Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with NineFingers. Together we discussed is it Chicken Tenders or Chicken Fingers, their influences, Chicago, their album “XLove”, and so much more!

1. Mustard is grateful to have NineFingers join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing?

Hello Mustard! I am doing very well. I would like to thank this opportunity to tell you that I am grateful to have you on my condiment shelf. Mustard does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to flavoring many delicious things and you’ve always been one of my favorites. I especially love how versatile you are when it comes being blended with other condiments and creating fantastic new flavors. Truly you are condiment royalty.

2. Mustard has observed that humans have ten fingers. How did you come up with the name NineFingers? 

I had spent many years as a songwriter trapped into writing many songs about a specific traumatic situation in an attempt to claw my way out of a time prison. (I’d later learn this time prison has a name and is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The situation I was always writing about involved my marriage and family becoming a casualty of the opioid epidemic, and I was writing and recording songs under the name David T8tz to better symbolize being trapped within the same loop of memories. But eventually I succeeded in stacking enough of my songs one on top of the other, to scramble over the walls of my prison and into a new world. I wanted to write new songs in new genres that had nothing to do with that aspect of my existence and so I decided to reach out in my mind and psychically sever my wedding ring finger to better move on past that old life. Using the name Nine seemed like a logical progression from using the number 8 in my name like I had been. 

And I was also inspired by the fictional anti-hero Logen Ninefingers, who was the first character I read about who had similar psychological issues as the ones I’d been experiencing, that of PTSD and a dissociative disorder. When he goes to battle, if you inflict enough physical damage on him he transforms into an avatar of violence, and it turns out that if you inflict enough emotional damage on me, I transform into an avatar of song.

3. As a condiment Mustard wonders: is it Chicken Tenders or Chicken Fingers? 

As a member of the Fingers family I have actually extensively researched this in the ancestry books in the vaults of the Central library. It turns out that while Chicken Fingers are derived from the inner breast muscle of the chicken, Chicken Tenders are actually made using only the pectoralis minor which is underneath the breast, and so it really depends on which you are enjoying at the moment. That being said, both pair beautifully with Mustard.

4. What was your relationship with music growing up?

I didn’t really hear music for real for a long time. Or rather, I heard it, but I wasn’t really listening. Music first came into my life as a tool I could use to communicate, rather than as an art form that I enjoyed. When I was very young I devoured a lot of books and so had a large collection of words to choose from when I attempted to communicate with other people, but what I soon discovered was that no matter how adequately I explained myself, I wasn’t really being heard, and because I wasn’t really being heard I wasn’t really being seen. Once I learned a few chords on guitar and then set my words to melodies and rhythms, for the first time people could actually understand the words I was using, and because they could finally hear my words, they could finally see me. So from that moment on I was writing songs pretty feverishly starting at the age of 12. My relationship to music became one of constant creation, and each time I learned a little extra piece of it I acquired one more shiny piece of building block I could use in upcoming songs. And so to me music was another version of vocabulary, but a more useful one as everyone seemed to understand it. It wasn’t until much later in life that I actually truly heard music myself, and I instantly came to love it.

5. Is there a song or album that had a significant impact on you? Could you share more?

There are so many, but I will start with the first one that made me understand I hadn’t been listening before. When I was 16 a friend of mine gave me one of his CDs to borrow because he felt like I’d appreciate it. It was called The Bends and it was by a band named Radiohead. That day as I drove home I had to stop my car on the side of the road and listen to it on repeat a few times. I realized that my whole life I’d only focused on the lyrics of songs and had treated everything else like background noise inside my head. Listening to The Bends I started actually listening to the melodies of songs and all the amazing sounds that surround them. By that time I’d probably written 50 songs or so and mistakenly thought I had a pretty good understanding of music, at that moment it became clear that I had no understanding of music at all and that I’d need to start all over.

