The Garment District interview with Jennifer Baron
Drawing from a seemingly endless pallet of sound and expansive soundscapes, Jennifer Baron has managed to create a unique musical world of here own, unaffected, tainted or influenced by anything going on around her. Yes, there are elements of things that you might’ve heard before, shimmering guitar flutters in the background, shadowboxing moves from the late 60s and early 70s San Francisco scene, Baron’s crooning, cooing chanteuse-esque voice hanging amidst the mellow melodies like Faye dancing in the early morning mist of a warm summer morning. The electronic soundscapes that are spread throughout The Garment District’s catalog really set Baron apart and say something interesting and unique about her music, though. While there’re songs like “Secondhand Sunburn” that are obviously constructed and built from the ground up with a good deal of forethought and contemplation, the electric soundscapes on Melody Elder and If You Take Your Magic Slow are off the cuff forays into musical exploration and experimentation, drawing in instruments, sounds and ideas that seem almost counterintuitive to the rest of the album, but somehow serve to underscore the power and sheer emotional spectrum that The Garment District’s music is capable of traversing. The world is literally a song to Baron, the sounds and people in it instruments, her music culling from a meticulously cultivated library of field recordings done by Baron herself. When you listen to a Garment District album you’re stepping into a different world, a world of unpredictable sounds, emotional heartfelt reunions and devastating separations. This is experimental music in all the right ways, a sense of joy and exploration dripping from every note, chord and cry, solo and chant. Come on a journey with me through The Garment District, keep an open mind bearing in mind that things are going to get a little trippy and psychedelic at times, and I guarantee you things will never be quite the same again… Things will be a little bit broader, and maybe a little bit better.
The Garment District is mostly just yourself making music on your own, but that
it also features appearances from some family and friends and I know you play
out as well. Is there a set group or a
usual go-to group of people that you usually turn to?
contributions from family and friends, which can take various configurations
for recording and performing. I have a
core group of musicians who perform with me, something of a slightly rotating
band of merry pranksters. The
translation of my composed and recorded music to the live experience has been
on my mind lately, since my goal is to perform more often. I’ve put together something of a collective
of musical characters, some who even live in other cities. This group includes my husband Greg Langel on
keyboards, guitar players Dan Koshute from Dazzletine or Daniel Miller,
bassists Corry Drake or Matt Booth, and various drummers, or a combination of
drum machine, sampler and live drums.
For our record release show in August, I was thrilled to perform with
several musicians who play on my new album, including Matt Booth on bass and
Chris Parker on drums, and I very much hope to play more shows with them. Keeping the family jams vibe is my cousin
Lucy on lead vocals, my cousin Sam on percussion, and my husband on synth. We recently performed as a three-piece for an
event called SYNC’D. I was invited to
compose soundtracks for five film shorts made by Pittsburgh artists, and then
perform them live in this magnificent 1900’s-era former Czech church right on
the Allegheny River. It was one of my
favorite live musical experiences yet, so I keep my mind open to new ways of
sharing The Garment District as a live entity.
Even with the different incarnations of the live band, there’s a
constant core to my music and songwriting.
For our next show on October 11th, I’m very excited that our lineup will
include Shivika Asthana, from the band Papas Fritas, playing drums and singing
backing vocals, and Ashlee Green, of Butterbirds, who will be singing lead
Are you involved
in any other bands or do you have any other projects going besides The Garment
District? Have you ever released music
in the past with anyone else? If so, can
you tell us a little bit about that?
Garment District, is my central desire and priority musically. I hope to work on a potential new project
with Shivika Asthana, who played drums and sang in the band Papas Fritas. We both share a desire to make music with
other female musicians. Shiv[ika]
recently moved to Pittsburgh, where I live now, and we were reunited after not
seeing each other since our former bands played together in the late
1990’s. My experience in other bands
goes back to the ten years I lived in New York City. While there, I first played guitar and sang
backing vocals in Saturnine, and then was a founding and longtime member of The
Ladybug Transistor, so that decade was filled with wonderful experiences
performing, recording and touring. We
played regularly at New York City venues such as Brownies, The Knitting
Factory, Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom and Under Acme, so that’s really where
I learned be part of a band. I lived in
a spacious old Victorian house in Flatbush, Brooklyn with The Ladybug
Transistor, totally Partridge Family, Fleetwood Mac-style. It was a highly productive time for us
musically, making such albums as The Albemarle Sound for Merge in 1999 and Argyle Heir for Merge in 2000. I loved
living within what was one of the most diverse zip codes in the US. Our studio, Marlborough Farms, was located in
a basement and the nearby Prospect Park and Coney Island, as well as state park
beaches, provided very inspiring locales for our musical mindset. Many other bands record there, such as
Crystal Stilts and Hamish Kilgour, with engineer and musician Gary Olson, who
started The Ladybug Transistor. That
time was very influential, living communally in a house with a yard, porch,
spacious rooms, grape arbor and a tree-lined street, all in the middle of a
city housing some eleven million people.
Our friends’ bands were always passing through, sleeping on our floors
and playing shows with us, including Of Montreal, The Lucksmiths, Neutral Milk
Hotel, The Aislers Set etcetera. With
The Ladybug Transistor, we released numerous albums on Merge, as well as
singles and compilations and toured extensively in the US, Europe, Canada, and
Scandinavia. We also had the
life-altering experience of collaborating on a cover of “Puis-Je?” with one of
our musical heroes, the late legendary Soft Machine co-founder Kevin
Ayers. We contributed a cover of “I
Found A Reason” to The Velvet Underground tribute CD, Rabid Chords, and
performed at international festivals, including The Bowlie Weekender, the first
All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands, England, which was curated by Belle
& Sebastian. In Pittsburgh, I’ve
also performed and recorded music as part of the band The New Alcindors.
How old are you
and where are you originally from?
and we lived in a few small beach towns.
My dad worked for Sears, and that took us from New Jersey across
Pennsylvania, to State College and Altoona, and then eventually to Pittsburgh,
where I grew up. I think that because I
was born in a beach town, I’ve since spent the rest of my life trying to get
back to that ocean environment where I feel most at one with the world.
music scene like where you grew up? Did
you see a lot of shows where you grew up?
Do you feel like you were very influenced by that scene? Do you feel like it played a large role in
shaping your musical interests or shaping your tastes?
had a fantastic vinyl collection and a shared love of music, and with
friends. I was fortunate to live about
six miles from Downtown Pittsburgh, and we often rode the T (light railtransit) to shop at early locations of an iconic local record store called
Eide’s. Making the teenage pilgrimage
with friends, and meeting kids from other areas of the city and older music
figures, profoundly inspired my interest in making music. The pre-digital world of gathering in public
spaces and having no prior “image” or perception of what or who you might
encounter or discover that day, whether at a live show, at a record, video or
book store, or on tour with your band, is something that I am so incredibly happy
was a part of my youth. My first
concert, although my mom says I “saw” others in utero, was Peter, Paul &
Mary at The Stanley Theatre, which is now the Benedum Center for Performing
Arts, in Downtown Pittsburgh with my mom, when I was in elementary school. My mom used to sing “Stewball” to my three
brothers and me when we were children, and she named her dog, an Italian
Spinone who also happens to be very equestrian, after the song. My first concert alone, with friends getting
dropped off by parents, was The Kinks at the now demolished Civic Arena (RIP)
in Pittsburgh, when I was in junior high.
