The Bay Area music veteran explains why he broke up with SF and its surroundings for the Southwest.
My new home of Mesilla, New Mexico is 47 miles west of El Paso, and about a three and a half hour drive south of Albuquerque, right outside of Las Cruces, in the shadow of the Organ Mountains.
For a time, both Mexico and the US claimed it as their own, causing it to become known as a “no man’s land.” Though originally not a part of the US after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, the border eventually crossed it. It now stands as the beacon of the past with a small historical downtown square surrounded by acres of pecan, chili, and cotton fields. The Rio Grande river weaves its way southwest, continuing through Mesilla, on to Juarez, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.
I came here first in 2004, and had never felt so outside of everything I knew geographically. Experiencing the landscape while racing to a show in southern New Mexico could look like sunset on the moon if you only knew it from Interstate 10 or 25, as most bands do. But if you ever have the chance to play a show in the Mesilla Valley/Las Cruces area, you’d come to find a uniquely beautiful and vibrant creative landscape, with a wealth of artists, musicians, and storytellers.
As I started to play more shows out here, I found myself grounded by the hyper-familiar flavors of home. I also fell in love, and was quickly taken in by the scene of kids out here. There was a perfect understanding of what we were doing musically — trying to mix country and punk rock and San Francisco and bring it on the road. The harder we played, the more kids would lose it, and each show had that perfect balance of melody before it turned to noise — a party before it becomes a riot, overheating before passing out. Every show in Las Cruces would end up being the most memorable show of tour, and I’ve heard this from other bands, too. Now when I go see an out-of-town group, I get to stand in the crowd and watch the musicians feed off the energy and experience the moment in a way all musicians strive for.
Living in the Bay Area, you’re always trying to keep your head above water. It becomes pretty normal after a while, and in some ways it becomes addictive — survival is a badge of honor. When you meet people and tell them you live in the San Francisco, the first thing they say is usually something like, “How can you afford it?” and then maybe, “How do you find time to be creative?” The answer was often “I dont know.” Like many others, this was a big reason why I felt I had to leave. Even if you are a master of the side hustle and are frugal with your food stamps, even if you rock a flip phone and find your fun at cemeteries and hilltops, the affluence is oppressive, and time and space are a commodity few can afford.
Tour was always a release for me from the pressures of home. Like pressing down on a Presta valve, I could almost feel the stress of the city expelled from my body as I sunk into the van seat as we merged onto the interstate and headed out of town. While playing shows in New Mexico, I started to notice the wealth of time and space people shared, and the amount of art and beauty that existed in one of the least occupied states in the country. What could I do if I had that space and time? How would my music change? How would my life change? How would I survive the heat?
About a year ago I made the move, and though I miss my people the most, the transition has been easier than I thought. To be clear, I don’t feel I moved out here as a clueless Californian. I’ve been traveling and playing music out here for years and have a ton of friends, and I also have a nice following of people who enjoy my songs. Living in Oakland, I’d learned how to be a good neighbor (don’t call the cops!), and I dont ask for seltzer water anymore (but I do carry at least two gallons of water in my truck at all times). I would not say it’s for everyone, and I do see a wave of retirees moving out here without any understanding of what this place is about.
It’s depressing to think this place might one day inhabit some of the old problems of back home, and that I might represent that change whether I like it or not. I also don’t know how long I’ll stay with so many family members and fun shows to play back in the Bay. But moving out here as been an extremely positive experience so far. I’ve started my dream business, and I’ve learned to calm my loneliness in natural hot springs, sometimes weekly. I draw and play music all the time, cook dinner every night, and take long drives through the desert, barely seeing another person on the road. I still take long bike rides and try and always camp for free. I’ve learned I’ll always be a San Franciscan, but in the deserts of New Mexico, I’ve reclaimed some of the openness, creativity, and values I saw of the San Francisco of my childhood in an equally inspiring place. Time and space are not a commodity I lack any more.
Slow Motion Cowboys play the Lost Church tomorrow night.
Slow Motion Cowboys, Old Pal
The Lost Church
April 12, 2018
8pm, $10 (12+)