How a Songwriter Gets in the Zone

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Speaker 1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. When.

Speaker 2: Sometimes I’ll be like, okay, Saturday evening I’m going to block at that time to write music. And I think it kind of makes it seem like, okay, if it’s scheduled, then my brain is going to prepare for that. And honestly, like I get in there and I just like, I don’t know, I end up just looking at YouTube the whole time. Yeah.

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Isaac Butler: Welcome back to Working. I’m your host, Isaac Butler.

Karen Han: And I’m your host Karen Han.

Isaac Butler: Hey Karen. I feel like it has been forever since we’ve shared hosting duties. How have you been? How are you doing? I’ve been.

Karen Han: Pretty good. I’ve missed you, obviously. How are you?

Isaac Butler: I’m doing okay. You know, mid-semester. Got lots of papers to grade.

Karen Han: Oh, yeah?

Isaac Butler: Yeah. What are you going to do? So who do we hear from at the top of this episode?

Karen Han: So that was Cameron Lew, the genius behind the American indie Soul music project, Ginger Root. He recently released a new EP called Nisemono, and I thought that was as good an excuse as any to get him on the show because I am a big fan of his music and music videos.

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Isaac Butler: That sounds great. If you’re a Slate Plus member, do you get something extra this week or what?

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Karen Han: Oh my gosh, Yes. We actually have a lot of goodies for the Slate Plus segment this week because our conversation was so great. We talk about Cameron transitioning out of having a day job while starting to work on Ginger Root and how he balance the two things in the meanwhile. And also when he first became interested in music and started to kind of pursue it more seriously. So there is a lot to look forward to in the Slate Plus segment this week.

Isaac Butler: That’s wonderful. And if you’re a Slate Plus member, you’ll have that waiting for you at the end of this week’s episode.

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Isaac Butler: Now, let’s take a listen to Karen Hahn’s conversation with Cameron Lew, a.k.a. Ginger Root.

Karen Han: Hello, Cameron. Thank you so much for coming on to working.

Speaker 2: Thank you so much for having me. Excited to chat. I don’t get to chat very often about all this stuff, so I’m very excited.

Karen Han: Well, it’s our honor to have you on because I’m such a huge fan of your music, and I wanted to start off by talking about your new EP Nisemono. What I really find remarkable about it is that you built this entire story around and through it, and I was hoping just for our listeners, if you could explain kind of the plot of the EP and also what inspired you to build an EP this way?

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Speaker 2: Sure, absolutely. So the whole concept of the EP is the years like 1984. Ginger Root is brought in to write songs for an up and coming Japanese pop idol, Kimiko Taguchi. Mm hmm. She’s having her American debut, and the song I wrote for her, she’s going to sing on this like, fictitious late night show. But because of the pressure, she quits right before her debut, her manager runs up to me and is like, Yo, you wrote the songs. You got to sing them because you know them. And then I’m thrusted into this spotlight, and then the EP follows that journey of like this unexpected rise to kind of unwanted stardom, I guess unexpected, and then kind of the trials that come with that.

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Speaker 5: Go with your guy and say, Hey.

Speaker 2: And the story is actually still continuing with like the music videos and stuff. I have yet to make them or conclude them, but there is an ending and once I have a little bit more free time after tour, I will conclude the EP story. But yeah, that’s kind of what it’s about.

Karen Han: So when you were coming up with the story, like did the premise that the idea of the story come first or did you have like some songs beforehand where you’re like, Oh, I feel like these kind of tied together in this thematic way.

Speaker 2: I definitely had like a lot of demos, but not like a clear vision. But I think ultimately it was the idea of this like fictitious, you know, Pop Idol. And if I wrote the songs for her and it was kind of like this way of being able to pretend I wasn’t Ginger Root for a second and like being able to kind of explore maybe a different style of writing. And it kind of helped me write all the songs. And then it, you know, once each song kind of started to form together and come in, that’s really when the whole specifics of the world and the idea really just came together all at once.

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Karen Han: And you actually did a sort of similar thing with your 2021 EP City Slicker, where it structured kind of around a story, although in that time it was around this fictional film. Yeah, I think that’s the first time that you went this kind of narrative route for an EP or album. What was the initial, I guess, kind of inspiration for you to think, Oh, like I want to structure my work in this way?

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Speaker 2: My previous records before City Slicker definitely had like thematic, you know, elements to it, but it wasn’t very narrative driven. Yeah, And honestly, I think the record that I put out during the pandemic, Rickie you know, selfishly I thought that that was the record that was going to break, you know, and I thought I put a lot of work into it and I had high hopes for it. And that was kind of the first time I had those feelings. And I really felt confident in it. And just because of the state of the world and I think just because of what the record was, I think maybe a little too personal or something, or all these outside factors, you can never tell. It just didn’t really perform as well as I thought it was going to be.

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Speaker 2: And so when it came time, you know, where I was like, What do I want to do next? I kind of shifted my perspective of being like, Let me just make kind of like a world that’s like totally made up that I’d like to live in and let me make kind of a thing that’s a little bit more, I think, positive or upbeat or fun for people where they can buy in and and they can envelop themselves into this narrative for like a quick 15 to 20 minutes.

Speaker 2: And then, you know, hopefully that could provide basically an escape, because I think at that point when I was writing stuff like I wanted to make an escape for myself, you know, through the music. And I think that’s really where I figured out that I wanted to maybe make something more narrative that came along with the project. And so I think it was a combination of things, but I ended up having a lot of fun with City Slicker in terms of making this world and world building and this universe building, if you want to call it that. And yeah, I decided to continue that on Nisemono That’s awesome.

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Karen Han: And I actually want to jump on a quick tangent, just based on what you were saying about the perceived success of Ricky. It’s sort of something that I think is hard to not talk about in a creative field where it’s like there is what you consider is like creative success, where it’s like, I’m proud of this thing that I made and I think it’s good versus like a, I guess, a broader success of like how does an audience receive it? So what for you like is success on that front?

