So What Do You Do?

I’m tired of running from what I love. I’m tired of running from who I am. I’m a writer and I love music. I love to write about music. Sometimes you just have to let some time pass to let passion reignite.

When you meet someone, you cycle through the usual chit chat and small talk until you inevitably get to the question, “So what do you do?” This of course refers to your job/career/what you do for a living. It’s a question that’s always caused a variety of feelings within me.

When I was working in an office job out of college to make money, I felt awkward telling people this because I knew it wasn’t me. It wasn’t who I am. I quit that job after a year because I was miserable. In addition I had a broken heart from a falling out with a girl I thought I loved, only to realize I had no clue what love was and that I was a long way from understanding it. So I started a little blog called Country Perspective, a site dedicated to covering my growing love for a genre I had always loved since I was a child. I was also simultaneously running from my problems.

What ignited that passion? Well I was sick of bro country and I took to the internet in search of the country music I grew up and loved that had seemingly disappeared from the radio waves. What I found instead was something much better and much more. I found independent country through the likes of Saving Country Music and Grady Smith. At least that’s what I thought. But really I found something much bigger. I found the gateway to a whole world of music I didn’t know about. I found a part of me I had repressed all my life and that was the passionate music fanatic and nerd in me that had been inside of me all along that was finally able to be unleashed. I had never felt the rush I had felt when I first started Country Perspective. And along the way I lost that excitement (and regained it and lost it a few more times). How did I lose it? Well there’s everything else.

A blog is a real pain in the ass. It’s a labor of love. You make no money from it. There’s no greater passion project. You see things worked out for the first couple years of Country Perspective for me because the pressure of everything else was put at bay. I took an unconventional route for college. I graduated high school with two Associates degrees and then I finished my undergrad degree in two years. I was done at college at age 20. I was two years ahead of schedule and saved a considerable amount of money and time. Well eventually I realized I lost time. You’re only that age once. I also made a good bit of money from the office gig. I had time and money, for a while at least. But then it started to run out and the walls started closing in. The pressure was on both internally and externally for me to get a real job.

The pressure finally cracked me when I quit Country Perspective in spring of 2017. Shortly after I fell into a deep anxiety and depression state. This lasted for around 6-8 months. I can’t really tell you for sure because it was a hazy time I would rather forget. But years later I realized this was ultimately one of the biggest blessings I ever received because it made me realize that I had been living unhealthily for years. I had essentially kicked the can down the road for years and finally I ran out of road and was forced to confront them. It was the wake up call I needed. Once I got myself out of that horrible state, I began my journey to realizing my true self.

I started taking the small, boring steps I needed just to feel normal. I started to fix my problems. You ultimately realize it’s better to face shit head on than avoid it. I still missed writing though, so then I started a blog called Fusion Country. A good idea that ultimately fell apart due to the limiting scope of the blog and my own personal journey not being far enough long for me to be a writer and person with no malice dripping from their words. You see at the time I was quite bitter and angry over feeling I had to leave Country Perspective because of life and the world’s demands. I unfairly blamed the country music community at the time for having to leave and lashed out because I felt like it was all I could do after losing something I felt like I shouldn’t have had to lose. But at the same time I was also angry at myself for Country Perspective being ran not the way I wanted it and also realizing I was not portraying my true self with the blog as some pure, only traditionalist country music fan (I love that music, but not just that music). So let’s back up a second to cover a moment I had with the blog in the summer of 2016, a breaking point if you will, before we get back to my personal journey. I’ve never told anyone about this moment before now.

In August of 2016 I had a breaking point moment as a person and a music listener. Anyone who knows me knows I have quite the vivid memory. It scares me how much I can remember stuff. So I remember this August day well. Lately I had noticed I was growing more restless with the blog and it was becoming harder to write reviews. The passion was waning, but my stubbornness and refusal to quit didn’t let me acknowledge this. But the funny thing about me is even if I don’t want to admit to something, my body and mind will gladly wring it right out of me somehow someway. So to that day I keep alluding to: I sat down to write a review for BJ Barham’s Rockingham. It’s quite frankly a depressing album about failed American dreams and the struggles of the blue collar working person. Sitting down and spending hours on this review drained me. I mean no offense to Barham when I say what I’m about to say, his album just happened to be the one I wrote that was the straw that broke the camels back for me: this album and review made me fucking hate Americana music. It made me hate depressing and dark music. It took me years after this album to start fully appreciating this type of music again. This is what happens when you have zero balance and are all gas, no brakes all the time like I was back then. Doing the same thing over and over makes you feel crazy. All I was doing was listening to and reviewing this type of music.

