Share

X

Facebook

Twitter

Email

mt. valor

Vagabond with Pilgrim Soul

Follow the journey of 52 songs running wild and untamed:
One song released every week for the entire year, all free.

WEEK

08 04 16

Over the Western Sky

Story »

This song was written a few years back during a rather difficult time in my life, when one of my closest and dearest friendships was lost. Someone that I had chosen to do life with, practically a brother to me, made a series of choices that unravelled into a destructive lifestyle, hurting a lot of people along the way. This time was full of questions, lies, frustration, deception, and more. I’m sure most people reading this have had times in their life where a friend betrayed them, and it hurt deeply. This one cut closest to home for me. I alluded to this feeling (though a completely different scenario/theme) on Everything is Broken: “How is it that the ones you trust to cover your cuts so quickly turn the tables?” Betrayal is such a unique space to roam through. It is dark, it is cold, and in this case, it is hard to digest because you’re watching someone that you care about slowly self-destruct, “burn” right down before your eyes. And then you have to go back and think through conversations and memories and sort out what was fact and what was fiction. It’s messy and painful, but that’s life. I would sit down at the piano on many nights and play this tune, just singing out what was going on internally (the lyrics wouldn’t be written until a few years later). It’s definitely my modern-day take on “Somewhere over the rainbow”, except it’s more focused on pain; but I still wanted to convey hope, as it’s important to me to hold on to hope when I can’t make sense of things in the moment. It’s not so that I mask the pain, or find a way to not deal with the circumstance, it’s a way for me to say that the current situation isn’t the end of the story yet – I’m acknowledging that I don’t know how the outcome will turn out, and I can move on for now in life without carrying the weight of that broken relationship.

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Cello by Cris Campbell
Upright Bass by Jeffrey Stevens
Vocals by Courtney Kaiser-Sandler
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

i was watching you burn
out in the cold, out in the dark,
under orion’s silent lights
i was watching you burn
as every last ember fled your crimes

somewhere the moon shines bright
over the western sky
somewhere the world seems right
beyond the breaking tides
somebody sleeps tonight
dreaming of higher highs
somewhere the moon shines bright
over the western sky

i was watching you turn
in the silhouette of the door, there you stood
with not a truth on your tongue
i was watching you learn
learn to invade each memory with lies

somewhere the moon shines bright
over the western sky
somewhere the world seems right
beyond the breaking tides
somebody sleeps tonight
dreaming of higher highs
somewhere the moon shines bright
over the western sky

some have said that when bonds betray
all that’s left is furious love
but i believe that we’ll mend some day
yes I believe we’ll find a way…

somewhere the moon shines bright
over the western sky
somewhere the world seems right
beyond the breaking tides
somebody sleeps tonight
dreaming of higher highs
somewhere the moon shines bright
over the western sky

WEEK

07 25 16

The Lion & The Bear

Story »

Many men have lions and bears, but no experience. Be alive, and get something out of all that happens around you.

-C.H. Spurgeon, “The Lion & The Bear – Trophies Hung Up”

Lyrics »

sing that one about the time
i found you on your bed
sifting through the midnight hours for me
ask me anything you want
i like a curious friend
but just remember answers aren’t
really what you need

i called you from the meadows
and stood you with the surest of the men
i brought you from the shadows
and held you like a weapon in my hands

i’ve been called a gentle lover
when i dress a wound
but soon enough they turn away
and run
keep me through the seasons and
the victories and the storms
and i will keep you growing
with your branches in the sun

i called you from the meadows
and stood you with the surest of the men
i brought you from the shadows
and held you like a weapon in my hands
i broke the flaming arrows
and saved you from the lion and the bear
i pulled you from the waters
i pulled you from the devils and their snares

pull me closer to you

i called you from the meadows
and stood you with the surest of the men
i brought you from the shadows
and held you like a weapon in my hands

WEEK

07 18 16

More Than Friends

Story »

I began writing “More Than Friends” in 2011, and completed the lyrics in the fall of 2015. This song has come to embody a lot of my personality as a musician and lyricist. For one, I am constantly experimenting with form and structure, both micro (lyrical rhyme scheme, melodic phrasing), and macro (overall “shape” or direction of song, determining what repeats and what doesn’t). And this experimentation is almost entirely natural for me as a writer – I rarely set out to try a new form; the music and lyrics almost always come with some “quirk” to them, and that’s what I love. I’ve learned that I don’t write in a way that fits the standard “songwriting” mold. Whether its a chord out of the key, a missing beat in a phrase, or a new section that happens only once, my writing feels very natural to me, yet it never looks perfect on paper. And I think there’s a nice human quality to that, sort of like how the two sides of our face aren’t perfectly symmetrical, or how when we stand “comfortably”, we don’t stand perfectly uniform and straight. In other words, we have pizzazz.

I love it when the song form allows for a looser rhyme scheme, and this song to me was written more so as poetry than lyrics. When that happens, I tend to ask questions, I tend to push into ideas and explore “what ifs”. I tend to get messy. And that’s really when the joy of making songs happens.

One of my favorite lines is “flooded with my daughter’s light / she carries more than just the blood / of progress and law steeped in time”. This line has several layers of meaning, but I’ll start with this idea – I am often ridiculed or written off for believing that my daughter was designed by the hand of God, that she has a purpose and destiny, that she carries within her the light of her Maker. That very idea offends and upsets people – I see it and I read about it every day. But I’m not coming from a religious scholar here, or a pious man of faith. I’m simply coming as an artist. And as an artist, I look into her eyes, and I can’t help but think, “How can you not see God right there?” It’s baffling to me. I want to say amusing, but honestly it’s a sad thought. How is it possible that we could look a child and say they’re the product of time (progress) and chance (law of natural selection), and that’s it. Really, that’s it? That’s all we can see? When we’ve come so far (progress) and write our own rules (law), we get to a place of arrogance that blinds us. And I can’t think of another description than that – blindness – to place on our perception. It’s delusional to look at one who carries the Imago Dei as simply a biological shot in the dark. At the least, the one who sees like that is certainly not an artist. It’s not a coincidence that our postmodern culture (where truth is no more) arose the same time that we dehumanized babies and started thinking kids were a “burden”. Surely we have become fools. Chesterton speaks again (this was over 100 years ago!):

“The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby”.

It’s this foolishness I bring up that unlocks the main theme of the song, and gets expanded in the long building section. And as usual, I speak louder to myself than I ever call out others – my foolishness has me torn between settling for being God’s “friend” and becoming his “lover”. We’re all pretty familiar with the whole, “I think we should just be friends” thing that has caused many a broken heart. No person ever wants to hear that line when they’re pursuing someone for a deeper relationship. And I guess I’m trying to get at the thought that we do this ALL the time to our Maker. We’re awkward and foolish and satisfied with ourselves and our petty lives that we say, “Let’s not get too serious here…let’s just be cool and take a step back.” It’s ironic, because I hear this all the time from people – God is just love – pure love. It’s used in any conversation (homosexuality, racial makeup, religious disagreements, you name it). Well, it is totally true. God is love…and that love doesn’t like settling for “friend” status. That love is wild and fierce and strong and it fights – fights as love should – for something more. It’s a passionate fire that burns past the stages of acquaintance, past friends, past all that – and desires to become lovers. That’s what love does. It seeks intimacy. So here God is, being all “pure love” and all like we expect him to be, and here we are (such fools!) saying, “nah…I think that love stuff is a little too much.” Yikes.

Lyrics »

suddenly I realize
the clock has struck
the urban night
fails to compellingly shine
and here I am a lonely cottage sitting in the hills

how is it I treat this life –
these hopes and dreams,
these seasons weaved in a
brilliance of young colors I have never seen –
as though it was the making of my hands?

maybe we could be more than friends
could we become lovers?
maybe we could be more than friends
and turn into lovers…

flooded with my daughter’s light
she carries more than just the blood
of progress and law steeped in time
she speaks a realm of unbridled truth that
brings me to my knees

history is full of strange events
like words that wrap young men in death
and miracles that resist every need to
explain what our hearts are trying to believe
I can’t remember when I first saw Your eyes
the glory light, this heavenly life
stumbling around,
the wisest confounded
blood on the ground,
the ancient of sounds and
where were the prophets?
where did we wrong this
right in the road?
a new tower of babel
one desert stone
one man alone
preparing for battle
ascending to heaven
dressed in a robe of shamed innocence
and fleshed out and broken and
cursed and confessed and
all of the men were shouting in nonsense
all of the women were weeping for justice
all of the children were caught in the silence of
royal lips trembling without words…

maybe we could be more than friends
could we become lovers?
maybe we could be more than friends
and turn into lovers…

WEEK

07 11 16

Lost in Bohemia

Story »

To have the heart and soul of bohemian summers is to have freedom. It’s to live with joy, unencumbered by worries and vain pursuits. It is to not take oneself so seriously, and it is to truly live in the moment. The paradoxical side to this is that the Bohemian has “no one to hold but bohemian lovers”. And bohemian lovers are not known for steadfastness, or fidelity, or anything close to covenant and commitment. And I think this is where a lot of us are at in our culture spiritually. We like the idea of freedom and joy and experimentation, but we are left knowing all too often the emptiness of not being loved, the loneliness that comes with the carefree ideals. And my attempt in this song is to see both sides of the coin and not make them a paradox any longer. Enter the story of “her”.

