Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ISSUE 21 - APRIL 2007



I have a good friend who, from time to time, will phone me and say Two words: Flaming Amy’s. I know what this means. This is like a junkie calling you saying; Crack Run. He says if they opened one downtown he’d eat there all the time, no need for a grocery store visit. I believe him. He’ll order a burrito at the restaurant and one to go. In an era of constant homogeny it’s good to have a place to go and feel comfortable, in your head and in your stomach.
There are numerous businesses in which you feel that you’re on an assembly line. Your items are scanned and the cashier, salesperson, whomever, barely says a word. The whole situation is impersonal, like a scene in THX 1138 or any futuristic, cold view of society. Worse, you can be made to feel unwelcome in the establishment.
Here are a few examples, or moments, that happened recently, easing my belief the whole world has been malled into apathy and homogeny. The first is simple. My girlfriend and I are passing a Dunkin Donuts and I have a sugar fix to sooth. I’m a Krispy Kreme guy myself but we’re right there. We get our half dozen and are about to leave when she says she can’t wait to eat one before getting home. So I look at the cashier and ask for a donut hole, can she have one to hold her till we get home? The cashier doesn’t give me a line, some company dialogue. She’s cool, smiles, and asks what kind?
Second, I’m putting out mags all over the city one day and end up on Oleander. Hunger hits like a Balboa punch. I’ve seen Firehouse Subs for weeks now, one of many businesses in a building that used to be the location for the old Krispy Kreme. I used to go there late to get doughnuts when there was a large round table filled with old guys drinking coffee and talking about the world. I wonder where they are now, where do they sit and discuss things. Hopefully not the Internet.
So I go in. I order, feeling like I’m in a strange place, nostalgic. Everyone is nice, talking and friendly, doesn’t sound phony. I sit down to eat, a man and woman sit across from me reading over job applications. They don’t notice me for a few moments and I hear them discussing possible hires, concerned with driving records. I’m overhearing this and thinking I’ll hear something bad. We’ve all worked somewhere and applications get ridiculed for something. All is hear is them addressing important concerns.
An employee comes into work and the two owner/managers talk as if he were their son, discussing a game he played in. I was honestly taken with this behavior. To be certain I finally asked if this was their place. They recently opened and asked what sandwich I ordered. We talked briefly and it wasn’t pleasantries. I came back two days later to eat again and the woman manager recognized me and asked if I wanted the Italian sandwich again. Yes. It was a cool Sunday afternoon and I ate at a silver table out back. I tried to ignore the mall that was taking up much of the view.
Last, I rent DVD’s sometimes. It comes with the territory and it’s a winter thing, renting movies. You go in stores and much of the time you are up-selled and trafficked right out the door. Two guys who work at the video store I go to have done what is sometimes rare, befriend their customers. They are usually there when I go in. It’s simple really, being a human being, but we forget sometimes. Chad and John are two of these people, those who work but have the ability to be personable and make you feel like you’re not just a customer. It makes the business of doing business a lot more comfortable in a world becoming more detached. It’s not just about keeping customers, I see it as being decent to one another, getting along, sharing a positive experience with people versus animosity.
I commend these people on the ability to work and maintain civility in a manner that the divide fades between you and the person behind the cash register, for making it feel a little more small town and friendly. There are many other places and instances like this in Wilmington but I felt compelled to point these out.
So, on that thought I will prepare to make my own Crack Run, for one of my favorites, Trolley Stop, which recently opened a new store near my house. Now if there was a beach down the street I’d never travel further than a few miles from my home.

- Brian Tucker


Hey, it's not your fault Santa's got a better gig


by Brian Tucker

Not much dance music is played live anymore. Most bands that do it are in New York or Europe. With technology it’s easier to do it smaller. But something is lost in the translation, in the feel of hearing the music performed in front of crowd. Some bands perform without sequencers and drum machines. LCD Soundsystem is garnering attention currently.
Seth Moody has played in a many different types of bands, from surf music to rock. And now he’s trying to create something you don’t find much anymore; live dance music. He and wife Courtney have written ten songs, lengthy ones like you’d find on old 12 inch record remixes. For a back up band he enlisted Billy Joe Murphy, brother Tripp and drummer Matt Barbour.

“For a disco thing you gotta have good vocals, preferably female vocals,” Moody says. “Courtney was into it and all I had to do was write a few songs with her. I played a gazillion shows with Murphy boys so I figured they owed me one. I roped em in.”
Moody owned a studio for five years and one of his first clients were Barbour and Tripp who wanted to record songs when they played together as Boogie Lip. Moody asked where there bass player was but they didn’t have one.
“You can’t make demo without bass,” Moody told them and ended up playing bass himself. A few gigs came about from the recording in 1993 and a fight broke out at their second gig, a Christmas party. “There was a brawl on the stage with Matt and Tripp hitting someone’s head with a guitar. It was so nutty, so I said I was in the band.”
Boogie Lip eventually became The Black Sox with Scott Russ taking over on bass when Moody grew too busy with other projects. But the disco funk thing is something he always wanted to do and he’s grown restless of all the serious music.
“I don’ think this town has enough of that - out there, fun, crazy dance music. For the time being I’d like to see Wilmington get a shot in the butt.” The city will get to come May 18th at The Whiskey in downtown Wilmington.
“Seth married Courtney and they started noodling around at home on this funk disco music and decided to call it Sweaty Already,” Barbour says, talking up a new band he’s in over a slice of pizza downtown. “We’re a mish mash of the same group, sort of an extended family that continues to morph into different bands,” referring to the new project, The Black Sox and Yesterday’s Love Song.
Moody wants to set it up as the atypical band show in which they’ll play an early set, pump classic tunes for about an hour through the bar’s sound system and then come back on and do another set.

“I’m trying not to layer the songs with solos, we want to keep the groove going the whole time,” Moody says confidently of the band. “Matt’s always been an amazing groove drummer. His timing is really good and he has a good sense of rhythm. He doesn’t mind sticking on one beat for a long time. Tripp has a tone on the bass that is real old school, 60’s mid range, a low end tone. I think it’s that giant Gibson bass he’s got or something.”
Billy Joe Murphy fronts his own band but is playing keyboard and percussion in Sweaty Already. “I think Billy Joe can use a break from being the front man of his own band and giving him the task of playing keyboard parts and percussion. I’ve always enjoyed being a sideman in other people’s projects and I wanted him to experience that. He can have some drinks and play the keyboards.”
The show is not going to be a cliché ridden performance, Moody’s ambition is to have a show that embraces what was good and fun about that type of music before big record labels strangled it.
“It’s serious. If we wanted to be goofy we’d just do a bunch of covers.” He bought some old Roland electronic drum pads off eBay that have an 80’s sounding clap, sort of Prince electro percussion noise.
“We like the nostalgia feel but we’re not going with the whole money making angle that happened to that music by music execs.” The plan is that if people dress in that type of disco gear and show up to the show you get in for free. “We want that type of atmosphere, fun, letting loose.”
Song ideas are no different: partying and going to clubs. Some are tongue in cheek. Take ‘The Snow’ for example. “It’s about if you want to mack on the ladies you shouldn’t do a lot of blow because your schlong gets small, you know public service announcements like that, and then maybe we’ll do a song about staying in school,” Moody says with a heart laugh. “Laid back and random lyrics. We’re not trying to make any big point with the lyrics. It’s about the melody and something that stays in your head.”
The germination of the idea and recording is fairly simple, inspiration and ideas. “We go get a bottle of Jager or something and I have an old machine, Courtney comes up with a beat and I come up with a bass line. Then I’d go over with a guitar part while she comes up with lyrics. In an hour or two we have a song.”


by Brian Tucker

2007 shaping up to be a summer sick with sequels

Perhaps not since 1989 have there been so many sequels in one year, let alone, a particular summer. All this crass repetition suggests a desire for safety in Hollywood. Or, perhaps, a lack of new ideas. This statement is not new, but the release dates this year are loaded with sequels and it’s alarming.
Several years ago there was a flood of scripts derived from novels. Books have always been a staple of source material in Hollywood, but it was evidence of the deficiency in original screenplays. The real risks still come from independent and privately financed productions outside of Hollywood or the U.S. 2006’s The Black Dahlia was financed with overseas money but released by Paramount Pictures. Warner Brothers was skeptical of 300, especially after the domestic box office take on Troy and Alexander. But, while 300 is a familiar concept, it is a fresh take. Therein lays its success.
But the risks are seemingly few. Where is this year’s Three Kings, Being John Malkovich or Crash? Instead this year we are handed more safe bets by the studios in the form of sequels and franchises such as (and this is a long list) Hannibal Rising, Van Wilder 2, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Are We Done Yet?, Spiderman 3, 28 Weeks Later, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Ocean’s 13, Shrek the Third, Fantastic Four 2, Evan Almighty, Die Hard 4, Rush Hour 3, The Bourne Ultimatum, Hostel 2 and the continuing adventures of Harry Potter. Slated for release soon also includes Resident Evil 3, Alien vs. Predator 2, Bean 2 and a remake of Halloween. Add to that those films taken from established television series (Simpsons, Transformers, Reno 911), comic books (Ghost Rider, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and other remakes (The Hitcher, Prom Night, Hairspray – from the successful play). Where is there room to create, film and promote original ideas?
With all these films taking up screens at the local multiplex it leaves little room for other projects to get noticed unless Shrek sells out and you choose something in a smaller auditorium. Sequels aren’t always a bad thing, some are quite good nor is this a defense for smaller films by the likes of Ken Loach or Henry Jaglom either. Without the larger films there would be far less screens to show them. But it would just be a far better experience to view those mainstream Hollywood films if they didn’t constantly repeat themselves.
A first step by moviegoers would be to not frequent them, leaving studios to filming sequels as direct to video projects where they have become quite lucrative. Studios produce fewer films each year for the cinema and many are sequels. But all good things, sequels included, are best in moderation. Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions could have easily been The Matrix 2. I’m still waiting for The Matrix Re-Edited.
People still enjoy going to the cinema to see films on the big screen even with the prices of tickets and snacks. Hollywood shouldn’t take for granted its audience by giving them the same old thing year after. Eventually, people will tire of it. If not, there’s always 2008 which will boast a new Indiana Jones, a new Star Trek, Batman, Jurassic Park and National Treasure.


