At least I know John Farnham believes in me.

They say if you don’t use it, you lose it. Skills have a habit of atrophying if they’re not flexed regularly. It’s such a waste. If you’ve spent time building them up, it’s important to find an outlet, keep them limber. Which is a roundabout way of saying that it felt pretty fucking great to be back in a voicing studio.

Don’t go getting your hopes up, it was in no way a major deal. Just a nice return to a familiar calling. I met with a guy in radio creative about a job that was up for grabs. I was interested to get back into radio, it’s an industry I’ve always loved. TV is fine, but my heart has truly never left radio. We talked about the job and he admitted that they’d already decided on who they wanted. Applying wouldn’t get me anywhere. He did however notice my accent and asked me if I’d done any voicing. I nodded and told him about my past career in audio production.

He thought for a second and told me about the nationwide company voice bank. There’s a directory of available voices for creatives to go through and find one that’s suitable. They list the type of reads that voices are good at (any accents or specific impressions) and have a few samples of their work. We had the same kind of system back home. It meant that if there was a prized voice in a small market the local producer could record them and send the audio up to another one. My current company didn’t yet have any New Zealand accents in the voice bank. The creative guy sent two scripts my way and brought me down to the studio.

Back when I worked in production, I didn’t do a heap of voicing. Part of it was pragmatic. I knew how to run Pro Tools and record. If I was recording it was easy to see how the read was running for time. I could hear it through the monitors and know if it fit the aim of the script. If I needed to record myself I’d often flick it to record, run into the booth, voice, then run out and stop the recording. It wasn’t the smoothest process, but it got the job done in a pinch. We also had a lot of conventional radio voices on station who got used way more often. This meant I got brought in whenever a weird little character voice was required. Aliens/monsters. Yoda. Impressions, mostly. Or a soft read for some kind of heart strings tugging cause. I always liked it, but would’ve loved to do more than I had the chance to.

I was of course a little rusty today, but not atrophied by any means. We did a bunch of takes, tried assorted reads trying to emphasise different parts of the scripts. We worked on pace and mood. I warmed up. It’s always easiest voicing when you’ve built up a relationship with the producer. You know what they’re looking for and they know how to get the type of read out of you they’re seeking. It was fun, I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it. Trying to properly articulate while also shaving five seconds off a read and emphasising correctly in all the right places. Being back in that booth felt like something clicked. Familiar and comforting. I’d like more of that feeling.

We’ll see if it goes anywhere. With people knowing my voice is available, they can write for it. Fingers crossed I can start building up a portfolio. If eventually I could start booking paid gigs, that’s not something I’d sneeze at. It’s pretty damn lucrative for work I’d enjoy doing. Fingers crossed, pray for Mojo.

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Putting the “anal” into Merriweather Post-Analysis.

I’ve seen a fair amount of live music. Back when I lived in New Zealand I’d often drive two and a half hours north from Rotorua to Auckland mid-week to see a show, then back in the early hours of the morning to get to work. This possibly happened more weeks than it didn’t. From 2007-2012 or so, I attended a metric fuckton of gigs (which sadly did not include the band Metric). They varied in quality, as all things do. Some (like Grizzly Bear at Bruce Mason or The Mountain Goats at King’s Arms Tavern) left me with an exultant high while others were a flat out disappointment (TV on the Radio at Big Day Out comes to mind). The middle ground was composed of gigs that fluctuated between the marvellous and mediocre (Smashing Pumpkins at Vector Stadium) or those that weren’t bad so to speak, but different from what I’d been expecting/hoping for (Weezer at Vector Arena. Forgot how not into their newer material I was).

Then there was last night’s Animal Collective concert at The Danforth Music Hall.

I’ve been a huge fan of AC for years. In particular, Feels, Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavillion have been on constant rotation since they were released. I saw them live back at the Powerstation in the wake of their Fall Be Kind EP release. It was a sweet spot for the band. They’d crested the wave of critical adoration and brought out a similarly cherished bonus release. They sounded excellent and played a bunch of Merriweather stuff. Solid show that left me with a humming feeling in the core of my being. The kind of concert you dream of.

