Angel Sewell is a traveling artist who works and lives out of her RV with her business “Poor White Trash” painted on the side for all to see.
TSIBV caught up with her to learn more about her life, how she became a traveling artist, and why she includes some *interesting* phrases on her vehicle.
I’m really curious about your background. Can you give us the short version of your life story?
I was raised on both sides of the Georgia/Florida line. I spent my first 10 years mostly in and around South Port, Florida, and at age 10 me, mama, daddy and my brand new brother moved to Desser, Georgia on Lake Seminole. My daddy tended woods and my mama worked off and on when and where she could. I have bounced back and forth across the line most of my adult life. I’ve done a lot of different jobs both before and during my art career, and I hope the folks I worked for remember me as a good employee.
How did you become an artist, and how would you describe your art to someone unfamiliar with it?
I’ve made some of my best decisions when faced with adversity. I see that looking back now.
I worked 90-hours a week managing a t-shirt shop on Panama City Beach. We sold airbrush at the store, and in the winter we were closed. I told the airbrush artist I could sell his art during the winter if he would go 50/50. He did, and it’s been my hustle ever since.
I’ll go a step further in transparency here. I wasn’t into the art at first. I was good at sales, but as I grew and learned, I started to see that the air brush artist was consistently not giving his best. His work ethic was non-existent. I was frustrated. So I made up my mind I would learn how to do it myself. And I did. My customers paid me to learn.
Somewhere around this point is where I truly became interested in art. I was adamant about teaching myself and having my own style. I chose to learn by freehand, eyeball, and guestimate rather than learn a tape measure. I should learn a tape measure, though.
I don’t use lettering brushes. I use foamies and rollers. Mine don’t look like other people’s cause I don’t use what most of them use. This makes my art fun, vibrant, and artsy.
How did you end up being an artist on the road?
When my world I’d worked so hard on crumbled, I got a beat-up pick-up truck and parked in an empty driveway of an empty beach rental house. For three days I cried. I cried while I was awake, and I cried while I was asleep. I didn’t even try not to. It’s just really all I felt like doing. But on day three I noticed I’d pretty much quit crying and felt some better.
I made a list of what I had to work with. My art, my brain, reputation, truck, dog, and my legs. That was my list. I found my value and my worth in the process. It was the first time I’d ever seen it for myself. That’s when and why I decided to become famous.
My truck had one headlight smashed out with the side mirrors kicked off. But the motor was good and the tires weren’t too bad. I decided to travel. My trucks had always been painted up and attention getters, but I took it to a whole new level with Poor White Trash.
You’ve said in past interviews that the “Poor White Trash” name for your traveling art business comes from being called that when you were a young girl. How did you come around to embracing that term and making it your own?
The woman who said it was always good to me. Her actions never did fit how those words sound. Her beef was with my parents, and she probably never knew her daughter told it. So, I just didn’t realize it was supposed to scar me. I heard it off-and-on over the years often enough to catch up to speed on its implied meaning. What could have been a curse spoken over me blessed me instead. I am an artist who challenges people’s perception. I make folks laugh, but I also bring awareness.
Don’t judge. The same people who assume I’m a druggy or a prostitute because of what my vehicle says are the same people who would park by a church van and assume it’s a church van and not kidnappers.
You’ve been painting windows, murals, and signs for over thirty years with the goal of selling your art in every state. How much further do you have to go to accomplish your goal?
I honestly don’t know. I’m getting close to finishing it up, though. I doubt there’s ten states left.
What are the ups-and-downs of life in a 1983 Toyota Phoenix Motorhome?
Well, going from living in pickup trucks with my dog for years to an RV is a big improvement on space. And mine’s real good on gas. Me and my girl Speck are very happy. In fact, she’s getting a baby brother in a few weeks. It’ll be less room in the RV but worth the crowding.
Your RV really stands out. For example, on the back it says “SHOW ME UR BUTTHOLE!” and “U DON’T HAVE TO BE LONELY @ COUSINSONLY.COM“. What are some memorable reactions you’ve received?
Ah! You wanna know if I’ve seen any buttholes!
Most memorable incidents I’d have to say was either the man who kept screaming I was pervert in a Walmart parking lot with his preteen son in-tow or the cop in Tennessee who wanted to put me in jail for it. Oh, there was also a mayor who tried to run me out of town. And one time this guy was going by me, throwing me the peace sign and rear-ended someone.
What’s been your favorite moment of life on the road?
There have been so many! Probably seeing Maine from a plane’s view. Backpacking North Carolina was beautiful. New Mexico took my breath, too. There have been a lot thankfully.
How do you get customers for your services?
I self promote. I keep my logo trending. I spend most every night in a Walmart parking lot so that while I’m sleeping my truck is still working. People look me up on Facebook, and I get work.
I also go out and knock on the doors of businesses. I hold the phone out with pics of art, tell them who I am, give them my prices, and let them know I don’t take money till I’m done. All of this is done in like 45 seconds. I can usually find work.
What do you like to do when you’re not painting?
Me and my dog Speck backpack two or three months a year. We hitch rides when we get tired of walking. I like to lay on my couch. I love camping. I’m a loner, so you won’t find me often out socializing.
You’ve described yourself as being an “advocate for the poor and destitute”. What are some of the things you’ve done to help others? What would you like to see others do to help serve that mission?
I bring awareness. That’s the biggest way I help. My truck show leaves a town more considerate of the panhandlers, car dwellers, travelers, and the poor in general.
If people focus on having more compassion for our fellow man, the rest will fall in place.
Load a bubble gum machine with quarters. Them poor younguns know to check them for left over change or a forgotten piece of gum.
Go in your general store that has accounts and ask them to put money towards an account for someone who’s struggling.
If you see a mama buying clothes for her kids and hers look worn, throw a twenty in her buggy when she ain’t looking.
If a child is always in dirty clothes, offer to wash for the family or buy the child an outfit ever so often if the parents just let them mildew.
If your neighbor hasn’t worked in a few days, take them a meal or two. Take the elderly lady out to McDonald’s and talk to her while y’all eat.
People often say they don’t give because they don’t trust. Find someone you can trust. You can put good shoes on a youngun’s feet. Ask your school’s guidance counselor or nurse to let you know sizes when they have a child in need.
If you see a family living in their vehicle, don’t judge them. Ask what they need and help if you can. I promise it only makes you a better person. You will grow from it and feel nice inside.
What is your dream project?
I have so many!
A dream project is to have a fleet of RVs driving by homeless to help homeless.
I also want to be able to snatch a family up that’s living in a parking lot and put them in a home while we address their needs, whatever they are.
I want to go into tent cities and treat them like we are missionaries in a third world country, and I’d put Porta Potties near homeless camps.
This is why I have to make it. I have to make a lot of money because it’s returning to the poor, and we have a lot of needs. No matter what I make, the need is so great out here, but I’m confident that I can make a huge difference. I’m willing to work to see it done.
How would you like your work remembered?
I want it remembered for always trying to make a difference for the better. My work was about making mine and my son’s life better in the early years, but it has evolved into so much more.
My art has made so many lives better, if only for a minute. Maybe it was that cancer patient traveling home from chemo that got so tickled at my truck. Or maybe it was them two 10-dollar-a-piece windows I did that bought baby clothes for a young mama. Maybe it was a Facebook follower who sent $800 to a family for Christmas.
I have done as much good with my trade as I possibly could and it’s far from over. I gotta lot of folks I still wanna help but on a much bigger scale.
Ain’t no me here. I am we.
What piece of advice would you give to others?
Follow your moral compass. We all have one inside of us. You can feel it pointing you in the right direction. Go that way.
If you want to follow Angel and see more of her art, you can follow her on Facebook.
Adam Betuel loves birds. He loves birds so much, he works at Atlanta Audubon for a living. TSIBV caught up with him to learn why he loves birds so much, what he does at Atlanta Audubon, and how he uses Cat Crap.
What’s your background, and how did you end up getting into birding?
I am originally from Columbus, Ohio (specifically a neighborhood called Clintonville that is just north of Ohio State’s campus). My parents divorced when I was very little, but I was fortunate to have two amazing step-parents. I have two siblings and a large familial network with all my step-relatives.
Growing up I was really into sports, geography and the idea of exotic places, and of course video games. As long as I can remember, I was interested in animals and science, and I attribute this primarily to my time spent at the Columbus Zoo. My mom used to do in-home daycare, and during summer break from school, her group of kids would grow. In attempt to entertain a large group of young kids, she would often take us to the zoo. Luckily, the zoo didn’t charge more for an annual pass based off of the number of children you “had” so we fully took advantage of this. During these frequent trips I became obsessed with the animals, drawing exhibits when I was bored, and hoping one day I could be the next Jungle Jack Hanna.
My interest in animals narrowed down to birds thanks to a Columbus Public Schools initiative called “I Know I Can”. This program was designed to help students get into college by being more active with their counselors or by enrolling in college courses while in high school. During an assembly, I reviewed the course manual and noticed Ohio State had a few ecology courses. I don’t know why, but I chose an Intro To Ornithology course as my top choice. The ten-day course was located on an island in Lake Erie, and I loved everything about it. Leaving that field station, I was changed forever and completely bird obsessed.
You currently with Atlanta Audubon Society. What do you do for them, and what responsibilities does that role entail?
I am the director of conservation for Atlanta Audubon. My duties are pretty diverse, but in general I am working as hard as I can to make Atlanta as bird-friendly as possible. The really cool thing about my job is that it is extremely rewarding and I get to tackle my tasks in a variety of ways. With Atlanta being such an urban place with an incredibly fractured ecosystem, many of my programs have to deal with birds and the built environment. Many people don’t think of birds existing in the city, but in reality hundreds of different species have been found in metro Atlanta. Throughout the year a countless number of birds are using urban parks, waterways, back yards, and other small patches of landscaping for breeding, overwintering, or for a migratory stopover.
