Art is a good way to work through pain. This week I talk to David Tetz about the struggles in his life and how is music helped him cope and survive the battle.
David T8tz is an indie DIY songwriter based out of Bakersfield CA.
He is also known for his dodgeball and songwriting podcast on SoundCloud, The Book Of with David T8tz.
He splits his time between singing, writing, parenting, and playing dodgeball.
1. Explain the inspiration for your album.
Writing each song as they came up was more of a matter of survival than anything else. It was either get some of the poison out of you through your art or implode/explode spectacularly. I was a parent, and the only parent left now, so I didn’t really have the option of self-destructing (although as you can hear in the car crash on track 14, Bolide, I did end up self-destructing anyway). The very first song I wrote in the album was the first night back home with my daughters once I realized their mother wasn’t coming back. I put them in bed and rubbed their heads while singing them the lullaby that I’d sing for them every night (track 2, Home) and then I got up and wrote them a letter filled with fatherly advice that I set to music. I knew that they had hard lives ahead of them filled with sadness because their mom had chosen her addiction over them, and I wanted them to understand that sadness wasn’t something to be ashamed of or hidden but something to accept and sing out of you. I wanted them to know that they were amazing and capable and that if they were willing to process their sadness they would feel such love and happiness on the other side. That letter became track 3, Sing Through the Sadness and LOVE.
As for actually recording the album, that came much later. For 5 years I had felt so completely alone in my struggle. Completely isolated from everyone else. When everything happened I had actively tried to safeguard my mental health and search for support groups but everything I found was for people struggling with addiction, or for families of alcoholics. As someone who was drinking a lot myself at the time I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to join up with families of alcoholics, and I couldn’t find groups for those who lost their loved ones to addiction. I was just alone. The songs were just for me. But then I accidentally stumbled (literally, I was wasted and had no idea who she was) into Sia’s Coachella set. It remains the most beautiful piece of artwork I’ve ever encountered. All of it was breathtaking but there was one song in particular, “Bird Set Free”, in which Paul Dano acted out the song on stage and was sitting at his desk handling his regular office routine, but really HURTING and writhing and screaming in pain inside, but still handling work. It was an exact reflection of my own work routine the past 5 years. Dealing with it all and handling what you need to get done, but also being an absolute wreck internally and occasionally going through vicious anxiety and panic attacks. The amount of times I froze in my office and wept and wept without any of my co-workers realizing it was pretty staggering over the years. In this performance I recognized myself, and it filled me up with both sadness but an immense contentment. FINALLY I wasn’t alone in the world. Whoever put together this performance were my brothers/sisters and I knew that we understood each other perfectly. I left that concert determined to record the songs into an album and release them to the public because I didn’t want anyone to ever feel as alone as I did those 5 years, and so it was going to be my beacon signal to all the badly injured loved ones across the world. You are not alone. Here are some songs to help you feel less alone in this world. Anthems for our pain. I see you. I know you. It gets better for us.
I quit my job and sold my house when I got home so that I could have funds to survive for a while, it was time to focus on bringing this massive project into existence.
2. How were you personally affected by the opioid epidemic?
The first time I asked my then wife to get help for what was obviously becoming a problem she purposely overdosed that very night in our bed right next to me. I woke up and we got her to the hospital and her life was saved but they locked her up in a rehab psych ward for treatment once she recovered. Unfortunately you meet a bunch of other people with lifetime issues when you are put in a place like that. She made friends with a man there who said not to worry about access to opioids because heroin was essentially the same thing and cheaper, so she started on that instead. When she was released from rehab she never came home, just moved in with him to become junkies together. So I lost my partner, but more importantly my children lost their mother. But there were additional ramifications to that. I had been raising my step daughter for 5 years, since she was a baby, but because I was not her biological parent the state said I had no rights to raise her, and so my daughters were split apart and went from sharing a bedroom and life together to living hours away from each other. So I lost a daughter and my daughters each lost a sister. Our little family was torn into pieces.
But even that wasn’t the end. She would occasionally try to kick her heroin habit and get clean and the first few years I always tried to accommodate that by providing her a place to stay and being supportive. It never worked out, but over the course of those things I saw her go through days of hell as she’d come down off heroin, only to later walk in on her having overdosed again.
And when she gone it was often no better. I used to receive phone calls from a hospital every few months informing me that they had a patient who had overdosed on heroin but survived and I was listed as the contact in the phone. I began to have panic attacks every time I received a phone call from a strange area code because I grew certain it was a hospital calling to tell me that she was overdosed again, or dead.
I began to drink a lot, date a lot, be physically violent with people I perceived as drug dealers, engage in a lot of dangerous behaviors. Binge. Blackout constantly. Lose entire weekends and wake up in strange places hours away from home having no idea how I’d gotten there. The past and the present started to blend all together and I’d sometimes lose track of where in time I was. I ended up being diagnosed with severe PTSD and having to go into treatment. It affected me in a lot of ways, none of them good.
