Chris Bathgate

Chris Bathgate
songwriter, musician, artist;
near-graduate School of Art and Design, University of Michigan

Tottered on: 31 July 2006
Temperature: 90 F
Ceiling: humid boiling sun
Ground: steamed greens
Wind: calm

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TT with HD: Chris Bathgate

[Ed. note: Mentioned below is some video of a June 2006 performance by Chris Bathgate of his song Cold Fusion at the Blind Pig. You can hear a version of that song without the crowd noise on Chris Bathgate's MySpace page. And here's more information about Madisonfest.

What you need to know right now is that Chris Bathgate's next show is at the Blind Pig, on Tuesday 1 August 2006. The complete bill is Chris Bathgate, Romeo's Revival, Liquid Reality, and Manchester. Doors 9:30 p.m. ]

HD: Alright, shall we?

CB: Um hmm.

HD: And we'll get the picture-taking first thing. I'd like to discourage you from, uh, exactly. You knew exactly where I was headed with that! It just looks wrong. [Ed. note: CB, without no further prompting, had moved his water bottle from the foreground.]

CB: Got it. [picture taking] ... ...

HD: You're performing at the Blind Pig tomorrow, right?

CB: Tomorrow, yeah.

HD: And will that be just you or you gonna have a whole lineup?

CB: That'll be just me. But I don't know, sometimes I'll just call people like the day-of, and be like, Hey, you guys wanna play? Sometimes it'll happen and sometimes it won't. I haven't figured that out yet. I think alone.

HD: So I watched a pervious performance of Cold Fusion, through the miracle of Google Video, at the Blind Pig. Is that a song you're going to sing this time, or have you figured out the set list yet?

CB: I haven't really figured out the set list yet, but I think maybe not, because I've been playing it a lot.

HD: One thing that I found annoying about that video clip, was that there's all this background chatter. It's the kind of thing I'd expect in a venue that's just a straightup bar, like say at the Old Town. Like last night I went and saw Misty Lyn ...

CB: ... Oh! I did, too.

HD: Oh wow, really? Where were you sitting?

CB: I was sitting in a booth.

HD: I was sitting at a table. It was a two-top against the wall to the right, so I had a clear shot across the bar. That was a nice set. Matt Jones was unexpected. He wasn't on the billing, but that was cool. Anyway, a place like Old Town, you expect there's going to be a certain number of people there, who aren't necessarily there just for the music, and they shouldn't necessarily have to shut up. But the Blind Pig, for heaven's sake, you go there to hear the music, yes?

CB: Yeah.

HD: So I was wondering for you, as a performer, do you find that annoying that people won't just shut up and listen?

CB: No, not necessarily at the Pig. That show, for example, I knew quite a few of the people who were standing really close. I could make enough eye contact with people to know that a portion of them were listening. And if it sort of bleeds through to the people who are talking and hanging out, that's fine, too. So it's not that big a deal, I mean, I'm in a situation where I have a PA, my voice is amplified. So I have a trump card on everyone, and if they want to listen that's cool. ... ... The Blind Pig is probably the least intimate venue in all of Ann Arbor right now, that I can think of.

HD: It's actually the same issue that really degraded the value of the experience at the Ear Fair for me--I don't think you were there, right?

CB: I was at that show, too!

HD: You were?! I thought you weren't there, and that's how somehow you managed to save the day for Canada?

CB: I was there right up until she broke her bow, Amy, the cello player. And I ran off and grabbed her bow and only made it back for the last song.

HD: Oh, so that's how you saved the day.

CB: I guess. I saved the last song.

HD: Well, there were these two 20-something girls seated between me and the stage. I was all the way at the back, you know those big long tables [at Leopold Bros.] One of them, it sounded to me like she had just broken up with her boyfriend or was having bad time with her boyfriend and she needed to tell her friend about it in this voice that just cut through everything. What I wanted to say was, Look, you know, for all your problems, you know, that's fine, but Annie Palmer, she went the trouble to actually write a song about this sort of thing and she's singing it right now, if you would just turn around and listen to it! But I didn't say that, because even though I have these sort of crotchety-old-man thoughts, I usually don't articulate them. So you were there basically for the whole show?

CB: I came in late and I missed Annie's set. Right during Fifth Period Fever, was that the band? The second act that played, I came in right in the middle of that set.

HD: By the way, the name of this guy she was having trouble, with, his name was Chris. I was just wondering, that wasn't you, was it? Here's an exact quote of what he had said to her: Don't tell me what to do! And then he stomped off.

