Meredith Stern’s  exhibit Generations|8 Chapters Blooming opens at AS220’s Project Space gallery on Saturday, April 5th. This interviewed was conducted by Dave Dvorchak on Friday, March 29th at AS220. Very little from the conversation was removed for this transcription because it all was pretty damn interesting. In fact, while putting this up, we realized that we now have more questions that we didn’t initially think of…so it goes. Part 2?

OK, if you wouldn’t mind telling us who you are and what you do….

Yes, my name is Meredith Stern and I live in Providence, Rhode Island. I have kind of a multifaceted approach to the creative process, which involves ‘zine making, playing music, and creating artwork in the forms of printmaking and ceramics. Gardening is also a huge part of what I do.


So I always knew you as a printmaker, and then all of a sudden, I saw all the fermenting crocks…is that new? Have you always been doing that? Or is that a new development?

When I was growing up my mom started taking community courses in pottery, and I was a teenager, and occasionally I was like “can just I come with you?” She was working crazy hours and I was doing various things and sometimes it was just easier to bring me along to some of her art classes. I remember as I kid, my brother and I went to figure drawing with her and we’d just be sketching anything but the model. So, I started going to her pottery classes and I started really liking it. I didn’t really think that was going to be something that I’d continue to do but then I landed in it. I basically went to college for math because everyone was like: “You’re so good at math!” even though I was thinking “But I like art!” I was swayed by the college guidance counselor, who kept saying, “You can’t make a living at that, you’re an ace at math!”, you know? So, I kind of got pushed into going to Carnegie Mellon for math.

Pretty quickly, I realized it was so not what I wanted to be doing. I ended up transferring to Tulane in New Orleans that had a BFA program but also had a liberal arts curriculum, so I was able to test out my true feelings. “Do I want to do art? Can I make it work? Am I committed?” I quickly gravitated into the BFA program for ceramics. I was doing these large-scale installations…life-sized sculptural stuff and installation work. After I left college, it was hard to do that kind of work. The person I was dating at the time was a print maker and he was carving linoleum and I started trying that out and realized that it had that the process of carving and printing had a sculptural quality, but you could make multiples. So, I left the ceramics stuff for a pretty long time.

Then Peter, my husband, and I bought a house 4 years ago in Providence. There was this basement and I realized I could have a ceramics studio again. So, I created a studio. Peter had been pickling for many years, and we were growing cucumbers in the garden….so he asked me to make a crock for fermenting, and I made one for him based on his specifications. Then people saw them and wanted one, and so I ended up getting back to that stuff because of him. I know that’s a long story.


So what brought you to Providence originally?

MS: In the course of going to school in New Orleans, when I realized I was entering the BFA program, I was like “Do I actually want to go to art school?” because I was losing a little bit of the conceptual depth that I envisioned that art schools would have. My brother was at RISD, so I decided to move up here and we lived together in ‘97.  I took one class at RISD in the ceramics department to see if I wanted to do that. I loved the city, but then decided ultimately that since Tulane was giving me an incredible scholarship I had to finish there. I ended up going back to New Orleans but really loved the time that I had spent here because I was going to Fort Thunder shows, and just really felt like everything about my experience here had been pretty awesome.

I stayed in New Orleans, finished school, stayed there for several years, did a bunch of stuff like we started a warehouse space that was definitely in some ways influenced by Fort Thunder. We had performances, live music, all kinds of stuff. That project, Nowe Miasto, was with my friend Brice White and my boyfriend at the time, Alec Dunn. Alec wanted to leave and go to Pittsburgh because he had this beautiful notion of living in a city with hills and seasons. I felt it was a good time for me to leave too because I was feeling the need for a shift in my environment. So, we moved to Pittsburgh and things fell apart with our relationship so I was like “What am I doing?” So, our relationship was falling apart so I decided to go to grad school for a semester in Philadelphia. I took this Book Arts printmaking program for a semester at UArts and then we did break up while I was at grad school and I kind of had this midlife crisis and felt like I had to change everything. I couldn’t really be in grad school and be going through this personal struggle.


