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Handdrawn Interview #3 with Joe Strutt

May 5, 2015

On Saturday afternoon (which happened to be free comic book day!) Ehab and I sat down with our friend and fellow archivist behind Mechanical Forest Sound, Joe Strutt to talk about his new music series TRACK COULD BEND.The 2nd installment of this series runs TONIGHT 8 PM @ JOHNNY JACKSON.

greetingsfromtoronto: What inspired you to start the series?
JOE: It sort of had been in the back of my mind, the idea of mixing various improvised music scene stuff and rock scene stuff. This sort of happened when I got to do the Long Winter show and things like that. I had a couple of dry runs at it, but I wasn’t really going out of my way to look for it either. It just so happened that I was at Johnny Jackson’s for a gig on Sunday night I got talking to Joel French about this and that when he said “I’m the booker here now, and I’ve got all these nights to fill.” I told him I kind of had this idea of putting musically improvised stuff in bars, and he responded by saying, “Tell me more.” Joel is totally an amazing guy, and this music is totally out of his sweet spot of the sort of music he presents- but he’s been so into it and supportive right from the start. He just basically said, “You’ve got the night, run with it.”
greetingsfromtoronto: How would you describe your series?
JOE: The tagline I used was “improvised music and weird rock offshoots”. I have a mandate to mix things together. Not just styles of music, but also I think we tend to really cloister ourselves in our little scenes. I just happen to be someone who kind of wanders back and forth between a few different scenes. Sometimes you know that there are people who are doing almost identical music, but for various reasons it’s classified differently. There should be more things that brings those people together. And there should be more things that mixes older and younger people together because there’s this sort of myth that if you’re above 31 years old you’re suddenly not worth paying attention to. And there are people of all ages who are doing amazing things that should know about each other. That’s sort of what the idea is- it’s just an idea to try and mix a few things up.
greetingsfromtoronto: Ehab and I were around for your 40th bday show. Was that the first show you’d ever thrown?
JOE: It was.
greetingsfromtoronto: Can you describe the experience of deciding to throw your 1st show at 40? Because I think you’re right, that there is this myth that if you’re not 21 you can’t do anything.
JOE: It was something I was already sort of feeling by then, but I feel like I’m a lot younger now than I was 10 or 15 years ago. One of the things that I’ve thought a lot recently is that age is much less linear than we are led to believe. It was pretty easy for me to do that show because it was just me asking friends. There wasn’t a lot of worry of trying to find people to play. That came together without too much trouble at all. That was fun and easy, remarkably so.
greetingsfromtoronto: Are you still finding it fun and easy?
JOE: Yeah, mostly. Also, I’m sort of deliberately oblivious to some of the harsher realities of it all. I know that anything that I’m going to do isn’t going to be a money maker, so I can tell that to people going in.- and if that doesn’t work for people, that’s cool too. So I don’t have to worry of the hustle end of trying to pay for anything. And on the sort of institutional end- for example, the Transzac. They knew me, they were willing to work with me. Long Winter knew me and were willing to set me up. Joel was just able to say, Yes. Come to the bar and put on this show. All of the back end stuff has been remarkably easy too.
greetingsfromtoronto: Actually, you mentioned something that I wanted to touch on. Which is that you’re kind of famously an amateur. I’m wondering if you can describe what the value is for you, and why you do this.
JOE: The original impetus when I started recording was just that I wanted a recording of the shows I was going to. It was a very narrow thing that was useful to me. As a guy who used to stand at the side of the room arms crossed, standing by myself- having a means where people know me as something is just a useful social icebreaker. In terms of meeting people, it’s been great. Building from that, being part of a community nurtures me. It sounds trite, but it’s the truth.
greetingsfromtoronto: When did you start recording the shows?
JOE: Almost exactly 6 years ago.
greetingsfromtoronto: Would you say you were going to a lot of shows before then?
JOE: There had been a ramping up in the year before I started recording, and once that started there was kind of a bump up again. I started the blog before I started the recording, and the first 4 months are just field notes that I did mostly just for me to remember later. I wasn’t really trying to impress anybody. The sorts of shows that I had been going to were changing in that I was going to a larger number of smaller shows, instead of a smaller number of big shows- which is what I would do when I was younger, in my 20s. Yo La Tengo comes once every 2 years, so you see them when they come to town. I think that’s typical for a lot of people and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are bands that are worth loving and paying attention to, but I just found that I liked going to the smaller shows rather than the bigger shows. Plus you can spend an equal amount to go to 5 shows at the Transzac that you spend to go see 1 show at the Phoenix. In those sorts of terms, it was easy to shift. Once I was recording and getting into that, it definitely made me want to go to more shows.
greetingsfromtoronto: what was it that drew you to experimental music?
JOE: Part of it was simply novelty. With experimental music the novelty of it lasts longer because there’s more chance of something random or different happening. Really it was a long, slow change from not knowing anything about that kind of music to by degrees discovering- that this person does something neat. The ultimate limit of going to small shows is going to experimental music shows because they’re usually the smallest shows of all.
greetingsfromtoronto: What do you think about the Toronto experimental and eclectic music scene. Do you think there’s a good scene there?
JOE: I think so. I don’t have a lot to compare it to, I’m not a world traveler. I sort of have a historical sense that this waxes and wanes- and it’s especially dependent on there being a small number of places willing to put on shows like this. From talking to people I get the sense that 10 years ago there was kind of a peak, and then there was a bit of a trough. Now we’re moving up a bit more into a peak again. It could be Tuesday night, and you’d have your choice of improvisation shows to go to. As always, there’s more of a shortage of audience than there is a shortage of shows and talent.
greetingsfromtoronto: Besides your blog Mechanical Forest Sound which is a great resource for these small eclectic shows, do you have any recommendations for people wanting to dip their toe into the pool?
JOE: Everyone who hasn’t already should join Sound List. It’s an email list that comes out every week, and is a digest of music listings improvised, new music, and experimental, sound art music. It’s not an overwhelming number of shows because you have to submit in advance, but sometimes they list things that aren’t advertised.
greetingsfromtoronto: Do you have any advice for people looking to get into the music scene, but who aren’t musicians?
JOE: Just go and show up and talk to people, even if you feel awkward about talking to people. Go and make an investment in time and show up to the physical space and take it in.
greetingsfromtoronto: I have one last question for you. As a strong proponent of the musically unusual, are there any pop tracks or icons that you secretly admire?
JOE: Current pop trends I really have no clue about but my head is full of all the moderately crappy pop music I grew up with as a kid. I could probably blind karaoke any of the top hits from 1983.

JOE STRUTT

JOE STRUTT

unusual, are there any pop tracks or icons that you secretly admire?
JOE: Current pop trends I really have no clue about but my head is full of all the moderately crappy pop music I grew up with as a kid. I could probably blind karaoke any of the top hits from 1983.

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