Splitting the Bill

On the Green Sundress Tour, Penn and I traveled with Earl of Evenings who played as our opening act. And while it was great to tour with another musician, by the Indiana flat lands the monotony of shows took a toll on all of us. Though seemingly irrelevant, consistently having one opener and one headliner for multiple shows in a row can get frustratingly repetitive for everyone. As both a performer and audience member, I think split bills can be a way to create more engaging shows on the road. The split bill creates diversity for the musicians as acts can switch off who goes first and who goes second, third, etc. at every show. This little bit of variation helps keep every set fresh and when a group is on the road for a while every little thing is helpful.

As an audience member I consider the potential to see two indie acts of equal repute a more tempting ticket to buy or show to attend than one with a headliner and a band that I know isn’t going to be the same quality or, if they end up blowing the headliner away, have a full set. This could admittedly just be because I’m stingy and like trying to get the most out of what I spend, but unless I’m seeing a band with national or regional pull the differences in quality and preparation between the opening and main acts tend to be vast. Obviously, as with everything, there are exceptions to the rule, and I acknowledge that I’m speaking here in generalizations. Also, while  it’s traditional for someone to warm up a crowd and build up the anticipation for the main event, the access to music and music media now generates hype for shows and high expectations for fans before they even get in the door.

As a touring musician, split bills are easier to market and book for indie acts. When I’m traveling out of town people who have never heard of me are more attracted to a full night of music and performances, than a concert with one or two unknown performers. Venues understand this too and want to what will draw in the most business for them, so if I reach out to booking agents with a full bill, preferably including some local support, the likelihood of getting the gig goes up exponentially.

Split bills also breed a healthy competition that keep shows interesting for the audience. Music, like anything, can be competitive and when acts are swapping their slots it’s up to each act to play their best. There’s a story about Wu-Tang battling each other in practices to see who’d get to perform their feature songs, and I think something like this can be replicated by indie bands on their tours. Especially if bands are from different areas (this might be more specific to instate or localized tours like Mountain to Sea since getting bands from different states together to tour is out of most indie budgets) then the band without local draw has more incentive to put on a show that will hold the attention of people who have never heard their music.

There are obviously a lot of difficulties in creating split bills. Anyone who has ever tried to do anything involving multiple people, let alone booking, knows that the more people you add to the equation the more complicated it becomes. It’s much easier to coordinate things with one or two people. Another practical issue is that indie bands need money and creating a big bill means less of a payout per performer because there’s a larger split. For this, I admittedly can offer no suggestions or solutions. Money can be a point of contention, so my only advice is that when you negotiate the deal make sure everyone understands, there are a lot of people involved so assuming can quickly lead to conflict.

Then of course there’s always the perennial problem of split bills: keeping the crowd for the whole set. Audience retention is one of the most difficult aspects of this show arrangement since people will leave once they see the specific band they came to see. One solution to this problem, which really only functions smoothly with acoustic or lo-fi acts, is to have a round robin style performance where musicians switch off every two or three songs. Having done this a few times I think it has both advantages and disadvantages. While it’s nice to switch things up and keep the audience’s attention with fresh faces and fresh sounds, the determent is that no performer has the ability to create a set with a full arch. I know that whenever I make set lists I move through very specific themes and tones, but in round robins, I have to stitch together three pieces that fit as a package. While there’s still a small arch that can be made, and also a disjointed overall one, the grandiose is sacrificed.

But like anything in the indie scene, do it yourself. I want to advocate for a different way of doing things, especially if a band starts to feel they’re hitting a plateau in the performances. Don’t be afraid to switch up the way shows are organized, because sometimes little fixes like that can make the big picture so much more complete.

-Welch

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Please Read Responsibly

One of the biggest arguments in contemporary literature is that author intent is irrelevant. No matter what meaning an author believes their text to have, once it’s out in the world the only thing that matters is the meaning the reader extracts from it because the reader is the one truly engaging with the text. I find this argument compelling, especially in regards to my on-going project @SocialLit because the potential exists, through retweets and shares, for a person in a different country and/or culture to read a poem I’ve tweeted and therefore approach the piece in a completely different context than I could anticipate.