MS: So I quit grad school and moved back to New Orleans for a little bit and dealt with my own mental well being. After a bunch of months I realized that I was stuck in a life I’d lived in my early 20’s and felt like I wasn’t moving forward. So, in 2004 I was living in New Orleans again and wanted to get out and didn’t know where to go. I wanted to go somewhere where I had been before but didn’t really get a chance to explore. I ended up coming here because Mike Taylor was living here and he was a good friend of mine, we knew each other from the South from music. That summer I was interviewing artists around the Northeast and the Mid-West that were self-defined “radical print makers.” I was going to different cities, testing them out like, “Ooh, could I live here?” I wound my way up to Providence and had a really good time with Mike and his friends, and Yvette- we became really good friends. Mike said, “We’re getting this new house on Ringgold St, and if you want to move into the living room for a few months, why don’t you do that?” So I was like “Alright! I’m doin’ it!” So, August of 2004 I came back to Providence after a long hiatus and we built a wall in the living room of this tiny house–I had a room that was just big enough for a bed and a desk, which was all I needed at the time. I had no idea how long I’d be here.

Is that…

Little Pancakes.

Cynthia Reed?

Yes! Yes.

OK, that’s who I think of when I think of Ringgold Street.

Yes! The house that Cynthia built! So many awesome people have cycled through that space and it was a really good entranceway back into Providence. I kind of like to blame Mike Taylor for my coming back here. I came here thinking “I’ll be here for 2 months and see what happens.” Now it’s been…10 years? Which is crazy.

What was your first connection to AS220? How did you find out about that, how did you get involved with AS220? I know eventually you worked here…

I found out about AS220 back in ’97, because I definitely went to shows here. I remember the old space as it was. I knew Raphael Lyons- he had lived on our couch in New Orleans. He talked about his friend Matt Obert who lived at AS220, so when I came up here in ’97 he was like “Oh yeah, go hang out with my friend Matt, meet him.” So I met Matt and he showed me the residences at AS220 and I remember thinking “Oh, this is really interesting, some kind of artist colony, yet it’s a performance space.” It really spoke to me, having engaged in creating DIY art and music and living spaces, but AS220 was done on a more institutional level. I felt that this is a really solid, amazing place for artists. Then when I moved back in 2004, I started coming to shows here again, and then the renovations happened, and Mike got a job as a House Manager. I realized I would love that job, it was everything that I had spent over a decade doing at punk spaces, but at AS220 it was being done more professionally. I printed out my resume and I brought it in, gave it to Jeffrey Alexander, and was just like…”I need this job!” It was a few months before they were hiring but he called me and asked me to come in for an interview. I interviewed with him and Shawn Wallace. The thing I remember most about that interview was the question where Shawn was like “Being the House Manager, you can sometimes deal with some pretty rough spots, people can get drunk and belligerent and what do you do if somebody…”

Uh huh..

…you know, that that of situation and I said, well my last name is “Stern(laughs) and Shawn Wallace cracked up laughing and Jeffery later was like “I’ve never seem him crack up like that!”  So, that’s what landed me the job. I worked here for a few years as a House Manager and then when Jeffery’s position became open I was like “That is what I want.”

Are there any interesting stories when you were the House Manager or the Program Director, or any fun stuff that happened, that you’d care to go on record about?

Totally. I remember the time I came in for a shift and for some reason Scott Reber was there, which usually he’d be there later in the night, but he was there earlier somehow and I looked up at the ceiling in the Performance Space and there was like the largest pair of tighty-whiteys I’ve ever seen in my life with an obvious streak on them. I was adamant that I was not dealing with that. Scott said, “Don’t worry, I’ll deal with it.” He just got a broom, got rid of em, done. And I just remember thinking, “Scott Reber, he is a solid awesome guy.” That’s on the weird bizarro zone.

