Category Archives: Culture

South Seattle Goes to Bumbershoot

by Mary Hubert

Photo courtesy Wikiphotos
Photo courtesy Wikiphotos

I had only been to Bumbershoot a smattering of times over the past few years, and each time had felt vaguely indifferent to the festival as a whole. Mediocre music, moderately priced tickets, and the same old street vendors as were prominent at every Seattle street fair, from University District to Ballard and back again. I walked in this past Saturday, therefore, with mixed expectations.

I was greeted by a very friendly press room, complete with bagels, and after a brief stop, I was on my way into the festival. The eclectic mix of street fair and festival I actually found myself enjoying – if ever there was a gap in the schedule of artists I wanted to see, it was comforting to know that I could at least peruse the wide array of jewelry, merchandise, and fair food available.

The first artist I saw was Dude York, playing inside the Seattle Center. With a subtle flash of my press pass, I was in. However, the queue of would-be attendees wasn’t so lucky. I immediately noticed the space left in the venue – with a little squeezing, all 25 people might have fit. Though the space felt open and uncrowded, for the people who had paid to get into a festival that they were unable to see music at, it was unfortunate. The same held true for many other events – Bill Nye was a wonderful show, but for the line out the door, and other comedy shows were sold out from the start of the day. For those who had come to see specific shows, they may have felt that their tickets had been wasted.

On the whole, the artists we saw were enjoyable. Dude York was some very mediocre punk rock – they channeled the Pixies, but with worse songwriting. However, Big Freedia was perfect in all her sassy glory – her shouted encouragement at twerking women were perfect, and her music spot-on. Mac DeMarco was fun country rock in all of its trucker hat, twangy glory, with some decent songwriting along with charming band members to boot.

Panic! At the Disco was, as usual, awful (why do people like these guys?), but the lead singer partially redeemed himself with one hell of a back flip. Bill Nye took me back to the 90s, again making me overly interested in science – in this instance, sun dials (did you know there’s one on Mars?). Elvis Costello was worth it for sheer celebrity viewing, though his guitar seemed to be about as big as he was, and Polica was hauntingly beautiful in its synth-pop meets soulful singer manner. The award for kick-ass show, however, went to Walk the Moon, whose extremely enthusiastic young lead singer and catchy songs like “Shut Up and Dance With Me” led everyone in the crowd to a dancing, singing, shaking high.

I left feeling like I had gotten my share of good music at a venue that, for downtown Seattle, did a pretty good job of hosting these people. Even the visual art was unique, and provided a welcome break from the madness. Photographs from the 1960s were compelling, and especially enjoyable were the playable video games, which visualized sound in a beautiful way.

All in all, Bumbershoot lived up to its reputation, and even surpassed it. Its idiosyncratic mixture of festival and Seattle street fair made it appealing, and the prevalence of decent artists made the music worthwhile. Most of all, I appreciated the effort that was made to appeal to a wide range of audiences. From Elvis Costello to Big Freedia to Panic! At the Disco to Wu Tang Clan, Bumbershoot on Saturday alone appealed to at least four demographics. Despite the overcrowding and the terrible quality of the maps, I found myself having a lovely time, and experiencing a wide array of artists that I typically wouldn’t have seen at a music festival.

The bottom line: Ultimately, Bumbershoot is what you make it. Next year, buy a ticket for one day, or two, depending on who’s playing, but rest assured that you’ll most definitely find something you like – provided you can get in.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

 

Local “Royalty” to Headline Art Walk Rainier Beach

Their music has been hailed as everything from spellbinding to effervescent – and that’s usually just after the first 2 minutes of pressing the play button to one of their eargasmic inducing anthems.

Fresh off their performance at Bumbershoot that transformed the notoriously diffident Seattle crowd into zealous dance mavens, the duo of Fly Moon Royalty brings their lively act to Art Walk Rainier Beach this weekend.

