Welcome Home, KEXP

Welcome Home, KEXP

There was a time, not that long ago, when I thought KEXP’s new home was a frivolous idea. Writing that sentence is pretty much blasphemy in this town, I know.

Not that long ago, my thinking was that KEXP’s home on Dexter wasn’t good enough, but a state-of-the-art facility costing at least $15 million (!) was a swing way too far the other way.

The issue is not that I don’t like KEXP or support it. It has it’s flaws (we all do) but there is nothing else like it in this world. The role is does and can have in music and the future of music is beyond tremendous. I do support KEXP. I love it. KEXP is the reason I got into local Hip-Hop (Street Sounds, specifically).

At the same time, musicians are struggling to sell records and get people out to shows. Those same supporters should help chip in $15 million so KEXP can have a fancy-ass new home? What about the artists?

My reasoning was damn simple: Do you guys need all that square footage, a shower room, a sleeping room and all the other bells and whistles? All this shit is great for those mid to big name touring acts that already have your favor, but how will all of this shine and perks and spending help local other up and coming bands? Will you guys remember the community when you’re sitting in your shiny new palace?

But that was then. Recently, I’ve changed my opinion.

Last week when the KEXP family marched to the new facility I realized that they are the community. KEXP has gotten big and elements of it are suffering from the size and prestige, but these people are as much a part of this city’s musical community as anyone else. And they flippin’ love KEXP. They are falling out of their chairs they are so excited for the new home. They can barely speak they’re so excited.

And it’s not just that, it’s also this: For all of it’s other worts, no one else is doing anything close to what KEXP does for emergent artists. They care. They want musicians to succeed. The support and love they’re poured into local, regional, national and global music communities cannot be questioned. KEXP gives a damn about music, and know they have the home to match their heart and vision.

KEXP’s role in music goes beyond entertainment. It even goes beyond art. To me, the most important thing they stand for is community and Seattle’s is better off now that they have a physical space worthy of their ambition.

So, here’s to KEXP, music, art, community and all of the people who have helped create this beautiful anomaly and keep it running. I love that my son will know KEXP not as a radio station but as a crusader for art, music and community.

Thank you KEXP and here’s to a magnificent 2016 and beyond [clinking beer mugs emoji].

Field Notes – Tutti Means Everybody

Field Notes – Tutti Means Everybody

The very first time I performed in front of an audience I was ten. I sat petrified alongside my fellow 5th grade violists in an uncomfortably cold gymnasium, all of us nervously smiling and holding our instruments and bows in ‘rest position.’ It was the Bozeman School Districts’ attempt at giving us youngsters an opportunity to see what it’s really like to play in a large ensemble. To our numerous dutiful supporters it probably felt like some type of twisted torture. Grandparents, squirming younger siblings, parents, and the little old lady from next door all sat and listened as we bravely played ‘Ode To Joy’ as loudly as we possibly could. The actual performance didn’t offer me many memorable take-aways, besides that no matter what, no one ever sounds good in a gymnasium. The real gold was in the process.

In preparation for this great orchestral experiment, I remember my teacher saying, “do y’all see all the little words written in the staff next to all the notes? Well those are dynamic markings and different ‘clues’ to help play the piece….. And ‘tutti’, there at the beginning, means everybody.” Then, like a powerful wizard, she raised her baton and said… “TUTTI!!”

First of all, what more adorable-sounding word could mean everybody other than ‘tutti’?! We love it! All of us found so much joy decoding the treasure map of our sheet music, the Italian dynamic markings were a favorite of mine. I thought to myself, well in reality ‘orchestra’ means tutti and since tutti means everybody, what we’re really doing here is existing in union. Yes I was into the ‘big picture’ as a weird existentially minded kid. Most importantly, this is where my philosophy of what it means to be an instrumentalist takes root. Tutti means everybody.

