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Keeping Score with Mark McGee

Mark McGee, also known by his performance name, MAKR, is a Renaissance man. A Twin Cities transplant by way of Richmond, Virginia, McGee is a key creative contributor to myriad musical projects, among them Father You See Queen, Ronia, and Marijuana Deathsquads. His collaborations have extended beyond music to encompass artists of many different media. […]

Mark McGee. Photo: Gene Pittman

Mark McGee. Photo: Gene Pittman

Mark McGee, also known by his performance name, MAKR, is a Renaissance man. A Twin Cities transplant by way of Richmond, Virginia, McGee is a key creative contributor to myriad musical projects, among them Father You See Queen, Ronia, and Marijuana Deathsquads. His collaborations have extended beyond music to encompass artists of many different media.

Ahead of his upcoming Music and Movies performance, in which MAKR’s Coven will premiere a new score for the 1926 silent animated film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, I asked McGee about his inspirations and what we can expect to witness tonight.

You’ve worked with a huge range of talent in the Twin Cities and beyond. What is your relationship to the musicians assembled for this project?

The ensemble includes Nona Marie Invie and Fletcher Barnhill, all of us play in Ronia together and Aaron Baum and I have played in other projects, such as Votel and Basuketto. All of these musicians, in my opinion, are some of the most talented in the Twin Cities.

Can we expect the music to closely parallel the action on screen, or will the audiovisual connection be more oblique?

The music and sound of the piece is a little of both. The music does parallel the action on screen and this score was closely written to the film, but there are places in the film where the music and sound becomes more oblique and detached.

Is there any film score or soundtrack that you find particularly inspiring? Or a film scene?

There are so many. I guess one that comes to mind is the fox wedding/march scene in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. It is when the child spies on the foxes, peaking behind trees and fog, only to be spotted by the wedding party. Watching a fox wedding by a human is forbidden, so when the boy reaches his house, he is told by his mother that he can never come home again and in fact, should kill himself with a knife the foxes have left for him. That scene visually has always inspired me and the music is fantastic.

In addition to your musical projects, I’ve read that you’re a visual art lover. Do you see a connection between musical and visual practice? If so, does that inform how you think about this project?

Yes, very much so. Musical and visual practice is one of the same to me. Many might argue the opposite, but to me, both worlds play on one another and display as much information and content, even if the time frames of what is being presented differ. When I write music, it usually comes from a visual place, so it was very natural to create music for this project and to this film.

MAKR’s Coven will perform a newly-commissioned score alongside The Adventures of Prince Achmed tonight, Monday, August 17, at dusk (8:45 pm).

Talk Dance: Momentum 2015

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Hiponymous, Angharad Davies, and Nic Lincoln, whose works will premiere in Momentum: New Dance Works July 9-18, 2015 at the Southern Theater.  You can find the podcasts […]

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Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Hiponymous, Angharad Davies, and Nic Lincoln, whose works will premiere in Momentum: New Dance Works July 9-18, 2015 at the Southern Theater.  You can find the podcasts on the Walker Channel 

Momentum: New Dance Works is a big deal.  Many emerging choreographers apply and a panel reviews and selects just 4 applicants to participate.  If your work is chosen, three major performance venues (Cowles Center for Dance/ Southern Theater/ Walker Art Center) and one major funding organization (Jerome Foundation) enthusiastically support your work with time, space, money, expertise, production, feedback, career development opportunities, and publicity.  Many choreographers who’ve come through Momentum have gone on to become major voices in the dance community locally and nationally.  When interviewing the Momentum choreographers about their upcoming shows I asked them what being a part of the program means to them.

Angharad Davies: “I just feel really so excited that I was invited to be a part of this, the support has been great. I’ve been making this work since I got here and to get Momentum was kind of a big deal because it felt like the support for my aesthetic or my artistic vision was there, and I feel really excited and proud that I’m part of this group.”

Hiponymous (Evie Muench and Renée Copeland):  “It means that we got a place to do this project idea that we had in our brains, that I don’t think would have been produced at the scale that it is going to be produced for this show…I was really trying to figure out how we would have done this piece had we not gotten this grant. It’s an incredible opportunity… and we took it!”

Nic Lincoln:  “I view Momentum as being a stepping stone. I really like the idea of being pushed forward.  This process, with all the feedback, has pushed me.  In the last couple years, I’ve been able to work on shedding any kind of ego that has to relate to my work so I can actually take in the corrections or feedback I’m getting.  I believe that because of that process, that’s part of the reason why the work is so strong.”

Interviewing these artists about their upcoming shows at the Southern Theater was great fun.  What was most exciting to me was learning that each of the artists are exploring new territory in their work.  Hiponymous expanded their collaboration to include two composers, a costume designer and a host of voice actors.  Nic Lincoln is creating his first choreography for an all male cast, and Angharad Davies is making a dance that is more, “internally driven and focused” than her previous work.