Made up of vocalist, and Rainier Beach native, Adra Boo and DJ/Producer/Emcee Action Jackson the duo seamlessly steers between Jazz, Electronica, Funk, R&B, Soul, and Hip-Hop to produce a sound that defies the constraints of any genre.

The Emerald was fortunate enough to catch up with Boo before her group’s appearance at Art Walk Rainier Beach on Saturday:

Emerald: You guys are well known and have played  some fairly large festivals, including Bumbershoot most recently. What made you decide to accept the invitation to perform at the Rainier Beach Art Walk?

Boo: Aside of it working out, time wise, I actually live in Rainier Beach, so it made sense to bring a performance to the neighborhood.

 

Emerald:  They say that music and art are tools that are catalyst for transformation, be it socially or communally. As an area, Rainier Beach has seen its fair share of adversity in the recent weeks. How do you hope having a musical group of your caliber performing at its signature event changes the perception of the community?

Boo: I think that really, it’s not so much that our band performing there will change perceptions of the area, but rather people coming out to support us and the Artwalk that will do that. I mean, yes, Rainier Beach has seen it’s share of adversity, and having these events, having bands that are excited about the music they make, having a community that will come out and really stand with us and with neighbors… that’s what will change the perception of Rainier Beach, and I hope that people who know that I  live there, will be that much more amped to have us!

 

Emerald: Your music is almost impossible to pigeon hole into one genre. How would you describe your sound and who are some of your influences?

Boo: Our music tastes are vast, haha! We each listen to classic hip hop, old soul and R&B, 90’s jams, and alternative sounds, music with fresh sounds and textures, like Bjork, Little Dragon, and so forth. We grew up on good music… Stevie, Dilla, Parliament, Prince and MJ… A Tribe Called Quest, Roots, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott… to name a few.

 

Emerald: What can someone who has never seen one of your acclaimed live performances anticipate this weekend?

Boo: You might make some stank face, you might feel some good feelings, and you might be hungry afterward!

 

Emerald: You guys have been described as having a “rocket strapped to your back” in terms of a meteoric rise. What’s next for you guys?(Album, touring, etc)

Boo: Towards the end of the month, we’re kicking off our Fall Tour with a show in Everett, a Battle of the Bands show- pre game for the Seahawks vs Broncos game, and then we’re going through the Midwest, down the east coast, and performing in The Recording Academy’s first ever Grammy Festival At Sea!! We’l even have some unreleased music and visuals drop online! There’s a lot going on, but people can follow it all at our website, www.flymoonroyalty.com!

 

Artist Opens Temporary “Passport Office” at Art Walk Rainier Beach

South Seattle – Artist Carina A. del Rosario will premiere her temporary “passport office” on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014 at the Rainier Beach Art Walk, on South Henderson between Rainier Avenue South and Seward Park South.

The interactive art installation invites people to consider ways race, nationality, gender and other categories are used to limit and divide people. “We all deal with forms that ask us to check boxes about ourselves,” says del Rosario. “A lot of times, those boxes don’t fit or, if we check them, that information may be used against us.”

Del Rosario explains that she created her Passport Series to provide people with a different experience. She re-framed typical application questions and participants use their own words to describe the most important parts of themselves. She takes their answers and their portraits and assembles them into individual booklets that resemble travel passports.

At the Rainier Beach Art Walk, people can view over 20 completed booklets, and participate in the project by having their portrait taken and completing one of del Rosario’s application forms. These will be added to the growing series, some of which will be featured at an upcoming exhibition at the Wing Luke Asian Museum.

While del Rosario has been working on the series with individual friends since 2013, this is the first time she will be doing it as a participatory public installation.

“To move forward in addressing civil rights and discrimination, we need to have opportunities where people can wrestle with ideas about identity in a broader context,” she says. “I want to provide a safe and creative space for people to reflect on their own struggles with identity, perhaps see things they have in common with someone completely different from them, and have an opportunity to present themselves in a more holistic way.”

Del Rosario’s “Passport Office,” at booth number 13, will be open from 10 am to 6 pm, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014 during the Rainier Beach Art Walk. Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali interpreters will be available to assist people from those communities who want to participate in the project. Funding for the Passport Series is provided, in part, by the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture.

South Seattle Trio Brings “Living Art” to Bumbershoot

While the advent of Bumbershoot is met with ambivalence like nowhere else more than Seattle’s south end, where the arrival of the nation’s largest annual music and arts festival is just as likely to be met with rabid exuberance as it is with dull insouciance from past festival goers, this year’s event comes peppered with some hyperlocal flare that just might be enough to make the trip to the shadow of the Space Needle worthwhile this Labor Day weekend.

The South Seattle based creative arts trio of Andy Arkley, Courtney Barnebey and Peter Lynch, better known as the artist collective LET’S, will be presenting their fully interactive art installation Finger Power at this year’s festival.

The group, who originally formed together ten years ago as a rock band under the moniker Library Science -“We obviously called it that to

Courtney Barneby and Peter Lynch prepare Finger Power for Bumbershoot
Courtney Barneby and Peter Lynch prepare Finger Power for Bumbershoot

attract members of the opposite sex.” Jokes Lynch- chose to move their creative camaraderie from the realm of music into “living aesthetics”  three years ago when they began yearning for greater creative expression than local dive bar performances allowed them.

Their latest endeavor, which will be unveiled today at 3:00pm at the Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion and be on display for the entire labor day weekend, combines the trio’s love for music, color, and gaming, and features six different interactive consoles that transform colors into instruments, encouraging six different people at a time to form an impromptu band and simultaneously spawn music and art -think Guitar Hero fused with a large scale Jackson Pollock inspired paint by numbers kit.

The Emerald caught up with the members of LET’S prior to Finger Power’s opening at Bumbershoot.

 

Emerald:  So how does a group make the transition from rock band to  creators of art installations?

Peter Lynch: After we put out three different albums we kind of just ran out of drive. It started getting more annoying than it was exciting. After we broke up the band we didn’t quite know what we were going to do, but we were still really good friends, and us breaking up the band was kind of like saying that we didn’t want to lose our friendships. So, we thought why don’t we see if we can do something else together and after about a year we started deciding to make art constructs.

Courtney Barnebey: It seemed like when the band stopped we all kind of just went our own ways and that gave us a little bit of distance from each other that was needed. We then just naturally came back together around the time that Andy got a piece accepted at the Soil Gallery.

Andy Arkley: Yeah, around that time I remember sending Peter and Courtney an email saying that, “Hey, I’ve got this show. Here’s an idea of what we can do. Do you want to try (building art installations)?” Everyone agreed to give it a try, not knowing how big of a project it actually was going to be (laughter). They say that an artist has to hone their craft, so we were used to practicing 3 days a week as a band and  just translated that to working on the art installation.

 

Emerald: The transition actually seems more seamless than you would imagine.

Courtney: It was really interesting how everything came together because everyone of us naturally has a creative role and tendency in our group, and we fell back into that with each other. When we came back together to build these interactive installations it was like: “Wow, this is super exciting! This is why we decided to collaborate together in the first place!” We have a history, so every project we work on, we’re not forging new relationships or new ways to work with each other. We kind of just feel back into that pattern of how we used to work together. We just had a different medium.

Peter: Yeah, I felt by the end that the band was really restricting, and Andy and Courtney are more visually oriented, while I’m more musically creative. The art installation was like, “Oh! This is how we can still cluster together and make stuff, and be exploiting what we really want to be doing.” We want to be doing great work that’s collaborative, but we no longer wanted to just restrict it to, “Okay! You make the album cover. You make the live videos, etc.” This really opened up a lot of creative boundaries.

 

Emerald: This is actually LET’s second year at Bumbershoot. How does Finger Power compare to last year’s entry and what are you hoping people take away from it?

