Nasty Boyz : The Late Night Sounds Of Video Nasties

Listening to Video Nasties is a lot like watching early John Waters films, reading a William Burroughs short story, or coming across an old Maxell videotape with 4 hours of dubbed cable access children’s shows from the early 80s. It leaves you incredibly intrigued and feeling slightly queasy. Brendan Evans and Christopher Livengood, aka B. Nasty and C. Nasty, savor the old and forgotten. Their music is noisy and disjointed at times, but also steeped in melody. Dusty and fractured, but melody nonetheless. At times their Feeding Tube Records self-titled debut sounds like early Cure run through a broken Radio Shack sound mixer, or Joy Division being pulled into a black hole. They love gadgets and noise makers, and each song is affected in some way or another by tape delay, modulation from Hell, and vintage-sounding synthesizers. If Suicide and Can ever did a bunch of whippets together in the studio and hit play, then that recording would sound a lot like Video Nasties. Maybe throw in a less emotionally stable Devo, too.

Evans runs and curates Strange Maine, one of the few multimedia shops left in New England, while Christopher Livengood is part of the heavy synth duo Victims. Both of these guys have a love for horror, vintage media, and skronky noisemakers, which is what makes Video Nasties such a unique band. Together, these two lifelong friends have a lifetime of late night movie viewings and music excursions to pull from. Video Nasties compiles a few of Brendan and Christopher’s cassette releases onto one LP. Anyone familiar with early Ariel Pink and Mac Demarco’s Rock And Roll Night Club, as well as early 80s alternative and bizarro Euro pop will have an idea of what they’re getting into here. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, enter at your own risk. The rest of you, let’s have some fun.

Brendan and Christopher sat down with me to talk about everything nasty. Enjoy.

J. Hubner: With a name like Video Nasties, I can only assume that you two are horror fans. What’s one of your favorite horror films?

C. Nasty: Very difficult question. In some ways I feel I haven’t found that film yet and maybe that’s why I’ve watched so many over the course of my life. I guess Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession have both at one time or another occupied that spot. They create a palpable sense of dread. Despite having wildly different tones they make you feel under the threat of an unknown, inevitable horror lurking around the corner…and then when that horror is revealed, it’s simultaneously absurd and genuinely frightening. But I also love the Italians and like B, every once and a while find myself daydreaming about The Church, by Michele Soavi. I remember thinking I’d found the perfect movie when I rented that one back in 94…

B. Nasty: How’d you know i was gonna say Demons 3?! Probably because it’s loaded with sleaze, gore, and Asia Argento, plus it’s a 90 minute long satanic music video for Keith Emerson covering Philip Glass. There’s some really brutal and beautiful imagery, some absurd characters and implausible deaths. I’ve loved that movie for twenty years and i’ll never get tired of it. You can have my VHS copy when you pry it from my cold dead dick.

J. Hubner: Being friends since middle school there must be a musical symbiosis happening between you two. When did you realize you wanted to make music together? Did you bond over a band or a movie?

C. Nasty: I think we bonded over our love of bad movies first.

B. Nasty: There’s no such thing as bad movies, just bad people.

C. Nasty:  I automatically felt a kinship with B when I discovered he had co-opted his parents camcorder and was making un-self conscious, totally weird videos that were equal parts sincere self-expression and semi-arch tribute to the movies he loved…just as I was doing. It wasn’t until we were in our twenties that we first played music together. We started an improvisational band. Although at times we made abstract music, we mostly improvised “songs”. A number of the Video Nasties songs were composed in this manner. When “jamming” with B I’ve always had the feeling that anything can happen and that whether or not the end product is something anyone would want to listen to, we both had a great time playing. Whenever it’s not fun we usually just stop and watch a movie or something.

B. Nasty:  Our average ‘band practice’ consists of watching whatever new VHS we scrounged at a thrift store, drinking top shelf whiskey, jamming out some rhythms, watching some fucked up Youtube, and cramming in a few minutes worth of actual ‘practicing’ at the last minute. But back in (junior?)high school, i walked to C’s house with my backpack stuffed with tapes and paintings and I distinctly remember asking him “do you like horror art?” before showing him some weird H.P.Lovecraft inspired art i’d been doing. C proved to me that he could play Sabbath’s ‘paranoid’ on the guitar. We had a five minute debate on how you pronounce Dario Argento’s last name, i stubbornly insisted that it was ‘Argentine’. He introduced me to ‘the internet’ by showing me a nude picture of paula abdul. He played me a Pigface cd. I played him “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson. He lent me a dubbed copy of ‘Evil Dead’. It was the greatest day of my life and i fell in love with him, but it wasn’t until about 12 years later that we finally created the band that we should have started way back in 1994. We’ve been exposing each other to weird shit for a long time though. I can honestly say C introduced me to more bands and movies than anyone else in my life, but he’d still be listening to Boards of Canada if it wasn’t for me.

J. Hubner: Listening to your new self-titled album via Feeding Tube Records I hear so many different things. Lo fi, diy noise, no-wave, post-punk, and experimental all come to mind. What was the idea behind the band for you two? Were you trying to go for a certain aesthetic, or were you two just following the muse? Who or what is influencing the sound of Video Nasties?

C. Nasty: B and I, independently of one another, have been home recording stuff that fits all those descriptors since we were kids. I think we were consciously striving to combine all those elements, acknowledge the influence of all those genres in this record. Perhaps not deliberately Lo-Fi, though…I think that if there’s a homemade, messy quality to our recordings it wasn’t intentional…we were trying hard to make it sound good. It just so happens that we’re not the most technically proficient musicians and we might have lower standards on what sounds ‘good enough’ to be the final take.

B. Nasty: I honesty worried that the record sounded too polished but everyone keeps calling it lo-fi or ‘casio keyboard’ or whatever. We spared no expense, that record has $10,000.00 with of gear on it.

J. Hubner: How did you guys get hooked up with Feeding Tube?

C. Nasty:  In previous projects, we used to play out in Western Mass. with some regularity. We’ve both been fans of the label and the whole music scene out there. Many of our friends have worked with Feeding Tube, including artists like Id M Theftable, Big Blood, MV & EE, all of whom we’ve collaborated with previously. I can’t overstate how impressed I am with what Ted and Byron are doing. Most small independent labels I know of have some specific ‘thing’ they’re selling…they package their stuff uniformly, try to release music that has a preexisting audience…not those guys. In my opinion they’re the riskiest, most exciting label working right now. We felt that we had complete and total freedom to do exactly what we wanted with our record.

B. Nasty: Our buddy Caleb (from Big Blood/Cerberus Shoal) who recorded and mixed 90% of our songs is almost completely responsible for the record coming out on feeding tube. He thought Ted Lee would dig the songs and basically kept hounding him until he put it out. Byron Coley did the write up for the record. We thought he would dig it, but it’s hard to tell from his description. I mean to talk to Byron about that, maybe he’s been reviewing too many records. When you think about it, he’s probably reviewed more records than any other person in human history, so maybe his opinion can’t be trusted the way it used to.

C. Nasty: C’mon, you shouldn’t say that!

B. Nasty: Coley is an ass.

C. Nasty: He doesn’t mean it.

J. Hubner: Should I reach out to Byron for comment? Maybe later, for now how does the recording process go for you guys? Digital or analog recording? Is the songwriting a complete collaboration?

C. Nasty: I think each song was recorded differently. It’s hard to keep track. Some of the songs started as sketches in my home studio with no real goal in mind. I record basic tracks to 1/4 tape, cassette, straight onto a computer, or all of the above. If B and I like something and think it would be right for the Nasties, we use it. Sometimes we add elements in my studio, sometimes we take parts of songs to Tank 28 and build on them with Caleb Mulkerin (our producer/engineer/collaborator/etc….truly a member of the band, at least behind the scenes). There are some songs that we built from scratch in his studio. I know that at least one of them was composed spontaneously there. Sometimes we write that way too…just making stuff up on the spot. But there’s definitely no methodology or strategy. Even after we’ve recorded something and it sounds done we spend a good deal of time adding things, chopping parts up, basically messing with them. I think we were going for the sonic equivalent of an old VHS tape that has lots of different things recorded on it over a great deal of time…some things innocuous, like a home movie of a wedding or birthday party; some things exciting, like a half-recorded slasher movie; but then maybe something you weren’t intended to see…something horrible.