One of my primary responsibilities is to manage a program called “Project Safe Flight Atlanta”. This program, as well as its sister initiative “Lights Out Atlanta”, are focused on reducing the number of birds that die each year from colliding with buildings. Shockingly, up to 1 billion birds die each year from colliding with buildings because of bright lights or reflective glass.
To determine the extent of the problem locally, volunteers help me monitor parts of Atlanta, collecting dead and injured birds. With this data, we approach building owners, local politicians, and architects to try to reduce the threat. Though we have a ways to go, we are starting to make progress through retrofitting problematic buildings, reducing the glow of our city through Lights Out, and having new construction projects be bird-friendly. My position permits me to manage other data driven programs that center on climate change, habitat restoration, avian monitoring, and bird banding which allows us to understand the movement of specific individuals.
Another large portion of my job is educational. I teach workshops that cover everything from the threats to our native birds, tips and tools to become a better birdwatcher, and bird identification. My audience for these ranges from children to adults and from complete novices to experienced nature lovers. I enjoy trying to communicate to these different audiences. Lots of my teaching occurs outside of the classroom. I lead field trips across metro Atlanta but have also helped develop our tour offerings further afield. I guide at least two domestic trips a year, typically to the Georgia Coast and Merritt Island Florida, as well as an international trip. These trips expose our members to new birds, new locations, exciting opportunities to learn, and a deeper understanding of the ways birds connect us to far away locations. In the past few years, I’ve taken groups of birders to Paraguay and Guatemala with my next trip scheduled for Costa Rica.
What’s been your most rewarding experience working with Atlanta Audubon Society?
Our education director Melanie Furr manages a program that exposes elementary students in Southwest Atlanta to the world of birds. Melanie, and other Audubon team members, have done an amazing job crafting a curriculum that allows us to bring birds into the classroom. Through this program, funded by a generous donor, Melanie is able to donate binoculars to multiple classrooms, install a bird-friendly garden on campus, and teach about birds and why they matter. As part of this program, I am able to tag along with Melanie and set up my bird banding nets. During my portion of the program, I am able to talk to young children about careers in science, discuss with them how I do my job, and with some luck, I can show them a bird in the hand. Nothing has brought me more joy then showing a bunch of third graders a Golden-Crowned Kinglet up close.
What are some everyday things people can do to help birds?
The bad news is that many of our birds are in real trouble.
The good news is that there are numerous things people can do to help them without much effort.
If you are a coffee drinker, I would urge you to purchase shade-grown coffee. Many of the birds that breed here in the United States or migrate through actually spend the majority of their time in the tropics. Shade-grown coffee farms, while not the same as protected native habitat, provide many more resources for wildlife than the all too common sun-grown coffee. Sun-grown coffee destroys the forest, utilizes more herbicides and pesticides, and provides no real value to bird life in the most bird rich region on the planet. More and more shade-grown coffee options are available and you can find them online, at Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and of course at Atlanta Audubon.
The right coffee choice helps birds when they are from the states, but here at home there are still steps you can take to help.
Keep your cat inside or on a leash. Outdoor cats result in more avian death annually than everything except habitat loss.
If you have birds colliding with your windows at home, consider putting some film or bird-friendly stickers on your glass. It doesn’t have to be expensive or unpleasing aesthetically to be effective. You can find out more about available products at our website (atlantaaudubon.org) or at the American Bird Conservancy’s page.
Install more native plants in your yard. These are vital for our native bugs, which provide the majority of food for our birds. It is also very easy for the wrong plant to escape your patio or garden and completely compromise our wild places.
Participate in citizen science. There are so many programs out there that allow interested parties to help researchers investigate our birds and their threats.
Support your local Audubon chapter or other environmental non-profit.
Of course there are other steps we can all take that are vital for the environment and extend beyond birds such as reducing our carbon footprint, recycling, and voting for people who are pro science and value the environment.
When birding, what gear do you recommend?
One thing that worries me is the perception that you need a whole bunch of special or expensive equipment to be a bird watcher. While there are tools that can improve your ability to enjoy birds, you honestly can head outside and enjoy birds without anything. The best thing about birds is how ever-present they are. I can walk around and see birds up close and hear birds singing without any fancy tools.
That being said, the first thing you should purchase if you want to get more into birds is a pair of binoculars. Most bird people like 8×42 or 10x42s. These numbers refer to the magnification and field of vision of a pair of binoculars, and these options are best for general bird watching.
If I am out doing an all-day bird count, I normally have the following items with me: Binoculars, spotting scope and tripod for distant birds, camera, lens cleaner and wipe to keep things clear, smartphone with various bird watching apps, a field guide, portable phone charger, comfortable clothes, water, snacks, notebook and pen, and if I am looking for owls I’ll have a flashlight and Bluetooth speaker.
Sibley is my favorite field guide and essential for someone learning their birds. The Crossley Guide is a great resource as well. The eBird app on your phone is also a must for me.
Cat Crap is something I also love to have. It keeps your lenses super clean.
Editor’s Note: Adam doesn’t put actual cat crap on his lenses. He uses this:
How would you describe birding culture to an outsider?
Birding culture in general is pretty inclusive. Birdwatchers vary a lot in their skill level, how they like to enjoy birds, and their background, so it lends itself to a diverse group of personalities. Most bird people I know are welcoming, are genuinely excited to expose people to birds, and love to meet new birdwatchers.
However, we birders are prone to jealousy, can be very competitive, and often think other bird watchers are full of it. Birders love to share stories of what they have seen and do some humble bragging and only occasionally like being on the other end. Some aspects of birdwatching are explicitly competitive, but most people do not actively participate in these parts. However, everyone likes to see birds others haven’t or have a higher list of species in a county or state than their friends. Birdwatching requires a person to police himself or herself and have some restraint when identifying a difficult bird. Some of us are better at this than others, and people can easily get a reputation for not being trustworthy if they force an identification or frequently report sketchy sightings.
Birding culture is also contradictory in a few other ways. We are often thought of as old, yet we are quick to embrace technology and new science. We will work hard to protect birds and follow a relatively green lifestyle but then drive 3 hours one way to see a single bird. We love to travel and see exotic new birds but also take extreme pleasure in knowing our local patch and each individual bird in it.
What’s some advice you’d give to somebody just starting birding?
The absolute most important thing to remember is that you have to just leave some birds unidentified. New birders, and some experienced birders, hate so much leaving birds unidentified that they will take a guess. This is against the spirit of the hobby and the data that is often collected with it. This type of behavior will also put you in the undesired group I mentioned above. We call these people “Stringers”. Birds and birdwatching can be hard. That is what makes it fun! Some birds just won’t cooperate or you didn’t get a good enough look and that has to be ok.
Besides letting some birds go, I recommend getting a good field guide and really study it. Get outside as much as possible to practice. Always look at the bird thoroughly and then the book. It is tempting to quickly look at the book to try and figure out what you are looking at, but often times when you do this the bird is long gone by the time your lift your eyes again. Study the bird completely and then reference the field guide. Utilize all the newer tools like eBird and Xeno-canto. Have fun and enjoy birds however you want to.
What’s the bird you got most excited seeing?
I am always excited when I see an owl, regardless of the species. Barred Owls are pretty common here in Atlanta, but they are still breathtaking.
Purple Martins and White-Throated Sparrows are very common birds that have a special place in my heart. I have worked on projects studying both of these species, so they are always a welcomed sight.
Blackburnian Warbler, Winter Wren, Blue-headed Vireo, and Wood Duck are all common species that I just find beautiful and interesting to watch.
What birds top your wishlist to see in the wild?
Honestly, the list is pretty long. Any new bird to a birder is exciting regardless of the birds appearance or behavior.
However, there are definitely some that stick out and are my top targets. In the Eastern United States, where I have done most of my birdwatching, I would say that the Black Rail is at the top of my wishlist. This is a species desired by most birders. Black Rails are small, well camouflaged, prefer a habitat that is hard to access, and extremely shy. Lewis’s Woodpecker, Black-capped Vireo, Northern Hawk Owl, and Northern Goshawk are other U.S. birds high on my list.
Most of my other wishlist birds live in Central and South America with Torrent Duck, Hoatzin, Snowcap, Bare-Throated Bellbird, and Marvellous Spatuletail standing out.
What’s a cool thing about birds most people don’t know?
I think most people know that birds migrate, but the details of this migration is beyond cool and often unknown.
First, many birds migrate at night. I think this would surprise most people. On a clear night you can often here the soft chips and tseets of birds overhead. This nocturnal migration is why lighting can be a problem for birds.
In the spring Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (and many other birds) will fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico. This fact is hard to believe no matter how many times I recite it. Some shorebirds will migrate from the southern tip of South America all the way to the Arctic. And, if their nesting attempt fails, they will turn back south almost immediately.
A recent study described how a species of bird called the Veery can predict the severity of a hurricane season months in advance. They will shift the timing of and investment in a breeding season so that they can migrate earlier in years with more severe hurricanes. This shift in timing makes it more likely that the bird can safely migrate south, avoiding hurricanes that will come weeks later.
The majority of migratory species have their own unique story regarding migration and they all baffle my mind. Migration is the coolest.
What is the best bird? The worst bird?
I am going to try and be clever here and say that the best and the worst bird is actually the same species and its name is Brown-Headed Cowbird.
Brown-Headed Cowbirds are common, not the most beautiful, and have a simple and shrill song. The females are incredibly difficult for new bird watchers to identify. All strikes against this species.
However, Brown-Headed Cowbirds display some badass behavior and really make an ornithologist like me think. Cowbirds are nest parasites which means they do not build a nest but instead dump one of their eggs into the nest of a different species. The Cowbird egg tends to hatch earlier then its hosts’ eggs, and the young then outcompetes the other chicks for food. For some this is a big reason to put them in the worst bird category, but I think it is just an amazing and clever tactic.
