GEEKEND highlights the stars of the tech world by day, but the nerding out doesn't stop when the sun goes down. The Coastal Georgia Center, Ampersand and The Creator's Foundry will illuminate in the evenings with the talents of musicians taking innovative approaches to live performance and recording.
Passholders won’t want to miss local experimental artist Ross Fish at the Opening Night Reception or the rainbow razzmatazz of Sunbears! (who recently contributed a song to The Flaming Lips’s track-for-track Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band tribute, With a Little Help From My Fwends) at Ampersand.
Those shows are open to Geekenders only, but never fear: the fine folks at The Creative Coast have opened up the Closing Night After Party to the public!
Held at The Creator’s Foundry, Creative Coast’s new home (the former SCAD Sculpture building), the show will spotlight Athens’s Kishi Bashi and tour mate Tall Tall Trees.
Multi-instrumentalist Kishi Bashi creates soaring, playful orchestral pop through snapping, looping and beat boxing (the man has collaborated with the weird and wonderful of Montreal and Regina Spektor, so the fine-tuned skills laced with wit suits him).
Tall Tall Trees is Mike Savino, a folk kid at heart who’s glammed up the banjo through his own modifications and handiwork. The “banjotron” is a delight to watch him play live; with a healthy collection of pedals at his feet, Savino crafts indie-pop gems that are catchy and just plain fun.
We chatted with him to learn more about his custom banjo and collaborating with Kishi Bashi.
The banjo is considered such a roots/Americana/acoustic instrument. What’s your history with the banjo, and what inspired you to start looping tracks?
Mike Savino: Yes, the banjo is a unique and soulful instrument, my ear has always been drawn to the sound of it. I started playing around with it in my first years of college but I was more focused on playing double bass, studying jazz and improvisation. After music school, I picked up the banjo and it felt great. That's when I started singing and writing songs again, instead of writing these heady compositions. Looping is something that I've always done at home as part of my writing and instrumental practice, but I've only really started using it on stage in the last few years mainly because of my desire to create a full spectrum sound, and my inability to afford to hire other musicians to play with me. I also love the immediacy of it. It's a very spontaneous way to play music, and sometimes one mistake can throw you, which it often does, and you have to hear it over and over. Because of the looping.
Tell us about the "banjotron." You modded it yourself; what was that process like? Had you taken a project like that on before?
Mike Savino: The banjotron is something that's been evolving through the years. Most of the modifications are products of me breaking it and trying to fix it so it doesn't break again, or my quest for a certain sound. It has a few pickups in it, some reinforcement here and there but otherwise it's just an open back banjo. The blend of the pickups, the technique of playing, and the filtering and looping pedals create an almost infinite range of possibilities which keeps me inspired.
With your modifications, are you still relying heavily on a pedalboard? Which are your most-used pedals?
Mike Savino: Yes, I do love my pedalboard and it is constantly evolving as well as I look for certain sounds, or improve on existing ones. A few lynchpins in my chain are the ElectroHarmonix Freeze pedal, POG 2, and the Line 6 DL4. The Line 6 is a delay modeler but it has a really great loop function that it more flexible than most dedicated loopers. Only problem with those is they break, a lot.
You're working on a new, Pledgemusic funded album with Kishi Bashi. Have the two of you collaborated in the past? What makes him a good fit for working on this new album?
Mike Savino: Kishi Bashi and I met about ten years ago in NYC, where we used to play together regularly for a couple years. I was playing double bass back then, writing world music inspired jazz compositions and K played in my band. At the same time he was just starting his rock band Jupiter One. We've always stayed in touch and have been running similar paths through the years. In the past two years, we've been on the road a lot together and he understands what I'm doing and where I'm coming from, so he is a very natural choice to help me make my next record. I still do most of it on my own but I love running things by K and gleaning some of his fantastic musical sensibility. It's a lot of fun to work together.
How was Europe? Any tour highlights to share?
Mike Savino: Europe was amazing, and intense. I was there for 6 weeks, played 38 TTT shows, 18 Kishi Bashi shows, visited 9 countries, some of them twice. Towards the end of the tour, our van was broken into and robbed in Brussels. The thief made off with all of my earnings from the tour, my computer, clothes, and passport, which stung quite a bit. The whole band was hit pretty hard but the thief left two things in the van, my banjo and Kishi Bashi's violin. Reminds me of an old joke...
Despite all that, I still made some amazing memories and new friends, so I look forward to going back next year. This time with a fanny pack.