Thursday, July 21, 2016

River Street Anthology Partnering with Archives of Michigan

All the excellent-looking photos are by Misty Lyn Bergeron
The ones in color are from my phone... 

After reading about the River Street Anthology in the Detroit Free Press, State Archivist Mark Harvey called up its facilitator, singer/songwriter Matt Jones, to see how he could help. Now, the staff at the Archives of Michigan has partnered with Jones to help him preserve local music history with its Preservica digital archives, and assist him in future recording sessions. And you can read an interview with Harvey on the Detroit Free Press' website, here.

Harvey said, future recorded songs and project information will be soon be available at the Archives website: This partnership between RSA and the Archives of Michigan not only means secure cataloging of Jones songs (he recently surpassed 200), but that the Archives could soon apply for a grant that could further support the RSA’s operational needs.

To catch up on the story of this blogger's journey out to a Kalamazoo-hosted session of the RSA back in February, click here.

Meanwhile, I caught back up with Jones to talk about the renewed vigor he's feeling after this new partnership was secured, but particularly to pick his brain on how the most recent session went, hosted at Assemble Sound back in June. 

If you aren't already familiar with the River Street Anthology, you can check out this Free Press article. Or you can scroll through their recent updates on Facebook.

Matt and I are gonna rap for a bit, here. You can read the condensed version via the FREEP.  

Matt, we thought Kalamazoo was a special day. Warm, fuzzy vibes prevailed... An interesting array of folks and eclectic talents. Lots of enthusiasm in the air. But that was five months ago.... What's your life been like since then? What's the status of the project been like since Kalamzoo & leading-up-to Assemble.....
 After Kalamazoo, I gotta admit- I was beat. I had been pressing the gas on the RSA steadily for a year straight by that point. We had been to every corner of the state, and while we hadn’t gone into the kind of depth that I would like to, and still will, I felt like the sort of introductory process (of RSA) had come to a close. I had had a chance over the first year to get an actual grip on just what the RSA is, what it means to people.  I realized that those two things- what it is and what it means to others- are completely entwined.

Other people’s belief in the project has come to define it, and that is as it should be: something historically, artistically, culturally/contextually important…

But even while coming closer to a full realization of just what this monster was, I was burnt out...from going to Kzoo, and Hamtramck, and Ypsi and Ypsi and Ypsi, and Houghton and Marquette and Mancelona and everywhere else, each places had their own incredible experiences, and man- I found out how exhausting it is to get your mind blown that much.

The real problem with that though, is that its gets harder to do each artist justice. I invest a lot in each band and musician. I treasure every single recording session, appreciate and take to heart the fact that each person took the time to be part of this.....

And you keep us updated with journal-y posts on the RSA Facebook page...
Yeah, and some friends tell me not to make it so personal- to employ a more disciplined eye, keep it simple and straight to the point and strictly observational.

But that isn’t who I am at all. Things eat at me, good and bad, and I respond. I know it sounds ridiculous, but when someone takes the time to practice, and travel, and sit down in unfamiliar circumstances and do what they love most in the world, and they do that for this unorganized, open-ended project that I probably didn’t explain very well…how the fuck am I supposed to just “keep it cool?” If I could pay them all, I would. If I was making any money from this, it would go to them. But I’m not.

Artist solidarity...
Yeah. And my father instilled in me a pretty firm aversion to debt, which plays a part in the amount that I feel I have to "pay" these people back- all of them, somehow.

"The soundtrack for an entire state isn’t just one speed, one style, one location, one age, one color, one gender... ...The River Street Anthology wants to do more than play music for you..."

So you burned yourself out...
Yeah and I was pretty embarrassed about it too. I kept thinking- “A project like this one, I have to floor it every day to keep momentum, to reach the end faster, and to give all these people, musicians and listeners, something to hear- something besides all these write-ups. I am TOTALLY FUCKING IT UP.” That exhaustion combined with final exams put the whole thing out of mind for about 3 months.

Yikes... But, yeah, that's right. We shouldn't forget that you've also been pushing yourself back through school at Eastern during this whole time..... But, after Kalamazoo, though, Mark Harvey (from Archives of Michigan) reaches out to you......
 Yeah, and this changed the direction of the project pretty substantially, and all of a sudden I was having meetings, and having to thinking about the project in a different, more efficient and scheduled way.