She doesn’t see people accurately, nor herself for that matter. She is “handpicked beauty” but she doesn’t know it. She’s lonely, desperately trying to find love, trying to “run down to the canyons…” and search even in the shadows for meaning. She is the postmodern person – marked with permanence and yet constantly changing her philosophies. She has the charm and beauty of bohemian summers, but no one to truly cherish that beauty and love her.

And so here she is, as most of us are in life, like an old bottle washed up to shore. Tired, lost, full of unfulfilled wishes and countless failures. And the pressure, the weight of it all – not just the moment, but her life – seems too much to bear. And yet she finds herself (like we all do if we pay close enough attention) under this great “cloud of witnesses”, great men and women who have gone before and are watching us now, watching the voiceless, the outcasts, the “mavericks, the misfits” – these people who never seem to fit in right to the world, and yet find a way to thrive. And here lies the hope – past our shortcomings and weakness, past the pain and confusion and storm after storm, there’s more to the story. It’s a story of triumph,  of “rewriting” and “fighting”, a story where she emerges not as a wrecked mistake, but royalty, a queen – “the story where she reigns, the freedom that she takes to move any which way…” And this once tragic figure becomes a powerful woman, full of justice and defying the systems and powers that keep us in darkness, keep us in chains, keep us in in oppression. She now becomes the voice of the voiceless, the strength of those too weak to hang on themselves.

And so the chorus is now transformed from one who used to have no one to hold, no one who truly loved her, into one who’s “got no one to hold but…” which now means EVERYONE! There is not a person out there who doesn’t need holding – she now sees that we’re all bohemians, drifters, vagabonds, and so there are endless people to hold and cherish and pursue with pure love.

Don’t be fooled, I’m not trying to beat around the bush here, and I choose my words carefully. This, friends, is the story of the church. And if that word bugs you, well, it bothers me too. Because in our culture we’ve gone so far away from the concept of church that we think of it as some building where self-righteous people go to feel good and their social appearance under the guise of “God-seeking”. But go beyond that and the word “church” really makes us uncomfortable because we are humans, and we are all uncomfortable with each other. Someone’s too old, too Hispanic, too corporate, too loud, too awkward, too happy, too boring, too whatever.

I can only speak from my experience, but I do believe I can speak truth that I’ve found from my experience, and the truth is that the church is a family of once-broken people who are being transformed, a bunch of mavericks and misfits who being stitched in uncomfortable ways, but ways that go beyond the ways of the world. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Losers who are winning. Abusers who are tenderly caring. Self-interested people who are now serving and sacrificing for others. Rich who have become poor, and poor who have become eternally rich. To paraphrase a true ragamuffin, “It’s not that someone explained the nuts and bolts to me, but there there were people willing to be the nuts and bolts.”

It’s a beautiful story indeed, because like all true stories, it’s highly offensive. That cloud of witnesses include murderers, thieves, liars, cheaters, manipulators…you name it. And we’re too small and unimaginative in our day and age to think that they can be changed, that the past can really be erased, that a gift of freedom sees no faults, sees no , sees no rap sheet of mess up after mess up. We’re “progressed” so much that we can’t even admit we’re messed up anymore. We’ve become so wise that we discovered sin ins’t real. It makes me laugh how we think as a modern post-religious society we think we know what love is. That word is only known fully by that huge cloud, and Lord knows I pray that it would rain sometimes to dance on our skin and, who knows, perhaps it will remind us to look up.

Lyrics »

she’s got the heart and soul of bohemian summers
she’s got no one to hold but bohemian lovers

the loneliest eyes roll upon my lips with the wishes of
running down to the canyons carved in lust along the riverbed
she’s a creature not unlike the foxes at night:
hungry for blood and ready for a good time

she’s got the heart and soul of bohemian summers
she’s got no one to hold but bohemian lovers

wildflowers are the symbols of hand-picked beauty
resting in her foliage of unending curls
morning doves try so desperately to fly from her skin
but tattoos are permanent and her philosophies keep changing

she’s got the heart and soul of bohemian summers
she’s got no one to hold but bohemian lovers

a dark bottle washed on the rocks of a shore
waiting to exhale the failures from every bottled up storm
too many waves, too many faces staring down at night
archaic and ancient, these bold beautiful lights
making blanket statements on the waters
the midnight clouds that witness
the mavericks, the misfits,
the fabric stitched with patches unfit for
the ragamuffins that won’t quit playing barefoot football
and worshipping jesus with each and every kick
she’s a clock that ticks but can’t tell the time
she’s a poem that ignores the beats
and always seems to force a rhyme
puzzle pieces on the table, most of the edges done
but it’s the image in the middle she’s still working on
when the hurts are gone, when the worst has calmed
when the verse is strong but it’s turning long
there’s a build waiting for us at the end of that song
still another chorus we can all get back on
rewriting the tracks sung, fighting till the last lung
titans of mass media, feeding us, treating us like pawns
but this is a queen’s game the story where she reigns
the freedom that she takes to move any which way
forward and backward, left and right
forty-five degrees, crosswise she sees it’s black and white
the fight of all eras enemies shakin’ in terror
the quake of her prayer as justice breaks the air
and takes the territories of oppression and confusion
changing the stories of depression and delusion,
it’s not amusing, this abuse and violence
she refuses to be silent, shakes the gates of hell
with the defiance of her valor and might
is this the hour of the night
when cowards won’t come to fight?
it’s now or never, right?
the pounding in her chest, its
louder than the messes
the power of the presence
the presence…

she’s got the heart and soul

she’s got the heart and soul of bohemian summers
she’s got no one to hold but bohemian lovers

WEEK

06 24 16

Separate Your Life

Story »

Alright, I’ll admit it. One of my guilty pleasures is writing 80’s inspired pop songs. Boom. I don’t know what it is about 80’s synthpop, but there’s something deep and mysterious about the music – it’s simultaneously mood-stirring and emotionally disconnected. Underneath the cheese and fluff (and glitter), there is something unique and captivating in the sound, and yet it still holds a hollow, even sterile feel to it at times. I’m not going to try and over-analyze it; the point is, I love writing 80’s synthpop tunes. I believe the first song I ever created in Garageband was a 80’s dance track, and I started writing full songs in the style around 2004. It’s been a pleasant departure from some of the other things I write, and it’s just plain fun to make something that begs you to dance and sing with really funny facial expressions like you’re discovering what it means to be human for the first time.

Someday, when the world is ready for it, my old roommate (and longtime friend) Dan and I are going to make a full album and trick people into thinking that it really was made over 30 years ago, and it just got discovered now. Yes, I’m giving it all away, but every locked door has a key, and this website paragraph is the key my friends. The group is called Touché. I would tell you to Google us in 5 years, but by then we’ll be a household name, so you won’t need to Google us.

So, kick back, turn the jams up, and get your dance party going. Some of you readers have been avoiding it for years, but I’m just gonna say it: now is the time to buy the boom box. You are out of excuses.

Lyrics »

change, change, a simple word
laced in papers,
calling your becoming

industry of staying afloat
change only the things
you don’t like fronting

and you can’t just write it off,
no you can’t just write it off
as some picket sign midday tip

forward, forward eyes ahead
if they ain’t moving, they must be dead
or something

step out from the lies
they’re all around
or are you happy dancing on the line?
look me in the eyes
and tell me how
how it’s harder than you realized to
separate your life

praise, praise the artistry,
all hail the genius ‘bout to sweep
the market

jokers in their limousines
the deities, the kings and queens
on carpet

you can call it what you want
yeah just call it what you want
but it’s lives that keep the carpet red

change, change a simple word
if you faintly get your feelings hurt
you’ve started

why don’t you separate your life?

WEEK

06 20 16

Send a Message

Story »

“All of creation groans in eager expectation for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed”. (Romans 8:19)

There are of course many spiritual references in my songs, and often at times biblical references, but not many songs are built around a single scripture so plainly. When I finally unlocked what this song was about, and started crafting the lyrics, I had one goal and one goal only: write a letter to creation to explain what the hell is going on with us humans.