CB: No, um, that wasn't me. It'd be convenient if it was.

HD: Yeah, that would have made for a good story. Alright, so you've got Blind Pig coming up tomorrow and then this event that Brandon Zwagerman is very enthusiastic about? He's said this thing you're putting together is going to be the 'greatest thing ever'. So even factoring in a certain amount of hyperbole, I figure it's bound to be pretty good. So it's a three-day event, is that right?

CB: Oh, you're talking about Madisonfest? It's going to be awesome. You might want to talk to Brandon more about it, but I know it's three days of music: I think four or five hours at the Band Shell on Friday, and then like 12 hours Saturday, and then, I think, a few less on Sunday. Anybody who plays music in the city limits will most likely be there.

HD: So that's Brandon's thing?

CB: Yeah, Brandon is like the sole proprietor of Madison House, and it's sort of like the last big shebang. That's the third weekend of August.

HD: Okay, so the 'greatest thing ever' he was talking about is something different then?

CB: It just got moved to September 9th [or 10th]. It was going to be this upcoming weekend. It's called The Coterie. It'll be Misty Lyn, Matt Jones, Greg McIntosh, Michael Beauchamp, myself, and we're all going to play probably two songs each. And we're also going to be playing with Colette Alexander, who plays cello, Emily Haltom, who plays violin, Ross Huff, who plays trumpet, Shaun Williams, who's going to be playing accordion and banjo. We might be playing with Jamie Saltzman, we're not sure. We're going to have a double-bass player and right now it's Jamie Saltzman, but he might be out of town then. And then I'm forgetting people, I'm sure. It's sort of changing all the time. Every couple of days I'll get another person on, or someone will be like, I can't do it!

HD: So why is this going to be the greatest thing ever? I mean it sounds like an impressive lineup, but there's been other shows, that've had a very long list of impressive local people.

CB: Well, we'll all be playing together on the same ten songs.

HD: Ah!

CB: So it'll be like a 15-person group ...

HD: ... like a super-group.

CB: Like a super-group. All acoustic with a full string section, maybe not a horn section, I don't know if we'd want to fill that out yet or not. There'll be drums: Matt will be playing drums on probably everybody's songs other than his. And the opener right now is Ryan Wilson. He did the painting on the cover of Matt Jones' CD's. He's a great, great visual artist as well as guitar player. He plays in Drafted by Minotaurs, and he used to play in Holy Fire. I think he just started a new band, that I don't know the name of. But he's going to start by doing a live painting, to start the night off.

HD: This is what Brandon may have meant by multi-media?

CB: Yeah.

HD: So he's going to start with a blank canvas?

CB: He's going to start with a blank canvas, and basically we're going to give him a time limit. We're going to be like, You have 35 minutes! And we might have music or an act while he's doing this, I'm not sure. He's sort of in charge, it's sort of his little world of this show. He's going to paint for a significant period of time and that will be, I think, the backdrop, centerpiece for the rest of the night.

HD: How big a canvas is this going to be?

CB: It's up to him.

HD: But when you say 'backdrop' it sounds like it's going to be huge.

CB: It will be like a visual centerpiece. So that basically it'll probably be hung dead-center, behind everyone else, in an easily-viewable position.

HD: Do you know the exact medium this will be? Not spray paint?

CB: Not spray paint, it'll probably be acrylic. He's been doing a lot of really sort of technical spray-paint paintings, actually. The last time I saw his work there were a lot of really thin-lined gradient spray-paint pieces that sort of drift in and out of each other. They're extremely flat, but allude to depth. I really like Ryan's painting quite a bit.

HD: So that's how it's going to start off, he's going to do his painting and then it's going to move to ...

CB: ... hopefully, Suzanne Hancock will do a reading. I know she'll be back in town and people who are playing are friends of hers. She has a book of poems out--I think she has two, but the only one that I think that you can actually get is called Another Name for Bridge. She's an excellent poet, she's taught at U of M. She is an amazing, amazing poet. Actually two of Matt Jones' song lyrics are verbatim Suzanne Hancock poems, so hopefully she'll read. I don't think we've gotten a confirmation yet. But we talked about her right when we were first thinking about the show, and then we heard that she wasn't going to be in town, because she was going to still be in Toronto. But she's coming back to teach at the U of M this semester, so September 9th [or 10th], she'll be there.

HD: Classes start the 5th, right?

CB: Yeah, so hopefully she won't have any conflicts and she'll be into it and I think she will.

