about things I’ll never understand. Fueled by curiosity and my insatiable desire to find answers, I ask myself the same questions over and over again.
It’s in our human nature to want to understand; we’re clever, intelligent creatures, and we use our knowledge to navigate life and control where we go and what happens to us. We’re taught that if we have a desired goal, we should use our intelligence to figure out how to achieve it. Lets pretend you have the desire to run a marathon. You intend on training effectively, so you’re going to gather the knowledge to help you do that – work out regiments, shoes, stretches, a diet plan, coaching and whatever you can find that helps (most likely in the first two pages of search results on Google). You start training and a few months later you’re in the best shape of your life. These super smart monkeys are on to something.
But now lets say you have the desire to be happier. You look up “how to be happier,” and the first thing you see is a list of ten habits that will get you there. You skim through it, maybe write a few down and start using them. After a few weeks you feel a bit more chipper, but you want more. You keep searching and making changes to your life, but you’re still not satisfied. This letdown now makes you sad because you know you could be happier; you’ve been fooled by the pretense that intelligence alone can get you what you want.
Now lets say you have the desire to know what happens to you when you die. In your research you find that scientists don’t know the answer, that Catholics believe in an afterlife, that Nihilists think that life is meaningless, and that Buddha says unless you escape the endless cycle of life before you die you’ll be reincarnated into a porcupine – or at least someone or something else. You wish you could pick a religious belief to follow, but you can’t trust that it’s right. The conundrum is that you have a strong desire to know the answer to something that is unanswerable, and your intelligence and curiosity is going to plague you because of it.
I’ve been through all of this – the training, the desire to be happier, and the feedback loop of questions that can’t be answered – and the last one is the toughest. I want to know the answers to these big questions about life and creation so I can make the right choices; so I know that I’m safe and that I’m living my life the right way. I was going through an existential crisis for years – living in this constant state of anxiety and fear because I just didn’t understand – when I discovered the irony of it all.
When I stop trying to understand, it all makes sense. When I stop trying to figure life out, I get it. Give up trying to solve the puzzle and the pieces just fall into place. Quit controlling life and you’ll move through it effortlessly. Stop trying to predict life, you’ll go places you never expected. Instead of thinking about why or how you’re breathing, just breathe. It’s in those moments when I’m truly present – when I’m not thinking – that life becomes so beautiful and miraculous, when I trust it so much that I don’t need the answers to be at peace. Our intelligence makes us human, but let go of it, even for a moment, and we can feel that we are something so much more.
— September 29, 2015
There’s a word in the music industry that intrigues me: hits. Call it what you want – a smash, a banger – a potential hit song is judged on its ability to sell. Now, before I dig myself a grave, I want to say that there are many creatives that love the process of crafting hits. It is an art form and it is really difficult to do; I have a lot of respect for them. With that said, the intention of creating music that is accessible and profitable makes me want to orally purge last night’s Chipotle. I’m not saying its wrong, I’m not judging anyone, I’m simply saying that if someone ever told me I need a hit song I’d involuntarily puke on them. Thankfully it hasn’t happened.
Now, although no one has asked me to, that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. It’s hard as an artist in today’s industry. We want to make a living doing what we love, and for a lot of us, what we hear on the radio is far from anything we’d ever create. We become jaded into thinking that in order to make it, we have to conform to that sound. There was a time when I felt that way, and in my desperate and failed attempts to write a hit, I learned why I’d never create music with that intention again.
Writings a hit is like creating in a box. There’s this whole world of expression outside the box, but it’s too experimental and the labels and teams who invest in the promotion of these songs, as well as some of the established artists who rely on them, don’t want to take that risk. Inside the box is the radio format – the simple and short arrangement, the watered down lyrics, the “safe” production, the imitation of yesterday’s hit and the room filled with writers trying to express themselves under such limitations. Don’t get me wrong; it can be fun, but music is my way of expressing myself with no limitations and expectations and I’d rather get my fun in playing flag football and laser tag. If I were trying to make a lot of money, I would have been an economics major. (I know almost nothing about Econ but I really do like it. I’m actually taking a free class on Coursera.com right now called “Sustainable Development.” This site is unbelievable, a great place to learn what you want for free.)
