Posts Tagged ‘interview’

Interview: Flowerdrum Bags

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Rina  Matsui-Houghton is a Malaysian-born, Berlin-based handbag designer who focuses on creating beautiful handcrafted bags of unique distinction.

I met Rina a few years ago and was immediately blown away by her drive and passion for creating awesome bags and mini carry-alls, made from vintage fabrics.

Back in 1999 Rina felt that “Malaysia was ready for a unique label with underground roots and the design-ability to be sold internationally.” She started creating hand-embroidered affordable bags, and clutches for the fashion savvy consumer.

The company named Flowerdrum bags (www.flowerdrum-kl.com) was born, and now produces lines in batches of 12. Bags are created using quality fabric from all over the world; they aren’t mass produced, they’re fresh, different and  sport stand apart, clean-cut designs, a must have for any fashionista!

More recently Rina has been focusing on commissioned work, branching out to create custom-made items for her clients. Last year in Malaysia she took part in her first exhibit of embroideries and fabric collages, entitled 6 Words: Embroidered Stories. I caught up with Rina for an interview to find out more about her interesting grass roots company.

LQ: Where did the name for your bag company come from?

RMH: Unglamorously cribbed the name from a Flowerdrum Song poster at a local theatre!

LQ: Where do you find your vintage prints for the bags?

RMH: As a natural hoarder and digger, I started out with a fair collection of vintage fabrics from my childhood (curtains, mum’s dresses) which I supplement with pieces I find on my travels at markets, etc. There are also a couple of fabric shops in Malaysia that I have been going to for years, the sort of shops where stock hasn’t been updated since the ’60s!

LQ: When did you first start making embroidery projects?

RMH: Started a couple of years ago, to explore but also as thank you gifts for friends who have supported me on my bag endeavours for the last decade.

LQ: Suhana Dewi Selamat’s 6-word memoirs influenced your work for the embroidered stories project. What was it about the memoirs that struck you?

RMH: As a lover of words and the English language, I was struck first and foremost by the brutal honesty of her 6-word essays. How they were food for thought in their simplicity. I like my words on point and how much more “on point” could you be than 6-word essays!

LQ: What do you like most about your job?

RMH: Being the boss of my own time, the flexibility to travel/take time off, the independence of only being able to blame myself for cock ups!

LQ: What do you have in store at Flowerdrum Bags for this year?

RMH: Flowerdrum Bags works in mysterious organic ways! Along with the usual desire to push the label to boutiques in foreign shores, I am hoping to work on a new embroidery project. New bags will be up soon for spring/summer and I plan to drive more traffic to the web-shop. I’ll also continue my crusade to get more people to understand and appreciate VINTAGE fabrics!

Leanda is a writer based in Toronto. For the past 13 years she has hosted & produced music radio shows, managed bands & worked in online music PR. She now runs a music site & also writes for music & culture magazine `Relevant BCN`. Read more of her writing here - http://www.bloggertronix.com

Delving into The Genius That Is David Sankey

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Whenever I click on a David Sankey sidebar contribution, my heart skips a beat because I know I’m about to fall in love with yet another illustration of the most uplifting aspect of life: Death. Yep, his illustrations always make me wish I were a dead animal because then maybe he would draw me and I’d look as beautiful as those dead animals that he draws. Honestly, I feel very honored to get to ask David Sankey, The Greatest Artist to Have Ever Lived Who Draws Dead Stuff for Fun, a bunch of questions because, obviously, he’s the greatest artist to have ever lived. I mean, I know that one guy, Michael Angelou, could sculpt a mean Pieta, but he’s not nearly as good as David Sankey. I mean, I know that one guy, Van Go, could paint a mean potato eater, but he’s got nothin’ on David Sankey. So, without further ado, here’s the man of the gory hour—David Sankey!

Megan Michelle: You’re the greatest artist to have ever lived. Who do you think is the second greatest artist to have ever lived? Why?

David Sankey: Impossible question. There can only be one. However, the first human that comes to mind is the Biblical Sampson, whose elaborate performance pieces included killing 1,000 men with a donkey’s jawbone and setting foxes on fire.

Q: How did you accrue your mad drawing skillz? To whom/what do you owe your genius?

A: I owe a fair amount of my mark-making ability to my parents, who forced me to find my own fun by forsaking television. In pining for cartoons, I drew Belle’s father, from Beauty and the Beast. I drew my favorite basketball players, because I could not watch them play. I drew on paper, on myself, drew in soap on the bathroom walls. I scratched runes with a dagger-shaped letter-opener into the bedroom doors of our home.

I owe almost as much to teachers who crumpled up my work, spat on it, fed it to me that I might taste my failure and produce only that which was beautiful. And without any irony, I am grateful to the powers that be for allowing me to participate, in a tiny way, in the holy and mysterious act of creation.

Q: If you could marry any piece of art, what piece of art would you marry? Why?

A: In any world where marrying art is okay, I would definitely be a polygamist and shack up with as much of it as I could. But if somehow it had to be just one, I can say with near certainty that I’d pop the question to the Anselm Kiefer sculpture Book with Wings. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years back, and I’ve been head over heals since. I’ve been writing her letters, but they keep coming back, return to sender.

Q: Finding dead animals and drawing them must take a lot of energy and therefore a lot of good, nutritious food. What’s your diet like?

A: I wish I could tell you that I only eat the animals I come across, but my diet is fairly modest. I’m told that I make very good scrambled eggs. I like them well enough. I average three grapefruit a week, and as many scones. Trader Joe’s is a boon to my wallet and palate alike. I’ll never stop loving Taylor Ham, choice breakfast meat of northern New Jersey. I really like yerba mate (is it true that it gives you cancer?). Once, my sister and I unwittingly ate pepperoni made from a black bear that my uncle killed.

Q: (Yes, all naturally-occurring, herbal teas give you cancer.) Now, whenever I write a Pulitzer-prize-winning Sidebar contribution, I always listen to music to help inspire me. Do you listen to music to help inspire you while you work, too? If you do, what inspiring music do you listen to? Backstreet Boys, or Jonas Brothers?

A: I sometimes listen to music while I work, but it’s usually strictly background noise. Maybe it affects my work more than I’d like to think. There’s this great artist, Leif Inge, who slowed down Beethoven’s 9th, just edited it without altering the pitch so that it would take 24 hours to play. It’s great and cosmic. It sounds like the universe expanding and contracting. You can stream it online for free; I do that sometimes. Although, I’m always looking for inspiration in all sorts of mediums. I’ve decided it’s irresponsible to go more than two weeks without purchasing new music. I don’t ever want to not be in the middle of a book. There are too many smart people out there creating wonderful things that need an audience.