Making new work for an opportunity that is as big a deal as Momentum is, it might be easy to “do what you know.”  I commend the choreographers for going beyond and taking the generous support of the Cowles, Jerome, the Southern, and the Walker to explore new territory.   If you missed the first weekend, go now and get your tickets for week two.

Momentum: New Dance Works 2015 continues this Thursday through Saturday, July 16-18, at the Southern Theater.

In the Dark in 5… Megan Mayer on Momentum Week 1

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Megan Mayer shares her perspective on State of the […]

Hiponymous (Renée Copeland and Genevieve Muench). Photo: Gene Pittman

Hiponymous (Renée Copeland and Genevieve Muench). Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Megan Mayer shares her perspective on State of the Moon Address by Hiponymous and Broken by Luke Olson-Elm. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Momentum: New Dance Works Festival! This series is one of my favorites, as it generously funds dancemakers venturing into new territories, cushioned by institutional support and a whole team of folks rooting for them and their work. I was thinking about how related yet distinct the skill sets of choreography and dance are; so I feel it’s important to note that in addition to directing these original dances, the choreographers featured in the first weekend of the festival gave stellar performances as dancers in their own work. If you don’t already know how challenging it is to be at once inside a work while keeping a fresh outside eye on its development, please trust that it requires extreme rigor and selflessness. Congratulations to these artists on multiple jobs well done.

Hiponymous’ set consisted of a green astroturf mound (reminding me simultaneously of the Nutcracker’s Mother Ginger, a golf course, Teletubbies, and the construction of the new I-can’t-see-downtown-anymore Minneapolis stadium), set up against one side of the Southern Theater’s arch. A lichen mini-mound adhered itself to the opposite side.

State of the Moon Address begins with a brief applause loop, serving as a preemptive favor on the audience’s behalf (more on this bit later). Evy Muench emerges on the side of the stage, shivering off a silvery tether as Renee Copeland shoots out from under the mound, and the two tilt-a-whirl and frantically spin around one another until connecting, and soften into a koala embrace. The pair scouted and explored their apparently new, foreign surroundings, working well as a team, using each other’s limbs, joints and kneepads as legos to build and compound strength and range. They seemed to be researching and building a language using the body and movement phrases to interpret their findings. The choreography was dense with clever, gestural material: a quick listening to the ground, scratching twitches, precise hands near the face, forearms sticking to the ground as if they were magnetized in a curious manner, bent forward at the waist and traversing backwards on deliberately placed hands and feet in unison, laying on their sides with their backs to us in quivering lumps.

The work’s tone fluctuated in and out of concern and anxiety. At times the choreography seemed too buoyant to be troubling in the way that seemed to interest them; leaps were at odds with the implied danger that was supposedly tethering them. The intriguing way they hung their heads, revealing only the crown to the audience, while slowly wheeling the light stands across the space, as a janitor pushes a mop bucket down a deserted hallway at night, was in stark contrast to the frontal eye contact held at other times. Their faces, side-lit by Heidi Eckwall’s evocative design during a stationary section, echoed the solitary, vulnerable time one waits in a doctor’s office on the exam table. During a slick commercial portion of the soundscore, they were able to morph their expressions in a matter of seconds: I saw Jane Fonda’s Barbarella’s confident stare, the spasmic grin of Max Headroom, Betty Boop’s smooshy pout and, Wile E Coyote’s predatory sideways glance.

After a quick blackout, the lights came up to reveal them holding large, shiny, silver gardening tools. They didn’t so much use the tools as animate them; Evy reluctantly overextended her arms and pretended to groom the astroturf mound and Renee slowly grazed the rake along her leg without actually touching the skin. Was this commentary on our culture’s disdain for women’s body hair? Or a reference to Bruce Dern’s gardener in Silent Running? The tools’ performance was short-lived.

The dominating soundscore overpowered the dance at times. There were moments when cacophony was the clear intention; there were others when the vibration was so loud I couldn’t distinguish the words and I missed hearing key clues. A few times the sound cues were late for the movement (the antennae section in particular). I questioned the choice of an initial authoritative male voiceover; it seemed to undercut the specific female strength that the performers had established with their movement. Overall I wanted more stillness, more time to settle in with these strong performers.