Anyways, to end this, I want to thank you guys so much for all your support so far. All the love and attention I’m getting from Remembering Myself – a song that came from such an unrestricted place – helps confirm that artists can be experimental and authentic and still connect with people. I’ve received some of the most beautiful messages from some of you, and for that, I give you my promise that I will always create music freely.
So much love.
—September 18, 2015
I have this vivid memory that I will always replay: I’m sitting next to my grandfather, watching him play his baby grand piano when he asks if I would like to play. He joins my family on the couch and I excitedly start to press these mysterious buttons. I’m barely two years old and it obviously sounds terrible, but I don’t care. It’s not about sounding good or impressing anyone. I’m not thinking about the right notes or the proper technique; I’m not trying to imitate anyone. I’m simply “playing” the piano.
It’s funny – I’ve spent almost twenty years learning music, and although I sound better than ever before, I’ve gotten worse at playing it. I’m sitting here now, with all this skill and experience, wishing I could express myself as freely as I did the first time I sat down at my papa’s piano – with all that innocence, amusement, pleasure and carelessness.
I often find myself in a constant state of self-evaluation. Part of what I hear when I make music is what I’m not capable of doing – the lick I haven’t learned, the drum fill that’s too fast for me, the notes that I can’t sing yet – and it’s not just music, it’s everything. As I read this, I see my inexperience and lack of vocabulary; as I look at my accomplishments, I see the failures I’ve made in-between. As I stare out the window of this studio, I can see the life I don’t have yet, and when I look in the mirror, I can see the man that I’m chasing, the person I wish I could be. I see everything I’m not, and it’s blinding me from everything I am.
I traded in a playful child for a stern professional. I gave up my amateurism for expertise, but in the process I lost some of the fun. I forgot that I didn’t fall in love with music because I wanted to be the best; it was because I enjoyed playing it. I don’t perform a song so that I can get to the last note and hear the applause; I’m not alive so I can get to the end and look back on everything I accomplished.
It’s hard not to live like this. Having fun was always scolded in school; achievement was celebrated. There’s no mark on our report cards for joy, no reward for the happiest child. My teachers always told me to stop playing around and start working. We’re taught to abandon our inner-child and grow up, but they can coexist. You’re never too old to play on the playground.
I also think it’s really hard not to judge yourself when you start working towards something because you expect progress, inevitably putting you in that constant state of self-evaluation. Music became my way of making money – my work – so it makes sense that it started to feel more and more like work. I think it’s important to set goals and put in the hours to get there, but don’t let prudence numb the thrill; don’t let your goals keep you from being present. It’s ok to go from playful child to stern professional, but don’t stop there. I’m learning to be a playful professional!
My friend JT always tells me that the best dancer is the one who’s having the most fun. I’d rather have a good time looking like a fool than be worried that someone is watching. Whether life becomes beautiful or dark, filled with tears of joy or sorrow – wherever this road may take me –I’ma play wit it!
—September 17, 2015
Wow. I wasn’t expecting this. You guys spread “Remembering Myself” like wildfire. It’s only been out for a week and the song already has a million plays across the Internet. Thank youuuuuuuuuuu with all my heart <3 <3 <3
This is so exciting for me but it’s also a bit stressful. I honestly wasn’t sure if you guys would like it.
So last night at around 9pm, three of my closest friends and I spontaneously decided to grab our sleeping bags, hit the road and drive north with no destination in mind – I think it was a way for us to remember we’re still free. After about an hour and half, we pulled off the highway and parked the car on a canyon overlooking the ocean. We were far from the city, and the sky was absolutely beautiful.
Looking at the stars always reminds me of how small I am, how wonderfully insignificant my life is. It’s a feeling of unimportance but in the most humbling and cool way. Last night, it helped me remember that whatever adventures are to come, I can’t forget to look up. It’s comforting to know that no matter what; those stars will always be there.