by Brian Tucker

Matt Gauck, at the moment, lives in Chicago but has his sights on Savannah, Georgia. A native of Cary, NC, Matt attended Appalachian State University, graduating in 2003 with a degree in graphic design.
But his love for illustration and painting outweighed that of commercial art and design. He has since created pieces of art deep in meaning and strong enough in its imagery that some could become short novels.
Matt’s work is playful and numbing at the same time, fusing shaded colors and joyful characters surrounded by surrealistic or ominous scenery. The pieces are positive and sad simultaneously, pulling diverse emotions from the viewer.

He has done work for bands and steadfastly supports the DIY (do-it-yourself) crowd, eschewing much of the mainstream lifestyle that corporations have helped to anchor in American culture. He recycles, rides a bike instead of a car and finds food from dumpsters.

You were raised in Cary, NC?
Yep. If you’ve ever been to Cary, and met me, it’d be really hard to make sense of how that worked. Most suburban, strip-mall, homogenous town on the planet.

Attended Appalachian state for graphic design and a master’s at Savannah College of Art and Design. At what point did you realize that was what you wanted?
When I was almost done with high school, I decided I wanted an art-related career, and both my parents were really encouraging. At that point, it seemed like graphic design was the only artistic career path that made any money at all, so I got my BFA in that, but immediately realized I 1) don’t care about money, and 2) prefer drawing and painting to a computer ANY DAY. So after one summer, I went back to grad school. It was all pretty fast, I was done with my MFA when I was 24.

Did you draw/doodle a lot as a student?
All the time. The sides of all my notes in every class, from 3rd grade through college were just drawings. Not really serious stuff - I never went places with my sketchbook or paints or anything. Just doodled.

What is the appeal of horror films? The gross-out? The scariness? Or just strange nature of it?
Oh jeez, that’s freaking impossible...haha – well, at first I think I was really interested in stuff that scared me, a lot, because that was such an interesting emotion to have to deal with. I mean, you just don’t get scared that often in real life, unless it’s when something really awful happens, like a friend gets really sick. Horror movies are the ‘fun’ side of being scared, and I'm all about fun. That’s my m.o. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t laugh every time somebody’s head gets blown off, or someone gets hacked to pieces. The blood is just funny, seriously. I can’t explain it, but after awhile (and I have seen a LOT of horror movies) it just gets funny. Black Christmas, Night of the Living Dead (b/w), I Spit On Your Grave, Re-animator, and Cemetery Man – that’s my top five. I think.

Are you self professed bike rider?
I love my bike. That’s the only way to get around, seriously. I’ve biked over 3000 miles on long distance trips, state to state kind of stuff, and I also get all my food (dumpstered) on my bike. For me, bikes are just the best possible answer – you can fix everything on your own (DIY), there isn’t a cost beyond the bike and the parts itself (I really hate money), it doesn’t pollute the environment (I still bike all my recycling 2 miles each week), AND you stay in good health doing it.

Really like Quicksilver (the 1986 bike messenger film)?
I freaking love that movie. My roommate keeps claiming that every time I watch that it negatively effects our friendship. Ha. The part in the middle – the bike trick section – it’s amazing! I watch the biking parts of that like once a week – kind of like a ‘bike messenger highlight reel’. I'm really into “Rad”, too. Aunt Becky from Full House. Crazy.

Cartooning? Who do you admire?
Bill Watterson, hands down. Calvin and Hobbes was easily some of the best art to come out of cartooning. I like Daniel Clowes now and again, too, but more for the story. Watterson is dominating the draftsmanship category.

Do you write little books or cartoon panel series?
Not really, I did when I was younger, but I find I can create better stories with just one image. You have to trust your audience, but also sort of ‘guide them’ in the right direction.

Do you find confliction between graphic design and cartooning or do they come together?
There’s a ‘happy middle ground’, for sure – you wind up designing all art, and I think graphic design is just like any other art form, where you would arrange aspects of the picture into a ‘visually pleasing’ manner. There’s an undeniable link there, but it’s sort of hard to pin down.

Is graphic design done for smaller entities or do you do work for larger companies?I’ve done work for both – I’ve worked for independent firms of 5 people, I’ve worked for IBM, and I’ve done everything in-between. IBM was weird, but I learned a lot…Like not to work at IBM anymore. Design, in general, has become a strange subculture to itself, one in which you can get wholly sucked into, and convinced your work matters more than it really does. A lot of people get very caught up in graphic design as a lifestyle, and then aren’t able to focus on real life, going on around them. You can use graphic design to help fix problems, raise awareness, you know, “sell” social change…but most people wind up doing posters that promote things they don’t MIND, but still aren’t exactly what they want to ‘end up’ doing.

Does the graphic design work fund your art or is a full tie job?Right now, I do the occasional logo, or help layout a cd or record or something, but that’s about it. I prefer staying away from the ‘straight graphic design’ stuff. Most of my money now comes from illustration. That’s what I wanted to do, so I figured I would keep at it.

Series dvd? How did you get involved?I am really good friends (through high school and hardcore shows) with one of the guys who started series, and I got asked to do the Bunnyfest DVD cover and the logo. I think my friend isn’t with the series anymore, but it’s still going on, from what I understand.

What is the best environment/location for an art show?
That obviously depends on what you want to happen – sell all your art, or just get your message out to a public audience. I'm more of the second crowd – I just have ideas I like, and it’s nice to see when one inspires someone else. So, keeping that in mind, I'm a believer in the co-operative run spaces, or the ‘bookstore with space in the back’ type places. Coffee shops are nice too, but I still hate coffee. Anywhere that people can come and not feel like they’re in the “art world” or at a museum. Art is about reactions as much as it is the art itself, so the space matters.

How many cd/album covers have you done? Hmmm. Overall, I’ve helped on about 15, at this point. Some of those were full illustrations, some were just design help. Maybe closer to 20, now that I'm thinking about it.

What medium do you prefer, oil over acrylic?Oil, hands down. Acrylic is too plastic-y. It’s really gross.

What specifically do you find appealing about Magritte? Surreal qualities? The colors?
Honestly, I just like his stuff ok – the painting quality is good and all, but I think the ideas are the important part. That pipe bomb piece I did was really just a clever idea I had. Well, kind of clever.

Do you prefer smaller pieces to large canvas pieces?
Small! Art that’s big is impressive and all, but I will always prefer to paint things you can get close to, and have some personal time with. The intimate details are much more interesting to me. I will admit I have a great deal of respect for those who paint really large and do it well. You have to understand, though, that you don’t have to paint on a large scale to get an idea across.

What is the genesis of your ideas? Is it always commentary related or is it merely your imagination at its best?
I have no clue where these things come from. I really don’t. I’ll have an idea, something simple like “something going against impossible odds” or like “contradictory problems”, and then I’ll just start sketching stuff. Everything I paint has some aspect of me in it, and from my standpoint, I think it’s super obvious. But that’s me. They’re all comments on life – I think anyone who is creative derives their ideas from their life experience, and then their output is a direct response to their input. This is my lifestyle, the things I’ve seen, the books I’ve read, and the friendships I’ve made, all rolled into one creative ball.

There’s a wonderful collaboration between the themes of horror, innocence and reality in these pieces, as well as inventive and playful characters along the way. Some are sad and cute, is this purposeful or just the natural flow of your creativity?
Some of this just makes sense to me – the horror themes are just reactions to the movies, I think, but they still have a tongue-in-cheek quality to them. The characters are usually based on kids, because I think a kid’s manner of seeing the world is about 100 times more interesting than anyone else’s. That mentality you have when you’re a kid, and playgrounds are the coolest thing in the world – that stuff was so much better than concerning yourself with minimum wage, and all that ‘adult garbage’. Anyway, back to the question, yes, it’s all very deliberate choosing, the characters are the types of things that make sense in their given situations. I’m aiming to paint stories, not paintings. And these characters are part of the story.

If you could illustrate any book, which one?
Hmmm. Probably a Mad-Libs book a first grader finished. That would be awesome. Lord of the Flies would be fun, too.

