In the final installment of our 3 part interview with Jennifer Baron of The Garment District, we discuss the Pittsburgh-based artists that have become part of The Garment District’s extended musical family, and the many artists, photographers, musicians, and videographers that have brought creative influence to the band’s work and newest album, Luminous Toxin.
Julianna: Which musicians and artists have you been working with in Pittsburgh? Tell us about some of your artistic collaborations.
Jennifer: [It’s] important to me to play music with more women—which is something that was a regular part of my life while living in NYC—so I am thrilled to have Shivika Asthana (of Papas Fritas) playing drums and singing backing vocals, and Alicia Fronczek singing and playing percussion. It has been a journey—not just musically, but also personally, spiritually and in terms of chemistry—to be led to the right people to perform live and record with here in Pittsburgh.
The Garment District’s extended family also features my husband Greg Langel (As Above So Below Tapes) on keyboards, guitarist and vocalist Dan Koshute (Dazzletine) and bassist Mike Dice. It has been particularly inspiring and meaningful for me—…creativity and music[ally] and personally—to be reconnected with Dan, who is a phenomenal guitarist and singer, and multi-talented music maker. Our paths (re)crossed not only because of the Pittsburgh music scene, but also because Dan grew up with my younger brother and his mom is my favorite dental hygienist! Collaborating with this sweet crew—as well as with Chris Parker (drums) and Matt Booth (bass) who played on my full-length album—has been a tremendous joy, and has inspired my own creative process immensely. We are currently working on new arrangements for some of my recorded material, as well as on new songs that incorporate both female and male vocals, which I hope to start recording soon.
Pittsburgh-based filmmaker Keith Tassick created a video for my song “Nature-Nurture” that was a Finalist for the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 2012 Design, Art and Technology Awards. The video features 600-plus still photographs of local TV news, images that I capture and compile on my Tumblr.
I particularly love working with Milwaukee-based multimedia artist and Pittsburgh native Thad Kellstadt. Thad just finished a brand new video for my song, “The Feral Surfers,” the first track from Luminous Toxin, which we are getting ready to premiere. He also created music videos for my songs “Secondhand Sunburn” and “Cavendish on Whist,” and I see them as a video triptych of sorts. Sometimes I send him footage I have shot or still images, sometimes he suggests performance footage for me to shoot—and this can get incorporated into the video—which is led by his creative vision over time as he digests the music.
Here are some thoughts from Thad Kellstadt about his new video for “The Feral Surfers”:
“I think of myself as a painter who makes videos. Both mediums have their own set of limitations and capabilities that complement one another and enable ideas that the other cannot. With painting, I generally work my way towards a reality or a structure and keep building upon it. Whereas with video, I generally take apart a reality or structure.
My approach to the imagery for “The Feral Surfers” was like a collagist in a sense, amassing footage constantly from multiple sources, with most of the project coming to fruition in the editing. Being a musician, and foremost a drummer, it feels natural to work with a sense of musicality, approaching it like I would an instrument. From the start, I listened to the song constantly in the same way I would listen if I were learning it to play with a band.
The idea was to keep the image and music harmonious, building off one another and becoming a whole. Being an instrumental song, I was able to build a loose narrative around the title. The idea is that there is a surf/skateboarding cult that can move throughout time and space. It could be likened to the idea of a witch’s broom, only in this scenario, the surfboard is the magical vehicle. Eventually, members of the cult break free after realizing that their surfing powers are being exploited and used for negative means. They leave the cult and resume their lives as wanderers in search of international waves.
I feel that The Garment District and I share a similar aesthetic and have similar cultural influences, and with that understanding, things happen organically; which is the best way to collaborate and most often produces the best results. As a youngster, I always thought that I would make music videos. It took some time, but I am glad to have finally reached that goal.”
