(Eds. note: We have almost reached the end of Interstitial March, and though this is not the final post, you could definitely call it the finale. It’s possible readers of this blog need no introduction to either of these two luminaries. Alternative rock/folk/Celtic/mythpunk singer S.J. Tucker performs both solo and and as a member of the band Tricky Pixie. Her most recent CD is “Mischief.” Author, editor and poetess Catherynne M. Valente has won the James Tiptree Jr. Award, the Andre Norton Award and Mythpoeic Award for her myth- and folktale-fusing novels and the Rhysling Award for her poetry. Her most recent novels are The Habitation of the Blessed and Deathless. The two have toured together and frequently collaborate, and graciously agreed to a mutual interview — in fact they interviewed each other. With no further ado, here’s Cat Valente . . . .)
SJ Tucker and I are sitting in the living room of a creaky, old, benevolently haunted house in Maine. (It’s my house, but all that’s true.) I’m wearing pirate pajamas, and she’s wearing fairy pajamas. We have been listening to the Beatles, and my cat has expressed interest in being SJ’s new back-up singer. It’s almost midnight, and we’re dying our hair purple. Well, purple stripes. What a perfect time to talk about interstitial art, I say! SJ quirks her eyebrow at me. She’s very good at eyebrow-quirking. And we settle into this inter-person interview, dictating and typing and fixing and accidentally getting purple dye on our wrists while the very last of the March snow slides off the roof outside.
The Bleach Sets In:
What do you do, and how is it interstitial?
Well, today, we wandered through abandoned dark tunnels covered in fifty years worth of graffiti, broke the ice on puddles, listened to the ocean, then came home and wrote a song (SJ) and a story (me). In the simplest of terms, SJ is a singer/songwriter and I am a fantasy/science fiction writer. We collect slashes. That’s what we do separately. And even separate we’re pretty inter those stices. My writing is dense and allusive and full of mashing naughty genre children together with postmodern realist toys and seeing what trouble they make. Pretty much any discussion of what I write starts out talking about how hard it is to classify. In my old age I’m getting cool with that.
SJ: I make music. I make music about stories. I make music occasionally about visual art, which the artists then hear and sometimes make more visual art, as in the case of Emily Carding, who turned me loose on her online gallery and said write a song about whatever you want, then in turn put me in a Tarot deck, then once she heard the song I wrote about a piece of hers, she did a sequel to the piece that I had based a song on. That’s probably the best example I have of what happens in my world, short of when I read something that’s fallen out of Cat’s head. Songs often fall from my head at an alarming rate in response to her stories.
Together, we fight crime. (Sort of kind of seriously?) But really, really seriously, when we’re together, we produce something really special–a beautiful circusy road show full of SJ’s music and my books. Sometimes we’re joined by our friends who are dancers, rope artists, actors, jewelers, knitters, and painters, and we become (sort of kind of seriously) a walking, talking art-mecha, bringing these strange universes to life. (In fact, our first road show raised money for the IAF) SJ writes albums inspired by my work, soundtracks that deepen and explicate and deconstruct my worlds. I fold her back again into my books, and bits of our experiences together, and sometimes I write stories to be her liner notes when she puts out her extraordinary original albums. As we often joke, our Muses have been dating for some time, it’s only in the last few years that they got around to telling us about it.
Remove Bleach, Apply Purple:
Has being interstitial (i.e. creating a project that falls outside recognized marketing categories) created difficulties for you? If so, how?
SJ: Well, there was that time we booked a cross country tour by ourselves, and I was trying to explain to a certain bookstore in L.A. that we needed enough space to do a reading and a concert and not just a signing, and they couldn’t wrap their brains around the idea. So we never performed in L.A. Fortunately, there are beautiful spaces, like the auditorium in the Pasadena Public Library, that can handle girls from out of town with strange ideas.
Cat: In fact, when we first started with the Orphan’s Tales tour, hardly anybody could figure what we were on about, and we had a lot of very uncertain bookstores and house concerts where no one knew what to expect. We’ve had to blaze our own trail in a lot of ways–by the time that Palimpsest rolled around, though, we had a lot more credit and could take more risks, and still come up with places to take them.
SJ: Places like trains and boats and decadent New Orleans Bed-and-Breakfasts, even. It’s hard to focus on what’s gotten in my way in my own music, because the interstitial attitude has opened more doors than it’s closed for me. I’ve never been the kind of girl who wanted to play in bars. Bars don’t care about storytelling, or your songs about some weird book. When you perform in a bar, you are there to help them sell alcohol, not to get your message across. Doing the kind of interstitial work that I do started with situations like the day back in June 2006, when we were hanging out at Cat’s house and someone said “wouldn’t it be cool if there was an album to go with the Orphan’s Tales?” And three hours later we were all in happy tears, because the first song for that album had fallen right into my lap. It had become real, just like that. You don’t get that sort of wonder playing in bars–which is not to say bars don’t host great bands and multimedia, but that’s never been where we were aimed. Our way, the weird, crooked, wicked way, is better, I guess. It leads to a better world.
