88.9 Hey Radio, As We Ascend, and Me

As We Ascend is cool. They work with their fans to create their music. If you join their program as a label executive, which is closed right now, you can both participate in the process and see behind the scenes into the process of the songs being written and recorded. I like transparency, so it connects with me.


As We Ascend was born just a couple of years ago, but the band is chock-full of experience. Here is the bio from their website: https://www.asweascend.com/

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As We Ascend is a rock band from the greater Nashville area. Members Justin Forshaw and Jake Jones (formerly of rock sensation We As Human) along with Robert Venable (acclaimed music producer) all have extensive professional careers in the music industry and are able to bring a variety of musical expertise to the table. The perfect blend of melodic and heavy guitars, edgy vocals, and drums combined with pouring out their hearts for the lost and broken in their lyrics, gives this band their own space in the music industry. With a unique approach, As We Ascend hands over creative control to their fans and listeners, essentially making them their record label. Their debut single "Wash Away" has quickly gained traction and drawn the attention of the ones who the song was written for, those questioning the end and fighting internal battles with themselves. Their self-produced, debut album, "Farewell to Midnight," hit stores 3/17/17 via distributing label partner Vital Records/New Day Christian Distributors.

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This type of experience comes with a few good things, I'm going to point out two. One, because they've already gone through a lot of growing pains in their careers they are more consistent in the quality that they produce. People fluctuate more when they're learning something new. Two, because of their credibility and connections they are able to bring in featured singers like Zach Myers of Shinedown and Brad Arnold of 3 Doors Down for collaborations, which is awesome.

Bill from Hey Radio sent me their song "Hatchett" to check out. Let's look at the lyrics and then I'll dive into them a bit.

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You set my world on fire, it's time to run away
Through the soil you torched to the horizon
My hopes and dreams they died, but now I'm justified
I won't drag your weight any longer

Cut me loose
I'm trying to let go of everything
You've tied my noose
But now your rope's unraveling

It's hard to breathe with your hands around my neck
Around my neck, you're killing me
It's hard to know when you're behind me
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back

You left my spirit torn, tired, and all alone
My heart is frozen, colder than frostbite
I've gathered every stone that you have ever thrown
Used them to build my road while you sink under

Cut me loose
I'm trying to let go of everything
You've tied my noose
But now your rope's unraveling
It's hard to breathe with your hands around my neck
Around my neck, you're killing me
It's hard to know when you're behind me
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back
You raised your walls so you could hide your past
Made them out of glass and they're shattering
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back
It's in my back, hatchet in my back

Look me in the eyes
The only one prepared to die
The damage is already done
You best get your hatchet
This battle has just begun

It's hard to breathe with your hands around my neck
Around my neck, you're killing me
It's hard to know when you're behind me
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back
It's hard to breathe

With your hands around me, hand around me
It's hard to know
You're always behind me

- - - - - - - -

Well, well, well. There is a lot that we could dive into here. I'm going to go with stream of consciousness, starting with the title and working my way down. We'll see what comes up.

"Hatchet"

"Hatchet" could be referring to a tool or a weapon. Technically a weapon is a type of tool with the specific purpose of harming others. I assumed the song wasn't going to be about making kindling for a fire. It did briefly bring up the image of the novel "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen about a boy surviving in the wilderness. I assumed it wasn't about that either.

"You set my world on fire, it's time to run away"

In the first line we know that this is going to be an intense song, and not a happy song. Maybe a song about overcoming. To overcome something there must be an obstacle or a challenge. There are certain things that certain people can do that can ruin your entire life. When that happens it makes sense to run away. When your world is on fire you're probably going to panic. The worst thing you can do is panic, you're probably going to panic anyway. Sometimes it's best to confront what is burning your life down, at other times it's best to just get away from it.

What's really happening here is that you don't know where you are. If you plop an animal down in an area that it's never been to before the first thing it does is panic. It freezes, it tries to orient itself, then it slowly starts exploring. As it learns more about its new surroundings it calms down. By exploring and learning we reduce this underlying anxiety. But, when something goes wrong we no longer can rely on what we've previously learned. Maybe all of that is wrong, maybe everything we have been predicting and expecting is wrong, maybe everything we thought we knew was wrong. We've lost our present, future, and past. This is extremely disorienting. You basically can't not panic. What you can do is start slowly exploring your new surroundings and learning, as you learn your anxiety will go back down.

"Through the soil you torched to the horizon"

The song and I are on the same wavelength. The horizon stretches in all directions. When you're traveling there is a horizon that you came from and a horizon that you're going to. (You can't usually see this if you're from Michigan like me, but it's amazing to see when you drive across the Great Plains.) There's your past and there's your future. If someone really messes up your life you don't just question the present, you have to rethink everything about the future and the past. Did you ever really even know this person? That rabbit hole can be deep.

