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Tuesday
Mar182014

The Art of Vintage Stamps

Anna Debenham

I have a confession to make… I collect stamps. I have hundreds of them. Yeah, it may not be one of the coolest hobbies in the world, but give me a minute and I'll explain why I do it.

I haven't gone out of my way to collect them—apart from a few years as a Brownie. We were encouraged to bring in used stamps with us each week in exchange for a dried kidney bean (a Brownie point). I kept the ones I liked, I'm not sure what they did with the rest.

Most of my stamps are from collections friends and family gave to me. A good few are from my dad's office. They had clients sending letters from all over the world, and the people who worked in the post room very kindly tore off the corners of envelopes, and my dad would take a bundle of them home every week.

Kings and queens through the years. 

Getting the stamps off the envelopes was often fiddly. They had to be soaked in water, then left to dry on blotting paper. I would go to WHSmith and buy bags of little stamp hinges and stick them in a book with all the countries in it, but that rapidly filled up. Now my stamps live in a couple of big ring binders, tucked into special display sheets.

Once I'd managed to separate the stamps from their envelopes, there was the challenge of trying to work out which country they were from. Each is written in its own language, so figuring out where one was from when the country name was written in Arabic was tricky. It did make me quite good at learning the names though, and I very quickly learned the difference between Korean, Japanese, and Chinese script.

Japanese stamps celebrate International Letter Writing week.

Often I'll find a stamp from a country that no longer exists, or has the former name. They're artifacts, a snapshot of a culture, its politics, from a time when people used to send and receive letters much more frequently.

Despite having a collection, I don't regard myself as a real philatelist. I'm not remotely interested in the value of any given stamp, I'm not precious about them, and I'm pretty sure some of them are replicas. It's purely the designs I'm interested in.

A stamp from Mexico showing the different cuts of meat. 'Ganado y Carne' means 'Livestock and Meat.' 

I'm fascinated by what countries choose to print on their stamps because it says so much about how they want other people to perceive them—or what they value most about their country.

They're like a miniature postcard or tourist advertisement. Some stamps have beautiful typography, others it's the complete opposite, but it's still charming. The more recent stamps are photographs of people or places. The older ones are block colors, many featuring royalty or politicians. I think it says a lot about a country when practically every stamp is a picture of their president.

Every stamp is a little geography or history lesson. It makes me want to learn more about a place. 

Stamps from India, highlighting their skills in agriculture.


A series of stamps from Poland that show scenes from engineering, farming, and manufacturing. Poczta Polska is the Polish postal service. 

Family planning stamps from India. The one on the right says "Small family, happy family." This message also appeared on coins.

Some countries love to show off their local nature, predominantly birds and fauna. History also features a lot, as well as sports, science, and art. I love the space ones.

A stamp from Nicaragua highlighting space exploration. 

But stamps are a casualty of technology. They are being replaced with faceless bar codes that speak nothing of the origin's culture. I'm not that nostalgic about the past, and it's an understandable cost of progress, but I will miss that human element that stamps have.

A stamp from Russia circa 1989, featuring Soviet bear trainer Valentin Filatov and bears driving motorcycles.

Design Challenge

I've prepared a little design challenge, if you'd like to take part.

A postage stamp can be the equivalent of an elevator pitch, where the pitch is on what your country is about, whether it's "we're great at engineering," or "we're really proud of our architecture."

If you had just a thumb-sized piece of paper to describe yourself, your company, your local area or your country, what would it look like? What's the most important thing you'd want to show that sufficiently projected your culture or values? 

There are a couple of bits of information you'll need to put on your stamp:

  • Your name/company name/country name in your own language*
  • A price (in your own currency)
  • The year (optional)

* If you're based in the United Kingdom, you can use the Queen's head instead of the name. This is unique to the UK, being the country where adhesive stamps originated. (Thank you, Paul Lloyd, for this information)

It doesn't have to be rectangular. Some stamps are squares, triangles and even circles, but they should be small enough to fit in the corner of a postcard.

I've made a template you can use—it's an editable .png file. If you're a Dribbble user, please rebound my shot, and since everything these days has a hashtag, let's go with #thisismystamp.

