Do It Yourself

“I’m really anti-option, so computers have been my nightmare with recording. I don’t want endless tracks; I want less tracks. I want decisions to be made.” – Ian MacKaye

Last Friday night I crossed the river into Norfolk to see my friend Jenn play what could very well be her last show before she jumps the big pond to start her new life based out of the U.K. Jenn Lawyer is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter/guitarist, from Virginia Beach, that I have had the pleasure of calling my friend for the last several years. On top of having her as a friend, I feel very fortunate to have been able record some of her demos with her and even luckier to have just been able to see and hear her grow so much as an musician, a songwriter, and a person. I. Am. A. Fan.

100_5875Jenn, together with another songwriter friend, Ray McDaniel, and I have been working together under the “Seven Deuce Records” moniker for a few years now, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of our small but productive circle. Our recording setup is very simple, but almost all of our recordings are single takes of just voice and guitar. So it works. They write, play, and sing the songs. I push the buttons and occasionally turn a knob or two. But I enjoy the simplicity of what we get and the lack of technological tricks enhancing (read: masking) the organic nature of the songs. I absolutely love it when they nail a take. But I also prefer an occasional muted note or a subtle tempo lag over hearing a recording that I know has been tweaked, overdubbed, and digitally adjusted to achieve “perfection.” Those types of recordings lack a certain sense of personality and veer away from being a true capture of a performance. We don’t do that.

But Jenn has gone and selfishly fallen in love and married to a member of the British Air Force. So she’s skipping town for greener pastures and better accents. Seven Deuce is certainly going to miss her contribution to the process both musically and spiritually, and I’m going to miss my angel voiced pseudo sister. But I couldn’t be happier for the charming couple or more excited to see where their new adventure takes them. I’m sure they’ll kick ass. And I can’t imagine how there couldn’t be even more new songs to discover just over the horizon. It’s going to be awesome. I hope she never doubts that she has the talent and personal strength to do whatever she wants.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

There has been a mini-rush of people at the gym in the last two weeks and I couldn’t figure out where all of these people were coming from, or why. I mean, the resolution rush had just started to fade out to manageable numbers. But then I noticed an online thread where someone was lamenting bathing suit season and asking if anyone knew of a diet or workout system that “worked.” That’s why there are more people standing around the gym (or more often just sitting idle on the machine I want to use). It’s time to get that beach body that the checkout isle magazines swear is just a few weeks of crunches away from revealing itself. Now it all makes sense…kind of.

“There isn’t much I have to say, that I wouldn’t rather just shut up and do.”
– Ani DiFranco

The interesting part of the question to me was how the wording seemed to expect the diet or workout to “do” something. I know I’m reading too literally into the wording, but no diet or exercise DVD system “works.” Or maybe all of them do, but only if you do. Low carb diets, Insanity workout systems, fat free diets, P90X, juice diets, veggie cleanses, the lucky strikes diet, whatever; They are all guidelines. They’re just plans. Some of them are healthier than others. Some are probably completely stupid (seriously, check out these gems). I have researched zero of them. But I know none of them work. They only allow you some guidance and/or motivation to DO IT YOURSELF. Like everything in life, from getting that job you’ve always wanted to mastering the pan flute to running your first 5K, YOU have to do it. You have to do the work. The diet or workout DVD isn’t going to do shit! Except maybe cost you a lot of money. The “work” part is up to you, and there’s more than one way to get it done.

I know people who have had huge success with the famous Insanity and P90X workout systems. Those two products don’t remain such popular and highly recommended systems because their customers are unhappy with the results. They’re popular because if you do the work, you will lose weight, gain flexibility, and build muscle. You just have to dedicate yourself to following those systems, adjusting your diet, and putting in the sweat-time. Sounds easy right?

But you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for some oily guy to scream at you over loud dance music. You can if you want. I’m not in any way trying to discredit those products or disparage the many people that have had so much success with them. But there are undoubtedly hoards of people that bought them, tried them, realized it’s actually hard work, and now have them on a shelf collecting dust next to their Lord of the Rings DVDs. Do whatever you want to do, but don’t forget that there’s more than one way to succeed at just about anything, and some are more affordable or convenient than others. In this case, it might actually be the destination that matters more than the path.

“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.” – C. JoyBell C. (yes, her grammar sucks, but you get the idea)

My friend Justin has found a path to become healthier through his study of martial arts. He wanted to become better at something that he enjoys doing and that he benefits from spiritually. So he’s adjusting his diet, exercising more, and even doing a little bit of running. And he’s seeing the benefits of those changes in increased cardio-endurance, better flexibility, and a little extra room in his clothes. He did that.

My buddy Matt cannot stand the idea of going into a gym because of admitted anxiety issues, but he wanted to lose some weight and get in better shape. He simply wanted to feel better. He bought a very affordable exercise bike, a yoga mat, and a medicine ball. He probably spent less than $300 dollars total. It might sound expensive, but we all know someone spending more than that every year on a gym membership that they are not using. Matt watches what he eats, drinks less, rides that bike 10+ miles four or five days a week, and does medicine ball workouts that he found online. As he challenges himself to ride that bike faster and achieves those successes, he continues to adjust his diet to benefit those goals. Now after only a couple of months, he’s almost 30 pounds lighter, stronger, more flexible, and feels a whole lot better in his clothes that don’t really fit anymore. And he recently mentioned buying a road bike so he can get outside with his workouts. Hell, he might end up beating that anxiety issue eventually and be blowing up the gym. Who knows? But what I do know is Matt did that work.