If I take this idea to be true, that author intent isn’t as important as the reader’s interpretation, then I think it’s only fair to ask an audience to read responsibly. On social media sites, especially Facebook it seems, people are more apt to share and comment on articles or pieces that bother them than the ones they actually enjoy. And don’t misinterpret this, I believe this is important. Critique is evidence of a healthy literary culture, which is why when people lament the loss of literature or literary thinking in America my news feed, in a strange way, reassures me that it is alive and well. But critique is only one aspect. The potential exists for a news feed to be used as a kind of literary, and blogerary if you will, salon. It’s a space where people can promote the writings and ideas they feel deserve a platform for display. In saying this, I don’t mean to suggest that a person shouldn’t read and comment on writing that challenges their own opinions or biases, because that would be ignorance, what I’m arguing for is balance.

It’s important that we, as an educated society, are talking both about what we like (pun somewhat intended) and dislike. It’s easy to take for granted how effectively emotions are expressed and shared through a social media presence. All those spiritual quotes about the energy you put out being what you get back have never been more pertinent to an age than ours. For example, if I tweet something out of anger or sorrow, I am literally putting that emotion and information out into the public for anyone, anywhere, to read. And that tweet, when read, can influence someone’s thoughts, even if only for a second or two. I make every attempt to be conscious in the way I use sites like Twitter and Facebook because even though what I write or say can be taken a number of ways, I want to do my best to keep my presence positive and productive.

-Welch

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Midnight Musings: Crowd Surfing

I recently moved to New York City, Bushwick to be specific. After finally settling into my new apartment and finding a job, I decided it was high time to start exploring the open mic scene and finding places to read my work. Earlier this week I was slotted late on an open mic. I was tired after my first day of work and was ready to go home. I felt pretty low energy by the time I got on stage and since there weren’t many people left in the bar I didn’t think my stage presence, being visibly exhausted, was a big deal.

Then I remembered that old adage in performance: Perform for the crowd. This doesn’t mean pandering to the audience, what it means is that whether it’s one or one-hundred people listening, as a performer and entertainer I have a responsibility to give whatever audience is present my best possible performance. So I bucked up, drank some free water and opened with “Marathon Monday” which is one of my favorite pieces to do in a new venue.

The next morning I was thinking about the open mic. Beyond my feeling of responsibility, the advent of Vine and Snapchat, let alone the perennial power of YouTube, have made consistency even more important to a performer’s success. If there is only a single person in a venue that sole listener has the potential to reach hundreds of people. The audience of a video, or any virtual piece of information, sent out by an individual is limitless. It’s possible that it’ll make it to the friends of the person filming, then to their friends, and their friends and a few more friend circles out. And while this by no means implies that the video will go viral, it does mean that the work will have been viewed by a group people who, at a certain degree, are pretty much strangers to one another. The difference is that the crowd is in their own rooms rather than packed into the venue.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no delusions of grandeur. I don’t believe that my performance that night had any shockingly discernible effects on my career. But as a poet in today’s world I need be mindful and make every opportunity I have to read into a performance I’d want people anywhere in the world to see.

-Welch

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The Southern Gothic Strikes Back

Southern Gothic is back and better than ever. The aesthetic is coming back into style on a national scope. The movement has begun to permeate all different forms of popular art and media. The ghost of William Faulkner is alive (in a manner of speaking) and well, reviving the literary tradition he perfected.

Like the classic Southern Gothic, this resurgence still plays on the decaying land and lineage of prominent families and the old southern aristocracy. But now the landscapes depicted are condemned manufacturing plants and massive oil refineries and the aristocracy are the dying wealthy or corrupt politicians vying for more power. While the original Southern Gothic was in many ways a reaction to reconstruction and the influence of carpet baggers moving into the south, this revival might well be a response to the current influx of Yankees, like my family and I, moving out of the New England and Mid-Atlantic rust belt in search of jobs and a cheaper cost of living. While obviously things have been flipped on their head (now the northerners are fleeing the north) the population statistics remain the same. Within a few years’ time the town I moved to in North Carolina had more north eastern transplants than locals living in it.

This contemporary Southern Gothic aesthetic shows the effects drug trafficking and gangs, of prostitution, unemployment and the consequences, especially in more rural areas, of rapid urbanization and a greater amount of centralization in the deep south. It responds to natural disasters and, subsequently, the crumbling infrastructure and variable economy of the south’s coastal, river, and delta communities. And perhaps most importantly of all, it continues to present and represent, albeit rarely in a positive light, a part of American culture that is often labeled as backwards by the American public.