I was hooked. There were a ton of
fantastic shows in the late 1980’s in Pittsburgh, and many cool, now defunct,
alternative all-ages venues. We went to
all-ages Sunday punk nights at the legendary club, The Electric Banana, to
shows at the Masonic Temple where my brother’s high school band opened for
Nirvana in 1990, Shady Skates and also the Syria Mosque Ballroom, which was a
space downstairs in the gorgeous, and tragically razed, Syria Mosque. The Syria Mosque was a very important venue
for my early musical explorations, and occupies a very special place in my
psyche. A three thousand seven
hundred-seat venue located in Oakland, it was built in 1911 as a mystical
shrine for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine and
designed by Huehl, Schmidt & Holmes.
It’s one of the great losses of Pittsburgh’s landmark early 20th-century
architecture. This is where, as a kid, I
saw New Order, The Cure, REM, The Three O’Clock, Camper Van Beethoven, The
Ramones, Hüsker Dü and Modern English, just to name a few! Seeing The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead tour at
the Fulton Theater, now the Byham, was also a highlight of my youth. My brother Jeff always played guitar in bands
in junior high and high school, so he was certainly an early inspiration in
terms of the concept of starting and playing in a band as well. I guess it just took a bit longer for it to
dawn on me that I could do it too. I
hope to start volunteering at the new Girls Rock Camp which launched recently
here in Pittsburgh, as it’s an amazing support system that did not exist when I
was growing up.
What about your
home when you were growing up? Was there
a lot of music around the house? Were
either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or just
extremely interested/involved in music?
What do you consider to be your first real exposure to music to be?
CDs. Vinyl records were literally some
of our first toys, so I was fortunate enough to feel like I had a private
listening library or record store to share with my brother Jeff. Among the first albums we bought were compilations
of “hits” from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
Ones in heavy rotation included Napoleon XIV’s “They’re Coming to Take
Me Away” (1966), The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak” (1958) and Sam The Sham & The
Pharaohs “Li’l Red Riding Hood” (1966).
Those songs all have catchy melodies paired with evocative imagery and
narratives to stir a child’s curiosity and imagination. They got lodged in my brain and I still love
them, and instantly associate them with childhood. Our cars always had tape decks and 8-track
players for our many road trips to Philadelphia to see our grandparents and to
the beach. Some of my first pre-verbal
memories are of staring at fantastical and visually rich album covers, such as
The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, all of the Beatles records’, the Jimi Hendrix
Experience’s Axis: Bold As Love, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Jefferson Airline’s
Surrealistic Pillow, Donovan’s A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, Van Morrison’s
Astral Weeks, and many others. The
titles and artwork were all as engrossing as the music. My mom was a high school English teacher when
we were kids. One course she taught was
called “Poetry and Rock Lyrics” and I loved to help her write out song lyrics
on index cards that she used in lessons and to decorate her classroom walls. We did not grow up with religion, so I always
joke that Leonard Cohen—Bob Dylan—Neil Young was the holy trinity in our
house. My parents have lyrics to Dylan’s
“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” from Blonde on Blonde written out in
calligraphy and framed hanging on their wall, so the music of the 1960’s and 1970’s
is in my DNA. We also had tons of
children’s music on LP, and a Fisher Price turntable with thick plastic
“records” that had grooves. I remember
these small red and yellow children’s 45s with songs such as “The Muffin Man”,
which definitely must have fueled my interest in offbeat folk music and
melodies. We listened incessantly to
Free To Be … You And Me and songs like “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” which are
touchstones. My brother and I would act
out our own radio shows, playing both the parts of DJs and performing made-up
commercial spots, and recording them onto Maxell tapes. We spent countless hours pouring through my
parents’ old copies of Mad Magazine and Rolling Stone and staring endlessly at
album artwork while listening to music, which is so much more of a direct and
less mediated way to hear music than the way most people experience sound
today. When I was little, I read a ton,
both to myself and with my mom. One of
the most powerful children’s book that has stuck with me as an adult is Arm in
Arm by Remy Charlip, who I named one of my new songs after. Remy was an American artist, writer,
choreographer, theatre director, designer, and educator who wrote and
illustrated children’s books, performed with John Cage, and was a founding
member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
He also designed sets and costumes, and developed a type of dance
choreography that integrated his drawings.
His book was a source of great imaginative experiences, similar to other
books I was obsessed with like The Phantom Tollbooth. Arm in Arm is filled with visual and kinetic
and freeform poetry and clever word-play, concrete poetry that forms shapes and
pictures. I think that’s one of the
early influences which have helped to shape my sense of pattern, rhythm, phrasing
and texture in music. It was so uncanny,
because soon after I decided to name that song for him, he passed away. Growing up we also had a bunch of
mind-blowing concert posters by legendary Fillmore West artist Bonnie MacLean
hanging in our house, along with others, including postcards, by her. One in particular, for a Pink Floyd show, I
found to be hypnotic. As a kid, I think
I associated the male figure with my dad because he had the same thick curly
hair as the figure on the poster. My mom
used to tell me stories about rooming for a year at Penn State University with
Bonnie’s younger sister Valerie; they also went to high school together in
Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Posters like
this would arrive in packages and were all over their dorm. A Philadelphia native, Bonnie moved to San
Francisco in 1964, joining the Fillmore staff and later marrying, and having a
son with Bill Graham, to collect tickets, pass out handbills, and count
receipts, and eventually taking over the production of promotional
artwork. While Wes Wilson’s and Lee
Conklin’s name are ubiquitous with the ’60s Fillmore scene, I think Bonnie’s
vision remains brilliant and distinct; seeing her posters in my home as a child
definitely helped to shape my psyche.
Next step is to finally help my mom restore and reframe it! My dad also created drawings and paintings
that were around our house and my mom sewed our curtains and clothing, some of
this was the inspiration for my song “Secondhand Sunburn”, and I even have some
of her curtains and table runners in my house today and saved some of her
amazing brightly hued and patterned vintage fabrics. As a family, we’ve attended many concerts
together, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bert Jansch. It’s a special kind of bond to share with
your parents. My step-dad and his friend
even snuck me into a 21+ club when I was in high school to see The
Replacements. My first music lessons
were on piano in elementary school, but that was rudimentary and I didn‘t feel
a personal connection to the teacher, though I did retain some important basic
knowledge. The best part of those
lessons was learning Native American songs which I loved to play. I took a bit of guitar lessons in high school
and college but am primarily a self-taught musician. At holidays, I get together with my brother
Jeff, who contributes some guitar on my new album, his girlfriend, my husband,
and my cousins for family jams, with all of us playing different
instruments. My parents don’t play any
instruments, but my mom, dad and step-dad are huge lifelong music fans. Music is also in our family’s heritage; my
grandfather and his siblings played in a Croatian Tamburitza band, called an
orchestra, led by my great-grandfather John Baron, who came to the US from
Zagreb, when they were growing up in Braddock, Pennsylvania. By age twelve, the three Baron kids were
proficient on traditional tamburitza instruments such as the prim, tambura and
bas-prim, and were put to work playing at weddings, apartments or wherever my
great-grandfather could hire them out; places where shots of whiskey flowed
during breaks. Here is a photo from myfamily’s archives with an accompanying story I wrote about their group which is
featured on an online photography initiative called Now See This: A People’s
History of Pittsburgh.
pick a moment, a single moment that seemed to change everything for you and
opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities that music presents, what would
memory that come in and out of view.
