This is the transcript for the interview in Episode 4. If you listen at the same time you read, you may notice a few minor differences. That’s because I did a little editing to make the audio flow better. You’re welcome.
DW: Hey, this is Dave Wilcox. I’m at Kerrville. I love being at Kerrville, I’ve been coming here for 25 years. And I remember when I first came here. It was kind of bewildering seeing these song circles and hearing these beautiful songs, some of them from people who’d just started playing, some of them from people who’d been playing all their lives. And they were on equal footing. The authority of the song is what spoke, and not any sort of industry credentials. And around the campfire when you can’t even see whose face it is, the character that comes into view is the character in the song.
And so you listen and you get transported into these wonderful other worlds where there’s beautiful characters and drama and the song paints a whole beautiful picture. And the fun part, and the frustrating part, is that, you know, on one level we’re all equal and the songs find their way into our hearts with no problem. And then on another level you wonder, how do you ever get your music out there when it’s not just a campfire? And I remember, y’know, 25 years ago when I was just starting, I had so many questions about, well, what do you do first? Should I buy a sound system? Y’know, should I get a manager? Should I try to, y’know… there was so many questions.
But I think one fun way to talk about this was, last night I got into a conversation with a wonderful songwriter who I just heard for the first time. Allie has just come to Kerrville this year, and y’know, she’s 20 years old and she’s right where I was way back then when I was feeling like, What do you do next? So I’d like to introduce you to Allie. I forgot your last name, what’s your last name?
AF: My name is Allie Farris.
DW: Allie Farris. So y’know, even though we’re talking to lots of people through this magical airwaves, I would love to just hear sort of how this festival feels to you, where you’re going from here, if you have any questions that might … help all of us, y’know, the ones who have been doing it for a while and forget how magical it is, the ones who are just starting out and want to get a perspective on sort of how we get to where we’re going. So, what’s on your mind?
AF: Well, like you said, I am 20 years old and this is my first Kerrville experience and I am starting out. I don’t have a manager, I have a friend that is starting to book dates for me, I’ve never gone on tour, and all I have really are my songs and my ability to play the piano and sing. I’ve just been met with open arms. I didn’t actually have the money to come here this year and the friends that I met over this past year helped me to, drove me, flew me, helped me to get here and even helped me pitch my own tent so…
DW: And this is your first time camping?
AF: This is my first time camping.
DW: I love that. (Laughs)
AF: Last night was my second night out in the woods and, boy, I do love to take showers, long showers, and I miss that, but, for what it’s worth, you know, the … what’s in it’s place now is an amazing experience with nature, so that’s something. And also, also like you said, sitting in a dark circle of songwriters and being, feeling like you’re a part of something that’s original and creative.
DW: And you are definitely a part of it and it’s the authority of your songs that y’know, started us talking. And I love when you hear something and you know that, you know, years from now, people are gonna know your name. It’s just, it’s great, it’s great stuff. So, but you must wonder, yeah, well, you can say that with certainty but surely there must be people who try and try for a lifetime and never get it going, so what do I do, you know?
AF: Exactly. I just moved to Nashville and that‘s all I keep hearing is that it takes 10 years, it takes 7 years, it takes just almost a lifetime, sometimes you never get where you want to get and all I know is, at 20, at 15 when I started, I knew that, without a doubt, music and songwriting and performing is what I wanted to do. And that’s all that I was gonna do. And so at least I have that compass to guide me, but along the way I have been looking for people that I know are successful, and are having wonderful success and love in songwriting and acceptance by their peers, by the people they look up to. So that’s who I’m trying to find to get as much advice as I can to maybe, in some way, accelerate me on my path.
DW: And I know the frustrating part is when you ask people who have been doing it for a long time, they always sort of look at you wistfully and say, “Oh, I wish I was back where you are. Everything is so fresh and so new and so fun and y’know, you’re …”
AF: And scary!
DW: Yes, and we forget that, well, we were camping in the back of the car, you know, and that wasn’t even a level spot and it was (laughs).
So, yes, both are true. The bliss of starting out not knowing where you’re going, it’s what makes every good story, it’s what makes every good movie. You think, how can the hero possibly survive? And if you knew the ending, the movie wouldn’t be as good. And we’re all saying, “Oh, don’t worry about the ending, it ends great! You’ll love it!” And yet we see lives that run aground, we see lives where musicians start out with the dream and it seems to be like a blessing and a curse.
And so I love to say that, y’know, careers are not made with one lucky break and careers are not made with, y’know, some fantastic coincidence. Careers are made with thousands and thousands of tiny decisions. Decisions like, what are you gonna have for lunch? Is it really good for you or is it just another slice of pizza and a beer? What are you gonna, sort of, be reading while you’re on tour? What are you gonna be filling your mind with? Cuz, y’know, the diet of a road musician is just one element, but it helps to orchestrate everything. And I don’t mean just diet like, what do you take into your body, I mean what you take into your mind, what you, the conversations you have and sort of how you, step by step, kind of hold your best intentions in the forefront of your mind, and are watching for, where are they leading you?