Q: I’ve heard that artists tend to not make a lot of money because they are busy being artists and artists tend to not make a lot of money. Are you rich, or are you poor? Have you been forced to take a second job, or are you able to live solely off the income you make from your dead animal portraits?

A: By day, I am a graphic designer. I am neither rich nor poor. I work at a small design firm not far from my home and put in some freelance time on the side. I try to spend as much time with illustration as I can. This keeps me clothed and fed, keeps my rent paid. While I’ve worked with some great clients and created some pieces I’m genuinely proud of, there’s a clear distinction in my mind between the commercial work I handle and the things I make on my own time. The two come from totally different places and mean entirely different things. I think the biggest difference for me is that when I’m working on a self-initiated piece, I feel there’s full potential for me to make a discovery. I think that’s the comically tragic and misleading goal of the artist, really—to happen upon something new, to actually create—that is, to make something from nothing. I’ll let you know when I’ve got that down. Through it all, though, I’m slowly learning to manage my time and productivity, prioritize. Not an easy task.

Q: Have you ever been able to travel to see famous art pieces? Like, have you ever been to the Cistern Chapel or the Lube? If you have, was it really, really great like everyone says it is, or was it just really, really boring like everyone says it is?

A: I haven’t left North America. Of course, I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Moma, the Guggenheim, the New York museums. I’ve seen all that the National Archives has to offer in lovely D.C. Plenty of things from art history books that are beautiful, significant and moderately moving. I never get bored in those places. A few years back, though, I was at a children’s illustration museum in Massachusetts that had some great work. I got to see some of Eric Carle’s very hungry caterpillars. That was a small pilgrimage I won’t forget.

Q: How much does one of your dead animal portraits go for these days? Do you take Visa, Mastercard and/or wampum?

A: These pieces haven’t been priced. I’m open to offers but I don’t think I’d like to split the series up; I think it would be a disservice. I believe they’ve found some companionship and a sense of belonging in their collective afterlife. I accept PayPal, check, cash, wampum, or beaver pelts. I have sold a few pieces in the last year or so for actual American currency. One was through a great gallery in Louisville called the 930 Gallery. I had the opportunity to show some work there on a couple of occasions, and during one of these shows, recording artists Herman Düne came through to play in the gallery’s listening room. Apparently, David, who sings, plays guitar and writes songs, purchased my print. I was really excited about that. I love his music and he’s also a very talented visual artist. That was a huge compliment. I haven’t met him or had a chance to thank him personally, so a big public thank you to David from Herman Düne!

Q: As you well know, a genius artist must acquire perseverance and courageousness to make genius art because it takes a lot of perseverance and courage to make genius art. Also, as you well know, a genius artist must perform a sort of self-incarceration to be able to acquire the aforementioned virtues because perseverance is only produced in the prison and courage can only be conceived in a cage. What’s your prison/cage-residence like, then? Do you have enough room in there for me? If you do, can I come live with you? (thanks)

A: Not long ago, the folks I live with and I set out to build ourselves an ice palace, a snow fort, an igloo. It comfortably housed the four of us, but it was cold. We had candles inside—four grown men, building a snow fort, and then hanging out inside, spending the longer half of a Saturday doing so. It was the very fuel I needed to sustain me for no less than three years of tortured productivity. The roof has since caved in, and I think grass is showing through the floor. I think we could work something out in the way of rent there, but it’s gonna cost you a pretty penny. We’ll have to fly snow in daily from the far north to maintain it. The ongoing construction costs will be huge. It might be worth it. Wireless internet is provided.

Q: It’s common knowledge that whenever an animal dies, a fairy comes to take its soul to Animal Elysium. Why do you always leave these fairies out of your illustrations? Do you have something against fairies or something?

A: I like to pursue in my work the suggestion of the fantastical and the metaphysical. I often think more can be said of the spiritual by way of omission, by abstract inference, than by reference…what I mean to say is, I post all of my fairy drawings exclusively on my page at deviantart.com.*

*For those of you who prefer dead animal portraits, visit David’s other webpage, www.davidsankey.net.

Miss Megan Michelle is a former Classics Major, greatly-skilled Goatherdess and full-time Romantic who has always loved The Living Logos.

On Tour With Crypta-Seize!

Friday, October 9th, 2009

cleveland

Finally! A dream fulfilled! I’m touring with the pop sensation Crypta-Seize. The glamour. The strobe lights! The paparazzi! The eye shadow. Pinch me now, wake me from this fabulous slumber, lest I spend an eternity of fantasies ensconced in stage lights and taffeta and ticker tape. I am star struck! Guitarist Chris Cohen’s school-boy sweaters and plaid button-ups and 1950s good-boy hair-cut taunt and tease the legions of teenage fans. And what about lead singer Nedelle with her exotic Italian pout, her 80’s housewife attire: high waisted jeans, oversized Ts, and a vibrant “mom-bob”? The bass player who looks as if he’s just been Bar-mitvahed. A jazz drummer who looks like Jooaquin Phoenix, the rapper, not the actor.  This is the recipe for Hot Rocks! I am living the dream!

The publicist says I get to email Nedelle Torrisi some Qs about stardom, stadiums, and starlight mints (on their rider!). What should I ask?

Q:  Nedelle, I’m so excited to ask you: what’s it like on stage, with all the lights, with all the screaming fans, with all the feedback from the monitors!?
A: I’m in spotlight hog heaven, really. I’m living the dream. It took me a long time to get here, but I’ve arrived and I’m here to stay.

Q: Do you practice your dance moves back stage in front of a mirror?
A: Yes, my moves don’t just materialize out of thin air. Everything I’m presenting to the fans is a result of hard work and lessons from Patty’s Studio of Dance.

Q: Do you ever wear a unitard on stage?
A: No, but ever since I saw the Judas Priest “Behind the Music” on the bus I’ve been considering it. If Rob Halford can look hot in one, there’s hope for me!

Q: Are you and Chris brother and sister?
A: We’re first cousins.

Q: Is the song “Cosmic Sing-a-long”  about middle school gym class?
A: Yes! You’ve been reading the blogs, haven’t you!

Q: Reverb or delay, if you had to choose one over the other?
A: Reverb!

Q: What’s the situation in Lebanon?
A: Dismal.

Q:  Is your tour bus pimped out? I.e. are there mirrors on the ceilings?
A: Yes! It’s such a bachelor pad. There’s even a circular couch in a secret back room where we take our nightly conquests.

Q: Have you had any work done? i.e. lip-implants? hair extensions?
A: Just Lee press-on nails.

Q: Is your drummer Joaquin Phoenix?
A: Unfortunately no. But he looks like a cross between Joaquin and a shorter Devendra Banhart.

