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Interview about "IDEATION"

Interviewer credentials: Greg Crowther, Ph.D., is a biology instructor who also has experience as a journalist and songwriter.  His greatest hit, a biochemistry-themed parody of “Sugar, Sugar” called “Glucose, Glucose,” has nearly 900,000 YouTube views.  A past judge for the Logan Whitehurst Memorial Awards for Excellence in Comedy Music, Dr. Crowther uses music to teach science in and outside of the classroom, and has published several peer-reviewed articles on this approach.

 

Part 1 (posted on 11/26)

  GC: Do, your new album is called IDEATION. Help us understand this title.

  DP: Yes, the album is called IDEATION. This title comes from my struggle this year to recover from mental illness with suicidal ideation. IDEATION does not just apply to bad thoughts though.  The word also has broader meaning: a synthesis of ideas.  My process of healing has involved recognizing and reworking unhealthy ideas about success, family, love and friendship.  IDEATION speaks to the journey of synthesizing memories and experiences into healthier ideas.  So in this way IDEATION alludes to both disease and remedy.  The songs in IDEATION were inspired by both, starting from emotional darkness, illness, despair and shame, progressing through helpful but imperfect therapies, and ending with discovery of light, belonging, love, resiliency, and healthier scaffolding to step forward.  

 

Part 2 (posted on 11/27)

  GC: I feel as though we could spend the next ten questions unpacking your previous answer.  Let’s focus first on the song sequence, though.  Are the songs collectively telling a narrative story about you (or a character like you)?  Or are they best understood not as a plot unfolding, but as a thematic progression?

  DP: Yes, unpack away!  Yes, the songs are telling a narrative about me.  And, yes, it is also a thematic progression.  A best understanding of the song sequence misses the purpose and meaning of the work, I think.  What I want is the validation of a listener’s feelings and thoughts, as they react to the songs.   I respect that each person will have their own personal reaction or set of reactions, their own story that unfolds in their imagination as a result of hearing the songs.  My belief is I may write a song but that song once heard/felt by another is about that other person.  I really dislike it when someone tampers with my personal relationship to a song by offering a definitive understanding of what that song is about, correcting my own understanding.  To me, this differs from sharing the inspiration for a song.  In my answer to the previous question, I gave an explanation of what inspired the song sequence, i.e. darkness to light, steps in my recovery from mental illness.  This can be separate from how the song sequence is understood by others.  In general, my hope is that my audience will be moved to overlay their personal narratives onto my musical and lyrical backdrop.

 

Part 3 (posted on 11/28)

  GC: Let’s explore the issue of song interpretation with a specific example.  Your first track, “The C,” seems relatively straightforward.  The title is a homonym for “the sea,” and the lyrics describe being tossed around by powerful waves, abandoning hope of being rescued, and resigning oneself to drowning.  Presumably, being shipwrecked is a metaphor for suicidal thoughts.  And yet I can’t help but wonder whether the “C” of the title stands for something apart from the sea.

  If someone said all that to you, I think you would be pleased that the song meant *something* to them, and you would thank them for sharing their thoughts, but you would not congratulate them for interpreting the song “correctly,” nor would you tell them what the C “really” stands for.  Is that about right?

  DP: That’s a lot of hypotheticals in there.  I’m glad when folks share that they listen to my music, no doubt.  If conversation ensues around a song I’ve written, I like hearing and considering listeners’ perspectives and interpretations.  If directly asked, I might share what inspired the song, or even what the song or song title means to me.  But that description is not the song, thank goodness.

  I understand that verbiage about a song can enhance the enjoyment.  This is why in live shows I give introductions to songs.  But I think that’s also what’s expected by the audience as part of a live show.  So the verbiage is welcome.  I really try to avoid circumstances where my input about a song is unwelcome, whether I’ve written it or not.  You can really ruin a song for a person that way.  In answering your previous question, this is what I was thinking about when I said “tampers with my personal relationship to a song.”  Fortunately and wonderfully, there are plenty of songs in the world.  And I guess the occasional unwelcome idea about a song is a small price to pay for the enjoyment of listening!

