Andrew Page, Musician

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Early last month, London-based musician, Andrew Page agreed to meet up with me to discuss his creative process and views on artistry. As we sat down in a Costa Coffee late that afternoon, Page warned me that he'd have to be on his way shortly because he had a birthday party he needed to get to that evening. He failed to mention until the end of interview that the birthday party he needed to get to was actually his own. With Page's steady schedule of shows throughout England, it wasn't entirely surprising that the little time he had available to meet up was between celebrations on his birthday--the only night off he had that week.

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Just a little over four years ago, Page was casually toying with the idea of taking his passion for music to the next level but struggled a bit with the idea of making the transition from musical hobbyist to serious musician. "There was a period where I was playing some of my own songs live and kind of entertaining the idea of being a serious songwriter but still had one foot in the idea of wanting to do covers and not too bothered about my own songs. And the other side of me wanted to take it seriously", he said, explaining that some encouraging words from a close friend pushed him to make the leap, "One of my musician friends, David Kerrigan said, 'Just do it. Just go and actually record this album and get it done...You could potentially live the rest of your life thinking what would have happen if I had recorded my own album and if you never'd done it, you'd be constantly regretful." That was exactly what Page needed to hear. Shortly after, he left his job in product design and decided to go into the studio full time to focus on putting an album together.

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With childhood influences ranging from Bon Jovi to Simon & Garfunkel to Garth Brooks, Page found his own voice in acoustic driven music and began preparing songs for his album. In the same way that a photographer or painter looks at the whole world and envisions it as a piece of art in their respective medium, Page has developed a keen sense for listening to the world to find inspiration. Some of his songs were just inspired thoughts while others, he explains, had exterior sources, "There's one song on my album, I was actually writing a letter to a love interest, post our relationship and then I realized that something I said in that, it just came out as I was writing it... I thought there's a song in that and turned that into something. It's always different. Sometimes I'll hear somebody else say something and I'll think that sounds good or I like the rythm of that, the phonetics of what they said, so I'll try to blend it in."

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Page described the experience he had recording his first record and on his own, none the less, saying, "At the beginning, I was the most forward thinking but at the same time daunted by the fact that I had a blank sheet...There were days where I was very driven, I would get up early and work solidly throughout the entire day. But there were days where nothing's working. You just get to the end of the day and think, I've acheived nothing today, I'm fed up. You just kind of have to take hold of yourself and go, 'This is your project and the only person who is going to make it happen is you.' It got easier on the days where I tried to be more structured. I would set the day out... those were the days where I'd achieve the most. If I put the blinds down and shut the door, those were the days I got the most done. No distractions. But there were also days where I got too close up to it and had to take a step back. I think a lot of times you can get too close to it."

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With his album, Open the Door, complete, Page has been heavily making the rounds throughout England and focusing more on playing live for the time being. His next album isn't imminently in the works but he says, "[I'm] just frantically playing so many of the songs, I don't have time to sit down and write anything else out. In the meantime I'm constantly waiting, always on receive, if anything comes in, I've got a notepad on my phone that's just chock-full of little things that I think of that hopefully one day I'll be able to turn into a song."

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Page hasn't had a chance to make it stateside quite yet (though he recently informed me that he's planning a trip over the summer), but you can learn more about him and listen to portions of Open the Door on his website or on Facebook.

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Ryan Selvy, Illustrator

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Armed with an old fashioned sketchpad, emerging illustrator Ryan Selvy creates short comic strips expressings his thoughts on our culture before transferring them to Adobe Illustrator to polish and share with the world.  If you're a Tumblr user, there's a good chance one of these quirky illustrations has shown up on your dashboard as Ryan uses the site as the platform to share his creations and his popularity on the site is growing.  "Back on May 13th, 2008 I made a Tumblr just for fun. For almost two years I just reblogged and 'liked' other content but never made anything of my own. In February 2010 I made a small strip about my opinion of days of the week and it got a significant amount of notes. Due to its success, I started just making a bunch of different doodles and designs and eventually it just morphed into this comic hobby-thing. Never expected it, but ever since it’s become routine I’ve loved doing it."