6. How has the Bay Area music scene helped influence your music? Have you always lived in the Bay Area? 

So I currently live in Sacramento! I have lived all over the state and I have to say that without question the Sacramento area is the most inclusive and supportive local music scene I’ve ever encountered. Between the Library of Musiclandria and the Sacramento Songwriter Circle every local songwriter in any genre has built in resources and community to help them navigate a life of creating and sharing music. I arrived here at a time in my life in which community and arts advocacy and mentorship has become a more central priority for my own journey in music and so it felt like the city was tailor made for me to fit inside of it and immediately be useful.

The influence that’s had on my own music is that I now am most interested in collaborative songs. It’s made me start to consider my own music as less of a blunt hammer to hit people over the head with and more of a happy playground for all of us to enjoy together. 

7. Who (or what) are some of your influences?

Making music is a way of life for me rather than a career or a hobby or a series of goals, and so my music influences aren’t necessarily music makers themselves. 

Ron Artest the basketball player, who by being open and honest about his need for mental healthcare, opened the door for my dumb ass to finally admit I needed help myself so that I could seek out therapy.

Vince Marchbanks the dodgeball player, who by always calling out my successes (as a dodgeball player myself) and by giving me credit where he thought it was due, and by signal boosting good plays when I made them, showed me the responsibilities of being a leader in your community and how important it is for the top players to breathe life into the newer players who are learning and growing.

Jiraiya the Pervy Sage, a fictional character from Naruto, who showed me that the greatest responsibility of a truly great ninja is not to make the story all about yourself, but rather to share all of your hard won lessons and help shape the next generation towards their own greatness.

Kobe Bryant, a basketball player who never let any amount of pain stop him from proceeding with his responsibilities on the basketball court, and who made many mistakes when he was younger but by doing the work learned to become a positive influence in the world who uplifted the people around him.

The Beam that shines over the city whenever the Sacramento Kings win. That beautiful beam shows me that when you are invested in your city and truly a part of it, your community becomes so happy to celebrate your victories. So the beam shows me that winning isn’t selfish but rather is something that actually something that uplifts your community, so now I really want to win myself.

8. What is your creative process? 

All of my songs are either constructed out of grief and tears, or out of joy and laughter, so when either one fills me up to the point that I am about to burst, I open my mouth and let them pour outside of my body, and then I do my best to stitch them up into songs using the tools of my instruments, my voice, and my vocabulary.

9. Can you pinpoint where the water meets the earth beneath the sky? What was the inspiration behind this single?

Yes! They all happen to meet at the horizon. I was watching Log Horizon and there was a scene where characters who love each other sit at the horizon, and it reminded me of the first time I hung out with my high school girlfriend once we were in college, how we met up at the beach at night and how everything felt the same even though we’d lived such different lives apart for so long, and how that interaction between us never really ended but became something that we’d both return to occasionally, each time both of us a bit more cracked and broken than we’d been the time before, and it was interesting cause we’d seemed so fresh and pristine when we were children together. So when I was writing that song I was mourning the state of my heart in the present (at the time) and how it was unable to give itself freely to others in the ways that it used to.

So in a way that song is a tribute to that relationship which was casually off and on again for decades, but also it was an exploration of numbness of my heart, but ultimately it becomes the catalyst of my transformation as an artist from David T8ts to NineFingers.

In the first couple verses I detail events in my oldest and first true love relationship, which started back in a time when I loved myself, then in the chorus I talk about the numbness that’s set into my heart because I’ve forgotten to love myself, but in the final verse I break through the confines of my time prison to embrace both everything that I’ve been and everything I’m becoming by accepting my grief and moving forward to embrace myself once more.

It’s a song about missing the ways that I used to love, and then learning that I first must love myself again before I can love others properly once more.

10. Humans have mixed opinions on Sunday School. How did Sunday School help influence this single? 

So I’ve never actually been to Sunday School myself. I grew up Seventh Day Adventist before abandoning religion altogether when I realized they often did more harm than good. But I did go to Sabbath School on Saturday’s which I imagine is probably similar to Sunday School.

