City Arts: Every Night, Every Day

(Published in CityArts)

Underneath the iconic red Farmer’s Market sign, among flying fish, fresh-cut tulips, steaming cinnamon rolls and tourists with outstretched camera phones—that’s where you find “the spot.” Early every morning, Annie Ford wakes up to claim it before the other Pike Place buskers, schlepping her washtub bass by bicycle. There she meets Greg Paul and Joe Fulton, her cohorts in the Pike Place Revelers, a trio of banjo, fiddle and bass. Ford plants her foot on the overturned basin as they start into “Hey Good Looking,” her right hand plucking the taut rope, her voice echoing down the famous cobbled thoroughfare.

For more than ten years, four or five days a week, Ford’s busked at Pike Place Market, a recognizable face to visitors. The Revelers specialize in old-time music of the early 20th century, crooning in thirds and picking to classic folk tunes. An hour at a time, per the Market Association’s rules, they play in one of 13 spots designated with a painted music note. When this hour is up, the Revelers will move to another locale. For now, couples stop to listen, gleeful children dance and a woman drops a dollar into the banjo case.

This is Ford’s day job. When evening comes and the market closes down, Ford goes to work on her own stuff. Her songs for the Annie Ford Band are different than what she busks—rootsy Americana, frauht with personal storylines and stylistic risk.

Ford was first exposed to music by her mother, who sang to Beatles records and played a giant wooden pump organ, while growing up in rural Virginia. In 5th grade she picked up the fiddle, which she still plays, along with guitar, banjo, piano, ukulele, washtub bass and accordion. Though she’s only recently become comfortable with singing, her voice is sweet and clear with a touch of classic country gruff. There’s a sorrow in the way she sings, and in what she sings about.  She’s especially drawn to the vibrancy of darker stories and minor-key songs.

“Those songs are a deep well of suffering,” she says, “but also really beautiful.”

Later this spring, the Annie Ford Band will release an album of originals. The project is a processing of grief for Ford, who lost friends and collaborators in the 2012 Café Racer shooting. She and her husband Matt Manges were in groups with victims Drew Keriakedes and Joe Albanese, including the punk-klezmer Nu Klezmer Army and Circus Contraption, a one-ring vaudevillian circus. As Ford explains, “the boys” were essential in bringing her into Seattle’s musical fold.

“Crocodile Skin” is written in their memory. Ford sings with Manges in heart-wrenching harmony, “The sun drips into the scarlet sea/The starfish will light the way/To the sands of haunted shores/Where you can rest your weary souls.” The slow-lapping mood harshens into a fiddle-driven middle section, mirroring the tumult of grief. In the end, she finds her way to some peace, and the message, “I’ll meet you when the seas rise/When the burnin’ tears no longer fall.”

As she recounts the memory of writing the song, Ford fidgets in her chair. Her vulnerability is surprising, given that this is the woman who, decrying the all-male bill she was playing at the Tractor Tavern awhile back, bought a sausage and waved it around on stage. She’s infamous as Annie “Fuckin’” Ford, and yet she’s as tender as she is sharp.

Ford has four minutes until she starts busking again—just enough time to wash down our afternoon chat with a couple of Bushmills on the rocks. Then she hustles to the front of the original Starbucks, where a line of people stretches out the door and around the corner. Greg Paul is already waiting there, tuning his banjo. Ford sets down her washtub, clears her throat, and gets back to work.

– See more at: http://www.cityartsonline.com/articles/every-night-every-day#sthash.5oUpUuee.dpuf

Smartists: Esperanza Spalding

Smartists: Meet Esperanza Spalding

Musician Esperanza Spalding would rather handwrite me a letter. She admits this while fiddling with her mic that’s causing loud static in my phone receiver. I tease her, “Shouldn’t one of the best performing musicians of our time know how to use a mic?” She laughs, but this conundrum unintentionally gets at the heart of her newest project, Emily’s D+Evolution, due out in March 2016. Spalding’s funky, electric, political album, and it’s main character, Emily, contemplate a question at the center of life in the 21st century: how do we reconcile our primal nature with our cultural society?

Spalding grew up in Portland, OR, as a sickly kid who spent a lot of time home alone overdubbing harmonies on a tape player. “When my mom came home [from work] I’d show her everything that I’d done…she [encouraged music] as play,” she says.