So that kind of discipline is what makes this life really satisfying to me because then everything, everything becomes music. You know, when you’re getting up early to catch a flight, there’s music in it. It’s part of what you do. And it gets instilled with this gorgeous sense of purpose. And when you’re really tired and you still have to take apart all the sound gear and get it in the car and y’know, drive 50 miles or whatever, it’s imbued with this sense of, there’s a reason for this, there’s a gift that I’m giving in this.
So what I love about it most, I think, is that it is not easy, and there are a lot of people who give up for very good reasons, but the reason why we choose to do it is because in the difficulty we find a practice that makes us realize the significance of everything in our lives. And the practice involves, for the sake of music you’re willing to go the distance and become the person that’s required. To keep your attitude right. And in the end, the real musicianship is not just tuning the guitar and getting the chords right and getting the words right. It’s getting your attitude right before you ever get to the stage. It’s believing that what you do matters because you’re part of something that’s bigger than you.
And even though, you know, you’re insignificant in the realm of sort of, like, who’s out there playing, in the specific room that you’re in that night, people have come from perfectly comfortable living rooms to listen to something that would change them, that would give them a sense of wonder and give them back their curiosity about what’s possible for their lives, for their heart. So because you’re the one there that night in that room, you’re not just one ship in a vast sea. You are the one that they’re on! You are the one that carries them. And so you have to realize that, you know, you’re the captain of the ship, you have to step up and not get in the way with your own doubts. You have to have an attitude of, that you care for these people and for their sake, you know, you believe what’s possible. When they hear a song that is sort of perfect timing for them and it draws them in.
And so, I find that because music is so difficult, so humbling, it actually gives us so much more because it requires of us to take everything seriously. Everything matters. And that winds up being the best sort of musicianship of all, so that eventually we find that the joy that we got from songs starts to infuse itself into the rest of our lives, and those thousands of decisions start being reflected in our ability to choose someone to be with that really knows us and really cares for our heart and soul. And our ability to gather people around us that work with us and we gather them for the same reasons that we gather the chords that we love and the words that we love. Because they feel right. And that, tuning that sense of judgment about what feels right, we learn it first in songs, but it really serves us in life. And the same craft that can shape a song that’s so true to you can also shape a life that is true to you.
And so, luckily, it’s ridiculously difficult. Luckily there are no answers. Luckily all the advice that you get from everyone is just their advice and it’s their story and it’s not yours. And luckily, what lies ahead for you is a path that will lead you not just to the best songs you’ve ever written, but the best person you could have become. Because you choose a path day to day that you can’t be asleep at the wheel and you know it. You have to pay attention to every moment. Because just like finding a song that’s somewhere out there on the circling winds, and you have to listen deeper than you’ve ever listened, there is this sense of song by song … that’s your navigation that guides you into becoming who the music always promised you you could be.
Now what do I mean by, the music promised you? I mean that feeling of, feeling like you belong in your skin, like you know you’re alive, you know what that means to be alive, to be given this breath, to be given this opportunity, to step into this adventure. Not just like one more day, like , oh you’re going to a job that requires of you to wrench your life hour by hour. But no, you’re being asked to step into a life that requires you to watch for where your life may be leading you. As if it’s some mysterious man in a black cape that disappeared around a corner. But he gave you a look that said “Follow me!” And he’s going down Diagon Alley and he’s disappearing through a wall. And you have to follow, you have to trust, you have to say “This is an adventure!” Because you’re a wizard, Harry! You have music! And you have to follow.
And so, little by little, it teaches you that, yes, there are dragons, there are fears, there are people whose lives are destroyed by this, and yours will not be. Because you care enough for the song that you’re willing to care that much for yourself. Care that much for this whole beautiful stirring in your heart that comes through you and says to you “You are part of a journey bigger than you know.” These songs are coming from your own future, speaking from the self that you might become, speaking to you through the only oracle that they can. From your heart to your mind through song, through music that moves you. And the reason why it moves you is because it’s coming from the place that you are going. It knows you better than you know yourself. This is your glimpse at how good your heart can feel.