Also at the first Foo Fest, I was working and hauling these huge garbage bags through the crowd at the end of the night, and garbage juice is spilling out and I’m just feeling crusty and dirty, and also kinda bad-ass, like “I am doing this, I am carrying this garbage like a dirty Santa Claus.” So, there was this guy passed out in front of what is now the Black Box, but at the time was Perishable Theater and he had obviously just vomited Ramen noodles on his shoulder and is half drunk, half awake, and he looks up at me with this huge bag of garbage and he goes, “You’re really hot.” And for the first time in my life I just snapped out the worst response which was, “You’re really not.” This is just when “missed connections” had started becoming a thing on Craigslist, so I wrote a missed connection because I thought it’d be really funny….it was all like “Me: Carrying garbage. You: Passed out drunk with Ramen vomit.” It started something like, “When you said I was hot, I just couldn’t handle it because it was all my fetishes wrapped into one. Garbage. Vomit. Ramen Noodles.” Then I had dozens of responses that were like “This is the funniest missed connection I have ever read.” Somebody wrote me and said “I’m really embarrassed, but I really think that this was me.” (laughs)

Anyway, so that’s a story I always tell about how crazy Foo Fest could get, that that’s the level of interaction you could be having at 3AM on the street in front of AS220. But then there’s also awesome stories of like seeing Monotonix perform and just really break the bounds of what is possible in performance in such a small space. Combining theatrics in a way that both sounded good and also gave an amazing energy. And then the HONK fest happened, I can’t remember if I had booked it or I worked it or…it was probably both. Just seeing that many brass instruments in one space at one time and also having a show that requires basically zero PA was a pretty awesome experience. And one time I–maybe I’m telling too many stories.


One time I was–it was before my job got split into 1 1/2 positions – so, I was basically on call for the Performance Space in case a sound person didn’t show up. I had just worked a 60 or 70 hour week at AS220 and was just like “Alright, it’s Saturday night! I’m gonna make my art!” So I’m sitting there, making art at 9pm and I get a phone call from the House Manager like “Sooo, there’s no sound person here…” Someone was supposed to cover someone else’s shift and they had both left town. Nobody could do it, so I had to leave my art stuff out, like wet ink lying down, cover it up, fly down to AS220, and do sound for a 9 piece band. I mic’d everyone I could and was able to still start the show by 9:30. I remember thinking “I feel powerful and also super bummed.” (laughs)

Was that–I don’t know if that was an impetus for the way it’s structured now where there’s the Program Director, and then House Manager and Sound is wrapped into one position, and then there’s a door volunteer, so it’s all kind of spread out amongst a couple people…a failsafe.

Yes. Booking the space is alone a 40+ hour job. Back then it also meant managing more people, because you had a House Manager and Sound Engineer every night. So there was a space with 8-9 people to manage and now there’s like maybe 4 or something. So it was like double the management stuff. It was also a situation where I was on call every time something happened. I put a lot of work into creating protocol books so people could understand “if the light’s go out here’s the five steps you can take to determine if it’s the fuse box or a busted cable” – to help with troubleshooting. I did a lot of work trying to eliminate the need for a person to actually be called but there was still times that I would get phone calls at 1am like “So, there was art that just got damaged at the hardcore show, what do I do?” It was a very intense thing. I was also managing the sound system in the Performance Space, replacing tweeters when they blew out, soldering quarter inch cables when the connections broke.

I would be booking the space, soldering cables, and then also trying to figure out how to get funding to get new monitors because I felt like that was a really big thing that we needed to work with larger bands and also make the whole room sound better by creating less dead zone in the middle. I was trying to envision how we could get bigger bands who want to play here be able to hear themselves without busting tweeters.

It didn’t leave much time for the creative energy. It was only between 2am and 9am that I knew I wouldn’t get a phone call. It got a little too intense by the end…

So I was going to ask, are you a full time artist now?


So by the end it was probably just time to start doing that?

Yes. I feel like AS220 was a really amazing experience and I’m really excited and feel very fortunate that I was able to spend time here. I learned a lot about negotiations. I always feel like I’ve been a fairly good negotiator because my parents raised me at flea markets and would say, “Don’t give them a dollar, offer 25 cents!” But really in terms of solidifying and understanding and creating the security of what you’re doing as valuable and being able to fight for that both in terms of being a booker but also as an artist, that was one of the skills that I felt really solidified working at AS220. As well as keeping track of information, understanding how to create spreadsheets to keep track of my own art business. There’s a certain amount of business and strategy that I learned through AS220. Just being around other people like Xander was pretty amazing because she was able to be simultaneously working full time but also be applying for grants and fellowships on a regular basis.