Some of the earliest moments were pre-verbal, listening to my parents’
albums and having my mom sing songs to us like Free To Be … You and Me and
“Puff, the Magic Dragon,” enjoying the music in Schoolhouse Rock, as well as in
Saturday cartoons and TV shows such as H.R. Pufnstuf, Sesame Street, Bugs Bunny
and Scooby Doo. At the time, all of that
music was imaginative, visceral and pulled me into new worlds, and today, I
continue to be in awe of its complexity, texture, sense of melody and lush
decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music? What brought that decision about for you?
the first time I heard music on the turntable and radio. My grandparents always had an AM radio on in
the kitchen of their ranch house, and I found that to be very comforting, kind
of like the sounds of crickets or ocean waves.
As soon as I moved to New York City, I started playing in a band called
Saturnine, quite naturally through meeting new friends, and it began a very
spontaneous organic time in my life playing music. As a member of The Ladybug Transistor, I was
one of four songwriters in the band, and first joined as a bassist. I leaned a great deal about writing,
performing and recording music while I was in The Ladybug Transistor,
particularly since we had a recording studio in our house. We all lived together for a period of time
and I got to assist with recording and mixing our albums, making music was
intrinsically integrated into our communal lifestyle. I also feel that because listening intensely
to music has always been a constant in my life, it has inspired my desire to
make music the kind of music I do as The Garment District as well.
first instrument? When and how did you
Shannon, Pennsylvania. It was a gift from
my parents when I left for college, and I hope to have it forever. My parents have always been supportive of our
music making. For Christmas one year,
they gave me my beloved red sunburst (fireglo) Rickenbacker 360, which I love
to play. My first electric guitar was a
seafoam green Fender American Standard Stratocaster, which was tragically
stolen during a show at Brownie’s in New York City (RIP).
The Garment District form? Was it a
conscious decision where you set out to work on your own stuff with a certain
goal in mind, or did it just kind of consciously evolve from a sort of
exploration, or some such? When would
that have been?
in The New Alcindors, an instrumental combo inspired by 1960s soul and garage
music with whom I had the privilege of using a Fender guitar amp that once
belonged to Clarence White of The Byrds, while recording at Nashville’s
legendary Castle Studios! During that
time in the mid-2000s, I became very involved with running Handmade Arcade,
Pittsburgh’s first and largest independent craft fair, and also operating my
own craft lines The Polka-Dot Life and Fresh Popcorn Productions. I travelled to other cities such as New York
City and Chicago, to participate in large national indie craft fairs such as
the Renegade Craft Fair and the BUST Magazine Craftacular. I was also starting to do a lot more
photography and was able to channel my love of vintage signs and roadside
culture into a book, as co-editor of, and a contributor to Pittsburgh Signs
Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania (Carnegie Mellon University Press,
2010), a grant-funded project I worked on with three other Pittsburgh artists,
including my husband, Greg. This was a
period when things were germinating for me music-wise; I started writing a lot
of new music that led to Melody Elder, my first Garment District release, which
came out as a cassette on Night-People Records in 2011. It was a natural extension for me to go from
the indie music scene to the indie craft scene, and vice versa. In The Ladybug Transistor, we were always
designing and making our own t-shirts, buttons and some stage paintings, and of
course peddling all of this while on tour.
little it about what The Garment District means as a name or title for the
music? How did you come up with it and
go about choosing it? Where there any
close seconds that you almost went with you can recall?
and fashion, sewing and crafting, as well as my deep respect for the women,
countless anonymous laborers who toiled in dangerous conditions in specific
parts of cities around the world; and still do.
I’m a crafter, so the name also reflects my other artistic outlets. I’m drawn to the way certain words sound and
look, both when spoken/heard and when written as typeface. For me, The Garment District implies a sense
of making, creative labor, production and innovation, as well as a distinct
sense of place, which I hope is reflected in my music, songwriting and videos
also. I like the idea of taking an
overarching concept or signifier of a place/space/event that has certain
connotations, and that involved an unfathomable amount of human labor and energy
on a mass commercial scale, and co-opting it for a project that is very
homespun, tactile and visceral, especially given that I release music on
limited-edition cassettes and on hand-designed vinyl. On a more literal level, when I lived in New
York City, I was obsessed with shopping for vintage trimmings on lower Canal
Street, in Chinatown and in Brooklyn warehouses.
Where’s the band
located at these days?
the local music scene where you’re at now?
Do you feel very involved in the local scene? Do you book or attend a lot of local shows or
do in terms of a scene too much anymore.
I go to a fair amount of shows, perhaps not at many as I wish I had the
time and energy to attend. I don’t book
shows per se, but I try to be supportive and helpful when I can, since I do
receive lots of inquiries from bands from all of the world looking to play
together or to set up shows in Pittsburgh.
Musically, I have collaborated with other Pittsburgh musicians, such as
Buscrates 16-Bit Ensemble, who did a remix of my song, “Bird Or Bat,” and who
is also a member of East Liberty Quarters, and has performed with me live. I’ve also performed at the Pittsburgh-based
VIA Music & New Media Festival and SYNC’d Film & Music event, and will
be performing in October at the new HughShows Live @ Eide’s Series. This is sometimes a complicated question to
answer that can generate conflicted or contradictory thoughts; it’s better over
drinks! At times I feel that Pittsburgh
is a very transient and fragmented city and that can be frustrating. By nature, I’m often in a state of
wanderlust, and I think that also inspires me to make music. I tend to look at a place as a whole, and not
just in terms of a music scene. A sense
of place, and a relationship to surroundings, has always weighed heavily on my
mind no matter where I live. My first
true love affair with a city came when I lived in New York City. I am someone who feels that people can have
many “homes”. I’m very drawn to, and
inspired by, Pittsburgh’s amazing topography, art scene, architecture
(buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, H.H. Richardson, Mies van der Rohe, Frederick
G. Scheibler, Frederick Osterling, Paul Schweikher), authentic neighborhoods,
thrift shops, and record stores. There’s
a spirit or feeling that you can truly start or try something here and have a
hand in its creative evolution. One of
my favorite things about Pittsburgh is its remarkable role in America’s music
history, in terms of jazz, soul and funk (Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Beaver
Harris, Dodo Marmarosa, Billy Strayhorn, Gene Ludwig, Betty Davis, Henry
Mancini), rock and roll (Fantastic Dee-Jays, Swamp Rats, The Duchess, Todd
Tamanend Clark, The Cynics) and 1950s/1960s pioneering DJs, teen dance clubs
and pop hits. This is where taste-making
DJs such as Terry Lee, Mad Mike and Porky Chedwick (RIP all three of them!)
created hits for many obscure groups and where songs like Tommy James’s
“Hanky Panky” were literally revived and made into hits here; so
music is in the fabric. Adding to this
legacy and creating a progressive space for the future of music in Pittsburgh,
is a fairly active underground music and grassroots arts scene, with
independent tape and vinyl labels, house shows, recording studios, art
galleries, and incredible museums. An
annual new media and music festival called VIA is also a welcome addition. They hosted the world premiere of RVNG Intl’s
FREAKWYS Ensemble (James Ferraro, Laurel Halo, Daniel Lopatin, David Borden,
Samuel Godin), and have also hosted other pioneering and contemporary music
figures such as Richard Pinhas (Heldon) and Robert Beatty. Being invited to perform at the 2012 VIA
Music & New Media Festival opening for Julia Holter, was a huge honor that
came at a pivotal time for me when starting The Garment District. People are always surprised to find out that Pittsburgh
is home to amazing sprawling parks, dramatic funiculars, tunnels and vistas
that are actually quite European, and you can get lost in the wilderness in
state parks one hour from the city. The
mix of grittiness and green here fuels my own creativity. There’s a fascinating intersection of labor,
innovation, art and creativity unique to Pittsburgh. We’re also surrounded by hills and valleys
that can provide inspiring views, but can also feel claustrophobic and
landlocked, especially during the winter.
in recording or releasing music at all?
