Don’t waste the mystery
The title of this CD came to me from a dream during the making of the record...i was astonished to receive such a direct message in a dream and am still astonished by its clarity and profound brevity. Over 3 nights, i had a series of consecutive dreams. These dreams were each the story of a wise old woman who had acted strangely and passed on odd messages to me; the most unusual dream of the three came on the third night:
- i was walking back to a cabin along a path in the woods. The path skirted the edge of a young forest of white birch trees and curved around a corner at a kind of crossroads. i walked fast with the woods on my right, and as i rounded the bend, i saw an older woman, bent over and picking up twigs and bramble right at the foot of the forest. i was struck by her oddness and had the spontaneous thought “why was she there?” She seemed like a medieval peasant, dressed in heavy fabrics and layered against the elements. She seemed quite old too and haggard. These perceptions caused me to slow my pace and eventually i stopped to look back towards her. i thought that she might need help. And as i made a movement back towards her, she looked up from collecting branches. She rose partially at the waist and slowly brought her gaze to fix on me…she seemed intent and clear in attitude, quite serious and ill-humored perhaps by the harshness of a long and difficult life or perhaps due to me... She looked at me for maybe 5 seconds, but it was a deep gaze, a long gaze directly in the eyes, and she said these words to me in a deliberate and haggish tone, ”Don’t……waste……the mystery”
And with that the dream ended and i awoke. i felt an ache in my stomach and felt an unsettling anxiety inside…I was dazed by this event as if the words had cast a spell over me. i could not get back to sleep…who was this figure? What did this dream mean?
Who was she? …
Well i have had time to look into it more deeply… i feel for sure that the woman has several interpretations…as in all dreams she represents me and the feelings, thoughts and unconscious concepts in me…. She comes from within me after all, a mix of many things in the shape of a wise old woman, a hag, a crone, an odd fairy godmother . As i see her in my memory, it would not be hard to place her before a black cauldron and have her seem right at home. Mythically, i feel she is the wise old woman, the feminine aspect of a man, standing at his crossroads to observe, witness and provide insight. She seems also to be a muse deep in the process of removing the bramble (tasks, thoughts, and self-image) in front of my deeper self and creativity (the forest) and lastly she seems a kind of guardian of the deep internal forest of the unknown self. She has a dearly won message for me; one acquired over the course of many, many years.
What does, “Don’t waste the mystery” mean?
This sentence could be thought of as advice “Don’t forget to be present and reverent to all things and the unknown nature of life, yourself and the world around you”. A simpler more direct way of saying this could be “practice awareness” and then again on a very personal note it might also mean, “Don’t waste what you have been given already”.
From February 2004 to April 2005, after a long experience of emotional loss, fears of death and traumatic change, i went through a kind of personality breakdown. Through that painful and destructive process i was introduced to a new world…a world of sensory beauty and deep mystery. In that world i felt a sense of the oneness of things and their interconnectedness with me and everything else (a tangible world of shared atoms, waves, ideas and of things taking form from a common origin and in interdependence). i guess the cover image of this record conveys the concept of what i experienced better than words. It was a mind changing time for me and to express it i turned to music and lyrics. The songs on this CD stem from those events.
I feel like the message “Don’t waste the mystery is telling me “to adore life in all forms, treasure yourself and others, don’t walk too fast, don’t take people for granted…”. The woman’s message very rightly puts the focus on the word “mystery”…a synonym for human, for life and for me. Living without mystery lessens my experience of life and intensifies pain. It seems so clear to me that if i am so sure of who i am, what i want, where i need to go…
if i am so sure i will find happiness or meaning or success or salvation, safety or security… if i am so sure of who others are and what type they fall into…then, … i will never be able to see what is unfolding in the small, hidden unseen parts of life, the things that lead to me and that in fact are me. i feel that the mystery in life and myself are obvious: we do not understand the basics of life, love, electricity, gravity, matter, energy…we do not know where we come from or where we are going with any certainty….and therefore we are unknown. But on the great jogging path of 20th century American life, it is easy to miss out on the beauty and the mystery of life especially when caught in perspectives of personality politics and isolating thoughts…then the mystery of the world, life and my very self fade away, inaccessible behind the search for happiness, success, relationship and personality values. It is so easy to lose sight of the unknown and fleeting beauty in and around me and yet paradoxically the best place to seek myself and personal support, inspiration and solid ground is in the great dark undeveloped unknown.
I finished writing the songs of “Don’t waste the mystery” in the summer and fall of 2010. The rough songs were an odd collection of melodies and chords that were jotted down over 2008 – 2010 while i was recording the first CD.
“You let me down” came to me while waiting for a friend, it was then called “In your room”, “Bipolar degrees” was an odd progression of chords which fascinated me, it was recorded twice and abandoned as too difficult to complete, “Whatever awaits me” came on a Sunday morning on the stairs of a shed in the sunlight, “And even if you don’t” was a precious and naive idea about connection that got a new song structure in 2010, “There’s that feeling again” was a attractive tune that i played to myself over and over for the whole two years with improvised lyrics that always had the words “Going home”. These were songs that i loved but that i didn’t know what to do with...and i would ask myself “what are they? How do they fit?” At the same time, i was hesitant to record any new songs because i wanted more textures and sounds in the music than i had in my first record, but didn’t know how to do that yet.
After some time, i began to feel that these songs could be a good place to discover a new direction in music. During the fall and winter of 2009 i worked weekly with Andrea Longato to shape each of the songs, it was intense work and a huge investment that seems so far away. When we had the songs just as i wanted i did some studio work at The Buddy Project with Kieran Kelly & Tommy Eichmann to add synths and vocals and then finally and most recently i worked with Sander van Dijck to work out percussion and sounds… Together with Sander, we developed the songs over an additional 9 months, following our tastes and working towards a vision of a combination of pop infused with the textures of electronica and post rock …a vision that came straight from my earliest tastes in music.
