DIY touring today: Interview with Jordannah Elizabeth
In the very early 90’s I started going to a lot of local punk/hardcore/metal shows in and around Baltimore, MD. I had always been interested in playing music but never had formal training, so starting a punk band seemed perfect for my skill level. I loved the passion and energy of the music. The anti-establishment lyrical themes resonated with me after 12 years of private Catholic schooling. The independent spirit and social community of DIY seemed like home to me. It was a social network that involved people going out and actually meeting. Still to this day the DIY ethics are my roots.
Another element of the DIY scene was the ability to connect with other bands in other towns and book your own tour. Most of the time you could trust the people on the other side to help you book your tour, promote and give you a floor to sleep on. It was a tight knit and quality social network that reached around the globe. The mythical DIY tour - jumping in a van, playing, and sweating wasn’t easy, but it was very real. At the time, gasoline was barely ever over $1 a gallon. Today, touring seems to present all new challenges besides the price of gas. When independent music was harder to get, people felt it had more value. Sometimes going to see a band on tour was the only way to get their music. In general there just didn’t seem to be as many entertainment options, so people found live shows to be a special event, somewhere they could meet other people who were like them. The door money went to the touring bands, people bought merchandise and no one stared or texted on an iPhone during the performance, because iPhones didn’t exist. I believe that people had fewer distractions, so they could be more engaged and moved by the live performance. Today it seems more important to document and post about being there, instead of actually being present in the moment. Life is constant change, and things have certainly changed, but there are still independent artists who tour.
My question is: how do you make it work in today’s environment? The best person to ask is some one who is actually doing it. Jordannah Elizabeth’s music “is the psychedelic folk soul manifestation of her nomadic spirit.” She has lived many places, including Baltimore, LA, NYC and Colorado. Jordannah not only writes and performs her own music, she also promotes, does bookings and sets up events/parties. That is not it, Jordannah writes about music for several publications like The Deli Magazine as well as for her own journalistic creations. I was able to get an early listen to her newest album, ”Bring To the Table,” at a Baltimore listening party. This was the review that I gave to her on my experiences:
"Sometimes people only get honest once they’ve left and gotten into their cars. I can assure you I still had great things to say about your album as I drove away. Your sound seems like a very true and genuine projection of yourself. Even though the production was professional it still maintained a dark, raw energy that surrounded the music giving it a true organic grit that sticks to you even when you are finished listening to it. You did a great job, you should be proud." - greg
Please enjoy her honest insights into today’s independent touring musician. And check out music, tour dates and many things Jordannah right here: http://www.jordannah-elizabeth.com/
1. Jordannah, you just returned home to Baltimore from the West Coast part of your current tour. How can an East Coast-based musician, her band, and instruments get to the West Coast without going broke and driving hundreds of miles? Is it crowd funded? Are loans taken out?
That’s a good question. An investor and tour manager funded my last trip to the Bay Area in January and I am still paying that money back. This time, I was in a better place financially, and my band and I all paid for our own plane tickets. Since I funded the first half of my tour for the east coast, my band mate helped with funds for the west coast, and took care of food and transportation. It was all DIY. All the money I made from shows, I gave 100% to my band. I put nothing in my pocket while we were on the road. We stayed with friends, who were generous and open to us. We worked hard, we have jobs and we did what we had to do without complaint.
2. Do independent artists need a booking agent or management company? If so, how can they even get the attention of a booking agent or management? Do the DIY ethics of booking a tour work anymore?
Well, I’m blessed because I am finishing a degree in entertainment business, and have been managing and booking bands for almost a decade. I had the foresight as a teenager to learn the business before I got really serious about my music career, so I booked the entire tour.
With that said, I am in meetings with managers and publicists and have been throughout my entire career. I don’t like to manage myself, because I like to have the time and space to concentrate on my own roster and the DIY community, while someone or a firm has my back.
Club bookers are the closest things to booking agents and you want to have a great relationship with club booking managers. I would see be careful about your conduct at clubs, because you want to come back time and time again.
You’ve got to have serious quality work to work with a good management firm, booking agency and publicist. This is why I flew to Cali to record in a real studio, so my new EP would be strong enough to attract serious professionals. It’s about the quality of your work.
3. What are the reasons or benefits behind independent touring in the current state of music? How can an artist build a draw in a town they’ve never played before?
I’m personally learning that opening for a bigger local, national or international band really helps. We opened for Decca Records artist, Phildel in San Fran, and the crowd was amazing. Café Du Nord’s booker really fought for us to open for her, and we were a great match musically, and the audience appreciated us. We had to be on our game, but we were really blessed to play a strong show that night.
Social media helps. But yes, jumping on a bill with other well known musicians is your best bet. This was my second time in SF, so I had my feet a little wet.
4. What role does a record label play in the current music infrastructure? If an independent artist isn’t selling thousands of songs/albums are labels even interested in them? Do labels believe in developing an artist or do they just want the next group on their rise to 15 minutes of Youtube fame?