One thing I always wonder is, “How a Brown-headed Cowbird knows it is a Cowbird? How does it identify a mate correctly once it reaches adulthood?” Super cool questions.
Cowbirds will sometimes demonstrate what has been quoted as “mafia” like behavior. If a host ejects the Cowbird egg, sometimes the female cowbird will then crack all of the other eggs. This forces the host bird to renest and once again decide if it will keep the Cowbird egg. However, this time it can choose to accept its adopted young and hope things work out or it can eject the egg again and possibly be the victim of another attack. This is another one of those polarizing behaviors, but I think it is awesome.
Less clever me would say House Sparrows are the worst because they have invaded most of the world, hang out in parking lots, eat all sorts of junk, and on occasion hurt native species. Best species would go to Andean Cock-Of-The-Rock. They are crazy looking, have an amazing breeding display, and a funky name.
If you had to be obsessed with an animal that wasn’t a bird, what would it be?
For a brief period of time I was really interested in marine biology. Rays, especially Manta Rays, astonish me. They are so amazing when they are gliding through the water. Octopi and sea turtles are also obsession worthy.
I’m personally annoyed that the iconic Eagle cry we all know is actually that of a Red Tailed Hawk.
What are your thoughts on how television shows or movies represent birds?
Television and movies do a horrible job when it comes to accurately portraying the birds that should be at a given place or time. There is a blogger named The Birdist who loves to discuss this topic.
I have come to forgive any movie or television programs that use living birds. These birds are often from other continents but that is because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Our native species are heavily protected which makes it difficult to have them on a set. So, if a movie set in California has an owl species appear that is actually native to Africa, I give them a pass. The audio on the other hand is unforgivable. It would be so easy to insert the correct sounds into a show. I remember the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio incessantly using the song of Black-Throated Green Warbler (a bird of the Americas).
A few months back I was watching a documentary about someone who was trying to break the Appalachian Trail speed record. During one of the shots, they showed a Red-Tailed Hawk but played a Bald Eagle cry. It made me so happy, and obviously they had a bird lover on their staff.
You recently became a father. How are babies like birds?
For me they both take up the vast majority of my time. Babies and birds are both fragile yet amazingly resilient. They can be loud when they want or need attention but can also be extremely quiet and difficult to find, especially when my 11 month old is trying to sneak away and eat cat food. The speed at which babies and birds grow is astonishing. Birds do this at a much faster rate obviously, but it blows my mind how quickly my daughter seems to be growing. Neither of them have teeth and will defecate wherever and whenever they would like.
What did you think of the Academy award winning best picture of 2015 Birdman?
I enjoyed the movie. I liked the way it was shot as if it was all done in one continuous take. Zack Galifianakis surprised me, and I almost always enjoy Emma Stone and Edward Norton. That being said, Whiplash would have been my pick for best picture that year, and Boyhood blew my mind with its concept.
Adam just recently started a new tour company called Teal Birding, and his first trip will be to Paraguay in November. If you have interest in joining him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. A website and social media accounts are coming very soon!
If you want to see pictures of beer, Adam’s new life as a dad, and of course birds, you can check out his personal Instagram account @adambetuel.
Reverend Heather Prince Doss is the pastor at Eliot Church in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. The church is known for its multicultural congregation with members from Cambodia, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Brazil, the United States, and more. Before joining that church in 2015, she served for seven years as the Associate Pastor at Sea Island Presbyterian Church located in Beaufort, South Carolina. Pastor Heather is also the owner of Progressive Pilgrimage, a company that organizes group travel to the Holy Land. TSIBV caught up with her to learn more about why she joined the ministry, to understand what it’s like to be a pastor, and to discuss Jesus appearing in toast.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an Aries. When my now-husband, Eric, was about to pop the question, my dad warned him about this saying, “She’s a fiery one.” I think that’s true.
I’m a strong “P” on the Meyers-Briggs type indicator. I summarize that by saying that I like having choices but I hate making choices. (Once you make a choice, you don’t have any more choices. It’s terrible, really.) On the up side, it means I’m really great at imagining possibilities and finding creative ways to solve problems.
I’m a 7 on the Enneagram – an energizer. I’m always trying to get people together to do things – board games, karaoke (I can’t sing), dinner parties, community service, whatever.
When did you decide to join the ministry, and how did you accomplish that?
Despite my dreaminess, I also have a very rational side. When I was a teenager, my parents nudged me toward becoming a doctor because I was fairly good in school. As I began to look at colleges with pre-med programs, though, I realized I really didn’t love science. The path to becoming a doctor looked pretty daunting. What I did love was thinking about God and going to church. This made me a weird teenager, but it also was a very rational path to discerning a “call” to ministry, as we say.
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), there’s a very clear cut process for that: finish college and three years of seminary, pass five ordination exams, get approved by a committee in your region (called a presbytery), find a church that wants to hire you. It’s not easy, but there’s a map.
You’re currently a pastor at Eliot Presbyterian Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. How did you specifically end up there?
That’s a long story that covers most of my career.
The short version is that I have always had a lot of compassion for people living on the margins of our culture: people who are impoverished, homeless, addicted, immigrants, and so on. I worked with homeless men and women for a couple years after seminary – sort of a detour from the map mentioned above – and in many ways I was at my best there. But the religious and spiritual aspect was missing. So I accepted a position as an associate pastor in a fairly typical white, well-educated congregation in a small town in South Carolina. That job was incredible in many ways, especially for preparing me to run an organization and care for a large number of people. We did some impactful community work in that church, too. But after seven years, it was time to take the next step. My dream was not to pastor a church that did good things for the people on the margins but do pastor a church that is the people on the margins. Jesus was always hanging out with marginal people. That’s what I wanted to do, too. I probably wouldn’t have picked Lowell, Massachusetts on my own, but the congregation and the job fit the bill pretty well.
Eliot on Easter Sunday. Pastor Heather is giving the children’s story.
Your church describes itself as “A multicultural, urban church”. How do you describe that phrase to others, and how does that make you different than other places of worship?
About 2/3 of my congregation are immigrants to the United States or first-generation Americans. Those are divided pretty equally between Cambodians (who came after the genocide there in the late 1970s) and West Africans (particularly Cameroonians and Ghanians, many of whom were Presbyterians in their home countries). We also have a few folks from other parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, a couple African-Americans, and one family from Brazil. The other 1/3 of the people are of European ancestry. Our leadership structure reflects this diversity, which is really important and means we have to work hard to understand how various cultures approach leadership and decision making.
As for being urban, we are located in downtown Lowell, a small but very dense city. Our area of downtown includes the main homeless shelter, the Salvation Army, and a fairly large public housing development. The church is also host to St. Paul’s Kitchen, a private nonprofit that provides a free hot meal five nights per week. We have about 120-150 coming through our building for a meal every day. While nobody has given me this title, I think of myself as a chaplain to that community. I have done three funerals for St. Paul’s guests. A handful come to Sunday morning services regularly. Two have become full members of the congregation.
African Choir uniform dedication day.
Celebrating Cambodian new year.
There are many types of Protestant denominations, the Presbyterianism itself is separated into USA (the most common) and many other subsets. What makes the USA denomination different, and what led you to that branch of Presbyterianism.
This is a big question, and I’ll probably offend someone!
The PC(USA) is probably the most progressive of the Presbyterian traditions, especially when it comes to ecclesiastical and social issues like ordination, marriage, racism, poverty, immigration, climate change, etc. In the PC(USA), women and LGBTQIA+ persons can serve as pastors and lay leaders. Our clergy can marry same-gender couples. We have supported Black Lives Matter and the Poor People’s’ Campaign. We have stood up to unjust immigration policies and the detention of children by both this administration and the previous one. I’m proud of all those positions and actions of my denomination, though I’m not sure every Presbyterian agrees. Which brings me to the other thing I love about being Presbyterian.
We have this policy of “mutual forbearance” in our tradition. It’s actually enshrined in our constitution. It basically means that in all non-essentials, we are supposed to bear with one another in our differences. And really, the only thing that is essential to being Christian is a confession that God is God and Jesus is Lord. So, in the PC(USA), there is a lot of room for people to disagree about a lot of things. At some point a person may decide that he (or she) has too many differences with the main body of thought in this tradition, and maybe then he wants to find a different tradition that suits him better. But ultimately, we believe that we belong in community even with people with whom we disagree.
I found my place in the Presbyterian Church (USA) because of Howard and Kristen, two Sunday School teachers who welcomed my questioning, difficult teenage self. As a young teen, I had been involved with a very dogmatic evangelical tradition. My parents became uncomfortable with that and insisted that we attend the PC(USA) church that we had attended in my early childhood. I thought this was a huge injustice, so I persevered in making things impossible for my Sunday School teachers. They were incredibly patient and took all of my questions and pushback in stride. The previous church I had been at never would have tolerated that. You were supposed to accept the answers you were given. The longer I stayed at the Presbyterian Church, the more I realized I liked asking hard questions and really wrestling with the answers.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of being a pastor? The most challenging?
The real reward is in the little things that are so hard to measure. Last night, I witnessed seven teenagers say in their own words what they believe about God and Jesus and the church. A woman who eats at St. Paul’s Kitchen and attends church occasionally has been super honest with me about her struggles and is so close to getting some much needed help. She’s not there yet, but I am hopeful. These tiny victories make me believe that we are doing something right at Eliot Church – that Jesus is still present here and we actually might be building God’s peaceable kingdom. (Also, I get to work from home on Mondays and Tuesdays – usually in my yoga pants.)