Q: PC or MAC?
A: I don’t have a computer.

Q: Do you sell onesies at the merch table? For adults?
A: American Apparel ruined onesies for me. Now I think all babies look like slutty teenage girls.

Q: Do you have any embarrassing tattoos? Can you upload photos to twitter right now please?
A: Yes, I have spider webs on my elbows. I totally regret it so I’d rather not tweet them.

Q: Is Chris a time traveler from the 1950s?
A: Yes. If we were to bounce a ball on the tour bus, and another rock band was loading their gear on the side of the road, the ball would appear to move at a different speed to them, you feel me?

Q: Is English your second language?
A: You can tell?

Q: Are you afraid of snails? Like, if you were trapped in quick sand and they were all over your face?
A: Clusters of things gross me out- so yeah, snails all over my face would be visually unpleasing.

Q: Do you know if they still make CD Walkmen? I mean, who still uses that?
A: Funny you should ask, Aaron (Crypta-seize bass player) still uses a discman and brings an oversized case logic on tour with him. It needs its own seat belt, the thing weighs a ton.

Q: Did you invest in Sony Walkman, LLC? And do you totally regret it now?
A: I lived in Frisco during the dotcom crash and it wasn’t pretty.

Q: Will you sign my hard drive?
A: NO

Q: What’s your favorite internet provider?
A: Google

Q: Do you think Michael Jackson is still alive? Like, do you think he’s in outer space watching over us.
A: I heard when they discovered his body it was too late to cyrogenically freeze him, which I’m sure he’s pissed about.

Q: Is your bassist on lava life?
A: He’s not old enough, he’s only 13!

Stevens v. Stephens

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

shannon_stephens_-_zack_bent_-_1
[Ed: Shannon Stephens just released The Breadwinner. More info here.]

Back in my collegiate days, in Holland, Michigan, I was in a band called Marzuki, named after my older brother, who wasn’t in the band. Our striking lead singer was a local songwriter named Shannon Stephens (we shared last names but with different spellings), who had a gorgeous alto voice like Judy Collins and a penchant for writing catchy folky songs about love and heartache. Like most college bands, Marzuki was an entertaining and clumsy affair, a well-meaning but confused hobby project that never quite found its footing. As a band, we just weren’t that good. We played what might be described as confessional folk pop songs with faux-Celtic undertones, toying (occasionally) with melodrama and multiple meters in an attempt distinguish ourselves from all those other mediocre college bands. There were drones, and jigs, and songs about mice and songs about love and songs about God. We jammed in the basement of Durfee Hall, played shows in Vorhees Hall, and ate lunch in Phelps Hall. Our big break was playing at Calvin College, opening for October Project. Which lead to a monumental (and misguided) excursion to New York City, in the hopes of making it. We quit school, lived in the lower class suburbs of northern New Jersey, commuted to laborious day jobs in Manhattan, practiced at night, tried recording an EP, played unmemorable shows at historical “landmark” clubs (Kenny’s Castaways, The Bitter End) whose existential names should have cued us to our inevitable ruin. We ate ramen noodles, cried in our sleep, fist-fought, drank too much, and, one year later, packed our bags and went back home unsigned, broke, hungry, empty-hearted, delirious, and permanently chagrined. The world began to take tragic shapes! The world became One Big Rock Band Cliché. I had enough of it. I turned my back on music, went to writing school, became a graphic designer, joined a gym, and found inner peace and happiness. The End.

But what about Shannon, the striking lead singer, with the voice of Judy Collins? Well, in all the fitfulness of a summary: she moved to Seattle, got married, raised a beautiful family, worked in landscaping, and grew older, wiser, and more complete. For ten years, music was set on the backburner while the joys and trials of ordinary life loomed large, as they do.

Until now! This month ushers the first full-length album from Shannon in almost ten years. And Asthmatic Kitty is proud to release this joyful, heartful collection of quiet, gorgeous songs about family, friends, work, love, and the beauty of the world at large (more fitful summaries!). Having lost touch with Shannon all these years, I decided to use the release as a means of catching up, via email. Here’s an account of our discussion:

Sufjan Stevens: It’s been about 10 years since your first LP? Why wait so long? Have you been writing music all along, in private, or did you take a long break from it all?

Shannon Stephens: I made a few half-hearted attempts during those years to write or collaborate, but I never could bring myself to finish the job.  In fact, I made a habit of repressing my inner songwriter.  Occasionally a song would leak out in spite of it all.  “The Breadwinner” and “The Most Delicious Hours” were written when I had a job at an escrow company, fielding pissed-off calls from real estate agents.  It was a job with a lot of stress and no creative engagement, so my brain rebelled by producing songs.  But I never followed the songs through to completion, meaning I never recorded them properly or performed them until now.  Mostly, I was depressed about music and needed to take a break.  For a solo artist to work full-time at a day job to make ends meet while managing all the business duties of a music career AND staying creative was too much work for me, and no wonder I burned out.  After a few years of completely turning my back on all things musical, I started to unwind the tremendous ball of yarn it had become.  I was finally able to enjoy writing again, and then recording, and now performing, without sinking into the mire.

Q: Allow me to indulge in summary and generalization. Your first record was about heartbreak and heartache, among other things. This new record centers on themes of the home, family, and domestic pressures (and pleasures). How do you reconcile the conceptual differences? Is it also a matter of reconciling youth and adulthood?

A: You’re right that the subject matter is really different this time.  Ten years ago I was an innocent, unsophisticated kid with very little subject matter to work with.  Regarding grown-up issues, I was totally naive.  So the only concept that carries over between the two LPs is the concept of autobiographical songwriting.  I didn’t make an effort to build bridges between my previous work and my new stuff, figuring that my ten-year absence would explain the incongruence.  If I had been making music all along for the last decade, there would have been a couple more albums to bridge that gap.

Q: I’m quite embarrassed by some of my older songs, and often feel they’re the product of immaturity. Do you have a similar view of some of your older material?

A: Yes, I do– particularly a few songs from the Marzuki days, when I felt compelled to turn every song into a neat, tidy little gospel message.  I frankly don’t want to perform a lot of those songs now because I can’t really get behind them anymore.  Life is not neat and tidy; neither is the gospel message!  And I don’t want anyone to think I’m suggesting that.

Q: At the same time, people often tend to like the older songs. Is there some kind of psychological disassociation that’s required of us to maintain a healthy view of older material? I never like the idea of condescension toward a song. But I loathe looking back, and the idea of nostalgia makes me sick. Also, I fear that some of the best songs are the product of reckless naivety, the fodder of youth.

