Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Fred Thomas)


No song in 2015 hit me as hard as All Are Saved‘s lead-off track, “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, a devastating eulogy from Fred Thomas that was addressed to the dog that inspired his preceding record, Kuma. That song, a startling highlight from a brilliant record (and a personal pick for one of 2015’s best songs), cuts deeply in a way that feels bravely unapologetic. It’s told with the acute attention to detail that drew me to Thomas in the first place back when he was still making music with Saturday Looks Good To Me, a band that remains fiercely beloved by a small (but thankfully growing) group of people. So much of what Thomas is able to convey in prose is so firmly grounded in (frequently mundane) reality that the angle he takes for his piece here probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Below, Thomas takes on the decision to leave his job to open up creative doors and the ways that decision has been paying dividends on a personal and professional level. Read it all below and remember to never give up on the things you love.


At the end of 2011, I got my first “real job”, the kind with a desk and insurance and a water cooler with beleaguered co-workers standing around it waiting for the weekend. This came well into adulthood and after years of opting for part-time employment at record shops, DJ gigs, service jobs or anything else that could be left with almost no notice when it was time to go on tour for six weeks or skip town to work on a record.

It was an almost by-the-numbers cliché of the struggling musician lifestyle, but I’d been noticing less and less of the people I’d started down that road with sticking it out like I was. The line between chasing the dream and spinning the wheels was always blurry, and this job– as cool of a straight job as one could get, writing record reviews for the longest running internet music database– represented a manageable way out of the uncertainty I’d been living with forever.

At the bar a few nights before I was to start this new 40 hours a week regular gig, I got some skeptical feedback from a friend who was always good for contrary perspectives, but sometimes not far off the mark with his snark. “I don’t know, man. Seems like you’ll be fine sitting around writing about music but after a while you’re just gonna want to be out there making it.”

The next three and a half years were basically a protracted pause in that conversation, ultimately ending with me sighing loudly and replying “Yeah, you’re right.” By the start of 2015 I’d made my place at this corporately-owned little music site, growing accustomed to rush hour, performance reviews and all the other Office Space shit I’d never given a thought to before. I’d also managed to stay remarkably active in the punk world I thought I was leaving behind, playing upwards of 80 shows a year, even if they were mostly local jams and doing more with my tape label and zines than ever.

When I started the job I was excited about slowly disappearing from the culture I’d grown up in, romantically imagining the handful of people who were interested in my music wondering where I’d gone. For a time, I worked on making that self-centered fantasy true, putting out a vibe that playing shows and being part of the music community wasn’t really where I was at anymore. I talked with wide-eyed longing about starting a small welding business and putting all my energy into that.

Regardless, however, of everything I tried to talk myself into, there was always more creative work to do and it was always more important than clocking in on time on Monday morning. Quitting my first “real job” in April of 2015 was as much of an afterthought for me as walking out on numerous dishwashing jobs had been a decade beforehand. I put in my notice after coming home from a tour of the south with Deerhoof that ate up my vacation days and required six different documents approved by a chain of management.

I woke up on my last day sick as hell, having stayed up all night recording a sludge metal band at the studio I’d been moonlighting at. It would have been hilarious to call in sick, but I went in anyway. I was leaving for a month of shows again in a week and needed to use the office copier one last time to make free color copies for the tapes I was bringing on tour.

2015 ended up being one of the most important and intense years of my life, with more changes and personal growth than any time before it. More things in my life moved forward than I could even get into in this space, and almost all of it was helped along by quitting my job to focus once again on making music, art, and the art that is being out in the world talking to other people who are also trying to find a way that feels like their own.

-Fred Thomas

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Tica Douglas)


One of the quietest surprises of 2015 was a miniature masterpiece of self-dissection offered up by Tica Douglas in Joey. A masterful take on gender and general identity that was laced with as much endearing self-deprecation as bruised hope, it remains a startling listen (and few records packed a 1-2 punch as powerful as “Black & White” and “All Meanness Be Gone“). Easily one of 2015’s most notable — and heartening — records, it also expanded the attention Douglas’ music was receiving, both on a critical and commercial basis. Below, Douglas talks about rediscovering some childhood advice to find the courage to perform some extremely personal songs in front of a group of people who’d been there since the beginning. Read it all below.