B. Nasty: There isn’t a single song on the record that isn’t a collaboration to some degree… we’ve always egged each other on to make everything more profoundly perverted.

J. Hubner: What’s a Video Nasties show like? Is it as chaotic as you guys on record?

C. Nasty: B and I have large VHS collections and we spend a good deal of time hanging around watching stuff. I like to pick out scenes from our video binges, then, using an old analog video editor/FX mixer, make ‘greatest hits’ tapes that are dubbed/psyched out. We project those over us as we play. I think we both feel like live music can be kind of a drag sometimes…that’s why we recruited a dancer/tambourine player, Cal the Kisser.

B. Nasty: Cal is an old friend of ours who came to all of our shows, he always danced even when no one else was. I started to worry that he’d miss a show so I invited him to join the band. Now he plays tambourine and does back up vocals. He’s fucking amazing. One night he wore nothing but a gimp mask, fairy wings, and a g-string that he accidentally had on backwards. That night we played for two hours, I shit you not. Subsequently we were blacklisted from that venue, it’s a source of some pride for us.

J. Hubner: Are you guys an anomaly in regards to the music scene in Maine? Explain to me what the “Strange Maine scene” is?

C. Nasty: I used to know how to answer that question but now I’m not sure. I don’t go out too much and I’m sure that there are lots of young bands doing cool things that I don’t know about.  I do know that we play with lots of bands that don’t sound like us, yet the shows still make sense, so maybe there is a scene. I like Big Blood, Taboo, Altered Gee, Caethua, SS Cretins, Tom Kovacevic, Herbcraft, Colby Nathan, Synthetiv Vision, Glade Swope, Id M Theft-able, just to name a few bands or artists that we’ve played with at least once (and are, coincidentally, friends)…I don’t think Video Nasties sounds anything like any of them. Maybe all of the above are a little (or a lot) too weird to play the bar or straight-indie scene, which is what my perception of most of Portland’s music is like.

B. Nasty: But we have played nearly every venue in Portland, somehow. There’s really not as strong of a ‘weird music’ scene in Maine as i’d like. Seems like Boston has had a lot more fucked up bands the last few years. I really like New England Patriots, those guys are weird but groovy in a way that nobody in the Maine scene is, other than Taboo or Caethua. Those bands are the vanguard as far as New England weird rock goes. It’s just not common to find bands that are weird, rockin’, and unpredictable. That’s who we want to play with- whether it’s dance pop or noise rock, it needs to be catchy.

I opened “Strange Maine” in 2003, and there have been hundreds of shows there. The last decade or so Skot (Id M Theftable) has been doing most of the booking. If there’s a Strange Maine scene it’s his doing, but I think he and I have both been pretty conscious about using the store as a venue for music/noise/performance that we LIKE but that’s the only criteria. So it stays weird and/or good but it’s never of a specific style of genre. Video Nasties haven’t played at the shop in a long time, though our first couple of shows were there. We used to play at The Oak And The Ax in Biddeford, Maine constantly, that was the perfect venue for us: it felt like a cozy coffee shop/hipster bar but they gave us carte blanche for what we wanted to do, and they just kept inviting us back. Every rock band needs a club that lets them do whatever; that’s what that place was for us.

J. Hubner: If you had to pick just one, who would you prefer to spend your Friday night with: Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, or Mario Bava?

C. Nasty: The one who’s still alive seems like the most fun. I hope he’d bring along members of the family as well; Asia, Fiore, and Daria Nicolodi could round out my dream party.  Mario would be interesting, but I’d hope his son Lamberto would tag along. Lucio was notoriously unpleasant and apparently had questionable hygiene.

B. Nasty: Can we choose from Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, and Ennio Morricone? And Asia Argento is the greatest living Italian director, as far as I can tell. Chris and I have both been OBSESSED with her since she/we were teens.

J. Hubner: Anything new coming from Video Nasties in the near future?

C. Nasty: We have lots of material that we’d like to edit and release at some point before either 2017 or the entire world ends…whichever comes first.

B. Nasty: Caleb has been putting together an amazing analogue recording studio in South Portland. He’s invited us to use it to create our magnum opus, i think we’ll deliver. I think that by the end of 2018 we’ll have written, recorded, and released the angriest and most perverted pop record in the history of the human race. Unfortunately, we’ll all be using crank victrolas to listen to it because society will have totally  broken down. That or maybe we’ll just fuck around and put out another cassingle limited to 50 copies, I dunno.


Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, Ennio Morricone, and Asia Argento. I’m good with all of those. And I’m good with the Nasty Boyz, B. Nasty and C. Nasty. Master curators of the strange. Kings of weirdo rock and keeping Maine weird since 2003.

Paul Gilbert : The Everyman’s Guitar Hero

It’s been close to 30 years so my memory may not serve me correctly, but somewhere in the vicinity of the spring of 1989 I got to see and meet Mr. Big guitarist Paul Gilbert. Why do you care? “Paul who? The Mr. Big dude? Yeah, so what?” Will you please let me finish? Thank you. So in the spring of 1989 my guitar teacher heard that Paul Gilbert was doing a guitar clinic at the now defunct Music Spectrum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Spectrum was the who’s who or what’s what of local music stores. Neal Peart got kits from this place(check some of the late 70s/early 80s Rush albums for the liner notes “thank yous” to MS.) Gilbert was touring the country doing clinics at various music stores for Ibanez, and my guitar teacher Tim Bushong had the forethought to load a few of his in-training guitar slingers into his car and drive us 50 minutes to see Gilbert do some shredding. My older brother at the time was taking lessons from Tim as well, so it turned into a big brother/little brother bonding experience.

Photo courtesy of Paradise Artists

So to give you a little history into Paul Gilbert. Gilbert was from a small suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1966, and by the time he was 15 years old he’d sent a tape to Shrapnel Records owner Mike Varney about auditioning for Ozzy Osbourne. Varney was blown away by the 15 year old from Pennsylvania. Gilbert moved to Los Angeles and attended GIT(Guitar Institute of Technology) and by the time he was 19 he was an instructor there. Soon after he joined the metal band Racer X and put out some premier shred albums. But in 1989 he left Racer X and formed Mr. Big with Billy Sheehan, Eric Martin, and Pat Torpey.

I owned one Racer X cassette. Second Heat was the one Gilbert album in my collection, and to be honest it was just okay. His playing was out of this world good, but musically it just wasn’t my thing. It was too heavy for its own good, in my opinion. Most of the Shrapnel Records roster was like that. Guys that grew up on Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and most of the AOR-ready rock we hear on classic rock stations now, but in order to show off the speed and neoclassical riffs the band pumped up the metal. When I’d read that Gilbert was in a new band with David Lee Roth’s bassist Billy Sheehan I was pretty excited to hear what they would do.

So on a Thursday evening my brother and I headed to Fort Wayne with our guitar teacher, along with a couple other students, to Music Spectrum to see Paul Gilbert in the flesh and hear some virtuosic guitar playing and mentoring. We arrived and the place was packed. There wasn’t any open carpet anywhere in the place. Mulleted teens and men alike(even a few guitar-slinging chicks if I remember correctly) filled the place to its capacity. Gilbert had a stool set up in the front, along with a 4-track cassette recorder and some PA speakers.  I didn’t know what to expect from the guy, really. I guessed by the looks of him he was maybe my brother’s age(he’s actually a year older than my brother, born in 1966), but I’d never seen any interviews with him. After an introduction and some energetic clapping Gilbert walked to the front with his Ibanez guitar and so began the clinic.

