Damian Erskine

It all comes back around.

Way back when I first started keeping a blog and first conceived of the idea of the TENACITY series, I knew that the first musician I wanted to interview was Damian.

Why?  Because he is an old soul.  I knew it from the first time we met.

Damian is one of my closest friends from my Berklee College of Music days. Now, we only get to hang out when we are recording or touring, but no matter ... I know this fellow has my back.  He's a big brother to me (and I am rich in real big brothers - I have two).  We can (and do) talk about almost anything.  He is open, wise, caring, and real. 

He is also one of the funkiest bass players on planet earth.  Seriously.  His chops are jaw-dropping, but he knows how and when to use 'em.  He's got awesome sauce in his hands and heart and it only comes out at the right time, if you know what I mean. 

In honor of my new blog, I asked Damian to revisit the TENACITY questions from where he is now.  His answers from 2011 are also below.


(This interview is part of the TENACITY series.  Read the FAQ here.)

1.  What made a difference for you along the way?  Tell me a story about that moment or moments.

I think that, likely, the most important moment for me involved me getting my butt kicked on a tour (musically speaking).  Sure, I had a lot of valid excuses (the music never arrived at my house ahead of time, so I had zero prep time, the band had been playing together for years and knew this very difficult material inside and out, blah blah..).  The reality was this - I wasn't good enough to jump in and cover the gig.  I realized very quickly that I had been floating along on "natural talent" and my dexterity and speed to cover the fact that I really didn't know what I was doing on the instrument in a very deep way.

I had hit a point.  That point is one that I believe most every artist or athlete hits.  It's the point that gets right in your face and asks you to decide - just how badly do you want this?  Are you willing to put in some REAL work and push past the pain to actually see how good you can be if you gave it everything that you've got?

I knew that I either had to change career paths or really buckle down and work on my playing to fill in a lot of gaps in my knowledge, push myself beyond my comfort zone and, hopefully, come out the other side playing like the musician that I aspired to be.  I decided to go for it and stop taking the easier path. 

2. To whom would you like to ask this same question?  Living or dead.  Why would you want to ask them?

Honestly, I'd be curious about most anyone's answer to that question but I can't think of anyone specifically that I'd like to ask.  This is primarily because I believe that everyone's answer would likely be different but equally interesting and valid.

I might ask this of someone like Matt Mundy,  He is a world class mandolinist who played with the Aquarium Rescue Unit for years and, one day suddenly, sold his mandolins and quit the music business altogether.  He started working construction and, as far as I know, hasn't really played or toured since.  I would love to talk to him and find out what could have led him to the other conclusion.

3.  Think back to a time when you were struggling with your music, your career, your direction.  What did you do to get out of that place, to keep going?  

This very much relates to my first answer.  The thing that kept (and keeps) me going is the way in which I tend to look at major decisions that I make in my life.  I tend to try and super-impose hindsight on myself.  I imagine myself as an old man reflecting back on my life and make the decision I think I would have like to have made if I removed any sense of fear or insecurity out of the present moment.

From TENACITY dated JULY 19, 2011:

What made a difference for you along the way?  Tell me a story about that moment.

I think the two biggest things for me were what happened when I felt like I was in a rut, or never going to be good enough, or just not getting it. 

I realized that whenever I had that feeling, I'd get down and feel like packing it all up.

This was CERTAINLY not going to get me anywhere so I made it a point to push even harder when I felt my resolve waning (and continue to!).  

The second part is always being mindful of what I work on and how I practice.  Being intentional and focused is key to effective use of practice time.  If I was frustrated by not being able to play over jazz changes...well, I'd pick a tune and spend 20 minutes just arpeggiating over the chords and then spend 20 minutes learning the melody and then would spend a solid 20 minutes just playing over the tune...over and over again. 

I'd take that approach with anything that I felt I was lacking in.  Focus on it HARD and push through it until I struck upon something that made me feel better.  It's amazing how quickly anyone can improve when they really put all of their energy into it.

So, in short, tenacity and intentionality.  Never stop pushing and never push aimlessly.