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Ever dream of leaving the workaday world behind and liberating yourself from corporate control? Or have you ever wanted to put some of your life experiences to music, but it didn’t quite work out the way you’d envisioned? How about experiencing two full weeks of eating nothing but the best BBQ in the world? I sat down with Dave Smith to talk about these and other issues.
Mr. Smith is the author of “King Pignacious: A Swine’s Rise to Power,” a not-quite-rock-opera, decidedly multimedia entertainment extravaganza which chronicles a war between humans and pigs where pigs try to expose the hypocrisy of the for-profit health system and show average humans how their lives are being ruined by healthcare conglomerates and big business.
“King Pignacious: A Swine’s Rise to Power” has its third and final show at the Viaduct Theater this Saturday, September 11. The show starts at 9:30pm and the opening act is Fluid Minds. A portion of the sales will go to benefit CHIRP.
CHIRP: How did you come up with the idea for “King Pignacious?”
DS: The multimedia production that eventually became “King Pignacious” was a direct result of a two week trip I took to Tennessee a couple of years ago. I was looking for the world’s best BBQ and was told it was in this one specific area of Tennessee. I decided while I was there to travel around, sample as much BBQ as I could, and to make a documentary about my trip.
When I got home, I was working with Jeff Kowlakowski (Jeff plays keyboards in “King Pignacious”) and we wrote a song called “Tennessee” as theme music for the documentary. Basically, I never stopped writing music for my imagined documentary. Eventually, what I had was the beginnings of the rock opera/multimedia experience that became “King Pignacious.”
CHIRP: So it started initially as a celebration of barbecue?
DS: (laughs) Yeah, I guess you could say that. Although along the way, it morphed into something with political and social themes. The history of BBQ becomes very important. There’s a war between humans and pigs and the audience learns that BBQ actually came about because humans were torturing captive POW pigs by slowly roasting them and then eating them. Hence the slogan “Low and Slow” that you hear throughout the show.
CHIRP: Interesting. BBQ as torture. Are you a vegetarian?
DS: Surprisingly not. I still love BBQ.
CHIRP: I have to ask about any possible “Animal Farm” connection. The pigs and the political overtones—it seems very reminiscent of the book.
DS: Yeah, we all read that one in high school, but there’s no connection. King Pignacious and his Merry Swine try to liberate humans, not subvert other farm animals. So I guess he’s kind of a Marxist, but he’s no Trotsky.
CHIRP: Who exactly is King Pignacious?
DS: King Pignacious is not modeled after any specific character; rather, the character was inspired by the lyrics I wrote when I got back from Tennessee. It just seemed right to make him the leader of a revolution. As far as looks go, he’s kind of modeled on my English Bulldog.
CHIRP: Have you written any other shows like “King Pignacious” before?
DS: No. This is definitely my most ambitious project to date.
CHIRP: Tell me about the writing process.
DS: I wrote all of the songs myself, and recorded rough demos of the vocals and piano accompaniment. I played these tapes for people I was interested in working with and asked them to comment. Some people were excited about the project, others were not. Some were actually offended that I’d asked them to take part in something so “silly.” But those who were interested in the tapes are the people you see on stage in the show.
We’re all established musicians and we’re trying to do what we do and have fun in the process. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the audience, so I think those who joined the cast made a good decision.
CHIRP: You said that the cast is comprised of professional musicians. Have you played together before? Do you play the same style of music? How did the other musicians’ backgrounds influence the sound of “King Pignacious?”
DS: Some of us have played together before—mostly in jazz bands. But we all certainly knew each other before the show began. The Chicago music scene isn’t that big. We play a large variety of music in the show. There are about fourteen to fifteen songs and they run the gamut as far as genre goes. There’s punk, reggae, jazz, blues, country, pop, etc.
I was definitely inspired by “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa, at least in the initial phases of writing. But in the show, all of the songs are different and we even have multiple singers. Improv is a big part of it.
CHIRP: So there’s no guarantee it will be the same show every night?
DS: Exactly. We wanted to make it kind of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book for the audience. What the audience reacts most to is what we play up. Plus, the show itself has evolved with time. For instance, I even added a song called “H1N1”. As the show keeps evolving, I hope people will come back and see it again because it really won’t be the same show they saw six months or even three months ago.
