Nate: Hello, and thank you for lending us your ears. This is episode 2 of The Power of Song and I’m Nate Silas Richardson. My aim with this podcast is to enlighten and inspire songwriters and potential songwriters. Maybe you’ve written a song or 2, or 10, or 20, or maybe not. Maybe you’re just curious about it. But I think there’s something in here for everyone. For myself, I’m hoping that the process of producing this podcast will help me unlock my own songwriting potential. So I hope you’ll follow along with me throughout the months to come and we’ll see what happens.
Today, we’re going to hear from songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tenzin Chopak. Tenzin is another beloved songwriter here in our little 10 square miles surrounded by reality. He does get out on the road a bit as well but we here in Ithaca are very lucky that he’s so active in the local scene. This week alone, he’s performing a score he composed for a silent film as well as releasing a brand new CD with a release party at our hip little neighborhood joint, Casita Del Polaris. The new CD is called “Awful Good,” and it’s sounding amazing. You’ll hear some excerpts coming up here.
Tenzin performs under his own name and also under the band name, Rockwood Ferry. And I just want to tell you a quick little story about how I met him. Incidentally, we’re neighbors. I moved into that house in 2010. And as I was walking down the street shortly after moving in, I heard this sailing note. And as I was walking past his house, it just kinda got louder and louder as I got closer to his front door. And I walked past, and as I passed the front door, I looked to my left and I could see into the house that clearly there was someone in there singing. And I just kept walking. And I swear to you, the note must have lasted more than a minute as I walked past. I just continued to slowly walk past. And before the note ended, I was out of earshot. And it was not a quiet thing. So that gives you a little bit of an idea of the powerful character this guy is.
So before we get started, I want to acknowledge the support of Dr. Bill Thomas and The Age of Disruption Tour, changingaging.org, the Idea Firm, and the Center for Growing and Becoming. The Age of Disruption Tour is a major force in changing our cultural views on what it means to get old and answers questions like, “What are old people for?” quite brilliantly. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this tour since its inception and I would love it if everyone who hears this would go to changingaging.org and check it out and plug into a very inspiring movement. So here we go with episode two of The Power of Song.
So, Tenzin Chopak, welcome. Welcome to the podcast. It’s so good to have you here, my neighbor.
Tenzin: Yeah, thanks, Nate.
Nate: Well, thank you for coming in. I really appreciate you being here. So since that fateful day when I walked past your house, we’ve become friends and we’ve had many long conversations. So I thought you’d be a great guest for this podcast. And we’ve worked together a little bit and we’ve had many long conversations. So I thought it would be great to have you on and kind of explore this concept of what songwriting is to you, what the process is like for you, you know, just to update people also on what you’re up to these days. You’ve got a new record coming out. And what’s it gonna be called?
Tenzin: “Awful Good.”
Nate: “Awful Good.” So it’s kind of a juxtaposition of two extremes. Tell us a little bit about the process of making the record and then we’ll go back into the process of preparing the songs.
Tenzin: Sure. This set of songs was written around the time that my friend Eric Ott was nearing the end of his life. And after he had passed away, I wrote the rest of the tunes. And so around that time, I was doing some playing with Rosie Newton and Richie Stearns and, you know, some other my buddies, and kind of these songs were coming out during that time.
A little bit after Eric passed away, I started playing with Nicholas Walker on double bass, and that’s where they kind of found their home. And then we assembled this ensemble with Nicholas and Greg Evans and Rosie, and that seemed to be their right ensemble for it. And then we decided we would record it this very minimalist way where we just went into the room and we played the tunes. And really no overdubs or anything like that and in a very old-fashioned way, like you were listening to us play it for each other in a room. So that’s the short answer of where the songs were coming out of and how we conceived of making the album.
Nate: A very organic sound.
Tenzin: Yeah, it’s totally natural.
Nate: I’ve had a couple of your records. You’ve got four out now. This will be your fourth?
Tenzin: This will be the fourth one.
Nate: The fourth one. What I noticed is that you began in a very organic fashion, almost strictly acoustic. Lots of bowed strings, banjo, guitar…acoustic guitar, rather. It seems like you got to your third album and you took a complete turn…I mean, I noticed this with Ani DiFranco. She recorded “Red Letter Year,” or something. But she had always been doing this kind of snapshot of what her show is live, acoustic guitar, and percussion most of the time.