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. Ricky was kind of my real second album, so with my first record, Mojang Room, it was kind of like, I’m going to make a record. Like I’m just going to do this. I’m going to like, let it fly, you know? And when it was time to make Ricky or what I was making Ricky, that took two and a half years. And I think I fell into the trap of like, I need this to be like, vacuum tight. Like, I need this to be like, like a really, like, important project that means a lot for me. And I think I got maybe too involved with the the expectations. And because it was so long, like, of a process, my expectations grew. And I think just as a creative, like it’s hard not to kind of get into that headspace, you know. I think that’s just part of the creative process.

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Speaker 2: And so when, you know, baking Ricky and making Ricky like, you know, over that long period of time, I think I lost a sense of why I started Ginger in the first place. And, and I am very proud of Ricky. I really think that’s a special album to me. And I think maybe, you know, to answer part of your question is, you know, I’m very happy with the way it turned out. And I think that’s the most important. But just as a creative, just naturally, of course, like reception is kind of just a part of, you know, being creative and artistry. And I think as a musician of, you know, no one’s really listening, it it hurts a little bit.

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Karen Han: Yeah.

Karen Han: So to bring it back to Nisemono, how long did this EP take you to put together.

Speaker 2: In terms of like songwriting mixing? I think just like from audio, the audio standpoint and like the music standpoint, maybe like five months or something like that. And then the videos kind of waterfall with the singles. So, you know, with the album release, I think as a whole from like start date to release date, it was under a year, I’d.

Karen Han: Say, Wow. And I definitely want to talk about the music videos because I’m obsessed with them. But to start with the songwriting process. Is there a typical, I guess, process for you when it comes to writing songs like do lyrics come first? Does the melody come first, or does it kind of depend from song to song?

Speaker 2: I normally start with the music, so I’ll I’ll be poking around at a guitar or a keyboard and something will kind of piqued my interest, and I’ll kind of write on that for a little bit. I’ve gone back and forth between like the idea of like, oh, of it’s in the moment, like just keep going even if I’m tired or if it’s late at night, or I need to do something else, like just keep writing it. And then also going between like, okay, I got like one idea, I’m going to let it sit.

Speaker 2: So in terms of that, it’s been kind of a rolling process, but normally it’s music. First I’ll write a full demo where it’s just keys, bass and drums because I know that’s what we have to play live. So I want to kind of make sure that the song can stand with those three core elements because there’s only three of us on stage. And then I’ll usually finish that. I’ll let that set and then I’ll come back to it and actually relearn it, like if I had to play it live. So then I play it better. I’ll make this whole thing with like synths and everything where like just the ideas are there. It might be rough, but like the new ideas or they’re the new layers or they’re the new textures or they’re all at that set. And then I’ll come back and I’ll basically rerecord everything and have this like idea of like, okay, I got to get everything in one take because I want to make sure like it’s as clean as possible. So like, I’ll rehearse everything before I’ll take it. And usually vocals and lyrics are like last.

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Karen Han: And I notice that you play all the instruments yourself on the EP. Is this always how you do it?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I write and record and produce and perform everything you hear on the EP.

Karen Han: That’s amazing. And I know you’ve spoken. I think about it before in that it tends to work that way just because your process is kind of, as you’re saying, a bit like flow of the moment. Like if you’re in the flow, then you just want to keep doing it. And sometimes it makes it hard to, I guess, collaborate with other artists, like in the songwriting process. I was wondering if you tell us a little bit more about, I guess, achieving that flow and also your thoughts or experiences working with other artists, because again, you have two other people that you tour with, but in recording it is just you.

Speaker 2: Yeah, definitely. In terms of like hitting that flow and getting in that that mindset, like when either like making music or any part of the EP, like, you know, figuring out the stories for the music, videos, editing or even like designing merch or whatever, like any part of the creative process. Like I think first with specifically with music, I have learned over the years of doing this and then like kind of the other bands I used to be into is like, you can’t schedule when that flow is going to come. I think like sometimes I’ll be like, okay, Saturday evening I’m going to block out at that time to write music. And I think it kind of makes it seem like, okay, if it’s scheduled, then my brain is going to prepare for that.

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Speaker 2: And honestly, like there are times where that works. Like, I’ve tried it and, you know, I’ll be like, okay, that was like a cool session. Like it. And then some times I get in there and I just like, I don’t know, I end up just looking at YouTube the whole time or something and like nothing and I feel bad or whatever. And then other times like I’ll be poking around like on this, like really bad guitar I have in middle school. And then like in 5 minutes I’m like, That’s a song that’s weird. Like, and I’ll voice memo it and then I’ll I’ll drive to the studio and I’ll I keep humming it on the way or something.

Speaker 2: So yeah, it’s, I think what I’ve learned is like, it’s unpredictable when the time comes where you’re in that moment, I think do whatever you can to stay in there. Because for me and everyone’s different, but for me, I feel like it’s a very special moment that that’s where I think things, you know, are created. And I think if you can get into that headspace, you should stay there for as long as you can.

Karen Han: Yeah, absolutely. I guess it’s the idea of the muse where it’s like you, it’ll come to you when it wants to, and then you have to kind of take advantage of that time rather than hoping that you can plan it out.

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. It’s it’s funny that you say that, too, because, you know, I was trying to think of, like, creative solutions for, like a video or like this one part of the song. And I remember, like, working on it every day for, I think maybe like a week straight and just I came up with these ideas, but I was not happy with like any of them. And I remember just like taking a few days off where I didn’t even think about it. I think I like I tried to do something else or I just like, I don’t know, I just kind of let it sit on the shelf for like a weekend or something like that. Yeah. Did not think about it at all. And I came back and my brain was like, Oh, you should just do this. And I was like, Wow, when I think about that. And so I think another part of the process is like. Let things sit like they say. My friend says, Remember the phrase like sleep on it. Like that’s an actual thing. And I’m a believer now after that.

