Beer and Pavement

Indie-Craft Interview #12: Ben Chlapek

Posted in Indie-Craft, Interview by SM on May 16, 2012

Ben Chlapek prints posters and plays in bands. Of course, this only skims the surface of his creativity and drive. Ben’s Never Sleeping Design posters can be found everywhere. Half the bands covered in this blog have used a Never Sleeping poster to advertise a gig. Then, there are his music projects. The layers and textures Ben builds from scratch are pretty unforgettable and just as striking as his printed work. Luckily for me, as with many of the subjects of the series, Ben lives here in Columbia and agreed to answer my questions about his indie-craft.

Photo by Corey Hale Ransberg.

1. Describe your craft(s).
Freelance artist (illustrator, screen printer, painter) – neversleeping.com
Musician (guitar, keys, vox) – Enemy Airship, Neatly Knotted.

2. What’s the importance or benefit of remaining indie?
Well, I suppose having a little control over what I do is the big reason. Though I’m totally broke, so maybe if a halfway decent corporation said “jump” I might ask how high. I don’t know though, I’ve always been a do-it-yourself type. I want to take broken things apart and fix them, and print my own drawings, record my own songs, etc. It’s really frustrating that I can’t do everything I want by myself, and that I have to get others involved to get a certain desired result. Not enough hours in the day to learn everything I suppose.

3. How does your craft contribute to society?
It’s all entertainment, which is good and bad. People need entertainment like art and music to feel like they are people and not some sort of hamster in a wheel. At the same time, it’s totally disposable. No one has to care about it. No one is going to die if I don’t make drawings of weird little houses or play my guitar or synthesizer with the perfect tone that took hours to get just right. That being said, music and art affect me daily. Hourly. I can pour over an album or series of artwork and analyze every single detail…just totally get lost in it. Maybe one day someone will do that with something I make.

4. What other indie-craft products inspire you?
I’d like to make a line of effects pedals. I’ve always been fascinated by that, and I think I might be good at it with a little practice. Fixing/building old mopeds from the 70’s and 80’s is something I sort of got into, just because I had no idea about it. I still can’t do a lot with the engines, but I know how to swap out parts and clean carbs and a few other things. More than I knew when I started. I obsess over sound and trying to get a good recording on my 4 track tape machine. I’d like to make a short film. Like, write the soundtrack and plan out every shot and be the only person in it. Or something along those lines.

5. What is your dream of success?
I know it shouldn’t have to do with money necessarily (or at least that’s what people say), but I won’t truly feel successful until I can stop living hand to mouth. It would be nice to get more exposure from any of my art or music endeavors, but it seems like you have to be in the right place at the right time. If I stay in Columbia, I’m not sure the “right time” will ever come around. I’d like to think if I make work that’s good enough then people will notice, though.

Follow Ben Chlapek on Twitter or Tumblr. Then go buy his craft in his etsy store. After that, be prepared to see Ben’s visage and his work everywhere.

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Indie-Craft Interview #10: Justin Nardy

Posted in Indie-Craft, Interview by SM on May 14, 2012

I met Justin Nardy on a trip to St. Louis to see Caribou. An artist on his label (Ahmed Gallab, AKA Sinkane) was playing drums for Caribou and Justin was driving so that he and his partners could conduct some label business. I found that Justin was a likable, well-grounded artist, a rare thing these days or so I thought at the time. Since then, we’ve had some beers and BBQ as well as traded some vinyl. He’s a part of the small group of people I turn to in this town for information regarding the music and art scenes. He’s always good for inspiration as several of his pieces hang in my home. Here’s what he had to say regarding Indie-Craft…

1. Describe your craft(s).
Well I tend to dabble in a bunch of different things. I have been an active musician and part of the CoMo music scene for about 17 years now. I have played in numerous bands such as, Sooprize Package, Quatermast Wind, Amputee Set, Subscribe, Carryon Killaway, Bald Eagle, The Foundry Field Recordings, and I currently sing and play bass in New Tongues. Besides playing music, I was a co-owner of local record label Emergency Umbrella. I also work full time as a screen printer for two locally owned shops, and screen print posters out of my basement when I have free time, or a burst of creative energy. I have also provided bands, local business, and random cool people with 1” buttons for the last 10 years or so. I illustrate, and do random graphic design projects, and have always been the “art/design guy” in all of the bands that I have played in. So yeah I feel like I am jack of all trades, but maybe more successful in some areas more than others. Music has definitely been my main focus and craft for some time.