Perhaps hate is a strong word and maybe that hate wasn’t really towards Barham or sad music. It was towards me liking it and listening to it at the degree I did because despite me being a way too harsh critic on myself in the past, I’m a pretty happy person. I always skew towards positivity. Well I did for years until I started to run from my problems. And yet I always acted like I was into this type of music in my first run of Country Perspective. I felt like I had to like it to fit in instead of just being completely myself. The hard truth was I had never really listened to much of this type of music and I was intrigued by the newness of it. The newness though finally wore off and my mind and body was ready to stop pretending to be someone I wasn’t. So it’s not that I didn’t or don’t currently like sad music, I just didn’t like it as much as I was telling myself and my readers at the time. I was depriving myself of who I was as a person and listener. But you can only fake it for so long.

(Also I realize I’m rambling a lot at this point about a bunch of personal stuff that I imagine can be quite tedious and boring for you. But I gotta get all this shit off my chest to completely move on and move forward as a writer.)

So completely drained from my Barham review, I decided to go for a bike ride to help clear my head. And on this bike ride I listened to an album I had been hearing a lot of buzz about. Over the past year I had started branching out to all types of music beyond the mainstream and following the buzz around all genres, not just country. And the album I listened to was Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion. I was immediately captivated and in awe of such a fun album. This album blew my mind and it was the kickstart to me realizing again how much I love pop music. It all goes back to being true to yourself. I didn’t just listen to country music growing up. I was a pop listener too. I loved the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. I loved Top 40 radio growing up. And just like I had deprived the country fan in me for years, I had deprived the pop fan in me too.

(By the way I’m going to explore the music of my younger years someday in a piece that’s already thousands of words and I haven’t even began reviewing the actual music yet. That piece is honestly what drove me to this moment and my return. And all because I just let it happen naturally.)

This realization of my enjoyment of pop only continued to lead to more moments like this and also made me open up to all music. For example, when I quit Country Perspective, the only music I listened to for a while was yacht rock. Then I dove more into hip hop, realizing my love of it. See how this breakdown was ultimately a blessing? It made me open my eyes and embrace things like never before and this went beyond listening to music. Everything began to open up for me like never before. All because I finally started embracing who I am and facing my problems head on.

(By the way don’t ever be afraid to talk to a therapist and read books because combined with a drive to improve you can make tremendous changes. Don’t be afraid to be the best version of yourself!)

In late 2018 I finally got the professional break I had long desired, landing a professional writing gig I still hold to this day. The gratefulness and joy of this moment was overwhelming. Ironically enough articles and reviews I had written on Country Perspective is part of what helped me land the job. Not only was it a great relief to finally land a good job, but it only added validation to all the work I did on the blog.

Only for eight months into it to be missing writing about music badly (this was after two months into the job officially closing Fusion Country). So I began Country Perspective again, but this time I was going to review all genres and do it my way. I also wanted closure. After some learning moments and reintroducing myself, I wrote happily on Country Perspective for a while also experiencing some more stuff that further informed me that I had some growing up to do. Then the pandemic happened in spring 2020. I kept writing, but the situation of the world obviously made things difficult with so much uncertainty. More importantly for me though I had just fallen into a serious romantic relationship. The combination of these things once again pulled me away from my love of writing.

The relationship fizzled out by summer’s end. I will not go into details of course out of respect for her. All there is to say is that it takes two to fall into love and it takes two to break it. It was an enjoyable experience for a while, but man was it painful when it ended. Just like before when I was heartbroken and unhappy with my office job, writing was there to pick me up for this breakup too. It’s amazing how cathartic writing can be when you have a broken heart, especially with an album like Brett Eldredge’s Sunday Drive that hit so hard for a broken hearted man like me at the time.

