"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Seasons Past and Seasons Future: 10 Questions with Chris Maddin

Tiago, is that you?

Virtually since I started following the San Antonio music scene - back in 2003 when I naively considered it quite an arid landscape - Chris Maddin has been a character that, for lack of a better phrase, stands out. Different commentators and fans may quibble about the reason for that fact; perhaps his off-center charm and world-weary frenetics off the stage, perhaps his sweet self-styled and disarmingly powerful voice, perhaps his penchant to be involved with all things art... constantly seeking and over-committing to the weight of our disintegrating collective love. I think for me the reason has to do with... well... reason. Namely, the reason Chris seems so driven - through countless outlets, most notably Blowing Trees - to create. Some, it is easily observable in the music and art 'world' (is there any other world?), create out of a need to be recognized or to be identified as that specific kind of person that creates. For true artists, like Chris Maddin, the creation is its own necessity. Recorded two years ago... Maddin's latest release, and his second solo project since the indefinite hiatus of his longtime band Blowing Trees, is a slowly unwinding epic about change and that which stays constant. Named for Maddin's backing band on the album - which is named after a Spurs player and features members of local badass bands  Buttercup and Bad Breaks - The Tiago Splitters is dreamspun Americana, skewed slightly down the rabbit hole of wandering notes and barely escaped sounds. Though the album is all around enthralling, the true highlights are definitely Maddin's magnetic voice and constantly improving songwriting. Hear for yourself... you can download the album HERE and read my full review of it (for The San Antonio Current) HERE. In my desire to understand the album, the process, the person and his plans more deeply... I asked Chris a few things via email.
Below are my questions, his delightfully rambling stream-of-consciousness answers and the album stream.

1) Where do you go when you're writing your lyrics...? They have a mystical yet perfectly pop sensibility to them... What's the process that allows you to get to these unique places?
i like to think i channel something or an energy or maybe just all my influences. i’ve always kind of felt like there’s a different part of me that i sometimes know and sometimes i wonder where he is. i write a lot of prose poetry that sometimes i take certain parts from that i think might fit. i like songs with a ton of words in them that can mean lots of things all at once. i don’t know where my lyrics come from, but Dylan often said something along the lines of if he did not write something, someone else would... he just had to reach up and take it. i like to think of my songs like looking in a kaleidoscope.

2) Your songwriting, lyrically speaking, seems to center around personal relationships and individual enlightenments. What events in your life have most moved your songwriting?
i think for this record i was inspired by where i was in the world two years ago. in 2010 i was living with BLOWING TREES making the WOLF WALTZ album and i had lost some weight and got over some health issues i was having, falling in love with my girlfriend and being excited about that, not exactly hitting the success we had hoped for with our major label album and that hanging over my head. we made the Splitters album around the time me and Chuck Kerr started covering albums in their entirety, i think we were doing Ziggy around the time. learning classic albums in their entirety can definitely force you to be inspired. there is a song on the album called "Jacqueline" about my Grandmother, who i loved to visit as a kid but fell out of touch with growing up, that is probably one of the most direct songs i have written... i wrote this existential song the day she died. "Dandelions and the Columbia" is a song i wrote about my girlfriend that i wrote one morning kinda fast, that turned out as one of my favorite songs on the album. 

3) Who are your favorite writers (songs AND otherwise)? Tell me about their importance to you...
Bob Dylan, Radiohead, David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Wilco, and The Beatles are all big influences on me, along with many others. i was listening to alot of Neil Young when we made this album. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz, The National’s High Violet and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs were my favorite albums in 2010 and all came out around the same time. i still love those albums. i have always been pretty obsessed with Dylan, he is my favorite. a world without Bob Dylan would be a terrible place. i am a DJ at KRTU 91.7 FM Saturday nights and i always try and focus on new music coming out that i find inspiring and local music- i am inspired by local bands too... you know, we don’t get all the great concerts here so it’s good to have bands that i respect and admire to go watch every weekend. i am also influenced by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Arthur Rimbaud. 

4) Enough about lyrical content... these Tiago songs are folky affairs draped in steel guitar and percussive quirks that highlight Joe’s driving riffs... what was the collaboration process like there?
well i had done some acoustic demos with Joe Reyes that i guess could have ended up the album and then we decided to just do takes with me and Chuck Kerr on the drums. so we would show up drink some delicious iced tea, Joe would mike us up and we’d maybe knock out a song or two in a few hours. we did some first take kind of stuff and then there are songs with a bit more production on them like "Temporarily Me". sometimes Joe would play bass with us, but pretty much after me and Chuck would leave Joe would lay down bass and lead guitar. Erik Sanden also played piano on "Dandelions" and sang some harmonies. but i remember it being really easy and fun and fast which i really liked because the production on the WOLF WALTZ was already at 2 years so it felt great to just knock songs out. 

