Recorded last January in Lone Tree, Iowa as part of a residency program coordinated by Mission Creek Festival and Flat Black Studios, a full-length album from ESCAPE-iSM (Ian Svenonius‘ solo project) will be released soon.
Mission Creek producer Chris Wiersema described his role as that of a facilitator: “[Svenonius and Flat Black owner/engineer Luke Tweedy] work so well together, we didn’t want to have too much editorial involvement.”
Exemplary of Svenonius’ efficiency, Tweedy said the video was shot in just a couple of takes with Svenonius playing through the song once or twice, then walking around outside, taking in the studio’s rural setting. “… [A]nd then he just kinda said, ‘Well, I think you’ve got enough; let’s get back to recording the rest of the album’,” Tweedy recalled.
For Wiersema, Svenonius’ brand of pop satire is more important than ever due to his unique ability to connect people politically through entertainment. “I’m pretty much down to nature documentaries and the fire log videos,” Wiersema said with a pained laugh. “That’s the level of conflict that I’m willing to engage with.”
He noted that since the musician’s early days with Nation of Ulysses, Svenonius’ critique of popular culture has always come with a spoon full of sugar: “It’s pop music. It isn’t terribly complex,” Wiersema said. “It’s not Schoenberg after World War II — it’s not so intense. But, overall, I think his message has always been to put yourself in a critical space.”
Wiersema cites the “Jonathan Swift-esque” collection of essays Censorship Now!! as an example of Svenonius creating a deceptively simple vantage point for critique that is allowed to function without extra layers of rhetoric or specific calls to arms.
So, after luring listeners in with catchy hooks, what does Svenonius give them? “He is especially good at pointing out subjects that are in need of a contemporary reassessment,” says Wiersema. “Like the song ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside.’ It’s a date rape song, and we’ve been singing it for 50 years. It’s not that times have changed, it’s just that, literally, that’s what it was about. Everyone has some story about singing an ear worm you heard on the radio and your parents stop you and are like, ‘Do you even know what you are singing?’ That’s Ian.”
With much of the recording time donated by Flat Black Studios, Mission Creek views the residency series as a true partnership, not a commercial arrangement. Wiersema says they are working on archiving the rest of the residency’s history, which, aside from Svenonius, has featured Erase Errata, Dirty Beaches (with Shawn Reed and Ryan Garbes of Wet Hair), Teaadora and Circuit des Yeux.
“With all the funding being cut from the NEA and Iowa Arts, it’s important that we do for each other what we can. The resources we’ve had in the past might not be there for us for long, so we have to make smart, non-commercial sponsorship of the arts a high priority between our organizations,” Wiersema said.
The 2017 artists-in-residence will be Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorji and percussionist Tyler Damon, who will record an album over five days at Flat Black. Their most recent release on the Family Vineyard record label received acclaim in both jazz and rock and roll circles. According to Wiersema, an agreement is already in place to release this year’s MCF/Flat Black recording with Family Vineyard as well. The duo will play on Friday night of this year’s Mission Creek Festival with 75 Dollar Bill and Daniel Wyche.
“This is going to be a real highlight,” said Wiersema. “With improv, the more you play together the better you get, and they will be coming off of five straight days going at it at Flat Black.” He adds that, considering the constant touring Dorji and Damon are accustomed to, for them to have the ability to stop here for a few days is very uncommon. “I’m very interested in seeing what kind of impact that has on them and their music, and expect that show to be a ‘sleeper’ favorite at this year’s festival.”