Now I can’t remember specifics, so I’ll hit some highlights:

Gilbert played some pretty eye-popping licks for us all to guffaw at. There was a portion of “Name That Tune” where Paul displayed his array of music history knowledge. During this part my brother yelled out and correctly guessed The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear”, to which Gilbert was impressed. Gilbert also previewed a track from the debut Mr. Big album which hadn’t been released yet. With the 4-track cassette player, he played the backing tracks to “Addicted To That Rush” and perfectly followed along with the rest of the band trapped in the confines of the multi-track recorder. I believe there was a Q&A as well, but I can’t quite recall(a lot has happened in 30 years.) It ended with everyone getting in line so they could personally meet Gilbert and get his autograph. I brought along that copy of Second Heat and Paul kindly signed it. One of Tim’s other students brought his Ibanez guitar and Gilbert signed the back of the guitar neck. I thought that was kind of ridiculous, but whatever.

I walked away from that guitar clinic a fan of not only Paul Gilbert’s guitar playing, but of Paul Gilbert the dude. He came across like someone my brother might’ve hung out with and brought over to the house to listen to tunes with. The guy was as relaxed sitting in a room playing and chatting in front of a room full of hungry wanna-be guitar heroes as he would’ve been had he been chatting in a living room with a couple friends, strumming on his six-string. There was no pretentious, “I’m better than you” attitude coming from this guy at all, yet he’d earned it by being one of the best guitarists in the world at the time.

I went on to buy that first Mr. Big album and thought it was a great mix of superior pop hooks, prodigious playing, and pristine metal-lite that could be played loudly in one’s bedroom or on a family trip in the car without any strange looks from the parental units. The guitar/bass combo of Gilbert and Sheehan was a force to be reckoned with. Pat Torpey was a great drummer in his own right, while singer Eric Martin had the perfect mix of sweet and gruff in his voice as to pull off both great pop melodies and the come hither swagger needed to be a proper late-80s rock outfit. I bought their 1991 follow up Lean Into It as well and that one topped the debut. It had the acoustic singalong “To Be With You” on it, but the highlights were “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” and the hefty “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy(The Electric Drill Song). That album made Mr. Big a household name(sort of), and I played that album for the most of junior and senior year.

And then that was it…for me, at least.

Seattle took over and I discovered The Kinks, Procol Harum, and Brit pop. The urge to be a guitar slinger was tampered by the urge to be a songwriter. The Shrapnel Records cassettes I’d amassed were designated to an old shoe box, along with those late-80s hard rock cassettes. CDs were in and so was a new era of music for me.

But I never forgot about Paul Gilbert. Despite changing tastes over the years, I’ve always liked Gilbert and his playing. I’d look into what he was doing every once in a while, but it wasn’t until last year that I’d really starting digging into my guitar slinger past and found a treasure trove of Paul Gilbert videos on Youtube. For the past 30 years Paul Gilbert has never stopped making music or doing guitar clinics. In the many that I’ve watched, these videos show a guy that’s never stopped loving playing for people. He seems to still be that 17-year old kid from the suburbs of Pittsburgh playing UFO covers in his room, or excitedly playing his guitar with an electric drill. He still has that urge to share and show others what he’s learned. He still comes across as a dude coming by the house to listen to records and jam in the basement. I love that.

I think one of my favorite videos that I’ve discovered is of Gilbert on a Japanese game show where guitarists name a band and another guitarist has to name the guitar player in that band and then play a portion of one of their songs in that guitarist’s style. It was Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, and a Japanese guitar player. Gilbert pretty much ruled the game. To me it shows just how much Paul Gilbert loves music in general.

I won’t be on a buying spree for Mr. Big and Paul Gilbert albums(at least not yet.) But it’s great I can jump into the wayback machine while watching his instructional videos or live performances and be reminded once again how much I like the guy. And you should check out his most recent album, Stone Pushing Uphill Man. It’s mostly instrumental cover versions of some of his favorite songs. It’s pretty great. His cover of The Police’s “Murder By Numbers” is particularly awesome.

 

Sad Man Noble Poet : Steve Henn Talks About His New Book, New Perspective

 

by J. Hubner

Photo by Joni Earl

Sometimes the most interesting minds are hiding in plain sight. Maybe it’s some guy at work in the break room quietly reading A Confederacy Of Dunces while FOX News blasts in the background. Maybe that guy at the local Starbucks making you a peppermint mocha has a Masters in Psychology and has written nine unpublished novels but fell on hard times. Or possibly that woman in your kitchen that wakes you up in the mornings to go to school who’s currently making your dinner. Maybe she used to travel the world and was passionate about the dada movement and had dreams of being an artist and living in a mud hut off the grid before you showed up. Or maybe that teacher of yours. The one you have for 5th period that quotes Vonnegut and you see reading George Saunders short stories at his desk before class. Maybe he’s a gifted poet that writes about life’s ironies and tragedies in a humanistic way.

Well that last one might just be Mr. Steve Henn. Henn’s a Midwestern poet who teaches high school English by day, raises four smart kids, and when time allows writes poems about life(yours and his, and everyone else’s that’s ever felt both the swelling sting and innate beauty of living.) Henn has been published in the past(check out his works at http://www.therealstevehenn.com) and he recently released his newest collection called Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year through Wolfson Press.

Steve and I sat down and talked about the new book, his inspiration, and a particularly nasty bout of Vertigo.

 

J. Hubner: You recently released onto the world your newest collection of poetry called ‘Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year’. How did this one come together? Is this your first book with Wolfson Press?

Steve Henn: I was invited by an editor at Wolfson to submit a manuscript, although it was made clear that an offer to look at a manuscript was not a guarantee of acceptance – that would be up to the Wolfson editorial board. Thankfully, they took it, and from there there was a lot more work involved with Joe Chaney as the lead editor for my book, Sky Santiago as the designer, and several others involved in the process as well. This is my first book with Wolfson – my first full book not on the NYQBooks label. Wolfson Press is a university press at IUSB. I’m very happy with the care and attention all parties involved gave to the book – at times the process felt laborious, but the end product is worth the effort.

J. Hubner: Are the poems in this collection all fairly recent pieces? Or are there some that date back before your second book ‘And God Said: Let The Be Evolution!’?

Steve Henn: The poems are mostly 2013-2015 poems. One of the oldest ones in the book is “Poem for the Girl Next Door” which was written a few weeks before Lydia (my ex-wife, mother of my children) died [in August 2013]. I don’t think there’s much, if anything, in the book that predates that poem.

J. Hubner: When you go into putting poems together for a book, is there a common theme between the writing? You seem to use your own life, both when you were younger and now, as origin points for your poems. But is there a concept to the book? 

Steve Henn: This one was very much influenced by the era of my life in which I was writing – after Lydia died, as I was acclimating myself to the pressures and challenges of full time single fatherhood. I found myself looking back to my own childhood, and also found I wanted to catalog experiences with my children – I wanted to think about what Lydia had chosen to leave behind. There’s not a distinct intention to form a certain theme or concept to the book, but the finished product suggests that family and fatherhood were big ideas I was ruminating over in many of the book’s poems.

J. Hubner: Where did the title of the book come from? 

Steve Henn: The title of the book comes from one of the early poems (I think it appears 3rd) called “What Facebook Knows.” The “Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year” award is a facetious award I grant myself for my status as single dad, in that poem.

J. Hubner: Besides your writing, the book was illustrated by your children Franny, Lucy, Oren, and Zaya. Were they aware they’d be illustrating ‘Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year’? Was it the plan from the beginning to make it a family affair?

