It happens. Like when I called up Hutch last March to talk about his life as a barista he’d recently quit. (Come to think of it, same thing happened with another singing ex-coffee slinger, Man Man’s Ryan Kattner.) So it goes with Sidney Vermont, one half of Hello, Blue Roses. Last I’d heard she was working in a print shop and completing her MFA, but then, well: “I didn’t know how to answer the school question cause I was in the midst of negotiating my leave…” Congrats, of course.
When we checked in with Vermont and Blue Roses beau Dan Bejar for the ‘Gum Drop, they were up in Dawson City, Yukon for an arts residency at the Klondike Institute for Arts and Culture. Take a look at the picture she passed along (after our discussion) and you can see they’re pretty much still there. Also following her meditation on art, print shops, crafts, and songwriting, take a listen to “Coming Through Imposture,” my favorite from the duo’s The Portrait Is Finished And I Have Failed To Capture Your Beauty…. While we’re capturing beauty, remember to listen back to the ‘Gum Dropped “Sunny Skies” and, conversely, “Shadow Falls.” See that?
STEREOGUM: You’re in school for painting? When do you graduate?
SYDNEY VERMONT: I was in school for my MFA, not necessarily painting, it’s not discipline specific. Although I did try my hand at oils for the first time, hoping it was going to be a solid connection, but that just wasn’t the case. I am more aligned with designer’s tools, like gouache and pens of all kinds. I have taken a leave from school for this term, so my graduation date is that much further away.
STEREOGUM: Do you plan to teach? Looking for gallery representation?
SV: Maybe I’ll teach, that would be cool. I try to avoid thinking about the future or careerist art moves, and just concentrate on making things I like, which often doesn’t jive with what galleries like, at least where I live. Making something where I feel connected is my only ambition, otherwise there is so much compromise trying to fit in somewhere. Too many artists are caught up in the market. It’s a difficult balance trying to make a living and keeping it real. Very very few artists really do that. Mostly it’s calculation, speculation, which is why so much contemporary art just feels utterly dead.
STEREOGUM: I’ve seen your art at your website (and the cover of the new Destroyer). What are your working on these days?
SV: I am working on a few projects … one is sculptural with some writing, video, and drawing called “Edith’s Diary,” based on Patricia Highsmith’s book of the same name. Some other drawings and some costumes.
STEREOGUM: What do you do at the print studio? Is it a work-study program?
SV: I worked at the print studio up at school, but it was part of a work study, so I don’t work there right now. Unfortunately. I was mainly sorting through old typefaces in the typesetting room, very meditative. I like fonts. My grandfather was a typesetter for the Toronto Star a long long time ago. My other job there was making silkscreens.
STEREOGUM: Can you explain the atmosphere there?
SV: The print studio is my favorite place on that campus. It’s productive, always full of people working on projects, yet relaxed, and my bosses are very cool. Most of the people using the print studio are really dedicated to print-making. You know, there are some undergrads who are just fucking around for some assignment, but usually it’s the same people in there.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a background in printing? I heard you’re sorting typefaces. So this is letterpress? Also, I looked up the Office for the Reanimation of Dead Ideas and found a couple links. Can you tell me how long you’ve been doing this? What’s the story behind the name? It reminds me of The Office For Soft Architecture.
SV: I do love print-making though I haven’t done as much as I’d like to. I would love to try lithography after seeing some incredibly old lithos of bullfights and town fairs all over Spain. I have a print-gocco at home that i use. It’s more of a stamp kit. My friend Sarah and I did a typesetting project for a catalog for our first gig at our company The Office for the Reanimation of Dead Ideas. (I know the Office for Soft Architecture well, and am a fan.) Our name, however, comes from a performance I did in Paris in 1998, a consulting office where I would try and revise/revamp ideas for people that they were still attached to, but had gone stale or off-track. It existed in this closet, literally, a gallery called Espaces Conviviaux, for two days.
STEREOGUM: What are you plans with the company? Broadsides and things? What have you made so far?