A: I’m not sure how to handle requests for some of the more embarrassing songs.  Sometimes a song can be good and immature at the same time.  For instance, going through a college breakup is an event that happens when you are immature.  But if you can articulate it properly, the song transcends the phase of life it was written in.  Other songs are not articulated well in the first place, or they come to the wrong conclusions, and those do not transcend.  Those are the ones you end up wanting to bury.  And those are the ones I’m not currently planning to play at shows.  But the question is still unresolved for me, because those embarrassing songs don’t just belong to me; they also, in a way, belong to the fans whose lives they have affected.  Maybe it is arrogant to refuse to play them, even if they don’t represent me anymore.

Q: What role does music serve in your life now that your priorities are family, job, home, husband, and other transcendent occupations? What is the value and/or purpose of the song amidst all the trials of ordinary life, when you’re raising a child, paying bills, making dinner? For myself, I’m starting to fear that music is far too selfish, self-absorbed, and self-interested for the ordinary life. When I’m entrenched in a project, for instance, the dishes are left undone, the bills left unpaid, the house is a mess. I become sub-human. I begin to despise all my bad habits.

A: I get depressed if I’m not making music.  For the duration of my break from music, I was mildly depressed.  I felt that there was “no time” for anything but work and duty, and I had a despairing attitude about it.  However, it’s amazing how much energy a creative endeavor can bring.  It can often give more than it takes.  I squeeze practicing in between dinner and bedtime.  My daughter and my husband play games and read books while I belt it out in the basement.  It’s roughly an hour a day of rehearsing, but it’s enough to see a gradual improvement, and I come upstairs energized and happy.  Music is self-centered in a healthy way for me because it’s introspective and meditative.  It has to happen alone and at the expense of other duties.  But it brings more vitality to my life and home than, for instance, a clean kitchen could bring.  One notable difference for me now is that I have a partner who picks up the slack and with whom I share this experience.  That makes it more communal– in fact, that makes it possible.  I wouldn’t be doing this without Seth.  I agree with you in the sense that the life of a solo artist can be very unhealthy and isolating.  You’re holed up in a messy house with empty pizza boxes and tangled-up cables, and you don’t want anyone to come over and see the mess.

Q: I’m at a point where I no longer have a deep desire to share my music with anyone, having spent many years imparting my songs to the public. Although I have great respect for the social dynamic of music—that it should be shared with others, that it brings people together—I now feel something personal is irrevocably lost in this process. Now, while I refuse to act wholly on this impulse (I refuse to take my audience for granted in spite of my mood), I’m still trying to find the value of the song in private. Having spent ten years in private (not sharing your music), can you offer some wisdom on this matter? Does a song have any meaning even it’s not shared?

A: I gravitate toward old-style folk music like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger because these guys were writing music for the people.  Their songs really said to people, “You are not alone.”  I’ve always felt a desire to do just that, whether I was conscious of it or not: to speak to people’s lives by speaking about my own.  So I’m never content to have a song that’s purely private.  I always feel a great sense of relief having finished a song, because I’ve articulated the problem, or scratched the itch.  But then I want to get out there and see if anyone else has that same itch, and if my song can scratch it.  That said, I do write lots of songs that never see the light of day.  It was you that said to me years ago that you write one good song for every nine crappy ones.  The nine are destined to be throwaways.  Oftentimes I’ll write several songs around the same musical or conceptual theme, and one of them outshines the rest.  In writing those songs, I’m clearing the way so that I can move on to the better song.  A lot of those rejects are meaningful to me; they’re sort of like journal entries.  Also, I can steal from them later if I need a catchy bridge or something.

Q: Do you have any desire to play shows, tour, do all that stuff?

A: I love to play shows, and I’m really excited to hit the stage again.  Touring is sketchier.  I haven’t been away from my daughter for more than a few hours since the day she was born, and I like that.  I like that she sees me every day, and that we do the same bedtime routine we’ve been doing for almost five years.  But from all I’ve been hearing about the life of a musician right now, touring is the best way to make ends meet.  I’m interested in making ends meet.  So I’m tentatively planning to tour when the opportunity arises, and hoping I can afford to bring my family along.

Q: The “industry” has changed marvelously since your last release ten years ago. Does this have any bearing on your approach to it at all?

A: Apparently the industry is a lot tougher now.  It’s hard to make a living off of record sales.  You have to be savvy and aggressive, not to mention really good.  But I’ve just spent nine years as a gardener in a city with a very high cost of living.  My husband and I have worked our tails off to get the bills paid, and some months we don’t get them all paid.  So I’m accustomed to shucking and jiving and chasing a dollar; it’s in my DNA now.  My approach has a ferocity it didn’t have before simply because I’m hard-wired differently now.  I guess that suits the state of the industry.  Unfortunately, hard work isn’t everything either.  There’s also the element of chance.

Q: How has your voice changed over the years?

A: My voice is in a transitional phase right now.  I’ve been a little scared to let it out of its cage, because it’s showing signs of being a brute.  I took lessons with a wonderful teacher for a couple of years, and she taught me how to strengthen the middle of my range so that I could really sing with guts.  I gained so much power.  I suddenly felt I could sing a whole different style of music.  I started to gravitate toward grittier, bluesier vocal styles.  And I think I’m still headed that direction.  There are hints of it on the new record, but there’s definitely more to come.

Q: What can be said of musical ambition at this point in your life?

A: I’m not attached to any particular outcome.  I have to write, record and perform for the sake of my own mental health.  I would like to keep following my muse, and hope she doesn’t lead me down paths of dorkiness.  I am hoping to be making a living wage sometime in the next few years so that I can quit my gardening job.  Is that too much to hope for?  Probably.

Q: Does your family support you in your musical endeavors?

A: My husband was always confused about my relationship to music during my long break.  He’s thrilled that I am back whole-heartedly.  He actually is doing a ton of the managerial work right now.  He stays up late doctoring the Facebook or the iLike page while I’m sawing logs.  But he mostly just wants me to be a whole person, and knows that music is essential to my health.  My daughter is starting to grasp the ideas of rehearsal and vocal practice, and strange people showing up at the house with instruments to play.  She likes to come visit me when I’m downstairs rehearsing.  She comes in and plays her card games on the floor at my feet while I’m belting out songs.  I call that support!

Q: Are you part of a musical community out there in Seattle? Do you desire to be? Or are you fine on your own?

A: I do desire a musical community, and don’t have much of one at this time.  Mostly, the people who played on my album are my community.  I’ve been going to more shows lately to find out who’s out here and what they’re doing.  So far, I’ve been surprised: there are some great people out here that I’d never heard before.  I’m excited to build a network if it’s based on fun and friendship and collaboration.

