Specimen 13 – echosystem

During the production of Specimen 13’s echosystem album, I was going through what was probably a very close second-place to the most horrible time in my life. Though I am proud of the output my work produced, I find it very difficult to listen to the album to this day (three years later at the time of writing).

When I describe this period of time in my life to most people, on paper, it can come off as a magical journey of new beginnings and self-discovery (and I sometimes tell it that way to keep conversations light) but in fact it was an excruciating period of severe depression, alcoholism, extreme weight loss and denial. A period of time when not a single day went by for six months that I did not cry for at least some short amount of time. Sometimes for hours. Obviously, I don’t talk about this very much because it’s unpleasant. However, this was my normalcy during production of that album.

I had recently divorced and decided to move out of the country (this move only made possible by a very generous group of friends; you know who you are). I completely gutted my studio and sold just about everything I owned. After leaving my home in Austin, I spent a few days in my hometown of Corpus Christi, about a month in Dripping Springs, followed by a week in Los Angeles, then a few days in Portland and finally, before making my way to Germany, about a week in Montreal. I made a lot of specific visits to friends and family during this trip because I honestly wasn’t sure if or when I would ever see them again. I had considered becoming an expatriate among other things. By the time I hit Montreal to see my Crimson ProjeKct buddies and also begin my role in production on the Specimen 13 project with Denis Rodier and Martin Vanier, an initial shock was starting to wear off. The reality of my situation was starting to sink in and I was scared to death of letting go of a lot of the pain I had amassed and carried with me not only from the psychological trauma of my failed marriage, but over the seventeen months prior when my daughter, Valentina, was stillborn.

I landed in Germany in the autumn of 2011 just as the leaves and temperatures were beginning to fall. The skies dropped to an increasingly darker shade of oppressive grey each day. My day-to-day life devolved into long periods of sleep and the energy-draining distraction of a new toxic long-distance relationship (I knew it was a bad idea to try and date someone so soon after getting a divorce but in hindsight it seems to have been a manifestation of my inability to let go of having an extremely stressful situation in my life). I found myself becoming increasingly lonely in the small town where I was staying. I had very little money so I didn’t have a way to travel or go out much at all (though there were a few centrozoon shows I got to attend- see my recollection of that here). Friends would occasionally visit and one of them would make a point to get me to leave the flat on a somewhat daily basis to at least go and have a coffee with him in the city center.

I did my best to keep myself together during any friendly interactions I encountered by chance. Most of my production work on this Specimen 13 record was done on my own and I’d send off rough mixes and test arrangements to Markus Reuter for feedback. Anyone else would have fired me for the painfully long turnaround time I took in sending anything at all to keep the project moving. I know he was aware of some of the struggles I was dealing with at the time but certainly not to the extent of them.

Some of the more enjoyable aspects of this production for me were engineering overdub recording sessions with Alexander Dowerk and Bernhard Wöstheinrich. I actually had a great time working with them on their parts for the album during that stay in Germany despite my general mood. Markus was also around for several sound design sessions where he brought pedals to mangle many of the source performances of Denis and Martin. Performances by TLev, Trey and P@ had been tracked long before my involvement though I did very much enjoy working with their tracks. In no way do I want to seem ungrateful for working on such a cool record with so many talented artists who I respect and admire. I was just in a very dark place.

And so it got to a point where I might do an hour of work a day and then just drink until I was out of booze. I’d go through about a fifth of scotch or a couple bottles of wine in a night when I was at my worst with the alcohol. I would get frequent nose bleeds during that period of time and for a while afterward. Valentina was on my mind a lot as a result of the combination of the approaching holiday season and my finalizing of design details for packaging my solo album, Same Time Next Life, which is dedicated to her. Markus and his family were very generous in having me spend Christmas and New Years with them. It was a welcome distraction from the loneliness and depression.

I returned to the United States in January 2012. Production was still in its final stages for echosystem. I eventually moved back to Corpus Christi for a few months to help my mom recover from a major surgery. During my stay in Germany, I learned that she almost died in a carbon monoxide poisoning incident at her apartment complex. Several months later she had this emergency surgery for an unrelated matter but having just been through the poisoning, she was in very bad shape to say the least.

I spent a good amount of every day with her for those couple of months. During down time when I was not fixing myself a drink, I did my best to plod along and complete my mixes for the Specimen 13 album. I believe we finally wrapped production around February or March 2012. This was my last contribution to Unsung Productions.

[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=3981274562 size=small bgcol=333333 linkcol=ffffff]

Eventually, I was able to curb my alcohol consumption to responsible levels and even enjoyed weeks of total sobriety at a time. I never went to a single meeting or sought out any outside help for the alcoholism. I can’t really explain how I got through it. I’m not really sure how I did. I know that I did (and to some extent still do) suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The loss of my daughter was compounded by another miscarriage followed by the divorce, another bad relationship, the loneliness I felt being away from most of my friends and family during the holidays, the uncertainty of my mother’s condition and how horrible I felt from becoming so debilitated I could barely work on music that I really would have been truly enjoying under any other normal circumstances.

For over a year after I sobered up I still experienced terrible episodes with the PTSD that completely wrecked me for days at a time. My fiancee has been extremely patient and understanding through the times when things would get overwhelming. I still deal with depression like many other creative people do but I’m able to keep things under control most of the time now. It isn’t always easy but I’ve found that it makes things a hell of a lot easier to have the right kind of people around with a lot of love and support.

I think it’s important to document that time in my life though it is difficult to admit or even really describe. There were certainly days when I didn’t think too far ahead into the future, so to speak. But if I had, I don’t think I could have possibly imagined that I would be typing this up from such a completely different perspective. I’m healthy, happy and have found a lot of stability in subsequent live and studio production work (or at least about as much stability as a freelance creative can get!). I met a wonderful woman about three years ago that I proposed to in Central Park last summer (she said yes!) and we have a great life together in Austin.

If there’s anyone out there going through some rough times, then I hope this little blog entry can bring some hope to what might seem like a hopeless situation. I was in a seriously dark place for a long time (see my other entries about Same Time Next Life). I know it sounds lame (people said this to me all the time back then and I found it hard to believe) but things can get better. Don’t give up on yourself.

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