Fresh from their big win at the Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes (Champions and Best Song “Monsters, Animals, THROAT (a band that’s managed by and includes Mister Tim) will be performing TONIGHT (8:00-11:00 pm) at the Velour Music Gallery 135 N. University Ave Provo, UT.
Lyrics with esoteric leanings, a fair amount of techno, and a female lead with the airiness of Emmy Rossum and the edge of Regina Spektor makes THROAT a unique a cappella experience. Their new music is a demanding experience; no checking out or half-listening options available. Several tunes are definite toe-tappers (my favorites are “On and On” and “180”). Some of them are strange enough to leave you in a stupor (“ala Floyd” being one of them. Of course, that might be the point of the homage in that particular tune). But all of them are worth listening to. Check ’em out!
The second part of this interview is really more of a guest post. Mr. Tim one of the few people I know who lives artfully. He doesn’t just make music in his studio and then come home and forget about it. He doesn’t go to Church and be Mormon on Sunday and then go and be a musician and performer on Saturday. All the parts of his life intersect and feed off each other to create an aesthetically unique existence. Which is probably why he gave me such a long and fabulous answer when I asked him about religion and music.
LHC: How does your religion intersect with your music? Does being Mormon influence your creative process?
Mr. T: These things drive everything I do: I want it to be clean, I want it to be inspiring, and I want it to MATTER.
I cut my teeth as a professional performer, and in the a cappella world, with my comedy quartet moosebutter. moosebutter was an outgrowth of many of my musical influences, but also, as it turns out, of my odd sense of humor. Comedy group, singing silly songs, and yet I always felt that moosebutter was a spiritual group. In fact the initial inspiration for the group, and every significant event that lead to the development and progression of the group, was very spiritual. As a group, and now by extension as I incorporate comedy into my solo act, comedy has always served to break down doors and open minds to the gospel, or at the very least to the idea that Mormons are real people. moosebutter did a lot of touring, and I now travel all over the country, and Mormonism ALWAYS comes up. With moosebutter it usually came up because we were from Utah or from the fact that Weston spent a section of the show jumping around and shrieking in Spanish. When asked about the language, he would always tell people that he had served a Spanish-speaking mission for the church.
What about not-comedy music?
When I am inspired. . .when I am moved by the Spirit . . .I write music. I usually carry my own hymn book to church, because in the middle of singing hymns I get song ideas and the easiest place to write is in the book I’m holding. When I am at peace, when I feel a connection to the divine, I write music. I do not write overtly religious music. I, personally, do not enjoy listening to “inspirational” LDS music. Nothing against those musicians, and nothing against those who listen to it, I just don’t enjoy it. And I certainly don’t need to write that kind of music, because there are lots of people doing it better than I ever would. But beyond me not enjoying it, that’s simply not what comes out when I write.
[Laura’s note: Go here and check out some of Mr. Tim’s hymn arrangements. He says they are works in progress and would welcome any feedback. I really like “Silent Night”.]
I write about some very heady subjects, some very dark subjects: addiction, human brutality, frustration, depression. I feel that I have a responsibility to at least try to share messages of hope and redemption with audiences that are typically not LDS. That requires a different kind of delivery. I still write a lot of comedic songs, or I think more accurately still find comedic or quirky elements emerging in songs: sometimes to soften the delivery of the material, but sometimes just because I tend toward a slightly-twisted delivery. I think it’s a good mix: a song like “Cupcakes Can Kill You” is straight up silly”¦ but, if you ask my English-degreed wife, it’s also a biting satire. Even if I’m not trying to be funny, the goofy creeps in, because that’s who I am. But,
that’s not all I am, and it can be difficult getting people to even listen to my songs that don’t have punchlines.
[There is also a real] burden of fear: fear that I’m wasting my time, fear that my life and my work will not be of consequence, fear that in trying to make music that has popular appeal that I will make it shallow, or morally compromised; fear of working in a service industry, and that I’ll not be able to make a living.
Even if I am inspired to write something, does not mean it will be successful. The process, the work, the editing is mine to do. It is not uncommon to have tangible bursts of spiritual inspiration, and to have the resulting work fail miserably. Why? Leading to something more? Just because something is inspirational to me, if it feels directed or touched by the spirit, does not mean it will necessarily be inspiring to someone else. To expect that it will be, that my inspiration will equate to commercial success, or a publishing deal, or mainstream attention, that kind of sells short the diversity of workings of the spirit, doesn’t it? Who am I to limit what inspiration is intended for?
