2013 Year in Review

Hi all, welcome to my first blog post. I started this blog awhile ago but was slacking on actually writing anything. Ushering out the year that’s been and ushering in the year that will be seems fitting.

2013 was a strange, strange year for Kill Matilda. While in 2011 we rose to some seriously bad-ass heights, in 2012 we nearly ceased to exist because of conflict between band members, health problems for both myself and Mykel (I was hospitalized several times over the summer and he was diagnosed with a tumor in his carotid artery that kept him from being able to do much of anything), and an overall feeling of trauma from having worked so hard, for so long, with no resources. We fell apart. But as much as 2012 was the year that we crashed and burned, 2013 became the year we rose from the ashes. We are still in this process of arising but we are nearly ready to take flight and it will be a fucking fire when we do.

This year Mykel successfully completed his surgery, for which there was a significant risk that he would never be able to speak again. He had a non-cancerous tumor grown nearly 360 degrees around his carotid artery, attached to his vagus nerves (which control the ability to speak, swallow and chew). He needed time to heal and wasn’t able to play. But by spring we were back on track – however, Marcus had been traveling abroad in Australia. With the help of bad-ass Season To Attack drummer Brian Badd, we played a rippin’ 420 show at Iron Road Studios and went on to have a few other awesome and memorable shows around Vancouver this year. In August Marcus came home to us and we prepared to record the other 3 songs with Garth Richardson at Fader Mountain Studios. We started jamming and practicing harder than we’ve ever played before. We wrote more than 10 new songs in the space of two months and from these we selected the best 3. I have to give so much credit to Mykel Exner – more than ever before he stepped up and took an active role in writing and crafting the songs, whereas before he’d hung back in this area. As a result, our new songs are some of the best we’ve ever written, because they reflect the input of myself, Mykel and Marcus.

At this point I want to thank Garth, Nygel, John and everyone who worked with us or helped us at Fader Mountain. How amazing to be given time and space by someone so in demand; who has literally been there for the birth of some of our most canonical rock and roll anthems. I feel lucky every day that I went from being a 15 year old girl playing songs alone in my room to having face time and having my voice be compliment by someone who works with the best of the best. I feel lucky that so many people gave my band their time and energy. You guys seriously rock my world and I feel humbled by the experience I had this year.

Personally, 2013 was a lonely year for me. We came home to Vancouver in 2012 to find that so many of our good friends had moved away. I worked full-time until about August and I found spending 40 hours a week of my time not on music and not on my personal life exhausting; there was almost no time or energy for anything else. But more than this, I experienced lip service from a lot of friends and acquaintances this year. People often told me they wanted to hang out Рsometimes repeatedly Рbut despite my hosting almost weekly events for people to come and hang out with me, I found that these same people never actually ever got around to making time for me, nor did they initiate hangouts. Maybe this is part of being in your late 20s; but I look back at my texts and my facebook messages and I see a lot of talk and very little action. Instead, I spent my time with a small, close circle of friends that I value who actually make the effort to initiate hangouts or to come out to the events I work hard to put together and promote.  Whereas before I had a wide circle of friends that I could call on for any social occasion, these days I find myself more introverted and less inclined to spend my time in busy, crowded places. I know who my real friends are.

If there is one thing that characterized 2013 for me it was personal growth. I am ten times the person I was in 2012. It was a hard, long year of facing my shortcomings and my issues and learning to overcome them. Our culture values what we look like and what we can do; we spend so much time on our bodies, on our style, on our careers and on our skills. Rarely do we turn our efforts inwards and look at what kind of people we are.

In part because of my job in the first part of this year as a manager of a group of dynamic and diverse young people, and in part because of the insanely high standards of my husband and bandmate Mykel Exner, and also in part because of the ongoing difficulties I have with other people, I had no choice but to look at my own role as a team member, as a leader, and as a person. I didn’t always like what I saw. Although I love to dazzle people out of the gate with my enthusiasm and my ability to do stuff, I was lazy and I was sloppy. I couldn’t complete projects. I lacked consistency in a seriously damaging way to my life and to my job and career. I saw this sloppiness reflected in products I’d created for Kill Matilda and I didn’t like it. I wanted better. I struggled to complete tasks week to week in my job – I could do anything once, but to keep it up was an insurmountable chore.

Worst of all, I was defensive. Now that I’ve identified this as one option in a range of reactions to any conflict situation, I see how defensiveness is a pervasive quality of our times. We can’t take feedback or criticism. When we get called out on not living up to the standards of others, or letting people down, we shut down rather than listening and just start tossing out the excuses and then the self-pity. At it’s core, the most damaging thing about being defensive is that you don’t listen to what is being said, and without listening you can’t learn. So often when people are trying to tell us that something we’ve done isn’t good enough, all we hear is that WE are not good enough (at least I know that’s what I heard). But that’s simply not so; in fact there is so much to learn from our failures, no matter how big or small. If you are trying to seal a leak, and you feel air coming in somewhere, but you refuse to look to see where the holes are, how will you ever seal the leak? you won’t. Looking at points where we’ve fallen short or failed, whether real or even just perceived by others, helps us evaluate and finesse the person we want to be.