Are there any philosophies you are trying to get across within your art? In ‘Remorseless’ there’s that image of a human who’s controlling a robot who’s trying to grasp at a heart, sort carrot and the horse. What’s the story, if there is one, behind that piece?
That piece was developed for a contest, where you were asked to ‘visually define’ a word. My friend picked (at random) remorseless for me (I picked, at random, ‘earwax’ for her…she actually won first place) – anyway, I was trying to come up with something unmistakably ‘remorseless’, and that came out. I use a lot of strings and rope in my work, something stemming from my experience with my younger brother, building things, making things work on our own. That one falls into my ‘contradictions’ category too, because when he moves closer, it gets farther away.

What do you believe is the power of art or its inherent strengths?Art, to me, inspires its audience to strive for something creative and (hopefully) positive. The act of making art is a creative one, in that you create something from existing things. Not so much like paint and pencil, but rather the ideas that go into them, or the news you just heard about something awful, or whatever. Art is a direct response to the world we live in, and, on some level, it’s a call that we can perhaps do something about it.

How much do you write compared to painting? What do you like to write about?Writing is a little, little hobby at best. At some point I thought that some of the experiences I had were too funny to go untold. I'm very wary about writing, because it asks a lot of people, to sit down and read about my life for a couple hours. I'm really not that important, but there was some stuff that happened to me, involving a long bike trip, that was really funny.

How many ‘zines have you done and how do you produce them, at home? Kinko’s?
I’ve only written that one, it was sort of a ‘toe in the pool’ kind of curiosity toward the ‘zine world. It’s done fairly well, in that I’ve gotten compliments and I understand that people find it funny, and it’s sold out a couple different places. I’ll probably try writing a second one, and I'm debating doing a little black and white art ‘zine, too. We’ll see. And I sometimes print at Kinko’s, but I greatly prefer the ‘hookup’, which involves my awesome, supportive mother, using her IBM privileges to further the DIY punk movement (go mom – thanks again!), or, well, whatever. Kinko’s is kind of a ‘last resort’, in my mind. I mean, they charge MONEY for copies. What is that? I’d honestly sooner get a job there, copy all my stuff when I could, then quit. Much easier.

In many of these pieces there’s a theme of tiny things at the foot of larger things, sometimes winning out over them. And images of non-human objects that are full of life, are you being reserved or implying a greater premise?
Let’s see…I think it’s all about hope, and impossible odds. Anything impossible, to me, is interesting, because it’s considered off limits by reality. It’s all a fairly romantic vision of life, but I prefer it that way. Where there’s life, there’s hope for something better.


by Cody O'Connor

This is a story of how to go to St. John’s for a month and not pay for a place to stay, well not with currency anyway. I heard about it from my friend Joe Van Dyke which is also the name of an island down there. Joe did it for a month a few years ago. It is a program in which you work part of the day maintaining the resort on the off season. I was there during the month of October. The program is only during the months of May to November.
I applied for the program between December and April and you can only apply online. On MahoBay.com there was an application that was user friendly, asking your employment history, interests, education, hobbies and the positive effect you’ll have while working there. In smaller print it said the following:

Almost all work at Maho is outdoors in our 90-95 degree, full sun
high humidity environment and day-to-day living involves lots of steps.
(162 between registration and the beach, over 2900 total steps in camp)

But it wasn’t that hidden from the applicant, I mean, it is a island after all. But perhaps the best selling point is the following introduction to any applicant. It’s not hard to imagine trading a month of your life working for free in exchange for a little paradise.

This is an economical way to experience the Virgin Islands and its gorgeous surroundings. In exchange for free lodging, we ask for a commitment of one month of work in one of our various departments. Your placement will depend upon our needs and your skills. We look for enthusiastic people (or couples) with skills that will help us keep Maho Bay Camps up to par during the off season and help prepare for the high volume winter. Apply on-line today!

I started out early morning, last October 1st from Wilmington. I arrived just after six a.m. at the airport in Wilmington with new luggage, a few books and a portable DVD player. I brought some discs to watch on the long flight. As luck would have it, my flight was diverted from a twelve hour ordeal to a six hour pleasure flight. But shortly into the flight the DVD player caught on fire and became a useless piece of on-flight luggage. I could imagine the plane going down mid flight and wishing that I had brought something more floatable than a DVD player. But the short flight I took as a good sign. For the most part it was.
The plane landed safely in the afternoon and I exited the terminal looking for transportation to the ferry which would take me to where I would reside and work. It would be a while for the cab ride to the ferry. First thing off the plane I see a bar and head in.
Then my cab arrived. A friend told me I would need Dramamine for the ride, but didn’t really understand until I was holding down airplane food. Inside the car I bounced around and felt the force of winding curves on the road. I managed to keep everything down. Years of practice paid off from drinking too many Jager shots and trying to remain vertical.
We arrived at the ferry to St. John with barely a minute to spare. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough cash on me. In the frenzy I drop my bags like a Spring Breaker and rush to an ATM. I get the needed cash and luckily return to find my bags are still there. I am the last person to step foot on the ferry, but I am happy to have made it. After arriving from the ferry onto St. John I pull out the phone numbers to call for the ride to Concordia Reserve, where I was to stay for the next month.
It was before five p.m. so I look at the number and pull out my cell phone. I dial the area code and stop. The prefix is not there. I call the other number for after five o’clock. No answer. It’s a good thing as soon as you get off the ferry there are a surplus of bars. I make for one with barely a thought. I meet Erin and she takes my order. After a delicious burger and a few rum drinks at a place called at High Tide I call the after five number speaking to the person who would pick me up.
She was thirty minutes away so there was plenty of time for another beer. Jennifer picked me up. Everyone called her “Nif” and so did I. She is a tiny little woman. They only call her part of her name, Jennifer. There were other Jennifer’s where she worked so that was another reason. She is the director of the resort and an incredible person. She was better then any tour guide, pointing out everything and gave great advice as we drove the exhaustingly winding roads. It seemed as if we were adrift in a boat, rising and falling on the hilly paths.
Any nausea I felt quickly left and was replaced by awe, awe from the scenery. After thirty minutes we arrived at Concordia. I was given a quick tour and run down of the work share program. I would be working six hours a day, and doing whatever Nif the director tells me to do. To her credit, she is smart about new workers. She finds out what you do in real life and puts you doing something you would enjoy. There are plenty of tasks in varied disciplines to be completed. I met the only other members of the program, French and Wendy, a couple from Maine. They both are retired and have been to a number of countries doing volunteer work.

After a quick meeting the next morning, I was free to explore. I got some info on the VITRAN, the public transportation on St. John. I grabbed a dollar in change and waited for the bus. My first stop was Cruz Bay, the most commercialized part of the island. Nif, the director of Concordia, is going to bring me and two other workers to Maho Bay to get some groceries, which is key at Concordia since you have almost a full kitchen in your eco-tent. You can prepare a variety of meals, all you need is imagination.
After waiting and waiting for the VITRAN I catch the bus and make it to Cruz Bay. Not knowing anyone or where to go I see a bar and head for it. I order a rum drink, the special and begin to people watch.
Island life is something I am still in awe of. Stating that it’s laid back is an understatement. St. John is overly laid back. The weather is always just right for drinking. People walk by and are more interesting than anything they can drum up on television. The bartender where I’m drinking drinks faster than me and that really sets the tone for this place. I finish my food and have a couple of beers, pay and start out walking.
It seems that every bar I pass by has their own collection of regulars complete with a weathered bartender. I have to get back to Concordia, so I track down where I can grab the bus. It finally arrives and I get one. But, as usual, the bus leaves late and is dead set on taking it’s time. There’s no doubt I am going to be late.
Nif drives past the bus, seeing me on board. She turns around to pick me up. I get off the bus. This turns out to be great because I am hungry again. And I have no groceries yet.

We make our way to Maho Bay through the winding and hilly roads. Goats and donkeys are milling around at every turn. Stopping at a market I am concerned at its size but it has the basics. After some shopping we are off to get dinner. Nif and I place our orders and take in the pavilion while we wait.
Shortly thereafter names are called for food pick up. The name Cosly gets called out, again and again. Trying to help I yell it out.
“Cosly!” I yell a few times. I lean over to a couple that are waiting as well. “Are you Cosly?” Their names aren’t anywhere close to that. After saying Cosly a few more times the bartender decides to tell me it’s my food order.
“My name is Cody, not Cosly,” I say figuring the order isn’t mine. The chef calls me over to read the name. I do and it looks like Cosly and from there on I am to be known as Cosly. I get my food and sit down with the other and it tastes excellent, because it is and because I am hungry. We all get to talking. And the conversation is better then the food. We make several friends during dinner easily. This isn’t really hard because everyone is so friendly. There is a vibe to the place that seems to put everyone at ease.