Q: Do you miss the experience of collaborating in a band? Do you have good memories working with me and the others in Marzuki? Do you think you’d ever work like that again?

A: I do miss the rigors and joys of being in a band.  I sometimes miss the safety of having three other people to critique and improve upon my musical instincts.  Other times I love the freedom and challenge of trusting my own quirky ideas.  I have great memories of being in Marzuki; most of them are just of sharing daily life.  Our adventure to New York for a year was an intense growing experience for me as a person and a musician.  I even have fond memories of the shouting matches and the ridiculously deep piles of unwashed dishes.  Now I hire a band of grown-ups, and the boundaries are very different.  They have families and rent payments just like I do.  They’re not twenty-somethings with little to lose.  I need to be very organized in order to not waste their time.  But they’re so talented and fun that I get enough of that collaborative joy to keep me happy.  I might be too accustomed to total control to be able to be part of a “band” again, but I would consider it if it came up.

Q: The Internet allows for unprecedented availability of new music at any moment, what I call instant access of indiscriminate excess. The “computer” has encouraged a great proliferation of music just by the nature of its cheapness: affordable laptops, affordable software, affordable connectivity. I revel in the creative convenience of it all. My whole career is founded on computer cheapness. Anyone can make a record, post it, download it, make it happen—regardless of national lines or time zones. Such magnificent democratization of art. But more and more, these days, the excess is getting to me. I sometimes feel I could not, should not, would not participate at all, and that my innocuous music offers nothing new or beneficial to the white noise of it all. What has motivated you to make this record, and release it, in spite of the impending white noise?

A: It’s true that computer cheapness has allowed anyone and everyone to release their own music, which in a way is fabulous– so many people are able to bring their ideas to completion that may have previously only dreamed of it!  But in a way it’s really awful, because the playing field is completely saturated.  You feel like you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with other players, and you have to shout louder and make a bigger buffoon of yourself in order to be heard; and even then, people are so tired and desensitized by all the shouting and buffoonery that they may not listen carefully enough to understand the value of your work.  And yet, when a work is substantive, it can literally jump out of the white noise, like color against black and white.  Some of your songs are magical in that way.  A song like “Casimir Pulaski Day”, which still brings me to tears, is a sanctuary, a quiet place in which to rest from such things as the bombastic schemes of the music industry.  I don’t expect my new album to have a very wide reach simply because there is so much competition.  But maybe it will reach people like you and me, who are worn-out from all the white noise and looking for sanctuary.  That’s what I hope for.  Even if that doesn’t happen, if nobody takes the time to listen, I still needed to release this album as an act of faith that my creative expression is worth bringing to fruition.

Q: We did an interview years ago in which you said some deprecating things about dating, all quite justified, in my opinion. But what’s your view of dating now?

A: Ha ha, very funny!  I think I went on and on about that in our last interview.  Suffice it to say I’m not the fundamentalist I used to be.  I’ve developed a healthy respect for other people and their unique ways of navigating life.  So I have no “view” of dating anymore.  But I’m still glad I took a break from it all those years ago.  I really needed it.

Q: What music have you been listening to?

A: I just listened to Neil Young’s “Harvest” a few months ago, and it blew my mind.  That album was released the year I was born, and though I never heard it, I think somehow it worked its way into my genetic makeup.  I’ve also been memorizing the new Great Lake Swimmers album– I love it completely, which is rare for me.  I’ve been exploring some of the folk greats, like Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash.  When we’re in the car, Ruby and I listen to the Seeger family’s various recordings for children.  And as always, I am still exploring the work of Nina Simone.  She is a huge inspiration for me.

Shannon Stephens, “In Summer in the Heat”
In Summer in the Heat

Maps and Legends

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I’

ve never had the true and honest urge to buy everything in a store until walking into Little Otsu in San Francisco’s Mission District last summer. It’s not just that Little Otsu’s calendars, journals, cards, buttons, and planners are equal parts earnest and inventive. It’s that you can tangibly sense how a community of artists and friends have influenced the accessible, home-spun aesthetic owners Yvonne Chen and Jeremy Crown have built into their business. Using alternative materials like soy-based inks, wood-free papers and sweatshop-free materials, Yvonne and Jeremy relocated a few hundred miles north to Portland last fall to develop the publishing arm of Little Otsu. In addition to running their Valencia Street shop with help from friends, the couple is now focusing full-time on production and sales from their Oregon home.

Sara Billups: Portland, Portland, Portland. If you like to make things, or like made things, and live on the West coast, seems like Portland is this diamond-studded dangling carrot. What about the place did you find enticing enough to make the move there from San Francisco last fall?

Little Otsu: We’d been thinking of moving to Portland for the better part of the past decade and even had a store here in 2004. We came to get to know it better during our trips up here for the store. We have good friends here and love how relaxed and vegan-friendly it is. Finally, it just felt like the right moment for us to try it. We actually live about 10 blocks from where our store was, so we ended up back in the place we started, so to speak.

SB: Any favorite Portland spots to share?

LO: The vegan mini mall at the corner of 12th and Stark Street in Southeast. A bunch of our friends all moved their businesses there so you have a grocery store (Food Fight), the only vegan bakery on the west coast (Sweet Pea), a vegan boutique (Herbivore), and vegan tattoo shop (Scapegoat). We also love all the trees and parks here and plan to explore more, but highlights so far include Mount Tabor, Kenilworth Park, and the Audubon Society Bird Sanctuary. Plus Jeremy’s favorite bookstore is Paper Moon on SE Belmont. Reading Frenzy, Floating World Comics, and Guapo Comics are also great.

SB: You’re keeping your store front in the Mission. Tell me a little about how Little Otsu fits into that neighborhood’s creative culture.

LO: We opened our store in October 2002 and there were always things happening in the Mission and it seems like there always will be with huge creative forces around like 826 Valencia and Creativity Explored, just to name a couple. We know some fellow business owners from the indie music scene and that seems to make for its own subculture of Mission businesses (Faye’s, Aquarius, Lost Weekend). We kind of fit in with that culture in the sense that it was born of indie diy and that we have evolved to express our creativity by becoming a producer of things. And of course there are our officemates McSweeney’s who set a great example of how to get things done. They serve as a paragon of productivity and inventiveness and inspire us to work hard at what we do.

SB: You have this very distinct aesthetic—it feels both keepsake and home-spun, yet accessible. How has that evolved?

LO: It’s hard to talk about our aesthetic except to say that we really try to focus on publishing artists that we really like. We’re not dogmatic insofar as defining a look for our projects. We are pretty open to what artists bring to the table, but we definitely know what we like and what we don’t when we see it. We have no formal art schooling whatsoever so it really is just kind of a gut thing. But we also make an effort to keep in mind what our general audience would like so maybe that’s what helps with the accessibility.