“But Dusty,” you say, “why do you care what other people think? If other people think you’ve done something wrong but you know you did everything you could, it’s their problem.” True, in one sense. Here’s the thing; reality is subjective. When someone feels let down by you, or hurt by you, and you know you didn’t do anything wrong but it’s all in their perspective, here’s the clincher: IT STILL REALLY HAPPENED IN THEIR REALITY. Being a manager to a group of very sensitive, artistic young adults made me realize this. In the end, the way you respond depends on what you want. Do you seek harmony, or do you need this person to do something for you or get along with you? Well, you can be right as rain all the way till the cows come home but in the end, denying their viewpoint and refusing to look at the way in which you let them down won’t benefit you in the end. You can be the person who says, “I don’t care what others think of me, I won’t change”…. but you may find yourself alone.

Not being defensive is NOT the same as saying “YES I FAILED I’M A TOTAL SHITHEAD”. ¬†It’s simply giving the other person’s viewpoint some airtime. When you listen to what the other person has to say, you show them respect, even if in the end you don’t agree. At least you looked, you were objective and you were rational. In the end, you can say “I see what you’re saying but I stand by why I did ____”. You don’t have to give up anything you don’t want to, but the likelier scenario is that you will learn something about yourself.

This year as a manager I faced near constant critique. I was asked to change my methods, refine my program and chastised when I fell short. It wasn’t personal; my bosses had high expectations of me. It was the same in Kill Matilda; I’m lucky enough that my partner in crime won’t settle for me giving less than my best. I reached a point at which it felt like nothing I did was ever good enough for anything – this is because I’ve always been able to get by giving about a 60% effort. I’m cute, I’m sweet, I’m a fast talker. I knew that about myself too, but when push came to shove and the habits I’d developed around cutting corners started to fail me, I had every excuse in the book. I was stressed. I was going through something. I had this road block and that road block. But my critics in all areas of life didn’t accept my excuses and in the end I had to look inward; why didn’t I follow through on my agreements? when I said something would get done and it didn’t, was it because of excuse X,Y and Z, or was it because I promised something I hadn’t left myself enough time to deliver? When I behaved badly, or was rude or crabby or just sloppy, was it because someone else made me act that way, or was it because I chose to act that way?

I learned slowly and painfully to listen, really listen. And then I learned that it doesn’t hurt so much to accept critique and criticism. When you leave defensiveness behind you come to understand that people aren’t trying to hurt you, they’re just trying to get what they need. When you try to talk to someone about something they’ve done don’t you just want to be listened to and heard?

I am a better person. I am a stronger person. I put my focus on quality and I’ve done something really important this year; accepted my limits. It sounds funny but up until this year I’d make plans and promises willy-nilly. Basically, I was a huge flake. But it’s not as permissible as when I was in my early 20s. These days, people are pretty choked when I let them down. So I’ve learned not to make promises I can’t keep and to keep the agreements I do make. I want to take a moment to thank my bosses at my last job, Ryan and Kate, for teaching me so much about management theory, and for taking the time to develop me. Although in the end I faced a lot of personal struggles around just working in general, working 40 hours a week, getting to work on time, the simple things, the lessons I learned helped me grow as a person. Public Outreach is a great organization full of caring people and I’m lucky to have been involved.

I am most grateful for Mykel and Marcus this year. Mykel overcame huge obstacles and came back twice as strong. His leadership helped our band get back on track and his adherence to standards of quality has made me pull my hair out at times when things aren’t good enough, but have ensured that what we do create is the best it can be – whether it’s a merch design, a music video, a song, or a performance. Marcus travelled the world in 2012/2013 and I am humbled and honored that he chose to come home to us and be a part of what we are creating. He has also contributed more to the creative and behind-the-scene processes of Kill Matilda more than ever before and as we approach 2014 we have become a 3-piece band that is a tightly functioning unit. We will be moving forward as a 3-piece; our lead guitarist Dave Roberts had an amazing year – he got married, he went back to school to become an electrician, and he has embarked on a whole new phase of his life that is sure to be full of such amazing experiences. His energy onstage and off, and his talent is something we simply can’t replace, and I don’t even want to try.

I’m also pleased to announce that we will be touring east in 2014 to Toronto – and staying there. Ontario and Quebec; you’ll be seeing a lot more of us soon.

2013 was a year of painful growth both for myself and for our band. We are ready for 2014 to be the year we put everything we’ve learned into play, and I am excited for you all to be there with us. I thank you for your support through the slow times – you fans and friends will be on the frontlines of our success and we will share it with you.

Lots of love,

Dusty Exner