Well, I just heard a Cinderella story about a band called Ashrae Fax. They recorded and album and played some shows in the early 2000’s and broke up in 2003. This year, they just happened to put some recordings out on band camp, and got a Facebook page and Mexican Summer Records found them, and reissued their album, optioned another record and put them out on the road.
You never know. I’m learning that, it’s really your quality of work. Labels are run by human beings with ears. They’re run by music nerds. If someone who has a label hears your music, and knows you’re hungry, they’ll help you out.
I say, just be present and visible, whether it be online or live. Network, and send your music out…just make sure it’s good! You know when you’re ready and when you could be better. But keep relationships with bookers and whoever you may meet along the way. I watch bands for years, and watch them evolve… I know a lot of people have been following me and watching me evolve.
Just work hard. Don’t worry too much. Work on your craft, and hire a manager or publicist, tour and keep moving…or do it yourself…just be good at what you do and you’ll attract labels.
5. How can a musician set themselves apart from the millions of other free music available online?
Don’t worry about other people. Don’t worry about other bands. Keep your head in your work and your sound and be yourself. Have a relationship with your fans, whether you have 5 or 5,000. Love the people who love you, and if you treat them well, and play well, they will tell others.
6. Your music is described as psychedelic folk, please share with us your best and worst psychedelic experiences. Do you think psychedelics can be used as tools to help people explore beyond their usual realm of the senses? Johns Hopkins has been doing research on the effects of psychedelics on people recently diagnosed with cancer that are mentally struggling with the diagnosis. What do you think the benefits might be?
Yeah, I did psychedelics when I was younger, from like 17 years old to about 21. I mean, psychedelics can be beautiful. I don’t really advocate drugs or mind-altering substances anymore. I’d also like to say, just because people make psych music, doesn’t always mean they’ve taken psychedelics.
Anyway, I’ve never really had a “bad trip”. I had friends around me who I knew well. I think psychedelics made me wiser, and more spiritually and esoterically aware. I think they taught me how to express my feelings artistically, meaning letting my energy flow freely to touch others and my audience.
They helped me have an interesting relationship with music, but with that said, I also went to music school and learned ear training and theory. I think the combination of the psychedelic experience along with the intellectual and educational training from music has helped me grow as an artist.
By the way, I don’t do drugs now. I drink and have fun, and take medicine when I’m sick, but I think if you’re an artist, you were born that way, and the music is going to get you however it needs to. Everyone’s journey and relationship with it is different.
7. What elements of psychedelic and folk music appeal to you the most? Are they natural expressions of your art and lyrics?
Well, I like love songs. I like soul, blues, country and folk because they are real and talk about relationships and the trials and tribulations in a raw manner. I like psych music because it’s beautiful, and it’s made to resonate with the spirit.
I tell people, “when you listen to me, you’re supposed to feel like your in love and dying on LSD.”
People get that…cus that’s how they feel. So, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes, we’ll clear a room because of the intensity, other times we’ll draw people in. It depends on the venue and the vibe.
There are times when people come up to me, and they say “You’re music brought me peace” or “You’re voice brought me tranquility…like everything’s going to be ok”. That is why I was born to do this. That is why I make the music. I want to bring people back to their center, to their heart and their spirit.
8. What aspects of your personal character have been most beneficial for spreading your music to the world? What skills/abilities does the artist of today need to be successful? What do you consider success to be?
Well, I believe in love. I set my goals towards being compassionate, generous and open to others. It’s not easy, because this business is not easy. I have to meditate and work very hard to practice what I preach. I try to be a good example for female musicians, artists and industry professionals, so I try to dress and speak, and act in ways I feel maintain my own self-respect. I think people pick up on that. I don’t concentrate on my look, I concentrate on having a good voice, and playing good shows, and giving other bands opportunities when I can.
But, in my world, I think success comes from being good at what you do. I’ve said it several times throughout this interview. Work on your own craft tirelessly, and polish it. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but my work has gotten me pretty far.
I’ve recorded 40 demos in the last year, and four of the songs made the EP. Three days after we got out of the studio, I’m beginning to write the LP, and am beginning to work on booking the summer, album release tour, etc. I live the life, and nothing else. I have sacrificed a lot to do what I do, but it is my purpose. An artist must truly know if they were born to do what they do.
Some people choose to have families, and day jobs, and relationships with people who demand a lot of time, but I feel that in order to be successful, you have to surround yourself with people who believe in you, and who won’t hold you back. You have to believe in yourself, and don’t let rejection, discouragements or setbacks stop you.
Free music: https://soundcloud.com/#jordannahelizabeth
Give thanks to our mothers. They are where we all began. For better or for worse, it was our mothers that sacrificed nutrients enabling us to grow and develop. If you are reading this, then congratulations because you made it out and you are very much alive.