Steve Henn: I encountered a book of poems by the excellent young poet Franny Choi called Floating, Brilliant, Gone. The book included some illustrations that linked up with the poems they illustrated somehow. We had originally discussed including some of Lydia’s artwork in the book – some of her paintings, which are amazing, are still hanging at the Blue Pearl in Pierceton – but the feel of the art didn’t seem to fit the feel of the poems quite right. So I suggested bringing in a bunch of drawings by the kids and seeing if any of that worked. It was really the book designer, Sky Santiago, who is responsible for the ingenious pairings of poems and illustrations in this book – page after page, there’s some element or another in the drawings that seem to sort of comment on or compliment the poem it’s lined up with. I really think that aspect of the design – the selecting of drawings to compliment the poems – was so excellently handled by Sky. I’m glad the kids had a hand in the book too – the book is dedicated to the kids. I suppose I wanted the book, in part, to codify how much I appreciate having them in my life – without my kids I’m certain I’d be a great big mess and be making all sorts of stupid choices. Or would have, at least, if they’d not placed a necessary and providential burden of responsibility on me.

J. Hubner: Now you’re also doing a few readings to promote the release of the book. How has the feedback been so far?

Steve Henn: It’s been fun to do readings. Probably the best one so far has been in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, at the University of Pitt-Greensburg campus. I read to a roomful of Lori Jakiela’s energetic and talented senior creative writing students. We spent about an hour together and it was worth the 14 hours or so round trip. For a bunch of creative writers, poets, etc., the kids seemed abnormally sunny, well adjusted, and supportive of each other. A real good group.

J. Hubner: Reading your piece ‘On The Presidential Election Of 2016’ I could totally relate to the panic you had in those moments, thinking you were dying. I had some bouts of anxiety for the first time in my life back in 2014. That feeling of helplessness and the feeling of the world closing in on you is a terrible one. I can only imagine that first bout vertigo is a similar feeling. Have you had any more bouts since the day before the election?

Steve Henn: Cool, that’s on my blog then, the existential humorist on tumblr – which I’ve neglected since that post. It seems maybe sort of ridiculous, maudlin looking back on it but as it was happening I was truly worried my heart was failing. Suddenly being super aware of all one’s physical sensations is a strange place to be for a writer used to spending so much time exclusively between his ears. I have had ongoing vertigo issues since – nothing as catastrophic or as alarming as that particular day mentioned on the blog, but less alarming versions of vertigo occur often enough now that it’s the new normal for me. Hooray for growing older.

J. Hubner: I loved your poem “Requiem”. Beautiful ruminations of your childhood and memories of your father. I particularly love the line “I wanna travel down the telephone cord from the kitchen to the living room where my mother sat in her chair telling her mother a little too loudly how the kids were doing in school.” It’s a scene I can recall in my own childhood. Do you still take to rights out of the neighborhood and go visit your dad at Oakwood? 

Steve Henn: No, I actually never visited my dad beyond attempting to a handful of times in the month or two following his death way back in 1991. I felt foolish standing there trying to talk to a plaque in the ground. I never felt like he was really there. I generally don’t experience his presence as any sort of awareness or sensation at the gravesite or elsewhere, but I do remember certain scenes and situations from time to time. I used to get very sad or sometimes angry thinking about the end of his life and his death but anymore, mostly, I’m happy that there are scenes that stuck, that I recall, and that generally remind me that he was an honest man doing the best he could. I don’t feel comfortable at his grave. I’d rather imagine him sitting in his big black recliner cracking up while reading essays by Andy Rooney.

J. Hubner:  If there’s some sort of life learnt wisdom you’d like to bestow upon your children, what would it be? 

Steve Henn: I suppose the only wisdom I can claim about life is knowing what most of the poets are trying to tell us, which is that it has an end. It has an end, and as the poet and essayist Thomas Lynch reminds us in The Undertaking, it’s a good idea to maintain an awareness of that. Understanding that we will die encourages us to live with care and attention and kindness, and, if we haven’t been, to understand and accept that we’ve only got so long to get better at this before we’re done.


Steve will be reading at Voyageur Book Shop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Friday July 21st with Wisconsin writer Troy Schoultz. There is also talk of a book release in South Bend where it will be a kid-friendly event, though this is still in the works. If it happens, it will happen in May. Check out www.therealstevehenn.com often for event dates. Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year is available now at Amazon.com or contact Steve through his website. Steve will also have ‘Sad Man’ tour t-shirts available through his website as well. Grab one while you can.

 

Dark Soundscapes : Timothy Fife Talks ‘Black Carbon’, SxSW, and Giallo Films

Timothy Fife. Heard of him? No? Well stick around and let me introduce you. You see, Timothy Fife made his presence known to me last year in the form of the synth duo Victims. Their 10″ release with Death Waltz called Form Hell was one of those jaw dropping experiences for me. Along with Chris Livengood, Fife laid out two epic heavy synth tracks that felt like the universe slowly expanding and then retracting onto itself. To my ears the music Victims create is of the intellectual sort. Music that evolves and reshapes every time you listen to it. Soon after that release there was word that Fife was releasing his solo debut with Spencer Hickman and Death Waltz sometime in 2017. That day finally came a few weeks ago. The release is called Black Carbon, and it’s a stunning album of moody compositions that run the gamut from eerie epics to ambient excursions.

Fife is one of those well-rounded musicians, composing scores for films, collaborating with other artists, and just generally expanding minds through circuitry. He’s also a guy that keeps moving forward. I reached out to Timothy Fife and asked if he’d mind talking a bit about the new record and what’s next for him. He was happy to reply.

J. Hubner: So tell me about your experience at SxSW. You re-scored a portion of ‘Kwaiden’? How did this come about? What was it like working with Antoni Maiovvi?  

Timothy Fife: SxSW was great. I did my first solo set there and I re-scored over an hour’s worth of music for Kwaidan with Antoni Maiovvi.  Working with him was pretty much effortless, he is a really great musician and can improvise really well.  The Kwaidan rescore was a collaboration between Holodeck Records and the Austin Film Society.  Antoni and I were the only artists that rescored Kwaidan that weren’t on Holodeck so it was a real honor to be picked for that.

J. Hubner: Would you go back to SxSW?

Timothy Fife: Oh definitely.  I didn’t see a lot of really commercial stuff when I was there and a lot of what I saw was really great electronic acts that all had their own thing going on.  Austin is definitely a great place for synth music right now, and very little of it was “synthwave.”

J. Hubner: So let’s talk about your Death Waltz Originals debut ‘Black Carbon’. It’s an incredible album, man. How long have you been working on these tracks?

Timothy Fife: I actually made that album really quickly.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that record, so I really just banged it out.

J. Hubner: Was there anything influencing you? Influencing the direction the songs took?

Timothy Fife: The whole thing about Black Carbon came from listening to a report on Public Radio about climate change.  The country just seemed to be going crazy with the elections at that time, so hearing something that was even worse about the environment really made me want to have those feelings as the undercurrent in the record.  Obviously I’m still heavily influenced by Berlin-School music but I really wanted elements of noise in there.

J. Hubner: I can hear that undercurrent in “Sydney at Night”. 

Timothy Fife: When I was finishing up with the track I remembered reading something awful about Sydney, Australia and I thought “that title fits.”

J. Hubner: I really dig the bonus track “Alebedesque” ,only available on the download version of the album. This one almost has an industrial vibe to it. Why didn’t it make the vinyl cut?

Timothy Fife: Yeah, that was just something I was working on potentially for the record and I just didn’t think it made the cut. I was definitely inspired by noise acts at that time.  Some people really liked it, so I decided to make it a “bonus track.”   But I think the definitive version of the record is the one Death Waltz released on vinyl.

J. Hubner: Speaking of Death Waltz, how is it working with Spencer Hickman and that crew. They seem to really get the whole synth scene really well. 

Timothy Fife: I owe a lot to Spencer.  I was basically a nobody from nowhere and he liked my work enough to want to release it on the best label out there.  I’m on the same label as Bruno Nicolai, that’s fucking nuts.  He is also really hands free if you want him to be and he gives you complete artistic freedom toward your release.  For Black Carbon, I didn’t have art set up like I did with the previous record, so Spencer asked Eric Adrian Lee to do it because of his awesome work on the Death Waltz giallo records.