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Karen Han: So I think that’s a good actionable piece of advice. Thank you. Yeah.

Karen Han: I also want to ask you, how did you end up sort of coming up with your sound or your aesthetic, as it were, because you self-described as quote unquote, aggressive elevator soul, which is a description I really, really love. I was hoping you could break that down in terms of sound as well as like influence as well as like how you came to that as I guess your label, as it were.

Speaker 2: Specifically with like the actual phrase aggressive elevator soul. I remember we were playing we’re opening at some local bar, and this guy, who I believe was very drunk, came up and was like, Oh, you guys are amazing. Like, I felt like, so chill. I was like, in an elevator the whole time, but was so loud, so was like, aggressive, man. But man, you guys got soul cause whatever. And I remember just piecing together on my oh, so, like, aggressive elevator. So it’s like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I was like, That’s a great term. I’m going to steal that. Thank you.

Speaker 2: So yeah, that’s where like the term actually came about in terms of like finding the sound. I think that’s something that is an ever evolving journey and an ever evolving process. I think like at first, like it definitely was music. Like if we’re talking about, like Magic Room and Spotlight people. Yeah, my very first record ended Ginger Root. Like, I think it was all a process of actually playing and writing songs that were completely different than the stuff I was writing and playing with at the time. You know, I was playing like a lot of guitar, bass music, like Django pop star power pop or like psych pop stuff. And I just wanted to maybe write songs that were outside my comfort zone. And so I started playing around with keyboards and everything, and I think that will always be a fundamental Ginger Root is like a synth sound and a keyboard sound.

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Speaker 1: I feel like.

Speaker 2: I think that’s something that still stayed like throughout all these like albums. But I think it’s always like an ongoing journey. But I think something that stays the same is like I kind of grew up listening to like Motown stuff, and there’s definitely something, a groove element to that. Mm hmm. You know, in high school, I learned about, like, power pop. So, like, electric, like orchestra, ecstasy, you know, Paul McCartney’s solo career, you know? You know, stuff like that. And I think all those combined, in addition to also like finding out about the whole world of like Japanese music in high school. Like, I think all those three avenues generally are what influences Ginger Root sound.

Karen Han: Yeah. And of course we also have to talk about the name Ginger Root. You’ve told the story of the name before that it came from. It was inspired by a wolf pack performance. But I wanted to know specifically what made you decide to take a sort of stage name or band name rather than just going by your name? Cameron Lew.

Speaker 2: I think, to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to turn Ginger Root into a band later down the road. And I really I really am not a fan of like so-and-so and the so-and-so’s, you know, or whatever. Yeah, know, like that type of band. I didn’t want to, like, attach that later down the road. So I also, to be honest, like, I felt like if I used my name, it’d be even more personally attached to me, you know, because it’s like it is Cameron Lew. Like Cameron Lew makes this music. Yeah. And I felt like I wasn’t super confident in what I was doing. I didn’t know if Ginger Root was going to stick around or whatever. And I think, like, I wanted to maybe try to take some of the weight off and take some of the pressure of being like, Oh, this is a project and this is a moniker versus like, this is all riding on like one person’s shoulders because it’s like the person’s name or something.

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Isaac Butler: We’ll be back with more of Karen’s conversation with Cameron Lew after this.

Isaac Butler: Hey, listeners, it’s Isaac Butler here. Just wanted to say a couple of things real quick. First of all, if you’re listening to this podcast, but you do not subscribe to it, why don’t you go to your podcast Doohickey app thingamajig and click subscribe? And if there’s some method of rating us like stars on the Apple Store or a checkmark or I don’t know, a stamp of approval or something. If you could do that too, that helps us find new listeners. We also would love to hear from you. If you’ve got a question you want to ask us, a guest you’d like to see, maybe you’ve done something creatively awesome that you want to share with your fellow listeners. Well, drop us a line at working at Slate.com or leave us a voicemail at 304933. W. O. R. K.

Isaac Butler: All right. Now, let’s listen to the rest of Karen’s conversation with Cameron Lou.

Karen Han: So again, I want to talk about the music videos. And because the music videos that produced are really, really incredible, they are so polished and they’re so they’re so fun to watch too. The storytelling is so great and so is the production. Can you tell me a little bit about where the creative process starts for a music video?

Speaker 2: Yeah, So I went to Chapman and I majored in film production as an editor and I and before I did Ginger Root or like also while I was doing Ginger Root, when I first started, I was freelance editing. So I think like my foundation comes from that in terms of I also think like for narrative, like wanting to have the EP narrative I think comes from a film background that I have. But in terms of like the process, you know, it’s different for every song, but most of the time I’ll be like at that demo stage where it’s like all the layers are there, but it’s a little rough and I want to retake vocals or something. That’s usually when, when I’m listening to that version over and over again, there’s these little bits and pieces of like ideas for scenarios or scenes that would slowly come about.

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Speaker 2: And I think for this EP in particular, because I had this like premise, I’m like, okay, it’s like 1984 there. I’m like writing a song for an idol. I had that kind of like foundation to go off. And I think once the song started to roll in, I was like, Oh, there should be a video where like, I’m the spokesperson for these commercials, or there’s should be a video where like, you know, I’m performing on late night or there should be a part where like I go on vacation or, you know, and all of these things slowly pieced together into this, I think, big overarching storyline.

Speaker 2: And then once the songs were like pretty much done, I sat down with my friend David, who helps me with all the videos, and I’m like, okay, how do we piece together? What songs are, what scenes and what songs are, what part of this bigger narrative or whatever? And we say, Okay, Loneliness, which is the one of the songs on the EP, is like, okay, this is going to be this scene, this scene in this scene. And then from there it’s just like, logistically, okay, how do we, how do we do that?

Karen Han: Yeah. Speaking of logistics, though, that video has a shot of you or a scene of you at an airfield coming out of a jet, which when I watched it, I was like, Holy shit like that.

