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A work in progress: Leo, dreamer, ocean craver, insomniac, skeptic, optimist, coffee junkie, nocturnal, collector, big sister, first born. Part of the story: I am Jennifer Baron, multi-instrumentalist of The Garment District. I previously played organ, melodica and percussion in the Pittsburgh soul combo, The New Alcindors, with whom I once had the privilege of using a Fender guitar amp that belonged to Clarence White of The Byrds, while recording at Nashvilleâ€™s legendary Castle Studios.
While living in Brooklyn until 2002, I was a founding member of The Ladybug Transistor (Merge Records). Among my many transformative experiences then were touring in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Scandinavia; performing with Belle & Sebastian, Broadcast and Mercury Rev at The Bowlie Weekender (the first All Tomorrowâ€™s Parties); touring with musical comrades such as Of Montreal, The Lucksmiths and Elephant 6 friends; and collaborating with Soft Machine co-founder Kevin Ayers on a cover of his song â€œPuis-Je?â€ for the â€œPop Romantique: French Pop Classicsâ€ compilation (Emperor Norton Records).
I have worked at the vast Brooklyn Museum of Art and in Pittsburgh at the Mattress Factory, a pioneering contemporary art space, where many of my favorite international artists have worked in residence, including James Turrell, Yayoi Kusama, John Cage, Kiki Smith, and Rolf Julius. I am an obsessive crafter/collector and I help run Handmade Arcade, Pittsburgh’s DIY/indie craft fair. In 2010, I co-produced a book about vintage signs: Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania.
Sometimes hazy, sometimes articulateâ€”songs and sounds that hover at the intersection of psych-pop, soundtracks, experimentation, and synth-driven ambience. A friend describes it better, saying Melody Elder is going into his â€œreverie playlist,â€ and a Tiny Mix Tapes blogger wrote that â€œBird Or Batâ€ is his â€œnew night-walk jam.â€ Iâ€™ll gladly take that.Â
Peux-tu expliquer le choix du nom du groupe, The Garment District ? How did you come up with the band name?
The Garment District is me, with the occasional help of a few patient family members and friends. I came up with the name to reflect my love for vintage textiles and fashion, sewing and crafting, as well as my deep respect for the women â€”many anonymousâ€” who toiled in dangerous conditions in specific neighborhoods in cities around the world.
I am a crafter, so the name suits my other artistic outlets. I am very drawn to the way certain words sound and look, both when spoken/heard and when written as typeface. For me, The Garment District implies a sense of making, creative labor, production, and innovation that I hope is reflected in my music and videos. I like the idea of taking an overarching concept of a place/space that has certain connotations, and that involved an unfathomable amount of human labor and energy on a mass commercial scale, and co-opting it for a project that is very homespun, tactile and visceral, especially given that my debut release is via a handmade limited-edition cassette. When I lived in NYC, I was obsessed with shopping for vintage trimmings on lower Canal St. and in Brooklyn warehouses.
When I write music, I donâ€™t concretely or consciously think about influences. I focus on listening to what is in my head and interpreting and giving it form via sound. My hope is that it takes on a new life that is out of my control cerebrally. Films (I am addicted to watching documentaries)â€”as much as musicâ€”such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Swimmer, Bunny Lake Is Missing, The Wicker Man, Grey Gardens, Seconds, Suspiriaâ€”and experimental cinema of the 1960s-1970sâ€”inspire me to translate what I hear in my head into music. I think more in terms of inspiration as an energy force, rather than a traceable or literal influence. Things seep into your subconscious and may end up making their way into your artistic voice in unrecognizable or partially discernible ways. I am endlessly in awe and of and uplifted by a massive range of musicâ€”1960s-1970s psychedelia, folk, pop, garage, freakbeat; 1950s-1960s rocksteady and ska; early electronic music; free jazz; 1980s NYC hip hop; 1970s-1980s pop and new wave from Scotland, New Zealand and Australia; and film soundtracks and TV and cartoon theme shows.
I can be just as inspired by a Sesame Street interstitial or a BBC Radiophonic Workshop vignette, or by childrenâ€™s books by Remy Charlip, as I can by my favorite albums by The Beach Boys, Lee Hazlewood, Gene Clark, Syd Barrett, The Left Banke, The Zombies, The Soft Machine, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Love, or The Kinks. There is music that will always just BE in my life, and then there is that amazing moment when you discover something you have never heard before, when you realize how crucial it is to always keep your mind open and listening and waiting. An example of that came for me when I first heard the 2010 reissue of Jim Sullivan’s haunting UFO. My parents raised my three brothers and me on what I call the « Leonard-Cohen-Bob-Dylan-Neil-Young-Trinity, » and their Beach Boysâ€™ LPs were our first toys. That kind of inspiration comes from something that is so unattainably beautiful and can never be repeated, yet it also propels you to create. Contemporary stuff I listen includes KWJAZ, Rangers, Matrix Metals, Peaking Lights, Wet Hair, James Ferraro, The Soft Moon.