Shakir Rodriguez, 2014

As an instrumentalist, ensemblist, collaborator, band member etc you are a piece of this amazing moving thing, and this is the common denominator we all share. All the pieces need to be moving in union. Tutti. The movement is what we’re aiming for- that is why string sections far and wide endure the tedium of coordinating bowings, that is why composers will go to such lengths as to notate intricately how, where, and with what intention a note should be played, and this is also why Malcom Gladwell’s claim to 10,000 hours indicating mastery is a load of horse shit. It takes longer to get to absolute ‘tutti’.

In my experience, the best outcomes occur when everyone is participating in the negotiation of moving parts. Similarly to a bunch of fast moving chefs in a kitchen hollering “knife!” “Hot!”, and “behind!” Instrumentalists adopt a similar method for staving off dysfunction. The body cues, coded check ins, loud sniffs, foot taps, chin points, all function to communicate the following; “Are all the pieces movin together? Do we love it? Are you with me?…We’re movin! We’re in it! We love it!”

Over this past summer I spent a lot of wondrous time playing festivals with The local synth pop trio, The Flavr Blue. I was able to travel to NYC and play at the Brooklyn Bowl with them where Quest Love watched as we performed, (le gasp!).

Before the show, I spent some time chatting with a trombone player Jason Disu, from another band playing that night. I remember him saying, “well if you just keep saying ‘yes’ to stuff, eventually you’ll be the first person people think of and then your set, you have all the options!” I think it was made clear to me that performing these shows provided me with a new way of understanding what the role of an instrumentalist really is. When you’re all on your own playing with recordings of yourself as the harmony, the focus isn’t in the little sniffs and bowings, it’s all about your presentation. In these scenarios you really have the opportunity to close your eyes and imagine that the people in front of you are gone and just feel what’s coming. Staying versatile like this as a performer is like playing on a soccer team one day and then being a solo ice dancer the next. It’s tough.

Jason and I shared stories from music school, who we admired, and what we ideally wanted to be doing as instrumentalists. He told me about touring with David Byrne and St Vincent. We realized we actually knew some of the same people through music camps and music school connections. That little conversation of instrumentalist camaraderie made me realize something, that this wasn’t the end of the rainbow for me. I need all the lenses. Most importantly, in some shape or form I need that tutti back in my life.

Months later, thanks to the gorgeous and brilliant cellist, Natalie Mai Hall, I found myself auditioning for The Seattle Rock Orchestra.

If you ever feel like you need to witness some incredibly talented and glamorous human beings in absolute tutti… Come check us out. You can also come see me and Flavr Blue at Neumos on November 29th with Katie Kate, Cuff Lynx, and DJ Simon Thwaits. Buy tickets HERE!

#TBT #MiniMaggie

Field Notes – An Introduction to Maggie Tweedy

Field Notes – An Introduction to Maggie Tweedy

My name is Maggie and I play strings…for all things. For hotel lobbies during the holidays, for hip-hop/pop/jazz/soul/disco instrumentals in studios, on stages, on video, in university practice rooms, classrooms, on boats, on ranches, on mountains, in bars, at Boys & Girls Clubs, weddings, and radio stations. That’s what I tell people when they ask what kind of strings I play. Well not really…but that’s me, I have my strings in all sorts of projects, it’s like I’m investing to retire or something… I’m diversifying. I just love playing. From the moment I started viola I LOVED IT. I started making up my own songs, learning all the NPR jingles by ear, and tried to sleep with my instrument like it was my teddy bear. Playing viola and violin make me feel like I can communicate who I am and my identity is strongly correlated to performance art. As a performer, then, I endeavor to make a living by making myself vulnerable.

This is a story about maintaining artistic integrity while also struggling to stave off financial scarcity. This is also however a testament to my belief that regardless of what wretched monstrous slithering beasts money can turn people into, there are still human beings among them, making this whole endeavor of getting paid for what you love worth the battles with snakes.