Speaker 2: Wow, that’s a long story in itself. I’ll Oh, really? I’ll abbreviate it. But basically that scene of me coming off a jet is a reference to like a clip from 1980. There’s this clip from this Japanese music show called Best of Ten where they like they for those who don’t know who best what best of ten is, it’s basically like every week they list the top ten songs of like the pop idols of like that that week or something like that. And so number, whatever was Seiko Matsuda who had her debut song, and the clip is literally them just waiting, like at the side of the jet. It flies in. She she’s the first to walk off the plane. They hand her headphones. We’re like, All right, sing your song. And then the second.

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Speaker 2: See. It’s crazy. I mean, it’s been taken off YouTube here and there. I’ve downloaded it for myself because it’s just such a special clip. And like, there’s like people are trying to leave the plane and she’s just like singing in front of the jet. So because of the whole theme of, like, you know, she’s Japan and like the Showa era and Idol culture, I was like, I have to reference this. And when I told Dave, I was like, I need a plane. He was like, I don’t know how we’re going to do that.

Speaker 2: So anyway, we tried to find somebody solutions. We’re like, you know, we’re based out of L.A. so we’re like, It shouldn’t be easy. Like, people come here all the time. You can find a lot of insides of planes, but not outsides of planes because of like permitting or whatever. Then we tried private jet companies because we figured like, oh, maybe, you know, their planes obviously look good and maybe they’ll let us do it or whatever. And unfortunately, because of COVID, private air travel for really rich people have gone up like 600%. So they’re like, you can film with the plane, but you have to rent the plane as if you were going to fly it. So obviously out of our budget.

Speaker 2: Then we went to like a World War Two museum who like had their own planes, but they were much cheaper because they’re a non-profit. But cheaper wasn’t cheap enough. Thankfully, that guy, one of the people from the private jet company, called us and was like, Hey, I’m just checking in. Are you like all good with your shoot? And we’re like, No, we can’t find anyone. They’re like, okay, well, what’s your max budget? And we’re like, this much, not a penny more.

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Speaker 2: They’re like, Okay, well, I have a friend who rents his jet out for photoshoots and it’s he usually it’s usually in Paris, but it’s here like my day. You want to shoot if you call him and he says, yes, you can use it. We called. He was super French. He was like, What you want for, you know, whatever. And we’re like, you know, we explain the whole thing and like, the whole show, the whole reference. And he was like, Yeah, okay. Like he was like, these guys are crazy. And he came back and he’s like, Yeah, my plane flies in that day. It’s got to get washed that night. You can film with it, like in the evening and then it’s got to fly out the next day. So you have to work like make it super, super cheap for what it was. And that is how we found a plane.

Karen Han: That’s incredible. I mean, it absolutely is worth it. I think having watched the video.

Speaker 2: It was it was a it was a crazy experience like Shout Out Air seven that for some reason, if people are looking for private jets, Dennis at Air seven and Matt at Air seven hooked it up. Thank you so much.

Karen Han: Yeah, that’s a good shout out to have those podcasts. David Absolutely.

Karen Han: And I wanted to ask, I guess, another production related question as well. It’s like it seems like you’re doing all of this like pretty independently. So when you are kind of planning for these music videos, like how do you decide, like I won’t ask exact numbers as to like what budget you’re setting aside, but like, how do you budget for this kind of stuff? Because it seems very labor intensive.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, it definitely is a labor of love. I definitely lose several years of my life, every video, you know, But you know, it’s for Ginger. But I mean, overall, like it’s a lot of fun to make in terms of like logistically doing it. Thankfully, this round this cycle for this EP, I’ve gotten a little bit more funds from Acro Phase Records, which is the label online. And so before it was definitely like independent. They’d give me, you know, a couple bucks and stuff, but they are basically like, okay, however many videos you want to make, like this is the chunk of change we can give you. And so it’s up to you to figure out like, obviously, like loneliness took a big portion of that money.

Speaker 2: But then, like we, me and David tried to figure out like, okay, so for like over, over the hill example, like if we could just shoot it all outside, then we don’t have to pay for a location, we don’t have to pay, you know, stuff like that. So definitely it was kind of a juggling act of like, okay, we have this amount of resources and this amount of funds. You know, thankfully, I have a David and I have kind of formulated like our go to crew. And what’s really cool is like it’s kind of scalable too. So some people understand like, okay, this is the big number, this is the show stopper. So we need all hands on deck, you know, or whatever. And then sometimes it’s like, Hey, no offense, I can only afford like literally. David So yeah, sorry, everyone. And everyone’s like, No, we get it. It’s cool. So yeah, yeah, it’s been a huge learning experience and I think whatever the next project’s going to be, I think we have more knowledge to figure out how to smoothly make that happen. This whole thing is a learning process, which is what keeps us on our toes and what keeps it fun.

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Karen Han: Mm hmm. And another thing in terms of, I guess, stuff that you have to plan to do, apart from creating music, is going on tour. That is also a really huge endeavor to undertake. Like what is the planning leading up to that? Like how much like when do you think like, Oh, I have enough stuff to go tour. I have an idea of like where I want to go. Like, what is that process?

Speaker 2: Yeah, thankfully we have a booking agent where they kind of route the whole thing. The tour was kind of planned while the production of the EP was rolling, and so there was this. DEADLINE of like, okay, we leave this day, which means that everything has to be done before then all the songs has to be learned. You know, me, Matt and Dylan, who play with me live, you know, we have we’re like in my studio and we’re trying to workshop the songs and we’re trying to figure out how to play it with only six hands, you know, or everything like that. It is definitely, yeah.

Speaker 2: Another part of the process, this was our first, I would say, legitimate like headline tour where it was our shows. We’ve been in the opening slot for like four years, you know, now. And so it was a lot of pressure, it was a lot of nerves, it was a lot of stress trying to figure out like, are people going to show up? Are people going to know what’s going on? And to my surprise, like people were singing the songs and people were like, you know, just really into it. And we were selling out places we’ve never played before.