SV: The typesetting project catalog involved typesetting over found old postcards that the curator Jesse Birch had collected. So, it was pretty fitting for our first project. The second project was an edition of Ebi origami mobiles, in honor of Sylvia, the origami lady who had this amazing shop in my neighborhood with hundreds of origami mobiles … It was a totally magical place. She passed away last summer and now the shop is gone, well it’s a fancy bicycle shop now for the people seem to get around with a single gear and no brakes. How do they do that?
We are working on our next edition, but it’s a secret. I think the company is half art, half business. We’ll see how it evolves. We’re both pretty interested in the craft blogging community. I think books of some variety will definitely come up, Sarah had edited a number of really nice books when we worked at an art gallery together, and I could see doing some more of that with her. That catalog was a book of sorts, a book in a box, mostly hand-printed ephemera. (Some examples: 1 2 3.)
STEREOGUM: Are you at all involved with the poetry world?
SV: I am not necessarily involved with the poetry community, although I have had the opportunity to work with some very talented poets, like Lisa Robertson, who is amazing
STEREOGUM: Your school/job/press fold together thematically. What was your last
job that didn’t quite fit? For instance, I used to work the graveyard shift at a gas station. It was a bit out of my writing comfort zone.
SV: I have had so very many jobs that didn’t fit, I am not at all sure I could choose. It could be the crappy yuppie pool-hall, the rickshaw (that lasted one day), various telemarketing gigs (a couple of hours each), tree-planting, tree-planting cook, juice bar, nacho maker, prep cook, personal cook (that lasted a half day). Throw a stone at anything under ten dollars an hour, I probably tried to support myself doing that.
I’d forgotten about the Canadian phenomena of tree planting. Connected to questions about Sydney’s day job: When I spoke with Hello, Blue Roses for their ‘Gum Drop, there was a response we weren’t able to use for space reasons. It’s seems worthwhile to post it here:
STEREOGUM: Sydney, you’re also a visual artist. When you write a song, do you visualize it in some sort of concrete compositional form? Obviously, there’s a portrait in the album title and on the cover, etc.
SV: The title comes from a video/painting that I made with my friend and extremely talented artist Shary Boyle. I was filming her painting my portrait, and one point that line just came out of her mouth — that and something akin to making me look like a 400 old pug dog. Which is crazy, the portrait is amazing, she just exaggerated some of my more lopsided features. I’ve already used that portrait in a book-work I made last year, so I was forced to make a self-portrait for the album, where I look more like a Chihuahua. I like continuing on or bringing conversations that happen in one creative situation into another. That’s life.
Visualize … maybe in that I have a strong sense of a gesture in the song whether the song is whole or in pieces. I can’t always get at it the way I want to, but that’s just part of it I guess. I had this conversation about synaesthesia in the summer with some friends and a linguist who moved into therapy, and whose area is synaesthesia … There are the cases where every letter conjures a specific colour, texture, etc., like the Nabokovs. We talked about how everyone is born a synaesthete, but this incredibly trippy infant aspect of perceiving the world, like our tastebuds, is tamed over time. There is also a form-based type of synaesthesia, where months of the year, days of the week, are spatially organized in a specific way. It’s kind of a creative organizational map in the brain. I can claim the form-based variety, which I think applies to how any creative act comes to fruition with me. Whether it’s art or music. It’s just that I have been trained to think about art, which may or may nor be a good thing, whereas music I either like it or I don’t. I don’t think about structure, which can be a nuisance for people I am working with, or even innovations. I really went in for sound-works and noise in the early ’90s, but I can’t remember that ear or interest. I have always been around music, and have been forced to learn about song structure-but it was classical and has had no carry-over. It’s like that training never stuck to me. Occasionally, out of the blue, I can remember a whole choral piece from 20 years ago, in German, but I have no idea who wrote it or what the words mean-muscle memory. I am trying to incorporate these flashbacks into the new songs, but it’s entirely intuitive, I don’t really want to think about how I write songs, I don’t want to kill it.
Hello, Blue Roses aren’t planning for many shows in ’08, but you can catch them live at 2/16 at Grasslands in Williamsburg. They should go on around 10PM. Also, if you have the new Destroyer, listen to “Blue Flower/Blue Flame” and keep all of this in mind. Here’s Hello, Blue’s “Coming Through Imposture.”
The Portrait Is Finished And I Have Failed To Capture Your Beauty… is out via Locust.