It’s no surprise that all around the globe from the beginning of human existence until this very moment the archetype of the life-giving mother figure appears over and over again in art and story. The features that resonate from every archetype of mom include nurturing, feeding, fierce compassion and protection of life. Rachel Taft created Feed the Scene and, like Venus, she embodies all the bad-ass mothering qualities we’ve come to love in our own mothers.
The seed for Feed the Scene was planted early in her life as she went out to local DIY shows. That seed grew into an idea that touring bands need to eat and sleep somewhere. The idea grew into a physical and gustatory reality with Feed The Scene. The name says it all, Feed the Scene is a non-profit organization that is primarily run by Rachel. She figured out very quickly that most independent or DIY touring bands struggle with eating healthy and finding a safe quiet place to get restful sleep. Rachel solved the problem. She cooks the bands food and has spare beds and couches for them to rest on. If “thank you”s were worth money she’d be a billionare by now but instead Rachel sometimes works three or more jobs to support her passion/organization. She not only cooks and houses the bands, but she is involved with booking shows as well.
When I first heard about Feed the Scene, I was blown away. Besides being a great idea, it also seemed like one of the nicest things I had ever heard. We always pass on these interviews to you because we know you dream about following your heart’s greatest passions. We want you to know it’s okay to follow those passions. Others are doing it and it might not be easy, but it sure is fulfilling. When you die and reach that splinter of a moment when your entire life flashes in front of your eyes, what do you want to see yourself doing? Read this interview, get inspired and if you are motivated, make a donation. Amazingly, so far Feed the Scene has fed and housed over 298 musicians. People can make donations via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org or they can send safeway or costco giftcards to Feed The Scene 3512 Bank Street Baltimore, MD 21224
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- greg scelsi
Even as I child I was absolutely fascinated by the supernatural. Please tell us about any supernatural experience that you have had. Ghost, near death experience, UFO, Loch Ness Monster or anything that’s unexplainable by “normal” standards.
I haven’t had any supernatural experiences. Everything is explainable by “normal” standards, you just have to have all the actual facts. I don’t specifically believe in ghosts, but its possible if energy is neither created nor destroyed that they are left over energy from the deceased. I’ve never died. UFOs aren’t unexplainable; if other life exists, then it simply exists. If it doesn’t, then someone made it up. The Loch Ness Monster was most likely a myth of the same proportions as dragons. I assume since dragons and mythical creatures exist in many cultures over many different time periods, it makes more sense that those people dug up dinosaur bones and assumed they were fantastical creatures that were recently deceased.
What is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you and how has that influenced who you are today?
That’s hard - I’ve had many people who have done things for me in my life. The nicest thing recently though, I was worried I was going to have to close my doors. I hadn’t had work in a month or two and I posted about it on facebook and a bunch of the same musicians and people in the local community I have hosted, fed or help out all chipped in what they could to help me stay open. It really felt awesome to see the show of support from my friends and music family. I’ve been financially supporting Feed The Scene for two years and over 270 bands, so the funds really helped.
3. Punk and Hardcore music can mean many different things to many different people. When I first heard punk and hardcore music in middle school it changed my life. It represented the freedom to do my own thing independent of big companies. It also represented political change through aggressive social change. What does the music mean to you?
I attended local punk shows from the time I was able to get out of the house on my own. It was where all my friends were; it was a sense of community. I knew that almost every Friday or Saturday night, everyone I knew was going to be at VFW post 160 to see Code Blue or The Smizzokes or the other bands that rotated through the line-up of 5 bands for 5 bucks. Many of those people who I knew back in the day are still friends of mine and hold prominent positions in the local music scene today. In a sense, punk, hardcore and ska music gave me a place to belong for most of my life. The reason I started doing what I do is a result of that.
4. DIY bands booking their own tours and showing up as strangers in a strange town can be exciting. Where to sleep and where to eat are common and important concerns. With Feed the Scene you have created a solution to those questions. Would you like to see a Feed The Scene in every city or are you satisfied with it being a Baltimore thing? Do you have help, interns or do you do everything by yourself?
I would love to see a Feed The Scene in every city. I have a couple people who are interested in starting one and I actually have a trial chapter in the Philippines. A hardcore band I’ve never actually met asked me to sponsor some music festivals out there and they ended up liking what I was doing so much that they started a restaurant and asked me if they could try being a Feed The Scene. So, somewhere, halfway across the world, people are feeding bands. I think that’s rad. As for help, I have many people who have helped me with different parts of the business over the last two years. Shanrock is my concert buddy. She was seriously instrumental in networking in the first year of the business. She dragged me back stage so many places where we made awesome connections; there is no person better at meeting people. My friend Joe is my catering second in command and helps me when we do jobs to raise money for FTS. My Dad and Stepmom and friends Tracey, Lori, Aaron, Matty, Erica, Brian and many others have volunteered their time/funds or worked for me when needed, but I do 90% of the day to day operations myself. I cook the dinners, book and run the shows, I wash all the sheets and clean the room, house and bathrooms…
5. Food and shelter are obvious concerns for all small touring bands. Why do you think you took the initiative to start Feed the Scene? So many people complain or see problems but they never move beyond their comfort or laziness to actually go out and make a difference. You are one of a rare few that actually acts upon a problem, works hard and brings forth a solution. Who or what inspired your motivation to make a difference?