Her first “taste” of what later became adoration of the acoustic bass and improvisational music came from an afternoon of watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In one particular episode, Yo-Yo Ma played a Bach piece on the cello. “I was five and I had never seen or heard a live acoustic instrument being played,” she said, “I was just tripped out… I was completely captivated and I knew I wanted to do it.”

So she did, working her way through Berkelee School of Music, putting out recording projects, and eventually going on to win the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011. She’s even garnered several high honors, like playing at the White House for President Obama. The accolades have by no means capped or flattened her creative journey though, as she continues to extend herself into new realms, more challenging and interesting than ever.

This project is her most experimental and conceptual to date, and it all started as a vague inkling of a character: Emily. Over the past year, she’s explored Emily, a character named for Spalding’s middle name, and the philosophy of D+Evolution.  Spalding said, “Since she doesn’t have an independent body, I’m offering my songwriting skills, my musicianship, my voice and my ability to manifest things in the physical realm. I’m lending all of those things to her sound and her character.”

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Emily’s D+Evolution is more than a recording project, it’s an awakening of her inner child. It’s an audio portrait stretching Spalding beyond music and into storytelling through acting, staging, and movement. As a consequence, the project won’t be fully actualized until she takes the album (with its performance aspect) on tour. “I realize that a lot of what Emily’s here to do is to explore modes of expressions that I was curious about as a child… [as a kid] I would lie about everything and somehow keep the [identities] organized so people would believe the identities… I loved acting and creating little worlds to invite people into,” she said.

The process of creating Emily’s D+Evolution has further clarified authentic self for Esperanza, who is humble, self-aware, and well-spoken, despite admitting to feeling like “this floating head in the dark” most of the time. She stays grounded through hard work and friendship.

“Maybe the scariest and hardest thing to do is to forge ahead when you have no idea what’s going to happen and the only anchors that I know of are work and friendship. The work is beautiful because you hold the reins—if… you did a bad job, you always know that you can work on it. You always know you can do the research and put in the time and it’s absolutely going to get better. Friends on the other hand, equally important, are amazing because they see you in a way that you can’t see yourself. And often, are able to fill in the blank of what you’re not seeing that may be in your way, or another perspective that gives you a hand,” Spalding says.

Emily’s D+Evolution has been a friend to Spalding, as well as an immense amount of work. She is currently collaborating with director Will Weigler to perfect the performance aspect, set to go on the road in 2016. She is so close to bringing this ambitious art piece to fruition and her enthusiasm is palpable.

“It’s almost like everything that I think about in my life that’s important to me, Emily’s looking at those issues through the prism of D+Evolution… Emily has struck on an idea that is really resonant right now… where is it okay to embrace our instincts and what we are as humans? How do we balance that with being a developed, civilized member of a community? I think there’s a lot of juice there, [but] I’ll only be satisfied if I can show it. That’s my main wish for this project is that we can show it and that it is rich, as rich as it can be.”

Here’s your first look at Emily’s D+Evolution in Spalding’s video for “Good Lava,” that recently premiered on NPR:

For more information on Esperanza Spalding, her new album, and her upcoming tour, visit her website.

All photos by Holly Andres.

Smartists: Mindie Lind

(Article link, here)

Mindie Lind’s music glistens with intention, deliberation and style, and yet she says for the longest time she wasn’t conscious of her musicality. For all intents and purposes, Mindie’s exposure to music was a fluke, hinging on her adoption into a church-going family and then her coincidental friendships with “music makers” as a young adult. Now, she writes consciously, releasing stunning music videos as the visual backbone to her sound; an intersection between classic country, vulnerable poeticism, and straight-out-of-the church piano that is both unique and down-home, just like Mindie.

Mindie was born without legs and with six fingers. At a year old, she was adopted into a large Southern Baptist family and raised among many other adoptive children. Unfortunately, she says, she never felt the belonging and loving environment that family is supposed to provide. “I think for a lot of people, family is where you know ‘sameness’ and what relating feels like. The outside world is what different looks like. For me, family was so much about differences—I had blonde siblings, fat siblings, black siblings—nobody really looked like me, “ she said.

Her adoptive family did give her one positive thing—proximity to music through their church. “I grew up singing solos in church choir, and music was always there for me,” Mindie says. She also took piano lessons and played French horn in the orchestra, and yet, she never considered going into music as a career. Once in college, religion faded but music became an more vital part of her social life.