Look, I understand we come from many different backgrounds, religious experiences, and views of the way the world works. My job as an artist is never to convince you of anything. It’s simply to try to capture reality as authentically and honestly as I can. And I can’t see a plainer understanding of what’s going on in our world than this: We, as humans, are the glory of all creation, the the caretakers of this earth, the most myserious and wonderful of all the creatures…and we’re really doing a poor job at it. Trees are good at being trees, jaguars are excellent at being jaguars. But us? We are the carriers of God’s presence, and we’ve denied his existence. We are the image-bearers of our Maker, and we’re foolish enough to posit that we weren’t created. We are the Ones in all creation who get to receive and give love like nothing else, and we murder, fight, hurt, abuse, lie, cheat…the list goes on. The point is, all of creation looks at us with wonder and awe and curiosity – and yet they ask, “What are they doing? Why are they destroying our planet? Why are they depressed and hurting themselves? How is it that they go through years and years of building monuments and discovering DNA and exploring outer space and creating amazing inventions…and they don’t even know their Maker? They hardly know how to love each other. They’re never satisfied, they’re insecure, and above all…they’re insanely prideful for their position. What is going on?”

I think about all of nature, all of creation – the trees, mountains, fish, birds, wild beasts and mysterious creatures in the depths of the ocean. I am utterly convinced that we as humans are different than all of these – not only just other animals, but all of creation. We are different because we are image-bearers of the Maker. We were given not just breath in our lungs, but intelligence, humor, imagination, empathy, creativity. And not even that, but go down another level and we are given faith (seeing beyond what we can see), hope (persevering, fighting, willing to experience more than we have) and love. And it is love that separates us from everything else. Everything in creation looks to us and wonders, “Wow…they get to be humans! What is that like to have a soul? What do they know? What do they feel?” Even the angels don’t quite understand us – how we were given a soul and spirit and free will. Why God loves us so much. All of creation hopes and waits with expectation for the day that we understand what it means to be children of God, what it means to have the light of God in our eyes, what it means to be made in His image.

And so, I pictured a messenger traveling to the trees, addressing the birds, going to the families of deer and elk and giving this simple message:

“We know that you are longing for us humans to become who we are truly supposed to be, and we wanted to let you know that there are some of us who yearn just like you do. There are some of us who desire to be revealed, and we long right with you. And we just want to say that we’re sorry.”

Lyrics »

send a message to the breaking sun
she who moves in a royal blaze
send a message to the clouds that hide her face in warm greys

send a message to the cottonwood
stretching out in the morning light
send a message to the robins resting in her quiet shade

tell them that we long to step into glory
tell them that we long to step into glory
tell them that we yearn like they do
we yearn like they do
we yearn to be revealed

send a message to the meadowland
fertile grounds where the flowers sing
send a message to the mighty stags that dance upon her plains

send a message to the riverbed
a cold rush of the mountain rains
send a message to the minnows flashing like lightning in her veins

tell them that we long to step into glory
tell them that we long to step into glory
tell them that we yearn like they do
we yearn like they do
we yearn to be revealed

WEEK

05 23 16

Lay You Down

Story »

I wish there was a simple formula to inspiration. I wish I had more control over the process of how art comes to be. I wish it was easier to “capture” a moment with words. These are all statements I want to believe and get behind, but the more I think about them, the more I disagree. I think the beauty of inspiration is that it is completely unpredictable, uncontrolled, and often hard to get at. Like eating crab meat, or making maple syrup. You have to work at it. It doesn’t come easy. Knowing this, I think I’ve become more aware as I’ve gotten older how important it is to remember and document those little moments of inspiration when they do come. I make voice memos all the time, and this song is straight from Voice Memo land.

My family and I were over at our friends house for dinner two winters ago, and as it was time to start wrapping up for the night, I started picking up toys and putting the playroom back in order. I picked up a toy ukulele and BOOM this little melody came right out of my fingers. I grabbed my phone, recorded it, and didn’t think of it for months. But when I did write the song, arguably the best song I’ve written for my wife (and I’ve written a ton), it was easy to write and fleshed itself out in no time. It’s songwriting times like this that you realize how inspiration can happen at any moment. A deeply romantic love song can sprout from picking up toys at a friend’s house.  And I like that. It teaches me to be more aware of the little moments in life, to see something even mundane or routine as a potential moment for art to emerge. Hope you enjoy!

Lyrics »

somethin’ ‘bout your eyes that silences my soul
even when you try to cover up the coals
somethin’ in your questions when we first met
I looked forward to forever

somethin’ ‘bout your spirit that I cannot compose
maybe it’s your laughter dancing in my bones
somethin’ in your shadows that brings me back home
‘cause I’ve been known to wander

I could show you
where our stars hang above
I could take you
to the river where we walked
oh I could tell you
you’re the only one I love
or I could just…
lay you down

i remember under maple trees we’d hide
and galaxies watched over blanket-bundled nights
i remember staring into each others’ eyes
and we didn’t have to say it…

WEEK

05 12 16

Everything is Broken

Story »

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

-Mark Twain

Lyrics »

we heard the messengers call, “the emperor’s falling”
everything is changing
we traded mornings for stars, the warmth of the fire for
everything in secret
and not a story went by, the tears in their eyes
everything was precious

oh…
everything is broken

we saw the miracle man with mud on his hands
it’s nothing to make sense of
soon as that window was cracked, we couldn’t go back
there’s something in the water
we fought the storm of the crowds, clouds swarming with doubts
he brought it to a silence

oh…
everything is broken

remember when the scorpion danced, a whip in his hand,
and stung the bloody temple
how is it that the ones that you trust to cover your cuts
so quickly turn the tables?
and even how it haunts us now, the sound of his shout,
was that the voice of failure?

no…
everything is broken

WEEK

05 03 16

Modern Times

Story »

Modern Times has been one of the most difficult songs to “capture” for me. She eludes me still, but hopefully I’ve been able to get across the weight and seriousness of where my identity lies. Sometimes I wonder how people receive these songs – like are they too serious? Too thematically heavy? – but I guess I decided long ago that there are enough artists out there making soft enjoyable music. I dove in and it is what it is. I remember vividly when these lyrics came to me. The music had been written years earlier, but in January of 2015 I sat a lone in my living room, snow falling outside, and these words came out charged with energy and weight. I feel sometimes with certain songs as if I can only channel the lyrical thoughts to fill in the music mold. I can’t force them, I can’t control them, I can only guide them. And when these words poured into the music, there was no going back. The song itself was built around the idea of “no going back.”

Which leads us to this great country we’re in. Oh, America. What an interesting human experiment this is. Much could be said here, both for her defense and against her evils, but I very well do stay grounded to the idea that America is not my home. I don’t use these words “vagabond” and “pilgrim” lightly – it is with much thought and care I choose to identify with these terms. Kierkegaard (Yes, that Kierkegaard quoted in Wayne’s World) – said,

“they are pilgrims, strangers and aliens in the world. Indeed, a staff in the hand does not identify a pilgrim as definitely as calling oneself a believer publicly testifies that one is on a journey, because faith simply means: What I am seeking is not here, and for that very reason I believe it. Faith expressly signifies the deep, strong, blessed restlessness that drives the believer so that he cannot settle down at rest in this world…a believer travels forward.”

And it is this notion of “traveling forward” that I find such an ironic juxtaposition in our modern world. Just when postdmodernism began to question the idea of “progress”, it seems our present-day culture has embraced modernism even stronger than the previous generations. We are naive to think that what is old is necessarily wrong, what is tradition is necessarily useless, and what is progressive is necessarily wise. And we are foolish to think that we are progressing in our culture as functional human beings with secure identities and relational maturity.

And so I choose to plant my roots not in the soil of American idealism, not in the concept of the “modern-made man”, not in the myth of human progress, as if we’ve got it all figured out now, no my roots aren’t in any of these. I dig in the soil of King David and Elijah, of William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, Jr., of Teresa of Avila and Mother Teresa. These men and women were ahead of their time, and lived far beyond what the world could handle. And like them, our generation is asked (as every generation is) – are you going to leave just like they have left? Are you going to reject the systems and structures and thinking of your present day? Amidst the arrogance and self-worship of our generation, the papers are on the table – what do we intend to do?

