The life and times of Copywriter, Steve Taylor.
Saw this great band open for #LittleDragon last night at #ACLLive. They’re called #OctopusProject. Check um out.
Hello, Austin and happy Labor Day! I can’t believe we’re already here. This stop is a pretty big deal for the project, because I can officially count our remaining locations on one hand. We’ve certainly come a long way from the frigid temperatures of Cleveland last December, huh? I thought a great way to kickstart my time here would be to once again share some of websites that have helped me along the way. So, here goes:
CreativeLoafing.com — A local guide to all things art, music and entertainment; this site kept me in the loop for festivals, restaurant openings and so much more.
CLT Blog — A catch-all of local news, CLT Blog covers everything from the latest development plans to sports scores and beer tastings.
Charlotte’s Got A Lot — The name says it all. This one encompasses the city’s wonderful tourist attractions, events and recreational offerings.
GoMemphis.com — Concerts, clubs, bars and dives—you can read all about it here. They have the latest news, events and happenings in and around the Memphis area.
I Love Memphis — If you want to know why the locals love their city so much, this should be your first stop. You’ll learn about what’s new and what’s great, all from the perspective of those who live there.
Choose 901 — There’s a lot to love about Memphis, from artists and musicians to filmmakers and chefs. Choose 901 brings them all together for your reading pleasure.
Riverfront Times — A standard for citywide news and updates, this site offers everything you could possibly want to know about what’s happening right now.
FeastSTL.com — St. Louis has a lot of great eateries and this is the place to go when you need to impress a date, dine on something different or locate the best prices in town.
ArtStLouis.org — This one is all about the artists, who bring the city to life through their colorful murals and eye-popping mosaics.
Red Eye Chicago — Local news with a youthful exuberance, Red Eye brings you a different perspective on what’s going down in the Windy City.
Chicago Reader — From news and politics to arts and culture, you can discover just about everything there is to know about Chicago’s upcoming events and festivities.
UrChicago.com — If you’re looking for great mix tapes, interviews with local artists or reviews of the latest independent films, look no further than UrChicago.com.
Vita.mn — Winner of the coolest URL award, Vita.mn is your local guide to food, fashion and festivities around the Twin Cities.
Open Streets MPLS — Every year, Open Streets hosts a variety of events around the city to help people rediscover their neighborhoods and promote healthy transportation alternatives. I was lucky enough to stumble upon one such event during my time in MPLS and they certainly converted me to a believer in the cause.
Mn Artists.org — From the stage to the canvas, the Twin Cities have a lot to offer when it comes to the arts. This site brings you the latest news and updates on just about every style you can imagine. If it’s happening here, they’ll know about it.
As for my first weekend here in Austin, it was a great one indeed. I already have so many things I want to write about and I’m chomping at the bit just trying to keep it all under wraps for now. We’re down to the project’s final five months. So, let’s keep this party a’rollin!
Well folks, here I am sitting in the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport waiting to depart for Austin. Since I arrived a little earlier than expected, I thought I’d write another ‘From the Rails’ post, even though this would technically be ‘From the Air’. Either way, it will help to pass the hour or so of waiting I still have to endure.
Of all the cities I’ve visited so far, I’d have to say that Minneapolis is far and away the cleanest. The street lamps are without posters, flyers or stickers; the walls are graffiti free; and the lack of blowing trash would astound just about anyone from the northeast. In addition to that, it’s a place where fitness and nature are top priorities. How do I know this? Well, it was pretty hard to miss.
NYC and Chicago both have bike share programs that I took advantage of while in town. For NYC it’s Citibike and for Chicago it’s Divvy. In Minneapolis, they have Nice Ride Minnesota and usage-wise, it trumps both of those other programs (or perhaps it just seems that way). Aside from cyclists, the number of joggers I saw at all times of day was pretty spectacular too. I still run before work and usually I’d see about 4 or 5 people out at the same time. But in Minneapolis, I could count about 20-25 people every morning. Obviously, the timing of my stay played a role in it, as I can’t imagine this many people out and about during the winter months.
Then there are the parks. Once you step foot outside of the downtown area, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a park. Whether it’s a small landing with some benches or a giant greenspace filled with flowers, tables and plenty of room for frolicking, this is a city at one with the earth. I know there are plenty of hiking trails and mountain paths nearby and while I didn’t have a chance to hit any of them during my stay, there presence was greatly welcomed. You can escape the city at anytime, either for an afternoon or an entire weekend. And you never have to stray too far from home. How cool is that?