“Growing up it was all gospel acapella, orchestral, and some 90’s pop music on my own time. My parents didn’t listen to the Beatles, I didn’t know anything about them. When I got to college, it was Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan and all that stuff. I just went down the American music train. It blew my skull off,” she said.

When Mindie moved to Seattle after graduating college, she found herself wanting to participate. Eventually, she was singing along at jam sessions, playing piano and “accidentally” writing songs. “I do not know how it happened, but all my friends [in Seattle] were music makers. They were writing music and playing traditional stuff—which actually interacted a lot with my past because a lot of traditional American songs have roots in gospel—so I would sing along.”

I DID THIS BECAUSE I KNEW I COULD DO IT. I WENT FOR IT BECAUSE I THOUGHT I REALLY DID HAVE A CHANCE.

Since then, she’s written dozens of songs and she performs often. Perhaps her biggest accomplishment is becoming one of Lena Dunham’s go-to musicians and friends after submitting to an open call on Dunham’s website. “She chose people from certain towns to [go on her book tour with her]. She chose me and I was surprised in a way, but I also thought, “I did this because I knew I could do it. I went for it because I thought I really did have a chance,” she said.

Since, Mindie’s career has continued to take off, but she’s stayed in touch with the grounded girl she is; the person everyone wants to be friends with. More literally, she’s usually close to the ground, riding her skateboard as her main mode of transportation.

As Mindie says, “It’s a lot about convenience but it really is a politicized move… The conversation is not, ‘do you need help?’ but ‘that’s a neat way to get around.’ Which is just as patronizing, but I think it’s doing more.”

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Mindie embodies “do you” to the maximum degree, but it’s not always easy. Curiously, it’s not her physical anomaly that makes it hard for her to be herself, but the way the world isolates people with no legs. As Mindie says, disability is a social condition–she is only “disabled” because she is without legs in a world that is made for people with legs.

“On a good day I get off on [not having legs], it can be the coolest. Everyone dyes their hair and wears this thing to be different and I just am. That is neat and that’s a privilege,” she says, “But on a bad day, it’s like ‘screw you I’m not your clown.’ I don’t want any of that responsibility…People are blinded by inaccurate stories about disability they’re being told again and again, and make me a symbol. It weighs on me.”

On the hard days, Mindie says it’s an awareness of her internal monologue that can help her center herself again, as well as spending time with people who make her feel supported. But perhaps most importantly, she reminds herself to believe in the good stuff that people see in her. This can be hard, especially because she says she can never know if people see her as an object of disability or a creator of art.

WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK IS REALLY NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

“There aren’t really any success stories of people with disability who perform that aren’t mostly being pimped out because of what their physical form does to people. And because of that, it’s always a question for me of is their reaction actually in touch with what I’m creating or with the other stuff? Nobody really knows, and what other people think is really none of your business. But I still think about it and find it confusing.”

In the next few years, Mindie has plans to continue releasing more music and music videos (including this one shot live video she did for Smart Girls with Project Girl Crush contributor Genevieve Pierson). Another life goal that is important to her is to develop a disabled character for TV, one that is intentional about projecting a more complex, unseen side of what she calls “real cripp life.” To follow her music go to her website, and for her other endeavors follow Mindie on Twitter @mindielind.

City Arts: Fired Up

The last time Whitney Lyman performed at Barboza, the half-empty audience was freezing its collective ass off, fighting blasts from the industrial fans that the venue people were determined to keep on high. The irony was thick as Lyman belted out the song “Firebreather” as everyone stood shivering in their mid-July clothes. But Lyman’s dreamy folk-pop charmed the audience into docility, swaddled by her enchanting voice and creative vision.

Lyman writes music like a surrealist paints, layering the bizarre and the divine into one mind-expanding canvas. Drawing on an array of influences from Brandi to Queen, her stuff is the musical equivalent of a melting Dali clock. Her song “Laser Beam” blends the clear, precise vocals of ‘90s pop with intricate string parts and a floating triplet feel that lands surprisingly in fast duple, as she sings, “Crazy in love, like an ally-oop!” Lyman went to music school and knows how to flout the rules.

Lyman lives a life in motion. Among her close-knit Mormon family, she says she’s the black sheep. Most of her family still lives within a few blocks of each other in Pocotello, Idaho. It was unheard of for her to move miles away. But seven years ago, she felt a pull to Seattle and to Cornish College of the Arts, where she studied composition. As it turns out, she isn’t the first Lyman to write and record her own music.

In the 1970s, when Lyman’s mom was about 13, she and her family wrote and recorded an album as the Parish Sisters and that’s the first music Lyman remembers listening to. They sang covers of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy” and “What the World Needs Now” by Burt Bacharach that Lyman thought were originals.

At six years old, Lyman wrote her first song, inspired by the death of her brother’s pet gecko. “The hook was ‘Sometimes it’s so hard to say goodbye,’” she says laughing. “I still remember it.”

Whitney’s parents divorced when she was young, so she spent a lot of time in the car making the four-hour drive between her dad’s house in Boise and her mom’s in Pocotello. The car, subsequently, was the birthplace of her post-gecko work, where she made up songs and sang to herself during the drive.

Lyman’s dad exposed her to Queen, Journey and other bands she bands she describes as “dad rock,” infusing her songwriting with arena-rock grandeur and an awareness of orchestration. Around the same time, Lyman’s mom let her order CDs by Britney Spears, N’SYNC, Brandi, Mariah Carey and other ‘90s pop artists from a mail-in catalogue.

“I’d listen to that music all the time and sing along—I learned exactly how they did their inflections, singing along with Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey, and realized I could do it just like they did it,” Lyman says. Later, she discovered Swedish producer Max Martin, then in his mid-30s and the visionary behind much of the glossy pop of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.  “I realized that almost all of the music I was influenced by during that era was written by him. It’s fascinating that it was one person—of course it was the singers and their vocal abilities too, but [his] songwriting influences my songwriting.”

Her first band in Seattle, an Afro-pop quartet called Pollens, came straight out of Cornish in 2010 and made a deep impression on the local scene until they disbanded in 2014. She currently performs with and arranges for the Seattle Rock Orchestra and is about to release her second single with electro-hip-hop crew Theoretics and new singles with electronic producers Zoolab and Manatee Commune.

Beyond all that, Lyman’s second solo record looms on her horizon and the aforementioned “Firebreather” is its second single. The song is a ball of forward-moving fire, a fluid composition with countless moving parts. Its urgent lyrics incorporate her fascination with the Chinese zodiac—her sign in the Dragon—and the music is laced with Asian-inspired pentatonic guitar riffs, erhu-like violin. The song is about overcoming obstacles to achieve your destiny. In order to become the dragon, you have to defeat the dragon.

“I want to be different, but also better,” Lyman says. “Mostly, I want to be better than I’ve ever been before.”

Whitney Lyman celebrates the premiere of “Firebreather” with a performance at the Triple Door on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Photo by Sunny Facer. 

Seattle Weekly: The Dip’s Got Some Spicy Soul Flavor

“I feel like no one should fault you for putting more dip on your chip.”

Local funk group The Dip specializes in making smokin’ soul sounds, loyal fans, and cleverly enough, homemade hot sauces to sell alongside its delicious new self-titled record.

The Dip was born out of the house-party scene at UW, where most of the seven-piece band majored in jazz studies. “We were just trying to form a group that could play some house parties, get into that vibe, and have fun,” drummer Jarred Katz says. “We were so busy with music at school . . . [we wanted] to have something extracurricular, an outlet.”

That outlet soon grew into a bigger project, especially as the group honed their sound and added a vocalist, Tom Eddy from Beat Connection (of which Katz is also a member). “[Eddy] was a natural fit, he made it more than just a jam party thing . . . something you really can sink your teeth into,” Katz says.

With a solid underlying groove and tightly arranged background horns, The Dip pays due respect to the R&B tradition, but has a sound all its own, attaching pop, rock, and jazz influences to the soul train. Their popular track “Stateline” is a perfect example, with Eddy’s crooner-esque vocals, a rock-’n’-roll guitar break, and a tenor sax sound reminiscent of Michael Brecker’s. Think Blood, Sweat and Tears, but with some special sauce.

On that note, The Dip has been known to play up their name’s association with food. “We have played a lot of food-oriented music festivals, like the Ballard Seafood Festival,” Katz says, “[and] we did have a special barbecue sauce that we put our own label on that was the cover of our first EP.”

More recently, the band members made their own homemade hot sauce to sell at their album-release party in April. Eddy said a song they played when they started out planted the seed. “There was a line in the song that went ‘Servin’ it up, yeah buddy,’ ” Eddy says, “People at our shows learned the line and would yell it out. So when the record release came, me and Jacob, our guitar player, went and got 12 pounds of jalapeños and roasted them in my backyard. [The hot sauce] is really good! We didn’t sell it all, so I still put it on my eggs some mornings to remind myself to stay spicy.”

