Many years ago, I was having a conversation with a very dear friend and singer about music. I told her that as I drummer, I tended to focus on the bass guitar and the overall song structure to do my job. She in return offered this simple thought: “I focus on the lyrics.”
Well, yeah, ya think?
But over the years, I remembered that conversation almost every time I paid attention to song lyrics, which just wasn’t that often. I realized that unless someone was doing something very interesting, or extraordinary, lyrics just didn’t hold my focus when I was working on keeping time.
Recently, I met someone extraordinary.
Nina Storey is a Los Angeles-based singer/composer who can leap like a Cirque du Soleil star. She landed absolutely effortlessly on everything I heard, and I was riveted, waiting to hear where this acrobatic vocalist was going to spring to next, from a whisper to a solid right cross. This kind of facility is not something you hear every day…
She was playing at a free concert venue down the street from my house, and on a rare day off, I was walking around Atwater Village and heard some live music in the distance. A few other singers performing were very good, no question, but without question, Nina Storey was fearless.
And very engaging. A small group of obviously loyal fans sat front and center, and the joy in their faces was mirrored on the joy of giving coming from the small stage. Much like live theater, there is no place to hide if you miss your mark… which Nina did not miss once.
So why, as drummers, should you be interested in learning about a singer? Simple. As an artist, you either go for it or you don’t. And when you are in the company of someone who does, you can learn a great deal. Nina’s reaching from high to low and all points in between reminded of many nights when I would be playing in the zone, and it was the most exciting feeling in the world to wind it up and let ‘er rip across the musical universe, aiming for the very far away…
The stage offers us many teachers, and I have to say, school was in session for far too short a class. We spoke afterwards, and it’s been a long time since I met a genuine person in this all too often cold town. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t lost her Colorado roots. All I know is, it was a real treat to hear someone bare their musical soul and leap.
So much so that the next night, I went to hear Nina sing at a Michael Jackson tribute in Hollywood’s Room Five. I’d had a long day, had to drive through L.A. traffic (which sucks your soul with every tenth of a mile traveled), AND, I blew off my gym workout… which is extremely rare. As musical luck would have it, I walked in just as Nina was singing “Man in the Mirror.” She has a truly joyful presence on stage, unlike anything I have seen from a performer in years. She makes you want to listen to every single note, every leap and return back to the springboard. And I did.
She then sang one of her own songs, and she held the small but very focused audience’s rapt attention. I was deeply inspired, and I was reminded that a true artist, one who is fearless, gives their all no matter where they are, be it a small room or the Hollywood Bowl.
This was the lesson. THE lesson. Give it your all, every bit of it, and let the joy of playing and fascinating exploration of the unknown lead to the incredibly awesome unexpected. Live you life, play your life, share your play, fill the room with your energy, your 99-yard throw, your swing for the fences, your deepest heart reach…
On Nina’s new album (Think Twice), “This Naked Woman” truly showcases her vocal finesse, and is a re-release of a song I was blown away by on her 2006 YouTube video, shot by Michael Lopez. The final cut is called “Through Me,” and it’s one of the most beautifully haunting melodies I’ve ever heard. I’m listening to it on a loop as I write this piece, and in “Through Me,” some of the last words are “… put those pieces back somehow…” and they remind me that long ago, a fearlessness coursed through my veins too, along with an infinite joy of reaching for the forever.
As I prepare to finally and fully unleash every bit of musician, educator, and artistic explorer, I’m very glad I had a rare day off to meet a rare contributor to the energy of what really matters. The pieces of our artistic being can become so easily fragmented in this often brutal journey. Mine certainly have, but in the space of just a couple of days and a lot of YouTube and Spotify listening, I can feel the right stuff coming back as I re-learn by example…
… and my eyes are once again trained upon the very far away, more fully appreciating that forever and special place, where the artist lives and gives without fear.