I feel being around the community of other people that were gathering at AS220 was also a pretty strong and inspiring force and also made me feel like I can do this artist thing. I should try to do this before I’m 40. That was this thing in my head. I was just like “If I don’t try and leave this work before I’m 40, I will never leave this work.” So, yes, I’ve been doing grant writing, and speaking at engagements at universities, and we do have rental income that comes from our house. That helps subsidize the living expenses.

So what is in the upcoming show at the Project Space?

It’s predominately collage work and then there’s also a series of porcelain platters. The 8 platters are tributes to musical groups that have influenced and inspired me throughout the years, particularly in terms of my growth as a feminist. There’s a platter for Bikini Kill and one for Missy Elliot, and they in some way reflect a trajectory of my own process of dealing with everything, from anger and frustration and excitement, and all the different emotional thoughts and feelings around understanding and feeling like there’s injustice in the world and I have a need to respond to that. So, song lyrics are quotes on platters.

The collage pieces are kind of visual mementos exploring ideas around identity and feminist ideology. All of them involve paper material from my Grandmom’s cousin Fanny Simonowsky, who lived to be 103. When she died, I asked for all of her correspondence. I have all of these letters from her husband from WWII and all her photos. But there was also just an immense amount of documents She saved every paper she wrote in high school and college. There’s all these old papers from the 30’s that talk about the Byzantine Empire and I felt like I couldn’t just get rid of them. There’s calligraphy and typewritten notes on that aged paper….that takes 80 years for your paper to look like. So, I wanted to incorporate those in this series of collages because there’s this thing about home grown identity and family that’s kind of weaving through these collages.  It’s my own work mixed with this family matriarch’s. Everyone in the family called her Aunt Fannie. She was a powerhouse, an early social justice worker in the 40s and 50s when it was very uncommon for a white woman to be fighting against racism. She also traveled around the world on her own as a young woman, which was unheard of at that time!


Or even just go to college…

Yeah, she was a first generation American. I’m third generation, born here. So migration is also another theme in my work because my whole family fled from Belarus in the early 20th century fleeing the pogroms. So, we were completely not a family that had money. My great Grandmom worked in a sweatshop in the garment industry in New York. They lived in a ratty-ass tenement, so for Fannie to go to college, and then to go around the world and then become a teacher in Harlem was a huge success.

Is there any sort of history of social justice or feminism running through your family that you’ve inherited? Does that come from her or your parents?

That’s interesting, because I’ve never heard anyone else in my family actively say that they’re a feminist. My mom was a single mom at one point in my life and I have a dad now who is my step dad, he is amazing and he is my father, they married when I was 11. There was a window when I saw my mom putting herself through college, while raising 2 kids, while working at a restaurant. She decided to get married instead of go to college, which she later regretted. The reality for me was that I saw this very strong figure in my house. Even though she never said “I’m a feminist”, having to basically be the one to just do all of the actual labor of bringing the family together when I was really little very much influenced me. There’s definitely a lot of very strong women in our family, like Fannie. My great grandmom lived to be about 105. She was someone who came here from Austria and mostly spoke Yiddish, even by the end of her life, after living here for decades and decades, she knew very little English. I remember her having this gravelly voice, with a thick accent and she’d be like “Vhen I vas yoah age…” She would tell stories in broken English as best as she could about the old country, she died when I was a teenager, so I feel like its always been, up until last year, that I’ve always had a centenarian in my life. My grandfather is 91. They’re all very working class, culturally, even though my parents were able to move into the middle class when I was in high school. My grandfather is still a handyman at 91 years old, living in Florida, just fixing stuff.