Writing was half the equation of my formula of getting over the breakup. The other half was immediately diving back into dating less than a month after it. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing in hindsight on paper. But it eventually proved to be a catalyst for yet another breakthrough for me personally. I consider it to be the biggest epiphany I’ve ever had. After two particularly bad dates, I was pretty down. One night I finally just decided that I’m getting to the bottom of this shit that was bugging me. I had realized this feeling had been sitting at the bottom of my stomach for years, the question of who I am and more importantly why I am. I mean the biggest lesson I learned the last few years was that you have to confront your issues to figure them out. After hours of researching I came across something that felt like a bullseye description of who I am and why I am. I immediately bought the book that delved into the aspects of a driven personality and I learned immensely from it. After reading this book I found an inner peace I had never found before and still hold to this day because not only did I finally get me, I accepted me for who I am. I discovered a true happiness with myself. It felt like I had completed the journey I set out on three years ago and now I’m in the epilogue of it.

But then there’s that whole writer thing and me still being stubborn and fighting against me that just can’t help rear it’s ugly head…

I quit Country Perspective again in spring of 2021, thinking satisfied of my second run, thinking I wouldn’t have the time to write due to taking on more responsibilities at my professional job, thinking I need to direct more focus on developing other skills, thinking I had enough of writing…

Only to be here in August 2021 writing this piece you’re reading now on September 1, 2021. Writing this after having a great summer, accomplishing many things I set out to do and yet once again missing writing about music. I just can’t quit it.

I can’t quit when there’s so much music I want to talk about, both past and present. But it goes beyond the music!

I can’t quit when I’m always telling my brothers to pursue their passions and support them in their goals. I can’t quit when my friends and family tell me they love my writing. I can’t quit when the wrestling fan in me sees CM Punk return to wrestling after being away for seven years and having his passion drained, his refusal to let his love for the art of wrestling go, just like how I can’t let my passions go. I can’t quit when thousands of screaming fans greet college football teams across the country in these coming weekends after two years away. The passion and the love, it’s overwhelming. When you see others embrace it, it reminds you that you need to embrace it too.

I can’t quit being a writer. I can’t quit writing about music. Because when you boil it all down, I realize I can now proudly answer that question everyone will inevitably ask me.

“So what do you do?”

I’m a storyteller.

I enjoy telling stories.

So that’s what I do.

Welcome to Diggin’ Up Records!

About Diggin’ Up Records

4 thoughts on “So What Do You Do?

  1. Zackary Kephart September 2, 2021 / 10:08 am

    Hey man,

    First of all, congratulations on the new blog! Really happy to see you back at it, and while I didn’t expect this for your first post, I applaud your honesty. In truth, I’ve wanted to write something like this myself that dives into my own deeper history, but have never known if it was worth it or not. You proved me wrong!

    Now, as someone who has followed you since the CP days – hell, basically since day one – you know that you were a huge inspiration behind me wanting to start writing myself. Now, these would have been my final years of high school. Back then writing really was just something recreational that I thought would be fun to try. I remember being envious of you for even *hearing so many releases a year, let alone writing about them in such detail.

    And … after a lot of bumps and turns along the way (my way of condensing three years of history, heh), at the same time you had Fusion Country, I had a blog called Swamp Opera in 2018. In truth, I’m like that Charlie Worsham song – I like the beginning of things. The happiest times I’ve been with writing was when I had my own review thread over at Pulse Music Board, my first months at This Is Country Music, and my first months with Country Music Minds (and my brief time at CP, for what it’s worth!). Swamp Opera was different, though. After having hit a burn out period with where I was at TMD and experiencing several life changes, a change was imminent. In truth, TMD was born out of my own frustrations with how I had handled my last few months at CMM (dishonest reviews to please people, writing under an alias, keeping up with everything, being quite frankly arrogant and pissy, if I’m being honest with myself, not unlike your experience with Fusion Country).

    It changed, thankfully, but Swamp Opera gave me a chance to start over and do something different by writing mainly about country music history, and at my own pace. It really did feel like entering a new era for me. Eventually, though, I found my own scope limiting. I wanted to write about new music again too, in addition to the old. I figured TMD would give me the chance to do that.