"My hopes and dreams they died, but now I'm justified"

Hopes and dreams are living things. They grow, they change, and they die. This is interesting, if you have shared hopes and dreams with someone else are you locked into them? At least somewhat, yes. That's why we sometimes consider it a betrayal when someone ruins our hopes and dreams. But, if it's the other person that ruins those hopes and dreams then we are free. We are free to let other hopes and dreams grow that wouldn't have been able to if we were still obligated to those other shared hopes and dreams. I've never really articulated that before. Very insightful. That's why there's value in this process of both experiencing a song and digging into a song.

"I won't drag your weight any longer"

Do we have an obligation to help someone that we have shared hopes and dreams with? Yes, I think we do. But, if they break our covenant, if they break our agreement, for instance by burning down our life, then we no longer have to carry that burden, we can let it drop. Now we are open to new hopes and dreams, and we no longer have to be dragging along someone else.

"Cut me loose
I'm trying to let go of everything"

If you were tied to this person you are now cut free from them and everything that goes along with that.

"You've tied my noose
But now your rope's unraveling"

When someone is ruining their own life and your life is closely tied to theirs then when they are hanging themselves they are hanging you too. That's why it's a good idea to get away. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. When the connections are tight, and if they were for a long time, then that's a strong rope. But, slowly, those connections will start to unravel and fall away. So, like before you might be able to make a clean cut. Or, it might be more like an unraveling to disconnect with someone. Either way progress is being made. You just want to make sure that you are able to unravel that noose in time.

"It's hard to breathe with your hands around my neck
Around my neck, you're killing me"

I'm not sure about this part. It's obviously a powerful image, but it's more of a confrontational image. When your world is burning because of someone and you're trying to make a cut, or unravel, from them then at some point there is probably going to be the confrontation, or confrontations. There may be no higher skill in life than conflict resolution. Many people agree with this, that's why the Nobel Peace Prize used to be so highly valued. But, if someone else has you boxed in somehow, for instance if you have shared obligations as in business contracts or children, then you're stuck. There's no room for you to move. You're suffocating because of this other person. The most natural thing to do in that situation is to rage. It's the natural reaction against frustration and being held back or being held down. There's danger in not doing anything, you have to do something. There's also potential danger in what you could do. Your world's burning down, you're trying to get loose, but you're being pinned in. That's a hard situation.

"It's hard to know when you're behind me
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back"

And now we get to where the title comes from. The crux of the song. Deception, secrets, and betrayal. That's what this is about. It's hard to know if someone has secrets, that's the point of having secrets. Somewhere along the way you have to trust someone. Really, you have to trust many people at many points. Paranoia and stalking are considered bad things for a reason. If you didn't trust anyone then you would have to be paranoid and stalk everyone. When you trust someone you take a risk. You take the risk that they are going to sneak up behind you and put a knife in your back, or in this case, a hatchet.

To stick a knife in someone's back and to bury the hatchet are both idioms. Idioms are just phrases they mean something more and a little different than they would appear to say. To stick a knife in someone's back means to betray them. To bury the hatchet means to make peace.

To stab someone in the back originally came from Germany, although this idea in the literal and figurative sense is as old as human history. It became popular in Germany after WW1 when the army felt betrayed by the government. It seems to come from Richard Wagner's opera Gotterdammerung, where the hero is murdered by being stabbed in the back with a spear.

To bury the hatchet comes from a Native American tradition, specifically the Iroquois Confederacy, of burying weapons when they were at peace.

It's hard to forgive someone. The more they've hurt you the harder it is to forgive. These bad emotions are there for a reason. You shouldn't let a person keep hurting you over and over again. When the wound is fresh it's hard to forgive. If the wound is still happening, the hatchet is still in your back, then it's basically impossible. First, you have to try to put the fire in your life out before you get burned up, you have to unravel your bonds with the person so you can get away from them for your own safety, then, after the hatchet has been taken out of your back, then maybe you can bury the hatchet and make peace with them.

"You left my spirit torn, tired, and all alone"

All of this takes a huge mental, emotional, and physical toll. What you thought was good is bad. You thought you were supported but you're not, and weren't. You thought you weren't alone, but you are, and were. It's a lot to try to process.

"My heart is frozen, colder than frostbite"

Your mind, body, and soul can only take so much pain. There is a limit. After that you can't feel it anymore. That's why we have the capacity for not caring. The fire in our engines has been used up and now it goes out. Frostbite kills. Betrayal severs a connection and kills our heart, our emotions, our sympathy, our empathy, and our trust. We need time to warm back up again and grow into those things. When something is overwhelming we tend to shut down to try to limit how much input we're getting. This is part of the natural process of confronting something that is too much to comprehend. Then, as we explore our anxiety will slowly reduce as we become more familiar with our new surroundings and situation.

"I've gathered every stone that you have ever thrown
Used them to build my road while you sink under"

Throwing stones is another idiom for saying insults and criticisms. It's usually used as an insult itself. Here's the thing. If someone is giving you criticisms those criticisms might not be worth much, or they might be useful. If someone close to you has told you that you don't do something well, or you lack something that you need, then it might be a good idea to look into it. If you're able to become a better person because of that criticism then you'll build yourself up. You'll lay a solid foundation for your life. You will build a road that you can then travel down to better things. If you ignore those criticisms, and they were true, then you don't get better. You don't have a foundation, you don't have a solid road, and maybe because of those things you sink or get stuck. You can give the same criticism to two different people in good faith and one will find progress while the other will find something to resent.