Lyrics »

“valor, my son:
you’re american soil
rich with the bones of our men
picture a land where our children can thrive
far beyond the barriers of God
far beyond the barriers of God”

no, I’m not your american soil
no, I’m not some modern-made man
tell my mother, I’m no longer her child

I have come to say goodbye
left my papers on the table
I intend to take my life
far beyond the thrill of modern times

“valor, my child:
should a modern-made man
eat from his master’s right hand?
picture an age where your legacy climbs
far beyond the memory of God
far beyond the memory of God”

no, I’m not your american soil
no, I’m not some modern-made man
tell my mother, I’m no longer her child

i have come to say goodbye
left my papers on the table
i intend to take my life
far beyond the thrill of modern times

my soil is the harper
the poet and the warrior
drenched in holy water
the prophet calling fire
my modern is a statesman
saved to free the slave man
born at home on High Street
shot in memphis tension
my mother is Teresa,
of ecstasy and vision
detestably she blessed them
impoverished and forgotten
and now the Master asks us,
“are you going to leave too?”
well who else should we follow?
all we have is in you

wholly forever yours…

I intend to take my life
to the boundless providence of God

WEEK

04 27 16

Bright as Life

Story »

Every artist has a handful of “quintessential songs” that define them in some way. I think Bright as Life has come to be a benchmark song for me on many levels. It’s a song that I’m extremely proud of, but also humbled to even be a part of. In 2012, my brother asked me to write and perform a song for the first dance at he and his bride’s wedding in Boston. Writing songs for a wedding can be very tricky sometimes – how do you approach it? How do you capture love and romance, the beauty of a wedding, the joy of lives uniting?

I’ve found over and over again this assumption from artists that to write about really joyful or happy things just turns our cheesy or forced, and I’ve refused to accept that for myself. I refuse to box myself into the mentality that to be “raw” and “genuine” and means that songs typically come from places of pain and questioning more than moements of happiness, wonder, and joy. And I think that’s in some ways where our culture is at large – it’s easy to talk about pain, indifference, breakups, disfunction, revenge, etc. But commitment? Steadfastness? Covenant? Joy? These are either boring, unnatainable, or contrived. And so how do I as an artist capture the amazing beauty of marriage – of a bride and groom enraptured in the magic of becoming one entity – how do I translate it into music and lyrics?

Dynamics – because life is dramatic. Tempo changes – because relationships go through different paces in life. Meter changes – because often the best moments in life don’t fit into a formula. Mood variation – because love is tender and romantic, but equally exciting and joyful. Mystery – because truth is often found in the fog, in the darkness before daybreak

And when I think about the structure of this song, and the style of lyrics, it has become a monument to me – a reminder to always make sure the lyrics are wed (pun intended) to the music, to let surprises always find a way amidst familiarity, to let the music breathe, a push and pull that is as constant as the beating waves.

Marriage has certainly become a hot topic in our culture in the past few years. There’s more nuance and artistic depth to marriage than I could put into words here, but I do believe it is very much like a lighthouse – a beacon of bold, bright light that helps guide the human story as we navigate through the waters of history, of cultures, of storms of unrest. Light lets us see what is reality, what is really in front of our faces as we peer through the dark. Fire is warmth to our bodies and souls, yet it is dangerous and to be handled carefully. Stars are the mystery of the cosmos, the marking of seasons, the guiding signals to help us understand our place in the universe. And love, well, love is all these things. It gives us sight, it is the reality by which we live. It warms and delights us, but it’s not something to be taken lightly or misused. It’s mysterious yet intuitively close to us.

And so we must look to our parents, look to our ancestors, look to our Creator and learn from them all – “teach us”…and where mistakes were made, may we be the generation to fix them. Where things were lacking, may we be ones to fill it. And where they did it right – truly loved – may we shine with that same love in our world.

Lyrics »

in the morning, i will find you
in the dawn’s light, i will chase you
‘til every moment of my endeavor becomes yours to keep

in the nightfall, i will hold you
in the moon’s light, i will treasure you
‘til every wave inside your soul is covered with my love

i’ll be your light
like a beacon on the harbor when the waves break in the dark
i’ll be your love
i will vow to forever burn as bright as life

there’s a lighthouse across the waters
with the brightness of a blazing fire
through the mist it glows and glistens while the undertow hides from raining stars
and though i’m young still, i can see you
and in my heart, yeah i can feel you burn
like that lantern placed in the tower as a seal upon my heart

i’ll be your light
like a beacon on the harbor when the waves break in the dark
i’ll be your fire
like the flames upon the cedars as the winter’s cold wind blows
i’ll be your guide
like the promise of the northern star to bring the traveler home
i’ll be your love
i will vow to forever burn as bright as life

teach us to drink from the wells of our kindred
the fountains before us who learned love’s light
teach us to walk in the wealth of a noble kind

and where they were wrong, teach us the right
and where they were frail, teach us to fight
and where they bloomed, let us thrive
and where they stood, let us rise
and where they loved, let us shine
shine, shine…

i’ll be your light
like a beacon on the harbor when the waves break in the dark
i’ll be your fire
like the flames upon the cedars as the winter’s cold wind blows
i’ll be your guide
like the promise of the northern star to bring the traveler home
i’ll be your love
i will vow to forever burn as bright as life

on the shoreline there’s a beacon
an old tower that takes a beatin’
and still commands the faithful winds to carry on its song…

WEEK

04 20 16

Young Miracles

Story »

I’ve always felt like Fall is my favorite season, but now because of this song I think Spring might be giving it a run for its money. When I wrote the piano part two years ago, I instantly knew it was about Spring. Then maybe a year ago I wrote the melody line for the whole bridge “dance” section, and it was such a joy for those two drastically parts to come together. But recently as I wrote the lyrics (I almost always write lyrics last), this concept of Spring went way deeper than I imagined.

Here we are, us humans, these rough young seeds that fight our way to the surface, fight our way through the earth, and against all odds we grow and bloom and reach towards the heavens. I think there is something so profound in the hope that we carry. No other creatures have this wild fighting hope – it goes way beyond the concept of “survival of the fittest”. I think we fight for much more than survival.

And that’s where Spring comes into play. Caught between the dark, cold, bitter months of Winter (This is Michigan man speaking here), and the raging heat and drought that can wipe out plants in the summer, there is this small window of time where LIFE happens. And it’s the most fragile and precious and beautiful thing. It’s not a guarantee, it’s a struggle. But what an amazing thing this life is!

I could not have finished this song and the lyrics if not for two things that happened only days before I was supposed to be done with it. The first, being the most recent “young miracle” in our family, Amethyst Harper. I don’t say that phrase “young miracle” lightly, like it’s a cute little phrase such as “angel” or “cutie-pie”. No, I really do mean miracle for what it is – something that can’t be explained by natural or scientific laws, the product of the divine. Now we can talk all day about how it’s really a quite simple process the way biology and DNA and evolution happen – of course there’s a natural explanation for how she was born. But those laws aren’t able to grasp the soul, the hope in one’s eyes, the propensity towards art, the imagination, the mind, our quest to find meaning, our desire to love and be loved, Love itself I should say. There most certainly is a divine explanation for why we love, or that love exists at all, and that explanation can’t be found outside of the definition of a miracle.

The second thing that happened was the twisted humor of Northern Michigan. Here I am writing the most joyful song about springtime and blooming and light and….and it was snowing outside. Over a half-foot of fresh snow. Just a blanket of white that caused many a frowns from my wife. But somehow I found a hilarious humor in the irony of this song being born out of Winter’s last dance, her last pass at suppressing the inevitable. And it filled me with even more hope knowing that this season will be over, and springtime will come, and miracles will happen once again, as they always do. But often they start so subtly, so “ordinarily”, that we don’t see them for what they really are.

I think for me personally this song carries a unique “weight” to it – it’s heavy, but not in a bad way. It’s heavy with life. The bridge section is a celebration of what makes us human – we dance and sing and clap and smile…and sadly I see little of this in our culture, and hear even less of this in our music. This bridge part is so far from radio world, from commercial pop, from “business”. But it feels even more fresh (*not modern) than most songs, and yet it is ancient. I hope you can get past the notion that this is some cheesy Riverdance tune, and in some way trust me to live in the music, feel it, breathe in it, dance in it. There is so much joy in the melody, so much hope in the rhythm, so much freedom in the patient build towards leaving the past behind. And that’s what the song is ultimately trying to get at – that this beautiful thing we call life is anything but ordinary, anything but simple unguided processes, anything but meaningless. I’ll be quoting Frederick Beuchner many times this year, but this nails it on the head:

“Sometimes while it’s still raining, the sun comes out from behind the clouds, and suddenly, arching against the gray sky, there is a rainbow, which people stop doing whatever they’re doing to look at. They lay down their fishing nets, their tax forms, their bridge hands, their golf clubs, their newspapers to gaze at the sky because what is happening up there is so marvelous they can’t help themselves. Something like that, I think, is the way it happens to us – we see the marvel of our Maker arch across the grayness of things – the grayness of our own lives, perhaps, of life itself…
We seem to go right on working at pretty much whatever we’ve been working at before, which means we’re not so much called out of our ordinary lives as we’re called out of believing that ordinary life is ordinary. We’re called to see that no matter how ordinary it may seem to us as we live it, life is extraordinary.”