The challenge is that there is the tension between building a community and maintaining an institution. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. The institution should nurture the life of the community. But community is hard to measure. Institutional health is easier to measure. How many people come on Sunday morning? How much do they put in the offering plate each week? How many people are volunteering their time? And so on. On the one hand, we want the institution to be sustainable. But on the other hand, Jesus never really talked about sustainability. In fact, he died. So maybe we need to worry less about our institutions and more about the kind of community we are and how we are building community around us. You’ll need to remind me of that, though, when I get the monthly financial report from my treasurer. (In other challenges – working on Sundays can really cramp my weekend style!)
What advice would you give to others considering the ministry?
If you’re going to do this work, you need to be 100% in. Ministry is not a job that you can clock out of. It’s a role and if you can’t wear that role authentically, it will always be uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this impacts your family, too, both in the demands of the job and the expectations that others have of them. Get a good therapist, and always use all of your vacation.
Within many religions and other Christian denominations, women have been limited in what roles they can play. As a leader within your church, what are your thoughts on this, and do you feel any responsibilities or additional pressures that a man in your position would not have to address?
Sure, there are extra pressures. Women get much more unsolicited feedback on our physical attributes like clothes, weight, and voice. When we lead with authority, we are perceived as bitchy. We earn less. We are less likely to serve as heads of staff in churches with multiple pastors. I’m not sure these pressures different in ministry than in any other field. Maybe the opposition to women’s leadership gets baptized in more conservative circles. I’ve been lucky that almost all of the people close to me have been supportive of my career. For me, the challenges have been more cultural than religious.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans is increasing with each generation. Over 35% of Millennials are unaffiliated. What are your thoughts on this trend, and what can the church do to improve these figures?
I do have some thoughts, but if I knew how to improve these figures I’d be a bestselling author already.
I’m on the cusp of GenX and Millennial. I get it. The church often feels irrelevant. Institutions are more likely to evoke suspicion than affection. Overall, I’m not really interested in how the church can attract one group or another. I’m mostly interested on how well we follow Jesus. But if a whole generation is saying, “No, thank you,” we should at least stop and listen to why they feel so disconnected.
From what I’ve read, Millennials are not necessarily eschewing a belief in God or a higher power. But the church has not been a place or a group of people where that generation has found it easy to connect with God. I’m pretty confident that Millennials would like Jesus – he’s pretty woke – but the church hasn’t been very woke. So there’s room for improvement there. If the church could behave less like an institution and more like a community, that might help, too. We have to meet people where they are, invite them into the community, and then trust that the Holy Spirit (I haven’t mentioned her yet!) is also working through them to shape the institution itself.
In other words, it’s not enough to attract Millennials, we also have to empower them and trust them with the future! That’s a struggle for older generations. We’re working on it, though.
What’s something you wished people knew about being a pastor that most don’t recognize?
Most people, even church people, have no idea what a pastor does besides what she does on Sunday morning. During the week I write liturgy and sermons, visit sick or homebound people, meet with my small but excellent staff, go to lots of community meetings about a host of issues, make Costco runs for supplies, design flyers, develop plans for visioning meetings of my board, pick up trash around the church property, read (less than I should), pray (also less than I should). It’s a lot like being the executive director of a small non-profit, plus preaching.
As a nation, we’re living in some interesting times. What advice do you give to others from both a religious and personal perspective?
Get involved in your community. I’m all for national-level groaning and organizing, but the most important thing we can be doing right now is getting to know our neighbors. A little cafe here in Lowell has a poster about how to build community. It says things like “Turn off your TV. Leave your house. Use the library. Talk to the mail carrier. Take children to the park. Pick up litter. Open your shades. Ask for help when you need it. Borrow from your neighbors. Share what you have.” This is not to say that getting to know our neighbors will make us like our neighbors. But I do think it will help fight the tide of isolation and loneliness and division that may well become part of our culture if we don’t do something about it.
Because this kind of community building is almost counter-cultural at this moment, the church is more important than ever. Building community what a pretty central part of what Jesus was up to on earth and it ought to be a pretty important part of what the church is up to, too. We practice community building in the church.
Protesting Trump’s Muslim ban at Boston Logan International Airport.
On the side you run a small travel company called Progressive Pilgrimage. What does your company do?
We organize and lead group travel to religiously significant destinations – mostly Israel/Palestine and Ireland. Pilgrimage is an ancient spiritual practice that has been revived recently in Protestant circles. Our goal is to organize trips that have intellectual integrity, spiritual reflection, and include meaningful encounters with local people in the places we visit. We mostly work with pastors and other leaders who bring an existing group. Once a year or so we offer a trip that’s open to the general public, too. The next one is an all-women yoga retreat in the Holy Land. I’m so excited!
At Jerash being photographed with a group of Jordanian students.
What are some of the things you’ve learned as a small business owner?
I have this romantic tendency to think, “If you build it he will come” or “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” I love the concept of my business, and I know from customer feedback that we plan incredible trips. I’m learning that having a great idea and implementing it well is not enough. I have to sell. I have to get out there and look for customers and then do ongoing follow-up to maintain those relationships. It could easily be two years between the first contact and a departure date for a trip. That’s a long courtship. I’m still learning to put myself out there in the first place and the patience and the discipline to keep at it.
Which miracle was more impressive — Jesus turning water into wine, or Jesus appearing in this piece of toast?
Is this why they call it Wonder® Bread?!
Good news! Pastor Heather is all over the Internet. She maintains a blog, and you can learn more about Progressive Pilgrimage at its official site. You can also learn more about Eliot Church hereand St. Paul Soup Kitchen here.
Megan Lickliter-Mundon is an archaeologist and museum professional with a broad range of experience in the heritage sector. During the course of her archaeological career, Megan has directed or participated in terrestrial and underwater projects in the United States, United Kingdom, Mediterranean, and the South Pacific. She volunteers for and has served on the board of several non-profit museum organizations and is dedicated to museum development. Next month, she’ll graduate with a PhD from Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology Program where she specialized in underwater aviation archaeology. TSIBV caught up with her to learn more about archaeology, how she wanted to be a spy, and why Indiana Jones and Lara Croft should be in jail.
When did you decide to become an archaeologist, and what was the path you took to make that a reality?
When I was young from about 11 or 12 to about 20 (and honestly even now), I wanted to be in the CIA. Total spy stuff. I even applied for an FBI internship right out of high school and was an international business major when I first went to the University of Georgia, specifically to concentrate on joining the CIA. I thought it was just like in the movies. I would learn Russian and Chinese and be a super secret spy. I didn’t get the internship, and at UGA when I started taking all my marketing, economics, really boring classes, I started making poor grades.
For one of my humanities electives, I took Anthropology 101. I know this sounds kinda pathetic, but it was like a light bulb turned on. I just felt like I knew this stuff right off the bat. Everything made sense, and I could follow the points really easily. I was taking split undergrad/grad level courses in Anthropology within a year, and I changed my major after that. I did summers abroad, interned at history museums and finished in three years.
Like History or other “silly” degrees, I learned that you can’t just do an undergrad and expect to go out and get a job in your field. I asked my mentor professor, Dr. Ervan Garrison, what he would suggest, and he said I could begin my grad “career” by going to Texas A&M University or University of Edinburgh to get a Master’s. He was an underwater archaeologist, and both of these had really good underwater programs at the time. I had spent summers looking at underwater sites in Europe, but I didn’t have anything more than a slight interest in being an underwater archaeologist.
UGA focused on ecological archaeology, Mesoamerican, and linguistic anthropology. I thought I was all of those things, but I took Dr. G’s suggestion and in 2003 went to University of Edinburgh (a year living in Europe- duh!), where the program focused on Near-Eastern and Mediterranean Archaeology. I knew I was not those things, but I was drawn to one professor’s work on iron age settlement sites in Scotland lochs (lakes). The houses were on stilts in the lochs. I had studied something similar with Dr. G in summer courses during undergrad, and it felt like I knew what I was talking about. Additionally, this professor had gone one step further and reconstructed one of these houses as a heritage site, which got tourist traffic, similar to a museum. It was perfect for me to combine my interest in archaeology to museums, and ‘experimental archaeology’ is a huge deal over in Europe. I studied iron age metalworking on the house sites and got my Master’s in a year.
One of the advantages of this crippling loan-based opportunity was that when I graduated January 2005 with my Master of Science degree I was ahead of my peer group in terms of marketing myself for jobs. That was the plan. Meeting my husband Tim in Edinburgh and staying on in the UK on a work visa ruined that plan, and I worked in the UK courts system for about 2 years.
Fast-forward to coming back to the US in 2008. We moved to Texas for Tim’s job, and I ended up in exactly the same place that Dr. G had suggested I get my PhD anyways. Texas A&M has the nation’s best underwater archaeology program for PhDs. It was in the back of my mind to get it one day, but I wasn’t ready just then.
I felt like the time in the UK needed to be tempered with actual real career-type work, so I began looking for a museum job in Houston. I interviewed with a few places, but I was very impressed with a small, local history aviation museum in a historic building. It was a beautiful art deco building that was being restored, and the collections were all about vintage aircraft and the Golden Age of Aviation in passenger flight. I ran that museum with volunteers for about three to four years while thinking about returning to school.
So for my PhD, I thought that I would be doing iron age metalwork analysis or something similar, but being away from the UK and not really spending time developing the thought, it became a very stagnant goal. On the other hand, aircraft and aviation history was turning out to be more than just this thing I did for work. I knew what a radial engine sounded like coming down the ramp, I appreciated the beauty of vintage aircraft lines, and I knew how important the history of flight was in our collective human existence as well as local history. Around 2009 I heard the term aviation archaeology, and to me it was again like a light bulb or a click. I could do both!
I asked Dr. G what he knew about aviation archaeology, and he sent me a photomosaic picture of an underwater site with four biplanes sitting pretty on a mound of wreckage. It was almost electrifying. I just remember thinking, this is me. This is important. So I began looking into the field and wrote my program application asking the Nautical Archaeology Program if they would let me come in and do only aircraft underwater. I began in 2011 and will graduate this August.
