Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Spotty Blog Interview: Meet the Strayers!

Introduction: What can I say about the Strayers that I haven't already said in last week's review of their DIY CD?

A lot probably, but if I told you, THERE WOULD BE CONSEQUENCES!

They were great fun to interview.

As you check out what they have to say for themselves... er, I mean, say about the musical path, you'll see an initial in front of the answers to indicate who responded.

Sometimes they merge into a three headed beast, but for purposes of less confusion and terror...

B = Bill Strayer
D = Denise Strayer
J = Joshua Troup

Let the inquisition... er... interview... begin!

The Interview:

Q) When was the first time you each knew that you wanted music to be a big part of your lives?

B: Bought my 1st album at 8, Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind. I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face when I showed it to him. Music’s always been big since.

J: When I was as young as 3, I would go to my parents den in our basement and find
their copy of The Beatles “let it be” and take it upstairs to my bedroom so I could play it on my Fisher Price record player. I’m sure I didn’t realize then, just how important
music would become later in my life...but now I cannot imagine an existence without it.

Nietzsche said it best: “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

D: I have been playing the piano since 9 and continued to play all throughout high
school, however, it wasn’t until I went away to Penn State Main as a Communications
major that I realized how much I missed it. My boyfriend at the time and I one night
went to the Music Building to one of the basement practice rooms and I played for him
for the first time, he was the one who told me I should be a Music major. I later did get
into the School of Music and graduated with an emphasis in piano pedagogy and have
been teaching piano since. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Q) What was the most surprising or perplexing element of your experience with
recording the debut album?

B and J: How much money we spent on booze

D: Agreed but for me especially it was the evolution of opening up to a third member of the band. Prior to recording I was extremely reluctant to have anyone enter the band
full time, wanting to preserve the sanctity of what Bill and I had all by ourselves. Bill and Mark Ross (who produced our album) eventually broke me down to the reality that we needed a drummer for the “album only” to keep time and fill in the sound. My first
choice was Troup and after 4 sessions and hearing Troup’s tracks on Remind Me I’m
Kind come together I knew I couldn’t allow my fears hold me back from the reality that we needed him be a part of what we had. Luckily he said yes.

Q) What drew you to your respective instruments? Can you remember the first time you touched one?

B: 14 years old. Guitars are cool.

J: I was drawn to percussion because of the simplicity and rawness of it. You find a
beat and sink into it. First time I touched one was when I was 6 and my family moved
into our new house, my uncle returned my dad’s 1967 Ludwig 5 piece drum set to my

D: Being a piano player I jammed a few times with other people and Bill and I began
playing music together with the digital piano we have in our family room. However,
when Spring time rolled around, it really blew that Bill could take his guitar outside and I was left opening a window. At the time, we started listening to bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and The Felice Brothers, and after hearing the accordion on the Felice Brothers album, I decided that I wanted to make the accordion my portable piano. I didn’t know what all the buttons were on the left hand side but figured I could teach myself, and I did. That was 2009.

Q) How did the 3 of you meet?

D: Bill and I were encouraged to come by the Gamble Mill for Open Mic nights by our
friend who ran the event, Mark Ross, and who subsequently produced our debut album.

It was after the first or 2nd time there that we met Josh and he introduced himself as a
drummer and gave us a business card. We surprisingly didn’t throw it away, because as
I mentioned earlier I was not interested in having anyone else in the band.  Nonetheless, we would see Troup from time to time there and downtown with friends
and when it finally came time to record our album in October, he was our first choice
when it was revealed we needed to add a percussion to the album.

Q) What do you think most influences you as individual musicians and as a group?

B: Music or people who perform with passion heart and soul.

J: I truly believe music is a celebration. A celebration of everything that we experience
in life. Good times, bad times, and everything in between. I try to find positive
inspiration from all aspects of life. From the moments that change us and make us
grow to the seemingly trivial...

D: Music helps me keep my sanity. The revelation of TRUTH and LOVE.

Q) Cola or Pop?

B: Soda

J: Ale

D: Neither because they both contain High Fructose Corn Syrup and countless other
artificial ingredients that are really bad for you. Water.