Lyrics »

spring is coming with a fighter’s ruin
after morning’s bite,
when warm showers calm her soil
like a shot of heaven in the earth’s
dark weathered skin
and seep on down to the core

and a flood of light
conquers every barren sky
a violent burst of mud and life
and we’re caught in the middle…

long forgotten
are old sorrow songs, no
just the fragrant will of the flowers’ reach

to that flood of light
painting every barren sky
a violent burst of mud and love and life
and we’re caught in the middle of summer fire and winter snow
call them young miracles
springing up with hope
caught in the middle of summer fire and winter snow
young miracles
springing with hope
young miracles springing

long forgotten
are old sorrow songs
just the fragrant will of the flowers’ reach

to that flood of light
painting every barren sky
a violent burst of mud and life
and caught in the middle are
young miracles
springing up with hope

WEEK

04 08 16

Lovesick Fools

Story »

It’s such a fun process for me as artist to bring a song from a tiny acorn of a thought into the oak tree of a “song”. At every step of the way, at every watering and season, you never know what could happen. Of the songs I’ve done so far, this one turned out quite different than what I had first imagined. I originally wrote the song back in 2010, writing the opening riff on guitar and then sitting down on piano to flesh out the rest of the song. It had an entirely different chorus and an epic building bridge. But one thing I’ve learned as an artist is to be patient, to explore, and to know when to question the whole thing or accept it for what it is and call it your own. I knew it still wasn’t settled. Finally a few weeks ago, after dozens of hook ideas and bridge versions, I found what “clicked” for me.

At that point, I then have to try and figure out what the music is about, what the song is trying to get at. And I really gravitated towards this idea of young lovers who never knew if they had it all together or didn’t know the first thing about love. Back and forth between the freedom of “throwing money on the streets” to the choking control of not letting the carpet get dirty. Questioning whether this whole thing was about living and growing, or dying again and again. And I think somewhere in there the ironic nature of romantic love comes out. It’s very mysterious, and once you think you’ve figured it out is when it pulls the rug and puts you back to square one.

I intentionally wanted to juxtapose these serious questions with light-hearted, fun music. Yet I wanted to retain an edge of darkness or mystery in the verses. Love is fun and wild and demands all seriousness, daring to go where “half-lovers don’t go”. It also retains a childlike passion for laughter, for exploring, for running around with flags and getting lost in the wonder of books. Yet it also contains a mystery to it that can only be understood in the recesses of nighttime. I know these are some of the more cryptic lyrics I’ve written, but they hold a lot of meaning to me nonetheless. Not every song has to be taken at face-value, and I hope the aesthetics of the poetry and singable rhythms can pull you in at some point, where you can have your own “click” moment with the music. Now let’s get back to dancing.

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

we cherish books
and cheap highway signs
and cardboard walls
and throwing money on the streets

we like tidiness
got schedules to keep
those shoes must come off
when the children run around
muddied and disorderly

are we living or are we dying?
i don’t think we’ll know this one quickly
are we winning or are we hiding?
there’s not much but distance between us
is this love or are we just fighting?
depends on whose pain’s in the picture
are we living or are we dying?
or are we dying…
as lovesick fools

some people believe
there’s power in words
but beauty’s in the walk
when you’re not allowed to talk
beneath blood-stained lines
where half-lovers don’t go

young rebels in white
waving promise flags
we didn’t fail to eat
no our lusts are still hungry
so we starve them with
with zealous lives

are we soldiers fighting for love?
or are we soldiers trying to run?

WEEK

03 22 16

Brother John

Story »

I’ve come to accept that friendships come and go in life. Some of it is due to circumstances (relocating), some is due to time (or lack thereof). But often friendships fall apart because of different directions young men take. Different goals. Different paths. Different worldviews. I don’t think this is a bad thing, it’s just the way it is. True lifelong friendships must be worked at, must be fought over, must be weathered and tested and beaten and held on to. I’ve seen over and over again so many close male friends “fall by the wayside” so to speak. They had so much potential, so much humility, so much freedom…but at one point or another, they settled, they compromised. They gave in to the “system”, gave into their addictions, they gave into greed, they gave into pleasure at the expense of joy. Rarely have words cut to the core of human intentions like those spoken centuries ago: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his very soul?”

“John” is an amalgamation of dozens of friends I’ve had in life. I can’t tell you how many times guys have felt judged by me because of the way they live their lives. Like because I choose to not drink, I’m somehow judging someone who does. Well the truth is, if a guy feels judged, that doesn’t bother me, because I never judged them. It’s their own self-perception, their own conscience calling them out. Look, truth hurts, but it can also set you free. So when I see John on the street and we sit down at a pub to catch up on life, he looks into my eyes and senses judgment, and so he responds (without me ever even making the statement), “I didn’t sell my soul, man”. He’s trying to defend his action and his lifestyle, trying to convince himself, really, that he didn’t sell out.

And so the conversation now has room to go somewhere. Great men in history over many a great beer have called out and questioned and attacked and defended and sharpened each other, even if it hurts (that’s why beer is involved). But my response is the same – “Gave it away for free? Are you kidding? That’s your soul, man, and you just traded it in for cheap pleasures? That has to be the shittiest deal of all time.” And so he responds, with double meaning, “I’m not the one who sold my soul to a religious system, to a slave mentality…I’m free”. To which I now respond, “Brother…the soul isn’t something to be sold. It’s the opposite, if you want to find yourself, to gain your sense of wholeness, it will absolutely cost you everything you have. The deal that you made amounts to shit…you just got fleeced.”

And so at its heart, this is a song from one man to another. A clash of ideologies, each man calling out the other for selling out. Each drawing lines in the sand and sticking by them for better or worse.  And here’s a little Star Wars thrown in to help paint the picture…

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

i was a young and wild
susquehanna child
from the forest paths to the open fields
and little barefoot john
he was a native song
yeah he could feel a storm underneath his heels

now like most young men
we fell away as friends
‘til our paths came crossing on the street
he still smiled the same
but i could tell he changed
a man’s eyes don’t lie when it comes to shame

“i didn’t sell my soul
i didn’t sell my soul
no i gladly gave it away for free.”
i said, “brother john,
brother, brother, brother, john,
that’s a shitty deal if you ask me.”

see, john’s a working man
a real-life business plan
even gives his change if somebody begs
his new girl moved in
yeah she’s nice and thin
makes him feel like a real man between those legs

“i didn’t sell my soul
i didn’t sell my soul
no i gladly gave it away for free.”
i said, “brother john,
brother, brother, brother, john,
that’s a shitty deal if you ask me.”

now john asked me straight,
you’re not gettin’ paid?
you’re not gettin’ laid?
man are you ok?
how you puttin’ food on your plate?
i said what good is wealth if all you got is money?
what good is makin’ love if you don’t love somebody?
what good is eatin’ if you’re not even hungry?
man what good is eatin’ when you’re not even hungry?
you used to feel and hurt and bleed
we’d taste the salt from laughing, please
you ran with freedom between the trees
you used to feel the earth beneath your feet

“i didn’t sell my soul
i didn’t sell my soul
no it cost me, it cost me everything
john said, “listen man
listen, listen, listen man
that’s a shitty deal if you ask me.”

“i didn’t sell my soul
i didn’t sell my soul
no i gladly gave it away for free.”
i said, “brother john,
brother, brother, brother, john,
only shitty deals come free

WEEK

03 10 16

Culture Indivisible

Story »

So now we’ve come to the part of the show where cultural critiques start flying. To be fair though, I don’t think of this song as critiquing how lousy we are as a culture, or speaking from some moral high ground to prove a point. It’s always been a lament song. An honest lament song. It’s really just like, “Look, this is where we’re at. This is me. This is you. This is us”

‘Merica. Where do we begin? I spend a good deal of time thinking about our culture, who we are as a people, who we are as a nation. I usually think from two perspectives. One is from a “since the beginning of humankind” viewpoint where I attempt to understand us juxtaposed across the great divide of human history. We are the most affluent, comfortable, consuming culture in the history of human civilization. We also happen to be one of the most depressed, anxious, medicated, and insecure group of people. The other perspective I like to come from is that of an alien visiting planet earth and studying human beings, but only using a sample of Americans. This alien goes back to report to other aliens on what humans are like, and concludes that “love” is certainly a confusing thing. These people make the highest oath of commitment in their lives to love another human and end up (roughly 40% of the time) breaking that promise. So then a lot of their children grow up without seeing the most honored of “loves” working on a daily basis. Then they feed themselves constantly with millions of songs and shows and articles about dysfunctional relationships from “media” that supposedly doesn’t really affect them. So then they end up getting really fired up about how everyone needs to just love each other, which really means “tolerate” each other. So, basically just put up with each other, celebrate the brokenness, and stop hating.