Last night’s gig was a mixed bag and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. I’ve been less than lukewarm on the band’s recent releases. They’ve felt fine for any other band, but lacking in that special harmony that seemed to epitomise their late 00s releases. The bulk of their material was from their 2016 album Painting With and the subsequent EP The Painters. They had a few Merriweather tracks plus a scattering of deep cuts and lesser known songs. As I said earlier, I’d consider myself a fan of the band, but I came away feeling sort of isolated.

On the other hand, they weren’t remotely phoning it in. Seeing them compose these hugely ambitious audio soundscapes was fascinating. The craft involved in shaping noise through a critical mass of effects pedals and gadgets boggled my mind. To conceive of sound in that way, taking a couple of notes, stretching and mixing in order to warp into a whole new atmosphere really took a shit ton of skill. A lot of it felt improvisational in nature and the chemistry of the band went a long way towards making the sound gel. It seemed in a sense like an electronic jam session, with band members bouncing off one another organically. That was pretty powerful to watch, seeing such a fluid working relationships (knowing full well of the band’s constant creative tensions). So much of the set seemed like they were out to challenge the audience, both in what they sought from a gig and how they perceived previously known pieces. Even when familiar tunes faded in, the tracks were entirely rearranged, taking aspects of the beloved material to recreate a starkly different piece. It made me begin to question the nature of what makes a song. How far can you go from a recorded piece, cherry picking elements to rework while still maintaining that it’s the same track? If it only casually resembles the former structure, what have you just heard? Experiencing songs I knew so well in a whole different light literally inspired awe in me. It recontextualised the piece entirely, crafting a meaningful memory of its own.

There’s been a lot of personal ownership so far. Defining this concert by how “I” felt. Looking around though, it was plain to see that the gig wasn’t what everyone had bargained for. Witnessing the almost desperate response to familiar material- feverishly energetic dancing, as if re-engaging calcified joints- I can’t have been the only one expecting a more crowd friendly set. I get it from the band’s perspective. Maybe they don’t like touring that much, but see it as a financial necessity. Perhaps they feel constrained by the rigid structures of their recorded material. They could even see delivering a polished, tight setlist as a method of giving up and phoning it in. Does a band owe anything to its audience? Is it fair for concertgoers to have expectations of what they’d hope to hear and, if those aren’t met, are they justified in feeling disappointed? Is it entitled to presume that the cost of a concert ticket implies walking away satisfied? Or is that a gamble inherent to the mercurial nature of a creative endeavour?

At what level can it be seen as self-indulgent to fly in the face of what your crowd seeks? There was a specific instance during a fantastic rendition of “Floridada” where Avery Tare seemed borderline antagonistic. Everything was humming away merrily, until he begun singing his part of the chorus in half-time, throwing off the rhythm of the track. It was in defiance of the rest of the band’s timing. How’s an audience meant to dance to that? Is a concert a performance or performance art? Something put out there to be critiqued, experienced or enjoyed? There’s no clear cut line, but it really begs the question: Who are you touring for? Yourself or adoring fans who’ve supported your career for years?

At this stage, I still have yet to determine how I really felt about the gig. Was that the point? We live in a world of nuance where it’s possible to hold a number of opposing views simultaneously. By the same metric, the next time Animal Collective roll through town I can’t say whether or not I’d want to go. This wasn’t a gig I’ll soon forget.

More than one job? Well done.

