Friday, February 28, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Chowgirls Killer Catering


Erica Rivera interviewed Amy Brown and Heidi Andermack of Chowgirls Killer Catering, a ten-year-old business in Northeast Minneapolis focused on creating seasonal, organic food using local ingredients and environmentally sustainable practices. Read all about these innovative entrepreneurs in the March 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Heather McElhatton


Q&A: Heather McElhatton

Before Heather McElhatton burst onto the literary scene in 2007 with the choose-your-own-adventure book “Pretty Little Mistakes” and delighted “bitch lit” lovers in 2009 with “Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single,” she was a reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio. Now she’s back on the airwaves with “A Beautiful World,” a news variety show taped before a live audience that focuses on what’s going right in the universe. “A Beautiful World” debuted to a sell-out crowd in St. Paul in November and returns for a second installment on Tuesday night.

Q: What inspired you to want to make “A Beautiful World”?

A: I have been writing for about the past five years. I got this really great multi-book book deal with HarperCollins, which was wonderful, but what happened was I had to give up reporting and work on these books. It was very fulfilling, but I had no idea how isolating the life of a writer really was. While I was writing, I never stopped listening to MPR; it was one of my constant companions throughout the whole process. I admit, though, I had to turn it off a lot because I got overwhelmed by the news. I’m a very sensitive person and I would really get engaged with the stories and I would feel kind of helpless sometimes, like, “I know all these cool people in the world who are doing great things and I never hear about that stuff. Couldn’t we also hear about that?” Not to discredit important news that’s negative, because we need that as well, but I decided that when I fulfilled my book contracts, I had to go back to reporting because I missed it so much. I pitched the show that I wanted to hear to Tony Bol [Live Events Director at MPR] and I was very shocked when he said, “I think it’s a great idea. Let’s give it a try.” The support that MPR has given me has been phenomenal and I am very humbled and grateful for it.

Q: Your next show features Krista Tippet and solution journalism. For those of our readers who are unfamiliar, what is that?

A: It’s a movement. I don’t know that any one personal can claim it, but David Bornstein from the New York Times was one of the first people I ever heard talk about it. His idea is that it’s not enough just to present problems in society. It used to be, at the turn of the century, muckrakers would go to horrible situations and uncover bad situations and report it and things would change. We’ve evolved to the point where we good at reporting crises but we need to take it one step farther and provide potential answers to these problems. Journalists are reluctant to do that because we don’t want to look like advocates. Also, good news or solutions are sometimes seen as soft. But that’s really not what I’ve found. We’re looking at science and medicine and technology and education and ecology. I have yet to find a soft story in the bunch. I think it’s more of an attitude shift.

Q: You incorporate music, literature, humor, science and personal stories into the program. How did that structure come about?

A: I think it’s a combination of looking at shows we admire, looking at shows that worked, and then creating something a little bit new. It’s an amalgamation of multiple concepts. We’ve found that when you’re going to present a night of stories, you need to connect with your audience personally so that they trust you, so they’ll go on this journey with you. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t talk about anything to do with me—that’s my least favorite part—but it does seem to make the audience more familiar with me and know more about my values. It seems like a natural marriage between story-telling and news. True essays from my own life are an entry point for bigger issues.

Q: What made radio the right medium for “A Beautiful World”?

A: Radio has always been my true love. When I was a little girl, I remember going to bed every night listening to the radio. The sound of the human voice is just music to me—I could listen to a crop report.

Q: Why is having a live audience important to the show?

A: We believe that the solutions journalism movement is committee-based. We wanted to create a sense of community. Yes, you can hear it on the radio, but also you can come to the MPR studios on a cold, snowy night, have a glass of wine, hear some great stories, hear some great music, and meet like-minded people. It seemed important to have a central event—a jewel in the crown—in the project.

Q: For people who are interested in contributing to the program, what makes a good story for “A Beautiful World”?

A: A good story is something that moves you, something that you think is fascinating, something that you stayed in the car to listen to on-air, or tore out of the newspaper to keep, or e-mailed to a friend. Something that sticks with you is undoubtedly going to resonate with us, too. People are welcome to send me story ideas. We get some of our best stories from independent sources. 

Originally published on Vita.mn in Feb. 2014.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Lucius


Q&A: Lucius

Lucius became a band backwards. Though they just released their debut album, “Wildewoman,” in October, frontwomen Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe have been making music together for almost a decade. After recording several songs with engineer and producer Dan Molad, they added him to the lineup. Multi-instrumentalists Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri followed shortly thereafter.

Soon Lucius was re-recording all the tracks Laessig and Wolfe had previously laid down. The quintet finally found their sound, signed to Mom + Pop records, and embarked on an ambitious tour. With a live show that’s as riveting for the ears as it is for the eyes, Lucius’ feisty power pop has garnered critical acclaim from the likes of Billboard, Paste, and Spin. Rolling Stone says Lucius is “the best band you may not have heard yet.”

Vita.mn spoke to Laessig in anticipation of Lucius’ sold-out show at the Cedar Cultural Center.

Q: Where are you right now?

A: We are at the Seattle airport. We just got in the van. The guys drove in yesterday from…where were we? [to bandmate] Where were we? San Francisco. Jess and I were shooting a music video and we had a few scenes to do so we flew to meet them here.

Q: How did you and Jess meet and begin making music together?

A: We met about 11 years ago, in Boston, at school [Berklee College of Music]. Two years later, we were at a party and got to talking about music and our influences and Jess said, “We should do a cover show together!” She’s a very take-the-bull-by-the-horns lady. It was going to be a White album cover show. We arranged “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and recorded it and we were trying to figure out parts: Should we trade off? Should we sing in harmonies? By accident, we started singing in unison and thought, “That would be really cool if we could do it well!” We never did the cover show or any of those other songs. We started working on original material instead.

Q: How did the band’s sound change after you added the guys?

A: When we started, we had a rotating cast of musicians. Then we moved to New York, and we got involved in the singer-songwriter scene. Open mics are fun, but they’re kind of boring. We’d go to rock shows where people were dancing onstage and everyone’s having fun and we wanted to do that for people. So we had that in mind but didn’t know how to go about it. Then we met Danny, and he agreed to collaborate with us as long as we were open to anything. We started recording, things were going well, and Danny brought Pete, who he a long-term musical relationship with, on board. About a year after that Pete was working on a record for Annie and the Beekeepers and met Andy. We just fell in love with his playing and his voice, so we brought him on board. It was weird because we formed the band through the recording process. It grew organically.

Q: You’ve said that the band made a “conscious effort not to put out an album until you were ready.” How did you know when you were ready?

A: We had recorded all the songs, then had to figure out how to play it live. As we were tweaking things to make it more effective for a live performance, we would grow married to those ideas and then want to go back and re-record them that way. It felt like a journey for a long time. It took three years to record it all.

Q: What characteristics define a wildewoman?

A: A wildewoman is a strong, open-minded female but also an individual who does her own thing and is not afraid to be vulnerable.

Q: Do you have any time while you’re on the road to work on material for your next album?

A: We had two days a month ago. It’s really hard when we do a radio show in the morning, then drive, then play a show, and it’s been like that every day. It’s something that’s starting to creep back up in my mind and everyone else’s. We need to feed that creative monster again soon.

Q: How did the band’s fashion sense evolve?

A: Jess and I had always coordinated from the beginning. We were inspired by striking performers like David Bowie, Bjork, Prince—people who have definite styles and eccentricities. That was always something we kept in mind. We wanted to be on a different plane when we went onstage and create a different world for the audience and for ourselves so we could get into it. The matching came along maybe three or four years ago. The sound and our stage set-up are so symmetrical. We wanted to make the visual represent the audio.

Q: What are the rules—spoken or unspoken—in the band?

A: The driver gets to pick the music. That’s the only definitive rule I can think of. Everything else is negotiable.

Originally published on Vita.mn in Feb. 2014.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Kurt Braunohler


Profile: Kurt Braunohler

Kurt Braunohler is a rare breed of comic. In addition to the foul-mouthed observational stand-up you’d expect from a 30-something dude from New Jersey, Braunohler gets his jollies from wacky stunts like hitting up drugstores for greeting cards, writing brutally honest inscriptions, and returning them to the racks. He also enjoys signing books such as “50 Shades of Gray” as the author (albeit wittier) and putting them back on the shelves in bookstores. Braunohler describes this style of comedy as “inserting stupid, absurd moments into strangers’ lives” to make the world a better place. “

Braunohler grew up as the only child of a single mother who breast fed him until he was three years old. His father had eight other children. As an adult, he attended John Hopkins University, but his career as a comic truly gained momentum after moving to New York. He became known as a “guerrilla artist” and an urban experimentalist. One of his most memorable creations was a half-chicken, half-penguin costume that Braunohler wore around NYC. He would stage fights in the streets with his friend, Matt Murphy, who was dressed in a half-chicken, half-skunk costume.

With comedic partner Kristen Schaal, Braunohler co-created the variety show “Hot Tub” in 2005. The two co-hosted the show for 7 years in New York City before moving to L.A., where Braunohler continues to shake people out of their stupors by, say, posting a sign that says “No, you stop!” beneath a real stop sign.

In addition to accolades like being named a “Comic to Watch” by Comedy Central and Variety Magazine, Braunohler has performed at Bonnaroo, SXSW, Just for Laughs, and Radio City Music Hall.

Braunohler, who has a five-night stand Acme Comedy Club starting on Feb. 18, comes off as somewhat guarded on the phone. There’s no emphatic cursing and the only joke he makes is: “When I was 8, I killed this kid…but in a really funny way.” When asked why comics’ personalities vary from onstage to off, he responds, “Onstage is a show. You’re presenting a version of yourself, and it’s a heightened, specific version of yourself. In conversation, you’re the actual human. My stand-up persona is very similar to who I am, but it doesn’t incorporate all the aspects of my life.”

On the list of unmentionables are philosophy, surfing, and romantic advice. Braunohler does, however, make material out of old relationships. In 2012, Braunohler appeared on “This American Life” to discuss a “rumspringa” he and a former girlfriend declared after 13 years together. Their 30-day sexperiment, during which both parties had permission to sleep with other people, turned out to be the beginning of the end of their relationship.

“We didn’t know how to break up,” Braunohler says. “We had to do it in a real weird way.”

Braunohler used that experience to fuel an hour-long act for a year. It’s also the basis of a screenplay he’s writing.

“I think ladies like a funny guy,” Braunohler says.

Indeed, Braunohler admits he gets propositioned by the occasional drunk female after shows, though he doesn’t consider that creepy.

“I’m lucky that way,” he says. “I think women get the brunt of that and it’s unfair. A female comic at my level gets creepy shit constantly whereas I get relatively zero creepy shit.”

Braunohler is in a relationship now and isn’t tempted by adoring fans. “I get my action at home!” he insists.
                                                                                                                            
Braunohler recorded his debut comedy album “How Do I Land?” live in Portland and Seattle clubs and released it in 2013 on indie label Kill Rock Stars. The cover art was funded by a Kickstarter campaign in which Braunohler raised over $6,800 to hire a pilot to write the title of the album in the air. Videos of the skywriting went viral.  

Braunohler is currently trying to sell a TV show pilot and does a weekly podcast called “The K Ohle with Kurt Braunohler” which airs on the Nerdist Network. The “Get Lost” segment is one of the highlights of the podcast for him because it “satisfies that geographical desire.” He also prefers to walk to the venue pre-performance when possible.

Of his most recent performances, in London, Braunohler said he didn’t have to tweak his act too much to accommodate the Brits.

“There’s stuff that’s different based on cultural norms,” he says. “I figure out how to make the jokes work or take them out. You just kinda gotta get the feel for it.”

Originally published on Vita.mn in Feb. 2014.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Jonathan Wilson


Q&A: Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson, 39, is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer.

Born in Forest City, North Carolina, Wilson came to L.A. as a teenager anticipating a “classic coming-of-age story.” Wilson, whose sound falls somewhere between Americana and psychedelic rock, released his debut album “Gentle Spirit” to critical acclaim in 2011. No victim of the sophomore slump, Wilson’s second album, 2013’s “Fanfare,” is on par with a veritable rock opera.

Recorded in L.A. over nine months at Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters studio, Wilson insisted on analog tape and extensive echo chamber on the album. A piano rented from Craigslist served as the sonic centerpiece, while horns, bells, and a full orchestra were layered into 13 tracks for a total of 78 minutes of music. Collaborators on the album included David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Patrick Sansone (of Wilco), among many others. Wilson also shared writing credits with Brit folk rock artist Roy Harper on several songs. For live shows, Wilson relies on backing band members Richard Gowen (drums), Dan Horne (bass), Omar Velasco (guitar) and Jason Borger (piano and organ) to recreate the epic soundscape of “Fanfare.”

Rolling Stone Germany bestowed “Fanfare” with Album of the Month status while Dangerous Minds not only named “Fanfare” the Best Album of 2013,  they also called it “the year’s most important album as well…Seriously, folks, it’s a motherfucker.”

Wilson is now based at his own Fivestar Studios in Echo Park, where he has produced album such as Father John Misty’s “Fear Fun” and Dawes’ “Nothing is Wrong.”

Q: You made your album “Gentle Spirit” in your kitchen. What made you want to go into the studio for “Fanfare”?

A: I was trying to tackle a sound that I was after that needed a bigger space, like for the drum sounds. For that album, everything expanded, like the budget, so I was able to do that.

Q: You also said that you wanted a concert Steinway piano to be the centerpiece of “Fanfare.” What is it about that particular instrument that you found inspiring?

A: For me, it was the ultimate feature I could build upon. We ended up tuning the guitars to the piano. The piano became the backbone of the whole thing. It appears in most of the songs.

Q: Why was recording on analog tape important for this album?

A: The main thing is the sound. It’s a sharper sound, a transience. It’s an undeniable asset. Also, I have a background in analog, so recording an album completely digitally is kind of a scary thing.

Q: How do you translate the extensive instrumentation you had on the album to a live show on tour?

A: Certain songs we scale back, like take off the horns or the strings. Certain songs, like the opening track would have to use a bigger band [so we don’t play them live]. There are tradeoffs.

Q: Tell me about the different collaborators you had on the album and how you created together.

A: All of those things were predisposed, like I was thinking of moments for Jackson [Browne] or [David] Crosby. When I gave those guys a call, they were all kind enough to oblige, which was awesome. I think there were things where being buddies with those guys, I was able to shape the moment for them.

Q: You also produce albums. Does that engage different creative muscles than doing your own music?

A: It definitely does. It’s kind of the balancing thing for me. Being able to do both of those enables me to be satisfied artistically. The good thing about production is suddenly I get to experiment and do things that I probably wouldn’t do on my own stuff.

Q: You’ve been credited with reviving the Laurel Canyon sound. How do you feel about that?

A: I like the fact that there’s some sort of title that’s attached to what I’ve done and what I do. That’s a good vibe. I was there from 2005, so I’ve certainly put in my time with the busy, traffic-laden streets of the planet. I’ve definitely earned some sort of association. The fact, though, is that there’s no scene there. We constantly do interviews with people who have a fantasy that there’s a “thing” there, that there are bands and girls with flowers in their hair. That’s just not the case.

Originally published on Vita.mn in Feb. 2014.