Clearly, there’s something special about this city. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but things here are just… well… a little different. It could be the crisp air or the ever-present charm of the Midwest. Either way, the people here are kind, genuine and calm. And the city, even in it’s busiest moments, is still peaceful in its own way. I was actually surprised the other day, when I took my headphones off on a busy side street and noticed it was nearly silent, despite being filled with diners lounging in the nearby patios. That’s not something you’d find in a lot of big cities.
Now, I’ll have to wait and see how it compares to my remaining stops. I hear the west coast is a much different place than where I’ve already been. I’m excited to find out for sure; but first, I need to visit the wonderland that is Austin, TX. So, I’ll see you all there.
Art Changes Everything. #streetart #Graffiti #art #MPLS
Last Thursday, I posted an interview I did with SIMS—a rapper and member of the Minneapolis-based Doomtree collective. Then over the weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing him perform alongside another of my favorites, Astronautalis. And as luck would have it, the other half of the ‘AstroSims’ duo allowed me to take up a few moments of his time as well.
For those who don’t know, Astronautalis is an extremely gifted rapper, unlike any other talent in the genre. He’s also an avid traveler, having circumnavigated the globe, playing countless shows along the way. Much like SIMS, he’s forging his own path in life and doing things his own way. That’s why it was a true honor to sit down with him backstage at First Avenue, before he had to sound check for what turned out to be another beautifully chaotic performance.
Whenever I talk to a fellow writer, I’m always curious… where do you normally draw your influences?
To be honest, it changes with each record. I tend to work differently than a lot of people, because I’m not in a band. I can’t go jam in my garage until I find the right tune. It’s much more research oriented. For me—my creative background is in theater. I trained to be a director and lighting designer, which are both very library heavy exercises. So, that’s allowed me to approach my songs and records as if I’m directing a play. I think of the songs as scenes and then it’s all about finding the overarching objective.
You can also think of it in the academic sense as a thesis and each song would be an argument for that thesis. Ultimately, I’m a super curious person and sort of an inspiration junky. So, a lot of times my inspiration comes from various disparate elements. When I’m gearing up for a new record and looking at all the things I’m interested in, I try to think of the through line between them all.
So, there’s usually two years in between albums, when I’m pinning everything to the corkboard of my brain. Then, I’ll just have that ‘Usual Suspects’ moment and step back to see I’ve got it all figured out—the piece that connects all of the other pieces. Once I have that, it’s go time.
As someone who loves music and used to be in a few bands, I see that in both our professional worlds there’s always a give and take when it comes to the business end and the creative end. From your experience is that something you commonly see?
Oh, absolutely. I think most musicians who say, “I’m just doing this for myself,” are lying. Most people are very aware they have an audience and that’s especially true, the more successful you become. The whole situation is an anchor on your arm so to speak. In a good way, it can motivate you, but it can also drag you down. You have to find the right balance of letting the audience inform your moves, without letting them dictate your choices. You have to constantly be aware of your business.
Where some people have a pitfall is when they transform from being just artists into being artists and businesses. They either become hyper aware of the business, which causes the art to suffer or they become hyper aware of the art and ignore the business. In the end though, there are times when you just have to say, “Fuck it.” I mean, if I always wanted to make the best business decisions, I wouldn’t have become a musician. Sometimes you have to take it on the chin and say, “I should probably be doing something more productive with my time, but this is what’s productive for my heart.”
Exactly. I think every musician is their own brand and they have to build that brand to help it stand out. I’m trying to do the same thing in my work, except I’m doing it for other people’s brands most of the time.
Yeah! Most importantly, you have to stay true to what your about; but ‘brand’ isn’t a very sexy notion. Ultimately, as artists, we would prefer to use the term ‘voice’. But it’s two sides to the same coin. You have to be aware of these things—not only in your public brand, but also in how you hope your business is run and what you want it to be. There were times when I first started making music professionally that I’d just look around at other people—other musicians—to see how they ran their businesses. Then I started to go, “that’s how I want to do it,” and now those are the people I continually use as my barometer. I have artists who are musical influences and those who are business influences. And they’re both equally as important.
So, I know you just finished recording your upcoming album. When you’re in the studio, do you always give yourself a deadline? And do you prefer the stress that comes with a deadline?