SB: How has Little Otsu formed a community of artists over the years?

LO: We feel really fortunate that we’ve been able to meet all these amazing artists through our store. Most of our artists were customers or vendors or friends thereof. Being a public space in a busy city seems to lend itself to a natural outgrowth of community. Everyone knows each other or are only a few degrees apart and it makes for a nice extended family.

SB: Do each of you take on a certain part of the business?

LO: We definitely each have our own jobs we do but there is a lot crossover as well. Yvonne does most of the buying and bookkeeping and nitty gritty stuff like project specs and production. Jeremy focuses more on artist relations, project and website development. We both fill orders, help customers, and answer email. And a good chunk of our time is spent just thinking of ideas for new projects, business development, and the store. Brainstorming can be time-consuming!

SB: Do you think Etsy has helped or hurt creative businesses? Could it be over-saturating the market?

LO: Etsy is a great thing! It helps people start small and have an audience, which is important. Anybody can have a business and Etsy helps them do that. Not everything is good on the site of course, but that’s also part of having a space that isn’t curated by a buyer. Personally, we like going to a store that’s curated really well and prefer that to having to dig through lots of stuff to find what we’re interested in. But sometimes it’s like going to a thrift store and finding that perfect pair of pants, it can all be worth it. Has it oversaturated the market? I don’t think so only because the good stuff tends to rise above the rest and the market works itself out (more or less). And everyone’s tastes are so personal that it’s nice to think there’s something for everyone.

SB: Are you together together, or just business partners? I’m wondering what challenges there may be working creatively, daily with a partner.

LO: Yes, we’re a couple and have been together for 8 years. Working together is actually really great and has only gotten better the more time we spend together. We can definitely disagree about things, but that’s also what tends to make our work (or life or whatever) better. Plus, you can talk about work at dinner and not bore the other person. There seem to be more and more couples doing indie businesses together and when you’re working with your best friend and partner, it just makes work all that more enjoyable and rewarding.

SB: A lot of people have ideas about starting projects but either never begin or don’t follow through. With Little Otsu, you’ve done both. What helped you take the risk?

LO: We really like working for ourselves and that’s a big incentive. Honestly, there is a real thrill (for lack of a better word) when you have the finished product in your hand. Plus we’ve gotten to work with great people and it makes working so hard fun.

SB: What did you want to be when you grew up? Does it seem like LO grew out of childhood aspirations or is it something that took you by surprise?

LO: We both did zines when we were younger and it had a pretty lasting impact. Yvonne worked on the zine-turned-label Zum with her brother George and Jeremy had a small publishing company in high school called Smock Publications, putting out his own zines as well as zines and books from his friends. While we had a passion for it, neither of us thought that this is where we would end up, but now that we’re here it feels like a natural fit.

SB: Sometimes I’m afraid that if I plunge in to a creative project that could also be a main source of income, I’ll end up resenting it in this way. Like the reason I love creative projects is because they are these really great sides, like they’re mashed potatoes and not the turkey dinner or something. Do either of you struggle with being creative while having a creative business, and does it ever feel too much like work?

LO: Running your own business is always too much work. But it all comes down to how you want to spend the bulk of your life. What do you want to be doing all day long? For us, working together on things we believe in and with people we believe in and using materials we believe in all makes it seem worth the time. We are lucky for sure, but it’s a good way to spend time. As far as sides, you gotta do that too to get away from business and we both do other creative things that we share with ourselves and friends and family. We also both love to read and go bird watching (which we are novices at for sure, but it’s so much fun).

Info and on-line store at http://www.littleotsu.com

Sara Billups writes the blog Weatherspoon, a diary of living alongside the weather in the Great Northwest.

Goose the Market, Indianapolis

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Goose the Market (2503 N. Delaware Street, Indianapolis IN, website here) is a new grocer and deli in Indianapolis, located at the border of Fall Creek Place on the northside of downtown, and it is such a good market that I could leave my house keys there. Let me explain.

I remember feeling very jealous when I read Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities. The 1961 book was, at the time, a scathing outsider critique of modernism’s inclination to smash everything old and start anew with cold, hyper-similar buildings, and super distinct residential and commercial zones. It turned the urban planning world on its head. But for all its theory, when I read it in the early 2000s, I was more attracted by Jacobs’ visceral descriptions of life in New York’s Greenwich Village, where residents freely let their kids play on the streets knowing neighbors would watch, tied their dogs to posts and could trust someone to give them water on a hot day, or left their house keys at the local grocer when they went on vacation.

A tangent. Food brings with it a certain amount of trust, right? We put food into our mouth. The mouth is a pretty close place to, well, ourselves. Eating, then, is a very intimate activity. Over decades we’ve been trained to put that trust in corporations. But the basis of that trust is tenuous at best. We trust them as far as we can sue them. We believe that companies would not let a product out of their doors that would come back to bite them in the class action, so to speak. But that trust is barely trust at all, it’s a standoff really, us eying them so they don’t kill us, and them eying our wallets. How is that intimate, or, for that matter, fun? Besides, you’d be stupid to just leave your house keys with the customer service desk at a Wal-Mart. So if you wouldn’t leave your house keys with them, why buy something from them you’re going to put in your mouth?

And, ding!, that’s where Goose comes in. I can leave my keys with them, just as I will buy something (delicious) from them that will eventually (and definitely) end up in my mouth. They are perhaps best described as half deli, half small-produce grocer, half wine and beer cellar, half gourmet foods purveyor, and all trust. It’s interesting too, for all the connectedness in my head between Goose and Death and Life, that the owners, Christopher and Mollie, are habitating it up new-urban style. In very much the spirit of Jane Jacobs, they live on the floor just above the grocer. Although certainly urban, there’s really nothing "new" about this. On the corner of my block in Fountain Square, Indianapolis is a home with two buildings. In the 1890s, one used to be the grocery store, and the other building next door was where the owner lived. But someone living above where they work is new to us, and certainly new to Indianapolis.

Oh yes, not only is Goose just a good idea. It’s also very good tasting too. I’ll leave it to the city’s culinary critics to comment specifically on the food. Suffice it to say that Christopher is a former chef, and so I know I can find white truffle oil just as easily as I can find a gallon of milk. I go to Goose at least twice a week. I don’t shop exclusively at Goose, but it is my first stop before I head to a larger grocery store. If I could somehow make Goose my only stop on what is usually a grocery pilgrimage across the city, I’d be a happier guy.