Last June I booked a tour to celebrate the release of my newest record, Joey. Compared to my last tours, this one was short and sweet. The whole thing took only about two weeks and the farthest North I went was Portland, Maine — my hometown. Joey’s my most up-close-and-personal record yet; it explores the joy and melancholy of my lifelong gender confusion. I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like to play these revealing songs live in front of my family and friends until the drive north, the day of the show.

I was hungover. I’d played Burlington, VT the night before. It turned out that my cousins who lived there worked at the big sports bar right in the center of town. They were kind of the dual queens of the whole operation. That meant that after playing a low-key set at the quiet art gallery next door, I sidled up awkwardly with my guitar between dudes playing Buck Hunter and Darts, and watched as my cousins gracefully fielded this crowd, handing me free shots and beers in between quick catch-ups.

The next morning, Andrew drove while I sat in the passenger seat, my head swooning in and out of nauseous aching. What a weird scene last night, I thought. Andrew interrupted my stalled thinking, asking if I was psyched to play Portland tonight. My stomach twisted a little. I remembered a text message I got from my mom earlier in the week: “excited 4 show. all aunts r coming, grammy too. plus gina told everyone. should be a big turnout!!! ms. fox will be there.”

I closed my eyes and placed my head against the cold window. Suddenly, the full weight of what was about to happen descended on me. I would be onstage alone, without a band to hide behind, singing personal details about the complexities of growing up in-between to the people I grew up next to. I don’t exactly know why that prospect was so daunting, but it was. I’ve always found it easier to play for strangers.

Luckily, I was too brain-dead at the moment to overthink it. Mile by mile we got closer to home, while Andrew and I flipped through his middle school CD jacket.

But as we drove over the big green metal bridge, the only southern entry “To All Maine Points,” my body faced what my brain wouldn’t, every part of it tied up with nervous energy.

My anxiety peaked as we loaded into the venue. I called Gracie. I told her I didn’t know if I could do this. I didn’t know if I
wanted to. I wasn’t even sure why. It just felt loaded, and really awkward.

I paced back and forth outside a bit trying to calm my body down. I smoked a cigarette in secret. I talked to myself. I focused on my breath. Then, right before it was time to go on, I remembered some advice my mom gave me when I was a kid. I had terrible separation anxiety and I was scared to go on a field trip with my class. She told me: whenever you start to feel anxious, like you’re spiraling, focus on someone else. Do something for them, make them feel better. It will take your mind off you. It will help.

It was time to go on. I went to the stage and looked out at the crowd. My family — old teachers, middle school and high school friends, people I hadn’t seen in years — they were all there, smiling up at me, yelling little cheers, whistling, waiting for me to start. Things moved in slow-motion in those first seconds, as I scanned the crowd and saw each of the many faces in perfect clarity.

It hit me that these people are the reason that I, in all my mixed-up in-between-ness, have been able to access joy in my life. Whether or not they knew the details I was about to sing to them, they always understood me, always loved and encouraged the me that I was. I know how lucky that is. This performance wasn’t about me, it had nothing to do with me. Fuck feeling awkward. What a small feeling. This was about expressing my deepest gratitude to my home, to the people who raised me, who allowed Joey to exist.

I was momentarily and unexpectedly overcome with emotion seeing these faces. Especially my mom’s. When I was five, in the car on the way to my first day of kindergarten, I confessed to my mom that I felt like a boy, without fully even understanding what that meant, and I asked her if that was okay. She didn’t seem caught off guard. In fact, it felt like she’d been waiting for this question my whole life. She told me: It’s more than okay. It’s a special gift. Even though it will be painful at times, always know it’s a blessing. You were made special. That moment determined the rest of my life. My mom made me feel special and not shameful about how I didn’t quite fit, and I’ve carried that confidence alongside my confusion everywhere since. I’m thankful for this moment everyday. I recognize how incredibly rare it is.

I closed my eyes and started playing. I thought of my mom. I thought of everyone in the audience. I tried to give them this performance in my deepest thanks. My anxiety disappeared. It was the best show I played on tour, possibly all year.

-Tica Douglas