J. Hubner: When did you start to get into Giallo films? 

Timothy Fife: I would say I was in my mid-twenties.  One of my friends was really into foreign exploitation films and he would show me Joe D’Amato and Jess Franco films a lot.  When I first saw it, I kinda didn’t get it but I liked the style and design in them.  Around that time I became really addicted to the soundtracks, and the Giallo ones were some of the most incredible ones I’ve heard. Loving those scores really got me into that genre.

J. Hubner: Someone coming into the genre green, where would you recommend they start?

Timothy Fife:  I guess if someone didn’t know the genre and they wanted a good start, it would definitely have to be Argento’s Tenebrae or Profondo Rosso just because they are still kind of like Hollywood films.  If they were enticed by those then Sergio Martino would be the next great giallo director to check out.

Timothy Fife(L) and Antoni Maiovvi at SxSW 3/17/17. Photo courtesy of Holodeck Records.

J. Hubner: Since we’re on the subject of films, at this point do you prefer film composing over writing original music?

Timothy Fife: No preference, at least right now.  Whenever I do non-film music I’m always eager to get back into film composing and vice versa.  It’s definitely more personal to write non-film music, but my style if you want to call it that certainly comes out of film composing more than anything else.

J. Hubner: So what’s up next? Any live shows?

Timothy Fife: Next week I play a few shows in New England and testing the waters with performing more.  I was a composer for film for so long I kind of forgot how to play live in a way.  I’m playing with Tyler Gorman from the band Dust Witch.  He’s one of the best musicians I know and we like the same stuff so it’s cool.

J. Hubner: Any new Victims releases in the works?

Timothy Fife: As far as Victims goes, I believe Chris will be coming back from NYC soon and we already have some ideas for a live show.  We have like 30 Victims tracks we never used so we want to put something else out with that material.

J. Hubner: It seems like performing something like Black Carbon would be a challenge.

Timothy Fife: I’m not going to play anything from Black Carbon live, at least not for now.  When I played my first show with Tyler I did open with a version of sorts of Low Plain Landscape, but those compositions really aren’t meant to be played in front of an audience.  I really see Black Carbon as more of a mood record of sorts.  For these shows the music is way more cheery and you could probably dance to it.

J. Hubner: Is getting back into performing something you’re excited about, or something you feel you need to do? Maybe a little excitement and dread?

Timothy Fife: When I played my solo set at SxSW I was really nervous.  I had never done that before and I think you could tell if you heard the performance.  I still haven’t developed my live set yet completely so every time I play it’s going to be pretty different from the last show.  I am excited about it, and so far everyone seems to be into it so I’m OK with that.

J. Hubner: Before we go, are there any dream/future collaborations you could share with us?

Timothy Fife: I have about three tentative collaborations set up already.  Wish I could tell you about any of them right now because they are all really cool.  As far as musicians go, I’d love to work more with people that influenced me.  Alec Empire would be cool.  As far as directors go, my dream gig would to score a Cronenberg film.


Head over to Mondo and grab a copy of Black Carbon on vinyl, or if downloading is your poison grab some digital goods at Mondo’s Bandcamp page.

Transatlantic Chill : The Hazy Significance of Billow Observatory

by J. Hubner

Photos by Jonas Munk

When words like “ambient” and “atmospheric” are brought in to describe a band’s music you may have the urge to yawn, stretch, or leave the room. Visions of purple clouds, slow motion shots of a falcon flying in a dusky sky, or Tibetan streams running along wooded views accompanied by a Yamaha DX-7, gated reverbed electronic percussion, and maybe some muted “oohs” and “ahhs” may begin to form in your mind. Please erase all of that from your brain because what we’re about to talk about invokes none of those new age-y tropes, but you may just elevate to the astral plane just the same.

Billow Observatory is a transatlantic music duo that consists of Auburn Lull’s Jason Kolb and Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk. Their music is very meditative and, well, atmospheric, but in a really trippy, hallucinogenic way. It’s electronic music that gives you the feeling of falling slowly through space or internally like some existential trip to find oneself. Both guys have chartered similar territory in their main gigs(see Auburn Lull’s Cast From The Platform and Jonas Munk’s Absorb Fabric Cascade for wonderful examples), but in Billow Observatory they find this beautifully positive space to let the music grow and expand to epic proportions. There’s elements of Eno-esque drone, but there’s also a shoegaze-y element that brings the music to earth.

Kolb and Munk released the first Billow Observatory long player in 2012 and have just released that album’s follow-up, the excellent II: Plains/Patterns on Azure Vista Records. I threw some questions at Jason and Jonas and they were happy to lob some answers back at me.

J. Hubner: So give me a little background on Billow Observatory. How did you two start this transatlantic musical partnership?

Jonas Munk: It all goes back to a post-surf hangout in Oceanside, San Diego 13 years ago. I was chilling poolside, having some good tequila with James from Darla Records (home of Munk’s past ambient project Manual and Auburn Lull) and Jesus from Spanish label Acuarela Records. We were all talking about how good the latest Auburn Lull record (Cast From The Platform) was – in fact it’s still one of my alltime fave records – and Jesus suggested we did a Manual/Auburn Lull 10” split EP for his label. The split EP never happened but it did get me in touch with the band and we started working together in 2005, if I remember correctly.

J. Hubner: What is the inspiration behind the ambient electronic tones you two create? Are there any particular albums you guys are pulling influence from?

Jonas Munk: I can recognize aspects of a really wide range of stuff in our music, but on this new record some of our all time fave ambient, minimalism and shoegaze albums have definitely had an impact on the final result. Eno’s more melodic collaborations (Evening Star, The Pearl,  Apollo), everything by Roedelius, Cluster, Slowdive’s Pygmalion, Aphex Twin’s SAW II and Stars Of The Lid. All the classics we’ve loved for decades basically! But also more modern electronic music (at least ”modern” 15 years ago) such as Pole, Jan Jelinek and the whole Scape catalog is something I’ve been listening to a lot for the past few years while working on this album.

Jason Kolb: In addition to everything above, I’ve been through a few pretty intense Kompakt and 12K phases in the last few years.  I also re-discovered and became totally obsessed with EAR’s The Köner Experiment, which may have subliminally influenced me a bit on this record.  Some of my earliest big influences were Nick McCabe (early Verve songs like Endless Life), Slowdive, and Eno’s Discreet Music, so those types of sounds always seem to creep in to whatever I’m doing.  

J. Hubner: It’s been a little over four years since the debut Billow LP. With II: Plains/Patterns, there seems to be a little more light shining in than the last time around. Did you two approach this album differently? Was the writing/sharing/recording process ongoing over years?

Jonas Munk: It was a little different this time around. First of all Jason suggested we started working with rhythmic elements – whereas the first album was produced without any tempos at all! That is, we didn’t sync anything to a grid. We also discussed adding more recognizable synth patterns and a wider palette of sounds in general. The first track we worked on for this album was Plains, and that really set the ”tone” of the entire thing. It just felt like a really inspiring starting point for a different kind of record.

J. Hubner: Can you walk me through the process of creation between you and Jason Kolb? How do these pieces usually start? Are you both playing guitar and synth, or are you to delegated to a single instrument? Maybe you could talk a little about the process for the track “Plum”, which I absolutely love. 

Jonas Munk: For pretty much every single track Jason would send me some guitar loops and different manipulated sounds and I would add to that and start building around those ideas and eventually send them back to Jason to add more stuff on. Actually I don’t think I’ve touched a guitar while making this album, I’ve mostly been adding sequences, rearranging things, added electronics and the occasional bass line. This actually is a bit unusual for us and for me personally as well – which is probably why this feels like such a fresh record to my ears. Usually I compose and play guitar a lot, no matter what project I’m working on. “Plum” is actually an exception since that’s the one track I started and Jason added guitars on top of that.