If you had to describe a “typical” day on the job, what would it be?
Hard, hard question. I have no “typical” day! I work from home or on projects for two different firms with two very different focuses.
On the museum side I work for a design firm, and I specialize in aviation museums. We offer strategic planning, exhibit content & design, and build services. So for example, I’ve had days where I sit in a conference room running workshop sessions with museum employees, and then I did a project where I assessed a collection, which had me climbing around aircraft parts in a dusty hangar. I’ve spent days building exhibits and putting labels in cases and then days sitting in front of my computer researching and writing content. Ugh, and all the days flying…
For archaeological work I contract with a group that surveys aircraft sites abroad that still have Missing in Action (MIA) air crew associated with them. This group has volunteer divers and archaeologists map a site underwater and then gives the information to the government so they can excavate to bring the remains home. They are then DNA-matched to surviving families and buried with honors in the US. A typical day means getting on my dive gear and doing multiple dives to photo and map an aircraft or debris site. Or it could mean researching parts either online or in a museum. Or processing a 3D model of the site and writing the report at home. I’m a dog mom, and sometimes I get to just go for walks, spend time in the park, or garden.
What are some of the highlights you’ve been involved with?
I got to co-lead an expedition aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus (which is under the direction of Bob Ballard who found the Titanic) to remotely map and survey the airship wreckage with the four biplanes again in 2015. We made a map that was 100 times better than the one I first saw in 2009, and the expedition really brought that project full circle for me.
Megan in the control cab for the E/V Nautilus’ ROVs Hercules and Argus. She’s telling the ROV pilot where to look next. They’d just finished measuring the depth of the sediment layer on the site of the USS Macon. It was over 1,500 feet deep.
Megan sampling metal and sediment from the Macon wreckage.
I lead a mapping project on a B-24 in Croatia which held three MIAs that was selected for excavation in 2017. The team found one of the missing crew men, and the families were really great to hear from. I met and talked to one of the survivors of the wreck before he died, and it was very much a pleasure.
Megan in the retina-burning pink fins (everyone knows where she is underwater). She’s laying a meter square box with the help of another diver at the site of The Tulsamerican B-24, Croatia.
When you’re in the field, you work collaboratively in a team setting. How are those teams set-up, and how do you contribute within that structure?
On the museum side I am a curator working within a firm with designers, architects, and project managers. I work closely with the education staff, curators, and archivists in the museum to get their stories, artifacts, and archival material so that our designers can use everything the best possible way. I’m like a middle-man in these situations. Mostly we work with museums to be almost a part of their staff — another reliable person who knows what needs to be done and just does it. So I kind of just fit in to a team and hold whatever role they need. I worked with a museum recently where I came over to facilitate a meeting between staff and outside conservation consultants. I came a day early so I could work their gala the night before, talking to patrons about donation money usage.
For archaeology, I am normally the lead archaeologist or co-PI to a project, so I direct the volunteers on diving activities in order to get the information and measurements I need from a site. I work pretty collaboratively with divers who are also performing sonar searches, interviewing locals, or anything else. The project directors and I decide on how much time to spend on a site and when we feel like we’re done. We have logistics people who take care of the ins-and-outs of travel. I also work with researchers who help get background info together.
What traveling have you done, and where do you hope to go in the future?
I have been on projects in the UK, Mediterranean, Adriatic, Israel, Solomons, Fiji and US, and to museums as far as Australia, China, and everywhere in between. I have not been to New Zealand yet, and I must say that that’s my main goal. Lord Of The Rings & Hobbit tour, and I am happy.
Diving on a Japanese H6K Flying Boat in the Solomon Islands.
What are some of the major differences in doing archaeology on land versus the sea?
Terrestrial archaeology is like how you’d expect archaeology to be with grids and structure and order. Underwater archaeology can be like that, but the obvious added elements are danger and unpredictability. Scuba diving is dangerous, and most times the fact that you’re searching for remains makes you subdued and respectful. In the water, and especially with aircraft, there’s more of a challenge to get the results you need due to limitations with your tools and movement (and air!).
What’s the process of getting your work into a museum exhibit?
An example of a project that I incorporated into my dissertation is of a PBM-5 Mariner sunk in Lake Washington in 1949. In 1996 the US Navy tried unsuccessfully to raise it but broke it instead. The broken section is on display at Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. The rest of the plane is accessible to scuba divers, but Lake Washington is extremely dark, making it impossible to see more than a square foot of the wreck at a time.
One of the tools we have been developing for archaeological use is 3D modeling from photos, or photogrammetry. Volunteer divers from Seattle’s Global Underwater Explorers took around 4,000 photos of the site, and I made a 3D model of it. Working with the museum, we created an exhibit to tie in the wreckage to the model. This combination showed where vintage aircraft come from and how most are restored. It gave a point to the display and told the visitor something they might not necessarily see when they just look at a restored aircraft.
An example of Megan’s work in the Pima Air & Space Museum, Arizona. The 3D model of the aircraft is in the kiosk, and the text panels talk about recovering and restoring the aircraft.
You’ve given some presentationsin the past. How do you like educating others, and how would you like to see your field presented differently to the general public?
I am still nervous giving presentations. I am not a huge fan of the idea of being a professor, but hypocritically I push educating hard. Anthropology and archaeology in the 1990s and early 2000s was worse about this than today, but I feel like archs and anthros sometimes created site reports and articles specifically for other archs and anthros and then just stop there. I don’t agree with that at all. If the public isn’t interested or aware of your project, you’re failing them. In the end it’s everyone’s history, and it can be explained in a way (or multiple ways) so it’s relevant to everyone. I would like to see more archaeology in museums, but not the archaeology that’s sterile and behind cases. Teleprescence-enabled ships are putting the practice of archaeology in museums and in front of people, so it’s not just the results anymore. It’s the process. I think tech tools and museums, where people are already primed to learn, are the way forward for archaeology.
What’s your advice to a young person who may be interested in this field?
Don’t be afraid to tell your parents you want to pay $30,000 to work at a courthouse after university.
You know, I find it very hard to advise people growing up and going through college now because the way I did it seems frighteningly old-fashioned, even 15 years after. I think the way colleges, paying for colleges, and what you expect after that is all changing rapidly, and I can’t predict what it’ll look like. Best advice is to begin your Masters ASAP and network, network, network. Ask to go on projects, get some skills, make some friends, and then you can figure out what your track will look like.
What do you ultimately want to accomplish by the time you’re done with archaeology?
It sounds a bit soap-boxy, but aviation archaeology is not well accepted in the field because it’s so very close to contemporary time. There’s a lot of stigma that comes along with designating an aircraft as an “artifact” when you still see them flying in airshows. (By the way, I don’t think all vintage aircraft are artifacts.)
I hope by the time I’m done people realize aviation archaeology is a legit science that is useful and has provided insights that we otherwise wouldn’t get. There’s a few really good stories about WWII aircraft from people who’ve taken the time to do archaeology-like study on them, one of which was the discovery of a rock inside of a prisoner-built German aircraft. The rock was placed perfectly to create problems for the plane once in-flight which might cause it to crash. Stories like this aren’t possible without detailed study and documentation.
Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider?
Okay, this is going to make me sound like a real asshole, but both are actually looters. I think the only kudos can go to Indy for punching Nazis and yelling that things should be in museums. However, in the non-movie world he’s basically stealing high-value artifacts without any documentation and taking them away from the countries where they came from. He’s unilaterally deciding that those countries aren’t good enough to deal with their own heritage. This was a common viewpoint up to the 1800/1900s. The British museum stole a lot of Greek artifacts ages ago (stuff from everywhere else too). Tomb Raider is essentially the same thing, but then she sells them, which is a huge problem.
Thanks for making everyone hate me now.
You can check out Megan’s 3D models of underwater aircraft on Sketchfab and also follow her on Twitter (@specsonwrecks).
Lauren Lazarus is a Knoxville-based painter, and her works “range from vibrant alcohol ink paintings to larger-than-life abstracts plastered on giant canvases”. She has provided beer label art for Elkmont Exchange and Crafty Bastard Brewery, and a recent Blank Magazine reader’s poll named her one of Knoxville’s best artist.s TSIBV caught up with her to learn more about her work, the life of an artist, and whether or not she’s punched anyone in the face.
Just who do you think you are?
I was born in the 80’s when scrunchies, feathered bangs, and tight rolled jeans were a thing. I didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up, but I do remember the first time I saw Sinead O’Conner’s rendition of “Nothing Compares to You” on MTV. I thought she was beautiful, but from my 9-year-old perspective, I wasn’t sure why she shaved her head. All I wanted was long blonde hair and sparkly red fingernails and then, naturally, my life would be complete! I grew up on Clearly Canadians and playing in my backyard until the sun went down with my older sister. In the mornings we’d wait on the school bus together and draw stars with our little pointer fingers in the condensation that had collected on the window. She taught me how to draw a complete star without lifting a finger, in one continuous motion. My mind was blown when I figured that out.
How did you become a painter?
I’d come home from school, and my mom would give me art projects to keep me occupied while she finished another episode of As the World Turns. My mom would tape pictures of colorful, exotic fish she had photographed from a scuba diving trip to a thick piece of paper. I’d reference those for some of my earliest watercolor paintings. I don’t remember if they turned out good or not, but it taught me how to use a paint brush.
How would you describe your art? What do you want to convey?
Painting from photographs at a young age taught me a lot about detail and proportion, or maybe I inherited some of that from my dad’s side? He’s a plastic surgeon– which requires a different kind of artistry with incredible attention to detail. At one point I actually thought about becoming a medical illustrator, but it required cadaver work and I quickly became disenchanted with that idea.