Anna Debenham is a freelance Front-End developer based in the UK. This article was originally published as "Stamps" at Maban.co.uk, under a creative commons license.

Monday
Mar172014

PAPERCUTZ Volume 1: Nordic Noir

Lizzy Shramko

Here at Paper Darts we are all about mixing media. From lavish illustrations to bombshell jewelry designs, we are not afraid to venture outside of the literary world for inspiration. PAPERCUTZ, an adventure in literary mixtapes, is one example of this boundary crossing. Inspired by niche literary genres, we curate musical mixes to jam to while you read, write, dance, type—or do whatever it is that you do. This month's mixtape is inspired by the literary genre Nordic Noir

Also known as Scandinavian Noir or Scandinavian Crime Fiction, this genre is dark and complicated—just like Scandinavians. Right? Realistic and morally complex, these crime fiction thrillers will pull you in for days. If you like Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, or Stieg Larsson, then this mixtape is especially for you. To complement the sinister leanings of books in this genre, this mix errs on the side of pop to soothe your soul. From '90s favorites like Ace of Base to contemporary pop queens like Maya Vik, get down to some refreshingly danceable tunes all created by artists of the Nordic persuasion. And if you must know, there might be a few extra Robyn tracks thrown in for good measure. 

So crack open that book, hit play and get ready to get down—Scandinavian style. Skål!

PAPERCUTZ Vol. 1: Nordic Noir from Paper Darts on 8tracks Radio.

Tracklist:

1.) Ace of Base, "All That She Wants"

2.) Robyn, "Dancehall Queen"

3.) The Knife, "Pass This On"

4.) Niki & The Dove, "Somebody"

5.) Maya Vik, "Get Low"

6.) The Cardigans,"Lovefool"

7.) Miike Snow, "Animal"

8.) Lykke Li, "I Follow Rivers" (The Magician Remix)

9.) Icona Pop, "I Love It"

10.) Robyn, "Do You Know (What It Takes)"

11.) Robyn, "Dancing on My Own"

Wednesday
Mar122014

Control Hero: Participatory Storytelling and Gaming

 

Dakota Sexton


When I was 14, I was an antisocial teenage gamer with a boyfriend who I thought looked a bit like Vin Diesel. He also owned a dirt bike. We both played an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game, for the uninitiated) called Lineage. On off days, I should add, I also killed a lot of virtual shit with other dudes. But I’ll always remember him.

Maybe it was just because of the crush on Vin Diesel. Or the fact that I did almost nothing else. But without even having the vaguest sense of a running plot in Lineage, I felt part of something bigger. Unlike now.

Now I mostly think of MMOs as a mess of level-grinding and economics-based weirdness. And I talk more about video game-obsessed webcomics (Penny Arcade, MacHall, Little Gamers, Ctrl+Alt+Delete, Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, and so many more) than I actually talk about games themselves.

I decided to try to recapture the old flame by signing up for the Elder Scrolls Online beta. Within minutes of logging on and getting to a character creation page, things are pretty cool. There are just short of a bajillion ways to customize a character, but I can handle it. Do I want to wear a tiara while slaying undead corpses? Of course not—it’s silly. I do want to wear delicate, dangly earrings, though. And I don’t give a shit about hand size or forehead height.

But then there’s the screen with boobs. I can’t decide how large my boobs should be. Do I go big? I briefly feel completely unsure about this. I highly doubt it feels this existential to most gamers. People immediately know exactly what kind of boob they want, probably. Just like people know which way toilet-paper should be facing in bathrooms and whether they care about sports.

Yet I can’t help but wonder how that’s supposed to reflect on me. Being able to choose the size of my own boobs hardly embodies (or affirms) my own sexuality or my desires. It’s not like my identity even boils down to having boobs or not having boobs—something that is also particularly relevant in discussions of the feminism (or lack thereof) at play in the movie Her.

Eventually I decide that I just shouldn’t care so much. So I go for middle-of-the-road boobs and start playing.

In past versions of this game, players have had a lot of control over how to respond to morally ambiguous situations. That included being able to choose to lie, steal, or even assassinate innocent folks. And that opened to the door, predictably, to more favors or additional story. The game also built in a lot of completely unexpected continuity, however, as well—and that trend definitely continues in the online beta.