The piece “ended” when the stage crew walked on stiffly and immediately began dismantling the astroturf mound as Renee and Evy began a fast, tightly woven partnering section of winding torsos and furious legwork, twisting and careening their way upstage. The house lights came up and the audience shuffled in their seats. The sound bumped off early which was odd but that’s when the stage action of the strike crew got more interesting: I felt they dropped their “we had to be talked into this surprise fake ending but now that’s over and we’re really getting some shit done” personae and seemed less self-conscious, their bodies calmer and more at ease. I could also hear the drill, which helped me appreciate the work that went into the set. We didn’t get to applaud for the performers, but I grinned, remembering how they’d already snuck that in for us back at the beginning. After the mound had been completely removed I was hoping to catch one more glimpse of Hiponymous to know that they’d been just out of our sight this entire time, still spinning wildly and intricately working their way into the ether, but they were gone.

Luke Olson-Elm. Photo: Gene Pittman

Luke Olson-Elm. Photo: Gene Pittman

Luke Olson-Elm’s Broken started before it began by filling the space with a golden haze that accentuated the brick and rough texture of the Southern’s walls and invited my eye upwards. The lighting by Heidi Eckwall was gorgeous: expansive, raw, intimate with a dusty, dystopian edge and served the choreography well. The dance began with a row of downstage spotlights. The dancers walked dramatically in and out of the delineations on the floor and took turns showcasing in the spots. The movement material was a mostly frontal, aggressive mix of isolations, supple torsos, and articulate limbs with a hard edge. The choreography moved the dancers in diagonal pathways, fluidly finding the floor, falling in and out of unison to reveal solos and forming trios and duets.

The dancers were all tenacious and accomplished but I felt little connection among them as a group and didn’t learn much of anything about them as individual dancers. I’m not sure if this was a directorial choice or a missed opportunity. My eyes kept landing on Luke. You can always pick out the choreographer if they are one of the dancers because the material reads more clearly on their body. He owns this movement, it’s from within, and it pours out of him like water. I noticed his humility, his choice to not put himself center stage, to generously give the limelight to the other dancers, but he was ultimately the reluctant star of this piece. His performance was imbued with a grief not shared by the others and internalized in an intriguing way. His head bobbed at the neck, his hands reaching but never quite grasping, his eyes cast downward for much of the piece. Leaning against the archway under a light, his head hanging, I thought of Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle, broken in his own way. Luke has a curious, evocative way of articulating his hands, implying that whatever he tries to touch has already dissolved.

The soundscore was percussive, aggressive, repetitive, electronic, machinic. A factory with bits similar to the Six Million Dollar Man bionic jumping sound peppered throughout. Audible breath cues among the dancers were superfluous when the music provided a structure. At times the partnered lifts with pointed toes and outstretched limbs seemed incongruous with the rest of the material and the soundscore; virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake was not a viable currency in the world he had created.

Towards the end Luke used the spotlights in a clever way by walking straight across and through all of the spots. I then thought of him as a sort of ghost, someone who lives in-between alongside the grief and fading memories which broke my heart a little as it was such a successful way to express displacement/isolation/loss. This was a delicate, haunting image and I thought the piece could have ended there. 2 other dancers eventually walked through the spots in the same way which lessened the impact of the image for me. In the program notes Luke mentions that he’s not sure why he’s inspired by themes of community and identity. I don’t know if his intention was to isolate himself from the rest of the cast, but I found that to be the most interesting aspect.

Megan Mayer is performing this weekend in The Scraps by Angharad Davies as part of Momentum: New Dance Works 2015, Thursday through Saturday, July 16-18, at the Southern Theater.

Choreographers’ Evening 2015 Auditions Announcement!

The Walker Art Center and Guest Curator Justin Jones are seeking choreographers to be presented as part of the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening. All forms of dance are welcome! Justin Jones is a widely respected local dancer/choreographer/sound designer/teacher and all-around innovator. For this year’s showcase, Jones is drawing on his experience working with dancers of […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Photo: Gene Pittman

The Walker Art Center and Guest Curator Justin Jones are seeking choreographers to be presented as part of the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening. All forms of dance are welcome!

Justin Jones is a widely respected local dancer/choreographer/sound designer/teacher and all-around innovator. For this year’s showcase, Jones is drawing on his experience working with dancers of all ages and all abilities. Auditions are open to all artists utilizing the performance medium, trained and untrained, who use space, time, and the body to take risks and explore their ideas. Jones elaborates:

I believe that the infinite complexities of physical expression belong not just to the specially trained and professionally experienced. In my work with young people, I have seen incredible dances made and performed by 7 year old students. So, my curatorial position is, everyone is welcome, Every Body is welcome. If it’s your first dance, or your 100th, please come and share it, I can’t wait to see it.

Choreographers’ Evening will take place on Saturday, November 28, 2015 at 7:00pm and 9:30pm. If your piece is selected, you must be available the week of November 23rd (excluding Thanksgiving), as well as from noon through the performances on Saturday, November 28, 2015.

