Monday, December 17, 2007
Hello. How are you? I wanted to write you all in order to provide a brief update. My laptop has seen and worked through better days. It became sick early last week, essentially out of nowhere. I was able to quasi-diagnose the problem, and had someone look at it. They supposedly fixed it, but the computer was returned more or less as is (albeit, with a new fan), and with a more professional diagnosis of other problems. I was a little burned by the experience, but one peseveres, adapts, and moves on. I am ardently seeking a workable laptop to be the new conversations, etc. catalyst/computer, in its stead.
Unfortunately, what this has meant is that I am behind in posting. I have had three great interviews since the last post, have arranged several others, and if my plans work out, I will have great adventures this holiday, replete with captivating and quirky conversations for you to enjoy soon.
Also, I hope that you stay with us through 2008, as we will grow exponentially. There will be more posts, characters, conversations, and even more "etc." for you to enjoy. Posts will occur more often, so that you will have something new to read, listen to, view, enjoy regularly. Projects I am brainstorming will manifest, and there will be more to explore on this site. By this time next year, your friends will be telling you about conversations, etc., you will have provided us with countless suggestions for interview subjects, and we will all enjoy talks both long and short, all the more.
Thank you for your patience. Thank you for continuing the conversation, and hope to keep it flowing, on here and off, with each and every one of you. Contact me, as you like.
Shahin I. Beigi,
Founder and Fellow
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Awna Teixeira, Allison Russell, and Diona Davies:
3 of 4 Po'Girls.
The road is still filled with them: wandering musicians who tear through and linger in venues and towns sprinkled across the map. They may have itineraries that are posted in newspapers, or on fliers and web sites. For those of us not on the road, the lists read like an alphabet soup of locales. The constellations musicians come up with for traversing states, countries, even continents, make some of us curious and long to travel, if not ramble along with them. When their maps include our towns (or nearby destinations), we have the chance to (if the stars are right) bask in their live tunes and tones. To make up for not dropping everything and following them to the next few shows, we concede and wait until the next time they come by, making it our beeswax to see them again (and again).
Po'Girl sauntered into Cambridge a couple weeks ago, and I did in fact make sure I saw them live (again). This is because, last February, on one of the iciest days in a sincerely cold week, they wandered into town and played Club Passim, warming up the room with a singular, stirring, hip-swaying music. I went to that show because I had yet had the chance to see The Be Good Tanyas, and at the time, their singer-guitarist Trish Klein, was a Po'Girl, too. More than that, the first Po'Girl album (which I knew from my record store clerk-and-curator days) suggests that the songs may play more poignantly live. Seeing them the first time, I was taken by each phrase, instrument change, and twist and tone of the show. The second time proved to be a refreshing reminder: the popular blues-folk-roots-jazz hybrid (add/alter as many appropriate hyphens) can blossom in earnest and evolve (even within a band), although it is being commodified, hip-ified, and de-sinceritized these days.
Outside the venue and after the show, we spoke about musicians we can't stop listening to, instruments we can't live without, and a few other things that get them through, on the road.
* Po'Girl's tour schedule can be found at their official site, or on their myspace page. Some dates include: Nov. 2, Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, AZ; Nov. 8, Gig Artspace in Santa Fe, NM; Nov. 10, Lobo Theater in Albequerque, NM; Nov. 14, Cerritos Centre for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, CA; Nov. 17, The Mobius in Ashland, OR; Nov. 21-22, The Dream Cafe in Penticton, BC; Nov. 22, The Royal in Nelson, BC.
Roll Call/ Playtime
CE: One thing I’m going to ask of you all is to re-iterate your first name before you talk, because I am not used to your intonations.
Allison: Right, to know who it is [speaking].
CE: Right, right. Okay, so hello’s around the room. This is outside of Club Passim, October 16, 2007. Tuesday night. Talking with
CE: And your names?
Allison: Hello, I’m Allison Russell, from Po’Girl. It’s the second day of the tour. We’re getting ready to do a night drive, to get us as close to
Awna: Hi, I’m Awna Teixeira.
Diona: And I’m Diona Davies.
Benny: And I’m Benny Sidelinger, the happy boy. [All laugh.]
CE: And Benny’s the newest official edition to the band. Benny, you started when?
Benny: Ah, in August.
CE: In August of 2007, shortly before the JT & the Clouds tour.
Allison: That’s right. That was a different band, though, that went on tour with JT & the Clouds. That was Sofia, Awna's and my side project.
CE: Right, right.
CE: Let’s start with the way you guys play on stage. I have some questions about that, then I have questions about how it compares to the way you play off stage.
So, I noticed that you guys do a lot of playing when you’re performing on stage. Everybody seems like they’re “playing” and enjoying it. There is a melding of sounds going on, and a melding of voice: “this is when this person jumps in, this is when that person jumps in.” It seems to be an ordered sense of play, though. I was wondering how you guys came to that way of working together. You know, how that evolved.
Allison: Yeah, I think it has evolved. It just comes from playing together a lot. And we’re all primarily ear-taught musicians. I play just off what I’m hearing, and listening to what other people are doing, getting inspired by that, and reacting, so. There definitely is a lot of spontaneous, improvisational stuff that goes on; of course, it’s within the structure of a song that we’ve, you know, hopefully run over at least once or twice before we [laughs] unleash it on an audience.
Diona: Sometimes. These days, sometimes not.
Allison: It comes just from playing for a few years, all together. Particularly, Awna and Diona go back about seven or eight years, maybe more than that. And we’ve all known Benny for the last, almost five years. Even though Benny is new to this project, we’ve played with him and his other project, The Shiftless Rounders, many times. So, I think what you are hearing is a level of comfort and familiarity that we have with each other.
CE: Definitely, definitely. And when you write the music in the studio, does it have that kind of melding feel, too?
Diona: Yeah. Usually we start--seems to me--we introduce a song on the road, learn it, and kind of hash it out. Then we have this little package of songs that we go in the studio with, and arrange them more in there.
Awna: A lot of stuff happens in the studio, too. I think that’s because everyone is... like, we’re there: we’re in the studio, there is not a whole lot of outside influence. Most studios don’t have windows, and you kind of don’t know the time of day. We get to focus even more on the songs than we ever have, really. You’ll get in the studio and you’ll record, and then, afterwards, you’re like: “Damn, this harmony would have sounded good!” After the recording happens, then all these things change or flourish with the song.
Allison: Hmm mhmmm.
Awna: You’re just focusing so hard on it for a really long time. In my opinion, the best thing any musician can do for themselves is to record. It betters you.
Allison: You learn a lot.
I Want to Play Double Fiddles!
CE: And yeah, there is a knowing between you guys. Even though it comes out playfully, it is not a loose playfulness, in the sense, “What’s going to happen next?” It seems like the snapping and the “this instrument comes in at this time” quality occur naturally, with an understanding of the way it all works together, the way you guys work together, and this whole thing.
Speaking of instruments, y’all each play a bunch of different ones. I had a few questions about that:
A) Do you guys teach each other some of the instruments?
B) Are there instruments that you are working to include?
C) It seems like you enjoy hearing each other play the various instruments. When you watch each other perform, it looks like you’re thinking “Hey, wow! Wow!” Are there any songs in which you look forward to hearing each other play the other instruments? For example, when Allison plays the guitar, or Diona plays the glockenspiel.
All: Yeah, yeah.
Diona: I hadn’t played the glockenspiel for a while. Whoo! That was exciting!
Allison: I think we definitely do encourage each other. For example, I keep hinting to Benny that I was up for him to give me some guitar lessons. Broadly hinting, you know. And I’ve been getting into playing keys more, which has been a fun thing. I haven’t done that on stage yet. I’ve done it on recording. But yeah, we do encourage each other to try new things. Diona started playing accordion a little bit, because Awna has one. And then with certain songs, there’s definitely a push and pull, and people going out of their comfort zones, and you come up with a different sound. Sometimes, it’s great to have someone who’s less proficient trying the instrument, and they come up with something entirely different, and maybe that fits really well into the song. Or, even though I will never be the virtuoso guitar master that Benny is, sometimes I can hack something out, and then he’s free to play dobro, and that’s beautiful, or banjo, and he’s a wonderful banjo player. You know, this kind of thing.
Awna: And there’s this the whole world of Benny. He has a huge repertoire of old time banjo songs, and different kinds of stuff that we need to explore. He plays fiddle, too. That’s another element that we, I mean, I would like to hear...
