In this Love Good exclusive interview, Jimmy has a visit with Washington native Tyson Motsenbocker, who joins him on the podcast from his current home in San Diego. In one of the most sincere conversations we’ve published, Jimmy and Tyson mainly explore how the life and death of Tyson’s beloved mother impacted him as a person and artist, and how the suffering inherent to this earthly journey is an invitation to remain open to the idea that there’s something more going on than meets the eye.
After some good-natured joking about the aura that surrounds the West Coast, Jimmy asks Tyson about his upbringing in rural Washington. Motsenbocker describes his childhood as one that was steeped in natural beauty and a sense of curiosity. His mother, whom he describes as his hero (and as a hippie), would often take him for adventure drives through the country, and the two would find old artifacts in old barns and the like. “She had a way of opening my eyes to the beauty of the mundane,” he says, “[She had] an incredible sense of ownership of place.” He shares about her particular knack for seeing the story within an apparent tragedy: if they came upon an abandoned house, she would relate it to some other historical event that drove people from their homes – for example, the Irish potato famine. “There are monuments of past tragedies everywhere that we look,” he reflects. This lesson planted by his mother leads him to continually ask, “How do I take anything that happens and zoom out to see it from a broader perspective? What does it say to me about the nature of human survival?”
Following this, Tyson speaks freely about the time surrounding his mom’s passing. He describes how, just before she died, she called him into her room and told him that she wanted him to do something “stupid and irresponsible.” “Worst motherly advice ever,” he laughs. He goes on – “[She said to me], ‘Tyson, you’re bad at feeling sad. You’re not good at understanding loss. You just push through things.’ I told her I’d walk across California in her honor. And she looked up and said, ‘You know, you could go all that way without doing anything at all.’” His tone is affectionate, gentle, as he recounts this memory of his mother’s wisdom. “I had this moment of realizing that it doesn’t matter what you do. The purpose and meaning lies beneath the surface of that thing.”
Tyson describes how the walk he undertook after his mother’s death was “Part 2” of his life. His perspective on his career and relationships – and ultimately on himself – changed throughout the course of what can best be called a pilgrimage. One of the most drastic realizations he had was that a creative career is often in direct conflict with intimate interpersonal relationships. As he walked he began to see ways he’d shirked the most valuable people and relationships in his life in the name of pursuing music.
“I realized there was a feeling in the business that you had to be willing to sacrifice everything for it bc the chances of ‘making it’ are so slim. If this is going to be your job you have to be willing to sacrifice all else. . . When mom died I realized I would have happily taken a job as a janitor for the rest of my life just to have these important relationships in my life. I realized – it’s not worth it. If all you have in life is these people you love, really, and if doing music is ultimately at their expense… then it’s just not worth it.” This profound shift in perspective is what ultimately lead to a deeper sense of purpose and urgency in his manner of approaching both creating music and sustaining relationships that matter. “After mom passed away it really felt worth it to me. I had something to say. I had a value system that allowed for space in my relationships. I reevaluated everything.”
Jimmy reflects on the distilling nature of pain – how it can often through a light on things such that one is better able to recognize what’s essential and what’s not. He and Tyson discuss how the changes inspired by suffering don’t take place in an instant, as movies would have you believe; rather, true and honest change is the work of a life-time – the synthesis of countless tiny moments of recognition and awareness. Tyson drops an incredible statement when he says: “ I don’t think we change [like they depict in the movies]. I don’t think that moments change us. But what we do have are moments in which we understand what needs to change. Our eyes are opened to the ways we’re being lousy. After the walk I realized I was the exact same person. I wasn’t wiser, smarter. I had undertaken something I was proud of, but I understood that all that time walking down the highway was so that I could discover what needed to change. ‘Remember how you toured for five years instead of going home to be with your sick mom? That was lame. That was a lousy thing that you did.’ My values were crooked. Or, ‘Hey, ever notice how when you’re at dinner with friends you completely monopolize the convo and make it all about you?’ When you spend a month alone with yourself you don’t necessarily change, but you learn how you need to change.”
As the conversation wraps up, Jimmy asks Tyson if he has any media recommendations. Tyson obliges gladly, with a few closing thoughts on this being both the dark and the golden age of media: “fandom” often means choosing quantity over quality. “If I’m going to let something inhabit the DNA of my life I want it to be pointing me to something bigger than myself,” he says, and luckily for us, his recommendations are indicative of this mentality.