Q) What have ben some of the most gratifying moments for you as a band so far?

Our first gig at the Gamble Mill as a TRIO in December. Plus the way we all felt after
hearing Remind Me I’m Kind put together during recording.

Q) When writing original material, what role do you each fulfill in the collaborative process?

B: I did all the writing for originals on the album, but moving forward we are all equal
collaborators with full artistic freedom.

D: I like having a classical background and knowledge of music theory to assist in
finding ways to move the harmony.

J: I hope to suggest new condiments, herbs, and spices to be uses as axillary
percussion instruments.

Q) Long Johns or onesies?

B: I would really like to get a “Forever Lazy” but until then, long johns.

J: Never ate at Onsies before but Long Johns is ok.

D: I like my long johns. Both kinds.

Q) Will you tell us a story about your tattoos?

B: I got my horseshoe when I was really hung-over. My friend bought it for me, after I
agreed to it the night before.

J: Most of mine are from prison and I don’t like to talk about that.

D: Each one I have is a celebration: the sun to celebrate life; the tree to celebration my
family of choice: my husband and my kids; the orchids to celebration my womanhood;
my kitty paw to celebrate the life of my first kitty who past away a few years ago.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Yam Salve Song

Years of social media silliness in the making.... THE YAM SALVE SONG HAS ARRIVED!

Courtesy of Paul Shapera.


The Yam Salve Song!

*For an explanation of the origins of the yam salve song, there are earlier posts about something called "Categories"

**Also, totally NSFW so you might not want to blast it in your cubicle**

***But you definitely want to blast it at home***

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Spotty Blog Interview: Meet Amanda Silliker!

Introduction: Amanda Silliker is a woman with an incredible voice. Mezzo, Opera Singer, teacher, she is a person who digs deep in order to bring solid performances to life, as the interview below reveals.

I am honored to know her.

Back in college days when the rest of us were hanging out drinking coffee and otherwise dodging study time, I remember she was always at a rehearsal or practice of some sort. I admire the depth of her focus and the joy she brings to everything.

She's got a fan page here.


Q) How do you prepare for a performance?

A) Oy vey. Do you mean the leg work learning a piece, or the actual day of/day before ritual? Learning a piece is a process - if the piece is in a foreign language, the very first step is translation. I'm *supposed* to memorize the text before learning the music, but I never do...the memorizations come together. I will often find several different tanslations of a text online and compare/contrast them to find where they agree and (more interestingly) disagree. When I find inconsistencies I either go to someone who is fluent or fine the word in a dictionary to try and determine why that inconsistency arose. I then write the text into my music, a literal word for word - no article is left untranslated or implied!

I learn the music by playing it, listening to it, thinking through it, and singing it. I do memorize the text separate from the music so I can deliver it as a monologue, but I do that concurrently with learning the melody. When I have a larger work that I am preparing I make a CD and play it in my car - resisting the urge to sing along as long as I can! Just very intently listening to the intricacies of the ensemble and direction of the line.

I doubt you want a description of the vocal practice...its tedious. As for "game-day ritual"? I used to clear my schedule of students, but now I only clear for the "big ones" (meaning concerts of great focus or import. Yet another Messiah does not warrant loss of teaching income!). I sleep in. I eat healthy, fluid rich foods (fruit! watermelon and grapes are a favorite!). I push water. I stretch my body and my voice. I shower without wetting my hair, luxuriating in the steam. I put in my contacts immediately following the shower, then the eyelashes. I let the glue dry while I do other normal things - laundry, dishes, whatever.

Whether hair or make-up is next is a toss up - it depends on Melissa's schedule since she does my hair 90% of the time! Sometimes I'll even save the makeup for the at the theater. I get to the theater, walk on the stage a little bit. Stretch some more. Focus. Hermit in the dressing room.

Q) How do you recover from performances?

A) A beer. Sleep in. Who am I kidding? I sleep in every day! LOL

Q) What would you consider the most challenging piece of music you've performed?

A) The Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde - it's outside my fach and took an enormous amount of time, energy, and focus to stretch my voice into it and develop the breath management. Not to mention the intricacies of the music itself. And really absorbing the poetry - my god, the POETRY. Nothing gets me closer to words than studying them for hours on end. And ALWAYS finding something new. Wagner may have been an asshole, but he was also a genius. Seriously.