The song arose from a situation in which I was dating a Sunday School teacher. The relationship was an unusual one as it was made up of two people who had been very badly hurt, but who were committed to kindness and love and growth, which seem like very solid foundations to build a relationship on, and they were, at first. But this person was also heavily involved with their church, and unfortunately some of the church values they were buying into were opposite of my own values. 

While I’m widely seen as a straight male, I’ve never actually spent too much time pondering my own gender or orientation as they haven’t been important to me as an individual, but when it comes to my community, the community I call home and the people I have a responsibility to, I am queer AF, and I become very Mama Bearish when it comes to protecting my community.

This put us in a precarious position because we both wanted to spread love into our communities, but when you really dug down into the nitty gritty of what that meant for each of us, I wanted people to understand that they are accepted and loved as they are, and that I respect the choices they make and affirm them in their gender and their orientation, whereas she wanted those same people to feel loved, but then to go forward and live a life in which they denied themselves their identity and their sexuality if it differed from how the world understood them to be when they were born.

So it didn’t work out. We had a lot of love for each other and had an uncommonly healthy relationship but ultimately were incompatible.

This song is a love letter to her in which I detail the different aspects of her religion that I fully support, which are the teachings of non white communist Jesus who promoted providing free healthcare, feeding and housing the less fortunate and protecting them from being taken advantage of by greedy wealthy people, and loving and accepting humans as they are, but that when people step outside of those directives and attempt to use their religion to disguise their hatred and greed and bigotry as love, they become something I just can’t support, and in fact I’ll actively work against them.

11. Chicago is known for not allowing ketchup on its hot dogs. Bless them. Can you share more about this single? Where do you recommend humans visit in Chicago? 

While Ketchup is no enemy of mine, it’s not on the level of Mustard. As long as I can put some Mustard and Mayo on my hot dog I’m sure to still enjoy it.

Chicago was written back when my college relationship was coming to an end. Although I loved my partner very much, they’d hurt me in a lot of ways that weren’t healing right, and they also were very negative about the music I was making and my abilities as a songwriter.

They were quite a bit older than me and a lot of our relationship was based on them teaching me new things and taking me new places and me being amazed by an ever expanding world, but they had a lot of fears that once I outgrew them being able to teach me new things, I’d abandon them, and so they started trying to cut me down to prevent me from growing past them.

I think they were wrong by the way. I loved them very much, and I think if they had chosen kindness instead of cruelty, that we’d have always stayed together and maybe even been happy, but those weren’t the choices that were made.

We were having a really hard time breaking up and so it was decided that one of us should move far away. And so we packed up their car and drove from Riverside CA to Chicago IL where I helped them move into their new apartment before flying home.

As methods of long term relationship mutual amicable breakups go I think the week long road trip really can’t be beat. There is a sacred kind of feeling to it. You know you are traveling with a death, the ending of your time together, and it’s a time that has shared a lot of love that you expected to last forever. So you are kind to one another, and you are appreciative of each moment together in a way you just can’t be when you aren’t aware something is ending.

I wrote that song high up in her apartment building, looking out at cold air and rain.

I honestly don’t remember much about the city but her. Every moment of my time there was spent fiercely trying to fix every aspect of her into my memory.

That being said, the couple places I actually remember and think I enjoyed were the museums and watching the waves roll in on the shore of Lake Michigan.

12. Last year you released your most recent album “XLove.” Could you share more about what it was like to put this album together? 

I had a really fun time with XLove. I have all sorts of songs both recorded and unrecorded kicking around in my catalog of songwriting and I realized I’d like to put a new record together to commemorate turning 40. Someone gave me the idea of using XL in the title as that is the Roman numeral for 40, so then I realized I could put together some random breakup songs about ex loves and call it XLove, so that’s what I did.

Burn was supposed to be this kind of indie folk punkish anthem but when I sent it to my producer (Kyle Appleton out of Bakersfield) he was like “How would you feel about a whole lot of synths?” and I am a firm believer that when you work with talented people you should let them eat dessert so I ran with it and we ended up with this super fun synth song that I really enjoy in ways I’d never enjoyed a NineFingers track before.