There’s a strong work ethic. I feel like in a working class background, or at least the one I was raised in, there wasn’t like a “stay at home mom” kind of character. There can’t be. I feel like the whole mainstream feminist analysis that has become common discourse in the media tends to come from an upper class, white, lens. Which wasn’t exactly my experience growing up. I think the class stuff really informed feminism in a way for me. It was the feminism for me. It was just like “Women are holding it together. We’re going around the country on our own, seeing the world…” Also, Fannie got divorced in the 40s, and she talked openly like “I had 2 miscarriages and never wanted to try to have kids again.” Certain topics that are very taboo or stigmatized were just very open in our family. In some ways, I feel like it relates to social justice discourse, where it’s kind of like everything is on the table, we’re not hiding who we are, we’re living with the reality of the world around us, we’re talking about the world around us and what’s happening. I definitely think of her as a strong feminist force in a way that it doesn’t even matter if she talks about feminism- she is the embodiment of it.

And there’s these amazing photos- she saved everything. She was an incredible archivist. For instance, I inherited her piano and along with the piano there’s the receipt that she got the day she bought it! And there’s also a photo of her sitting at the piano within the first year of her having gotten it, and it’s labeled on the back, “1949.” She labeled everything. I also got a chance to do a family history through visual pairings, like “Who are these people? How do they fit in the family tree? Oh, I see who this is, this is someone when they were 12 and then 21 and then 51…”, you know? So, just going through all of her ephemera has been on my mind as I was thinking about family, migration, identity, who we are, and how much of who we are is made up of the people in our lives and how they helped shape us and surround us. I call this series “Generations” which is a lot about thinking about the passage of time and how we situate ourselves within the generations.

I hate to jump from something this dramatic, but you also do ‘zines and play drums and probably other instruments…what’s the history there?

M: When I was in junior high school I was totally becoming this disaffected youth. I went from being this straight-A student to grades slipping because I was so bored at school. I was bullied for being Jewish, by even the school bus driver! Like crazy adults bullying children. I grew up in a Quakertown, Pennsylvania initially, which is where the real anti-Semitism was, and I lost my best friend because I wouldn’t convert to born-again Christian. Stuff like that. I was raised with this understanding that I was an outsider, at least in this small town. Also, the fact that we were working class so I couldn’t afford Guess jeans, I remember that being this huge thing. I remember when we were in high school my mom’s socio-economic class shifted and my mom was like “I can buy you those Guess jeans!” And I was like “Too late! I’m a punk!” Missed that boat! I feel like I very naturally gravitated towards punk because it reflected what I was living, which was a disaffected youth, frustrated by the status quo mainstream. But I also did want justice to thrive.

So my grades were slipping in 9th grade and my mom sent me to Quaker boarding school in 1991 and thank-fucking-god for that. That really saved my life, in a way. So I went to this boarding school where the first day of class my English teacher said, “If there’s only one thing to get out of this class, it ‘s that you should question everything” and I was just like “Whaat? A fuckin’ teacher is telling me to question everything?! This is great!”  So, there was a whole culture of social justice and community engagement that is very much a part of Quakerism and Quaker values. My mom had started becoming interested in Quakerism because of the peace activism. In the 80’s the anti-nuclear movement was happening she was very much a part of that, and it was also still freshly post-Cold War. She was drawn to the peace activist movement and much of that work in Pennsylvania was situated in Quakerism, so that interested her. She started going to Quaker Meeting for Worship with my father and now very much identifies as Quaker. So, I think of myself as both culturally Quaker and Jewish, but not religiously either.

I went to this school and there were punks there and I was like “Ohhh, punks!” because I had kind of gotten into metal. My first concert was when I was fourteen, I saw Skid Row and Aerosmith. I got to meet and greet Aerosmith because my friend’s parents were involved in the industry. So I got to meet Steven Tyler! I was like “This is so cool!” I loved mainstream rock, metal, anything that was starting to get weird. My brother and I both loved weird shit, so whenever we’d go somewhere and we’d hear something that was not pop music we’d be like “What is this?!” So, in high school, in boarding school, there were punks there and I started skateboarding, and skateboarding was such an opening for me. It gave me the freedom to not just have to walk from campus to the town. The school was called the George School. I loved it. The campus looked like a crazy-ass college, it was sick as hell!  You could skateboard in the tennis courts and practice ollies over a skateboard. I met this guy Eli who was a skater and we skated every day after school, we skated through town and I could skate over potholes. I found this teeny-ass little music store in Newtown and they had Dischord Records tapes. I had tape player, so I started getting all those tapes and one day my dad heard Minor Threat coming out of my bedroom and said, “You might want to listen to 103.3 FM Princeton” because it had a very wide range of alternative music and world music, so I really do have to thank my dad for picking up on this cue that I was interested in weirdness…