Ani: Buildings and bridges
Are made to bend in the wind
To withstand the world,
That’s what it takes
Nate: She added a band eventually but then, all of a sudden, she started making records where it was about the colors of the sounds. And she put a lot more thought or she had a producer maybe that was putting a lot more thought into what mic was chosen, what EQ settings, and like really creative use of reverb, just filtering the sounds more and making more of a impressionistic painting out of her songs. That seems like what you were going for on “Mask Maker.” There was a lot more color or at least not still strictly acoustic.
Tenzin: Yeah, in my life I’m doing both kinds of recording. Like some of the stuff I’ve done for film. this recording I was also working on other ones where it’s much more like paying attention to these kinds of colors that you can paint with when you’re using a studio as its own kind of pallet.
Tenzin: I really enjoy both approaches or even, you know, sort of mixing them. Just this particular album, it’s very stripped down. I have a special kind of place in my heart for that kind of recording.
Saturday morning, October sun
You’ve gone for flowers and I am alone
The clock is kissing the morning good-bye
Soon we’ll see clinging to laugh and to cry
To laugh and to cry
I’m kind of interested in going and trying some single mic recordings too, like…
Nate: That’s terribly honest.
Tenzin: But I like that, you know. I like both things. But if you listen to, it’s like single mic recordings, like Chris Whitley’s Dirt Floor.
Chris: There’s a dirt floor underneath here
To receive us when changes fail
May this shovel loose your trouble
Let them fall away
Tenzin: We actually used that mic in this recording of “Awful Good.”
Nate: And what mic is that?
Tenzin: Oh, what is it called? I think it’s a Spedin [SP] or something like that. I can’t remember.
Nate: Germanly [SP]?
Tenzin: Yeah, it’s that particular mic that was used for that recording we used.
Nate: How did you get your hands on that?
Tenzin: It was at Pyramid.
Tenzin: That guy who owns that equipment, that signal chain, stores it at Pyramid.
Nate: That must be Craig Street.
Tenzin: Yes. So we use that signal chain. But, anyway, if you listen to Dirt Floor, it’s with that one mic in his dad’s shed, you know.
Nate: Very nice.
Tenzin: And I really like that. I like listening to human beings be human beings, where they’re…
Tenzin: Yeah, I love that. I really, I have a big emotional, good response to that kind of recording. It feels so good to hear.
Nate: Bones and skin and string and wood.
Tenzin: Yeah, and when I’ve recorded friends of mine like I’ve done a little bit of recording of Pierce, you know, when he comes over and we’re…
Nate: Pierce Walsh.
Tenzin: Pierce Walsh.
Can’t see up here, won’t you show me the way
Help me find my bearings, oh I lost them in the flames
Pour ’em into the center of spinning lights and bulbs [SP]
All these burdens that I carry so much heavier than those [SP]
And just kind of documenting a few things, and I love that sound. You can hear all of that emotion and all the contours and the texture in the voice. It’s not like you’re analyzing it. You just feel it. It’s like having bare feet on the road, you know. You can feel all the textures.
Nate: The artists that you wanted to mention that people should check out that are worthy of our attention.
Tenzin: So even if they do know, I think that people should look up Chris Whitley.
Nate: The “Dirt Floor” album.
Tenzin: “Dirt Floor,” there are a number of albums. Chris Whitley passed away in 2005, just won’t regret it, and he’s just a exquisite songwriter.
Nate: Worthy of your time. Check it out.
Tenzin: Well, let’s talk a little bit about songwriting process. You have a very organic lyrical concept which I haven’t quite pulled apart any of your songs to analyze them. But I get a very visceral response to the image. It’s a lot of imagery. Sometimes you’re speaking to someone and you’re like addressing them. But other times it seems like it’s just images juxtaposed. Do you have a certain process? Do you have a certain vision or concept that you’re trying to put forth? What do you hope to convey with your lyrics?
Tenzin: I’m not really looking for anybody to analyze it. It’s not that it’s…I mean, it all has meaning. And we could go through, line-by-line, and talk about meaning and…
Nate: What you were thinking at this point.