My friends and I ended up hiking down to the beach and sleeping on the sand.
—September 8, 2015
You guys spread “Remembering Myself” I’m writing this in an attempt to make sense of the madness that is my twenty-three year old mind. My artistic process is a very unconscious, unguided mess of ideas that come from somewhere beyond my understanding. One of the songs from my album, “Your Life,” began when I decided to record myself screeching in a high pitched mouse voice, which then led me to record myself drumming all over my body, face and flaccid penis (yes it hurt but it was for art), and then later deciding to record myself taking a shower. One of the first melodies I sang over the instrumental was “Are you gonna dance, Are you gonna cry, this is your life.” I didn’t think of those lyrics, it literally just came out of my mouth. I didn’t decide to drum on my dick, it just happened.
That is how I’m going to attempt to write my thoughts too. I don’t have much of a direction right now, just strong, nonsensical feelings that you might enjoy sifting through. Oh, and my vocabulary consists mainly of made up words and words that I think mean one thing but are actually something completely different. Here we go….
Ten years ago, a Saturday morning at my hometown breakfast table would appear the same as it was today: pancakes, scrambled eggs, breakfast meat, coffee, classic rock and an eccentric family cracking rude jokes in the spaces of our intellectually stimulating conversations. On the surface it’s like nothing has changed. I still look at my parents with the same amount of gratitude, and they still look at me with the same amount of love and care. I still look at my brother with the same amount of sarcasm, and he still looks like he wants to punch me in the face. If one of those cereal companies needed actors for a commercial to look really happy and free while they eat the product, all they’d need to do is join us for breakfast and bring a DSLR (no lighting required).
Although it all looks the same to me as I sat at the table this morning, nothing feels the same. My dad who I used to believe was the happiest man in the world now seems overworked and slightly irritated. My mom who was always the woman I could lean on, who could answer my questions and take care of me now seems fragile and unsure. And my brother who I once saw as my best friend has grown distant. As I sat there finishing my coffee, I wondered what really changed – them or me?
I can’t accept that our smiles are completely honest anymore. I feel like it’s a gimmick, a façade. I think we’re faking it. All four of us are hurting but we’re all too attached to being that happy family that we’re afraid to talk about it. Sometimes I wonder if we’re afraid to even admit it to ourselves. Sometimes I wonder if what’s happening in my family is a scaled down version of what’s happening everywhere.
I believe that the majority of people spend there lives running from themselves because they’re scared what they might see if they look in the mirror too long. Western culture teaches us to build these complex identities and egos that can’t handle criticism, especially self-criticism. To admit to ourselves that we have it all wrong would be a catastrophe to that ego we spend our lives strengthening – it would be self-destructive. So instead of seeking for truth, we distract ourselves with the dramas of life – money, fashion, gossip, war, etc – because the truth often times tells us we were wrong about something.
I want people to self-destruct. Science shows us over and over again that growth is the process of breaking down and building back up, but western culture says that if you’re not happy, you’re doing something wrong. Bullshit! Our sadness, our anxiety, our fears are the roadmaps for progress – we’ve got to follow them, not lock them in the cellar like the deformed child in a horror movie, never to have to show them to people but always having to cope with them.
We are desperately seeking connection. If we’re not happy, I want people to connect through their pain, not their fake smiles. If we can admit that we are all hurting, then we can collectively learn to overcome our sadness and our fears as a family, as a nation, as a race. We must have the courage to let go of the superficial drama, even just momentarily, so that we have the open ears and eyes to truly discover ourselves.
I imagine that this process is easier for some people and harder for others. For me, it has been fucking hell. That’s not a metaphor, that’s not hyperbole – I’ve literally seen hell. It’s not a place you go when you die, it’s a plane of consciousness you can experience in life when you let fear take over completely. Heaven is a plane of consciousness you can experience when you have transcended fear. It is that feeling of pure trust and love and connection. I’ve been there too (very briefly), and once I’d experienced that, I stopped thinking I was crazy. I will say, to embark on the adventure of self-discovery is to be like Frodo trekking to Mordor to destroy the Ring- It can be terrifying and treacherous, but you learn to love every moment of the adventure. It is a way of living life that is far more fulfilling than hiding in the Shire. Lets back it up though, exactly 10 years, before I lose all sense of credibility by taking this Lord of the Rings analogy too far.
