alexander wren by koura linda

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ALEXANDER WREN

dialogue with treehouse artists

i sat down with alexander wren under a streetlight in a parking lot after a nightlight session in nashville, tn. i had just heard his music for the first time, and i had to ask him if he would do an interview. his music has a soul decades beyond his age, and it is clear why once i've asked him the interview questions.

he sat on an amp, i sat on the edge of my passenger seat in my car, trying to charge my phone so i could record the interview. it seemed to fit.

i began at the beginning. who is he, and what makes him that way?

there's a moment as that sinks in.

"oh my gosh! i didn't know i was signing up for this!" he laughs.

"i'm alex wren or alexander wren i go by. i moved to nashville 5 years ago. i'm 22 years old. i'm an indie artist and i've been banging my head against the wall for 5 years trying to figure it out. i'm from indiana. midwest boy. definitely some angst there.

i'm always having this never-ending existential search for what is real. That is probably the theme for a lot of my music. questions more than answers."

he's worried that was the wrong answer. but the best part of these interviews is that there is no wrong answer. i ask the next question.

what do you see music's role in society to be?

"i mean it depends on who you are, i think. for me, i mean what i hope to do, i feel like why i do music is i feel like its role is healing, and not necessarily in a music-therapy-degree sort of way, but i feel like if i hadn't had the records from my favorite artists these past few years, i would have been stuck in indiana. even though i feel like while there is a love/hate relationship, in the end, music has carried me, and is what carries people through even on a subconscious level on dark, cold, or even very joyous moments. that's what i think it's all about, or what the role should be, at least.

if you're younger self could give you advice, what would they say?

this throws him. it takes a few moments to put an answer together.

"i think if my younger self could give me advice, it would be... "

he's still thinking.

"i'm trying to articulate it!"

"i think if my younger self could give me advice, and this is a little bit cliche you know, but i think it would be to always remember why you do what you do. kind of 'what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you up at night?' because i feel like it's so easy to just be going throughout your days, music, not music, anything. and just kind of do it and not really know why. always know the why."

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what's the one question that you hoped i would ask, and what is the answer to that question?

"oh gosh!"

he reflects on this for a while. several moments go by, and i remind him there are no wrong answers. but he struggles with this one and asks if it is a cop-out to talk about musician stuff.

as this is an article about a musician, it is not!

"i feel like one thing maybe that we don't talk about or one thing i don't hear as much among creatives is like questions centered around the song. because i feel like so much of what i do in my music and my artistry is song-centered, and i just - that's why i moved to nasvhille and why i love it here. i like see myself as a writer. and i feel like nashville is a very good place to be a steward of writing. devoting yourself and just figuring out the craft of songwriting.

i just feel like where some people or most people can out sing me or most people can outplay me or out theorize me when it comes to music, but i feel like maybe my value to the arts is just the simplicity of the song. i guess i'm just trying to - i'm always searching for the song. you know what i mean?"

i ask if there is a question i would ask that would lead him to the song.

he reflects on this. the song is more the answer than the question. but we never arrived at the question.

what is the imprint that you hope to leave in the world?

he reflects on this. it's literally what he asks himself every day.

"i feel like, you know, as far as music is concerned, i feel like the punchline if you will, of what i want to do, and the imprint that i want to leave is, i guess leans into what i said earlier: bringing people back to the song. and not necessarily the artist, not necessarily the production, but bring people back to the bare bones of just-- in 200 years when we're all dead, in 100 years when we're all dead when no one remembers my name, is there still the vessel? is there still the song that can still be sung? that can still be performed?

so i think that's like, musically, that. and another thing i'm still trying to figure out, but another thing i really want to lean into, is really learning the line between what is music's relation to the arts and fine art. i feel like just music and art can be compartmentalized 'you can do this but you can't do this' and i feel like trying to figure out how to think differently and trying to open up people's mind as far as experiencing music and how that relates to the arts. i'm not far along on that one.

i'm further along on the song thing."

in the end, it's all really a work in progress... and that's ok.

o memorie by koura linda

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O MEMORIE

dialogue with treehouse artists

if you have never beheld the voice behind the collaboration of "o memorie," your ears are missing out on a velvet-coated gauntlet of artistic grace. the latest ep, "o memorie ii," is a beautiful balance of auditory textures drifting from spoken words to rawly executed vocals wonderfully woven with sparkling notes that speak volumes of his musical brilliance.

the man behind this all is joseph ruddleston, who, as we begin, tells me he has nothing prepared. i tell him that’s my favorite, and we jump right in.

first thing i want to know is, who is he, and what makes him that way?

“i would say my name, firstly. my name is joseph ruddleston, i am a storyteller and a songwriter. i may be that way because i have difficulty expressing myself, especially the emotional aspects, through common conversations. i use stories and songs to interpret my deeper expressions, but that’s why i am who i am.”

what songs make him sing and why?

he lists off a series of classic selections before hitting me.

“...and, probably my own songs make me want to sing because i have to.”

wow. have to? why?

“it’s hard to explain to people who don’t create art why you have to do what you do. there’s always this sense of entitlement that people expect of artists, but it’s less an entitlement and more an urge to break out of the ribs. it’s like you’re trying to give yourself open-heart surgery. your heart is too big for your body, and it needs to breathe, and the breathing part of it is the expression through art. i think it’s essential for the populace, for society, and they don’t realize it. i know that sounds very, like, ‘they don’t really know what they’ve got,’ but i don’t think the world really understands how important the arts are until, i guess, it doesn’t exist.”

i couldn’t agree more and makes me ask about the role music and art has in society. this makes him stop and think. he asks if i mean now? or eventually? or a little of both?

i’m curious which way answers it for him?

he has to think of the future.

“i thrust on an optimistic aspect of the arts, for me...the future really is that art is more than its product. it’s the experience each person has. it’s a big part of everyone’s identity. and i feel the only reason why people don’t do art, if they don’t do art, is because it can’t factor in a day filled with other distractions and abstractions and difficulties that don’t allow them that freedom to create, and to be inspired by something other than their nine-to-fives, i suppose.”

of all the different outlets for art, what was it about "o memorie" that made him feel like he could hold his heart in his hands?

he knows exactly what it was.

“i’ve spent a lot of time saying my own name in this whole pursuit for a career in music. and i got so tired of it. it wasn’t at all how i felt. like, i would perform with amazing performers. they were session musicians, i hired them, and it was a great experience. but i was still there as ‘joseph ruddleston.’ i didn’t feel like it represented the active spirit that i was trying to emanate. so i sat in my room and started writing an album, then a few hours later, it came to fruition. it was an incredible, cathartic experience, and a very isolated experience. but it felt like it was more a vessel thing, where you can only consider yourself this passage for a greater truth. i don’t know, it sounds like i’m starting a new religion. (laughter) it just felt like i wasn’t joseph ruddleston anymore. i was contributing to a cultural and historical canon of musicians and artists that meant much more than themselves. like, a memory is more than the sum of its parts, and i wanted to create so many parts. and 'o memorie' itself as a title was an homage to the significance and relationship of memory and dreams because they run hand in hand a lot of times. it’s spelled 'ie' on the end because it, in itself, is a humanization of the concept of memory that i elaborated through many people because memory is a shared experience in its own way. i wanted it to mean something for the years to come. it’s been the most rewarding experience because it wasn’t my own name because it wasn’t just for me or from me. with some persuasion, it was a community-based thing. but it does feel good to be the leader of something.”

he laughs, and i have to agree - it is always better to be doing something meaningful.

i’m curious what drew him to the pieces he chose for "o memorie ii," in the order he selected for that ep.

“the first song, ‘spark of genius,’ was always to be the first song because it pretty much summarized the sensation of imposter syndrome, the idea that, like, there’s no way you can possibly do okay in life, but you do okay in life, and things find themselves eventually. then the next song that went down, ‘meteor strike,’ was just a challenge to myself, and me being consistent with the theme of o memorie, whilst pushing myself musically and being kind of weird, (laughs) and a bit fun and a bit verbose and loquacious and all over the place. but i didn’t go too far, and i felt good about that. ‘gargoyles on my chest,’ which is the most recent, was the complete and utter opposite, not of me pushing myself too far, but me feeling rooted into the ground.

“it was a throwback to the earlier 'o memorie' where i just threw what came out of my mouth onto a page and played it without even thinking about takes and perfection at all. it even has a section in the middle which came from the voice memo file when i was just trying things out. i thought, ‘this clearly works in its rawest form,’ so, i just spliced it in there two days before i released it. i was like, ‘you know what? f--- this, let’s put it in there and see how it goes.’ and it worked! i mean, maybe it’s the irresponsible thing to do, but it felt like it’s gonna live longer for it.

“with the order itself, i love curating playlists, it’s like my favorite thing to do, and i feel there’s a lot of power in it. so when you see a natural rhythm of music, when you see how it makes you feel throughout the song, and throughout the album, and throughout a multitrack bonanza, you understand what it feels like to be the receiver of that kind of music, even when it’s your own.’

i always want to know what the artist is thinking, as i always find it funny when someone else writes about an artistic piece because so often they put something there that wasn’t.

he tells me he loves people interpreting different things from his albums.

“i’m really excited to see different interpretations because it’s exactly that. whether i see or other people see that memories and dreams themselves, the interpretation is all part and parcel. especially dreams. people love interpreting dreams, it is overwhelming how much people want to understand things, and so songs are the same. songs and stories, they’re all forms of interpretation that people have to get something from, and they might choose what they want from it. sometimes when people find out what the songs are about, they can be disappointed because it’s not how they experienced it. but! the truth can be disappointing.” he laughs.

i ask him my next question, knowing everything he’s been through- if he could tell anything to his younger self, what would he say?

“i would love to tell them to have the courage to be honest with yourself and everyone around you. i don’t know if that’s really benefited anyone, but i always felt like i was afraid of what i might say or do. when i did things, the consequences were always this veiled threat to me, and i would always have to try and keep everything within me. and i’d like to have understood this quote, which has become my motto throughout life. it’s a quote by emil zola, the writer: ‘if you ask me what i came to do in this world, i, an artist, will tell you i came to live out loud.’ and i think that living out loud is the best form of what i always aspire to be, even now when i feel like i do live out loud in a lot of aspects. it doesn’t mean live really loudly and saying everything and being belligerent and just annoying as hell. it’s partially about living honestly, but also about living with purpose and with faith and understanding of yourself.”

he wraps it up with a perfect summation of the end.

“in the last year, i have been reevaluating the significance of being an artist in my life, as an identity. and someone very wise told me that i am more than the art that i create and more than the artist that i have manifested to be. if i don’t accept every part of me in whatever proportion that is, then the artist means nothing. it’s a tool for me to express myself, but it’s not the expression itself. it’s not the emotions, it’s a voice for me. so i have a responsibility to make being an artist and being a musician and a songwriter and a storyteller count.”

“it’s a waste of my efforts, and those of everyone around me, to form a good and honest and honorable person if i don’t see the balance in the artist world. i shouldn’t seek out pain and suffering in order to find inspiration, and i also shouldn’t be afraid of being happy. i shouldn’t give up because it’s too hard, but i should never push myself to self-destruction because i feel like that’s the only way i can experience or find happiness.”

"o memoire ii" is available on itunes and bandcamp and spotify,
and can be streamed through their website: omemorie.com/omemorieii

Kelly Meyersfield by Alexandra Duparc

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KELLY MEYERSFIELD

dialogue with treehouse artists

Who are you and what made you that?

I’m Kelly. I’m an actress, a writer, a comedian, I’m a lot of things.

Can I say all the things that I am?

A funny songwriter… and… a lover.

I grew up in a very arts-oriented and funny household. My dad’s really funny. My mom is subtly funny. My brother is a major goofball. I learned a lot of my funny from him. He’d run into my room in different characters to cheer or crack me up. Everyone in my family loves to sing. My dad is a writer and musician.

It is in my blood.

What have you been working on recently?

I’m always writing new stuff. It’s one of my favorite forms of therapy in life- is to write about whatever I am going through. So, I have a bunch of pieces that I will eventually put together into some sort of show. I just shot a commercial.

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist?

I would say the toughest thing is the balance of being a mom, making the art that I want to make and still making a living- doing it all at once. It’s pursuing all your dreams when life presents you with all these interesting barriers; trying to be human and superhuman at the same time.

Why do you perform? What is the point?

I perform because it gives me a sense of freedom and relief and joy. And that is what I want to bring to other people. I do a lot of performing of my own original content- the things I create are very personal and I want people to see it, laugh and for it to reflect their idiosyncrasies and quirks. I want to bring relief to people and let them know they’re not alone.

There are so many fucking weirdos in this world and I am one of them and you are not alone.

I love making people laugh more than anything.

I love giving a part of myself and my own history to uplift people.

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I think art’s role in society is twofold. You want to give people an escape from the drudgery and the difficulties and the pain of life but you also want to help people to confront it.

What role does art have in society?

I think art’s role in society is twofold. You want to give people an escape from the drudgery and the difficulties and the pain of life but you also want to help people to confront it.

I think that art does both of those things.

You want people to confront life in order to change it, give people hope, and help people move closer to their own dreams. Maybe even give them a different view to take some of the heaviness of life away.

Advice to your younger self.

I wish I could tell myself about the things that were going to happen. Some of the adversity and some of the people who weren’t going to like what I create- to not let that be a stop and rather to just be brave and confident.

It’s so funny because I feel the same advice still applies now.

Trust in what you have, what you create and you are not going to be able to please everybody. People will be offended by you. They may not like what you have to offer because of their own viewpoints or lack of experience. You just have to acknowledge and keep pushing.

My purpose is a good one and a pure one. If someone can’t see that, that shouldn’t stop me.

I’m still such a work in progress and I still need more of that advice- that I’m giving to younger self.

I need to be reminded of these things.

Passionate about any recent release?

My “Infertility Christmas Medley”. I will definitely develop something from that. It’s a single piece about a bigger project that will be all about… midlife… madness

Cassie Boettcher by Alexandra Duparc

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CASSIE BOETTCHER

dialogue with treehouse artists

Who are you and what made you that?

My name is Cassie Boettcher. I am a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-born girl, reborn in LA, throw in some sass and talking-way-too-fast and a lot of beer and some sad songs and that’s about me.

What made you that?

My childhood, probably; Growing up in a household of loud people who like to make music and perform. I grew up singing in choirs. I wrote a lot of songs in math and religion class.

At that young age, I was very inspired by the early Taylor Swift songs combined with the songs my dad would listen to - like James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty.

I am a person of words. I love words. That’s what makes me a storyteller.

What other forms of writing do you do?

I enjoy journaling. That’s probably where it all started. In high school, I started a word-vomit journal where I would throw down anything and everything. Being a person of words means I often have a lot of them. In a 3 minute and 30-second song, you can’t always get all those words out. Journals let me throw my words, dissect my feelings and then figure out how to form these into song.

I write mostly when I intensely feel something. That’s when I write the most songs, journal the most- the moments of intense feeling.

Speaking of boys earlier (prior to the interview), these past few weeks, I’ve been really feeling that whole situation. There’s been a lot of wheels spinning in my brain. Journaling has helped and is a huge thing for me.

What have you been working on recently?

I have an album being released next week on Friday, March 15th, 2019 with a record release show the same night at the Hotel Cafe that night- 7pm on the second stage.

Yet, I’ve already begun writing new stuff.

It’s weird that as I premier this chapter of songs, I’m working on the next chapter of songs about experiences that have only happened recently. Prepping those tunes is exciting.

You cook one baby for a while and then you’ve got to cook the next one for a while before you serve them to anyone.

[laughs at how that sounds]

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist?

Oh man. Not being good enough. I think that’s for everybody but it hindered my art for a while. When I was in college, I was playing music a lot and semi-professionally. I was on track to keep doing that professionally once I graduated but I kind of needed to take a step back because I was comparing myself to others- like one girl, who had started at the same time as I. She was getting signed to a publishing deal, record deal and I was jealous of that situation.

I was also going through a break up at the time. Tons of things were going on. I had to stop doing music. I took a break from it to reevaluate why I do it in the first place.

You realize this isn’t about yourself. You do this to share stories with others.

That’s what this album is about. It’s titled “More Than That”.

It encapsulates that concept. I was defining myself per what other people thought of me

“She’s too Taylor Swift.”

“ She doesn't fit into the pop mold.”

“She doesn’t fit into the country mold either.”

I realized I am so much more than what anyone says of me.

And there probably wasn’t even that many people saying these things. It could have all been in my head.

I’ve noticed that the older I get, the fewer fucks I give. Pardon my French.

If you don’t like this, you don’t like this. You can go find someone else to listen to!

Realizing your worth. You define your worth. You define yourself. So, go make something of yourself that you are proud of.

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Realizing your worth. You define your worth. You define yourself. So, go make something of yourself that you are proud of.

Why do you make music? What’s the point?

I’m a person who likes sad songs and loves sad music. A lot of people say this but I’ve never met anyone who loves sad music as intensely as I do.

Recently, sad songs are all that I’ve been writing.

When I intensely feel something, that’s when I write- to get those stories across.

I love hearing things like, “That song broke my heart” or “I really felt this. I had a similar experience with an ex and this song told that story.”

Sad songs admit that we’re all human, that we all make mistakes, that we don’t all have perfect relationships and that we all get sad about things sometimes. 

I like putting sad songs out into the world because I know that anyone else can relate- as we’re all human.

What role does art have in society?

I think art is so important. It’s an escape. It’s a life. It’s what brings us life. It’s what inspires us. It’s what inspires others. Art is just the greatest thing the world and it needs to be appreciated more and more. 

It needs to keep being loved.

Advice for the 24-year old you.

Move out to LA. Which you’re going to do. Don’t let your parents make you stay in Wisconsin. Even though you love your parents. My mom will read this. Give it your all. Be a badass. Be good to others and help others.

Is there a specific that you’re passionate about regarding this new release?

I did a Britney Spears cover of “Baby One More Time”. Brit Brit was my ultimate inspiration as a child. My sister and my two neighbors, we had a little pop group called The Britneys. 

We’d make up songs in our backyards and um…well, sing them…and we were called The Britneys. [laughs]

So, putting this record out with a Britney Spears cover really brings it full circle and makes me really happy.

metaphorest by koura linda

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METAPHOREST

dialogue with treehouse artists

sitting down to talk to metaphorest is a little nerve-wracking. a prolific songwriter and screenwriter, with work screened at cannes, sxsw, and sundance, and her music in levi's ads and countless projects produced through joseph gordon-levitt's online open collaborative production company hitRECord, she's abound with talent and i feel a bit overwhelmed with where to start.  

in her kindness, she tries to put me at ease. “all you have to do is think of questions,” she laughs.  

i tell her i know but that i don’t want to ask a dumb question or say something that makes me seem like i am questioning her life choices. she laughs at this.

“don't worry,” she assures me, still laughing, telling me that she questions her life choices on a minute-by-minute basis. it's nothing new.

i take it as a segue into my first question: 

what was it about music that drew her in, specifically as a singer/songwriter?  

i was not expecting her reply.

“i think it was something that's so far back that i couldn't tell you any rational reason.”  she laughs again, and goes on to tell me about her earliest songwriting memories were from when she was three or four years old.  “... waiting for t.v. to come on because, as a child in ireland, t.v. time didn't start until 2pm. so, i would literally sit in front of the telly for about an hour waiting for it to come on. the test screen had this kind of muzak, i guess, like instrumental music that would come on and play on a loop. i would make up melodies and words for this terrible muzak."  

she laughs again, telling me she didn't realize at the time that it was actually "greensleeves" and joni mitchell's "both sides now."  she felt those were her songs. throughout her childhood, on a small toy piano, she would come up with little songs and melodies and sort of poems that she would sing.   

i am intrigued by her story and joke that i thought we were about the same age and now i'm wondering, if she had a t.v. where the stations turned off at a certain time! she explains that it was just the irish t.v. stations that shut off. 

the fact that she had to entertain herself for a lot of her childhood is probably where a lot of her creativity comes from. 

i ask if that that sort of filling in the spaces of emptiness has been her inspiration, or if she has a different inspiration for it now?

she tells me that she has a very busy life now.

"i sort of have to force myself to be creative and get into that headspace now more. if i have some days off and there's not other things i'm supposed to be doing, creative ideas will just start to come to me naturally but that doesn't happen very often. most of the time i have to actually sit down and tell myself 'okay, you're going to write a song. you're going to write a story. you're going to write a script.’ and then try to pull the inspiration from somewhere. i think it was those days of my youth (when i had very little to entertain me) as the youngest child of three (the other two being boys who were 11 and 12 years older than i)- i really had to make my own. mostly with a paper and a pen or coloring pencils. i think those skills have stayed with me."

i think that is awesome and i tell her. I begin wondering if there is a certain time of day or a specific little nook that she has for writing or if it just happens as her free time allows? it is a little bit of both.

"if it's a work-related thing, like if I have to produce a script, say, then it's all based on a deadline. i'll work from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. in terms of my preferred time to be creative, and when it's just for me, definitely evenings. i'm much more of a night owl than i am a morning person. in the first three hours of the day, i'm pretty much useless on every front. so it's usually like 8, 9, 10pm before i really start feeling creative and alive. in terms of a space, when it's music it's pretty much always my bedroom because i feel i need privacy. i need to be hidden away. i hate for anyone to see me in the early stages of the creative process. it just feels very, i don't know, you feel so exposed and self-conscious. so, definitely privacy on that front. when it is writing, i can pretty much write everywhere. i'm not the kind of person who can go to a cafe and do it because i get too easily distracted and i can be quite self-conscious. but in general, as long as i've got a laptop i can sit pretty much anywhere and just go into my own little world with my headphones and bash it out."

i ask what type of music she listens to on her headphones?  it varies.

"for scripts for example, every time i write a new script i'll make a playlist specifically for it that really helps to guide the emotional flow of the story. for short stories, scripts, basically any kind of writing really. i find it really helps me to get a rhythm and flow to the words and also to really find the emotional core of a scene. it to different heights. i don't think there's anything really like music for generating and creating emotion, so that's really important. for example, i recently had to write a science fiction short story. so, i mostly listened to the 'interstellar' soundtrack, which is very emotional: inspiring, grand and awe-inspiring.  but then say for a dark comedy, it'll be music that's more quirky. for horror films, it tends to be a lot of horror soundtracks that i listen to to get into the creepy frame of mind."  

she laughs and i tell her i don't know if i could do that.

"yeah, i freak myself out, absolutely.  if i'm writing by myself, listening to scary music, writing something scary, i'll totally, like, crap myself."  she laughs.  then adds, "not literally. metaphorically."

i want to know what draws her into writing then, aside from originally it being out of necessity, but now especially if it is frightening. what about it makes her want to keep doing it- both as a professional writer and as a musician? 

"it's just something that comes to me. i have a desire - i don't know why exactly - to create new worlds and stories and imagine what might be possible. part of it is the fantasy element of it- that you can create a whole world just by dreaming one up. you can create characters and situations, events and i think that's why horror and fantasy appeal to me because there are no boundaries. whereas in drama, you're always going to be limited by what's possible. and that always feels like a bit of a waste of creativity for me when there's so many incredible stories in the world that can be told through documentary if you're looking at real life or what is possible. i think it's always going to be hard to beat that- to beat real-life stories. i think with horror and fantasy you can speak about things in a way that's more powerful because you're removed from reality.  it lets you be objective. it lets people be objective in looking at themselves through a mirror that isn't quite reality, if that makes sense? you can sometimes say things more powerfully through metaphor than you can by being literal."

i point out her moniker, metaphorest.

"oh yeah!" she laughs.

but is it the same for music- as far as songwriting and lyric writing? 

her songs do tell stories. 

"iterations" is probably one of my favorites.

so is "be prepared." 

i feel as if anyone who listens to those songs could say, "that is my life!”

she thinks that's cool.

"with the songs, they are often more personal and more cathartic.  i also always try to have some universal message in there because i think the most important thing that art of any kind can do is resonate with people and create a connection. anything that somebody can look at or listen to and say, 'i understand because i feel the same' or 'i'm not alone in this because someone else feels that way too'. i think that music does that especially well, but i do try to put that in everything i create. that sort of core of human connection and that everyone, fundamentally, is pretty similar and have the same experiences and goes through the same sort of pain and anxiety or loneliness, or joy. the whole range of emotions."

i ask if that is how she sees her role as a writer?  be it for music or movies in society - the part that she plays would be to create a bit of a catharsis for people who are listening?  or does she see herself playing another part when she's creating?

she reflects for a moment.  

"i think that with every piece there's gonna be a slightly different purpose but overall, i want to make art that people can relate to. also, i want to make art that challenges people and challenges what they believe. so, i think the best art is always a little bit subversive and doesn't just preach to people what they think they already know but forces them to question themselves or the society that they're in or some of the rules of the societies we live in- to sort of shine a light on some issues that i feel passionately about."

she says it isn't something she really thinks about often, until someone brings it up, and it sort of makes her think.  "well, why -am- i doing this?"

"but that's important! it's good to stop and think about the reasons you're doing something and what your goals are with it and why you love it; what makes you keep doing it.  where your passion really lies. every artist has different motivations, different inspirations, different goals, and there's no right or wrong way."

i agree wholeheartedly. now, i'm curious, does she see her art as having a specific role or kind of purpose out in the world or does she make it and hope people will get something out of it?

"i think once you've finished something and put it out there, then it's not yours anymore and it's really for the people who receive it to see whatever they see and get whatever they can out of it. it becomes transformed into something new when it's shared. and that's part of the fun - you never know how people are gonna react to the things that you make. you know what they mean to you, or what you think they mean. but everyone is gonna bring themselves to the art and find something different or new in it, and i love that. i love speaking to people who see [one of my films], for example, and say, 'i really liked the way you did that,' or, 'i really connected with this character or that character', you know, different subplots or whatever that they focused on that i wouldn't have particularly paid that much notice to.  so that's part of the fun, is that you do your part, but then once it's out in the world it becomes this whole new beast." she laughs.

"i think if you're too much of a control freak, it's just impossible.  you just have to be able to just let go, and be like, 'okay, you can leave the nest. live your own life! i don't want to see you until college holidays!'."  

we're both laughing and i'm so torn because i want to ask her a hundred more questions. i go with what seems to be the most obvious, and ask her if there has been a time where she created something, and put it out into the world and an erudite critic comes back with some deep meaningful meaning that she never intended.  

"yes, yes, yes!  yes, oh it's terrible, yes, this often happens. people will often ask you questions at q&as, they'll message me on facebook and say, 'oh, i really loved the way you did that scene where it was obviously a metaphor for this or a message for that!' and i'm thinking, 'it just worked out that way. there really wasn't that much thought behind it but you know, sure!' if it sounds intellectual, you just go along with it and pretend that you planned that right from the beginning."  

she clarifies that there is nothing wrong with being intellectual.  

"i think it's in everyone to try and search for meaning in what they're viewing and there's no such thing as right or wrong. i mean, the writer's intention is one thing but once it's out there, it's whatever you see in it.  so i don't see a problem with dissecting films or trying to understand them. i would say, and this is maybe a slightly specific advice, if you're going to make a film that is in someway ambiguous, that you as the writer know exactly what you are saying. because i think that those sorts of films can be so pretentious where it's open-ended. i want to feel at least someone, somewhere, knows what this film is trying to say and understands the story. i think as long as there's that level of narrative understanding, you can let them away with it. so often, you see films where the balance of ambiguity versus what you can cling onto are so off that it just feels pretentious." 

"i don't think anyone could really just tell you the mistakes to avoid or what to do. you have to learn it along the way. when i started out, i didn't know anything. if someone had just come along and told me all the things that i know now? there's no way i'd be able to take it in. i'd just be like, 'yeah, right, whatever,' and go on making mistakes anyway. 90 percent of learning is experience and there are certain things you can't learn until learning them the hard way, unfortunately. i think that as long as you're open-minded and aware of your own fallibility and open to change, then you just keep learning forever.  i mean, nobody stops."

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"i don't think anyone could really just tell you the mistakes to avoid or what to do. you have to learn it along the way. when i started out, i didn't know anything. if someone had just come along and told me all the things that i know now? there's no way i'd be able to take it in. i'd just be like, 'yeah, right, whatever,' and go on making mistakes anyway. 90 percent of learning is experience and there are certain things you can't learn until learning them the hard way, unfortunately. i think that as long as you're open-minded and aware of your own fallibility and open to change, then you just keep learning forever. i mean, nobody stops."

that's beautiful, and i tell her as much.

"what would be the point if you felt like you knew everything already? you'd just stop and take up something else. embroidery, or computer programming…to be honest, for me, the joy is all in the creation, and when it’s gone, that’s it.

