In our Inspiration Fuel series, we interview writers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and everyday heroes about how they manage the ebbs and flows of motivation and creativity in the pursuit of their life’s callings.
Every morning, Chris Weary takes the train to an office in Manhattan where he works as an IT administrator. He dresses up, puts in long hours. If he were your coworker, he’d make polite conversation with you, ask you about your weekend, laugh at your jokes.
But off the clock, Chris is a relentless creative force. He’s a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and sound engineer who has – most recently – released EPs under the monikers The Dirty Ghost and Margolis through the Small Batch Records label. He is also a visual artist who works primarily in the emerging media of digital painting.
To the world, Chris’ creative output might be seen as a “side project” or a “hobby.” And yet, his dedication to sharpening and exploring his craft is at a level most professional creatives would envy. For this edition of Inspiration Fuel, I reached out to Chris to try to gain some insight into the source of his unflinching devotion to art, always.
First of all, congratulations on the new records [as The Dirty Ghost, Somewhere in America, and as Margolis, You Without]. They’re both so different in style, but I feel like your music all has this indescribable thing where, even in its most mysterious moments, it still manages to be inviting and accessible – even catchy. To people who haven’t heard your music yet, how would you introduce yourself and describe what you make?
Thanks! I’m Chris Weary, content creator! Just joking. I’d probably say I’m a musician and artist.
Over the past couple of years, despite the pandemic, despite a full-time job, you’ve constantly been recording new music, keeping up an intense piano and music theory self-study, and also developing a new interest in painting and visual art – and all this just on nights and weekends. Your devotion to your projects is super inspiring. Where does this energy come from? Do you ever just veg out?
Well, when I moved into my “real” job I realized that I would go crazy not being able to work on music like I had before and I needed to manage my time better.
When I tell people my routine they generally think it’s crazy; get up early, meditate, go to gym etc. You know it doesn’t sound fun. But the body is like a power plant and exercising/meditation is how you generate that energy.
I do veg out like everyone else, I’ll watch a season of Ink Master in one sitting, though I’m probably also drawing while watching.
How did you first discover this drive you have to always be making art? Was there a specific moment when you realized that creativity was something you couldn’t live without?
I would say when I moved to New York in my twenties was the first time I realized that creativity was something I needed to figure out how to keep up with.
Before, it was pretty much something I never thought about. I had a lot of free time as a kid and always did my own thing. I started drawing when I was young and wanted to be a comic book artist and played a couple of instruments before I got obsessed with guitar. In Memphis [where I grew up], everyone was playing music, so I always knew I could call someone to jam or record or whatever.
Then I got to New York with no guitar, and maybe a year went by before I realized I didn’t have an outlet for music any longer. That’s when I bought Reason, which is a [digital] music workstation, and started getting into making music in a different way.
There seems to be a tendency among non-professional artists to downplay their work and push it to the back burner just because they may not have what they consider to be a creative profession. But I’ve always been impressed by your commitment to creativity regardless of how you pay your bills. I’d love to hear how you think about the relationship between your livelihood and your art? Are they simply irrelevant to each other?
Yeah, I think livelihood and art are irrelevant to each other at the end of the day.
I think this is another thing I learned growing up in Memphis. You know, there are a lot of amazing musicians there that maybe played on some older Stax Records stuff or something, and for whatever reason things just didn't work out. Booker T. spoke to my class in college and he was selling real estate in California! But does that make what he did less amazing? What if he made everything he made and no one heard it?
To me the goal has never been fame, and my competition has always been myself. Doing better than you did yesterday is the victory. If you get money and fame from that, fine, but if you don’t, you’ve still won.
Some artists describe their best moments of creativity as flow states, while others say even good sessions feel like hard work. For you, what does a “good” creative session feel like?
I think it feels like time has been transcended. Like, how did four hours just pass?
But I wouldn’t want to confuse that with the harder work, to me anyway, which is editing what's good and what's bad from these free creative states. I like to get a lot of ideas down when I’m feeling inspired and then go back and edit it later.
Is it possible to consciously generate motivation or inspiration or passion (or whatever you want to call the drive to be creative)? If so, how do you do it? And, if not, where do you think it comes from?
I think it is possible to create motivation. Imagine what you want to create or be and then work towards it. Break it down into small steps and make a plan.
You have to tell yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice to make what you want to happen, happen. Not saying it's easy, but it is possible.
There are lots of us who struggle to maintain enthusiasm for the work or projects that we love, even if we feel a calling to pursue them. What advice would you give for dealing with dark days when there’s just no motivation to be found?
Just do it for five minutes. This is what I do when I don’t feel like practicing or doing something in my routine. I’ll say, ok I’ll just do it for five minutes.
This way even if you didn’t do as much as you wanted you still got something done, and most of the time you forget and just do it as normal.
And, finally, how do you take your coffee?
Big coffee fan, but I just drink it black with no sugar. You know, good coffee should be good without adding anything else.
We asked Chris what songs he's been listening to lately to get inspired. Check out his Guest DJ playlist on Spotify. In classic Chris Weary style, it's mysterious and strange...and still catchy as hell.
We’re always on the lookout for more artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, and everyday heroes to interview for our Inspiration Fuel series. If someone you know is pursuing their life’s calling in a way that inspires you, tell us about them by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Liz Andrien: @lizandrien.