Andy: Last year we made a piece called Magic Synch. It was our first piece and I would say that it was definitely an experiment in making a directly interactive art installation. The curators at Bumbershoot said that the piece was pretty successful, and people really interacted with it. I think we learned a lot of things just from watching people use it, and it gave us a ton of new ideas about what we wanted to create for this year.

This installation involves color a lot more. I’d actually say that this piece is, is a lot more focused than the last one we made, there was just a lot of things going on and all kinds of craziness, this one has some pretty focused things. There’s six colors involved in it that go along with six stations. It’s a lot more obvious than last years about how you’re interacting with it. One thing that happened last year was that people would play with our art installation but they wouldn’t exactly understand what was going on, but we wanted people to be able to do that this year. Last year’s piece was a little more chaotic, and we’ve definitely pushed it towards a little less chaotic this year… but it’s still pretty chaotic (laughter).

 

Emerald: So why the focus on color with this installation?

Courtney: Going back to people understanding what they’re doing, we tried to use color so that people could better correlate the buttons that push on the installation with what’s going on around them. So if someone is at the orange console, and  is controlling the color orange that is a one to one correlation. They can see what they’re doing and how they’re interacting with everyone else, so it was a way to give visual order to the piece so that people would get a more meaningful interaction with other from it.  If a person knows what she’s doing, she can now interact with the person next to her better. We wanted to give people the tools to be creative.

Andy: Ultimately, with this piece we’re trying to create that feeling that you get when you’re collaborating with another person. That’s the feeling we already have as LET’S. We want Finger Power to inspire those positive moments derived from collaborating together as a team. That elation that comes from that. We’ve attempted to create an installation that reproduces that feeling amongst random people.

Peter: The great thing about incorporating color in this piece is that you can’t mess it up very much. You can do what you can do, and your color is your instrument for you to attempt to master in a way. The shift from last years to this years is that we’re telling people to not only rely on their ears, but also their eyes so that you’re actually looking at what you’re doing. We have both visual and sound and what other two things do you need to make instantaneous collaboration?

 

Emerald: So with this installation you’ve intentionally empowered people to be as creative as they choose to be?

Peter:  Yes! When we were figuring out what our group was about we kept coming back to this idea of allowing people to find their own creativity, so even if they haven’t been musicians before they get to create music. They get to play with other people without having to have a superior understanding in music. Hopefully that feeling of being creative with others is something that they can take from this and apply in whatever realm of life that want.

We’re aware that probably 80% of the people who walk in and play with it will be: “Yep! Okay, let’s grab a beer.” But,  the hope is that you get moments like last year when this jazz musician from St. Louis discovered us, and came in everyday to play with our installation. He kept telling us: “Wow, you guys need this thing down by the river in St. Louie! I’d have my friends come down there everyday!”  He kind of became the unofficial orchestrator of the installation, telling people what buttons to push and when, and he and all these strangers created some really cool stuff together!

 

Emerald: What would it take for you to designate Finger Power as a success?

Andy: It’s kind of hard to know exactly because last year some things happened with the installation that I didn’t know was going to happen, like 18 year olds interacting with 60 year olds. It was surreal watching them teach each other, and that too me was one of the more successful things I saw. I guess if I see people enjoying it, that will be a success. It only takes a few people for me to be like: “Yes! I totally inspired a couple of people and they’re totally getting the purpose of the installation.”

Peter: It doesn’t take lines out the door for me to deem it as a success. It’d be nice to have people come back two days in a row though. I’d love to impress a couple of people, but I just want it to be a fun experience. It it just so happens that only 5 to 8 year olds really love it, then hey, we succeeded with that!

Courtney: For me, it’s success is defined by if we can get more people to interact with each other than they do with us, and if they are actually aware of that interaction and not just off in their own zone somewhere. I want people to look at each other and say: “Yeah we’re doing this together!” That’s when a sense of community is created.