If so, can you tell us about us briefly?
I’ve recorded and released numerous 45s, LPs, CDs and compilations as a member
of the bands The Ladybug Transistor and Saturnine, and have also recorded with
The New Alcindors. In late 2011, I
released my debut as The Garment District, a cassette called Melody Elder on
Night-People Records. This came about in
a serendipitous way, during a pivotal time when I was starting to make new
music again. One night in 2010, I
attended a show in Pittsburgh, and Wet Hair Shawn Reed who runs Night-People’s
band was on the bill. The funny thing is
that I can’t remember which band I went to see that night. I love that rare experience when you go to a
show and discover a new band you love that you have never heard before, which
is exactly what happened. I spent time
looking at the Night-People releases, which is always a great ritual during a
show like that. I loved seeing Shawn’s
silkscreened tapes in physical form and I was impressed with his selection of
beautiful limited-edition handmade cassettes and 45s and his authentic approach
to running the label. I had already
started working on parts of Melody Elder, and had a few nearly finished songs,
along with some demos and some compositions in progress. Shawn was one of the few people I shared that
new music with at the time. I was
listening to a bunch of other releases on Night-People and very much respect
and admire the aesthetic and community he supports and has created via
Night-People, and Shawn’s attention to and respect for the handmade process. I sent some of my new music to Shawn, and he
wrote back to me one night at like 1:30 a.m. asking if I wanted to do a tape
which came out in late 2011. In late
2012, I released a three-song 7” featuring a remix by Sonic Boom on the French
label, La Station Radar and in July 2014, my full-length album, If You Take
Your Magic Slow, was released on vinyl and digitally, on Night-People. I’ll talk more about recording in the answers
scene played a large or important role in shaping the sound of, or in the
history or evolution of The Garment District?
Or do you feel like you could be doing what you’re doing regardless of
where you were at or what you were surrounded by?
but in my heart I feel that the music I make as The Garment District comes from
within, and that I would be making my music regardless of where I was living or
based. That said, I do believe that
aspects of The Garment District are able to percolate and evolve because of my
immediate surroundings in Pittsburgh, and the mental and creative space
provided by having a home to settle into, something I might not able to achieve
in a more confined, frantic and expensive city.
Some of my closest friends I feel most connected to, happen to live in
places all over the world. I make music
in something of a cocoon, with one foot on and one off the train that might be
termed a scene. Sometimes to complete an
intense creative project such as making an album, I have to retreat into
something like a personal vacuum in my mind, blocking out the many
distractions. I am a social creature
however, and everyone is impacted by and thinks about their surroundings,
whether they admit it or not. Moving
into my first house, I’ve been able to assemble my instruments and create a
space that’s conducive to making and listening to music; unwinding and escaping
into the process more openly and fully.
Becoming less nomadic, your mind can open up and expand in that way. I think having the house, a dedicated craft
room and a music room, a place in our living room for our Hammond organ, a
proper listening space for our albums, and the basement to rehearse and record,
helps to shape the sound. I try to
attend local shows when I can. I do feel
that Pittsburgh could make improvements in terms of the variety of types and
sizes of live music venues, and the diversity of serious and sustainable
opportunities that exist for local musicians, though.
people and do intros and stuff for these interviews I inevitably have to
describe how a band sounds to people who may never have heard them before. I’m always afraid I’m putting too much of my
own perceptions and ideas into my descriptions though and I’ve got this growing
neurosis that keeps me up at night sometimes; seriously. Help me out here, how would you describe The
Garment District to our readers who haven’t heard you before?
experiences with it, or you can share these responses from other listeners:
at home sick on a school day watching Inside/Out on PBS. The record gives me the oddest combination of
wistful wanting to go back to some far away virginal loneliness and a more
blissful almost mushroom-tripping elfin magic thing.”
satellite when I hear this band. Are
they a super-advanced band from the 1950s?
Or are they a vintage/retro computer simulation from 2070? Or both?”
to hear who some of your major music influences might be? What about influences on The Garment District
dreams, memories. I guess if you were to
answer that question by walking through my house, perusing my music collection,
snooping around my walls and shelves, you would say music, design, film and art
from the 1960s and 1970s, in particular.
My husband has an astounding vinyl collection which has merged with
mine, and we share a ton of musical interests from rare Jamaican and Freakbeat
45s and free jazz, to British psych, library music and early electronic, so we
often have turntables going on both floors, with records everywhere. When I write and record music, I don’t
concretely or consciously think about influences. I’ve always thought of it more in terms of
inspiration. I focus on listening to
what’s in my head and then interpreting and giving it form via sound. My hope is that it takes on a new life that’s
out of my control cerebrally, films (I’m pretty addicted to watching
documentaries) as much as music, favorites such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The
Swimmer, Bunny Lake Is Missing, The Wicker Man, Grey Gardens, Seconds, obscure
horror films and experimental cinema of the 1960s to the 1970s can often
trigger something that inspires me to write music. I think more in terms of inspiration as an
energy force, rather than a traceable or literal influence. Things seep into your subconscious and may
end up making their way into your artistic voice in unrecognizable or only
partially discernible ways. I’m
endlessly in awe of and uplifted by a massive range of music, including 1950’s
to 1970’s psychedelia, folk, pop, garage, freakbeat; 1950’s to 1970’s
rocksteady, ska and dub; early electronic music by people like Brian Eno, Delia
Derbyshire, Jon Hassell, Heldon, Manuel Göttsching, Tony Conrad, Joe Meek; free
jazz; 1980s NYC hip hop; 1970s-1980s pop and new wave from Scotland, New
Zealand and Australia; and film soundtracks and TV and cartoon theme
shows. I can be just as inspired by a
brief interstitial composition by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street or a 1960s/1970s
horror film soundtrack, as I can by some of my favorite music. In any given week, in my house you could hear
Kaleidoscope (UK), Lee Hazlewood, The Golden Dawn, Jackie Mittoo, Gene Clark,
Syd Barrett, The Left Banke, Soft Machine, Love, The Human Expression, Weather
Report, Bobby Beausoleil, Suicide, etcetera, etcetera… This list hath no end! There’s music that will always just be in my
life, and then there’s that amazing moment when you discover something you’ve
never heard before, when you realize how crucial it is to always keep your mind
open, listening and waiting. I can get
overwhelmed by the rapid-fire influx of new music, especially given the way
music is shared digitally, so I often retreat and only want to listen to music
I own on vinyl. For me, it’s a more
complete, visceral and authentic experience of someone’s vision. But I know that’s not always feasible or
relevant, so I try to also accept and explore the more temporal fractured
exchange of music. In addition to
massive amounts of music from the 1960s through the 1980s, some of my favorite
music from the 1990s still moves me, such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Gorky’s
Zygotic Mynci, Broadcast, Plush, Beachwood Sparks, My Bloody Valentine, The
Olivia Tremor Control, and Fugu.