Once the basics of form and melody are in place, what I look for in music is openness, vulnerability, and a self-curated sound, along with enough confidence and passion of delivery to save me from becoming embarrassed on behalf the artist. Recently at Town Hall, Dr. Cornel West made a far too familiar phenomenon clear by stating, “there are plenty of individuals making hundreds of thousands of dollars who can NOT sing in tune […] do you really think your soul can be satisfied with music made since 2001?!” Hell no!

Dr. Cornel West, Town Hall Seattle, October 9, 2014

I believe that when we love art and love what we do, we love hard. But the challenge and danger with love is that it is always in close relationship with death. To love hard is to be willing to sacrifice something to be a part of something greater, sacrificing our precious popularity for something bigger than ourselves.

That being said, there have been times when I’ve felt let down by our creative community. Where I previously believed a group to be ‘loving hard’ I will be wrong. There are artists who call ‘exposure’ payment enough… even though in reality you’re the one who can’t seem to understand why a recently emerging band would think they’re doing you a favor by hiring you to play for free…. These occurrences lead me away from believing that all artists ‘love hard.’ Because where hype is king, being vulnerable for a living really sucks. I’ve engaged in some pretty severe self-preservationist defensive behavior lately…outlined perfectly by the following rant-ish train of thought…

“I’m sorry you guys, my mother never let me consume Kool Aid… It’s fake shit. Like the scene/hype/exposure you’re offering to pay me with for contributing my degree-earning 17-years-of-training-and-counting musical work to your ‘project’… Nope you’re doing me NO favors. I’m walking away as far as my two feet and any means of philosophical educational and artistic transportation can take me. You are toxic to the world of art!! I’m leaving you to drown and crystallize in your swimming pool of synthesized flavored Kool Aid! ”

Recently, in this fatalistic disillusioned mindset, I thought I’d go shake some people down for the money they owed me for my work, cause you know, I’m broke and mad… and I want more from this life. One of those people happened to be a hip-hop artist who’s gaining major attention outside Seattle and who’s charismatic performances have had audiences circling up and sitting criss-cross applesauce in the middle of Cap Hill Block Party.

When we worked together earlier this summer, I came away from the session exhausted, inspired, and satisfied. I like to call that a mark of integrity. When your body is exhausted, it went into your work, when your soul is full, that’s what your work gave you. That’s what this shit is all about. LOVING HARD.

Still though, I’m always ready to go to battle with snakes, and when July goes by… no check, I send an email. When August goes by… no check, I send another, maybe ‘less friendly’ email. When September and half of October go by and no check though, I’m convinced I’m being misused and all of a sudden the fulfillment and satisfaction I felt in June is out the door, down the street, and around the corner…cause I am sending the email of emails.

In the middle of the night last week I drafted an email using the scariest Sallie Mae inspired wordage I could muster… threatening him with the people I know, I threw character judgements his way, and the worst… threatened him with never-ending emails until he decided to act on his word. Then I clicked ‘send’.

The battle had begun….

Eight hours and three long emails later I got a phone call. I answered and heard “before you say anything let me just apologize…..” An hour and a half goes by. In that period of time, we talk about our artistic philosophy, the ways we’ve been screwed over, and the reasons we had become so armed to go to battle against each-other. We became friends. And yesterday morning I woke up to a check under my doormat….Serious.

If this is how I’m going to find the real human beings among the monsters, I’m okay with that. Because you’ve gotta dig through and rip open a lot of oysters to find the pearl of enlightenment. Walking away from projects, partnerships, and leaving nasty fruit on the ground is okay. The Kool Aid is always going to be there at the open bar, and we’re all liable to sip it. To sit back in our contrived peanut gallery and throw shade on all those guzzling fake flavors of Popularity and Fame is not healing or solving anything either. The love train of our creative community leaves regardless, better get on! Give yourself some recognition and credit for waking up and shaking off your sugar high, and ‘love hard’…that is the real nurturing we need.