HD: Alright, so I'm already intrigued. Then?

CB: And then the music will happen. It'll be probably a 10-song set. And everyone will be singing on everybody else's stuff and everyone will be playing on everyone else's stuff. So this'll be hopefully the largest arrangement that the songwriters have had to do. And it's going to be the most subtly dynamic set, I think, that a lot of people who are playing it will have played. Since it's going to be such a conflict to have no microphones, no PA, and ...

HD: ... so basically whatever you can do to make your part shine through, or not ...

CB: ... or not, right, pull back and let someone else have room. The multimedia thing that Brandon was talking about is the fact that we're going to document almost every part of the music.

HD: Through video as well as ...

CB: ... through video and audio. So we'll record every song that we play at the show with an 11-mic recording setup, probably two weeks before the show: mix it, master it, I've got the packaging sitting in my apartment already, make 200 copies of the CD. It'll be like one-color silk-screen, just pretty simple, white packaging. And then we're going to tape the show. It's going to be a four-camera shoot, decent quality, not quite professional grade--we're all sort of DIY [Do It Yourself] kids. And we're also going to do probably a 4-mic audio recording of the show, too. We'll sell the CD's at the show. Whatever we don't sell at the show, will probably be split up amongst the band members and we'll just sort of take turns dropping them off at Encore or mailing them off to friends.

HD: So I'm a little confused. You're going to get together and do the recording of the musical set in advance, and then there'll be an event where you perform that set? So you will be able to put in people's hands, who attend the event, the music from the rehearsal, plus video?

CB: The video from the rehearsal will be a separate thing. So the end result will be a website that has the whole evening, the painting, the poetry, the music: streamable. Which is going to be really long, really big files, but ...

HD: Are you going to stream right from your site or use Google Video or YouTube?

CB: No, we'll host it, we'll actually have a website. We need to buy a domain name real quick here. So the whole concert, the whole event, will be streamable. After all the CD's are accounted for and there's no more physical copies, we'll post the whole thing that we recorded. The two weeks before, basically like the dress-rehearsal, we'll record that. We'll be taking the best takes and mixing them. There'll be like a five- or ten-minute trailer, where we take footage from our rehearsals and people just sort of talk about it. Hopefully that will turn into something interesting, where if people just want a real brief description of the show, before having a 70-megabyte video load, they watch a thing. Somebody might have some real interesting perspective on it, and hopefully we'll put that with an audio interview and some footage from the practices. There'll be a full page of bios, because Ann Arbor, the music scene is so convoluted, and it's mish-mashy, ...

HD: ... yeah, there's all these intersecting circles of people,

CB: ... so everyone will just write a short bio that sort of shows that. Like Greg McIntosh, he'll obviously mention that he plays in Great Lakes Myth and there'll be a link to their web page.

HD: The part of the equation that you've not mentioned much at all, and maybe that's because it's not a part of the equation is, is there any intention to seriously monetize this entire event or is it simply for the pure artistic expression?

CB: Monetize?

HD: Monetize. [laugh] Yes, this is a word I learned from this guy who works for Yahoo! advertising. Basically, make money off the deal?

CB: Oh. Well, we'll probably make some money off the CD sales. But that'll either be donated to some organization or split between the musicians. I mean, some of it will go to the domain name, because basically that's our source of revenue to fund this thing. We got really cheap hosting through a friend. Basically we're going to put aside this much money for a domain name for, whatever, five years. Anything left over after recouping expenses for buying the actual packaging and DV tapes, we'll probably split it between the musicians or we'll all say, Let's donate it. We haven't really discussed it as a group. The show will be free.

HD: Wow. And where will it be?

CB: That's a good question! We're thinking it might be at Arbor Vitae.

HD: Is that where you actually live?

CB: That's where I actually live. It won't be at Madison House, Brandon won't be living there. It'd be nice, but I'm not sure who's moving in there, and it just sort of wouldn't be the same if Brandon wasn't there. So we're not quite sure yet. We'd still like to do it outside. Just because we'd like to do it late afternoon on Sunday.

HD: So is the West Park Band Shell a possibility?

CB: It is a possibility, but I'm not sure how public that is. There's shows there, but we don't want to risk not having the show, and we also need quite a few power outlets. The power outlets in West Park are locked. If we talked to the City and were like, We want to do this thing ... But the audience is going to be in really close proximity, and the Band Shell isn't necessarily best for that, because the whole show would probably be on the stage. And that would be just sort of ...