In many ways, Hip-hop is leading the way in utilizing and reinventing the Southern Gothic with music videos. Take for example School Boy Q’s music video What They Want where viewers are led through one of the famous New Orleans above ground grave yards and confronted with the image of skeleton figures walking between the raised graves and modern day New Orleans. Or Earl Sweatshirt’s Hive music video where the images of nature’s perverse qualities, an important component of the Southern Gothic style, are manifested throughout by brief, verging on subliminal, images such as the two dogs getting it on in the middle of a desolate street. The visuals in these music videos are reminiscent of the grotesque and paranormal imagery in the classic Southern Gothic, but they recast the images in today’s world.

TV and film are also huge players in the Southern Gothic revival. This is due in part because the south, especially Louisiana and North Carolina, offer massive tax breaks and incentives for film crews, making the region a more prevalent setting. Television shows such as True Detectives which depicts occult killings in rural Louisiana and True Bloods which pits vampires in small town Louisiana epitomize the new Southern Gothic. Strange tales of horror set against failed bureaucracies, such as a state police department that still answers to evangelical leaders, and unsustainable or otherwise doomed institutions.

Films such as Mud set in Arkansas and Beasts of the Southern Wild set in Louisiana are contemporary examples of the strange mysticism, a kind magical realism if you will, that permeates Southern Gothic literature. Their events, characters, and setting aren’t necessarily out of the realm of possibility, but like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County the places and their inhabitants don’t seem entirely of our world.

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Along with all these serious revivals the Southern Gothic is being parodied more frequently. We are seeing this aesthetic, as a classic cliché, being played upon and made light of more and more. As silly of examples as they might be, contemporary B movies like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, where the main villains are a society of vampires living in mansions on decaying plantations or Tucker & Dale VS Evil which creates a comedic flip of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s expectations. Movies like these are important as any valid movement needs a satire of itself.

Now I’m just hoping that the literary world follows suit on a wider range. I’m sure there are some works that are using and advancing this style, I just honestly don’t read enough contemporary fiction. If anyone reading this blog knows of any current authors who are writing in this style please leave me some comments or links to their stories or titles. All in all, I’m excited to see the resurgence of a literary aesthetic and the writing that it will create, like the eerie possibility of A Rose for Emily set in the era of Instagram!

-Welch

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Poetry and the Private Sector

My good friend Bobby Crawford recently had his poem “Subaru Lover” go viral. His poem has found it’s way onto a lot of different blogs and news sites and has over 15,000 views. A comment on Jezebel, one of the sites that picked up the poem, suggested Bobby should pitch Subaru the idea of using his piece in one of their advertisements. I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

While Subaru, which traditionally has a very family oriented company identity, might not make use of the more sexual portions of Bobby’s poem, the overall message about the courage it takes to find your own identity would certainly appeal to their brand. And at the very least they could include Bobby’s mannerisms and energetic performance into sections of a stylized montage, similar to Honda’s #LoveToday campaign.

There’s recently been a trend of companies using poetry in their marketing campaigns:

There’s the iPad Air commercial which quotes from Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” and begins with a narrator discussing the importance of poetry.

Levi’s go forth campaign includes, Whitman’s “O Pioneers!”, Whitman’s “America”, and Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart

And while it’s more personal essay than poem, North Face recently ran an ad using a famous quote from John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra.”

Though admittedly the poets these ads use, Whitman and Bukowski, are two of America’s most recognizable poets that doesn’t mean there isn’t a space for contemporary poets to get their pieces into advertising. In the same way many indie bands get their funding and break out success from having their music played on advertisements, so too could poets with their writing.

Poetry has started returning to the popular conscious, largely through the growth of the Slam Poetry scene, so it makes sense that advertisers are beginning to use pieces of writing in their commercials. And poets should reap the benefits of these advertisements. While the argument of “selling out” weighs on most artists minds, there’s nothing ignoble or degrading about making a living off of what you love doing. Business is the art of America and marketing is a persuasive art just like poetry, instead of selling a product though poets peddle emotion. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible for a contemporary American poet to avoid product placement when writing in a culture so inundated with consumerism. For example: it’s more vivid and telling for a speaker or character in a piece to be drinking a Sprite than a soda. When poets use specific products in their work they’re establishing a relationship, whether intentional or not, between themselves and the company that manufactures that item; a relationship that could be reciprocated and financially beneficial for both parties.