Jason Kolb: For this record, it felt like I was doing a lot of “send it and forget it”, where I’d send some some unpolished fragments and then Jonas would turn them into something nicely sculpted, structured, and musical.  I don’t have any strict rules about instrumentation, but it’s usually easiest for me to start with guitar loops and then occasionally add some subtle synth or treatments here and there.

J. Hubner: What sort of equipment are you guys using? Both analog and digital synths? Do you guys get together for the mixing and sequencing aspect of the album? 

Jonas Munk: We hardly did any work while being in the same room for this one. In September last year we spent some time driving around Detroit listening to everything and discussing the mixes, the sequencing and stuff – which also explains why most of the tracks reference Detroit street names – but we actually had most the album down at that point already. As for equipment I use everything really: analog synths, plugins, guitar pedals. I did a lot of analog filter sequencing for this album, playing around with my Moogerfoogers and my Waldorf and MFB filterboxes. And software sampling always plays a big role for me when working on Billow material, cause there’s always quite a lot of drastic sound processing going on!

Jason Kolb: Pretty much anything goes as far as equipment is concerned, but I tried to use more filtering pedals and plug-ins that would add some subtle pulse and pop on this record.  I specifically used a Moogerfooger Murf quite a bit with various reverb and delay pedals.  I also found that running huge reverbs into vocoder plugins can be pretty interesting! I really wish we could  get together more and work in the same room at the same time, but we’ve been pretty lucky with the way things have worked out so far with trading files.

J. Hubner: Have you guys ever performed live together? Is it a possibility?

Jonas Munk: Not so far. But could be interesting. It’s always quite a challenge performing with this kind of music, since processing and editing plays such a big role. But actually some of these new pieces lend themselves more easily to perfomance than the first album.

J. Hubner: So Jonas, this is the second release for your newly minted record label Azure Vista. The debut album was ‘Passage’, your second collaboration with Ulrich Schnauss. You seem to be off to a great start. Two beautiful and rich albums filled with all that analog good stuff. Can you tell us what’s next for Azure Vista?

Jonas Munk: Thanks! Actually it was a bit of a last minute decision to start another label, but we needed a home for ”Passage” and the Billow Observatory was actually being finalized at that point and we wanted to release it as soon as possible – one of the major benefits of having your own label is not having to wait to fit it into a label’s (sometimes very busy) schedule. And Jakob (Skøtt) had time to help out with the artworks, he’s super quick and his skills are absolutely unparalelled. So everything materialized super quickly and now it seems there’ll actually be at least three more releases this year. Not sure I can reveal the next one, but it involves a LOT of gorgeous synth and will be out early summer!

J. Hubner: I know it’s rather premature to ask, but is there a possibility for another Billow Observatory album in the next couple of years? With a dedicated record label for just that kind of blissed-out ambient music, will it make it easier to get music out to people?

Jonas Munk: We actually worked on some new stuff in Jason’s studio in Detroit in September, so there’s definitely new music happening. Whether it’s gonna be for an EP by the end of the year or another full length five years from now is impossible to say at this point.

J. Hubner: I hope this album really catches on as it’s a beautiful musical experience. Art of the highest order. Hopefully Azure Vista can get this kind of music into more ears. 

Jonas Munk: I hope the label will generate enough attention to make it possible to build a small, but important catalog. This kind of music is not like super hip or anything, so it’s not really that easy selling a lot of physical copies – which is needed for a proper financial flow. There’s always a fine line and I need to pay attention to how I spend my time –  if a record only sells 150 copies and the expenses doesn’t recoup it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of working hours on it. But we’ll see. Electronic and ambient music has suffered terrible sales for some years, whereas the rock/psych/stoner crowd (which is responsible for a big part of the El Paraiso catalog) are super loyal to the bands they follow and to physical mediums in general. While ambient music and, say, shoegaze has been off the radar for a while, it never disappears completely and I think there’ll always be people looking out for really personal, innovative material of high quality. I think labels are more important now than ever, since the internet is just flooded with music all the time. So the best way for listeners to navigate through the ocean of sounds is to have some really trusted presences that present things in a really focused way – ie with a narrow attention on specific genres and aesthetics.

J. Hubner: I think that could be an entirely different but important conversation to have at some point.

Jonas Munk: I could go on about the internet and the state of music for hours, but let’s just say it’s both a blessing and a curse! All in all I’m extremely thankful that I’m still able to make a living creating music and selling records. Considering the amount of (free) music out there I actually consider it a small miracle, and these days I’m absolutely enjoying every second of it!


Billow Observatory’s II: Plains/Patterns is available now on Azure Vista Records. Pick up a copy here. Look up Jason Kolb’s band Auburn Lull here, and check out Jonas Munk’s solo endeavors over at El Paraiso. If you like it, buy it.

Stories Told By You and Me : An Evening With The Trap Door

This is a story I wrote back in February for a local paper about a local storytelling show called The Trap Door. It’s real people telling true stories in front of a crowd of friends and strangers(if you’re familiar with The Moth Radio Hour then you know the drill.) They’re doing great things, so I thought it was worth sharing here. They’re looking to expand their reach, meaning you might be able to hear these stories in the comfort of your home at some point. Until then, read below for all the details. Enjoy. – J.H.

Storytelling is one of the oldest arts. The act of enthralling a group of your peers, some you may know and some you may not, with a story. Cavemen drew their tales on rocky walls, cowboys told tales around a campfire, and I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard(and told) planted on a barstool with my umpteenth beer of the night sitting in front of me. The point is, whether you realize it or not, we crave the story. We crave a piece of someone else’s good fortune or heartbreak. We need to connect on some level, and one of the most intimate ways we can do that with another human being(besides waking up in the morning in a strange bed with an ample amount of regret) is to share a piece of ourselves through storytelling. In Fort Wayne, The Trap Door is here to help us tell our stories.

The Trap Door, in the simplest of terms, “is a curated collection of unscripted, real-life stories.” It’s an evening of friends and strangers coming together to hear someone tell a true tale from their life. Up to this point these Trap Door evenings have been hosted at The B Side at One Lucky Guitar, but starting on February 16th The Trap Door moves to its permanent home at Artlink Contemporary Gallery.

The Trap Door was conceived and created by Ben Larson, John Cheesebrew, and Becca Bell. I spoke to Ben and Becca about how it all came together and where they see The Trap Door going in the future.

J. Hubner: So how did The Trap Door come about? 

Ben Larson: I wanted there to be a live storytelling show here in town ever since I really got into the storytelling-as-theater format about 8 or 9 years ago. But like so many things and so many other people, I never thought it was something I could do myself. That’s the thing about starting any kind of project—whether it’s putting on a show, building a house, etc.—the hardest part is deciding that you can do it. Once you figure out that the only thing holding you back is you, the rest all kind of falls together on its own.

Anyway, back in the summer of 2015, I had just moved back to Fort Wayne after spending a year in Seattle. I was dealing with some emotional stuff at the time and wanted a project to bury myself in. At that time, one of the main things that was helping me deal with my stuff was listening to stories and finding comfort in them. So I decided I would start a show here. It’s really that simple. I knew I had a space to use, because Matt Kelley (who owns One Lucky Guitar) had told me that I could use The B-Side any time if I ever wanted to put on something. So I booked a date and set out to find people to tell stories. Along the way, I was introduced to a woman named Kate Riordan, a friend of a friend, who was also interested in starting a storytelling show. She became my partner for that first show and was invaluable as far as putting it all together.

Long story short, we put on the show at the end of summer 2015, and then we both got distracted by other things, so it was a full year before I put on another show. It had never fully left my mind, but I had fallen into a months-long, very deep depression and basically quit life for a while. I was just starting to come out of it over the course of this past summer, and now that I was feeling healthy again it seemed like the perfect time to revive the show, so that’s what I set about doing. Kate had moved to Indianapolis by then, though, so I put on the October show by myself. After that, John and Becca expressed interest in coming on board, and I gladly accepted. Bringing them on has changed so much in so many good ways.