Apropos of nothing, here are some things that have happened at various jobs:

  • When I worked in Media Ingest we had to ingest (basically upload) material and make sure all the details were correct in the system. There was a comments field where we could mention any anomalies, etc. In this job, we also had to QC a bunch of porn that we’d later ingest. At some point in time (and it may well have happened by now), somebody will discover that in the entry for Booty Island 3 the comments read “Some interesting concepts, but lacks the deep character development of the original.”
  • Setting up for a children’s party, they wanted to watch Spongebob. There were two TV remotes that looked near identical. “What’s the difference between them?” Asked a small child. I thought for maybe half a second and replied “They have different names.” I lifted the one in my left hand and said “This one’s Jeffrey” (the first name that came to mind) then raised the right and said “and this one’s Dharma” (thinking of Dharma & Greg for possibly the first time in ten years). Upon my brain catching up to my mouth, I realised any sane adult could’ve just heard “Jeffrey Dahmer”. These were not sane adults and as such it passed right over their heads.
  • One of the places I worked had a Friday night post work bar. It was great. Our management worked behind the bar and drinks were bottom dollar. $2 for a shot or beer. It was the company’s way of giving back. On the last night of my employment there, I felt like doing cartwheels down the hallway would be an excellent idea. It was all going fine, until my foot graced the side of a picture frame. I stood up, shaky from both booze and having been repeatedly upside down. I hurriedly adjusted the frame and noticed a security camera right above me. I stopped, deer in headlights, before realising that a) it wasn’t motion sensitive and b) it would’ve seen me all the way up the hall regardless. I quickly scampered out of there, realising that some of the last security footage of me in that job would have showcased my alcoholic athleticism. Is that basically a mic drop?
  • For one of my jobs, I worked in a small town. My boss and I lived together and he was probably my best friend down there. We’d both driven up to Auckland independently for a Pixies concert. We’d also both had a shit ton to drink. I was hanging out with a friend post-show and saw my boss taking a leak on a small shrubbery. As I saw him finish up, I called out to him. He lumbered over and gave me a hug, then shook my friend’s hand. Like a night dwelling animal, he heard something and his ears metaphorically perked up. He turned his head and dashed. I turned to my friend and said “So I guess my boss just pissed on your hand.”

I’m trying (and failing) to come up with a reason why being less neurotic and obsessive is a bad thing.

What things have changed as you’ve aged? Naturally you’ll have a great many aspects of your personalities that’ll shift and twist. Things that appeal when you’re a teenager, for instance, will be nigh intolerable when you hit your mid 20s. Maybe it’s standards expanding, rising. Perhaps a series of bad experiences narrow your tolerance. Would you put up with the same issues when you know you can do better? When you know you deserve better? Has your bullshit meter found true north? Or have you gotten myopic after doubling down on what you like? Forgoing what you don’t?

I don’t see concerts the same way I used to. I’ve always been a huge fan of live music. When I lived down in Rotorua I put a startling proportion of my meagre salary towards catching live acts. I’d drive two and a half hours once or twice a week to see bands back in the “city”. Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, Amanda Palmer, Passion Pit, ISIS, Mountain Goats, Faith No More, Muse, Portishead, etc etc etc. When I went to big stadium gigs (haven’t felt the need to do that in many years), I’d always get there earlier and catch the openers. I’d research the gigs beforehand, guess at the setlist. I’d devour back catalogues and hit an almost admirable (if not alarming) level of obsession before seeing any act. I got a hell of a lot out of of these performances, because I had little else to invest in (both financially and socially. I lived in Rotorua for fuck’s sakes).

Time has changed, so has my response to live music. I check set times and make sure to skip the opener. I don’t cram in study the night before a gig. I’m not sucked in the same way I was. A performance has to hit a certain peak in order to really affect me on the level it used to. I’ve seen so many gigs that it’s rare for them to be dramatically life changing. They’re fun. If a gig gets cancelled or I don’t get accreditation, it’s far from cataclysmic. A late gig on a school night is a hard sell and that in itself kid of disappoints me. I used to leave work at 5pm in Rotorua, drive for close to four hours (with traffic) to Auckland, get to a gig at 9pm, leave around 2am and crash on a friend’s couch. I’d then get up at 6am for a 9am shift back in Rotorua. It was a character-building time that influenced a ton of my values moving forwards. I wouldn’t trade those memories for a really good chocolate chip cookie. Considering my love of baked goods, that should have some gravitas.