Tenzin: Yeah, what story this is connected to, what this, you know…it’s there but the way it’s supposed to be experienced is just how I experience it, which is really not up in my head. It’s all visceral. It’s not really something that’s to be picked apart.
God’s eye, grace, careless love
Autumn light across my hand
It’s not enough
Stand here in your empty room
Sometimes when you pick apart lyrics, you can kind of short-circuit this thing that’s happening to your body where you’re experiencing it in a way that’s sort of fully human.
Nate: Yeah, I’ve often found, though, that I can have that experience where I’m feeling it on a visceral level. But then adding in the intellectual level, it’ll hit me in addition to where it’s hitting my heart. And that kind of raises the love. It makes me love the song even more.
Tenzin: That’s ideal. If you’re already in your body, then that’s good.
Nate: Yeah, but you’re trying to avoid people just being up in their heads and forgetting about the body.
Tenzin: Yeah, just, you know, the waking and sleeping continuum of reality that’s our experience. It’s very much like an overlaying, ever-shifting series of images and the responses to them are not necessarily linear in a simple manner. It’s, you’re sitting in a room, you know, and you’re looking at a picture on the wall as you’re waiting for the doctor. And then it brings back an image of something from your childhood. And then simultaneous with that is something, it’s from the future that you’re hoping to visit or to do again…
Tenzin: It’s all sort of mixed together. That’s not nonsense. That’s high level of the heart and of the mind processing life, you know. So in lyrics, telling a story but not telling in a linear way is more reflecting, like the experience of what it’s like to be inside looking out. So that’s sometimes the way that they arise those songs. And in terms of process, it’s not so much me trying to say something to people. Songs are like the byproduct of a way of seeing. And the way of seeing is much more important than the song. It’s never about chasing after songs, or making the right song, or making such. The goal is finding a place for myself in my heart that’s naked and clear and open. And then the rest of whatever I do should come from that.
Nate: Yeah, starting to sound very Buddhist.
Tenzin: Oh, yeah. I’m sorry.
Nate: We should get to that. I do want to say, though, as you were speaking about that kind of concept, that lyrical concept, I was thinking about, for folks that are coming to this podcast by way of the Ask Dr. Bill podcast, we deal a lot on the road with the concept of dementia. And, you know, we try to do a lot of work to help people reframe what dementia is. And as you’re speaking about what your songs are expressing, I’m seeing a lot of connections with what I think the people who are living with dementia would experience in terms of the boundaries between these different experiences, between that picture on the wall and between the next thing that’s stimulating them. It starts to mix together, I think, a little bit. Gee, I wonder if there’s some future therapeutic use of your music in that sense.
Tenzin: I know. And certainly music is, without even any kind of manipulation or trying, music is therapeutic for everyone involved. People who are experiencing dementia and Alzheimer’s…and I know that music sits very, very deeply in the brain. And people who are sort of advancing along dementia that music, they’ll have a very powerful response to it. Or maybe they can not remember certain things but when they hear a song, they might hear the beginning and be able to sing the whole…
Nate: The whole song.
Tenzin: But in terms of what you’re saying of, like, there’s kind of blending are blurring of our tidy conceptual boundaries between, you know, past and present and this in that with the onset of those kinds of conditions, you know, I think there’s certainly a lot of parallels to the way we already experience things in our life before we might develop such circumstances, dementia, you know. Like when you’re dreaming, for example, you know, it’s one thing blends into another and you’ll be standing next to one person and they can become another person. Or you forget who you are, forget where you are, how you got there.
Nate: So the takeaway could be, at this point, for people that may have parents who are experiencing symptoms of dementia, I think maybe we can help them identify with their parent in that we all have this inside of us all the time. And it’s not like, “Suddenly this person is different.” They’re still the same person, it’s just they’re identifying more with that place. Interesting.
Tenzin: Yeah, and I know the dissolving of previous way of ordering. I mean, it’s organic in the brain and there’s those components. And it’s…you know, I think anything we can do to not shut down around parents or friends or family or anybody we’re related to, near or far, that’s going through those kinds of experiences. Whether it’s dementia or other forms of…
Tenzin: Yeah, other forms of changes of perception. You know, I think empathy, above all, is the goal.
