Q & A : How The Outdoors Inspires Songwriting
Questions from Publicist Chuck Whiting to CHAKRA BLEU
- Tell me about your passion for hiking, climbing and camping in the wild? Why are you passionate about it? When did this become an important pastime?
Growing up in the Inland NorthWest, in the climate perfect for outdoor activities, along with growing up in an active Sports minded family, provided a rich environment for me to play softball, basketball, volleyball, tennis, iceskating, snow skiing, water skiing, etc. Though I was dilengently involved in organized and competitive sports through much of my years in school, I started also finding a great deal of serenity, in bicycling extended miles on the Up River Drive bike route, not far from where I lived in Spokane.Congruently, I was most fortunate that our family had a lake cabin, that we’d stay at in the summers. There were hiking trails in the woods, near our cabin, that became another beloved place of serinity. While solo hiking. I was constantly allured by the abundanct Life around me, including various trees, song birds, wildlife, etc. There was an unmistakable Presence of Life that I felt when in the woods, that I never felt in church. Hiking thos trails, my senses were full of wonder, awe and gratitude.
Exploring the wonders of the lake itself was breathtaking and renewing to me as well. I would often as a yound gal, row to the end of the lake (tulies),and watch the lotus flowers rise up out of the water to greet the morning sun, observing in excitement as their beautiful pink and white pedals opened so gracefully. Meanwhile, the duck families parading in and out of the lily pads, quaking. Fish would occasional jump around my row boat, sending tiny ripples upon the still glass lake water. The utter peace, adventure, and wonderment of the great outdoors calls to my heart and inspires me on so many levels.
When I moved to Nashville, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go on my first backpacking trip, which meant, carrying a backpack, full of my clothing, cooking gear, flashlights, etc. That first backpacking trip was ‘Raw’, in that a very bad thunderstorm had us all hanging on to the tent so it wouldn’t blow off; with no time for dinner; red ants and fire ants moved in our tent to get out of the torential rain as well, some into our pants..ouch! Ticks and Chiggers…both of which I hadn’t encountered in the North West.
The desire to know how to backpack more efficiently lead me to take some classes at REI. From then on, I’ve been backpacking in places around Nashville, for 2-3 day trips that would include some of my favorite 2.5 - 3.5 hour drives from here: Savage Gulf ; Fall Creek Falls; Virgin Falls; Frozen Head; Pickett State Park; Big South Fork to name a few.
Several years ago, I added In-Line skating to my list of favored outdoor activities which is also known as roller blading. It’s an invigorating feeling while I’m skating. Breathing in the fresh air, sun on my skin, sparkling river beside much of the greenway, passing the greenery, trees while taking in the beautiful scenery off in the distance is a high! It doesn’t feel like I’m exercising. In fact, I don’t walk, hike, scate, climb, bycycle, etc., primarily for the exercise. It’s secondary. It just feels good! Some people enjoy hours of TV and clubbing around. I prefer the healthy feeling I recieve when I’m enjoying outdoor activities.
Hatha yoga and Raja Yoga have been another cherished physical and spiritual practice I now incorporate into my ‘wellness-bath’. Raja yoga is the meditative, contemplative side of yoga. Hatha yoga is the postures that most people think of yoga to be about, generally in the Western Hemisphere. Both of these practices of yoga have added an overall feeling of wellness, including groundedness/connectiveness in Spirit, and flexibility, youthfulness and lightness in the body.
I also mix in a balance of circuit training (weight training) with 30 minutes on the elliptical machine (this applies especially on bad weather days).
Several ago, I was introduced to rock climbing. Becoming ‘familiar’ with climbing heights, took some mental and emotional adjustment! Yet, in conjunction to learning how to trust the equipment that allows one to belay and repel up and down heights, I eventually learned to relax and enjoy the challenge and thrill that is required on many levels in this sport.
The folks that introduced me to climbing, are outdoor climbers. They had me enjoying the outdoors in a totally different perspective: UP, up and away!
2.What are the benefits? Would you recommend others doing the same thing? If so, why?
The benefits of being outdoors is hard to condense into a paragraph! It provides one with an appreciation of Life; breathing in fresh air while moving (whether walking a trail, in the city or otherwise) is psysiologically healthy - that is, that its healthy for your mind/emotions and body!
3. Provide a few short stories of your adventures (when, where and what happened). It would be good to include places in Tennessee, Idaho, and perhaps Colorado.
A few years ago, I joined my beloved friends, (who’ve long been mountaineers), in Helena, MT. They met me there, after I attended a joyful family wedding.
