Wednesday, January 6, 2016
SW22: The Magical Mythic Music of Dogwood!
How would you define or describe yourself? I’ve been recreating myself a TON over the past couple post-college years, but some things always stay the same. I come from folk music, blue collar parents, which means certain things. I’ve been performing on stage in one form or another since I was three and in daycare, mostly musical theatre, but surrounded from birth by the bluegrass, folk, eighties pop and rock, and opera my parents listened to. I graduated from Cornish College of the Arts with a BFA in Theatre and Playwrighting...and then immediately got into doing music as my full-time creative focus. But I still pull on those storytelling skills I learned (what is the point of your story, how clearly can you tell it, what is the world/social/political/civic/etc. context, how do you acknowledge and respect that), and that’s the element I love the most in whatever art I’m doing. I'm not a fan of single-word descriptions, but storyteller does in a pinch; so does actor, singer, writer, visual artist, model, burlesquer, drag king, feminist, queer, gender-bendy fae-being, urban witch, Irish-tempered millennial, Shakespeare nut, and fantasy/mythology nerd. Gender and sexuality are things I think about a lot. Mostly, I’m a messy human meat suite; full of extremes and contradictions, still learning how to use my emotions constructively, and I do not always get things right.
How do you define Steampunk? Steampunk was one of those things that I always leaned toward, but didn’t discover the name for it ‘till I was nineteen and walked into my first Abney Park concert, here in town at Columbia City Theatre. Coincidentally, that’s where I first met my current partner in crime, Nathaniel Johnstone. As I went to more shows, I fell in love with this strange subculture so comfortable with outwardly expressing their creative selves. The fashion and literature were huge hooks, but what always made the biggest real-world impression was the spectacle of the concerts and the energy of the bands. These folks became my heroes, the celebrities of my world, and I kind of grew up with it all. When Nathan asked me right out of college to join this new project he was cultivating, I had to keep hitting myself to make sure it was really happening. It’s beyond surreal that now I’m getting to do what those first groups I looked up to were doing. A few have even become respected friends and collaborators, a Cinderella story if ever I heard one.
Please describe one of your creative processes... Whoo, the creative process! Man, it is not the same every time. Occasionally, songs will pop Athena-style out of my head fully-formed, but most times I write the first line without having any idea how everything will end. The story takes over in that case, with some coaxing. I work a lot with pre-existing tales, but prefer picking my way through the hidden game trails and back country roads to find whatever undiscovered nooks I can shine light on instead. Everything stays funky fresh that way, it keeps the material from going stale. Staleness is my Worst. Enemy. Going to other people's shows is a huge part too; when my well is dry and I hear the passion behind someone else' work, that experience wakes me back up and I always walk out with a couple pages of notes for new material.
Besides music, my inspiration comes from the other artists around me, books, cartoons, cop shows, psychology, abandoned places, In Between places, the forest, the city, hyenas (seriously look these bad bitches up), Yoshitaka Amano, Labyrinth, Sandman, and ghosts. Tamora Pierce gave me my first taste of gender role shenanigans and ladies doing all the badass things dudelies can do, and beating them at it. Brian Jaques gave me a love of nature and food and badgers. Cartoons introduced me to anime, which introduced me to Sailor Moon, which introduced me to Greek mythology and astrology, which in turn has become a lifelong obsession with gods, faeries, heroines, Kings, magic, curses, and personal victories. Above all else, I am inspired by people and their stories. At present, I am particularly intrigued by Underworld mythologies and how they convey both specific and universal religious and social views on death; how we grieve life, how we celebrate life, and how music can be the catalyst for both of these essential healing processes. Greek mythology in particular is an excellent conduit, because it's gods are incredibly human and it's interpretations are various.
Tell us about one of the projects you're working on...For the last year, I've been working on that solo album Nathan promised me when I first joined the band, and in October of this year it was finally released! Persephone Is Dead, Long Live Persephone! is my first child, basically. It’s pretty rad, it has a lot of my Seattle music buds on it doing their thing, as well as a few super talented guests from faraway states I was blessed to work with, which is my favorite because I love sharing projects with as many friends as I can. I even talked my musical-hero Dad into making a banjo cut for one of the songs, Sinking Sands, so there’s a life goal I can check off my list!
I wrote the title track Persephone in 2011, and that was really the beginning for a lot of things that followed after. The song is about and dedicated to my friend from high school, Sarah, who was taken from her friends and family under very violent circumstances. Persephone is a character that has been with me in one form or another since that first daycare play; she was the first role I ever played and in all my earliest memories, so it was fitting that she stepped forward and let me use her story to help me get everything out of my system. Thus sparked our Muse relationship. She is the through-line of everything I make. If you listen, some aspect of her is present in every song on Persephone Is Dead, which are all about love and death happening at once, with varying degrees of desperation, rebellious joy and manic anger. In terms of style, I'm still massaging out my own mashup of the folk melodies I was raised on and the screaming rock’n’roll demons in my heart, so this album is the first attempt to find that equilibrium.
What advice do you have for young Steampunks? Steampunks have some of the most beautiful and generous imaginations of any group of folks I've come across. That being said, naysayers gunna naysay, so my advice for young Steampunks is to DO YOU, vigorously and with all your might. Give nary a thought to those naysayers, those self-proclaimed experts, those who poo-poo anything not within their bubble of context or experience. The world is a wide place - there are as many ways to live in it as there are people on the planet. If your version of Steampunk includes cyber robots and aliens, good! If it includes gods and magic, excellent! If your Steampunk includes a matriarchal syndicate of mixed-ethnicity, non-binary telepaths fighting for peace, justice, and equality all over the world, FREAKING AWESOME, I WANT THAT TO EXIST. Don't be afraid of where you come from. Don’t be afraid if your interests, or who you are, takes you in a different direction than everyone else. I’ve lived my life by looking at what the herd is doing, and my instincts stubbornly choosing to go the opposite direction. It's unbelievably hard sometimes, but worth it. Know your own context, own it, and never say nay!
My other offer would be to remember kindness. Always and to everyone. Eighty-five to ninety percent of the gigs I’ve gotten were because I made friends with someone who became some kind of booker or event organizer further down the line. Be kind, be professional, say Yes And to other people, and to yourself.
Find out more at:"You can follow me on Facebook for show updates, projects, dumb mythology memes, and cat pictures at: https://www.facebook.com/mythsandmaladies/?ref=hl"
- Solo music can be listened to and purchased here: https://dogwood.bandcamp.com
- YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHOFVA-C8ymBwr7IsKUdS_A