Suburban Rebel

This is my Pandemic Project. I can’t say it is a pandemic album because several of these songs are older than that and none of them are about the pandemic itself. When the world turned upside down and everything shut down erasing my to-do list, I initially did a bit of writing. It wasn’t a lot, but it was more than I had been. And then, nothing. I have not written a new song in over a year now. Instead, for me 2020 spiraled into darkness. By the end of the year I was deeply depressed, having regular panic attacks, and all the reasons I started using drugs and alcohol all those years ago came out of hibernation and set up a squatter’s camp. No matter where I sat the smoke from their fire blew straight in my face. A year sober there still hadn’t been a reckoning with my inner demons. It was time to get some help. 

I started 2021 by dropping out of society. The first, most important thing was getting off of social media. Then I got into therapy. Shortly after that I had the idea that if I couldn’t be out playing music, and I wasn’t writing new music, why not start recording material already written. I had assembled a workable “studio” in my basement, I could hole up and hide out and try to bring some of these songs to life. Maybe it would be cathartic. At the very least it would keep me busy, hopefully preventing my creative side from stagnating. I set about teaching myself how to use the recording software I had, and before long a few tunes started to come together. 

At some point, for no particular reason, I decided I would do this as an album. Not with the intention of releasing it, I think it was a way to set myself a goal to work towards. More substantial than an undefined and easily set aside “some”. At first I chose 8 songs for the project. Later, due to a moment of inspiration as well as a last minute addition that came together surprisingly quick and easy, it grew into the 10 tracks that make up Suburban Rebel. As I learned more about the software and how to use it I recognized I was getting into a feedback cycle that threatened to never end. Every new thing I discovered had to be retroactively applied to the songs I’d already completed. I had to call it done and move on. 

Sitting to listen to the record I began to think about why. Why this group of songs out of my repertoire? What connected them? For me the overarching theme is the importance of claiming and using one’s voice. It’s a recurring challenge for me and something that comes up a lot in therapy. Most of these songs revolve around the damage done by silencing our voices, or having them silenced, whether by individuals or society collectively. 

Over the last several years my personal journey surrounding the unhealthy nature of my inner voice has manifested in a seemingly desperate quest to use my physical voice. I was never a singer but I wanted to be. Convinced by own mind and told by people I knew that there was no point trying to learn as an adult, it tore at me. I was admonished in more than one band “no, you can’t sing, don’t even try. Don’t bother.” Even after taking lessons and working with coaches. To be fair, others have been more patient and kind, but my inner monologue ignored that and focused on the negative narrative. I had been writing a lot of lyrics and for a while now have been turning those into songs. I wanted to get them out. 

Going to open mics helped, but I could only occasionally conquer my fear to go. The most frightening was a local songwriter night, where I drank to keep a tenuous hold on my increasing anxiety and always left knowing in my heart I was the worst singer in the room. It didn’t matter how friendly and welcoming and encouraging the environment was, and it was, I could not accept that I belonged there. I concocted excuses, the most persistent being that my style and subject matter wasn’t what people wanted to hear. I used as my shining example the night I publicly debuted “Bones” as it was sandwiched between a song about planting flowers and one about a cat. I stopped going, silencing my own voice. 

Sobriety, therapy, and the space to heal brought on by the lack of other activity due to the pandemic have conspired to change my attitude. I still don’t think I’m a good singer, but now I don’t care so much. I do think I’m a strong lyricist and I have something to say. It’s important to me that I say it. 

In that spirit I have decided to release Suburban Rebel. Warts and all. It is completely DIY. I play all the instruments (other than the computer generated drums), and did all the recording and mixing. Needing expediency to prevent myself from backing out I decided not to have the record mastered. The time it would take to save up the money might kill the whole endeavor. Maybe the next one will be more polished, I’ve already started working on new recordings. 

My hope for the songs on Suburban Rebel is that they might be conversation starters. After all, we cannot heal or fix the broken things we refuse to talk about. 

Turtle Zwadlo 

September 28, 2021

Leave a comment