Seventh grade was an endless paradise of social exploration, educational achievement and musical inspiration. Life was this beautiful blessing that somehow made perfect sense to me. I felt an understanding of why I was here, and I felt I had a purpose. I felt like there was always an angel or a god or a fallen people watching me and helping me as I maneuvered through life. I had what seemed to be an unbreakable trust with the universe, with my family, with myself. It was like I didn’t understand why the world was the way it was, but I understood things then that I don’t understand now. It had been like this since I was born, and it lasted until part way through college. I found this poem from fifth grade:
What I’ve come to realize is that this paradise I lived in was built on the foundation of naivety. My faith and my framework for the way I perceived my life and myself was based purely off the limited experiences I had had during my childhood. Being pretty much unaware of the world outside the upper-middle class bubble of Fairfax County VA, those experiences were very shallow in comparison to the depth of the reality of the rest of the world.
Like any teenage boy growing up in a culture that promotes materialism and idolizes the rich and famous, I was obsessed with the superficial. I wanted to one day be a celebrity, to drive a Lamborghini and bang models in my mansion; I wanted attention, I wanted power and status. In seventh grade, all I could really do was kiss cute girls, convince my parents to dress me up like a wanna be Abercrombie model, and get good grades – which is exactly what I did. I found so much joy in imagining the person I would one day become. I remember having this daydream over and over again where I was climbing a mountain with this beautiful girl and some of my best friends. I was in my twenties and I had this super sexy body (pause for laughter), an exorbitant amount of money, and all my friends were successful in their endeavors. What I came to realize later in life was that the appeal of that daydream didn’t come from the sexy girl, the body or the success, but it came from the adventure of climbing a mountain with the people I love.
As I aged I felt more and more like something was missing, so I continued to fill my life with more activities. In high school, there may have only been one day a week that I didn’t get home until nine or ten at night because of all the extracurricular sports and music activities I had taken on. I didn’t find much joy in my busy days, but I took pride in knowing I was working towards the person I wanted to be. At night I could lie in bed and say, “fuck yeah, I did it” and I would stare out my bedroom window and look at the stars and feel like god was patting me on the back.
The pinnacle of this superficially driven, naively inspired lifestyle was my freshman year of college at the University of Miami. I was enrolled in a music program that I was initially in love with, I was running division one track, I had more time to work on producing beats and practicing drums, I had a girlfriend that was way too hot for me, I had the coolest friends…. I could go on. I pretty much had everything I could have wanted as an eighteen year old, and yet there was still something missing. I used to put the blame on the fact that I hadn’t achieved enough yet, that I wasn’t there. I used to think, “When I get there, I won’t feel this hole in my soul.” But I got there, and I still felt it.
This same year I met one of the most important persons in my life – Carlos Reyes (who I will now refer to as Carly). He lived two doors down from me in our freshman dorm and we connected instantly. After growing closer and closer through the year, we moved into an apartment together in our sophomore year (as bros ok). Carly pretty much had the complete opposite perspective on the world as me. Our conversations and arguments about life consisted of my attempts to convince him that the world was a beautiful paradise to play in, and his attempts to convince me that the world was a dark, meaningless pit that was hopeless and cursed. It was Naïve Love vs. Jaded Fear.
This is when my life took a turn off the yellow brick road. For a while, my arrogant convictions shielded my ears from what he was saying because my identity was too dependent on my optimistic beliefs, but little drops of harsh truth began to leak in. It became colder and colder as my awareness of this chaotic world expanded. After our conversations, I would spend hours following my anxious curiosity on the internet discovering that terrible things happened to good people, uncovering the corruption of a society I put my faith into, realizing the suffering that billions of people have endured. Facets of our world that once inspired me – technology, medicine, religion, politics, history, the future – became dark and twisted.