HD: ... including the audience, you mean?

CB: Including the audience, yeah. It's sort of awkward. The way that it's going to have to work, with no one being mic-ed and having a lot of people who sing fairly quietly on a lot of their songs, that everyone is going to be playing fairly soft the whole time, so that the main vocals and lyrics can come through.

HD: So the crucial thing for the success of this is not necessarily to have a huge mass of humanity at the actual event?

CB: No.

HD: The idea is to make sure that it's documented.

CB: Yeah.

HD: Got it. So is this in any way someone's School of Art and Design final project?

CB: Nope. If I would have thought of that, maybe I could have gotten some credit for it!

HD: So how close are you to graduating?

CB: I have two classes left. And one massive independent study that I'm finishing up. That will be done in October.

HD: What is that independent study?

CB: It's a six-disc box set ...

HD: ... oh is this the CD collection, the thing that folds out ...

CB: ... that blooms, yeah. I'm getting close. October is a realistic date.

HD: So how many--'copies' is not exactly the right word, I mean when you say 'copy' it sounds like it's simple to do, like photocopying or just burning a CD, but from the description on your MySpace page, it just sounds very tactile and intricate. A lot of actual stuff that you're physically cutting and pasting together?

CB: It's more like a book with very few words and with music that goes with it. There'll be probably 85 copies for sale.

HD: Wow.

CB: That's why it takes a long, long time. I've been working on it for two years now. Just sort of figuring out which images, because songs and images sort of correspond to each other. And then also cutting things out of paper for months on end.

HD: So the work you've done so far, you've got 85 unfinished works-in-progress? Or, I mean it doesn't sound like you've done 25 of them and you've got 60 to go.

CB: It's done in steps. I've been making my own CD's for a really long time, so that's the way it sort of works. I'm in like Phase Three now, where I have quite a few slugs, basically, for the sides cut out. I have all my images settled. I have a lot of the photographs--they're going to be photo plates with litho on top, or intaglio on top--so I have sketches of what the intaglio is going to be. I have the actual photographs that will be turned into prints. I have a good portion of the songs recorded. I have 600 3-inch CDR's, ...

HD: ... 3-inch?

CB: Yeah it's going to be 6 three-inch, 4 songs [per CD]. This whole thing is to sort of bring back what I had done--I did four four-song 3-inch CD's--before Silence is for Suckers. A lot of that is coming back up, and I'm re-recording them in ways that are more current--at least in how I feel about them. Looking back, I'd like to polish it up and put it away.

HD: So the name of that project [all that you contain is all that will remain] reflects that spirit: everything you've done up to this point, it's going to go into this box in some form or other. And whatever was before of that, if it's not in the box, will be wiped clean?

CB: Except for a few tracks. There'll be a total of four tracks that are the actual recording, but those tracks will have new versions also. So four songs will repeat. There will be four of the original recordings, just because they'd be really difficult for me to reproduce. And I'm also satisfied with them, felt like I fulfilled them. So now, it's like I found a new way that I prefer.

HD: So this new way that you prefer, is that in any way connected with the long-vowel thing? Is that a new thing that you've introduced into your style, or was that there all along and people are just now commenting on it?

CB: It's creeping around. Somewhere in there, I just started to change the way I sang. And I'm not sure why. Part of it is just the connotation of words. And it was more about what I was thinking in my head as opposed to, I want to sound British! I forget the name of the blog, but I found a link that talked about how, He's got this great British--or, he said Scottish--accent! Which I'm assuming is some sort of association with the last name. But I have no ...

HD: ... well, you're from Dexter, right?

CB: Actually, I'm from Illinois. I'm from a town called Rockford. I just want to set that straight, I'm not British. But there is sort of a long-vowel sort of thing going on.

HD: Yeah, what normally are diphthongs in American English, you take the first element, lengthen it and just get rid of the second element, so /nait/ ('night') becomes /na:t/. Very cool. But there's a Dexter address?

CB: There is. That's my parents' address, actually.

HD: So they followed you to college?

CB: Other way around, I followed my Dad to his new job in Dearborn.

HD: Well, listen, I am just bakin. I'm just streaming and drenched with sweat. I'm sure we've set a high temperature record for the teeter totter. But. Is there anything else on your mind? Does this weather just wreck all of your instruments?

CB: No, summer's alright. Winter will be interesting. That's about it. It's pretty hot.

HD: Alright, well, listen, thanks for coming over to ride the teeter totter.

CB: Thanks for letting me.