At one point, out of nowhere an attractive NPC named Jakarn I’d once chosen to sneak out of prison appeared behind me. He’s not exactly a “necessary” character. After recruiting him to the crew of a ship and going on my way, I didn’t expect to see him again a whole lot. But then he appears behind me, in the middle of nowhere, and cat-calls me.

He then claims that he’s been following me silently from a distance, ever since I left town. That’s not creepy. Do all the ladies he knows get this treatment? What about his bros?

Clearly, I have loads of objections to a guy being able to be super creepy simply because A) he’s perceived to be handsome and B) I’m a woman that must want that attention. But this is also a great example of exactly the kind of participatory storytelling that I want.

I don’t necessarily need a story to be that original. In the Kickstarter-funded, choose-your-own-shenanigans version of Hamlet by Ryan North—To Be Or Not To Be—no one expects to be able to get a brand new ending. But most of us still want to be able to have the enjoyable experience of getting to choose just how they get to the point where either they die, or everyone dies.

It’s that idea of [limited] choice that’s most important here. I want to be able to feel really guilty or excited because of the consequences of how I navigated a storyline. I want to feel like some of my past actions really mattered. If I can do that, plus actually be able to succinctly talk up a game’s plot while drinking [or playing] with friends? Then I will totally consider paying a monthly subscription for an MMO.


 

Friday
Feb282014

Alyse Knorr's Annotated Glass: Get Intimate with Alice in Wonderland

Dakota Sexton

Everyone has a story to tell about Alice. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be dark. In two episodes of Syfy’s now-canceled show Warehouse 13, Alice is a murderous young girl literally trapped in a mirror, like some kind of literary Bloody Mary or even maybe just the young-adult version of the Polish nightmare Baba Yaga. In the survival horror game American McGee’s Alice, Alice leaves behind a ten-year stay at a mental asylum only to discover that Wonderland has become exponentially more violently twisted, in response to her own mental instability.

Since the video game’s initial original release in 2000, that overall storyline—Alice lives in an asylum for a decade and Wonderland becomes progressively, more exponentially warped over time—has been again recycled, into the premise behind the ABC television series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. For some reason, the show tries to be more family friendly, and there’s an added twist involving Alice and some kind of red-carpet flying guy invented for the sake of romance. But we’re still usually never too far from a world of mind-altering drugs and despotic, power-crazed queens.

This whole lineage of recycled plot-lines and emotionally unbalanced women is virtually discarded in Alyse Knorr’s debut collection of poetry, Annotated Glass.

Alice’s world is, at times, just as mystical and bizarre. At one point, her father is “more driftwood than man.” And there is a pretty palpable sense of loss, just like any Alice retelling. Yet highlighting only these aspects is just lazy. There is loss. And there are also moments when legs quickly multiply like a flock of migratory birds—and at one point Alice burns up a full 1.4 billion acres of rainforest with a handful of matches.

But underneath the surface of it all, the meat and potatoes of the story—and the thing that really makes each poem hum as one living, organic thing—is its exploration of intimacy.

Some of the relationships explored: Alice and her father, Alice and her siblings, and most memorably—Alice and one of her lovers, Jenny. Alice’s interest in Jenny feels about as provocative and inviting as fairly-worn socks. I don’t mean that in a bad way.

I mean, it’s a bit like when you are falling in love with someone, and virtually everything seems to hold the potential to tell you a new story about the person you admire. And the love you feel is the kind where you want to know everything, and want to study everything, like some kind of statistics-obsessed fangirl. You are fascinated by those socks, and those socks make you want to be closer to that person, closer to their most vulnerable feelings. You just might want to be that person’s defender, for better or for worse. Andrei Codrescu obsessed over this in his essay “A Kind of Love” in The Muse Is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans, and it’s a kind of love that he says, makes you “her defender, the messenger of her qualities, the trumpeter of her records, the fan of her history.”

Reading Annotated Glass, it’s easy to want to be that kind of fan. And maybe Alice does too. At a reception for a play that both Alice and Jenny attend, the protagonist notes:

As she looks at me I notice several new lines on her face and feel like
an explorer, so I lean in and kiss her left cheek—chastely. She sighs
and says, Alice.