Becca Bell: The Trap Door is basically Ben’s baby. He did a few events about a year and a half ago, and I heard about them, but I stupidly never attended. Then this fall, when he was gearing up to reboot the event, he asked me to be a storyteller. It seemed like a natural fit — I’m a writer, and it seems I’m always telling personal stories — so I gave it a try. But it turned out that telling a 15-minute personal story, without notes, was much harder than I expected. But I got through it. It was a great experience. And we were all blown away by the audience response. As Ben and I got to talking about what he wanted The Trap Door to grow into, he asked me to come on board the planning team.

J. Hubner: Before even the first Trap Door show, was there a story you felt you wanted, or needed to tell?

Ben Larson: Sure, there are lots: the death of my father, my time in Seattle (which in hindsight was a year-long shit show), my catastrophic nervous breakdown this time last year. And maybe I will tell those one day, but I also feel like it’s a little gauche to put yourself on stage regularly at the show you curate, so I am content to hold back for the most part these days. I’ll get up and tell them one day, though.

J. Hubner: Can you give me an idea of how you put a Trap Door show together? 

Ben Larson: As soon as I figure that out, I will let you know. Seriously though, we are still figuring out how best to do it. The basic idea is that we start by putting out a call for story pitches, look at what comes in, and decide what to do/who to put on from there. We also reach out to people if we think they would be good to have on. From there it’s all basic logistics—deciding how best to promote it, what the batting order will be for storytellers (the best way I have found is to think of it like you are making a mix tape), stuff like that. It’s nothing glamorous, but it is time-consuming.

Becca Bell: We’re still essentially in our infancy as an organization (February will only be our fifth show since Ben’s reboot), so we’re working out the kinks. But so far, everyone — from vendors, to storytellers, to audience members — has been really laid back as our events have continued to evolve. It’s a bit crazy when you start selling out on your third show, but it’s a good “problem” to have! I’m sure we’ll continue to dial in the process with each month.

J. Hubner: Have you always had an interest in storytelling? 

Ben Larson: I’ve always loved a good story, as I’m sure most people do. I really got passionate about storytelling 8 or 9 years ago, though, when I started listening to podcasts regularly and discovered shows like Risk! and The Moth. Risk! is still my absolute favorite podcast. I actually put off answering these questions because the new episode came out today, and I had to listen to it before doing anything else.

You know, there’s just something so compelling about hearing things that actually happened to people, and I hate to use the cliché, but it’s a reality that truth is so often stranger than fiction. Hearing stories helps me feel connected to people. They help me remember to be compassionate, because they remind me that everyone has a story. We all have our demons, and talking about them reminds us that we are all just people trying to do the best we can. That being said, sometimes they are simply funny and entertaining. Each one is different. I really can’t list all the wonderful things I get out of listening to and telling stories, because it’s too much.

Becca Bell: I suppose the short answer is “yes.” I have a background in journalism and I work as a copywriter, so every resume I’ve ever submitted mentions “storytelling” as a skill set. Add to that a decade working as a barista and bartender, four years on my high school speech team, and a few theater experiences sprinkled in… and I suppose you could say this kinda fit into my wheelhouse. I also love podcasts — including the Moth — so I knew the genre and feel Ben was loosely aiming for.

J. Hubner: You both have mentioned podcasts, such as Risk! and The Moth Radio Hour as influences. Are they jumping off points in order to create your own storytelling format?

Becca Bell: We want The Trap Door to have it’s own personality and flavor, so we’re not trying to identically replicate anything that’s already out there. But the podcast zeitgeist has proven that people are hungry for entertainment that fits around an intimate, first-person, human interest narrative. So many podcasts have taken the confessional aspect of social media and turned it on it’s head — letting people tell their stories in a way that doesn’t pander for “likes” or cause WWIII on a comment thread. In the era of character counts and photo filters, people are starving for real, raw, uncensored honesty. This kind of storytelling changes the way you see people. It makes you feel more connected to your community. And it makes friends out of perfect strangers. That’s really what The Trap Door is about.

J. Hubner: When looking for stories and storytellers to share, what are you looking for?

Ben Larson: Anything that blows our hair back. If we think it will be a good story, we will put it on. Unlike most other storytelling shows, we don’t do themed nights. We may occasionally do that in the future, but we like the idea of a night at The Trap Door being unpredictable. Right now the biggest thing we are figuring out is that having a good balance of stories is important. They can’t all be emotional gut punches, but having them all be lighthearted takes away from the point of having the show, so we are trying to be very conscious of that balance right now.

Becca Bell: For the most part, anything goes. It has to be true. It has to be first-person, meaning something that’s happened to you. It has to be the right length — 12-15 minutes for Showcase events, and 5-8 minutes for Slams. And it has to be unscripted. That’s it. As we receive pitches, we may decide to schedule a story for a particular event, just to create the right mix and emotional arc at each event. And because all stories are uncensored, our events are 18+. The uncensored, unpredictable nature of our events might make some potential audience members uncomfortable, but the raw honesty is part of what makes the stories worth sharing — and worth hearing.

J. Hubner: How have the crowds changed from that first show in 2015 to the recent shows? Has it been a progression from that first night to now?

Ben Larson: To be honest, the very first show back in 2015 was just okay. The stories were great, and the people who came all said they enjoyed it, but the turnout was kinda lackluster with maybe 20 people actually paid to get in. I keep asking myself what the difference has been between that show and every one since, why getting people out to that show was like herding cats and why these last few have all sold out. I mean, getting better at promotion has helped, but I also think storytelling in general started getting a lot more attention in that year after the first show. But really I don’t know and can’t say for certain.

J. Hubner: What has the feedback been like?

Becca Bell: Every show has blown me away. And from the feedback we hear, I think they’ve done the same for many in the audience. In less than three hours, every show has made me laugh, cry and laugh-cry. You can just hear everyone in the audience thinking, “YES. Exactly! I feel you.” A lot of the stories involve unbelievable scenarios and crazy hijinks, but the sentiments at their core are always universal. Even our first Storytelling Slam — which was entirely impromptu — had people snort-cry-laughing for several minutes straight. It’s like going to a great movie or reading a really good short story, with an entirely new and unpredictable plot every time. Better yet, the protagonists are people who live right in your hometown.

J. Hubner: Has there been a particular story you’ve heard that really affected you?

Ben Larson: Man, that’s a good question. I would have to say Mark Lahey’s story at our last showcase. He told a brutal story about his relationship with his father, and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was so powerful, and he was so brave for telling it. I was honored and humbled that he would do that at our little show. He even went way over on time, but as Matt Kelley put it when we were packing up, “you would have had a riot on your hands if you’d have cut him off.”

Becca Bell: Oh, this is tough. They’ve all left a mark. I think the biggest thing is that when each storyteller gets up on the stage, takes a deep breath and bares their soul, you can’t help but see them in a new light. Last week, an acquaintance of mine, with tons of friends in the audience, told a story he’d basically kept secret for 20 years. And at our first Slam event, a guy who was a relative stranger to most of the crowd told a story that was simultaneously mortifying, hilarious, gross and inspiring. I can’t imagine the courage it took for both of them to get up there and do what they did, but they both left that night having made some new friends. The courage each storyteller shows and the openness with which the audience receives them always restores my faith in humanity. And these days, we could all use more of that.

J. Hubner: Can you tell me about the move from hosting the shows at The B Side to Artlink? Is Artlink The Trap Door’s permanent residence now?

Ben Larson: It is a permanent move, yes. Artlink will be our home for the foreseeable future.