Over the years I’ve gravitated more towards colorful abstract work, pulling inspiration from nature and whatever music I happen to be listening to. I get a lot of pleasure listening to music when painting. It’s extremely cathartic and the closest I ever come to meditation. I hope some of that positivity translates with people and they feel some type of emotional connection with my art.
Who has been most influential in your art and why?
Definitely my family because they were so influential to me as a kid during those important formative years. I remember running to my mom and asking her to draw a mouse for me and learning her technique. I was impressed by how quickly she could make a little creature emerge on a sheet of paper with a few strokes of a pencil. In my adult years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have surrounded myself with other artists and people who support me and my creative endeavors.
Can you walk us through a few of your pieces?
“Port of Everette” is one of my favorite paintings because it reminds me of a trip I took by myself to the Pacific Northwest, one of my favorite parts of the country! It’s empowering to travel alone. It really heightens your awareness of the world around you. I snapped a photo out of my hotel window as the sun was setting and then later used it as a reference. Is there anything more beautiful than a sunset and the reflection of all those beautiful colors off the water?
I can’t remember the first poppies painting I did, but I’ve come to realize that people LOVE poppies. It’s interesting to see how my technique has evolved with these paintings.
“Origami Star” is one of my latest abstracts. What I love about abstract art is that it’s always up for interpretation; there’s a sense of wonder and mysteriousness to it. Some people see a koi fish in a pond or just a prominent underwater theme, and then others see a man riding a horse. I just like the movement of this piece and when I look at it gives me a sense of calm. But what’s funny about that is the fact that I labored over this piece during Memorial Day weekend and was nearly blind by the time I finished it. My eyes get super tired when I work. The problem is I can go for hours without taking a break and lose track of time. Breaks are very necessary for reasons other than letting paint dry.
You’re based out of Knoxville. How would you describe the art scene and community there?
I think people in the artist community here are very supportive and encouraging of one another. I work very closely with other artists and we collaborate together on projects from time to time. There’s more connectedness than competitiveness. We all have a healthy respect for one another and our creative differences.
Do you think the Knoxville art scene is unique, and if so, how?
Normally, you’d equate the size of a city with the amount of opportunity you might find there. However, I think because Knoxville is still on the smaller side and everyone knows everyone, it’s easier to gain traction here and connect with people. People here are very approachable, and if they can help you in any way, they will.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
The first big gallery show I did pushed me to my max, but in a good way. It showed me what I was capable of accomplishing when saying “no” wasn’t an option. I wanted to get all my pieces done in time, but I also wanted to be proud of them, which isn’t always easy if you’re feeling rushed. Art is such a mood-driven activity, it’s not like turning on a faucet of creativity that flows freely when you need it to. Prior to the show, I had just spent months renovating a house and then moving into it. By the time the show rolled around I was running on pure adrenaline and lots of dry shampoo.
You semi-recently got married. Congrats! What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far from Holy Matrimony?
Thanks! I got married a year and a half ago and we’ve had some big changes in just a short amount of time. We bought a house built in 1930 about a mile from downtown and renovated the entire thing! Ignorance really is bliss because if I had known just how difficult that process is, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to do it. But now we have this amazing house just the way we want it. I literally picked out everything from windows and light fixtures to grout color and floor stains. You know you’re in your late 30’s when you fall in love with a kitchen faucet from Wayfair. True story. Here’s the order in which I love things currently: My husband. My two cats. My kitchen faucet.
You’ve been involved in other artistic pursuits in the past like acting. What did you accomplish with that, and do you see doing more of that in the future?
I don’t do as much acting anymore because honestly there’s a lot of waiting around and I’m just too fidgety and anxious in my old age! (Only half-way kidding.) No, if the right role came around I would happily work on a set with Paul Rudd and put in the hours. I shifted my focus towards art because I was sick of casting agents dictating my next move. In the acting world you’ll work your tail off and hear crickets on the other end. You’ll spend an hour with your best friend moving furniture around and taking pictures off the wall so you can have a nice “blank” background to shoot your audition tape. It has to be perfectly framed and then shooting a slate takes longer than shooting the audition! A slate is when you look at the camera and say your: name, height, agency, will you travel? what’s your availability? And then your best friend (with Iphone in hand) does a full body scan so they can see if you’re proportioned or not, tall or short, fat or skinny.. yadda yadda yadda… And then to hear nothing back? No feedback. Nothing? It’s frustrating to say the least. So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be in my art studio slinging paint and listening to the Cure.
Have you ever punched someone in the face?
I haven’t! But I want to punch someone, anyone really, every time I go to the grocery store. I hate grocery shopping. My husband says he can literally see the anxiety wash over me when I can’t find something.
What else is next for you?
Well, first of all, I just need Paul Rudd to reach out to me with a comedic role for his upcoming film. We can talk numbers, but I’ll most likely say “yes”. And aside from that, move to Hawaii, open an art gallery and take up surfing lessons. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
But until then, I’ll be working on beer label art for Elkmont Exchange, a brewery in Knoxville, for some of their upcoming bottled beer releases. They’re doing amazing things over there and the brew team is superbly talented. My husband is the Director of “Hoperations” which always makes me giggle. I’m so proud of him and all the hard work he’s put into getting to where he is today in the beer community.
The very first time we met was in New York 14 years ago. You ran into my room, grabbed a framed picture of my parents, and came back out into the living room and yelled “Which one is The Skipper? Which one is The Stripper?”. What the hell were you thinking?
Clearly, I was just trying to make a lasting impression on you! In my defense, your father was wearing a sailor hat in the picture and there was alcohol involved. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Carrie Dufresne is a camera operator primarily for reality television shows with more than 24 credits to her name. TSIBV caught up with her to learn more about the life behind the camera, how Trump was on The Apprentice, and the future of reality-based movies.
What’s your background, and how did that propel you to be a freelance camera operator?
I was involved in high school drama club and decided to go to college for film. That was super fun! I went to UNC-Wilmington. I interned on the last season of Dawson’s Creek. I moved to LA in 2005. It was a rough start. I worked a few indie movies which eventually led me to my job in reality TV. I started on a little show called America’s Next Top Model. I helped the camera department as a production assistant. Someone told me I took nice pictures, and from there I decided camera was the path for me!
After you established yourself, how do you get your next gig?
It’s honestly about who you know. And obviously skill and talent! But if people don’t like working with you, they won’t hire you. Luckily everyone thinks I’m awesome! Even when I’m a grumpy diva. I make that fun.
What show are you working on now or was the last one you did?
I wrapped the new season of The Real Housewives Of Dallas at the end of April, and a day later I was down in San Antonio. I’m here until July working on a new Bravo show. It’s about Mexican nationals. Amazing women and their families that live here. I think it’s a really important show in our current political climate. It’ll probably be another Housewives show, but aside from the drama, it’ll showcase real life issues like family from Mexico having problems visiting the US.
What sort of equipment do you use, and how has that evolved over time?
Each show is different. I think more shows are shooting 4K. Mostly we use Sony 800 Eng cameras. There’s a new 4K version called z450. I hope it becomes the standard! It looks good and is lighter than the popular c300 with a 17-120mm lens. That’s a heavy beast. It wrecked my body, and even though it looks great, it’s not a practical handheld, run-and-gun reality camera. When I started, we used big Betacam tapes. Then DVC Pro tapes. Then Sony discs. Now it’s CF cards or SxS cards. We used to use bigger cams for in-car shots. Now GoPro is standard and looks great!
In Singapore for Top Chef, 2010
According to IMDB, you worked on The Apprentice as a production assistant in 2007. Anything you can share from that experience?
Yes. Trump is a horrible human being. He harassed many of my friends, and when I tell people they should believe me. It’s ridiculous that he’s gotten this far. None of the crew liked him. My NDA expired years ago, so I can say this.
Anything from working on The Jersey Shore we should know?
Every time Snooki got drunk in the first 2 seasons and would “talk to herself”, she was talking to me or another camera op. We just can’t talk back. Pauly D is the nicest guy ever. Jwoww touched my butt once while I was filming and a couple of my clips made The Soup show. I’ve been told I’m also in Snooki’s E True Hollywood Story, but I haven’t seen it.
Filming Jersey Shore, 2010
You worked quite a bit on The Bachelor. Are those people crazy or just crazy in love?
Mainly crazy. And all girls named Ashley look alike.
What are some ridiculous things you’ve witnessed you can share that didn’t make broadcast? What about behind-the-scenes?
Oh man. There’s so much! Usually I’m in bathrooms shooting or in the weirdest places to get a shot. Sometimes there’s a lot of chaos and a lot of impossibilities, but we always make it work. So much happens. Drunk people try to pick fights with me in clubs a lot. I just hit them with my camera. Whoops!
On the set of Sweet Home Alabama, 2011
One of the guys season one of Sweet Home Alabama was a marine vet. He had severe PTSD. We took them skeet shooting. The gunfire triggered something, and he started yelling at me to get the camera off him. But that’s my job. I kept shooting and backing away and asked the producers to step in and stop him before he attacked me. Luckily, they said I could put the camera down and stepped in and tried to calm him down.
That’s picture of me getting the camera off the boat while filming Sweet Home Alabama. We shot s super pretty day on a small island off the coast of Biloxi. We raced a lightning storm back to shore! That was intense.
In April on Real Housewives Of Dallas, we shot on a mountain in Vail. I advanced with my camera assistant on a snowmobile. Things got a little crazy, and we ended up tipping and flipping the snowmobile off a little embankment. We were okay! The camera was okay, too!
What are some of the biggest differences in working in reality television in comparison to scripted programs?
Scripted gets rehearsals. Reality we only get once chance for it. We really have to pay attention to what’s going on in front of us. What’s being said by other cast members. Looking for reactions. Telling the story. If we miss it, it didn’t happen. I think the most talented camera ops work in reality, and I’m super lucky I get to work with most of them. I mean, the Oscar-nominated DP Rachel Morrison started in reality. A few friends of mine worked in the last couple seasons of The Office.