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At first, with no plan for the comics, Ryan self-admittedly had a style that borrowed a bit from "Cyanide & Happiness" but over time, he's developed his own trademark style. He elaborated by saying,  "I now have these unofficial reoccurring characters that kind of point out the unobvious obvious truths about life." These "unobvious obvious truths" are inspired thoughts that come to the artist as he goes about a normal day but he says the greatest source of inspiration is simply conversation with friends.   "So many of my ideas come from sitting around with friends and joking around. It’s kind of become a usual thing to have a conversation erupt and someone will yell out “COMIC!”

With a growing fan base and increasing attention from across the web, Ryan plans on expanding the blog to an online retail shop where merchandise inspired by the comics can be purchased. His decision to do this stems from rising requests for tshirts and stickers from fans and is scheduled to be online within a month.  All of these endeavors are being done as Ryan works to finish school at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.  The workload hasn't deterred Ryan from pursuing this passion project, stating that he was once given a piece of advice that has helped him stay on track, "It’s extremely cheesy but I remember my Dad told me when I was in middle school that I could do anything I wanted and as long as I loved doing it I’d find success. He said even if I wanted to be a garbage man, if I loved it enough I could have the opportunity to do great work and become head of my own garbage company. While I certainly don’t think I’ve “made it” yet, it still helps me going forward in things I love to do."

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Please check out Ryan Selvy at ryanselvy.com.

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Storyteller in Stone

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Almost two years ago, I found myself driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota on a whim of a trip that became a monumental experience for me in many ways and also shaped the "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" series .  I had no real plans in mind that trip, other than making my way to Mount Rushmore, and had very little knowledge of what else the Black Hills held. As I drove through Rapid City, South Dakota, I saw signs advertising both Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, but in my naivety, had no idea what the latter was. I navigated through the winding roads up to the presidential monument, paid the entrance fees and briefly explored the grounds of the park. As I walked back to the car, I paused and felt a pull to continue onward toward Crazy Horse but because I had no knowledge of the sculpture or its artist and I had a rental car that needed to be returned in fourteen hours to a location that was nine hours away, I resisted the urge and turned back east.

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Just recently Crazy Horse was brought back into my life via a documentary shown to me by a friend and this time, I took notice, learning about the monument and sculptor behind it-- Korczak Ziolkowski. This amazing man has stirred up a variety of thoughts and provided a surplus of insight regarding artistry and devotion to one's craft, making me wish I had listened to my instinct back then. But I didn't and in any case, I'm glad to have been introduced to this man's life now rather than never, which is why I wanted to share with you a little about his life and creative outlook.

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Korczak isn't exactly the image one conjures up when imagining an artist, particularly one with a knack for fine sculpture and a top prize from the 1939 New York World's Fair under his belt (1). Orphaned as a young boy and subject to a harsh life in foster care until the age of sixteen when he left to put himself through technical school, Korczak didn't even make his first marble sculpture until he was twenty-four years old. He never formally studied either art or sculpture but took it upon himself to explore the techniques of the masters. (1) After gaining experience with mountain carving while working under Gutzom Borglum on Mount Rushmore, he was contacted by Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Lakota Tribe about a monument to honor Native Americans. America was then in the middle of World War II and Korczak volunteered for service, leaving the offer on the table in his absence. When he returned, several other propositions had come his way, including many for government war memorials in Europe, but Korczak turned them all down in lieu of the opportunity to work for the Lakota people. (2) At the age of thirty-eight, he finally began work on the mountain, a job that he devoted the rest of his life to. (1)

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This man truly poured his heart and soul into this project. He was once quoted as saying, "Don't do anything unless you'll do it really well, and unless you want to do it for the rest of your life." (3) He lived a life that directly reflected that ethic, spending the remaining thirty-five years of his life on the mountain and raising a family of ten in its shadow. (5) At the beginning of the project, he had only $174 to his name though refused both a salary for his work and two multi-million dollar government grants to complete the sculpture, saying, "Why should a memorial to the American Indian be financed by the very government that broke its treaties with the Indians and turned its back on all its promises?" (2) Financial difficulties were not the only hardship he faced during this endeavor: his first winter in the Black Hills was spent living in a tent while independently constructing a 741-step staircase to the top of the mountain, which he would climb up and down several times a day, often with heavy materials; he also suffered through bouts of poor health including four back operations, quadruple heart bypass surgery, diabetes, arthritis, a broken wrist, and a ruptured Achilles tendon but his passion for his vision never ceased. (2,6) Though the carving expanded from a solo undertaking to a family affair over the years, Korczak made it clear to his clan what his priorites were, telling his wife, Ruth, “Honey, you see that mountain? Never forget, it comes first. You come second. Now the children know that. They know they come third. That’s a common understanding in the house. I didn’t come out here to marry a woman to have a lot of children. I came out here to carve a mountain!” His family understood this and chose to help him carry out his mission, his wife responding empathetically, "His work has to come first or he would be just another person doing, selling insurance or cars or something like that." (6)