 

Part 4 (posted on 11/29)

  GC: I want to coax a bit more “welcome verbiage” out of you, if I may. The titles of many of the songs on this album are rendered in a whimsical manner.  Besides “The C,” for example, you have “Bro Kun,” “Red E4 Ax Shun,” and so forth. Can you explain how this artistic choice relates to some of the other themes that you’ve been discussing?

  DP: NOT whimsical.  Confused.  Altered.  Struggling to communicate.  Trying to find my bearings.  Much of this album was started during my first course of drug therapy, which was an unhappy experience.  All bad side effects, no therapeutic benefit.  Sometimes up was up and sometimes up seemed sideways.  My reactions flattened out; so I seemed stable but not in a way that was good/healthy...I just felt altered.  I wrote the titles in an altered state.  I named some of the titles phonetically and some using incorrect words, giving a confusing effect, hopefully not too confusing.  Once on a better regimen of drug therapy, when things felt more normal, I liked many of the misspelled or oddly worded titles because they resonated with my experience of rebuilding to a healthier state of mind.  Some things look, feel, are different now from what they were before.  So that was my process.  Aside from this, there are personal meanings for the titles.  I’ll share for the ones you flagged.  

  To me, “The C” is not a song about the sea, which is a straightforward reason why I did not name it “The Sea.”  It was inspired by sadness, shame and self pity folded in on itself, recreating itself.  I think of C as a math variable representing a wide variety of negative emotions.  Or C is for consciousness of depression.  Musical meanings: The key of C is the easiest to play on a piano, an entry point to music; The C is the point of entry into the experience of the album.  The highest note of the “siren’s deafening *C*langor” is a C.  I could go on.  So yes, I use imagery of the sea and I could have called the song “The Sea” but calling it “The C” was way more interesting to me, more thought-provoking, way more evocative of the *C*hallenge ahead as the album unfolds.

  “Bro Kun” is a broken spelling of broken.  It seemed a reasonable choice of title, given that the song describes many broken things.

  “Red E4 Ax Shun” is my superhero song.  Treatment for mental illness works best if you can own that you are mentally ill.  But owning that mental illness means that you own the stigma as well, Shun-ed by people, loved ones, friends.  It’s real.  A lot of people have a hard time with a guy who says out loud, “Sometimes I want to kill myself,” despite seeking treatment to get better.  In this song I’m taking an Ax to do battle with the Shun that goes along with admitting to mental illness, often preventing healthy steps toward treatment from occurring.  Red is the passion to get better and F*ck em if they can’t deal with me wanting to be in the light of day, getting treatment.  E4 is for energy*energy*energy*energy to get it done.  I am pretending to be a superhero in this song, summoning all my superpowers to do battle with evil foes: mental disease, surrounded by henchmen of stigma.  

  So you see, hopefully, these are NOT whimsical names for me.  It’s art.  I’m trying to communicate directly and indirectly, any way I can.

 

Part 5 (posted on 11/30)

  GC: I really appreciate these explanations.  Now let’s switch gears a bit and consider the listening experience of more casual listeners, who may be aware that the album concerns mental illness, but are not catching all of the words or thinking intently about them.  What do you think is likely to be noticed by these listeners?

  DP: Hopefully, there are some catchy hooks in the songs, nice melodies, fun/pretty arrangements, stuff you can tap your toe to.  Overall, I try to give any listener a good listening experience; most of the time this does not conflict with my artistic vision. Even if it does, my thinking is that in a recording, the sound is king.  If people turn off the recording because the sound is bad, the song and artistic vision aren’t heard.  

  Song to song, probably most noticeable to a more casual listener is the changing of music styles.  For better or worse, that’s what I do; so that might be a little challenging to some who are just chillin’ with some tunes.  On the other hand, it might be welcome.

 

Part 6 (posted on 12/1)

  GC: Speaking of catchy hooks and such, what do you consider to be the lead single of this album? If someone had 5 minutes in which to listen to one song and one song only, what might be a good stand-alone taste of the album?

