Jake Workman on The Guest and the Ghost

Wm talks with Jake Workman about his new album + prose ebook project The Guest and the Ghost, the dearly departed band The Sweater Friends and other things musical and creative.

You may know Jake Workman as one-half of the Utah-based acoustic, quirky, funny, lovely harmonies and catchy melodies band The Sweater Friends. That group is, alas, no more, but Jake has a new project out that combines his music writing with prose writing. It’s called The Guest and the Ghost and is available at Jake’s bandcamp site (the album is available elsewhere, but if you want the accompanying ebook get it from him there).

How did The Guest and the Ghost come about? How did Henry Pickett Pratt begin to haunt your artistic mind? And related to that: why tell the story in both music/lyric and prose?

The idea started with the fourth song on the album called “Pickett.” I had several guitar parts and melodies that fit well together. I thought it would be cool to write a story with the parts and have different melodies be different voices and people. I was still playing a lot with Allyson and The Sweater Friends and it fit our capabilities nicely.

The main character in the story, Henry, came from my love of Southern Utah. At the time I had become really interested in Butch Cassidy. There are a lot of myths and rumors about his life. I had family on my Mom’s side who lived in the town Cassidy was born in and it got me thinking of a distant relative maybe passing him on the street or catching him cut through their pasture. Henry came out of this interest. As I thought more and more about Henry and decided to write other songs based on him or his point of view, the imagery I was creating did not lend itself completely to lyrics. I wanted to go deeper. Luckily I had a really creative bandmate in Allyson who supported me in this idea of telling a more holistic rendition of Henry with both song and written word. Continue reading “Jake Workman on The Guest and the Ghost”

Mormons at the Met

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I’ve long wished that opera spoke to me on more than a purely appreciative, intellectual level. I wish I could say, like Glen Nelson, that

for me opera is serious business. I have always responded to it viscerally.

Of course, he has an advantage, having grown up with opera, whereas I have to learn opera. And the best way would be to attend operas. Which I can do locally, but holy smokes opera is expensive. If opera dies, this will be the reason: that the uninitiated have to spend soooo much money to become initiated. So I suppose the nouveu riche looking for cultural acceptance will join the club, but the poor will stick to novels and Saturday-morning cartoons. Continue reading “Mormons at the Met”

Of Pre(co)cious Value (A review of a new cd for Mormon Youth by Mormon Youth)

Mormon youth do a lot of neat things. From Eagle Scout and Personal Progress projects to maintaining Church standards, being young and Mormon is a unique experience and, like so many Mormon stories, is best explained by the youth themselves. Two teens, musically precocious sisters Sierra and Jenessa Mylroie, are a couple more of those amazing Mormon Youth working to tell their stories through song. Their accomplishment? A cd, Of Precious Value, of entirely new music inspired by the Young Women Values.

The tracks sport a pop/folk sound with the occasional rock tune. Light and airy, this is music (written by the girls and their father, Matt Mylroie) that desires to uplift and inspire. The vocals by both girls are a nice blend of the standard EFY/Felicia Sorenson sound with a little Regina Spektor thrown in. And, while occasionally tinny, there is just enough earnestness to keep the overall sound pleasing.

Take for example the song, “Fly Soar Believe”. Based on a poem written by Jenessa, this 50s retro-pop song is an anthem for the uniqueness of Mormon teenagers. “I’m a little quirky and I like it that way/ I march to my own beat every day,” the song starts out. Then the chorus rings out, “Fly, soar, believe. /Be everything that I want to be. /Live, laugh, love. /My life CAN be what I dream of.” There’s hope and a sort of altruism that seems to only belong to teens with strong faith in those lyrics.

While aimed at teens, I think where this album can be most successful is with the Mormon tween market–where there is a real dearth of products. Too old for “Popcorn Popping” and Scripture Scouts but too young for Jenny Jordan Frogley and John Bytheway, LDS kids ages 9-12 might really respond to the pop strains on Of Precious Value. There is so much heart in this music, even parents might enjoy it too!

Monsters, Animals a Cappella (THROAT and Mister Tim in Concert June 9th!)

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!

THROAT

Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An Interview with Mr. Tim Part II)

MisterTimMics10x8_72-300x240The 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.

For Part One of this interview click here. For more about Mister Tim go to mistertimdotcom.com Or you can look him up on facebook.

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.

“Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An interview with Mister Tim in two parts)

. . . 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
performance.

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: