You know how we at Alabama Chanin feel about open sourcing. We offer our techniques and the information necessary to recreate our products, should you decide that you want to do-it-yourself. After three books, countless DIY Kits, and an amazing array of workshops, we have learned some important things: people will take your ideas and run with them; what you put into the world will come back to you in ways that you never imagined; the world is a creative place; and you never know what people are capable of until you give them the tools and the opportunity to create.
That being said, I think we’ve found a kindred spirit in the musician, Beck. While listening to one of my podcast staples, All Things Considered, I caught an interview where he described his newest album – an album that he, himself, hasn’t actually recorded. Song Reader (published by, awesome, McSweeney’s) is a set of 20 songs that Beck has released only in sheet music format. His hope is that other musicians will take the material and record their own versions. After releasing so many solo albums, he said that crowdsourcing his music seemed like a way to make the process less lonely.
From All Things Considered: “When you write a song and make a recording and put out a record, it’s kind of [like] sending a message in a bottle,” Beck says. “You don’t really get a lot of feedback. This is a way of sending that song out, and you just get literally thousands of bottles sent back to you.”
There are plenty of artists that have taken up this artistic challenge. You can hear many of them at Beck’s Song Reader website. Maybe, you’ll find your own inspiration there.
To hear the entire interview and some of the songs that have been recorded, listen to the All Things Considered segment here.
The musical legacy of our community is rather incredible; you don’t have to look hard or far to find a wealth of talent in the Shoals. Dive bars, back porches, and BBQs are all likely places for impromptu jam sessions. If you were living here during the 60’s or 70’s you probably have a story about the Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, Cher, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or any number of the musicians that recorded at FAME Studios or Muscle Shoals Sound (shown in the photo above at 3614 Jackson Highway in Muscle Shoals, Alabama).
In the 1940’s, you may have heard Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, DJ-ing on the Muscle Shoals radio station, WLAY. Phillips has credited the station as inspiration and influence on his later work.
This once legendary music scene has experienced resurgence recently with artists like Bettye LaVette, the Black Keys (see video below), Band of Horses, and Alicia Keys traveling to the Shoals to produce, record, and work. And while we love that our great history, amazing engineers, and studios are attracting big names, it is our local musicians that we adore – the hometown heroes that are pursuing their dreams and doing what they love, all while dealing with the daily grind. We will begin highlighting some of the incredible local bands and musicians that call the Shoals home, starting with the very near and dear Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil.
In anticipation of our upcoming event at Grocery on Home, I’ve been going through The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, by William Arnett, Alvia Wardlaw, Jane Livingston, and John Beardsley again this week. It’s only serving to make me really excited. The book is rich with history and filled with gorgeous photographs of hand-stitched quilts and the stories of the women who made them. The mini-autobiographies of each quilt maker provide snapshots of life in Gee’s Bend. Each entry is written in the seamstress’s own words, like this opening paragraph in Helen McCloud’s story:
“I was born down in Clifton, out from Annemanie. My mother was Della Mae Bridges. We worked in the fields, raised cotton and stuff. Kind of rough. My daddy was a big farmer-cotton, corn, rice, peanuts, squashes, cucumbers, beans, oats. And, Lord, we had to get out there and pick them. Jesus, I hated that, but if you didn’t, you get tore up. Watermelons, too. Two hundred pounds of cotton wasn’t nothing for me to pick. My daddy was so mean to us.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:
“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading
Today I received a beautifully packaged c.d. from the talented Tift Merritt. The c.d. features many of her new songs that will certainly be heard during our work days in the studio.
We had the pleasure of hearing Tift’s amazing voice at her performance for the opening of our pop-up shop at the Billy Reid store in New York.
We hope to see Tift in New York, or perhaps Alabama, very soon.
After taking time to reflect on our recent week in New York for MAKESHIFT, I’m already thinking about MAKESHIFT 2013.
Here are some highlights from the conversation at The Standard Talks. We reported the MAKESHIFT events here on the blog throughout the week, and had great press coverage from the New York Times, Style.com, Page Six, and Jezebel. Here’s a recap of our memorable conversation.
From The Standard Talks panel discussion:
Andrew Wagner began with a grand introduction and also referenced Ettore Sottsass’s essay, ‘When I Was a Very Small Boy’.
To begin the evening at MAKESHIFT @ the Standard Talks, Rosanne Cash opened with a performance of “Fair and Tender Ladies,” a traditional Appalachian folk song that has been recorded by many singers. The song had been performed by her step-mother, June Carter Cash.
Rosanne began by sharing her thoughts on crafting and writing music. In turn, she asked the audience to collaborate and “craft” a new song from the original version. This posed the question: “What can we learn from the field of music as we creatively approach a collaboration between amateurs and auteurs, makers and users?”
Last month, we introduced Jessamyn, a new contributor to this blog. Sharing the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fires cast a sad light on the history of labor laws in the U.S; however, she showed us how to find better joys in fashion, ecology, and ethics. She has since written about the meaning of D.I.Y.
This week, in a conversation between Jessamyn and Rosanne Cash—another dear friend and colleague—Rosanne shares sentimental stories on the garments that occupy her life and closet.
Please welcome back Jessamyn – and Rosanne - part of the growing heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.
At the Factory, we play music to help set an inspiring tone for our work environment, and sometimes to just get us through the day. At any given time, you will hear a range of genres including folk, classical, rock, country, and independent artists. We don’t usually pick favorites, but The Civil Wars’ sounds are often heard floating through the shelves of organic fabric in the studio.
Joy Williams and John Paul White’s soothing and harmonic melodies have provided the soundtrack to many FULL workdays. The songs are sometimes bluesy, sometimes haunting, and always powerful. Their voices simply sound natural and right together. Perhaps we’re partial to them—not only because of their poetic music—but also because they are rooted in the Shoals; The Civil Wars are a vital part of our artistic community. But, we also feel connected to the band because of their approach to making, or “crafting” music.