Dating When You’re Lonely was the newest song which I wrote for the album and was essentially about app dating in Sacramento and how although I enjoyed it, I was ready for something more than the casual nature of what I’d been experiencing, and Kyle really took it to sweeping new places with instrumentation he added. It was once again something totally different than the kind of songs I had been making.

Daughters was a new take on a song I wrote for my daughters back when their mother left us. I tried to fill it with useful parental advice and Kyle added some really lovely piano parts that grounded it.

Love! Was a lot of fun to put together because the backup vocals were made at the Library of Musiclandria and at the Sacramento Songwriter Circle. I stood in the middle and had everyone sing the La la la’s and it was just a really fun experience to be able to take that and put it on the record.

And Burn 2 was really a kind of reminder that songs can be performed in all kinds of different ways and that I am going to return to hip hop soon this year as well. It was also great to be able to get a Bakersfield hip hop legend like T Davis on a song with me, he killed it.

Ultimately I wanted to throw down a lot of different genres and put the world on notice that these 40 years have been fun together, and for the next 40 you can expect me to do whatever the fuck I want that happens to draw my interest. No genre is safe from my exploration.

13. Mustard loved the interludes with your daughter on “XLove.” When did you decide to have them help contribute to the album? Do they have a favorite song or album of yours?

In the previous album LOOP, I felt like I had used a long form spoken word interlude to great effect and was hoping to do something similar in future projects, but realized I wanted the tone in XLove to be much lighter. Yes these were all sad songs, but still the record itself was a celebration of me spending 40 years out there loving people, even though none of those situations ultimately worked out. But while searching through my old recordings I found an old interview that my daughter recorded of me for NPR’s StoryCorp when she was very little, and so I cut out pieces of it that were relevant to each song, and I ended up being very happy with it, because I’m kind of explaining love and my relationship with love to her throughout the interview, and so I thought it was a perfect pairing for a record that was a memoriam of past love.

They’re now 16 and because of the laws of teenagerdom, everything I currently do is considered lame. They are however, massive fans of my first record, Half of What We Say is Meaningless which is a record I made with the band Winston and the Telescreen, and is still available for listening, and which I have to say I think holds up amazingly well and probably should have received more attention than it did.

14. A human gets the chance to see NineFingers live. How would you describe your live performance?

It kind of depends on where you see me. I make a lot of different kinds of music that I perform at a lot of different kinds of places. I think in general what you can expect to see is me being very happy about playing a lot of very sad songs. My goal is always to make it so that you can hear and feel all of the lyrics, and if they’re relevant to your existence, that you can either grieve with me, or laugh with me, or learn something useful, or maybe all 3 at once! No matter what I’ll give you everything that I have though.

15. What is next for NineFingers?

I will continue to make a whole lot of different music in a whole lot of different genres with a whole lot of different people and share it on a whole lot of different stages. And I’ll continue to do things that uplift my community and advocate for other local artists and encourage other new songwriters to continue to write and to record and to share their music. I no longer have an interest in being the fanciest boat in the harbor, I want to be the Kraken whose impact under the waters is so severe that he overflows the tides and sends all the boats sailing off towards their various destinations.

16. Where can readers listen to your music? 

Bandcamp is best, and it can be found here:

I also post a lot of stuff on IG and Tik Tok and that can be found at @NineFingersMusic

I’m trying to be better about posting on YouTube, in fact I just posted a Tiny Desk submission there that can’t currently be heard anywhere else!

And if streaming is your thing, I can be found streaming everywhere. Just make sure you don’t put a space in between Nine and Fingers when you spell out NineFingers, otherwise you’ll get to a bald bearded octopus who does kind of look like me, but definitely isn’t me. I’m the NineFingers in the beanie with the pen attached, always.


One thought on “The XLove of NineFingers

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