None of this feels like just another recycled Alice yarn, just another story heavy with drug references and laced with loss. In fact, it’s probably the most fully-fleshed out Alice we’ve ever gotten. Purchase a copy of the book here.

More about Alyse Knorr | Read Alyse Knorr's poetry in Paper Darts

Tuesday
Feb252014

THEM: Surviving Between and Outside Literary Boundaries

Lizzy Shramko

Picture this. You are a ‘Sapien on the dance floor. A Pteridophyta DJ has just finished their set. The floor clears out, and the DJ comes your way. Their mouth is surrounded by “root-like tendrils” and their fronds vibrate in ways that catch your attention when they laugh. Inexplicably you realize there is an attraction between the two of you—something you have not experienced with a Pteridophyta, or even know was possible. This attraction morphs into a fragrant, explosive, intimate, and by all means interspecies experience that you will probably never forget.

This is the premise of one of the pieces in the debut issue of THEM, a magazine that artfully traverses literary boundaries. Levi Sable’s “Glitter on the Dance Floor” is a sexy, visceral story that pulls readers from their own embodied experience into a world where ‘Sapiens and Pteridophytas share social spaces, a world where protein packs provide nutrition, and where characters communicate beyond words. This story exists alongside our reality; it pushes our boundaries of humanness, physicality, and intimacy. And it is also an example of how centering writing around non-normative gender markers creates a space to transform the way we think of identifiers, the ways we build characters and the possibilities for narratives.

THEM is breaking social/political boundaries in addition to the new literary worlds they are opening up. It’s described as the country’s first trans* literary magazine. But “trans*” is not nearly as succinct a descriptor as one might suppose. Unfamiliar with the terminology? Editor Jos Charles describes it as this: “’Trans*’ is an umbrella term meant to include not just transgender identities, but any person who does not exclusively identify as the gender assigned at their birth.” But don’t get it twisted—THEM is not trying to make metanarratives about trans* writers and the stories they have to tell.

Charles goes on to explain, “It was my hope with THEM to facilitate a space that prioritizes writers who address trans* bodies in their complexities—work that doesn’t appeal to ‘being trans*’ as if it were one neat, complete narrative. No one is ‘just trans*.’"

Race, class, ability, and sexuality are just some of the intersections that constitute the violence trans* folks face.

The journal was founded by Charles to open up a space for genderqueer and trans* writers that did not pigeonhole them in the ways that some LGBTIQ publishing forces traditionally have. In an interview with Lambda Literary, Charles explained, “My first concern is facilitating a space where trans* writers can find solidarity and respect for the multitude of differing identities among us.” Currently, Jae Cornick and Emerson Whitney are also co-editors for the magazine.

THEM's debut issue

So how else does this magazine open new world of literary possibility? That’s beautifully illustrated by Calvin Gimpelevich’s story, “Innovation, Reversal, and Change.” The story temporally reverses a coming of age narrative, one which recounts the dissonances that the main character encountered when transitioning across age and gender. It’s a powerful move that exposes the alienation felt by the protagonist while illuminating the confusion they feel compounded by other characters’ reactions to their changing body. Gimpelevich ends with this: “You are a six year old girl in the shell of a physically impressive man. The distinctions between your mind and your body are blurred. You are young and old and strong and weak.

“You are, in short a conundrum.”

Clearly, trans* writers do not all experience the world in one way. Thematically “trans* writing” cannot function as a genre—even if some publishing houses might disagree. THEM is daring not only because it opens up a space for trans* writers, but because it has illustrated in their first issue that they seek out work that defies literary convention. It calls for writers who actively challenge the status quo. And while many of these writers might do this to survive, it is clear that these moves will have larger implications for the world of literature. Our literary history is built around the rules of binary gender. Gendered names. Gendered actions. Gendered destinies. I challenge you to find a book from the canon or popular culture that does not have these components—where a central part of the story and the character’s identity does not revolve around their gender. Ernest Hemingway? No way. Jonathan Lethem? I don’t think so.

