edited by courtney marie
Congrats to Axel Severs for being the most recent recipient of Shiny Sound Recording Studio & Spiderweb Salon’s Songwriting Scholarship. Through his project entitled Rosie, Axel gave our crew of musicians a chance to explore new territory in their musical repertoire with his post-rock inspired, found-sound jam. Axel has performed a number of times with Spiderweb, experimenting and collaborating with talented folks, including Bess Whitby and Rae Inmon. He’s also the managing editor for one of our very favorite publications in the whole world, Nat Brut.
Check out this one-of-a-kind piece we recorded at Shiny Sound with Corbin Childs, John Jacob Greenan, and Conor Wallace on March 10, 2018 (It should go without saying that sweet Rosie, Axel’s best chihuahua buddy, was also in the mix that day!) and read our exclusive and super sweet interview with Axel where he shares some of his musical musings and what his recording/collaborative experience was like!
Tell us a little bit about your journey with music.
The development of my relationship to music is as complicated and meaningful and boring as anyone else's, so I'll just say that at this point music helps me connect with other people and learn about myself. It may be a corny thing to say but like most people have this super significant relationship with music that runs deep into our childhoods and throughout our lives, so when I share some bit of music that I really connect to with another person, it feels vulnerable, and discovering new music I like is part of a never-ending compulsion to figure out just what it is that rings my bell and why -- which is fun!
Making music is a whole other weird thing. For me it's mainly meditative, but it's also an exercise in considering the way other people will see you or hear you, so there's a navel-gazey, people-pleasey level to it. But I mostly appreciate the process and aftermath of proving to myself that I can make sounds that sound nice to me. It’s simpler and more meaningful the less I think about it.
When you knew you'd have a half-day at Shiny Sound to record this song, how did you feel about it?
Since music-making is usually completely solitary for me, I've been really super eager to get out of my head and do it with other people and feel out those sorts of dynamics. So, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude, like if I was on a 12-hour plane ride and really desperately wanted a slice of pizza and then after a layover someone got on the plane with an entire large pie and shared some with me. It gave me life to even be thought of.
What were your anticipations for recording?
None! I intentionally didn't think about it. I mean I couldn't help but think about it, but I try to avoid forming expectations of anything!
What was the recording process like for you?
Well, playing with collaborators is not as amped-up and clumsy as playing one-shot in front of people, so it was a relief to be out of my comfort zone but in another similarly comfortable zone. Corbin, Jacob, and Conor are grade-A human beings who are really good at a bunch of instruments and were super gracious in walking me through recording and feeling out extra bits and doing takes. They were all super kind and Leah Jones was there taking photos and she was super kind and Marcus Jade was there making thoughtful conversation for a bit and he was super kind, and Storie and Caitlin and courtney marie were all there baking really tasty things and they were super kind. And Rosie was there! And it was just a blast, I mean gosh. It was pretty special! And a track came out of it! What a gift!
Can you give us a little background about your song, "Porcupine"?
OK! If I'm noodling around and find a melody that sounds nice or interesting I'll record it, and my two most recent recordings felt like they'd go together nicely, so Jacob, Corbin, Conor, and I recorded those, added stuff, and Corbin put 'em together! Then, in a crunch, I used Garage Band and my phone's Voice Memos app to scrape together some excerpts from a record I'd found at Hitt Records (@hitt_rex) called "Poets for Peace" from a poetry reading in 1967 in New York Town Hall, produced under the auspices of The Compassionate Arts of the Fellowship of Reconciliation as a sort of anti-Vietnam War demonstration. You hear the introductory remarks of Helen Gahagan Douglas, "Viet Napalm" by Barbara Howe, a few lines from "The Fundament Is Shifted" by Abbie Huston Evans (...or dare to trust our weight on what is weightless, and, like the astronaut, with open eye, step out on empty space, as on a shelf above the plane of falling, and not fall), the title of Galway Kinnell's "The Porcupine," Thich Nat Hanh's "Peace" (read in English by Marian Seldes), and a good chunk of the last page or so of Anaïs Nin's diary. Then I added some audio from an exchange I had with my friend Ben about a dream he'd had where he'd played with a different version of me. Then I titled it "Porcupine" because a dear friend used the word to describe someone the day after I'd added the sound track, near the middle of which Galway Kinnell repeats "the poem is called 'The Porcupine'" over and over. And I'd recently watched The Lobster and kept thinking "I should like to be turned into a Porcupine." It's a weird little thing that I love, and I feel this low-key profound appreciation for Jacob, Corbin, Conor, and courtney marie for working with me on it!
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
My dog Rosie, Twin Peaks, early 20th century gospel recordings, antique stores, 12-step programs, photographs, and Nat. Brut magazine (www.natbrut.com).
What or who are some of your influences as a musician/artist/writer?
After listening to this track I should mention Do Make Say Think, Joan of Arc, Jackie O Motherfucker, The Books, Slint, and post-rock junk like that. But lately I like to find good music in used record stores that have good clearance sections, and I really like meeting people who are really good at things (which is like everybody!), or people who really love one specific thing, and I love going around an antique mall because they're like little human museums where you can touch and buy everything, like time's gift shop. Missing people is also maybe an influence. I don't mean like people who are missing; I mean like when I say "I miss you," like I'll often get to really missing someone and pass the time by doing a music. Instagram stories. My friend Ben. My friend Sara. My friends Jenn, RL, Abby, and Huy. And Alex and Frank. And Alex. I really love Denton. Spiderweb, y'all are legendary and super welcoming and never fail to inspire. Nat. Brut has guided my attention to a world of amazing people. I could go on forever!
What would you like to accomplish creatively this year?
I'd like to do this again some way! Maybe with some vocals. I want to draw more with my friend Ben. He's 4, which is why I keep mentioning him. 4-year-olds are very intense people. Anyway, I really love the way he draws! I should read a book. I should finish A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, suggested by my friend Abby. And watch the Yuri Norstein animations my friend Sara lent me last year! And I mean to write more letters, starting with one to my friend Jenn. And I'd really like to pitch a radio show to KUZU but I need to prepare a bit more and ask my friend Robyn for advice on equipment. Thanks for reading and listening!
If you loved the concept of this project, YOU'RE IN LUCK! We got to wondering, why don’t we do this all the time, with many different musicians, to create a whole catalog of new songs and sounds? With that simple idea, Spiderweb Salon’s Songwriting Scholarship has been born! We’ll be working with Shiny Sound Recording Studios, a lineup of professional studio musicians, and a new musician every month to record an original piece of music to share with the world. If you’re looking to get involved, send along a submission, and if you just need an awesome place to record your next project, look no further than Shiny Sound.