When I first hear a Wagner piece, I am bored by it - the music kind of washes past me and I can't grasp anything. There's nothing to hum, nothing to tap my foot too, no immediate musical humor that makes me smile. Learning it I feel like I'm struggling - it's like giving birth. I labor, and grunt and moan, rend my garments in frustration at the sheer exertion. And then once it's learned? There's nothing better. It no longer washes past me, but washes over me, engulfing me. I become wrapped up in it, and it takes me places I didn't know could exist.

Q) What has been one of your favorite performances?

A) Probably the Verdi Requiem in 2010 (also with Penn State). I got to sing with people who have regularly performed all over the world (including the Met) and realized I can hang with the big dogs. I also had my theory confirmed that the "higher" you move through the echelons of singers, the more _real_ and genuine we/they are. People I'll sit on a couch with my feet tucked up under me, eating pizza and beer while telling jokes. I also loved the pomp and circumstance around the Verdi - my gown. Oh the gown! I LOVE that part of my job.

Q) As a teacher, what do you find the most gratifying?

A) There are so many things!!! Watching a student catch an "a-ha!" moment, watching them discover their "woman/man" voice (as opposed to the child voice they had been using), being able to explain some complicated concept that has been troubling them in a way they truly understand and seeing the relief, introducing them to the poetry of Verlaine, Roethke, Goethe - and helping them find how incredible it is, and how music helps interpret and augments those thoughts. What I do find most gratifying? Being able to nurture.

Q) What are some of the challenges of touring? What do you gain from the experience?

A) I don't tour...I will dip out of town for a weekend here or there for a performance, but that's different. The Germany trip was a different beast altogether - is that what you are referring to?

Me) Yes. I was really intrigued by the experience described here of the health care system. 

Q) Do you remember what first sparked your love for opera?

A) I never had a spark - there was no "falling in love". Don't get me wrong, I do love it, but it was an acquired love that slowly happened over time. I can't pinpoint "Then. That was the moment," because there was none. I fell into it because it was what my voice did. Familiarity bred the love. And, to be frank, I love performing it infinitely more than I love watching it. Have you ever had a friend, who became your best friend, and then at some point you realized you were in love? It was that.

Q) What advice would you give to someone interested in the same career path?

A) Take more dancing and acting classes than I did! Find someone you trust to work with. Stretch yourself, but find where you feel at home, and trust that feeling. Try new things, give up your inhibtions - you might find a new home. Love what you do, because if you don't, you won't do the work. Be genuine.

Q) Are there any special tricks you have for working around a cold?

A) NEEM. I haven't had a cold in longer than I can remember (*knock on wood and chew a neem leaf*!). That being said, hydrate hydrate hydrate. Ibuprofen. Steam. Salt water gargles. REST.

Q) Is there a particular piece of music that you have yet to perform that you would love the opportunity to do?

A) Since I program my own set lists for recitals, I get to do much of what I want! But there a couple roles that I can't extract their arias and I would ADORE having the opportunity to perform them - Principessa from Suor Angelica (Puccini) and Amneris from Aida (Verdi).

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Spotty Blog Interview: Meet Peter Buckland!

Introduction: How to adequately present to you the human known as Peter Buckland? Charismatic, multi-talented and prolific, this is a dude with a lot going on. Poet, musician, environmentalist, dad, and friend, I know him as a wildly fun, bold person with a lot to offer the world.

Currently, he's the Sustainability Director at Kiski.

He's done this,,

and this,

and this,

and he has a poetry blog, which is one of my favorite blogs, Peter Is In The Forest.