CHIRP: With the improvisation and the multimedia experience, would you say that “King Pignacious” is a little jarring to the senses?
DS: Well, we wanted it to be as over the top as possible. There’s a giant pig’s face that images are projected onto from multiple projectors, while at the same time, the pig’s eyes are old school television tubes that play other images. And we kind of mess with the images in the pig’s eyes using magnets to warp the picture and sound. Obviously, there’s music. There’s narration. There are sound effects. The experience could be considered jarring, but that’s kind of the goal. And it’s not jarring in a negative way. Like I said, we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from the audience.
CHIRP: So now that you’ve written and are performing your first multimedia show, what are your future plans?
DS: I want to construct my own city of pigs. Not actual pigs, but pigs as they are portrayed in “King Pignacious.” People who are tired of corporations running everything in their lives. People who want to live off the grid. People who are tired of dealing with “The Man,” as it were.
CHIRP: Where would you build this city? Could anyone live there?
DS: Sure, anyone could live there, but at first it would probably just be the band and their loved ones. It would probably be out somewhere in Wyoming or Montana. Someplace without a lot of people. Actually, I think Montana would be best. It’s a much prettier natural environment. Wyoming is too desolate.
Sam Amidon is an experimental folk artist. His newest album I See the Sign has been praised for its unique interpretations of traditional folk songs. The album was produced and recorded by Valgeir Sigurdsson and features contributions from Shahzad Ismaily, Nico Muhly, and Beth Orton. Performing this Friday at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Sam took some time to answer some questions for CHIRP Radio.
You were born in Vermont but have been living in New York City, still making folk music. What’s folky about New York City?
New York City is like 40 little teeny villages off in the mountains all piled up on top of each other. A Village-Tower.
What do you see is the relationship between traditional folk (choirs, untreated guitar, vocal groups, etc.) and the recording studio? Is there a conflict with what you grew up with and technology?
No, because my sense of traditional folk has a lot more to do with what the songs are and how people interact with them, not so much what the sound of folk music is. The significance of technology in folk music is way more about how it affected the way people heard and learned and shared music. So the main thing is that once radio was invented, you didn’t need to play music in order to hear it.
And the other thing about it is that it took memory and its attendant faults out of the process. So with music that was learned by ear and not written down, i.e. folk music, the songs were created through this wonderful series of accidents and forgotten verses, which is less true now that you can go back and check the recording.
Your new album has been praised for its reinterpretations of other people’s songs. Can you respond to that? Was making these songs something else intentional? If so, how do you go about recreating something like that? Can you talk about one song in specific that you are most proud of and why?
The main thing about the folksongs is that they are not “other people’s songs,” they are songs that are slowly created by many people over time, including whoever is singing them at the moment. I do tend to change them around, and partially that’s to make them more personal, but in a way I don’t stress about that too much – if I realize I just prefer singing the song as I learned it, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But sometimes I work backwards – I will write a guitar part or some chord changes, and then realize that a folk melody will fit on top, or won’t quite fit, but that’s nice too.
R. Kelly has, despite his dubious personal life, remained revered in both pop and indie circles. On your new album, you cover his song “Relief.” What about him appeals to you? What about that particular song?
He’s the most prolific and most insane and most melodic songwriter of the decade! I guess that would make him our Bob Dylan. And if he is our Bob Dylan, then that is his “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
How are you dealing with the changing landscape of the music industry? Have there been any particular things you used to do that you can’t anymore? In general, are the way things are changing good for you?
Well, the Internet has made it much easier for my music to be flung farther afield – because of that I was able to start traveling to Europe much sooner than I would have otherwise, I think. And anything that results in traveling to far-fung places is good!
What were the last three records you purchased or downloaded?
“Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2”; John Coltrane, “Ascension,” The-Dream, “Love King.”