 

Finger Power will be at featured at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavillion, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle 98109 as part of  Bumbershoot Weekend. A  display schedule is below:

Fri, Aug 29th: 3pm-8pm (FREE)

Sat, Aug 30th: 11am – 8pm (need Bumbershoot pass)

Sun, Aug 31st: 11am – 8pm (need Bumbershoot pass)

Mon, Sep 1st: 11am – 8pm (need Bumbershoot pass)

Review: Theater Schmeater’s Attack of the Killer Murder of Death

by Mary Hubert

In a vacuum, I’m drawn to cutting-edge productions. I want to see art that makes me think, theater that pushes the boundaries of acceptability, dance that calls into question what is and isn’t movement. Often, I go to the theater to learn, to think about current events, and most of all to find new methods of creating.

Theater Schmeater’s first production in their new space, Attack of the Killer Murder… of Death! did none of this whatsoever.

And yet, I loved it.

The play, written by Wayne Rawley, takes place in an old haunted mansion where a bunch of small-time actors with big-time personalities struggle to produce a truly terrible B-movie horror flick. When their diva dies suddenly and suspiciously, accusations fly and murders abound as the inept performers and crew try desperately to discern who the murderer might be.

I spoke to Wayne before seeing the show, and he said the B movie musical had inspired the world of the play. The play, originally commissioned by Seattle Public Theater in 2014 for a youth ensemble, is, in Wayne’s words, a satirical take on the average not-so-well-written murder mystery. The main challenge, he said, was to create a play that was satisfying within its genre while simultaneously poking fun at it. Remarkably comfortable with directing his own work, he told me that for him, “Directing… is an extension of the writing process”. The backbone of the play, he said, is remarkably simple: It is the search for the truth. The characters, the actors, the audience, the plot – all search for the truth. The goal of the play? To have fun.

He hit the nail on the head.

Although it didn’t change my worldview or radically alter my perceptions of theater, the hilarious writing and mostly competent cast constructed a deliciously irreverent romp through a campy tale of murder, romance, and big personalities set against the backdrop of 1950s movie culture. I laughed. I snorted. And the script capered along through each of its zippy 40 minute acts with so many tricks, turns, and witty one-liners (“What can I say? I’m a sociopath! We don’t always use good judgment!”) that I was right there with Wayne the entire time.

Where the play fell flat was in the acting. Perhaps because of its original cast of high schoolers, the script was written in a way that didn’t require acting gymnastics. Even so, the performances at times felt flat. Even in a campy tale, characters must believe themselves, must be completely invested in their actions. This is where the humor lies. Often, the actors seemed intent on playing the stereotypes that their characters were, instead of playing characters in earnest that just happened to be stereotypes. After all, what diva knows that she is a diva? Though the characters were caricatures, the actors still needed some moments of truth that were lacking.

Despite this, the play zinged along with entertaining rapidity, and I found myself invested in the “Who’dun’it” aspect while laughing out loud at the silly scenarios in each of the three rapid-fire acts. Theater Schmeater lived up to their irreverent reputation – I’m looking forward to their next silly endeavor, especially if Wayne is at the helm.

The bottom line: Schmeater’s newest production is an enjoyable, frivolous romp through an already entertaining genre. Only slightly bogged down by mediocre acting, this show is worth seeing if you’re looking for a mindless guffaw on a summer night. Check it out!

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Review of Wayne Horvitz’s 55: Music and Dance in Concrete

by Mary Hubert

concrete2Disjointed electronic music wafting out of large speakers on a crowded stage fills the air of the tiny Royal Room in Columbia City. The small venue is filled with patrons who all crane their necks to see three beautiful young women, moving in synchrony and doing… something… that I can’t quite see. They finish their bit and begin to walk with measured steps behind the stage.