I get quite overwhelmed by the rapid-fire influx of new music, especially given the way music is shared digitally, so I often retreat and only want to listen to music I own on vinyl. For me, itâ€™s a more complete, visceral and authentic experience of someone’s vision, but I know that is not always feasible or relevant, so I try to also embrace the more temporal fractured exchange of music. Some of my favorite music from the 1990s still moves me to tears, such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Broadcast, Beachwood Sparks, The Supreme Dicks, My Bloody Valentine, The Olivia Tremor Control, Fugu (from France). There are astounding 1960sâ€“1980s reissues to keep up with on labels like Sundazed, Light in the Attic, Dark Entries, and Numero Groupâ€”it makes my head spin.
I crave the ocean, partially because I was born at the Jersey Shore Medical Center. All of my baby pictures are on beaches. The sea provides a state of bliss that I cannot attain elsewhere, so the waves would serve as album numero uno. But I cannot live without music, so for starters:
Mayo Thompson – Corkyâ€™s Debt to His Father
The Golden Dawn – Power Plant
John Cale – Paris 1919 & Vintage Violence
Kaleidoscope – Tangerine Dream
Judy Henske and Jerry Yester – Farewell Aldebaran
Harald Groskopf – Synthesist
Jim Sullivan – UFO
Gene Clark – Echoes and Roadmaster
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets & Talking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies
Neil Young – Neil Young
Quels sentiments/message essaye-tu de faire passer dans ta musique ? What kind of vibe/message are you trying to convey with your music?
What I hear into your hears. I will leave most of that up to listeners. I genuinely hope that meaningful relationships and visceral connections are formed between listeners and my music. When I write, I donâ€™t actually think about a message. For me, Melody Elder reflects real and imagined folk-psych sounds, settings and heroes, as well as an unusual yet vaguely familiar sound. I am very attached to objects in general, including analog instruments, and to evocative melodies, fractured experience, texture, and impressions of places and experience. Iâ€™d rather defer to what a musician friend of mine wrote, after he heard Melody Elder:
« Your music makes me feel like I am 10 years old, stayed at home sick on a school day watching Inside/Out on PBS. The record gives me the oddest combination of wistful wanting to go back to some far away virginal loneliness and a more blissful almost mushroom-tripping elfin magic thing. »
As-tu des attentes particuliÃ¨res avec Melody Elder? Did you have specific goals for Melody Elder?
Releasing a tape on Night People is a dream come true. Iâ€™d love to release Melody Elder on vinyl. I hope to start playing live again soon. I miss it desperately, and keep getting asked about that. If I donâ€™t travel I feel claustrophobic and landlocked. I miss traveling on a semi-regular basis to Europe, and would love to return to beautiful France. Currently I am focusing on new songs, rehearsing with an amazing drummer and bassist, and plan to record this winter. Itâ€™s been satisfying to hear the songs take on a new life. I am also recording new stuff at our totally lo-fi Golden Mountain Frequencies home studio.
It was somewhat liberating for me to write and record Melody Elder, after being in bands that followed a more structured existence, in terms of writing, recording and touring. When writing, I listen closely to a composition to figure out what is the most authentic way for it to be given a permanent record in sound and try to sift through and filter the melodies I hear naturally. I used to be firmly focused on the idea of « the song, » and sometimes that can be restrictive and can inhibit creativity, thus I tried to allow for a variety of approaches on Melody Elder.
The legendary and elusive Mister Jowe Head, a truly delightful fellow. I am a huge Television Personalities and Swell Maps fan, and first met lovely Jowe in the late 1990s, when he stayed at our place in Brooklynâ€”a fairly legendary Victorian house in tree-lined Flatbush, where bands crash regularly, and where a French documentary once filmed a scene with Salman Rushdie and Paul Auster! Jowe was rehearsing in our Marlborough Farms studio (run by Gary Olson of The Ladybug Transistor), and playing shows with our friends Hamish Kilgour (The Clean) and Lisa Siegel of The Mad Scene.