I strive to create parallels between the music, videos and the artwork created for my albums. The artwork for my 7” on the French label, La Station Radar, was created by the incredible Seattle-based collage artist Jesse Treece—who I met via Tumblr. The 7” features a remix by English musician and producer Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, Spectrum, EAR)—who is one of my musical heroes—and I felt very strongly about having Jesse create the art that would visually represent the music. I even mailed him some pages from my own collections of vintage National Geographic and LIFE magazines (my grandmother saved every issue of LIFE in plastic sleeves in her garage). Jesse’s intricate collage process is painstakingly handmade and meticulous, and he worked in a way that was very responsive to my music.
Julianna: Tell us about your newest album, Luminous Toxin. How long have you been working on it?
Jennifer: My most recent album, Luminous Toxin, was released in Summer 2015 on limited-edition CD and was just released digitally on Bandcamp in March 2016. It was an intensely personal solo project that resulted in an instrumental album featuring eight compositions released via the San Antonio-based experimental label and small press, Kendra Steiner Editions (KSE). I recorded the album at home with my husband, and mixed some of it with Steve Foxbury at Pittsburgh’s Yellow Couch Studio, and the mastering was done by Collin Gorman Weiland (who is also a musician I love) in Minneapolis.
I first met longtime poet, writer and KSE founder, Bill Shute through my husband, when he was visiting Pittsburgh. Like me, Bill— the founder of the seminal 1980s music ‘zine Inner Mystique—has always been drawn to Pittsburgh’s rich musical history and contemporary art scene. I shared my music with him, and it was a tremendous honor and a welcomed challenge to be invited to release music on KSE—which I view as almost like a commissioned project—and an important artistic opportunity to develop new work and new ways of presenting my approach to sound and music.
A portion of Lumious Toxin first took form when I was invited to participate in and compose music for the SYNC’D series—which pairs Pittsburgh-based musicians, filmmakers, and videographers. The initial music developed in a very organic way. In Spring 2014, I was handed a DVD-R containing five films, ranging from 3 1/2 minutes to an epic 11 minutes. The project culminated during a live performance at the now-defunct New Bohemian—a mixed-use art space formerly housed inside a historic Czech Catholic Church on the Northside next to the 16th Street Bridge along the Allegheny River—where we performed original soundtracks I composed for the films, as they were screened for the public.
Concepts for Luminous Toxin had been swirling around in my head for quite some time, allowing me to revisit some of the music I had composed for SYNC’D, begin brand new compositions, finalize demos I already had in progress, dive into using my newly acquired Roland JX-3P synthesizer, and pick up my bass guitar again.
Last year’s winter was particularly harsh and as hibernation set in, the singularity of the season provided the cocoon I needed to focus on finishing the album.
“When I write and record music there is always a… duality that exists between what takes shape inside my head, what I hear and form when responding to my evolving collection of instruments, and a more structured approach to orchestrated arrangements that comes naturally to my creative process.”
During weeks of record sub-zero temperatures, ice forming on the inside of our windows, my husband out in Los Angeles for his mother’s surgery, winds howling and shaking our eaves, Luminous Toxin became a permanent artifact in sound. Embracing a temporary confinement, recording sessions at home co-existed with obsessively re-watching episodes of Rod Serling’s brilliant 1970s television series Night Gallery, and eventually I chose an album title referring to the final scene in Rudolph Mate’s 1950 film noir classic, DOA.
I am honored to be a part of the KSE family, as I greatly admire the label’s staunch artist-centered approach to releasing limited-edition art in the form of sound and the written word, including freeform and experimental music, spoken word, improv and visual and sound collage works.
Bill’s aesthetic approach is all about supporting the artist’s vision and respecting the creative process, so there are no imposed or preconceived notions of what the label is looking for. I felt encouraged to explore new ways of making music that’s a bit more adventurous, ambient, long form and experimental. Here was a place I could start a record with a 9-minute song, incorporate the surreal sounds of my dog’s sleep patterns into my arrangements and use original field recordings I make on a regular basis.
Unencumbered by the limitations and assumptions imposed by lyrics and vocals, Luminous Toxin also continues my interest in the intersection of melody, arrangements, and texture with more freeform ambience, spontaneity, and unpredictability. I hope that these sonic forces coexist in the minds of listeners as Luminous Toxin makes its way to ears and becomes something altogether new.