All of a sudden, the conductor, a middle-aged roundish man with glasses and a hat, jerks imperiously toward the trumpet, soprano sax, and trombone in quick succession, 1, 2, 3! The air is suddenly alive with sound. Master musicians play over the computer’s soundtrack as the conductor (and now, I realize, the composer as well) commands them to play when and how he wants, all the while selecting tracks on the laptop in front of him. He raises and lowers his hands, gesturing as if to paint a picture of the sounds that emanate from these master musicians’ instruments. His grotesque facial expressions coax sounds out of each member of the company in such a way that they layer on top of each other, haunting, jarring, and yet a perfect fit.

And all the while, the three women move, doing God-knows-what around the very crowded little Royal Room in Columbia City as film projects across the walls.

This spectacle marked the release of 55: Music and Dance in Concrete, an ambitious piece created by Wayne Horvitz and three others. Designed to highlight the unique visual and acoustic elements of chosen sites, the piece is grounded by an electronic score, comprised of fragments from 55 composed short motifs for chamber music, and 55 pieces from various invited improvisers. Now that this work has been completed, Horvitz, the composer, gathered with a select few musicians and Pendleton House, a Seattle-based group of young artists, to show off a bit of his vision.

He didn’t disappoint.

Improvised, wacky, at times discordant, the music was above all one thing: spectacular. Live music transitioned seamlessly from electronic, as Horvitz connected with the musicians on a level I haven’t seen before. He would gesture to start them, to stop them, even to illustrate what sound to make.

The three layers of music – electronic, chamber music, and improvisation – fit together in a strangely perfect way. At times, it created a chilling non-music, reminiscent of a dying circus – though uncomfortable at times, it would eventually swell into an epic release of musicality that placed the audience at ease. The musicians were virtuosos, able to follow Horvitz’s strange gestures and expressions with ease. Particularly impressive was the soprano saxophone player, a young woman with bare feet that curled whenever she hit an impossibly high note. Her expression was one of delight as she jammed, jived and riffed over the top of the rest of the musicians with evident mastery of her craft.

The live music would fade occasionally as the three ladies of Pendleton House would begin to move again, creating a call-and-response between the musicians and movers which added to the flow of the piece. And all the while, subtle projections on the back and side walls add to the experience, continuing to tell us story after story in conjunction with the music and movement.

My only complaint was the choice of venue. Crowded and tiny, it made it extremely difficult to see Pendleton House. As a matter of fact, I only got to watch one movement piece in entirety. Though Pendleton House’s work – from what I could see – was interesting, the lack of visibility to what exactly they were doing made me anxious about not seeing them rather than excited by their work. Despite this issue, the work carried through, and I found myself being completely swept away by the bravery and talent of the art made in that little room. I’m already impatient to see – or hear – what Horvitz does next.

The Bottom Line: See this, wherever it goes next, or buy the vinyl – the music alone is incredible, and it is a piece worth listening to.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Artist Spotlight: South Seattle Songstress Shontina Vernon

Shontina Vernon
Shontina Vernon

Interview conducted by Marcus Harrison Green

In love is an easy state to tumble into with Shontina Vernon’s music. Perhaps it’s because you can’t quite figure out what genre along the musical spectrum lays claim to her inimitable sound. Folk? Rock? Jazz? Blues? Soul? All season the flavoring of her melodious entree. Or, it could be that her lyrics, layered with so much meaning, provide a sharp counter to those currently being spewed from our radios – which seem to be directly rehashed from the dialogue of Green, Eggs, and Ham. Or, it might just be because her songbook spans such a wide range of human experience that it becomes nigh impossible for your ears to be infected by one of her tunes without it causing you to harken back to a pivotal moment in your own life – whether love squandered, hopes realized, or dreams stalled. In any case, Vernon’s music, similar to the emotion it inspires, simply put, is just really damn good.

The Texas native and University of Washington educated playwright/singer-songwriter, returned to the city last year, making South Seattle her home. And though she travels back and forth to the East Coast and internationally, our novel area has served to reignite her creative embers, while providing her a much needed site of repose between projects. We were able to stop replaying her last album just long enough to catch up with Shontina in person, to discuss her own love for music, her upcoming projects, and life in South Seattle.