The Interview:

Q) As a poet, musician and an environmentalist, do you see these interests as part of an integrated whole or as separate? How do they feed and inform each other for you?
A) I’m not a person who usually compartmentalizes my identity. Whether by choice or by nature, I see these as discrete expressions of who I am and often connected to one another. I express my reverence for nature in all three of these identities. My poems are my most patient ruminations on who I am in nature’s course, on what and how other living things are expressions of matter and energy, how a stone is many things while being just a stone, how “we” the industrialized humans in the world have embarked on an incredible and terrifying game by insisting we must both increase our raw numbers and raise the affluence of each of those people and that this amplifies our games with death, fear, and love in ways that evoke despair and wonder. All of the lyrics I wrote for my last band, Collapse, were about ecological degradation. It was at its heart, protest music against the growing machinery of humans that is literally poisoning the biosphere both deliberately and by accident. That said, we also covered Testament, Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Metallica songs that had zero to do with nature. Finally, as an environmentalist – a very active and vocal one – comes quite naturally to someone who loves and reveres the marvels of the world, enjoys language, and has no qualms about getting in front of a gathered crowd or the audience of a publication. I’d like to believe that my opinions are well-informed and reflected upon in a number of ways and that they find meaningful expression across the board.

Q) What appeals to you most about the metal genre of music?
A) I’d say power. If metal is about one thing, it’s about power. And everything in it expresses power somehow. Lyrics are about suffering because someone is holding you down. Whether that’s your parents, an unseen corporate elite, generals in the military, Obama (check out “Hopenosis” by Forbidden), Satan, Christianity, aliens, or your own violent urges, it’s power. Or it’s about overcoming something, engaging in violent combat, being or fighting a dragon... Even hair metal is about power. Fast cars. Hot chicks you submit to or dominate. Going on a bender. And the music expresses these things in so many ways.
Look at the artwork too. Power. Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot, is like an avatar of distorted power much of the time, able to do strange and incredible things. Just look at the cover of Killers or Somewhere in Time where Eddie has just murdered someone or blown someone away in some Blade Runner dystopian future. Look at the cover of Metallica’s …And Justice For All with Lady Justice bound and being pulled apart amid a rain of falling money. It’s all corruption, the abuse of power. Pick up just about any death metal album. Dark and sinister power.
And of course the music does it too. Metal, as a genre, deals in incredible extremes. In no other musical genre can we have the range of vocal expression and talent and skill that we do in metal. If you randomly pick ten bands – Prong, Carcass, Blind Guardian, Testament, Whitesnake, Lamb of God, Mayhem, Napalm Death, Gojira, and Tyr – you will go through an incredible range of tempos, rhythms, vocal styles, melodies or lacks thereof, and playing abilities ranging from the astronomically virtuosic – Steve Vai played in Whitesnake for example – to the proficient but nothing to write home about – like Prong. And all this music just fucking overwhelms the listener. Want to see people reveling in being overwhelmed, go to a Slayer show. Everyone there is in an ecstatic state because four guys are playing the loudest, fastest, most vicious music humans have devised.

Q) In terms of environmental issues, what do you see as the most pressing concern at the moment? What advice would you give to someone who wants to do something but does not know where to begin?
A) I think it’s impossible to say there’s just one thing like the extinction of species, climate change, or habitat loss. Here’s a kind of egg-headed answer: We have too many people using too much stuff too fast and we are designing our technology and economy to make even more people use even more stuff even faster. That’s pretty crazy. We are consciously undermining our descendants’ ability to live on a planet viable for human habitation. How can we tell? Through the problems like the ones I listed above. I’ll save you an exhaustive laundry list of problems and move on to actions people can take.
The single most important thing a person can do is connect with other people to try to understand and reflect on what you are grappling with. If I give a list of things to do – eat less meat, insulate your house, reduce your electricity load by using less light and lowering your thermostat, walk, bike, or use public transport instead of driving, reuse things, plant a pollinator garden, have one child, vote for a carbon tax, purchase renewable energy credits through your power provider – it will just be empty instructions. It’ll be worse than being a kid who has gone to school and doesn’t understand why she has had to “learn.” But people should learn about why we should act. They need to believe that there a more harmonious relationship to the more-than-human world means that we need to see ourselves in it and take care of it the way we care for our loved ones. It will always be imperfect, but we can do better.

