Iceland

Subject #12: Tim Cohen

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Filmed December 11, 2007
The Belfry
San Francisco, CA

Tim Cohen is a poet, visionary artist, and the guitarist/vocalist of the San Francisco-based band Black Fiction. I met Tim in 1994 at a small New England liberal arts university we both attended. On a break from school one year, Tim and I once drove to Richmond, Va., where we attended a secondhand record expo at an enormous warehouse off of I-95. There, I bought a copy of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless for $11.99.

I filmed Tim in "the Belfry," his home studio in San Francisco. The Belfry is small room with vaulted ceilings at the top of a four-story apartment building on a hill near Alamo Square. An architect who planned to live in the Belfry cut a flurry of windows into the studio's walls and vaulted ceilings—windows that are long and skinny, windows that short and fat, windows that challenge traditional of what windows are and what windows do. These windows offer breathtaking views of the city of San Francisco. For unknown reasons, the architect never lived in the apartment.

Subject #11: The Bus

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Filmed December 9, 2007
15th and San Bruno
Under the 101 Freeway
San Francisco, CA

"The Bus" is a mobile venue usually parked somewhere in the Bay Area. A visionary Californian converted this former MUNI vehicle into a moveable concert space, complete with miniscule stage, microphones, monitors, and, unbelievably, a kind of balcony loft above the performance area. Fans of Al Gore will be pleased to learn that this entire contraption runs on vegetable oil. Though the Bus's philosophy is nowhere writ large, I believe it runs something like this: "Fuck booking, fuck venues, fuck 'the system'—let's drive the Bus wherever the fuck we want and have a fucking show, man." To further this idea, over 100 shows have been staged on the bus in less than two years.

When I played the Bus, my bourgeois sensibilities were thrown into shock by its proto-anarchist modus operandi. Too stunned by the lack of a green room and the fine catering to which I am accustomed, I failed to film the bus's driver/organizer, who I suspect prefers to remain anonymous. In its place, I present my own portrait of the Bus—a static loop of a random collection of people hanging around the bus under the 101 freeway. Though this portrait captures an element of the Bus experience—watching semis speed by, waiting for bands to play, getting on the Bus, getting off of the Bus again—it ultimately violates the letter and spirit of "Iceland: Three Minutes of No Comment."

Subject #10: Marcella Gries

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Filmed December 10, 2007
The Fucking Ocean Practice Space
San Francisco, CA

On April 6, 2007, I played a show in a strip mall in Richland, WA. The next day, I played a show at the Hemlock in San Francisco. Unfortunately, 750 miles separate these two venues, and these miles could only be traversed overnight by automobile. Fortunately, the windy road from Richland to San Francisco offers splendid vistas and breathtaking views of Mt. Shasta for those awake enough to regard them.

Distracted by Mt. Shast's pristine alpine glory, I arrived at the Hemlock very late. As we were loading in, a bespectacled man wearing a skirt, a diminutive Asian, and woman armed with a Rickenbacker bass took the stage to perform abrasive, but somehow "posi" no-wave. I later learned that this band was the Fucking Ocean and its Rickenbacker-wielding public relations officer was Marcella Gries. Impressed by her band's aesthetics and can-do attitude, I played a number of shows with the Fucking Ocean in San Francisco (including another at the Hemlock) earlier this month. Aware that thieves roam the San Franciscan night, Marcella graciously allowed me to store equipment during at the Fucking Ocean's practice space during my three-day "San Francisco tour." There, I filmed her in front of a white wall.

Subject #9: Secret Highways

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Filmed December 6, 2007
At their Seattle home after a show in
Olympia, WA

Meade Krosby and Eric Bruns, Washington D.C. ex-patriots, are 2/3 of the Seattle trio Secret Highways. Meade is an ex-member of Diastemata, the only band I was never a member of whose record I released. Eric is a member of EBSK and a former member of the now-defunct avant duo Heth.

In the year 2000, I decided to purchase a bass clarinet. I researched bass clarinets on the internet and in the physical yellow pages. In the latter resource, I came upon an advertisement for band instruments. The advertisement said, "Need a Horn? Dial 1800USAHORN." I dialed 1800USAHORN and talked to a 1800USAHORN representative.

"Do you have any bass clarinets?" I inquired of the 1800USAHORN representative.

"Yes," the representative replied. "It is $600."

"Let's seal this deal!" I exclaimed.

Two weeks later, a bass clarinet arrived at my doorstep. The clarinet's former owner had emblazoned his name on the case: "Brad Batz." From that day, I referred to my bass clarinet as "Brad Batz." Then, some years passed and I decided I did not play Brad Batz enough to warrant owning him any longer. I was aware that Eric Bruns played clarinet and cornered him at the first opportunity.

"Hey, do you want to buy my bass clarinet?" I asked.

"Maybe," Eric replied. A few days later, he came by my house to see the bass clarinet. When I showed him the case, he asked, "Who is Brad Batz?"

"For $600, you can find out," I replied.

Brad Batz, a Washington, DC ex-patriot, is alive and well and living in Seattle.

Subject #8: Drew Woods and Art Santana

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Filmed December 5, 2007
Backspace Photo Booth
Portland, OR

Art Santana (R) is a pleasant fellow from Portland, Oregon. Earlier in 2007, Mr. Santana asked my musical touring ensemble to play a 21+ show at Ground Kontrol, a "barcade" where he is employed. Though Mr. Santana offered free quarters for video games to supplement my ensemble's extensive rider, we chose to play another Portland show that I believed to be all-ages. I later learned that this show was not all-ages, and regretted not exploring Mr. Santana's proposal further and, if possible, engaging in a few free games of Silent Scope under his auspices.

