Let's talk about Becky

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It was late on a Saturday night in North Carolina. We had just finished playing a show in a trendy loft space in a small town. It’s a listening room where the community comes together monthly to enjoy live music and hang out together, and it’s a really beautiful place. I found myself standing by a table full of cheeses, nibbling on some snacks after a long but good day when our friend David swung by and started a conversation. At this point I’ve known David for a couple of years from seeing him at these events. He and his family are supporters of our music and it’s always a treat to see them. That was the moment when he blind sided me with a single statement; “I hate Christian music but if what you guys are making is Christian music, sign me up!” 

Sometimes people ask us if the music we make is religious. It’s the type of loaded question that I’ll typically avoid in fear of being entirely misunderstood. I am afraid of being aligned with a system who’s most negative characteristics are more in line with what you would expect from a hate group than the promotion of love and unity. I have fought hard to keep all of the music under this project as relatable as possible to everyone, despite this looming category that for many, can lump your work into a heaping pile of negative association.

So the short answer to David’s question was this: “We believe in God and write music about things that matter to us. I have always felt a responsibility as an artist to welcome everyone's interpretation of our work. Agendas and art don’t mesh well, so I don’t have one, other than to be honest about who I am.” On a similar note, I have often weighed the pros and cons of entering our music into the religious marketplace. As it turns out, our tunes are automatically disqualified by our lack of marketability to someone named Becky. 

Have you ever heard of Becky? She is the representative persona of the target audience of Adult Contemporary Christian music (i.e. the largest portion of it’s market). She’s a white, 40 year old soccer mom who always votes republican and lives in suburban America with her two children. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting around the conference table while music industry executives babble on about Becky’s family, the color of her minivan, her aversion to math homework, melted crayons and “OMG, isn’t Chik-fil-a just the best sandwich of all time!?” She is spoken of as if she is a spirit in the room and our God appointed mission is to accommodate her musical taste at all costs. 

Interestingly, I’ve never caught her last name nor heard mention of Becky’s husband. This has led me to believe she is likely among the 50% of divorced Christians still fighting to keep the sanctity of marriage "safe from the homosexuals"…but I digress. In Christian music world, the game is simple; the artist who sings songs for Becky makes money and the one who doesn’t is rendered nonviable by the people who control the industry. 

Paper Lights doesn’t fit the industry model set for Christian music. Every meeting we have had with Christian labels has ended with an A&R rep asking something like “Why are you doing this instead of what we know makes money?” Generally religion makes me queazy. I’m not ashamed of what I believe. I write about it all the time without using the same trite language and four chords of our peers. I am, however, ashamed of the load of divisive attributes that come with religious systems and how that has hurt people we care about. We often get to play in the living rooms of all kinds of people with varying beliefs and ideals. Those people are our family. We value our long term relationships with them. We love them.

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The purpose of this blog isn’t to dog on the Christian music industry. I can understand having a representative control group in business or maybe even going so far as to name her and talk about her preferences. But Becky is an artifact of the past who represents a largely ignored marketplace of intelligent music seekers. We know that most of the people who listen to our music are 18-35 year old millenials who prefer risk over the comforts of a traditional lifestyle. We know that a large portion of them are religious. A sizable portion aren’t. All of you as a whole are the reason we get to make music, and we are so grateful for you! 

My point is this: we all tend to fast categorize each other whether it be about politics, race, religion, sexuality etc.. These beliefs can easily align us in categories with things we don’t agree with. I see this fast categorizing as an easy way around taking time to understand someone better. I hope that transparency with each other about the nuance of who we are as individuals will break down the idea that we all have to be defined by a category. 

I hope our music is relatable on a human level - that it feels honest and challenges us to think for ourselves. I hope that the inspiration that we have experienced through a process made possible by so many different types of people, can be felt through the music we make. 

Above all, I hope that our music promotes unification, respect, and understanding for each other through transparency.