“i’m really not a performer with music. i will write a song in an evening, i'll sing it once or twice, i’ll edit it and i’ll never sing it again."

"i don’t know how to play any of my songs. i just do it once, i’ll write down the chords, i’ll play it, and then that’s it, forever. i know, it’s really weird. nobody understands it. i don’t even understand it. but it’s because i’m a writer, i’m not a performer. i don’t enjoy performing at all.  even when i record songs, i get nervous. it’s really sad. even when i’m by myself.  so, it’s just a means to an end for me, to just get it out there, and once it’s done, it’s kind of done.

“with that said, obviously there’s stuff that i’m more proud of. like [the short film series] 'morgan m. morgansen'. i really loved writing those and i loved how they turned out, just the fact that they got such a beautiful, positive response from people. that’s always really satisfying."

i'm curious now about her creative process as a songwriter.  she'll just write it and sing it and record it and that’s it, forever?

"yep. yeah. so, in terms of songwriting, i can approach it in lots of different ways. sometimes it will start with playing around on guitar, just messing with chords until i find something i like and then i’ll start singing nonsense words with it to start.

“once i get a melody, then i might think about what i want to sing about.  sometimes just a phrase, a single phrase, or a rhyme will come to me, and that will form the core of the rest of the song.

“but then other times i’ve set myself a challenge of, 'okay, i’m going to write a song about something very specific.' like for example, once i was like, 'okay i’m going to write a song about the artist goya.' so, i went away and researched goya, wrote the lyrics first, and then came up with the melody.”

“so there’s really no set process of how i do it. it’s just whatever sparks inspiration at that time, or sometimes it’ll just be trying to just shake things up a little bit, to try to stir an idea.”

that makes her music even more amazing to me, and i tell her that.  she says thanks, but has to clarify.

"approximately 40% of the time, i'll be in the shower and i’ll think of a rhyme and i’ll sing it. i’ll run out of the shower and come up with the rest of the song in like half an hour."

so she is brilliant! i knew that already, just having been familiar with both her music and writing for almost a full decade. but this cements it for me. 

"there’s nothing particularly mystical or genius about it!” she laughs, "it’s just that fragments will come to me, and i will build on them, most of the time."

that's awesome, and now i'm curious about how this translates to working with deadlines.

the most recent short film she wrote, automata, directed by lawrie brewster, is currently in post-production and they are up against the clock to complete it. she says they have their premiere lined up already. 

"that’s going to be at fright fest at the glasgow film festival." she says, ”and we’ve had some interest from distributors. so we’re gonna get distribution for that. we also like to reserve some of the distribution rights for ourselves because we do self-distribute physical copies.

“it’s been getting really positive response so far for the trailer and everything. it’s looking really good for that one. it’s a very different, very strange film but i think people are gonna really enjoy it. it’s something totally wild.  but it is ultimately a very entertaining film that has something to say."

those are the best kind.

"that’s the hope anyway!"

that's fantastic.  and i wonder what could be next? 

"there’s not another feature film lined up for this year. so, i’m hoping to get to do more writing and more music this year. i’ve got a story that’s coming out in a science fantasy anthology this month. that’s kind of my first time having a short story really published outside of hitRECord. so yeah, i’d like to do more writing, more short stories, more scriptwriting as well. i hope to write another feature or two this year. i’ll be doing a couple of songs for the automata soundtrack. so, that’ll be me getting back into music again. hopefully i have some more time for that this year. eventually do another album but probably next year- being realistic."

i'm excited for her, and i feel like i could keep asking her questions for the rest of the day, but i know we're going to have to wrap it up soon.  so i go back to the standard. is there one question that she would have hoped i asked, or wanted me to ask, and if so, what is the answer?

she says she's not very good at talking about herself.

"whenever anybody asks me any question, no matter how obvious,to me it’s always a revelation. like, 'wow! i never thought of that!' so, honestly getting to talk about the creative process and what means to me is interesting and refreshing and nice."

she says there’s nothing she feels like she's just dying to get out that hasn't already been covered. while this is my 3rd interview, i think it’s interesting how, like marissa lamar of highland kites, she’s most creative in the morning. spaceship is creative whenever the fancy strikes him.  she's a night person. it’s really cool to see that there isn’t like, “you have to have a bullet journal, and between 1:30 and 2:45pm…”

she agrees wholeheartedly. 

"i hate people who are so prescriptive about things. you can’t be that way. you just have to be constantly open to it. you just have to tune into the creative zone. art is the one field where there are no rules. there’s no need to be educated in it. in some ways, being educated in something can kill some of the creativity. i’ve always been afraid to learn more about music in terms of the actual mechanics of it because i feel then i’d maybe know that some of the choices i’m making are not technically right. but technically right isn’t what you’re always striving for.  you want to make something that strikes an emotional chord. it doesn’t have to be correct. some of the most beautiful things don’t follow the rules."

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"it doesn’t matter. as long as you have a team around that can fill in the gaps in your knowledge or in your skill set, then who cares? it’s about what you can all create together, and it’s about what each person brings to the table that’s new and different."

i completely agree, and i tell her, reflecting on something i heard once, "if you’re not surrounding yourself with people who know more than you, you’ll never grow."

she agrees.  

"there's a myth that you have to be great at everything and do everything by yourself. it’s absolutely not true. pretty much any artistic medium, you always need to rely on other people and there’s no shame in that. that’s just part of it. any good artist will admit that they can’t do it all and will look for other people to help them make their art even better by taking off some of the slack."

Kera Armendariz by Alexandra Duparc

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KERA ARMENDARIZ

dialogue with treehouse artists

photo credit: Sinziana Velicescu

Who are you and what made you that?

Who is I and what made me that?

My name is Kera, last name is Armendariz. I think in the 1970’s my mother and father met, they fell in love, they procreated and they had me. I don’t know what date it was. I just have to subtract, hold on. [laughs] 

Your birthday minus 9 months?

Totally. Goddamnit!

So, it was 1987! They had already met, they were still in love and they had me. Great.

What have you been working on recently?

Well, I’ve been working on a few singles. One of them, in particular, is being released on February 15th and I’m really excited about. It’s called “Bright Future Ahead” and it’s featuring one of my favorite artists, Devendra Banhart.

What’s your biggest form of self-resistance as an artist?

Can you explain that?

What you do to stop yourself. 

I think sometimes, I can be my own worst enemy and really self-critical. I think that gets in the way. Am I answering that correctly?

Yes. Elaborate a little.

Well, I’ve always been really hard on myself which can sometimes be a good thing but it can also not be beneficial. I’ll just sit with my thoughts so much to not be active and DO anything about it, you know? So much time will pass with me just looming with these thoughts instead of just doing. I feel like I’ve been better at that and I’ve had a much healthier relationship with music. I’ve been kinder and more patient with myself.

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photo credit: Devendra Banhart

Why do you make music? What is the point?

I’ve always been really inspired by artists that have intention with their words and those that have an honest message. It doesn’t necessarily have to be positive. I think music does such a wonderful job of connecting people. It does it in such a beautiful way. The reason I create music is that I’ve always felt like I’ve wanted to help and contribute to my community and the way that I like to do that is through song and performance. That’s my way of feeling connected to people.

I’ve always liked singing songs about resilience because while writing them, I would be in a low place but once I sung about it, it helped bring back this resilience and strength.

I hope to be a positive example.

I’m sure you are. What do you think art’s role is in society?

I think that’s subjective. In my life, I think it’s so cool that you can have a true connection with art and it is so personal. I love that it makes you feel things even if you hate it [the art]. You’re still feeling something. That’s what makes us human. It makes me feel like I’m embodied in myself in that moment. - like, what is it about this song or this piece that makes me feel uncomfortable or enlightened?

What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you? Did you use to fuel your art?

My last release was called “Fall Apart” and I really felt like at that time in my life, that I was falling to pieces. Mentally, I was going under. It really taught me a lot about myself; To be in a place now where I’m gaining resources tools for my mental health struggles has been really helpful because it has allowed me to write more.

What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?

I think meaningful connections that I’ve had are some of the best things. There are certain people that can come into your life who show you and teach you things about yourself. I have to say that some of the people that have really shaped my life, I will never forget. They were part of some of the best conversations and best moments I’ve ever had.

What’s next?

Releasing new music and I have this interest in bridging the gap between being a musician and contributing to my community.

I want to learn how to build these adobe houses because I want to find more artist residencies where my contribution can be these beautiful homes.

I also want to work on more music and fill my art with more intention.

Tiffany Cole by Alexandra Duparc

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TIFFANY COLE

dialogue with treehouse artists

Who are you and what made you that?

I’m Tiffany Cole. I’m female, fine artist from California. I live in London right now but I was born and raised in California.

I’ve done some form of art my entire life. I started in dance when I was three and I did that until my teen years. I really thought that was something I wanted to pursue but I didn’t like the life it would lead me to. I was then a musician for seven years. Around the age of eighteen, I got a normal job. I stopped doing art completely- any form of it. Nine years went by and I had this hole in my universe. I was acting like this person that I wasn’t. I had so much imagination going on. Almost everyday, I would take a walk and play through things in my head- movies I wanted to make, songs I wanted to make, this entire fantasy world in my head.

I started doing some counseling and that opened the door to being creative again. It’s funny, when I really made that decision, one of my good friends is an abstract painter and she brought over paints to my apartment. I started messing around with them and it seemed like every situation in my life came together to force me to this point- to be forced to create.

This guy came into my life and he was in the fine art world and I wanted to impress him in some way [laughs] and I just started doing it. My two best friends were fine artists. This guy had come in to my life. All of these things ignited the fine artist in me.

Isn’t it funny how love will push you to do things?

Ya, and I’ve never really said that in any interview because I didn’t want it be taken like “I did this for a man”.

What have you been working on recently?

Last year, I really had the goal of coming to London to start exploring my style. I began by exploring creating relationships with models and I really feel like I’ve begun a journey that will probably last for the rest of my life. So, right now I’m working on exploring new ways of communicating what I’m trying to communicate with my art. Saying what is in my mind. I’m going to States next week and going to stay by myself for a few weeks and start oil painting. I’m exploring new styles and just trying to really hone them in.

Last year, my goal was to become a full-time artist and I achieved that goal. I realized that right now, I’m trying to figure out what am I really trying to communicate- What am I trying to put into this world? What am trying to make myself feel with my art? I think that’s a constant thing that you’re chasing as an artist.

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist?

Oh my god.

I could write a novel about this.

I’m such a perfectionist. That harms me in many ways because I’m still quite new to my craft in the sense that most people doing what I’m doing started when they were eight and I started when I was twenty five. I think just letting myself create just for the sake of creating- not for having a perfect product- letting myself play. When I was young, I really let myself play. That’s what I used creation for. As you get older, you have more pressure to be successful and make money. Now money is an attachment to your creation- which is such an interesting dynamic. Allowing myself to freely create is something I’m trying to do.

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What am I trying to put into this world? What am trying to make myself feel with my art? I think that’s a constant thing that you’re chasing as an artist.

Why do you make art? What’s the point?

I think for two reasons. One is a selfish reason. It’s just an energy that I have that I almost need to tap into and play with in order to be happy. It’s such a part of me to create that if I don’t do it, it’s like cutting off my own arm.

The other reason is that it’s such a beautiful feeling to create an effect on people. Especially with social media- it’s so amazing how kind people are with their reactions to the things you make. The beautiful words that they use. It makes all the pain of being an artist worth it; To feel that magic feeling in yourself and to make others feel that magic feeling.

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It’s such a beautiful feeling to create an effect on people. Especially with social media- it’s so amazing how kind people are with their reactions to the things you make. The beautiful words that they use. It makes all the pain of being an artist wroth it; To feel that magic feeling in yourself and to make others feel that magic feeling.

What role does art have in society?

I think without art, society is almost lifeless, sad and solid. I think artists are almost looked up to like gods. They’re thought of as these different beings that have some sort of power and bring us these incredible feelings - whether of sadness, joy or sensuality. I think art is a universal communication that breaks through all the noise of our planet.

What form of advice would you give someone who’s a fine artist and wants to make a living from their art?

You have to work hard. There’s no getting around it. Ideally, I would love to wake update everyday and take two baths and put make up for five hours and just twirl around in my bedroom and make videos and that absolutely can be what you do but there’s also the business side of it. That’s what I’ve learned that I have to keep on. It’s constantly outflowing to new people, constantly networking. I love Grant Cardone. I’ve been listening to him a lot and I love that he says, “Everything you want is in the hands of a stranger.” Whether you want be in gallery, get a commission, sell a piece that you make. It’s all in the hands of a stranger. It’s not going to be fun all the time. It’s not the ideal way I’d like to live as an artist but here we are. I’ve achieved my first goal. I can sustain myself while doing this. My next goal is freedom- That there is such a desire for what I create, that I’m free to do what I’d like. But first, you have to do the legwork. You have to get out there and communicate.

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I’ve achieved my first goal. I can sustain myself while doing this. My next goal is freedom- That there is such a desire for what I create, that I’m free to do what I’d like. But first, you have to do the legwork. You have to get out there and communicate.

Lily Kershaw by Esther Kim

Lily Kershaw by Esther Kim

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LILY KERSHAW

dialogue with treehouse arists

Who are you and what made you that? 

I guess I’m a writer. I don’t guess, I AM writer and that’s how I interpret the world. I think I became that way probably because I wanted to understand the world. I think that writing in any form helps me to process It. I work mainly in the medium of writing songs.

 

How would you say you developed as a writer and what is your style? 

I developed as a writer just by writing. I’m not certain what my style is other than having a desire to tell stories and to understand experiences, life, or things about people through writing and telling stories. I think a through line in all my music is me trying to get to the root or core of some personal thing or universal truth. Reflective and Self-reflective, is that a style? Haha!

 

What have you been working on recently? 

I write everyday. I write lyrics pretty much all day. I’m always thinking about new ways to put words together. I have one specific idea which has just started to come into focus. I’ll be working on it for the next few weeks. I like to work really quickly - once an idea shows up, I like to execute it - write the music and record it. I’m trying to make my turnaround quicker because I find that I can capture the essence of what I was trying to sort through and get to the bottom of it more succinctly. So, I don’t want to say specifically what it is but it feels good - it’s the most connected I’ve felt to an idea in awhile, which is nice. I think connection is key - that it keeps drawing you back, that you keep wanting to explore it and work on it - a kind of obsession. It’s important to follow your obsessions, I think. 