David Perez is a Mexican-American living, breathing and loving theatre life in Chicago. Since 2006, Perez, along with several friends and collaborators, have been growing their company, Pavement Group with the intention of doing something different. As Artistic Director, Perez has used alternative loft spaces and stages, tackled sex, friendship and punk music for larger and larger audiences. In fact, the exposure has been so good that for their 2008 presentation of Lipstick Traces at the AV-aerie, opening night was shut down by the police and the run had to be completed speakeasy-style, with large signs on the front door that read “CANCELLED” and a suspicious looking person directing you to go around the back. Such is life in Chicago when you are trailblazing punk-rock theatre for independent-minded folks, I suppose. I emailed David to ask him a few questions about their current production punkplay, his love of music and being different in a city full of thespians. punkplay is a Steppenwolf Visiting Company Initiative and runs through Sunday April 25, 2010 in the Garage Theatre. On Saturday, March 27th people who attend punkplay are invited to a post-curtain celebration in the theatre with cast members, complimentary food, beverages and CHIRP DJ Mike Gibson spinning his picks of the best in punk, post-punk and hardcore.
Tickets are available at steppenwolf.org or by calling the box office at (312) 335-1650. Read on for the interview…
Erik Roldan: What is punk about theatre?
David Perez: Theatre at its best forces an audience to reorganize themselves around their taste and humanity. Good theatre can enrage you, revolt you, and inspire you to participate in your humanity. A good piece of music unlocks a conversation with yourself, and I think theatre is the same. I get the same rush reading a great play as I did the first time I heard Pixies “Doolittle.” And then there is the assumed vow of poverty. Really, we are all broke.
ER: punkplay is Pavement Group’s 2nd play about punk rock. Why have you chosen to tackle this subject again?
DP: Well firstly – we wanted a play that was in direct (or indirect) conversation with Lipstick Traces – a companion piece of sorts. We are fascinated and curious about culture and how we augment it – replicate it – assign it in ways to activate our lives. I think “punk” and music in general serve as a great point of entry into our generation’s humanity. As a demographic raised by TV – especially MTV, music serves as a way to anchor ourselves in memory and identity. While Lipstick Traces argued punk as an impulse and a vehicle into finding some sort of genuine interaction with the world around us, punkplay argues the genre as an identity system – a tarnished relic of what used to be – a total negation of the purity of the movement. The play is almost anti-punk in the way it warns us about the frailty of trying to assign our selves identity with fashion. The play tells us to go out into the world and be the people who we are supposed to be. Very punk. While both plays use punk as a point of entry, Lipstick Traces explores the intellectual implications of the movement, punkplay ponders the deeply personal and emotional territory.
ER: What is Pavement Group doing in Chicago that is different from other theater companies?
DP: This is an awesome question…and one we ask ourselves a ton. We founded on the new plays platform, but the second prong of our mission, the one I feel that gives us our unique brand, is that we speak directly to a non-theatre audience. I mean, you are reading this interview on the CHIRP website – not exactly the main line theatre environment. Our audience is comprised of folks who see two plays a year – and they are Pavement Group plays. Our core demographic usually uses their spending power on live music etc. We are proud to be changing peoples minds about the form.
ER: You’re still a relatively young company, and yet you’ve already partnered with About Face Theater and Steppenwolf. Tell me about your experience so far in Chicago and what your plans are for the future.
DP: Well were really fucking lucky. Steppenwolf has given us a tremendous opportunity this year, and given the PG founders are former Steppenwolf apprentices, were pretty happy to see this dream come true. AFT under the brilliant leadership of Bonnie Metzgar has really taken on the mission to engage the theatre community in ferocious conversation with the XYZ Festival, which we were thrilled to be a part of.
We are also lucky enough to be part of the unofficial league of itinerant theatre companies. Our friendship/sharing of resources with Sinnerman Ensemble, Theater 7, and 13 Pocket have really given us hope and pride in this community.
We are proud to be a Chicago Theatre. Lets not mince words: Fuck New York. Chicago is where the energy is put into the work, not into the orbiting egos around the work. We are lucky enough to be part of a collective pool of energy that supports and encourages discourse, regardless if your haircut and lack of a trust fund.
The future … well … let just say stay tuned. We have some very exciting news we want to share, but can’t just yet.
ER: Tell me your last 7 music downloads/purchases. What is your current favorite jam and why?
DP: The rest:
Pavement – Quarantine The Past – Well, lets get real – I am huge Pavement fan so I of course just bought Matador’s Greatest Hits Comp. Awesome. Huge pavement dork. Clearly I am stupid-excited about Pitchfork.