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Speaker 2: And you know that I have to think that to the YouTube algorithm and like the Internet in general still, but like it was, it was really cool because I think, you know, I was talking to Matt and Dylan about this because as an opener, you’re kind of, you know, it’s a great opportunity. I think everyone should do it. That’s, you know, coming through the ranks. But like, there’s a point in time where it’s really taxing, like you’re there to play a show that no one wants to really hear you like because you’re just here for the next act. Yeah, you have to pretend kind of like you’re not there. You have to clean up. You have to make sure that you know, you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes. And it’s a great opportunity.

Speaker 2: And we definitely kind of went through the ranks and learned how to tour efficiently as a band and personally, like friendship wise, how what space everyone needs, you know, when they need or whatever. And for the first time when we played like the first couple of shows, like that’s when I realized like touring, I think for me is maybe one of the most fun parts of doing music, playing live music, seeing that immediate reaction from someone like a real person in front of you, whether they like your music, whether you did something, you made a mistake, whether you, you know, whatever, and they’re smiling or whatever. They’re hanging out with their friends, they’re filming it on their phones or whatever. Like it was such an experience that I forgot about because of the pandemic.

Speaker 2: One Yeah. And two, I’ve never experienced it at that level because people were like, Yeah, we’re here to see you. And we still can’t believe it. Like, we end the show. We’re like, Okay, the next man is going to come up, you know, or whatever. It’s it’s really weird.

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Speaker 2: But I think, like all this is to say, like the stress of the tour and figuring that out, I think totally does not come close to like, the positives that come from playing these songs that, you know, I’ve worked so hard on for the past, you know, whatever, Getting to hear them in a in a venue and getting to share them with the people who are there, I think is maybe the most special part of this whole thing.

Karen Han: Yeah, but it’s also a pretty intense experience as well, I imagine. Like, is there any kind of fear of burning out while you’re on the road? And I guess on the other side of that question, like what do you do when you encounter it, when you’re not on the road? Like, how do you overcome that?

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. Burnout for me definitely was really scary because I experienced that with film. You know, when I was in film school, it just it ruined the film for me because I was doing it every day and stuff. And so granted, I’m still implementing it with Ginger Root. But, but yeah, I think like touring is a whole other topic that I could do, like a whole seminar about after doing it in different ways. But I think what’s really important is to like take care of yourself and like it’s physically draining. It’s mentally draining.

Speaker 2: I think a lot of people, a lot of other bands will definitely relate to this, but I think people who go to shows maybe don’t quite see it because they’re like they come to the venue and like the band plays or whatever. But yeah, it’s like we’re in one city, we show up, we’re there at the venue for like 6 hours. We soundcheck, we play the show, we got to throw all that back in the van and then the next day we do it all again in a city that’s like 400 miles away, you know, or something like that. And we do that for three weeks. Streets and some bands are like road dogs. They do that for like four months straight, like no brakes. And I’m like, More power to you. I don’t know how you do that.

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Speaker 2: But yeah, I mean, like in terms of like, you know, experiencing burnout, I think there’s this weird thing of like being on the road and wanting to be in the moment and be present and soak in like these experiences you’re having and meeting the listeners and everything. But it’s like you kind of we call it like low battery mode, like you’re just on autopilot, like you’re just trying to get through the shows. And I feel really bad because like, I want to enjoy every moment of it. But there’s a certain like rut and monotony that happens like in the middle of the tour that I think there’s no way to like, get out of it because it’s like the same thing over and over again in the sense of like driving, setting up play, tearing down, driving, you know, whatever. And so I think for me, I’m still learning how to maybe cope with that type of burnout or that type of rut on the road.

Speaker 2: I. I think it’s something that’s going to be different for everyone. I think like taking walks by yourself or calling your friends and family back home I think is important. I think like it’s okay to like, go to McDonald’s instead of like the famous like you like something that you’re just like, I know this is real and I know it’s like the same every time, you know, or whatever I think is a good thing. Yeah, definitely. Like, mental health is really important to keep on track to to hopefully not make yourself get to the state of, like, burnout and fatigue. So.

Karen Han: Yeah.

Karen Han: And I have a final sort of dangling question, and it doesn’t really relate to any of the questions that have asked before, which is you’ve covered songs like I’m obsessed with your cover of Cruel Angel’s Thesis, and then you also have this cover of Linus and Lucy. That’s really, really wonderful. How do you choose what songs you want to cover?

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Speaker 2: Yeah, um, I think it’s a combination of, like, stuff I grew up listening to and also, what, like stuck in my head at that, you know? So I think for like, Linus and Lucy, there’s actually each of those have their own like reason. Linus, you see, is because I cannot play it on piano because of like, you got the hand separation thing. So I was like, Oh, let me just do it where I’m playing the bass part on bass, and then I’ll just dub the synth part. And since I was in middle school, I had this friend who could play it and I was always jealous. And I still to this day, cannot play it once. And. Lucy. So I was like, Let me make it like a totally different cover with bass, keyboard and stuff. So that’s that reason. And then for Cruel Angel’s thesis, yeah, I just finished End of Evangelion and my mind.

Karen Han: Is so.

Speaker 2: Good. It’s so good. It’s so good. And so, yeah, I could only think about that show for like an entire two months. So I was like, I got to cover it.

Karen Han: I mean, your cover is really, really good. And any Evangelion fans, it is on Spotify and on YouTube. You should check it out.

Speaker 2: Thank you.

Karen Han: Cameron. Thank you so, so much for coming on to the show. This is such a delight.

Speaker 2: Yeah, thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun chatting.

Isaac Butler: Karen. I just thought that conversation was delightful and I thought there was a lot of great advice in that interview and a lot of great kind of perspective on creativity that I just want to make sure we we talk about before we leave today. And one of them had to do with creative flow. Mm hmm. For Cameron, it’s not really controllable. It’s more that you have to capitalize on it when it happens, you know, you have to create the space. Clear the decks. I got to stay in the state for as long as possible and not go do my taxes or eat some ice cream or, you know, play video games or whatever.

