Wow. I wasn’t expecting this. 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