The truth is, if you think about how obsessed our culture is with assigning gender and ascribing meaning to this identifier, it becomes clear that a journal that calls for trans* submissions is not radical—a society that violently defends and rewards the illogic of cisgender logic is radical.

Here’s hoping that THEM continues to publish boundary-breaking work. The complicated and diverse voices it promotes—which at this moment exist on the margins of the literary world—will come to redefine the ways we think about language and literary convention. Aside from the political and social implications of this work (of which there are many), as consumers, editors, and writers—we would be vastly better for it.

THEM is currently seeking submissions for their summer issue. They will be accepting pieces until April 15. You can submit here.

Monday
Feb242014

It's Time to Go Deeper than the VIDA Count

Holly Harrison 

Each year . . . we manually, painstakingly tally the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews. We do this to ignite and fan the flames of necessary discourse. We do this each year because our literary community can only benefit from a range of voices. —VIDA

The 2013 VIDA Count came out today and we saw more of the same: national publications dominated by male writers. It’s a trend that stretches across all American media, low brow and high. It’s the kind of thing that, once seen, cannot be unseen. At first it just infuses a little guilt into your enjoyment of a magazine or a TV show or a video game. Eventually, it fucking consumes you.

Literary magazines like those examined by VIDA have the power to cause change at publishing houses, where the male writers greatly outnumber female writers—and it’s practically required. By featuring more original work by female writers, by reviewing more books by female writers, these magazines could even the scales and alter the literary landscape for the better. But no. Of course not.

[Stabilizing breath.]

We counted, and in 2013 Paper Darts published 55 female writers and 43 male writers. This doesn’t include repeats (as VIDA does in its tally). If it did, the female-to-male ratio would be even more steeply female, as most of our staffers and repeat blog contributors are women.

We passed the test, and we’re glad we did. Here’s the thing, though: we didn’t have to try.

The vast majority of what we publish came from our unsolicited submissions in our slush pile. We accept what we like, and about 50 percent of the time, what we like comes from female writers. That’s not to say we’re unaware or uncommitted to equal representation—we notice when the table of contents in our print mag is dominated by men’s names or when three of the four readers we’ve lined up for an event are men. It makes us squirm. We try to correct it. We often succeed.

But achieving representative numbers when it comes to gender doesn’t mean it’s time to chill. There’s so much more to diversity than that, and where Paper Darts succeeds in one challenge, we fail in so many others. Where does race fit into the conversation? Sexuality? Not to mention that there are more than two genders. And this does not even speak to the content of stories spun by these writers or the perspectives represented in those stories.

In 2014 and beyond, we want to give a shit. And we want you to give a shit. We want to work for it. We want to be held accountable for who we publish, who we partner with, who we highlight. It’s time to better ourselves. Are you along for the ride?

Thursday
Feb202014

Defending Folk (and Country) with Radio K's Mountain Connection

Dakota Sexton

On any given day, student DJs at the University of Minnesota’s Radio K station are giving listeners “creamy filling” cultural commentary that might or might not include deadpan weather reports and even more deadpan unsolicited advice to angry sports fans. They may also be mispronouncing band names. (It’s one of their most heavily-marketed selling points, actually: Radio K. Mispronouncing band names since 1993.)

More prestigiously, the station was also nominated for four separate CMJ music awards, including Best Radio Station and Best Programming, just last September. And the station produces what could safely be called an egalitarian mix of specialty shows, ranging from British to instrumental to metal music to even—one of my favorites—a show simply called Mountain Connection. It’s run jointly by two people: senior Halley Rose Nevels and sophomore Ross Koeberl. (Ross also pulls double-duty as the station’s Music Director and, shortly before meeting me, had just spent 27 hours at the studio. [Don’t worry: he also makes time for classes, and he even washes his own dishes.])

They formally describe their two-hour show as a mix of music “that came from the past and became the folk and American music of today,” but are also keen on including world folk and more contemporary music as well.

I talked to them about how to defend country; if folk is dead; forgotten women musicians of the '50s, ’60s and ’70s; and more.

Paper Darts: Why did you start Mountain Connection?