My mother passed away 4 years ago. It was over in 30 seconds and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. It hit me really hard. My ex broke up with me 3 weeks later, I was laid off 6 months after that, then my mother’s mother had a massive stroke almost exactly a year after my mom passed… It was a lot to deal with in under 365 days and a pretty dark time for me. So many people wrote songs and lyrics that helped me deal with her passing that I decided I wanted to give back to the community that had helped me so much. To help those musicians who are still writing because they love it and fostering a sense of community in their own scenes as well as spreading community in their travels. People who write music that means something. If the musicians I help can go one city further on their tour, maybe there is one kid in that crowd who needs to hear that one set of words to have the world make sense again.
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Everyone at Hero Shores Transmission has been working day and night to bring you our fabulous first compilation of some of the best Maryland bands. The whole idea started just a few months ago in preparation for our 1 year anniversary. We saw and heard some great music over this first year. We really wanted to bring the bands together in one place and share it with you. Everyone worked tirelessly to get this done quickly. Thank you to all 14 bands that submitted their wonderful tracks: Hive Bent, The Water, F, The Dry Sea, Mr. Seaweed, USSA Pleasuredome, Natural Velvet, Deaf Scene, Arab Spring, Timmy Sells His Soul, Vlaad, The Expanding Man, Fractal Cat and Time Columns. A special thank you to Yang Zhao for creating the album artwork and layout. Several release shows are scheduled.
Sat Oct 5th at Fraziers on the Avenue in Hamden with Deaf Scene, F and USSA Pleasuredome
Fri. Oct 11th at The Holy Underground with The Dry Sea, Hive Bent and Arab Spring
Fri. Oct 25th a special Flying Dog event at Belvedere Square with The Water, and USSA Pleasuredome
and more to come. Please listen to and download the entire compilation for FREE. A limited amount of cd’s will be available from the bands and at shows. Our goal is to do 2 more compilations in 2014. Let us know if you are interested in helping.
Here’s the link to all the goodies. Please share with others. Thank you.
Coming soon: A great interview with Rachel Taft from Feed The Scene!
It’s Hero Shores Transmission’s one year anniversary in August. We’re very proud of the interviews that we shared with you and we hope to offer even more this coming year. We wanted to expand into sound media, so I’m announcing the first in a series of musical compilations. The first will be entitled Baltimore Vol. 1 and features some exclusive and non-exclusive tracks from Hive Bent, The Water, F, The Dry Sea, Mr. Seaweed, USSA Pleasuredome, Natural Velvet, Deaf Scene, Arab Spring, Timmy Sells His Soul, Vlaad, The Expanding Man, Fractal Cat and Time Columns. The comp will be available for FREE listening and downloads on Bandcamp.com. It will also be available on the vintage media format known as compact discs. Future releases will not be limited to bands in the Maryland/DC area but that’s what we know best so that’s where we started. Believe it or not we started with over 73 bands and randomly pulled 14 projects out of a bell jar. Everything should be available by Oct 1st 2013 with several live shows throughout October and November to celebrate the compilations release.
Since it’s a new year for us, I wanted to mix up the format a bit. So I decided to ask just one question but send it out to 21 bands and they only had 72 hours to answer. That’s a relatively short amount of time in the band universe. I am thankful to all those that answered. Many people have said that the hardest part about being in a band or musical project is coming up with a name. Some bands breakup over this important step before they even begin. Once you name the band, it can take on even more weight as it stays with you regardless of how you and your music changes. Just like most creative experiences, naming your band can be lightening fast and inspiring or it can be a very long painful birthing process. Here’s the question and their thoughtful responses.
Why and how did you decide on the name of your musical project?
Benjamin Ferris – The Van Allen Belt
I’m honestly not the one to ask. I didn’t pick the name of my band. I only approved it. There’s a funny thing that happens when it comes time to choose a name. No one wants to back down from the one they came up with. Tamar and I have quite different taste in band names. I suggested Nonstop Everything or Thee Almighty Gosh, Tamar was stumping for Cookie Bouquet or Today’s Special. We couldn’t at all agree or compromise. Scott, the drummer at the time, came up with the name we use to this day, The Van Allen Belt. I still think it fits us aesthetically without really giving any idea of what we sound like. A name can make the difference of whether or not I’ll give someone a chance. If a band wears their style on the sleeve of their name, I’m generally not interested.