Audition Information:

WHERE:    The Walker’s McGuire Theater, 1750 Hennepin Ave, Mpls 55403

WHEN:      Wednesday, August 5 from 6–10pm

     Friday, August 7 from 2–6pm

     Saturday, August 8 from 12noon–4pm.

– You will receive a call or email confirming your time slot

– Auditions are in 10 minute intervals

– Pieces are usually 3-6 minutes in length and may not exceed 7 minutes

– DVD submissions are accepted, although live performance is preferred

– Works in progress are accepted

– Choreographers must live in Minnesota

For more information and to schedule an audition, please email performingarts@walkerart.org or call the Walker at 612.375.7550.

Additional questions may be directed to Anat Shinar at anat.shinar@walkerart.org

Indie Pop Meets International Pop: A Conversation with Lucius

Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe met in 2005 and immediately discovered their common interests. Ten years later, as the founders and lead singers of Lucius, they dress identically, sing in unison, and maintain near-perfect symmetry on stage. In other words, Lucius is a band that revels in careful synchronization. It seemed appropriate, then, that Lucius’s arrival at the Walker […]

Lucius posing in front of Evelyne Axell's Ice Cream

Lucius with Evelyne Axell’s Ice Cream. L–R: Andrew Burri, Holly Laessig, Jess Wolfe, Peter Lalish, Dan Molad

Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe met in 2005 and immediately discovered their common interests. Ten years later, as the founders and lead singers of Lucius, they dress identically, sing in unison, and maintain near-perfect symmetry on stage. In other words, Lucius is a band that revels in careful synchronization.

It seemed appropriate, then, that Lucius’s arrival at the Walker for Rock the Garden 2015 should offer its own opportunities for synchronicity. The Walker’s ongoing exhibition International Pop provided one such moment. One of its most iconic worksEvelyne Axell’s 1964 Ice Cream (1964), adorns the cover of Lucius’s most recent album, Wildewoman.

Lucius's Wildewoman

The cover of Lucius’s album Wildewoman (2014)

Before Lucius hit the stage on Saturday, the band took a personalized tour of International Pop. They clearly enjoyed the opportunity, pausing in reverent awe to examine works like León Ferrari’s iconoclastic La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana (Western Christian Civilization)Afterwards, Laessig and Wolfe agreed to an impromptu round-table conversation about music, visual art, and ice cream. Joining me for the discussion were Walker Web Editor Paul Schmelzer, Performing Arts Senior Curator Philip Bither, and Visual Arts Curatorial Fellow Mia Lopez, who helped curate the exhibition.

Paul Schmelzer: I’m curious what the role of visual art, or other disciplines of art, is on your music?

Jess Wolfe: It’s a big thing for us. Both of us come from visually artistic families, so it’s something we’re always thinking about. Obviously, our stage setup and the way that we dress are taken into consideration as far as the marriage between the visuals and the music. So, when we were looking for album artwork, we went through a bunch of stuff, Evelyne Axell’s Ice Cream initially stuck out—and we kept going back to it, and eventually we decided that was the image that was calling.

Holly Laessig: Once you see it, you can’t think of anything more iconic. The colors and the feelings you get looking at it were things we wanted to express: this playfulness, this joy, this feminine strength. And some humor. I think those things, while also being bold, were really important in our choice of album cover. And luckily, Evelyne’s son, Philippe, was so generous in offering the piece to us. We really lucked out. It seemed like fate.

We actually didn’t know much about Evelyne Axell before picking the artwork, but when we went to visit Philippe in Belgium, he brought us some books and we starting flipping through them. There were all these triptychs and groupings of paintings she’d done with symmetrical women. Many, many different pieces: it was just another “a-ha” moment. It was so fitting in every way, it felt like kismet. He thought that we knew that already, that we were aware of her fascination with the duality of women and these symmetrical figures, but we had no idea.

Schmelzer: Where did you first encounter the work?

Wolfe: A friend of ours, a graphic designer who we had been working with for a long time, had brought lots of different pieces to the table to see what stood out. And, as Holly said, we kept returning to Ice Cream. At first, I think it maybe made the boys uncomfortable.

Laessig: Which was kind of the idea.

[Laughter]

Wolfe: We actually thought we were going to get so much more dirt for using it.

Mia Lopez: We have it on the side of our building. We have this huge phallic image on the side of the Walker.

Wolfe: And people are like, “You know that’s not really an ice cream cone, right?” That’s the comment they’ll make. [Laughter] I’m like, “It looks like an ice cream cone to me.”

Mark Mahoney: To go back for a second, I was wondering if there were particular artists that sort of turned your world upside down or influenced you as teenagers.

Wolfe: Both Holly and I grew up loving old-school soul music, the boldness and simplicity of those songs and singers. We also grew up with visual artists, so I think we were always fascinated by artists who had a strong visual representation of their music: artists like David Bowie, Björk, Prince, and even James Brown, Sam Cooke and the Supremes. When we first started working together, maybe because we weren’t completely comfortable in our stage presence at the time, I think it was a good way for us to transport ourselves into something else together, and also hopefully to transport the audience at the same time.