What you transition to a new project, how do you prepare for filming on a new show?
Lots of drugs. Kidding! I’ve been doing this for so long and I’ve done every type of show that I can just transition smoothly. You learn quickly what people want and what style they want.
What’s something you wish people knew about reality shows that they likely don’t know?
It’s not scripted!!! That’s my pet peeve. It is produced. Producers throw out talking points, and then there is alcohol, and then we get our story. There is no script!
You’re based out of Dallas. What brought you there, and how does that work with your job? I’d imagine you’d make LA your home given your job, but what do I know?
I moved there with a now ex. And I had some friends there doing Storage Wars and a now canceled show about rich Dallas people. After the break up, I stayed and have made quite the name for myself in Dallas. In LA, I’m a fish in a big pond. But in Dallas I’m a big fish in a tiny pond! I’m one of the first calls! It’s nice, and it’s cheaper to live here! As I’ve gotten older I really want to have a nice work/life balance. I think that’s something I’ve learned from watching people all day every day. It’s important to take time for friends and family and yourself.
If you had to move into a different role other than operating the camera, what would it be?
I think director. I’ve been thinking about that recently. I like calling cameras. I like when it gets crazy, and we always need someone watching that can direct multi-cameras.
What would a reality show featuring camera operators for reality shows look like?
Everyone always talks about this. It would be funny and boring and chaotic. We are a fun bunch of people. It would be like The Office but on drugs. Lots of drugs.
Cassie Young is the Web & Social Media Director for The Bert Show, a nationally syndicated radio morning program. TSIBV connected with her to learn more about her role on the show, the evolution of social media, and what else is going on with her.
Photographic evidence that Cassie is indeed with The Bert Show
Who are you?!?!
Depends who you ask. To some people, I’m the social media chief. To some, I’m Cassie from The Bert Show. For most, I’m probably just Casshole.
What do you do?
Honestly, I hope no one figures it out because there’s no way I actually get to do what I do for a living. Like, that’s not a thing that actually happens. But it did.
I *guess* to sum it up, you could say I handle all social media – most digital, really – and some on-air antics for a nationally syndicated radio show called The Bert Show (thebertshow.com) and its nonprofit arm, Bert’s Big Adventure (bertsbigadventure.org), that takes children with chronic and terminal illnesses to Walt Disney World on a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip.
How did you get your job at The Bert Show?
Honestly, it all boiled down to skills matching with timing. I heard they were hiring a social/web person at the right time, applied, interviewed and a week later, voila. Now it’s six years down the road, and I still can’t believe it panned out.
What’s the average Bert Show day look like for you?
I usually get into the studio around 5:30AM. We crack the mics at 5:50AM, and then from there it’s replying to our listeners, crafting social media content relative to the show in real-time, blogging for our website, managing our intern team, and handling our online content distribution through our app and via our affiliate stations across the country.
Sometimes my day requires me to be on location to film a bit. Sometimes I’ll be photographing an artist interview. Sometimes it’s updating digital billboards. Sometimes I’ll be working on branding an upcoming promotion we have, and sometimes I’m just insulting people or being ridiculed on and off the air. Honestly, every day is so different from the previous one – that’s one of the reasons why I love it.
How do you think social media has changed since you’ve been professionally involved with that?
It’s what I imagine watching a baby that you’re invested in but isn’t yours grow up. Maybe your sister’s kid or something.
When I first got on Facebook in 2004, there was no wall for messages. There were no photos besides your profile pic. When I started using these tools for my job, Instagram was only available for iPhone. Snapchat didn’t exist. I remember having a huge argument with a former producer over Pinterest – I wanted to invest resources in it, and he thought it was a waste of time. I’ve seen social media networks be born and then die. I’ve seen ones thrive, only to have a bigger giant – or a handful of celebrity users on an up-and-coming network – render them null and void.
I love that social is now not something a few people do. It’s a massive, integrated part of our everyday lives. It’s brought the world together, and it’s torn it apart. It delivers news in real time. It delivers experiences. It delivers the innermost thoughts of people – good and bad – they wouldn’t dare say aloud. It’s a journal of the human experience, of our individual existences.
People might argue that social media removes us from our daily lives and takes us OUT of the experience, but I’d argue it brings us INTO experiences we would NEVER see with our own eyes — some we’d never even hear about.
Where do you think social media is going next?
Once we get past every network doing it’s on LIVE STREAM thing (oh, wait, we’re there already?). Holograms. And VR. We’re kind of already there on the VR front – there are some sick videos on YouTube that let you experience a video 360 style. Just a matter of time until it gets adapted for phones.
A few years ago, you were on Headline News to talk about the #SuitYourself campaign. What was the story behind that campaign? How’d you end up on TV? What was the reaction to all that?
#SuitYourself is a body positivity campaign about accepting how you look. All these magazine worthy Instagram models are everywhere – they’re adored, we worship them. But what about the other body types that aren’t represented?
This campaign is about swallowing the fear, or guilt or hate you have for your body because it doesn’t look like you *think* it should. Only one body type – fit, skinny, slim, whatever you want to categorize it as – is overwhelmingly represented in the media, and a lot of those are photoshopped. This movement gets women of ALL shapes and sizes to take a picture of themselves in a bathing suit – NO photoshopping, no editing, no filter – and post it on the internet for the world to see. The idea is to flood social media with pictures that represent all women (and men), to banish the shame people have over their bodies, and to really start owning your body and loving how you look without always admonishing yourself for not looking like an airbrushed magazine model.
I got a call out of the blue from HLN, who picked it up, and went in to talk about it with Lynn Smith. The reaction was amazing – you’d expect trolls to come out of the woodworks to hate on people (social media isn’t always the kindest), but instead, everyone just really lifted one another up. Strangers were commenting on other strangers’ #SuitYourself photos with encouragement, kind words, and love.
Cassie for #SuitYourself
Recently, you started a podcast, Broadly Speaking. What’s it about? How did that get started?
Broadly Speaking is basically an amalgamation of everything my cohost, Davi Crimmins, and I didn’t get to on-air on the main show (because we have time restrictions, content restrictions, and FCC restrictions like any other broadcast show). Broadly Speaking is unfiltered, raw, and covers everything from random musings to personal drama to things that are firing up the interwebs. We drink, we’re inappropriate, and it’s a ton of fun. At least to us and maybe like 3 other people.
You’ve attended a number of music industry awards ceremonies. Any good stories come out of those?
LOTS. Most of them I can’t tell. Let’s just say rooftop of the JW Marriot, stack of plates, kicked out via the private residences. Oh, and hover board, penthouse-style suite at the Wynn, Fifth Harmony.
Hey, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. My hands are tied.
Chainsmokers at American Music Awards
Ludacris at the Billboard Music Awards
Is Britney Spears past her peak?
NEVER HOW DARE YOU SIR
What do you think Kevin Federline is up to?
Hopefully being done reproducing. Actually, in all honesty, I hope he found his passion and is winning at life, yada yada. His ex-wife sure is, so I feel kinda bad for him.
A while back I recommended The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho to you and told you to write a 700-word report on it as well. How is that going?
I’ve got the first line! Wanna hear it? “The Alchemist is a book by Paul Coelho.” Solid start, right? I’m feeling pretty good about it.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
I talk about a lot of controversial topics on our show, and I’m not always the popular opinion. My proudest accomplishment is when I found out that I made someone who doesn’t agree with me – and usually is vehemently against me – stop and think. It doesn’t matter what conclusion they came to – whether or not they agree – the fact that someone now considers other opinions rather than buckling down on their one opinion without thinking…that. That’s amazing to me.
What’s next for you?
I want to reinvest in my photography (I currently shoot for Bert’s Big Adventure), and continue growing the podcast and explore those options. I just started trying my hand at modeling and would love to keep doing that. But we’ll see!
Avalon Fashion Show For Bert’s Big Adventure
Final question. Who would win in a fight — a Roomba with a running chainsaw taped on top of it, or Helen Keller with a gun?
Option 3: a surprise attack from a BB-8 with a BB Gun.
Patrick Callow is a musician whose “auger shell” project produces deeply-textured sounds with a guitar and lots of tech & devices. TSIBV recently caught up with Patrick to learn more about the project and what drives his craft.
How did you get into music?
I think I was always interested in it. I know I’ve been interested in it since being conscious and retaining memories, at about 6 or 7, but apparently as a very young kid I would idly sing along with the TV as I played, ads, show themes, incidental music, always in key (so I am told). My mom would tell stories of me singing along with the Star Trek (TOS) ending credits, hitting every note. Then I received my first portable radio/cassette, then my first record player. My siblings were all much older than me, so I had great hand-me-down records growing up, sort of the pick of the baby-boomer litter. In 7th grade we were all forced to take “enrichment” courses, non-academics where we’d switch every x number of weeks. One of them was a music class in which we had to learn to play ‘song flute, sort of a dumbed-down recorder. The teacher was the band director, and he noticed that I was playing by ear and unknowingly going beyond what he was teaching, so he suggested I join band, He needed trumpet players, so that’s what I ended up playing. Shortly thereafter, commensurate with my interest in records & radio, I started dreaming of being a guitar player and created a fake guitar out of cardboard that I would pose around with. Then my oldest brother restored a cheap acoustic guitar and gave it to me for Christmas, and there it really began.
How did you transition into ambient?
I honestly never really think of it as “ambient”, but in the era of #tagging, I have to pick at least one. I think of it more as the sonic equivalent of silk screening textiles, or diagramming the periodicity of tides, or making abstract ceramics. I’m trying to make plausible, compelling, legitimate, substantive modern art.
