Top 5 Favorite Things to Share with Creatives

As I turn 40 this month I’m writing a few reflective posts. It’s always good to take step back and ask, “What have I been learning and experiencing these last few years… or better yet, decades?”

You can read the post about having two halves of life and comparing their bucket-lists here
You can read the post called “What’s stopping you from being you” here

 

Betony and I often find ourselves in incredible conversations with awesome, creative people. We talk about the how-to’s and inspiring maxims and stories we find.
These seem to be Betony and I’s top 5; the wisdom we’ve come into over the years we keep returning to. What would you add to the list? 

1. All Projects Have 3 Parts

Let’s stop viewing art through a romantic lens for a moment and get down to the flesh and bones.

A project has three distinctive phases:
creating/ producing/ sharing

We write the songs or dream up the idea or finish the screen play. That’s the creating part. But then we have to get out the microphones, gather the teams, rent the rehearsal space and produce what’s been dreamed. We’ve got to give life our ideas. Producing is such a hard phase!

And most creatives stop there. I know I have before. Your dream has come alive and can be seen or heard or experienced…

but who’s going to invite your friends and fans to the glorious thing you’ve made?!

Marketing is difficult but for the most part no one is going to do it for us. We have to find natural and loving ways to share our work with those who we know will love experiencing it!

2. The Journey of the Project is as Important as the End Product

Early in my career I made an album that ended, I believe, 4 friendships. I was close to each of these musicians and invited them to play on this new project, but after so many rehearsals and events and lack of communication, I burned them out. They didn’t want to work with me after that.

The final project turned out great; everyone played beautifully and it sounded wonderful. But it’s my least favorite album of mine. I actually rarely open and listen to it because it relives, for me, such a failure of leadership and lack of understanding.

There’s a love of journey and joy in making that needs to resonate in the creation of a thing. Climbing the mountain can be tough and challenging, but a great time too. That’s why we do it. It shouldn’t be a miserable experience that turns people against each other or creates bitterness.

I’ve tried to take this to heart. A few years ago Betony and I finished a project called Becoming. When musicians came over to record in the evenings we would often feed them and spend time with them, just hanging out. Then when the album was done we had everyone involved over for a foodie’s paradise experience, an award giving ceremony (think Throne Room scene from Star Wars and old war medals), and a Becoming listening party. I look back on the creation of that album with warm memories of special times. The journey was wondrous. 

3. Make Lots of Work

There’s a wonderful passage from the book Art & Fear below and Betony and I reference this whenever we start to romanticize our current project too much. It goes like this:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

I talk with young music writers that have been working on the same 5 songs for 3 years and my first challenge to them is: You have 20 minutes. Go write a new song. And then after that we’re going to do that exercise again and again. It’s shocking what people start to make when they get unstuck from what they’re trying to perfect.

We learn by doing or make the road by walking. In the arts it’s no different. 

4. The Most Personal is Often the Most Universal

My friend and artist Wes Sam-Bruce was where I first heard this idea: the most personal is often the most universal. I was still surprised when it came true for me.

I was getting ready to release an album called Frailty and was a little worried with how personal the themes were. My first daughter had been born and all of a sudden I was faced with my own morality. It sank in that one day I will leave her, my wife and family, leave all this I love, and walk through that passage we will all walk; death. So the album was a collection of my reflections in that season; facing my own frailty with bitter-sweet sentiment and outrageous hope for the New to come.

As I shared the album from this place of uncertainty and vulnerability(on social media, email, and beyond) I was surprised by many responses that came my way. Lots of parents had experienced similar feelings and struggles. Lots of people in general wanted to talk to me about these themes charged throughout the songs. 

When I was willing to write from the personal places of my story
it struck a chord in the story of those I loved as well.

5. Just love them

There are two things I do before going on stage. And this is whether I’m leading worship at a church or performing at a concert or teaching or whatever.

Two things.

