Trillium Project Residency: An Ode to Moss
(Originally posted May 7th, 2018)
April was not a cruel month in the slightest, and I got to spend a good chunk of it on the road playing shows in new cities in Oregon (Port Orford/Langlois area was a treat) and revisiting California haunts with Huck Notari and Austin Farrell. Lovely to tour with!
I had the pleasure of welcoming in the month of May at an artist residency in the Suislaw National Forest last weekend. The residency is called the Trillium Project and it is organized by Oregon State University’s Humanities and Environmental Studies department. The interdisciplinary nature of the program makes for some really interesting cross over of artists who share the space during the residency, and my friend Claudia (a painter) and I shared the cabin with three writers all working on independent projects. While we all were hopefully able to get some good thinking and writing done, the cabin had a nice collaborative feel to it, and we ended up cooking meals together, drinking wine and whisky, swapping stories, and giving each other space to create.
The cabin and the land it sits on is stunning. We didn’t have WiFi or cell service, and I liked that. The cabin wasn’t quite off the grid because it received its power from a small municipality called Burnt Wood. As I drove home on Sunday evening I literally saw them burning a giant pile of wood next to a sign that said ‘Burnt Wood,’ so yeah, they mean it.
The cabin is filled with relics from past residents, works of art and poetry, books, a nice keyboard, cushy armchairs, and maps. Very romantic. I spent the majority of my time sitting with my notebook reading Robin Kimmerer’s “Gathering Moss.” She’s an ecologist and a fantastic writer, a combination I’ve always had a weakness for.
Why would reading about moss help me write songs? That is seriously a great question and I never thought I would be here writing this, telling you that I’m writing songs inspired by moss. A friend in Portland recently got me thinking about the plant because he was equally intrigued by them, and I’ve gone down a soft mossy wormhole. (omg that sounds so gross)
Kimmerer has a great line about how looking for moss is a meditative act: “Learning to see moss is more like listening than looking. A cursory glance will not do it. Straining to hear a faraway voice or catch a nuance in the quiet subtext of a conversation requires attentiveness, a filtering of all the noise, to catch the music.” Songwriting, at least for me, is a relatively meditative, in-my-own-head, kind of process. I know I write a decent song when, right before I write it, I’m hyper-aware of tiny details all around me and I’m listening to my environment (whether that environment is a drop of dew sliding down a tree trunk, or a judge mispronouncing the name of someone who’s just been served a sentence they don’t deserve). When I finally sit down to write it, the world falls away, and I’m left with a melody, some words, and hopefully a genuine experience captured in 3-4 minutes of sound. I spent a few hours of the residency walking outside with my Tascam recorder, stopping every few minutes to record bird calls, the rustle of leaves, frog songs, and whatever else my ears picked up out there.
Until then, we’re releasing a single called “Don’t Be Alarmed” in about a month. We’ll premiere the song on June 22nd at Turn Turn Turn, along with a few new tunes we’ve been working out.