Philip Bither: We’re working on a festival next year with Devendra Banhart. He’s bringing together people from across disciplines: visual artists, painters, installation artists, and musicians. Do you find that to be increasingly common in independent music, that more and more people are blurring the lines between making visual culture and making music?

Wolfe: I wouldn’t say it’s new, but I definitely think it makes sense. For artistic people, that impulse comes out in all different ways. I’ve always used my hands since I was a little kid and been fascinated by visual culture. My mom worked at museums since she was a young person. That was something that was always around me, that I was always inspired by… It’s also an easy way to escape everyday life.

Bither: It’s an individual pursuit, rather than collaborative.

Laessig: Yeah.

Wolfe: And then you go away and you find the like-minded people, and you realize you’re not alone. There are a lot of weirdos. A lot of weirdos.

 

Beauty Is a Rare Thing: Philip Bither Remembers Ornette Coleman

The death of Ornette Coleman two weeks ago was a sweeping loss, the passing of one of the visionary artists of our time — like losing Cage or Duchamp, Joyce or Coltrane, Lennon or Cunningham. I was first drawn to his sound in high school when I heard recordings of his mesmerizing Prime Time band, whose stew […]

Ornette Coleman performs with the Bang on a Can All-Stars in 2005 as part of a three-day celebration of his music, The Festival Dancing in Your Head.

Ornette Coleman performing at the Walker’s McGuire Theater in 2005. Photo: Gene Pittman

The death of Ornette Coleman two weeks ago was a sweeping loss, the passing of one of the visionary artists of our time — like losing Cage or Duchamp, Joyce or Coltrane, Lennon or Cunningham. I was first drawn to his sound in high school when I heard recordings of his mesmerizing Prime Time band, whose stew of trance rhythms, acoustic jazz, and electrified rock, post-’70s hard-core funk, free harmonics, and African polyrhythms all held some seeds of punk, Afro-futurist rock, and hip-hip to come (see Slate’s useful tracing of Ornette’s influence on non-jazz music innovators). The sounds knocked me sideways, introducing me to a musical language that carried so much magnetic mystery and human emotion that my incomprehension felt inconsequential.

When I first began curating music three decades ago, an early dream was to try to do something that would honor Ornette Coleman’s enormous contribution. I sought out Ornette’s drummer-manager son, Denardo Coleman, and we began a 12-year, on-and-off-again process of planning some kind of festival. Throughout, Denardo remained as genial as he was elusive (he would fall out of touch for months or sometimes even years, but when he resurfaced he remained as encouraging as ever). I will always remember a two-hour planning meeting with Ornette, arranged with Denardo, in the East Village the year before the festival, where I sat with rapt attention listening to this sweet, gentle, but fierce philosopher-poet of music and art, grasping only every third or fourth idea — not unlike my first introduction to his music. It was a meeting I found both baffling and mysteriously transformative. Ornette Coleman thought and worked on another plane altogether, and yet there I sat, furiously trying to scribble every word in a pad. I felt like I was clearly in the presence of a profound and generous spirit.

In April 2005, Ornette, Denardo and I were finally able to mount a three-day celebration of Ornette’s work — a copresentation of the Walker and Headwaters Music — encompassing a sold-out concert at the University of Minnesota’s 1000-seat Ted Mann concert hall, featuring his then-new quartet (which six months later would record the landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning recording Sound Grammar); and a separate evening of Minnesota-based bands (including both Happy Apple and The Bad Plus, not to mention their rare recombinant, Bad Apple), all playing their versions of Ornette tunes in the Walker’s brand new McGuire Theater. Ornette sat in the audience, listening with attentiveness and grace. I walked him through the green room after as thanked each hero-struck musician who had played, telling them how much he enjoyed and appreciated their take on his work. The final event of the festival was a 10-hour marathon of wildly diverse and innovative music, concluding with a premiere of a Walker-commissioned set of works by Ornette and the avant-classical ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars (BOAC). With so many performers, the concert ran very late. I remember Ornette warming up with great patience and generosity on our loading dock for nearly two hours. Finally hitting the McGuire stage at 1:15 am with Bang on a Can All Stars, he played a breathtaking set of new music with his inimitable, deeply mournful, timeless alto soaring above the complex BOAC-played compositions to the hundreds of intrepid Minnesotan true believers still in the house.

Ornette wrote to me later, saying, “The Walker is a harmolodic place if there ever was one!” We will forever miss you Ornette, and remain always grateful for your transformative gifts.

Philip Bither is Director and Senior Curator of Performing Arts at the Walker Art Center.