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Isaac Butler: You know, it’s weird, though. I personally I mean, I remember being able to do that when I was like temping because I just was sitting at a phone all day with nothing to do. But now that I have like 17 jobs and a child and things like that, I find that for myself, my process is much more akin to the one that he was saying he doesn’t do. You know, like I try to prime the pump as much as possible so that in the exact scheduled time that I’m sitting down to work, stuff starts firing. Whether that works or not, I don’t know. Doesn’t always. But like, does that make any sense? Like. Like, what is it like for you or you, you know, sitting around waiting for the flow to happen or what?

Karen Han: I want to say that ultimately, I don’t think the things that you were talking about are necessarily all that different because it is sort of the same principle, right? Like, even if you set aside the time, you don’t know that it’s going to work. Yeah, but we all, I think, do that Like we don’t bank at all on thinking like, ooh, I’m sure at one point this week I will get into the flow and be in this creative zone. Like, we are still setting aside time every day because that’s kind of what you have to do. Like, if it is something that you have to keep working on, like, I don’t want to say like if it’s a job, but that is ultimately what it is. If it’s a job, you kind of have to keep doing some part of it, even if you are hoping that you’ll get hit by inspiration at some point.

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Karen Han: And ultimately, like all of us also have to deal with timing, like we all have other things to do in our lives besides this creative work, whether it’s dealing with family stuff or even stuff as simple as just eating food and sleeping like that’s time that’s being taken up that you can’t work. You just hope that you have a good day when you sit down and do work. And obviously on this show, we’ve talked a lot about how to get try to get into a creative headspace or otherwise, again, as you say, like try to sort of try to prime the pump. But ultimately, it’s just figuring out how much you can do to push the scale in one direction or the other.

Isaac Butler: Yeah, totally. Totally. And another thing that’s important, which he talks about and I just have to highlight this because of how often it comes up on this, you got to take some goddamn breaks. You gotta create space for your subconscious to do its thing and to knit together the ideas and kind of, you know, just hitting your head against a problem is not actually how you solve it. You have to do some of that, but you also have to create space for your mind to do work that you’re not 100% aware of. And so since we talk about it so often on here, I guess I just want to say it was nice to hear your guest say it.

Karen Han: Yeah. Again, it’s something we all know but could definitely benefit from hearing more often. I think the impulse to take breaks is one we generally try to shy away from because time is so precious and I think a lot of us often make ourselves feel guilty about taking it easy or taking a rest in some way.

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Isaac Butler: I get that way. Protestant work ethic, even though I’m not a Protestant. I also loved how honest he was about his expectations of success, and maybe sometimes when he had fallen short of it and how that was difficult for him. You know that there’s two ways you can define success, and to a certain extent, you have to define it in both ways. One is the creativity way and one is the business way. And it sounds a bit like he because he had gotten so creatively invested in his album, Rikki, he had sort of higher expectations of commercial success for it, that how it panned out but was also happy about.

Isaac Butler: Now looking back about sort of where he is, you’re about to come out with a book. You know, I came out with one earlier this year. I’m just wondering like, how are you managing setting those expectations of success creatively or commercially for yourself? I mean, you don’t have to share what those are like. I won’t sell a million copies or whatever, but I’m just wondering, like, what’s it been like for you?

Karen Han: It’s kind of weird. Like, I think I’ll just be happy if people I like, like the book, like, I think like it was just like that quote unquote film Twittersphere. Like people are like, Oh yeah, it’s pretty good. Then I will be totally happy with that as like, the end of the road is pretty good.

Isaac Butler: You’ll be happy with people. Will Yeah, this looks pretty good.

Karen Han: I just don’t want anyone to say anything mean to me like that. Oh, really? Like what will destroy my life if I just want to be like this book? Like kicks rocks. I’ll be like, This is the worst day ever. I’m not really thinking about it financially right now, though. Maybe I will. Like when it comes out. Or maybe it’s closer to the publish date again. My book is coming out November 22nd, please. By November.

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Isaac Butler: 22nd.

Karen Han: I have no idea like how much my publishers will share numbers with me or what numbers they think of as being successful for a book like mine. Although I do know that there are certain numbers that I have to hit if I want to get paid a little more because I don’t get paid per book sold. But yeah, ultimately it’s just like. I just hope that the reviews or reception is pretty good. Yeah, and I think that’s really all like, what were what kind of benchmarks were you setting for yourself when, for instance, like when the method came out?

Isaac Butler: Yeah, I didn’t want to know sales numbers. I actually I eventually learned what they were like a few weeks ago. I was like, All right, now I’m psychically healthy enough that I could just learn what the numbers are. And all I wanted to know, I checked in a few weeks after it came out and I was just like, I don’t want to know the numbers. Please don’t tell me. I just want to know, Are you and the publisher happy? I just sent that email to my editor. Are you happy with how sales are going? And he said yes. And so that was of great comfort to me.

Isaac Butler: But the the main thing about success, these were the two things I set this very consciously because when I used to do like low budget theater in basements and stuff. You just go crazy if you didn’t decide in advance what success look like because you’d just be like, Why don’t I have an agent in the review in the Times? It’s like, send a press release to the Times. That’s why you don’t, you know, whatever or whatever it is.

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Isaac Butler: So I wanted I mean, obviously I wanted it to have good reviews. I wanted it to be like in the national conversation about acting, you know, because the Oscars were coming up and stuff like that. Like I wanted to intervene in the national conversation around that stuff. And I wanted it to sell well enough that the publisher was maybe interested in another book for me. You know, like, that was what I set as the goals. And that happened actually fairly fast, which is great, because then it meant that I could just enjoy everything else. Yeah, and it’s been wonderful since then because I’m like, Oh, I did like it. Did what it needed to do and everything else is just really delicious gravy. And now I get to point, you know, then then of course you get addicted to it though, and you’re like, Can I have a gravy hose.