Some of my most successful work was not inspired in a powerful or notable way, but just happened; in fact, I think most of my best work did not feel bosom-burny at the time of conception, did not have Ensign article-worthy experiences, but just”¦ happened. They came out like they were the most natural thing in the world, just made sense, just worked. If I look back on them, most of those probably came from progress made from other projects, and probably are connected to some of the inspired work that failed.
As I travel as a solo act, I always mention that I have (as of two months ago) 6 children. Not hard for people to figure out (“are you Catholic or Mormon?”), and then all of a sudden they know a Mormon, and he’s this guy they saw on stage who did this cool thing, and maybe he was funny, and “¦ well. Once they think I’m “cool” I can talk about anything and it has the chance to get through. When I tell college kids in North Carolina that I don’t drink, some of them look at me like it has literally never crossed their mind that someone can not drink”¦ but now it has crossed their mind. I spend a lot of time working with students, and usually all I want is for them to see clean, uplifting art. And if not art, then at least clean and uplifting. There is a lot of entertainment out there, and not much is clean. The best experiences I’ve had as a performer is when families come up after a show and tell me (or us) that everyone in the family loved what I/we did. Something fun, memorable, and clean that a whole family can do together: not a bad days work.
I feel very strongly about moral questions, political questions, and ideological issues that I see as vital to the health of society and the health of individuals. The problem with important issues like these is that the artist cannot be obvious when trying to speak about these issues. The audience will tune out if you are overt. The art is finding a way to speak truth without being preachy.
Be sure to check out Mr. Tim’s online calendar to see about upcoming performances. He’ll be in Utah March 9-11. He is also available for school assemblies, work as artist in residence, and workshops. Also check out his mp3 store where you can purchase music or listen to tracks in their entirety. Also, his work is available at the Plumbers of Rome and Vocality Singers websites.
. . . especially when they’re made with death,” says Mister Tim, the quirkiest voice in a cappella music.
I’ve known Mister Tim for more than 5 years and witnessed many artistic incarnations. The earliest (for me) was as our ward choir director. Intense, focused, squinting with the effort of tweaking our voices into a semblance of harmony and with one ear always turned toward the choir Mister Tim–er, I mean, Brother Tim–did his own arrangements of hymns and sang all the music as if it were being performed for the first time every time. Ward members still talk about his performance of “O, Holy Night.”
The next incarnation, which he had been inhabiting since college, was Moosebutter. Like most college a cappella bands Moosebutter focused on and perfected the silliness inherent in singing “classic” music, like “Popcorn Popping”, with that characteristic BYU-comedy flair. They were big with the ten year olds and all their parents for being able to comically riff on everything from Harry Potter to Spam to Jon Williams (who is most definitely the man), for which they were nominated for a People’s Choice Award.
From there Mister Tim went on to work on the Vegas Strip and put together, manage, and perform in many other a cappella groups. When his stint in Vegas ended and he and his family rolled back into Colorado he came with yet another incarnation: Vocal Magic.
Vocal Magic is a multifaceted one man show that hinges on Mister Tim’s prodigious vocal textures, far-reaching vocal range, and his ability to work three sound effect pedals that enable to sing with himself and mix his voice in real time–a process called live looping. Part stand-up comedy, part poetry slam, and part performance art, Vocal Magic was like nothing I had ever seen before. My first thought: If T.S. Eliot could have sang and Allan Ginsberg had known how to beatbox and been stuck in one body, they could have been reincarnated as Mister Tim. Vocal Magic was like nothing I’d ever seen but it was definitely something I wished to see again.
Mr. Tim graciously agreed to be interviewed. His answers were thorough enough and thought-provoking enough that I split the interview into two parts. Here’s part one.
LHC: How are you feeling today? (Fuzzy, spacey, ???)
Mr. T: Perpendicular.
LHC: Tell me about the modern a cappella scene. Until I saw your show whenever I thought of a cappella I always thought of those guys from “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” How has a cappella grown and changed?
Mr. T:There is a great deal of detail and nuance to this answer. “A Cappella” to most people, I think, means Rockapella (Carmen San Diego), or a barbershop quartet, or a college group like BYU’s Vocal Point, or, more and more frequently, “GLEE” (even though there has only been one actual a cappella song on that show). But, even Rockapella, still touring the world 15 years after Carmen San Diego went off the air, is nothing like they were on that show: [now] they are a technology-dependent pop act. There are groups that use stacks and stacks of expensive sound gear, like Naturally 7 who are touring with Michael Buble.