Along with the band’s affinity for barbecue and churning out “saucy” grooves, Katz says their name comes from the way the audience looks when they’re dancing. “It’s like, ‘dipping your hips’ . . . and it’s not about tobacco,” he says with a laugh. “It’s also a homage to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings; we’re really inspired by them.”

You can’t listen to The Dip without shaking your tail, and that is exactly what’s earned them such a reputation. “They are super-fun—I saw them one time at a random house party and [loved] the vibe that they gave off, you couldn’t help but start moving. Five minutes in, I knew I had to have them at my own house parties,” says UW graduate and friend Ayala-View Goldstein, who’s hired The Dip many times.

As of now, The Dip is writing new tunes and working hard toward releasing an all-instrumental EP in the fall. This group thrives on double dipping, so they’re giving fans plenty of opportunity to come back for more. As Eddy said, “I feel like no one should fault you for putting more dip on your chip. Go get it if you need it.”

music@seattleweekly.com

The Dip With Tuatara. Nectar Lounge, 412 N. 36th St., 632-2020, nectarlounge.com. $10. 21 and over. 8 p.m. Fri., Aug. 21.

Saying Goodbye to One Adventure Is Saying Hello to Another

By 

(Published on Tinybuddha.com)

Dawn of a New Day

“If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” ~Paulo Coehlo

When I was born, the nurse lifted me from the bed, placed me on a cold metal operating table, and prepped my umbilical cord to be severed. As my parents put it, I “screamed bloody murder” when she attended to me, then grabbed ahold of the index finger of her latex glove and pulled it clean off.

“You just wouldn’t let go,” my dad recalls, chuckling.

That often-told family tale has risen to consciousness many times during the last few months, especially when I’ve found myself overwhelmed, fearful, and grief-stricken at the task of saying goodbye.

Goodbye to my first love, each of my beloved college friends, my wonderful university and creative writing program, to the Pacific Northwest, and more importantly to a time of my life that had a big role in bearing me into the woman I am today.

Goodbye, because I picked up and moved to Berkeley, CA to explore, to live, to find new joy. As the move became more real, every “so long” brought with it the coldness of surgical steel at my back, a wet cry, an unwavering grip on those places and people I love.

The thing about letting go is that it’s unnatural to most and must be learned with great patience and persistence.

Perhaps it’s difficult because we need attachment to survive—babies need their mothers and the rest of the “village” to thrive physically and emotionally, to adjust to life beyond the womb.

But letting go is worth learning, because it means risk, and with risk comes growth.

I crave growth. I crave new experience. I crave adventure. And as much as I loved Bellingham, it wasn’t supplying me with the tools to be happy.

I want to be a well-known writer, I want to see the world, I want to learn new stories and sing songs with strangers. I just couldn’t do that in a small, bayside city of people I know well. But, the inevitability (even predictability) of this goodbye couldn’t make it any easier.

Intentionally letting go is not any less excruciating than doing so subconsciously, and I would be remiss if I told you so. It requires we savor not only sweet beginnings, but also bitter endings. It requires we face fear and grief in the face, rather than burying them deep.

The day I left Bellingham, I sat in the middle of the floor of my empty apartment bawling. Whereas we are taught to stay strong, to hold tears in, to look forward with no impulse to go back, I allowed myself a moment to be achingly present in the memories and attachment I have to that place.

I remembered drinking wine on floor with my roommates until the wee hours; writing story after story on my bedroom carpet; lying in bed and talking most the night with the first boy I’ve ever really loved.

Okay, so maybe I’m a sap. Or perhaps even a masochist. But I’ve found that if you give fear and grief the time of day, gratefulness and joy greet you on the other side.

Endings just want to be acknowledged, just want you to pause and remember how beautiful life can be. In that way, how you deal with endings can become a litmus test for how mindfully you are living.

So, I challenge you to see change not with dread, but as a chance to remember how beautiful your life has been, is, and will continue to be. And whenever you say “so long” keep an eye out for that new hello. It will come.

I know it’s true as I sit in a sunny Berkeley coffee shop writing, musing on the courage it took to get me here and watching a little boy in denim overalls holding tight to the hand of his “Papa!” To all this new adventure, joy and love, I say hello, hello, hello.