 

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist? 

I like being alone. I like spending time working alone and I like my solitude. So I think that if there’s an aspect of resistance, it’s often that I want to cocoon a little too hard. And I think that can be to the detriment of the work being seen. But I think that the older I get, the more I know myself and what I need in order to feel comfortable being out in the world and sharing the music. I so enjoy the time that I get to work and write the music, thats my favorite part of it all, but I’m getting better about when the project is done getting it out and letting it be in the world.

 

So, you’re finding a balance within yourself. 

Yeah, I’m just like, “okay! This is what I’m obsessed with. This is the work I’m making. Okay, I made it and now it’s out!”. Just kind of letting it go and being okay with having it be seen and heard.

 

Why do you make music? What’s the point? 

I definitely feel like I initially started to write and sing songs because I wanted to feel better and they helped me feel better. I found that it was the only way for me to process things, so thats why I make music. It helps me to know myself more and to be myself more. I hope to encourage others in that sense. When I listen to an artist that I love they’ll say something, a lyric, and things will make more sense to me in life. I’ll feel stronger and braver in term of being myself or being in my skin.

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Art helps express the unexpressed. Art helps evolve the subconscious or unconscious aspects of the human psych. That’s what it does for me so I can only assume it does that for other people. I think art helps us to know ourself and to evolve.

What role does art have in society? 

Art helps express the unexpressed. Art helps evolve the subconscious or unconscious aspects of the human psych. That’s what it does for me so I can only assume it does that for other people. I think art helps us to know ourself and to evolve.

 

How do you see yourself impacting that role? 

Well, in writing I certainly self-reflect and evolve aspects of my personal consciousness. Maybe I discover something within myself, that like I said earlier with the artists that I listen to, that a lyric will bring something new to light for me, and maybe I could do that for someone else. That would be lovely.

 

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you and do you use that to drive your art? 

I think that I’ve faced a series of things that felt traumatic to me and they, at the time, were too painful for me to write about. When something is really, really painful, I can’t write about it. I have to wait until the wound heals and maybe it’s just a bruise. But, yeah, at a certain point the pain always drives me to work. But, the worst things? No. I kind of shut-down initially because the pain feels greater than any potential positive outcome of music at the time. Once the healing has begun and maybe some of the emotion and hurt leaves, then I can write about it. The pain always ends up in the work and driving the work.

 

On the flip-side, what’s the best thing that’s happened to you? 

Probably being drawn to writing music is the best thing that’s happened to me. Nothing is perfect - nothing is a perfect solution but being drawn to write music was an absolute gift, even though pain is what drew me there. In turn pain is a gift as well. Everything is cyclical. Nothings is good and nothing is bad - everything is a loop and you’ll be on different points of that wheel  at different points of your life. Writing music helps me unify the loop in my mind and it helps me weather different kinds of storms better or enjoy different types of sunshine better. But I think that being able to write music, record it, and put it out helps me to balance my personal experiences and helps me to function better. Being able to create music, discovering that I love to write music and being able to do it for work is the best thing that’s happened to me. It is a gift and I’m very lucky.

 

So, it sounds like some of the best things are derived from what’s driven by some of your worst things.

Oh, of course. I think that if you look closely at life, that’s all you’ll see. Good coming out of bad, bad coming out of good- nothing is good or bad. It’s all what you make of it. The worst thing that you ever do could be something that brings you to the greatest thing you’ll ever do. I think it’s important to not judge the experience. See how it’s making you feel and act accordingly, but I think that’s why it’s important to know yourself well. You know your inner landscape and the outer world becomes easier to navigate.

Alicia Blue by Alexandra Duparc

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ALICIA BLUE

dialogue with treehouse artists

Who are you and what made you that?

My name is Alicia Blue and I’m a singer and songwriter. What made me that is having an obsession with words and then later, falling into putting them to three minutes of what we call song.

Were you writing other things before?

I wanted to be a writer. I was pretty obsessed with the likes of Jack Kerouac and all the beats. That’s what I wanted to do. I got into music extremely late and songs seemed like the perfect way to tell the stories that I felt that I needed to tell.

What have you been working on recently?

An album with a single that’s coming out on February 6th, premiering on KCRW.

I’ve also been writing new songs that I’ll probably get into the studio again and start recording.

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist?

I would say, one thing I discovered recently was thinking and being very tired of thinking instead of just doing. I had to do quite a lot of thinking to get to this point. The self-resistance is overthinking- judging what I’m doing as a performer and writer. 

Why do you make music? What’s the point?

The point is to get out these things that are buried deep within me. You could call them truths or stories. I think it’s incredible to illuminate what’s been brewing inside of you, sometimes, for your whole life. The sum of your experiences- maybe it’s useful for somebody. It’s definitely useful for me.

What role does art have in society?

I think it should do all the things but I really get turned on when I become enlightened and turned on when something deep and buried gets illuminated because it’s making society think. The artist, when they take that position, it’s at the cost of not being popular. I can’t think of anything more sexy than that.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and did you use it drive your art?

Well, I definitely did use it. I’m still using it. It may sound silly but I was in a relationship with someone ten years younger than me and they dumped me because of my age. They said that when I would be 40 and he would be 30, that he wasn’t sure if he’d find me attractive or valuable. I remember being crushed and mortified for about 24 hours but realizing quickly, because I started music quite late, I felt like I drew in that relationship to learn how to conquer that fear of being a late bloomer - having a late start.

What about the best thing?

I would say that was the worst and best thing because I got closer to myself and that’s all I ever wanted.

I think that’s all anyone ever wants.

Is there some specific that you’re passionate about regarding this new release?

Part of finding myself was knowing how I wanted to sound and being honest about who I was. That was going back to a really old tradition which was my first love- old folk- the world of Dylan, Joan Baez. Every song on this album is led by an acoustic guitar and storytelling.

There are two songs, specifically, that I recorded Eduardo Rivera - what’s so special is on that earlier question- why do I make art- is tied into those two songs.

One is called “Magma”. I had the lyrics and the poetics of it for four years. I tried writing that song for four years. I never could. Bu then, magically it popped out one day in three minutes. That song is about our generation. Millennials, I guess. We’re also called the Scorpio generation. Not too many people have said the nicest things about us.

There’s been so much change and so much good that’s come with this age.

I wanted to create some sort of capsule with love and admiration for my generation. 

There are a bunch of babies running around doing the best they can with these powers and tools. I think whatever the situation is, if you’re going to call out the bad, you have to call out the good.

“Magma” is such a vivid image. Volcanos are petrifying and formidable. I had a friend who lives near a volcano in Italy. Everyone freaks out and leaves when it’s about to erupt. Once it has erupted and calmed down, the ground becomes so fertile. All the people that had run away come rushing back to grow their crops.

I’ve had this image and feeling of my peers and I having this glow and fertility but looked at, from the outside, as chaotic and destructive. 

So, it’s incredible to release this song out of a vision that was born four years ago. This is us.

It’s honor that you’re also helping me do that.

Alexandra Duparc by Taylor Meskimen

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ALEXANDRA DUPARC

dialogue with treehouse artists

Who are you and what made you that?

Well, I’m Alexandra Duparc now. My last name was “Wisner” only a few months ago. I guess getting married does that you. What made me? The flash-answer I thought of was the fairy story. The short version is that when I was around five years old, I had convinced a group of girls that some old lady had died and left behind fairies in a tree on the school grounds for us to take care of. They believed me. We took care of them every single day at lunch.

I think that made me into who I am because I that’s when I realized that I could convince people of illusions. 

What have you been working on recently?

I’ve been a musician since I was twelve. There wasn’t a day I didn’t work on music from twelve to twenty three years old. At twenty three, because of unfortunate body circumstances, I couldn’t physically make or play music and as a result I started reflecting on art. I realized I wanted to give back to it by starting what we now call Treehouse. Since starting Treehouse, I almost took a hiatus with releasing music up until this last year. I recorded a song that I’m very proud of and I’m going to release it soon. On top of that, I’ve been co-writing a feature film about my brother, a litigator, that just won a 290 million dollar case against Monsanto. I never thought that I would write a true life, legal thriller but here I am. [laughs] I love trivial emotions and basic human shit so much but I was so inspired by his actions against such an oppressive part of this world that I felt it my duty to get this story out there. The script is done and with an agent who is now shopping it to production companies.

And, of course and forever, putting on Treehouse events. 

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist?

For the longest time, I thought that my obsession with human emotions was a problem. I thought - just like that unfortunate friend in high school who always asked “why are you so sensitive?”, that the whole world felt that way. I had a fear that such raw honesty would be frowned upon but after some sifting out some of the wrong people in my life, I got over that. Now, I have graduated into this new level of resistance: the quality of that honesty.

Why do you make music? What’s the point?

I’ve asked myself this many times. Music is a language and it’s a universal language.

I’ve had a hard time being a human being, just basic human existence and I think the only thing that has gotten me through that has been creating my own universe. Music and art have been the most natural way to do that.

What role does art have in society?

I think art is a mirror and I think that that mirror defuses problems we face as human beings.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and did you use it drive your art?

Well, I got very sick when I was twenty three and it was to a point where I could not physically make art. I would try to sing and I couldn’t get past a minute of a song. I would try to lay out an idea and I could not focus long enough to get to the other side. This was a one - two year experience and at the end of it, I ended up writing an album called To Be Alive because I wasn’t sure I was going to be.

So, apparently, yes, I have.

What about the best thing?

I guess the best thing that’s ever happened to me was my husband as he’s naturally fixed all the broken parts of me as an artist which had been invalidated heavily by some of those I had loved before. I don’t even think he knows that he did this. As a result of his love, I know I can create and do anything. 

Taylor Meskimen by Alexandra Duparc

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TAYLOR MESKIMEN

dialogue with treehouse artists

Who are you and what made you that?

I’m Taylor Meskimen and I’m an actress and  artist. And I’m pretty sure I was just born this way.

Like Lady Gaga?
Yes, pretty much.

I had this weird blood disease when I was born so I got injected with acrylic paint, microphone cords and scrabble pieces. That really just solidified the whole thing.

Okay, good start.

What have you been working on recently?

I’ve been very interested in working as a narrator for audiobooks. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I sort of just fell into it. I realized it was something that I really like doing - telling stories and I’m pretty decent at it so...

I’ve also been creating more on writing, film and working on getting all the ideas I have in my head out into the world.

As for acting, I’ve done commercials, a lot of voice overs and short films. I’ve loved doing all of this but this year, I’ve realized how much more I want to reach into. So, my focus has been on setting higher goals for myself as an actress- creating my own content and being a little more daring in that regard to really put myself out there as a performer. 

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist?

[whispers] Self resistance....

I’d say, my biggest thing has been not enough carry-through on the ideas that I have because of self-doubt or thinking that my ideas aren’t good enough. It’s hard not to compare yourself to other artists and sometimes that can just stop a person. I’ve realized, recently, that I really am the only one who can stop myself from creating anything and when I think about this way, it all sounds pretty silly. Now, when I get scared about sharing something that I made, that just pushes me to share it. I know that if I’m having that feeling, that means that I really should share it.

Why do you act? What’s the point?

I act because...I feel like without acting and creating that I don’t have a point. There are many things that I want to communicate and I’ve found that to be a really amazing outlet for that as well as being able to have the ability to duplicate, understand other people. It’s what life is all about. So, as an actor, you have to really love people- a lot. There’s so much that comes with that in the form of help, expansion and being able to be comfortable taking on different viewpoints- it helps you grow as a person, communicate ideas and share messages that you are passionate about. 

What role does art have in society?

I think art is very important in society. Without it, the world would be a very and lonely place. I think, as artists, we have this huge responsibility for the world- to create and inspire people. The effect that good art creates is giving people reasons to live- creation is a natural thing in life and that’s how anything grows- out of creation. It’s the artist’s job to enhance the society.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and did you use it drive your art?

I think the worst and best things that have ever happened to me have inspired me to create art. I’ve had relationships where I was very sad and that motivated me to create as a way to take myself out of that feeling and make it into something beautiful.

Kristen Silva by Alexandra Duparc

Kristen Silva by Alexandra Duparc

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KRISTEN SILVA

dialogue with treehouse artists

I’m Kristen Silva. I’m an artist. I paint with coffee like it’s a watercolor on paper.

It was a total accident. I accidentally got coffee on paper I needed. It was an important piece of paper. I stuck it up and it was on a wall in my workspace so I stared at it for weeks. I wrote a note in my phone “coffee like a watercolor” and it sat in my phone for two years.

So, this is my second year painting with coffee. I’ve used other mediums before but this is my first endeavor with that.

What have you been working on recently?

I’ve been prepping for more art shows I’ve been studying on how to approach on a bigger canvas. When people look at my smaller pieces, as much as they’re fun to explore, bigger pieces are much more interactive.

Have you tried painting on a big canvas?

I’ve been trying to troubleshoot an organic material. Like coffee. You don’t want mold or anything. It’s a whole different art project. It’s kind of hazardous and edgy. [laughs]

What self-resistance do you run into as an artist?

A lot of artists run into doubt. I, of course, run into doubt. It was heavier when I started. But it’s less severe now but it does come back around.


What kind of doubt?

It has ranged. It gets really broad and then very specific.

When you first start out, there are so many artists so you wonder what makes you worth looking at.

The smaller, day-to-day, doubts are like “you’re not creating today.” “Do you still have it?” “Is it still there?” I can be heavy on myself.

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Why do you make art? What’s the point?

Oh, that’s a good one. 

The reason why I, personally, make art is to not shut the world out. Without it, I would be a totally different person. Of course, it’s a creative outlet but it opens people up to you. You’re opening up to people but it really invites to open up to you. It invites people in.

At least you have it out there, out of your body, out of your head and it’s not creating that doubt anymore. 

I’m just trying to not shut people out.

It’s so easy to be in your head and feel like nobody gets it.

What role does art have in society?

How do I put this?

There’s a billion reasons why - it’s all trying to bottle neck out.

One more time.

What role does art have in society?

Art allows discussion. It allows a platform. When we observe things, we share that with people. Visual art prompts someone next to you to actually talk about it. They share that emotion with you.

It’s about sharing things with others and not going through things alone.

It’s like a cool flag that says that it’s okay to feel these things. To discuss these things. Art opens you up to everybody. It opens you up to people.