If you’re reading this from a cafe in Portland, Boston, Chicago, or, say, Greenwich Village, you might be chuckling at what you might think is simple-minded, Midwestern naivete. "Oh, he’s impressed with a neighborhood grocery! How quaint!" Ok, you try to start this kind of market in Indianapolis, replete with local cheeses, meats, and gelato. This city, for all its fine attributes, is a sprawl, a complete mess of suburbs and interstates. Christopher and Mollie have some serious kahunas to have set up shoppe right in the smack dab middle of it all. Is there enough foodie slash new-urban culture here to sustain them?

I don’t know, but I’ve never been in the Goose when my daughter and I are the only customers. I bet there are plenty of people who’d leave their keys with Goose.

Speaking of which . . . I had some questions about Goose, and I luckily managed to wrangle an email interview out of Christopher. He somehow works in the pope, napkins, and Pink Floyd.

John: TIME Magazine recently published an article discussing the merits of local food versus organic food. This is a debate that is slowly gaining more and more attention. Goose is a big pusher of local, right? – what are your reasons for this? Who would win in a Mexican Wrestling match: organic or local?

Christopher: There is a strong tie between organic and local. In my opinion neither one guarantees that it is going to taste wonderful. My point is that I want look for food that is wholesome, beautiful and most importantly taste better than it looks. I could care less if it was blessed by the pope. Our market is focused on locally produced foods, because I know that the people who produce the food care about the food. They have the passion for raising and growing good food. Their livelihood depends upon it. Generally speaking they don’t cut corners (ex. Antibiotics and Hormones) and they treat the animals with respect. These animals only have one bad day.

Organic is nice, but at it’s core it is an expensive certification by the government. It tends to guarantee wholesomeness in growth but not necessarily quality. It’s still has to be cared for by the fifteen people that touch it before it reaches your table. Those fifteen didn’t produce it and they may not care as much. Many local farmers have organic practices they just don’t have the funds to get certified by the government.

Who wins in a Mexican Wrestling match? If I know who raised it and I trust them then my money is always on local product. It’s like having a ref call the match on the inside.

J: You were jetsetters in Chicago. Why set up shop in Indianapolis (which is not exactly on the foodie radar for anything but steak and corn)? And why Fall Creek and not, say, Broad Ripple?

C: Indy is home for Mollie and I. I always knew that if I set up shop it would be somewhere I would want to be for a long period of time. I would rather try to introduce something new to the environment then try to copy something someone has done down the street. I fell in love with the neighborhood and huge part of this concept is that neighborhood feel. Great cities are made up of unique ideas not carbon copy suburbs. Who says Indy can’t have some character?

There are so many people that have a vested interest in the success of these neighborhoods that it acts as a support system of people that I we trust. It’s a different game when people genuinely care.

J: Tell me a little about the genesis of Goose. What was the seed for the idea, and at what point did you think, "Hey, this is really going to happen"?

C: The Goose was actually the third business idea that I have worked on. The idea actually started on a napkin and was based on the neighborhood and the building. My sister was the first to mention the location and she kept me posted as the buildings progressed. It didn’t fit the business model I was working on at the time so I designed the business around the location. We like the area and the building so well it made sense. Food is the only thing I know. I have never done anything else and there is nothing I would rather be doing.

The first time I thought “Hey, this is really going to happen” was about ten minutes before we opened the door on our first day. Everything leading up were just hurdles that we had to jump. One problem after the next. You don’t know it is going to happen for sure until it happens.

J: How’s it been living it up mixed-use (residence upstairs, business downstairs) style?

C: When you wake up in the morning and your feet hit the ground you are at work. You are always at work or you are always at home. It depends how you want to look at it. So far so good. I have always worked long hours so it is nice to be able to see my wife and dog.

J: One of the things I like about Goose is that it’s evident that there is a web of relationships with *people* that supply the store, not corporations like even the more organic grocery stores in town. What’s that like, building that network up? It seems like a lot more work than just calling in an order to a company.

C: You have to be able to trust these people and work with them. What they do is incredibly difficult. They do it all. The relationships you build with these people are the best part. The corporations are so worried about branding a farm or a product that they loose site of the people who actually produce it. I read an article two years ago that stated that on a commercial head of beef only 10 cents on the dollar actually makes it to the farm or individual who raised it.

Do you know how much the farmer gets who produces food for the Goose? All of it. I write the check directly to the guy who caught the ewe at birth. Keep in mind his expenses considering loss, delivery and feed are much higher for them. None the less, who do you think cares more about their product?

J: To employ a crude generalization, you’ve gone from cook to clerk. What inspired that move, and how’s it been so far?

C: I am getting use to it. I have always been a cook and always will be. It is never defined by my occupation. I love food and people. As long as I’ve got those things I will be alright.

J: Best album to cure a ham to?

C: Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon.

It’s my favorite part of the day. Alone in the kitchen (or shop now) late at night, turn it up and spend some quality time with the swine.

Pearl Divers Unite: An interview with Dishwasher Pete

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Before we begin, there are certain things you should know about Pete Jordan, a.k.a. Dishwasher Pete.

1 In 1989, Pete began to wash dishes. He wanted to get out of San Francisco where he was raised, and a job like dishwashing could take him from city to city easily. So he jumped on a bus and ended up working in some thrift store corner of Brooklyn for a few months. And when he got the notion, he took off for a new place.

2 He started chronicling his adventures in the classic zine Dishwasher. These stories turned Pete into a larger-than-life pearl diver (slang for dishwasher), a Rosie the Riveter not just for dishwashers but also for manual laborers, urchins, and suburban kids waiting to slip out of their own sleepy hometowns.

3 Pete hit 33 states over the next 12 years, washing dishes everywhere from a hippie commune to an offshore oil rig.

4 Pete’s a storyteller at heart. You know when you have a wild experience or meet a real character and have to tell someone about it? Well, Pete had lots of poignant, hilarious stories about dishwashing to tell. And certain people, from Ira Glass to David Letterman, were listening. Turns out lots of New York publishers were, too.

So Pete Jordan became the mighty "Dishwasher Pete". He’s contributed to This American Life and other NPR shows multiple times, has been a guest on The Late Show, and published Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All 50 States (Harper Perennial). I recently caught up with Pete, who is settled in Amsterdam with his wife and son, writing and fixing bikes.

Sara Billups: What’s the best music to wash dishes to?

Dishwasher Pete: Whatever gets one’s mind off the fact that they’re working. For my suds buster guru Jeff, it was Sun Ra. For me, at a lot of gigs, it was whatever local oldies station I could find on the radio (back when radio had local oldies stations). These days, while dishing at home, I usually don’t just listen to music, just the BBC news.