After eating my first stop is on the beach, Salt Pond Bay. Seeing a trail I begin to walk it. After walking nearly twenty minutes I keep hearing movement every few minutes. I stop and look behind me, thinking it might be small animals or something similar. I walk again and there’s the sound again. Is something in the brush following me, curious as to who I am and what I’m doing here alone? Finally, after closer inspection, I see that the erratic and scratching sound is definitely something within the brush. After close inspection I discover the source of this sound. As I am walking by dozens of hermit crabs are withdrawing into their shells and falling down rocks. What a strange way to escape.
The trail is relatively easy to continue and nothing else happens of importance. On the beach I lay out a towel and take in the crystal clear water and the blinding reflection of the white sands on the beach. Amazingly, the beach is nearly empty, mostly a few people scattered about and taking in a day of snorkeling. Salt Pond Bay is apparently the best place in the Caribbean to go snorkeling. It was so good I most of the day.
I step off the beach and suddenly a car stops besides me. From inside the car a woman yells to me.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“Maho Bay,” I reply.
“That where I’m going. Hop in.” One day in and I am already privy to happy coincidences.
Upon arriving at Maho Bay I head straight for the beach which was just as awe inspiring. The water is beckoning and I drop my towel and head in. It seems as if time has stopped here. It has for me because I don’t have my watch. But, aside from modern structures, it seems like a forgotten place, which may be the allure of St. John. Not so much for tourists, but for those who seek it out to stay and work a while. Here, the world is a different place, devoid of traffic noise and crowded aisles at Wal-Mart. Like being a cast away on a deserted island with decent amenities, it is a place to slow down. There is no use for a cell phone here. Internet service can be slow at coffee house. I send a text message to everyone back home and send two e-mails. It is as though things were set in different motion to purposely slow a person down. Swimming in the nearly invisible water I forget where I’m from for a little while, bask in the appeal of being a cast away. A stranger in a strange place that is almost too beautiful to describe.
I step out on the beach and stay as long as I can. It’s October and I am resting on a beach far away from Wilmington, far away from the Brooklyn of my youth. I remember leaving for the airport and it was cold at six that morning but I know that October there will be different from here. My only contact to back home will be a few text messages and a few e-mails. I will be working soon to pay for my room and board.
I turn around a look at the island behind me and my curiosity gets the best of me. With a map of the island and no sense of direction I set off to explore. I walk for about an hour or so, passing greenery and brush. After nearly an hour I realize I went in a complete circle. It seems so predictable. Like in the movies when people are lost I do the same thing. The sad thing is I’m on a fairly small area. I survived New York City for twenty-four years; surely I can figure this out. Then I discover where I went wrong. I start off again, this time making it back to Center Line Road, a path of thoroughfare that crudely intersects the nearly seven mile island.
The irony is weighing on me and I laugh internally. In the Marines for eight years I hiked a lot with packs and gear and here I was getting winded. Trudging forward I make it to the bus stop and within a short time get on the bus. We are riding along soon after, in a bus back towards my new home and I feel far way from the world. The roads are so curvy, way too narrow for two cars to pass let alone a bus and a car. The only thing keeping my breakfast down is the fact that the scenery is amazing, Bay after Bay of picture perfect vistas.

My job consists of working six hours a day, doing general maintenance throughout the resort. The coordinator, Nif, found out what we liked to do in order to assign work tasks. I have experience in building so I built cabinets and made sure the power stayed on or changed out light bulbs. Six hours a day is not a long day but it was hot everyday and could be taxing. The sun really beats down and there was water at different locations.
Concordia Resort is an eco resort. All the water used there is rainwater and has to be filtered in order to drink. Basically the whole resort survives on solar power. There are no hot water heaters. The resort utilizes the sun to heat water and it gets so hot you have to add cold water to it in which to shower. A large black barrel contains rainwater and it heats up with the sun blaring all day reaching temperatures of 70-80 degrees. It’s October and the temperatures reach into the 90’s and drop between 60 and 70 degrees at night.
You work a lot during the day; it’s so hot its taxing on the body. Without transportation I walked everywhere. It was hot and humid hot. The strange things is its 90 degrees but you’re not sweating your ass off, getting used to it quickly, but you’re not sweating unless you’re working,

I stay in what’s called a tent but is more like a small condo made of wood and the roof is canvas. It has a wood frame with a loft in it and a full kitchen, there’s no stove but there’s two burners, a refrigerator and pots and pans. There are two beds, its one of the rooms you’d stay on the resort if you went there. There are bigger places to stay if you are a tourist that are nicer with ceiling fans. During the season these ‘eco-tents’ can range from $155 to $175 a night and off season are $95 a night with “amenities that combine simplicity with the most up to date, sustainable and site sensitive technologies that are redefining ecotourism…(providing) more creature comforts and conveniences with private toilets, showers, solar energy and more elaborate kitchen facilities in each unit.”
It’s a small island with plenty to do but after a day of work people drank. Rum is real cheap and food is not. Buying groceries or eating out is where I spent the most money. For example, a can of Hormel chili in the states is 89 cents it would cost 1.89 on the island. Food is generally two to three times more expensive than in the states, the most expensive bulk of my money spent was on food. You can pay dollar a drink but fifteen to twenty bucks on food.

There’s a grocery store in Cruz Bay which is 45 minute ride but you don’t buy anything too perishable. If you buy milk you buy Parma lade which stays good on a shelf forever. I got really lucky in meeting Jeremy who was in between medical school. He was 24 and showed me the island. We went hiking and saw the different Bays whose crystal clear white sand beaches glowed under the hot sun, making the blue water higher in contrast. Jeremy showed me this market in which to buy goods. We’d get coffee, shop, then go somewhere and drink and take a bus back. Outside of work there was a place we called home, Woody’s. It was a tiny little bar, most are on St. John’s. They had a great happy hour, serving dollar beers and dollar mixed drinks.
Time alone was good. I read a lot. The sun went down early, around six, and by seven it was so dark you couldn’t read. I’d turn on a few lamps to get enough light. Alone time was great, listening to the ocean crash on the waves.
Night life is no different wherever you go but everyone here is from somewhere, primarily the States. One person I knew was there for thirteen years, most of the others around three years. As I met people no one asked me a game score or political questions, everyone could care less. No asked about back home and it wasn’t because of the Internet access either. Using that was akin to smoke signals because it was real slow and cost a lot at the Internet Café. People there are cut off from the world on purpose and they like it that way. Island culture is the best way to describe it. Let your mind wander at the thought. It was good to be an outcast, to be lost for a while, even if it was on populated island.
There were people hiding out from the world, with sordid pasts and that’s why they were there, to not be found. I’m not talking murderers, but people with problems in their life and intent on getting away from them. The people are so far away from wanting to live anywhere like back home in the states. They prefer the simplicity and minimalism, the small community they create for themselves. But it’s no imagined utopia either. The main source of revenue is ninety per cent tourism. A couple of tiny farms exist but you can’t grow anything substantial.
Ad like anywhere there’s people there’s corruption. There are cops but they’re shady. There’s the island mafia in which every bar pays protection money. Politicians are bent too. The same no matter where you go.
But for anything that’s bad there’s more than enough to make up for it, the cheap drinks or the wild life around every turn. I liked the donkeys in the middle of the road on a hair pin turn or the goats crossing the road randomly. They were exemplary of the essence of freedom on St. John’s. People drive fast but people on a road don’t care if a car is coming, they don’t move. It’s tricky because the roads are tiny dotted with hair pin turns. They barely fit two cars. It’s crazy, I would never want to drive there. The flipside is that anyone living there will gladly pick you up and drive you at least close to where you want to go. So, there’s a lot of hitch hiking but you can’t put your thumb out for a ride because it’s an obscene gesture. I never asked why but it’s analogous to giving the middle finger. When a car comes along you have to point in the direction you want to go.
Everywhere along the island its history is on display, from a plaque at the ferry depot or at the bays where there’s info about the wildlife. Most of St John is a state park with many protected areas. Along the roads there are remnants of old brick structures and homes. And then there’s the animals.
Donkeys, chickens, and goats are everywhere. And bushcats, who are wild but tame. They’re quite shy, a little different than regular cats but with longer legs. They may be descendants of house cats brought over and now run wild. Some hang around Concordia and they get fed regularly.
There’s a lot of rocky mountainous terrain - trees, dirt, rocks and an abundance of spiders, insects and little tiny ants. The ants are so small you can barely see, the size of a needle’s eye, really. If you have any piece of food, any crumb from your mouth that falls onto anything there’s a thousand of them in seconds. It’s imperative that you clean up really well, removing any food from your person.
The people running things don’t want you to throw your food in the trash. If you don’t finish your meal we didn’t throw it in the trash cans. We were told to throw the remaining food on the ground, just throw right out of the eco tent a la the Middle Ages. There’s so many animals on the island they’ll eat. Especially hermit crabs, thousand and thousands of the little creatures. They’ll basically eat anything being scavengers, especially coffee grounds. They love them for some reason. I’ll put them in one specific spot and leave for my six hour work shift, come back and the coffee grounds are gone. There will be forty hermit crabs there eating away, cleaning up. Eggshells, bread, anything that’s not trash, the animals running around the island will make it disappear like the most efficient of garbage men.
And then there’s scorpions.
Thursday. Let me state it differently. I woke up to a beautiful Thursday morning. Today is the day I am going to do my last load of laundry on St’ John’s. And this is a kicker in case it was mentioned previously. The washing machine and dryer are next to the pool.
I have plans to go to happy hour at Woody’s. The plan is to have a relaxed day, getting things together and wishing others well and saying goodbyes. As I am getting things together I feel a pinch on my forearm only to look down and witness that a scorpion has stung me. I was moving a bag and the scorpion was underneath. I didn’t know what to do so I just washed and washed it, hurting badly. It just stung like hell, taking fifteen minutes before the pain eventually went away. It was as though someone stuck me with a needle and moved it around while still in the skin and muscle. For those curious, it doesn’t tickle. Imagine a magician putting that big fat needle through his arm and gasping in phony pain.
But the fight wasn’t ending there. I reach for my flip flop and make towards the scorpion that looks up at me and I swear it is grinning. The scorpion tries to move but I drop down and get to work like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. The result is something barely worth sweeping out of the room. Running cold water on my arm and cleaning the wound I discover the hard way I am allergic to scorpion bites.
I finish getting my stuff together to continue laundry detail. After setting up a load to wash I show my arm and tell my war story to Nif. I stand by the dirty road waiting for VITRAN taking me to happy hour one last time. The cost is only a dollar, but the trip should come with Dramamine tablets.