    And … things went well there too! And they pretty much have for three years now … at least I thought. The scary part about me now is that I’ve fallen back into many of the same trappings of before without really realizing it. I wrote 3-5 posts a week that are somewhat balanced between my various features, in addition to now contributing to Country Universe every now and then. I didn’t really realize how maintaining that delicate balance was slowly destroying me. I guess it didn’t feel like it because, unlike before, I was more confident as a writer and I knew more than I did before and felt more informed. In some ways, that’s scarier, man.

    Where I started to feel it was when I decided – in my infinite worldly wisdom – that I could easily balance two weekly features in a song review roundup series and a weekly news roundup series. Well, the latter failed halfway through the year because there’s just too damn much to keep up with, and it’s like the tent is almost too big now to please everyone. Same with the song review series, which felt less like me offering a nuanced take on things and more just “here’s what came out last week, y’all.”

    Which, before I go further, leads to another point. The older I get, the less inclined I feel to be “critical” to a harsh or nitpicky extent. People like what they like just like I do, and if I’m really thinking about a “goal” with all of this, it’s just to discuss music – not to ruffle feathers. Streaming also ruined me in some way. It opens the door for discovery, but now it’s like, “I can cover *everything!” A wise friend recently told me that the amount of music you consume or engage with a year doesn’t make you a better or worse music fan, and I get what he meant. It’s not how much you listen to, but rather what you get out of it – be it joy or some otherworldly epiphany. Hell, even the negative reviews sometimes inspire me, like the Florida Georgia Line album from earlier in the year. Another one told me that your audience is determined by who and what you cover, and I think you know who that person is. 🙂

    And man, have I learned that this year. I reviewed 128 albums in 2020, and when I think back on how many of them were actually worth it … well, the number obviously shrinks quite a bit. I guess it’s because, in essence, my tent for country music is fairly open. I grew up with 2000s country music and like many artists of the era that seem to get vilified today, and I like a lot of Texas and Red Dirt, even if I don’t subscribe to the theory that that music is automatically better or is all great (it’s not). I even like some of the sleepier Americana stuff like BJ Barham. I guess my theory, then, has been to always keep an open mind and try to be objective in what I cover but subjective in how I cover it. Which is fine, to an extent. But it just led to me putting up arbitrary quotas for myself to see how much I could cover (“I’ve covered this artist, so I should probably cover this one, too”). And I think the subjectivity got lost a little as a result. I wouldn’t say any of my reviews since 2018 have been dishonest, but have I held back some? Probably … ok, yeah.

    That, coupled with the insane amount of music that comes out each week now in the form of albums, EPs, and other stuff (a three-song project, Runaway June? Seriously?!?), and I have to be honest, the age of instant gratification with music is just not for me anymore. Because when I think back on fueled my passions as a kid, it was never anything I obsessed over 24/7, it was a careful balance and discovery on my own time and pace. I do believe that too much music can be a bad thing, because it can desensitize the experience and make those life-changing moments just kind of “there” for you, if that makes sense.

    So, where do we go now, friend? Well, I think we’re handling the next steps pretty well in our own ways. I think we’re just in this weird transitional period with music in general, and I know plenty of other online friends who have expressed a burn out with the constant rush of new music. I think it’s just a good time to get back to the basics and remember why we enjoy it and come together to discuss it in the first place. Thus far, your approach seems to work … hell, you got me to write a 1,000+ word comment! In truth, even despite my long speech there, I’ve never been sure what’s really been the source of my frustrations with blogging and why I naturally come back to it eventually anyway. Who am I? I guess I’m someone in search of an answer, and a way to remember that answer so I don’t find myself searching for it again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Josh September 2, 2021 / 3:27 pm

      Hey man,

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you like it and it wasn’t what you expected, as I wanted this feel like something surprising and new.

      I know you told me before, but it makes me happy to hear that I inspired you! That was one of my two big goals in the first iteration of CP: to inspire listening to new music and to inspire more people to write. Yes, you chose the perfect word: hearing. A big distinction from listening. In reality it’s impossible to actually listen to hundreds of albums per year. Something we’ve both learned several times over.