2. What’s the importance or benefit of remaining indie?
That’s tough, but I think remaining indie really comes down to never having to answer to anyone but yourself. To always be able to have totally creative freedom in what you are doing, and by doing that I think you stay happy and sane (or I would like to think you stay happy and sane).

Though I feel like anymore it is really hard to stay indie, and not depend on a larger group or some money at hand. Most indie bands aren’t indie anymore, most indie labels aren’t 100% indie, there is money coming from somewhere, whether it is selling music to movies or commercials etc, but that’s what allows those bands and labels to keep going. So maybe the definition of indie has changed. I think it is fine to make money off of your art or passion, but remaining indie all depends on what you do with that money once you have it, do you completely change everything or do you carry on like always with a little more funds to help you along the way? I don’t know if any of that makes sense, but in the end remaining indie to me means I am happy and I don’t have to answer to anyone or change what my creative outlook is to please some asshole and make them money.

3. How does your craft contribute to society?
Well I don’t know if I have ever personally created any art or music that has changed people’s lives or improved them, but overall I think music and art are two of the most important things people can have in their lives. I know that I would not be the person I am today without music and art. They improve the quality of life.

By being a musician in Columbia for such a long time I think I, with the help of many others have built a scene and a community of awesome people with many talents and that we have overall improved Columbia as a town. By creating music, art, putting out records, and bringing numerous bands to Columbia we have made it a better town to live in. We not only provided entertainment and things to do in a town that sometimes lacks entertainment and things to do, we have also created some pretty amazing bands and music. The musicians in this town are definitely a great group of people that are super talented and I feel like most of the bands here support each other and have each other’s back. And that is a great feeling to have, that we all have a support group and a tight knit of people that are always there for you and help push you to be creative. I am still blown away that places like The Hairhole and Rag Tag exist in this town, where you can go and constantly be surrounded by talented like minded people.

4. What other indie-craft products inspire you?
Other local bands, indie labels, lots of things on etsy, vinyl nerds, screen printers, people who book local shows, True/False, my wonderfully talented and supportive girlfriend Julie Hayes, indie record stores, craft beer etc. etc. etc.

5. What is your dream of success?
To wake up every day and be happy doing what I am doing and to be completely comfortable in my own skin.

I am not there, in fact there is much of my everyday life that is pretty opposite of that. I wake up and go to a job that I hate and make someone else a ton of money while I struggle to get by. Which is tough because I am doing a form of art that I love (screen printing), but instead of doing it under my own terms and conditions and remaining “indie” I am working for people that I generally hate and despise. I have been in tons of bands and l have loved everything I have done in those bands, yet none of them have been a complete success. When I turned 30 I thought I might completely stop playing music, and yet I still struggle with it and to be happy doing it. The record label that I was part of, that I loved and that put out a bunch of great records by friends and amazing bands went under. The part of me that loves to draw, screen print, and do design work constantly struggles to find motivation to do anything. So I feel like success is a long long way from becoming a reality. I am successful and happy that I get to wake up every day with a person that drives and pushes me to be creative, and that I am still actively playing music and creating art at age 31 but I definitely struggle with it at times. My ultimate goal of success would to be able to open a venue/bar/record store/screen printing/art gallery/musician practice space and employee all my wonderfully talented friends and make it the best thing in the world and have it support all of us and our families while providing an amazing place for people to hang out.

