Friday, September 09, 2005

Out of the Closet and into the Studio

we leave boston tomorrow for new york state, where we're going to record Album Two. in the woods. it's a far cry from the urban wasteland of brooklyn where we recorded the first record. for weeks the only wildlife i saw were ferrel cats and pigeons and the only green was the poor, abused park (the size of a large postage stamp) a few blocks from martin's....and occasional weeds straining out from under their sidewalk oppressors. typical city shit. this will be the polar opposite...the studio is On A Mountain and there is nothing but woods and deer. i may go into shock.

i've been easing into it, however. i spent the weekend in the country and now is where i have to fully come out of the closet. first of all i must state for the record that i am NOT A HIPPIE. ok i've said it. i do not like the dead, i don't believe in crystals or astrology, i generally hate tie-dye, i DO own a pair of birkenstocks but I find them very UNCOMFORTABLE so I never fucking wear them (they always fall off my feet...what's up with that?), i cannot hackey sack, and I do not smoke weed or play frisbee. i am not a hippie. i'm also not a goth, or a punk, or anything else very categorizable. i'm......a slob? that works. that's just fine. but not a hippie. godammit, the guys on NIN called us hippies and i supposed everything's relative. they never went around barefoot and they spent more time on their hair than we did. and probably collectively shaved more of their bodies than i did. but i am Not A Hippie. OK. enough. i do, however, do lots of yoga (this we know) and I meditate almost every morning. i've had a growing interest in zen buddhism and meditation for many years and every so often I will go to western massachusetts for a retreat. people always wonder and ask what I do there.

so here goes. i am coming out of the zen closet. the retreats last from anywhere from 3 to 8 days and basically you practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindfulness, and that's it. you eat. and sleep. the retreats are conducted in complete silence. you don't read, or write, or discuss, or do ANYTHING, you just clear your mind, pay attention to every little breath and detail, and it's incredibly difficult but also wonderful. to explain is hard. the place itself is beautiful...a transformed turn-of-the-century monastery that was bought in the 70's and has been a functioning vipassana (insight) meditation center since then. (you can go to the site: it's buried in the woods near a small town, the grounds are gorgeous and the building itself has tons of character. This was my fourth retreat. i found myself in tears the morning i left, reading about new orleans and the government and the people dying and the general mess. our country is sad. so sad. what to do? go to the woods and sit in a zen center.

So, without going into painful detail (and believe me, i could....Details upon Details about the pattern of the floor in the meditation hall...which i, I spent three days in silence, sitting on a cushion or walking on wooden floorboards staring at my slow-moving socks, watching inside, watching what was most apt to creep into my mind. it's a fascinating experience. to try to know yourself, to watch your mind, to allow quiet to enter a place usually so noisy that even in an empty room the volume of your brian chatters so endlessly with nonsense that you barely even notice that you're alive. especially lately, with all that's been going on, I was interested to see what would come up. We just went through personnel changes in the band and i think i've decided that the most unfun part of this job is hiring and firing crew. It just plain sucks. We're leaving to record the next album and I figured my mind would be filled with ideas, worries, anticipations and changes but actually, i didn't think about it at all. I think I'm Ready. We've been playing the material so much that I could record this album with my eyes glued shut. No, what crept into my head most was relationships, past and present, and occasional movies and songs. going to see avril recently proved a major disaster, as "Sk8r Boi" (which I'm not that fond of) and "Complicated" (definitely better) both bounced around in my brian relentlessly. this was so hilarious to me that I don't know where to begin. buddhism and avril. do they mix? zen would say so. zen would say: "the tree is green. the sky is blue. avril bleaches her hair."

