Story from Under the Leaves
I can’t think of a better time to share these musical stories with my fellow friends in the greater Butte County community as well as with everyone who may need to hear them. I hope they can become a part of your own soundtrack for wherever your story takes you. I hope you develop your own interpretations of my music, but I also have included a little bit of backstory for each piece.
The prelude to the album. Written in the spring of 2016, and recorded at Chico State by Rylan Sunseri in the winter of 2019. On the slopes of the edge of the Butte Creek Canyon from Bille Park, just after a cold and wet winter, small, white wildflowers begin to bloom. They seem to live peaceful, quiet, and still lives, in a dramatic, unstable landscape under an expansive sky. Some change is gentle and subtle, like noticing the first blooms of spring.
2. The Glint from the Dragonfly
My first inspiration for the melody came to me in the summer of 2017, and the piece was finalized and recorded in the Zingg Recital hall at Chico State by Eduardo Gomez in spring, 2018. Henry Bird accompanied me on guitar.
Butte County in July is covered under bright sun and a sea of golden grass. Some days, the air is so still, nothing seems to be living any more, and other days, a soft breeze can send ripples from the foothills out to the valley. I went for a hike one afternoon to my favorite spot along the Butte Creek Canyon and just as the sun was setting, it was casting orange beams of light into the shadows of the static canyon. Then, the dragonflies came out. There were dozens of them dancing around me and high above the canyon floor below us, and the sun made their wings flicker like falling gold coins. I began to dance with them! I was reminded that the stillness of summer wouldn’t last forever, as powerful forces of life were still at work in the sleepy summer air.
3. Sugar Song
Sugar song was written in 2013 while I was living in Chico, and recorded in Paradise in 2016. It was originally released as an electronic piece, as I designed synthesized instruments to play it. However, I’ve enjoyed playing it acoustically since it’s conception. It’s supposed be lighthearted, and was inspired by enjoying the little things in life, such as dessert.
4. The Broken Teacup
I wrote “The Broken Teacup” in the fall of 2015, and recorded it in my home in Paradise in 2016 with Henry Bird on the upright bass and baritone ukulele. I was spending hours a day practicing music, but I felt surrounded by a haze of anxiety and frustration about not knowing how I would accomplish my musical dreams. I didn’t know where it would lead me, but I just knew that if I kept practicing, it would take me away from those feelings. I got in the habit of drinking tea in the mornings throughout all of my twenties, but that fall, I got into the habit of drinking coffee, because I felt I needed something stronger to motivate my uninspired efforts. The song used to be titled “Coffee and Tea,” but in the winter of 2018, I revisited this piece, and realized I had broken out of this anxious phase. A lot can happen to a person in three years… I feel like I’m now realizing my musical dreams! Perhaps I, myself am the very teacup that broke? I’m back to drinking just tea.
5. Pebble in a Jewelry Box
This is a tone poem about unrequited love. It was conceived in the spring of 2018, and recorded at Chico State by Rylan Sunseri in the spring of 2019. Henry Bird accompanied me on guitar. At the time I wrote it, I didn’t realize I had the power act on my feelings- I just daydreamed and wrote music about them. I had inconveniently realized my feelings for a person who I already loved dearly, but suddenly in a romantic way. Due to certain circumstances, we couldn’t be together. It would be too dangerous to tell them in words how I felt, so the message needed to be encrypted into a language only we could decode: a highly personalized musical composition. I’m still not sure if he entirely understands its meaning.
6. Through the Branches
During the summer of 2016, I wrote a piece called “Useless Dreams” using synthesized sounds. I recorded an acoustic version of this piece at Chico State with Daniel Rieter in the spring of 2017 with Aron Linker accompanying me on the bass. I renamed this version, “Through the Branches,” because the melody came to me when I was looking at a blue sky through a thick tangle of trees above me. Sometimes, living in Paradise made me feel too confined, and as if all my dreams were useless because they would be so impossible to reach. As beautiful and inspiring of a place as it is, staying under the trees didn’t always feel like a place for people with artistic ambition. Yet sometimes at dusk in the spring or summer, I would enjoy working in the yard or laying down in the dirt, and I would look up at the pale pink sky through the silhouettes of branches, and feel like my dreams were right there in the place where I drew my breath.