Diona, Allison, Awna: Yeah.
Benny: I want to play double fiddles!
Diona: Yeah, yeah.
Benny: I almost brought my fiddle onto this tour, but then I chickened out.
Benny: I didn’t, because the back of the car is so crowded.
Allison: We need a tickle truck that travels behind us, that has a bigger inside than outside, that will magically transport us, without having to take airplanes and dealing with that.
CE: Or, people that are willing to let your borrow instruments in various towns. Something like: “We need your violin tonight.”
Benny: That gets tricky, when you start using other people’s instruments. It can be hard, especially with wind instruments. Allie had to borrow a clarinet last night. You know, it’s just not, --especially a clarinet--it’s the type of instrument that, you just—it’s in your mouth. It’s such an intimate thing to be acquainted with. I think it’s tricky, to play other instruments.
It took me a while to get used to playing the banjo these girls had, because… my banjo is quite a bit different.
Allison: Better. Your banjo’s better. [Laughs].
Benny: Their banjo has a decent pick-up in it, and I’ve been sticking with that, because they’re used to that. It would be tricky to just grab someone else’s banjo. Banjo is another one that’s sensitive.
CE: And the violin, too.
Allison: Are you a violin player?
CE: Yeah. I’ve been playing for the last 15 years. But the last couple years, I haven’t had a working one. People say, “Oh you should get this kind of violin, or that kind of violin.” I don’t have enough extra money to get a new one, yet I don’t need more than a piece that sounds like I need it to sound. Something that feels right, but something that I can mess with, because I’ll do off things, like use soft branches, instead of a bow. I pluck a lot. When I was a kid, I didn’t want to keep my parents awake, so I started plucking a lot. I realized I plucked 80 percent of the time, and bowed 20 percent of the time. I’m almost uncomfortable with bowing. You could do a lot of other stuff without the bow.
CE: But yeah, it’s so singular.
Benny: So, the fiddle. Actually, I picked up a fiddle yesterday, that-- once in a while you pick up a fiddle that just feels right. You’ve never played it before, but everything there just fits you. I had that experience with my friend’s fiddle. I wish I could have acquired that, somehow.
Awna: You weren’t speaking so broadly.
Benny: I know. “I really, really, really, really like this fiddle! How many fiddles do you have?” Of course, the guy’s got five fiddles. He could have four fiddles, you know?
Awna: It’s almost like they choose you, sometimes. That’s the way it was with my accordion. I found it at
And it was just like, I put it on, and it suctioned itself to my body.
Allison: They haven’t separated ever since. [Smiles all around.]
Allison: Oh, it’s a chain of thrift stores across
Benny: Or Goodwill.
Allison: Exactly the same thing.
CE: Do you remember which city the
Awna: Yeah, in
Po'Girl Covers: Maps and Songs
CE: Diona was explaining what parts of the map you folks are from… If you would, just restate it for the interview.
Benny: I’m from
Allison: I’m from
Awna: And I’m from
Diona: I’m from BC and I live on an island in the middle of the water called Galiano.
CE: Nice. You were talking about mixing instruments around. I’m excited about your covers. When a band you’re into covers a song, it's great when they put the song in their sound, or they push their sound with it. And I hear that from you guys, from the couple times I’ve seen you perform “The Partisan,” which I knew, coming from Leonard Cohen.
Allie: Yeah, we do too. We learned it from him, originally. Not directly from him—I wish—but yeah, from his recording.
CE: And the Bessie Smith song from tonight, the way you guys made it your own.
CE: I was wondering:
How does a cover come into the repertoire? How does it go from being introduced as a possibility, to getting played on stage? Are there any covers that you want to do later on?
Allison: We’re always thinking about different songs we want to do, particularly from other songwriter friends whom we adore, like Carolyn Mark, Chris Brown, Kate Fenner, and Jeremy Lindsay (who was with Po’Girl last time we were here). There are a lot of people whose songs we love to play. And then, certainly, classic, older songs and jazz tunes that really resonate. Certain songs resonate with you. And then you bring it to the group, and if it resonates with everybody, then it gets played. Ultimately, what decides it, often, is audience reaction. If we play a song a few times, and people just aren’t that into it, we kind of get demoralized with it, with that song, and you give up on it.
Benny: You can’t get too attached, I think, to even your own songs. In the end, you gotta just go with what works.
Diona: Sometimes, it doesn’t. We played a song once, for a whole room full of people, and no one even clapped.
CE: Was it in
Diona: No, it wasn’t. It was [somewhere else].
CE: Speaking of audience responses: when I hear “Home to You” and a couple songs from the first album, I connect with them quite a bit. I was wondering, would you share some stories about people coming up to you and saying, “I connect with this song, because…”? You know, that kind of thing. [Lyrics to Po'Girl songs available under the music section here.] Awna: Lots of different things. We’ve had people follow us around. Like, they just happen at one show on a tour, and find out about the rest of the shows on the tour, and just decide on a whim, after that one show, to come to six or seven shows. That’s wild. That is like, you’ve just decided, last minute, to take time out of your week and drive around the country to come see us, again and again and again. Then, some will request certain songs, or do research on the history of the different things we’re talking about. There are lots of incredible things that happen. I think, as the music’s coming out of you, sometimes you forget that it’s actually affecting people to do stuff like that. It’s an amazing thing to do, to affect people like that.
Allison: A few times, we’ve had come up to us about certain songs, particularly when they’re dealing with the death of someone close to them.
CE: Which songs inspire this?
Allison: Well there was one woman, on the last
Benny: “Prairie Girl Gone.” A lot of people write to us about that song.
Allison: That’s right. It’s a song that I wrote about my grandma, who now is dead from Alzheimer’s, but at the time, she was living with Alzheimer’s. You know, it was really awful to watch someone ---a very cerebral woman-- have her mind taken from her. I sing that song and, of course, for me it’s deeply personal; but, I’ve had a lot of people come up to me about the song, particularly people who’ve been touched by it, and had people in their lives that they loved lost to Alzheimer’s. Hmmm.
Awna: Lots of different things. We’ve had people follow us around. Like, they just happen at one show on a tour, and find out about the rest of the shows on the tour, and just decide on a whim, after that one show, to come to six or seven shows. That’s wild. That is like, you’ve just decided, last minute, to take time out of your week and drive around the country to come see us, again and again and again. Then, some will request certain songs, or do research on the history of the different things we’re talking about. There are lots of incredible things that happen. I think, as the music’s coming out of you, sometimes you forget that it’s actually affecting people to do stuff like that. It’s an amazing thing to do, to affect people like that.
Pizza! Dobro! Jamborees!
CE: Hmmm. I don’t want to hold you up too much, maybe a couple more?
All: Sure, sure.
CE: By the way, there’s a place, right by where Peet’s Coffee is, if you guys are starving and need amazing Sicilian pizza. It’s two slices for four dollars. It’s called Pinocchio's. It’s world famous, but it’s just right there.
Awna: Sicilian pizza is a whole other story than just regular pizza.
CE: Yeah, and they make tomato and basil.
Awna: Sicilians make the best pizza. Seriously.
Allison: We love
Awna: We basically lived off wine and pizza.
Allison: For ten days, all we could afford!
CE: Tell me about some bands with whom you like performing. Obviously, with JT and the Clouds. Jeremy and I have actually been emailing back and forth, and we’ll be having a conversation soon enough. That last album, The City’s Hot, Yeah the City’s Hot, when I first got it, it’s all I listened to. For four months. I still can’t get over it.
Allison: I know, I obsessively listened to that album.
Awna: Yeah, do you have a copy?
Allison: No, I don’t have a copy.
Awna: They kept having to take it back to sell it. They were selling out of it. They would say, “I’m sorry, I’ve gotta sell it!”
Allison: Ah, and now I don’t have one! Ah, how could I have left
CE: So, as
Allison: We did, we did. We recorded four tracks with the Clouds while we were in
CE: You must play a lot of folk festivals, with a range of folk acts?
Allison: Have you been to any Canadian Folk Fests?
CE: No, no.
Allison: You would love it. The concerts always have great lineups, but my favorite part are the workshops, which aren’t workshops in the way maybe people think about them in festivals here, where someone teaches you guitar. They just throw people together from various bands, and give you some ridiculous topic, and then you just play music together and see what happens. Sometimes people are afraid to extemporize a little bit, so they turn it into a songwriters in the round, which can be beautiful, too. But, a lot of the times, it turns into a jamboree, by the end of it!