Kenny Eaton – Time Columns
I came up with the name “Time Columns” while visualizing what polyrhythmic music might look like and how these visualized rhythmic forms would interact and support one another in our music. Since we use a lot of loops and play around with syncopation quite a bit, it was fun to imagine “columns” where the rhythmic pulses imply downbeats and offbeats and how a “structure” built by these columns could be built through our guitar/bass/drum rhythmic interplay.
Brandon Fratini – Riolinda
rioLinda comes from the following influences. I was born in California. Lived in Sacramento, not far from Rio Linda. A small town about as run down as all the projects of Detroit combined. Pretty dumpy place with dumpy personalities. Like Dundalk to Washington DC.
Rush Limbaugh, whose books I’ve read and whom I listened with for a good 12 years until a few years ago, also referenced Rio Linda often. He calls Sacramento his other home. He described the same thing on the air to explain his regular comment “for those of you in Rio Linda” at the end of dumbing down explanations instead of “in other words.”
He has 30 million listeners a day and has been on the air for almost 25 years. He says my band name over and over again from 12-3, five days a week. He is an influence to my life- I joined congress and experienced things I wish I never saw and I can’t believe happens. Mob rule ain’t cool.
That and my favorite bands. Nirvana Verbena rioLinda
Miles Gannett – Fractal Cat
This was many years ago, I was in New Orleans with a very good friend of mine who was on LSD. We had been hanging out in Jackson Square near a gated yard with a bunch of staring cats. Later, my friend looked at me and said, “Milezzz, you have fractal cats in your hair! You’re a fractal cat!” Of course, when I needed a name for my psychedelic band many years later, Fractal Cat was the only suitable choice.
Mac McCormick – Arab Spring
Arab Spring was a bit of an anomaly in the sense that the name came about before the actual project, really. This was in 2011 when I was playing guitar with Red Exit while the series of popular revolutions in the Middle East were going down. The press collectively dubbed these revolutions the “Arab Spring” and I thought that was too perfect of a band name to not grab a hold of. Around that same time I had an idea for a concept single about two of the actresses from the US version of Skins, but worried my band mates would find the notion asinine. So, I saved up to buy a drum machine and wrote and recorded “Sofia Black-D’Elia” and “Rachel Thevenard” on a cassette 4-track I hadn’t used since I was a teenager and released it on Bandcamp under the name “Arab Spring” before anyone else got a hold of it. I like the name quite a bit; it rolls off the tongue and is very of this time in history.
Andrew Mayton – Pallid
The name pallid came about when I first started to seriously make music. The band was originally just myself and whoever was around who could play guitar and could play what I told them to play. I wanted to make melodically rich compositions with minimal instrumentation but eventually this gave way to ambient solo compositions making heavy use of loops and delays. Whatever the case, I aimed for creating something full and visceral with as minimal instrumentation as possible. ‘Pallid’ is a synonym for pale or feeble, and this embodies both my minimal approach and the resulting sound—quiet, melancholy, contemplative. Our compositions have shifted dramatically in sound and formulation, but I still think the name still holds quite well.
William Jarboe - Barbelith and Nostalgique
So Barbelith is derived from the comic book The Invisibles, whereas in the comic, Barbelith is a recurring sentient entity that is both a literal and symbolic beacon to the characters to help them break through the illusion of ‘classic reality,’ and in turn become Invisibles and fight the powers that bind us to this illusion. At the end of the series, the main character actually breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader. This was almost a hand off to us to usher Barbelith into this world. Barbelith serves as an honest collaborative and creative vehicle for all of us in the band to address our own individual perspectives on waking up, as well as help to inspire anyone who listens or experiences a show to do the same. At the very least just point out that this greater vision of humanity exists.
My other project, Nostalgique is a bit different. This project is completely open-ended and collaborative, and is pretty much the other area for all of my geniune extracted music that isn’t Barbelith. Nostalgique is literally, in the most plain sense, my soul therapy. These are the riffs and melodies I work on in my personal practice. For me to have sustainable happiness I need to play everyday, this playing is Nostalgique, it’s an audible meditation to remember our ancient past as humans, the all too familiar feeling of ancient nostalgia we get when we hear certain melodies, whether it comes from us or we recognize what other people are extracting. Some of my best friends jam with me regularly in this project, we are all trying to figure this puzzle out, it is Nostalgique for them too..That’s why it is so open-ended, there are no rules, its just the process of remembering through music.
Zachary Abate – Vagina*
The name “Vagina*” to us sums up our musical intentions. We strive to push the limits of what is considered “music” by pushing our instruments to the extreme in an unorthodox fashion. We chose the name Vagina* because we consider our music the equivalent of what pornography is to the movie universe, extreme straight to the point and explicit, and even if you were to translate the sexual experience into an audio experience you would end up with “Vagina*. We use the “*” in the same way it is used as a footnote in text, Vagina* represents our musical intentions not necessarily a female organ. With most music people get stimulated by various hooks and melodies etc., but to us it’s the art of sound and sound manipulation that is stimulating, the way a certain sound sounds rather than a combination of sounds creating a melody. If our music is considered “new” and paving the way for what is pleasing to the ear then it would be appropriate to make an analogy of a vagina giving birth, giving birth to a new sound/outlook on music.
