Chris Bathgate <ChrisBathgate>

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Chris Bathgate discusses A Cork Tale Wake and more?287 weeks ago
1. Serpentine

I wrote this while the album was being recorded, which is usually the case with first tracks for me. When I?m writing them this way they get this overture-type undertone I really like. I start singing about something and once the song is finished and I think about it, I?m singing about everything the whole record confronts. When writing the music for Serpentine I was trying to segue from two closure-type tracks on the previous record Throatsleep. The references are subtle, but there.

2. Last Parade On Ann St.

The Ann St. in question is in Ann Arbor (Michigan), specifically the block between State and Division.

3. Every Wall You Own

There are times in my life where I feel overwhelming bursts of hope; this song was written during one of those times. This song is also the first of three songs that were previously released on a handmade EP called A Detailed Account of Three Dreams. This version was arranged similarly to how I play it with a full band.

4. Smiles Like A Fist

This song originally came about when I was playing with a band called The Descent of the Holy Ghost Church.

5. Madison House

I wrote Madison House for the last show at an Ann Arbor concert-house that held a great deal of shows over the course of two years. It was pretty symbolic in my life and an intense moment of closure for me. There was a documentary about its three-day last stand, called We Are Not A Funeral. The film?s title comes from a line written by Jansen Swy (from The Descent Of The Holy Ghost Church). At this point I?m not sure exactly what happened to it, I know there was a viewing of it here in town but I think since it has disappeared. Unfortunately I never got to see it.

6. Cold Fusion (Snakes)

This is the second of the three songs previously self released on A Detailed Account of Three Dreams.

7. Flash Of Light Followed By

This track was originally inspired by the idea for a compilation on Yer Bird Records. Morgan King (who owns that label) asked me to submit a song for an idea he had called Folk Music For The End Of The World. I chose to write about the moon crashing into the earth at the exact moment I actually find true love. The details and situations were inspired by the compilation?s title, though the lyrics are directly from my life. Morgan?s idea made me think of them as catalysts for a true love in its infancy rather than failed attempts.

8. Restless

This song deals with the idea of true love. I think a great deal about my history of belief, and how nothing has lasted. True love is the last thing still standing out of all the things I once believed in. I have yet to prove it, but I haven?t disproved it either so?that?s a good thing.

9. Last Wine Of Winter

This is the third song previously released on A Detailed Account of Three Dreams.

10. Do What?s Easy


11. Cold Press Rail

This song was written about early tours with an Ann Arbor songwriter and good friend of mine Matt Jones, and the strange and beautiful feeling you get when you realise you are losing money playing music ? and doing it anyway. There is another version of this song on a limited edition handmade book EP on Quite Scientific Records, it?s called Wait, Skeleton.

How do you feel looking back on A Cork Tale Wake? Is there an overarching theme to the record?

I feel better about it as time goes on. At first I had no perspective on what I was making, and very uncertain about everything. Once I finished the whole thing and took a look at it in its entirety I was very happy. As far as an overarching theme?it talks about a lot of things in my life. I recall memories with each track, but memory wasn?t an intentional theme.

You arrive at the forefront of what some people call an ?Ann Arbor folk scene? ? what do you make of this?

I?ve heard a decent number of blogs and press and people say that, which I take as a real compliment. They don?t realise that most of the people comprising the Ann Arbor folk scene are friends in some way or another. All of us are very different? The scene is larger than the city limits to me ? more of a Michigan Folk Scene. A bunch of us are all showcasing at SXSW this year, which is actually listed as a ?Michigan Showcase?. It?s not limited to folk though. The Hard Lessons, Canada, Great Lakes Myth Society, myself with a full band, The Javelins, and Frontier Ruckus will all be down there.

How did you get to this point?

I?ve released a large number of records and EPs on my own, none of them actually pressed until the second run of Throatsleep. All were very lo-fi and usually involved some arduous homemade packaging. Throatsleep and A Detailed Account of Three Dreams were released on the same day in 2006 along with a bluegrass/folk concept EP called The Single Road I Longed For, which will be re-released this year (remixed and re-mastered). That one is all about a folk festival I go to every year in rural Illinois.