- Dan

Thoughts about Singing + Vulnerability

Music is something we all love. I mean, does anyone actually claim they don’t enjoy it? Yet for most of us there’s nothing more vulnerable than personally participating in song. I get that there are some people who won’t try anything unless they’re sure they will be perfect at it the first time. But why is it so hard for most of us to overcome our insecurities surrounding performance?

We have started addressing this phenomena around the studio with the phrase “Don’t be afraid to music fail” meaning, don’t be afraid to make musical mistakes in front of each other. It’s even easier to "music fail" than it is to "sing fail” in front of someone. In terms of music, I've never had a more necessary experience than failing at it in front of people. Without some fail moments our confidence would never have an opportunity to grow. We would never dare to suck until we push through to something we're really proud of.

So be vulnerable, sing in front of someone (maybe for the first time). Be willing to sound awful and give yourself some grace even if other people don't. Besides.. Adele didn’t sound like a record the first time she opened her mouth either.

-Dan

 

Thinking about trees again

Most of the Great Escapes album was inspired by the great outdoors and the writings of conservationist John Muir. In his journals he wrote:

“It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree.

Every camp of men or beast all dwell in a house of one room – the world with the starry firmament for its roof”

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about perceptions that we have of each other vs what is true. A lot of us feel trapped where we are, unable to uproot and start again. Some of us need other people to rely on but aren’t quite sure how. This music is about all the things that unite us together. There is no “them” only “us” and we’re all living this life together, under a starry roof we call our home.

– Dan

Why we're a lot like trees

 

Sometimes when you read old literature it’s easy to feel detached. I find a lot of it hard to identify with worlds so far removed from modern life. That certainly wasn’t the case as I read the journal entries from 1800’s preservationists John Muir. His love for nature and ability to describe the early national parks through words was unparalleled. As He wrote about the fact that we all dwell under the same night sky as if it were one big house, it really grabbed me as unifying. As a song began to develop out of this idea I started thinking about the most common living thing in the forest, a tree. The importance of one single tree although cemented in place by earth was something I could truly identify with. Most of us are as common as a tree, feeling trapped where we’ve been planted but our ability to stand together is perhaps what makes us unique.  We’re all in this together!

“In such places standing alone on the mountaintop it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make — leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone — we all dwell in a house of one room — the world with the firmament for its roof — and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track.” – John Muir

 

In the fall of 2015 some friends at Dreambear Productions collaborated with Italian illustrator Emanuele Kabu to create an animated world behind the music. The song’s meaning was born out of a hope for togetherness with all walks of life and unification with the great outdoors. Here is what they came up with and I’ve never been more excited to share a single piece of artwork.

-Dan

P.S.- I’m a bear.

About the name Paper Lights

Over the past year or so my friends and family have experienced an unlikely wave of death. It hasn’t overlooked old or young, affluent or needy. It has taken people without reason or warning. When you lose people close to you you’re forced to reflect on your own mortality. The unsettling reality is that we can be buried and forgotten by most of the people we’ve known by the end of the week. Life is truly fragile.

There is something crude and fragile about a paper lantern. It doesn’t seem right that a flame could be enclosed by thin paper, yet when lit something beautiful is born. Over centuries they’ve been used to represent weddings, prayers, and other various celebrations of new beginnings. To see one float isn’t something you can just take one glance at and look away. It’s an experience, especially if there are many of them together.

We are not unlike these lanterns, frail beings with a divine spark. We are strange creatures made of dirt but somehow house an other worldly flame. Our art is an illustration of this indecent paradox. We try to make the most of what time we’re given by creating a community obsessed with celebrating the value of each person we meet. We define our greatest achievements only as our neighbors successes. The unsettling reality of mortality is dulled with the fact that we defeat death every day by valuing the life of people around us.

We are Paper Lights; artists, dreamers, friends, life enthusiasts and we’re all in it together.

-Dan