I get calls every so often from Concordia, with job offers to come and work full time on the island. It is tempting, the allure of bright blue water and sunny temperatures and those with the same shining disposition of island life far away from the hustle and bustle of this world. I think of that sign on the wall behind the bar I frequented too much, drank too much cheap rum. We’re all here, cause were not all there. This is the unofficial motto of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

ISSUE 21- Gustav Haggren and Helena Arlock come to America

by Brian Tucker

Gustav Haggren and Helena Arlock saved up last autumn in Sweden working three jobs to tour the United States. They landed in New Jersey in early February and planned to travel the east coast through New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina. Before heading to Canada in April they will play three shows in Wilmington; The Juggling Gypsy on April 5th, Folks Café April 6th and Port City Java on April 7th.
Back home in Sweden Gustav plays with a six piece band The Seasick Sailors, music that is described as melodic indie-rock, but is contemporary and smooth. He is twenty two years old, never toured the U.S. before and plays guitar with a specially designed artificial hand since he was born without a right hand.
Once landing they encountered freezing weather that quickly reminded them of home. Their plan was to buy a car in which to travel but hasn’t panned out yet. Their first show was in Ithaca, New York in which Gustav took in his first American breakfast and was none too happy.
They are befriended by a couple who drive them to Clinton before continuing on to Boston. Before leaving they play a radio station at Ithaca College. Pictures are taken with a cell phone and uploaded later to the Internet, Gustav lying in the deep snow, his head covered by a large black hood.
Once in Clinton they purchase hats and gloves to combat the cold weather. They stay at the house of Nick and Jennifer who operate Melodic Revolution where Gustav and Helena will perform. Helena will make her first appearance as a solo artist. Gustav is proud.
In Clinton they try out things like Burritos, Subs and, of course, pizza. Nick showed them a store in which to buy Hummus, Bulgur, Yogurt and other vegetarian goods. In town Gustav receives his first masque ever, a good thing as the cold air is hard on his skin. Walking down Main Street a man approaches to sell Gustav a flashlight with a radio in it.
The Valentine’s Day show is cancelled due to heavy snow, the worst since 1992. They depart by train and head to Albany without a clue as where to stay. They find a cheap Econo Lodge that reeks of urine and vomit but it suffices since they’ve been running around in the cold for hours. The lodgings improve greatly the next day when the owner of their next show, Ralph at the Bayou Café, helps out.
Hanging out with Ralph’s business partner John leads to another gig perhaps. John wants to hire them to play three ABBA songs for a friend but doesn’t believe that Gustav doesn’t k know the song ‘Fernando.’
Latte, broken fingernails, aching backs, one dollar buses, disgusting hotel food, ABBA, Russian, Fat Tuesday, hangovers, doggy bags…..notes from the road.
Onwards to Hudson Valley Community College which happened after meeting a professor of psychology. The professor invited them to play and talk about their adventures so far, teaching the students there’s more to Sweden than ABBA and that polar bears do not freely walk the street..
On to Washington, D.C. where they sit idle in traffic for nearly eight hours. Once in the city they have breakfast and go open-mic hunting. It is almost March and the city is a welcome visit. Staying at a house with musicians and a studio they perform at IOTA and make new friends. Gustav spends the day buying a pair of shoes, walking a lot of miles and sees the White House. There is talk of going to Texas and Gustav is tired from travel and constant drinking.
Travel is greatly aided by generous new friends and lodgings from strangers who let them pass out on couches. They perform several songs at a pirate radio station called CPR, sharing the studio with the band These United States. At Wonderland they play together with Rose and The Great White Jenkins. Concerns about how to get from Catskill the next day with no buses, no trains. Car rentals are expensive because they are not 25. It will become a source of frustration with Gustav. Then there’s the library to visit, to print Map Quest directions.
There are more stays at new found friend’s homes and American breakfast’s to turn down since they don’t eat meat. Gustav jokes that he won’t break the ten years as vegetarian for good manners. It’s time to leave the Catskills for Connecticut, renting a smelly and expensive Ford Focus and later wishing to have taken the bus. Arriving, the two are greeted with orange juice and a college radio station.
Driving north to Kingston, which is close to Woodstock, the pair seems happy. They meet Paul who appears to be old enough to have been around during the first Woodstock. He says that Gustav and Helena look like two people he knows; Magnolia and Valentine and that he once sold a painting to Stockholm and wondered if they’d seen it. They shake their heads, thanking him.
Returning the car to the rental agency it’s a short wait before another train station. While eating disgusting food at a Mickey D’s Gustav sells a record to an employee. The employee saw their instruments and was determined to buy a record. At the train station it’s a two hour wait and some lyrics are written. Then, north again.
It’s March 6, 2007, cold as hell and it’s a day off. Gustav has coffee and thinks about the four shows in a row coming up. There’s many after that. The tour is really expanding and he is enjoying it. He types a quote from a travel friend, Alina by St. Augustine, into a computer:
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page”
The road has carried Gustav and Helena a long way, creating music and recording five demos in Maine at Brown Dog Studios and recording a live show back in Clinton. They played The Bitter End in New York City, do laundry and a little sight seeing, cruising around the big apple with friend Linus who is half Swedish, half Korean and raised in Australia but born in Helsingborg. Imagine. Arriving at a guesthouse in Queens, Gustav meets a guy who left Gustav’s hometown in Sweden at the age of three.
It really is a small world.

How long before coming to the U.S did you plan to tour?
6 months or so. I and Helena must have sent out around 500 emails to different venues on the east coast. We explained to the venues that we were traveling on our own small budget.

Were there a lot of dates set up prior to arriving?
Yeah, I guess we had 15 shows scheduled when we came but that expanded quickly. We met people and they set us up for more gigs and so on…after a while we had to turn down offers because there simply were no days available. That’s kind of cool.

How long before you bought a car here in the states to use? Was that the plan all along?
Well, we tried to buy a car from DAY 1 and I still don’t have a car. You don’t want to get me started on this; I’m still pissed off about the whole thing. We can’t buy a car because we can’t get insurance…we can’t get insurance because we’re not US residents…we can’t afford renting a car since we’re under 25 years old.

Jake Melnyk said you were using a Greyhound bus to tour.

Yeah, sometimes that, sometimes AMTRAK. We’ve been lucky getting a couple of rides actually. We got a ride from Troy, New York to Washington, DC then a ride back to Catskill, New York. Helena is carrying a huge cello so we can’t fit in all kinds of cars.

How much of a culture shock has it been?
All these food commercials...eat this, eat that, grease, triple pork and so on…I don’t know…the sad thing is that it hasn’t been much of a culture shock since Sweden is losing its own culture and is becoming more and more Americanized. We’ve seen a lot of snow so it has felt like home.

Have people been generous and curious about the shows?
Oh yeah. We’ve met amazing people. We played this show and we were suppose to sleep on couches at the place and these two women were driving home then they turned back to get us. We got a king-size bed! One great part about this trip has been meeting all of these amazing musicians that I would never have heard over in Sweden.

How many shows so far? Too hectic?
Let’s see…according to my Sonic Bids we’ve played 25 shows since we arrived 6 weeks ago so that’s not too bad. Its’ been hectic but not too hectic. It’s been a great ride.

Did you like the invite to speak at the college? What types of things did you discuss?
Oh, yeah, that was really cool. We talked about putting yourself out there, give up your apartment, work 7 days a week just to be able to challenge yourself and the things you love to do. Then we discussed my view on Americans…they laughed when I said we picked the East coast because I thought they were smarter…haha.

Has there been any impromptu gigs?
Oh yeah, open mics, gigs booked the same day as we played, private parties, studio sessions.

What has been your impression of Americans, the culture, the hustle and bustle of the cities?
I’ve met so many kind and inspiring people so there are a lot of good impressions. What is interesting is that I haven’t met a single person that seems to agree with this country’s politics. New York City has a great pulse that just hits you walking down the streets at night. It seems like everyone is trying to make it big here which is kind of funny. I’ve met actors, opera singers, burlesque performers, midnight saxophone players etc...I love it, I really do. I really like the multicultural feel to it as well; you can find extraordinary food for cheap money.

Are you homesick or just enjoying yourself completely?
Well, I gave up my home so no, I don’t feel homesick at all. It feels like I’m only in the beginning of something great that is going to change everything.

