Speculative Fiction Showcase interviewed me on Strange Monsters, my writing soundtrack, and my influences here.
The second review for Strange Monsters is in from Midwest Book Review!
Strange Monsters: A Music & Words Collaboration is a unique hybrid of audiobook anthology and music CD. Each track consists of a brief fiction story (or poem) set to contemporary jazz music and performed by actors. The tales meld elements of surreal fantasy and fearful suspense: Rumpelstiltskin’s wife is questioned by police over the disappearance of a local boy; a cursed ballerina who yearns only to dance must deal with an obsessive fan and the hatefully jealous director of her ballet company; a group of do-nothing friends in love with the same woman discover disturbing skeletons of extinct animals on a treacherous camping trip; and more. Haunting, ethereal, and unforgettable, Strange Monsters is music-storytelling fusion experience like no other. Highly recommended. The tracks are “The Stink of Horses”, “Mrs. Stiltskin”, “Skeletons”, “No Eyes”, “Selected Poems”, and “Where You Came From”.
For more information on the album, along with links for purchase at Amazon, CDBaby, and iTunes, click here.
When I first met Peter, I was fascinated by his musical talent. Having always been greatly moved by music but never a musician myself, music was mysterious to me, like some sort of witchcraft: divining emotion from an object made of wood or brass or even from thin air. When we first started dating, he was in a Sky Blue phase, Maria Schneider’s 2007 record. He listened to it all the time. It was beautiful. When he wrote his first tune for me, “Bonnie Jo,” I heard reflections of her music. I was happy to know that particular influence.
Now Peter and I are working to make art together, and that’s one of the coolest things I can imagine. (Please back us on Kickstarter here; every bit counts, even if all you can give is $1 or $5. To listen to the first track of the album, click here.)
And here, below, are three of Peter’s musical influences, in his own words:
Three Musical Influences by Peter Brewer
Like everyone, I have so many influences. I tried to think of the three artists whom I have listened to the most and have had the deepest impact on me and my art. I can recall three periods of my life where I listened to just the one artist at a time and these are those artists.
As a young trumpeter, I listened to many of the greats: Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, but the one who I always felt the strongest connection with was Miles. His tone was what first drew me. So mellow yet forceful when needed. His playing had so much attitude. He always kept up with the times and pushed the limits of what people considered jazz. What I think I took from him the most though was his economy of phrasing. When everyone was playing a million notes, Miles played one or two, yet they said volumes. He played these strong punctuated statements. That’s what I love about Miles.
I first heard John Hollenbeck at the KU Jazz camp. Steve Owen, with whom I later studied at the University of Oregon, was teaching a class on composition and brought him up. Steve talked about John’s approach to writing and how it starts with a rhythm. From there he assigns notes, but the rhythm is the most important part. I liked the idea and had fun trying it out myself. Once I started listening, I realized that he was doing a lot more than just assigning notes to rhythms. Both his small group and large ensemble writing is full of beautiful harmony and orchestration. He employs unique sounds like the accordion, bowed vibes, oboe, whistling and even throat singing. While these sounds aren’t unique to his music, the way he combines them is. He has always reminded me to think outside the constraints of “jazz” and allowed me the freedom to explore new sounds.
I don’t remember when I first heard Maria’s music. I must have been very young because her CDs were in my parent’s collection as long as I can recall. I do, however, remember when I first became infatuated with her sound. I was playing the flugelhorn solo in Hang Gliding at the KU Jazz camp the summer before my Junior year of high school. I remember how free it all felt. The piece is about her experience of hang gliding in Brazil, which is beautifully portrayed by the floating feeling of an odd time signature and light, woodwind-heavy orchestration. After a slow build the floor drops away and what you’re left with is just piano, bass, and light woodwind backgrounds. This was such a new and exciting experience for me as a soloist. I’ve been hooked ever since. When her 2007 release, Sky Blue, came out I listened to it on repeat… for about six years. I used to sleep to it, wake to it, walk to class with it playing, anything. I even used it as the basis of my Master’s thesis on jazz composition and orchestration techniques. I have been listening to her latest release, The Thompson Fields, on repeat since it arrived in the mail a few months ago. She continues to amaze me. Such beauty and grace in all that she does. I strive to achieve even a fraction of that grace.
If you haven’t listened to these people, or even if you have but just in passing, I urge you to take a listen. They have so much to say. I enjoy their music more and more every time I hear it.
When I first started thinking about my Kickstarter, I was excited to have a project to share with everyone. I was also wary of overloading everyone on social media with generic pleas for money. I get annoyed when I see, over and over, people asking me to buy something or support something. I didn’t want to be that person. But the fact remains that I do only have one month to raise $5,000 for my passion project: a fiction-music album with my partner, Peter Brewer, where actors read my fiction, Peter writes a composition to accompany it, and musicians play that music. I’ve always wanted to put out a project themed around my favorite May Sarton poem, “My Sisters, O My Sisters” titled Strange Monsters, a project about women and their voices. This is that project, and in an effort to encourage support while also giving a little something extra, I offer the first of these blog posts: a list of music that has meant something to me. I hope that you’ll explore some of these artists, or re-discover some of these songs, perhaps looking on them with a new light. And I hope that my own project, my own words, will mean something to someone, too.
And if it has, or does, or you suspect it will, please donate to our Kickstarter. Every little bit helps. Thanks.
I’ve spoken, albeit briefly, about my struggles with depression and anxiety. For me these have never been stronger than in the late winter of 2014. Several factors contributed to my depression’s worsening, but of course, as is often (I can’t speak to everyone’s. Usually?) the case with depression, no factor was directly responsible for it. The same goes for its lessening. We like the narrative of the cure-all, the revelatory moment, but these are rare and often short-lived. Therefore when I say that the writing of my story “Everything Beneath You” after a period of a literary funk helped the depression lift, I mean that it was one of many things that helped. Another was going back to therapy. Another was forcing myself to break out of my rut and challenge myself by starting—and finishing, after half a year, a novel. And yet another was discovering the band My Brightest Diamond.
My best friend introduced me to her music. There’s a reason we‘re best friends: I was immediately hooked. Her lyrics evoke the darkest of short stories. But her then-newest album, All Things Will Unwind, promised light in the dark. For the rest of the winter, I woke up each morning and sat on the couch and listened to it, to two songs in particular: “Be Brave” and “High Low Middle.” I borrowed lines from those songs and repeated them throughout the day, my mantras. Eventually, I felt okay again.
Everyone has family issues. Everyone inherits things—negative and positive—from families: disease, work habit, nostalgic objects. Depression, a penchant for negative thinking, fear. Good stuff, too—creativity, empathy, kindness, which my family has in spades—but Palmer’s song isn’t about those.
It’s tough to know you’re born with something, that it’s not something you can get away from because it’s inside of you. But it’s a kind of comfort to know that you’re not the only one.
I don’t remember where I came across Tracy Chapman, but this was the first album of hers I heard as a whole. When I first started listening to it, I was dating someone I knew wasn’t a great match, someone my family didn’t particularly care for, with good reason. But that was a lesson I needed to learn on my own. I listened to “You’re the One” over and over. Later, out of the comfortable bubble of college, when I realized my community wasn’t as comfortable discussing sex and sexuality as I had always been, I clung to the sensual vocals of “In the Dark”: half-moaning backup and slightly-slurred lyrics. Falling in love with my current partner, I played “I Am Yours” on repeat. I expect to keep finding connection with Let It Rain; it’s timeless.
The winter I lost my college best friend, my parents gifted me a record player and their duplicate records. My best friend had been my roommate for a brief semester. We lived in a house close to campus. We didn’t have an official breakup or an official fight; regardless of the reason, she packed up her things, including our kitchen table, and left. I went home to my parents’ for the holidays only to find myself wanting to be alone. I drove back up to an empty house. I plugged my record player into an outlet in the kitchen and listened to “Diamonds & Rust” while lying on the wood floor and, in no uncertain words, weeping.
I’d just taken a course on Bob Dylan, and I understood the song was supposed to be about him. Then I discovered an alternate version, nearly identical except for the final line: “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid” became “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust, well, I’ll take the diamonds.” The song took on new meaning: Joan Baez had gotten over her heartbreak. Her sad acquiescence had morphed into an empowered ghost of anger at being mistreated, at being heartbroken.
I loved that. I borrowed her power. I moved on the best I could.
A year or so ago, I wrote a story called “Nostalgia.” It found a home in Interzone. In the story, a group of old high school friends now in their 20’s deal with the supposed-death of a friend they lost to undiagnosed mental illness years previously. That’s only a small part of the story. But it’s one of the truest parts.
I’ve always identified strongly with Pink Floyd’s story, specifically the Syd Barrett parts. Because our friend, too, showed extraordinary promise and never got to fulfill that promise. He’s not dead, but there doesn’t have to be death for someone to become a ghost.
“Wish You Were Here” has always been my song for him. I listen to it when I want to remember. I listen to it when I want to let the ghosts free.
As I was writing this post, I realized that all the songs I could currently think of that mean something to me mean something because they helped bring me out of a bad time. At first this struck me as sad. But then I realized that when I re-listen to these songs now, sure, I get sad for a second; sometimes I’m dragged back into the memory of when I first loved the song. But then I’m reminded that the pain was temporary, that the bad was temporary, that I clawed my way out. That the music helped.
Music is damn powerful.
Our first Kickstarter week was strong, with us raising over $1,000! But we still have a ways to go. We’ve hit that end-of-first-week lull, and we need your help to get past it! If you can spare even $1, or know someone who can spare even $1, please donate or encourage them to donate. To help with incentive, we’re unveiling a ton of new rewards! Please take a look and donate here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stufflebeam/strange-monsters-a-music-and-words-collaboration
For $35, we’re offering one of five hand-strung bracelets with wild animal charms (fox, coyote, bear, stag). I made these one-of-a-kind, so if you’d like a specific design, leave your request in the comments, and I’ll divvy them up first-come, first-serve.
For $40, get a hand-sewn monster pillow! Designed and made by Peter.
Or for $40, get a handmade, hand-painted clay monster musician–your choice!–with your CD package. These guys were designed and sculpted by Peter and Bonnie. You can also snag a full set for $125! Or be surprised and order the Monster Grab-Bag at $45 and get one surprise clay monster, two rock monster magnets, and three bottle-cap monster magnets.