There’re also astounding reissues to keep up with on labels like
Sundazed, Light in the Attic, Dark Entries, and Numero Group; it makes my head
spin. When we switched from cable to
Roku for streaming, it ramped up our obsession with finding obscure ‘60s and
‘70s films, TV shows and commercials. I
love to discover soundtracks from ‘60s and ‘70s films and TV shows that aren’t
well documented, such as hearing a part of a musical piece or interstitial
music that moves action along, or suggests a narrative, character trait, mood,
time or setting. I love that music has
that kind of presence. One current
obsession is Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, the 1970’s color TV show he hosted
and contributed scripts to. It’s
completely consuming. I’m currently
reading a fantastic book, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music,
by Rob Young, which delves into so much of the music, culture, landscape,
history and politics that fascinates and inspires me from the late 1960s.
songwriting process like for The Garment District? I know that other people are involved to some
extent with the recording of the material but I’m curious how much, or how
little, input other people have on the creation of material for The Garment
sound. My first intention in creating
music is thinking about how I’m going to communicate it to listeners in the
best possible way, and fully realize where I want the song, composition or
album to be. I’ve had to come to terms
with loosening up between recorded material and live shows being two different
things. Some aspects to writing and
recording music are highly personal and private, almost a process akin to
alchemy. You can’t always translate the
process to specific language. It’s also
a slow-moving process that reveals itself over time. When I write music, I don’t concretely or
consciously think about influences. I
try to focus on listening carefully to what’s in my head, and interpreting and
giving that form, via my collection of analog instruments, a sense of melody,
possibly lyrics, and also allowing what I’m playing to have the chance to
evolve into something new or unexpected.
I’m very interested in the use of many different analog instruments and
how they can work together to communicate a song or piece of music that is
inside one’s head. Allowing the
instruments, melodies and counter-melodies, patterns, and textures to create a
sonic universe that transcends the limitations or pre-conceived notions of
language, almost like a pre-verbal phase, or a dream state. Lift the limitations imposed by narrative or
words, and allow the music to become almost spatial. My way of writing is very naturally
melody-based, and the way I approach making music is how I hear everything in
my head, combined with how it starts to unfold and evolve as I’m writing and
recording it, creating a demo or experimenting with different instruments that
are kept out in many rooms of my house.
The process is highly personal and intuitive for me. What the song or composition requires and
calls for is what dictates how I proceed.
I think carefully about each note, melody, pattern, instrument, lyric,
layer, etcetera. A lot of thought and
care goes into my process, even if the end result is more freeform or
experimental. Each individual bit is how
it’s communicating itself to me. I’m
very interested in an intersection of orchestrated pristine pop music, and the
vibe and feel of more ambient experimental stuff. I love that music exists in a particular
point in time, with a beginning and an end, it’s temporal and also temporary,
and can take you to another place or time, or to your own past, or memory of
the past, or be wrapped up in projections of the self, and can be a form of
escapism. Unfortunately, most music in
our modern digital culture is relegated to background music. I love ambient sounds, so I even get offended
at my neighborhood pool when they blast a classic rock station, because I want
to hear the ambient sounds of kids playing, the water splashing, the birds,
wind in the trees, cars whizzing by, the lifeguard’s whistle; the world around
me. It’s such a shame, and can be
stifling, that we clog up hearing, noticing, observing and listening, so we
can’t take the time to experience things fully.
I often take an inventory of sounds around me, making field recordings
in my yard, around Pittsburgh, and on trips, for possible use in future
music. The writing process fluctuates
from song to song. Different methods are
used, filling notebook with ideas, collecting field recordings, making demos
with a digital 8-track, song sketches using my iPhone, or recording an entire
new song in one sitting. Our house is
full of instruments in different rooms to facilitate a freeform process. When you come into our living room, you see
our Hammond M3 organ, lots of our records and stereo equipment for all manner
of musical formats, LPs, cassettes, CDs…
In our basement practice space are numerous keyboards, including a
Wurlitzer electric piano which I used all over my new album, as well as a
Roland JX3P, Hohner synths, Korg CX-3, several Casios and a Vox Super
Continental. I like to have instruments
around the house, so that my writing and demo process can sometimes be inspired
or informed by where I play them and their varying locations, such as the
dramatic views from our top floor. When
writing, I may move from keyboard to guitar later, or switch to bass and
percussion if needed.
recording? As I mentioned before, other
people are involved to some extent but I’m curious about their level of
involvement in the recording process for the project as well?
lyrics, so the creation of the material has been me up to this point. That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to new,
unexpected and spontaneous contributions that may emerge during a recording
sessions or live performances, though.
My cousin Lucy sings lead vocals on my recordings; we have a very
natural and organic process of working on finalizing vocal melodies, which I
often write on keyboards, and phrasing for the lyrics, and then adding
harmonies. My husband has been a
collaborator on some keyboard parts, and is an essential and fantastic listener
for me to bounce ideas off and share songs in progress with. Some of my recordings also feature
contributions from a few additional friends; some who also perform live with
me. They’ve come into the process during
the rehearsal phase when I teach them the songs. I do a great deal of planning in advance when
it comes to recording with other musicians, writing out parts, and providing
them with demos and notes in advance.
The rehearsals with drummer Chris Parker and bassist Matt Booth for If
You Take Your Magic Slow were very organic and natural, and they learned the songs
very quickly. It was a joy to record
with the two of them, almost like having my own personal Wrecking Crew. They also play as session musicians on
numerous recordings, and have their own bands, and can pick up any manner of
music from jazz to country to Brazilian, very fast. I love that they could naturally pick up the
feel of my songs, make suggestions that were tasteful, and also play with a
high level skill, while still conveying a passionate style of playing that has
personality and gets the vibe of my songs.
My brother Jeff had input during the recording of the guitar parts that
he played on a few of the songs on my new LP.
It really depends upon what I feel the song needs to be fully realized
in its permanent recorded state. I
always have more ideas than actually make it onto the recorded material, in
terms of the orchestrated arrangements, and that’s mainly due to limited
recording? I’m a musician myself and I
think that most of us at least, can appreciate the end result of all the time
and hard work that goes into making an album when you’re hold that finished
product in your hands. But getting to
that point, getting things recorded and sounding the way that you want them can
be extremely trying to say the least.
What’s it like recording for you?
It requires an intense level of focus and concentration, at least for
me. I like disappearing or escaping into
that very focused world for a given period of time, and blocking out the baggage,
noise and distractions of everyday life.
It’s also, like writing music, highly personal and almost akin to
alchemy; a mix of intuitive and premeditated thought. My level of preparation for being in the
studio completely depends upon the context and the song, such as whether I’m
recording at home, in a home-based studio, or a larger outside studio that
requires definite parameters in terms of scheduling and logistics. For me, it demands a certain mindset, almost
like tunnel vision, but in a good way. I
love the experience and feeling of creating a sound recording that is both
permanent, but something that you can’t see.
We’re in such a visually obsessed and visually barraged age, that I
think music can hold a very magical place, because it is purely aural and
energy, and exists in a certain amount of time; actual vibrations, but also
emotional. I think I touched upon more
answers to this one above and below.
time and preparation that goes into working out every single part of a song,
where everything is planned and worked out in advance before you head into
record and set in stone? Or, do you all
head into the studio with a good skeletal idea of how a song’s going to sound
like while allowing for some change and variation during the recording process?
of time for some of the songs; and thought and energy. That said, I also have some material that’s
recorded in a more improvisational and spontaneous fashion, and I try to tap
into that and remain open to allowing unexpected things to emerge during the
recording process. The majority of my music
is planned out in advance when I’m recording outside of my home and involving
guest musicians. I work in a lot of
different ways when writing music and preparing to record, so it could be
scribbled on pages in a notebook, demos or sketches made on my 8-digital track,
iPhone, piles of paper in my house, or all cemented in my head during bouts
with insomnia. While recording at home,
I enjoy a more freeform process, so that new ideas for melodies,
instrumentation or song structure can emerge during the recording process. The latter can be very organic. There really is not one answer. If I’m working with additional musicians who
are coming in just to record on my music, then I’m very organized about
preparing the arrangements, rehearsing with the musicians in advance of the
recording sessions, and organizing my notes about ideas I may want to try in
the studio and let someone else handle the technical aspects of recording so
you can concentrate on just getting the best performances possible out of
yourselves? Or, do you take a more DIY
approach to recording where you handle most things on your own with your own
crew of folks, or lack thereof, so you don’t have to compromise on the sound
with anyone else, or anything?
working, as well. Parts of my tape,
7-inch and album were recorded at home, with either with my husband or me, or
often both, handling the engineering.