D: Most of stories you hear, and in my own experience, your parents usually try to shut that down immediately…

M: No dude, that same year I painted my hair pink and I waited for mom to come home and I was gonna surprise her. I come out of the bathroom and she’s just like “Hey, what’s up.” I’m like “Notice anything different?” She’s like “Why didn’t you do it blue?” I was like “(gasp) I cannot rebel against my parents!” So that became like “Oh wow, I don’t have to rebel!” So punk to me was never about rebelling against parents so much as it was about society. I had a very strong and awesome family life, which is something that many of my friends who were into punk did not have. They were seeing punk as a big extension of chosen family. For me it was like, I had this awesome family life that was actually helping me explore the whole world of things that were not mainstream. So I got into Dischord music stuff, and started to go to shows around town. A lot of them were straight edge shows because they had to be, because they were in churches in the middle of Pennsylvania, and there’s no drinking and drugs at the churches (laughs).

In Philadelphia, at that time, there was this collective that had just formed called the Cabbage Collective which was a group of teenagers and early 20s kids who were doing shows at churches and they had a manifesto. I remember it was the first manifesto that I had ever read and I remember thinking “This is great!” It was all about unity and togetherness and working against the mainstream. It was punk, but with a message, and very much spoke to me. And then there were ‘zines, too. I remember one music fest I went to was called the “More Than Music festival.” It was promoting itself, like, “Music! Zines! Forums! Workshops!”

So the first ‘zine I made was when I was working with my mom at this place called Inertial Motors that sold motors for big machines. My mom was the bookkeeper and then became the Chief Financial Officer, I think. One summer she needed a bookkeeper. So I was fifteen and doing bookkeeping and then I saw they had a photocopy machine and I had already seen that zines existed. I remember asking my mom, “Can I make some copies?” and she was like “Well, how many..?” and I was just like “Oh, a few..” because I could sense that maybe I shouldn’t say “I’m going to make 300 copies on your copy machine to make my first zine.” But I made my first ‘zine there. I was 15 and it was very much about the workplace and being in this office where every Thursday all the ladies would hang around the water cooler and wait for the water delivery guy to come in and drop a load of water so they could all check out his rippling muscles! So my first ‘zine was like “This is what work is??” Basically it was just the kind of thing where I was just testing out my voice because I definitely was not ready to play in a band or do anything that was front and center because I was still super shy. I would be the person that would never talk at a party, just sulking in the background, quiet. Which is probably not how people see me now.

So a ‘zine was the perfect format for trying to discover my voice. I gave them out, and they all disappeared, so I was like “Maybe I should do another one, because people took them..” I started doing ‘zines and people actually started writing to me and it became something that was not only helpful to me but other people were interested in what I had to say, it made me think that maybe I did have something interesting to say. Which is definitely not what I had felt before doing ‘zines. So ‘zines gave me a format for communication with an audience who I thought might be similar to myself but was not so direct as to really understanding who they were. This was before the internet and social media, people would actually write a letter to ‘zine makers and people would send me two dollars in the mail and I’d send them a ‘zine. People would make beautiful packages. I was writing away for records when I was in high school and college from Load Records and Ebullition Records. So that whole culture of sharing music and ideas through the mail was super influential for me. One of the last ‘zines I worked on was collecting people’s abortion stories. That totally changed the scope completely because I didn’t realize there was such a huge stigma around talking about abortion until I made that ‘zine. I interviewed people and had them write their stories out, laid them all out, put them in a ‘zine and then I sold them for what they cost to make, so I never made any money off of it. I sold over 5,000 copies of those ‘zines, there were 2 editions.