When my band returned to Portland this September, I contacted Mr. Santana again for an update on the whole "free quarters" situation. He suggested that I perform at Backspace, a coffeeshop/computer center where his friend Drew Woods (L) booked all-ages events. I agreed, and filmed Mssrs. Santana and Woods in a photo booth at the venue. After the show, Mr. Santana implored me to visit Ground Kontrol the next day to play video games with free quarters he would provide. Unfortunately, I-5 closures forced us to immediately flee Portland and get on the road to Olympia, where we were scheduled to play the next day. In this way, Olympia robbed me of a game Silent Scope.

Subject #7: Upskirts

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Upskirts
Filmed December 3, 2007
Aquarium (Dempsey's Upstairs)
Fargo, ND

Upskirts are a drums/guitar/vocal trio from Fargo, North Dakota. Before December 3, 2007, I had never played in North Dakota, and did not know what to expect from a city famously skewered in an Oscar-winning Coen brothers film. I was pleased to share the stage with Upskirts, who eschewed Coen brothers references and sported their minimalist, primitivist deconstruction of the Gossip before a respectably-sized audience. During my performance, the audience danced. The Upskirts congratulated me and assured me that dancing is rare in Fargo—rarer, at least, than Texas Hold 'Em poker tournaments, which are held regularly at the I played.

From L-R: Julia Oxenreider, Valerie Mikelson, Joyce Hatton.

Subject #6: Big Quarters

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Filmed December 2, 2007
Triple Rock Zaxxon Machine
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Brothers Brandon Allday (left) and Medium Zach (right) are the Minneapolis hip-hop duo Big Quarters. When I arrived to play the Triple Rock Social Club, whose menu sports overly-enthusiastic descriptions of vegan cuisine, Big Quarters was in the middle of its set at an early all-ages show. As they performed, I learned from informed parties that these MCs teach hip-hop classes to schoolchildren. Impressed by their show and posi-aesthetics, I introduced myself and filmed them standing next to a Zaxxon machine.

During Big Quarters' portrait, "Cock the Hammer," a Cypress Hill song unrepresentative of the duo's community-mindedness, is audible in the background. At 2:50, Medium Zach holds up a bag filled with what appears to be marijuana. This is a trick of the camera. The bag is not filled with marijuana, an illicit drug unrepresentative of Big Quarters' community-mindedness, but promotional buttons.

Subject #5: Bring Back the Guns

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Bring Back the Guns
Filmed December 1, 2007
Slowdown Balcony
Omaha, Nebraska

Bring Back the Guns is a four-piece rock band from Houston, Texas. I met them on March 22, 2007, when my band opened for them at Walter's on Washington, Houston's premier dive bar. When Bring Back the Guns took the stage that night, they wore T-shirts emblazoned with target symbols. After the show, I asked them about their unusual wardrobe. Bring Back the Guns informed me that an unstable individual/scene member had implied via posts to a popular message board that he would come to our show and kill everyone present. "He didn't show up, but we decided not to tell you until after we played," a band member said.

Nine months later, Bring Back the Guns and shared the same bill in Omaha on the small stage of the Saddle Creek performance complex Slowdown. I filmed the band on the balcony of the large room in front of a striking snake sculpture fabricated from paint buckets. From L-R: Thomas Clemmons (drums), Erik Bogle (guitar), Ryan Hull (bass), Matthew Brownlie (guitar/vocals).

Subject #4: Damon Locks

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Subject #4
Damon Locks
Filmed November 30, 2007
Empty Bottle Photo Booth
Chicago, Illinois

Damon Locks, a Silver Spring native, is the dynamic frontman of the genrebusting Chicago trio the Eternals and a former member of the postpunk quartet Trenchmouth, which enjoys an enthusiastic cult following. I met Damon on February 22, 2007 when I played with the Eternals in Pittsburgh. Before his performance, Damon encouraged those present to move closer to the stage. Singers seeking to inspire indifferent crowds routinely take refuge in ubiquitous "Please come closer!" rallying cries, but Damon's exhortation carried an usual confidence. "Trust me," Damon said. "If you move up, the show will be better." The crowd did move closer, and the show was incredible.

A few days later, the Eternals and I played in New Haven, Connecticut. After the show, we slept on the campus of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where I knew an ethnomusicology student with available floorspace. To thank my ethnomusicologist friend, Damon sang him the theme song to Krofft Superstars, once a popular children's television program. During Damon's performance, my cell phone began ringing, effectively ruining it.

Subject #3: Brian Straw

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Brian Straw
Filmed November 29, 2007 at his loft after a show at the
Grog Shop
Cleveland, OH

Brian Straw, 31, is a solo singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio. I met Brian in 1999 when he played a show with my now-defunct band at the now-defunct Speak in Tongues all-ages venue. Few people came to this show, but I was struck by Brian's spare acoustic guitar compositions that showcase his rich bass voice and penchant for ambient electronics. I believe that he played the cello as well, though my memory of this hypothetical cello is over eight years old.

After our show at Speak in Tongues, Brian expressed an interest in touring from Cleveland to the Pacific Northwest on his own, working on a fishing boat for an undetermined period of time, and touring back to Cleveland. In 2001, he achieved this dream—he purchased a van, toured alone to Bellingham, Washington, and worked on a fishing boat off the Pacific Coast for one month, occasional pulling 24-hour shifts. I do not think that Brian altogether enjoyed the fishing boat experience. Eventually, he returned to Cleveland, where he has been working as a sound engineer and writing music for a "magnum opus" for the past four years.

When touring along and facing hardship, I occasionally think of Brian Straw on his fishing boat.

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