Kaleidoscope Fragments PART 2
Read Part 1 here: PART 1
The time between graduating college until now I can only describe as "The Search". I knew I was looking for something: some way to make things work, some place where I would feel at home, some people I could feel at home around, some new way to make music my career. I had a BFA in Vocal Performance with a Minor in Dance. I had high hopes. I had very little doubt.
After graduation I was still living in Chicago, but eventually I moved to LA (via a month-long stay in Las Cruces, NM), then moved to Las Vegas for about 3 years, then back to LA, and eventually to Seattle. I had lived in maybe 15-20 different apartments during that time. There was nothing straight forward about The Search. Although I had new friends, occasionally talked to old friends and family, dated, had co-workers and roommates, looking back I can see how much of a solo journey it really was. When I felt like it was the right thing to do, I packed up and moved to a different state. Two or three of those time I sold and gave away everything and got down to about 2 suitcases for the move. I started over many times. I made bad decisions many times. Got stuck in places that were terrible for my emotional and mental well-being. But when I graduated college, I was set to conquer the world.
So, I graduated, worked at restaurants, Starbucks, as an art model etc. and alternated between living on my own and with roommates. I bought a Mac, started recording some vocals into Garageband via the laptop mic, and didn't know anything about production so I sang some backing parts behind the main melody. Some of it was more like humming, some was rather bad beatboxing, but I did what I could. That was the beginning of the very layered sound I currently have. I put some of those recordings on Myspace (still the best social media platform to exist) and somehow ended up on a UK artist's downtempo album, as well as started working with a couple of Chicago producers, Blackdaylight and Release. I had seen a glimpse of the Chicago underground Hip Hop scene through artists like Pugs Atomz, and met Phillip Morris, Adad, Drunken Monkeee and Awdazcate. Things were starting to pick up.
Just like Myspace, Craigslist was sometimes a cool place in those days. It was how I met cellist Ira Ochs and how I found out about an audition for Laboratory Dancers dance company which I got accepted into. They both became a big part of my set, and we performed around Chicago, often in the middle of Hip Hop shows even though my set was a bit more experimental; it helped to have Phillip Morris rap during some songs. As you can see, that idea has also stuck throughout the years and you can see it clearly in "The Adventures of Mugs and Pockets" and "Labyrinthine". My style from the beginning was a blend of my classical/choral/jazz music training, my dance training in styles from Ballet to Butoh to Chicago Footwork to Breaking to House, West African and Dancehall, along with underground Hip Hop. I would learn more about the Hip Hop part throughout the years, especially when I started producing more.
Here's a clip of me, Ira Ochs, and two members of Laboratory Dancers (Emily and Lewis) rehearsing for a show. This song "Cigarettes" was definitely a favorite and I hope to remake it one day.
And here's a performance at the Milwaukee Avenue Art Fest with the same crew plus Blackdaylight beatboxing. Emily is inside the box that Lewis is making into a table, in case you're wondering:
Eventually I put together my first album "AnnaBella", my first real attempt at a Trip Hop album, and here's a video I made to one of the songs from the album with my mannequin "Bella" I sometimes performed with:
Trip Hop was still pretty popular at the time and the album did ok. The label I released it under had a bit of reach and we did a remix contest, and so "AnnaBella Remixed" was released the following year. I was thinking of next moves. I was getting more into performing solo with a vocal looper and decided to go to Poland/Europe for the summer and see where I can find places to perform my solo set at, sort of backpacking it a bit.
Plane ticket bought, lease on my apartment broken, I was ready, nervous and excited. And then I found out I was pregnant, from a relationship which was already over. And from that moment on, it seemed like nothing went right for a very long time.
Very short version: Canceled the plane ticket, temporarily stayed with family, got an apartment with the ex close to work so I could keep waitressing until about 8 months pregnant, there were complications during birth, six days afterwards my son passed away while in my arms, I went back to a cold, empty apartment, moved out into my own place by Lake Michigan, began the process of recovering, after about a year moved in with roommates who happened to be dancers, started dance classes in Chicago Footwork which helped me get back in shape and feel better, started practicing vocal looping again, decided to leave Chicago and try LA.