‘Which Babes in Toyland Member Are You?’ Lori Barbero Takes the Quiz

Which Babes in Toyland member do you most resemble? It’s a tough question, one that has undoubtedly animated many passionate debates. Now, thanks to the work of an ardent fan, there is a BuzzFeed quiz that will finally bring us resolute answers to this question. To test the quiz’s accuracy, I asked Lori Barbero of […]

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Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland

Which Babes in Toyland member do you most resemble? It’s a tough question, one that has undoubtedly animated many passionate debates. Now, thanks to the work of an ardent fan, there is a BuzzFeed quiz that will finally bring us resolute answers to this question.

To test the quiz’s accuracy, I asked Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland to take the quiz herself. In the process, I learned her favorite color, her preferred ’90s jam, and her favorite city. Read on for her final result.

Lori’s Answers

Though she spends much of her time in Austin these days, Lori wasted no time in deciding where her loyalties truly lie.

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The Result

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I can’t say I’m surprised by the accuracy of the result. The magic of Babes in Toyland has always stemmed from the distinctiveness of the musicians involved.

Babes in Toyland will be rocking Minneapolis hard and aggressively at Rock the Garden tonight, June 21st, at 7:15 PM.

Backstage: Three Questions with thestand4rd’s Allan Kingdom

Allan Kingdom took a moment following thestand4rd‘s tremendous Rock the Garden set to answer a few 8-Ball–style questions. What is your current musical obsession? I’ve been listening to a couple artists out of Atlanta: Uno the Activist and Playboi Carti. They’re dope. For the past few days, I’ve been listening to their music a lot. […]

Allan Kingdom of thestand4rd. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

Allan Kingdom of thestand4rd. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

Allan Kingdom took a moment following thestand4rd‘s tremendous Rock the Garden set to answer a few 8-Ball–style questions.

What is your current musical obsession?

I’ve been listening to a couple artists out of Atlanta: Uno the Activist and Playboi Carti. They’re dope. For the past few days, I’ve been listening to their music a lot.

What is one well-kept Twin Cities secret you don’t mind sharing?

Probably the boutique BlackBlue, on Selby and Dale. It’s a good place to shop.

Finally, you’ve achieved an incredible amount of success at a young age, and it seems like part of that stems from how original and well-developed your musical concept is. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I think I’ve always known. Even when I was little, I would be thinking about how things would sound and look on stage. It’s the one thing I’ve always wanted to do.

Eight Questions with The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger

Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, who together comprise The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT), have a unique chemistry. As both musical and romantic partners, their collaboration has inevitably drawn comparisons to other musical couples—to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and especially to Sean’s legendary parents, John and Yoko. These comparisons, however, do little justice to the freshness of […]

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The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT). Photo: Courtesy the artist

Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, who together comprise The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT), have a unique chemistry. As both musical and romantic partners, their collaboration has inevitably drawn comparisons to other musical couples—to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and especially to Sean’s legendary parents, John and Yoko. These comparisons, however, do little justice to the freshness of The GOASTT’s concept. Their music, steeped as it is in the sounds of ’60s and ’70s psychedelia, skillfully interweaves the whimsical and the dystopian, the pedestrian and the cosmic into something singular, adventurous, and immensely enjoyable. According to NPR’s Peter Macia, it is music that is “made for sunny summer weekends.”

Ahead of their Rock the Garden performance Sunday, I had the chance to ask Sean and Charlotte a few questions about their writing process, their history together, and the role of politics in their work.

Can you tell us how the name “The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger” came about?

It was the name of a play Charlotte wrote at seven years old.

You run the label Chimera Music. What led you to establish your own label?

Being at a major label felt so corporate and impersonal, so we created our own family-run label from our kitchen and basement. It was a lot more work than we realized, but ultimately very rewarding.

How has your relationship to one another, musically and personally, evolved over the course of the seven years since The GOASTT’s formation?

We’ve become fused at a subatomic level.

It is clear from the diversity of your output that your influences extend beyond psychedelic folk and rock. What are some influences or inspirations of yours that might be less apparent to listeners?

Prog rock, definitely. Classical. Experimental instrumentalists like Harry Partch, and even pop bands like The Beastie Boys. Also the surrealists, like [Salvador] Dalí and [Luis] Buñuel.

Your lyrics fuse autobiographical details with poetic musings and even Greco-Roman mythology. What is the writing process like for you? Do you write the lyrics collectively, or do you independently work on them?

We do every aspect together, so one of us may write a verse and the other may write the chorus. It’s a real Frankenstein of both our minds.

Sean, you have lent your talents to a remarkably wide range of projects, one of my favorites of which is your improvised duo with Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier. (That project culminated in the release of the phenomenal album Mystical Weapons.) Does that sort of improvisatory spirit figure into the initial stages of your songwriting process with The GOASTT, or do you take a different approach altogether?