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Art allows discussion. It allows a platform. When we observe things, we share that with people. Visual art prompts someone next to you to actually talk about it. They share that emotion with you.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and did you use it drive your art?

Absolutely. Oh my god.

I feel like a lot of people can relate to this. I found out I had anxiety from experiencing my first panic attack. It affected me in two ways. One, I had to step away from coffee which is hilarious. So, eventually, I came back into it and I had a different appreciation for it. Secondly, it affected me with art because I had to emote things a little bit differently. Different methods. Loosening up was huge. I used to be one of those artists who had a plan, was very tight with all her work and if it wasn’t just like that, it wasn’t good. After anxiety, it had a face, a name and after that, I was able to loosen up a bit and not ignore it and work with it. I could work around it. It didn’t control me like before, it just became a person with a seat at the table but it wasn’t running the meeting anymore.

What about the best thing?

This is going to be so corny but art. Actually allowing myself to do it. You hear people say that “anyone can do it” but actually, truly letting myself to do it without any of that noise, not criticizing myself, opening up myself to that entire environment totally changed the game.

Currently showing at: BLVD Cafecito in Burbank

highland kites by koura linda

highland kites by koura linda

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HIGHLAND KITES

dialogue with treehouse artists

a survivor of lyme disease and one of the most un-obnoxiously positive and enduring artists, marissa's brainchild, highland kites, has already toured the united states several times over the last few years, and were just signed with metropolitan groove merchants who will be releasing highland kites’ latest ep "better off" early this year, before they head back out on tour.

already in love with the music i've heard, i am looking forward to sitting down with marissa, hearing more about her creative process and the story behind her songs. but before i have even asked her a question, she volunteers that it can be hard to explain herself in words that aren't musical.

this resonates with me, and as her lyrics are pure poetry, and i am intrigued. i begin at the beginning.

how does she get started? when she wants to write a song, how does she start?

there is a moment of silence.

"that's a good question," she begins.  it isn't something she's thought about a lot.

"i think, normally what i do is i sit down and i will have a basic idea of what i want to write about, like a subject, you know?  or a feeling, or something like that, and i'll just toy around with stuff and come up with words and sort of just let things flow, even if they're bad, for as long as i need to in order for me to get to where i want to go.

"i'll feel like 'ok, i really want to write about this certain subject,’ and for me as an artist, the way that someone is going to feel after listening to one of my songs is the most important thing. so i'll sit there and i'll tweak things and i'll tweak words and i'll sort of add sounds based on that."

she goes on to say how she's heard other artists talk about how they have to wait for inspiration, or just sort of won't have anything to create or write about. this isn't the case with her.

"for me it's weird - i try to keep it very artistic, but also treat it like a job in a way, as well.  like, i make myself write every day. i don't write things that i would put on an album everyday!"

we both laugh at that.  she goes on, speaking to her discipline and professionalism as an artist.

"i make myself sit down and i sort of use my instruments and my voice and melodies and things like this to inspire me.  as opposed to the theory of waiting for something to spark, which does happen, but instead of waiting for something to spark something, i sit down and i create until something sparks.  so i'll be messing around and then something i do will give me chills, and then i go with that. if that makes sense?"

i tell her it does. she seems to have the usual artistic roadblocks figured out, in that she doesn't overthink the creative process, she just lets it happen.  but i am curious - what does she find she runs into once she's started? she has designated time each day to write, but does she ever end up just sitting and staring at the blank page?  or does she truly just write anything?

"i think the most frustrating thing that happens to me, is i'll sit there and i'll write something and i'll absolutely hate it. and that will keep happening the whole time that i have allocated to write. and i'll just be like 'ok, this is the worst thing ever, and i forgot how to write songs.'"

before i can comment, she goes on, opening up the very heart in her chest.

"one of my biggest fears - it's not so much a fear as - i don't know how to explain it! but there's this tension about ‘'what if i wake up one day, and i just lose it??' like, what if i forget how to write music or i never write a good song again? and i know its ridiculous, but sometimes i'll sit and i'll go to write something and i'll be like 'wow, this sounds like a 3rd grader, and i don't know what i'm doing!'

"but what i finally figured out over the last couple years especially, is that if i continue to create through that and i push myself through that, i always end up writing something that i really love and it almost comes effortlessly.  so it almost feels like i have to pay the dues of sitting there writing stuff that i don't like, getting frustrated, writing stuff that i don't like, doing it again and again and again, until there's a 10 min stint where i write something from beginning to end, and it's the best thing i've written in the last 4 months.

"it's a weird thing, because i really have learned to trust the process.  this is my creative process and i know that this is going to happen, no matter how frustrating it is.  i know that if i can push through it and keep going, something always comes out of it.

"and it's very strange, and sometimes kind of oddly mystic - like i'll be sleeping and i'll have a dream and i'll hear the song in my dream or i'll hear a melody or a lyric and then i'll wake up and have the song written in 6 or 7 minutes!

"so it seems like 'oh this inspiration came from this divine place!' but i've been sitting down writing songs and trying to hash through the writing process for the last week and a half."

now it is my turn to reflect on what she's said.

i ask if she ever has to give herself a pep talk to remind herself to keep going, or has she just been doing it for so long, she's learned to really trust the process?

i don't want to fish for her pain and suffering, but i wonder if she has gotten to where she can just create without falling down the hole of feeling like a third-grader writing music?

"i wish that i could say that i'm extremely confident at this point, all the time, and that i know exactly what i'm doing and it's always going to work. but that's definitely not the case!"

"you know, i don't know exactly how it is for other artists, but for me, i constantly have to remind myself that what i'm doing is important, and that i'm able to do it and that what i'm doing means something to the world.  because it can get - you know how it is when you're creating things - it can get difficult and also you're choosing to take a path in life that is very different from the large majority of people and you're choosing to do something that's against the grain, and there are days when it's really difficult.  and i feel like that's just the way - i don't know - it's just - you're going up - you're like - "

she's fumbling for words now.  

she tells me i can word this in a way that's not her floundering around for her words, but i find a refreshing bit of honesty in the floundering.  her music and lyrics are all incredibly raw, and to see that as a genuine reflection of who she is raises my respect for her art, and for her as an artist.

"i do my best to stay steady, and keep creating. i do have days where i have breakdowns and i'm like, 'i don't know if i'm good at this! i don't know if people relate to my music.' and i'll burst into tears and cry for 2 hours, and then i'll pick myself back up again, and i'll keep going."

a pause.

"i wish that didn't happen.  but i think part of being an artist is being a very highly emotional person, and caring a lot!"

it is clear how much she cares about her audience, and that she cares about what her music does for people, how it's going to help somebody else.

"i'm telling these stories, but once i'm done telling the stories, they're sort of out of my universe, and they're out of my body and out of my space, and i sort of feel they heal me in a way when i write them.  but then once they're written, they're somebody else's. so, if my music isn't reaching people and it isn't resonating and helping someone else and making someone else feel understood, then i don't feel like i'm doing my job."

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"i'm telling these stories, but once i'm done telling the stories, they're sort of out of my universe, and they're out of my body and out of my space, and i sort of feel they heal me in a way when i write them. but then once they're written, they're somebody else's. so, if my music isn't reaching people and it isn't resonating and helping someone else and making someone else feel understood, then i don't feel like i'm doing my job."



it is a job she takes very seriously. Working through independence as a musician can be an uphill battle.  

"as an independent artist and somebody that doesn't have a huge team backing them, and all this money for marketing, and all this stuff happening, it can get a little bit frustrating, because you're like 'i've been doing this for a few years, and why is it not this way, and this other person is this', and not sort of - “

she breaks off before continuing.

"the worst trap to get into for me is the trying to compare myself to others, trying to figure out 'why, why, why?' and 'is there something i could be doing better?' and, yeah - "

"i get better and better at it all the time!  but, you know, i would be lying if i said i didn't ever fall into that, or didn't ever have days where it was hard."

she's silent.

i think about what she just said, ask her if she would say she basically just practices practicing.

"essentially."  she replies.

she says she's had to learn to find her own way, and in the process she's gotten better at not comparing herself to other people.

”in the beginning of my career, that was the thing that upset me the most - when i would sit and compare myself to somebody else. i feel like it's a really terrible thing to do as an artist for a few reasons.  one - it really doesn't matter. and two - every individual artist is so completely unique and so different that comparing your art to someone else's art or your journey to someone else's journey is utterly pointless because you're a completely different person surrounded by completely different circumstances and have a completely different story to tell.

"so, like i said earlier, it's really learning to trust the process.  like, 'ok, this is a journey and if i'm not enjoying every step of the journey, then why am i even doing it?'"

that touches on my next question as far as what she was talking about earlier in that she creates her music for her own catharsis, but more so for someone else to be able to receive it and internalize it.

does she ever worry about how her art will be received?

"sometimes, because i tend to write music that's - i don't know, how would you describe my music?"

i do not answer this.

"it is very brutally honest, and can be intense. i get worried that maybe it's too much, you know? 'is this too much for people? is this going to have the opposite effect of what i want? like make someone feel worse?’ but i'm a big believer that what's gonna come through in your art is your intention. and if somebody writes a sad song but they're writing it because they want people to feel better, that's gonna come through. when i'm writing something i'm just making sure my intentions are really clean and i'm taking responsibility for the effect i'm going to create on somebody else when they receive it."

it is evident that she feels a lot of responsibility in her art.

"i feel like it's the job of an artist to make the world easier to live in - to make people feel like they're not alone, to make people feel understood, and then to help create a better future. so you have someone, once they really understand what's going on with them or they feel acknowledged and they see that you can take your experiences and you can turn them into something beautiful. the power of that is so great - i don't know how to say it exactly but it's just - there's something really magical about being able to do that. i want people to feel better! i want people to feel understood and acknowledged. i want them to know that there's hope, and that things can get better, all the time.”

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“i feel like it's the job of an artist to make the world easier to live in - to make people feel like they're not alone, to make people feel understood, and then to help create a better future.”



"that's what we're doing - we're painting pictures, we're looking at things in different ways, we're rearranging thoughts, and we're creating a future that's different than the one that we're in."

i find her words to be inspired.  but i am also more curious now.

does she see her art as having the same role that she does as an artist?

she considers this for a moment before replying.

"like i said, i feel like it’s different for each individual person.  but in my estimation but i feel that the purpose of art, for me, an artist takes everyday living, so you take things that everybody goes through, right? we all fall in love, we all fall out of love, we all go through pain, we all have these things in common.  and there's things, everyday things that maybe people look at as boring or whatever, but an artist imbues life and beauty and magic into everything."

hearing her words through the lens of a writer, i ask her if she sees art to be the magical interpretation of everyday normalities?  

she does.

"i feel like that would be accurate - because when you do that, you spark people's creativity. and i think sparking people's creativity is a really important role that art plays in this world.  because if you can consistently spark people's creativity as an artist and inspire people to do the same thing, then just imagine the ripple effect of that beauty and that creativity occurring. if that makes any sense?"

it does.

"for me, i want to inspire people.  i want people to listen to something that i make or a video that is connected to our music or whatever and want to create.  like 'oh i want to make something! i want to take my thoughts and create something.' it's like spreading that desire and like passion to turn life into art."

i then ask how she sees herself impacting that role.

"i think that our music is incredibly personal - and very honest.  if nothing else, it's incredibly honest. so, there's gonna be people in this world that need what i'm saying and i know that - i know that there's people out there who need what we're making.  that's why i'm working so hard to get our music out to people who need it. ultimately, when i'm able to do that on the scale that i want to do that in, i'm going to be able to help people heal.  and help people become inspired, and create themselves."

i find myself inspired, even just hearing the passion and dedication in her voice.

she must be dedicated, as she already told me she sets out time every single day to work on her music.  

i ask if there is a specific time of day she prefers, or a set schedule she follows, or if it is more free-form, only following a "once a day" rule?

"my schedule kinda changes day to day but i pretty much spend between 6-8 hours every single day creating, which is more of a recent thing because i've been organizing my life to be able to work on my art more for the last five years, so now i'm actually able to work on my art now, which is incredible.”

"personally, when i can, i really like writing early in the morning.  i feel like my head is the clearest at that time, and it's quiet, i'm rested.”

"there's something about, you know that feeling first thing in the morning everything feels fresh and brand new?  i love creating right when that happens. right when you wake up and you're like 'ok great!' and you have your coffee, it's a new day, you haven't been inundated with phone calls, texts, social media, like nothing is in your universe.  that's for me at least.

"i know a lot of artists aren't morning people.  but, deep down i'm an 85 year old woman."

we both laugh at that but i know what she means as far as that promise of a beginning in the early morning. and that's what she loves about it.   

"i also feel like you haven't tainted your thought process with all the things we get inundated with all day long.  your mind gets cluttered - there's a million people talking to you - text messages, phone calls, problems you have to handle.  there's all these things that happen throughout the day and sometimes it's hard to start your creative process waaaay after all that has happened.  like you're starting to do it at eight o'clock at night. that's just for me though. some people love working super late into the evening.

"it's funny though, i can get a similar effect, if i were to start my song writing after everyone's in bed and then write until 3 or 4 in the morning.  it would probably be similar, but i would just go unconscious on my keyboard."

her voice has a singing quality to it even when she's talking.  it is clear that art is the forefront of her life.

i am curious what her favorite medium is to connect with her audiences.  highland kites has put out so much music over the years in digital formats of albums, eps and singles, along with actual cds, live concerts, living room shows, and tours.  they most recently played at the opening of the dunedin international film festival where festival goers were talking about their set all weekend.

of all of these formats, which is her favorite?

"my absolute favorite thing to do is to play live. i just feel like there's an energy and something really special about a live performance.  for me, every time i play a song live, i completely relive the moment of the song. so, which is good and also by the time i'm done performing i'm completely emotionally and physically exhausted.  i really take everything within me, and just give it my all. but there's something really special about that. because i feel like when you do that, you're really connecting with the audience, and that's the whole point.

"for me too, its tangible, if that makes sense?  like i can sing a song, and i can look at the audience and i can see that they're looking at me and there's a connection happening, and there's a connection happening with the people in the room with each other, you know because this music and this art form is bringing everyone together in this really special way, just something about the environment about a live show that i am just completely in love with!"

"i love recording, i love going in the studio - but it's just not the same. it's a different kind of thing.  the studio is so special and fun because you get to really dig in and figure out 'what's the best thing you can do for this song?'  it's a whole different set of thrilling emotions. it's a whole different thing. but, yeah."

again, her passion is clear in her voice.  

i ask what her favorite venue is for performing live.