During a massive East Coast blizzard, when we were trapped indoors, Jowe and I spontaneously recorded a few songs with original Ladybug drummer, Ed Powers. We dubbed ourselves Cabin Fever, Jowe penned lyrics based on the 1953 Western, Shane, starring Jack Palance and Van Hefli, and two songs ended up on a Windless Air Music compilation. We remained in touch over the years and the distance, and it was very special to me that Jowe offered to add bass to Bird Or Bat.
Merci beaucoup. I am very interested in the convergence of pristine pop music and the vibe/feel of more ambient experimental and elusive sounds, and in contradictions like wanting to have control and letting go. I think thereâ€™s something akin to alchemy, or maybe having a fever, about writing music. Itâ€™s difficult to discuss and sometimes best to keep the process hidden or private.
I do recall the day I wrote â€œOnly Airâ€ which began as a very specific chord progression and slightly distinct rhythm, for both the lilting verse and the frenetic chorus, on my vintage Hohner. I am very melody oriented, not much of a vocalist at all, so I write multiple layered melodies and harmonies on instruments, such as with the guitar, melodica and dueling synth lines on â€œOnly Air.â€
It was a joy to work with Kevin C. Smith (The Artificial Sea), because he is quite the vintage gear collector, circuit bender and sound artist. « Only Air » is definitely a collision of something buoyant and carefree, yet with undertones of longing, and purposely stripped of the implications of vocals.
Narrative, ideas and experience can be conveyed through vibe, texture and melody. When I discovered the archival 1960s-era footage of Greenwich Village for the video (edited by Keith Tassick), it was uncanny the way it naturally fit the music in terms of vibe and tempo. I used to live in the East Village and spent so much time walking around lower Manhattan at all hours of the day and night. Many years later, I still have dreams that I am wandering aimlessly around the streets of NYC. I suppose this is my love letter to those experiences, and to a time and place in the Village that I actually never knew, so itâ€™s not nostalgic, but rather longing.
Melody Elder sort sur Night People Records. Peux-tu expliquer en quelques mots ton histoire avec le label ? Melody Elder was released on Night People Records. Can you say a few words about your history with this label?
I saw Wet Hair play in Pittsburgh in 2010, at a space called The Shop, a former mixed-use complex that’s been rehabbed as a performance/gallery venue. I went there to see another bandâ€”I cannot recall whomâ€”and ended up being blown away by Wet Hair. I love their fusion of electronic noises and catchy pop musicâ€”itâ€™s a distinct atmosphere that seems their own, but also recalls some of my favorite bands, such as New Order, The Clean and Spacemen 3.
I was taken with their selection of beautiful limited-edition cassettes and 45s, and spoke briefly with Shawn. A few months later, I sent a few tracks in progress to Shawn, and he asked me if I wanted to do a tape. Instant affirmative. I admire Night-People’s attention to the slow handmade processâ€”in terms of both dubbing and designing tapesâ€”and I was already a fan of Wet Hair, as well as of Peaking Lights, Dirty Beaches, Naked on the Vague, Dan Melchior. I have always wanted to release music on tape, because in my previous bands, I have only done so on vinyl, 7″ and CD. I am incredibly grateful that Shawn responded to the music.
The artwork was designed by Shawn Reed. This was my first time being involved in a release that I did not have a direct hand in designing/packaging. I admire the consistent visual aesthetic of Night-People, particularly Shawnâ€™s use of color, texture and collage. It was unknown territory for meâ€”a challenge personallyâ€”to have to let go of that stage of the process, especially since I am a very visual person. I am drawn to bold juxtapositions of colorâ€”which surround me at home in my obsessive collections of vintage waresâ€”and I am thrilled with the yellow and purple color scheme, the collage-based process and the handmade tactile qualities.
Itâ€™s an honor for me to have my music represented in such a visual way. I still have a tape player in my old Volvo, and I was a kid during the heyday of cassette culture, constantly making mixes with hand-designed artwork. Those tapes included bands I still loveâ€”Game Theory, New Order, The Velvet Underground, Prince, The Smiths, Galaxie 500, The Go-Betweens, Orange Juice, The Feelies, Psychic TV, The Jesus and Mary Chain. When I purchased tapes, I would often remake the artwork myself, and I still have crates filled with them. I am mesmerized by the precious and limited-edition nature of tapes. Itâ€™s a kind of cultural currency. Tapes are both raw and clunky but also magical. This thin tiny fragile strip of tape holds so much information, energy, effort, and communication. Releasing a tape was a natural extension of my participation in the DIY/indie craft scene.