Charlotte and I jam a lot of ideas together with her on bass and me on drums in the initial phase. Or else we both have an acoustic guitar in bed. But The GOASTT is a lot more composed than Mystical Weapons.

Charlotte, I read that when you began dating, Sean was unaware of your musical talent. When and how did that come to light?

He knew I loved music, but I was extremely shy (still am), so a year in he finally coaxed me to play him a song I had written called “Cold Sun.” After hearing it, he declared he wanted to be writing partners, but neither of us had any idea it would become so serious.

You have both been politically engaged, performing at Occupy Wall Street and penning op-eds in opposition to fracking. Would you say your activism informs your music?

We are not like the activists of the ’60s certainly, because that paradigm has changed a little, but we still are very involved with finding solutions to environmental and cultural issues. We research what’s happening in the world every day on as many sources of alternative and mainstream news possible. Humanity has its back to the wall right now, but we are a resilient species so it will be fascinating to see what plays out over the next 50 years. And yes, that post-apocalyptic melodrama does inspire our lyrics very much.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger plays Rock the Garden at 3:45 pm on Sunday, June 21.

Rock the Garden 2015 Listening Mix

In anticipation of this summer’s upcoming Rock the Garden, Walker Marketing Intern Samantha Sacks created a playlist that aims to capture the spirit of the festival’s unique lineup. These are twenty songs, both classic and contemporary, from the ten musical acts that will take the stage in July. From Afrobeat to psychedelic pop, this year’s Rock the Garden […]

Rock the Garden 2012

Rock the Garden 2012

In anticipation of this summer’s upcoming Rock the Garden, Walker Marketing Intern Samantha Sacks created a playlist that aims to capture the spirit of the festival’s unique lineup. These are twenty songs, both classic and contemporary, from the ten musical acts that will take the stage in July. From Afrobeat to psychedelic pop, this year’s Rock the Garden lineup offers a wide variety of sounds. Whether it’s the fresh faced newcomers or the seasoned pros, the festival seems to cater to folks young and old, with something for everyone finding their way to the garden this year.

Modest Mouse

“Float On” has been a massively popular hit since it was released over ten years ago. Its quirky anecdotes about life’s hassles and the positive message that “we’ll all float on okay” make this track a bit different from Modest Mouse’s typically darker moods.

In March, the band returned with their first new full-length album in eight years, Strangers to Ourselves. On “Lampshades on Fire,” lead vocalist Isaac Brock adds his classically punchy delivery to a highly danceable post-punk drumbeat. The vocals break down into numerous strands of soft, wordless sound, a technique that also appears all over Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

Belle and Sebastian

Like Modest Mouse, Scottish indie-pop outfit Belle and Sebastian have had a long career, spanning nearly 20 years. This year, they are back with their ninth studio album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. With a hypnotic ’80s synth-pop vibe, “The Party Line” is a perfect tune for any dance party.

“Lazy Line Painter Jane,” the title-track from their 1997 EP, is a classic of Belle & Sebastian’s early material. The song has the hazy groove of classic ’60s psych, along with the lo-fi pop genius of the ’80s Flying Nun discography.

Babes in Toyland

Local punk legends Babes In Toyland have also stood the test of time. They recently reunited for the first time in fourteen years. The trio will proudly represent the storied history of the Twin Cities underground this year at Rock the Garden.

“He’s My Thing” is an excellent example of the trio’s feminist subject matter. Lead vocalist Kat Bjelland screams and growls, “He’s my thing, stay away from my thing.” Clearly inspired by Patti Smith, Bjelland’s stark lyricism and vocals are totally unapologetic. Michelle Leon’s dark yet groovy bass line weaves prominently through the song.

One of the band’s most well-known songs, “Bruise Violet,” was thought to be about Bjelland’s grunge rival, Courtney Love, who almost joined the band early on in its formation. Although Bjelland denies these rumors, it’s certainly an angry song.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80

Seun Kuti, son of Nigerian afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, has led his late father’s band, Egypt 80, since he was 14 years old. Egypt 80 and many of its original members have remained together since its formation around 1980. Their latest album, A Long Way to the Beginning, takes cues from the afrobeat sounds Seun grew up with, yet manages to avoid coming off like an exercise in nostalgia.

Like all of the band’s material, “African Airways” has an incredibly funky rhythm that will undoubtedly get the whole Garden dancing.

The rhythms of each instrument in “African Solider” seem to be very complex. However, they somehow come together as a very cohesive whole. Like much of Kuti’s catalog, his lyrics here are very political, exploring Nigeria’s deep history of militarism and corruption.