It occurs to me in writing and thinking on this experience just now that i have chosen the album title well. These songs have been misfit mysteries and the process to build them was mystery to me before we discovered it in flight. Sander and i, who have worked the most extensively on this album, are a mystery to each other having never met to this day and being from very different places, times and backgrounds.
I would like to share a taste of the remarkable experiences about the sound adding and mixing of “Don’t waste the mystery”. Kieran Kelly introduced me to Sander van Dijck from the Netherlands after one failed attempt at sound adding. After an email or two we decided to try to collaborate long distance to create the percussion and sound adding for the album: samples, electronica, synths, guitars and noises. We started sometime in June of 2011. We worked together exclusively by email and then in 2012 we graduated to “Whatsapp” texts.
Collaborating on a musical project over text and e-mail is not an easy thing to do. The distance means everything has to be written and spelled out. It requires a ton of detailed input and comment. At the beginning, we would discuss a detailed vision for the song parts, and select some ghost songs to guide the shaping of the parts…and then Sander followed inspiration and my feedback.
We texted a lot, probably near 3000 e-mails and texts, back and forth over
9 months of work on arrangements and mixes.
Because Sander and i share similarities and maybe because of the mystery of the process and maybe due to the songs themselves, we had a great deal of inspiration and fun in this project! i have so many good memories of the text conversations with Sander...while i was in so many different places…at 7:30am sitting on a train, or standing on a crowded ferry, or on the weekend in my house, in between meetings at my work… always listening to an idea or mp3 and writing about arrangements and getting inspired…or meeting difficulty, text after text after text until each song was arranged, completed, mixed and mastered. The process was complex… Sander writes, “There were a couple of times i thought ‘this is the best i can do now’... But then somehow Will pushed me even further and i kind of pushed my own limit!” On this particuliar occasion Sander had told me that he thought he needed a break from one of the songs and that we were at a temporary block….I had been thinking about a Radiohead song “Spinning Plates” and how much i love the reverse guitar in it and i asked him to have that kind of approach to the section of the song that was blocking us…the result inspired us both and with Sander’s talents the song was finished quickly.
Here is a little flavor of what the collaboration was like to us (this stuff still makes me laugh):
• In the chorus i’m really missing the snare drums; -In the outro i’m not feeling that new sound that comes in at 3:33. Like kgggggggggggggggg. Kind of buries every sound.
• i tried so many things; i ended up with this one. i personally hate it.
But i just sent it anyway; It might give you another idea, or inspiration. If you have a fixed sound in your head, maybe send a YouTube link or whatever. But for me, a snare still works best for me. i’m sorry i wish i could have found something by now, but the more i try the more i go from OK-sounding to BAD. Maybe my ears are just tired, i don’t know!
• (And lastly this true classic!) Please explain this, you said “The rhythm pattern is: “1 & 2 3 & 4 &. This pattern is heard 4 times at the beginning of the intro”. i tried counting along with the track and i really could not fit this counting into the rhythm at all. Instead i hear 1 2 & 3 4. i count like this: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4…. It’s all Coming Downnnn…
This kind of work either draws people together or splits them apart. It drew Sander and i and Andrea together and the songs became something we each began to love. i remember sitting at my kitchen table the morning after finishing the last arrangement before mixing and i wrote to Sander: “I have tears in my eyes and i feel so lucky for this work you’ve done”.
I think we have really succeeded in our objective and each of us has gotten more than we ever expected. There is a deep reminder here for me that there is tremendous beauty and potential waiting for us in the mystery of openness and collaboration. An i wonder really what other pleasure there is to life.
Life is difficult, dividing us and exposing our weaknesses and triggers and hardening us. There may be a time someday, or tomorrow, when i feel once again in my life that things just won’t come together, or that i am not heard or seen, or that collaboration is impossible...or that life is lacking mystery. And throughout my life when this occurs, i hope i will always look back to these moments from this project and these last two years and i will remember our exchanges and the creativity and frustrations and patience…and what we were able to produce. i think it will help to warm me and to remind me of what is possible in life. i think it is a good definition of meaning.
I hope you will find an experience of mystery and what you want and need in this music too; it is dedicated to the mystery in me and in every person and to the graceful, accepting world around us. It comes in every way from my heart, mind and body and i think for both Sander and i, and for Andrea it represents a significant devotion to a set of songs and a truly deep act of awareness.
P.S. In looking back at these notes and thoughts i have written, it seems to me now that in fact this record and this whole story that i have written form my actual response back to the words “Don’t waste the mystery” This two years of work is my best and only response and it is the gift i offer back to myself and to the old woman of the woods...
Will James, August 2012
released 01 October 2012
Sander van Dijck: Co-production, All Mixing, All Sound Adding arrangements including programmed Drums, percussion, synthesizer, samples, glockenspiel, guitar, bass, effects & misc. sounds, Additionally all instruments on “It all comes down again (Sander van Dijck Remix)” and Piano on “And even if you don’t”. Website www.sandervandijck.com
Tommy Eichmann: Synthesizer.
Will James: Executive Production, Co-Production, Vocals.
Kieran Kelly: Co-production, Vocal Production, Synthesizer, Acoustic guitar.
Elaine Lachica: Vocal Direction, Backing vocals.
Andrea Longato: Co-production, Guitars, Bass, Wurly on “You let me down”.
Andreas Meyer: Mastering
All Songs and Lyrics written and composed by Will James
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