For half of Melody Elder, I worked with Kevin Smith in his home studio
in Pittsburgh. Likewise, for half of my
new album, I worked with Greg Matecko at his home-based studio, Frankenstein
Sound Labs, in Hazelwood, Pennsylvania.
My ideal preference, if I had unrestricted time and resources, would be
to have a dedicated sound engineer, so that I could focus my energies on the
creative aspects of performing and arranging.
It is helpful to have a sound engineer to bounce ideas off and to help
you try out new things, and compare ideas, in terms of instruments, pedals,
effects, mixes, etcetera. It takes a
different type of focus and expertise. I
love to be heavily involved in all stages, recording, mixing, producing,
mastering, but I do also like to work with people who have expertise in
engineering and mixing, so that I can focus my creativity, energy and time on
the core expression of my music.
that I know of is 2011’s Melody Elder cassette for the totally awesome Night
People Records. Can you tell us a little
bit about the recording of the material for that tape? When and where was it recorded? Was that a fun, pleasurable experience? Who all was involved in playing on Melody
Elder? Who recorded that material? What kind of equipment was used?
a combination of both on some songs. For
the songs requiring more intricate production, and where I had mapped out more
layered arrangements, such as “Only Air,” “Bird Or Bat” and
“Nature-Nurture,” I recorded in the home-based digital audio studio
of my friend Kevin Smith from The Artificial Sea, in Pennsylvania. Kevin’s a circuit bender, and has quite a
collection of vintage gear and gadgets, such as manipulated and handmade
effects pedals and a Commodore 64. He
makes and repairs pedals and vintage electronics, and works with beats and
samples, so it was a very creative and productive atmosphere working in his
cozy studio, located on the third floor of his house; a very laid back
experience. It was great to have his
various vintage gear at my disposal. I
loved using his Crumar, Microsynth and 1960’s Silvertone amplifier. We both used to live in New York City, and
have some friends in common there, but our paths didn’t cross until we met in
Pittsburgh, where we actually used to live two doors down from each other at
different times. On Melody Elder, I play
all of the instruments. Kevin helped me
create the right beats for a few songs, and also added some samples to one
song, and some circuit bending sounds to another track. We recorded all of the vocals on Melody Elder
in Kevin’s studio, with my cousin Lucy singing lead vocals, and the two of us
doing backing vocals together. The other
half of Melody Elder was recorded at home, aka Golden Mountain, along with my
husband Greg. Songs such as “The
Parlance,” “Apple Bay Day,” and “Supermoon” are a bit more
improvisational, and were recorded with more emphasis on the feel of the first
take. Since I’m interested in an
intersection of orchestrated pristine pop music and the vibe and energy of more
ambient experimental sounds, I tried to combine both on Melody Elder and If You
Take Your Magic Slow.
In 2012 you
released a 7-inch single limited to 300 copies which featured a remix of
“Nature Nurture” from the Melody Elder cassette, but it also featured two brand
new tracks, “Vigor” and “Miraculous Metal”.
Were those tracks left over from the earlier Melody Elder sessions, or
were those tracks recorded specifically for that single? If they were recorded for the single can you
tell us about the recording of that material?
Sonic Boom, one of my musical heroes.
Today, I can listen to his music from the 1980s and the 1990s, and it
truly sounds in some ways like a new experience, fresh and tactile and with new
dimensions uncovered and revealed. I had
met Sonic Boom a few times over the years, and couldn’t really imagine anyone
else remixing a song of mine, at least that song in particular. He worked on it in his New Atlantis Studios
in England, and encouraged feedback and input from me during the process. When he was just about finished, and we were
discussing the song’s final few measures, he suggested that I record a new part
to replace what I had played on the original, and to consider altering the
style of the final melody. I loved the
process of recording a new keyboard melody quite spontaneously late one night
in my house in a different time zone from him, and having it just sit naturally
within the remix he did. So many remixes
can sound gimmicky, or only involve elements of beats, or seem to clutter up a
song, but I loved that he almost stripped away some of the song, yet was able
to make it sound more expansive while keeping its authentic core in place and
somehow clarifying its presence. I’ve
always been very interested in relationships between sound, instrumentation,
melodies, and texture, as made by a wide variety of instruments, from my own
experience in previous bands, to 60’s and 70’s horror films, to BBC Radiophonic
Workshop pioneers, to contemporary installation art, and an overall hyper
appreciation of found sounds around me in daily life. Much of Melody Elder, which is a forty-minute
tape, is instrumental music, so to me “Miraculous Metal” and
“Vigor” are natural extensions of that album, with new elements of
course, and they reflect my personal sensibilities in terms of writing and
recording music. I wrote
“Miraculous Metal” soon after I released my tape on Night-People, and
am thrilled that it found a home on vinyl, alongside a remix by one of musical
heroes. I think the three songs work
together almost like a mini-album, and that they explore a variety of my
interests as far as making music. I love
film scores and incidental music, and the idea of stretching what the
traditional definition or perception of a composer is in pop culture. “Vigor” includes an assemblage of
audio snippets I recorded over several months’ time in my western Pennsylvania
environment. I constantly document
sounds that interest me, for whatever reason; regional dialects, computerized
voices, experiences in places ranging from public parking garages, to public
access television. I love putting these
random fleeting, and sometimes surreal, moments and experiences of sound into
new contexts that are permanently recorded.
I also like exploring the intersection of the public and the private,
via sound communication.
“Vigor” is special to me because it’s a long distance collaboration
with Kevin Smith, who’s now living in Oakland, California.
You recently released
your sophomore full-length, If You Take Your Magic Slow coming back again to
Night People and this time limited to 400 copies. Was the recording of the material very
similar to your earlier session(s)?
Where and when was it recorded?
Who recorded it and what kind of equipment was used? Did you try anything radically new or
different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for If
You Take Your Magic Slow? What can our
readers expect from the new album? Who
was all involved in playing on this album?
of If You take Your Magic Slow was recorded at home, while the other half was
recorded in a friend’s home-based studio.
This time, I had a great opportunity to work with Greg Matecko at
Frankenstein Sound Labs in Hazelwood, Pennsylvania, a sleepy post-Industrial
town just outside of downtown Pittsburgh.
With my LP, I knew that I wanted to have full band arrangements and
additional instrumentation on many of the songs, and I worked very hard on the
instrumentation prior to going into the studio.
I still wanted to have a balance of songs that are perhaps more
improvisational, spontaneous and recorded at home, with more emphasis on the feel
and vibe of the first take, and then juxtapose them with more carefully
arranged work, with close attention to structure, melody lines and
texture. I feel like the new album being
more orchestrated and arranged, is perhaps a return to music I had been a part
of in the past, and a logical and authentic extension of the way I hear music
and approach songwriting. I feel so
fortunate to have Matt Booth (Pittsburgh) on bass and Chris Parker (NYC,
Pittsburgh) on drums for half of the new album.