Steph Fogle – Hive Bent
The name of our band, Hive Bent, was taken from the online interactive web comic: Home Stuck, part of MS Paint Adventures. Both Kyle and I are fans of MSPA and actually it was Kyle who got me into it when Problem Sleuth was still in progress. We loved the absurdity and goofiness of Problem Sleuth, we were excited to see what Homestuck would bring to the table. Funny enough, we were both disappointed at the time. The first act was just a silly reflection of Problem Sleuth, it wasn’t blowing our minds. We stopped reading Homestuck and moved on with our lives. Fast forward to about two years later, I was going through an unemployment phase and with my time I often browsed around 4chan’s /mu/ and /co/ (‘music’ and ‘comics and cartoons’ channels). I’d see in /co/ all this weird fan art that seemed familiar but I didn’t know what it was. Researching further, I found it was to be Homestuck, but at that point, the cast and story had expanded exponentially. I started to re-read the series, pushing through the first act and getting really deep involved with the following acts. Act 5, part 1 sticks out the most, it’s called ‘Hive Bent’ and the story arc involves the species known as Trolls, who have grey skin and candy corn colored horns, all 12 troll characters are named in relation to the zodiac. By this time, I was deep in the Homestucks and was fervently trying to get Kyle to give Homestuck one more chance. He did and he was hooked too, which was great cos now I had a friend to talk to about Homestuck. We loved the usage of time paradox shenanigans, the WTF’dness of the story, and how NO character was safe from being killed off. When we started to play together, we wanted to play a show but had no idea what to call our lil band. During a night of drinking and bar hopping, I joked about the idea of naming our band after Homestuck. Kyle took my joke seriously and suggested we name ourselves ‘Hive Bent’ and the rest is history.
Michael Shank performing as Ike Shark at The Windup Space in Baltimore
Editor’s Note: Greg here from the Hero Shores Transmission. One of the main ideas pushing this web page is for others to learn about the thought processes that go on behind the creative expression in people’s lives. A second idea driving this site is for the person that gets interviewed to then interview someone they find inspiring or interesting. Mat from Mobtown studios has been the first to take us up on this offer and we are very pleased with the result. Please enjoy Mat’s interview with the artist Michael Shank.
I first met Michael Shank while he was playing guitar in the post-rock band “We Used To Be Family”. I produced their record at Mobtown Studios. While we didn’t chat or bond that much during the recording, we’ve since had much more time to get to know each other.
He is the quiet articulate guy in the many bands he plays in now as well as playing solo sets from time to time. I always knew there was a spark of creativity that was endless in him. When he’s not playing with bands he makes incredible remixes for bands he likes.
Michael has a sense of when and where the guitars should be placed. One of the most important roles of a guitarist is often knowing when not to play and Michael has a great understanding of that mentality.
One of my favorite attributes of Michael is the ability to make his guitar sound nothing like a guitar. It’s that thing Eno does to guitars. I am not sure it’s intentional with Michael as he’s so comfortable changing the sounds he makes with the few pedals he has. At times it sounds like a machine or a wirey piece of metal. But at the same time it’s human, dense and with an intense warmth and subtlety.
I was lucky to have had the pleasure to interview him last month and get a greater insight to his background and thought process.
What is your first memory of music?
My earliest memories of music are tied to hazy feelings of deja vu I get when listening to albums that my parents played when I was very young, things like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. The first song I became obsessed with was probably either “Locomotion” or “You Can Call Me Al.” The first transcendental experience I had with music was with Cream’s Disreali Gears. I was in middle school and had recently switched allegiances from top 40 radio to classic rock. I liked Jimi Hendrix and the Doors but listening to Disreali Gears for the first time was different for some reason. I remember thinking it sounded like the Doors being beaten at their own game, which doesn’t make much sense to me now, but I think that was the moment my mind was first opened to the psychedelic experience.
Did music find you or did you find music?
My parents aren’t musicians, but they are fans of music, and I think that rubbed off on me. So in the beginning music found me, but by the time I reached high school I grew tired of classic rock radio’s repetitiveness, and I only really liked the music they played from the 60s anyway. Alternative radio was growing at that point but after a short while it grew to be just as generic and uninspiring as all other radio. Growing up in small-town Indiana I didn’t have cool record shops to go to learn about more obscure music and none of my friends were music heads so it felt like a revelation when I discovered the world of online music criticism in my senior year, but even so it was very difficult to find a lot of the music that was written about.
Are you formally trained? If so, who did you train with?
