When I was young, my mother taught piano. I started playing our old upright when I was four, plunking away at the keys, feeling out melody and harmony. I’d spend long stretches in our dining room in our small Minnesotan town. I remember emulating the Doors records my dad played for us back then, trying to make things sound right, like music. And I remember that sense of euphoria when musicality started to emerge.
Around seven I developed a stutter. Funny how one musicality gave way to another. To those familiar, there are few things more profoundly frustrating than not being able to say what you want to say. I carried that burden well into high school. So many jokes and comebacks, the stuff of high school exchange, left unsaid because the first word always got caught in my throat. Eventually I gave up trying, known instead as the quiet kid with a Korn beanie who played sports and liked math.
At 16 my family drove to Washington for my grandma’s 80th birthday. Karaoke featured heavily, as it always does at Voyce gatherings — my family is large and full of singers. Courage came from somewhere and I sang the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See,” a track out of my dad’s heavy rotation. Not even my folks had heard me sing before, and turns out I wasn’t half bad. More importantly, I didn’t stutter when I sang. For the first time in memory, everything flowed.
Today that moment feels like the beginning of some larger meeting with the world. It was then that I really chose music. At Carleton College, I went on to study vocal performance and composition — two areas that notably do not require much non-sung speech. There I also played in bands, studied guitar and piano, played in African drum ensembles, ran live sound for our campus venue, and acted as Music Director for our radio station. As importantly, my college crew expanded my music awareness tenfold — added to the menu were minimalism, post-rock, afro beat, ambient, funk, soul, and about every iteration of anything that’s ever been called indie. Gradually my inhibitions around speaking loosened. Mostly I credit singing with that release — though tequila should get some credit too — and by the time I graduated my stutter had receded from affliction to minor nuisance. Gratefully the music gave that quiet kid enough confidence to say something.
After a stint at a radio station in Chicago (WXRT), I moved to Boston and became a music journalist, developing a love for Neo-classical music and post-punk while discovering how much more I liked punk mosh pits than their metal counterparts (save the Great Scott and thanks for all the sweaty good times). Onward to Brooklyn, where I continued writing about music and culture for Vice and Nerdist, discovering the techno and house and DIY noise scenes while finally giving jazz its proper exploration (credit: Smalls). In New York I married a Brazilian who imparted her love for samba, bossa nova, and tropicália. I also developed a fondness for the city’s storied Downtown scene, and for other conceptualists who’ve granted license to those who create. License goes a long way with a stutterer, who has difficulty trusting their own voice. Perhaps, though, it too can be a form of art — thanks to Alvin Lucier for teaching me this. And thanks also to the other permission-givers who shared their insights with me: Thurston Moore, Morton Subotnick, Elliott Sharp, Ben Frost, Jon Hassell, Glenn Branca, et al.
Unfortunately journalism has not had a great go of it this past decade. It’s become one of many undervalued industries in the arts. So to keep the lights on, I started recruiting for tech startups — to the chagrin of the part of me that believed everything I did could involve music. I’ve now worked all kinds of roles, from sales to engineering, interns to C-suite, and grudgingly I came to embrace the job as an important form of relationship building. And I’m grateful to have gotten an intimate lens into various organizations’ structures and mechanics.
So here’s a stutterer who makes a living speaking to people. At one of those startups, I met Arthur, the DJ guy in the picture next to me, and together we started Grey Matter. Music has a unique ability to bring people together, and to help people say what they want to say when other forces deny them their voice. Grey Matter is for everyone who values music and expression, regardless of what your music is or how you communicate with the world.