And they are a bit embarrassing to disclose. (At least the first one is.)

The first I learned from a TED Talk.

I look into the mirror of the nearest bathroom I can find (a place of privacy). I look into my reflection and give a big smile and I square my shoulders in a sort of power-pose. The TED Talk explained that doing this physical act of showing yourself to be strong actually helps our brains believe we really are. The study involved people doing these power-poses in the mirror before job interviews and they reported an increase in confidence. 

I’ve done it for years. Even more than confidence, I’d say it helps me focus on being present and energetic and fully ready to be a good leader.

The next thing I do I consider the most important.

I look in the mirror and I say, Just love them.

The power-pose was from a TED Talk but this one is from some article my wife found. It was by a motivational speaker who traveled and spoke all the time. He made sure it wasn’t about his performance or some results oriented marker. Just love them. That was his main goal entering the room.

And so I find myself at times wondering,
will I do a good enough job?
what if my voice doesn’t hit those high notes?
what if they find my songs boring?
what if I’m not cool enough or say something stupid?
what if no one shows or no one buys any CDs or what if…?

Just love them

I’ve found that if I orient myself around that, everything else will be secondary and I will have achieved what I was supposed to and I can let go of the outcome.

 

There’s my top 5 pieces of wisdom I’ve returned to over the years in my creative field. I hope you found it helpful and/or interesting.
I would LOVE if you wanted to add to the list below in the comments. What’s an anecdote or concept you’ve found helpful?

The Fire at the Orchard and a Song About Hope

A couple weeks ago an arson’s fire tore through central Kansas burning 800 acres. My wife’s mom and dad, who live on an apple orchard, lost almost everything. About 180 acres of their trees, farm buildings, equipment etc. burned. Their home miraculously survived as my father-in-law placed several sprinklers around the perimeter before making the final exit.

Betony and I were on tour in Houston and when we got back helped out with cleanup and rebuilding. While there, I had a chance to be with Mike and Elaine as they processed the great loss. In the turmoil of emotions and the various stages of grief I was very inspired by pictures we all were receiving of resilience and hope.

As we prepped and leveled the foundation to rebuild the well, my father-in-law, Mike, recounted just how incredible it was that people came out of the woodwork to help. Neighbors rushed in on four-wheeler‘s, people called and wrote with thoughts and prayers, and a go-fund-me reached its mark within the week.

Then, as we were throwing away hundreds of dollars worth of burnt hoses, the same hoses that saved the house, Mike told me to look over at the swing-set he’d built for the grandkids. It had fully lost one of its legs in the fire but was still standing, swaying slightly in the breeze.

“Do you think I’ll rebuild that Tim? Hell yes I will.“

Lastly, we received a FedEx delivery of 10 new cherry trees. Mike talked to their FedEx delivery woman who freely cried at the sight of devastation and offered condolences. As we were digging the holes for the new cherry trees, Mike excitedly ran over to to something he saw in the dirt. There was a large patch of new buds coming up only days after the fire had ripped through. He told me these were a specific type of flower that will now bloom brightly. It actually took a fire to enact their seeds.

With these pictures of hope and resilience: people rushing to help, the steadfast spirit of rebuilding in the face of destruction, an orchard on the edge of blooming wildflowers after devastation, I’m so taken by the paradox of death to rebirth. It’s stirring how hardship, tragedy, darkness, and death is answered by such resilience and hope and new life.

This week is Easter. It’s a great time to reflect on the darkness and tragedy found on Good Friday, and the new life and new hope that bursts forth on Easter Sunday.

Here’s a song I wrote specifically about hope called “There is a Balm in Gilead”. The title is taken from an old spiritual of the same name. The writers of that African-American spiritual encountered an old testament scripture that speaks of there being NO balm in Gilead to aid in suffering. And these writers, in there hardship and turmoil, answered with such hope and resilience. They stated no, there IS a balm in Gilead. God is our hope, our freedom, and our new life.

