Arthur Alligood & Nick Flora on Encouragement
Ensconced in the rolling greens of South Nashville is a small Anglican church where, once each year, a Hutchmoot convenes. What is a Hutchmoot? Well you might ask. Suffice it to say that it is, among other things, a deep encouragement to all those who see the hand of Providence in the beauty of Creation. It was under the auspices of this parade of delight that editor Adam Whipple got to sit down with Nick Flora and Arthur Alligood, two amazing songwriters with freshly-released records, to talk a little about the oft-forgotten value of encouragement.
ADAM: Both of you have, through music or podcasts or other things, been very encouraging to lots of people. So, I want to explore this. I feel like part of the role of music and art is encouragement. There’s this whole idea of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. And you’ve written a lot about going through rough times. So, what is the value of encouragement in your world?
ARTHUR: I feel like every song that I write is an attempt to encourage others, and in this weird way to encourage myself. Almost kind of like pep talks, like, “Get up, you’ve got time, you’re not alone.” All these things. I think encouragement in general, having this new [second] job that I have—it’s just constant negativity from a lot of people around me. It almost seems like you’re just slightly hopeful, or just slightly looking at the glass half full, and people are almost put off by it, like, “What gives you the right to be happy?” or to sense any hope in the world. So, there are so many things that encourage me—it can be a word, or an act, or so many things. If you boiled all that down, I guess it’s just—hope. Because, if it lacks hope, wouldn’t it be dis-couragement at that point?
NICK: And there’s enough of that. There’s enough discouragement already within ourselves. Encouragement for me, the value of it, is immeasurable. Because every day I wake up, and the internal monologue starts with, “You’re a fraud; no one cares that you are doing this artistic pursuit,” or whatever it is. You know, that’s always underlying. So that’s why, when we’re at our worst, we start believing all that stuff. And so, the encouragement of a friend, or a colleague, or a stranger even—especially being an artist—somebody saying, “Hey, this song that you wrote when you were feeling down makes me feel this certain way. I would encourage you to write more from that place.” Which makes me, in turn, feel like I have value. Because we all do, but we tell ourselves that we’re the only human on the planet that doesn’t deserve value. So hearing that enough from people, especially people that you admire—not necessarily from a fame standpoint, but more, “This guy’s word means everything to me”—those people encouraging you helps shift that narrative. You say, “Maybe I should believe this, because I believe everything else this guy says to me.” So, it’s everything. Encouragement is where everything starts, for me anyway.
ARTHUR: And it’s a sign of love. I mean, unless you’re just kind of twisted. I can’t imagine encouraging someone when there’s not some kind of affection or something. I’ll give an example: I feel like most of my life, I’ve been very discouraging towards myself, in that inner monologue, but to everyone else, I’ve been Mr. Encouragement. So, I remember feeling this compulsion—I don’t know why—when I started playing shows. These bands would play, and I was playing, and I would hate it. But I’d still go up to them like, “Good job, man! That was awesome!” And then I’d think, “Why do I do that?”
ADAM: And you would just hope, “I wish somebody would do that for me.”
NICK: You almost—you look for it without looking for it. You kind of walk back to the merch table and think, “Is anybody going to say, ‘Good job?’” And when they don’t, it feels like—but I guess the majority of people don’t speak up. I don’t normally, unless I happen to run into that band or that guy. I do that too, and I wonder why.
ARTHUR: Yeah, I remember telling the worst bands I’ve ever heard in my life, “You were awesome!”
NICK: “You guys should keep going!”
ARTHUR: I know! So, there’s a part of the encouragement—you want it to be truth. You don’t want to—there are obviously things we can encourage that are not…
NICK: But even with the worst band or the worst artist, there’s something we can encourage, especially with someone you can tell is not there yet, but they’re really trying to hit on some truths, you know. They’re really seeking who they are, especially through music. You can say, “Keep going for that.” I’ve learned from Randall Goodgame—there are guys like him I’ve seen go up, and they’ll find the one thing that they really liked in a set, and they’ll say, “You should really do more of that.” [Andrew] Osenga does that—“You should really do more songs like that, because that’s who you are.” He said that to me, and I didn’t even know I was leaning hard on this other thing that wasn’t working. I kind of tossed this one element of myself in as an aside, but that should be everything. And it’s hard to see that. There is validity in what pretty much every artistic person is doing; you just have to really mine and look for it—and encourage that. Because the smallest nugget you can encourage might grow into the whole thing—I’ve seen that. I’ve seen a band play, and then the band left and the guy was up there by himself, and I thought, “Well, this should be the whole set.” That band was holding that guy back. There are different ways to do that—to encourage to where you’re not completely false.
ADAM: It feels like there’s almost this didactic aspect to what you’re saying. You’re not just saying platitudes—you’re going up and almost taking that person under your wing.
NICK: In that moment, for sure.
ADAM: Did that start at some point for you—where somebody did this for you, and you thought, “Wow, I need to pass that forward?”
ARTHUR: Gosh, I distinctly remember, when I first started playing guitar, my youth minister’s wife—I went over to her house, and she said, “Play me your songs.” Never played ‘em for anybody—she was so encouraging, very much, “You can do this.” And still, the new record came out last week, and hers was the first comment on The Rabbit Room; she was saying, “Arthur, I’m so proud of you,” and she’s been here the whole time. And that moment—when you receive encouragement—it’s like this gift, but you immediately want to give that away to somebody else.
ADAM: It’s so good, you have to share it.
NICK: It is like a drug that you can’t wait to tell your friends about, you know. I don’t do drugs, but it’s a high, where you say, “Oh, this is so great, I want to give another person this feeling.” It shows that you pay attention—just to give somebody a moment to encourage them shows that you pay attention long enough to scale back and see, “What’s this person about? I really like this aspect; I’d like to speak to that.” For me, I had an English teacher in ninth grade—I was a very shy kid up until ninth grade. And I would write—in our journals in class—these really ridiculous sort of comedic articles for the paper—obviously. They were just jokes about our school, but instead of saying, “Hey, stick to the script,” she said, “Why don’t we give you your whole, separate page? And you write whatever you want.” And that was the most beautiful thing, for me, because I literally went home and filled this page with about four different articles of my original writings and movie reviews and all this stuff.
ADAM: All this stuff that had been pent up.
NICK: Yeah, and where she could have said, “No, follow the rules, man!” she was more like, “Do whatever you want with this.” And it gave me this encouragement to give voice to the weird things that I found valid and that I was entertained by artistically. Up until that point, nobody had really said that to me, and that’s when I started writing music—around that same time. And then, years later, Andy Osenga became my friend and producer and mentor. I was trying to hold myself back in a lot of ways—like, “I need to either be the acoustic ballad guy or write these upbeat pop songs. I can’t do both.” And he just said, “Why?” You know, they’re both you. Just do that. And I’ve taken that and run with it. Both those people encouraged me to nurture certain things in me. They knew it was already doused in gasoline, and all they did was throw the match on it. And in turn, that made me want to tell everybody I saw, “Do this.” You know, I love helping people know why their stuff is so great.
Nick Flora’s new record, Futureboy, and Arthur Alligood’s new record, The Shadow Can’t Have Me, can both be found at The Rabbit Room. Incidentally, they’re together this week on Nick’s stellar podcast called Who Writes This Stuff! More information on the nebulous nature of a Hutchmoot is available at Hutchmoot.com.