It just sort of fit with my approach to guitar playing, which has always been mostly experimental. Before I could play and as I was learning, I started messing around with recording onto cassette, using whatever half-assed recording tricks, and later effects pedals, I could come up with. At the same time I was learning a lot about music in a formal sense, being in band and orchestras, going to band camps, all that stuff. But I always kept my guitar playing sort of sequestered or quarantined from what I was actually learning about music in a formal sense. I’ve had a lot of instruction in music, in many areas, but guitar has always been self-taught for me. As I got old enough to really think about what I wanted to do, and refine it a bit, I sought to create something legitimate from a “modern art “ perspective, something original and plausible. I was terrible at “writing songs” and all of that. I found that additional equipment to manipulate sound was a means to keep things from getting too conventional.
Also, I am much, much more interested in a sort of continuous discovery in music than in perfected performance. I’ve had a lot of experience refining a specific performance, so that you play the notes exactly right, and everyone around you is playing their notes exactly right, and you create this amazing composite work of art in which the whole is perfect and refined because all of the component parts are perfect and refined. It’s amazing. But, I am not particularly interested in creating that kind of art. I want to hunt and search, capture something by accident, and learn how to hear it and accept it afterward. It’s probably incredibly selfish, as if others happen to like it, it’s a happy coincidence, and it can be incredibly frustrating. When you miss, it’s a ponderous sweaty waste of time. But when it works, there isn’t any music in the world I would rather listen to.
There’s been a lot going on in my musical life for many years, so I have a fairly broad range of influences. My earliest influences were in baby-boomer rock like the Beatles, the early Who, Van Morrison, mid-period Pink Floyd. Sort of the ground level of what became radio rock, but at the time it was the music of my teen- and 20-something siblings, who I admired and wondered about massively. My brother turned me on to Yes when I was about 10 or 11, and that kept my imagination captured until adolescence took hold. It was also the beginning of my dream concerning guitar, thanks to Steve Howe, who remains one of my favorite instrumentalists and probably my single favorite “rock” (or whatever) musician. As I got a little older, ’69-‘ 77 Bowie becomes absolutely huge, then punk rock, post-punk, new wave, i.e. all the shit that punks (which I fancied myself) in the ‘80s were forced more or less to claim as “theirs”, then club music, Detroit techno, etc. The stuff from that genre that most obviously influences my sound now was the avenue of ‘art rock/prog’ I got into at a time when I actually had acquired some skill as a guitarist and some equipment, and that’s the Fripp/Eno stuff from the 70s. That was the first inkling I heard of music that established plausibility as art while using minimal means as far as conventional music goes (i.e. less reliance on melody, hooks, beats) and emphasizing other, less-explored (to my ears at the time) means such as texture, density, dissonance, etc.
The other major influence, which now probably eclipses everything I’ve listed so far, is everything I discovered once becoming a fine arts/music theory comp student in college. This is where the baroque, classical, romantic western art music comes in, as well as the canon of electronic music from the invention of recording all the way through to computer-assisted music, as well as jazz. I am a huge devotee of J.S. Bach. I continue to listen and learn from Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Bartok. I’ve studied and am influenced by Xenakis. I am an enthusiast of the performances of Glenn Gould and the conducting of Pierre Boulez. I’m an Ellington fan, and have a deep affection for Mingus, Coltrane and Monk. I enjoy all of Miles Davis’ phases up through and including ’74 (can’t get on board for the 80s stuff), and I think that his 2nd quintet in the mid-late-60s is some of the finest American modern art ever created.
Where did the name “auger shell” come from?
It’s the name of a marine gastropod that I discovered one day and thought it sounded cool. I am notoriously indecisive and probably just plain bad at many of the aspects of art concerned with packaging. auger shell is the name for the continuous project I’ve been on since about 2007, when I picked music back up after a 10-year break that began when I dropped out of grad school for music theory/composition. I was pretty fucked up, burnt-out and confused as an artist, and was really a non-artist at that point based on output, hence the extended break. So when I came back I made a deal with myself that I would be incredibly selfish and only do what I wanted, remaining unburdened by the expectations of others, especially those that I internalized myself. The name was literally good enough for me to stop worrying about what to call what I was doing and move on.
What gear do you use to make these sounds?
Everything is sourced from electric guitar, and I take some care in what guitars I use, their provenance, and what components they have. I have three main guitars: a Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster, an Ibanez Artcore as73 (copy of a Gibson 335 semi-hollow) and an Ibanez Artcore as55 (copy of a Gibson full-hollow body). Everything I’ve produced for over a year now has been on the full hollow body. Both Ibanez’s’ have had all their hardware and electronics swapped out for better parts. They’re both made in China and are sort of a “great deal” in recent years. They are super-cheap for what you get — if you can find a good one, you can get it for a low price relatively speaking. Then you have the fun of hunting down all the replacement hardware and electronics (the latter being big fun as you can find a lot of great hand-wired components out there), then have a luthier install all the good stuff. It takes some time and costs more than the sticker price of the cheap guitar, but it’s still less expensive than finding a great vintage instrument, and I find I become more invested in it.
Then there are the electronics. I use around eighteen devices, two mixers, and two amp modelers to get the sound. I don’t really think of them as “effects”, but rather part of a larger composite instrument that includes the guitar. The devices fall into a handful of categories: devices that echo the incoming sound a certain number of times at a certain frequency, devices that split the sound between the stereo channels and introducing ‘attack’ a certain number of times at a certain frequency, devices that alter the shape of the sound from a filtering/equalization standpoint, and devices that add additional frequencies to the incoming signal. Several of these devices take an incoming ‘mono’ signal and output into a 2 ‘stereo’ signals, so I can split several independent paths that each emerge as different voices in the ‘ensemble’. This is where the mixers come in. I use two of them at different points in the signal path to blend and distinguish the different individual paths, and define how the sound is distributed across the final stereo field.
I also use a couple of alternate ways of hitting the strings. I extensively use ‘e-bow’ which is a hand-held device that magnetically excites a string, acting as an infinitely long bow. It’s used in the right hand, while the left-hand presses on the frets as normal. I also use a ‘tone bar’ (or slide) which is used in the right hand to bow strings at the location on the neck to produce the desired pitch. It’s sort of an RH and LH replacement.
All these things have to be deployed together to produce the sounds I am looking for. A given sound will have its texture, density, volume, tone color and attack determined by where I apply the bow in relation to the neck and the pickups, my fingers on the strings, the volume and tone settings of the guitar, how all the devices are arrayed and set to produce the ensemble effect, how independent or differentiated all the sub-paths are, how each sub-path is mixed and placed in the stereo field, etc. I’m doing all of this while I play, so in addition to picking notes and their duration, I’m also directing the rest of this virtual ensemble in real time. It’s really a single faceted instrument in terms of my approach. I do very little post-production modification, mostly just editing for length and normalizing the volume.
You recently said that your Fall 2016 collection is one of your best outputs and captured a sound you’ve been working towards for some time. Why do you feel that way?
I’ve been looking for ways to avoid falling into conventional traps. While my approach has a lot of defiance to convention built in, there are still several conventional clichés that can be fallen into. “It sounds ‘spooky’” or, I’m building up to this grandiose gesture”, or “wow, it’s a big angry wall of sound”. I find that most of these have melody/harmony as the temptation, then you are led down the path, and then you’ve created a big tedious cliché. That frustrates me. My theory is that music often keeps elements like texture and density within a narrow and understandable range or sequence of changes in order for differences in melody and harmony to be noticed, i.e. “hooks”. What I’ve been trying to do is keep melody and harmony in a sort of stasis in order to be the carrier of differences and distinctions and meaning in texture and density. I feel like I’ve come as close as I ever have with the Fall 2016 set. The melodic and harmonic motion seem to be sitting in that magic spot where there is a sort of aimless stasis about them that attracts, satisfies and ultimately deflects attention in just the right way. In fact, I’d like to think that there isn’t a melody to be found in the entire thing. The pieces are much more about, and I think attract and command much more attention to, factors related to tone color, texture, density, and mass.
If you had to dive into another genre, what would it be?
I’m really fortunate to have a great may musical experiences in my life, more to the point I’m fortunate to have been allowed to have them and emerge as a productive, self-sustaining adult.
Here’s a short list of things I would (and might still, but probably not) do:
Slowly learn the keyboard music of J.S. Bach
Study and analyze and formally diagramming scores of Mahler and/or Bach
Play jazz trumpet
Build modular analog synthesis
Write code for virtual analog synthesis
Learn jazz standards on guitar
What do you want people to take away from your music?
That it is compelling, substantive modern art that describes a broad and granular range of natural and emotional beauty (and its opposite) in a non-conventional and novel way. If the person has something to do with the creation of film or other visual art, that it could be a worthy accompaniment.
What do you have next in store?
I think I am going to be on this track for the next few months. I’ve edited another set, along a similar formal plan to Fall 2016, and have several more ideas and investigations to pursue. Producing one thought-through, carefully edited set of pieces a month seems a reasonable goal.
One more thing — pre-drug Beatles (“I Want To Hold Your Hand”) or post-drug Beatles (“I Am The Walrus”)?
Trick question! It’s all drug music. Even the during pre-record-deal stuff, gigging in Germany, they were all speed freaks. I really celebrate the entire catalog, with the exception of about 25% of each post-White Album release and about 95% of Abbey Road (‘she’s so heavy’ can stay). My favorite Beatles stuff has to be the Rubber Soul and Revolver era (US pressings, sorry those are the ones I grew up with) where they were proceeding organically and almost accidentally into unconventional territory from conventional territory. I just find that so much more interesting than things that are set out from the beginning to be ‘wild’ and unconventional. This is the same reason I find Miles Davis’ “Sorcerer” or “Nefertiti” more interesting than his earliest plugged-in stuff (which I also love). They were almost accidentally finding strange new stuff and hadn’t yet set out deliberately to be strange.
You can check out auger shell on SoundCloud with the widget below. Also, you can listen to the latest set from Winter 2016 here.