They’re phenomenal musicians and have a rare combination of technical
musical skills, along with a great sense of feel, timing and groove. They’re both very organic players. It was like having my own personal Wrecking
Crew with those two handling the rhythm section for half of this album. Rehearsing in advance with them was a
joy. They’re naturals, and were able to
pretty instantaneously translate from my notes, demos and what I asked for and
described for the songs in terms of bass and drums. They were also pros in the studio, and I’m
inspired as a musician when I play with them.
It was a ton of fun. We recorded
the basic tracks for bass and drums with them in Greg Matecko’s home studio,
surrounded by vintage objects and instruments, tools, reels of tapes,
furniture, and layers of Hazelwood history and memories along the mighty
Monongahela River outside of Pittsburgh.
District have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a demo or a
song on a compilation that I don’t know about?
Yes! In 2013, I was
extremely honored to be invited to contribute a new track to ESOPUS Magazine’s
10th anniversary issue, called Special Collections. A Brooklyn-based print magazine, ESOPUS
invited me to contribute a previously unreleased song for the CD that comes
with their 10th Anniversary Edition, two hundred and forty pages devoted to
personal and institutional archives.
Each publication comes with a companion CD and follows a theme. Musicians were given the task of writing a
song based on a personal object and asked to submit a photo of their object
along with the track. My song,
“Sullivan’s Island”, is inspired by my Little Leather Library edition of Edgar
Allan Poe’s 1843 short story “The Gold-Bug,” set on Sullivan’s
Island, South Carolina, where the author was posted at Fort Moultrie while
serving in the army, and also where I’ve visited during summers with family
since age fifteen. Other musicians on
the CD include Julian Lynch, Jeff Mercel of Mercury Rev, Prince Rama, Cloudland
Canyon, Sam Phillips, Lee Sargent from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wesley Stace,
and Cassandra Jenkins. The multi-format
publication features rare and extensive archival materials from The Museum of
Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner,
fashion designer and artist Stephen Sprouse, Benedictine priest and concrete
poet Dom Sylvester Houédard, Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham, a poster of cassettes
from the archives of artist and poet Christopher Knowles, and images by D.
James Dee, a.k.a. “the SoHo photographer.”
I also have songs on the Crash Symbols (Return to Dope Mountain) and
Moon Glyph (Various Artists: OPAL I & II) compilations.
of If You Take Your Magic Slow being pretty recent at this point, are there any
other releases in the works or pending from The Garment District?
2015, I will have a limited-edition CD release on Kendra Steiner Editions, an
independent label and press dedicated to experimental music and contemporary
poetry based in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll
also have a new song included on a forthcoming vinyl compilation and mix series
released by the French label, La Station Radar.
I’ve also already started working on demos for what I hope will evolve
into additional release(s) beyond those two projects.
place for our US readers to pick up copies of your music at?
they have it and if they don’t, they can order it from Midheaven
Mailorder! It’s also available directly from Night-People. If your readers are
lacking a turntable in their lives, they can purchase it from all major digital
retailers, iTunes, eMusic and Amazon, with my personal favorite being Boomkat.
poor international and overseas readers?
With the international postage rates the way that they are at this
point, I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for snagging
imports as I can!
Beethobear Records, Clear Spot or Meditations.
the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news, like
upcoming shows and album releases be at?
Are there any
major goals or plans that you’re looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or
for Kendra Steiner Editions, an independent label and press dedicated to
experimental music and contemporary poetry based in San Antonio, Texas. I hope to perform live more regularly and do
a limited amount of touring. And then
play out occasionally but I don’t know how often that is, or if you ever spend
any time out on the road? Do you tour at
all? If so, do you enjoy being out on
the road and what’s life like on tour for you?
which I’m extremely excited about. I
hope to do a limited amount of touring soon.
In my old bands, I toured quite often, including extensively in the US,
and also in Canada, Scandinavia and Europe.
I loved most aspects of touring, though that was then and this is
now… On October 11th, The Garment
District will be performing as part of HughShows Live, at Eide’s Entertainment,
a massive music and comic store located in Downtown Pittsburgh. The new series is the brainchild of Pittsburgh-based
music photographer and blogger, Hugh Twyman, and also serves as a donation
event for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund.
that you do play out live and I’ve asked a little bit about who’s usually
involved in the band, but what about the band in a live setting? Is that the same pool of people that you draw
from, or how do you approach that?
family and friends that can involve various configurations for recording
material and performing live. See answer
to question one for detailed information!
your favorite acts that you’ve had a chance to perform with?
& Sebastian, Broadcast, Bedhead, The Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal,
The Aislers Set, Luna, The Lucksmiths, Yo La Tengo, Ghost, and St. Etienne.
who are you on tour with?
answer in terms of both reality and fantasy: Syd Barrett, Soft Machine,
Tyrannosaurus Rex, Kaleidoscope (UK), New Order, Sun Ra, and Lee Hazlewood.
of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large
extent? Stuff like fliers, posters,
shirt designs, cover and that sort of thing?
Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey
with those sorts of thing? Do you have
anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that
sort of thing?
this aspect! I’m also an indie crafter,
I do a ton of photography, and I sew and make greeting cards, so I always have
ideas for creating Garment District visuals.
So far, my central visual endeavor as far as The Garment District, has
been to work with several talented video artists, including Thaddeus Kellstadt
from Iowa City, Keith Tassick from Pittsburgh, and Gordon Nelson from
Rochester. I love doing this kind of
multi-disciplinary music and visual work and look forward to doing more. Keith created a collaborative video for my song “Nature-Nurture” that was a 2012 Design, Art and Technology Awards
Finalist selected by the Pittsburgh Technology Council. The video features 700-plus still photographs
that I took of Western Pennsylvania television news over the course of one
year. Thad just created two videos for
songs on my new album, “Secondhand Sunburn” and “Cavendish on Whist,” and they
also incorporate some vintage Polaroid photos of my mom, and some footage I
took. I feel that Thad’s aesthetic and
approach to video art is a perfect visual counterpart to my music, with an interesting
blending of psychedelic imagery, digital video technologies and editing, and a
hand-crafted collage-like creative practice that really plays with perspective,
memory, vision, depth and flatness. We
plan to continue collaborating on video and music projects in the future. The artwork for my 7-inch on La Station Radar
was created by the talented Seattle based collage artist Jesse Treece and I
loved having the opportunity to work with him.
I discovered his work via Tumblr right around the same time he happened
to hear Melody Elder, so we connected in a very natural way. He created the front and back covers, and the
labels, for my 7-inch and I even mailed him some pages from my own collections
of vintage National Geographic and LIFE magazines; my grandmother saved every
issue of LIFE in plastic sleeves in her garage and I recently inherited them,
including some favorites with Angela Davis portraits, and artwork by Milton
Glaser on the covers. Shawn Reed of Night-People
created the artwork for my tape and LP.
Although I love having a hand in and participating in all of the details
of any creative project I’m working on, it was interesting for me to step aside
there for both my tape and album. It’s
funny because a lot of people think that’s a picture of me on the Melody Elder
j-card, but it’s not. I couldn’t be more
thrilled about the album and tape artwork Shawn created. With the new album, Shawn asked me to send
him some photos I had taken, band photos and any source materials or images
that inspire me, to possibly work with.
I’m astounded with the LP artwork he created and I feel that it’s the
perfect visual counterpart to my music.
I love the way he uses 2-D and pop art flatness within highly
dimensional and textured layers. Again there’s that kind of tension between
surface and depth, and texture and flatness, and I think that’s something I’m
drawn to in music. The back cover photo
of me was taken by my husband Greg, and the insert photo of my cousin Lucy was
taken by my aunt. I save so much paper
ephemera in my craft room to use as source material for future projects…
various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always
curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do. Do you have a preferred method of release for
your own music? What about when you’re
listening to or purchasing music? If you
do have a preference, can you tell us a little bit about why?
releasing my own music. For many
reasons, the superior audio quality, the tactile, spatial and visceral nature
of the listening experience, the social aspects that can engage listening with
others, the ritual, and the analog technology.