Speaker 1: That it’s just.

Isaac Butler: You know, it’s just gravy. Gravy, Gravy. Yeah.

Karen Han: That’s what the gravy train is all about, actually.

Isaac Butler: What the gravy train’s all about. But, you know, there are other expectations I could have had that I didn’t like. It’s going to be a bestseller. It was not a it did not make a bestseller list. I’m fine with that because it did the other things that I wanted it to do.

Karen Han: Yeah, I was going to say, you could have fooled me because like, the reception and like critical response around it was so, so good and popular response, but it was so good that, like, you generally thought that it was so.

Isaac Butler: Well, at least it didn’t make the Times list. I don’t know about about others list, but, you know, like, you actually have to if you look at the bestsellers for nonfiction for The New York Times, it’s like, you know, Hillary Clinton’s book or, you know, I mean, like it’s it because it’s sort of all nonfiction, right? You know, you’re competing with all sorts of crazy stuff, you know? Yeah.

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Isaac Butler: I will tell you, there was a very funny thing that happened where speaking of, you know, having sane measures of success, where pretty soon after the book came out, I was a guest on Fresh Air, which was incredible. I mean, that was like a life changing experience. And someone happened to send me that. The book right after Fresh Air came out, the book was in the top 500 of all books sold on Amazon. Wow. Which is crazy, right? Yeah. And then, of course, a day later, it was much lower than that or and so I just I was talking about that with my editor and he was like, do not follow your Amazon sales ranking. I’ve seen it happen. You will go insane.

Karen Han: That’s true.

Isaac Butler: I never checked it again on his advice. Fair. So anyway, hopefully that will happen to you and then it will also be a bestseller. Which part? All of that. Oh, okay. Thank you.

Isaac Butler: Here’s a question, though, because this was something that that was really hard for me when the world only since Ford came out. How ramped up are you in what like Bong Joon Ho and his team? Think of the book.

Karen Han: Oh, that’s a good question. Well, I don’t know. I actually have to talk to my publishers about that because we should definitely try to send them a copy because we talked to his longtime like producer about it. I don’t know. I think generally, I don’t know if he would read it like because my impression of hearing stuff through the grapevine about him helping me talk to people, to get them to talk to us about the book was he was like, Oh, I don’t want to do it. Like, why would they talk about me? Like, Oh, no, please don’t I. I think he’s very shy and very self-effacing, so I don’t know how much he would actually want to look into it. But the producer duo Choi, who was so, so, so helpful to us, he Well, I hope he likes it.

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Isaac Butler: Yeah. There you go. Yeah, totally. I mean, I was lucky with my book that most of the people that I was writing about were are dead. But with the world only spins forward, it was like 250 people we had interviewed who were alive who could possibly feel aggrieved. But I don’t.

Karen Han: I don’t think any want to be aggrieved, hopefully, because it’s not like I’m writing anything mean about him. Right. And also all of the interviews are with people who want to say nice things about him.

Isaac Butler: So totally, Totally. Well, that’s all the time we have for this week. If you like what we do here on working, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Isaac Butler: And you know what? It’s time for one last slate plus pitch. When you join Slate Plus, you get all sorts of goodies, bonus segments on shows like this one Access behind the Paywall, a charming weekly newsletter that gives you the inside scoop on Slate, written by a different Slate staffer every week. It’s great. You support what we do here. I’m working. You’ll feel like a virtuous person. Go to Slate.com slash working plus today to sign up.

Karen Han: Thank you so much to Cameron Lew, a.k.a. Ginger Root for being our guest this week. And an extra special thank you to another Cameron, our producer, Cameron Drews. We’ll be back next week with Isaac’s conversation with poet Jay Hope Stine. Until then, get back to work.

Karen Han: Hello Slate Plus listeners. Here is an extra bit from my conversation with Cameron Lew a.k.a. Ginger Root. You mentioned the fact that you went to film school, which is something I also wanted to talk about, because on your website you mention that your day job is as a video editor. And you but you mentioned earlier that you used to freelance video editing, but you don’t anymore, as is the quote unquote day job aspect, something that you no longer have to do.

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Speaker 2: Thankfully, yes. As of like the past year, Ginger has been my full time gig, which is amazing. Translation Thank you so much. Like, it’s it’s kind of crazy. It’s hard to get a career in any form of music and to just like, have a band and do that and make a living is def. I’m very blessed. I’m very lucky. But yeah, I freelanced while I was doing Ginger Root I freelance when I was in other bands and I freelanced in college. So like, I think, yeah, in terms of like going back to the burnout thing, like doing film school and then also freelancing on top of that I think definitely was a recipe for disaster.

Karen Han: Yeah, I guess I have a sort of to a two part follow up question number one, which is how did you balance that freelance work with starting up Ginger Root as a creative enterprise? And then at what point like what Mark did you have to have for you to think, okay, I don’t need to do this anymore?

Speaker 2: I think in terms of like the mark of like when I could maybe let go of freelance, I mean, definitely it was like a gradual shift. It wasn’t like, okay, tomorrow I’m like, not yet. So it was like I was like going back. I guess like going into your other question, too, is like, you know, at first it was like 75% freelance and 25% Ginger Root. And I think that’s really what got me through film school and freelancing is I would come home and I’m like, okay, I’ve got like an hour to do Ginger Root stuff. I’m just going to like make a song. And that was like a really cathartic creative escape for me. And I think that’s really what carried me through, you know, that season in my life. So I think that’s also why, you know, Ginger Root so special to me is because it helped me through that time.

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Speaker 2: But then slowly, as I think just Ginger Root scaled where like we were opening more or we’re playing our local bars or even like, Hey, we got a backyard show or a house show or whatever. Like obviously the scale start to tip where it was like, okay, it was like 60 40% and 5050 or whatever until the point where it was like 95% Ginger Root and then 5% freelance. And you know, now it’s like now it’s like 99% Ginger Root and 1% freelance because I’m really bad at saying no still. Yeah, which is a toxic trait of mine.