Anyone that’s read my blog already knows I’m a runner. I run three days a week aiming for between 15 and 20 total weekly miles. I do it because I love it. It becomes more meditative with every mile that I log. It’s therapeutic. I go to the gym five or six days a week for roughly 60-90 minutes depending on whether I’ve run that day or not; originally because I wanted to run better. But now I enjoy the sweat-meditation of the gym in and of itself on top of how it benefits my running. I eat a diet heavy in vegetables, almost no processed foods, and very little meat. Last September, I weighed 265 pounds and couldn’t run around my block. This morning I weighed just under 200 lbs, and a few weeks ago I ran my first half marathon. I did all of that.

Don’t have time for all of that, you say? My friend Mellisa is a devoted wife and mother, caring for two children, and running a small business out of her home. But she has adopted a healthier diet and started exercising more. Sometimes that means going for 30 minute run/walks near her home or taking a bite out of her limited free-time to go to the gym. And she’s lost weight, gotten stronger, and clearly feels fantastic. And she should. She looks great and It’s really fun to see her hard work paying off. She is doing it.

“And my dad drilled it in my head, you know, ‘If you want it bad enough, and you’re willing to make the sacrifices, you can do it. But first you have to believe in yourself.” – Jennie Finch

See any similarities? Each person wanted to change something bad enough that they found a way to do it for themselves. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Training for the olympics can get scientific and complex. Just feeling better doesn’t have to be. Eat better, move more.

If somebody wants a diet or workout that “works,” there’s a few right there. They’re all different. But they’re all the same too. Eat a healthier diet. We all know what is and isn’t good for us. We can debate specifics about how many carbs we should eat or whether artificial sweeteners are actually any better than sugar. But we all know that deep fried twinkees are garbage we shouldn’t eat, and that we should eat more raw fruits and vegetables. Eat better. You already know how. And then find some physical activity that you enjoy and that benefits you somehow, whether it’s running, cycling, martial arts, skateboarding, or whack-a-mole. Then do that as much as you can make the time to do it. It will “work,” but only if you do. And you can do anything.

“Just as there is a trend toward high tech today, there is another trend toward high touch – homemade and wholesome.” – Meryl Gardner

100_6517Because I’m an idiot and never seem to remember that parking in downtown Norfolk on a Friday night takes longer than driving there, I walked into the venue just as Jenn was taking the stage. I snuck up to the back of the small crowd gathered up front where, thanks to my height, I could still see perfectly. The stage microphone was apparently set up for the headlining band (also friends of mine), who have a much greater appreciation for vocal reverb, but her voice still sounded great-ate-ate-te-e. Her guitar was a little boomy (probably also due to a soundman unwilling to tweak a knob from the headliner’s soundcheck set-up), but she adjusted well and did what she always does. She delivered her wonderfully written and often introspective original songs with the proper placement of exuberance and pause. And she let her naturally fun personality shine between those beautiful songs setting a nice light vibe to start off an evening of local talent. It was really fun to hear her perform so strongly and to be received equally well by the crowd. Standing in the back, I was able to hear the under-the-breath complements being shared among my fellow wall-flowers.

After collecting my hug as she left the stage, she escaped long enough to catch a breath and wrangle a drink out of a lackluster bar staff. When she returned, she handed me a small package. She, together with her mom and long-time cohort Mary had packaged several CDs of her demos to sell after the show. They were awesome D.I.Y. packages, all similar but each unique in its slight differences. They looked really great and as I opened it to see what kind of magic that more-than-capable group of ladies had pieced together, I was honored to see that I had been credited in her record as “Mister Mixer.” Sure I probably didn’t technically mix very much in our voice and guitar recordings, but I know what she’s saying. And I appreciate it. Besides, “button pusher” could’ve been misconstrued. I will treasure that CD as the singular piece of art that it is. And my favorite part of the whole package was this small tag just inside of the jacket that made me smile on a night that I wasn’t really in the mood to smile much. The tag read “Handmade with love.” Yeah. I smiled big.

That’s how we should all view the work that we do for ourselves. We deserve it.


“Basically we just created our own label, but again we just did it to document our own music and create our own thing, so the major labels were just always out of our picture, we’re not interested.” – Ian MacKaye

Ani Difranco, Gillian Welch, and many many other musical groups across genres have started their own labels when no one else was interested in their art and rightly told the big money labels “No Thanks” when they finally came to cash in on the art that they had no part in creating. But when I think of D.I.Y., I can’t help but go to Fugazi. They’ve done it all themselves since the 80’s and have no interest in giving up even a hair of control just for a little bit of money. And they’re a really great band. Enjoy.

“I’m gonna fight for what I want to be”