CE: In what town?
CE: Oh, yeah.
Allison: You should go. It’s in the third week in July, or something.
Benny: Yeah, it’s so fun. The Shiftless Rounders,
Allison: He was amazing.
Benny: He was into the dobro: he would take a harmonica solo, then yell, “Dobro!” every other time around. He just kept making me take solos. We have a great recording of that. The nicest letter we’ve ever gotten was from the guy who recorded it. He was just so into it. He gave us some of The Shiftless Rounders tracks, and then some of the tracks from Paul Reddick. We have it on our web site now, with the letter. The only mp3’s we have up are those tracks that everyone was playing on, all the girls singing and everything, I put the letter on there too, because it’s such a cool letter. I think that was one of my favorite musical experiences of my life.
Diona: That was a really, really great time.
CE Speaking of the road, any rituals you guys have?
Allison: We have a group hug before every show. And I use a lot of essential oils. And I do a lot of calisthenics in hotel rooms, while watching mindless television.
Awna: We always try to make sure that we stop to enjoy stuff around us, rather than just driving to a show and playing, driving to a show and playing. Like…
Allison: And I like running. I go running in every new town we go to.
Benny: Also, we like meeting locals. All of us are big on meeting people in the community, and taking time after the show, when we can, to hang out with some of the local people, and absorb the culture of the places we’re in.
Allison: And pay attention…
Awna: …to what’s going on. Because, it can get, it feels almost strange sometimes, when you’re moving so quickly, in a plane, in a car, you’re doing a little show, and you have your little group of friends you do it with. And you move around. You can get really lost in that. Sometimes, if we get in a cycle—I know we’ve done stints where we’re on our seventh show in a row, or eleventh show in a row, and you’re just trying to make it to the next place. And you’re there, and then you forget, and then all of a sudden you start feeling lonely. "Oh, right. What are we doing?" We’re good at keeping in check.
Allison: We try to.
Awna: Yeah, yeah.
CE: Have you guys been to Philly before?
Awna: Yeah, yeah.
CE: Do you know about Gianna’s?
Awna: No, no.
CE: I’ll write down a few places. And are you going to
Allison: Driving through.
CE: There’s a great, tiny folk instrument shop to visit, if you’re driving through.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Carye Bye as Red Bat, as Carye Bye. It will make more sense
after you read the interview.
Photo by Jonahthan Maus.
Collections. Creations. Caravans.
Each conjure up certain images, to any given reader. The images, in turn, speak to that person's interests, worldview, and how they may choose to spend their time. I will share what the first word suggests for me.
Collections. As anybody who has stepped into an apartment I have lived in would know, I'm a collector. I collect records, postcards, bottle caps, rocks, books. I hold onto other objects and ephemera, too, but this list may give you a sufficient idea--an image--about me. Each object carries its singular history, while relating to the others (in both the space of my room and narrative of my disposition), and ultimately solidifying their collective existence in a subjective and earnest reverence. Friends and acquaintances learn about my fascination for things through conversation, but there's nothing like stepping into a room replete with tangible histories. No doubt, it is not for everyone.
While researching possible fellow conversationalists, I explored the topic of eccentric collections and their collectors. I came across Carye Bye, Portland-based collector, artist, and bike tour guide. After reading about her bathtub postcard collection (and online museum), I sought these other interests and activities of hers. I came to see that she basks in the applications , possibilities, and communities that come along with each persona. Puns intended: she hops into the various realms, and soaks them up quite a bit. The sum is greater than the parts, it seems, but each element of: Carye's collection of cards, production of artwork, or bicycling activities proclaims its singular disposition and placement in the landscape of her daily life.
Since I can't quite hop on a plane to Portland, Oregon and step into that landscape, Carye and I opted for an email interview, which you see below. Enjoy the snapshots that she shares from the collection of her creative and well-crafted caravan of activities.
A brief aside about Carye's personality and persona in Portland:
I work at a crafts gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Earlier today, a woman stepped in the gallery with a unique handbag, which was made from the covers of a hardcover children's book. We spoke a bit, and she explained that she was part of an arts co-op in Portland, Oregon. To entertain the possibility, I asked if she had heard of Carye Bye, the paper artist. She admitted that she did, and raved about her various and exciting projects. Excitedly, she asserted, "Carye's a spitfire!"
My Hobby is Now a Full-Time Job
CE: I first heard about your bathtub postcard collection, and then came to find out that you are busy with other interesting projects. Could you share a bit about them?
CB: I definitely put myself out there. I started the Bathtub Art Museum online in 2003 to show off the bathtub postcard collection. I'm a professional letterpress printer & designer, so I participate in Portland's many art fairs, and have my postcard art in shops around town. I also lead free bicycle tours of small museums and organize the annual Bunny on a Bike Ride. I definitely have three persona in Portland.
CE: How many years have you been busy with these things?
CB: I've been collection postcards, specifically bathtub postcards since 1992.
I started Red Bat Press in 2002.
I've been active in the Portland bike scene since 2004.
CE: Do your endeavors satisfy any childhood or adult passions?
CB: I've always been playful and curious, so all the things I do are about that. I also like meeting interesting people, and through my interests I've met collectors, artists, and self-propelled bicyclists that are all doing amazing things.
CE: In hindsight (and given your mood today), tell me about a project that you're most proud of or content with?
CB: I'd say probably the fact that my hobby of making wood-cut/letterpress postcard art has actually turned into a full-time job.
CE: What would you want to do that you have yet to really engage in or explore?
CB: I keep busy with all my interests-- too busy. I think in five years, I'll be involved in less long-term projects, and be more involved in day to day happenings, such as: waking up, randomly pointing to a map and making a day of exploring, deciding one day to only eat yellow food, laying in the grass and listening for an hour. I've spent so much of my life planning and documenting. I look forward to fleeting moments in the now.
CE: Are you reading any good books these days?
CB: Sadly, it's been a while since I've read anything good. Though not too long ago, I did read a travel book of a fella and his wife who bike around the world, but after the married couple break up on the road, I just lost interest. It was that dynamic that I found interesting, even though, when I picked it up, I thought it was a solo journey.
CE: What is the last song that grabbed you?
CB: I was recently on the road with my Dad and his wife Edna. I was in the back seat of the car. Edna put in a Paul Anka "best of" CD and sang along to all the songs. I'm not sure what it was, but listening to the old 50s tunes about love with the sun pouring in the windows was strangely memorable and meaningful.
CE: What is the last thing that made you laugh or smile?
CB: Our orange cat rolling around on the carpet.
CE: Who moves, surprises, or inspires you the most?
CB: I think I'm inspired by friends around me, who just make things happen. They push me to to do the best. Yet, they can easily convince me to run off and play. It's hard to be disciplined worker, when you work for yourself.
CE: Whom do you miss today?
CB: My grandma. I was looking through her letters from around January. Six months later, she's not able to write anymore as her health and days on earth have declined. I looked at her letters in a new way today, and will miss those letters coming in the mail.
CE:Tell me about a good conversation you've had recently? With whom would you like to reconnect?
CB: The Daniel Family in Florida (my aunt, uncle, and cousin). I hadn't been to visit in 4 years, and it was the first time I really had the chance to speak with each, individually and collectively. I enjoyed getting to know them better, and I think they enjoyed learning about me as well. We live on opposite corners of the US, so visits will be infrequent.
CE: Is your boyfriend an artist, too? How do you inspire each other? Where do the two of you like riding bikes?
CB: He's not an artist professionally like me, but he's creative in building things, and has talent in the arts, but hasn't developed that side of himself. He worked as an engineer for seven years in a cubicle, and is finally free, as of last year.
We like to ride bikes to explore different areas around Portland. We love to go bike-camping. Just pack some food, strap a tent and sleeping bag to the bike, and go. In a week and a half we are biking for 11 days to the Idaho-Canadian border, from Portland.
Smelly was a U2 Fanzine, Kudzu was a Minizine
CE: You have been making zines for quite some time. Tell me about your first zines.
CB: I started making zines in high school. I must have been 15. I'm not sure of my inspiration, but I must have seen others and decided to make my own. I made quite a variety. Smelly was my U2 fanzine -- I completed seven issues. The Bizzare was a joint zine with my friend Erin where we focused on different themes. Issue number four was bathtubs, and that was when I started collecting postcards. I also made mini-zines such as one on kudzu (a vine-like plant from the South), which I sold in the lunchroom for a quarter. I asked each person if they knew what kudzu was, and followed up with: "For a quarter, you can find out."