Halley: I really wanted to start a folk and bluegrass show. Our dynamic right now is kind of the same as what I had with [former co-host] Shelby. Shelby would bring in new stuff and I would have old bluegrass stuff.

My favorite genre could be described as old people, in the ’50s, recording on their front porch. I’ve played songs that were literally: an old lady, on her porch, in ’64 in the woods in North Carolina. And in the middle of the song she hacks something up. And she keeps going. And I’m like, yes! This is my genre! These are my people!

Ross definitely brings more bluegrass, but he also brings a lot more new music. Especially since he has so much exposure to it as a Music Director.

Ross: We also have the common denominator that a raw song is like, a young guy who is really sad and hammering really hard on a guitar and screaming.

Halley: Sad acoustic boy screaming.

Ross: Yes. Fairly popular genre.

You can’t actually relate to Zeppelin unless you’re climbing a mountain and there’s a beautiful woman on top.

PD: You know, I don’t know where I would’ve been in high school without Conor Oberst just…screaming.

Ross: That’s the sad boy who set the precedent.

Halley: I know, I wish I would have known about Crywank in high school.

Ross: I would have been exactly as uncool as I was, but I would have had better taste. I was still listening to Led Zeppelin really hard then, and you can’t actually relate to Zeppelin unless you’re climbing a mountain and there’s a beautiful woman on top. And you make love on the mountain. Which I especially wasn’t doing.

Halley: I was at an Amon Amarth show last night and I was screaming alone, like, “I will overthrow the throne!” And I’m—I’m not actually going to overthrow a throne, I do not relate to this, but I’m going pretty hard right now.

Ross: It was a metaphor. The mountain was a metaphor for high school.

PD: So I was driving a couple of weeks ago and listening to Mountain Connection. And you both had a country set planned, but you were like, “Don’t worry guys! It’s totally not from the ’90s. Before that! We promise!”

Halley: There has to be an asterisk there, whenever you’re like, we’re gonna play a country song.* Pause. [We’re gonna play] Loretta Lynn.

Ross: No mention of a truck. Maybe a mention of a dog leaving. Timeless themed. (Laughs)

 Halley: (Hands a pickle and a piece of celery to Ross.) Here, you can have this.

Ross: (Looks at the pickle, which is very fancy looking.) I just want this. With a little bit of lemon, maybe. I mean, what a great new restaurant concept.

PD: Just the Pickle? That would have to be the name of it. Just the Pickle. The euphemisms alone…. So do you plan what to say for each show?

Halley: If there’s an artist we’re really excited about, or if there’s a really cool back story, we’ll make notes to make sure we say certain things.

Ross: I tell the same story every time I play a musician named Connie Converse. She graduated top of her class, and was going to do big things with her life. She moved to New York, and got really into folk, recorded some stuff, and then became a secretary at a school in Michigan. One day, she wrote letters to her family saying, “I’m bored.” And then she packed up her car and disappeared. No one’s ever heard from her again.

The guy who recorded just a couple of demos in his kitchen with this woman has been passing them around for years, and eventually someone went for a wide release. And I heard it. And it’s one of my all-time favorite things. And every time we play it on the show I tell this story. And I’ll draw it out.

There’s so many facts that we can get really excited about during a show where we get to curate the content so heavily.

Halley: We feel bad—there’s a couple key artists who we play, and we can go on a tangent about. Like Jean Ritchie. She’s from Kentucky and known as the mother of folk. I found out she lives in Berea, which is like half an hour from where my parents live in Kentucky. And I found her son on Facebook, and I really want to send him a message, because she’s ninety, and say, “Is there any way I could go to Berea and talk to your mom?”

It would be the most incredible experience. She’s been such an influence on folk music, for so long, that it would just be an honor to go and talk to her.

There’s a mild folk revival, but as a trend, people never take it the full way. And learning the banjo is really hard. We can both vouch for that.

PD: Who else do you admire?

Halley: Sibylle Baier is another of my big influences.

Ross: It’s weird. There’s practically a subgenre of women folk artists from the ’60s and ’70s who no one remembered until three or four years ago. Like Vashti Bunyan. She made some weird album and faded off, and then Animal Collective collaborated with her and she just came back with a bang, and everyone was really excited about her all of a sudden. It’s the same proverbial tale. A lot of them died in obscurity, too.