We traveled in their Mercedes extended van specially designed to travel, housed with all their climbing, and camping gear. The first night, the happily married couple and I camped in Helena Nat’l forest. You couldn’t see or hear anyone for miles around. The campfire was crackling and cozy, while the three of us enoyed plenty of laughter around the fire. The next morning we packed up and hiked the Helena Peak trail. From there we got in the camper and drove to Sun Valley, Idaho, where we stayed with another outdoors lovin’ couple. We rode mountain bikes for miles on a paved bike path, amidst striking mountains all around us. It’s a famous snow ski destination in the winter. We day hiked gorgeous trails, with good elevation climbs that had this gal from sea level, huffing and puffing, despite being in good shape! After a couple days there, we drove to City Of Rocks, Idaho, where we set up camp surrounded by amazing rock formations. This is a well known international destination for rock climbers.
We enjoyed a restful evening around the campfire after a good dinner and a tastey brew.
The next morning the three of us walked in 45 minutes in the playground of massive rock formations. We climbed a rock called ‘Cruel Shoes’, which was three pitches. This was my first multi-pitch climb. The rock was grantite, as opposed to sandstone and limestone around Nashville climbing areas (King’s Bluff, Foster Falls, etc.). I found that my climbing shoes really grabbed the rock. That’s good, because at times the hand holds were sparse, to say the least! Being up that high and learning all the additional multi pitch belay, extended repel, double-rope techniques was thrilling and humbling. I felt confident in the years of experience in mountain climbing my friends had under their belt, having climbed many of the Grand Tetons, multiple times.
The next day, we were joined by our Sun Valley friends, one who had been an EXUM guide for years in the Tetons, as well as another former EXUM guide who now works as a ranger at the Grand Teton nat’l Part. We all climbed a multi pitch called Lost Arrow, and later on a rock called Bubbly Wall. It was a full day of rock climbing. Later on we all gathered around our campfire. I sang a set of Chakra Bleu music for them.
The last day at City of Rocks, just the three of us climbed Steinfell’s Domb- a six pitch adventure. Photos on FB. That was intensely fun! An ice cold Alaskan Ale was awaiting us in the camper cooler.
The next morning we drove to the Grand Tetons where we stayed at a quiet and secluded campground near the river. We rode our mountain bikes on a bike path adjacent to the 14,000 ranges. The next day we day hiked Jenny Lake Trail, which was a mountain fed lake. No words can describe the beauty upon the eyes as we hiked this trail in awe.
The next day we drove to Ridgeway, CO, which is where my friends have lived for several years. We chilled out the first evening, watching ice climbing videos of them making first ascents! Meanwhile, they asked me yet again, if I’d like to climb the Teton’s with them sometime. I finally said, “YES!” . Someday soon, I’d like to hike six hours straight up the base of the Grand Teton, and then climb 13 pitches with y’all. “I need to learn SO much more before I can do that, though!”
They assured me that I could do it. I swallowed hard, as up to just three days prior, I hadn’t ever climbed more than one pitch!
The next morning we got up. My long time friend, Kim told me that she was going to take care of some household chores that day. Yet, she and her husband invited me to go on a bike ride 8 miles down from there house at 8,000 feet elevation, to the town of Montrose, where Patrick and I could then take an hour and half level-two yoga class, then pedal back up 1000 feet to their house. She said, “It’s a real bitch peddaling back up,” as she laughed. It didn’t sound like that much fun at first, but when I walked outside their front door, greeted by the fresh 70 degree dry air, sun tickling my skin, and surrounded by snow capped mountains all around, i decided that another outdoor adventure was my cup of tea, even as intimidating it may be on the way back up!
The pedalling down was fun, as was the invigorating yoga class. It actually charged my batteries enough to pedal up from 7000-8000 feet. I admit I got off my bike a couple times to walk the bike a couple times, for a couple minutes, which helped to change up my muscle groups so I could get back on the bike refreshed enough to pedal up more miles up that hill! This sea level, Nashville gal made it up, without my lungs exploding. Lol, and little time to acclamate to the elevation.
We enjoyed some fine coctails on their miranda overlooking the 1400 ft mountains all around. Patrick fixed us all an incredible dinner that night, while we re-capped on all our splendid adventures. They went climbing on Mt. Kilimenjaro the next month BTW!
It was a memorable trip indeed. I’m so grateful for my adventures with them.
4. Do you generally take these adventures on your own? What kind of gear do you need, and how do you pack everything up for your trips?
There are so many other backpacking trips I’ve taken. Not enough time to get into.
Yet, I’ve learned that around the South, that to enjoy the backwoods, you can expect to get a few hitch hikers (ticks and chiggers); expect to see a Copperhead on the trail or swimming in the water with you! I’ve been grateful NOT to encounter a wild boar or angry Momma bear, yet. Yet, I hang my food at night and depend on my dogs nose and ears to give me fair warning of uninvited critters coming into my camp. Lol.