Nate: So that brings us back to this Buddhist approach. Tell us a little bit about your history with Buddhism and how you got your name and things like that, if you’d like.
Tenzin: I started studying Buddhism back in 1995, I think. I ended up traveling to North India. Living there, I was a Buddhist monk for a few years and was ordained in India. And that’s when I got the name Tenzin Chopak. And I was a monk for long enough that this name really stuck. So when I went back to being a lay person, that name just stayed. So I’ve been Tenzin Chopak since 1999. And my teachers are from the Tibetan tradition. And so that’s sort of an all-encompassing part of…I mean…
Nate: You’re still active. You’re not a monk now, but you’re still actively…
Tenzin: Right, yeah, not a monk.
Nate: Meditation and ritual, and…
Tenzin: Yeah, if I was a monk, we wouldn’t be talking here right now. I never would have started playing music. Yeah, I just live like a regular dude.
Nate: You’re anything but ordinary, I will say. So you mentioned doing the film work. Is this part of how you make ends meet as a songwriter…as like a human being trying to pay the rent and/or buy the next piece of gear? Is that a large part of the pie for you, writing music for film?
Tenzin: Yeah, it is.
Nate: How did you get into that? Did somebody approach you about it?
Tenzin: It’s funny. I had a Buddhist friend of mine in Tennessee who was a botanist. He was part of this sort of mini-documentary for a national park down there called Obed Wild and Scenic River National Park. And he had gotten my first or my second album and passed it along to the filmmaker. And then the filmmaker contacted me and said, “Would you be interested in giving this a shot, doing the music for this little film that’s gonna show in the Visitor Center?” And, you know…
Nate: Of course, you nailed it.
Tenzin: I don’t know if I nailed it.
Nate: Must have.
Tenzin: Looking back on it, I would have done…you know, you always look back and think…
Tenzin: But that was my first one. And then they kept asking me to work on other projects. And then I worked on some other stuff besides from them, sort of from that.
Nate: Is there a strict line between the two worlds for you or does some of the music go back and forth?
Tenzin: Oh, there’s a little bit of traveling back and forth. Sometimes stuff that I write…because I retain the rights for that material, some of that stuff that’s used in the film like I might have done an instrumental piece for something, you know. And it may show up [inaudible 00:19:10], or, like, I just did this one for another national park in Tennessee, South Fork National Park. And it has a place in it called Honey Creek and there’s a line about Honey Creek in one of my songs from the first album.
Then I stumbled down to Honey Creek, I learned to speak like water
Cursing at the…
And so I did an instrumental version of that song during that thing because I felt like I had to do it. You know, I didn’t like…I just re-recorded an instrumental with a dobro playing the melody.
Nate: It’s like one of those things the filmmakers will sneak in little references that nobody will catch but they enjoy having this.
Tenzin: Yeah, I just kind of put it in there for my own. But it worked out nicely, it felt right.
Nate: Sometimes those types of decisions, they may seem arbitrary. But, you know, one of the things that I’ve learned about writing is that it doesn’t have to be a logical reason why you choose this or that. One of the things that I get stuck with is that I have so many options and I’ve talked about this in the past is once I learned the rules, I actually felt like I was less able to create. Before I knew what a C minor chord was, I was inspired to play three different notes that made up a C minor chord. And it was like this wonderful world of mystery. But then once they told me the rules, suddenly I was like, “Well, I could go to the five-chord, or the four-chord, or the one-chord, and the six-chord. And I don’t know what to do.” And I just kinda…so sometimes, you know, it can be a thing like an association in your mind that can be completely obscure and unrelated. And you can just kinda run with it.
Tenzin: Yeah, I think that’s the way to go on every level is to just follow your…what feels right. And then if you want to understand what’s going on technically…
Nate: It’s just a bonus.
Tenzin: It’s a bonus. It’s kind of like what you were talking about earlier with, if you have a visceral response to music and then you analyze it, or not even actively analyzing it but somehow it stimulates your intellectual part of you that you start to resonate in that sort of zone of your being, as well, that heightens the whole experience. I have to say that for me, that’s similar with instrumental stuff. You know, I was exposed to some theory a long time ago but I handily forgot it all and operated purely on intuition. And now I’ve been gradually educating myself and getting some help from some tutors like Hank Roberts, some people who are helping me understand some theory. And I find it really…it’s not like it’s brainy or anything like that, it’s just a very beautiful process. It’s like…
Nate: Filling in a space.