I still love live music, I don’t want to downplay that. I’m certainly not as desperate though. Perhaps it’s being in a larger North American city, where every week seems to be a deluge of international acts. I don’t have to try so much any more. They come to me on the regular. There are more music acts than I could ever hope to catch, but I see far fewer. Maybe my bucket list has dwindled. The allure of seeing an act I’ve already witnessed live competes with the need for a good night’s sleep. Maybe it’s even the gig reviewing aspect. If I’m seeing live music there’s a tinge of disengaging. I need to step back in order to gain a less personal perspective of the performance. I think about the crowd and how they felt rather than forming such an intimate connection. Because I know instinctively I’m gonna get less from the experience, I shield myself from feeling too intensely about it.

If I sound disillusioned and cantankerous, that’s a frightening prospect. Then again, change is scary. Finding your entrenched values evolving over time can be isolating if you pride yourself on the way you always were. How do you continue to define yourself as you grow distant from your past? I guess that’s something only you can decide. Things being different doesn’t have to carry negative connotations, even if it can feel like that at times.

Then again, it’s not like everything has gotten worse, right?

The sport they liked it enough to put a ring on it.

My trainer at physio started me with some basic boxing the other day and it’s sparked something. We’re just doing simple pad work, some crosses, hooks and uppers, but it’s making me crave a little more. It’s not boxing training as such, just a few punches as a warm up. What it’s achieving though is reigniting something that’s laid dormant in me for some time. It’s not my first rodeo. I’ve dabbled in boxing before and it’s something I’d like to dip into once more. But why boxing? Because I’ve got untapped pools of unprocessed rage? Because I really like kangaroos and want to do everything they do (I’ve also hollowed out a portion of my stomach in which I can stow stolen children)? No, because it’s actually a hugely complicated and intricate sport.

Aaaaages back when I lived in Rotorua (population roughly 60,000) I worked at the local radio station. There was a charity boxing tournament being thrown and they’d tapped two of the announcers to take part. I was no local celebrity, but I asked if I could take part in the training for fitness reasons. They said sure and I went along for 2 90 minute sessions per week for 8 weeks. It was intense and I’ve rarely seen that solid kind of growth over a short period. The results were substantive and visible. By the end of those 8 weeks I could clearly see how much fitter I was, the muscles ignored by most other types of workouts that suddenly made themselves known (through aches, mostly). The training was massively different from what I’d done before, but here’s some stuff we did:

  • Skipping – When we started, skipping was one of our primary warm ups. I didn’t think much of it being handed a rope, but after 2 minutes I was toast. As the weeks went by it became more familiar. We learned new techniques, stamina increased. Stumbling through 2 minutes at the start, by the end of those 8 weeks I could muster 12 minutes without a break. Results.
  • Bodyweight exercises – Squats, push ups, sit ups, burpees. The bread and butter. Everything increased here and as this stuff all rose my general fitness came with it.
  • Plank holds – We started at 30 seconds. By the end I managed a 6 minute plank hold. Please don’t ask me to do that now, I just couldn’t.
  • Body boxing – We partnered up and stood across from one another. One person would have gloves, the other would stand straight with their arms folded behind their head. They’d tighten their core while the other gently jabbed at their abs. Following prompts from the human punching bag, the boxer would gradually increase their intensity. It got ridiculous. By the end of those 8 weeks I was taking full punches to my core without pain. Then immediately being all what the fuck just happened?
  • Footwork – Agility movements, delicate step patterns. We’d practice shuffling around the ring, tightening the efficiency of our movements. Without throwing a punch, we just had to move in and out, get close and retreat. If we couldn’t get around the ring efficiently we were easy targets. The motivation was simple: move or be hit.
  • Body awareness – How does the body most effectively throw a punch? There are a number of points of articulation. There’s a ton of twisting involved. Did you know that adding a corkscrew motion to your punch can really up its power? Making sure it’s hitting dead on is far more effective than I’d ever thought. We had to think, what were our hips doing? Our knees? Feet? What happens to the body with a jab? A cross? How can you use the body’s natural elasticity in order to give that whip-like crack to your punches? So much comes from rotation and without someone showing you the way it’s completely unintuitive.
  • Defensive offensiveness – Blocking is one thing. Making sure you’re not leaving yourself open with each punch is something else. When throwing a punch, how quickly can you snap it back into a defensive position? Jab out then in, fist resting by the chin. Keeping things tight, closing out all access from your opponent. Once again, there was easy motivation to be had. Have you ever been punched in the jaw? How about multiple times in a few minutes? You learn pretty quickly. When a fist connects with your nose you see red. It hurts, your vision swims as your eyes water. There’s a throbbing, intense pain unlike most other pain. Easy motivation.
  • Getting in the ring – Have you ever been in a fight? If you’re a gentle easygoing fellow like me, the answer would often be no. It’s fucking terrifying suiting up against someone else and staring them in the eyes with raised fists. 3 minutes is an eternity when your arms weigh more with each passing session. By the end of the round, you’re jelly. You’re basically just trying to stay standing. I’ll tell you though, I’ve never felt anything like the combination of fight and flight after a fist to the face. Terrified of feeling that pain again, but furious at what was inflicted upon you. Swinging, swift heavy fists pounding into your opponent. Then you see them retreat, they fly themselves. The round is over, but you’re staring right through them. It’s unreal, surreal.

