Jocelyn Arndt | Jocelyn & Chris Arndt
We're making a new album, and I'm terrified.
But, like, in a good way.
I'm being confusing, and I apologize. I didn't mean to start this story by confusing you. It's just that making a new album is this crazy, huge, personal thing, and sometimes it's difficult for me to put all the feelings it brings to the surface in words. But I'm going to try, and you, like the good person you are, are going to attempt to make sense of what I'm writing. So I guess I should just start from the beginning.
Deep breaths, Jocelyn. You're being weird. Just tell them about it. It can't be that hard.
Let's roll the clock back to this past summer. My brother Chris and I have been promoting the release of our first full-length album, "Edges," since the end of March, 2016. And our life is a fairy tale. We're driving to California and back with our producer/drummer, David, and our bassist, Kate. We're seeing the country, with all its wonderful twists and turns, like I've never seen it before. We're staying up late playing in venues, getting up early to drive to the next gig, eating at Waffle Houses at 1am and hoarding hotel-room tea bags like some sort of hipster squirrel. This is the life.
This is MY life.
Wait, this is my life?
How did I get so lucky?
To be honest, I don't know how I ended up being so blessed to be able to call music my job. The word "job" doesn't even begin to describe it, doesn't even begin to express how much a part of me music is. It doesn't really seem fair of the English language, when I think about it, to let me live this crazy existence singing words I've written while depriving me the syllables I need to express how thankful I am for it. But then again, I don't know how you'd go about thanking a language for the powers of expression it's given you. I guess a good way to start is by writing to all of you through stories like this one.
But anyway, I digress. The summer is winding down, we've had too many life-changing experiences on the road to count, and I don't think it can get any better than this.
And then, we look down the road, and pencil in, in big block letters for Spring 2017, "NEW ALBUM.”
It's there. It's on the calendar. Between now and then, my brother and I are going to come up with 12 new songs. We've got space for 12 new stories between now and then, 12 tales to spin for all of you in the next chapter of our life as recording artists.
I buy a new notebook, a slim black volume that fits in my back pocket. I decide I'm going to write all of the lyrics for the new album in this notebook, all together in one place. The pages are blank, but by February, they'll be full of new scribbles describing new feelings for the whole world to hear.
If you had a blank page, what would you fill it with?
This is the question I ask myself as I start to doodle in the margins, drawing concentric circles in the corners of a fresh page with a pen I borrowed from my Mom's purse. We're sitting in a restaurant, sipping on iced tea with lemon in a booth with a stained-glass lamp hanging over us, my brother chatting with my parents as I try to kick-start my brain.
Write something, Jocelyn. Write something.
C'mon. You can't record an entire album of concentric circles.
And that's what scares me. What if I don't have anything to say?
My brother and I have written songs together since we were in middle school. It's sort of our thing... I can't imagine writing music with anyone else. He writes the chord patterns and the instrumentation, and I write the lyrics and the melody. Each song starts a little bit differently, but the overall pattern is that one of us will bring an idea to the table, a little snippet of something that's been bouncing around our brain for a few days or weeks or months, and then we'll start to work on it. We'll coax the idea out of its shell, dress it up, bend it and twist it until we've got something both of us are proud of. Combined, we're much more creatively powerful than either of us would be alone. You could think of us like the Power Rangers or the Planeteers from Captain Planet: kind of moody separately, but a force of nature when their powers combine.
But this time, the situation is a little different. For "Edges," we wrote some new songs, but we also included tunes we'd written and kept since middle school. We had ammo already. This time, we're starting from scratch. This notebook didn't come with any middle-school scribbles from an angsty teenager hidden away in its margins. It's blank.
What if this time, we can't activate our superpowers?
What if it doesn't work?
Oh my god. How are we going to do this?
The whole project suddenly looms up ahead of me, casting a shadow over my head. It seems so daunting, almost impossible.
HOW ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS?
Now you know where the terror I mentioned earlier came from.
We've never done anything like this before. A whole album, from the beginning to the end. All those stories. For a moment, I don't feel like I've ever done anything story-worthy.
There are so many people who live more interesting lives than I do. I'm insignificant. I'm a five-foot-tall 21-year-old with a blank notebook and her mother's pen.
We can't do this.
I can't do this.
But then, I look down at the blank page in front of me, and I realize something.
The paper is smooth, untouched except for my doodles. It's wide open, unassuming. Its new face stares up at me, a perfect reflection of my own thoughts. I feel empty, and the page is empty, too. It sits there, waiting. Waiting to be filled.
And it's only empty if I want it to be empty.
It's a fresh start, a new chapter. If I can fill it with doodles, my lyrics can't be less meaningful than a bunch of concentric circles. My words can't be as empty as a blank page, waiting to be filled. And I can write them with any feeling, in any direction. Upside down, backwards, sideways. I can use any pen I choose. I can endow them with any emotion I want to: anger, frustration, happiness. Terror. Even the terror I feel at the daunting prospect of starting a hugely personal creation from scratch.
I'm in control.
I'm holding the pen.
Right now, I'm feeling a hundred emotions, as I sit here with my iced tea and my family under a stained-glass lamp, scared to death of what the world might think of my feelings.
All I have to do is write them down.
I take a deep breath, move my hand to the top of a page, and write three words.
And in a moment, the spell is broken. The page submits to my pen as I start to fill it with feelings, pouring my doubts onto the paper.
It's only empty if I want it to be empty. And right now, I want to fill it.
That terror I felt before is still under the surface, but I've beaten it back with a few strokes of ink. It can't be all that debilitating if it runs away at the slightest swipe of a pen, can it?
Did I say I couldn't do this before?
Because right now, I'm totally doing it.
The blank page and I have an agreement. She listens to my thoughts and reflects them back to me so I can make sense of them with words. I entrust her with these thoughts, and she keeps them for me. And when I'm finally ready for the world to hear the words I've written, she's gone. Filled with hastily-scribbled lines, transformed into a work of art. I owe everything to the blank page and my mother's pen.
We will write this album, and we will record it, and we will share 12 new stories with the world. And these stories aren't written yet, but they'll come, as surely as there's a fresh page in my notebook, waiting to listen to my words.
And you know what?
I'm not scared anymore.
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