 

Emerald: Common wisdom suggests that you have to leave Seattle, especially the southern end of it, and go somewhere else in order to achieve success in most artistic endeavors. You’ve lived in pretty much every major city in the United States, what is it that continually  brings you back  to South Seattle?

Shontina Vernon: It’s a combination of things, but mainly timing. I’ve lived in Atlanta. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York, but Seattle is unique to me. It has a quaint small town vibe, yet feels like a great place to incubate new ideas. The pace here suits my life at the moment. I travel a lot, and re-entry here is always so easy. And the natural beauty could reawaken even the most dormant imagination. Being an alum of UW has also meant that I have access to a really solid artistic community. Seattle’s the kind of place where on one hand, I wish more people knew about it- and there were more people of color- but then again, I don’t always want to share it. Blame the introvert in me.

 

Emerald: The lyrics of your songs have so much depth and meaning behind them. They’re a welcome contrast to many that are currently produced by the music industry. How are you able to create songs that resonate so powerfully with the listener?

Shontina: I try to be a really good listener myself, to what my experiences at any given moment are trying to show/teach me. I had a very rich life growing up in Texas, so I pull from there a lot. I’m adopted, but my mother was born in 1917 and my father was born somewhere around 1893, so I had very old parents who were rooted in a time that is so not now. They were very much country people, very simple salt of the earth people. I think that the way that they lived their lives seeped into me, along with the way that I hear and experience music, so some of that root sound, blues sound in my music, comes from them. I’m also a theater artist,  so I use what I know about playwriting/acting to help me get into different perspectives in terms of writing a song. It allows me to step into a character so to speak and write from that place. There’s so many ways to write music, and I employ them all, at least I try to.

 

Emerald: Would you say singer/songwriter is your primary occupation? You do so many other things.

Shontina: I would say my primary occupation is that I’m a storyteller. That is the one thing that is fundamental to all of the disciplines in which I work.  As an artist, I have the unique vantage point of being aware of all the different stories for which I am the intersection, or the culminating event. Stories ask to be told in different ways, so I try to honor that and tell them with whatever form best suits the telling.

 

Emerald: Is it even possible to describe your creative process when working on musical project?

Shontina: No (laugher). It’s not. Because it’s so different depending on the thing I’m making.

 

Emerald: Okay, let’s isolate one of your works. The song Dreamer, which I think is absolutely amazing, how did you go about writing it?

Shontina: I don’t even remember writing the song (laughter). What I remember is where I was when I wrote it. That time in my life, who I was with, the conversations we were having. The conversations that I was having with myself. How I wrote it?  I don’t really know. I just know what inspired it. I also seem to remember that the melody and the words came together. As of late, I’ve been experimenting with music and sounds, producing more tracks and allowing the lyrics to come as they come. My last song I released, “Snake Oil Man” was like that.

 

Emerald: So for you is art akin to that Ernest Hemingway quote that, “In order to write anything you have to live life first?” Essentially life itself is the muse for an artist?

Shontina: Yes, because life is everything, right? Everyone that shows up, every place that you live, every place that you visit, that is all fodder for what you write. But, how you will write about those things is always a surprise. You never know. I forget who the writer is, but there’s this quote about writing being as much of a process of discovering one’s self in what you write, because sometimes things about you are revealed to you right on paper that you weren’t quite consciously aware of, so there’s this relationship between you and the work all the time.

Music to me tends to reveal more about how I feel. I mean, I feel pretty intelligent in terms of what I’m thinking at any given moment. I do feel smart, but when I work in music, it all of a sudden becomes clear to me about how I felt about a situation rather than what I thought about a situation. Feelings are harder to get at.

 

Emerald: As an artist, how do you define a successful career? For some it’s monetary reward, for others it’s acclaim for what they do. What is it for you?