And song by song, turn by turn, thousands of decisions by thousands of decisions, you follow it. And you find that your life becomes as good as the best song you’ve ever heard. And miraculously, that’s what’s happened to me! And my career is nothing! It’s like, David who? Nobody knows David Wilcox. It’s not like the music is any sort of authority, like, oh wow, he’s really cool and he’s good and he’s bla bla. It’s not American Idol. It’s not idling around waiting for the lottery to come rescue you from this sort of, the throngs of mediocrity and lift you to this royalty as if you were chosen by some great institution. No, it’s the opposite of that! It’s trusting that the judgment does not come from on high. It comes from within. It comes from the guidance that leads you to, not one little miraculous occasion in your life, but slipping through coincidence after coincidence, like doors that click locked behind you. And you have this miraculous lock that opens, because you listen! Because you watch for what feels right.
And in the same way that you build a song that feels right, you’re always listening for that. Where are we going? How do I know what my best life would feel like? And so you, in order to, if you were like guiding your way through the woods, you would trust your compass. Because even though it’s a tiny little thing that you can carry in your pocket, it lines itself up with something bigger than the whole world! And so if you’re navigating through your life, what do you look at that possibly could line itself up with something beyond your perception, beyond where you are? Well, you look at the place where your heart is most vulnerable, most open to be moved, most ready for subtle guidance. The place that you’re most cracked open is music. And so if you let music teach you how to tune in to the subtle guidance of, sort of like, as you’re writing a song, you say “Ah, that line’s good, but y’know, ah, this line is better.”
And how do you know? Well, it feels right. That sense. Strengthening that sense. Yes, you take voice lessons, you strengthen your voice. Yes, you take guitar lessons, you strengthen your chops. But mostly what you’re practicing is the subtle discernment of better and worse. Like that kids blindfold game where people are saying “Warmer. Warmer. Colder. Freezing. Oh, warmer. Burning!” But this time instead of listening to the voices of others, you’re listening to the subtle voice of your heart say “This feels like my life!” How do I know? I haven’t even lived it yet? But somehow it feels like it’s whispering “This is it! This is where the juice is. This is where the life is. This is where the adventure is. This is where life gets deep and high and interesting and adventurous!” And so you follow it, even when your mind is saying, “How do you know?”
When we start writing a song we get a sense like the song is there waiting. As if it’s archaeology, as if we’re just uncovering it. And it’s the same thing with finding this miraculous sense of wonder and awe that stays with us and gets stronger as we go through decades and decades of our adventure. Eventually we realize it couldn’t have been any other way. This life was waiting for me. And yet, you made it. Decision by decision. You followed it, you found it. And yet the reason why it feels like it was always there is because it was. It’s the spark in your heart that wrote every song you’ve ever written. It was the one that said “Yeah, that’s good, but I don’t know, this is better.” Trust it. Trust it with everything. The real musicianship, what you’re really learning to tune is that sense of “How do I know this is better?” And trusting in your own heart. And over thousands of decisions it leads you home.
AF: David, it just seems like, I feel like I’m coming to meet you as someone who is just driven, I feel fearful right now in my life. In my journey, cuz I feel like, and I feel like you’re so motivated and I feed off of that. I mean, just that whole, that speech that you just made just, it feels hopeful and with a direction and I feel like I have a blank map with an X on it and no dotted line to lead me where I need to go.
DW: When you say fearful, tell me more about the fear. What is it specifically, when you get fearful, do you remember that feeling when you’re in that fear? What does it feel like?
AF: When I get that feeling, the glimmer of hope is always the music, is always the fact that I do know that I want to be a musician and that I will be a musician. But fear is normally, to be just base with it, it’s money. It’s the fact that my savings are falling and that the life that I’m trying to lead is … I’m just trying to find food and trying to find a place to live but … and I’m in a foreign state alone with no family and … I just don’t know where to go. I don’t know which step is the right one and which direction is the right one.
DW: And when the fear speaks about that, does the fear sort of have any scenario, some fearful scenario future that it sort of … where does it dig in? Where do you feel it in your body? How’s the fear get you?
AF: The fear gets me when I, I think that I’ll have to get a job that won’t be rooted in music and that my inspiration and my love will fall away and I’ll lose my creativity because I had to get a 9 to 5.
DW: Now when you imagine that, you don’t really imagine getting the job, you imagine having the job, being stuck in the job and there’s that moment in real life where if you were to be in that job there would have had to be a moment where you kind of decided, okay I’m going to go get this job. And so you lose faith in the process, you imagine that you’re suddenly not yourself. And you imagine that you just do this thing, you just go get this job because that’s what people do. But you forget that, no actually, you’re you! You’re the person who is still here. You’re the person who has that subtle guidance.
And so if you rethink the scenario about, well, how would you actually go get a job like that? I mean, what would happen? You wouldn’t just sort of suddenly betray yourself and say, okay, that’s it. Because if you imagine that actual scenario, like the week that would happen, there are so many thousands of other choices. And the fear portrays it as just like, it’s this switch, it’s this black and white, it’s A or B. And it’s really not. It’s thousands of decisions.