What types of things have you done to save money? Besides the library to print maps, what other resources have come in handy?
Gorgeous friends. Text messaging on Wal-Mart phones...cooking Swedish dishes for people who let us stay at their houses…long walks…doggy bags…Subway – eat half for lunch and the other for dinner…we saved two stray cats today, I hope that will save some of my bad karma and give me some good. We call them Seymour and See Less since one of them can open only one of his eyes (Seymour) but the other can’t open any of them (See Less). I thought I was going out tonight but I’m cat-sitting. Hopefully we can find them an all-American home tomorrow.

LIVE CLIP: :http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=1392549132


ISSUE 21 - Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou

photo: Josh Bender

By Josh Spilker

I was walking down Wilmington’s Front Street in early March, going to meet Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou. They were playing that night with Sparta and Aloha for an emo/modern rock and roll show. A larger than average bus was idle outside of the Soapbox with the words “Altus, OK Bulldogs” in intimidating typeface. Oklahoma. Which of the bands were from Oklahoma? The license plate, however, was the indicator. Pennsylvania. The home of mewithoutYou, and its front man Aaron Weiss.

Aaron isn’t sure how or why they ended up with this bus, but they have remade it into their own image. He invites me up into it for a second, and I enter into their homemade motor home. There is a long counter for cooking, a dinette table for eating, and a couple of couches on the side with a clear center aisle leading to their back bunks. The bus is also retrofitted to use biodiesel fuel, i.e. vegetable oil.

“When we got it it was diesel,” says Aaron. “It’s run to rig on straight vegetable oil. There’s no need to convert an engine to run on biodiesel.”

For a touring band, this is a large undertaking. Vegetable oil is not exactly available at every gas station, unless you hit the ones with the McDonald’s or Taco Bell.

“At Philly we have a couple of places that we collect it from, we just have a handshake agreement, and they’ll set it aside for us and maybe once a week we’ll pick it up,” continues Aaron. “When we travel, we’ll just stop at restaurants and knock on the back door and say can we pump it out your dumpster.”

We approach the intersection of Front Street and Chestnut, and I almost ask Aaron if he wants to go to the library. I figure it’s not a bad place for a former English major and a guy who studied to be a teacher. But as we approach the intersection, Weiss makes a beeline for a trashcan. He pulls off the lid with a loud whoosh. The lid clangs against the side of the can.

“I look into these for napkins or condiments, anything that people throw away,” explains Aaron. He rifles through the first one, but only finds a few napkins from Kilwin’s Ice Cream which he places inside his ratty, brown corduroy hoodie with patches on the elbows. His version of a professor’s tweed coat. “You can use this for any number of things, you don’t have to buy paper towels all the time if you find enough of these.”

Most fans of mewithoutYou are taken because of Aaron Weiss. Later that night when the band starts into its Fugazi-inspired melodic rock, Aaron nods, waves, spins, twirls and wildly bounces. These are the elements that define a mewithoutYou experience. Aaron’s cryptic lyrics are punctuated with his trademark spoken word poetry slam shouting. He flings the tambourines against his head. He vibrates with a pair of maracas like a buzzing cell phone. Weiss is not a loose cannon, he knows exactly what he’s doing. He is mesmerizing all of us. It’s not the aloof elitism of a lead singer rock star, it is the action of a man who wants to entertain, even if it’s himself.

photo: Lesle Ann Bond

Talking with Aaron outside of his stage self, music seems more like a job than a hobby, which of course it is. He is at a job, a job at which he excels and never expected to be in. And sometimes he likes his job and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he likes the young suburban core of the band’s fans, and sometimes he wishes there was a more diverse cross-section of people and ages. Like any job, Aaron is finding a way to balance his views with the greater good. Though their level of success isn’t gargantuan, it’s enough to let them tour with acts like Thursday, Brand New, and now with Sparta. All bands that fly just under the radar of modern rock radio. But Aaron’s unique philosophies and interests add to his lore. One of things we talk about is communal living, and his experience with a Christian-based commune in Philadelphia called The Simple Way.

“They decide to live in a rugged neighborhood on purpose, and try to reach out to help their neighbors by passing out food or passing out blankets in the winter or like having people over, and treating people with respect and things like that,” explains Aaron about The Simple Way. “I think those things are for everybody, taking care of people, and trying to become lower rather than trying to climb a social ladder and become richer than other people and have nicer things, and being willing to humble yourself.”

Stop here. At the risk of crossing whatever journalistic lines that were once real and now possibly only imaginary, I need to say that Aaron Weiss was one of the most humble people I have ever met. Weiss is not humble for a “rockstar” or for a person who performs in front of 500 people every night that pay to see what he does, his humility and kindness is striking for anyone. His persona is one of caring and meekness, where his personal needs and attributes are in deference to those around him. When I first met him at the Soapbox, he asked me if he was late. For the uninitiated to the world of rock journalism that I by no means really can claim to be a part of, this NEVER happens. The rock stars are ALWAYS late. ALWAYS. Even the ones who aren’t really rock stars, perhaps such as Aaron. Continue on.

But the essence of communal living, especially in the Christian sense, which The Simple Way is a part of, focuses on helping others and sharing common goods. This is different than any free love hippie associations, but that doesn’t mean that all Christian communes look the same.

“Some of the communities I’ve visited, they have different ways and looks,” continues Aaron. “Sometimes they share all their money, sometimes there is a common fund and everyone has a personal allowance that they could do what they want with you know, sometimes there is one person in charge of finances…it can look a lot of different ways. Sometimes everybody lives in one house, or sometimes it’s in a neighborhood and people are scattered. I don’t think that there’s a prescription for how people should live or how it should look, but I think the important thing outside of anything—“

At this point, we stop walking. We are along the water, just to the right of the Coast Guard docking area. Aaron approaches a trashcan, and its lid makes the customary gonging sound as it falls. Aaron shifts the bag around.

“What is that?” Aaron asks peering down into the folds of the bag. “I’m always stoked when it weighs a lot. OUUUGGGGGGGGGHHH,” Aaron exclaims “What is it?”

From the tips of his thumb and forefinger, Aaron unveils a pack of slimy translucent globes. “It’s like squid or something.”
“Should you leave that?” I ask.
“No, this is dinner,” Aaron responds.
“Do you ever worry about germs?”
“Um, no, maybe I should, but I don’t.”

Aaron also reels in a pack of mullets, with a label that reads: “Not Fit For Human Consumption.” Aaron dumps the mullet into the river, noting that someone or something should be able to eat it. This time he finds a grocery bag also in the trash, and carries the squid with him to take back to the bus. By the end of our journey, Aaron also finds one Twix bar left in the original wrapping (“Why would they leave the second one, they know what Twix tastes like.” Aaron says).

All of the talk of communes, finding and sharing leads us to the next contention of conversation: God. This is not necessarily a standard topic for bands, but to mewithoutYou and to Aaron it’s essential. Not only is their label usually affiliated with Christian bands (Tooth and Nail Records), but also because Aaron’s lyrics glean from many Biblical allusions. I begin by asking him about what he thinks are the most common misconceptions about God.

“It’s hard to speak on behalf of God,” Aaron begins. “I mean, I know I have a lot of misconceptions about God. I don’t know, who God is, I can’t tell you with any real authority. I’m in a rock band, and I’m 28 years old, and I haven’t figured out hardly anything. I guess, the most misconception---The point on which I disagree with most Christians seems to be the idea that, at least most Christians I come across is the idea that Christians go to heaven, and non-Christians go to hell. The sense of how this is how you get saved. You become a Christian by saying this prayer and going to church and reading the Bible. Whereas to me, saying that particular prayer that people believe will get you to heaven, or going to a church, or memorizing the Bible, or doing any of the things people say that Christians do, has nothing to do with rather or not you’re actually following Jesus.”

Aaron wants me to understand that he doesn’t necessarily speak for the band on all issues, and that each of their relationships with God is different and that each of them may believe a different thing about God and Christianity. They may also disagree with his views on commerce, lifestyle or eating habits. What is clear is that Aaron is very concerned about the life people are actually living compared to the one they are claiming to live. It’s a life of accountability.

“To me it’s much less relevant what a person says and what building they go to than what they do,” says Aaron. I don’t just mean that if you sell all your possessions and give to the poor, then you’re a Christian. It’s like I said, it’s the state of your heart. You could do those things to try and show off or try to one up somebody else or even be seen in your own eyes as really holy and wonderful. The common thread that I’m inspired by in the Scriptures is that of lowliness, and brokenness and humility. I just want to keep an eye on my motivations---“

We make it back over to the bus, the Altus Bulldogs mascot emblem still growling away. No one in the bus is interested in the squid, they’re all a little freaked out by it. Aaron offers the squid to Penny, the dog, but it’s soon agreed that Penny does not need the squid in case her diarrhea comes back and I don’t ask any questions about Penny’s medical history. Aaron also passes on the squid. He leaves the squid on top of a trashcan outside of The Soapbox, in case anybody wants it.