So why do I want to put myself through this again?

Variety maybe, but thyme is also the spice of life. And roasted meats.

Since I’m the preeminent late adopter, I just discovered Facebook’s On This Day function. As a complete and utter lover of nostalgia, it sent me back through the years, until I was reminded that on this day in 2010, I was nominated for a New Zealand Radio Award. This isn’t an entry about the past, this isn’t an entry about the future, but it’s an entry about time and how it passes.

Reading that post reminded me of the life I was going to have. Causality and coincidence interfered and the timeline that spread out in front of me took a divergent path. Or several. Back in 2010, by the time I was 28, I expected several things. I expected that I’d still be living in New Zealand. At this stage I would’ve clearly moved back from the small, touristy, stabby, infant mortality capital of the country, Rotorua, to my home city of Auckland. In this timeline, I did that, but by shortcutting the line. By taking this shortcut, instead of returning with my head held high, to take my coveted position as a production engineer for MediaWorks Radio Auckland, I left radio and gave television a try. As with most sidesteps, I left because of love. There’s nothing wrong with what I did, but because of that jump to the left, Leon at 28 is not recording voice, editing music and sound effects to create dense audio landscapes. I haven’t saved hard to own my own home. I’m not years into a successful, loving relationship, thinking about the boxes I have to tick to keep this pattern up. I also don’t have a New Zealand Radio Award.

It’s funny how we try to plan ahead in this life. If I do A, then B will happen. CF will fall into place naturally and we’ll be All G by the time the dust settles. But life isn’t as simple as the alphabet song. Letters arrange themselves into words and sentences. The conditional tense arises, creating alternate possibilities that themselves split into a series of paths, alleyways, tunnels, holes and hills. Obstacles shift your perspective, which alters your goals. Directions change and suddenly you’re not where you thought you were. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re lost, either.

When I was a teenager, I expected that by age 28 I’d have a wife and kids. I figured that I would’ve sorted my shit out and have become an adult. At age 28, I’m not even sure I know what being an adult means. I don’t feel like I’m at the stage where I would have enough knowledge, wisdom and suitable judgement to guide a child through their own pathway. I don’t know that I have the patience or understanding to commit to a partner enough to look towards the ideal of “forever”. As a teenager, I expected that by 28 I’d be a mature, pillar of society. At age 28, I’ve got scant maturity enough to realise that goalposts shift, that part of maturity is understanding how far your reach extends and incrementally dribble your way forward until you can shoot for things you can conceivably hit.