I started playing piano when I was 8 or so. I had lessons once a week and my parents also enrolled me in Goshen College’s preparatory piano program. There we learned how to read music, some basics of music theory and what not. But, importantly, we also learned about making our own music. Later I studied violin for a while, but in high school I grew bored with the material and impatient with violin’s technical demands so I picked up guitar. I started off taking lessons at the local guitar shop. My teacher taught me the basics of several different styles, mostly blues based stuff. But he also showed me some basics of classical guitar. I enjoyed the puzzle of using my fingers independently and also the ability to play music solo. I then started taking lessons with Matthias Stegmann, a classical guitar instructor at Goshen College. Eventually I decided to major in guitar performance at Goshen College. After my sophomore year I switched focus to composition under Lee Dengler. Most of my compositions was minimalist and dissonant.
When you create are you composing melodically or how the pedals and effects color the sound?
Color, rhythm and texture almost always come first for me. Melody is very important to me, but it isn’t something that comes naturally for me. I’ve had to force myself to learn how to write longer melodies. My instinct is to write in ostinatos or riffs. Lately with my looping project, Ike Shark, I’ve been really focusing on rhythm, especially as a starting point for the loops.
As a writer and performer in many bands how do you get your point across with out getting in the way?
Each band has its own way of working, but communication is usually an issue. It’s just plain difficult to talk about music, but it can be made more difficult when half of the band knows theory and the other half doesn’t. It can also be difficult when you think you’ve got a fantastic idea and no one else sees it that way. But compromise is essential to collaborating.
Is it easier or harder to exist as a solo performer or in a band?
They both have their good and bad points. As a solo performer I can work at my own pace, as much or as little as I want. There’s never any waiting for band members to show up or dealing with band drama, however there’s no built in system of feedback. A band, ideally, can act as its own editor, taking all the best ideas from individual members while getting rid of indulgent tendencies. Plus bands tend to connect people, they are micro communities. Splitting up show booking and promotion duties is also a huge benefit to being in a band. And as a full-time biker being in bands with car owners is pretty rad.
What are your thoughts on artists using Amplitube vs. using an amp for tone?
Despite relying on pedals for most of my music I’m not really a gear head. I’ve always used tube amps and while I can definitely appreciate the difference between tube distortion over solid state I don’t hold the tube or analog sacred. The Feelies recorded DI and it sounded great. However you can get the tone you want, go for it. I’ve used amp simulators for recording but never for performing, however in the next year I’d like to design my own Sansamp like effect so I can ditch the amp and be more portable.
I’ll probably be involved in fewer projects. Outside of that I’m not really sure, my musical plans are relatively short-term.
What do you feel is the most exciting part of the Baltimore music scene?
My favorite thing about the Baltimore music scene is the ease of finding collaborators. In Baltimore I’ve been in nine different bands with twenty or so different people. Previous to moving to Baltimore it was like pulling teeth trying to get music projects together. I also feel that people in the music scene are generally humble, cool people.
Which artist here in Baltimore would you love to work with?
There are so many great musicians in Baltimore and I already feel extraordinarily blessed to have been able to collaborate with the ones I work with. Working with Russell from Yeveto would be cool. I love how his playing works with Yeveto, very restrained, yet very integral to Yeveto’s sound. It would also be really cool to do production work for Mickey Free.
Is it easier or harder to find good music these days? And how do you find out about new bands?
It is so much easier to find good music. Usually I find too much good music. In the digital age there is no such thing as out of print. When I first started reading music criticism I would run across intriguing names, Gang Of Four, Talk Talk, etc. but they didn’t have those albums at the used CD store 40 minutes from my hometown and they certainly didn’t have them at Best Buy. As I said before I didn’t grow up anywhere near a hip record store so I don’t really have any nostalgia or ties to the idea of a brick and mortar music store. I’m very happy to have eMusic and the like to get music. Also the cost of music going down has been huge for me. It used to be that new cds could cost up to 20 bucks with used cds going for 8 to 10. Building a library of music was painstaking and slow. Now I can get new albums for 5 bucks, it’s surreal. I mostly find music through Pitchfork and Stereogum and occasionally through friends.
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Most artists constantly open themselves up to rejection. Once the creation is made public, it becomes open to criticism from outside of the artist’s own head. The artist is usually their own worst critic though it is possible for outside criticism to oppress the artist’s self-image. Some creators pay no mind to the critics, while others hang onto their every word. One way to avoid outside criticism is to never reveal your creation to others. Sometimes we find in the home of a deceased man or woman a treasure trove of incredible art, some of the best stuff in the whole wide world, and no one even knew this person was an artist. In these situations, even though they didn’t share their art when they were alive, I’m glad that we can enjoy it now.