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Korczak would not allow even death to stand in the way of his undertaking. Along with his wife, he spent three years compiling detailed instructions on how to complete each step of sculpting the mountain so that future generations could complete the work he started. (2) Within his final words, he encouraged Ruth to continue the project saying, "You must work on the mountain-but go slowly so you do it right." (5). The Ziolkowski family has continued onward using his instructions and only straying once--opting to complete Crazy Horse's face before the horse's face as originally planned.

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Korczak and the entire Ziolkowski family are a testament to determination and belief in one's craft; the artistic vision and spiritual value behind the Crazy Horse memorial have never been sacrificed for the sake of convenience. When the monument was in its initial stages, Korczak's plan was to carve one hundred feet of the peak but after spending five days and five nights staring into the hills, he realized that he could not do the Lakota people justice with such a sculpture and opted instead to carve the entire mountainside, even though he knew what an enterprise this would be. "The world asks you one question. Only one. The world asks you: 'Did you do the job?' There is only one answer: yes." (1, 3)

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Sources: 1. http://www.crazyhorsememorial.org/about/storyteller.html 2http://www.blackhillsvisitor.com/main.asp?id=14&cat_id=30284 3. http://www.amorenaturalway.com/uploads/newsletter/145/pamphlet-114--crazy-horse-the-journey-within-the-vision.pdf 4.http://jessicaseigel.com/articles/crazyhorse.shtml 5. http://www.crazyhorsememorial.org/about/family.html 6. http://thenewamerican.com/history/american/10468-crazy-horse-memorial-a-tale-of-two-stories-told-in-stone

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Chris Gangi of Cornmeal

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Chris Gangi and the traveling musical outfit of Cornmeal have navigated and performed across the country a dozen times over, not even standing still long enough to record a studio album in six years. Fans coast to coast have been eagerly waiting to get their hands on a new album, but these fans are the very reason the band has remained nomadic for so long. "The audience definitely drove us to want to keep doing more and more on the road...Music is definitely a communal relationship. I really adhere to the whole give and take of energy, exchange of energy between audience and musician. I think that's what drives alot of my vision, is that connection between performer and audience."

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With an enthusiastic fanbase that is often willing to travel a great distance to see the band (said fans can frequently be found donning badges of honor notating their "Cornstalker" status), some bands may run into problems of repition but Cornmeal isn't like most bands. Much of their live set is based off improvisation and though they haven't had a studio album in many years, their material is constantly being adapted and added to. Chris elaborated on their songwriting process saying, "The songwriting really comes, we just practice it on the road and in soundchecks and stuff and just play it on the road really. It's not like we go home and work out the songs, they kind of get put together in a live setting. A lot of the arrangement happens off the cuff and a lot of melodic stuff happens live as an improvisational thing, find an improvisational piece or a thought or a storyline and take it from there...our music is constantly evolving...We've been arranging a new tune the last two weekends and today and this is the fourth time we've practiced it and the fourth different arrangement. And it will probably go through, once we start playing it live, it will probably go through another four to five different arrangements in the next year and then when we feel like it's ready, we'll probably go record it. That's kind of how we do it. We sort of work out arrangements and stuff like that in a live setting." Fortunately for the band, this constant flow of creative energy has allowed the band to continously remain fresh for the ears of their audience while cultivating an aura of experimentation that has created a strong bond between bandmates. "We try not to, we try, and this is a hard thing because you have five people with different opinions but we try to not pigeon hole people's creative energy. If someone has an idea, we'll try it out. Since we play so many live shows, we don't mind trying out something we never might play again...it's that open atmosphere as a band that keeps everyone's creative energy up and keeps us on our toes because that chemistry then is always in check and we always have to concentrate on it. And it's just something, you know, playing together for eight years, it's something you can't even practice, it just happens. I don't have to look over, I know JP's there behind the drums. I know Chris.. You know who's there and what they've got."