  DP 6: “On Line” is our lead single. I think “On Line” is the best stand-alone taste as well, as its catchy-ness could lead to curiosity about the rest of the album. There is an excellent video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1t92x-L1zs) for “On Line,” which shows off my lovely band (Zoe Bermet, Jeanne Morefield, Kirk Van Scoyoc and Camilo Estrada) looking great, in grassy fields, wooded parks and sandy shores on a crystal clear, warm Seattle summer day. It can be seen at my website, DoPeterson.com. My favorite moments of the video are toward the end where our truly gifted videographer Gretchen Ludwig was able to catch us jamming and enjoying each other’s company beachside. Tim Hedlund was masterful in editing it all together. Much help from spouses and friends, driving, canoeing, holding video and sound equipment, etc. made it all possible. All done after day-jobs and on weekends, in between errands and family obligations for no money. These folks have my deepest gratitude for giving their time, intellect and artistry to make this video.

 

Part 7 (posted on 12/2)

  GC: I really like that beachside scene as well. You must either be good actors, or genuinely enjoy each other’s company!  Speaking of the band members, what was it like to work collaboratively with them on an album that primarily reflects your own personal journey? For example, did you have long conversations about the meaning of the songs?  Did others also have connections to mental illness that informed the music-making?

  DP: It was amazing to work collaboratively with Jeanne, Zoe and Kirk to write the songs in IDEATION.  They are remarkable people.  Yes, we’ve all been touched deeply by mental illness in family and friends.  I mean who hasn’t really?  No long conversations with the band though.  Just a short conversation or two where I shared that I was starting into treatment for my struggle with mental illness and chronic suicidal ideation.  The album project came soon after that.  Again, no long conversations about the content of the songs (really just song fragments) that I would introduce.  I would play my ideas and ask for vocals or banjo accompaniment and we’d jam a little on a section until we had something that sounded good.  I video’d much of the process, so that I could keep a record of what was produced.  That bit was important because the collaboration on these songs spanned months, fit in between everything else happening in busy lives.  My wife and I had no permanent residence for much of this time.  We were paring down our lives, selling our house, moving many of our possessions into storage and looking for a place to live in Seattle’s crazy competitive housing market.  Anyhow, videos saved and studied kept the project moving forward, despite a few months of suitcase living, house sitting and couch surfing.  

 

Part 8 (posted on 12/3)

  GC: Can you give us an example of a song that wound up in a place very different from where it started, due to this extended collaborative process?

  DP: AYKILY (stands for “and you know I love you”) is a song made from improvising parts.  It started about a year ago as two drum loops (two different tempos), a chord progression and a chorus.  First, I video’d Kirk and me playing through the chord progression, separately for the two different drum loops, and made a decision about the best feeling tempo/loop.  Then I video’d Zoe and Jeanne trying out backing parts, improvising, riffing off of the drum loop, chord progression and each other.  Next I wrote a test rap but did not know where to put it amidst the parts.  I let a few months pass.  I invited Markus Von Prause to add some nice keyboards to the chord progression.  I edited and added more rap verbiage.  More months passed.  I reviewed the video, created a structure for the various parts and assigned musicians the parts they had written for themselves.  And presto, we had a song!  Funny, folks claimed not to remember what they did, but the parts came back waaay quicker than if I had written them.   All told, the song really seemed to come together when we did it live for the first time at Seattle’s Jewelbox Theater with the audience in on the chorus.  I’m still working with the AYKILY recording to get the right feel, even a month before our CD release.  

  It’s soo good to be surrounded by the love and excellence of my musicians.  In addition to deep contributions made by Jeanne, Zoe and Kirk to the song creation process, Camilo’s and Markus’ artistry on bass and keyboards respectively were important to the feel/sound of many of the songs.  I have history with all these fine people.  

  Zoe and I worked together at Group Health Research Institute for 5 years (2009-2014, pre-Do Peterson Band) and she has sung with me for the past 3 years.  I met Camilo at the Institute 4 years ago and for the past 3 years, I have been a fan of his virtuosic playing with his group (The New Triumph) as well as with my group.  Markus has been a friend for at least 10 years and is a veteran of the Seattle’s live music scene as well as a studio producer with many fine cuts to his credit.  Kirk and I have been friends for over 20 years and have been doing music together in one form or another for most of that time.  Jeanne and I sang together as a duo at Oberlin College almost 30 years ago and without missing a beat, stepped right back into singing together when we found each other via Facebook after she moved back to Seattle 2 years ago.  

