When I first started digging for samples, I had absolutely no idea what sounds I wanted to use. Rather, I kept thinking of different visuals in my head, and somehow there were these expectations of what those visuals would sound like. Dimly lit neon throughout a vast and distant universe. Moonlit prairies accompanied by one or two miniscule white cloud formations. Gray fog over a calm and peaceful river.
At this point in time, I knew almost nothing about jazz styles, about orchestral ensembles or mood music. Though, after a few trips to local record shops and their basements of cheap finds, I found myself noticing the various aspects of different vinyl and music that I would find most enjoyable to sample. Soon, I became a full fledged student and sufficient addict in collecting relics of beautiful music that was seemingly masked and hidden from a new era of digital currency.
One day I felt like I’d found heroin. My first exposure to the bliss that was 50’s and 60’s mood music was Herbert Rehbein’s “Music to Soothe that Tiger”. It was going for 25 cents at a thrift store. As soon as I played the record, I nearly cried. In moments I could see the fog dancing over gray rivers, and I could hear it too.
Since that moment in the summer of 2013 I had been, in a sense, chasing after that same “magic dragon” in attempt to make something else come to life sonically. I found some, but in the best way possible it was always sparse and rare to find something that put my soul at true rest again.
After finishing my time at UPenn, I went home to South Dakota sorta feeling like I did something great, but when I came back to Philadelphia in the early months of 2016 (half a year later), I truly felt defeated. The world and its motivational speakers in Indian Country had encouraged me to go off to school and come back to the rez to change the world and then some. I laughed at those who told me just to “escape” without holding the door open behind me.
On top of truly wanting to help, though, I admittedly egotistically thought and fantasized of local newspaper articles and communal graduation congratulations from my communities. Selfishly I forgot that everyone has their own paths that get difficult, and I needed to take those difficulties into consideration all over again.
It wasn’t that I had forgotten about the troubles I grew from, rather it was that I hadn’t faced them so upfront in so long that my sensitivity to the pain grew tremendously. On top of this rekindled hurt that hit both close to home and within the home, I found myself being completely disregarded by any job source in the community that I was raised. In panic to help my younger brother as much as possible, I resorted to somehow being able to book my own little make-shift tour (if you will) since no steady job would hire me at the time. Even then, with things being “hip hop”, great negative backlash and hesitation came from those who hired me. Despite my educational background, just looking the way I looked and doing what I did made many assume that public speaking and on-the-spot presenting would be too difficult for me.
I knew I couldn’t do that forever and that soon whatever interest people had in me at the time would tap out, so with the help of my Philly mentors I came back to Philadelphia in search of something more stable to be a better resource for my family. As a deep depression in me grew larger while being back home, I realized that maybe I just wasn’t ready mentally to come back and do what I wanted to do just yet. That nearly killed me, or rather it nearly led me to killing myself.
Whatever way I rationalized it, I felt awful. I felt defeated. I was ashamed of myself and found it harder to look in the mirror. I felt like I hadn’t done anything, and that maybe I just never would. I did my best to keep these thoughts at bay while job hunting.
“Amethyst Flower” came about in the midst of these events, and after Frank had offered to record the album, I placed much more importance into the project than I had initially intended. After weeks of preparing for our 3-day studio session, I felt really good about the album, it seemed legit. And then in one week a deep wave of depression hit me hard.
Even after getting the new job, I felt something cave into my soul that made me think I wasn’t doing anything. It extended to convince me that the song selection I had for the album was not good enough, and that I was missing something. Throughout that week I continued to think about that old Herbert Rehbein sample and how I may never come across something that beautiful again.
The night it hit the hardest, my mentor came in the door. We spoke for a minute, and I laid down to sleep off the feeling. As I closed my eyes to sleep, I thought, “Maybe it just won’t be good.” And I started to accept defeat.
I woke up that morning earlier than anticipated, and thus had more time after showering and getting ready for work to do what I call “YouTube digging”. It’s when you trust in the internet to maybe have a sample here or there that not many have used before. I expected to find nothing.
In those next moments I found myself coming upon this album by Piero Piccioni. The first song that played was “Aspetto Ancora Un Giorno”. I nodded my head. It sounded like something Madlib would take on, and I dug that. Still, I stayed patient and skipped ahead for the other songs.
In a wave of emotion I started hearing for the first time, Piero Piccioni’s “Sognando La Tua Voce”. The voice, the accompanied strings, it was what I missed. The way both sources glided together in this beautiful swaying of melismas, I lost it. I started to cry.
Somehow, some way, the song itself extended its arm out and comforted me with a few pats on the back. Spiritually it felt like someone had told me truthfully and knowingly, “It will be okay…. It will all be okay, I promise.” In the 15 minutes I had before commuting to work I made the beat and that was that.
There’s an odd feeling of freedom that washes over you when you turn a sample from such a faraway time into something that speaks your own dialect more fluently. It’s like feeling the crisp of the freshly pressed cuffs on your shirt dance with your wrists while you conduct an orchestra for a ballroom of just yourself and the digital instruments in front of you.
In my own solitude, I dream of things. Duke Ellington said himself that he does not compose, rather he “dreams”. Sometimes it’s hard to create a medium of both actualities, but when it happens, you suddenly don’t feel so awful anymore. You close your misty eyes, and begin humming what will soon be the hook to another song you hold dearly close.