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Taking the fall
Stuntman One at the B-side
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
I'm of the opinion that the best way to connect to an artist is to see them live. It's one thing to be in the comfort of your living room, bedroom, basement, etc... and fall in love with music.
But it's a completely different vibe to be up close and personal with a musician and see them sing and play. Watch them with your own eyes as they articulate their words and notes. Communicate their heart and soul to you directly. Intimate is the key word here. Small clubs, coffeehouses, living room shows; these are where the magic happens.
Matt Kelley of One Lucky Guitar is a lover of music. This is no secret in Fort Wayne. To meld both his love for design and music, he's created a musical space at his OLG offices affectionately called The B-Side. It's a space within the office designed to host intimate acoustic performances for 50 or so lucky listeners. He has had such diverse artists as David Bazan, Ike Reilly, Marah (America's last rock 'n roll band, natch), and Eef Barzelay play within the brick walls of OLG.
Another artist that has played a show at OLG (before a space such as The B-Side was created) is Mark Hutchins. In early 2010 Mark had a CD release show at OLG for his then newly-released Sleepy Furnace. Mr. Hutchins now has the honor of being the first show of 2013 at The B-Side. I recently got together with Mark to talk about this show, how it transpired, and where it may go from here.
EAP: So how did the Stuntman show come about?
MH: I'd done a really enjoyable show at OLG to kick off the Sleepy Furnace solo album a few years ago. It was totally unplugged, and the folks who came were there specifically to hear the music. Late last year, Matt contacted me with another show opportunity, so I jumped at it. Then, the gears started turning... I had been planning on putting together all these vaguely stuntman-themed songs that I'd had on Vandolah and solo releases here and there. Putting them into one set, just to see how it would sound. This show turns out to be an excellent opportunity to frame those songs and put them into "context," for lack of a better term. It's going to be at least semi-unplugged (we'll have a bass guitar involved), which forces us to play the tunes in their most unvarnished form. I like doing this because it tells me right away if a song really works or not. Plus, there's nothing like four or five people playing acoustic together; it's loud in a very different way than a typical plugged-in gig.
EAP: Is Matt Kelley a fan of your music? How long have you known Matt?
MH: Matt has been really supportive since the very first Vandolah show. I remember him expressing his appreciation that somebody was doing original stuff with an Americana/folk-rock/indie/jangle vibe back then. I think the Legendary Trainhoppers were still together back then, and he was an active musician at the time. OLG grew into a very cool, respected agency, and I've always jumped at the chance to do any event it or Matt is connected to. He's a class act and has done a lot for this town and for local artists.
EAP: For the uninitiated, explain the theme of the Stuntman songs. Were these at one point going to be a concept record of sorts?
MH: At first, yeah. When I started writing what eventually turned into Please (that was the first Vandolah project), the first couple of songs I came up with were written from the perspective of a guy hitting middle age and kind of doubting himself at his profession... in this case, a professional stuntman. Yeah, you could read it as masked autobiography, but what really resonated about the concept was how it worked on even more than two levels. ANYBODY could relate to this guy and his predicament not just soon-to-be middle-aged men. I'm the first to admit that it's kind of a dopey concept on the surface. But when you break it down, it's pretty universal: doubt, regret, fear, knowing you should probably stop but not being able to give something up, how your life has changed now that you have a family. Hell, it's about doing MUSIC, too: continuing to pursue something that consumed you when you were younger, and then stepping back and examining how and why you keep doing it after your life has changed. The "stuntman" is only one easy metaphor. It could be a dancer, or an astronaut, or a record store owner. Or a singer-songwriter who doesn't know when to leave well enough alone.
EAP: I think it 's a pretty creative way to bring up the idea of our artistic mortality. When do we pack it up and express ourselves not through art but through how we punch a clock twice a day. Sorry. Go on
MH: Anyway, I thought I was going to try and do an EP or a whole album under this concept, but I ran out of gas on it. Started writing some of those other tunes that made even less linear sense! You could kind of say that a Stuntman EP is kind of peppered throughout Please... and some Stuntman singles are peppered throughout the other Vandolah and solo records. I never really thought it would hold up as a whole album, but 10 or so years in, there are 11 or so tunes. Like a reverse-engineered concept album or something... not a way of working I'd recommend, unless you're REALLY patient [laughs].
EAP: A reverse-engineered concept album? That's what my college thesis was on[laughs]. Anyways, the whole stuntman concept sounds like a great short story. Something Sherwood Anderson might've written had he been writing in the 50s or 60s and more of an existentialist. Do you have a manuscript at the bottom of your closet waiting to be published?
MH: I think maybe it WOULD be an interesting narrative in the right hands. In my hands, it would be pretty trite in that form, I think. For me, this concept only really works in these short 3-1/2 minute bursts, with music to lean on. And, the narrative is by no means crystal clear. Sometimes, unless you were told, "hey, this is about a stuntman," you wouldn't know. Not that I've been accused of being oblique with my lyrics before or anything [laughs]!
I think the universality of this makes it cool for small bites, but it probably wouldn't have the legs for lengthy prose. Film, maybe. If they change the lead character from a middle-aged guy to a young woman, change the profession from stuntman to vampire...
EAP: [Laughs]Is being a vampire a profession? If so sign me up cause I'm up all night as it is. Back to the show...who's playing with you?
MH: I'll be playing with Dan Greunke and Jon Kynard from Toledo, plus Lee Andrews and Casey Neal from here in Ft. Wayne. Dan and Jon are from Toledo and I do a lot of shows over there with them. Dan plays guitar and sings. We've known each other a long time, and he's been playing with me since the Vandolah project started. Jon plays drums and percussion. Lee plays mandolin and bass and has an awesome beard. Casey plays banjo (he recorded the banjo parts on the Liar's Gift album, plus he played a bit on Sleepy Furnace). Kevin Hambrick will open the show with a solo set, and we're hoping to bring him up for some songs during the Stuntman set too. He's one of my favorite songwriters and a real gentleman. In fact, each one of these guys is really talented AND is really, really great to be around. I'm lucky to get to play with such good folks.
EAP: What's behind the title "Stuntman One"?
MH: The reason this is called "Stuntman One" is that this set will be stripped down to its essence. Then, I'm hoping to take the set into the studio later in the year, with the guys who are playing this show plus a bunch of other folks. The finished product will probably sound way different than this acoustic set, which is kind of the idea. This show is the launching point for the project... so, hopefully there will be a "Stuntman Two" at some point. I'm really looking forward to seeing where it goes.
EAP: Where do you go from here with the idea of the stuntman? Or is this it?
MH: I like the concept, but you can only have your protagonist say, "Sigh, I'm getting too old for this and I should really stop, but..." so many times and so many ways before you have to... retire him. Not to give too much away, but I just wrote a song a couple of months ago that will probably wrap things up. I'll be playing it at the show. And, let's just say I kind of surprised myself as I was writing the song. Even I didn't see it coming! Sometimes, these things just write themselves.
EAP: OLG and The B-Side seems like the ultimate place to perform for a singer-songwriter like yourself. A perfect spot to share your songs and art with nothing more than your voice and acoustic instrumentation.
MH: It is. I had two great experiences in quick succession there. First, I got to sit on the floor and see David Bazan do an unplugged performance just a few feet away. That was awesome. Wasn't too long after that I did the Sleepy Furnace kickoff show. That's still one of my favorites. I still love to plug into an amp and play a loud electric show, but that completely unplugged set really felt like a kind of communication, you know? That's what it's all about. I appreciate Matt giving me the opportunity to do that in such a cool setting.
If you want to get acquainted with Mark's music, go here: markhutchins.bandcamp.com