  So these people are in my consciousness.  Their collaboration with me and influence on me started long before this project.  When I started writing these songs, I had them and their unique/specific musicianship in mind.  For me, these songs were not songs until I heard them in there, singing and playing.  I am grateful to say: Now these songs are exactly where they should be.

 

Part 9 (posted on 12/4)

 GC: It’s unusual for a rock band to have a banjo in its main lineup. You just said that, like the others, banjoist Kirk is an excellent musician who has been a joy to work with over the years, and maybe that’s all that’s important here. Still, I’m wondering whether you also have a special affinity for this instrument independent of Kirk’s mastery of it, and/or a special affinity for the challenge of incorporating it into the song arrangements.

 DP: I’d prefer you call us a Soul & Folk band.  For that description, the banjo is more typical.  I concede, though, that we’d be hard pressed to find a banjo in popular Soul music.  (ha!)  I have no special affinity for the banjo; however, I do have great love for Kirk, the musician behind it.  He has been a friend for over 20 years now and because of him I met and married my wife, Lori DeGloria, the best decision by far I’ve made in my life.  So playing with Kirk is like playing with my brother by another mother.  He has been game for my musical excursions for about 15 years now and he has the chops on the banjo to execute just about any musical idea.  Check out his tour de force on Jesu (Joy of Man’s Desiring, Bach) in my last album SIMPLE DANCE (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/dopeterson).  So why not the banjo?!  I can picture Kirk being quick with a wisecrack to answer that question.  :)

 

Part 10 (posted on 12/5)

  GC: Before we close, let’s try to put this album in the context of your previous musical output, which includes several “concept” albums. What previous album reminds you most of this new one, and what are the biggest differences between the two?

  DP: IDEATION is closest in theme with my effort many years ago, SELF-PORTRAIT; both projects share intensely personal songs with themes around the meaning of life and worthiness of efforts to live it.  However, SELF-PORTRAIT was waaay different in its process; all the songs recorded were written by me only and were first-draft efforts with no editing, and the entire album was recorded on 4 tracks using one cassette.  IDEATION was a collaborative process with the band, with much editing and revising of lyrics and song structure, recorded on my digital QSC mixer and mixed on Cubase, digital audio workspace software, via laptop computer.  Times and recording technologies have truly changed.  My current sound was largely cultivated in my previous album SIMPLE DANCE (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/dopeterson), with heavy use of acoustic instruments, vocal harmonies, drums and bass in a Soul and Folk idiom.

 

Part 11 (posted on 12/6)

  GC: In closing, I want to specifically consider the listeners who themselves are struggling with mental illness and perhaps with suicidal thoughts.  Are any parts of your album aimed directly at this subgroup?  Do you encourage them in the manner of, say, “Don’t Give Up” (Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush) or “Everybody Hurts” (R.E.M.)?  If so, are you striving to be less preachy and less prescriptive than that?

  DP:  Yes, in this work, I have tried to chronicle my own ongoing recovery from mental illness and people struggling with the same process may empathize with some of the experiences I share.  But for better or for worse, I have not aimed the songs in IDEATION toward any particular population.  Instead, I have attempted to give the best depiction I can of my own experience.  I can hope this helps those ill as well as their families and friends, but that just about covers all people, I think.  One caveat: I have shared in the album verbiage the US National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1 800 237 8255 (1 800 237 TALK); this share IS directed at people in crisis and their loved ones.  For me, just knowing that this hotline exists means the world - that if I am having a bad day and am ideating, I can call someone who will try to help me through the rough patches.  I have friends who have asked me to reach out to them too and I love them for it.  But often, actually always, when I am thinking suicidal thoughts, I don’t want to bother others.  This is dangerous but true.  1 800 237 8255 (1 800 237 TALK) exists for that, I think.  Folks are waiting for my call.  I’m not *bothering* them with my illness/crisis.  Even knowing that folks are waiting for my call, gives me great relief during dark moments.  I hope that others can derive similar relief from knowing about this resource.

 

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US National Suicide Prevention Hotline

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