In the face tragedy, new life will burst forth. This is our great hope.

Here are the lyrics and the song for you to listen to.

There is a balm in Gilead
it comes like a  wisdom but speaks like children
it’s a sight to the blind and a strength to my weakness
it’s something for soul, body, mind

There is a balm in Gilead
it’s a rest for the weary, a song to the sore
its like a dew to my dryness
that fills me with joy when I had none

There is a balm in Gilead
its a spring in the desert
for the withered of soul
it’s a strength and a power
that keeps making you whole
its the question your asking
and the answers you need
it’s the face you’ve been seeking
the one, the one you’ve been begging to see

There is a balm in Gilead
it’s the trash and the remnants
of all my train wrecks
coming together
and still heading out west
like a blank paycheck paying off the back rent
taking me further to
whatever’s supposed happen next

There is a balm in Gilead
it’s the light of the dawn
the scales without measure
it’s the bread of a baker
the blood of a maker
The water I long for
and the story on fire
its the breath and the magic
Its something to die for
it’s the laying down of the shepherd at night

There is a balm in Gilead
There is a balm in Gilead
There is a balm in Gilead

Bellwether, Our Newest Full-Length Album, is Released

A few years ago, Betony and I had a chance to go to the Grand Canyon. The view was transformative in its expansive nature. As we were taking everything in a storm began to form on the southern rim. We watched the dark clouds roll toward us with a constant display of lightning. It was unimaginatively beautiful. It took our breath away in that same way entering a cathedral can.

This last Thanksgiving we spent in our own home. We usually travel to parents but Arlo was a newborn so we stayed close. The table was set, some family joined us, and the time was so simple and grounded. It felt like a sacred space. Not quite as drastic as a cathedral experience, but sacred non-the-less.

In the spring when Beatrice was 2, she had a series of seizures. After the third one in a day we took her to Denver Children’s Hospital at 4 AM under a harsh, bright moon. We prayed and we cried in fear. I remember humming “All Creatures of Our God and King”. We later found out the seizures were normal post-stomach bug. They stopped after we did a regime of medicine. It may be strange to call this space sacred, but the pain and unknowing of the situation broke something open in us. There’s something holy in that.

The guiding themes in writing this album for me was “sacred space”. In the midst of writing I realized songs were falling into 3 distinct areas: cathedrals, tables, and dark fields. We are somehow formed by these spaces.

We hope you enjoy our new album, Bellwether, and find yourself familiar with the resonating of these transforming spaces.
Listen/Purchase:

Spotify
iTunes
Bandcamp

A Song About Anxiety

I don’t want to sensationalize the story, but I want to be truthful in how it felt. 

Last year in May, Betony was admitted to the emergency room for the second time that week. We were at a loss as to what was going on and we were really damn scared.

It started earlier in the month, where she would feel a sensation that was hard for her to subscribe. Often this would come on at night as we were going to bed. It was like a quickening of the heart or like she was falling. At least that’s how she tried to describe it to me. Then she’d shake violently for 20 or 40 minutes after the rushing feeling left her. This was also accompanied by really dark thoughts, uncharacteristic for her.

She didn’t think it was anxiety, because her mindset really wasn’t in a place of feeling overwhelmed or mad or anxious. So was it her heart? Or some strange sickness we hadn’t placed?

Like I said, we were damn scared and symptoms were getting worse rather than better.

And during that second visit, the emergency room doctor, an eccentric personality mix of kindness and blunt force, sat down with us. He told us all the tests had come back clean again for this second time- heart, blood work, thyroid, etc. It all looked fine. So we have to consider anxiety. He said it several times. We HAVE to consider anxiety.

Betony was upset at this. Anxiety felt like a non-answer or catch all. In that old show “House”, the brilliant doctor would figure out what strange disease the patient actually had… the colleagues he outsmarted always thought it was lupus. A designation of anxiety felt like a sloppy, semi-educated guess of “lupus”.