"Cut me loose
I'm trying to let go of everything
You've tied my noose
But now your rope's unraveling
It's hard to breathe with your hands around my neck
Around my neck, you're killing me
It's hard to know when you're behind me
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back
You raised your walls so you could hide your past
Made them out of glass and they're shattering
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back
It's in my back, hatchet in my back"

We encounter one new idea here, raising walls that shatter because they're made out of glass. This ties into throwing stones somewhat, because "you shouldn't throw stones if you live in a glass house" means you shouldn't criticize people if you can be criticized for the same thing. This is different though. Raising walls to hide your past is keeping secrets. The thing is, it's hard to keep secrets. They have a way of being noticed, even if it's just in a little way. When it's noticed, even just a little, it tends to get a little more noticed. That wall, or lie, that you used to try to hide your past turns out to not be that strong. When someone really questions it maybe the wall just falls down. That's part of why I prefer to be transparent about things.

"Look me in the eyes"

This is more confrontational again. We all know this works for trying to clear up lies. We know a lot of things that we don't know we know, we don't even know how we would know them. One of these things is micro-expressions. The psychologist Paul Ekman led the way in this research. Tiny little adjustments in muscle tension in the face reveals emotions. Even though we don't know that we are noticing these, we are. That's one reason that looking someone in the eyes can help to determine if they're lying. The other reason is that people are more reluctant to lie when you are looking in their eyes. I think this could be for a few reasons. There's the feeling of being closely observed. When people think they are being observed they act more moral. If there is a sign with eyes on it in a subway station people will litter less. Also, this is often how animal dominance is determined, by a stare. Locking eyes can be an intense moment, and it makes it harder to lie.

"The only one prepared to die"

If you have strong convictions then you're willing to stay with them. If, on the other hand, you're lying and deceiving then maybe you'll be more reluctant to sacrifice for your opinions. When it comes down to it deception takes your power away, unless you're a sociopath. It undermines your confidence, commitment, and conviction. Only someone with a serious conviction is willing to die for a principle.

"The damage is already done"

If the damage is already done then you need to try to orient yourself for the future. To a certain extent, you can leave that thing behind and move ahead.

"You best get your hatchet
This battle has just begun"

This throws me off a little. It's very confrontational. Now, if you have tried to cut loose from someone but they won't let you, then maybe your only option is to confront the person. Maybe that means going into a legal battle, or maybe something else. Either way, it's not ideal. But, if it has to be done then it's best to go into it voluntarily. To confront something reluctantly and to confront something voluntarily are completely different. It sounds similar because either way you're confronting something, but it works completely differently in the mind. In your brain there are different circuits that fire if you are approaching something or if you are avoiding something. You don't want the avoid circuits firing while you have to be approaching something anyway. This is going to limit your own mental, emotional, and physical resources. So, if you have to confront something you better confront it voluntarily.

"It's hard to breathe with your hands around my neck
Around my neck, you're killing me
It's hard to know when you're behind me
It's hard to bury this hatchet when it's in my back
It's hard to breathe"

We've covered all of this so I'll keep going.

"With your hands around me, hand around me
It's hard to know
You're always behind me"

I think this is kind of an odd ending. I would have liked to see the hero story where we have a hardship that's overcome, or at least hope for overcoming in the future. Here there is a different perspective taken. This is more of an ongoing situation. This person might still be behind us, they always seem to be behind us. They might stab us again, betray us again. It's hard to know when or if this is going to happen because they are so deceptive. I feel like I'm being suffocated because of being trapped in this situation. It's definitely an intense way to end the song. And, I get it, As We Ascend describe themselves as talking to the lost and the broken. But, having been lost and broken, I would like to see the lost and the broken encouraged to be able to come out of that situation, to overcome it. That doesn't mean they're going to, but there is value in just the trying. As we try to transform the world we also transform ourselves. That's how I see it anyway. I've written psychology articles on suicide and philosophy articles about the meaning of life, so As We Ascend and I are exploring many of the same subjects.

Overall, I think it's an excellent song. There is great imagery in this song, they are good at weaving together different idioms in unique ways. I've heard internet chatter that We As Human fell apart because of some sort of deception and lying scandal. It seems to me that this song might be at least partially inspired by that. It could have come from something else, but I'm guessing it still applies to that situation. I'm glad these three musicians were able to come together to form a solid rock band, and I'm glad they're doing so well. I expect big things in the future.

As a little addon note about deception and lying: Notice that if there wasn't any lying or deception in television shows then there would be almost no television shows. Most of them are based around the problems caused by deception. They're all about secrets. Drama can almost wholly be eliminated by being transparent. The world offers enough challenges, I see no reason to add to them. This is hard to work out because there are white lies and black truths. But, the attempt at transparency is worth it.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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