I also found my brain wandering to the scenes from the DVD footage, which was sealed and delivered the night before i left. I feel strange about it. It is certainly not at all what I expected it to be, yet it's not bad. It's just very different than what I'd planned, and the day and the footage seems foreign. I was in a serious mood that day, so I look serious. That's the way it works. Is that who I've become? Some serious person? Maybe I have. On days of shows I tend to talk less, play less and take everything a bit more seriously. it was a stressful day...brian's drums were MIA on a plane somewhere, the power on the block went out, the problems piled up higher and higher....but unlike hollywood or reality TV, there was little drama. Just shrugs and "whatever. shit like this happens all the time. we'll figure it out." certainly the best life approach, but not such gripping cinema. my mind wandered over the scenes I had seen, replaying them in my head...wondering how it will look to other people. to make myself feel better I think of it as a snapshot rather than a portrait. a snapshot taken with a disposable camera in a drunken stupor...when you capture the spirit even though the lighting ain't quite right. the DVD tugged at my brain. think about me. think about me. fucking. i would often get caught up and then snap back to reality ten minutes later. back on the cushion. back with the sound of my own breath and 80 other people all quietly watching their own little dramas, their own mind-movies, gently pulling themselves back. practicing together. important.

There were about 80 folks on this retreat; the average age maybe 40 or so. there were a few incredibly old people and it was so inspiring to watch them moving through this rigorous schedule...with the pain in their bodies and the natural slowness in their step. in total silence everyone ate together in a large dining hall, wonderful vegetarian food prepared lovingly by the cooks, in total silence everyone sat and meditated in the hall. everyone stays in small dorm-type rooms with a bed, a chair, a sink and a mirror. the schedule is the same every day. every time period is announced by a bell-ringer (volunteers from the retreat, I rang for work period at 7:50 am) and it's a gorgeous sound, a thai bell struck with a rubber mallet. i would walk through the halls and grounds feeling like paul revere not in a rush. hey. you. wake up. the british aren't coming. i love ringing the bell. listening to it reverberate for bill hicks would say, it squeegeed my third eye. without mushrooms! back to the schedule....wake at 5:30, in the dark, and sit from 6 to 7. breakfast from 7-8. then work period, in which everyone had a different job to help the upkeep of the center, mostly cleaning and cooking (i scrubbed pots...mindfully and slowly). another sit from 9-10, then walking meditation (basically just walking in a ten foot space back and forth as slowly as possible while focusing on one point and keeping your mind's very funny to watch people doing this en masse's looks sort of like Night of the Living Dead, except pretty). then back to the meditation hall for a talk from the teacher (who was a wise and wonderful 83-year old german woman...just amazing, though somewhat senile), then lunch, then a brief break (I usually grabbed a nap or went for a walk in the woods). 2:30 more walking meditation, 3-4 sitting, 4-5 walking, then more sitting, 6-7 dinner, another talk, then more walking, then a late sitting and then bed. then wake up and do it all again. It's fantastic. It's monastic. It's....a meditation retreat, what the fuck? I don't know, this is really hard to explain. before I dig myself into a hole i will leave it be.

i've spent the last few days just taking time to myself, drinking tea, catching up, going to lots of voice lessons and rehearsing with brian and sean (our Esteemed Producer). we've narrowed it down the 16 tracks and we'll probably end up ditching two so that the record ends up with a total of 14. in the morning i'll pack my bags and drive to the woods, where we will make a record. wish me luck. i will be pretty much offline for the few weeks there, but i'll check in occasionally to make sure nobody's dying and that new orleans hasn't been secretly transformed overnight into a giant army base.



p.s. a final note for some reading: all i will say is that i would recommend meditation to anyone even remotely interested. i've never seen meditation NOT help anyone with anything in their life be it stress, scatterbrained-ness, depression, existential crisis, whatever. know thyself. it all starts there and then everything else slowly changes for the better. it's important to point out (since some people know Nothing about meditation or buddhism) that meditation is not religious, or even spiritual. it's practical. it's literally just the practice of sitting and sharpening your awareness. that's it. there are no rules, no rituals. you do not need to believe in anything. all of the trappings of religion and chanting and mantras are secondary and useless. it's pretty foolproof. one of the early books that hooked me was "Dropping ashes on the buddha"by seung sahn. he is a korean teacher with an amazing no-bullshit writing style....i read that back in 2000 and it cemented my desire to practice regularly:
another great book for the curious is "Buddhism Plain and Simple" by Steve Hagen. awesome writer, direct and a good quick read:


Psi-anide said...