You might totally disagree with this assessment, but really we are so relationally dysfunctional it’s crazy. We’re dysfunctional with our relationship to nature. We’re dysfunctional with our relationship to our bodies. We’re dysfunctional with our relationship to soul-bound lifelong lovers. I’ve found very few people who would honestly say our culture at large knows how to do relationships, and do them well.

And this is what drives the thought on the bridge – “they billed us as the freedom fighters”. A play on words about our founding fathers seeing us Americans as these ragtag rebels fighting for freedom. That’s our heritage as Americans in the 21st century – fighting for freedom is in our blood. And yet, “they built us as the freedom fighters” – all our institutions and systems and media and economy (and and and) have built us to actually fight against what truly makes us free, what truly makes us happy, what truly makes us alive. We kill freedom everyday by the way we view women (pornography). By the way we stay “normal” (medication). By the way we find meaning (job, really?). By the way we feel validation by how many people like a facebook post. By the way we hide insecurities and cover up woundings by getting breast lifts, or big trucks, or new homes, or…

Welcome to our culture. Indivisible?

Relational dysfunction. Take a second and imagine what the Creator sees when all of us humans are running around trying to find meaning and purpose and happiness, while tucked in all that madness the most important relationship we’ll ever have is left undiscovered, or unexplored, or (sad to say this is often me) taken for granted. You’re welcome here, Maker. You’re welcome in our messed up little worlds, our broken homes, our shadows and secrets and closets. Our small understanding of what it means to love.

“Someday, somehow…”

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Additional Vocals by Mickayla Noel, Courtney Kaiser-Sandler, David Norville, Lizzy Marella, Jessica Harper, and Jesse Munsat
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

another headache to another day
he fights to make it on the morning train
no inspiration, but a decent pay
Samuel the modern machine

he’s got a lotta friends that don’t reply
it seems they’re bored with never having time
he takes these seafoam pills that help with life
and watches naked women making love

welcome to our culture indivisible

another heartache to another day
Amelia swore she’d never live this way
new bank account that’s in her maiden name
wondering how a bank became more reliable than love

unpacks her bags and asks the glass
to pass on attacking her tonight
taps the glass that tags her
as she tracks who actually
likes her when the light is right
breasts that sag,
her chest is tragically in
need of something drastic,
call a plastic surgeon, please,
it’s urgent as…hell, it’s an emergency!
this vagrant searching,
she’s on empty
suburban streets,
a vacant purse and keys –
her worthless dreams – too busted up
like a lonely hitchhiker thumbing for a lift

welcome to our culture indivisible

they billed us as the freedom fighters
they billed us as the freedom fighters
they built us as the freedom fighters

welcome to our culture indivisible

someday, somehow
i will rebuild you
build you

WEEK

03 04 16

Pilgrims & Rebels

Story »

Are you a pilgrim or a rebel? I have often asked myself this question as I look at my life. So pretty much everyday it goes like this: at one moment I’m on a focused journey, a pilgrim sojourning towards his true home; and the next moment I’m a wandering rebel running away from home trying to find rest where it cannot be found. I think of this rebel as the Prodigal Son – one who left home with arrogance and anger, a restless desire to find answers and a selfish intent on gaining everything and basically conquering the world. Only he realizes that peace is at home, right where the journey began, where he should have been all along. This restlessness is often so close to the restlessness of the pilgrim, it can easily be mistaken. I wonder how many times in life I’ve mistaken a holy dissatisfaction for a rebellious refusal to be at rest. And I think somewhere in there is where the paradox of this song lies.

Notice the similarities between the prodigal and the pilgrim: Both are looking for home. Both are restless. Both have set out on a journey. Both are wandering. Both feel the intense feeling of “not yet” – their goal has not been reached. But the differences, though, subtle, are important. One seeks to truly be different (holy), while the other seeks selfish gain (mediocre way to live at best). One is focused, the other cannot concentrate. One desires to worship, the other desires to whine. One is driven by the destination, the other is driven by their current circumstances. One journeys to hope, the other journeys to despair.

Yet amidst this back-and-forth, this struggle between pilgrimage and rebellious wandering, the Creator stands, outside of time, outside of our weaknesses, a constant amidst chaos – the One Who Does Not Waver. And this becomes the heart of the song. Not my shortcomings and faults and mistakes and failures, but perfect, unchanging, patient love. I like to call him…

“Home.”

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Cello by Paul Nelson
Viola by Renee Skerik
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

most every night i lay down my head
in restless pursuit of a home
pilgrims and rebels, they’re much the same:
both wild and wandering alone

but you are my strength,
you are my song,
you are my freedom,
and you are my home

seasons are finding me farther away
but it feels like i’m still at the start
it’s hard to admit that my whole life’s flame
is but embers tossed in the dark

but you are my strength,
you are my song,
you are my freedom,
you are my home

WEEK

02 24 16

High Tide

Story »

How do you approach a song like this? Recently I’ve seen it like The Boy Who Cried Wolf meets The Great Flood with an dark apocalyptic flair for good measure. Everything is based around this idea of “high tide” – this growing sense that things are reaching a tipping point. Things are becoming increasingly intense. The world is shifting. Our country is changing. Culture is stepping into unparalleled times of tension.

I’m sure you may have heard any number of phrases like this. What I tried to examine in the song is that each generation deals in some way with thought that the world is coming to an end. Especially in the last century in America, each decade finds numerous voices claiming, “the end of the world is here.” I wonder then if we become too accustomed to hearing it, how would we perceive and respond to the thought that the world really was in its last days?

I tried to hint at how I think as humans we like the thought that we’re in control. That the flood won’t happen. That God doesn’t make the calls, we do. That however naive we are, we enjoy the freedom of thinking nothing will happen. Ignorance is bliss. And so I tried to paint this romanticizing we’ve done, our lips running wild preaching the hedonistic rally cry – “it’s just another tide!” Let’s do whatever the hell we want to do.

The most influential human in the history of the world said that the last days will be just like the great ancient flood. People were eating, drinking, partying, carrying on as usual. Love and sex and comfort and celebration and good times. Completely unaware that a massive flood would rip apart their plans, wipe out all their petty projects, pour over their arrogance and lust and self-seeking motives.

Over and over we’ve responded to the boy crying wolf (end times) with “Oh, it’s just another tide, just another ebb and flow, no big deal.” And rightly so. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being skeptical about these sort of predictions. The song is more so wondering what happens when it actually is more than just another high tide, but a massive flood of human history crashing in on itself. A deluge of powers and justice and failures and hopes and progress.

It’s a simple yet profound acknowledgement that we continue to store up dismissal after dismissal, our lips writing off each end-time claim with a triumphant “I knew it! It’s just the same old cycle.” And I question how that building up, the continuous “nonsense!” to the boy crying wolf, truly affects us and numbs us to the reality of when the wolf does appear, when the flood rains do fall, when the tide breaks the levees and disrupts our world. When it’s not “just another”…

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Additional Vocals by Tess Considine
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

resting among the whispers, the devils have come
under the fallen timbers fresh from the cut
weaving through conversations our fathers kept low
leaving each town in waiting as thunderclouds roll

think of all the times when our lips ran wild with
“you know, it’s just another
high tide flowing over”

echoes of village chatter rumoring rain
flooding with wicked laughter and cov’ring the plains:
“ask for the midnight shepherds and call every sage
under the the willows gather to soak up what they say”

think of all the times when our lips ran wild with
“you know, it’s just another…”
think of all the times when our lips ran wild with
“you know, it’s just another
high tide flowing over”

charlatans in the temples like lovers in bed
lighting our torches with the fires they damn
primitive politicians feeding on fears
sensing the waning wisdom we’re failing to hear

think of all the times when our lips ran wild with
“you know, it’s just another…”

high tide flowing over

you know, you know
think of all the times when our lips ran wild with
“you know, you know…”
“you know, it’s just another…”

high tide flowing over

WEEK

02 17 16

The Unconventional Life

Story »

This song is a little out there for some people, but I absolutely love the feel of it. It seems like it catches something about me in a unique way. There is a wildness, but also a freedom to the music, almost like children playing out in the woods. I wrote the verse melody back in 2008 sitting in our apartment in Alhambra, CA. I tucked it away on my computer as “Ireland Africa”, and I think the song still preserves those two elements – the melodic flow of an Irish tune, and the “Elderly Wisdom” of an on old African man passing down wisdom to his children. The song as a whole is a call to my children, telling them to follow in my footsteps and choose a life of unconventionality.

