RPM Album Sampler and interviews

Courtney, Jessica, and Josh successfully competed RPM albums this year and they turned out quite well!

Here is a sampler of some of the best tracks from their releases:

Interview with Josh, Courtney, and Jessica 


You were the first Secret Doggy to make an RPM album. Why do you think so many of your pals have made one since you started and what do you think people can learn from the process? 

Courtney: "The RPM challenge spreads like something in the water or cross pollination, and it moves through musical communities like a tree growing roots. I was inspired by Jaggery's album Paprikah to attempt my first RPM. At the time I was feeling stifled at a 9-5 desk job, and wanted to prove to myself that I am an artist and I can create art. The experience has been unique and liberating, and I have not stopped running my mouth about it to everyone and anyone who listens. Through an RPM challenge, you learn a lot about your writing habits and how to overcome/capitalize off them, and also how you can optimize your workflow or creative environment. 

Once you create an RPM album, it never goes away; neither does the effort you put in it, the pride of creating something, or the feedback from people finding your music. After I put out my RPM, I didn't do anything with it for a while. A year later, I was able to perform some of the songs in Japan during the Bent Knee Trio tour, and another six months after that it lead to my first solo performance. It's difficult to quantify or explain what exactly an RPM Challenge does for you, but it's a tangible milestone that changes your perspective on thinks. I think it probably feels a lot like sky-diving."


What did you learn from doing RPM this year? 

"I learned that I can do a lot more with each day and that working hard is extremely satisfying. I don't even remember how it felt to be that tired (extremely tired) back in February. What I have left of the project is the final album and that makes me very proud."


Please tell us the story of what lead you to decide to do the RPM challenge this year. 

Josh: "I wanted to do RPM because I was writing a song a week starting in November and thought it would be a good writing challenge to up the ante on my output. I'd never done it before and knowing that other SDB members would be doing it felt like having other people in the trenches with me, which was nice."


What advice do you have to someone who has a hard time finishing projects like the RPM challenge? 

Courtney: "Jessica, Josh and I were challenging each other to write one song a week for the month of January before we started doing RPM. This was a really great segue into RPM, so I recommend it to other RPM challengers, too. Just getting into the habit of writing music. For other projects in general, there are probably a million tips that could be given either from off the top of my head or from the endless resources available in self-improvement literature. But, I think one important thing is not to focus on chastising oneself or figuring out what went wrong, but instead to continue trying. They say that the 'end justifies the means.' Last year, I couldn't complete the RPM challenge. I was ashamed and sad. This year, I completed the RPM challenge for the second time, and last year's failure doesn't seem as bad. In fact, I learned a lot from the failing experience. I don't know if that's the greatest example... But, I have come to believe that it's far more productive to starting something/anything as soon as you can, instead of beating yourself up for something you didn't do."


Millennial seems critical towards the way technology affects people's relationships and outlook these days. Can you describe the way this theme relates to the lyrics in the song "Arrive"?

Josh:  I'm a big fan of technology, I use my phone, computer, and tablet for my entire business and it's integral to my personal life. Technology in my life brings a lot of positives, but Millennial is definitely an examination of all the negatives. Arrive captures one of those negatives. We to learn/do/experience anything we want in a world where the internet exists, but that can also become incredibly stifling. How can I be anywhere when I could be everywhere? That idea really resonates with me, it's an experience that feels new and unique to the millennial generation. Writing songs for RPM made me point to my immediate experiences and craft songs around them, technology's ups and downs are a big thing in my life right now.


In your song "Praise Me," you use a very silly tone and mock your own desire to be a celebrity. How does a desire to be famous play into your music and art?

Jessica:  It doesn't play a huge part in making the music, but I do have these thoughts a lot. It's pretty embarrassing, I'd rather not want to be famous and just be proud and happy with where I'm at. But these thoughts are always nagging at me when I think of my future or watch inside the actors studio or listen to Sufjan Stevens or the Dirty Projectors. I'd really love to have a lifestyle that enabled me to collaborate with the people I respect most and it's disappointing to have that feel so far away.


In the song Monstre, you mention that you "assimilate late" as if you're solving a social riddle at the last second, right before it's too late. How does your life as an artist play into your ability to understand the world and survive?

Courtney:  "When I made the decision to be an artist, I unknowingly freed myself from certain social norms and social obligations. But, at the same time I chose a profession that requires honesty, courage, and open communication. Whether it be my nature, nurture, or culture, I was not equipped with the right set of those tools when I started, and I've doubted, hated, re-evaluated, and restructured myself in order to continue doing what I believe to be my calling. How does that play into my ability to understand and survive the world? Sticking to being an artist helps me feel good about being in my own skin. I'm proud of what I do and what I stand for, and I think I'm a better person because of it. Because of my experiences, I think I'm less prejudiced and more compassionate than I would have been, had I chose to be an non-artist. All that gives me a positive and optimistic filter to see the world through, and it makes living more enjoyable. I think more people enjoying living will make for a happier and healthier community, so I naively like to think that cultivating my own happiness is one small thing that I can contribute to society."


If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time you've written a concept album as opposed to collections of songs that are less literally related. What inspired you to make a concept album and how did it feel to make one?

Josh:  "This was my first concept album. I think I was inspired by the challenge, actually. It just felt like it'd be really hard to write 10 individual things rather than one story that unfolds song by song. It was really great to do it, I was surprised how much I had to say on one topic. I totally see the appeal of using a concept to drive a whole album from the start, and also to find a concept that really speaks to me. That's a big take away from RPM for me, that the subject matter in "Millennial" really means a lot to me a lot, and RPM was a great tool for discovering that. I think it felt like I had tapped into a part of my experience that I was genuinely excited to explore and share with other people, I think the concept album approach definitely helped that."


I believe you had attempted to do RPM in the past but failed to do so. What contributed to your success this time?

Jessica:  "I had big motivation boosts from Ben Levin. I also think I was more into the flow of writing and the goal was still lofty but much closer than last year's RPM in the middle of a long period of very few new songs."