Live performance is writing in pencil on a small postcard.
It’s transient and something that the audience may not remember exactly but may talk about, years later.
It comes with surprises and no guarantees. It’s an entirely different way of being in the world.
The worst seat in the house belongs to the singer: on stage, I am as a mockingbird alone upon the house top. I feel the pain in my fingers, the rawness of making sound.
At the same time, it’s the best seat in the house: what I experience is something so unbelievably pure, which is before the sound actually happens. I hover, like prayer.
My songs are unapologetically intimate and unfailingly hushed. To me, quiet, sparse and unadorned just feels right. My recordings and live performances, too, a ritual of simplicity. I want you, the listener, to feel each heartbeat in the wake of every heartache. It’s what I’m about.
That margin has always been mine, and I have never let what’s happening in the mainstream shame me out of it.
I could work in the center, and make up something everyone might like, but it would wreck my art. It’s the edges that are impenetrable.
God, please don’t deprive me of the edges. It’s where I belong. I have nowhere else to go.
Songwriters worry a lot about finding their voice. We all find our voice, though. By the time you’re ten or more years into your craft, you find it.
But that’s not the trouble. The trouble is getting rid of it.
Of course the song idea in my head has been done before. The question I have to answer is, “have I done this before?”
A mere cut and paste from something I shared before would be pointless.
Bringing my true self to my work, every time … shaping my sound until my own two ears say, “yes, that’s great, this surprises us.” That’s what I’m after.
Passionately pursuing a new song my whole life … that’s everything.
You left to run horses / We both had reasons to run / I hear only hooves now / No rider comes / Oh, runaway heart / Again, I’ve lost you / There you are, gone, the last holdout / And I’m holding on to things gone missing / Lover, you left so much
words and music by Tony Starling Kidd
© Buffalo Spoon Records
When I’m making up a song, I keep an ear to the ground for what people cast off.
An overheard remark in a train station, the half-sentences of friends workshopping love’s particulars in the local coffee shop: They’re the finder’s reward.
I listen in like an ecclesiastic to the human heart as it bares its splendor and its brokenness.
I listen, and write. And as I write, I polish what I’ve found, and as I craft it into a tune hopefully expose a genuine, consoling truth in the brokenness.
I pick up things others don’t ordinarily notice, like the flowers that thrive by the roadside as we pass on our way somewhere else. Sometimes it’s the only way to encounter the truth.
I am so flawed as an artist. My songs are imperfectly performed. My wispy voice is sometimes shaky about pitch.
My recordings are a set of first-takes, a thoroughly homemade affair. Nothing feels mastered. Listen closely, and you might hear barn swallows, the sound of wood scraping on a floor, probably a chair.
I don’t have many true fans. Is it because everyone else hears my flaws? I could deceive myself into thinking that. Or, that it’s because I don’t fall neatly into a category of music … I’m not exactly country, or folk, or anything else.
But categories don’t matter. Most important work is done by people who don’t easily fit in. No great piece of art is flawless. And no great artist is universally liked or understood.
I’m happy to have a few true fans who don’t hear first-takes, but jewels, and who can’t wait to hear what I make up next.
Who are tuned in to me, flaws and all.
There are days when everything is gut, and the song I’m making up seems to know exactly where it wants to go.
On those days, the heart begs the mind to stay away.