Perhaps one of my favorite lines in this entire year-long project is the second verse touching on hope: I wanted to come across with the idea that hope is not some abstract thought or wish. It is tangible and real. As real and vivid as a fire in the night, as useful and needed as a feather is to the reality of flying, as necessary and close as heavy armor on one’s chest. And finally, hope is shown, in a more tangible way then all human activity, in the unconventional life of a martyr, one who lives in such a way as to oppose death itself, and walk not fearfully but expectantly into the fading hours of life here on earth. The way the melody and music touch that word “hope” gets me every time. It just feels like that word becomes alive and steps out of the song right into my world. So here’s to all that’s unconventional in a world constantly looking for signs of hope…

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

sweet young daughter hear me sing
i will teach you by the wind
how to breathe
and begin to hold
hold every dripping thought
all the fibers of your soul
soaked in wild and colorful lines

see, that city cannot hear
oh she can build and she can feast
but she has still not felt the peace of land
the soil and the birds
and what it means to live a life
that can only be described as

unconventional

son, come walk among the men
there is wisdom in the streams
if you listen they are speaking hope
hope is not a wishing prayer
it’s a fire in the night
it’s the feather in the flight
it’s the armor for the fight
it’s the martyr full of life so

unconventional

WEEK

02 10 16

Citizens of Zion

Story »

This song is inspired by two dreams I had. There is so much I could say about dreams, and how they’re valued little in our culture, but I’ll just say this: dreams are profoundly important. The periodic table, the Beatle’s “Yesterday”, the invention of the sewing machine, Lincoln’s own dreams of being assassinated, the list goes on.

It would be impossible to put into words what I experienced in these dreams, but let me summarize (no need for details here): indescribable joy and vibrant colors far beyond what eyes can see. These two dreams are the only dreams I’ve ever had of what you might call “heaven” or “eternity”. For me the most helpful word is just “reality” – I was experiencing the vibrant, rich, joyful reality that we dimly see and feel in this life. It was so rich that it just makes you long for that place – for “Zion”, a city filled with every culture and language. Streets where kids are playing and people are trading with no insecurities or sense of self-preservation. Artists not stuck in philosophical “ideas” but grounded in the real world – the concrete world – of love. A culture that is free.

My favorite line tucked away in the chorus – “…where we unearth all to become…” In one sense, we dig into the ground, “unearth”, uncover who we really are (which goes back to the idea that we came from the earth/dust). But in another sense, we un-earth – that is, we shake off our earthly mindsets and man-made systems and worldly desires and become something more, something higher, something counterintuitively more human. Lewis writes:

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain [Zion], to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

But Chesterton says it even better (with wit and paradox as only he can):

“We are homesick in our own homes.”

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Penny Whistle by John Driscoll
Backing Vocals by Allie Kessel
Extra Vocals by Zach Lynn, Joelle Wisnieski, and Connor MacDonald
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

i once wandered down your streets
a city like no other that i’ve known
where every corner hears a mother sing
the making of a mighty people’s hope
garden colors fill the feast
stories here come verified by scars
people learning how to finally dream
beyond the waning hours of the dark

where we run to heartbeaten drums
as the city streets drink the river’s song
and we unearth all to become
the citizens of Zion

merchants purge the marketplace of greed
trading with the freedom of enough
artists with no philosophy degrees
masters in a concrete world of love
murals seeping deep within her walls
printing presses stressing all our hopes
children bouncing down the ancient halls
electric with the wonders of home

where we run to heartbeaten drums
as the city streets drink the river’s song
and we unearth all to become
the citizens of Zion

i’m afraid our colors are fading
our food has lost its taste
and our music’s always waiting
for the tune to come around again
i’m afraid our love is changing
when love ain’t supposed to change
is our faith still not at the place where we
hunger for a better land?
where we hunger for a better land?

where we run to heartbeaten drums
as the city streets drink the river’s song
and we unearth all to become
the citizens of Zion

WEEK

02 04 16

Convince You

Story »

Often my songwriting process is listening to the music and trying to discover what it is speaking about – what it’s trying to get at. I almost always write lyrics last, and I want them to enhance the music, not get in the way of what the music is already saying. So when I sat down with this music, it took a while, but eventually it hit like a lightning bolt – this was a song about struggle, about fighting, about wrestling with our Maker. It is an ancient story, and one of my favorites. A man named Jacob claims to have wrestled with God face to face and survived.

I think the beauty of Jacob’s encounter is that it’s the story of us all. And what fascinates (and even scares me) about this story is that God is not who we think he is. This is not gentle. This is not pretty. This is certainly not a story of non-violence. In fact, the whole conflict was initiated by God. He was the one who jumped out of the darkness and attacked Jacob. Boy does that mess our modern conception of how God should behave. He is often much wilder than our spineless “civilized” notions can handle.

I can picture God, unannounced and to the bewilderment of the angels, hanging up his glory almost like a coat, and stepping forward into the darkness as a man with flesh in the stillness of a midnight desert. He had enough of this shady wandering character. You can talk all you want and try to convince someone to change, but at some point you just to have to duke it out. I’m not sure if women can relate or not (not trying to be sexist here), but sometimes words have reached their limit and you need to fight with your bare knuckles. Often much more can be said in the struggling of flesh than in the most intimate and honest conversations.

And so we find a God who is more intimate than we want to think, one who digs down into the “muscle and marrow” and gets dirty. Hands on. Fighting. Sweating. Bleeding. Hurting. Breathing in exhaustion and refusing to let a man continue to his way towards mediocrity and irrelevance.

I could write a book on this, but a single chapter by Frederick Buechner says it far better than I ever could. He brilliantly describes this encounter as the “the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God”:

“And then it happens. Out of the deep of the night a stranger leaps. He hurls himself at Jacob, and they fall to the ground, their bodies lashing through the darkness. It is terrible enough not to see the attacker’s face, and his strength is more terrible still, the strength of more than a man. All the night through they struggle in silence until just before morning when it looks as though a miracle might happen. Jacob is winning. The stranger cries out to be set free before the sun rises. Then, suddenly, all is reversed.

He merely touches the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, and in a moment Jacob is lying there crippled and helpless. The sense we have, which Jacob must have had, that the whole battle was from the beginning fated to end this way, that the stranger had simply held back until now, letting Jacob exert all his strength and almost win so that when he was defeated, he would know that he was truly defeated; so that he would know that not all the shrewdness, will, brute force that he could muster were enough to get this. Jacob will not release his grip, only now it is a grip not of violence but of need, like the grip of a drowning man.

The darkness has faded just enough so that for the first time he can dimly see his opponent’s face. And what he sees is something more terrible than the face of death – the face of love. It is vast and strong, half ruined with suffering and fierce with joy, the face a man flees down all the darkness of his days until at last he cries out, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me!” Not a blessing that he can have now by the strength of his cunning or the force of his will, but a blessing that he can have only as a gift.”

The grip of a drowning man. Such a rich description. I tried to convey on the bridge not only Jacob’s cry of “I will not let you go until you bless me,” but perhaps hint at the paradox of God himself saying the same thing. I won’t let you go until you bring me glory. Until your soul is defeated and you can no longer wrestle with me. Until you understand that being created in the image of One Who is Wild does not mean the wreckless and loveless “wild” that you understand.

And it’s in this encounter that God gives Jacob a new name. Many don’t realize this, but Israel actual means “He wrestles/struggles with God”. People wonder how I could relate to a “primitive” people in the Ancient Near East. Or even more, why I would choose to associate my identity with these people. I just think, “how do we not relate?” The fighting and deception, the joys and humor, the longing and suffering, the arrogance and indifference. Is this not us? One must be extremely naive to not realize that the story of humanity is the story of us wrestling with our Maker. The question then becomes (and the heart of the song) is “what would it take to convince us that we need to change?” I suspect that, like this story, the answers aren’t easy to come by. We wrestle in the silent hours of darkness.

But when will we realize who we’re wrestling with?

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Mixing by Brook Floyd

 

Lyrics »

there comes a time when talking really gets us nowhere
it’s not that words aren’t fruitful but blood and sweat do better
and angels often ponder how glory can be shedded
hung upon a hook rail to wrestle in the desert

could we ever begin to
abandon our weapons?
could I ever convince you to change?

years ago I told you, “love never wanders”
but you and all your new school have been drifting in a fiction forest
oh and I Am, I am not like you, no it’s clear you hardly know me
I’m an ax that’s sharp and wielding
I’m the man who cuts down the mighty cedars

could we ever begin to
abandon our weapons?
could we ever get down to
the muscle and marrow?
could we ever reach into
the darkness and find light?
could I ever convince you to change?

i will not let
i will not let you
i will not let you go until you bless me

could we ever begin to
abandon our weapons?
could we ever get down to
the muscle and marrow?
could we ever reach into
the darkness and find light?
could I ever convince you to change?