      Yes, I remember reading Swamp Opera, as well as all those other places you wrote (even the Pulse Music board posts). The frustration, dishonesty, “arrogant and pissy”: Yep! I know exactly where you’re coming from, as you said just like my experience with Fusion Country. Not pretty moments, but ultimately learning moments for us both thankfully too. Sometimes you gotta mess up to figure it out.

      Yes, the knowing and being aware of the balance act, I get what you mean by it being a bit scarier. The more you know, the more you want to cover and more you want to do and the harder it is to keep up the balance. Eventually you burn out, goes back to how things felt easier when you’re just starting out and basically not knowing what you’ve gotten yourself into. It does destroy you, both as a writer and a listener.

      Yeah weekly features are basically a trap haha! I still don’t know how I did the Hodgepodge or Pulse for so long. Those weekly features just grind you and take away all the creativity. Like putting a box around you and if you don’t hit it, you freak out.

      Agreed on being less critical with age. When you’re younger it’s really easy to summon up the anger and outrage over let’s say a Florida Georgia Line song. But then you’re like me who’s 29 now and it’s like, eh I’m just going to avoid it and find something I actually like. It was even easier too in the throughs of bro country to get worked up when there was a crowd of people who loved what amounted to rage posts and the music being so terrible (I will say “Redneck Crazy” still gets me a little worked up if I hear it lol). But yeah the goal is to just discuss music, not have a pissing contest to declare the best and worst in show. Culture in general today though is obsessed with the best/worst hyperbole and it’s easy to get sucked in at times. Yes, streaming is really the best and the worst in so many ways. Your wise friend is quite right and I completely agree with them. That other person sounds like he can be smart sometimes too 😉

      Yep, that keeping an open mind and having a big tent to listen to, it’s great as a listener to have access to it, but like the streaming point it makes you want to consume and write about it all. The moderation and holding back should really be in how we listen. We shouldn’t have to hold back in the way we write. It’s easier said than done to let writing and music listening happen naturally. There’s just so many variables that go into it all.

      Insane is the perfect word to describe the amount of music released. It’s just ridiculous and I don’t know how artists don’t rip their hair out trying to stand out in the infinite sea of other music being released. I did not see the three song project from Runaway June, but I’m now going to avoid it on principle of the absurdity of it haha! I’m right there with you my friend and I completely agree. I’m over that instant gratification stuff. The rat race lane isn’t worth it, you gotta follow your own, as difficult as it can feel at times. So that does make sense. Funny enough something I’ve been telling myself lately is there’s value in scarcity. With the non-stop consumption of stuff nowadays you don’t have time to miss stuff. And I think it’s definitely something that can apply to music listening. When you saturate yourself with anything, pleasure and enjoyment can become monotonous and frustrating quite quickly.

      Indeed we are, we’re figuring more of this out as we go. And yes we’re definitely not alone, so hopefully we can help others with their own music frustrations like we do for ourselves. For sure, it’s time we get back to the basics, that’s a good way to put it. By doing that and blocking out all the noise, I think we can find a lot of enjoyment in both the music and the writing. Fingers crossed it keeps working! It feels promising. Thank you for the comment, as I enjoyed reading and responding! You’ve added quite a lot of insight yourself to this post by adding it and got me write a long comment back too! I personally think we’re not frustrated with blogging, hence why we always come back. I think it’s everything around it making it feel like it’s complicated. It’s a simple problem that isn’t easy to solve because everything around blogging affects the blogging itself. Well said, I think that’s what we’re all doing my friend. But as I’ve found many times, your persistence will pay off and you’ll find that answer you seek. The waiting and the searching, it’s all for a reason I like to believe.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Andy September 3, 2021 / 2:16 pm

    Hey Josh,

    I haven’t commented particularly often, but I’ve always admired your writing and enjoyed your work. I’m thrilled to hear you’re in a good place and that your passion for writing about music has been reignited.

