“The best days are the first to flee”
This quote from Virgil really represents my life right now. Not because I think that my best days are behind me, but because I recently try to live in the present moment. Often, I reflect on old times and I think “these were the best times, that night was the best night, that party was the best party, etc.” But at the time it’s happening you are not really in the moment, you don’t realize that you are having one of the greatest times of your life. You get caught up in the day to day and you forget to be thankful and reverent of the times that you spent with people, especially friends and family. You don’t realize until the times are gone. Instead of constantly looking back, now I’m trying to stay focused and appreciate these moments as I live them.
I recently gave birth and being a mother influenced me to think that way. Being pregnant and having a child in the world that I’m living in feels a little be alien. Traveling, doing a lot of music. I thought that my life would be over. The first few months are so hard and you only have so much to give… But the thing that has been really special is the way it brought my friends and family closer. I had assumptions about being a mother that didn’t come into play. I’m now excited about the future, I want to give my daughter opportunities that I didn’t have when I was a kid, I want her to explore the world.
One of the predominant themes of your music seems to be love, could it be the reflexion of a philosophy?
I don’t see it as a philosophy but more about how I am feeling in the world. A lot of the songs that I write are things that are happening to me in the present. Music has been for me a cathartic experience. A lot of the times I’m feeling down or feeling like some things I can’t control are happening to me, I sit down with music and try to channel those feelings into something, otherwise I’ll just hide under my bed! I’m incapable of making music that is impersonal to me.
I’ve always been a romantic. I was at a very early age in love with the idea of love. I grew up in the 90’s, I started listening to The Smiths when I was really young, and everything I would read would be about love. Not specifically romance, but I’ve always liked these old traditional ideas of love in a spiritual sense. And those things really come out in my music. I think I’m also an overly compassionate person, I care a lot about animals and people. When I was younger life seemed so unfair to me, and I would constantly question this. I became vegetarian. The world seemed so hard; death, things ending… I just couldn’t compute these ideas. I grew up around a lot of death, my father was a homicide detective, really early in my life I had to come to terms with the fact that people die. And I was always afraid that something would happen to my parents. So I think this is partly why I grew up to be very sensitive.
Less is more for elegance?
When I started writing my own music, I started doing minimal music because it was the only thing I could do. However, I realized that in some way I was able to get more out of that because I focused more on the feelings I wanted to transmit. You don’t need a lot to translate feelings into songs. I would focus on song structures and ideas that felt intuitive to me rather than forcing to put a lot of elements in my music. Things don’t have to be grandiose if you have a good idea. Over time, as I got better at playing instruments and learning about the programs, I noticed that it’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspect of it and lose focus on the original idea. Now I’m trying to find a balance between the way I used to do things and the technical knowledge I acquired.
Simplicity as beauty?
Yes, if you think about this in terms of happiness. I think it’s possible to be happy with a simple life, but for me, it’s really hard to accept. I don’t want to live an ordinary life, I don’t think I ever lived an ordinary life. I know ordinary doesn’t mean simple, but in terms of a life, simplicity for me doesn’t work. My life is a little chaotic at times, or at least it seems chaotic to me. I have a full-time job, a daughter, two cats, two dogs, I do music… I’m constantly doing stuff and often I will sit down and think I need another project. When it comes to music simplicity is beautiful and wonderful, and it’s a real tool in itself, but as far as life goes I don’t like a simple life. I think I never really liked the idea of simplicity. (laughs) On the other hand, I feel I used to be a lot more chaotic, and that came from the fact that it didn’t focus inward. I think happiness is really elusive for a lot of people and they try to fill the space by doing stuff. I really want to work on that, like I said before, learning to be present. You only get one life.
Do you think feelings are stronger and more universal than ideas?
Yes although both concepts are definitely linked. Ideas can cause feelings. My music doesn’t have a lot of lyrics and the words are pretty obscure, it’s definitely in English, but the words don’t convey the message. My fan base is everywhere in the world, I get emails from people who tell me that my music made them feel something, or helped them heal through a hard time, that’s the most rewarding part. It seems like such a miracle to me. I’m so happy that people can feel what I’m recording because those are real feelings that I’m recording. Whether or not they can understand the exact words or know exactly what I’m singing about, they are getting that through the music. Feelings come across stronger and that’s what I love the most about what I do.
In your artistic process, is it important for you to elaborate a concept?
Not really. When I first started I used to get caught up in that, I thought I needed to follow one idea. But my creative process is really just in tune with my emotions and myself. When I’m putting an album together I’m packaging it into something broader, but I’m unable to intellectualize my music. I’m very envious of people who can explain concepts around their album. Maybe I’m not there yet, or maybe I will never be. I’m constantly in awe when I meet people with different artistic processes, and I learn from them. I still consider myself a young musician, I’m constantly learning.
In your live shows, everything seems to be at the right place. What is the importance to add elements of performance and scenography?
When I started Tropic of Cancer I absolutely hated performing live, I had severe stage fright. We would perform behind a curtain to appear like silhouettes so that people wouldn’t see us playing. I don’t like being in front of people, I don’t like people staring at me, especially as we’re performing these songs that are so personal. I’m also afraid of the way I’m being perceived. I’ve really worked hard on that both in my professional career and music career. A lot of the times we would use visuals to obscure the performance. I wanted to do everything to distract the audience from paying attention to me. Now that we are three people performing on stage I can really focus on singing and playing instruments. It’s been really great because it makes me enjoy performing. It’s still really raw, but it’s more comfortable. I can engage with the audience and feel the songs instead of stressing out the whole time. I’ve come to love the visuals, I like creating a mood. We are still stoic on stage, it started out as a product of stress, it was not orchestrated, but it became our thing.
A movie that influenced Tropic of Cancer?
Although Tropic of Cancer sounds really cinematic, I like to create that atmosphere, I can’t really think about a direct influence from one film or one director.
I grew up in San Pedro and lived there for a long period of my life. It’s a really big port town in Los Angeles, it’s very blue, but it has also a really noir quality to it. It’s a peninsula, it’s literally the end of Los Angeles. It’s absolutely beautiful: a perfect balance of industry and commerce, but there’s also cliffs and beaches and it looks really cinematic. However it’s a rough area, lots of gangs and homeless people, it’s not those perfect beaches like Malibu. It had an enormous impact on my music, I don’t live there anymore, but I want to move back.
Many men and women influenced what I do. Tropic of Cancer is the story of me.
Photo credits: Jake Michaels