Shontina: For me it’s, “Does it feel good and am I happy doing it?” And I don’t mean that superficially either. If I’m making art, but unable to sustain a life for myself, then it doesn’t feel good. And it makes me worry for the kind of art I’m making from that place. It isn’t successful. Now, if I’m making tons of money, but my creative life is languishing and there is no art. Same. There is no joy in that either. It’s not about accolades or lots of money. I think those things are fine. I don’t personally have a judgment about those things, but at the end of the day, you still rest with you, and those just aren’t the things that I imagine will stand out on my deathbed. It’s got to feel good on all fronts or I’m just not doing it (laughter).

 

Emerald:. Your songs often mix tragedy and humor. Why is that?

Shontina: Life is just like that. And I think you see and understand things more clearly with contrast. Something is sadder if it follows something really, really joyful. It’s more joyful if it follows something really tragic and really sad. So I think that’s the musician in me that says that they have to play together. I’ve now lived long enough to see myself make decisions that I thought were really good, that farther down the line turned out to be bad, and I’ve made some decisions that I thought, “this is really bad,” and farther down the road they turned out to be the best thing, so the truth is that you don’t really know. You just have to include it all in the telling of a good story.

 

Emerald: I know that Joni Mitchell has been a major inspiration for you, but who else has played a role in your artistic development?

Shontina: So many! I’m a huge fan of Junot Diaz as a writer. When I first read his book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, it sort of freed my writer’s mind me from some of its constraints.  I think, because he is someone coming to the states from the Dominican Republic, he has an eye that peers into this world, and that world. Again, contrast. There is also Audre Lorde. I was here in Seattle, when I went into a bookstore and found an anthology of her work. Poetic, pointed and raw. I was just like,  “Where has this person been my whole life!” Growing up in Texas there wasn’t a lot I was exposed to. I was dreaming a life for myself with no evidence that it was possible. Neither of my parents had much schooling, so there’s a lot that you’re like, “Well, how do I do this? Can it even be done?'”

Musically, I listen to everything. I’m a huge fan of the old jazz heads – Thelonius, Mingus. Abbey Lincoln was a revelation for me. Her compositions are so beautiful and wise. It’s funny, I love her music, but Joni Mitchell is more of a literary influence for me, because of the way she used words to paint pictures. She was a visual artist that approached music from that mind. Hearing her and Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading, a lot of them reminded me, that, “I’m a musician, and story is my way in.”

 

Emerald: What do you want people to say about you after seeing one of your performances?

Shontina:  I want them to come out with the feeling of not wasting the hour or two, with  the feeling of what’s possible. If their imaginations get stretched at all, if they come out with any questions, that’s good for me.

 

Emerald: So what’s next for you?

Shontina: Several things. I’m working on a collaboration called the Storyband Project, a kind of theatre lab for musicians to experiment with storytelling. I’m also expanding a new theatre piece that I presented here in March at CD Forum’s Creation Project. It’s called NOTE TO SELF: Postcards from Cuba and Beyond, and it takes a look at Black American identity against a global canvas. Of course I can’t wait to record some music. I’ve already started working on material for the next album. And finally, I’m collaborating with a group of writers on a web series being developed through Eclectic Brew Arts. It’s a story that follows a young church, and the evolution of some of its members. And it’s called BATTLE AXE.

 

Emerald: What advice do you have for any burgeoning artist from around this area? Especially for those who keep hitting a bump in the road?
Shontina: The first thing is, don’t kid yourself about what you want or why you want it. I encourage people to really look inside themselves. If you’re pursuing capital A – ART, just to seek validation of your worth outside of yourself,  that’s a dangerous place to begin. Not that some haven’t started there and found their way. But I say that because we have the kind of  culture here in America that really knows how to exploit that individual. The machine is waiting to eat you. But If you’re committed to making art because you know you have something of value to give/to express, then make it. It will find its proper place if you are simply committed to the discipline required to make it. Take care of yourself. Fill your life with good people, take note of the beauty that is around you, and make a point to leave the world better than when you came.

For more information on Shontina, including upcoming shows and events, please visit: http://www.tinavernon.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @tinavmusic