Like for example, yes, we need money to survive. And, if you look at the whole story, like you ask people who are 90 years old What would you do differently? Well, of course when you’re 90 it’s easy to say “Oh, I wouldn’t worry so much, I wouldn’t work so crazy, I would have time for my dreams, I would play more music.” That’s easy to say when you’re 90. But when you’re stuck in the middle of some maddening sort of job that so much is required of you, it’s really hard to say to yourself, “What can I let go of?” because you assume that you have to pay for everything you have.
Luckily, you’re 20 years old. You have the choice to lower the overhead until you can afford the ultimate luxury, which is time to do what you love. And there are ways to live remarkably cheap. All it does is it goes against some of your assumptions.
And so, back when I was a street musician, I would be playing, you know, during the lunch hour down around City Hall, and then at night down sort of more where the clubs are, and I’d find a nice little glass doorway with those angled windows that have that nice megaphone sort of sound and I’d stand in there and I’d have my guitar case open. And I’d count my change and gather up the bills, and I’d realize, ok, well, I’m making way better than working a 9 to 5 minimum wage job, which, y’know, when I was real young, that was sort of like, if I wasn’t doing music, I would probably go get one of those. So I thought to myself, wait a minute, I’m making better money, I’m working way fewer hours. I’m only working like 4 hours a day, the lunch hour and 3 hours at night. And I’m doing great!
And so the general fears get to us because they stay general. And the way to attack the fears is to say to the fears, “You’re assuming that I’m going to have to buy things that require me to sell my most precious possession, which is my time. So tell me exactly, what do you want to buy?” You’re talking to yourself and you’re saying to yourself, “Tell me exactly what do you want to buy that’s worth your most precious dream?” And there’s not much on that list. You can say to yourself, I don’t need a car. I could get around. I don’t need, y’know, brand new clothes. I could be fine with the stuff at the thrift store. And I don’t need this, and I don’t need that, and pretty soon you say, well, how much money do you need? And you say, well, how much money can you earn? Okay, that works.
And then the fears come, and they say, yeah, but what about forever? What about when you’re 90 years old and you’re still doing that? Well, you’re forgetting that there’s gonna be a lot of coincidences that happen between where you are and where you’re going when you’re 90 years old. It can’t possibly be just the same.
And so, like when I was 20 and I was travelling by bicycle and living super cheap, I would take the occasional job, y’know, just to get a little money, like picking grapes in France or whatever, but mostly what I was doing was I was playing music and finding things to sing about and getting away from all the things that knew me so that I could find out who I was becoming.
And I would live so cheap that it was really the most prosperous time of my life because I remember having all this time, I remember having all this sense of unbelievable freedom. Travelling by bicycle, you know, you can be gliding down the road and just kind’a look back over your shoulder, and I used to just kind of realize that there’s no trailer, there’s no baggage, there’s no strings. It’s just the little panniers, it’s just the sleeping bag, it’s everything that I need, but it’s only one of everything that I need. Like I don’t have a silverware drawer. I have a spoon, I have a fork, I have a knife. Do I need two knives? No. So I have, you know, everything that I need. And I can go anywhere in the world. You go down to the docks if you want to go to New Zealand and you find someone who’s sailing and you say “I play music.” And they say “Great, it’s a big sea. We need music. Come on.” And then you’re on a sailing ship and you’re playing music and you’re going to New Zealand. And people say, “Wow, you must be rich!” And you say, “Yeah! I guess I am. I’m on a sailing ship going to New Zealand.”
And so when you realize that there’s thousands of decisions involved, then the fear gets dismantled. Because it isn’t just one decision. “Oh, well, the music’s not working, I guess I’ll go get a job and then just die inside for the rest of my life.” No, there’s thousands of decisions between those two points. And if you open yourself up to the specifics, then the fear gets blown out of the water. Because when you come to the fear and say, “What is it that you want to buy that’s worth more than your best dream?” Then, no, there’s nothing on that list. And so you put into action making the overhead lower. That’s how you buy the time. You buy your freedom with the money you don’t spend. And you get really good at investing with the money you don’t spend in your beautiful dream.
And the only thing that’s going to make you successful over the other people is that you have time to write those songs while you’re sailing to New Zealand, and the other people don’t because they got the job! So little by little when people come to you 10 years from now and you’ve got all these songs, what do they feel? What do they get in your music? What they get is, she’s got a key, a key to a door that I want. They’re caught. They wanna know how come you’re not caught. And you’re singing it in every song. And what you’re singing is this sense of possibility, a sense of wonder, a sense of joy. And they think, man, she’s lucky. How did she do that? And if they really know how, if they really wanna know how, they have to take responsibility that … it’s nothing miraculous. I mean, it’s a commitment to a constant vigilance of not spending money that takes you further from where you’re really going.
And so, what else are you afraid of?