There was a time when I felt that not only can ‘zines travel but the right ‘zine can touch on something that has no other format for discourse, and it can be a very powerful thing. I think blogs now can serve that purpose in a very real way. The thing about ‘zines when we were doing it was this whole idea of printing ‘stream of consciousness’ like we were supposed to just throw our raw thoughts on paper. Which I do think blogs are often that, too. I do think that they in some ways travel farther. I do wonder if the loss of the tangible matters. For me, I really like to be able to hold something and feel like I was holding a part of somebody else. It wasn’t just their ideas that I was engaging with. Scientists talk about how when you touch something you’re sharing cells. Like, I’m sharing cells with the table when I touch the table. I think that there is some kind of truth to that with ‘zines. So, the person who’s making them touched these things, stapled them, folded them, and mailed them, and then you get some kind of transference on a chemical, universal, kind of mind-blowing level. We don’t get that with computers being the intermediary.

Well, music is the same, with records and wonderful handcrafted packaging. Mp3s are great (picks up phone) I can hold a bazillion songs on this but it’s not the same as my record collection at home.

M: Totally. I’m an audiophile, I have over 2000 records which is somewhat embarrassing to tell to people who do not like records. They’re like “Are you crazy?” and I’m like “Yes, I carried 30 packages of records up 3 flights of stairs repeatedly every time I’ve moved!” but it’s totally worth it to me because I feel a distinct difference in the sound quality.

Oh yeah, not even taking the actual point of the record into account…the music…, the artwork on a large scale is something you can pick up and look at it. Even versus a CD…we tried to do a spring cleaning purge and were like “Oh, we don’t listen to all these records..” and tried to whittle it down to what we really listen to and really want… but in the end I don’t even think we filled one crate! Maybe a quarter of one with things we could bear to get rid of.

I’ve decided I wanted to do a blog of some of my own rare records..I have to just make it happen. When I was in LA, Peter and I spent 6 weeks there, and I would just take walks listening to podcasts, like Marc Maron’s “WTF” and “This American Life”, my two de factos. So, just put the headphones on and walk around the city of LA and visit neighborhoods. On one of these walks I found Gimme Gimme Records and they had all these King Tubby records that I had not seen before that were awesome and have been cycling on my turntable repeatedly since I’ve gotten home. I also found this French recording of Tibetan Bonpo monks who practice pre-Buddhist traditions, and explore practices based on exorcism and communicating with divinities and also the individual process of trying to attain spiritual realization. It’s just this deep guttural chanting with occasional bells and drumming, very minimal. It’s just haunting when I hear it. They’ve got liner notes in English and French, which really contextualizes the recording and also explains the history of the monks’ practices.

I see the liner notes as really the crucial thing that you miss with listening to music on the Internet. When that exists, it’s a real way of contextualizing the music and sounds you’re listening to. It’s sharing history too. This is especially true with field recordings, which I love. Field recordings of groups of individuals that are performing songs or oral histories of their ideas or beliefs. The field recording notes are crucial to understanding that. So, those are my favorite records.

I can definitely get down with some pop music, because I understand that it’s a simple, basic way of celebrating pure joy, in a way, or a lack of depth or thought and it’s very surface “We’re partying!” and I think that that kind of release is important for people. But I also think that the obsession with celebrity and the whole culture that surrounds that and any discourse that happens around their tracks are very much centered around the individual makers in a way that is very much either “Love your idols or kill them” which is just less interesting to me and I wish there was a little more intentionality and thought around music creation and appreciation that had more depth to it, because I appreciate that. That tends to be what I’m drawn to.



You had said before that with ‘zines you weren’t ready to express yourself and be “center-stage” so when did that happen? When did you start playing in bands and performing?

M: Alright, you’re opening up another big wormhole! Basically, when I was living in this warehouse in New Orleans with some friends of mine we were hosting all these bands and my friend Brice had a drumset that he had had since high school and I started playing it. Just messing around on my own. I joke now that for a while I dated drummers until I realized I wanted to be a drummer. So, finally I got to a point where I started practicing every day but still wasn’t quite ready to perform.