Hey Amanda, Best of luck on recording the new album.
You have got me interested in trying zen meditation (or buddha meditation) It sounds like a really great way to improve my life and along with the other things i am doing to improve myself it might make the biggest difference. I'm going to find out all i can about it and start doing it right away.

I will post on here sometime later to report how its going.

Thank you

Mindesign said...

I concure. Meditation is great "therapy". So, I can't wait for the show in Iowa City. I'm very laid-back and mellow about 80% of the time but when it comes to certain things that GET me (such as amazing performers with soul) I become a spastic 7 year old girl with really bad ADD.

A Unique Alias said...

Looking forward to the new album - - planning any Dead-esque jamming? ;-)

blackcloth said...

This is great news about your next album. I can't wait to hear it. You know, I really like 672, and it's too bad this song is so short. It fit so perfectly to your post.

As for meditating, yeah, it does work. and it works better in a group, that is with guidance. About ten years ago I was in such a group, but somehow I messed it up because I wore heavy metal t-shirts. The tutor called it negativity. For me it was like a normal thing: Just be Thyself. Anyway, it's time for me to resume the exercises. Some hints from me: Daoism is more neutral and more close/real to life than Buddhism, and! drink water; at least 5 pints pure water a day. It's the cheapest remedy and easy to get used to.

^^^^RobB^^^^ said...

WAAAHHHHHH,i want the new cd!good luck amanda.

crackwhorex said...

I'm very excited for the new cd!

On a total side note, guess who I am meeting for my journalism class? Christopher Lyden. I was laughing so hard because i had just finished listening to the song.

Should I plan on asking him if he knows you? =p



blue_reina said...

i have been interested in zen buddhism as well. i had to read a book for school but then it became something i was interested in. i would love to go on a retreat like that. i am amazed at how much more peace i have now that i do yoga and try to meditate. You are right it doesn't have to do with any notions of religion. I enjoy reading books by Thich Nhat Hanh. Good luck with your record.

Riley said...

I can't wait to listen to the new cd. I bet it will be spectacular!

Samm said...

I don't know if you read these comments or not, but I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. Good luck with album two. And seeing as I recently moved to MA for grad school and I'm looking to get back into meditation, I might give a try. It sounds like something I'd enjoy. And it's funny you should mention the Hagen book - I just got it in the mail yesterday. I used to be really into Eastern religions, and I'm looking to get back into Buddhism in particular, so I thought I'd give this book a try.

evilforestgnome said...

yay! i can't wait to hear the new stuff.

i am quite familiar with the 'please don't label me as a hippie' syndrome. i lived at a vege co-op for two years because i liked the garden and the good food. b/c of my chosen residence, i was called a hippie by my peers. the funny thing is, i was shunned by my "community" too and was labeled as unsustainable mostly b/c i didn't dress like them...i love my purple doc boots (animal killer!)...which pissed me off b/c i am about the only person i know who's parents still use an outhouse to be environmentally friendly. to make a long story short, being grouped into some abstract category sucks. my sympathies are with you. seems a lil strange that you listed off a bunch of things that don't make you a hippie...b/c hippies are a diverse group of ppl, and i'm sure there are many of them who don't want to be grouped together based on stereotypes.

maxrob said...

good luck.
try not to change in a fairy. it's very important. I heard that the first step to become a hippie is living too much in a wood area.

maia said...

Hey Amanda,
highly enthused about new album :)
It's kind of qirky; your freudian slip calling your brain "brian"...or perhaps that was deliberate.
I can empathise with your greenie-freak-out, i grew up in a cult. it was crap. yay freedom now.
losha love M

Komaja said...

