Q. When did you know you wanted to become a professional musician?
A. I knew I wanted to become a professional musician when I was very little. I was five when I started taking piano lessons. I was always getting into trouble for not practicing what my teacher gave to me. My mother would call out, "Becca, are you practicing in there, or just diddling?" Later she discovered that I was writing my own songs. I was simply entranced by the music. It didn't ever feel like it was something I could choose or not choose, it was just there.
Q. What is your typical workday like?
A. Lately, I have been starting every day with Bikram's Yoga. There is a 6:45 class very close to my house that I bike to. Then I come home and do some journaling as I eat breakfast. It is a great way to clear out my mind's muddle before I have to concentrate on work. Plus it keeps me focused on my goals. Our car blew up for good a while ago, so I have been riding the bus a lot and walking. This is an incredible aid in writing. I use my time on the bus to read or to watch people. At work my boss and I tear apart and perform surgery on pianos. She specializes in upright grands from the pre-depression era. It is an intensely physical job and involves the use of heavy tools and chemicals all day long, so it can wear me out rather quickly. Once home, my husband, Ji Tanzer, and I always talk about our day. All of the observations, hesitations, the little lies, the humor and the rushing hopes... there is a completeness that comes after we share. And since we share our music too, our relationship comes full circle when we play. Audiences are often struck by our intimacy with ourselves and with them. They say they feel like we've played them a concert in our living room. So in the evening we try to do one thing towards our goal of becoming self-sustaining musicians. Whether it is practicing, writing out charts together, contacting businesses and clubs, burning home CDs, we make the small, seemingly inconsequential movements towards attaining the dream.
Q. What are some of the sacrifices that you made to get where you are at today?
A. There are many sacrifices ... but once again, it never feels like I have a choice in the matter, the answer is simply there. Time is the element at the root of all of my sacrifices. There is a social sacrifice that took me a while to learn. When friends call and want to "hang out," and I am in the middle of writing songs or something, I have to choose a more solitary path.
After college, and a flurry of wasted time working in bars, my father asked me if I wanted to be a professional musician, or a professional waitress. I took a year off and lived with my parents. They are amazing. I went into a lot of debt, but I practiced and I got gigs and I began to finally record. I met my future husband and we started to play frequently ... so you see, sacrifices are really just risks one takes to open the doors of uncertainty and let the flood of gifts from the universe comes into being. I have quit jobs before, not knowing where rent money will come from, only to find a better job soon. I quit them because they strip away time to practice and play music. Even right now, my boss is always asking if I could work more hours, and indeed, I would make a lot more money, but what is my real job here? Making meaningless money or making music?
Q. Where do you see the future of music going?
A. I feel like the future of music is headed towards an expansion of possibilities. Every day musicians are finding out what music sounds like when it comes from inside, instead of trying to sound like others in order to fit into a bin card category. Plus, there is so much music out there! You could spend your whole life listening to records and not get through them all. The more communication grows, the more individually people can express themselves, so now you have descriptions of bands that compare them to six or seven different influences, instead of saying something like, "Here's the next Mick Jagger" or the like. I feel the future of music lies in the hands of those that remain true to themselves and will create sounds we have never heard before in such a way as they play it.
Q. What are some of the biggest mistakes that people make when they get started in music?
A. I feel like the majority of mistakes are made out of ignorance. It seems like musicians often make mistakes with regard to their money. It is not a motto I like to live by, but you really can't trust anyone in the music business industry. You must always guard your energy, and protect the integrity of your dreams. To be truly successful, a beginning musician must be informed and learn to be artist, manager, promoter, secretary, roadie ... just to name a few.
Another mistake with getting started in music is when distractions are allowed to take precedence over keeping the fires stoked. We have had the experience of riding off of the high from successful shows, and we forget to keep working at it. The result is always a little lull in performance time.
Q. What advice do you have for folks getting started in the music industry?
A. Well, besides becoming an informed business person, I would advise two things to the upcoming musician.
One. Always keep something in your life that fuels your creative energy. This could be a dance class, painting, cooking, journaling, walking, rearranging furniture, etc. One of my heroes, Shirley Horn, gets her inspiration for her jazz ballads from her husband's cooking and the unlikely source of daytime soap operas. Whatever it is that brings you more alive, never, ever sacrifice that thing.
Two. Whenever the "Dream" gets too big and overwhelming, go back to the very basics. By doing one thing, just one thing for your music every day, the stress of impossibility becomes nil. Even if it is just a tiny thing like one phone call, or five minutes spent on an intimidating piece of music, or writing a wish list, these are all valid steps of action. And action makes dreams real, very, very real.
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?
A. In five years, I see my husband and I no longer needing day jobs. I see us traveling and playing music, selling our records and doing what we love. If we are rich, we are rich. If we can just pay the bills, then we can get by. As long as we are doing what we love, those things do not matter much. We all keep dreams of grandeur in our heads, but when I really look into my heart, there is that unblinking dream of music staring back at me, and once again, the choice isn't really a choice, it is just a path.
Q. What inspires you?
A. First of all, my husband inspires me. He is an amazing musician. He is the only drummer I know that knows all of the lyrics to the songs he plays on and can tell you what complex chord you are playing from across the room. He is constantly trying new things. It makes me want to be a better musician every day, but at the same time his stillness makes me love just where we are too.
Journaling has always kicked my creative soul into high gear. I have kept a journal for a long, long time. Whenever I don't, things get muddled. Walking also inspires me, a real integration of the seasons always hones my observations and these stories and songs take hold of my soul and won't let go.
Practicing also inspires me. Just like when I was a little girl, I will start to play a piece of written music, and poor Bach only has a slim chance, for five measures into it I am repeating some luscious sound I can't move away from, again and again. Then usually I will find that it has given way to twenty or thirty minutes of improvising, and maybe I will wake up to my surroundings a few hours later with a new song written and my book still open to that fifth measure, looking out at me and laughing amiably from the page.
The most important thing that inspires me is the reason why I share my music. When I am at a gig, and someone requests a certain song because they need it that night, or they tell me afterwards that they are grateful I played because it touched them very deeply, and helped in some way, it brings everything down to one thing. I play music because I want to reach out, because it feels amazing to have given someone love through music. The reason I play music is to give that love away, because it is not mine in the first place, it belongs to all of us.