"my absolute favorite are shows that we put on ourselves.  living room shows, shows where we rent the space ourselves - that's my absolute favorite thing to do."

how does she do it? how does she keep going despite the fact that the music industry is far from the most accommodating industry.  what about it makes her want to keep going?

she thinks about this for a few moments.  and then a few moments more.

"i feel...  i feel that that art breeds this really special form of connection amongst other humans like we're all connected, right?  we all have - i don't know how to say it exactly - "

she breaks off and says she's going to start over.  laughing, she goes on.

"this is gonna sounds really cheesy but i know that there's people out there who need our art.  i know that there are people out there who need to hear our songs. so, what keeps me going is that what we're making, and the passion that we're putting into this, and the consistency that we have in giving a completely honest form of art, is going to connect to people and the people it connects with, it's gonna change them.  and they need what we're making. so it keeps me from giving up.

"because if you get the idea in your head that there's so many artists, and everyone's doing it and whatever who cares - i've heard people talk about it in that way, but the truth is, every single human being on the planet has a different way of thinking about everything. and everyone is completely unique and every artist is completely unique and your message, and the way that you look at things and process experiences, and live through experiences, and survive through things is important. and if you're able to communicate that to people in a way that uplifts them and makes life easier to live - "

"i have this feeling of responsibility about it, if that makes sense?  like, i know that this is going to help somebody. so that's why it's never been like 'oh, we want to be super popular and super blah! we just want to get a bunch of people to follow us on instagram!’ all those kind of things have never been anything that we've been interested in, because we're interested in connected with human beings.  like, we want to connect with people, and we want them to be helped through our art. “

so that's why we've just kinda been taking the road of 'ok good - we're gonna keep making things, we're gonna keep doing shows, we're gonna keep going on tour, we're gonna keep at it until more and more people increasingly connect with it.  yeah. that's it!"

her laugh, like her words, is just genuine.  

she says sometimes it's hard.  she knows if she were to maybe do something a little more flashy or what was trendy, she would probably get more followers and become more popular quicker, but she can't bring herself to do that, for good reason.

"i have this innate inability to do anything that doesn't feel completely genuine.  i don't know. i just can't! like - " she starts laughing at the absurdity of losing who you are in a desperation to be loved as something you are not. you know what i mean?" she continues, still as open and honest as her songs.  "the things that i say, my music, the way i dress, i just can't. i just stick to what feels right, and what feels comfortable, and what matters to me.  yeah. it might be longer - like the road might be longer because we're doing it the way that we're doing it.  but i have the satisfaction of knowing that that i stuck to what was true for me, and that is more important than ever becoming famous. even if i became famous, but i lied - about who i was, and i lied about what i cared about the whole time but i was a millionaire, i would die a miserable human.  so i think it's just keeping my priorities straight. like, why am i doing this? and what effect do i want to create?"

i appreciate this and i tell her that.  she wants to add to her answer about why she keeps going.  for highland kites, she says they actually truly love people.  and carrying that burden of responsibility is refreshing, but it also is hard sometimes.  she explains what she means by diving in more to her creative process.

"everything i do carries this weight of like 'how is this going to help someone? is this going to help someone?' you know what i mean?

and it's not like a wanting to be liked.  it's like, the way that you change the world is by touching individuals, and inspiring individuals.  so, is what we are making going to do that? and having enough care in your art and taking the time in your art to make sure what you're making is going to do that.  on whatever scale. and that's really important to us because we want to help people, we want the world to be a better place. and not in a cliche 'we're making music so we can save the world!' you know what i mean? it's not that!" she's laughing again.”

"we're making music so we can help people.  and change people. and people are what change the society.  so, we don't make things lightly. like 'oh, we can just say whatever we want.'  i mean you can, but it's not like we could be destructive or promote a bad message or just be like 'blearhaggg' all over our social media about negative crap.  because i'm always thinking 'how do i want to make somebody feel? is that gonna help someone?' it's that type of process that goes into our art - 'cool, so by the end of this song i want someone to feel like their demons have slightly less impact over them.  so how am i going to do that?' it's that constant creative process of figuring that out."

i ask how that affects their ep about to be released called "better off."  after hearing so much of what goes into their music, i want to know the story behind this selection of songs.

"we're gonna be releasing this one in kind of a weird way.  instead of releasing the ep, we're gonna release a song a month until the ep is out and then it will be an ep on all the streaming platforms and we'll have physical copies."

she talks of the creative process, and why this exact set of songs.

"i wrote this set of songs about letting go of toxic relationships and thinking patterns and toxic people, and learning to grow from those experiences.  so every song sort of flows into the next in terms of that message.”

"it starts off super direct with 'better off' - 'i'm better off without you' - but then it tells a story of going through what happens when you lose somebody.  what happens when you find yourself completely engrossed with people or a person who is sucking all of your light out? it's the realizations that come to that, and then trying to escape from that, and everything you go through, and then by the end of the ep, which is 'marionette' you have the full growth that happens - coming to the conclusion at the end."

"i probably just way over explained that!" she laughs.  but she didn't and, just like her music, and her overall vibe in all of this, it is just an unpretentious and honest depiction of a well-thought and intentional work of art.

she says she wanted it to be an emotional experience.

"i kinda want it to have this set of realizing that you have all this happening, and then going through all the emotions of 'wait don't leave!'  i mean, we all go through that - 'wait, you're bad for me, but i want you here!' you're going through that pattern of 'i'm nothing without you' and then coming out the other end of 'wait a minute, i just had to learn how to love and respect myself in order to get out of this mindset.’ so the time period of my life when i really had to do for myself, is when all these songs are about. we had a bunch of songs that we could write, but these were curated, and flow with that message."

as with the rest of her art, the ep is deliberate, with a specific message.  i ask her if there is a specific overarching message she has in mind when she creates, or does it depend on the song?

"i think it does depend on the song, but i do want people to realize that specifically for this set of songs, i really want people to realize that they're a lot stronger, and more capable than they previously thought."

"it's sort of like these sad, melancholic pep talks."

we both laugh as the words fall between us.

"it's like a melancholic pep talk, that ends in these feelings of hope."  she solidifies the concept.

"maybe better worded would be 'a knowing that things are gonna be better.'

she knows that everyone listening to it is essentially going to get something out that's unique to them. so, she doesn't want to instill messages into people, “you have to get this out of it or otherwise you're not getting it.  because someone might get something totally different and that's fine. that's why i feel weird sometimes when someone asks me 'what is this song about?' i get kind of antsy! i don't want to ruin the experience for you! i don't want to tell you what it's about and then you listen to it and the magic that you had and what you thought it was about for you is now gone."

it is hard to listen to her and not feel a deep respect for not only her integrity as an artist, but the love and respect she has for the people who listen to her songs, and how important it is to her that her message be clearly articulated.

i go back to an old standard, and ask her if there is anything she wished i had asked her, and what would that answer be?

"i don't know. i really want to make sure, because obviously there's gonna be other artists who read these interviews and i think for me it's important to encourage other people to create.”

"i really want to imbue in every artist that what they're doing is SO important.  and that this world needs their art and to just not give up. and i really, truly believe that. it's not just something that i say just because whatever.  i really, truly believe that this planet needs as much art as we can possibly imbue into it.  and i've been in situations where it's freaking HARD, and you wonder 'is this even worth it? does anyone even care about what i'm doing or saying??' you can get into these sort of situations where you feel like maybe it's just not even worth doing. but, i just want to encourage people to do it. and make sure everyone knows, artists know that what they're doing is so important.

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“i really want to imbue in every artist that what they're doing is SO important. and that this world needs their art and to just not give up.”



"if i could like grab people by the face and just be like 'what you're doing is so important. don't give up!' because you have no idea - sometimes it takes a lifetime of work to create a piece of work that changes the entire world.”

"so if you give up before you make that, you're doing a huge disservice to yourself, and the entire world.  it's sort of that idea of 'just keep going! keep dreaming! keep creating!' and what it is you're trying to do will happen.  sometimes it takes time. and you have to be willing to let it take time.

"something that i don't know if i mentioned, you know how i said just like trust the process of it? it sort of ties into that.  because, one - trust the process, two - enjoy every phase that you're in, enjoy it because once it's gone you're gonna look back on it and be like 'oh that was fun!' when you were like driving around in a beat up car, sleeping on floors.

"all of that is actually fun!  and it's amazing that we're able to communicate the way that we actually can and we're able to make whatever art that we want to make! you know, it's incredible. it's important what we're doing - it's like this weird balance of knowing how important it is and being serious about your goals and making it happen, but remaining completely unserious.  

"just like, being flippant and enjoying yourself and having fun with it and laughing."

Brian Wilson by Alexandra Duparc

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BRIAN WILSON

dialogue with treehouse artists

What’s going on?

[takes a sip of coffee]

So, this is cool.

Are we starting?

Yes.

Who are you? Why are you here?

Oh god. My name is a Brian Wilson. I’m an independent video game developer. As well as a student at Penn State. 

I’m here because I believe that we can use video games as forms of communication and I believe that they can exceed the idea that they can only be formed as fun and entertainment. I believe that they can be used as a way to communicate with others in a way that’s new and interesting.

Tell me about your recent project.

Where the Bees Make Honey tells a story about reflecting on different moments from your childhood, which are played and experienced from an adult perspective. At its core Where The Bees Make Honey is a puzzle adventure game, but gameplay variation is filtered throughout.

What the biggest form of self-resistance?

Define self-resistance.

Well, it’s a bit more of a philosophical question and it depends what you believe. I believe that anyone can do anything without their own internal resistance. So, I guess, in a way, it’s like asking you what prevents you from being a god?

Ok. Well, then at first glance, for me, I’ve felt that I was never smart enough. Specifically, with regards to video games. Developing just seemed too hard.

The desire built up, though, after continuously trying - in 2013, after immediately failing. I was in high school at the time. It’s actually really hard to develop a game of any kind, of any scale. That ultimately prevented me from having anything made and I didn’t know where to start. 

After having years of experience, after my first degree, there was a finally a time where I ripped the band aid off and opened a software called Unity- and I tried to actually make something. That was the first time where I didn’t really care about how many views, clicks or number of likes that I received- I just wanted to see something come to life. No matter what it looked like or felt like- just watching something I made come to life. If I had only cared about the views or exposure, I think I would have fell victim to that. It was that I was making it for myself - where I felt like I could continue and get through that.

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As a budding game developer, have you ever fell into comparing yourself to others?

Absolutely. Not at first because when I started my first game, I literally didn’t know what I was capable of - that was a big part of the beginning of all this. There was really no comparison. After a year or so into development, I showed the game off at E3 - the largest video game conference in the world in Los Angeles- and it was there, when I was more eye-to-eye with other independent video game developers from all over the world. It was really eye opening. Before the event, I didn’t feel like I was good enough. I felt like I was suffering from imposter syndrome. I felt like I was only let in because they felt bad for me. Like it was actually all just a joke being played on me. It was a terrible feeling. I was comparing myself to other games and developers. It was just that I was not on their level. 

After E3, I had time to digest it and realize that I was there because of the quality of the game. They didn’t have to accept me. I felt better. I felt more confident. I was in the same event with games that were truly amazing. They’ll make millions of dollars. These developers had a lot of experience. 

I just had to go through it and realize that it was kind of normal - that other developers feel the same way. They don’t know what they’re doing all the time and that it’s actually okay.

What would you call something you do every time you want to create something? “Ritual” is what comes to mind. Did you have any sort of ritual in developing “Where The Bees Make Honey”?

I feel like there’s another word for that.

Right? I thought so too. It won’t come to mind.

It’s just going to explode into our minds later.

When I started Where The Bees Make Honey, I didn’t set out to make it with that game. Like I said, when I first started, I didn’t know what I was capable of. It was mostly learning. The planning for that project has been a bit sporadic. Piece by piece. So, actually now that it’s in it’s almost-near-final form, it’s been amazing to have an idea from almost two years ago and finally see it come to life now because games take so long to make. Other art forms do too but games are really much longer. It’s amazing to see elements of the game written down in this sketch book. And now looking back and seeing that I actually did all the things I had set out to.

Looking back on ideas I wanted to do or story elements I wanted to do, people I wanted to work with, certain songs and visualizing the game - and realizing that I am actually capable of doing that now. I’m grateful to be finally be at a level that I can actually do that. That it is not just a dream, it’s now a reality.

So… was there ever a ritual?

Not really. Yes. Ok. Actually yes but it’s probably more like a curse. It’s more of a problem within the industry. The ritual, we call it “crunch” which is basically unpaid overtime. It happens towards the end of the development- whether a few weeks or a few months - it’s basically where you’re working 12-16 hour days and cutting yourself off from family, relationships, your health- working really hard to finish your game for a deadline. 

Being a full time student, I’d be in class all day, study until 11 o’clock at night and to finish the game, I could only work on it from 11:00 PM to 3-3:30 AM, Monday through Friday (and weekends if I was lucky). It was like kicking into this mental overdrive. Even if I were too exhausted or didn’t want to do it, I had to. It wouldn’t have ever been made if I didn’t. If I didn’t finish the game, it would never get finished. I don’t have a team that would ultimately create it without me. It’s a weird place to be. If I don’t finish it, the next step is like… all black. It’s like nothing happened. That’s almost scarier… than anything, really. Even though I learned so much and met so many people- not having anything to show for it is a really scary concept for an artist. When you are going to release a game, you’ve got to announce a release date months before it’s done. Even begin to market it. You’ve got deliver what’s promised.

So, that was kind of my nightmare ritual.

What’s your favorite place to think?

Think?

Ya.

[long pause]

I’m going to say, from the looks of it, it’s right here, right now.

[laughs]

It’s not necessarily a physical space. It’s definitely when I’m listening to ambient, instrumental music - piano or violin - is when, and it’s almost down to a science. If I listen to that music, that’s my place. I can visualize parts of the game - visuals, cinematic scenes for the game. When I’m listening to that kind of music, whether it’s my own or not, it’s where I feel best. I think of things like movie scenes there. It’s really special. That’s my best place. I could be anywhere.

What do you feel art’s role is in society?

Oh boy.

I feel like art exposes new and progressive ideas to the broader audience- which ultimately, can come off a little uncomfortable or unfamiliar and I think that’s exactly why it exists. It’s a new way of exposure and thinking. That’s why it’s uncomfortable - because it’s so new. If art was just enjoyable and palatable every single time, then it wouldn’t be progressive. You want to push things forward. Certain music and TV shows have gotten it down to be enjoyable every time - where people can laugh or like it every single time- I don’t really think that’s art.