Good luck to both of you recording the new album. I have tremendous faith in you guys. Enjoy your time in the mountains and just do your best on the album. We fans're here and the ones who aren't...I guess it falls into that "*shrug* whatever. It'll be okay" kinda mindset you spoke about pertaining to the DVD shoot.

There'll be a cycling of fans like there's cycling of everything else.

BTW, thanks for the meditation info. A meditation retreat sounds like something I'd like to experience sometime.

It's funny though, sometimes, I find myself staring at something and just letting my mind wander whereever it wants to go. Just feeling my ass on the floor or my feet on the ground and the air in my lungs and letting my mind go. It's an awesome, halcyon feeling.

And lastly, screw labels. I don't think when you come down to it, anyone is really easily categorized. It's just most people try to categorize themselves or others to understand things better. It's like we all feel safer or something when something or someone is neatly labelled. If it's some intangible, un-named thing or person, it's scary because of it's mystery. At least that's what I've found at many people's (including my own) desire to label and compartmentalize.

I used to be quite rigid in my definitions of myself. I had it down to finely tuned and some broad labels. I'm not a person who likes pie. I'm a "cake person. A "lesbian". A "music major". Etc.

Now, I've earned my English degree and plan to write. My boyfriend and girlfriend encourage me. And pie is mighty yummy. Espcially Shoo-fly, deep-dish apple or mocho creme.

Jen said...

recently a few friends and people i respect have been blogging some very interesting things. currently i find that im in the middle of a stressful/religious/feminist/existential/etc/etc crisis. your description of the retreat, however, made me feel so peaceful. ive never been able to commit to meditation because its so difficult to calm the mental chaos. but you've convinced me that its worth a serious effort. the whole 'know thyself' issue is definitely a worthy cause.

best of luck with the album. i cant wait. im also looking forward to your new york concerts.

neoerik said...

best of luck to you and to brian. i'm excited to hear what you've been cooking up!
also, thanks for the kick towards practicing meditation more often. i've started yoga and would like to meditate more.

Marty said...

Hey good luck on youur cd, and meditation seems like a good idea especially me, We'll have to go together sometime ^.^ jest playn' buuy anyway thanks and good luck to both of you.

marre said...

Hey Amanda.. nice post. I've been reading a lot about Buddhism and meditation all summer, it's the first time I've paid attention and it really has helped me see things differently. Wish I had looked into it years ago, but you can only do what you can do today! (It helps with the residual Catholic guilt too.)

NIN are so funny. I first heard your band when I saw you all open for them this spring. What an aggro boys' club, I love 'em but they need to lighten up. (Unlikely.)

Along Sad Waters said...

Hi Amanda, well all the best for album two ! I know what amount of work it is... on completely another subject, I wondered if you or Brian were fond of Edgar A. Poe ? (to tell the truth I'm composing the music of a play about his "Great Short Stories...", and though the director don't know you, there is a great "Dresden Dolls" feel in it... just rock meeting 19th century fantasy and cabaret actually...)
Anyway thanks for sharing all of this with us, your diary is great !
And you're NOT a hippie to me ! =p

K'vitsh said...

What a lovely post.

I've just started meditating and can already see the results. Love it. I love reading your posts on yoga and meditation (and tea!). They often make me feel kinda peaceful.

I'd like to go on a retreat someday, though I'm far from ready. The thought of no distractions for even a full day is terrifying, yet exciting.

I really enjoy your diary. Please tour Edmonton, Canada soon!

crazyjaneski said...

Amanda, That retreat sounds fantastic. I've had a few yoga retreats, and I always return from a few days of constant practice and quiet feeling new. A meditation retreat sounds difficult, but good, good, good.

I am so excited that you two are recording a new record. I hope the woods treat you right, and that everything comes out exactly as it should.

Then, please return to Prague and play it. I am dying to see you play again.


PS. I don't want to hear another word about the NIN guys shaving their bodies.

HugoBall said...

Godspeed dearie.

Shurè said...

