Can you talk to us more about your song “Empty Pack”?
In my mind it’s just a long metaphor. I feel like we all have a pack in which we carry all of our burdens and in our fast-paced world that pack can fill up quickly! Sometimes it’s just the sheer volume of stuff that comes at you from work, family, money, illness, etc. and sometimes it’s just that we keep adding things to our pack without ever taking anything away. I think this leaves us mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted as the pack gets heavier. I find that sometimes it’s helpful to go someplace or do something to intentionally unburden yourself and decide “which of these things do I care about enough to continue carrying them in my life?” In the song, the character takes a trip on a train and leaves his troubles scattered on the tracks. When he comes back, he’s ready to face the world again. I guess that’s a long winded way of saying that it’s about taking care of yourself.
Did any event inspire you to write this song?
Yeah, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. It felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders and there were days that I literally didn’t even want to move. At some point the thought occurred to me that anything that I was carrying was actually my choice. I never let anything go, and at the time I was working at my non-profit, I was co-owner of a cafe, I was doing photography and design work, raising 2 kids, and trying to make some headway with my music. Once I realized that feeling miserable was a disease, but remaining miserable was my choice, I chose to get help. I also sold the cafe, quit doing photography and design, and tried to find some balance. So part of that journey to healing was about getting rid of the things, tasks and people in my life that were no longer beneficial.
Any plans to release a video for the track?
I’d like to say yes, because creatively I think it would transfer well to video and we could make a great piece of art, but it’s unlikely to happen. Video shoots are just too darn expensive and right now my job is to provide for my wife and 3 boys, so they always come first. If anyone out there wants to shoot a video of it just for kicks, let’s do it.
The single comes off your new album Somebody Somewhere – what’s the story behind the title?
I think each song on the album is dealing with very commonplace, very human, hopes, desires and struggles. It was my goal to make a body of songs that people could listen to and say “Wow! Me too!” because when we feel like our joy or pain is unique, we feel alone. The thing is that we aren’t. No matter what we’re going through there’s somebody, somewhere going through the same thing. I find the thought of that kind of universality very comforting.
What role does Minnesota play in your music?
I think it contributes a lot to the overall sound and the subject matter. There’s definitely a “Minnesota sound” in folk/rock music. We’ve got a thriving city scene with culture galore, but it’s only a few miles away from farm country where traditions, hard work and family values are really important. Our sound is kind of a fusion of 90’s rock (upbeat, major keys, slight funk inspiration) with straight ahead 70’s rock (strong beat and melody, bands with guitar, bass drums and keys) and a touch of country (acoustic sounds, big harmonies, songwriting from the heart) although it’s hard to hear the country influence sometimes because Minnesotans don’t sing with a southern twang, in fact I don’t think we can if we wanted to. As for the subject matter, we’re a very progressive state. We’re staunch advocates of human rights and equality, there’s a heavy streak of social justice, and we don’t like to waste our time with things that have no depth. I think you’ll find that my songs are generally in this vein. I don’t think I could ever write a song about something like dancing at a club or drinking beer on the weekend….It’s my personal philosophy that if you don’t have anything worth saying then keep quiet.
What have you learned from your 20+ year’s career?
That how you conduct yourself off stage is as important, if not more important than what you do on stage.
What draw you into helping others with your music? How can others help you into this journey?
That’s what music is for! Musicians are the shamans, the spirit healers, of the modern world. It’s our job to speak the truth and lift people up. The more I do with music, the more I am convinced of this fact. I started working with kids because I knew how much songwriting had given me and how much it could do for them if they connected with it early on. I felt that middle school kids really were the ones who needed songwriting the most. Those are the years where we start learning how the world works, and start becoming who we will be. If I can teach kids to use songwriting as a way to express and discover themselves then they’ll be happier, healthier, more compassionate adults.
Anyone who wants to help with this work can learn more at www.discovermusicnow.org.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
Just everyday life. Interesting things happen to everyone, every day. I just try to take the time to write them down.
Any plans to hit the road?
In a manner of speaking. I’ve got my non-profit to run and kids to raise so I don’t plan on any extended touring. I couldn’t be away from them for too long, but I would like to start coordninating short trips to cities where I can set up some gigs, some school events, and some songwriting workshops to make the most out of the time.
What else is happening next in Tim Cheesebrow’s world?
I’m working on a book about songwriting as a practice for mental, emotional and spiritual wellness. Should be out by the summer, and I hope ti be able to use it to spread the art of songwriting to more and more kids.