In terms of releasing my music on vinyl: with If You Take Your Magic
Slow, I hope to take listeners on an emotional and aural journey
throughout. This is something I worked
hard toward as a concept for the music, especially as a full-length album. I think very carefully about song order and
arrangements, and this context matters to me.
I have always loved the concept of an album as a complete experience
curated by the maker, from start to finish, like a trip into a fantasy world,
or in and out of subconscious states, which is what I hope it can do for
listeners. This is how so many
significant old albums of my life work in my mind. I do hope that my music can provide a kind of
escape from all of the multitasking, distractions and fragmented
attention-depleting realities of daily life.
I love the idea of creating a musical itinerary for people to listen to,
that they have to sit still and focus on to truly absorb and internalize; make
time for. That way, the music can go in
a variety of directions once it’s occupying physical space and people’s
internal consciousness. Likewise, I
don’t just have one way of writing and creating music. I also love cassettes, and listen to them
often, both new purchases and tapes I saved from my high school days. I do want my music to be available for purchase
digitally, for those who don’t own turntables or tape decks, though both are
fairly easy and affordable to obtain. I
was a kid during the heyday of cassette culture, constantly making mix tapes
with hand-designed artwork. Those tapes
included songs by bands I still love and listen to on a regular basis, Game
Theory, New Order, The Velvet Underground, Prince, The Smiths, Galaxie 500, The
Go-Betweens, Orange Juice, The Feelies, My Bloody Valentine, and The Jesus and
Mary Chain. When I purchased tapes, I
would sometimes remake the artwork myself, and I still have crates filled with
those original tapes. So, when I sent
some music to Shawn at Night-People, I was already very interested in releasing
a tape. In my previous bands Saturnine,
The Ladybug Transistor,and The New
Alcindors, I’ve released material on vinyl, 7-inch and CD, but never on
cassette, so it had long been a goal.
I’m very drawn to the tactile nature of the object, slightly precious
and a bit fragile, and to the limited-edition nature of tapes and tape
artwork. For me, releasing music on tape
is a natural extension of my participation in the DIY/indie craft scene, which
has occupied a lot of my time. Today, so
many people listen to music out of context.
I’m not saying that a song or composition shouldn’t be able to stand
alone, because it absolutely should, but I personally love the extended focused
experience of a vinyl album, tape or 45.
music collection at all?
record shelves and turntables in several rooms and filling our garage. Nothing is organized in any kind of OCD way
good collection of seriously great music.
On top of that, my pops would take me out to the local shops and snag me
stuff that I was interested in all the time.
There was something magical about kicking back with a set of headphones,
reading the liner notes, staring at the cover art and just letting the whole
thing carry me off on this trip. As a
result, I developed a deep appreciation for physically released music from a
young age. There’s something
irreplaceable about having a physical object to hold and experience along with
the music. Do you have any such connection
with physically released music and if so, can you talk a little bit about why?
of this. Because of my musical
influences as a child, such as growing up with my parents’ extensive LP
collection and having their 1960s and 1970s-era records literally be our first
toys during the pre-verbal stage, and listening to cassettes and 8-tracks in
the car, I’ve always felt deeply connected on a personal level to the LP
format, and I feel that it is the ideal physical vehicle for transferring the
way I hear music and approach music making.
For me, album art is also deeply integral to the sounds heard
within. The artwork Shawn Reed created
for my LP is somewhat evocative of art from my childhood, and I’m so happy with
how it turned out because the cover reminds me of familiar things, yet is also
contemporary and original, which is pretty serendipitous. I feel inseparable from the sort of LP
aesthetic that it coveys to me, and I’m so grateful for Shawn for that powerful
link between sound and visuals.
digital music is here in a big way. In
my opinion though digital music is just the tip of the iceberg, when you
combine it with the Internet that’s when you’ve really got some revolutionary
on your hands. Together, they’ve exposed
people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by and allowed for
unparalleled amounts of communication between bands and their fans, despite
geographic boundaries eradicating limitations from location that would have
crippled bands even a few years ago. On
the other hand though, nothing is ever just peachy keen! While people are being exposed to more and
more music they’re not necessarily interested in paying for it and illegal
piracy is running rampant these days. As
an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital
music and distribution?
over drinks! While I prefer to listen to
music on vinyl, I do absorb a lot of new music, and some rare finds and mixes,
via discoveries made because of music blogs and mp3s. I firmly believe that musicians, and all
artists, should be paid for their completed creative works. How we get to that end result is the
difficulty. I’ve gained listeners from
all around the world via web life, and I used SoundCloud and Bandcamp to share
samples of my releases, the former, and to sell my sold-out tape, the
latter. I am massively grateful and
excited about that kind of expansive connectivity, which has also led to
wonderful new opportunities for me as a musician. All of my music is for sale via all of the
major digital retailers, so naturally I, as does my label, hope that anyone
enjoying a stream of The Garment District will be moved to purchase mp3s or
ideally, an actual album. There’s been a
system in place for decades used by songwriters and publishers to collect
royalties for radio play, and such a system could have been improved upon and
expanded, especially in terms of recent revelations about unethical loopholes,
in more just ways for streaming. What
sickens and saddens me about our current Internet-obsessed society, is that our
economy and culture seem to place so much stock, quite literally, on the tech
developers, and in turn, wealthy investors and stock holders, who create apps,
servers, websites and software. Yet we
seem to want to devalue and dismiss the actual creators and producers of the
content that populates all of these apps, servers, websites and software. Once a museum is built, do we expect all of
the artwork to get there for free? I try
to keep up with the latest essays by people such as David Lowery and Eric
Ambel, so that I can attempt to digest and interpret all sides of this complex
issue. As a musician today, who also released
music during the 1990s it’s difficult to not be conflicted. The crowd-sourced universe seems to have
gotten rather messy, to such an extreme that we’re erasing context and
accountability in a lot of areas, but I digress…
with as much good music as I possibly can.
Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening
to I might not have heard of before?
Jim Lingo, and The Van Allen Belt. From
Eastern Pennsylvania, Blues Control.
nationally and internationally?
a ton of reissues. As far as
contemporary music, I’m loving sounds by Samantha Glass, White Fence,
Blackhoods, Persona La Ave, the Twerps, Halasan Bazar, Tara King th., The
Cyclist, Jacco Gardner, Scott and Charlene’s Wedding, Blank Realm, Liam Hayes,
KWJAZ, and Rangers, etcetera, etcetera.
taking the time to talk to me, I know this wasn’t short but I seriously
appreciate you taking the time to make it this far, it was awesome to learn so
much about you and your music, and I hope you had at least a little fun looking
back on everything you’ve managed to accomplish over the past few years! Before we call it a day I’d like to open the
floor to you for a second. Is there
anything that I could have possibly missed or that you’d just like to take this
opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?
some of my favorite music, to share with your readers:
District – Melody Elder – Digital, Cassette Tape – Night People Records
District – “Nature Nurture (Sonic Boom Remix)” – 7” – La Station Radar (Limited
to 300 7” vinyl copies)
District – If You Take Your Magic Slow – 12” – Night People Records (Limited to
400 12” copies) Vinyl and Digital
I & II (Moon Glyph, 2012)
Return to Dope Mountain (Crash Symbols, 2013)
Special Collections (2013)