I don’t really give myself a deadline for writing a record. I let it come together naturally. That’s why I don’t really write in the studio. I write at home. I always get the same feeling when I know it’s ready. At that point, I talk to John Congleton, who’s produced my last three records and I see when we can meet up and record.
I do like a deadline though. When I was working on my second album, The Mighty Ocean, I had the keys to a local studio and I could go there any time I wanted. I ended up spending a year and a half on that album. I mean, it’s awesome to a point, but it’s also terrible. By the end of it, I had lost my mind. I look at the record and there are great moments on it, but there are also moments that are wandering and overthought. So, after I did that, I said, “Well, I never want to do that again.” It’s no fun for me, because the limits are important.
I mean, for all the advantages of snyths and sound software, the limitless aspects of it also create a huge problem for a lot of people. You can spend all day playing around with sounds, because you literally have a billion options—and that’s really counterproductive. Look at the Beatles, they had a guitar, a bass, drums and some mics and they made absolutely incredible records. They didn’t need much more.
On the new album I just finished recording—there’s no guitar, no piano. It’s mostly just horns, bass and drums; and it was all intentional. I’ve worked with this one sound kit for the last two records, because that’s what I wanted to do. I had a desire to make these big lush records and then I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I just wanted everything to be simpler. It’s like setting content laws with a thesis. If I can write about anything, I’m going to write about anything. You have to set guidelines, limitations and deadlines or else you’ll just stand and stare at a piece of paper for a hundred years, constantly editing yourself until it’s no longer your original idea.
Yeah, it’s like the less you have available, the more creative you have to be with it.
Exactly. I came from an art school environment where we were working on 30 projects at once, all due tomorrow. Those are the times you grab a cup of coffee and just go to it. And, honestly, some of the best work comes about that way.
Do you have any methods or tactics you use when dealing with writer’s block?
I just kind of inspire it out. If you can’t figure out what to write about, then read someone else’s writing, watch movies, listen to music. The solutions to most of my problems are found in travel. When I’m stuck emotionally, musically or artistically, I just go somewhere else. Even going 200 miles away and coming back the same day on my motorcycle. All the things clear out and a lot gets done when I’m in a new place.
I know you’ve had a very unique career path, so I have to ask, what advice would you give to someone out there still trying to find his or her way?
I think the best advice you can give someone is—just go do it. If you aren’t happy with where you are and you want to do something else, go for it. For as unique and difficult as my career path as been, scratching and clawing for every fan I have, the hardest part of it all was initially leaving. That’s why I think it’s more of a fall than it is a climb. Once you’re falling down the side of the mountain, it’s really easy to keep tumbling. The most difficult part is just stepping off the ledge.
How much of a role does social media play in your career?
Oh, it’s huge! I mean; we booked our first tours through Myspace. We’d play a show in Kent, Ohio for like 12 people and someone there would tell us to go meet this other guy and it continued on and on. That’s how we booked shows for 4 years, until we got a booking agent. And more than anything, file sharing was huge. Piracy was instrumental for my music, because although I’d prefer people paid for it, I wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for file sharing—like guys putting my songs on mix tapes for girls. It wasn’t anything I strategized either. When someone wrote me, “Hey great record,” I always wrote them back, because I needed that person to be at my show. I needed them to support my record. So, back then it was a necessity. Now, I’m starting to back track a bit and learn more about it, so I can do it more effectively.
When you go to a place you’ve never been, do you have any particular methods for finding those cool, relatively unknown, hangouts?
Well, it’s sort of a weird thing, because am I touring or traveling? A luxury of touring is that you’re never a tourist. When you show up to a town there’s any number of people that are really pumped you’re there. So, if you ever want to do anything, you can just say, “Hey guys, let’s go do something,” and there ya go. It’s that simple.
But, when I’m traveling and not playing shows, it’s different. I was camping by myself in New Zealand and I bought a travel guide that I didn’t even look at it until I was on the plane. All I knew was I wanted to go to the furthest point north and see volcanoes. The rest of it, I just figured out as I went. You have to just bounce around and meet people. Ultimately, the best stuff will always present itself to you in one way or another. You just have to be out there to do it.
Have there been any commonalities amongst people that have really surprised you on your travels?
What I find so interesting is that even in developing and failing nations—where people have real problems—at the end of the day, they just want to listen to music, dance, make out with cute girls, eat food and have a good time. You know, be with their friends and family. They want the same thing we all want. It’s really inspiring to see that after all of they’ve been through, they don’t need an iPhone 6 or anything. They just need supportive people and maybe a guitar and some beer.