That's not Justice, Amanda I Heat u, I'm a man but I feel attracted By Brian, Lucky for u. Now I have to leave, me overall. Comes to Italy please, here the people needs to listen about u, maybe u can help this blind men. I'm waiting for Brian, byez

f°°k u all

larry red nyc said...

You are not a Sixties tie-dyed, pot-smoking hippie.

You do, however, share many distinctly hippie qualities. Individually, these aren't hippie-ish, but the combination of these things might cause someone to mistake you for a hippie.

Hippies, in general, share these qualities:

Eastern religion
compost jars by the sink
flushing the toilet only when there's a "number 2"
wandering around nature for several days to do this

The more points you accumulate, the more one might think you're a hippie.

I hope this doesn't offend; I'm only sharing the truth (I have a lot of hippie friends who hate being called a hippie).

I think your band's music is good, and you're both very talented.
Talented hippies.

Kitty said...

There are very few things that bother me in this world, and I think one of them is ignorance...on NIN's part. In this day and age (which I hate being cliche, but oh well) there is so much cultural meshing that it is hard to deferentiate between one era or another. At one time, saying 'groovy' singled you out as a hippy; however, times, as always, have changed. Saying groovy, which I do proudly on a daily basis, does not have the same connotation as it used to, because the ideal has been forgotten by the younger generations. The 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's have been conglamorated into this pop-culture society we call America, and if anyone can't see that...I wish I had their eyes, if only temporarily.

As for the meditation, I have to concur. I am currently helping a...friend(not sure if I should call him that) on his path to recovery. He's an alcoholic, and used drugs, but is in a program, and making efforts to change, which I admire. I learned a new meditation technique that was interesting, and I am trying to help him with simple meditation proceedures (sounds like I'm about to operate). However, this new technique I learned was during High Day last Saturday in a Druid Grove. It's premise was that instead of being introspective, you use external feelings to draw power from the earth and sky. 'Delve into the waters of chaos' I believe it was put. It was, in it's own right, a very unique experience. I was wondering if anyone else had tried it, and how did they feel doing it?

Oh, congratulations on your new album by the way. I'm sure I'm being cliche again, but your music speaks to me more than any other in the world. Okay, maybe with the exception of Tenacious D. Just kidding. I'll be waiting with baited breath until I can go and get it.

P.S. I would like to add that I'm not technically a Druid, but neither am I anything else. I'm a highly spiritual person, but I don't conform to one denomination or another. I just enjoy watching an participating in rituals of an unknown religion: it helps understand the culture better.

just_kissing_jen said...

my name is jen, just want to let you know , that i think you guys are the best thing to happen to music, your "style" is almost un-namable. i was just curiouse on what ur guys' fav. bands are, or singers, or ....if there is anyone else like you guys, ive must of listened to your CD like 2xs a day, ever sence i bought it,and that was like 8 months ago, just moved to san diego....WHEN ARE YOU COMING HERE AGAIN!!!!!!! we need better bands here, you guys.

oh and amanda ( haha look at me saying your name like i know you personally) you have an amazing voice, whos ur trainer?

Dr Leroy said...

I have two words for you:

Yoga Nidra.

Find yourselves a swami of the Satyananda tradition. Google it. Get the books.

And some vanilla green tea...


Captain X-ray said...

People always try and categorize stuff. It's how we keep things straight in our heads, but we like to think we are random. The world is full of people who take themselves too seriously. It is good to take step outside of yourself and see where you are in the bingo card. Good luck with the new music endeavor, and think about coming to western Canada. If the Arcade Fire can sell out here, you should give it a shot.

Hamletmaschine said...

It's so exciting that the new album is on the way... Here in Mexico Dresden Dolls have loads of fans (at least I know a lot of people). When there'll be a concert here?

I work on theater, since a year ago I'm adapting the last diary of Marquis de Sade in a some kind of expressionist-cabaret-esque play, with live music, that's how eventually I met your work, is just so great to hear this style taking a new life for new times... You're really inspiring.

Thanks and good luck to both of you.

Parita said...

sweet, i love reading your stuff