As for how it happened, I got word that Matt McClure (Artlink’s new Executive Director) was looking to do a storytelling show when he heard about us. We got to talking, and within 15 minutes it became clear to both of us that it would be mutually beneficial to move The Trap Door over there. I hope this doesn’t sound too self-congratulatory, but we have been consistently selling out The B-Side based only on word of mouth and a couple of facebook posts, so it was clear to Becca, John, and I that we needed a larger venue. We love The B-Side, but unfortunately space is very limited there, and we have had to turn people away at the door. Obviously we don’t want to turn anyone away. We want to be able to share this show, that we love and hold very dear, with as many people as we can. Also, Matt is doing wonderful things with Artlink, and he is in a position to offer us a unique type of support that will allow us to grow while still keeping the show 100% in our hands and exactly how we want it to be.

J. Hubner: So what’s in store for the first Trap Door showcase at Artlink?

Ben Larson: Oh buddy, it’s gonna be amazing. First, I would encourage everyone to check out Shannon Cason, our guest storyteller, at his website www.shannoncason.com. He is a very big name in the storytelling world. He’s a Moth Grand Slam winner and is a regular on top storytelling shows like Risk!, The Moth, and Snap Judgment. His own show, Shannon Cason’s Home Made Stories, is put out by WBEZ in Chicago (the same station that produces This American Life), and he is one of my absolute favorite storytellers. I have no idea what story he is going to tell, but it will be fantastic. I would listen to Shannon read the phone book.

As for local storytellers, we will be featuring Jason Burnett (who won our story slam back in December), David LeBeau, Haley Johnson, and Nicole Funk. I don’t want to post any spoilers, but I will say that people should expect a very wide range of stories that night. We couldn’t be more excited.

J. Hubner: I’ve heard rumors of a Trap Door podcast. Any truth to that?

Becca Bell: Yes! That is in the works. Or at least, in the planning stages. We’ve had our hands full. I think it would be foolhardy to set a firm deadline on that, but we’ll get there before the end of 2017, hopefully.

J. Hubner: Where do you see The Trap Door heading? Will you be looking for storytellers in ten years?

Ben Larson: I would love nothing more than to still be putting on this show in ten years.

The tricky thing about the future is that we want to plan ahead but not get so caught up that we forget to focus on the most important thing—the next upcoming show. Whatever is next on our calendar will always be our top priority. If I had my druthers, though? If we could somehow make this a touring show, expand into other cities, make The Trap Door a full-time commitment, that would basically be my wildest dreams come true. For right now, though, I am staying focused on chiseling out a little corner of the storytelling world for us.

Becca Bell: Frankly, The Trap Door isn’t about the three of us. It’s about the people who support it, come to events, and keep it alive with their stories. So it’s hard for me to say what it will become. Only time, friends and followers will tell.


Come out to Artlink Contemporary Gallery on February 16th at 7:30pm and check out The Trap Door. Buy your tickets early at https://squareup.com/store/artlink-gallery/item/the-trap-door-featuring-shannon-cason.

 

 

Nightswimming : Mark Hutchins Talks New Pale Swimmers Digital Return

by EA Poorman

Mark Hutchins used to make the rounds as one of the premier Fort Wayne songwriters. He started making a name for himself in the band Vandolah, which to my recollection recorded one of the best local albums to grace the cd racks at Wooden Nickel Music called Please. Hutchins also made a little album called Sleepy Furnace, the first album he put out under his own name. Another stellar local album that stands up among the best. But in 2006, Hutchins followed the muse to the way of 4-track cassette recording. New Pale Swimmers was a GBV-inspired 4-track project where Mark would hit record on a little Tascam cassette recorder and just let ideas fly. It was a short-lived project, but one that if you ever had a chance to hear the music you never forgot it.

Recently Hutchins was asked about New Pale Swimmers, which got him thinking about the old tunes. He figured why not digitize the songs and put ’em up on Bandcamp for all to enjoy, which he did. Along with some brand new music he recorded over the last year, Mark has put up all the full-lengths and EPs he recorded as New Pale Swimmers. I sat down and talked with Mark about the New Pale Swimmers, the digital releases, and being a 21st century artist.

EA Poorman: So it’s been quite a few years since New Pale Swimmers have made a sound. You’ve recently put together a Bandcamp page that’s collected most of the albums and EPs from your side project to a convenient place to binge them. What made you decide to unearth these tunes now?

Mark Hutchins: A few people had asked about it, so I put the two full-lengths and an EP up on Bandcamp. Then I got the itch to go full-on 4-track cassette recorder and combined freshly recorded stuff with a few tunes I’d done last year. Now folkscan FINALLY experience the entire NPS catalog. And pay what they want. Or just listen for free. It’s okay; I’m a 21st-century artist. I live under a bridge.

EA Poorman: For those not in the know, can you give me a little background on New Pale Swimmers? How did the project come about? Who was involved? What was the inspiration for the NPS sound and aesthetic? How long did it last?

Mark Hutchins: I decided at some point to challenge myself by coming up with an album title and all the track names in sequence… then write and record all the songs in a week or two. It’s always just been me. I can’t tell you exactly what triggered this, but I’ve always been a fan of DIY, unfettered and unfiltered music. I’ve done plenty of projects that were second guessed, fussed over, refined and tweaked to death. This isn’t necessarily a reaction to it as much as it is a vacation from it–it’s the closest feeling to being a kid again, musically. Hit “record” and go nuts. Tape hiss is comfort food.

EA Poorman: So how many full lengths did you record under the NPS moniker? How many EPs? What was the typical recording process like for a NPS joint? Were you the sole songwriter?

Mark Hutchins: I did two full lengths, self titled and then Buzz Cat. A few years later, I did an EP called World Beater Takes Five. Then there are three more EPs I pulled together this year. The first NPS projects were a mixture of 4-track cassette and computer-based recording program. Some songs even morph from one to the other.

EA Poorman: With this being such a personal project, how often did you take NPS out into the Fort Wayne night life? The mid-2000s were a pretty happening time in the Fort Wayne original music scene.

Mark Hutchins: Except for maybe a gig or two, I never took this stuff to the street. But when NPS started in 2006, Fort Wayne was humming. There were so many original bands at the time… I’d venture to guess that Fort Wayne rivaled Bloomington and Indy at the time. It was really inspiring.

EA Poorman: So besides the old school stuff, you recorded some new NPS material and included it on the Bandcamp page?

Mark Hutchins: I did! Three of the EPs are almost all brand-new music. It’s like having a fit… I recorded a bunch of tunes that I titled first, then back in the closet goes the 4-track, for who knows how long. Don’t ask me how I managed to get a closet under a bridge.

EA Poorman: Probably the same way I did, which we’ll keep a secret. So besides the unearthing of New Pale Swimmers, you’ll also be playing a songwriter’s showcase on March 24th at Deer Park Irish Pub. Can you tell me a little about this show? Deer Park is one of your old haunts, isn’t it?

Mark Hutchins: Oh yeah. I love the place. It’s very cozy. I really hadn’t planned on booking any live stuff but Adam Baker (who is a really good musician and runs these showcases) invited me to play. So I’m going to do an acoustic set with my friend Lee Andrews on mandolin and possibly a special guest from Toledo. I hope to remember the words.

EA Poorman: So if someone strolls along on the web and comes across the New Pale Swimmers BC page and their interest is peaked, what would you recommend they start out with? Where should the NPS journey begin?

Mark Hutchins: A pint of hard liquor with a chaser, headphones, and the first one, The New Pale Swimmers. As you move through the catalog, I’d suggest you add opioids. By the time you hit the latest EPs, you’ll “get it.” I’m not condoning drug abuse here, but being in the proper frame of mind is key.


Head on over to https://newpaleswimmers.bandcamp.com/ and check out the entire New Pale Swimmers catalog newly minted in digital form for you to enjoy. Don’t wait too long, though. It won’t be there forever. And make sure to head out to Deer Park Pub on March 24th for Songwriter’s Showcase and check out Mark and friends break out some tunes.