5) What’s wrong with you? Haha... by that I mean... you seem to be quite a frenetic individual and artist. To be really excruciating; what is it that drives you to keep on creating? How do you see yourself as an artist, musical or otherwise? Do my job for me and tell me about the Maddin legacy...
haha, i have no idea really. i remember being in highschool and kind of deciding that music was what i wanted to do. i really put my all into the TREES for so long and we all really believed and we had people who believed and it was really hard to break out of this town. but we started getting breaks here and there and i really think we accomplished a lot for a band from San Antonio which to me is kind of like an island, and not a bad island, just away from the major media and really most relevant bands that tour . our live shows got bigger and better and i think that was always a thing for us and the studio was always second, and the past few years i would say i care so much more about the studio and trying to make good records. as much as i like playing live, it is temporary, a recorded song can last forever. i like to think how amazing it would be for someone to enjoy my music 100 years from now. to live is to create, to create is to live.

6) Musically; post Blowing Trees Chris Maddin has been defined by the Filmstrips project and now this... what’s next in your songwriting career (solo or otherwise)?
well i would say FILMSTRIPS is def. what’s next for me. last year i finished the music for an album of 15 songs and i just needed to record vocals for it, and then instead of finishing it i got inspired and made a separate 10 song album that is almost finished. so i have 2 albums that are almost ready to go and i would love to figure out the live show and all that. i would love to tour the Splitters album and there have been talks of going out with a few other singer friends and we could back each other up which would be ideal. BLOWING TREES is playing their first show in a year at 502 August 4th and we hope to have a few new songs for it. we have been talking about making a new album. as proud and happy as i am with the WOLF WALTZ, which to me is our grandiose rock opera, on this next one we want to try and write some hits.

7) Speaking in terms of overarching sound, what satisfies you more electronics or live instruments? And why do you suppose that is?
i think that goes along with what i said earlier about having different parts of me and my psyche. i have played guitar since i was 11, so i feel like it’s just who i am. I’ve played the acoustic guitar for about 10 years, dating back to when i was a senior in highschool and starting up BLOWING TREES and i started playing keyboards around 21 or so. in 2007 i started experimenting with the electronic program Reason by Propellerhead and the songs i write in Reason for my project FILMSTRIPS are probably the songs i enjoy listening to the most. i really love the sound of a synthesizer and i love the sound of beats. i almost feel like that is my main deal and the rock and roll and singer songwriter is something i do on the side... but really i just want to do it all. 

8) {{I was told this was a shitty ass question and I didn't listen. Thanks Feli, you were right!}} If I had to give this album a few themes - like crazy english teachers sometimes ask students to do for sweeping novels - I would say “Paranoia”, “Love”, and “Nostalgia”... What themes would you say preoccupied you the most in the writing of this album and in what ways did you express them most effectively?
well i think that’s an interesting way of looking at it. i don’t think i have really thought about that yet, but you probably nailed it with “Paranoia”, “Love”, and “Nostalgia”- those are all great themes.

9) For me, “Farewell the Analog” is a song that confronts nostalgia in its ridiculousness and still ends up being infatuated and remorseful about what is lost. Memory is quite a loaded subject in many areas of discourse. What is important to remember? What is the value of bygone forms and modes (like analog or vinyl or fuckin paper for that matter)?
i agree, children of the 80’s have really seen the world change in such a crazy way, especially with technology. i remember when the kid next door to us in Chicago got the first Nintendo and it was the coolest thing ever. and i guess we’ve seen every gaming system since, how far they have come. same thing with cassettes, i was all about cassettes, i used to make tapes all the time. the mp3 is a long way from the cassette, the cassette had guts that you could pull out, the mp3 is invisible. growing up i always fell asleep to the TV. it was my night-light and it was my friend, always there for me; it could always make me laugh, it could always capture my imagination. i had moved to Austin for a few years and when i came back i was living in this dark decrepit loft, figuring things out, writing songs, and i had the tv on again like i was a kid and it was big news to me that analog television was going off the air and it was now going to be all digital. it was kind of a big deal to me... my friend that i could always just plug in and watch was gone. i seriously remember watching the last show as it went to snow. In a way it was a good thing because i don’t really watch TV anymore except for Spurs games. i do think the digital age is exciting, i just don’t want to forget where i came from. i hope we don’t get rid of paper or books for that matter. in my day...

10) In light of this year’s NBA playoffs, say a few words about Mr. Tiago Splitter. And don’t bullshit me.
that’s funny, that is the second snarky question i’ve gotten today about Tiago. first off i am a fan of him and a fan of the Spurs and there is nothing worse to me than a fair-weather fan. sure he missed some free throws to the point where he was fouled knowing he would miss them (ala hack-a-Shaq), but he shot free throws consistently all year long at something like 70 percent. there have been playoff pasts where Tim Duncan, largely considered one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA was abysmal at the free throw line. that being said Splitter is not Duncan, he is a different player though... when he is on he can and has made a big impact in games. Tiago was praised all year long by Poppovich and his staff along with many analysts (save Stephen A. Smith) and was considered by many a candidate for most improved player. i am excited to see his progression this season; he can score but that is not his main purpose, Poppovich puts it best, calling him a “blue collar player”. i like a good underdog. maybe i just like his name.

CHRIS MADDIN: facebook, bandcamp, FILMSTRIPS, Blowing Trees

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