Speaker 2: But yeah, I think like the balance of it was really interesting and like, I’ll tell a quick story like of when we got our first like support tour slot was with Crumb been to Europe, which is a sentence that I still can’t believe that I’m saying or whatever thing. Yeah, yeah, it was incredible. I want to say that they taught us, I think, how to tour and how to be a band and how to be professional on the road. And I think that stuck with this. Where our crew is small were like, you know, whatever, logistically we know how to tour. But anyway, thank you Currumbin Team Crew. I’m given so many shout outs.

Karen Han: Oh it’s good. It’s a good it’s it means like you have a creative community. It’s a good sign.

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. Like, everyone was so supportive. Like everyone, Not just them, but like through this journey. And so everyone. Thank you. But and we’re, we’re still going. But yeah, but.

Karen Han: It was like your Academy Award speech.

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Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah. I’m just like, got to write off. Yeah. Yeah. On the music playing now. Yeah, But yeah, I think I remember specifically I was freelancing out of this one production house in, like downtown L.A., and I remember Dan, like, I’d be editing, and then Dan would text me there like, he was like, I know you’re at work, but only like, 10 minutes. We got to figure out, like, how to, like, shift the drum kit over to Europe. I’m like, Okay. So I’d be like, Yeah, I got to go to the bathroom, you know, ever. And then I take the call and I’d be like, okay, so, you know, if we if we take the front head off, it’s going to be £2 lighter because we have a £50 bag limit, you know, or whatever, and we’re somewhere doing all this stuff. And I would remember like always, like sneaking out to take like logistics phone calls with that tour.

Speaker 2: And I remember I think at that point I was like, I think I can do Ginger. Like, I think this could get to a point where this is all I do. It’s still a long road, but I remember in that moment, like hanging up the phone and like being in the bathroom of this like a production house. I was like, I think I can make this happen. I think there’s a chance that if I stick with this, like I can do Ginger Root as my full time thing. And, you know, I, you know, that production house was great. They taught me I learned a lot there too, in terms of production stuff. But like, I definitely felt overworked. And at that point I remember like I was there for I think two and a half years at working or like two years working at this production house. And I remember I did this one gig with them and walking to my car like at like 10 p.m. and being like, Oh, if I don’t make Ginger Root happen, I’m going to die.

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Speaker 2: So yeah, but they’re really nice. It was more, I think just because I took on too much work and stuff and, um, classic, you know, trying to make it in any industry after college and being underpaid and overworked and stuff, I. Think it’s just something that everyone faces. And I think at that point I was like, okay, I think I’m going to try to. Yeah, I’m trying to I’m going to go all in with Ginger and try to figure out how to make it work.

Karen Han: Mm hmm. And to circle back even further, like, when did you start having an interest in music? Like, was there when did you first, like, learn how to play an instrument?

Speaker 2: Yeah. Yeah, Actually, it’s so funny that guitar I mentioned that’s on my wall right here is. Was my first guitar. Oh, my.

Karen Han: Gosh.

Speaker 2: I got that when I was ten for Christmas. My parents gave it to me. Not because I asked for it because they were like, Hey, you should maybe try something else. I was like, Okay. So they bought me that guitar from Target. It came with a DVD on like how to play a Jigsaw. And I like, went through all the lessons and I thought, I like finished guitar because I like, finished the DVD. They’re like, Do you want to, like, take lessons? And I was like, Sure. So I did that, and I’d say I didn’t really find an interest in music until high school. I had I describe it in everyone that it’s like basically it was School of Rock, like the Jack Black movie. Yeah, it was like that for real. Like we would come in like we’re doing a Beatles cover show and Don The Beachcomber. Wow. Learn I feel fine and get back to his next week. It was like that. And we would do shows at local bars. They do show it at the school and everything at our tour auditorium play the pep rallies.

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Speaker 2: And yeah, that’s when I was like figured out how to play live and how to learn parts by ear. And they had a computer lab with like music software. And so I just like, fart around on the computer. And, you know, I’m very thankful for that program. It taught me kind of the basics of like how to do music, you know, or whatever. Like from, like how to. And it wasn’t like, okay, today we’re going to teach how to write a chorus or whatever. It was more like, Yeah, if you write a song and it’s good enough, you can play it at the bar, you know, things like that type of thing. So it was, you know, it was a little bit more professional than that. But, you know, it was kind of like something along those lines.

Speaker 2: Yeah, Yeah. And so, yeah, I fell in love with, like, songwriting, you know, I started writing really terrible songs and recording terrible sounding music or whatever. And then that’s where I just really took a liking to it. And so I was bouncing like film and like wanting to go to college for film or wine to go to college for music. Basically. I didn’t get accepted to go to anywhere to do music, so I did film instead. And also like I felt like out of the two really risky creative endeavors, film would be a little bit more like sustainable than music. So that’s why I went into film production. But yeah, that’s kind of how I started doing music. Yeah, it’d be like there I picked up, I learnt, so I learned guitar first and then in the program, you know, the supervisors or the teachers of the program would be like, Yeah, Joe Schmo didn’t show up on bass. Do you want to learn the part? And just.

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Karen Han: Oh.

Speaker 2: So it was like that. And so I got kind of thrown under the bus in like a really, like delicate way, you know, so, so very thankful for that. But yeah, that’s kind of how it all started. And then in, in end of high school, college played in cover bands had other bands backed other people up, you know, or whatever. And then I think it was like sophomore year of college where I basically had all these demos that didn’t fit the band I was in at the time and started to just record those. And when it came time to like put a name to it, that’s where Ginger Root came about.

Karen Han: And that’s it for our Slate Plus segment this week. Thank you so much, as always, for your support.

Speaker 2: So.