As-tu des side-projetcs ? Do you guys have any side-projects?
My husband Greg and I have developed a documentary film proposal about an obscure, pioneering musician-artist from Western Pennsylvania that is languishing in the concept phase. Recently, I was asked to play synthesizer live, accompanying my friend Taichi Nakatani, a talented guitar player (born in Japan) who used to be in the band Harangue.
Quels sont tes amis ? Parle nous de la scÃ¨ne de Pittsburgh… Who are your friends? What is the music scene like in Pittsburgh?
Some of my close friends I feel most connected to actually live in places all over the world, such as NYC, SF, LA, the UK, Australia, and even Bangladesh. I make music in something of a cocoon, with one foot on and one off the train that might be termed a scene. I completed Melody Elder basically in a vacuum of my own mind, blocking out some of the toxic hazards that can sometimes be associated with the construct of a scene.That said, I am a social creature, and everyone is impacted by and thinks about their surroundingsâ€”whether they admit it or not. A sense of place weighs heavily on my mind. There are definitely times when I do not feel like I belong in the city I currently live in. My first true love affair with a city came when I lived in NYC. On any given day you have the potential to feel like a world, time or mind traveler there, itâ€™s just that kind of city. It got under my skin and into my veins and will always be one of my â€œhomes.â€
That said, I am very compelled by Pittsburghâ€™s amazing topography, art scene, architecture, authentic neighborhoods, thrift shops, and record stores. One of my favorite things about Pittsburgh is its remarkable role in Americaâ€™s music history, in terms of jazz, soul and funk (Kenny Clarke, Billy Strayhorn, Gene Ludwig, Betty Davis, Henry Mancini), rock and roll (Fantastic Dee-Jays, Swamp Rats, The Duchess, Todd Tamanend Clark, The Cynics) and 1950s/1960s pioneering DJs, teen dance clubs and pop hits. This is where tastemaking DJs such as Terry Lee, Mad Mike and Porky Chedwick created hits for many obscure groups and where songs like Tommy James’s « Hanky Panky » were literally revived and made into hits hereâ€”so music is in the fabric.
Adding to this legacy is a fairly active underground music/arts community, with independent tape/vinyl labels, such as Dynamo Sound Collective, As Above So Below, Mind Cure Records, and Machine Age. There are several new alternative spaces and house venues, and amazing museums. My husband Greg runs a tape label called As Above So Below, which released the first two RANGERS tapes and just released the debut by North Carolina-based Dreams West. The mix of grittiness and green here fuels creativity and innovation.
Pittsburghâ€™s architecture inspires me, with the Alcoa Buildingâ€”our countryâ€™s first aluminum skyscraperâ€”H.H. Richardsonâ€™s jail and church, and modern and Brutalist buildings by Mies van der Rohe and Paul Schweikher, plus Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, and signature row houses built for steelworkers. People are surprised to learn that Pittsburgh is home to amazing sprawling parks, dramatic funiculars and vistas that are actually quite European, and you can get lost in the wilderness in state parks one hour from the city. Cities need these characteristics and so do I.
01. Joe Raposo – Seahorse
02. Jan & Dean – Save For A Rainy Day
03. Tyrannosaurus Rex – Once Upon The Seas Of Abyssinia
04. John Cale – Big White Cloud
05. Laserdisc Visions – Data Dream
06. Harald Grosskopf – So Weit So Gut
07. Mayo Thompson – Fortune
08.The Orkustra (Bobby Beausoleil) – Punjab’s Barber (excerpt)
09. Roy Harper – Committed
10. Bill Fay – Screams in the Ears
11. Gary Higgins – Looking for June
12. Jim Sullivan – Jerome
13. Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Horses on A Stick
14. David Hess – Ice Cream Song
15. Television Personalities – Three Wishes
16. The Stranglers – Golden Brown
17. The Golden Dawn – This Way Please
18. Faine Jade – USA Now
19. Pisces – Children Kiss Your Mother Goodnight
20. L’Infonie – J’ai Perdu 15 Cents Dans Le Nez Froid D’un Ange Bronze
21. Yellow Magic Orchestra – Computer Games
22. Matching Mole – O Caroline
23. Kaleidoscope – The Sky Children
The Garment District – Melody Elder (Night People, 2011)
01. Only Air
02. The Parlance
03. Bird Or Bat
04. I Am Not the Singer
07. Bird Or Bat Reprise
08. Highway Mountain Hymnal Rain
09. Apple Bay Day
10. Gaza Drift