My trail buddy’s and I have been covered in chiggers, and seed ticks, (literally a couple hundred seed ticks after one day hike and literally scraping them off as fast as possible, once we saw a sea of these things making their way up slowly and surely to the promised land. We were covered in bites, itching messes for days to follow!
I love the Southern summer nights, backpacking, when its not too humid…when I’m camped out next to a meandering river, sitting next to a cozy campfire; stars above; cicaedas and crickets singing rhythmically and loudly, while firefires blink on and off all around me. The peace and pure joy I recieve from Mother Nature is truly a Gift, that replenishes me on every level, inspiring me, and allowing me to give more of mySelf that is beyond mySelf…
I often backpack alone, since I go into the woods to contemplate and ‘ground’ / ‘refresh’ my mind, body, spirit. Yet, I bring along my loyal companion who is also on guard with her keen nose, ears and sixth sense:)
When I backpack, I pack clothing, stove, dishes, soap, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, tent, water purifier, flashlights, extra batteries, water bottles, hat, bug repellent, tea, freeze dried camping food, dogfood, nuts, dried fruit, a book and journal.
I determine what the weather conditions are for what type of clothing I need, such as warm or lightweight clothing. I count how many meals I’ll be eating and then create a list to make sure these ingredients get in my pack sacks, that eventually all get stuffed real tight and snug in my backpack. It can get heavy. Yet, if you have a good pack, it rests well on your hips and less on your shoulders, so you don’t feel like a pack mule!
I generally prefer to hike in no more than 5-8 miles. I then set up my tent and tidy up the campsite, preparing my fire that I’ll be lighting up later in the evening. Then I take a small day pack out for a much longer day hike which can be generally 8-20 miles.
4. When and where do you do most of your songwriting? How do breathtaking, outdoor settings inspire you to write great lyrics and music? Can you share examples of songs you've written in Idaho and other places?
I take two writing sabbaticals per year, where I focus completely and solely on writing a dozen songs or melodies at these times. In the fall I rent a cabin in or around Asheville, NC; and in late summer I write at a beach location; one of my favorites being Santa Rosa, Florida. Both these locations are close to a lot of mountains or natural water, be it streams, rivers, ocean, and have access to hiking trails and greenways.
5. What is your work ethic on songwriting sabbaticals? Explain how your day begins, when you write, and how you meet your goals. Do you balance work with rest?
On my travel time to my writing locations, I set my songwriting goals. I normally set my goal to write either a dozen new melodies, or a dozen new lyrics that I’ll set on top of the melodies that were created on the previous sabbatical. I also spend some time in meditation and ask for Creative Guidance on my songwriting endeavors. This clearly opens an amazing Channel. At least it does for me.
Either trip focuses solely on creating full melodies and or putting lyrics to the melodies that have been created already.
For example, in several weeks, I’ll be heading off to my summer sabbatical, where on this trip, I will be focusing on creating a dozen or so new full melodies. I chart the melodies and record the ideas as I progress throught the theme, then the verse, then chorus, then perhaps a bridge. I record my ideas on a tape recorder, because, that medium allows me to stay in the right brain. A computer, to me, is too much associated with business dealing, which pulls me into the Biz Mode, which is in the Left Brain…organizing, planning, correspondence, etc.
Once a full melody is written, I label it #1 or #2 and tape record the full melody onto a cassette tape with that corresponding key and #1, etc.
Then on the next sabbatical, or while in Nashville, I simply take those charts and cassette, refresh my memory. Then after playing the melody over and over, all the while, asking my self ‘What is this song about?” “What am I feeling when I hear this melody?” Sure enough, I start getting ideas for the direction of what the song is about. Sometimes, I just start hearing lyrics, a part of a phrase. Then I start the process of building a story.
The craft of songwriting comes in at this point. There’s a lot of specific skills that go into writing a song, that any serious songwriter should learn, either through
NSAI seminars, hanging around the songwriter nights put on by charting songwriters, reading books about songwriting and putting into practice. Write, write and write some more.
The biggest block any songwriter can do, is to pre-judge a song, and how good it is or isn’t, even before its written.
Write the story, from a Feeling first; can you relate it to a good cause that connects you to others? Is it meaningful? Does it come from your Heart? Once it does, then you can craft it on solid ground. Those songs last! Willie Nelson, Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks; Dolly Parton; Johnny Cash; Dillon; Annie Lennox; Heart; Loretta Lynn; Phil Collins; Melissa Ethridge; Delbert McClinton: Emmylou Harris (who has always chose to sing ‘songs from the heart/songs of substance’);
U2; Eagles; Lenny Kravitz….there’s so many more influences…yet all these great artists have one thing in common whether they’re pop, Rock, Country, R&B…
They write songs that come from the heart.