CE: Do you have at least one copy of all the zines you have made? Have you been making zines lately?
CB: Yes, I do have at least one copy. The Bizzare made it to, I think, 6 issues. Kudzu was a minizine, Rolf Zombie was a one hit wonder I made with a boyfriend. Smelly, my U2 fanzine, had 7 issues. The Nickey Rose tribute zine was my last one. I've been wanting to make a zine of all my letters to the editor, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.
CE: You have taught quite a bit,with a range of populations, over the years. What do you enjoy most about teaching? What is the most challenging aspect? Do you have any of your student's work on display in your house?
CB: I've taught off and on. In college, I taught art and photography as a volunteer teacher at a local charter school (ages 10 - 18). I loved my students and enjoyed organizing art shows for them. I've taught a few workshops for adults, but not many. When you teach art, it's a challenge to not judge too much and to realize potential. When I was taking art in high school I was obsessed with the band U2 so much of my art was influenced by them. My art teachers were good: even though my subject manner was not high art, I was not criticized.
CE: It appears that some of your activities (biking, zine making, etc.) are collaboration-heavy. What do you enjoy about collaboration?
CB: Actually, I'm less of a collaborator these days and more of a contributor. Collaboration can be hard with someone like me who has strong opinions and particular expectations. I do better if I think of an idea and mostly bring it to a finished product, but ask for feedback and some collaboration along the way. I work solo mostly, but I contribute to larger events. For example, recently in Portland, we celebrated Pedalpalooza – two-plus weeks of bike fun. I organized three events for the festival.
CE: You seem to relate well to animals on paper. How do you relate to them in person? Do you have affinities to certain animals? Do you own or co-habitat any? My vegan friends call their pets "companion animals" to remove the possessive/speciesist connotation of "my cat," which I always thought was problematic anyway.
CB: Yes, I'm an animal fan, and will go to an animal in the room often before the person. I love cats and lizards. I co-habitat with my boyfriend's cats, Ember and Skie. My cat Scooter passed away just shy of his 19th birthday about three years ago. I had gotten him as a child, and we moved from Minnesota to California to Portland together.
CE: What type of people come to your letterpress demos?
CB: Either people interested in learning letterpress, or people who know nothing about it and who randomly walk by and wonder what this old press is all about.
CE: Have you made a print which was surprisingly popular? Have you made a piece which was poorly received?
CB: My St. Johns Bridge, which has now kicked off another 6 bridges and counting was hugely popular as a calendar, so I made it into a postcard. All my cards eventually have sold; though, I wish Hello Sailor was more popular. The card cracks me up.
Bikes, Haiku, Tours
CE: You have a couple different bike personae. You give various bike tours. You also dress up and do other especially unique things in your local bike scene. How did you get involved in playing dress up and getting on your bike (the Bunny on a Bike Ride, the Red Bat character)?
CB: Well, I live in a unique city, Portland, where the adults enjoy dressing up. There is never just a party. There is always a theme: all red, pirate, the 60s, etc. So, bike culture is the same. In fact, I just lead a ride called The Twin Spin, where 11 pairs of "twins" came dressed alike. My press is Red Bat Press, so somehow I got the idea to make a Red Bat costume of Halloween. My mom helped me make it, and since then I've worn the costume for fun on numerous occasions.
CE: About your bike postcards: are any of these portraits of friends or people you know? How did you come up with the illustration/print style that is evident in these post cards? Are any of the cards especially popular?
CB: I now have 10 art postcards by Red Bat Press with bikes. One of them, "Shift to Bikes," is about a local group of bicyclists that get together for bike fun and activism. All the characters on that card represent someone I know in the bike community. The cow is a friend of mine who has a cow suit he sometimes wears to bike rides. The "Everybody Bike" postcards is popular and the "Bunny on a Bike" (one of my first cards) has been reprinted probably 10 times.
as they do in Portland.
CE:Share some of the bike haiku. Who wrote them?
tires sing a sweet song
asphalt played like a cello
I make a set of Bike Haiku Stationery - and there are 4 haiku written by various Portlanders. The haiku are painted on art tiles at co-housing community near where I live.
CE: Your bike tours sound just like the thing I would want to do today. How many people go on an average ride, if there is such a thing? How is your relationship to the museums and art sites which you tour? Share a few fun or favorite stories from this experience. Do riders surprise you with their insights on things which you've seen countless times?
CB: I lead monthly bike tours to small museums in the Portland area. I average between 5 and 20, with usually around 8 – 12 people per ride. I like to do themes. We've done: Trainspotting, Craft Beer, Off Beat Art, Great Collections, Fame & Glamour. I get along very well with many of the small museum directors or collection owners. I've had more difficult times working with businesses. On the Craft Brew tour, I had a hard time finding a small craft brewery to give us a tour on Saturday. The brewers work weekdays and are not interested in working another day just to please a geeky bunch of curious cyclists.
Almost every tour has something that I can only call magical -- some kind of amazing shared experience happens. On one tour we visited the Kidd's Toy Museum. I did not expect the owner of the collection to be around, and he ended up taking us into some secret places that will never be again. The museum was spread out through his automobile business.He was retiring and sold it, and was consolidating the collection into one building. Our group felt very privileged to have the last viewing of Mr. Kidd's secret upstairs toy room.
CE: Have you seen the documentary The Cruise? It's about Timothy "Speed" Levitch, a NYC tour guide. It was directed by Bennett Miller, and only after his film Capote came out did The Cruise become easily available. Anyway, it's one of the most influential films of my life. In it, Levitch talks about whom he would like to give a tour to (essentially, his dream group). Do you have a dream group? He also compares his method and personality as a guide to historical figures. Are there any historical figures, celebrities, or personal acquaintances whose traits you try to embody while giving the tour?
CB: I think I have seen The Cruise, but a while back. As a tour guide, I'm not at all like Timothy. I'm a much better coordinator, and less of an entertaining tour guide. I leave a lot of the tour guide role to the museums or collectors. My favorite kind of group is one that shows a lot of glee and giddiness when we are in presence of amazing artifacts or hearing amazing stories along the tour. I scheduled a tour on the theme of Book Arts on Memorial Day weekend, and only had 3 others show up, but the three were so excited and into the tour. That it is one of my all time favorites. Our group felt like many, even though there were just a few of us. When I give a tour, I'm just myself - a little too honest, into what I do, and hoping to excite others.
CE: You seem to go up to Alberta quite a bit, for your art. Could you compare the art communities you have been a part of in Portland to those you have been a part of in Alberta?
CB: Every last Thursday, there is an art walk on NE Alberta Street in Portland. This is my 6th summer going out there! Hard to believe. I like to go because it's free to do: I just set up my little table display on the sidewalk and the people come. Sometimes, people come just to see me, but mostly I meet new people and see a lot of friends. I have a lot of art friends from Alberta Street. What I don't like so much now is how early I have to set up. The sidewalk space has become so popular that I HAVE to go out early, or I'm afraid I won't have a good space to set up. Alberta St. is part of Portland, not Canada!
CE: Ah. As I heard once in a movie: "How interesting, how bizarre." In other words: woops!
It's a bathtub party! On a card! This reminds me of a
Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt (Tour '96) I used to have.
"Hey, do you want to see my bathtub collection?"
CE: I found you first by way of your Bathtub Art Museum web site, where you showcase your bathtub postcard collection. In your bio, it explains that some showed up in your zine, The Bizzare, when you were in high school. What has led you to collect the postcards, all these years later?
CB: As mentioned before, my friend Erin Howk and I started making our own photocopied magazines and one was called The Bizzarre. Issue #4 happened to be about bathtubs. I started keeping my eye out for anything bathtub, and collected three postcards. Always the collector sort, I felt that once you have three of one thing you have a collection, and I've always liked postcards, so I started to pick up more postcards, and before i knew it (okay 10 years later) I had accumulated 200 bathtub-themed postcards. It was my secret little question (dirty secret)! New friends would come over, and I'd whisper, "Hey, do you want to see my bathtub collection?" Anyway, I decided to created a public online museum in 2003 so I could share it with more people. I called it the Bathtub Art Museum, because it's about Art of the Bathtub.
CE: Share a few stories about when, where, and how certain postcards were found, bought, or received. Are there any that have specifically strong emotional resonance with you?