In 2005 I had another full-length called Silence Is For Suckers, which was my first real experimentation with an eight-track. For its release we recreated the whole thing live with a seventeen-piece band and video projections specific for each song. That was fun.

Before that I was making these little four-song EPs and just putting them in Ann Arbor?s beloved Encore Records. They have an amazing local section and would take anything you could think up?napkins, cardboard, soup cans, etc. You had to be creative to get noticed in that glorious mess. They?ve recently started only accepting local music discs with a spine though. Either way, I was selling them at open mics and early gigs. One was recorded just on a Minidisc in a bunch of parking garages around town, where I used to go write songs and sing very late at night so I wouldn?t wake my up my housemates.

I re-recorded a couple handfuls of those old songs and put them into a box set with some other pertinent and unreleased material this winter. I only made nineteen of them, as they were horrendous to make. They each took about twenty hours and have six three-inch discs. It?s this little box that sort of blooms when you open it. It also has a bunch of screen prints of some photos I took on tour this past year, quite a few from the Saturday Looks Good To Me European tour. After I finished A Cork Tale Wake I felt I needed to put those old songs to bed, so put them in the hands of a couple people I knew would really be interested in how I developed as a writer.

As well as certain musicians and singers, you also reference several great American novelists in terms of influence. What is it you admire about these authors, and how do you feel they inform your work?

I admire anyone who can make me feel with words. I love any author that can make me laugh or feel sadness, dread or happiness. Steinbeck and Vonnegut both achieve that in me. I feel language is very important and capable of great things; I?m influenced by it in every form I come into contact with.

How about any more contemporary influences?

Poets include Suzanne Hancock (Another Name For Bridge) and Josh Bell (No Planets Strike). Musically They Were Thieves (from Holland, Michigan), Matt Jones?s rough mixes for his new record, the new Hezekiah Jones EP, Ralph Stanley and Entrance.

The artwork for the album is wonderful ? how did that come about?

I took a Chinese painting and poetry class and got really into the metaphors and symbols they have established in both: magpies, sparrows, bridges, plum blossoms and such. I also have a bad hang up with snakes because of the dream I had that inspired Cold Fusion (Snakes). I chose to use them together, figuring in my mind snakes meant evil and dread and sadness, and the magpie to me was a symbol of happiness. Also a friend of mine named Louis showed me this amazing copy of Who Killed Cock Robin ? I sort of became obsessed with the story, and the fact that no one is concerned with blame in it, and how everyone just wants to be a part of the grieving ceremony and no one thinks twice about how the sparrow should be chastised or lynched.

The cats sort of came about in thinking about enemies and friends and celebration, and how the good and the bad come together in great wonderful waves during celebrations and parties and amazing shows, and how you can feel great happiness and sadness all at once in an extravagant but humble way.

My friend Susan Fawcett drew them for me specifically for the album, with what I had told her and some rough sketches I had made. I think she did a wonderful job. She?s been doing a great deal of album art lately ? she?s all over the place if you look for her. She does a great deal of work with Water Advocacy and Earthwork Music. She?s a gem of human being.

How do the songs translate live?

I play with a great deal of people in Michigan ? almost every show with a band is different. Different people, different instruments, different arrangements?it?s a very satisfying way for me to work. I think sometimes people may feel slightly disappointed seeing things this way though?I feel some nights people may be expecting a big rock set-up, and then when the mountain dulcimer and e-bows come out they just feel cheated or something. Who knows though, maybe they like it. I like it.

I do play a great deal solo as well. The set-up now is based around a single loop pedal, electric guitar, and an extra vocal mic running through the pedal ? it?s a very satisfying set up for me at the moment. The only moments that get close to the edge are when I stack vocals with it. I love singing harmony with myself, it?s seriously one of the funnest things I can think to do.

I used to double up loop pedals, and had a fiddle or mandolin plugged through the whole rig as well. I also had all these really moving audio samples of lines from Hayden Carruth poems, read by him. I would build up a wall of noise, slip in the voice sample amongst the chaos, then pan it back and this amazing voice would come out of the amp: ?WHITE APPLES, AND THE TASTE OF STONE?. People focus so much on recorded voice in a live setting it?s amazing, and really try to listen to what it?s saying. I still play the occasional straight-up acoustic set from time to time too.

 posted by Chris Bathgate 

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