WEEK

01 29 16

Hiding in Shadows

Story »

When I think about which of my songs are the most honest and vulnerable, this one always comes to mind. In July of 2013, my wife had a miscarriage about seven weeks into her second pregnancy. It ended up being one of the most difficult times in my life, because my faith took the biggest beating. I found it was one of those times where I truly felt like my faith was alive, powerful – it could storm into heaven and demand that God keep our child. But life doesn’t always work like that, and I often walk in the dark.

What’s really interesting though is how this song came about. If I could ever make a case for prophetic songs, or even posit the reality that we are spiritual beings who sometimes glimpse into the other realm, let me make my case. I actually wrote the core of this song a few months earlier, in the spring. I was standing in the front reception area at my recording studio, playing the main melodic riff on my mandolin. And I knew, intuitively, that this song was about my wife. But what I couldn’t figure out is why I kept getting to this line – “she would never come back”. I actually struggled with it for a few days because I wanted the song to be a sweet romantic tune about Lindsey, but it just kept taking this dark turn into sorrow, mourning, even loss. So there was this cognitive dissonance going on. Nevertheless, whenever I tried to change that line, my spirit knew it shouldn’t be changed. So I actually just hung the song up for a bit because I couldn’t make sense of it on an emotional and spiritual level.

Fast forward to after the miscarriage, and I came back to this song one night, and it hit me like a lightning bolt – yes this song was about Lindsey, but it was deeper than that – it was about our child. I was perceiving a realm that I had no room for in my life. What I had sensed in the song was actually our daughter’s spirit (which is very similar to my wife).

I had a deeply profound encounter one morning – it’s hard to explain in words, but I felt her, I knew her, I understood her. Like the title, she was very much among the shadows, hard to see, but there was a peace and maturity to her that is beyond words. One day I’ll get to meet her, and find out her name. What a beautiful day that will be! In the meantime, on this side of life, I carry the weight of knowing that she won’t be in our lives, won’t be a part of our family. I hope for all the mothers (and fathers) out there who have dealt with miscarriages, that perhaps this song can be healing and helpful.

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

darling,
why are we hiding in shadows,
when the trees we wish to become
are but basking in the sun?

tell me
we were anointed to paint by numbers.
is it oil and water
that can’t be mixed at all?

all our thoughts were helplessly lost from the start
all our modes of living and loving would never bring her back
no she would never come back

i am
often awoken by visions of a
fault line ripping right through these intentions
to our souls

do those
white country cupboards still hold our seasonings?
your eyes have been encased
in that window for some time…

time to mend what little of our faith that was left
time to find if a faith that’s unbending could ever bring her back…

but in came the night
with a winter-gripped shawl
no she would never come back
and the winds of our fathers swept through the doors
and she would never come back
and our lips threw to heaven the weight of our prayers
but she would never come back
oh the weight of our prayers, is there weight in our prayers?
no she would never, she would never come back
she would never come back

darling, why are we hiding in shadows?

WEEK

01 11 16

Straight as an Arrow

Story »

Songs can come at anytime – you just have to be open and ready for them. This song came one day as I was teaching at school. On the original voice memo, you can hear the students coming into the classroom, about a minute before class started. I was sitting on the piano noodling around and all three parts – verse, chorus, & bridge – came together in real time, probably about four minutes. So I quickly pulled out my phone to capture it before I forgot (thank you Apple for making handheld magic).

About four months later, I was able to sit down with it and fill in the lyrics. This is always one of my favorite parts of songwriting – when the music already feels like it has something special to it, but the lyrics bring it to a whole new level. This song was a way for me to process and even grieve the dreams and desires I’ve had (for over sixteen years now) that feel dead, or gone. And yet, it’s often when they feel the least likely, that we get a chance to perhaps see it in a new light. When the arrow is pulled back the furthest – when it’s going the opposite direction of where it should go, it is finally ready to be launched and released. And as you may have heard me talk about it my Kickstarter video, the prophet says that often when the dream is dead, when it’s tested, then we know it’s real.

My favorite part (but often least favorite part in life) is the stretching – this concept that often for us to launch forward in life, the Archer has to stretch us back. And it’s actually in this tension of moving backwards, of being pulled, of being tested – that we can actually reach our target. Anything less, any half-pulled arrow or unstretched character, and it’s pointless. Here I put in a play on words: rest on the weight (the tension, the heaviness of being tested) but also resting while we “wait” – being patient and mature enough to wait until the Archer is ready to release us, not when we want to go.

Another breakthrough moment came right before this part, where my mother not only raised me straight as an arrow (in a solid yet strict way so that I would stay on course), but she also named me Kyle – which means “a strait, a narrow” – it’s basically a thin passage of water that connects two larger bodies of water. So it is really both (straight as an arrow / strait, as a narrow). I have different categories for my songs (like Gold Rush was a journey song), and this one is definitely an identity song. I’ve always identified with arrows (someday my wife will convince me to get that arrow tattoo), and I think when this year of recording is done I’m going to take up archery. Seems like something a man in Michigan needs to do when he turns thirty years old. Anyways, the point is this song has come to be a defining song for me, and hopefully it can help make sense of your identity and lead you to rest in the tension of a mighty grip.

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Viola by Renee Skerik
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

mother, mother
i am a broken man
all your prayers have not come home
did you wonder
if I could settle down
with sixteen years built on these hopes?

when i was younger
i heard a prophet man:
“son you’ll shake this culture, whoa…”
in the porchlight
a wild prophet spoke:
“when it’s dead you will know
that word is surely gold”

do you feel the pain
of a dream that’s gone (3x)
do you feel the pain
of a fire that burns in my bones

california
she’s for another man
a cigarette i wouldn’t smoke
drove the coast with
my better half
vagabonds with pilgrim souls

do you feel the pain of a dream that’s gone,
a dream that’s gone (3x)
do you feel the pain
of a fire that burns in my bones

my mother said she would name me,
said she would raise me “straight as an arrow”
my God he said he would test me,
stretch me to rest on the weight of a warrior’s bow

do you feel the pain of a dream that’s gone,
a dream that’s gone (3x)
do you feel the pain of this
fire that burns in my bones

WEEK

01 04 15

Gold Rush

Story »

Victors. This word speaks louder than scars, louder than trouble, louder than all the mishaps and mistakes and failures we’ve had in our lives. It’s a visionary call to see ourselves for who we can become ­- humans who tell the story of triumph, the story of love that radically conquers everything opposed to it. It’s a call for us to to leave our comforts and securities, our own ambitions and dreams, and search after our Maker, the goldsmith who takes all that is sifted to the fires of refinement.

I wrote this song back in 2010, and it was such an unusual lyrical process for me. I really don’t remember writing the lyrics -­ they were just “there”. I can tell you exactly where I was sitting with my laptop at the dining room table, typing away, but it was almost an out­of­body creative moment where the song just came to be, and I looked at my screen, and it was done. It just came out in a furious, beautiful mess. And it made perfect sense to me, like my inner core had written it a while ago and finally decided to tell my conscious mind about it.

I love the energy of this song and the forward momentum it has. It’s a picture of what faith really is -­ not some set of rules or routines of comfort -­ but a vibrant and dynamic movement towards everything we hope for. This song represents one of the biggest themes this year – that of journeying. As Augustine so beautifully put it, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” May that restlessness push us towards the mountains, and may our lives be found “heavy” enough to be sifted while the empty and meaningless pass on.

Written, recorded, and produced by Mount Valor
Penny Whistle by Kristen Meyer
Mixing by Brook Floyd

Lyrics »

victors of the cold, the crossers called
to leave young meadows in search for gold
trees leave green the fields beyond
the forest’s twisting arms of progressors
there upon the hills the mountain’s milk
flows like veins, the virgin soil
sunlight guide us, even amidst the elements
of surprise and lot and luck
lot and luck

lead us to your faithful bedside’s night

leather plagues abounding with a lust to
crush the flesh, though battling we live on
left those homes there long before
the pain of choosing warmth
would soon choose our souls
people guided by them all,
the myriads of paths our motives walk
and all will lead us to the banks,
but there we find if we are the
gold the sifters keep
the sifters keep

lead us to your faithful bedside’s night

oh there we’ll find…
if we are the gold the sifters keep

22