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I feel like art exposes new and progressive ideas to the broader audience- which ultimately, can come off a little uncomfortable or unfamiliar and I think that’s exactly why it exists. It’s a new way of exposure and thinking. That’s why it’s uncomfortable - because it’s so new. If art was just enjoyable and palatable every single time, then it wouldn’t be progressive. You want to push things forward. Certain music and TV shows have gotten it down to be enjoyable every time - where people can laugh or like it every single time- I don’t really think that’s art.

For me, the first time I was exposed to that was the punk scene in Pittsburgh in 2013. I was a senior in high school. Specifically, I was at a DIY venue called the Mr. Roboto Project and there was presumably a guy wearing a dress and I grew up in a very small town where I had never seen anything like that before- not even on TV or the internet. There, it was just cool. It was normal. Everyone around was fine with it. I was more of an observer in this brand new place. You’d never see anything like that in my hometown. It wouldn’t be accepted. It is a such a shame. Another thing is that there was gender-neutral bathrooms. It may have become a much more hot topic now but I think the punk scene had the whole thing figured out in 2013 and obviously before. They accepted people in a different way. Even if that’s not how they live their own life. That really stuck with me. It really shaped my way of thinking, how I thought about others and art as a whole.

What would you like to see change in your industry?

A lot.

There are a lot of problems. I think it’s simply that (and this may be a problem beyond just games) but there’s this idea that women can’t be video game developers or even video game players. It’s such an absurd idea. It’s just so untrue. Specifically in the independent video game scene- some of the most progressive games to exist, that are so personal, - we can sometimes be presented by the some of most misogynistic, sexist, racist internet trolls - that’s so unfair- we can be represented by people who don’t represent us. Some people will call it the gamer gate. It’s just uncool. I think these are some of the most interesting experiences ever - that should be exposed to so many more people. Videos games get frowned upon in some ways and this problem prevents that from ever being solved.

Frith by Esther Kim

Frith by Esther Kim

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DIALOGUE: FRITH

dialogue with treehouse artists

Interviewed by Esther Kim

What was the inspiration behind your most recent release?

My most recent release was “Loud Mouth”. It was one of the older songs I wrote for this album. It was the first song I wrote when I began to put together this album and it’s really just about speaking without thinking things through and the repercussions of that.

I like to think that I’m fairly thoughtful when responding to people - especially when it’s touchy but you know, there are certainly times when I speak my mind, am forward with things and sometimes it doesn’t go so well.

That’s really all “Loud Mouth” is about - just being a fucking loud mouth.

The way you released these songs- what was your thought process behind it?

So far, with these new singles I’ve been releasing, I took the album and played it for some friends and was trying to see who liked what songs. Friends who I trusted with their aesthetic taste in things. I also spoke to some PR agencies about what songs they liked. I started releasing them. I released “Daisies” in October and then November, I released “Loud Mouth”. I skipped December because everyone is gone for the holidays. So, my next release on January 24th.

“Daisies” seemed to have come together in a very accessible form. Almost like an introductory song because some of my stuff can get kind of quirky and weird. So, I felt like it was a good song to introduce people to my music.

Which was okay in certain ways. It kind of backfired because when you reach out to bloggers and magazines, they’re always looking for something that’s very fresh, original and creative. So, they might rather want to talk about something that’s a little further out in left field than a song that’s acceptable to the masses.

I don’t know, I might have shot myself in the foot with that song.

Then, I released “Loud Mouth” which is definitely out there. And then “Pinocchio” is coming up in January. Then, I have another song called “Beverly Hills” which is coming out in March.

Now, having released these songs this way, what have you learned?

I’ve spent my whole life on the music side of things and working behind the scenes on records. I also engineered and worked for a composer for a long time who did orchestral arrangements for bigger projects. He did, you know,  Evanescence and Miley Cyrus and Paul McCartney, Beck and all these bigger artists. I spent years doing that with him and learning about how to create the music side of things and had never understood marketing- at all.

My first album, I released the album and the music video and the single all on Thanksgiving Day- which is… not smart. I found that out later. It was a learning experience.

I tend to jump head first into things and do things wrong the first time but the (fingers-crossed) learn what to do right the next time.

So, I’m trying to do a better job this time. 

What’s the biggest form of self-resistance you feel as an artist? What do you do to persist through that?

Wow.

Obviously, there’s a lot of self-doubt that can come along with it. I also really don’t like looking at myself on camera which is something I have to get through because with promotion and all that’s content-based, I have to show my face. [laughs]

It’s been a trip getting through that. What I’ve been doing is making little clips of me playing things. So, I can’t watch those. I film it and I get what I think is a good take and then I just release it. In the past, I would watch it and never post it.

So, a kind of self-criticism?

Yeah. I never want to- it’s funny because I love playing shows and having my friends come out. But I never want people to come and see my music only because they are my friends. So, that thought tends to linger when I’m promoting a show- there’s this fear that the only people who are coming to my shows are only coming because they are my friends and not because they like the music.

So, those are definitely things that I have to overcome.

Are there are any steps you gone through to overcome this?

Well, there’s just not watching my own content. [laughs]

What about feedback from your own friends?

Sure but at the same time I don’t think friends are the most honest people to ask- just because we’re friends and they don’t want me to feel like shit. So, I think that one thing that has helped is hearing from people that I don’t know that well. It’s interesting, there are friends that I know who don’t bullshit me. They reach out and give me support and stuff like that helps so much for any artist.

It’s really special hearing from someone you don’t know. Having someone reach out and say, “Hey, I really like your music.”

How does that make you feel?

It makes me like, “Oh, good” because you work so hard on something and it feels so good to exchange with other people- to give something to someone else and have it be well-received. Being able to create a good effect on people is so valuable.

It’s funny because I send out my music to people and I know people are listening and I hope people enjoy it but you don’t always hear that. I’ve had people come up to me and they’ll tell me they really loved a song I released two years ago and that’s the first feedback I’ve gotten. Oh, wow cool. That actually created a good effect on someone. As an artist, you spend so much time in your own head, in your own creative space, pushing stuff out and then finally hearing it come back is really rewarding.

How do you prevent yourself from giving in to comparison? 

I don’t know that you can. I think that you have to give in to comparison. I think that’s how people view things. People view things in comparison to things that they know. I’ll have people say, “Your music reminds me of Phoenix or Andrew Bird” or any of these other artists and I don’t set out to copy any of these artists. I’m not trying to be a knock-off but I understand that people have to view things as related to something they know. So, I usually just take whatever it is as a compliment. Like, if someone said “You sound like Katy Perry.” I’d be like, “Sweet, thank you.”

Have you ever received any negative feedback to where it kind of got to you and how did you now get back to staying positive?

Yeah, I’ve definitely received a lot of negative feedback [laughs] which comes with the territory. I think the only thing that keeps my head screwed on straight is that I have this idea that with six billion people on the planet, if 99% hates my music and 1% percent likes it, I’ll be really successful.


I like that. Why do you make music? What’s the point?

What is the point? That is the question.

I don’t know. It’s the one thing that I’ve done my whole life. I tend to get really creative or really into something at a certain time and then maybe fall out of interest of certain things but music has always been there since I was very young.

Music is interesting in that you don’t need anything to do it. If I want to sing, I could just sing. I don’t need anything. I could be naked on a desert island and I could still have music. There aren’t many art forms that you can say that about. A painter needs paint, a filmmaker needs film- a lot of arts need a medium and I guess the only medium you need for music is really just air.

Is there a driving force for you?

Yeah. Thankfully recently that has changed but until recently, for the longest time, my biggest driving force with music was that I didn’t want to die without people hearing my idea. So, I would have an idea and what would kind of drive me to get into the studio and record it was that I wanted to have something that would outlast me.

I knew that if I record this song and die the next day, people could still hear my ideas.

I don’t know how healthy that is- the be driven by death. [laughs] 

Recently, it’s lightened up a bit and it’s been more of an interest in the creativity itself- interest in the arts and making things that people like, that people can enjoy.

I think as an artist, one of the roles of an artist to is to make life worth living - you know, you work your job so you can pay your rent so you can live- but I think the artists’s job is to make that life worth living. So, if you can do that, it’s very valuable. Anytime that I can make a song that someone listens to while they make breakfast or whatever they’re doing with their day, that’s important I think.

A lot of people use music as an escape, right?

Yeah and also, I try with my lyrics. I try and give people another way to look at things. I try and put some creative thought into the songs and into the lyrics themselves so that, I don’t know, hopefully lift people up from the literalness of their existence into something higher.

That’s good.

[laughs] That’s what I’m trying to do, at least.

What do you feel art’s role is in society and how do you see yourself impacting that role?

You know, like I said, the purpose of art in society is to make peoples’ lives worth living.  Make their lives enjoyable. I also think art shapes societies so much and has such a huge influence on our lives and the social landscape- I hope that artists can maybe look at the society and the future that they are creating and recognize the impact that they have and hopefully create a future that’s better than our current state.

That’s what I’m hoping to do. I love so much music out there.

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You know, like I said, the purpose of art in society is to make peoples’ lives worth living. Make their lives enjoyable. I also think art shapes societies so much and has such a huge influence on our lives and the social landscape- I hope that artists can maybe look at the society and the future that they are creating and recognize the impact that they have and hopefully create a future that’s better than our current state.

Who’s your favorite artist right now?

Who’s my favorite artist right NOW?

I have no idea.

There’s a lot of goof stuff coming out. There’s certain music that’s pushing the whole drug and sex culture and I mean, sex is great. I’m not into drugs. I like to have fun but I just hope that artists can create a future that shifts back to something a little more wholesome. I don’t know, maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

I really like the lyrics of the past a bit more. You listen to them and they’re really beautiful- the concepts of the songs in the 60’s, 50’s, 40’s, 30’s- they were very meaningful, lyrically. I don’t know but I still dance like an asshole when certain current songs come on.

If you could dwindle your music and sound into a single lyric, what would it be? 

It might be from “Pinocchio”- the opening lyric is

“Painting lines on my face

and dotting the whites of my eyes

does anyone feel like they’re in constant disguise?”

Wow, that’s good. Why did you choose that?

Because, I sometimes feel like I’m creating something that doesn’t fit. I’m trying to create music the way I hear it and I don’t know where it fits. People tend to hear things in relation to what they know and I don’t know how to categorize my music. I mean, I can kind of talk about it and usually resort to telling people the instruments that are on a song. Pinocchio has clarinets, saxophones woodwinds, strings, upright bass, drums guitars, synthesizers and a lot of harmonies and stuff like that. That gives a better impression than just saying like, “It’s…alternative…rock.” [laughs]

I have trouble figuring out where I belong.


Definitely. Do you feel like maybe you have too much knowledge since you worked with composers?

It’s possible. It’s possible that I’m taking the view of creating an orchestral score and applying that to guitars and pianos, bass and drums. I sometimes worry that I get a little complex with my instrumentations but also, that’s how I hear it in my head and that’s what I’m trying to get. Whatever I hear in my head, I’m trying to make it so other people can hear it too. Sometimes, when I do that, I’m creating a little bit of disconnect.

How so?

Because it doesn’t relate to any other kind of music. It may just be my own self-doubt but I worry that I’m making something that doesn’t make sense to anyone else but me.

I doubt that.

What’s your favorite atmosphere for performance?

I love packing people into a smaller venue and performing with a string quartet. Strings have such a powerful sound to them. It’s such a beautiful thing to watch, too- seeing a quartet play pieces. Just by itself, is incredible. Whenever I’m able to incorporate that into my live set, there’s such an incredible energy that comes off of that. The combination of orchestral with upright bass, synths, drums and guitars and stuff- there’s such a unique vibe that I really am trying to create.

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photo no. one by: Marcus Meisler / HMU: Omayma Ramzy

photo no. two by: Josh Grondin

spaceship by koura linda

spaceship by koura linda

spaceship 01.jpg

DIALOGUE: SPACESHIP

dialogue with treehouse artists

by koura linda

sitting down with spaceship, one of the first things you will notice, aside from the piercing blue eyes that hide behind a beatlesque mop-top of hair (which he pulls at when he’s nervous or worried about his uruly curls) is how quiet and shy he is in person. 

on stage, he will light up the room. his energy and passion for music bursts from every cell- creating a magnet that draws the eyes of the audience while his feet dance and he leaps into a windmill at the end of a set. 

in person, however, he is thoughtful and still. he was quick to hold a door open for me and via a quick anecdote, i have gathered that he’s used more of his aaa miles for stranded strangers than he has ever used himself.

as an audio curator for joseph gordon-levitt's online, open-collaborative, production company, hitrecord, spaceship has overseen and produced singles for almost a decade all while his songs “the spaces between” and “of the future” graced the emmy-winning tv series hit record on tv. 

his music could be a musical baby fathered by bob dylan, beck and wilco with harmonies that could out-do angels. with a veritable arsenal of over 630 audio tracks on hitrecord alone, it is almost overwhelming to try to find a place to start. his bandcamp page is probably best- with three holiday songs, two full-lengths, 6 singles, and his most recent ep released on christmas day, titled “wake up”. 

i asked him about his process, and how he manages to master such a prolific amount of music. i start with a general question:

what is the biggest form of self-resistance he’s felt as an artist?

he tugs at his hair, pulling it down over his closed eyes as he repeats the question back to me.

“how you would define self-resistance?” 

i ask him to do it. 

“to resist yourself?” he replies, hands back in his lap, eyes focused on the distance. “sounds like it could go either way. like you’re trying to tamp something down in a positive or in a negative sense. or a creative block, I guess?” 

there are more than a few beats of silence as he ponders this. 

“it’s tempting to say it’s the big picture roadblocks,” he starts. “like, ‘i don’t have enough money’ or ‘i don't have the right tools’. excuses that usually get in the way of any endeavor to get an idea fully realized. you think, ‘oh, if i only had this, then it [my art] would be better!’ 

but it’s usually the little things...‘i’ll do that another day and do something else now,’ and you just kinda put it off. a lot of these little things add up to where it culminates in a sort of procrastination.” 

he then elaborates, calling procrastination “the culmination of a lot of micro-indecisions” and that every time he says, “i’ll do this eventually,” it means that it is more likely to never happen. but as soon as he says, “yeah, i will record this,” even if it's not perfect, at least he has something recorded. 

he likens his process to a journey of a thousand steps that begins with one but adds that there are some songs where you just have to “hop on a creative escalator . . . it just sort of takes you up. you just have to start.” 

i ask how he persists through the roadblocks of initial creative self-resistance. he takes a shorter moment to ponder that. 

