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Homegrown week has started and it’s hard to wrap one’s head around the amount of dedicated individuals within our Twin Ports music and arts community that have poured their talent, sweat and performances out at a variety of venues in the last few days. While we all gather for these great times during this week, what of those who have contributed to the music of this area who are no longer here? The Twin Cities are easy enough to get to and the bond between the Twin Ports and Twin Cities is well known with bands such as The Fontanelles, Exiles, 4onthefloor and Trampled by Turtles. This area isn’t for just anyone and this never ending winter is a good example of that, but as the largest population based at the edge of the largest fresh water lake, it’s fair to say that the area produces a unique breed of musician, artist and person in general.
The Reader had a chance to contact several people who have come from the area who are or were musicians in the Twin Ports music community who have moved a considerable distance away and how they contributed in the past, how they feel about our music community and what they are doing now.
The first musician we contacted was the singer-songwriter, Rory James, who just recently released his album “The Passage” and performed with Charlie Parr at a handful of shows out in the Seattle area, where James currently resides. James used to travel through the Twin Ports area every year as a child while going up to the Boundary Waters. As a professional baseball player at that time in his life, James listened to Trampled by Turtles albums while out on the road. When he moved to the area and started becoming actively involved in the music scene up here in 2007, he found contacts with TBT and started playing shows. “One turning point for me was living with Dave Carroll and D from Trampled in my second year. Dave helped me with a few connections around town and when they would hit the road I really got to my songwriting with the empty house and all,” said James.
Currently, James is out in Seattle and has began to work with fellow ex-Duluthian, JJ Kelley, a producer for National Geographic, and is working for Washington State Parks Foundation as a grant writer where he is coordinating an adventure race for 2014. “This is something that I am extremely excited about. I am a huge outdoor enthusiast, and feel that in many ways a nature writer with music as my medium; or the other way around. Specifically paddling and listening to water in many different forms is where I get a lot of rhythms for my songs,” said James.
James has remained active with his music. His latest album was written in locations such as Seattle, Costa Rica, Alaska and Duluth. “The concept for the record really did come after leaving Duluth and when I was living in the middle of nowhere on the ocean in Alaska. At that time I was care-taking a lodge and kayaking guiding, and in almost complete solitude with a condenser mic, ocean waves and smoking volcanoes in the distance,” said James. In March of this year James played a series of shows that featured his new material with Charlie Parr in his new found home in the Seattle area. “He is an amazing musician and performer, but above all he is a kind person and a kindred soul. That above the rest is what really speaks to me and comes out through his music,” James noted about Parr.
It seems that the music scene of this area has progressed steadily throughout the years but there is a specific niche that developed from all ages venues such as La Petit in Superior as well as The Recycabell, an old Bell Telephone brick building on the East side of Duluth. Both establishments are no more, but where important venues in creating the scene that sprung into what it is today. “It (Recycabell) had been purchased by a couple of old counter-culture types who turned it into an all ages art and music venue. It had a main concert room, and a large cafeteria area where they sold soda and water. They booked all kinds of bands there: punk, ska, grunge, metal, jam. It was the best all-ages venue this town ever had and I miss it to this day,” stated Marcus Matthews, a current performer from bands such as The Surfactants and Wino, WI. Local 90s bands like The Dames brought about bands like Cars and Trucks and Lorenzo’s Tractor still plays to this day. We contacted a former member of the band 18 Dimensions of Love, Joe Hardesty, and checked up on what he had to say about his feeling on the area and what he’s doing now.
Hardesty used to play bass for 18 Dimensions but no longer plays actively. “I don't play music anymore, though I still buy records and go see bands. I'm a visual artist living and working in Los Angeles. I teach at two local colleges, as well as maintaining a studio practice and exhibiting my artwork,” stated Hardesty. When asked if this area’s music community was unique in anyway, Hardesty replied, “I don't know how unique the Twin Ports music scene is, but it certainly was special when I lived there. It was an open, safe and egalitarian community that kind of nurtured everyone's enthusiasm and creative energy for making and listening to music. It taught me a lot about community and collaborative creative endeavors. To a large degree it seems like we were just making things up as we went along. Looking back now, it seems like a sort of special time right before the internet made everything so accessible to everyone everywhere. I always remember the fairly eclectic mixture of musical styles and attitudes. All these bands that normally wouldn't have that much in common found themselves sharing the stage with each other. Like folk musicians and metal heads for example. And making friends along the way, that was really cool.” Hardesty still visits the area once or twice a year and occasionally takes in a show while he’s around.
Nick Brakel became involved in the Duluth area music scene around 2004 and began playing open mics around the area and in 2011 he moved out to Portland. He ran into musicians like Jeffery James O’Loughlin and Dan Dresser of Three Song Sunday and more recently, The Getarounds. From there he began to play shows. “I think that places like Beaner’s and Thirsty Pagan Brewing that create a space for musicians to hone their craft and meet other musicians are a really vital and important thing,” noted Brakel. Brakel found that area performers such as Dan Dresser, Jeffery James, Hattie Peterson, Charlie Parr and Alan Sparhawk projects such as Retribution Gospel Choir and Low to be among some of the highlights of the area.
He still occasionally plays shows in Portland, “I think that I was always trying to make music that was more and more spacey, more and more psychedelic and experimental. I have continued in this quest, aided greatly by the awesomeness of analog synthesizers,” said Brakel. “I’ve been recording a lot of music. People who know me well, know that this is an ongoing thing that never ends. I’ve got several albums ready to be released. One is a double album that is really influenced by Smashing Pumpkins “Adore” and Ryan Adams “Love is Hell.” An acoustic, electronic double album of songs about love....but to write about love in a way that is honest and not cheesy, is extremely difficult,” said Brakel.
Brakel has kept busy on other jobs and endeavors besides music, “I was in a year long printmaking residency, and am now an intern at Atelier Meridian printmaking studio, where I create various types of printmaking. I am about to show my second series of collagraphs (and linocuts) at a gallery called Fairweather House and Garden in Seaside. It’s ocean themed work. I work as a CNA. I am considering getting an MFA or an Art Therapy Master’s degree, but haven’t decided yet.”
Brakel hopes to visit this summer, “hopefully I can arrange to play a show sometime while I am there. It’s hard to fly with musical equipment, but a more acoustic show would be possible.” His music can be found at http://nickbrakel.bandcamp.com
Christine Hoberg of Superior was only somewhat involved in the music scene of the Twin Ports before she departed to New York. “I guess I left before I was ever involved in the local music scene. That’s not totally correct though, I was in some ridiculous bands back when, but mainly we sported at SHS (Superior High School) or local places in Superior, a couple times I played Sharks and then I left for the great beyond,” stated Hoberg.
Over the last several years, Hoberg emerged as a musical artist while out in New York and makes it back to the Twin Ports where she has played shows, most recently at a last minute gig on Sunday night at this year’s Homegrown at Teatro Zuccone where she had around two hours notice. Earlier this winter she played at Ochre Ghost Gallery for a Minerva zine party. “I’m friends with Laura Gapske (founder of Minerva) and she and her amazing crew of beautiful, empowered women wanted to put together an art show and she and I talked for awhile about us being able to do something creative together, so she arranged this kick a** art opening event and we doodled around with cheese and drinks and looked at amazing art and I got to play. That place is so cool, the owners Jess and Gus are super unpretentious, interesting and passionate people who have brought a tipping point of culture to the twin ports‚ The extreme weather, seclusion and endless beauty makes it a super inspiring place to make any form of art.” said Hoberg. Hoberg routinely makes it back up to the area and is sticking around for the rest of this year’s Homegrown music festival.
The last musician we contacted was Jason Lee who moved out to Boise, ID where he works as a Behavior Interventionist for the Boise School District. The former UW-Superior student is most known for his work with the band Farewell Tour but also performed with acts such as Bloodstool and Portrait of a Drowned Man. When asked about the area’s music scene, Lee replied, “I think the music scene in the Twin Ports was very unique when I lived there. It had a very strong sense of a community/family. That’s what I always liked. A lot of my favorite times when I lived there were when I was around my band or hanging out with other bands. I never planned to play music when I moved to Superior, and when I kind of fell into it, I felt welcomed, even though I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing early on. I learned though and a lot of lessons have stuck with me today. Even though I don’t live there now I can tell with what I read or hear about music in the Twin Ports, it is still like that‚ I don’t know a lot of the new bands that have come up in the last seven years but it seems to me that there is no shortage on talent. It also tells me that the sense of community and family still exists because I don’t think it could survive without that kind of support. The Homegrown Fest is a testament to that itself.”
Although currently without a band, Lee has worked with a few indie/punk bands while in Boise. “Over time both bands slowly dissolved and I am now without a group. I am working on solo material and hope to get around to recording as soon as I can get a four track and someone who can show me how to work it. Besides work, a majority of my time is taken up by my art career, or establishing my art career. I’ve had my work displayed at a few places around the city and am continuing to pursue any artistic opportunities I can,” said Lee.
While all of these musicians are talented in their own way, besides being gifted in art and music, there’s little connection between them besides the fact that they all hail from the Twin Ports area. Some such Hardesty will probably never be seen again on a stage in the Twin Ports and others like Hoberg had limited involvement until they moved away but still come back and share their music when they get back into town. The Twin Ports music scene is incredibly diverse but this area is small enough where those of all genres of music can look back and say they were a part of something beyond them and whatever it is, it’s wonderful.