3. Why do you feel music helped you cope with your pain?
My PTSD therapist recognized right away that I was holding everything in. That my personal experiences were poison held inside of me. She talked about how when our bodies feel like we don’t have time to deal with trauma in the moment that it’s happening, we pack it away into these tiny boxes that we hide within ourselves but that can’t be contained forever, and so they later spill open at inopportune times when we’re triggered by certain things, and that can turn into a real mess and send me completely out of control in a variety of ways, all of them dangerous both to myself and to people around me. She suggested this idea of “unpacking”, which essentially meant to choose the time and place that I opened these little memory boxes of trauma so that I could better deal with it. And my songwriting was ready made for that process. I already had a lot of skeletal song structures that I’d written as a matter of survival, so now I would revisit those stories over and over and over again as hammered them out into recordable material. So it was a lot of pain. I cried a lot of tears onto my notebooks. I had a lot of panic attacks as I worked things out on my guitar. The process of turning these memories into music was an all out assault on my emotions. I cut myself wide open night after night and bled all over this thing, but it also let the poison out little by little. Untold stories can be poisonous, and so the only way to get the poison out of me was to share these stories. So in that way music helped me cope with pain, but I wouldn’t say it eased it in any way at first. You had to dive all the way into it and go further up and further in to find your way out. But I made it eventually. I very rarely have panic attacks anymore. I rarely cry anymore. But cope isn’t the right word. I ATTACKED my pain. I hammered it out of me. Even then I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely recovered. Certain songs are still rough. The title track, Pack Thy Secrets Deep, is especially hard on me sometimes. Even last month when I finished playing that song at an open mic bar in Hollywood I was suddenly overcome with rage and flung the mic stands over (I was immediately mortified by my behavior). But that kind of thing happens less and less. In the end the music did help alleviate the pain. I feel like I have a legitimate chance at a happy future now, and that wasn’t the case before I made this album.
4. How did you create this album?
It was something that I needed to do, and that meant that I didn’t have time to find funding for studio time or to get all the right pieces together so I just had to get going on it myself. I bought a mac mini which is small and easy to transport and comes with Garageband included on it and a friend gave me a little snowball podcasting mic to use. So I started putting my skeletal structures in (guitar, banjo, kalimba) and singing on top of them. I initially thought I was going to be making a dirty little lo fi two track 16 song album, but luckily I have some very talented friends who were willing to join me on the songs. Carla Capolupo and Paul Akers adding upright bass and piano tracks suddenly made the songs sound much larger in scope and so I kept bringing on other friends. Olivia Saldana and Krystelle Lorraine joined me in singing on tracks. Gabriel Hartman added horns and some electronic bass. Carla brought in her brother Shay who layered all these additional lead guitar tracks in on all the tracks within a few hours. It was crazy. I’d just drive around with my little set up to peoples apartments or homes, plug in my little podcast mic directly to the computer, and everyone would just do their thing. What was supposed to be crappy and tiny and dirty ended up sounding dynamic and expansive and beautiful. All on a $40 mic plugged directly into a free recording program. And I want to be clear, I have NO idea what I’m doing. I’m not a producer or a sound engineer or even a very good musician, but we still made THIS. And we made it with no funds. I was so astounded with how it turned out that I ended up bringing it to Victor Alfaro who had recorded my previous Winston And The Telescreen albums and he donated a couple days to mixing it (despite having no familiarity with Garageband) so that gave it the extra polish of sounding more like a real recording and less like a cheap single room mic hooked up to a computer, which is really what it is.
That is why I recommend for anyone who wants to make something, stop making a wish list of what you need to get started, and instead simply just get started. The cheapest, crappiest equipment you can buy these days is still light years ahead of the mid tier but still super expensive stuff you had to obtain 18 years ago to record anything. Stop holding yourself back and just make things.
5. What advice would you give to anyone dealing with the opioid epidemic?
To find a community who is supportive of you as a human being and who loves you, to stay active, and to transform your pain into beauty through the alchemical process known as art.
It sucks because there is no easy way to accomplish those things, you have a really hard road ahead of you, but the stronger the pain you experience the more worthwhile your artwork has a chance to be.
I got very lucky when I discovered the dodgeball community as it took care of the first two for me (search to see if you have a dodgeball community near you, can’t recommend that enough), but I accomplished the last only by committing to reliving the pain over and over again in order to get it out of me. It was hard work, but it was necessary work.
The other piece of advice is to get therapy. It is unfortunate that a lot of us don’t have healthcare that covers it, but if it is at all possible I think therapy is essential. Without it I doubt I’d be here. One way or another we NEED to share our stories or they will kill us, so find a way to share them. Sharing your story is essential
Check out his album here: Pack Thy Secrets Deep