SHAPERS – Little, Big – I am biased, as the folks in the band our friends, but this album is my favorite purchase of the year. Seriously … progressive and haunting. Features members of May Or May Not, and The Hood Internet. This album irritates my coworkers because I play it so much
Girls – Album – So obsessed. Its like if Jan and Dean were homos.
Amen Dunes – Dia
Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
Eric Satie – Piano Music – When I want to pretend I am smarter then I am
Lotus Plaza – The Floodlight Collective
As for a jam. Totally not new, but I can not stop listening to Band of Horses “The Great Salt Lake.” I am a sucker for some nostalgia-anthemic-lonely boy music. I also am a Seattle transplant, and was a huge fan of their previous incarnation (Carissa’s Wierd). Life is all about changes for me right now…so anything that is unearthing the past and moving boldly into the future has a place on my ipod.
(Photo by Jacob Hand)
On their fourth official full-length effort, Eskimo Snow, Oakland’s beloved psychedelic folk-hoppers WHY? take a decidedly less hip-hop approach to their song-writing. Recorded during the 2007 sessions that birthed Alopecia, the band’s last, more robust and rap-inspired record, the 10-song set reveals a lighter and more spacious side of WHY? – songs that feel more like “song-songs” according to frontman Yoni Wolf.
“Eskimo Snow is intentionally what it is I suppose,” the singer/rapper cryptically states in a chat with CHIRP. “But [it’s] not like we said before we made it, ‘let’s make an album that is not rap’ or anything like that. It’s just what we happened to come up with.”
The more live and stripped-down feel on Eskimo Snow was no doubt made possible in part by session players Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson of the Minneapolis-based outfit Fog who rounded out the band to 5 members in the studio. The two longtime collaborators and friends of WHY? will also be joining them on the road this time around and the whole band is doing what they do to prepare the 40+ date trek which will include stops in Australia and New Zealand. “The Fog boys are most definitely in tow in a big way, they are sounding strong; sounding super!” Wolf enthuses. “Of course, we’ve rehearsed an awful lot for the tour. And between rehearsals Broder likes to jump rope, Josiah [Wolf, Yoni’s brother and drummer] likes to work on this house (today he was putting up insulation) and the rest of us…do other stuff I guess.”
“Other stuff” for Yoni meant recently lending his consuming and reviewing skills to TheYoundAndHungry.com with his version of a New York vegan restaurant review. “Though I was extremely busy, my friend Jena asked me to write that,” he admits. “She’s the kind of very attractive woman you find it hard to say no to. So, I did it and I’m glad I did! It was a lot of fun and I could see myself starting a whole new career. I am surely a big fan of food.”
In true WHY? fashion, cooking up another uniquely awesome record called for another batch of unique and awesome album art. To help him flesh-out the many ideas he had for the look of the album, Yoni enlisted the help of photographer Phoebe Streblow and layout artist Sam Flax Keener. The resulting image utilizes paint, photography and collage and vividly depicts a mummy figure with a bouquet of flowers for a head and an eerily lit purple wall for a backdrop. “It is my favorite WHY? cover so far,” Yoni says. “It took me a long long time (months) to come to this idea after having so many others, but I think things finally came together. I had a lot of help from my friends on it.”
As one of the founding members of the anticon collective, Yoni Wolf knows all too well the value of a supportive group of forward-thinking friends. Although some of the crew have branched out to other bands and labels, anticon remains thick as thieves and has injected some young blood (in the form of Serengeti & Polyphonic, Tobacco and Anathallo) to help keep the operation afloat. “I love all those guys,” he says of the label’s rookie acts. “They probably wouldn’t be a part of the label if I felt differently. We are doing quite a few shows with Chicago’s own Serengeti & Polyphonic [on this tour] and we’ve toured with Anathallo (also a Chicago band) and Tobacco in the near past. I’m very much looking forward to the future of anticon.”
Why? is playing tomorrow night (Oct. 5th) at the Bottom Lounge
Sampling and trading jokes are a common occurrence that famous comedians have to deal with; they also deal with the annoying hassle of their jokes being stolen. Joke stealing appears to be occurring more frequently and lately it is happening in Chicago.