And last month, you wound up in Assemble... 
I had talked to Garrett months before about doing something, and knowing he was interested, I reached out again. OH, I just remembered.... one of the major factors was this one night, I was perusing a lot MC’s from Detroit, knowing that I was about to start scheduling for a possible Assemble date. I had talked to Bryan Lackner and Brent Smith, asking them who I should get a hold of, and they gave me a list. I also started combing through the Assemble website, reading reviews, listening to samples, and getting a feel for what was out there in a general sense. I wasn’t ready for it at all, turns out.

But eventually you....
 ....WAIT! Wait...

I remember now, that one of the other major reasons I burned out was that I felt there was a glaring lack of diversity on the collection.

You needed more emcees!
Every artist I'd recorded up to that point had been absolutely stellar, but I hadn’t ventured nearly enough away from folk musicians and bands- the two things that I have grown up doing in my own musical endeavors. I got down on it. Questioned what it was worth. The soundtrack for an entire state isn’t just one speed, one style, one location, one age, one color, one gender. In order to begin again fresh on the RSA, there had to be a wiping down, and a true starting over- meaning that I had to do some shit that I wasn’t at all used to. So I started emailing people who would turn out to be some of the most unforgettable artists of the project to date.

Mic Phelps

Sleepless Inn
How did Assemble's session effect the project or re-energize you?
 The Assemble session changed the RSA before we even set foot in the church that day. I’ve always said that this project is so amazing because I get to sit two feet from people, watching them do what they love. I understand singer-songwriter workings. I know how to love it, and how to make it, and how to talk about it, how to compliment it, and how to record it. I know how to write about it later....

Which you often do, via Facebook or Mostly Midwest...
Right, but with these artists, based predominantly in hip hop like Nolan the Ninja and Mic Phelps, or a more electronic-rooted pop like Sleepless Inn, I can’t say any of those above things are true. I mean- sure, how hard is it to love music?

It’s instinctual, comes natural. But the RSA is doing more than simply listening. It’s trying to do justice and doing justice to these artists is the hardest part of this whole fucking project because no matter what- my nature is to think that “it" could always have been done better. I could have said more, I could have hugged longer, I could have explained better, I could have gotten more people to listen, etc. Combine that with the need to preserve not only their sounds, but their significance- and they all have gargantuan significance, and you’ve got a pretty stressed out person.

So, at this point, what's your refurbished mission-statement, as it were? 
The RSA wants to do more than play music for you. It wants to put you into a place- it wants to show you the incredible and diverse sounds coming from these incredible and diverse people, and then to make sure you know that all of us are bound up together here by art, and by our love of it, no matter what the creator looks like, talks like, no matter where they live or what they do for a living, no matter how popular their band is or isn’t.

So this whole project underlines the camaraderie that we should be feeling, that we should be celebrating...
We’re all hanging onto one another whether we like it or not, and the artists who came into Assemble (back in June), while each bringing something different to the collection- new faces, new beats, new song structures, new rhymes, new experiences- they gave me, the RSA team, and everyone else a new hand to hang onto…a new reason to love being bound up here in this place, and in this particular soundtrack. Phelps was the culmination of that.

Microphone Phelps : River Street Anthology from Mostly Midwest on Vimeo.

Tell us what you dug the most about that day...
It was a moving, exciting day, like all the session days that we have when you insert yourself into a scene for a minute and soak it up all at once. We had seen Steve McCauley play my favorite song I’ve ever heard him play (and I’ve seen quite a few), and then The Erers came in and pummeled us harder than we’re used to at 11:30 am. We saw Eddie Logix and Laura Finlay perform as Sleepless Inn,, and that's like atmospheric, electronic pop.  James Linck came in and recorded a song he had written the night before,  and blew us away. Nolan the Ninja literally attacked the mic, making me totally change the way I recorded vocals. Nolan…that guy is special. A veritable tornado of a rapper, he was the most excited to be part of the RSA. The same energy he wrests out of himself in his raps was evident just talking via messenger. But if every song and performance that day were all gasp inducing in their greatness, Phelps’ was the exhalation. Sometimes I try to convince myself that the relationships and camaraderie existing inside RSA recording sessions is true of the greater, outside world. Phelps reminded me that it isn’t the case, but I didn’t mind. His gentle reminder, as I said above, gave me another reason to hang on- to him, to all the people from Assemble that day, and all the people, artists and listeners alike that have supported the RSA.