Really there are three ways to define “a cappella”: 1) the most basic– meaning any music performed without
instruments, regardless of style (including when rock bands sing a section of their song without instruments, like the beginning of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”); 2) what seems to be the popular interpretation of a cappella, which is the Rockapella version, or the college a cappella version, or even the barbershop version, which carries a fragrance of dorkiness; 3) and “contemporary” a cappella, which is a movement of modern musicians doing modern music at a very high level, usually incorporating vocal percussion, and usually depending on technology to create the same auditory punch as a “˜real’ band.
My history in a cappella really follows the progression of contemporary a cappella. I listened to The King’s Singers (classical) in high school, saw BYU’s Vocal Point at one of BYU’s very first a cappella jams; I had friends bootlegging a cappella radio programs onto cassette tapes and passing them around; I was introduced, through rumor at first, to The House Jacks, and then by the late 90’s to m*pact. I started attending a cappella conferences, and growing less satisfied with the traditional a cappella standard and wanting”¦ more. And there were groups doing more, and I gravitated to them. Then I started making my own groups, and have been skewing further and further from “traditional” a cappella since then, although I still keep the traditional stuff around because it makes $.
When most people call me wanting to hire “an a cappella group,” they want something like early 90’s Rockapella, or like a college group. Recognizable covers, bare-bones vocal sound, oftenthey want something a little corny (which is part of that old-school a cappella”¦ thing).
LHC: What attracted you to live looping? How is it different from traditional a cappella?
Mr. T: My wife and I used to joke that I was constantly disappointed with the other singers in my groups because what I really wanted was for all the singers in my group to be me. Well, looping lets me do that! I get to sing everything just the way I want it sung, and I don’t have to wait for other people to learn their parts.
Other reasons I started live-looping: a) I want to go out and perform as often as possible, but couldn’t get the other people in my groups to go all the time; b) There are lots of paid shows that come up that don’t pay enough for a whole group, but are good money for just one person; c) I saw other people do it, and it looked like fun.
But, one of the biggest factors: I love teaching. I love teaching. The problem with the kind of teaching I do, where I drop in and talk to kids in their regular music classes, or in assemblies, or at music festivals, is that if they don’t know who I am, they don’t care about what I have to say. If I’m there with a group, they hear the group sing, they think it’s cool, then they’ll listen. But I want to be teaching as often as possible, visiting classes, flying out to music festivals, showing up at concerts. I can’t afford to fly a whole group out to these kinds of things for free, which most of them demand (even the big a cappella festivals where I teach I have to pay my own way there unless I’m one of the headline performers). But now that I’ve got a solo act, I can drop in on a class with my small sound system that takes less than 5 minutes to set up, sing a couple of songs,
the kids think it’s cool, and then when I speak, my words matter. It’s a pedagogical thing.
Artistically, what attracts me now to continue live-looping is that it really is rare to have one person doing looping with just the voice. Novelty factor, and if done well and if we find the market I’ve got a corner on the market. I do enjoy the constraints: a lot of my material has developed to address specific issues of how to keep the show from being boring, dealing with the repetitive nature of the loop, not being able to change the music once it’s laid down without completely starting over. Limiting, yes, but has forced me to adapt in ways and to develop new approaches to my performing that I think have greatly improved the overall impact of my
LHC: I know you’re a fan of all types of music, but what musicians and songs/works have stuck with you over the years?
Mr. T: The 3 B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Barenaked Ladies (I don’t like Brahms); Midnight Oil; Kingston Trio; Manheim Steamroller; Spike Jones; Weird Al Yankovic; Alan Sherman; Smothers Brothers; Brandon Flowers; John Adams
To be continued, but while you are waiting feel free to enjoy this:
Neon Trees had a big 2010. After getting plucked from the Provo music scene to tour with The Killers in 2008, they finally dropped their first studio album Habits (Amazon) with plenty of buzz and exposure. First single “Animal” went platinum, and after hearing it a zillion times I grew to quite like it and bought the album which spent weeks in our car on repeat. Second single “1983” has not done as well (speaking sales; it’s on San Francisco radio nonstop), but every song on Habits sounds like a hit and I imagine we’ll be hearing more from Neon Trees at busstops and clubs around the world for years to come.
In case you’re not hip to their jive, man, here’s what they sound like, both album and live: Continue reading “Dreams for the Future: Neon Trees in 2025”
In yesterday’s post, I introduced Song/Cycles from New York’s Mormon Artists Group. Today we will read an excerpt from a roundtable discussion from the contributing composers (available in full at the front of the book).