You can find Justin’s work at his old blog or his new blog. Buy his art here and you might be able to score a Bald Eagle record at Insound. In the meantime, don’t forget to peruse all the Indie-Craft interviews. There are still more to come…

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Indie-Craft Interview #9: Julie Hayes

Posted in Indie-Craft, Interview, Uncategorized by SM on May 9, 2012

Julie Hayes bombed the shit out of this town.

What I mean is that she knit-bombed the shit out of this town. Once I learned of her shenanigans, I promptly made sure that my other blog featured her and her other crafty creations. Those creations (and finds) can be obtained for a reasonable fee at her Etsy shop – possibly world headquarters for indie-craft wares – where one can ascertain a pretty good feel for Julie’s aesthetic and a bit of her personality, making it clear why she’s so cool.

I feel lucky to know someone so cool. So I’m introducing her to the Coalition now… 

photo by Tony Irons

1. Describe your craft(s).
Well, I went to school for fine arts and ever since I graduated I have done nothing conceptual. I do what’s called “low” art in the art world. And I am an avid dabbler. I knit, sew, embroider, make jewelry, build things from reclaimed wood, you name it! I find that if it has a function, I’m drawn to making it. I think that was my biggest problem with “fine” art, it had no function to me.

2. What’s the importance or benefit of remaining indie? 
I have worked with lots of people on lots of projects, but I could never imagine working with someone who I did not know. Being independent allows you to keep control of what you’re making and how you’re making it. I couldn’t imagine someone from the public trying to tell me what to make.

3. How does your craft contribute to society?
In the most basic sense, it makes me a better person. For a long time after I graduated I wanted to make things to sell to people. I think that mind set is changing for me. I think I’m starting to savor making things for myself again; holding back a little what I’ve been giving all those years. It makes me happy to be able to produce a piece that I’m proud of and that makes me a better person. I have done public art pieces in Columbia and I’m happy with the response that I’ve gotten to them. I hope that they make people think and react to them, though I cannot say exactly what those reactions are. I’ve been interviewed for pieces I’ve done and the reaction seems positive.

4. What other indie-craft products inspire you?
EVERYTHING. Literally. It’s hard to not be inspired in todays world. So much is at our fingertips. I remember being in school and having to trudge to the library to look at books put out by artists who have been dead for 20, 30, 40, 100 years. Today, you can sit down, turn on your computer and be hit by inspiration. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not inspired by a color, or a project or a scene. It’s incredible.

5. What is your dream of success?
Happiness. Whatever that looks like to me is what I imagine success to be. Right now I am happy. I have a lot of time to myself to make things and to create and that makes me happy. In the future, that may change, but I don’t know. Being an artist is a very personal thing and to me, success has always been a very personal thing too. It’s never been about money or fame. It’s always been about my state of mind and how I feel about my work. My work has changed so much since I started making things so many years ago, and I can only guess that my idea of success will change as well.

You can learn more about Julie at her blog, Yonder. And don’t forget the rest of the Indie-Craft interviews.

Indie-Craft Interview #3: Kim Sherman

Posted in Film, Indie-Craft, Interview by SM on May 2, 2012

Kim Sherman is a really busy person. So busy that I thought for sure she’d never get around to this “interview.” Not only did Kim prove me wrong, but she went above and beyond the call of duty by contributing the many interesting bits of information you find below the picture I lifted from her Facebook profile. There’s indie filmmaking and indie rock-making she does, filling every open slot on her calendar. She used to head the music scheduling at True/False before returning this year with both a film to screen (V/H/S) and busking gigs for her band, Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, to fulfill.

Speaking of True/False, it was suggested that Kim was the real story of this year’s fest. How often does someone go from volunteering/working for a major film festival to a contributing filmmaker? This doesn’t even mention Jerusalem and the Starbaskets’ thrilling set at one of the fest’s showcases following a year where the band found some well-deserved acclaim for their album, Dost. In other words, Kim is a big part of the best thing that happens in Middle Missouri.