“often the best way to power through self-resistance is just to take that first step, to go through a lot of the barriers of, ‘oh, this isn’t a good enough idea’ or ‘nobody’s going to like this’ or ‘do you even like this?’ or ‘somebody else has done that already.’ you just hold onto that initial spark and surround yourself with people that support you and you can bounce your ideas off of them.” 

the next question: has he ever fallen into comparing himself to others? 

there is no hesitation.

“yeah. i feel like a lot of music nowadays is very much not like my style of music. the kind of music that i make is not necessarily the kind that will get people sweaty in a club so they need to purchase alcohol. or even sweaty enough to drink water at a coffee shop.” 

the words are flowing now, as he easily describes his world of music, in comparison to the world of music around him. 

“[my music] it’s more for people who put on headphones and like being alone and don't need to have a certain wall-to-wall assault. they don't need to have affirmation. if they have an urge to listen to a bit of nonsense that sometimes has a point and sounds kind of peculiar - i’m a very peculiar musical person.

i usually compare myself to people who have established fan bases and it is hard for me to understand what that even means. i would rather just do well enough that i can make whatever music i want to make and people will buy it if they like it. if they don’t, then there are plenty of people in the marketplace that -- it’s like, i don't want to be just another brand of toothpaste, you know? even though i’m probably the kind of toothpaste that tastes like pumpkin spice or something. like something that you wouldn’t necessarily go to. if you want music for a work out routine- mine is more like ‘just sit down, shut up and listen’ type of music.” 

coming back around, he continues. 

“i feel it’s ok to compare yourself to other artists if you’re comparing yourself to someone you aspire to be like in some way. if you say, ‘i want to model myself after this artist’ in the sense that they are genuine or they don't really follow the crowd, then i think that's a fair comparison. when you start to compare and say, ‘i want to jump on this fad so that people will like me,’ then you're always going to be a follower, not a leader.” 

he stops, the flood of words having reached an end. he slips back into his thoughtful silence, fingers once again tugging at his tumbled curls, eyes lost in the distance.

i am curious about the radio play influence on music, so i ask about it. has this pressure to make pop-chart-ready playlists affected him? 

this time he answers almost before the question has even left my lips. 

“yes, in a negative way because i don't have any interest in tailoring my music to fit people's needs. to make your art viable is a compromise that must be made if you hope to make a living as a musician. but you’ve got to realize, ‘where can i compromise?’ or ‘how can i find an audience that i want to cater to that is going to go with me along for the ride?’ and if you have to change along the way then you have to figure that into it, as well. being able to adjust, and being able to manage expectations.

managing expectations is the difficult side of it...you have to be aware of who’s listening to you, and if you have to so fully compromise what you like to do just so you can survive, then you might want to just go into accounting or some kind of office work. because if you’re just wanting to please other people then you might as well get a 9 to 5. part of being an artist is knowing not everybody is going to like what you do. and risk is a big part of being an artist. the artists i’ve always liked, there's always some built-in risk in what they do.

i don't want things to be popular just for the sake of being popular. i like the organic quality of popular art, and i just cringe at the marketing side of it.” 

it makes sense for an artist to be feeling the heat of the marketing world in today’s social-media driven everything. i can see his distaste for the need to navigate more than just the creative in order to succeed with his art.

i ask what he feels art’s role is in society. this time, he takes a beat before answering. 

“that’s a good question. because i often think about it.” 

he starts to reply, but lets the question hang in the air as he tries to put together an answer. 

“i often wonder if art should be holding a mirror up to society. because it’s so easy to hold a mirror up to a person, or some aspect of who we are, and there’s always a chance that the mirror just makes one look into it in a narcissistic way, and it perpetuates something that you, the mirror-holder, might consider awful. or you can hold the mirror up to them and then they would look into it and have some sort of realization like, ‘this isn't what i want to be.’ so i think, if you create a piece of art effectively, you can shape, in a good way, some type of reaction greater than what you want to elicit. so, art’s place in society as a force for change, it's a little bit out of your control because it can be so easily appropriated by those who receive it.” 

he’s choosing his words carefully, and i want to better understand. i ask if he feels that art’s job is to hold up a mirror, or to specifically not hold up a mirror. he replies quickly. 

“no, no, [art's] job is to hold up a mirror! but it’s kind of like, art is risk. because once you say, ‘this art has a distinct message and there are no two ways about it,’ i think you lose some of the art and it becomes propaganda. it becomes a means of selling. it’s good to have a message in your art, but you've also got to have a little bit of room. i think in the greatest of art there’s always a little bit of room, enough room, so that those who receive your art can interpret it in ways you could not have imagined.” 

before i can question further, he goes in a direction i did not see coming. 

“so, art is risk.” he pauses. “and risk assessment is not art. risk assessment is mitigating against an outcome that you don't want to occur. but when you do that, you get bubblegum. bubblegum culture. like, you sell gum, people chew it, and that’s it. they don’t really think about it beyond that. but you give the world...” 

he stops, trying to find the best example. 

“you give the world a song like ‘blowing in the wind’ by bob dylan. as much as it has a message, you can read a lot into it as well, and people have interpreted that song in many different ways. but all it is, is asking a question, and it’s telling you where to find the answer. but it doesn't really give you an answer. so i think art’s place in society is to ask questions. and the answers are provided by those who search for and receive them...kind of like star trek!” 

he brightens at this. 

“[star trek] asked a lot of questions, and then inspired further generations to answer those questions with developments and technology that now we take for granted, like the smartphone - it’s almost like that's the answer to the original artistic questions, the philosophy of star trek. but it was also just an entertaining tv show! so it was multiple things - it was entertainment, it was social commentary, it was fantasy. but now we think of it as old-fashioned because that fantasy is now a reality. so art always has to be asking the kind of questions that haven’t been satisfactorily answered yet. that's why there are so many themes that persist in art about the nature of freedom, choice versus control, fate and free will, rich and poor, beauty and ugliness, you know. so, i don’t know. i feel like that’s just a long-winded answer that needs to be edited down a bit.” 

i disagree. but ask him the next question. how does he see himself impacting art’s role? again, he repeats the question back to me.

“how do i see myself impacting art’s role in society?”

he thinks for a beat before replying. 

“i think i want my art to ask the kind of questions that i genuinely am feeling, at a given point. i might write a song and put it out, and i might have already found the answer for myself, but you put it out there and it may spark something in someone else. i've written songs where it was about a longing for love, and now i have that. so the songs you keep singing, the meaning sort of changes because you’re not singing as who you once were, but you're singing it in a way that you're just inhabiting the character of the song or the character of the art in the time it was made.” 

he’s intent now, talking with his hands, and focused on the conversation. the passion he shows on stage is coming through. and i want to know more. what about him and his music? how does his music impact art’s role in society? 

he goes back to the mirror example he used earlier, this time clarifying.

“the artist’s role is to use art as a mirror. art’s role is to be the mirror. a risky mirror - it’s a dangerous reflection. it’s like a tightrope that you’re walking. true art is divisive. it's something that walks the tightrope of either love-it-or-hate-it. and what that means is, not to make you more set at odds with others, but to make you crystallize why it is you like something and why it is that you don't.

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“the artist’s role is to use art as a mirror. art’s role is to be the mirror. a risky mirror - it’s a dangerous reflection. it’s like a tightrope that you’re walking. true art is divisive. it's something that walks the tightrope of either love-it-or-hate-it. and what that means is, not to make you more set at odds with others, but to make you crystallize why it is you like something and why it is that you don't.

“then you’re able to better crystallize the world around you and say, ‘oh, you don’t like this because of that?’ then you know what camp you fall into. but it’s also good to see that hard reaction, which also creates conversation and you’re forced almost to find common ground that merely okay art can never do. merely okay, ‘i like it, don't love it, don't hate it’ art just makes a palliative where people are accepting of whatever is passed onto them, rather than the need to look in the mirror of art and say in all honesty, ‘i like what i see’ or ‘i don’t like what i see.’” 

i ask him how does he see himself impacting that role? does what he does impact that at all? it is a tough question for him. 

he slips back a little into his shell as he says he doesn’t feel like he’s impacting the world as much as he would like. but he’s focused on the future and already dreaming up ways to make more of an impact.

i ask him what his favorite place is to think and to dream.

“probably walking outside. sometimes it’s at the piano. sometimes it’s while i’m running the vacuum cleaner. it’s usually just in odd places when i’m doing some other task, some task that allows me to daydream a little. any task that allows me to daydream just a little bit.” 

i ask him what hour of the day he’s most likely to create. he doesn’t have one. 

i ask if there is a favorite venue he has, considering his over a decade of playing live both with a touring band and as a headlining act. 

“i’ve performed in 2000-seat venues and i’ve performed in 20-seat venues. i like the larger venues because i'm not faced with people right up in my grill. if i become too keenly aware that there are people watching me, i tend to retreat and have to close my eyes because if i realize someone is looking at me, i will forget what i am doing. but in larger venues you just don’t think about it . . . there’s a distance. Not only distance but, when you have a thousand-plus people all cheering at the same time, there’s an energy you can draw from that’s different from playing in front of people drinking lattes. i prefer bigger venues because you’re not having to be confronted with your own inadequacy. and you can do windmills on your guitar and you know, make a fool of yourself. it’s like a telescope compared to a microscope. if you're being held under a microscope, the feeling is different than when people are gazing at the stars.” 

he shifts his weight a little bit, and tells me i can turn that answer into something that makes more sense when i write it. i leave it as he said, as his lyrical poetry comes through even when he is simply answering my interview questions, and i want this to reflect that.

i do change the topic slightly though, asking him what he would like to see change in the music industry. he doesn’t miss a beat replying to that question. 

“everything!” he replies.

this time, i laugh. “that’s my short answer” he adds. “the long answer is too long.” 

“i just feel there’s so much music out there, all i can do is recognize it for what it is. to say there should be change is to is accept there’s just sort of a general worseness about everything. so in order to fix one thing, you’d need to fix another thing. at the end of the day, music doesn't sell very well in the traditional channels.” 

i ask if the issues in the industry are symptomatic or created. that is, are people buying what they are sold or are they seeking out what they are looking for? he isn’t sure. 

“independent artists, and even many mainstream artists, can’t make money selling through traditional means anymore. back in the day, if you put out a song or an album, you just put out the song or the album and people would buy it if they liked it. or it would get played on the radio in relation to people buying your music. nowadays, those traditional routes are closed off to the independent artist. in order to get played on the radio, you’ve gotta be in bed or totally sold out to whatever gets you on the radio. i feel like there were a lot more opportunities for people to end up on the radio a long time ago. it was much more like the wild west in that way. nowadays it's about you know if you’re on the internet. like, can you get on a podcast or something. i don’t know. so if there was only some way for people who like your music to hear your music more. i really don’t know what the answer is.” 

he’s clearly frustrated with the question- which i understand. it is a frustrating system that isn’t in favor of an indie artist. i ask him what drew him to the indie world of music in the first place. he reflects back on his time in church as a kid. 

“i sang in a children’s choir in church when i was a little kid. so i learned to sing loud. ‘sing loud enough so Jesus can hear you.’ then i picked up the guitar at age 12 and started writing my own songs probably around the same time. but i wouldn’t really write traditional songs. i would just write little instrumental songs. i didn't start writing lyrics for music until i began listening more to brian wilson and the beach boys when i was about 16 or 17 years old. then i started writing my own songs that were basically just rip offs of beach boys songs. i was probably in my early 20s when i really got serious about writing songs, but that’s also when i joined our church’s touring show band where we played shows every weekend for about 10 years straight - live shows touring the country. i didn't sing in that band. i just played the guitar. and a little bit of harmonica. and keyboards. 

being part of that band forced me to have to learn new songs quickly. so, i think it was key in developing my musical adroitness. but i also was furiously writing songs and recording my own music under the spaceship moniker in secret and posting them on the internet because the church didn’t approve of any serious connection to the world and worldly music - just the world and worldly music that they approved of. so that’s how i got started.” 

church was less than supportive of his music,- going so far as to throw him out when he refused to give it up. so, i go from the past to the present and ask about his newly released ep- just released on christmas day. he perks up at this. 

“my new ep is called ‘wake up.’ it’s got seven songs on it, all of which have been looking for a proper home, so to speak. it has a lot of my favorite songs to perform live that now can be purchased by people that hear me play them live, so it’s a good thing to be able to tie in the two worlds - the live music world and the official release world. it’s got a lot of my favorite tracks that i’ve ever recorded and i can’t wait for people to hear it and for what they think of it.” 

he wasn’t kidding about not being into the marketing side of the music world but i can see the light ignite in his eyes when he talks about his own music.

there’s no marketing in the world that could capture his passion for music. i find myself catching his enthusiasm when he talks about his work.

i ask what inspired the ep. 

“i haven't released any new music for a few years in the traditional sense. so, i figured it was about time to put something out, but not just something for the sake of it. i wanted to take a bunch of individual songs that i really liked a lot and put them all together in one place and i felt like this was a good place to do that, and have it sort of be a stepping stone onto the next project. it will be a full-length album release, hopefully sometime in 2019.” 

i ask if he can tell me about the songs. he replies “yes.” i laugh when i realize that is the entirety of his answer. moving past the joke, he tells me about the tracks. 

“there’s ‘i found life’ which started out as a project i started through hitrecord. it kind of feels like a flaming lips outtake, if that makes sense. it also features a few collaborations with my wife as a lyricist, including ‘because science,’ ‘school box’, ‘wake up’, ‘happyness’ and ‘courage’. i should just say 5 out of 7 of the songs were co-written with my wife/lyricist. All of the songs have a common thread of a general positivity that isn’t necessarily found in my previous releases as a whole. i feel like you can listen to these songs and you’ll find some words of wisdom couched in a bunch of big dumb beautiful music.” 

i tell him i plan to leave that last part out, but he insists i include it.

he goes on with “but seriously, just listen for the mirror, and see what you see.” 

“wake up” is self-described as “a compilation ep for the ages. also, a good excuse to get some rarities out into the world as a proper sort of album-ish thingy.”

it is currently available on itunes, apple music, spotify, and bandcamp