7. New Clouds
“New Clouds” could be interpreted as “New Beginnings.” Even though I recorded it on a digital piano, I felt I needed to include it in the album anyway because this recording captures such an important piece in time for me.I wrote it all the way back in 2012, shortly after I moved to Chico from San Francisco. When I was in the city, I played a guitar because I didn’t have a piano, but now that I had one again, I was rediscovering the joy of playing from my heart on an instrument that came more naturally to me. In a way, this piece was a catalyst for the rest of the album. While playing, I realized that my heart wanted me to continue to play the piano, and that I wanted to see where my music would take me.
8. Winter Shelter
In the winter of 2016, I recorded this track in Paradise. Henry Bird played the guitar and bass, and Nicholas James played drums. It gets cold enough to snow in the foothills during the winter. Outside is icy, and full of mysterious wintery secrets I haven’t fully delved into yet, but I do know that hugs are especially warm during this season, and that I prefer to be exposed to the bitter elements in the company of a friend.
9. Ugly Princess
This melody came to me in the shower in the summer of 2016. I’ve recorded several versions since, but the latest on the album was recorded just this Spring of 2019 at Chico State by Rylan Sunseri, and accompanied by Henry Bird on guitar. The original melody has stayed in tact, but everything else about this piece has decomposed over time, with the middle solo section being free of any written structure. Each body of work on this album has grown over the years along with me since its inception, but “Ugly Princess” has evolved the most due to its indeterminate nature. I let my present emotions lead the piece, rather than drawing back on feelings from the past. It’s a piece about isolation, misunderstandings, and living in an imaginary world that no one else can see.
10. Rainy Heart
Written and recorded on a sunny but rainy spring afternoon in 2015 in my home in Paradise with Henry Bird accompanying me on the baritone ukulele, this piece carries nostalgia for me every year during ambiguous weather. Spring is a dramatic season where the calm, reflective, and emotional nature of winter is being cleared away by gusts of spirited winds and rain to make room for new life and the preparation of summer. The sky is in constant motion, and people usually are too. It’s a time to act on ideas that have been germinating over the winter. Along the way there is the possibility of getting caught in a downpour while driving in the middle of the valley and needing to wait for twenty minutes until the road is visible again, but when the storm moves to another part of the sky, a rainbow appears.
11. Ashes to Moss
“Ashes to Moss” was conceived in the Spring of 2018, and recorded in the Spring of 2019 at Chico State by Rylan Sunseri with Henry Bird accompanying me on guitar. Wildfires have always been a common occurrence in California. I was visiting Table Mountain the spring before the last, and took respite on a hillside where fire had swept through that previous fall. Table Mountain is a sizeable mesa formed by basalt that’s between Paradise and Oroville, with vistas of vernal pools and wildflowers, waterfalls, lava outcrops, and grazing cattle.
In a shady copse of valley oak, the ground was moist from rain, and covered in ash and charred wood from the fire. It was not a dismal scene of black and grey however- lush green moss already had covered every area that had burned. Various forms of fungi were scattered about, and the ground was stirring from the activities of insects. New grasses were emerging wherever they could, and the air was filled with fresh rain and new life. I sat on a moss-covered boulder, and thought about my short life compared to the time that passes by in this peaceful alcove. I wondered about all of the events that must have happened in that very spot I now was sitting, and how it all was kept a secret by the trees and rocks around me. By mere coincidence, I wrote this piece before the ashes turned to moss at my own home in Paradise.
12. Story from Under the Leaves
The motive behind “Story from Under the Leaves” continues to intensify since it’s conception in the Spring of 2018. It’s a piece about finding the meaning of “home.”
I performed it in December, a few weeks after the fire for my peers at Chico State during a student recital, and it was recorded the following week on campus by Carlos Pioroda.
“Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more.”
― Robin Hobb
“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”
― John Ed Pearce
“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
― Warsan Shire
One day when I’m older, I hope to be able to return to whatever definition of home that I’ve found for myself. I hope my adventures will one day make for great bedtime stories.