Halley: With Sibylle Baier, she had all these home recordings she made throughout the ’70s. And then I think it was her son that got a hold of them and got them released in 2006. Possibly my favorite album. She has this really clear, gorgeous alto voice. Her guitar playing is really simple. Just a few simple chords but she makes it so beautiful and dark.

Ross: I think the good thing about folk is that it is always dealing with themes that are pretty relevant. And especially with music that’s being re-discovered, I think it just adds a renewed sense of relevance. As though it was valued at the time, and we can still reconnect with it.

PD: Do you hear a lot of contemporary folk? Or is there really, practically, no new folk?

Ross: I don’t know. As a music director, I get 80 albums a week. It’s a constant flow. And I don’t get that much folk.

Halley: It is nice to get bands like Trampled by Turtles, Pert’ Near Sandstone, bluegrass groups like that.

But it is distressing. That sounds a little dramatic. But it’s distressing to me that there is a pattern of bands that start out really bluegrassy. Really raw recordings. The Avett Brothers and their self-titled album are a prime example. A Carolina Jubilee is just incredible. But their new album sounds so manufactured.

Ross: It became trendy. There’s a mild folk revival, but as a trend, people never take it the full way. And learning the banjo is really hard. We can both vouch for that—we used to have banjos sitting in the corner of our rooms that I was so nervous to touch. Because I’m like, this is going to sound horrible, and my roommates hate it when I play banjo. Which is not a shock. I am that roommate now, the one who practices banjo.

PD: Better than having a roommate that’s like, “I play the saw now.”

Halley: That sounds awesome!

PD: It was horrible.

Ross: It is really hard to become proficient in that, in banjo. And because of that, bands try it on as a flavor, and then it’s like, oh this is just a pop-rock song and here’s three banjo notes. From the outside, from the label of folk, people just see it as lazy. And that there’s not that much innovation. But there are always interesting things that will pop up once or twice.

Bon Iver is a good example of that. He just went off in the woods and did his own thing and it happened to catch on.

PD: Yeah, and the fact that [Iver’s other project] Volcano Choir is from Eau Claire? Which most of us know as, just, that place you pass on your way to Chicago.

Ross: There’s always that. [We’re] always shocked when something does come out of a location that seems really quiet.

PD: Right. Wet Hot American Summer was shot both in Honesdale and on Lake Wallenpaupack, AKA rural Pennsylvania, which surprises me. I used to live there for three years while working for a [now-defunct] magazine.

Halley: What? That sounds awesome. Is there a sign there?

PD: No, they totally don’t capitalize on that at all.

Halley: There should be engraved plaque. Here in the year of our Lord 2001…. Michael Showalter was here.

Ross: What Minnesota town was Grumpy Old Men shot in? They love Grumpy Old Men. They brag about it, all over the place. It’s awesome.

Halley: They’re so into Grumpy Old Men.

Ross: I would be, too.

PD: So has anything made your stomach drop while on air?

Ross: I was doing my training shifts overnight, and I would come two hours early to hang out with the guy who would be before me. So I was hanging out from like midnight to 4 in the morning. Just completely dead tired. So we’re not really paying attention, and suddenly I heard [a song] drop the F bomb and I was like “Ohhhh this is bad. Matt, what do I do?”

And he was like, “Oh just leave it on. I’m sure it won’t say it again.” And then it does, and I just slam it off, and I’m like, “I’m never listening to you again. There’s gonna be like two minutes of dead air while I get ahold of the situation.”

Halley: Especially when you first start, it’s like, “the FCC and their hounds are outside the window howling.” I was sure I was going to get FCC-arrested. It’s so nerve-wracking.

Ross: Unfortunately, too, a lot of independent musicians are a lot more free to include “fuck” in their band name. Like, Holy Fuck and Fucked Up. And then like, you go “We just played this song by Fffff—Buttons.” It’s always entertaining to listen, especially if you know the person, and you can just drag on them for years to come.

Mountain Connection airs on Radio K on Sundays from 10am to Noon (Central Time), both locally and online.

Illustration and logo by Rose Kohrman.