It was December of that year that I had my first awakening. It was like Carly had been shaking me up in my sleep for months now, but it was this specific experience that poured cold water on my face and forced open my eyes. I was at a friend’s house smoking weed and watching this documentary on bugs when in an instant my mind slipped. It was like I fell through the cracks of my reality and my sanity. I looked around and saw meaninglessness to everything. I felt that god wasn’t real, that life was a cold accident and that all of this I had experienced was a fraud. I remember curling into a ball and saying “what the fuck, what the fuck” as all my friends looked at me like I had gone mad. All I could think about to save me from running out the room and jumping off my friends apartment balcony was my track coach from high school telling me to hold on and push through it, telling me I was prepared for this. After about a minute passed (although it felt like hours), my old perspectives on reality came back. As I went to bed that night, I was somewhere between what I had believed my whole life, and what I just seen.
After waking up to this contorted reality, my music woke up too. No longer did I want to make shallow pop songs that promoted the ignorance I was in the process of escaping. For the first time in my life I was feeling fear, anxiety and doubt, and these emotions gave my music substance. This was the same year I did “Bullet Train.” For the next two years, I continued to refine my skills as a producer.
Towards the end of my junior year, “Bullet Train,” “Suvivor” (what the fuck was I thinking with that one) and my remix of Krewella’s “Alive” were all doing really well on the internet. I must say my ego was flourishing and my confidence was peaking. I had just written this super tight instrumental so I spent some time one weekend writing lyrics and melodies to it with the intention that a male vocalist would record it. After finishing the writing, I recorded a couple takes of it, edited and tuned it, and then sent the song out to my manager at the time, Danny Kang, so he could help me find a vocalist. I swear to you that that was the first time I had ever tried singing on anything. I couldn’t sing for shit, but somehow with the right takes and some tuning and compression, my voice sounded cool. Danny freaked the fuck out. He called me immediately and said that my voice has to stay on the song.
If this little biography of mine could be performed as a play, this would be the part when the bells start ringing and the horns start sounding and the chariots start racing and the people start cheering. This is the part when ol’ grandpa Nathan Lim, aka the Lim Reaper, enters the play for the first time. We had built a relationship during the hectic week I remixed “Alive,” and I think he reached out to me right around the time I finished “Minds on Fire” (the song I sent to Danny). He wanted to hear something new, so I sent it to him. Long story short, Nathan and Jake (don’t even get me started about Jake) became my managers, and I dropped out of college to move to LA and sleep on Nathans couch indefinitely. I remember the first day I got there he sent me up to the rooftop of the Hollywood tower with a guitar and told me not to come down till I wrote a song. I remember sitting up there thinking to myself, “I don’t know how to sing and I don’t know how to play guitar. I definitely don’t know how to do them at the same time.” Somehow I learned, and over the next three months I wrote dozens upon dozens of song sketches.
It was such a joyous time until I self-destructed. I do not have the time to go into detail, but on Halloween of that year I experienced something so unexplainable that if the awakening incident I had in college was a few blocks from sanity, this took me so far away that I never found my way back. It destroyed all sense of conviction I had in anything. It robbed me of my identity and buried it somewhere I’ll never find. It cut off the firm hand of trust, both with myself and with the universe, that I had been shaking since I was born. Everything I once believed to be true was now shattered, and I was lying in the shards of it all. I knew nothing anymore. I was scared of being alive, terrified of reality. Hope was a little flicker of light in a dark sky filled with fear.
But it was enough to keep me going and that night became one of my greatest blessings. Over the next year, I gave up my desires for fame in desperation to find peace in myself. I lost all sense of articulation in my speech because my thoughts were so scattered, but in exchange, I became the best listener in the world because I didn’t believe in anything. I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear, I heard exactly what came out. I developed this deep paranoia and would imagine the darkest things my creative mind could conjure. I’d convince myself that it was going to happen to me, so I had to learn to be completely present and appreciate all that I have right now in this exact moment. I found comfort in accepting I know nothing and I found peace in a constant state of fear. I let go, not just of the superficial dramas of life, but of everything. This gave me the courage to accept the world exactly as it is, and the open eyes and open ears to truly discover myself.