In the same way I don’t want to sensationalize the story, I also don’t want the following to feel prescriptive either. What is working for us might not translate for someone else’s anxiety symptoms. But I want to share our process of the last year.

My wife approached the diagnosis as scientifically as possible. She gave the different medicines they prescribed trials and tests. She settled on a beta-blocker and half a sleep aid at night and took both of those for about 3 months. 

She also read everything she could about anxiety; what is known and what is being discovered and followed the threads she trusted. Ideas she found helpful, though may in the end NOT be proven scientifically, she held loosely to see if results followed.

One of these ideas is that perhaps her anxiety was attached to a fight or flight scenario. In this season of life she’s raising four kids and one is a baby who sleeps lightly at night and she also is a part time artist and is also homeschooling…

That’s a full life and there are moments of intensity that can happen. These moments can trigger the brain in ways we don’t fully understand yet. For example, driving all the kids home from Denver by herself and two of the kids are screaming for an hour and it’s past everyone’s bedtime, including her own. If the brain goes into crisis mode and sends adrenaline and other chemicals to her muscles and systems… there has to be some negative effects on body and brain in these scenarios. 

So alongside her medication she’s also been working out a little more, getting her heart rate up in case there is extra adrenaline or other things happening in her body she needs to move through. And perhaps this helps with the shaking as well.

With medication and working out we also added counseling. For Betony’s personality this was difficult but good. (That could probably be counseling’s tagline- Difficult but good.)

Since August of last year she went off of medication and has not been symptomatic. She’s had some rough days, but for the most part things have been better thus far. And at the very least we’re out of that place of deep fear.

Now, Betony is an immensely private person. We haven’t really shared this story publicly on social medias, though we’ve talked about it with friends and family and church communities.

We offer the story now alongside a song. While working through this season together, Betony and I were surprised at just how many stories of other people suffering from anxiety came to light. It remains fairly mysterious and scary and unexplored. It can come across like a catch all or a diminishing of something that is truly happening in our brains and bodies.

As I processed all of this I wrote this song called “Settled Down”. So we offer this story alongside this art for a since of solidarity. We hope you find the conversation we’ve offered helpful and open and caring.

Pre-Order Bellwether now and receive the single “Settled Down”

Lyrics for “Settled Down”

I’ll keep my hand here on your back
I won’t move it while you sleep
The shaking hours have settled down
Take all the help that you need

I put it on just like an evening dress
Parade to the right, sway to the left
In the morning everything is spent
And I make my way back home

What the wires couldn’t catch
Fails to give a certainty
And the world stirs around
On the edge of all you see

We can put blankets under the leaves
We can fill pages and keep on the dream
I set a good table, take all that you need
I can set more if you come back to me

We can keep sleeping, be late on the rise
We can stay novel with every surprise
I set a good table, take all that you need
They all remain open, you see what I mean

We will blur edges and rid every cage
We will push candles and feel every blaze
We set a good table, take all that you need
We set a good table, take all that you need

We will see colors that wonder and burst
We will raise glasses that rid every thirst
We set a good table, take all that you need
We set a good table, take all that you need

You put it on just like a hiding place
With three separate acts, that ends in disgrace
In the morning everything is safe
and you make your way back home

I put it on just like an evening dress
Parade to the right, sway to the left
In the morning everything is spent
And I make my way back home

Will We SEE You on the Road? Our Midwest Tour (WI, IN, & Kansas City)!

We are taking the entire Coons Family Circus out with us on the road for 10 days. Our destination is a wonderful festival called “Escape to the Lake” in Indiana. But we’ll be playing several shows around the area. If you are near we’d love to see you!