CB: I have dug through boxes and boxes of postcards in my lifetime, but lately I find a lot of my really great finds on ebay. One postcard I have that I got when I first started collecting was one of 2 women and 2 men in 1 bathtub, with the title "folks are real friendly." This one I got from my friend Erin, who found it in Wisconsin, where she went to college. 10 years later, in the space of about a year, I found four more versions through ebay. In fact, some took some digging and select searching to find, and often I had to buy lots of postcards just to get the one. The five versions are all by different artists, and often highlight a different state, but are all based on the same idea or original drawing.
CE: Do you collect bathtub shards or any other tangible bathtub paraphernalia?
CB: It occurred to me that it would be amazing to have shards for walkways, mosaics, or hedges in this bathtub garden. Yes/No? I do want to someday have a bathtub garden, and then I'll probably actively collect bathtub pieces.For now, I do not. I collect doll house bathtubs, valentines with a bathtub, and for awhile, I collected rubber duckies (but kind of got bored with that one).
CE: Have any of the bathtub public shows of the bathtubs caused controversy? Do you get letters or complaints from parents or "concerned citizens" about the cards?
CB: Never. I only have a few postcards that I consider 18 & over (all found in San Francisco's Castro gay district - go figure!). I always try to keep the Bathtub Art Museum okay for all ages, though a few of the illustrated postcards could be considered a little risque.
CE: Have you ever put a story to any of the cards? Would you make bathtub-related work for Red Bat, or are these passions separate? Forgive me if I overlooked the cards.
CB: My press does have three bathtub themed art postcards: Bathtub Diver, Bunny in a Bath, and Bat Tub Party (halloween).
CE: What is the funniest or most ridiculous positive response to the collection? Any negative response?
CB: Most people find it really fun. I've gotten pretty much only positive feedback.
CE: Do you ever get pop culture theorists, history or art history scholars (or the like) seeking out the museum for research?
CB: I have had students doing research papers use my museum as one of the subjects, and people writing articles on collectors as well have contacted me. One student writing a report was pretty harsh on my museum in the sense that I wasn't doing a lot of things Museums should be -- such as having a good mission statement, and other such things. Truly I'd love to have my museum more official, but right now it's only me, and I have a million other projects dividing my attention.
CE: I really like Clutch McBastards's card. What is your personal or professional relationship with him. If I wanted to look at more of his work, where should I start?
CB: I work with Clutch at the Independent Publishing Resource Center. He's a funny guy and a great cartoonist and zinester. He is the Zine Librarian at the IPRC and draws a daily comic. I'm proud to have made it twice in the illustrated form in his last addition. He runs Tugboat Press, if you want to learn more.
CE: Bathtub cakes: tasty, or better to look at?
CB: I only tried one - these were for the Bathtub Art Museum's third birthday last year. I mostly got photos. The winner of the contest, John Dovydenas, was the one I got to taste, so maybe I was biased after all!
CE: What is the Adult Soap Box about?
CB: The Adult Soap Box derby is an annual event (that I have yet to see) of adults racing their own home-made derby cards down Mt. Tabor (a small, extinct volcano) in the heart of Portland. Last year, some ladies made a bathtub and dressed up in towels, but I guess they badly crashed.
"Rubber Duckie" and other Favorites
CE: Favorite songs about Bathtubs? Favorite songs to sing in the bathtub?
CB: "Rubber Duckie," by Ernie. I hardly ever take a bath, so don't sing.
CE: Dream bathtub and bathroom: what does it look or feel like?
CB: I like the idea of an outdoor bathtub, if you lived in a private forest.
CE: Favorite bathtub scene in a movie? Favorite painting or photograph that includes a bathtub?
CB: There's some great bathtub scenes form old movies. Like The Seven Year Itch, with Marilyn Monroe. She's in the bathtub, while a plumber is working on it. Hilarious! Favorite painting... The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. Mainly because you'd have to be a history or art history major to know that there is a bathtub in the painting. Marat spent most of his life in the tub because of illness, so his desk was built over his tub. One day he was assassinated while in the tub, and the painting is about that.
CE: Favorite songs about art? Favorite song about letter writing?
CB: Art: " Vincent (Starry Starry Night)," by Don McClean (about Vincent Van Gogh). Letter writing: a song by Neil Finn, where he says a line: "He won't write you letters, full of excuses..."
CE: Favorite color?
CB: Muted green, dark red, yellow together.
CE: Favorite songs about bikes?
CB: "Bunny on a Bike," a song by Wes Kempfer about all my little Red Bat Press character cards.
CE: Favorite bike in a movie?
CB: The obvious is Pee Wee's Big Adventure.l
CE: Favorite bike you've ever owned?
CB: I have one bike, a black Puch Mixte. It's been a reliable steed for seven years.
CE: Any new characters or big changes for Red Bat Press on the Horizon?
CB: I 'm still working on finishing the Portland Bridge Series. I want to make a new mermaid, and maybe some dragons and other Chinese characters, but who knows.
CE: Given your mood and schedule today, where would we go in Portland to have this interview (instead of via emails, 3000 miles away)?
CB: Probably by the river, looking at Portland's bridges.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Aaron Katz: focused filmmaker, fuzzy photo.
Fuzzy. Fuzzy. I’ll stand by it, and let it hold you once more: fuzzy. That’s the word that came out of my mouth directly after my first viewing of the film Quiet City. I went with my friend David Kelly to take in a film at the Independent Film Festival of Boston last spring. We had one or two screening slots available, and as you may imagine, it was hard to decide from half a dozen or so films we knew next to nothing about. I pushed for films that seemed to be about relationships. It came down to three films. As terrible as it is, we decided to go for the poster that proved the most captivating. There was this out-of-focus shot of one person helping another over a wall of some kind. Being a photographer of the out-of-focus, and having taken to the too-short abstract the film was given, I held my vote steady for Quiet City. David liked the photo and wanted to know what the climbing the wall was all about. We took the Somerville Theater lobby to the stairwell and to the screening room we went.
We were both glad that we chose Quiet City, and gave each other excited and astonished looks about the film during the end credits. I told him it felt fuzzy, that it was a "fuzzy film", and he got what i meant. I laughed with a sympathetic knowing ("I've been there!") during many scenes. I loudly whispered "wow" more than a few times, on account of: the simple grace of a frame, the compelling connection softly emitted between co-wanderers Jamie (Erin Fisher) and Charlie (Cris Lankenau), or the way that time and events unravel in the film. Simple plot elements so that the interview will make more sense: girl comes to the city with potential plans, girl meets boy and lingers with him in lieu of plans not panning out, conversations are had, and the Brooklyn borough of loud NYC proves to be a good, quiet web for them to wander within. There's a party, but also many little things things to take note of, including: a hat, a bouncy ball, condiment sandwiches, drum beats, haircuts, and fleeting runs.
Flash forward to July. Right around the time I try to get a hold of director Aaron Katz and Cris Lankenau for potential interviews, I come to find that Quiet City is going to be gracing the Boston area again—that very same weekend, no less. This time, it played as part of Harvard Film Archive's "Under the Radar" festival of "New American Independent Cinema 2007." Emails and numbers are exchanged, and Aaron Katz is nothing short of interested in and accommodating about meeting with me under such short notice. We go to my local bar, Grendel's Den, where I have had many a fuzzy feeling and conversation about relationships, twentysomething-hood, and city life. We talk about mustard (a little bit), moments (quite a bit), and movies (mostly). I'll let the conversation unfold below, so that you can enjoy the way Aaron tells a story.
I will make note of a few more things, though:
1) The director's NY Mets cap and Sun Records t-shirt are worn sincerely. They are not donned in quotation marks or held up by any posturing. Consider this an analogy to his filmmaking. You can't really be fuzzy without being honest. There have been "cute" films and "telling" films made about current twentysomethings, but I don't want a teddy bear version, or even a pseudo-conclusive soap box version, of my generation up there on the screen, thank you very much. I want something that might include what I might say, but would also make sense to a friend I haven't seen in years. I want to be able to send the DVD to a close companion and an old, meaningful fling, and have them not just "get it", but bask in it. Quiet City is that imperfect postcard I would send to both. Lastly, when I'm something of a film teacher, I want to be able to share it with students, because it is not only formally conscious and aesthetically captivating, but it is also a film that, like a good fall sweater, you don't fall out of touch with easily.