Another intersection of poetry and business is patronage. With everyone competing for residency spots and grant funds it makes sense to start looking elsewhere for money and support for a project, for example applying for the Amtrak Residency instead of a travel grant. A big argument against this is the corporate bias, having to compile work that the company can use at their discretion and that doesn’t tarnish their reputation. I agree that any amount of censorship or pre-determined agendas that go into a work seriously undermines its message and integrity, but I don’t think this bias is exclusive to the funding a poet can receive from industry. As a poet today, you’re either going to have to appeal to an institution’s (university, think-tank or otherwise) bias or the current government’s agenda to receive a grant so no matter what route a poet takes there will always be someone or some board of people, to appease. Dylan said it best, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody”.

Admittedly, not everyone is interested in having their work broadcast to people. Some poets write for personal reasons and are content with the private sense of accomplishment they find in their work. But for those who are invested in being heard and/or read, advertisements present the widest possible distribution for work. Not only does this have the potential to help a poet’s career, but perhaps it’s a way for poetry to truly impact culture as a whole. The biggest problem with advertising today is its hedonism and the culture of greed and mass consumption it promotes. But with more and more poetry finding its way into ads maybe the messages these works have will start not only changing the minds of people watching, but the people creating, writing, and filming the ads as well.

-Welch

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The Teaching Trap

I work as a teaching assistant at an Adaptive Education school. It’s my first full-time, “real world”, job and I started it immediately after graduating Emerson College last December. When applying for the position I had personal experience with mental illness and volunteer work with the organization Best Buddies, but my degree  is a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing with a focus in Poetry and my Minor is in History. The thought of becoming a teacher or professor has always been in the back of my mind, but something that I imagined would be a long way down the line.

Yet, after getting this entry level, if you will, position in the school, I find myself being pushed by my family and some of my friends to pursue teaching sooner rather than later. And in their defense, their reasons are pretty good: pursuing a career with tons of fellowships and scholarships for graduate school, postponing my current loans during grad school, starting a career at a young age, applying for loan forgiveness as a teacher. All of these are incredibly rational points and the career path is realistic. But if I commit to becoming a teacher, to pursuing a Master’s in Education and then state licensing, I would be sacrificing my poetry. I understand that’s about as much of a generic 22 year old statement as any reader might hope to find on a blog, but bear with me.

For people who go to college intending to teach, that’s great, in fact, that’s better than great it’s inspiring. Furthermore, I’m not ruling out the legitimacy of falling in love with something a person might do on a whim. But in my case, instead of immediately pursing a degree in education, I’d like to work this teaching assistant position until I build up publishing credentials and can study for my GRE’s, then enter into an MFA program or a Master’s program in English, Comparative Literature, or some other field relevant to my passion. And that seems like just as legitimate of a plan. Albeit, I’ll be living check to check for a few years longer, but I’ll be taking the next step in my artistic career. It might only be the ego in me that thinks my time would be better spent pursuing poetry, but what I know for a fact is that I’m finding it more and more difficult to muster the strength and concentration to write after working a full time education job. And this is a position that I can keep separate from my personal life, so I can’t imagine the difficulty of writing with the commitment of a teacher. By which I mean bringing home work to grade, creating lesson plans, communicating with parents, etc. all of which is done, not during paid school hours, but on personal time.

The looming shadow of student debt has already sent many of my friends and fellow 2014 graduates who had no initial intention of becoming educators on the teaching trajectory. People graduating with English and Creative Writing degrees are entering right into Graduate school to become English teachers, Ph.D programs to become professors, or else committing to volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps or Teach for America, because they don’t know how else to make a living. Maybe this is because people scoff at what a person can accomplish with a liberal arts or humanities degree. I’m guilty of it too, the self-deprecating humor of a college senior who is realizing all too quickly that the world doesn’t care about his attempts to reinvent the sonnet. Or does it? I see so many state and government sponsored ads saying things to the effect of: “The nation needs teachers”. Which is certainly true, but the nation also needs innovators.