Then my friend Shana and I went to Europe in 2000, right in the beginning phase of our warehouse stuff, we hitchhiked and biked around Europe. After a couple months, we parted ways and I was about to trek to France to go back to the States. I basically got into the wrong vehicle. I had all these rules for hitchhiking, like “never get into a car where you’re outnumbered, never get into a car if they can’t tell you where they’re going”, etc. But I was in Germany and I was speaking some German but not quite enough. Language was a barrier, so I was being a little more open with those rules, in part because there was some room I had to leave for miscommunication. So, basically, I got into a car with two men who I then realized were going to try to attack me. I had a map that I was following along with and realized we were going in the wrong direction from where I said I wanted to go. So, I was like “How do I get out of the car?” I realized there was no handle on the inside of the door and that I was in one of those fucking cliche horror movies. I had just taken a self-defense class with my friend Erika which had covered multiple attackers and weapons, in a very comprehensive 4 hour class that dealt with everything I was about to face. When they went off the Autobahn I was like “Where are you taking me, I want to get out of the car!” but I waited until we were in a town because I didn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere. I demanded “Let me out of the car right now!” So, they let me out of the car and I started racing away and they came after me and then we basically struggled and they tried to kill me. They threw me on the ground tried to strangle me and I kicked the dude in the back of the head. They had handcuffs and got one of my hands, they had a fucking knife and I was like “I’m fucking getting that knife and I’m going to fucking kill you!” I fought back and they got freaked out! It was a huge struggle and I ended up taking my wallet and I basically threw it at them and said “Take this and don’t follow me.”

I grabbed my backpack and flagged down a car, who took me to the police station. They took mug shots, and asked me all these questions. It was a small town in Germany called Finsterwalde and they were like “Can you wait here for 3 days for the sketch artist to come?” I was like “I’m an artist, you do not need to wait 3 days, I’ll draw them!” So, they set me up at this beautiful little bed and breakfast that was super awesome. I wrote out my entire story in a journal, gave a copy to the police. I finally came back to the States and I was like, “I’m going to teach self defense classes.” because everything I learned, I tried. And it wasn’t like, “if you’re held this way, punch this way” it was more the understanding that A: I’m worth fighting for and B: that I could fight back and C: that I had knowledge that worked to get me out of that situation. I had black and blue marks and couldn’t open my jaw for a week, had a black eye, punched in the face repeatedly, it was pretty rugged. I came back and was like, “I am teaching self-defense classes, and I’m singing in a band, I’m making this a reality.” I learned how to drum while singing, and learned them both at the same time.

I was in a band with our housemate Stella and my boyfriend Alec- that was my first punk band in the year 2000. And it’s funny because I wrote an essay in one of my ‘zines called “How I Learned to Sing” and it talks about that experience and how I learned to use my voice. Self-defense starts with using a lot of verbal language, because 80% of people who yell at their attackers get out alive so that was how I became confident. I had just fought for my life, and was like, I can do anything!

Yeah, what can’t you do after that?

The short story of all that is that a couple of years later I got a phone call from the FBI in the US saying that they were working with the German government and someone was arrested with my credit card and he admitted to everything that happened and they thought they had the other guy, but he wouldn’t admit it without me identifying him. So, they caught the dudes and they paid for me to go back to Germany to testify. Now they’re in prison. This would have not happened that way in the US. First of all, the US is fucking huge. The more violent dude had sexually assaulted several women in France and Germany and been arrested multiple times and had also murdered someone, at least one woman. They had to convince me to testify, because I said, “I don’t want to testify, I don’t believe in the prison system.” At the time I was involved with some anti-prison work, so I felt very conflicted. Basically, the FBI agent was like “I’m not going to tell you everything they’ve done to people, but please just trust me that there has been evidence lost and they’ve killed and mutilated women.” I just did it. That’s a whole other side bar, but that really was how I got the confidence to become a musician. It was a very seminal summer in terms of my own trajectory. At that point, I felt like living twice as hard at whatever I’m doing because this is my second chance, I fought for my life to be here and I’m going to fucking make it worth it and make it count.