With: Lauren Hoffman of the Secret Storm
The Lasting Impact of My Friendship with Jeff Buckley:
Even though Jeff Buckley died nearly 20 years ago, I still feel his influence on my music. It has been strange to outlive someone who I looked up to, who was older and wiser, a kind of mentor, someone I thought would always be ahead of me on the path. But his path ended and I kept going…
In the short four years that I knew him, I learned so much. When you observe a musical artist, you can break what they are doing down into different categories: songwriting, technical ability, and what i’ll call charisma. To be taken seriously as an artist in the ’90s, you definitely were supposed to be writing your own songs. Jeff struggled with that. He felt pressured to be great at it and his songs came out overthought and overwrought. And as a result he is best known for his cover of “Hallelujah”. When he played cover songs, he could relax and let all of his charisma and technical ability sail him into a beautiful flow, a connected, transcendent place. He could let his judgment and his effort go and just be the music. Those are the moments that we live for both as music makers and as listeners.
But what if he had lived to write and record four more albums? Would his songwriting have become as inspired and easeful as his singing, playing, and performing? It’s a lot to ask of one person, to be good at all these things equally and at a young age. When I looked at myself, I always felt I was the opposite of Jeff: I felt the most flow, ease, inspiration, and connection to the transcendent, as a songwriter. My technical ability was just sufficient enough to get the song across. And ’charisma’ — which is the word I’m using for that je-ne-sais-quoi factor of being a good performer; engaging to watch, capable of being a true conduit in the moment of the song — well, there are all these weird factors that allow that to shine through or not. Self-consciousness, doubt, and other head-trips greatly hinder it. Who you surround yourself with, how true or untrue you are being to yourself, and which substances you indulge in all affect this factor. It’s not controllable, but more like a garden in which you try your best to create a nurturing environment for it to blossom from within you.
After Jeff’s first album came out, he was faced with enormous pressure. Everyone had something to say, a direction to pull him in, a critique, or an expectation. He had been a very open and generous person (which was part of him being such a true conduit), and was too soft and vulnerable to properly handle all of those sudden pressures. He surrounded himself with strange new people, he indulged too much in too many substances… and he kind of lost touch with that pure connection.
When you lose your connection to the muse, it is devastating. The light that shines upon you when she is there, it’s blissful, orgasmic. When you have known her and she disappears, it’s brutal. I’m sure a ton of people can relate to this. I’ve been through many cycles now in my life, losing touch with inspiration and then reconnecting. Horrible periods where no songs came to me, and then wonderful highs of the muse coming back and bestowing me once again with blissful inspiration. I don’t take these cycles as seriously anymore, because now I can always trust that it will come back around, but the first few cycles were very scary. Jeff died before he was able to see the next cycle come back around…
My career has been a journey to find balance. I have worked hard in the last few years to bring my technical abilities up to a higher standard, especially vocal technique. Forming the band, not having to always be alone onstage and trapped behind the guitar, has freed me so that I more easily connect with the muse and feel as inspired performing as I do when writing or recording.
The Inspiration of Charlottesville, VA:
We are based in Charlottesville, Virginia, which luckily is a very nurturing environment for music and other arts. For a city it’s size, it really has a lot of venues and fantastic talent. I am constantly being inspired and excited and impressed by what my peers are doing here. I feel so lucky for the community that we have, and how we all champion each other and truly are fans of each other’s bands! When I’ve lived in bigger cities, there’s a trade-off. Yes, there are more opportunities for success, but there’s also a more competitive, cutthroat vibe, and that vibe makes me feel very uninspired. It cuts off my connection to the muse. So, there’s some irony there: The places where I could really advance my career make my inspiration dry up. So after much trial and error I’ve found what works for me: smaller career ambition, but a more nurturing and inspiring community. Balance.
Behind the Title Family Ghost:
We released Family Ghost at the end of January, and while we were working on the songs, playing them live, and recording them, I didn’t necessarily see a cohesive theme to the songs. Some of them, in fact, were written years before we formed the band, while some were brand new. But now, looking at the album as a whole, I see a clear theme, and it’s why we liked “Family Ghost” as the title track: The album is basically about how the scars from your childhood loves (your immediate family) haunt you and subconsciously influence your adult relationships. Until you work through whatever you need to work through. I think writing all these songs and making this album helped me work through a lot of it and get to a better place.
Our New Video, “Broken”:
“You’re a little bit damaged, I’m a sucker for that,” the opening lines of “Broken”, are a good example of something internal about my songwriting that I’m not sure that other people get: I crack myself up! Those words tickled me, they felt wry and pithy on my tongue, meant to be spoken or sung with a sardonic half-smile… But, they are also true — sometimes humor is the best door to truth. I have always been a sucker for damaged people. I love connecting in real, deep ways, like when people show you their scars, their fucked up, imperfect secret parts. And maybe so many people relate to those words because we are all a little bit damaged. And maybe we also all feel the most connected to people when they let us in and show us their brokenness… Remember: the trick is not to try to fix them.
The video we made for “Broken” jumps into metaphor-land with an MMA-style fight between a man and a woman. Micah and Sally are both dear friends of mine who happen to train in different fighting styles and are both deep, sweet, talented, wise, wonderful people. I love the visuals of the video, the choreography, the story arc, but for me the whole story is in their eyes.
The Secret Storm Mission:
The lyrics are just one small part of how we tell a story with a song. These days, we often attach visuals to music in the form of videos, instagram feeds, stage shows… but the music itself should also tell the story. For me, something is Art when it doesn’t just tell you a story, but it makes you tell yourself a story, and see and feel things inside of yourself. Lyrics have to be filtered through the cognitive functions of the brain, but the music can tell the story straight to your heart. Working with this band, I love how everyone finds their own way to tell the same emotional story — or maybe it’s better to say: each instrument is telling a different facet of the same story, because life and feelings are multi-faceted and complex. Music allows us to express all that complexity without relying only on words.
I wish Jeff were still alive to hear this album. I wish I could hear his new albums. I think there’s a part of me that is still trying to impress him and make him proud. That’s probably not a bad thing.
For more info visit: theSecretStorm.com
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~Feature in collaboration with/produced by: Jeff Gorra