Electric Swamp

Well, I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk about impaired writing. It’s nothing new: musicians have been writing while under the influence of something for thousands of years. I’ve certainly written a few things while having a beer or something a bit stronger, but I’m not normally in a state of impairment. 

Cellin from 2017 is a good example… I remember coming home from the bar up the street, I remember going into the studio to write, and I sort of remember the actual composition and recording process, but not very well. It was almost entirely improvisational and is certainly one of the tracks I’ve done that absolutely captured the calmness and happiness I was feeling, both in general (I was newly on “sabbatical”) and on that specific night (I was pretty drunk – Dragon’s Milk is a hell of a beer).

  1. Electric Swamp Ray Toler 4:15

I’ve always been a supporter of making many, if not most drugs legal, but aside from one night my freshman year in college, I’d never taken anything that wasn’t prescribed to me. I didn’t even drink until I was in my late 20s. I’m not sure why, I just never really felt the need.

Of course, when I describe to Mary what goes on in my mind and the things I can see when I close my eyes, she tells me that I don’t need to take anything, because it sounds like I’m already tripping. This reminds me of a famous quote that has long resonated with me:

I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.

— Salvador Dali

Compounding that, I’ve always been a rule follower for the most part. Up until my 40s, I was largely of the mindset that we should follow the law, and if the law is bad, we should still follow it while we work to change it. After watching idiot politicians for 40 years and learning how laws are actually crafted, though, I no longer feel that way.

That said, I also have no interest in going to jail, so while I’ve been curious about cannabis, I’ve never done it because the risk / reward wasn’t so great. But in 2019, we moved to Washington state. The first state in the country to make recreational cannabis legal. We had some out-of-state visitors who wanted to buy some while they were here, and I’ve now tried it. That’s right, I’ve tried weed. Reefer. Dope. The Devil’s lettuce. The Chronic. Sticky icky. And what I can tell you about it is this:

Weed is awesome.

Now let’s be clear. I’m not perpetually high. I’m not at the wake-and-bake level. In fact, the entire reason I continued to use cannabis after those visitors left is because I’ve had a serious shoulder issue for more than a year now, and the DEA has doctors petrified of prescribing pain medication. Another example of bad laws doing more harm than good to the general populace.

All my doctors would do is tell me to take a double dose of Advil, Tylenol, or Aleve. And this, despite me explaining that the pain was keeping me from sleeping and that I had been getting, at most, 1-2 hours of sleep nightly. 

Until I had that first edible and actually slept for four hours straight. The cannabis didn’t stop the pain, but it allowed me to sleep, and so I was basically self-medicating until a neurologist finally arrived at a diagnosis and prescribed something more than nine months later. It’s still a problem, but it’s not as bad a problem as it was.

(I’m getting older, so I’m allowed to bitch about my health a bit. If you’re older than me, you’re shaking your head and thinking, “just you wait” and if you’re younger than me… just you wait.)

Cannabis edibles have almost entirely replaced alcohol for me. When I have even just one mixed drink or a beer, I’ll have a headache within an hour or two and generally don’t feel great the next day. It wasn’t always like this, but as I’ve gotten older, the negative effects have become stronger and show up a lot faster. With cannabis, a single, commercially produced edible is like having a nice drink or two, I sleep amazingly well, and I wake up feeling great.

But all of the things that make cannabis an enjoyable experience also make working a bit more challenging. From here on out, I’ll be using the word “impaired” as a stand-in for being under the influence of pretty much anything.

The first time this year that I was impaired while working on Song-A-Day was toward the end of Dreams of a Distant shore. I didn’t compose it while impaired, but I had a delicious bit of weed soda (strawberry lemonade, in case you’re interested) when I was finished in anticipation of getting it finalized and submitted and then going to bed.

It hit me faster than I expected and I found that it was very difficult to get anything done. I wasn’t quite at idiot level, but it was a close thing. I kept making small mistakes that would require a complete re-bounce, I’d miss a tag in the mp3… just a thousand small cuts that made it both frustrating and hilarious. I decided that I wasn’t really very good at working while impaired and that I’d just have to skip it for the rest of the month, only imbibing if I was in the mood after finishing and uploading that day’s song. I held to that.

Until tonight. My neighbors (and pandemic quarantine bubble friends) invited me over for happy hour and I ended up having some more delicious soda. And I got silly. And I was worried that I wasn’t going to get a track done at all, because I was silly. But after a delightful evening, I wandered back across the street and went into the studio.

I discovered that maybe it’s ok to be impaired while writing. It was definitely a very different experience, and I was a little more willing to just let things go. There was a bit too much time faffing about (one of my favorite new expressions) with different loops and sounds and production tricks, but I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. It definitely took a longer time than it should have, but that’s not so terribly different than my month has been so far without being impaired. Of course, getting distracted by a text message that sent me down a meme-laden web surfing rabbit hole for an hour or two didn’t help.

The track is ok. I’m not sure I like the buzzy bass all that much, but the general groove is good and it would certainly be one that could be polished into serviceability. I do now understand that being in a different mindset can be a huge benefit. Creating tonight’s track was an enjoyable experience, and I probably won’t be quite as afraid of impaired writing in the future.


  • Drums: Stylus RMX
  • All other instruments: Omnisphere
  • Effects: FabFilter Volcano 2 and Pro-Q 3
  • Mastering: Ozone 9

Image credit: Couleur

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