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Cornmeal's transforming stage sound never loses the underlying spirit that ties their music together. Chris spoke of using goals and deadlines to maintain unity within the group, but what may really be fostering their intention is the attitude of adhering to their own vision. "What I've pulled out of alot of this, is it's a difficult business. Just do not try to compare yourself to other bands out there. Every band is unique and this is probably the biggest thing I still try to focus on is that every band is different and their goals are different and the way they acheive it is different. And if you try to follow someone else's path, it's not gonna happen. It's like lightening striking twice. Everyone who wanted to be Nirvana never got to be Nirvana 'cause Nirvana is Nirvana. They ended up being someone else, whether they made it or not. You have to follow your own path. It's good to use other bands as a guide but not to try to be them or follow their path. You've got to follow your own path; do what works for you and the band."

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Check out Cormeal's music and tour schedule on their website.

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Joe Purdy, Musician

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.Joe Purdy isn't a man who gets easily distracted. In the last eight years, he's released twelve albums while maintaining a rather active tour schedule. You would think that with that kind of focus, Joe has discovered a rare secret, but truth be told, he just knows what he wants to do. "If I really want to get it done, I will. I had a lot of catching up to do, you know--I didn't even write my first song until I was twenty-one," he said, adding, " I don't know why but when I wrote my first song, I was just like this is what I'm going to do. I finally found what I'm going to do. Like this is it. There was just no question, this is what I was waiting for. And then shit just started coming out so I just started writing like crazy, I just had a lot of time to make up for. "

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At the beginning of his career, when the music was just pouring out, Joe let nothing stand in the way. He spoke of losing jobs and breaking plans to work on a song because at the time, he felt that once a tune came to him, it needed to be finished and recorded immediately. "...Art just came first, above all, that's what mattered. Because when I'm gone, that's all that's gonna be left behind. If you don't do it when you've got it, then you'll never do it and you'll never have it. That's just what I figured anyway. And now that I have a job that I like, which is playing music, it's a little less easy to just not go somewhere and use the excuse of music because you are going to play for people, " Joe told me. These days, when an idea comes to him, he relies on the technology at hand, such as the "Voice Recorder" on his iPhone, to get his ideas out. With this drastic change in his process, one might think that perhaps it's affected his songs in someway, but Joe doesn't think so. "I think it all turns out the same. It all comes out in the wash... When it turns out well is when I have bits and pieces of a song and the rest of it hasn't happened yet. That's why you can't ever stop moving, you can never stop living life either because sometimes the song hasn't ended... how they end hasn't happened yet so you have to live to find out what's gonna happen." It's an interesting way to go about writing songs, but you'd be hard pressed to argue that it hasn't worked for this musician.

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. The troubador's evolved method of songwriting has allowed him a little more freedom, in that his current transient lifestyle can proceed while still providing opportunity for an ongoing creative output. What this does not allow for though, is the room for diversion. "If you're really doing what you're doing, then your work becomes your social life. You get a group of guys that you learn to play with and then you go out and play all the time and then the people that come to see you, you get to know them, and the people that hang around...that becomes your family and that's how you have a good time. I mean, I've never really seen much of a use in going places if I didn't have a purpose in being there...Just because it's a lifestyle. And if you really mean it, you mean it. And if you don't, you don't. And if you half-ass it, then you're going to get the same results. It's just what it is. But I wouldn't have it any other way."

.. It's obvious musicians don't keep normal business hours, but Joe feels that life as an artist goes beyond that, saying, "You're always on. You're always waiting for the next song. It's kind of like a 24-hour job. And the only reason I think we get away with it is because it's what we want to do. It's just one of those choices." He turned to Eric Fink of The Giving Tree Band, who had just walked into the room, "What do you think E?"

. "I think that's about right. That about sums it up, man."

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Please visit Joe's website to learn more about him and hear his music.