This is what music is to me now. It is my desperate pursuit for the truth. It is my journey inward to understand who I am, so I can make sense of this world and find peace. Music is the unconscious healer inside of me, inside all of us, guiding the way. If you are religious or spiritual you can call this healer god. If your faith is based in science, then you can call this healer the unconscious mind. If you’re freed of the dogma of both religion and science (yes there is dogma in science), then call it what you want.
My album is a snapshot of this journey. It is a representation of all I’ve been through. It is the story of a Naïve lover waking up to a harsh world of suffering and chaos. It is the struggle of finding peace in the truth, of being aware but still pure and child-like. It is the journey of overcoming fear and letting go of the superficial.
I don’t expect everyone to get it, and I’m sure a lot of my fans won’t see past the bangin’ drums and the pretty face. I also want to make it clear that I’m not promoting any sort of belief system or dogma; on the contrary, I’m freeing them from it. People don’t need to rely on it to find peace. I also do not resent the material world. I am not asking people to abandon it, to put on a robe and live in a cave for the rest of their lives, I’m merely asking them to not worship the material, to realize it’s the internal that makes us happy not the external. You can still make money and buy shit, you can still appreciate nice things and go on expensive adventures, but only because you can, not because you require it for fulfillment.
Not only does pop culture currently encourage materialism, it worsens the insecurities we all hide from each other. It promotes perfection and ignores humanity. It has millions of kids and adults thinking that they aren’t good enough. I relieve my insecurities through my music. Its funny how once I get them out, they no longer hold me back. I want us to connect through our insecurities; I want to bring humanity back into the mainstream. People are hungry for it, look how successful Humans of New York is.
And then there’s judgment, which is the consequence of an insecure ego. When we are insecure we feel the need to compare ourselves because we want so desperately to believe that we’re better then everyone else. If for example, Johnny gets the girl and I don’t, and I’m insecure about my competence, I would find a fault in Johnny’s character to ensure myself that I’m still a better man. TMZ made a business out of exploiting this defense mechanism. We envy celebrities, so we find refuge from our insecurities by watching them crash and burn. I don’t want people to envy me; I want them to look up to me. The later does not require the former.
I believe that the fearful judge and the loving merely accept. Western religion is based in fear. A god-fearing man is a good Christian, and we all know where the sinners who never confessed go. The Western god judges his people, which then forces his people to judge others who don’t believe what they believe. This is the type of thinking that starts wars. Look at ISIS, they have marked all non-believers as “Infidels” because we don’t live by the Quran, even worse, we don’t interpret the Quran in the same radical manner they do. If we can relieve our insecurities than we can stop the judgment and begin accepting.
You ask me if I have goals. I have one goal – to find peace within myself. Fortunately this selfish desire will appear altruistic. One of the biggest contributors to my pain is the suffering of others. I would rather suffer than watch someone else suffer. I want my life to be dedicated to helping others, and through that, I will help myself. Music is my means of doing this, but others will evolve. Through music I can connect and build trust with a mass of people, and with the community we build, we’ll have the power to make changes in society. I’m not talking about these bullshit little attempts at change like hybrid cars and Veganism, I’m talking about radical change – a fucking revolution. (I’m putting on my best Russel Brand accent) We can help create a system that doesn’t promote materialism and promise happiness to those who spend there entire lives chasing the superficial. A system that isn’t rigged so the rich can get richer and the poor can get poorer. I don’t know what it is yet, and I don’t know how we can make that change yet, but we’ll figure out.
If you’ve read this far, please write to me. Even if you don’t agree with me, challenge my opinions, make me think, enlighten me and help me learn. I know that there must be at least something in this story that you can connect with. Here’s another poem from elementary school to wrap it up:
—September 8, 2015