Hitting the High Notes: Local musicians find creative spark with cannabis
Marijuana has an undeniable reputation of inciting laziness and fatigue in users, but the creative aspects of certain strains continue to move and inspire musicians. From the early days of jazz, Black musicians were using cannabis to slow time and change their perception for better sound improvisation. This and the plant’s association with Mexico led the United States to the War on Drugs, but that is a whole separate story.
Locally, the lines on cannabis are blurry. A vote on recreational weed has just been placed on Missouri’s impending November ballot, and medical dispensaries seem to be popping up on every street corner in KC. Our Kansan neighbors tend to run in a more underground market, most of their imports hailing from Colorado at discounted prices for trimmings or homegrown bud.
Still, you can bet artists will continue to find ways to ingest cannabis, using it to their advantage. Some bands prefer to only make music that way.
“It’s all we do,” says Cameron Morse, a guitarist for metal hardcore band Severance USA. “When we write, we sit in a room together just completely stoned. I really don’t know what it would be like sober. Honestly.”
Julian Dubinsky, Morse’s roommate and singer/guitarist of alt-rock group Daffy in the Bikini Zone, admitted that most of his band smokes, but not everyone.
“We know where to draw the line of what is too much and if someone isn’t comfortable with it, we don’t do it. That’s just bottom line,” Dubinsky says. After a particularly disastrous performance, Dubinsky quit playing shows high altogether.
Jolson Robert, vocalist/guitarist for the alt-rock band Quite Frankly, had a similar stage experience during which he realized he may have pushed it a bit too far.
“When I stood up [to perform], I was so light-headed I thought I was gonna fall over. When I got on stage I was freaking out a little bit,” Robert says. “I forgot every lyric to every song right up until I had to say them. Muscle memory kicked in and I went on autopilot for the rest of the show.”
For bands like True Lions—self-described flossy punk country freaks—it can be about combatting certain aspects of the culture surrounding live music and defacto bar venues.
“I had been underage drinking all throughout high school. It was pretty bad for my brain, but it was peer pressure, and it’s really common,” Alison Hawkins of True Lions explains. “Over the last five years or so, I backed away from drinking. It makes me feel like garbage, I forget what I’m playing if I’m in a show. I’m not focused, I feel like shit, it makes me sick. So I decreased alcohol and increased marijuana.”
While moderation is key for some, many of the artists prefer to use it for its calming and therapeutic benefits.
“Weed can affect people differently. I know it can make some people really shy if they’re in that headspace, but I think it actually helps me to relax and be more open. I’m lucky that it has that effect on me,” Alison says.
“I have to or I just get mad,” Morse says.
For rapper Dominique Hall, known by his stage name as Dom Chronicles, it’s important to stay focused before gigs when engaging with a crowd. Smoking while producing or before DJing sets is ideal.
“It gets me in this cool little flow and makes me think of songs that I wouldn’t normally blend into other songs, or I’ve never heard blended into other things. Using techniques I’ve never used before, it gives me a little more confidence to experiment with whatever. Even if I mess up a little bit, it’s cool,” says Hall.
Robert agrees, saying of his own experience, “I kept unbroken eye contact with the people in the front row and kept giggling with them. Whoever they are out there, they saved my ass by just having a good time with me.”
Taylor Hughes, an electro-pop producer and multi-instrumentalist named under the moniker pure xtc, finds more comfort in creating music while high. Thus far, she’s been too intimidated to perform while stoned, especially considering everything she has to do on stage. But she hopes to gain her perfect equation of tolerance, allowing her to do so.
“I like to just take an edible and let it set in. I’ll just be sitting on the couch and an idea that I’ve been blocked on for weeks will suddenly happen,” says Hughes. “It turns off that hyper-critical part of me. Instead of second-guessing myself, I’ll just try the weird idea or hit a note that I haven’t been able to before.”
Edibles tend to be a preferred intake method for vocalists who can’t risk coughing or scratchy voices caused by smoking. But sometimes the delay in effect can be a little frustrating.
“It’s kind of circumstantial depending on what the venue is,” Hawkins explains. “If my conservative family members are going to be there, I’d rather be sober. Even though I want to smash the stigma, it feels awkward.”
Bob Abernathy, a guitarist and budtender, feels that nothing is more natural than integrating cannabis into his projects. After all, weed is his work.
“Due to medical legalization and having access to metrology of cannabis, just knowing what I’m getting and how it affects me really does play a role in what I’ll smoke when I’m playing something,” says Abernathy. “[I use] strains that have sativa-dominant terpene profiles—so limonine and terpenoline. Stardawg and Golden Goat are the two strains that I can use to sit down and actually focus on music and notice its presence in the activity.”
Abernathy expertly summarizes what to expect when experimenting with marijuana in any capacity.
“It’s only beneficial if being in that state is genuinely beneficial to the person in their day-to-day life at that time,” he says. “Your headspace is definitely altered in the same way if you tried to write without caffeine or tried to engage in practicing music without caffeine, which I highly suggest.”
Abernathy continues, “I would say I think that music is the capturing of someone’s point of view, so as you dynamically change your points of view, you’re going to come out with different music and exercise the spectrum of expression that you can engage in. I think that’s fundamentally a good thing.”