Q) How did your journey as a guitarist/composer begin?
A) The moment my parents put on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald Mountain orchestrated by Maurice Revel and performed by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That music is heavy. As a four-year-old I remember dancing around the living room in my pajamas pretending I was some insane goblin. That kind of music just loaded me to love heavy stuff. Toward the end of elementary school I heard Whitesnake and a little later Guns n’ Roses, Iron Maiden, and Metallica and that was it. I was hooked. My parents bought me a guitar in 10th grade and I started writing music. But I became disaffected with all popular music because most of it was too simple. I needed a challenge (and I was kind of a prick who wanted to set himself apart). I studied music theory and history in college and started composing. By the end of my Master’s degree though I had come full circle and all I wanted to play in music was my guitar. So I did.

Q) Everyone approaches the creative process differently, whether writing poetry or composing a song. How would you describe your process? Is it different for each form? Conversely, how are they similar?
A) Man. This question. Sometimes it’s a shape I like on the guitar and so I just start playing the shape and it turns into a song. Other times I hear something and just go figure out what I’m hearing in my ear. Others, it’s almost playing a variation on a song or excerpt from a piece I really like. Improvising for hours, I can just play and play and nothing of consequence will come of it.
Poetry tends to be much more conscious and deliberate. Usually there is some image I want to put in words, a feeling I want to evoke, or a story I need to tell and I go about it by just putting down words. Then I revise, revise, revise. Unlike playing the guitar which just happens almost of its own accord for hours at a time (if I have that much time), I have come to approach writing poetry like a craft.
But there is one thing in my “goal” (if I have one) through poetic and musical expression. I want to evoke things from the listener and reader.

Q) Apples or oranges?
A) Apples.

Q) What developments in environmental research are most exciting to you right now? Where do you think lies our best hope of positive action as a result of research?
A) It’s probably in the social science of economics. There is a lot of work going into figuring out the true costs of things. In the last few years, some really incredible research has been carried out showing that the damage our use of coal costs us much more in human health, damaged watersheds, and the like than it does good by providing us with electricity. The advent of full-cost accounting that internalizes damages instead of externalizing them from the market could help us create some incredible policies that could guide our actions and edit our choices in really good ways.

Q) When writing poetry, do you use pen and paper or electronic devices? Both? Are there differences in the experience for you?
A) Both. I am surprised at how much I like the computer honestly. I like typing and typing and then deleting and reforming and shaping things on the screen. And I love scribbling away with a pencil and circling things and making an arrow to another idea or scratching something out, just rambling along.

Q) What is one of your favorite experiences of playing in a band?
A) I think it was just the ecstasy of unleashing all that energy into a room full of people who wanted that energy. It’s thrilling. There was a woman who used to come to Collapse shows and I would just stare into her eyes while I was screaming and playing bass and just feeling so alive. She loved it. It might sound funny that this is coming from a metal guy, but it was a special thing we shared, loving that intensity. And she had beautiful skin.
Q) Themes or theme songs?
A) Themes.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Spotty Blog Interview: Meet Rune Skelley!

Introduction: Rune Skelley is the writing team Jen and Kent. They have a blog with some awesome writing prompt generators that make me squee. I've been lucky enough to know them for mumblesomething years, meeting through a fiction writing critique group. I count myself extremely lucky to know them, and even luckier to call them friends. If it weren't for these two, I might not have any publication credits to my name. Their critiques are thorough.

I still have the scars.

Under certain types of light, the scars read "qwerty."

Okay, enough joking around! Here we go...

The Interview:

Q) So, how did you come up with the name Rune Skelley?

Jen: We talk about this in one of our early skelleyverse posts. We wanted one name, and we wanted it to be unisex. We thought about using our first initials and our surname, but then you run into the problem of whose name comes first. And also the problem of sharing initials with JK Rowling. I have a few baby name books that I use when naming characters, and so I basically went through the same process for our pen name.

Q) Pants or pantaloons?

Jen: Pantaloons, definitely.

Kent: Pants, if it's a weekday (except Fridays).

Jen: Kent takes casual Friday very seriously.

Q) When did you start writing fiction collaboratively? How did that begin?

Kent: This is one of those things that's been going so long it's like it's never been any other way… In college I started a space-opera type of novel, pantsing it, ironically, but I didn't know how to wrap it up. Jen was very supportive even though it was a sorry mess. Another long-standing interest of mine was role-playing games, starting with D&D. Jen and I were part of a  group, and we also started gaming as a couple activity, and that's essentially "making up stories together" so it flowed naturally into the more traditional form of a novel.