All of this makes Kim Sherman an ideal subject for the Indie-Craft Interview series… 

1. Describe your craft(s).
I am an independent filmmaker and the drummer for Jerusalem and the Starbaskets. My day job is producing for feature films. In independent cinema, this usually involves being pretty hands on in all aspects of the creation of a film. My role and job shape shift a bit, depending on the project and my relationship with the project’s director. For some director’s, I deal more with the practical aspects of the project. Things like hiring cast and crew, working with unions, securing permission for locations. Really, the things no one likes to do on a film set. For other director’s, I work in a more collaborative sense, and help guide the story with them. In either case, I work very hard to make sure the director has everything they need to tell the story, and that they have the space and freedom to insert their voice in that story. If the audience takes something away from the film, hopefully a strong emotional or academic response, and the director feels like people really understand what they were trying to convey, I feel like I did a good job. Though, it helps when the film sells and everyone involved makes money.

2. What’s the importance or benefit of remaining indie?
Choosing Independent Filmmaking was really easy for me, being from the Midwest. I wasn’t exposed to studios, early on, and I never really dreamed of working for a studio. Though, I respect that the industry needs both halves to survive. Some of my favorite films came out of studios. I know that “independent film” meant something different in the 90’s, when that meant a film cost less than $3 million. Now there is a much wider range for independent financing, so films are made for under 10K pretty regularly and with great success. Technology and talent are available in abundance at all levels of that financial spectrum. So for me, the biggest reason for staying in the Independent realm, is simply being able to work on stories that I find interesting, that I feel are important, and that maybe break the rules a bit.

I still want all the world to see my work, and that is certainly easier to achieve in the studio system. But the more overhead a film is associated with, the more money it has to make just to break even. The more money a film has to make, the more creative decisions are made solely on that point. The more a film compromises just to make money, the more contained the vision becomes. Its hard to do something different when you are only thinking about the people that are happy to see the same story over and over again. As a filmmaker and an audience member, I want to see stories that are maybe dirtier, darker, and that challenge the way life is portrayed on television and in theaters.

3. How does your craft contribute to society?
Independent Filmmaking, as I stated, can allow for more freedom of storytelling. The actual filmmaking process has become more accessible to more people, which opens the medium up for interpretations by various cultures. The idea is that independent film and audiences will gravitate towards stories that haven’t been told and recycled a million times over.

Until recently, I had been working mostly in horror films. I was fortunate to work with a few friends that know the genre very deeply, and wanted to see the old conventions given new life. They developed stories with a woman as the central protagonists. The women in these films survive where others would break. I really loved this element. I recognize that Horror is an inherently sexist genre, but I do see more and more audiences growing tired of watching women mercilessly tortured. There is a trend towards women overcoming the demons, serial killers, mutant rapists, and abusive spouses from another planet, and not just because they are pure and virginal. Horror, like sci-fi and other genre work, is a great way to point out the evils of society and hopefully make a path to the solution of these evils.

More recently, I have been involved with dramas that feature women on the verge of falling out of society. Caught between their crimes and the reality of the punishment, I ran towards these stories for their polarizing central characters. This is an idea that had been reserved for male characters, with women playing sidekick and savior. I love being a part of something that provides strong and challenging roles for women.

Beyond just women too, I hope to always work on films that push forward groups that would otherwise be marginalized in film, on and off the screen. Hopefully these stories won’t seem so fringe, in the very near future. In this way, I feel like my craft contributes to society.

4. What other indie-craft products inspire you?
Several times a year, I record and tour with my bandmates, Jeremy Freeze and John Garland, as the drummer for Jerusalem and the Starbaskets. My bandmates are like family, and I very sincerely love the music we make. I’ll sometimes blush when I hear it playing in Uprise or other public spaces, but I really do love listening to our albums always. Jeremy Freeze is one of my favorite songwriters, and I never get sick of listening to his voice and lyrics.

When I work on films, I spend a lot of time on my computer. I have a hard time concentrating if I’m not listening to music. It’s better for my brain than coffee even.

