In the winter of 2005, I was a freshman at UC Davis, a new volunteer at KDVS, and a night owl. Because my dorm roommate always went to sleep much earlier than I did, I created a Fortress of Solitude underneath my partially lofted bed, complete with futon, stereo, party lights, and a blanket big enough to hang down from my bed like a curtain and close myself in.
In the middle of one crazy day — wherein I overslept because Rob Roy was playing metal on the radio and it made me so upset that I turned it off and forgot to wake up, almost got hit by a semi truck riding my bike, missed two classes and an oral presentation, and was forced to get a shot for the first time in like 15 years — I bought some blank cassettes and made this mixtape.
This is all the kind of stuff I was listening to at age 18. It was all on the fly, since I wanted to practice sequencing songs for my future radio show. I called it “Analog Oatmeal” referencing something John McCrea from Cake said at a concert: “There are a lot of good things in life, and there are a lot of bad things. And they’re all stirred up into a confusing, oatmeal-like mixture.”
Note: This recreation of the mix is missing “Time Is Now” by The Hi-Fives after Tori Amos, “Real Love” by John Lennon after Ani DiFranco, and “Black Sand Beach” by Mr. T Experience after Green Day because Grooveshark didn’t have them. Sorry! I gave the original away!
On the West Coast, I got pretty spoiled with a very active, well-connected underground music community. People who host concerts in their kitchens, promote with hand-written flyers, tour in their moms’ cars, pay gas with passed-hat donations, and release their music unironically on cassette tapes.
I haven’t quite found that scene in Washington, D.C., yet, so last month I had to jump on a MARC train after work to catch a piece of it in Baltimore.
Spencer Sult, a.k.a. Generifus, was one of a handful of musicians who unknowingly convinced me to spend a summer in Olympia, Washington. The show in Baltimore, at a pretty grungy house called The Foxhole, brought me back to shows in the Northwest, in all their cramped, cold, cat urine-stenched, low-ceilinged glory. It felt like home!
Spencer’s doing a song-a-day project for the month of March. Follow along!
A little bit of magic at the end of a long, cold work week: seeing Four Tet at the U Street Music Hall, getting in for free because Kieran Hebden himself put me on the guest list, and meeting him afterward and talking about favorite and upcoming Folkways releases.
I spent most of his set trying to avoid getting elbowed in the eye by the huge sweaty guys jostling everyone around at the front, but there was a moment of relative calm when he came back for an encore song, beginning with this beautiful harplike loop.
Four years ago today I got up at like 5 a.m. and flew to Okinawa, Japan. (I was pretty sure I remembered the date, but I double-checked my Google Calendar, and sure enough I had February 11, 2010, labeled “HOLY SHIT.”)
Our 12-week trip was part vacation with my family, part English-teaching internship with my cousin, and part musical traditions study in an oceanic cultural crossroads. It’s the reason I bought a portable recorder, the place I started recording live music and found sounds. It was the greatest adventure I’ve ever had, and it opened my heart to ethnomusicological research. You can read all about it on our travel/music blog: oki yo!
It took me over a year to synthesize all my recordings, photos and stories into one compilation album, which was my goal all along. After many hours drudging through audio content and getting frustrated at Kinko’s, I had this neat little CD package, an oki yo! time capsule in four chapters: traditional concerts, private performances, adventures, and originals.
Each of these songs has a story on oki yo! if you want to search around or in the liner notes if you want to order the album!
Another highlight of my California winter break, besides Point Reyes and the beautiful weather that’s causing a drought, was a reunion with some of the other longstanding members of the UC Davis Gamelan Ensemble.
It’s hard to explain how much this ensemble means to me. Our classroom was the closest thing I’ve ever known to a church, somewhere to find solace and calm. These songs and these people have helped me overcome some of the smallest and greatest challenges: from feeling confident performing for an audience and staying relaxed on a flight, to the hardest heartbreak and the loss of my mom.
December was our last chance to play together before Adilla, the only original member left, who’s been in the class consecutively for over seven years, finishes her doctorate and goes back to Malaysia. She’s basically a gamelan pro, and she remembered all our old repertoire to reteach us how to play.
She even let me play the bonang on “Lutung Bingung,” arguably the coolest intro part we ever learned on the degung ensemble.
On an unusually warm (a whopping 50-degree) Saturday, over a hundred people gathered in the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza in Washington, D.C. Young and old, many banjos and guitars, and one washtub bass joined together in some of the best known songs of folk musician and activist Pete Seeger.
I hadn’t listened much to Pete’s music before coming to Folkways in the summer, when I had to research music of the Civil Rights Movement. “We Shall Overcome” was the first song of his I really loved, and yesterday the crowd added in several contemporary, District-specific verses.
(Most people misheard “remember Pete” and sang it as “we’ll remember peace.”)
Since digging further into his extensive catalog (he played on 100+ Folkways albums—the earliest in 1953, the last in 2012), I’ve realized I grew up with many songs Pete popularized, as has probably every kid in American in the past fifty years. For example: “Wimoweh” (you know, the Lion King song).
I’m glad I could be a part of this beautiful scene—very much in the spirit of Pete.
“There is something about participating. It is almost my religion. If the world is still here in 100 years, people will know the importance of participating, not just being spectators.” —Pete Seeger
My phone is running low on memory, so I dumped out all the little snippets of sound I captured using the Mini Recorder Free app. Among the rejects was a guy asking everyone waiting to sell their clothes at a consignment store if they would be interested in joining his modeling agency—everyone except me.
But a few of the pieces made it into this silly one-minute collage. You’ll hear:
A little doot doot song I made during a commercial break in Sacramento
Two women on a spirited rant on the P6 bus in D.C.
Canadian geese and some other bird at the National Arboretum