LA was not as open-minded towards my "unpolished" style as what I got used to in Chicago, and really I spent most of my time there working 2 jobs at a time and commuting to work while living cramped in a portion of an apartment (two of the "walls" were actually curtains). My roommates again were dancers, and they were really the best part of LA, along with some dance classes I took there and learning production at Beatlab Academy.
At some point, maybe because LA wasn't at all what I was hoping and I was feeling pretty low from lack of music opportunities, I somehow got into a relationship with someone in the music/dance industry (a "mentor" type) and moved to live with him in Vegas. Not going to dwell on that, but if the death of my son didn't completely break me, that relationship did. It was not the right situation for me, and what I hoped would be a nurturing environment to finally get somewhere professionally, was actually a rather controlling one, where I could not be at all free in my artistry or express opinions because I was seen as less experienced and disrespectful for disagreeing. The fact I didn't trust my gut and leave much sooner than I finally did made me question myself and my decisions for a long time after. It was a time when I felt the most alone in my life. I most vividly remember a moment when after yet another argument I started saying out loud to myself over and over "It's ok it's ok it's ok.." while hugging myself, because I had absolutely no one and I somehow instinctively comforted myself as if I was someone else talking to myself. It's all I had, and I think that moment changed something by showing me I can be caring to myself. Eventually I said to hell with it, I never planned on living in Vegas, and moved back to LA.
I did one coffee shop performance in Las Vegas before I left:
In LA for another try, this time doing more background acting and such instead of waitressing, I started getting into a groove. Aaaand... enter Covid. My entire stay in LA ended up being in quarantine, and at some point during this I just made a decision. The decision was that my goal, my commitment, was to excellence. To becoming really good. Not aiming for what was popular, but what I thought was good, and I knew my standards were very high. I imagined having the type of music that if anyone from Billie Holiday to Thelonious Monk to Timbaland to Amon Tobin were in the audience, I would feel good about it. I started taking some online dance classes and took a refresher course in production. I set up half of my apartment to be a performance area to practice a solo vocal set with a bit of finger drumming. I took some drum kit and Djembe classes and rented a rehearsal space I went to a couple of times a week to play drums and practice singing loudly. I was searching still. I was restless at this point, the past years had been a lot.
One day, I watched a video on Flow and Tao, and it was nice and calming. I related to some of it but not all, but I enjoyed the sense of peace. I was also watching many Ableton tutorials during that time. One day the algorithm brought me a gift of some dude talking about Flow AND Ableton: enter DiViNCi. I saw he had Ableton Meetups which were online thanks to Covid. I joined a few times, played my beats and music, and then the rest of the story can be found in the Mugs and Pockets posts..... I found what I'd been searching for, and isn't it interesting that the initials of our first album just happen to be "TAOMAP"?
Before I finish this up, I have to say that I never really reached my dance goals, or even got close. I had a very hard time finding my place in the dance scene. I really hoped to one day be comfortable enough to do some battles, but there's a lot of dancing for "ooooh!"s out there, like posting for likes, and it didn't make me feel good. It's the equivalent of "oooooh's" for high notes and belting very loud in the singing industry, nuance and melody line be damned. I will probably keep searching in that direction and find my own place in it like I did in music. I hope to feel good when I dance again one day, the dance classes and dance scene has never felt quite right for me. Not getting anywhere with Chicago Footwork was particularly heartbreaking for me, because I really loved it. It's most likely because with music I was able to experiment and discover on my own time and go through the process in a safe space until I'm more confident in what I have to offer, and the dance process was very open and vulnerable with elements like video cameras in classes while I was trying to find my way and make mistakes. That was hard on me and I hope to find the reason for dancing somewhere within myself again, because I loved it just as much as music, and now it mostly brings forth bad memories and anxiety.
With the recent release of Labyrinthine, a huge life goal for me was accomplished. So I'm sort of taking time to figure out what's next. I wanted to document some of this stuff before I move on, because I feel like a chapter is definitely closing. Whatever comes next will definitely include Mugs and Pockets and ARC animation, so be sure to get familiar with mugsandpockets.com
Til next time,