As JRL I began to work hard on the craft of songwriting. I began to play songs in coffeehouses and bars. I began to look for feedback from people who were listening to music for the music's sake, rather than as a way to bolster a particular set of beliefs or lifestyle choices. This was an exciting, challenging journey for me. I remember the thrill of one of the first non-church gigs I did while on tour with Radiant -- we played outside of a Puerto Rican restaurant in a parking lot. People going to the grocery store stopped and listened, and you could see that in some cases it brightened their day. That was exhilarating -- it felt like giving a gift. I remember an old grizzled guy who came up to me after a coffeehouse gig who said "that song about better days put into words what I couldn't say" -- or the half-drunk guy at the bar who came up afterwards and asked me "if there was a message" in my music. I asked what message he thought he heard.
I also remember being terrified and feeling really out of place -- like the church that made us take out our earrings and eyebrow rings or the bars where people just wanted to hear Freebird and get wasted. In so many ways JRL has been an education for me. I think I've stumbled upon some good lines and interesting imagery:
"The best kiss I never dreamed I catch left me sweat-soaked and let down... I could stretch the truth to make a roof but that would block out the starlight."
(JRL: You won't say anything)
"Sunfire came and it tore them apart, rung like a bell, drove the sad reek of hell from my heart."
(JRL: Sunfire Faces)
I've also come up with some musical hooks I really like, and that people can't get out of their heads.
As I'm wrapping up the second Now record (Another Now) and thinking about the next phase of life I see big changes coming. The original impulse and vision that launched JRL has for the most part been accomplished. I'm writing better songs now, and all kinds of people can and have connected with. I'm not so stuck inside the Christian subculture and I'm not terrified to take my guitar into coffeehouses and bars. I haven't gotten rich and famous, or developed a touring lifestyle that's sustainable as JRL -- but that wasn't the goal when I started out, so it's good to look back at the original vision. I still think some of the music I write needs to be heard by a wider audience than has heard it so far. Most artists think that. Here's an encouraging thought, though: I wrote Water Fall On Me 6 or 8 years before anyone paid attention to it. Now it's being sung in churches all over the country and has been recorded by several artists. Maybe the same thing will happen with JRL songs -- if so, look for people to really start catching on somewhere around 2010!
Some of the music I'm writing these days doesn't really fit in the JRL "box" (as big a box as that is). What does this mean? Where is it all headed?
Check back next week to find out more.