The worst job I ever had was doing hardwood floors. I did all aspects of it, whether it was putting them in or laying them, or even sanding and finishing. It was tough on just about every part of your body; it was bad on the lungs, bad on the knees, bad on the back, just bad, bad, bad! I know it paid the bills and it was good physical exercise and all that, but it does wear you out. I started when I was 28 and finished when I was 42 so... It was a job that was right up there with the worst ones I ever did. I had other jobs that had aspects of being bad but this one sort of culminated everything into one. I actually still try and look at it and think what the hell made me keep doing it for so long. I can’t really figure it out; I suppose it just paid pretty well.
When I went to school I learned how to be a sculptor and painter, and then I trained to be a teacher. But there were no jobs, so I had to find some way to use what skills I had. Doing the floors seemed to be an extension of working with wood if you like. Even though I didn’t mind the physical aspect of it, I just had no idea of what toll it would take on me. It was very labour intensive, we did a lot of repetitive acts and those things over a period of time wear out the various parts of you, whether it’s your lungs, your back or your knees. It is definitely one of the more physical jobs on the construction site and nobody seemed to envy us when we turned up on the job!
There were two different parts to the building process. You would come in at the point where there was hopefully windows and doors up, and not much else, to put the floor in, and then later on towards the end of the project you’d show up and sand and finish them. So you saw two aspects of it, and some of the conditions were pretty rugged.
Looking back in retrospect it’s all pretty hilarious. I thought that once I retired from that job that I would have oodles of time in which to just write and contemplate and make a lot of stuff. Then I realised more and more that all it did was to allow other things to enter that were business-related as regards making music. I was initially able to keep it at bay because I had a job that didn’t allow me only an hour or two each day to concentrate on that. Now, of course, I’m a little bit more flexible and more things are coming up.
For me, I think I tried to make the carpentry job a part of my life, and that definitely made me who I am as a musician. It was never like I was trying to get out of this job, and I would like to make that clear. For me, it made perfect sense and I thought ‘there’s no reason why you can’t have a normal job and have a fulfilling life as an artist as well’. That’s the reality of it and even though I’m not working at a job like that right now, I don’t think that was my goal. My goal was to have a fulfilling life. If I had had a less physically demanding job I could well be doing it right now and be quite happy about it. And in the future I don’t foresee the possibility of me not doing a type of job other than music. I think it’s nice to have a balance like that.
Kurt Wagner was in conversation with Caroline Hennessy.