Recently, Jeremy and John contributed music to a film I produced. For me, it was the start of something I have been working up to. I want to combine my two loves, film and music. I am currently co-writing a film with Jeremy, that we are hoping to make late in 2013.

5. What is your dream of success?
I have more immediate goals for success, that include sustainability. It’s hard for people in my profession to balance time and money. It’s especially hard when you work in micro-budget independent films. Long term, I am starting to get back to directing, and it is my hope that I can find a successful balance between directing, producing, and drumming. If I can do this, live comfortably off of the things I have dedicated my life to, and still be there for my friends and community, I will feel like a huge success.

If you get a chance, check out Kim’s work. V/H/S hits On Demand and theaters this fall. Dost is available in exchange for your dollars. And I’m sure Kim has something else up her sleeve in the meantime.

[Full disclosure: Kim is the only person to ever call me a journalist. This can be both good and bad. Make of it what you will.]

 

Is R.E.M. still indie?

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on November 19, 2011

So, I still mean to post daily. However, I forgot to schedule this post for Saturday. I’ll date it as such and still post something by the end of Sunday. Honestly, this was written. I just spaced on the scheduling and didn’t look at a computer all day.

I was listening to NPR the other day when this interview with R.E.M. aired. At some point, the band was asked about their transformation from indie to major or popular music. One of the band members (I couldn’t tell which one) remarked that they are still indie despite the fact they’ve been signed to Warner Brothers for nearly 25 years, a decidedly non-indie move to a major label.

How does that happen? Are they really indie? If so, what does being “indie” really mean?

I agree. R.E.M. is indie and probably always will be. It’s the same for Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, etc. All of these bands have had their indie cred  questioned when they jumped to major labels, but this is simplistic and, quite frankly wrong. These bands have always been indie and will (hopefully) always be indie.

Why?

Being indie isn’t equal to being unknown or unsuccessful. It’s keeping that human, even soulful element that corporate acts just can’t duplicate in the music. The outcome might be “boring,” but there’s a clear, albeit subjective difference. The artists still maintain creative control and aren’t simply making music to make money. If they’re lucky, they make enough to live on (or better), but that’s not why they do what they do.

I’m sure that doesn’t make indie any clearer for you. It’s really complicated, rather subjective, and somewhat arbitrary. It has to do with the spirit of the music and the motivation for making the music. Typically, this hard to determine without having firsthand knowledge of a musicians inspiration or process. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter. If the music is good, it’s good.

However, for me, it does matter. I love music for the human, soulful experience that it is. I want music and all art to mean something more than aesthetics or entertainment. The craft, blood, sweat, and tears that goes into indie rock makes it more meaningful to me. I find anything corporate to be cold and sensationalized. Indie rock is authentic and artful. That’s how I like it.

This position helps explain some of my attraction to craft beer as well. As I’ve established before, craft beer has soul. It represents the human side of beer while BMC strips the creativity and humanity from what should be a soulful experience. This is where people’s beer epiphany happens. It’s that wow moment when craft beer suddenly makes sense to the drinker. It happens because of all the humanity and soul that goes into each glass, bottle, or keg.

An indie model works in craft beer as well. Look at Founders. The brewery was nearly going under when they brewed safe, approachable beers that they thought would sell. Once they realized that they were headed for bankruptcy, they decided to brew what they liked, what made them happy until they had to close their doors for good. The uniquely challenging ales that resulted appealed to people looking for something different from the corporate-dominated mainstream beer industry. Despite the brewery’s rapid growth and sustaining success, they are indie, just like R.E.M.

Indie is not necessarily about which label a band belongs to. It only partially has anything to do aesthetics. Indie is an uncompromising attitude toward art and craft that puts it’s maker’s vision before profit margins. So, in short, R.E.M. remained indie throughout their history. They didn’t try to please the mainstream for greater profits. They made music for their fans and, more importantly, for themselves.

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