Cat: I agree that the very fact that my work is odd and outside the norm has opened more doors than it’s closed. I could say: I’ve been at this since I was 25 and it’s been a hard road of convincing people that it’s not purple prose, it’s something valuable, and I still get knocked around by people who don’t get and don’t want to get what I do. But I can also say: wow, it’s been six years and I’ve come so far so fast. I’ve been so lucky. I started out being bombastic and loud and a million colors and it’s gotten me further, I think, than I could have gotten if I’d tried to be a traditional girl. I like my world. I like sitting next to this woman who is my sister and my shipmate, and knowing that just this week we’ve inspired each other and made magic together. I like the consensual reality that we’ve chosen. We worked so hard to live in this wonderland–but if it weren’t so strange and other and fae, it wouldn’t be our wonderland.
We all choose our work, I think. We find something and we say this is me, this is my voice, this is my song. And we try to hew to that. It’s much harder than we ever think it will be, to hold that golden line. And it’s very late at night and I’m being sentimental, but it is a rigorous, shimmering, tenuous highwire we walk on, to be true to ourselves and still try to make a living, to feed our loved ones, to speak in our private languages but still in a dialect that can be understood by others, can touch others’ private worlds. Every day, we just keep walking it, and I’ve never had any regrets.
Wait a Million Years For Purple to TAKE HOLD:
What advice would you give to another interstitial artist in a similar position?
Cat: It is now 12:34. 1234, get it? SJ says this was her grandfather’s favorite time of day. I am in love with all the hours that make strange numbers. But that’s not advice.
Except it is! Live in the strange numbers, in the arcane hours. That’s our time–not the noontime of easy success and everyone’s benevolent eye on your work and yours alone, that’s not for us. For us it’s always 12:34, not even the witching hour but something even more bizarre and violet and lovely. We are, in fact, motley fools, and the only way, the only way to get through it all–because fuck, art is hard, art is work, and selling art is a brutal business–is to be so happy in what you’re doing and what you’re making that you can sail through the dark and the bad. And part of that happy? Is knowing other artists, creating with them, collaborating and loving and raising up huge cities of the mind. I mean, isn’t that all we ever really wanted, when we were kids, when we were in high school hoping to death our lives would be something amazing, that we really could create and draw and sing and dance and write and soliloquy ourselves into a brave new world–and not the creepy dystopia, but the mad island full of wizards? Didn’t we just want to commune with people who understood us, who could get excited about things with us and follow through on 3 am plans? And to make something grand, and to not be afraid, and drink coffee and/or absinthe really sexily.
Maybe that last part was just me.
SJ: Dream big. Make friends. Anyone doing anything even vaguely interstitial is breaking new ground and at the same time following in the footsteps of the artists and musicians of ages past who had the audacity to hang out together, the ones we sit around talking about, about how cool it must have been for them. George Sand. Franz Liszt. Chopin. Remember that time we were sitting on your driveway in Cleveland, Cat, and talking about Carl Sagan and his wife, and Samuel Delaney and others, and how it must have been to know people like that? Well, it’s so cool, that we all get to hang out together now, all us interstitial artists, making art, making songs about books and books about songs. I think I’m actually happiest when I’m making music about Cat’s books.
(And that’s where I tear up and squeeze her arm and our hair is wrapped up in bobby pins and plastic and we are ridiculous.)
Rinse and Become Purple:
If you could change one thing about the situation, what would it be?
SJ and Cat: The thing is that we have a lot of support and people dig what we do. We are so lucky, and very aware of that. We love our lives–and we just want more people to be able to experience what can happen when you just go with it, when you just don’t ever say “that’s too weird, no one would get it.”
That’s not to say we don’t have difficulties. Trials and failures. Really lean times and dark moments. We do. Boy howdy. But it’s never the art we’re making that makes us feel that way. It’s the art we’re making that keeps us whole when the lean dark failtimes set in.
The only thing that could make it cooler would be if more people would come on board, both in terms of getting it instead of going: “Huh?” and in terms of making their own interstitial art, joining the party, making the stage creak and groan. Of course I/we think that interstitial art thrives in some sense on being marginalia, those beautiful Kells-images sneaking around the corners of the wall of mainstream cultural text. It is not and should not be easy, digestible, nicely packaged, simple, bite-sized. And thus it will never be for everyone.
But it is for someone. Somewhere out there, there is someone who needs the art you haven’t made yet. And for those mad and beautiful someones, we live and create and sing and write, hoping to cease not till death.
|Book Artist: an interview with Papaveria Press founder Erzebet YellowBoy Carr||The fragments in between: an interview with artist Mores McWreath|