Here’s our tour line-up and links to Facebook events with more info:

House Concert at The Wheelers
in Mequon, WI
Tuesday, August 1st
6 PM
We’ll be playing what we call a “living room session” and setting up our show right in someone’s home. The result is a warm, intimate time with friends and family and being up close in personal with the artist!
Facebook Event Link

Escape to the Lake
in Cedar Lake, IN
Wednesday, August 2nd- Sunday, August 6th
Our main concert will be Saturday evening. But the whole of the event will be full of great music and incredible experiences.
Website Event Link

Concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church
in Munster, IN
Sunday night, August 6th
Another intimate concert located this time at a church.
Facebook Event Link

House Concert with The Casey’s
in Kansas City, MO
Wednesday, August 9th 6:30 PM
Ending our tour with family friends the Casey’s. They’ll be hosting us in the backyard of their home.
Facebook Event Link

 

 

Giants & Pilgrims were Featured on a Podcast: We talk Creating in the Chaos w/ “Ink & Echo”

Betony and I grabbed a babysitter so we could feel more adult last Tuesday. We were invited to speak on a podcast called “Ink & Echo”. One of the podcast duo named Josh Gaines came to hang out with us in our backyard/garage studio. Honestly, we had an absolutely lovely time and even when we had to relieve the babysitter and the interview was done we asked Josh to stay longer! It felt like we were just getting started.

Here’s the link. Betony & I’s time begins around 25 minutes in, but it’s good to get to know Josh and his co-hort, Andy Othling and hear their banter.

And, just to let you know, Betony joked about how having a mic in front of her is one of her least favorite things, so she probably wouldn’t talk much. But then she really opened up on some cool things!! It was a great time.

Cathedrals Lyrics and Chords Booklet

We release a new album- the first movement of Bellwether, called “Cathedrals”. (Movements II & III releasing in June & Oct.)

Have you ever walked into a cathedral and had your breath taken away? Or maybe witnessed a natural phenomenon like the Grand Canyon and had your line of importance wonderfully interrupted? In their feel and arrangement this 5 song collection pursues this sense of wonder, with the narrative often opening towards God.

Along with this movement of songs Betony has designed a really beautiful song booklet, filled with chords and lyrics. They are available here for download in color and in a more printable B&W.

 

 

 

To get you excited about the album here is a printable booklet of the song lyrics and chords with beautifully designed pages by Betony.

Click here to download the full color version:

Cathedrals_colorful

 

Click here to download a BW more printer friendly version:

Cathedrals_Printable

Our New Kickstarter Goal!

Thank you so much, friends. We released our Kickstarter last Wednesday and it was reached by the end of the day! We were overwhelmed and felt really honored and thought, “We should have set the goal higher”. hahaha

All these pre-sales are going to help cover our FULL expenses in making this project (we’re close to hitting that mark soon)!

As we have 11 days left we wanted to think through a new goal. But we didn’t really want it to be a monitory one… So here it goes…

Our Next Kickstarter Goal

When we reach 175 Backers total we will:

*Produce a PODCAST with Bellwether
*Dedicate to a COMMUNITY PROJECT for 2018

We chose these two things because we felt like our backers would really appreciate and enjoy this! Plus we’d LOVE to do the work as well (while needing some good support-muscle to pull it off…)

I’ve been listening to podcasts for the last couple years fairly non-stop. I’ve found that productions like This American Life, The Liturgists, TedRadio Hour, and others are great vehicles for telling gripping and thoughtful stories. If we made a podcast we’d release shows under the themes of Cathedrals, Tables, and Dark Fields. The episodes would search these sacred spaces…

Then for a community project, we have friends here in Greeley that do incredible work with refugee high school students. Betony and I have begun talks with them as to what it would look like if we ran some song-writing or art-clinics? Our friends are already helping the students tell their stories. What if we did some grass-roots recording of the poems and songs they’re coming up with? feature the art they’re making? (And then share that all with you, our backers, in 2018!)

Again, thanks. Many of you have backed the project!

If you haven’t backed it yet or want to share the link again here it is: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/216450051/giants-and-pilgrims-bellwether?ref=user_menu

Peace,

Tim Coons