“It’s survival of the fittest,” says South Side Comedian Kevin White, who has had several jokes stolen and later used on national TV.
It may be survival of the fittest; but also stealing jokes can affect a comedian’s own creditability as well as their professionalism. Some comedians who are victims of theft can shrug it off and continue writing new and even better jokes, while others suffer setbacks.
Comedians may spend months writing jokes and perfecting them, but to later have them stolen can be emotionally upsetting, professionally frustrating, and offensive.
Chicago Stand-Up Comedian Damon Williams referred to theft in the comedy world as great minds thinking alike and having the same joke is just a coincidence.
But Williams adds, “There is a fine line between stealing and sampling. As a comedian you often run into a situation where you have the idea but another comedian has already fleshed that idea into a joke.”
Radio host and stand-up comedian Brian Babylon disagrees. He says he seen his fair share of “Carlos Mencia’s” in the Chicago comedy world, referring to the largely publicized accusations of Mencia plagiarizing jokes from other comedians.
Most famously, popular stand-up comedian and UFC announcer Joe Rogan confronted Mencia on stage about his alleged plagiarism. George Lopez, of “The George Lopez Show,” has also made accusations of Mencia stealing his material.
What does this say about the world of comedy? About Chicago Comedians? Does joke stealing prevent local comedians from making it big?
“This is a business,” says Babylon who believes a comedian’s jokes is their property. He feels that it is not unreasonable to assume that a comedian can become financially affected when theft occurs.
For comedians who steal, “They don’t really think about the integrity side of it, because they just don’t feel like they are stealing anything. They just feel like they are doing the joke better than the comic who first put it out there,” says Mary Lindsey, Bronzeville comedy club owner of Joke and Notes. “It happens all the time,” say Lindsey.
Lindsey says ninety percent of the time the audience do not recognize the joke is stolen unless they are heavily involved in the comedy business. Lindsey attributes joking stealing in Chicago, to the over saturation of comedy in the city and every person believing they can easily become comedians.
Burt Haas, comedy club owner of Zaines, attributes some of the theft to the demands of the entertainment industry. Celebrity comedians are under constant pressure to produce jokes faster than they can handle and sometimes the only recourse is stealing.
When asked directly about their thoughts on joking stealing the Chicago Comedians responded with mixed feelings.
“It’s desperation and I’m aggressively going after that person. You’re an intellectual thief.” and “You will become notorious for stealing,” says Babylon.
Williams adds, if a comedian has their material stolen they should not, “dwell on it.” He believes one stolen joke does not affect comedians from making it out of Chicago or establishing a name in the comedy business, he advises local comedians who are victims of theft to keep writing.
White initially felt upset when his jokes were stolen and also felt he could not make it big if his jokes were making it to TV before he did. Later he was flattered by the theft of his jokes, because it shows he is a good writer and his jokes are good enough to make it on to national TV.
Many comedians reach a point in their career where they are desperate, under pressure or are on stage performing and need a joke to save them from getting heckled. In the culture of comedy, many concepts like grasping, reaching, and stealing seems to be a natural occurrence.
Are there rules in the comedy world? What can be done about joking stealing?
Williams says the universal rule in comedy is if two comedians have the same joke then the first person to perform the joke on TV is the one that validates the joke.
Timing is most important in the comedy culture because comedians have to constantly write material that is funny enough to perform and funny enough to make it on national TV. Sometimes the best way to protect their material from being stolen is to perform it live on TV, and even that is not always good enough.
“Getting the strongest protection possible is the first step toward getting their work protected,” says Exavier Pope, Chicago Entertainment Attorney.
Pope says there are many steps a comedian can take to protect their material, which first includes getting all work copyrighted by the U.S Copyright Office.
Copyright law protects any expressible forms of ideas or information that are substantive, discrete, and fixed in a medium which includes jokes and other written material. Once a copyright has been obtained, the next step would be an order to “cease and desist” to the party committing the infringement, then move towards establishing the extent of the infringement and seeking monetary damages.
“The entertainment industry can be cutthroat at times” but Pope says the rule of thumb is, “First in time, first in line.”