    I’m not a music critic/writer by nature, just an ordinary fan, but let me tell you that I can absolutely relate to a lot of what you said, especially the parts about pretending to be something you’re not and making yourself miserable by forcing yourself to listen to music you don’t actually enjoy. When it comes to today’s country music world, I like some of the critically acclaimed Americana stuff, but frankly more often than not it’s music I respect more than I actually want to listen to. But yet when it comes to the current neo/traditional acts (both inside the mainstream and out), I am often of the opinion that they lack the distinctive voices or deeply memorable songs that led many of us to fall in love with traditional country in the first place, and are really only being praised because they’re releasing traditional-sounding music in the modern era. I often feel I’m better off discovering traditional country from past eras, when that style of music was much more culturally and commercially relevant and therefore drew from a much deeper pool of singers and songwriters. My past self would never say this, but sometimes I even find myself really enjoying some of the more modern, genre-blending stuff because it’s doing something that has never been done before (or at least trying to). Not all of it is for me, far from it, but I can understand that viewpoint. But I’m afraid of expressing those opinions for fear of having my country fan credentials impugned or being accused of being stuck in the past.

    I agree with your guys’ points on streaming. Having (almost) all of the music ever recorded at your fingertips sounds great on paper, but there’s no evidence to my knowledge that having all of this access actually makes us happier or more satisfied as music fans. I remember as a kid when getting a CD at the store was an event and being unable to wait during the drive home to get home and listen to it. And then during the download era, being utterly amazed when my library hit 10,000 songs, which seemed like an enormous number. Now, 40,000 songs on average are added to Spotify every single day. Can I truly say I was happier than I was back then? Not really. I guess we all have to understand that less is more and try to recapture the magic music had when it was scarcer and took money/time/effort to access, which of course is easier said than done.

    Anyway, glad you’re back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh September 3, 2021 / 9:37 pm

      Hey Andy!

      Thank you for stopping by and your kind words! I greatly appreciate it. By the way sorry your comment got stuck in the queue, new blog catches everything posted at first and I wasn’t able to get to it to approve it manually for a while after you posted, as I had a hellacious day on my end, but all good now and I digress.

      “I like some of the critically acclaimed Americana stuff, but frankly more often than not it’s music I respect more than I actually want to listen to.” Yep! Exact thoughts I go through with a lot of Americana stuff and it can be tough as a listener to separate those things. A perfect example for me is Rhiannon Giddens. I respect the hell out of her artistry, but I don’t enjoy listening to her music.

      I completely agree with you on your points about modern traditional country music and artists. I feel the exact same. Those past artists, just to rattle off a few: Alan Jackson, George Strait, Randy Travis, Clint Black; they all stood out and you could instantly recognize their voice and their songs. You never mistook a Strait song for a Travis song. Then these modern traditionalists just all kind of blend in because they’re following the same formula, there’s nothing distinct. I made the unpopular post at the time in the fall of 2016 making this point about how the likes of Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan were nothing special due to the same reasons you mention. And where are they now? Jon Pardi still panned out from that group of traditionalists, but I would argue his traditionalist style feels put upon and forced despite his voice actually being distinct (for better or worse, depending on who you ask). He was better on his debut album imo. Anyway it’s good you recognize what you like and you recognize the elements that resonate with you. It makes your music listening much more enjoyable. The same can be said for your enjoyment of modern, genre bending stuff. Don’t ever be afraid to express it! I enjoy some of the modern stuff too (I loved that electronic country album from Tyminski a few years ago). I say damn the crowd who wants to judge you! It’s easier said than done of course, but once you reach that point it’s freeing.

      Yep, you’re right. There is no point it makes us happier listeners. In fact I was reading some interesting comments on Reddit the other day that made a really good point: music piracy was actually a good thing, as it would have destroyed the music industry if left unaddressed and it might have led to true freedom for the medium. Streaming was the music industry reasserting control and ultimately winning over everybody. I mean see the control they have over playlists and what gets promoted. It feels like a repeat of radio. I remember it being an event too, there was a certain magic about it that’s been lost. As much as I wouldn’t want to go back to not being able to hear albums before buying them, at the same time I wouldn’t mind having that excitement of surprise back. Yeah all we can do is try to get back to that mantra of less is more and try to recreate it, but as you said it’s harder in practice. I think we will collectively as music listeners get back to that point someday, as it feels like a natural thing. People who enjoy music deep down want to own it physically and want it to be something more. Vinyl sales surging for the last decade, cassettes making their return and lots of people still buying CDs is clear evidence of this.

      Thank you and thanks for the insightful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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