For more info on Mewithoutyou, visit their album website, www.brother-sister.net or www.myspace.com/mewithoutyou.
For more info on The Simple Way in Philadelphia, visit www.thesimpleway.org


by Brian Tucker

Art is anywhere, anytime; it just depends on your viewpoint. Subway cars in the Seventies and Eighties became mobile murals in New York City. Not every artist can afford a canvas to create on; some people’s imagination exceeds their grasp. Sometimes to canvas is bigger than ourselves. Look at Banksy or Michelangelo. Sometimes the canvas is really small.
And free. Complimentary of the U.S. Post Office.
Local artist Camden Noir lived in Wilmington about seven months when the idea arrived one night; to create a book project based on artwork he’d seen drawn on Post Office mailing labels numbered Label 228. The project is composed of street artists, post office stickers, and a common interest….art. The book will be a conglomerate of Label 228 stickers from the post office, recreated and hand done from people all over the world. Camden created several years ago, sticking them up at school “and local downtown shit holes where everyone could see them, but I never actually dedicated myself to doing them.”
The idea came about last March and has found its way around the world via the Internet and MySpace. Having mailed labels to places as disparate as Austria, France, Germany, the U.K. and California, the furthest submission came from Australia.

“Its funny how art brings everyone together.”
Camden is currently working with Gingko Press and “hashing out ideas” he says, hoping to get the book published by late August. “Right now it’s in the air.” The book seeks to collect as much of the artwork possible and present different voices.
“I would see the Label 228 stickers and wondered why people would waste artwork on a stop sign or streetlamp.” As a graffiti artist he understood but wanted to create something to showcase the artwork instead of random chances when someone walks by it.
Street art appeals to Camden, having been a stencil graffiti artist for several years. “You go to a museum and see a painting and admire the brush strokes and textures but with street art, you admire the drain pipe the person climbed to showcase their work.”
Considering it lost art, since few people consider street art legitimate, Camden is interested in graffiti not only for its artistic qualities but the personal risk involved in addition to the emotion behind the work and its meaning.
“I’m interested by the type of spray paint they used or how long they were there and if any cops drove by a street down and couldn’t see them.” Near the parking deck on Front Street there was a piece of an eight foot tall underage kid with a gun signifying the problems in Africa. It moved him to the point he cried when it was covered up.

Peel Magazine has aided in furthering the Label 228 project. The founder agreed to sell the book on his site and do a write-up. “He respects the arts and cares about more than money and ad space, which I respect immensely. It’s going to be a pleasure to work with him.”
Obtaining the labels online has been become harder than it once was. Years ago anyone could go to USPS website, make up a fake name and receive the stickers, a thousand, for free. Now, after seeing how many stickers were being dispersed, the post office has made it more difficult to get them. “You can still go to the local post office and get them by the hundreds.”
Interesting submissions have come in from artists Downtimer and Zoso as well as two collaboration stickers from Downtimer, Matt Linares and Daniel Fleres. But submissions are welcome from everyone, not just big name artists. Everyone is welcome, as are the variety of artistic ideas.
“I received a submission from someone who wrote an anonymous love letter to an unknown person on the postal sticker and sent that in. It was beautiful. Its funny how many words you can fit on a 4" x 5" surface.”

In preparation for an art show June at ArtFuel, Inc. Camden has been preparing large canvas pieces. Doing mostly stencil graffiti on canvas has led to exploring the streets of Wilmington to locate new wall space. The art show is comprised of Camden and two other artists in which the theme is “in your face, open-eyed, political statements and television.”
I ask about being an ‘outsider artist’ and if that’s a fair description. Having met Camden on the street downtown and elsewhere I am a little surprised by his answer. “Most people would consider me an outsider. This is about as sociable as I get,” referring to the interview by e-mail. But the artist is friendly and conversational, yet remains steadfast concerning his privacy, recently ditched the use of phones.



by Brian Tucker

It’s a chilly St. Paddy’s Day. Inside a large white tent outside Fibber McGee’s stands a shaky rented stage. Like a circus tent, two large poles point to the cold, near spring sky. Green balloons rest against the top as if waiting to escape. Down front is a checkerboard black and white dance floor, squares large as if a human sized chessboard. People dance at the foot of it, mostly girls with tans that are early for this time of year. They dance with each other, bare stomachs and hair tied up. A few have green balloons tied to their head like characters from Dr. Seuss’s playful world.
They are dancing to rock and roll music, not classic rock, but blistering and funky rock and roll. The New Nation is into their third set for the day, opening with an original tune, ‘Freedom.’ The band moves, both musically and literally, setting fire to both their original songs and the ones they cover. But cover is a loose term. Of the covers, save for ‘Red House,’ they are reinterpretations of the original version. ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ is made funkier, devoid of its marching rhythm, replaced with a laid back swagger. The same could be said of ‘Midnight Rambler,’ but their take, while funkier, also benefits from blistering guitar interplay between guitarists Callaway Rich and Rob Ronner. Whereas Ronner is upfront in his playing, Callaway is content play along soulfully, letting his playing burn feverishly and do the talking.
The band feeds off one another, moving around a lot. They like to open with ‘Freedom’ because it tends to loosen people up, letting a crowd know they mean business. The cross between funk and rock is where the band is moving towards. One minute it can melt a crowd and cools them back down the next.
The stage is swaying back and forth slightly. Ronner plays the guitar high up on his chest, belts out lyrics and steps away to play more intensely. Drummer Brian Collins is complete power, hammering away behind the kit as well as singing on some songs. Bassist Brennan Simmons is the most sedate of the band, strumming along, enjoying the groove. But as the sets play on his energy comes from somewhere hidden, half jumping up and down and bobbing his head to the rhythm. The New Nation is band who moves around the stage a lot. The music is not necessarily performed, but experienced, taken to a place, if you are willing, to go with them.
One need only listen to the breakdown at the heart of ‘She’s Got to Go,’ an implosion of funk and rock powerful enough to make Humble Pie and Sly Stone proud. The breakdown brings the song to its knees and then right back up. Those brief silences make it all the more intense, Zeppelin-esque (think ‘Bring It On Home’) without sounding anything like Zeppelin.
The New Nation is many different things, rock, funk, a little jam band and intent on finding something in the music. The point is to make music that isn’t disposable, that is soulful and unflinchingly honest. There is no gimmicks, no packaging, no pretensions, just the belief that music is not disposable but a part of living.

Ronner, whose height is a minor characteristic until he steps off the stage, sits his guitar down and approaches, his shirt soaked with sweat. He is a good foot taller than the average six foot tall person. His voice is raspy but unnoticeable while singing.
Callaway steps off stage and breaks a wide grin. Onstage he appears serious. From behind long black hair a single eye is visible and looks utterly focused. Once it’s done, after he pulls away his guitar from the speaker and places it down he changes. He loves music. He comes over and mentions The Red Devils, a band we both share a rabid interest in. He tells me he’s trying to get a copy of The Red Devils’ singer, Lester Butler’s other band called 13. It’s a strange name for a band given Butler’s demise. But if you ever heard The Red Devil’s only album, King King, you’d bare witness to the power of a band, of how playing live can melt your mind in the best way. Inside the tent at Fibber’s was evidence of that power, melding rock and funk and soul with heavy playing. Sheer power.
The band leaves long enough to grab a beer before the next set. It’s been a busy weekend, playing the night before outside in the cold, today’s set in the warmth of the tent and another show in only a few hours outside in the cold again.

The New Nation started coming together less than a year ago when Ronner and fellow guitar player Callaway, who moved to Wilmington from Ohio after finishing college, started playing around Wilmington. Ronner played solo for a while, doing semi acoustic sets around town for several hours at a stretch. That went on for months with friend Jake on Congas.
It was just over a year ago I Interviewed Ronner for Avenue and he was talking then about forming a band. He was doing well for himself at the time but there was the sense he wanted more, that he wanted to play with other musicians. “It’s fun to play with a band,” he said at the time. “I’m more into rocking now,” he says today.
Sunday afternoon, after the St. Paddy’s gig, a black cat slinks through the back yard of Ronner’s home. It’s chilly out, the sun is full and a gentle southern blue sky hangs over. The band sits on lawn furniture, sipping cold beers, while brushed with a cold breeze that makes new leaves cackle softly. They all get along like brothers, cutting up and pushing and shoving at each other.
“Some shows we play by the seat of our pants, no set list,” Brennan says. “We’ll look at each other and say, “Hey, what do you want to start with?”
“We know our set list front to back,” Brian says. “So we don’t need one.”
“Opening for someone we have a set list,” Brennan adds. The band opened for Tishamingo recently at Front Street Music Hall. “Those are great guys, fun dudes who play damn good music.”