J.D. McPherson

The influence of rockabilly and early soul music on J.D. McPherson is very apparent. “Let The Good Times Roll” will take you from 2015 to a 1950s prom. This track is a fun homage to the sound of the early rock n’ roll era McPherson admires so much. He still manages to give the song a modern twist with a guitar solo that nearly explodes in punk rock energy.

“North Side Gal” tells the story of how he and everyone else is “crazy about a North Side gal.” McPherson’s vocals are incredibly soulful, reminiscent of rockabilly greats like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Conor Oberst

Prolific singer-songwriter Conor Oberst has been involved in many different bands over the years, but he is best known for founding the legendary indie-folk outfit Bright Eyes. Recently, Oberst has been focusing on his solo career, releasing music under his own name and also with Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band.

“Cape Canaveral” is just one example of Oberst’s talent for heartbreaking lyricism and unclassifiable arrangements.

“Zigzagging Toward the Light” stays true to Oberst’s folk roots, with sliding guitar melodies reminiscent of the cowboy psychedelia of Lee Hazlewood and the Grateful Dead. The song ends with a furious, distorted solo, proving Oberst has the firepower to melt a festival crowd’s collective face.

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett has received much praise and attention from critics with the release of her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I just Sit. The Aussie slacker-rock goddess is anything but lazy when it comes to songwriting.

“Avant Gardener” exemplifies Barnett’s offbeat humor and surreal lyricism. She sings of her attempt to be productive by gardening, which is foiled when she ends up having an asthma attack. The song is comical, with references to Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction and clever rhymes like “Anaphylactic and super hypocondriactic.” Yet, there is also honest vulnerability in this song, as Barnett admits that she would much “prefer the mundane.”

With self-deprecating lyrics like, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” and “I’m a fake, I’m a phony, I’m awake, I’m alone, I’m homely, I’m a Scorpio,” it’s clear that Barnett isn’t trying to impress anyone. “Pedestrian at Best,” with its stream of consciousness lyricism, reveals her insecurities and inability to make up her mind. Its dark humor is met by powerful guitar riffs that seem to ramp up over and over again.

Lucius

Indie pop band Lucius consists of frontwomen Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who sing in perfect unison and perform in matching outfits. They are another newer band in this year’s Rock the Garden lineup. They made waves with their 2014 debut album, Wildewoman. Coincidentally, their album artwork, the 1964 painting Ice Cream by Belgian pop artist Evelyne Axell, is featured in the Walker’s International Pop Exhibition.

“Turn It Around” is a punchy pop gem with strong singing from Wolfe and Laessig. Their harmonies are tight, showing off the duo’s remarkable vocal control.

“Two of Us on the Run” is a stunning combination of Wolf and Laessig’s delicate vocal harmonies and two hauntingly beautiful acoustic guitars.

Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger

Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger, or GOASTT, is the duo of Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon. The band has been active since around 2008, but only recently did they release their first full length album, Midnight Sun. With parents John Lennon and Yoko Ono, it is easy to understand where Sean gets his musical and artistic chops. Not straying too far away from his Beatle father, Sean and Charlotte blend folk with a heady serving of ’60s psych-pop.

It is hard to not hear John Lennon’s iconic tone in Sean’s singing, and on the track, “Animals,” Muhl’s voice compliments it with a more ethereal sound.

It only seems fitting to include a song about a famous garden. “Jardin Du Luxembourg” is the opening track of their 2011 EP, La Carotte Bleue.  Sean and Charlotte sing delicate harmonies together throughout the entire song, pausing only for a short guitar solo.

Thestand4rd

Thestand4rd is Bobby Raps, Allan Kingdom, Psymun, and Corbin (formerly Spooky Black): a local super group of rappers, singers and producers who have joined forces to create songs that lie somewhere in between rap and indie R&B.

“Simple Needs” soothes us with the soft, melodic croons of Corbin and Allan Kingdom.

“Binoculars” is more rap-heavy than “Simple Needs.” Boasting about the group’s DIY roots, Allan Kingdom raps about how they’re all just some “kids with computers.” The beats and melodies that producer Psymun crafts are darkly smooth, creating a doubly eerie and enveloping atmosphere.

Rock the Garden has made it a tradition to showcase local favorites alongside national and international acts. Local acts like Thestan4rd and Babes in Toyland highlight the Cities’ deeply rooted DIY ethic, while acts such as Lucius and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 exemplify some of the freshest currents in contemporary independent music.

The artists of Rock the Garden 2015 share a common disregard for barriers of genre and a willingness to follow their own muse, wherever it might take them. The result is a gratifying, challenging, and remarkably eclectic array of musical output that deserves to be experienced in person.

Rock the Garden will take place at the Walker Art Center/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on June 20 and 21, 2015 from 2 – 10 pm. Tickets are available here.

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