Ferndale Area District Library’s Benefit Concert
8pm – All ages
$5 -suggested donation (how much do you love libraries?)
An interview with singer/songwriter/sound-crafter Chris Bathgate, with Ferndale Area District Library circulation specialist, Jeff Milo
This is the third year in a row that I’ve co-hosted a Benefit Concert for the Ferndale Library. I’ve worked here five years and for all five of those years, the library has been struggling to raises its revenues back to pre-recession levels (i.e., pre-2008). When an economy drags it lowers the housing values and effects the property taxes that go to fund the library… It’s a long story that likely gets deeper into some more economics jargon, but I’d rather use this Benefit Concert as something more… Could our library use the support? Of course, but could our library, like all libraries everywhere, use a bit of help in terms of advocacy? Like, reminding as many folks as possible of the immeasurable worth of a library and the services it provides… It’s easy to overlook in a post-Internet age, like the Post Office or Telephone Booths… No, wait, like Museums and Theatres, Libraries are in danger of being ignored out of some alarming misconception that they’ve worn into an obsolescence now that we all have Wi-Fi, Netflix and Google image searches for our Picasso jpegs and Michealangelo memes…
Rather than get off on that tangent. I wanted to use this article as an opportunity for concert attendees to learn more about (or catch back up with) Chris Bathgate, an extraordinary talent and a profoundly moving poet of neo-folk and experimental rock ruminations. You might have heard him before on Daytrotter, Paste Magazine or NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. He’s nearing completion for a couple of different music projects that would follow up his critically acclaimed Salt Year album.
When I first started booking this concert, Bathgate was the first to reply…with an enthusiastic: YES
Chris…., I have this grand, overarching question that basically aims at covering everything you’ve been working on these last three years… So, what’s the story?
Chris Bathgate: Ahh, sure thing! Well…Early next year, I’m planning on releasing an EP that had been pulled three years ago. It’s finished. We’ll likely drop a single in a little while, though I’ve no dates yet to announce yet. I’ve gotten back to working on solo material, and the SKULLLS record will be done this year. It’s going well. Slowly, though.
Who’s been working with you on SKULLLS, mainly? Other instrumentalists, songwriters, producers?
Chris Bathgate: At the moment, the collaborative map of SKULLLS looks like a spoked wheel with no outer ring. I’m still working with the same fine folks that SKULLLS has always been (Graham Parsons, Ben Gugino, Max Lockwood, Nick Harp, Michelle Brosius). Though the songs still live half-in-my-brain and half-in-the-studio, right now. We’re on track with that project finally, I can’t wait to share a single.
An EP shelved three years prior… How do you navigate the frustrating waves of start and stop, up and down, hurry & go and then stop & wait… That sounds frustrating when it comes to creating something you care about deeply…
Bathgate: I’m not sure I’ve ever navigated the stop/start very well, I do the best I can, when I can. Money comes, money goes. I’d rather have it take five years and make a record that sounds the way I want, I guess…(but) that model doesn’t mesh well with the “industry.” But, then, maybe I care less about that than ever before. Some things have to wait; you can only release a record once.
What helps calm the anxious voices in your head that might urge you to contort to the industry… What’s kept you focused what’s been the motivation-restoration reservoir…for you?
Bathgate: I’ve learned the hard way never to show a puzzle that’s half completed. People see the hole in the work rather than its potential. The hole is filled in my mind, so the image (the record) makes sense to me. There’s very few that it translates to in that form. I’m sitting in front of four puzzles at the moment; some are close to being completed, some I just have the corner pieces pressed in… That’s strictly speaking of musical puzzles. I’m also working on a collection of poetry, still, also a screenplay. I’m just developing my skills as a writer. I’m still interested in momentum, but, for my process it seems unrealistic to crank out an album (or piece of art) every year. Fans and friends have been extra patient with me, and I’m exceedingly grateful for that…. Brian Peters (of Quite Scientific Records) may have said it best when chatting with his collaborators at the label: “Chris is going to turn in a record when he’s ready…” and that day is in the seeable future. Perhaps that is the current motivator, I can sense I’m out of the songwriting trenches.
So, we’ll likely see some physical releases in upcoming seasons…? What can we expect to hear?
Bathgate: I can safely say you’ll see me much more active in 2016, with releases. These forthcoming music is something I’ve doted over. Though, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m about to drop a super polished album, I’ve little interest in sounding that way, still. There’s plenty of jagged edges in the music, still, I’m looking for them at this point, and assessing which ones hold space and which ones don’t. SKULLLS, meanwhile, is really about vision. A limited palette with a distinct lyrical agenda… Heavy, polysemic, and really interested in homophone. Drums…piano…new guitar ideas, and placing things in the mind of my collaborators, trusting their sensibilities. That’s worked well and let me make an album that’s far more outside myself than anything prior.
You’re very specific about which shows or tours you choose… So, first of all, it’s endearing and downright awesome that you were the first one to step up for this Library Benefit concert.
Bathgate: I’m interested in the preservation of Libraries. I use them, they are indispensable to my experience and work. They have provided me with access to countless inspirations and lessons. Integrating music and any awareness about libraries strikes a chord. I have some experiences teaching creative writing, and literature. I worry that the majority of young people are losing reading and writing skills. I think the digital age is a contributing factor. That’s being reductive. I don’t mean to merely draw a big circle around a problem, it is more nuanced than that.
It’s becoming more than that, for libraries at least… It’s becoming imperative for these institutions to almost justify their own existence by means of public relations campaigns. So many out there overlook the vital services provided here, let alone the living history stored, with great care, on its shelves… But then, I’m biased.
Bathgate: When you reached out initially, I was thrilled to have a chance to support the Ferndale Area District Library. Libraries are one of our greatest resources. I’ve known homeless folks who’ve successfully defended themselves in court after researching their case in the U-M Law Library. The impact (libraries) can have upon one’s life is profound. They are still more powerful than the internet… So, the concerns over literacy or reading and writing skills aside…what matters is that Libraries and the culture they help create are invaluable. I could list the reasons ‘till I’m blue in the face…
And that makes it doubly endearing for everyone on this lineup, each band, each musician, each singer, each writer, to have stepped up to say that they care about public libraries.
Bathgate: Yes, in essence, the struggle of the library resonates strongly with my values. Also, for me, as a fan of your writing and your role in the community, it’s where your life smashes together. It’s the intersection of the two outward personas I know you to have… Support Jeff’s cause? Of course. Especially…when it’s a library!