Moonlighting is a column where I talk with musicians, guides and others within the cultures of music and outdoor adventures about their passions and pursuits outside of what they are known for.
Guitarist and songwriter Jeffrey Silverstein has got a good gig going for himself. The Portland-based artist creates music that exists at the fluid convergence of ambient folk, American primitive and meditative instrumentals. He counts North American’s Patrick McDermott and pedal steel guitarist Barry Walker as friends and collaborators and he released his most recent EP Torri Gates in April on Arrowhawk Records. The songs are soft and assured, with beautiful rays of pedal steel and electric guitar shining over a serene sonic pasture. It’s the type of music that would pair well with a nice long run through the woods.
Silverstein would probably join you on said run but he wouldn’t be listening to Torii Gates. He’d be tuned into the crunch of the leaves under his soles, where his bpm is at, or the birds chirping along path, ruminating on the sounds of everyday ambiance. Running for Silverstein is its own kind of meditation where he’s able to tune into the world around him and engage the subconscious with the conscious to get his creative energy primed for use and exploration. A good day of music usually starts with a good run for the musician. While he’s not the biggest fan of listening to music on these runs he has fallen into a small but dedicated community of musicians, media publicists and record label heads who all run together. He recently completed a half marathon with the group and is tentatively intrigued about his abilities to complete a full marathon in the future.
If he chooses to do it, he’ll probably have a couple good song ideas afterwards marathon, maybe even enough for another dope EP. If Silverstein keeps running, I’ll keep listening.
The following is a conversation with Jeffrey Silverstein. It has been edited for length and clarity.
You mentioned in a post on Instagram after you ran a half marathon that, “The link between running, meditation, gratitude and creativity becomes clearer to me everyday.” Can you talk a little bit more about where you see those things connect for you?
I never thought I’d love running. When I lived in New York I started more so with the goal of getting me back into physical health. I didn’t think all too much about my creativity and I think I was feeling a little stagnant in terms of my creativity. Looking back on it now, without knowing it I think running set the stage for my creativity and continues to do so today.
There’s a teacher at the school I work at and there’s a lesson he teaches about happiness and he usually starts off with the question, “when are you at your most happy?” I sat in on his class and he asked me that question. Normally on a day where I’ve gone for a run — I am really of the belief that any run counts — and I’ve done a meditation, it sets the stage for me to be able to connect with my mind and body. When I do those things and I am really engaging I’ve found I’m engaged in the process of songwriting on a deeper level. There’s less pressure to write a song and more enjoyment of the act of doing.
I think all of it ties to the idea of paying attention to your surroundings and what’s happening when you are moving. I was really focused on this idea when I was doing my half marathon and I couldn’t believe I had a body that allowed me to do that. I have the privilege of being a white male and can run where I want and I actually have a body that can run. That’s where I think it goes back to gratitude.
It’s interesting you mention having to tune-in. A lot of people talk about how running gives them a chance to tune out.
There’s a really cool newsletter going around for musicians and label people who are into running, Keep the Beat Run Club. There’s a clear connection I think once you get going. My point is that I have found myself running less and less to music over the years. A big part of my run is paying attention to the sounds of the birds and my feet crunching leaves in Forest Park. I’m into the notion of leaving natural sounds and creaky guitars as you are setting up and leaving imperfections in the recording. Sometimes even sounds when I’m walking and running — right now I hear a truck on the highway and I’m hearing birds — can set a scene for a song. How can I achieve that feeling in a song? Sometimes that means actually capturing that and bringing it in or thinking about what is the mood that I am hearing.
It’s like you are crate digging for field recordings.
In some respects yes. And don’t get me wrong, there are some days that can only be matched by a certain album. I still do that from time to time but overall I’m moving away from that. I ingest so much music and play it so much that my running time by myself is just my time to tune in.
Well you can really create your own bubble that way.
There are times when I’m at capacity in regards to my day-to-day obligations and responsibilities where the only way I can digest an album or doing that deep listening is through running. That is a cool way to listen to a record for the first time.
It was kind of short-lived but there was a feature in Spotify where it could change the tempo of the music to your running. I think it was more geared towards electronic and EDM music and I’m not really into it that. There’s another ambient project called Bing and Ruth that launched something fairly recently where I believe you could tell them your general pace and it would generate a playlist for you for running. I feel like people are on the cusp of some really cool shit and I love knowing what’s on people’s running playlists. I feel like there is an opportunity there to do something a little better.
I use Nike Run Club app. Headspace is good for meditation and then there are Nike Run Club and Headspace guided meditations for running. If you are struggling with motivation that can be a neat tool.
It would be cool if you created your own playlist for the Keep The Beat RC.
One project I’ve always wanted to do is a 30 or 40-minute piece of music that would be specifically for getting through a warm-up, crank up, and cool down. That’s one of those I’ll get to when I can that I carry in my mind.
Nathan Walker who runs Riot Act Media does all of that and I’m so grateful that he put it together because it feels so good to have something o the calendar, it keeps me going. For it to be music centric with labels and supporting different organizations, it came at the right time. It’s so much work for him to do on top of everything else he does, he certainly doesn’t have to put in the effort. I think there was a half marathon back in December and then an 8K that he put on in February or March. Nothing is like real race day with the energy but it can be really cool. I lucked out that my half marathon day was on a beautiful day.
It seems this is obviously a very fulfilling thing for you. The people I know who have gotten things out of running have been very methodical and goal-oriented about how they approach it. Is there any progression from a statistical or athletic perspective that you hope to achieve?
Last year before the pandemic hit I feel like I did more weight lifting and strength training to balance with the running. It really supports your running when you are switching it up and when everything shut down I put all my focus into running. I was working over the summer on hitting a certain number of miles per month and I had never really set that type of goal for myself. July would be 60 miles, August 70 miles and seeing that progression felt nice. I had hard data to go off of versus just feelings.
I participate in a run crew here called Stumptown Runners. Last summer I would meet up with one of the guys from that crew and we’d focus on speed work and I had never really had a weekly plan before. It was always, “if you run today, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too,” which is still ultimately the place I come back to.
But I will say that after I did my first half marathon years ago in New York I was proud of myself for finishing but I didn’t think I really had to go too much further than that. Now that I’m in this beautiful place for running and invested in the communities of runners I am, when I did the Keep the Beat half marathon I thought that maybe a full marathon was in my future. Something triggered and perhaps maybe I’m ready to take that on. I have this idea in my mind that when I’ll do it it will be in Montana or Wyoming or somewhere like that.