Brennan lived in New Orleans and left before Hurricane Katrina. He lived in Chaumet, the only place not covered by the levee system. It doesn’t exist anymore. Eight miles from French Quarter, Brenna bartended there, but did not play music.
“It’s all the same, Zydeco. Pretty cool jazz scene, though.”
His musical influence came from the heart, his mom, who played in an eighteen piece Big Band. Not being able to afford a baby sitter she brought Brennan along to the gigs. His mother, Donna Merritt, plays locally as a professional pianist at Circa 1922 and Costello’s. Brennan grew up playing drums listening to Big Band and Swing music. At 18, still in high school, he went on a tour playing in an Elvis impersonation band in casinos.
“She got me the gig. She played piano for them and they just canned their drummer,” Brennan says. “That’s where I learned to just go and do it. I rather fail miserably rather than looking back.”
Ronner first met Callaway at The Rusty Nail, heard him play a solo and was impressed. The two hit it off and when Callaway moved to Wilmington to live with his girlfriend the germination of the band started. Callaway played most of last summer’s gigs with Ronner. After one at the Ale House, Brennan sent an e-mail. The bassist came over and Ronner felt good about it.
“I said we’re getting somewhere now and then Brennan suggested Brian for drums,” Ronner says. “He obviously paid attention to what was on the record (Ronner’s solo disc All in Time). Everything came together really well for a first practice.”
“We went and played that night,” Brennan says. “Just flew by the seat of our pants.”
Ronner played an acoustic set and then brought the rest of the band on and they played for an hour and a half. In the last six months The New Nation has been moving towards its own sound.
“I like jam bands but we don’t go into a twelve minute opus, we do it within reason, keep it tight but interesting for ourselves,” Callaway explains. “With originals we try to keep them going for a little bit unless there’s something in the moment that sparks our interest to explore more. I want to continue to look for our sound. Right now its still rock but it has a different groove to it. There’s a Meters influence, Dr. John, its groove rock.”
The songs on All in Time sound nothing like the band now. They don’t play acoustic much because the momentum tends to drop out when they play it.
“They’re good tunes,” Brennan says.
“The energy just falls out,” Ronner “You open up with ‘Freedom’ or ‘She’s Got To Go’ and the walls start melting. ‘She’s a Dime’ is all wah peddle and funked out, a heads up to the Meters.”
“Yeah, exactly,” Brennan says. “When we started out we still played ‘Candy Cane’ like it was on the record. Now, it sounds so much smarter, edgier, we jam it out much longer than it was.”
“On the album, it was a pretty funk tune,” Ronner adds. “Everything we do is funky and we add a raw dog feel to it. Nothing we do is overly pretty, but it’s together.”
Everyone’s school of playing is a little different. Brennan is at the opposite end coming with a background of pop college music like Toad the Wet Sprocket or Duncan Sheik. “Our sound is polished but it’s not pretty,” Brennan says. “Rob and Callaway are jam guitarists and Brian beating the hell out of it, throwing down Bonham style.”
In addition to more up-tempo sounds and guitar players is the addition of drums. Brian came from a metal background, playing in bands doing a lot of cover tunes. Bands like Audacity where he met Brennan, seeing the bassist play at the Mellow Mushroom.
“I found Rob and it’s been great ever since. Brennan and I met at an open mic night and got along really well. “Brennan saw Rob at the Ale House and his then girlfriend said for me to go and audition. But I didn’t right away.”
“He was playing hard to get,” Ronner jokes. “We started out doing covers. You have to do them at bars. Not that I don’t dig the songs I just don’t dig copping someone else’s song. I’d rather do our own stuff.”
The songs they cover are well known but they sound different. The band just bakes differently when playing other people’s music. “We don’t really try, it’s just the way it comes out,” Brennan says.
‘Feeling Alright’ is an old stand by and their version of ‘One Way Out’ ignores the double time on the drums. Both Ronner and Callaway are strong guitar players and at some point it begs the question, do they run over one another, clashing in their interplay on stage?

“Callaway and I are real good at staying out of each other’s way. He’s a big fan of playing big chords and I used to play jazz all the time. If he’s on the low end then I’m high. We just have a good sense of that, especially solos. We came from the same school of guitar players for the most part. Our top ten guitar players probably varies by two people. We’re into the same kind of cats, born with the same kind of style. If he’s been rockin somewhere in a position for enough time you can feel it coming. We kind of think the same way.”
While that may be true the learning came from two different ways of educating. “Rob is more of a songwriter type but also in terms of his guitar playing he tends to have a little more technique on me, taking jazz classes in college,” Callaway says. “I’m more of a go straight for the jugular type. I never really did that. I learned the basic chords and definitely more of a harder type, more aggressive than he is. He definitely has some great technique to him.”

Just a forty-five minute drive from Detroit, Callaway Rich grew up in Toledo, Ohio. The influence of the music spilled over, introducing Callaway to blues rock by the likes of Bob Seger and the energy of Ted Nugent.
His father was into Allman Brothers, southern rock and the British wave of blues rock while his mother is from South America to which Callaway lived in a house filled with a lot of Hispanic music growing up. Between the two he found common ground. Whenever he needs to reevaluate his guitar playing it’s the early albums of Santana that put things in perspective.
“When I’m getting in a rut, not really pushing my self, I listen to the stuff that excited me and inspired me to play,” he says. Albums like Santana’s Abraxas or tracks like ‘Samba Pa Ti.’ “The first album by Santana had the Latin drums I was used to hearing growing up…and kick ass guitar. “
The budding guitarist took lessons until his instructor told said that he didn’t feel like teaching Callaway anymore. The instructor was saying the only way Callaway would get better came meant playing with other musicians.
“In bands, you learned what was gonna work or what didn’t,” Callaway says.
“That’s your college,” Brennan adds.
By the late teens he was trying to play more blues stuff. Some local musicians took him in but he still had to earn a spot. The alternative music scene in clubs downtown offered experience but it didn’t satisfy.
“It still had a classic guitar sound but I wanted to learn something for myself. I wanted someone to teach me something.” While many of his friends were getting into Korn he began jamming with harmonica players and singers….learning. “I respect it (Korn) for what it was but I was gonna go listen to Muddy Waters.”
Instead of playing with people his own age, Callaway found himself in a world of much older guys.

“It’s like, if I’m gonna go to war, I’m gonna go with a guy who’s been in a war as opposed to someone who’s studied warfare. I played with a lot of old blues guys who’ve been around, playing with some gruff motherfuckers, so I always tried to look hard being fifteen, sixteen, playing with a 65 year old black guy in a pin striped suit, trying not to look like I should be sitting outside of the club on breaks hoping somebody will buy me a beer. It developed to where I look mean. My girlfriend says I look mean all the time.”
Mean or not, what he learned about playing was subtlety and command, knowing when it’s required for you to do something and not do something.
“It’s about subtlety. I can remember being sixteen on stage trying to rip the guitar solo and play behind my head and some mean sonofabitch telling me if I did it again he was gonna kick my ass off the stage. Restraint is definitely a missing art form in music.”
Those experiences shaped him as a player and a musician, not just performing with humbleness and dexterity but knowing what he wants in a band. The New Nation is the most focused of any group he’s played with, as far as what all the members want.
“I’ve been playing with Rob for a year now. On top of practicing we were out in front of people several nights a week. When you’re in front of people, you have to sink or swim.”
Callaway’s plan was to play lead guitar with Ronner as a side man at first, as a member of Ronner’s backing band. Now, Ronner still writes the bulk of material but it is developed by the band. He comes in with a skeleton of a song and the band completes it.
“He comes in with a melody and it gets all banged out when we play it together,” Callaway says.

Originally, the band started out as Rob Ronner and Creation Nation. Ronner left his name on so people who liked him would know it was still him with aiming to take his name off later. But the alliteration was too much. Sitting around a bar one night someone said “how about the New Nation?”
It spoke to an idea Ronner has held since that interview a year ago, that it was time for everything come full circle again in these times of American Idol. There’s always been that, been a Star Search and pop music. But Ronner is aware of what’s being sold to the public and how easily it’s consumed, with little questioning. He speaks plainly about it but his comments are brimming with passion for a new direction.
“It’s got to give; it’s coming to a head. The New Nation is a new approach, where people aren’t eating what they’re being fed anymore. They want to look for things, get more out of music than what they’re getting right now. Not putting it on just to bob your head or work out…a new age of where bubblegum stuff moves out. There are a so many great people out there that are being overlooked for what’s packaged and easy. When I see a lot of these new bands being signed, not to take away from them, but there’s quite a few I’d put ahead of them. Our tunes are playful but have something serious. Vonnegut said you kill yourself if you start putting politics in your art (from Wampeters, Foma & Granfallons) I’m cool with that, that makes a lot of sense. It hit me hard; to not make this a political thing, but to bring people together, make them happy. “
It’s not that the band isn’t looking for a catchy song to get people to remember them; the importance is to create something to put on a shelf and want to listen to over the years, music that means something and has a place.
“We have songs like ‘Goodbye to Rain’ that’s been going over real well because the sound,” Brian says.
“When I was writing it, I hit that chorus the first time even before the band got together. I thought that’s gonna be big. Callaway plays slide on it which I wouldn’t thought would have worked,” Ronner says. “Really good choice.”
As a drummer, Brian gets to see the band gel. “I get to watch the three of them, feed off watching everyone playing, it helps me keep my momentum the way Rob and Callaway feed off one another, Rob leaning back and Callaway’s eyes rolling back in his head. We do a Dead tune, ‘Franklin’s Tower’ and they both take a solo then incorporate together and it’s amazing to see.” Brian adds. “My playing has evolved, coming from a metal crowd; I take my playing in stride, having evolved into a whole different style. Local drummer Sam Bryant, who played with Kenny Wayne Sheppard, has been a lot of help to me.”
Ronner is equally admiring. “You add a color that wouldn’t be there otherwise. We were playing an acoustic show and the way Brian was playing a guy came up and said we should cover Jethro Tull. That’s what Brian’s drumming is, it’s pretty heavy. He’s good, when he wants to lay back he can lay back but he can pepper the shit when he wants to,” Ronner says.