One of the reasons I wanted to stop in Minneapolis is the robust hip-hop scene. It seems everyone here is all about helping each other succeed. Why do you think the music community is so supportive of each other like that?
It’s not just the hip-hop scene actually; it’s the music scene as a whole. That’s the reason I moved here. Everyone here works together. Honestly, no one in America works together like they do here—not cross-genre, cross-scene. It’s amazing what goes on here. There’s this mentality that if we don’t support ourselves, no one else will do it for us. You can even bring up the brutal weather having something to do with it, because if we don’t go do things together, we’ll just go crazy. I mean there’s a lot of things I can add up; but the sum doesn’t equal the whole. There’s something inherently magical beyond all of that.
Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank Astronautalis for taking the time to speak with me. It was really important to me to end my month here with this interview. He, along with many other musicians, drew me here and I can’t describe how grateful I am to have penetrated their circle—even for a brief moment. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this city introduces to the world next.
See you in Austin,
Tomorrow, I post my interview with the one and only @astronautalis. Check out thegreatagencyadventure.com in the morning to check it out. #tgaa #mpls #hiphop #musicians
One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. @astronautalis @s_i_m_s @doomtree #mpls #hiphop #concerts #electric
If I were to describe my ideal Minneapolis weekend, chances are it would look something like the one I just experienced. It was all about what this area has to offer and as expected, the Twin Cities did not disappoint.
It all started Saturday, when I ventured over to Chipotle’s Cultivate Festival. Held in beautiful Loring Park, the event featured music, food, and a variety of vendors and exhibits. In particular, I was ecstatic to watch a demonstration from Chef Andrew Zimmern, who is probably best known from his travel show, Bizarre Foods. I swear I could listen to that man talk about his adventures for hours on end. Along with Anthony Bourdain, they’re two people who really helped inspire this little project we’re on. Another highlight of the festival was the day’s headlining musical act, Portugal. The Man. I’ve been such a fan of their music for a long, long time and it was great to finally see them live.
There was so much going on at all times, but even amongst the chaos you could tell everyone was having a good time. The entire event was based around a very poignant message of healthful foods, constructive conservations and ethical eats—all things I actively participated in and certainly support to the best of my ability. And unlike some other festivals I’ve attended, I’d say the overall atmosphere remained pretty relaxed for the most part. All in all, it was a great day and the weather was absolutely perfect for the entirety of the event (Of course, the free samples didn’t hurt either).
I didn’t think the day could get any better, but as soon as Portugal. The Man wrapped their set, I dashed a few blocks north to First Avenue—a venue I’ve been dying to step foot in for years and years. There, I got to see two of my favorite artists, Astronautalis and SIMS (check out my interview with him here), perform under the collective banner of AstroSims. I also got a chance to sit down and interview Astronautalis before the show, but I’ll save that for Thursday.
The entire show was pure energy from start to finish and the crowd was electric all night long. I’ve been to quite a few concerts in my life and I’d have to say that this was one of the most entertaining I’ve ever been to. When I exited the venue and realized I was drenched with sweat, I took it as a true sign of the good time I just had.
The next morning, I decided to take it easy, as I was still pretty spent from the night before. So, I walked down to the Uptown area and grab a few scrumptious morsels at Bogarts Donuts. After my visit to Glam Doll a few weekends ago, I was told to give them a try and I’m really glad I listened. They don’t have any crazy flavors or anything, but—whoa doggy—do they have some amazing donuts.
The weekend wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows though. On Friday, I fell victim to fraud—twice. The first one happened on my credit card and they took care of it rather easily, so I thought that’d be the end of it. Well, when I arrived home that night, I noticed the same company tried to put the same charge on my debit card, which is through a completely different bank. They made it much more difficult on me, canceling my card and issuing a replacement that I may not see until next month in Austin. Needless to say, it’s not the most ideal situation for someone on the road. But, I’m not going to let it slow me down. That’s for sure.
#PortugalTheMan performing at the #Chipotle #cultivatefestival. What a great show. They even busted out a rendition of ‘Nightman’. #music #MPLS #alwayssunny
#PortugalTheMan performing at the #Chipotle #cultivatefestival. What a great show. They even busted out a rendition of ‘Nightman’. #music #MPLS #alwayssunny