The Butcher Block: Christopher Nolan Origin Stories

Why am I a musician?

I’ve gone into many a drunken conversation with washouts at bars on this topic...There seems to be some stigma carried with trained musicians that it’s a 'natural' thing; that we were born this way.  Well, yes and no.

I’ve always been artistic.  For the first twelve years of my life, I spent 90% of my time in class drawing comics. I had crass dick-and-fart-joke comics for my friends, tongue-in-cheek ones for my mom, and dry scholastic ones because that’s how I completed every assignment that would allow me to be creative.

Something hit me age twelve though — I liked being a percussionist in school band just fine, but something drove me to do better; to work towards first chair. I ended up asking my mom for drum lessons and it brought her to tears. For the first time, the kid that brought home consistent C’s — because he chose to make fun of everything instead of learn — was passionate about something.

I never found lessons arduous or boring. My teacher started me off with snare rudiments, but kept dangling the idea of using a full drum kit in front of me to motivate me to keep me going. Not even the pretentious first-chairs had access to a full drum kit, so it would be guaranteed that I would be a pioneer of awesome.

After two months of abusing a practice pad, I was finally given access to the command center — in the back of a quiet independent music shop my adolescent buns christened the throne of justice as I connected glances with my teacher one last time to make sure this place was ready to fucking rock. A nod of approval…

WHAM! THWACK! CHHHH! KA KA KA KAKAKAKA! BA BUM BUM KA!

“WHAT?!”

Through my teacher’s anticipated laughter, it suddenly dawned on me that I only knew how to play the snare drum.  Here were six other instruments I had to master! Not only that, but I would have to develop muscle memory to play all of them at the same time. I felt like I had only learned a handful of words in a foreign language but expected to be able to translate Shakespeare at first glance. Jesus…

This is the part (I believe) where most people give up. At that point, it felt like I had climbed a mountain, realized I climbed the wrong one, and now had to climb back down to make it to the right mountain (which is 300 miles away and ten times the height). I felt defeated.  There was something in me though that told me to get back on the donkey and keep trying. I think that is what makes a musician.

Phillip Walsh of The Dark Backward

Phillip Walsh of The Dark Backward

Flash forward fifteen years and I can look back on so many times where I should have hung up my hat and sold my all of my gear. I’ve embarrassed myself in front of hundreds of people, sweating in formal attire at some jazz concert. I’ve screwed up so badly that my high school class agreed to drop a song just because I couldn’t stay on beat through tempo changes. I auditioned for a college scholarship once, well into my musical career, and the teacher cut me off mid-piece to ask if I had ever played my instrument before — some may be born with mystical musical talent, but I believe those that succeed simply have the drive to.

It took coming home every day after school and putting in two hours of practice before my parents got home (they couldn’t take the noise) for five years to even sound mediocre. It took playing in bands and thinking you're playing the  best music anyone has ever heard only to realize shortly after you break up that nobody had any idea what the hell they were doing. Throw some high school and college music classes in the mix and that’s where I’m at now.

Whether The Dark Backward is even "successful" or "good" is subjective, so I hope I don’t sound like I’m preaching from my own pedestal. I do know that I look forward to most practices and shows (no, they’re not all enjoyable) to break the doldrums of a nine-to-five and challenge me mentally, physically, socially, etc. As a trio, we continuously nudge each other out of our comfort zones so the band remains this new, exciting, ever-changing artistic monument. Some nudges are tougher than others and the fun often gets shrouded in work, but it’s what we expect. With the work will come improvement, and with improvement the fun will come back around.

So, drunk guy at a bar: Inherited musical talent probably exists, but not for most people. The drive to compulsively organize strands of vibrations and choreograph some silly dance moves that wouldn’t be acceptable in any other setting does though.

And that’s why I do it.

Phillip Walsh