Luckily, Christin Durham is not dead, so we can enjoy the music she currently creates with Silo Halo. Based in DC, the band plays intertwining stringed melodies gauzed with a dark wash of reverb. The relationships between the female and male vocals feel like they haunt the songs. The guitar effects can be dirty fuzz, overdrive with short delays, and jangly chorused reverbs all played with passion and bite. Christin supplies the driving bass and circus-like bass tightrope walks. She also provides an important layer to the band’s vocalizations. There is a level of maturity and songwriting that comes from years of experience.
I am most impressed with Christin’s desire to help touring out-of-town bands play decent shows in DC and Baltimore. Punk and hardcore music left a strong do-it-yourself-ethic impression on me. Not just do-it-yourself but also “do it right,” with respect, with common sense, and with only the best intentions. Christin was also imprinted with the same DIY ethic and has made many touring bands feel appreciated and motivated to keep playing by helping them set up fun and smart shows. She not only creates but takes the time and energy to help others share their art. This is a rare quality for all too often we see other musicians as some sort of competition. Christin sees other muscians as friends and family.
I started out by talking about rejection, and it usually doesn’t feel very good. When someone says that they don’t like or approve of your creation, it can give you a chance to grow and gain perspective. But when someone doesn’t respond at all, well all I can say is that it burns, it burns deep. With silence the reference point is lost and you look into a black hole of indifference. A strong DIY ethic may put the power back into the artists hands but it also has them juggling many different roles. To create the art is one thing but to promote, publicize, and act as a booking agent may be skill sets that go beyond the artists natural ability. When booking an independent tour for your own little band you probably send out hundreds of emails after spending hours researching bands and venues in the town you want to play. You are lucky if 1 percent of the people you contact respond at all. That’s 99 rejections wrapped in silence. So when that one person gets back to you, they seem like the greatest person in the whole town. Because they are the greatest person in that whole town. They are special, one out of a hundred who actually took the time to validate you as another human being. A human being that is reaching out, and looking for help to make their passions come alive. These 1 percenters are also wealthy - with compassion, not money. Christin is one of these rare and special people that makes respect for fellow artists a priority. Thank you, Christin, for being an artist who believes in taking care of other artists. I hope you will inspire the other 99 percent to be better people. Here’s the interview. Enjoy.
If there was one trait that you could eliminate from yourself, what would it be and why?
Being sensitive and emotional. I admire laid back people and introverts.
If time travel was possible, would you go forward or backward in time first and why?
I would go backward. I think about past eras and civilizations a lot and almost never think about the future. There are a lot of places now buried or bulldozed that would be amazing to see.
Do you think that taking psychedelic drugs as you transition from life to death would be useful and why?
Probably. Psychedelic drugs are useful for breaking problematic neurological patterns, such as fear of death, I suppose.
Over a long period of time eating cooked food allowed the simplification of the human digestive system so that more resources could be used for brain development. If using computers frees our brains of certain tasks, will brain function move into different activities? What brain changes do you think might occur next?
Human beings will no longer have the ability to truly engage their imaginations and will need computers to imagine for them. If this involves holodecks, I suppose it won’t be too awful.
What made the first Interpol record, Turn on the Bright Lights, so good?
A perfect trifecta of melancholy, smart lyrics, and dead sexy bass lines.
Do you really want to hear a new My Bloody Valentine record? I think it would have been better if I never saw the new Star Wars movies.
I did not get as excited about the new My Bloody Valentine record as many of my friends, and I didn’t feel pressed to listen to it right away, although I have now, and I think it’s great. I don’t think I ever feel the need to listen to something right when it comes out necessarily.
What are the best and worst things that happened to you in high school?
Breaking the law and falling in love. Getting arrested and getting my heart broken. Ya know, regular kid stuff. I still have a healthy fear of cops as well as intimacy with men.
What are the most effective social policies and why?
Effective social policies reduce suffering in society by guaranteeing everyone has a safe place to live, enough healthy food to eat, and access to adequate health care. Without poverty, there would be less frustration and decreased crime, thus ensuring that public spaces and life in general can be better enjoyed by everyone. It seems simple, but people, at least Americans, have difficulty getting past the notion that individuals should get nothing unless they work hard to earn it, and that those who are successful in life got there without the help of society.
Have you ever had a paranormal experience? If so please explain.
I was a latchkey kid, and when I was in fourth grade I came home after school and saw four things in my living room that looked sort of like the creatures at the end of the Dark Crystal when the mystics and the skeksis become one, except more shadowy. It scared the shit out of me and I ran across the street to a friend’s house even though I was grounded. I called my mom and she could hear the fear in my voice, so I didn’t end up getting in trouble.
Where is you favorite place to see/hear live music in DC? Why?
I have to go with the Black Cat. Great rooms, great sound, great staff, and a little restaurant inside that sells vegan grub.
When was the first time you heard a song that perfectly captured an emotion you were feeling? Explain.
Unfortunately I don’t have this memory, but I used to have nightmares that my Siouxsie and the Banshees Peepshow tape was possessed.
Check out Silo Halo here: https://www.facebook.com/silohalo