Tenzin: Yeah, it fills in a space. It’s nice. I realized, “Oh,” I’ve been writing this new piece and I realized, “Oh, I do a thing that feels completely right but it’s actually not in the scale properly, actually go outside.”
Nate: It’s fifth year Berkley College of Music, advanced alternate. It’s the most advanced thing and you just did it. Maybe you even stumbled on it, you know, the low E string is ringing and you’re playing an F chord up high or something that’s like against the rules, but works.
Tenzin: Yeah, it happened a couple times to me recently where I was working on a new set of tunes. And I made a choice, because I was in a certain key and I was as running scales in that key later. And I was like, “Wait, I make a choice here that’s outside but totally flows in a very beautiful way. I never would have noticed that before, then when it was outside it just felt really good.”
Nate: What do you mean by “outside?”
Tenzin: It’s outside of the scale.
Nate: Yeah, I was just looking to clarify that term for folks who might not be hip to that inside playing, outside playing. Inside is when you’re in the key, outside is when you’re kind of like rubbing against it, trying things that don’t fall naturally into that set of notes.
Tenzin: It’s a passing chord, meaning it’s on the way from one familiar place to another familiar place but it happens to be a passing chord.
Nate: [Inaudible 00:22:57] to the weather.
Tenzin: It has friction, you know. But it’s not like I feel like it’s one way or the other, it’s mostly just kind of delightful to be like, oh, ah. That’s kind of interesting.
Nate: So what about your decision to keep your music streaming limited? You’ve got a website, which is…
Tenzin: Rockwoodferry.com, although truthfully it’s probably gonna all switch over to just Tenzin Chopak Music.
Nate: Okay, tenzinchopakmusic.com.
Tenzin: I think that’s probably what’s gonna happen.
Nate: Well, Google Search always helps, right?
Nate: Anyway, I was kind of getting ready for you to arrive here today. And I was just, you know…I’ve heard…I’ve seen you play live a million times. I’ve shared the stage with you a number of times. I know your music fairly intimately, I would say. But I just wanted to kind of reacquaint myself with which songs were on which albums, and look at the arc of your career. And I didn’t have any of the CDs handy. I went to Spotify, no, Bandcamp, no, all of them. I was like, “Oh.” And then I finally just did a normal search and there was your website. And I went on there and I was able to familiarize myself there with some clips and a few full songs. Could you talk about that decision to….I mean, I know it costs money to get onto the streaming services and probably 99% of our listeners and/or people that, you know, spend the $50 to be available on those outlets probably takes two years to make that, honestly. But why do you go against the grain, as it were on that?
Tenzin: I really wasn’t…it wasn’t well thought out. I spent a lot of time only thinking about music and making music. And a great deal of anything else I do, you can chalk it up to just laziness. I don’t think very hard about anything but I just make music. I’m a little kind of obsessive that way. I’m more than just a little obsessive.
Nate: So I wouldn’t say it’s laziness. It’s probably more just obsessed with the process, and [inaudible 00:24:49]?
Tenzin: Yeah, as my neighbor, you’ve probably just noticed that I just hang around and work on music all the time. But I have always thought I was just gonna be kind of obscure guy, which is highly likely to continue to be the case, you know. And I noticed that when I go to play shows, you know, I sell CDs. People actually still do buy some CDs. And they were buying CDs through the website and I thought, “Well, I’ll just keep selling these CDs through the website and then at some point, I’ll make it more widely available.” But I kind of have viewed the albums I’ve made, you know, along the way, they’re all kind of practicing for the next album of, like, “Well, let’s see, the next album, that will be…”
Nate: That will be worthy of your wanting to be presenting it to the greater world. And then, by the time you do the one after that then they’ll look back at this one and be like, “Well…” That’s the sign of a true artist, I think.