But before we get to that however, residents of Utah should remind themselves that “on Monday, November 8, a performance of all six works from . . . Song/Cycles . . . is free at 7pm at the Orem Public Library. Performers include Darrell Babidge, Clara Hurtado Lee, Ruth Ellis, Brian Stucki, Doris Brunatti, and Marilyn Reid Smith. For additional information, contact 801.229.7050. Works to be performed are: Mary Keeps All These Things (Harriet Petherick Bushman/Susan Howe), Notes (David H. Sargent/Elaine M. Craig), Seven Sisters (Murray Boren/Glen Nelson), Sudden Music (Lansing McLoskey/Javen Tanner), The Dead Praying for Me (Daniel Bradshaw/Lance Larsen), and TÃ¶chterliebe (Charis Bean Duke/Will Reger).”
* * * * *
How did you come to select the poetry for your composition? Tell us the story behind the collaboration with your poet. Continue reading “song/cycles: music and poetry”
Mormon Artists Group is at it again. In case you didn’t hear about their latest release, it is poetry set to music. The poetry is of high quality (some of them, I will admit, are among the best poems I’ve read in the last few years) and the music also ranges from the good to the excellent. The fancy limited goose-eggshell edition has sold out but the $19.95 paperback is still available.
(Sadly, the paperback does not come with a cd and so you can only read the scores. If you are someone like me, this is simply inadequate. Fortunately MAG gave me the opportunity to listen to the music anyway and while the current recordings are blemished by coughs and suchlike, the inherent loveliness is generally intact. If you live in Utah, you will have the opportunity to hear the songs live NEXT WEEK. [See below.] In the meantime, I highly recommend that you inform your potential purchase by listening to the samples available at mormonartistgroup.com.) Continue reading “song/cycles”
Craig McClean profiles Brandon Flowers for The Daily Telegraph and one section that stands out to me:
None the less, last year he told the Tribune newspaper in Salt Lake City ““ the Mormon faith’s heart, the capital city of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ““ ‘my faith influences the songs I don’t write’.
What did he mean by that? ‘Yes!’ That gasp-laugh again. ‘Uh, I’ve often, I do, you know, we’ve all got our … hah…’ He’s squirming. ‘I definitely have a darker side. And a more sinister, maybe more sexual, being inside me that I think everybody’s got.
‘And I believe that because of what I believe, and because of the way that I was raised, and as I’ve got older, I’ve leant towards ““ I’ve pushed towards being that positive force that I always talk about. That’s kind of where I’d rather be. I know that it’s not”¦’ He stops and gathers his thoughts. ‘I know it’s frowned upon in art to put a muzzle on something. But I definitely do it.’
This harks back to Flowers’ most famous line and one of the Killers’ most famous songs. Crowds around the world have roared along to the declamatory high point of All These Things That I Have Done: ‘I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier’. In writing it the singer was acknowledging the struggles he had sticking to the strictures of his faith. But now it seems he’s resolved that on one level. Whereas many musicians use songs for exactly this purpose, Flowers won’t give vent to his baser feelings in song.
‘Yes,’ he nods. ‘So it’s a struggle. I wonder if it’s legit. But I can’t help but go for the good I guess. Especially after having children ““ I think, what kind of mark do I wanna leave? For the most part, that’s the person that I am. I think I’m a positive and optimistic person.’
I find this idea utterly fascinating and completely defensible. Brother Flowers may not be quite the role model for orthodox Mormons (nor would he claim to be), but in a world where the notion of self-censorship is anathema for most artists (even as they — we — all do it on some level), I find his honesty about all this to be rather radical middle.
In a sense, Mormon Literature began 178 years ago this month, with the publication of the Evening and Morning Star.
I hesitated for a few weeks before reading The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers (Amazon) by Jeremy Grimshaw (which is now out in paperback). I already knew Jeremy could write, and, in fact, I have tried to recruit him to AMV over the years. I knew that we shared a certain sensibility that could perhaps be described as a interest in melding, or at least co-locating, the core of Mormon praxis with the avant garde, post-whatever, and insistently yet calmly artistic. And I knew that I very much liked the excerpt I had posted at AMV when the limited edition hard bound copy of the book was published late last year by Mormon Artists Group (also see my interview with Jeremy about the book).
But all that somehow fades when faced with the book itself, the slim paperback volume with the vibrant red cover that arrived with a handwritten return address. What if it isn’t good? What if it is good, but I have nothing to say about it? Silly considerations, of course, especially when you get the book for free without committing to a formal review. And once the hesitation slid away, all there was to do was just read the thing. Which I did.
So here’s the deal: The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers is a marvelous case study in how to capture in a piece of creative nonfiction a meaningful cross-cultural experience. It’s also a lovely book to read. Continue reading “A review of The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers”