Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Ryan Traster

Q&A: Ryan Traster

Minneapolis native Ryan Traster is a road warrior. The restless musician has spent the bulk of his 29 years bouncing between the Twin Cities, Brooklyn, L.A., and Portland—that is, when he’s not playing his easygoing Americana music all over the U.S. and Europe.

Traster started playing trumpet in 5th grade. He later sold his horn to purchase a bass guitar, and at age 15, started a punk rock band. After high school graduation, Traster joined Small Towns Burn A Little Slower, a Minneapolis based buzz band.

In 2010, Traster went solo. His debut EP “The Tourists” was a folk-country gem teeming with wanderlust and impeccable vocals. Another EP, “Good Heart,” followed one year later and 7” “Cruel Love” came out in 2012. Traster’s new full-length, “Get Easy,” was produced with Joe McGrath (Ryan Adams, Morrissey, Green Day) and drops June 10th on LoonVault.
Traster, who now lives in Portland, spoke to Vita.mn in anticipation of his CD release show at the 7th Street Entry.

Q: You wrote “Get Easy” during what you call a “hedonistic” time in your life. What does that mean exactly?

A: About three years ago, I was living in Brooklyn and I had this terrible breakup. I sold all of my possessions, straight-up street corner style, laid out a blanket, and bought a plane ticket to L.A. where I had one friend. I got to L.A. and she wasn’t even there. Her roommate came down to get me wearing UGGs, a winter coat, and booty shorts. It was 75 degrees. I ended up living with them both on their floor. They were very sweet people, but they didn’t even have running water. I traveled around L.A. and ended up living on another charitable person’s floor for three or four months. It was pretty wild. A lot of drugs were consumed. A lot of partying, not a lot of sleep. I met a lot of cool people. It was a three-year span of complete debauchery, and this album came out of that.

Q: How did you transform those experiences into songs?

A: It’s going to sound kind of pretentious, but Rimbaud or Patti Smith or Jack Kerouac have talked about trying to push yourself to a certain point of depravity and see what comes out in the subconscious. With this batch of songs, I would have a moment of clarity and write a song, and all of a sudden I had a whole album’s worth of stuff.

Q: You recently toured all over Europe. How did that opportunity come about?

A: After the aforementioned period of hedonism, I ended up moving to Portland. I hooked up with a songwriter named Chris Pureka. We started off touring the U.S., then we went over to Europe for two months. We played 75, 80 shows total. Chris does pretty well, so it was a real tour, with booking agents, hotels, the whole nine yards.

Q: Will that experience inspire another record?

A: I wrote a couple songs right when I got back and I’m super happy with them but since I moved to Portland, I’ve written two albums’ worth of material in addition to what I’m putting out next month. I’m trying to stop myself from writing so fast so I can focus on what I have and make it good and do something with this next record.

Q: Is music your full-time job now?

A: Only since I’ve started touring with Chris have I been able to pay rent. Before that, I would make a little bit of cash to buy food but I’d been living off of other people’s charity. Sometimes, I’d work odd jobs, but this is the first time where I’ve made it a normal job.

Q: So you’ve experienced the starving artist and the career musician sides of the business. Has your creative drive or process changed with the different circumstances?

A: I’ve been surprised how little effect it’s had on my outlook of music. It’s not like I’m making a substantial amount of money; soon it will be gone again and I’ll have to figure out if I can make ends meets. It hasn’t changed the creative process at all yet. The drive is still internal. I think about making the next record or where the next show is or who I’m going to have play bass. It’s all the same thoughts; I just have a nicer place to live right now.

Q: What made you want to settle down in Portland?

A: I don’t know if I’m settled down. I always have that conflict. I’m still in the mindset that I’ll eventually move back to Minneapolis, where I’m really comfortable and all my good friends are. Portland seemed like an appealing prospect, it’s cheap and the winter is mild.

Q: What made you so comfortable relocating as often you do?

A: After I got out of high school, I basically just toured for five years straight, non-stop [with Small Towns Burn A Little Slower]. It was super cool and that ended up being the lifestyle that I got used to, like how some people go to college after high school or get a job. The transience is still ingrained in my mind. I don’t feel attached to one place but I feel at home in a lot of different places. 

Q: You’ve done a lot of living for an almost-30-year-old.

A: That’s funny you say that. I just had a conversation with my mom about how I felt about turning 30. Truthfully, I’m glad the 20s are over. I feel like I burned out hard in my 20s. I’m relieved to be starting a new chapter.

Q: The 30s can be a mellowing-out period. It can be nice.

A: We’ll see how much that happens. [Laughs.] But yeah, I agree.

Originally published on Vita.mn in May 2014.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Haley Bonar for the Star Tribune

Erica Rivera recently interviewed indie singer-songwriter Haley Bonar for the second time. Since their initial conversation in 2011, Bonar has become a mother, overcome her own personal apocalypse, and found a new fierceness in her music. Read the feature in the May 14, 2014 print edition or online here.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Lewis Black

Q&A: Lewis Black

Grammy award-winning comedian Lewis Black considers Minneapolis “one of the places I started to think I might know what I’m doing.” What he’s doing—and has been doing for three decades—is taking a hard look at the state of the union and shaking Americans awake with his rage-filled rants about the failings of our political system.

Born to a mechanical engineer and a teacher in 1948, Black’s creative career began as a prolific playwright. He received an MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1977, then transitioned to stand-up in the mid-80s. In 1996, Lizz Winstead recruited him to write a weekly segment for The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Since then, the 65-year-old, self-described socialist has recorded critically acclaimed comedy albums and HBO specials, acted in a slew of film roles, and authored three best-sellers. When not on tour, Black splits his time between Manhattan and Chapel Hill.

Q: How did your upbringing inform your comedy?

A: Being born and raised around Washington D.C., government was really in my face from the time I was a kid. My parents were paying attention to stuff, so I ended up having to pay attention to stuff. I was probably the last of the kiddies who were truly raised in the middle-class lifestyle.

Q: Have politics always been the focus of your comedy?

A: I never considered myself much of a political comic. When I first started touring, like when I was playing Acme way back, only 10 minutes of the act was politics. The rest was about weather, traveling around, jackasses I’d run into, or news stories. One of the reasons it evolved toward politics is that I’m funniest when I’m angry and these guys [in government] have really pissed me off.

Q: What do you think are the major issues our country is facing today?

A: Jobs. They’re so big on creating an incubation system for entrepreneurs. How many Steve Jobs are you going to find in a lifetime? What they need to do is instead of fighting each other over who gets credit for jobs is create jobs! Hand in hand with that is education, which has been neglected for 30 years. Charter schools, home schooling, yadda yadda, whatever. The best public education system has been flushed down the toilet.

Q: Have any politicians responded to the issues you raise?

A: The only one who ever responded was Donald Trump, which gives you an idea of how little he has to do in a day if he’s responding to me! I also called Rush Limbaugh a prick and he responded to that. He’d said that Stephen Colbert would undermine the family values by taking over the Letterman show, which shows you how insane Rush Limbaugh is. So my commentary was, “I think Stephen Colbert understands family values. He’s a good Catholic, teaches Sunday school, has—I think—five children, a lovely wife and has been married forever.” What I should have said is, “Satire is the response of intelligence to stupidity and meanness.”

Q: What can the average person do to change things?

A: It always has to start with you paying attention to what’s going on in your neighborhood and that will affect everything else.

Q: Have you ever considered running for political office?

A: I ran for office when I was a student at [University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill. I won because my name was first on the ballot. I lasted eight weeks. I thought, “If I can’t deal with my peer group, I can’t imagine dealing with people older than me.” I really thought [they] were idiots at the time—until my generation grew up and I realized my generation may have been stupider than the other generation.

Q: How do you feel about millennials? Do you have faith that they’ll be able to turn society around?

A: One thing we’ve seen kids do is force the issue on gay marriage. There’s a lot of kids who were having to deal with prejudice and they pushed things forward rapidly. Then you have these idiots screaming nonsense about “What this all means” but these kids live what it means.

I have a lot of faith in Americans. When something heinous happens, all of a sudden all these people who have nothing to do with it get in the car and go to help! It’s astonishing. I’ve always had a lot of hope. People will instinctively do what’s right. That’s probably as Pollyanna a fucking statement as you’ll get from me.

Q: Why did you decide not to have children?

A:  Because the state won’t allow it! [Laughs.] No, the reason is because my success came so late in my life. I’m not one of those people who think, “Oh, I’ll just have a kid and God will provide.” I’m selfish about my career. Being gone 45 weeks a year, I didn’t know how to put that together with a family.

Q: Another big part of your act is about your relationship to the Internet, social media, and cell phones. How do you feel about how people are so-called “connecting” today?

A: We’re being bombarded with information—and I’m not even close to what’s up, virtually, out there. You know, “Yahoo’s got 26 channels!” “Hoo-Ha has this!” “How come you haven’t been to FartyBobo.com?” I find more and more that I try to keep my face out of my phone. People stare at their phones like they won the lottery.

The only thing comparable in my lifetime to the Internet, Facebook, and tweeting is that it’s like a drug, and we just got the drug, and we’re trying to figure out how to respond. No one’s going to like this, but it’s like when I took LSD for the first time. I was like, “Holy shit!” and it freaked me out. I took it again, and the second time I started to figure out what was going on.

Q: Most of your comedy involves complaining about things. What is something you never complain about?

A: You’re going to stump me.

Q: Don’t you have any guilty pleasures?

A: I play golf, but I complain about it. [Long pause.] I don’t complain when I can get away from all of it.

Q: How do you do that?

A: I’ll take a vacation to a hotel resort, which is really like a hospital for a rich person. I’ll tell you the guiltiest pleasure I’ve ever had: I was part of a cruise in Tahiti with a bunch of Broadway stars. I have no complaints about Tahiti. None at all. It’s perfect. It’s perfect.

Originally published on Vita.mn in May 2014.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Jessica Lea Mayfield

Erica Rivera spoke to Jessica Lea Mayfield, an indie music darling wise beyond her years. Rivera asked Mayfield about her new marriage, musical evolution, and ever-changing hair color. Read the feature in today's edition of the Star Tribune or online here.