SB: I bought your book at Elliott Bay in Seattle recently. When I handed it to the clerk at the register she honest-to-goodness lit up: "Oh, he was sooooo wonderful when he read here. Such a nice, genuine person" It sounds like you made quite an impression. I’m wondering, what’s it like being on a book tour? I mean, was it turtlenecky with proper signings and Q+A’s and everything?

DP: The Dishwasher book tour occurred during May and June 2007 so the warm weather didn’t permit any turtlenecks. But indeed, the tour did see me reading passages from the book, answering audiences’ questions and signing books or other things (like one guy’s sauce pan). Despite years spent avoiding any sort of public speaking, I really enjoyed doing the readings and look forward to doing more in the future.

SB: I’m fascinated with the love of maps that started when you were young. You write, "I carried around a map of San Francisco and traveled as much as I could within its borders by attempting to walk the city’s every street and ride the entire length of every bus line." What compelled you to learn the city’s every nook and cranny?

DP: I’m very curious about my environs, especially those that aren’t considered terribly interesting. Attempting to walk every street in San Francisco when I was a teenager forced me to go to parts of the city that I wouldn’t have thought to go otherwise, even if it was just a block or two out of the way from one of my well-worn routes. My fifty-state dishwashing quest took place for much the same reason. It forced me to go to lots of places I wouldn’t have thought to go if I wasn’t trying to work in every state. And I really appreciated going to and experiencing those spots. Nowadays, I’m still fascinated about forcing myself to explore the less likely parts of my surroundings. Recently, I completed a project to photograph all 185 bicycle shops here in Amsterdam. Though I thought I knew the city quite well, with this undertaking, I discovered some streets and neighborhoods in my new hometown that had been previously unknown to me.

SB: You hit 33 states, washed dishes in 88 kitchens and lived in some great cities. Was it always easy to leave?

DP: Leaving was my specialty. That’s probably the thing that I was best at. I was always eager to quit a job or leave a town and go someplace else. It was always easy. Then again, there was the time that I ditched my dish gig in the mess hall at an Alaskan fish cannery. I presumed I’d be able to say goodbye to my buddy and dishwashing partner. But, in the moments when I was leaving for the airport, he wasn’t around for me to explain why I was bailing on him. Writing the book made me feel guilty all over again for having abandoned him.

SB: Why do you think some people talk about doing really adventurous stuff, traveling and so on, but never do it, while other people just get up and go?

DP: Some people are lazy, I suppose, and others aren’t. Then again, I’m pretty damn lazy which is actually one reason why I traveled so much. Seeing out life in one place or at one job was, I thought, what took the kind of patience I didn’t possess.

SB: It seems like creative people have a couple of options when it comes to making a living: 1. Work a job to pay rent and discipline yourself to write or paint or make music in your free time, or 2. Get a job doing ‘what you love’ and hope it doesn’t dilute your creativity. For a good ten years you picked #1, and then you pulled a book out of it. Did writing the zine ever feel like a job you had to do instead of something you wanted to do?

DP: The zine was born simply out of a desire to entertain some friends. Only 25 copies were made of the first issue. I had no initial ambition beyond have a couple dozen people read my dish tales. It was something I did to make my day job more bearable.

But by the end, when I was printing 10,000 copies of each issue, it most certainly felt like a job. With all the mail pouring in, I simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. So I put it out of my mind by no longer opening my mail. Without realizing it, what I had done was quit my job–my zine publishing job. With the book, I didn’t have to fuss at all with the publishing and distribution of it. I just had to write it and that was a big relief. If writing fulltime is now my job, it’s one I can’t see ever quitting. I might get fired–but that’s another story.

SB: Now that blogs are around, what do you think will happen to zines?

DP: Zines will continue to stubbornly exist. On my book tour, I was amazed to see how many zines there were on the shelves of places where I read like Atomic Books (Baltimore), Quimby’s (Chicago), Needles & Pens (San Francisco) and Reading Frenzy (Portland). It’s definitely much more challenging to publish a zine than it is to write a blog, but for many folks, it’s still more rewarding to have their work in printed form.

SB: During your interview on Letterman last July you admitted, in front millions of viewers, that you actually don’t like television, thank you very much. I like not owning a television. But my husband and I will rent the Gilmore Girls or Curb your Enthusiasm on DVD and watch them on our computer, which is really inconsistent value-wise but undeniably satisfying. Do you think that’s cheating?

DP: Oh, it doesn’t really matter. On Letterman I told viewers to turn off their TVs because it’s so crazy how many of us sit for hours on end in front of the box, absorbing such crappy stimuli. Most bizarre is that people sit through countless hours of commercials. Having all that materialistic shit slung at us turns us into consumerist zombies. But comparing that kind of viewing to watching a couple shows on DVD now and then is like comparing a heroin junkie who shoots up every day to someone who just has a glass of wine now and then. Maybe the trick is in moderation. But if I never watched a TV show the rest of my life, I wouldn’t complain.

SB: You’ve got Irish citizenship and can stay in any EU country as long as you’d like. It seems like you’re staying put in Amsterdam. What perspectives about the U.S. have you gleaned as an American living abroad?

DP: Well, we arrived here just before the buildup to the American invasion of Iraq. Following the events in the American press and the European press was mind blowing. While the European press was still discussing arms inspections, the American press had already swallowed the White House’s spin and was discussing things like what new "toys" the military would be using in this new war (as I heard reported on NPR). Under such circumstances, we weren’t very eager to get back to the U.S.

There are plenty of advantages about residing here. One is to live in a place where some very basic beliefs that I hold on issues–that are all hot-button topics in the U.S.–are simply not even an issue here. In the Netherlands, gay marriage, abortion, soft drug usage and euthanasia are all legal (or at least in the case of soft drug usage–tolerated). Meanwhile, capital punishment is illegal (as it is in pretty much every European nation aside from Belarus). Affordable health care is for more accessible here for folks like us. That I live in a nation where these types of lefty politics are the norm makes my day-to-day life much more livable.

SB: You have a two-year-old little boy now. How has being a father affected your wanderlust?

DP: Well, obviously these days I no longer wake up and decide to split town and head for the nearest bus station. But my boy is my partner-in-crime in my explorations of Amsterdam. He’s probably seen more of this city (from the front of my bike) than many adult Amsterdammers have in their whole lives.

SB: What are you working on next, any new writing projects?

DP: I’m busy working on my book about my life in Amsterdam as seen through the lens of Dutch bike culture. I’ve been taking notes for it for five years but have only just sat down to start writing it over the past week or two. I don’t know when it’ll be out–late 2008 or early 2009 I suppose.

For more on Pete Jordan, visit www.dishwasherpete.com

Sara Billups writes the blog Weatherspoon, a diary of living alongside the weather in the Great Northwest.