Rather than wasting time joking about how dismal my employment opportunities were, I should have joked that everyone needs to communicate effectively, so as a writer it’ll be easy pickings. The dejected post-modern sense of irony has sapped the confidence out of some of the most brilliant people I know. I titled this piece “The Teaching Trap”, not because the job itself is a trap, but because the mentality that leads many young people, and young writers especially, into this career right away is one. And obviously this isn’t only detrimental to the people who, as a last resort, pursue careers in education, but also to the students they will be teaching who deserve someone who is passionate about being in front of a class. Because passion is the only economic stimulus we, as a country, can count on. If people as a whole continue playing it safe and only doing what it takes to get by then our economy and society, by extension, will only get by, remain stagnant, and won’t grow. This is why I intend to follow through with poetry.

I’d still like to teach at some point in my life. It’s been an exhilarating and inspiring experience just being a TA. I’ve already learned so much from the students I work with, that the job is a re-education in and of itself. Also the performer in me loves being in front of a class because it’s a lot like being on stage and a lesson plan is just another kind of set list. But I want a life and experiences to teach from first and I want to be able to fully commit myself to teaching, because otherwise no one, myself included, will learn a thing.

-Welch

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The Happy Infinite

Earlier this month, Charlotte based singer-songwriter, Grey Revell, released a new EP called The Happy Infinite. Grey is a good friend of mine and go-to music producer, but he’s also one of my favorite songwriters. His discography extends back to the late 90s. While there isn’t a pedestrian release in the bunch, Infinite seems to be a significant stride towards a brave new aesthetic for the singer-songwriter.

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Over the past year Grey has been stepping his game up. He’s assembled a team of superb musicians to act his backing band, the Roman Candles; Rodney Wallin on Bass Guitar, Daniel Jackson on Drums, Matt Stache on Keys/Synth. Grey has spun the himself and the group a web of performances, interviews and recording sessions over the last few months, with the appetite of a fresh, new artist. However, while it may appear as though Grey feels he has something to prove, he’s already compiled quite an impressive resume.

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As a key figure in the legendary NYC Anti-Folk movement, Revell spent his twenties in a kind of utopian, artistic tundra of continual self-expression and bold creativity. Alongside noteworthy acts like Kimya Dawson and Regina Spector, Grey and his collective of quirky Anti-Folksters flocked around the Lower Eastside of Manhattan in the late 90s and early 00s.

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After relocating to the South East he’s established himself as a prominent figure in Charlotte NC’s local music community. From his sound engineering work with many prominent local acts, to his producing an album and touring with folk legend, Paleface, he’s earned quite the reputation in artistic circles. In 2012, Grey Revell’s song “Gone, Gone” was picked up by HP for advertisement purposes and has since catapulted his solo career back into action.

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The Happy Infinite was recorded over a period of four months. The EP acts as the first part of Revell’s ambitious plan; releasing a triad of EPs in 2014. While Grey’s contemplative wording and brilliant structuring were a familiar face on this new EP, The Happy Infinite is set apart from its discographical family in instrumentation and overall sonic character. There are distinct elements of spaciousness and adventurism are persistent from start to finish, no doubt a conscious effort by Revell and his visionary producer Rob Tavaglione(Catalyst Recordings). 

Blake, the track that kicks off this EP, an upbeat rock anthem that boasts of busy electric leads, a massive chorus and synth wizardry.

What follows is Return of Red Cat, a groovy, acoustic indie rock singalong, lyrically centered around a concept Revell conceived himself. If I understand the new found symbolism correctly, a Red Cat is to optimism as a Black Cat is to pessimism.

Santa Cruz continues the progression of the EP and provides of more organic platform for the musicians to display their talent. A constant piano line tags along with Grey’s clever lyrics (“I’d be a monkey trying to save a fish from drowning”).

Floating Lanterns serves as Happy Infinite’s stirring conclusion. It’s reverb-coated instrumentation is reminiscent of track 1, while it’s energy level remains consistent with track 3. Lyrically, Floating Lanterns is the kind of ballad that can evoke emotion without over sentimentalizing. The overall content is neither a defeatist sob-fest nor does it provoke brain dead, love-story optimism. The message is simple; beautiful moments tend to pass too quickly…

…as does this EP. I’m greatly anticipating the second installment.

If you have a few minutes, I strongly urge you give this record a thorough listen. I promise it won’t be something you’ll regret. If you’re into supporting local art, I’d encourage you to buy it. Find it on iTunes, Amazon, emusic, etc.

Keep up with Grey Revell and his Roman Candles by following subscribing to their official Facebook and Twitter pages.

-Penn

P.S. Floating Lanterns is my favorite track on the EP. I decided to do a quick cover video:

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