Jen: Around the same time he was working on his space-opera, I had an idea for a vampire story, but for some reason I was hesitant to write it on my own. I remember talking to Kent about it a lot, and basically strong-arming him into collaborating on it. It ended up as a short story, and I haven't looked at it in forever. I'm sure it needs a ton of work. Kent will probably tell you that he didn't really do much with it besides hold my hand, but he's lying.

Kent: You made me let go so you could type. I do remember that there's a passage that's in verse, which you assigned specifically to me. And I recall workshopping it between the two of us quite a bit. But it was always your story, you did a great job. I was happy to be in the front row. And I think that's how a good collaboration often feels, like "Wow this is fun, I'm so glad this person is letting me take part in this!"

Jen: It's a great way to be in on the creation of a story, to tell the exact story you want to tell, but still be surprised. That's one of my favorite parts of collaborating. Even though we make a big bad outline, and we talk about all the scenes and all the characters, I still get to be surprised by the details and the nuance that you bring. It's really cool.

Q) Egg nog or egg noodles?

Jen: egg noodles with lots of butter. 

Kent: egg noodles; nog is a hoax, people!

Q) When you aren't working on your own fiction, what other writing do you read? 

Jen: Lots of different things. Right now I'm reading a mystery (which I read a lot of), and Kent is reading "The Botany of Desire" to me. I should say here that Kent reads to me while I cook dinner. Next up after my mystery will be an Archer book (the cartoon spy), and then the JJ Abrams book.

Kent: I also try to maintain a varied reading diet. I have always been partial to science fiction, and still lean that way most of the time. My favorite authors are Roger Zelazny and Neal Stephenson. Currently, I'm reading "John Dies at the End," which is rather gonzo and full of horror-humor and immaturity. It's great fun. I try to read stuff that holds up, stuff I can still enjoy now that I'm ruined as a reader.

Jen: I think being ruined as a reader is why I read so many mysteries. I don't think I would be able to write a successful one, so it's fun to try to figure out how they do it (both the author and the bad guy).

Q) Feed me an elevator pitch.

Rune: Would you opt for immortality if the price was never again touching another living thing? That was the fictional world written about by Verity North. Now, 50 years after the disappearance of Verity and her scientist husband, their granddaughter has begun publishing new works that continue the series, and giving tours of the labs and prototype immortality facilities. But there are some areas that are off limits...

Q) Elevators or escalators?

Jen: Well, it depends somewhat on how many floors you need to cover. I really like escalators. We were at Macy's in Manhattan not too long ago, and they have these amazing old wooden escalators.

Kent: My heart says escalators, but my brain says elevators. 

Jen: But what does your inner-architect say?

Kent: escalators, all day long.

Q) What advice would give to someone who is starting their first collaborative fiction project?

Jen: Make sure you like to spend a lot of time with your partner. And make a good outline.

Kent: I second those points, and suggest you consider warming up with a project that neither of you is too close to. You need to learn how you'll work together, and you might feel protective until you know you can trust each other.

Q) Curds and whey or oatmeal and fruit?

Kent: Cereal.

Jen: Oatmeal with brown sugar. Fruit on the side.

Q) How do you stay motivated when you hit challenging moments?

Kent: Personally, I find motivation in competitive ways, which is not going to be a good fit for every partnership. But I get my game-face largely by not wanting to feel like I'm being outrun. That, and coffee.

Jen: I don't drink coffee, so that doesn't help me at all. I think that having a writing partner helps tremendously, both for the competitive reason Kent mentioned, but also because I don't want to let my partner down. We cover for each other, so if I'm not in a prose mood, I can work on other things related to the project while Kent writes, or vice versa. The project doesn't languish because one of us is having an off week.

Kent: I can definitely credit Jen with most of my motivation. On my own, I'd probably be too lazy.

Jen: On his own he'd definitely sleep more. Kent sometimes has the urge to write stuff that isn't a collaboration. I never ever get that urge. So I guess for me, having a partner is the way I stay motivated. Full stop.