It was October, 2011. I hadn’t performed live for well over a year, and it was something I was deeply missing. Having no band at the time, I spent a few months practicing my solo acoustic set and managed to book a gig in a café in Kosice.
Days before the gig, I came down with a severe cold. The show should have been cancelled, but I was so excited and determined to get out there and perform again that I went ahead with it. My vocal performance was truly terrible that evening…so awful that I drove away the 10 or so customers in the place. Still I kept singing.
Toward the end of the performance, a group of 8 or 9 came in off the street and enthusiastically sat down at the table in front of me. They seemed pleased as I went into a Bright Eyes cover and a few of them actually started to sing along to a song that I had assumed nobody in Slovakia knew. Who were these people?
Later they told me that they were a group of foreign students from Israel, the US, and the UK. I talked with them and thanked them for coming, but I probably wasn’t as friendly as I should have been.
7 months later, Abscondo was a full band and we had our debut concert in Kosice. At this concert was this same group of foreign students. Despite my unimpressive solo performance, they came back for more! And what did I do? I managed to offend and alienate a few of them by making a comment about religion between songs. They actually told me that my comment bothered them. Not great of me. I failed to understand and respect my audience. I alienated and divided them rather than bringing them together.
Looking back, I now realize is that this is my audience and these are my people. We are all Abscondo.
Several months ago I met a lovely young lady who is an English teacher in Slovakia. She was so enthusiastic about our music that she had the idea to arrange an “English night” at a local bar with Abscondo as the entertainment. I realize now that she had hoped not just to see us perform, but to attract all of the expats, travelers, and other English-speaking misfits in the local area. She wanted to meet these people and belong with these people. I guess she understood our audience better than I did…up until now.
During our “English night” concert, I found out that it was also her birthday. How absolutely flattering it was (and honoured we felt) that she was such a fan that she wanted us to perform at her birthday party! She invited all of her friends. While the club was small and the performance space less than ideal, I remember this as one of our best performances. The energy was magical, the small audience was completely engaged, and everybody felt connected to the experience. This is what a rock concert is all about. We all shared the same feelings and we discussed the same ideas after the show. We all wanted the same things in life and we understood each other.
You are my audience and you are the Abscondo band audience. We are expats, travelers, foreign students, and other English-speaking misfits around the world.
You are the people I will write for, podcast for, communicate with, think about, and perform for. Whether on trains or planes, you are the people I end up talking with. You are the people I understand and you understand me. You are my people.
I became one of you when I fell in love with my wife, who is from Slovakia, all the way back in high school. I travelled to Europe that first summer after high school and it changed me forever. This experience, combined with my deep love for her, would mean that I would never again see the world as a “normal American” does.
I had changed. I remember having difficulty making friends in University. I found the conversations and the interests of “normal Americans” uninteresting. I didn’t understand the way they thought. Then I met a group of international students. For one beautiful year in Colorado Springs, my wife and I hung out with and partied with Magnus from Sweden, Enrique from Costa Rico, Kenai and Lukai from Thailand, Hedotoshi from Japan, and Natasha from Russia. We went clubbing in Denver. We went white-water rafting. We hung out every weekend. We helped each other. We were true friends and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. I realized that I had much more in common with this group of “internationally-minded” people than I had with “normal Americans”. This is where I belonged.
What was obvious to me then, and what I still believe to this day, is that there is a relatively large group of people around the world who...because of our international relationships and rich experiences with travel and different cultures...we no longer fit into our own cultures. We no longer think that the traditions, beliefs, cuisine, and customs of their own cultures are “inevitable”. We understand that everything we think, do, and believe is a choice. We live where we choose to. We do for a living whatever we want to. We eat whatever we enjoy. We seek freedom, beauty, and experience.
My life is a clear example of this. 7 years ago I moved from Seattle to Slovakia. I have not only made it work here, I have thrived here. I have lived for short times in Cannes, Paris, and Barcelona. I’ve travelled extensively around Europe. During this time I started writing music, recording, and put together what I believe is a world-class rock band with an original sound. Sometimes I eat Slovak food, but most of the time I eat (and cook) Thai, sushi, or Indian food. I work the hours that I want to at home and communicate with colleagues who live in the UK and Canada. I travel the world on business and earn a good living. I have lived here with no material possessions for a few years and then later my wife and I purchased and finished a nice flat. I have lived here for many years without children and now have a beautiful 3-year-old girl. I have had good friends from the US and also have been very fortunate to know so many smart, interesting, and talented Slovaks. Today I feel more integrated into Slovakia than I ever have been. Yet I will never belong. But I will never belong anywhere else either. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. I know there are people all around the world who feel exactly like me and I know that we are large in numbers.
We do try to get together. We join Facebook groups. We occasionally go to meet-ups. But, in truth, we are quite disconnected. Sometimes we feel lonely. We feel like we don’t fit anywhere and probably never will. This is what I would like to try to change.
I want Abscondo to become a movement for expats, travellers, and other misfits. I want to perform for this audience in major cities around Europe. I want to know you. I want to make all of us feel more connected and I want us to feel that we are part of a growing, thriving community. Ours are the values are most relevant in 2013 and it is we who will invent the future.
We need to connect. We need to share ideas. We need to help each other and rely on each other. Yes, alone we are strong, smart, interesting, and experienced. But together our potential is unlimited and we are unstoppable.
Going forward, the Abscondo project will be all about expats, travellers, foreign students, and other misfits. If this is you, then the songs we are recording now are for you and I can’t wait to share them with you. The lyrics are about your life, your feelings, your frustrations, and your victories. I will immediately begin to organize concerts for you and your friends in Budapest, Prague, Krakow, Vienna, and eventually around Europe.
This blog, the podcast, and everything I do will be for you. You are my audience. To “abscond” means to run away, often taking something or someone with you. That’s exactly what this project has always been about, but I never fully realized it until now.
We are Abscondo. We are expats, travelers, foreign students, English-speakers, and other misfits around the world.