What happened in the room, for you..., the moment Mic Phelps was done singing
Mic Phelps floored us. the first thing that happened was silence. I always let the instrument/vocals fade completely before I press ‘stop,’ and during that fade-out, and the one or two seconds that come after before recording stops- those are always some tense moments. Everyone is wondering if it came out good, if that one mistake they made is going to be noticeable, etc…But Mic Phelps stopped and I think I was wondering how I was going to give him my usual “Nicely done,” without him seeing that my eyes were full of tears. Misty was perched up above me on a platform, taking photos of his performance, and I believe there were some tears in her eyes too. We were grateful to have gotten to be present for that performance.

Tell me about the plan you worked out with Mark. Tell me about Mark, too! There was a matter of getting a grant for this, but we needed the Archive to "own" or sort of "steward" the recordings in order for that? What's the story there?
By the time Mark had reached out to me and met with me, I think the RSA team had honed its game down to something as close as we’re going to get to an art-form. I had figured out how to get great sound with this tiny setup, and Steve Holmes and Charlie Steen, the videographers, were cranking out gold with pretty much every video they shot together or separate. I think it was the Breathe Owl Breathe film, shot entirely by Charlie, and the Passalacqua film, shot by both and edited all at once in a night by Steve, that sold Mark.

I don’t think he was prepared for all the workings of the RSA, as seemingly scattered as they are. It has become so much more than simply audio tracks; our shared appreciation for context in history was apparent as soon as the different branches of the project were explained to him.

State Archivist Mark Harvey
I didn’t think there was any way this guy was the chief archivist of Michigan, though.  He’s got this beard that Williamsburg hipsters could only dream of (pictured left), and it didn’t hurt my cause that he is already a huge fan of Michigan music, being familiar with many of the acts from the RSA already.  Mark was also real patient about the fact that I am suspicious of just about anyone who wants to help me with anything.  He drafted this agreement between the Archives and myself, one that definitely caters to every interest I expressed, and I STILL wouldn’t sign it. After him sending me drafts, and me sending them back with suggestions, him making the adjustments, sending it back…I still couldn’t make myself sign. Finally, there just wasn’t any other option. He had made every concession I asked for, and I had watched him make a similarly catering agreement with Charlie and Steve. Realizing there was just nothing left to be suspicious of, I signed. There is the possibility of grant money, yes, but that would be expressly for RSA operations- gas, lodging, setting up and promoting listening parties, etc. Making a living is a long way off, if its even an option at all.

I think "what we appreciate most about the River Street Anthology" changes from year 1 to year 2... I think there are half a dozen things that I personally "appreciate" about it... But can you talk about how it shows musicians that they, themselves, are appreciated! In a streaming world, in a low-turn-out-at-bars world, in a free download world... Here's you and Mark saying: 'Hey, you matter!'  
 While the RSA started off and remains a piece of preservation, the “you matter” effect is an unavoidable bonus. I just want to get artists feeling significant, because they all are. The ridiculously short attention span of the average music listener today turned out not to be a hill I particularly wanted to die on. I want something permanent for everyone, and with the help of the Archives, I think I found it.

Future plans? Gas money from the DNR? Kewenawe? Petoskey? This will go on for the foreseeable future, right? Or at least for a good 2-3 years more, right? Maybe 4-5? 
  It could very well go on for the rest of my life. The deal I have with the Archives includes the provision that I can continue adding to the collection at will, and I am never done with anything. As far as what the DNR is paying for, gas and whatnot- there isn’t any plan in sight just yet for thing like that. I’m still flying pretty much set of the pants for just about everything, meaning I’ve got a hell of a lot of assless pants in my possession. I did however get $1000 from the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundaiton, which, while it might not sound like a ton of money to some people, I can basically replace my entire setup with $1000. That’s the beauty of keeping things simple.

Can history lovers get a chance to hear these songs sometime in 2017, maybe? Via Preservica?
 I think its pretty safe to say that much of the material from the RSA will be available in the coming year, yes. It does, however, always depend on the degree to which I have my shit together. As long as I can keep everything in relative good order, and delegate authority with the Archives, there shouldn’t be a problem, besides the fact that I am usually horribly disorganized and delegating authority is the hardest thing in the world for me.

I love how our conversations often end on awkward, purposefully self-deprecating notes like that...

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