2) After Grendel's, I skedaddled over to the film with a recent friend, a singer of indie pop songs (cultural critics, read: creative peer). She was quite taken by various scenes, as well. After the film, she spelled out the main reason why she liked it: at similar moments in her own life, she felt(on the inside) and acted (on the outside) not unlike the characters.
* Quiet City will have a week long run at The IFC Center in Manhattan (August 29- September 4, 2007). It will be headlining the New Talkies: Generation D.I.Y. series there. The film will also be showing at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle (September 7-9, 2007). Future Screenings TBA. Dance Party, USA, Aaron Katz's first feature film, is also part of the festival (August 28-29, 2007). Some other films mentioned below are also playing in the New Talkies series, or at a cinema or DVD player near you!
In Medias Res (Interview) and In the Moment (Film)
CE: What was it like, working with Erin Fisher and Cris Lankenau, making this type of film?
AK: It just seems like they were really cool with it, because neither of them were actors. I mean, they maybe both have done some acting, but they’re pretty much playing versions of themselves. They were also being open with what the script is about.
I had Erin in mind, actually, as I was writing the movie.
Erin Fisher, not to be confused with Anna Karina.
CE: She is a friend?
AK: Yeah, she is a friend, but she also she went to North Carolina School of the Arts [NCSA, hereafter]. She dated the producer of Quiet City for a while, many years ago. She’s interesting and has quite an ability to be in the moment—just in life, not only as an actor—just to really be there, and not be thinking about what’s going on tomorrow, or worried about this or that. She’s there for whatever is happening, you know?
CE: Definitely, Definitely.
AK: Plus, she is also very fun to hang out with. She’s, in some ways, very out of touch with the world at large—what’s going on in news or whatever—but, at the same time, that makes her observations about things neat and refreshing.
CE: There is definitely a large, well, they both [Cris and Erin] have a presence in the film, yet a subtle presence. Like in the beginning, when she’s walking underground, the way she’s carrying herself is like what you said, in the moment.
AK: Yeah, yeah.
CE: Not too much, and with a subtleness: without hitting you over the head in this long, drawn out Antonioni way, which is beautiful in its own right, but wouldn’t fit the film necessarily.
Then, there’s their pacing and the way they fit together well. The word I kept whispering in my mind was: almost. Almost. Because, throughout the film, as a filmgoer, I get this expectation that they might kiss (or might not kiss). It’s something that doesn’t have to happen, it seems. Still, I kept feeling “almost, almost.” Things happen so beautifully, naturally, in the way they would if you hung out with somebody often and you just began to connect more. And the way everything is shot, the one feeling that kept coming to me, emotionally, was fuzzy.
AK: I like your observation. That’s what that we were trying to capture. In a lot of movies about people meeting, the people say too much, or they say more than they would in life, to progress the plot. In life, I feel like there are a lot of things you’re not saying. You might say one thing and really mean another.
CE: Yeah. Plus, their body language and their phrasing. There are certain energy levels, rising and falling, subconsciously and back and forth, between them. At the same time, there are unexpected things happening, like that whole scene with the automated toy.
AK: With the crane.
CE: The crane. Oh, that was cool.
(Im-)Perfect Incidental Music
CE: Your friend did the music?
AK: Yeah, Keegan DeWitt. He did the music for my first film as well, Dance Party, USA. It’s coming out in January. It’s going to be a double disc with Quiet City. So, Keegan, we’ve known each other for a long time. I told him which scenes I wanted music for, and for each of those scenes—he didn’t do a spotting session—he just wrote two or three pieces.
CE: Is a spotting session where?
AK: A spotting session is where you’re sitting there and have the film playing on a screen, and everything is timed out to fit the film. For this film, it didn’t make sense. We felt that it would be too rigid. Erin’s playing drums in the beginning, but for the rest of the movie, he did the score.
CE: You went to NCSA, so did one of my favorite directors, David Gordon Green. I don’t know if you know the story of him and David Wingo. They were grade school buddies. He came to my college for a screening and Q&A of George Washington. It was in this packed room with around 300 people, some asking him pretty serious questions. He was asked, “How did you and the film composer meet?” It was funny, he nonchalantly told them they met at a screening for The Karate Kid, in 1984.
I’ve helped friends find pop music for their films. It’s interesting work. I’m interested in it on an academic level, too. Even when you’re caught up in the narrative, there’s so much going on with the music.
Did Keegan write the keyboard scene?
AK: No. Actually, that’s totally improved.
Test for Volume: SXSW Film &
CE: BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.
AK: THIS IS A TEST FOR VOLUME. TEST FOR VOLUME. SEEING IF THE SOUND IS GOOD!
CE: I plan to get better equipment when I’m working more than just two part time jobs. Hopefully, even travel for the site.
AK: I did this interview with Filmmaker Magazine, and she had the exact same thing.
CE: Oh, you did an interview with them?
AK: Yeah, a few months ago. It’s in the spring issue. Alicia Van Couvering wrote it. Her article is pretty interesting. It’s about my films, Joe Swanberg’s and Bujalski’s, basically a lot of the people playing at the “Under the Radar” festival.
CE: How did you meet Andrew and Joe?
AK: Joe, I met at SXSW 2006. I went with my previous film, Dance Party, USA. His film LOL was there. I went to LOL kind of expecting it to be bad, actually. I had seen a bunch of stuff I didn’t like very much, and, I don’t know, I was getting a little jaded about what to expect. I went and thought, "Wow, this is great!"
They had this party afterwards, at this really cool bar. The Peacock, it’s called. All the people from my movie went there, and I met Joe and talked to him a little bit. Then, we stayed in touch through e-mail. When I went to the Chicago Underground Film Fest with Dance Party, I ended up staying at his loft there. Joe’s from Chicago.
And Bujalski is someone who I don’t know well at all, but who’s around every now and again. He’s in Joe’ movie, Hannah Takes the Stairs.
CE: He’s pretty big here. I guess he used to live out here, in Jamaica Plain. His movie Mutual Appreciation was huge last summer.
AK: He’s in Austin right now, making a movie, Reliable Responsible. I suspect it’s going to be really good.
CE: How hard is it to get into SXSW?
AK: I think it's hard. It’s hard for me to gage. I know there are definitely some people that made films that I like who weren’t able to get in. What happened initially was that Dance Party got in. I just submitted it without contacting anyone. Then I got a call in December of 2005 from Matt Dentler, who programs the festival. He loved it, and that was great. I kept him up to date on the progress of Quiet City, and he was expecting to get a cut. I sent him a rough cut. Quiet City turned out to be good, and he was excited to have it.
But, like I said: there a lot of great films that didn't get in, and some great films that do, and some films that I don’t like, personally, that do.
CE: Do you know how long they have been doing the movie component at SXSW?
AK: This is their 15th year, I think. They’ve been doing it for quite a while. I think it’s come into it’s own, as a film festival, thanks to Matt. He took a big chance on Dance Party, USA, and he took a big chance on a lot of the other films, like Joe’s first movie, Kissing on the Mouth. A friend of a friend told him about it. At the same time, it’s a chancy thing. It’s cool that he’s willing to take those chances.
CE: Definitely. With either Dance Party or Quiet City, were there any audiences that you were truly wowed by? Any you had great experiences with during the screening? Were there Q&A’s that kept you excited about the project?
AK: I think I've had pretty much the range of experiences with audiences. At the Independent Film Festival of Boston, both screenings were really good. The audiences were into it and excited to be there, watching the movie. I had a similar experience in Maryland. It ranges from experiences like that, to, I can’t put my finger on it, but the feeling in the room is sometimes half and half. For the most part, we’ve had positive experiences interacting with audiences; although, we haven’t played theatrically yet with Quiet City.
CE: Did you have a theatrical release for Dance Party?
AK: A very small one. In
CE: I would love to work for THINKfilm or Plexifilm, to just work for a film distribution company.
AK: There are a lot of companies in
Tell it Back To Me: Auditions, Keyboards, "..."
CE: You were saying at the IFFB screening that you had the auditions at Magnolia.
AK: We did. That was back when Ben worked at Magnolia. Cris was talking about that. I think he thought, "Wow, this must be a real movie, at a nice office and everything." We just went in there on a Saturday and used a conference room space. It was a nice place to have auditions.
CE: Did you have auditions between the male and female actors?
AK: I already knew I wanted Erin Fisher to be in it. I had worked on it while she was living in
CE: And so you guys read scenes?
AK: Not exactly. We did read some scenes from the movie. More than that, we hung out and talked about this and that. I brought along copies of Travels with Charley with me. I had them pick out a paragraph or two, and then make photocopies.
[The waitress comes by with the food. A plate of mashed potatoes with Gorgonzola's cheese for Aaron, and a Reuben with a side of mashed potatoes for myself. Beers during the interview: Original Sin Cider (AK) and Cambridge Amber (CE).]
Both: Thank you.
Waitress: You’re welcome. Do you need any ketchup, mustard or anything else?
CE: Mustard and mayonnaise.
W: Mustard and…?
W: Mayonnaise. Okay.
CE: It’s kind of awkward to say, “I want mayonnaise on top of mashed potatoes.”
AK: Dude, it’s really hot. Good call with the mustard. Anyway.
CE: Do you often mashed potatoes it with Gorgonzola cheese?
AK: Yeah, yeah, it's good. It’s really hot.
Erin and Chris, together, and not
worrying about being interesting or clever.
AK: Anyway, so I had them read bits of Travels with Charley. I really like that book.
In a movie, there’s all this history that’s not their own. Instead of just saying it, I like people to be able to say it, and not be thinking of how they’re going to say it. But just be thinking about what it is, and then say it. So, Travels with Charley is great. It’s so specific and visual and a good thing to have them read at the auditions.
I had them actually tell it back to me: read the paragraphs, and then tell it back to me, in their own words. It was interesting to hear what different people took from it. And then we did another thing. I hate to call them acting exercises. I’m skeptical of a lot of acting things. I had them do a couple things. For example: talk over one another, back and forth, describing exactly what they saw. That was a good way to feel out if people were in tuned with what the other person was doing, and see whether they could just be in the moment, and not worry about being interesting or clever.
CE: What they saw in the room?
AK: No, behavior that they saw in the other person. If you and I were doing it right now, I might say: “You’re smiling, you’re nodding. You seem to understand what I’m saying.” You, simultaneously, would be giving it back to me. You end up describing behavior, and also what the other person is describing back to you. It’s an interesting way to see if actors will engage with each another. Some people have a very difficult time with it. Not to say that makes them necessarily a bad actor; but, for what I wanted to do, it was important for people to be there in the moment. Not to worry: “Is this interesting, is this good?” That’s not their job, to worry if it’s good or not.
CE: And they flow very well, Erin and Cris. The only way I could think of it is energy: that movement of energy between the two of them. It's not always balanced, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t follow the typical genre convention, which focuses on: “Which side is the relationship side? Which side is the friend side?” The film has more of a “…” sentiment.
CE: Likewise, in an actual situation, the energy and the tone shift naturally between two people. This happens in conversations, too. If I were to say, “Let’s go to
AK: Yeah, it was really great to see. They didn’t know each other before the movie. They got to know each other during the movie. Like that running scene. We knew we were going to shoot it in
Mustard on potatoes is great. And I, uh, got my Gorgonzola, heh.
AK: So, it was interesting to watch them. We did just one take of that running thing. Erin had to leave to go back to
CE: Was it shot from the ground?
AK: Hmmm Mhmmm.
CE: Was that in the script or was that circumstantial?
AK: We didn’t have a shot list. On my first movie, we had a pretty rigid shot list. For Quiet City: a) we didn’t have a lot of time, and b) I wanted it to feel looser than that.
CE: I’m being kind of unprofessional, just glowing about your film, but, there are so many great moments. I would just want to send a scene to someone, like "Wow, look at this."
I think the time when it really, really hit me was during that keyboard scene.
AK: Hmmm Mhmmm.
CE: A) because the way it was done, b) what you left out, but also c) because anybody else would have done it differently. I don’t think I would have liked how someone who was making a gimmicky twentysomethings film would have done it, you know?
AK: Hmmm Mhmmm.
CE: I mean, the components are so part of twentyomething culture. A girl and a guy in a room. Keyboards are like the biggest gimmick in indie rock now. Yet, it's so sweet, it’s so natural. It’s so what these people would be doing.
CE: And the way Cris holds off, and all of that.
Almost every, every drop of footage
CE: Were there any scenes that were hard to film?
AK: There were a lot of the scenes were hard to film. In a way, almost every scene was a challenge, because we just had so little time and so few resources that we were always battling the clock. Getting stuff set up in time and having enough stuff and having enough people to set things up was challenging.
An instance where we had a particularly tight schedule, or had to get out of a place was when we were shooting the party stuff.
CE: Yeah, yeah.
AK: That was at a friend's house. It was the seventh day of shooting. The second thing we shot that day. The crew and actors were already having a long day. It was my birthday, October 29, Friday. Everyone was having Halloween parties. It was in this former warehouse space in
The art gallery was hard, too. That was at a real art gallery.
A Real director (Aaron Katz) and a real actress
(Sarah Hellman) navigate the gallery.
CE: Whose art is on the walls?
AK: Her name is Arielle Assouline-Lichten. She’s a friend of a friend. My friend Caitlyn, whom I’ve known since high school, works in the
And then there’s some other artists work.
CE: There are photographs, right?
AK: Those paintings are the ones that are supposed to be Sara's. There are also some photos that you see. And those are by someone that I don’t know. Actually, there’s four artist’s work there.
That scene was a challenge for the actors. I think that was our second day, and up until then, they had only been around a very small crew of five people and themselves. But now, with all the extras there for the opening, there’s this audience of twenty people. Cris and
CE: In the film, you get this nervous feeling from Chris, because he is seeing the friend and he's kind of awkward about it.
AK: Yeah, yeah. That comes from his nervousness about the people around, but it feels like it’s his nervousness from his asshole friend showing up and talking about some girl he likes in
High art filmmaking, with hoodie-style nonchalance.
CE: There's a restaurant in the very beginning. Where is that?
AK: That's a place called Phoebe's in
CE: And, do you live in
AK: No, I don’t. I live in Gowanus, Brooklyn, which is way south of
CE: Ha ha.
AK: I like my neighborhood and I used my apartment in the movie several times, as different locations.
CE: Oh, using different rooms as locations?
AK: Yeah. When they're making sandwiches: that's in my apartment kitchen. When they hop the wall: that's my apartment, from the back. When Cris checks his mail: that’s my apartment hallway. A lot of the sunset stuff, that’s from my roof.
CE: And you guys filmed for how many days?
AK: Eight days. Well,
AK: It was really fun. That was our one day off. It wasn’t totally off. Late at night, we shot some of the subway stuff.
CE: Hmmm Mhmmm. Watch out for Otis Redding, dancing to Otis Redding.
CE: And Sam Cooke has this gorgeous album, Night Beat. Ray Charles plays piano on it, but he’s not even mentioned on the front cover. It’s not like “and featuring.”
CE: He does all these covers, like “Little Red Rooster.” You wouldn’t imagine it to be so sweet. I had only heard Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and The Grateful Dead do it, but had never heard it sung as such a sweet song.
AK: Yeah. We listened to Live at the
I remember, during the filming we were all so tired because all of us were working and shooting for 12 or 14 hours. We were all staying at the producer’s apartment in Fort Green in Brooklyn. We’d come home and then there’d be me and the producers basically doing everything. We would be on the phone about: locations for the next day, props and extras, and making sure we had food prepared. I think I was more tired during Quiet City than I maybe have ever been.
AK: Because Dance Party, USA was done at a leisurely schedule. We shot that over a month.
CE: Did you shoot that during your senior year?
AK: No, I graduated in 2004, from NCSA. Right as soon as I graduated, I went with Brendan and Mark.... At the time I had this 1963 Chevy Nova. It was totally falling apart. I loved it, everyone else hated it. We drove from North Carolina and went up to Pittsburgh to get Brendan, where he was living at the time. We drove to Portland and shot Dance Party. We had all summer: we had a month to do pre-production, then a month to shoot it. Everything on that was very much like: “Oh, we’ll shoot for six or eight hours today, then take a two day break.”
CE: Ha ha.
AK: It was the opposite for Quiet City, which was great in some ways, but I really don’t know if I’d ever been that tired, ever before.
CE: Yeah, I was going ask if you had ever shot in
AK: Dance Party was shot in
A Great Movie: It is What it is
CE: So you wrote and directed Dance Party, USA and
AK: Hmmm Mhmmm.
CE: I hate lists of top fives, so I will just ask for movies you feel strongly about. From a screenwriter, director, or cinematographer’s point of view—instead of just “your top five.”
AK: Yeah, yeah. Well, this will be disorganized. I will just rattle off a few, and maybe say what I like about them.
I really like Jean-Pierre Mellville and especially Le Samourai. His work couldn’t be more different, in a way, form what I do, but I love his stuff. His camera direction is sparse and great. Have you seen Les Samurai?
CE: No. I have yet to get into his work. I’ve always wanted to see Bob le Flambeur.
AK It’s good, but in my opinion, Le Samourai, Le Circle Rouge, and Un Flic, those are the three best. Also from that era and French, I love Jacques Tati films. Again, totally, totally different from
CE: Oh, sure.
AK: And, you know, his stuff is more formal. The camera almost never moves place in an Ozu movie. I love how everyone in his movies is so sad and can’t get what they want, but they’re so polite about it. It’s not like they’re screaming about it. They’re just sort of polite about it, but you feel their pain. I really like Ozu.
CE: Other filmmakers whose work you see, over and over?
AK: Yeah, I’m trying to think what I see the most. I’d have to say, as much as I’m sure everyone who has graduated from film school in the last ten years would say: Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the current, is one of the contemporary filmmakers that I just—I mean—I love all his films. And there’s a trailer for his new film, called There Will Be Blood.
CE: Oh, wow.
AK: I love Paul Thomas Anderson. I’ve seen all of his films many times. Actually, I love Renny Harlin, which seems kind of crazy.
AK: I love some of those mid-90s action films.
CE: The Long Kiss Goodnight?
AK: Yeah, The Long Kiss Goodnight. Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight are three great films. Renny Harlin: his sense of camera direction is so good, and his sense of the outrageous is so good. His recent films are awful, mostly I think, not his fault.
CE: How about movies you try to get people to see?
AK: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, the Fassbinder Film. I love that film. Or, Sullivan's Travels. I had an argument with someone recently about whether Sullivan's Travels was better than The Lady Eve. Two people were asserting that The Lady Eve was better, but I disagree. Sullivan’s Travels is more fun, and
AK: I recently saw Killer of Sheep. It’s by Charles Burnett. It’s a film which no one has seen, from the 70s. He went to UCLA. He made it in ghettos of
CE: Oh, wow, wow.
AK: It’s totally, totally unique. It’s like nothing else.
CE: But it makes sense within itself.
AK: Yeah, but it makes sense within itself. Exactly. Also from the same era, if someone asked me what people have to see, I would say Fred Wiseman documentaries of the 60s and 70s. Especially Titicut Follies, about an insane asylum. His stuff is totally verite. There’s no narration, there’s no interviews, no nothing. Except for Titicut Follies, which has more a filmic name, it’s just the name of the thing. Everything is just what it is: one's called Juvenile Court, one’s called Hospital, one’s called Meat. Meat’s about meet packaging, Hospital is about a hospital. It is what it is. That's great!
They're hard to get your hands on. I believe he’s retained the rights to all his films, He screens them occasionally, but they’re very hard to see. Ronnie Bronstein, who is part of the “Under the Radar,” knew Fred Wiseman, and Thursday morning I got to see Juvenile Court. It’s absolutely amazing.
Books and Other Hoopdedoodle
CE: Are there any novels or writers that you read or re-read? Some that may influence your filmmaking? For example, Raymond Carver is quite filmic.
AK: I love Raymond Carver. I read Raymond Carver regularly. I love Travels with Charley. I love his Steinbeck in general.
CE: Have you read Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday?
AK: No, I haven’t.
CE: I recommend it. It starts with him dissing himself, essentially. His characters are talking about Cannery Row, saying that he knew nothing about
AK: Yeah, Steinbeck. There’s actually a novel I really want to adapt. It would be a miracle if I ever get to make it. It would need a huge budget. Have you hear of this guy, George MacDonald Fraser?
CE: No, no.
AK: He’s a British author. He’s still writing now, but his best stuff was in the 70s. He wrote a series of novels about this guy, Harry Flashman. They're set in Victorian England. Flashman is this supposed hero, this hero-soldier. In fact, he’s a coward who doesn't care about anyone except for himself. Fraser creates a series of humorous incidents and Flashman always ends up looking like the hero. They’re these great books.
The first one is called Flashman. The one I want to do is called Flashman and the Redskins. It's his adventures in the American West. It’s cynical and it’s an indictment of colonialism and westward expansion. Nobody comes out looking good. The Americans don’t, the British don’t, and the Native American’s don’t. Basically, everyone is greedy and cares only about themselves, and how they can manipulate the situation to benefit themselves. Flashman is caught in the middle of it. He would rather laze around, not do anything and skate on by. In a way, he's the sanest person there. He’s sort of a pacifist. He would rather not fight.
But when it comes down to it, he’ll do anything to save his own skin. There’s faithfulness to him, and humanity. It’s like Apocalypse Now but funnier, set in the American West. Apocalypse Now meets Barry Lyndon. I don’t know what it is, but it’s great.
I’m thinking of dividing it in two halves. The first half would make a great movie. But, it would need big stars and a big budget.
CE: Any other books that captivate you?
AK: I’m not sure what the through line is to what I read. At times, I’ll get into reading historical fiction books, like Patrick O’Brian or C.S. Forester. Sometimes, I’ll end up reading funnier stuff. I have this James Thurber book. He wrote for The New Yorker.
CE: Funny stuff, like poetry, right?
AK: Poetry, and his best things are from people writing in questions about animals. He gave these absurd responses.
CE: He wrote a book about it, right?
AK: I forget what it’s called.
CE: The Thurber Zoo. Not that?
AK: The Thurber Carnival is the one that... I forget the pet questions [book]. It’s another one, with witty turns of phrase and puns. I like that stuff a lot.
I should probably get going. I’m supposed to meet Bronstein pretty soon.
CE: Bronstein is the guy who…?
AK: He made Frownland, which is playing right now, but it should be around again.
CE: Yeah, yeah, a lot of films look good. I want to see Frownland and Finally, Lillian and Dan.
Other Cities, Other Dudes
CE: Some last questions.
Is there a city you want to film?
AK: A city I want to film? Maybe a couple places.
Other than that, I want to make something in the wilderness, somewhere. I don't know where, exactly. Maybe
CE: That’s just so key. I would rather live in a warmer place than
AK: I really think cities make a difference, and I love trying to capture the feel of a city. I love when a film accomplishes it. This isn’t a city, but I think Stranger than Paradise captures the feel of dilapidated, tourist
CE: So well.
AK: I don’t know what it actually felt like, maybe it’s totally different, but it captured—at least my in my imagination—what it would be. Jarmusch, in general! Mystery Train is so great at capturing what
CE: Yeah. The cinematographer for Stranger than Paradise is the filmmaker Tom DiCillo. He made Johnny Suede. Have you seen that?
AK: I have seen that.
CE: I highly recommend his film Box of Moonlight, with John Turturro and Sam Rockwell.
AK: Speaking of John Turturro, he's in Transformers and gives one of the most ridiculous, uncalled for performances that I’ve ever seen in my life. Transformers is awful, and I kind of can’t believe I saw it (although I did have a good time watching it). It’s as though
Which reminds me of another film I see over and over again, The Big Lebowski. I think it is absolutely amazing, and really funny. There’s also something sad about The Big Lebowski, which I love.
CE: You know, that had some the worst reviews when it came out in the theaters.
AK: The Big Lebowski did? Really?
CE: 1 ½ to 2 ½ stars, most places. And it’s funny, because it’s become a classic, a cult film. Sitting in the theater, opening day, I saw it with two people.
It’s strange, because it’s part noir. If you do go back and see The Big Sleep, you see the scenes they were paying homage to and pulling from. I read this very awkward review. It said something like: "What do you do with a film like this?"
AK: That’s funny. I saw it when it came out, but maybe I was young enough at the time that I didn’t notice the reviews. I think it's the Coen Brother's best film. I like Miller's Crossing, but I like The Big Lebowski a bit better.
CE: Every moment is memorable, without trying to be.
CE: Did you hear about their next movie?
Waitress: Anything Else?
AK: No, that’s it.
W: All done?
AK: Yeah, thanks.
[We prepare to leave.]
AK: I’ve got to get back.
CE: I’m sorry I couldn’t cover it all.
AK: No, no that’s okay. I understand. Um, let’s see. Not sure, about 11 or so? Here's about eleven.
Aaron Katz, mashed potatoes, and a film called Quiet City. I'm almost about to say it... f-u-z-z, 1, 2, 3, Goooo!