Tenzin: “Or maybe this one, or maybe next one, it’ll…you know.” I do think that I learn something every time. I mean, they’re different from one another, the albums. But, yeah, it’s just what you said, I’ve thought, “Well, maybe next one, or…” So this one is about to come out. It’s very stripped down and very naked and raw and stark and honest in terms of what you’re hearing in these people playing music in a room. I feel like I’d be okay with putting that one out there a little bit more widely. I had such a great experience making it. We had a great time recording that album. We did in three days, just went in and played the songs.
Nate: Have you ever considered management or, you know, clearly you would be one I would assume who is very wary of commercialization. You’d want to maintain integrity at all costs in your art. It seems like you’d be a good match for someone who might be maybe clueless about the inner workings of the art but might be really good at pegging a market that might really respond well to your music, and/or just opening it up to a wider market. Have you given that much thought?
Tenzin: I’ve thought about it a bit. I’m very simple. I don’t know how that works.
Nate: But wouldn’t you love to be playing gigs, like, with Mumford & Sons and playing to thousands of people, or is that just not appetizing to you?
Tenzin: What’s appetizing to me is making music all the time. And so I go on the road and travel. And I like it. I just like playing music, you know. It’s very simple. And so if somebody wants to help, yeah, you’re welcome to come help. You know, I’ve just kind of…I have the attitude that nobody’s gonna help me. I know it sounds sort of pessimistic but it’s not like that. It’s just that my expectations are very low. And so I just make music, and I put out the music, and then I keep making it and go out and play.
Nate: That’s interesting you say that because I wanna point out that I see you as falling into the category of people, which I always admire folks like you…I don’t necessarily fit that mold but where you recognize the gifts of your collaborators and give them a very large platform. I noticed at first when you’re working with Ethan Jodziewicz, and, I mean, when he came on your scene, it was like all of a sudden there was this bass god there, you know. And I think it continues. I mean, you don’t just get someone that can kind of play the parts you write. You’re looking for people to really bring their own soul to your music. Everyone you’ve ever really brought in it seems like is on that level. That’s a really admirable trait. It builds your music.
And I think not only is it helpful but it also gives other people a place to express themselves. In many cases, I feel like you’ve gone to people like Hank Roberts or Richie Stearns who were 10 or more years older than you, possibly that, you know, are already established and you’re rising up to their level in terms of experience or whatever you wanna call it. But then there’s also times when I’ve seen you take on younger players and there’s this kind of community building aspect to your career, which certain people are really good at that. I find that I’m kind of a control freak when I’m creating, I wanna play…you know, my favorite project is working with last month’s guest, Will Musham, where he writes the song, he records the guitar, he records the vocal, he throws some ideas out at me. And then he walks away, and I go and I play the bass, I play the drums, I play the guitar, you know, piano, whatever. It’s all tied into the control freak aspect. I never quite want to let go of that because I know what I want. Sometimes I can’t play what I want and I have to hire someone to do it because I just don’t have the skill as a drummer.
Tenzin: Right, right. I know what you’re saying.
Nate: There’s a leap of faith involved.
Tenzin: I feel like I do both things. I know what you mean when you say control freak. But I get to be the control freak at, like, super-concentrated control freak level on a regular basis when I do that film stuff. Either I’m doing it all myself or I’m doing most of it myself, or I’ll bring in, you know, my friend Bill King on to do some tracking, you know, or Peter Dodge on the horns or something. And yet I like both experiences. I did on that “Mask Maker” album, like the…in Spider…
Who spun the holy night into the daybreak?
Sang the crow
I know who held the sun within the water on her web
I play almost everything. And you’ve got Peter Dodges on the horn, and Bill King is holding down a cajón beat, you know. And it’s really put together by me and I really was…tight grip I had on it. So I like that experience of delving in like that because I learn so much but I also learn so much by completely surrendering and bringing in, you know…
Nate: Brilliant players.
Tenzin: People who…it’s not so thought out. I was like, you know, older, this person younger, like it’s just whom I’m connected to and we’re playing some music and it just feels great. You know, for all of us, that’s an endless possibility. The reason you and I end up playing together is because it felt really good. You know, we did that corning thing, you look over at you and you smile at me. And that makes me feel great, and you like the music, and…great.
Nate: It’s a lot like you were saying about your songwriting. It’s not about presenting a song, it’s not about an intentional concept, it’s not an essay, you’re not trying to convince anyone of anything. You’re just kind of going with the flow.
Tenzin: I’m just, you know, being me and we’re all sort of emitting our radiance. That’s the beginning and end of it. It just continues that way.
Nate: To hell with marketing.
Tenzin: Well, I’m learning a little bit as time goes by, you know, about that.
Nate: We’re lucky in this town to have you nearby and making so much music. We are almost out of time so I wanna just touch on two more quick points. Do you have any empowering or warnings for aspiring songwriters, myself included? I’m a struggling songwriter trying to unlock my creative potential. What would you say to someone who’s thinking that they might have a voice in there and it’s not coming out yet?
Tenzin: Oh, everybody’s got a voice. I mean, when you and I are sitting on your porch talking about life, you don’t have to go inside and write down what you’re gonna say to me before you say it. We just kick back and we look up, and the moon is rising, and you just spill your heart out.
Nate: Pour a little whiskey.
Tenzin: Exactly. And that’s the song right there. There is nothing more. It’s never ceasing, it’s always going. There’s no part of your experience…any of our experiences, there’s no part during our whole day that’s something other than profound. It’s all profound, down to the putting on your corduroy pants this morning, you know. And any piece of it, if you share that with me, I’m going to resonate with something. So being high-minded and waiting for some brilliant turn of phrase to come to mind is not the path.
Tenzin: The path is being…
Nate: A vessel.
Tenzin: Yeah, honest in your heart and in a very vulnerable, tender place and then just speaking from there. As little self-consciousness as possible. Just speak like you would speak to your dear friend. And then that’s the song, you know. And then it’s not like you have to grab on to songs like, “Oh, this song, I wrote this song. I wrote this set of songs.” There’s no songs. The whole thing is a song. Just forget it. Keep communicating and then one day there’s no more songs from you because you’ve moved on.
Nate: Okay, one more thing. So lesser-known people that you find inspiring, not necessarily obscure but, you know, people that you would be able to find on the Spotifys and the Bandcamps and the SoundClouds of the world. Do you have any artists that you think deserve our attention?
Tenzin: Oh, gosh, wow! There’s so much beautiful stuff out there. I should ask you that question. I’ve been going around asking my friends of mine to give me suggestions. Lately, I’ve been writing them down. Angelo just was mentioning some last night at the sort of improv that we’re doing.
Nate: Maybe it’ll spark you to come back to that but I wanna just also mention Monday nights, you’re often at Casita Del Polaris making experimental music, often with films being projected onto you, which is beautiful.
Tenzin: I seem to frequently be a guest of the Galactic Escort Service. I sort of am a stowaway on their spaceship.
Nate: So “Awful Good” is coming out next month or November? Is it coming out in November?
Tenzin: November 17th at Casita. And that’ll be myself and Nicholas Walker on double bass, Greg Evans on drums, and Rosie Newton on violin and vocal.
Nate: Okay, that’s got to be…what? A $50 cover charge?
Tenzin: No, it’s just 10 bucks.
Nate: Worth 50. Again the date, November 17th.
Tenzin: November 17th, yeah.
Nate: Okay, “Awful Good.” It’s gonna be nice. Tenzin Chopak, thank you so much.
Tenzin: Thanks, Nate. Thanks for having me.
Nate: All right. Well, thanks for listening to The Power of Song, episode 2, with Tenzin Chopak. The Power of Song podcast is brought to you by The Age of Disruption Tour, changingaging.org, the Idea Farm, and the Center for Growing and Becoming. The music you’re hearing at the beginning and end here is a song called Look on High, written by my friend Will Musham. And you can purchase, stream, download, and enjoy this song and many others at willmusham.bandcamp.com. That’s willmusham.bandcamp.com. And please, if you like what you hear, you should check out episode 1 of this podcast for which Will is my very eloquent guest. We covered a lot of topics and I think you’ll enjoy it.
So thanks for tuning in. Once again, I’m Nate Silas Richardson and my guest today was Tenzin Chopak. And we’ll be back soon with Joe Crookston for our next episode. Until then, keep those creative juices flowing. Peace.
Will: Look on high, look on high, look on high, look on high.