They didn’t care what folks would think about the song when they wrote it.
The heart leads and the people can FEEL the sincerity and integrity of the song and singer’s honest intention upon the delivery.
Chakra Bleu writes from these principles!
Though I also write songs in Nashville, it’s not as conducive, as my focus in Nashville is on editing the new songs, singing/playing, producing the next CD, and hours of business in promoting as well as keeping up the social media connectivity. I wear several hats as a professional Recording Artist: One is a songwriter hat; one is the Editor hat; a singer hat; Producer hat; Project Coordinator hat; PR/Biz hat that handles the game plan with Radio Promoter, Publicist, Attorney; Administrator Hat-that includes copyrights; setting up the songs with the Distributor; preparing the umpteenth details for the CD details to be sent to the manufacturer; Art Direction hat (coodinating the artwork, photos, and song lyrics to the graphic artist); Artist hat; Stylist Hat- body fitness& nutrition, wardrobe; make-up; hair direction.
I start my morning with mediation. This is like a songwriting Multi-Vitamin! Why? Because it opens ones mind to the Big Mind and makes that connection into the Creative ‘Juice’, All That Is!
Then I eat a yogurt while I refresh my mind with a current new lyric or melody I’m working on, carried over from the evening before. This will only be about 15 minutes. Then I take a short walk about 4-5 miles near to where I’m staying on that particular sabbatical. On that walk I take paper and pen with me as I ponder about the lyrics and ideas about how to expand the story or concept of the songs. If it’s a melody, I just let it replay again and again, loosely in the back of my mind. I don’t get real Left brained about this process. I keep it light and unforced, in my Right Brain, as I keep a relaxed steady walk,all the while, admiring the beauty of nature around me.
Once back, I do 15 minutes of yoga followed by making a nutritious breakfast, while still thinking about the lyrics. (No radio or TV is EVER played while I’m on these sabbaticals. And I try to keep my business intereactions and ‘homework’ from my lap top to a minimum. I do NO surfing or FB chatting. At the most, I’ll do a small post here and there to let folks know what Chakra Bleu is up to in the music world.
Staying in the Right brain is very important. Being around nature allows me to stay in the Right brain - the receptive and creative side of the brain.
After breakfast I work for three to four hours. Then I’ll go for a day hike, roller blading, kyack, swim or float on the lake…all the while….the ideas and melodies are cooking in the back of my mind.
I’ll read an inspiring book and rest my mind. Then I’ll eventually fix a vegetarian dinner, then hit the ‘song bench’ again, full on until 10Pm to midnight…just depends how the creative juices are flowing.
6. Are there legendary songwriters or artists (like you) who inspire you? If so, who are they, and how have they impacted your art.
I’ll sum it up as such: The singer-songwriters/Artists that write from their heart, are inspiring to me! Artists that speak from their own experience of life; artists who have written about a cause…Artists who choose songs from songwriters who write songs from their Heart/Life experience… Those are the ones that have influenced me…many…
Yet, the songwriters/songs that have been contrived from the cookie-cutting publishing machine, to make money for the sake of profit, devoid of the integrity of heart…that does nothing for my taste or inspiriation, whether it be country, pop, etc. I also invite curious fans to get more specific answers on this from my website’s blog section: www.chakrableu.com/blog
7. You are also a visual artist. Do your adventures inspire you in that genre?
Yes, the delicacies of nature are so Divine and wondrous. I mean, I actually get ‘into’ looking at the details of a petal of a wild flower…counting its petals; looking at its unique shape, colour, texture, etc.
I do like to include nature into my paintings, often with symbology woven around these projects. I also like to craft with natural artifacts such as including shells, moss, acorn hats, etc. as well.
8. Do you think it's important for songwriters and others to take trips/adventures like yours? For someone "without" hiking, climbing or camping experience, how might they get started?
Well, I think its good for everybody to get outdoors! Every singer/songwriter ticks uniquely. So, as I’ve observed, it is not the norm for most songwriters to get their inspiration from nature. Us songwriters usually like to write about the human experience, whether it is describing someone elses experience, or experiences we’ve also come to know and understand, for which we can then relate a story for there to evoke an emotional connection with the listener.
9. If someone can't travel away from Nashville, are there things they can do at home to foster adventure, free spirit and boost creativity? Can you provide a few tips?
Yes, there’s so many day hiking and backpacking places withing 3 hours of Nashville, which a person can make a day or overnight trip. I mentioned some places above. Yet a person can Google, ‘best backpacking destinations near Nashville’, and be shown dozens of choices. Great day hikes around Nashville include Percy/Edwin Warner park trails, Radner Lake trail, Long Hunter State Park, Montgomery Bell State Park, just to name a few.