When I was 5 years old, I said I wouldn’t live in New Zealand as an adult. I had my eyes and heart set on Canada, a place of opportunity where I’d become the person I always wanted to be. I’m not 28 years old with a wife, kids, house or radio award. I don’t know if I’m an adult, but I do live in Canada. I don’t have a wife, but I have an overabundance of love in my life. I don’t have kids, but I have friends who guide me and teach me how ripe the future is with possibility. I don’t have a house, but I’ve found a home, communities and a place where I can grow to be the person I didn’t expect to be, but the person I’m choosing to be.

On this day I’m deciding to recollect the past, consider the future, but most of all, to respect the present. Because that’s where I live.

More like, in groan here.

This has gotta be one of the weirder positions I’ve come to you from. More parts ludicrous than lewd, I promise. Sitting cross-legged on my girlfriend’s bed, I’m typing on her laptop while she investigates my back. That in itself sounds unusual, but I don’t know if the truth is more or less peculiar. Do you love ingrown hairs? I love ingrown hairs? Non sequitur? Non quite. She’s working over one of mine.

Tee em eye? You know how I feel about TMI, fuck TMI. There have gotta be so many couples doing strange stuff out there and I’d rather sit down and commit weirdness to the page rather than pretend it doesn’t happen or withhold due to fear of social ostracising. It’s entirely consensual and no duress is involved. She just finds them as oddly captivating as I do. It’s almost simian in a way, as if hunting for lice. There’s something about the thrill of the hunt, looking for a hair that’s so deeply embedded, but still even just barely visible. It’s a challenge, but oh so satisfying to chase after. Armed with a pair of tweezers, it’s possible to make short work of them.

It wasn’t always that way though. I went many years without the proper tools and I’d just use my fingernails. I’d sit there for minutes- many minutes sometimes- aiming to pull out something barely on the edge of visibility. I’ve had a number of spots that are often ripe for harvest. One on my right forearm, one on my left bicep and one just above my right shoulder blade. Usually with the aid of a mirror and an awkward pose I can get ‘er done. There’s built up scar tissue after years of picking, but it’s at the point where it’s almost a pastime.

I was once late for work purely because I got fixated. Sitting on the edge of my bed, bent over my forearm, fingernails pinching tightly together but so often coming up grasping nothing but air. Pre-tweezer days, obviously. The odds weren’t too dissimilar to a claw machine, but the prize was more of a moral victory than a substantive plushie totem. After about 20-25 minutes of this helpless clasping I finally gained a solid nail-hold and pulled free my Excalibhair. Coming out of my fugue state, I realised just how late I was. Work at this point was 4 minutes and 36 seconds walk from home, so I had no real excuse. Somehow my boss noticed my tardiness (we flatted together, he knew how close we were) and inquired as to why I didn’t make it on time. I started coming up with elaborate excuses in my head, then blurted out “I was picking at an ingrown hair.” You can’t make that kind of stuff up. He quirked an eyebrow and replied “Well, I guess that makes sense.” Done.

His flat out acceptance made me consider that it mustn’t be that strange. I’m sure we all have our own eccentricities, but I get the feeling that this ingrown hair thing pulls more people in than you’d think. I’ve met a few people, had a partner or two even, who didn’t find it particularly bizarre. Our bodies are absurd platters of flesh and organs with a sprinkling of curious toppings thrown on there for good measure.

Regardless of its biological function, hair is odd (just try imagining all humans existing without eyebrows. It’s a trip). It grows in small patches according to heat distribution. It’s unique to each person. For some reason I’ve got a natural soul patch on my chin, hair just doesn’t grown on the areas beside it. We have so many hairs, but they fall out constantly. We shape and style, cut and colour the damn stuff at our own whims. If we’re not satisfied with the mop we’ve been given, society has found many ways of getting the look you want, regardless of natural style. I’ve never completely coloured my hair, but it’d be a pretty fun thing to do for shits and giggles.

Maybe I could give it a try if I didn’t spend so much damn time on a few small ingrown ones.