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A Few Words From A Writer, Musician, Commentator
Tris McCall
When I'm onstage, I don't experience performance as different in kind from the writing I'm doing on the website, or right now. When I write a song, it's just an essay in a slightly different language; an argument set to music. - Tris McCall
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] Tris McCall
Tris McCall

Tris McCall is a writer. Sitting at a computer keyboard, using the QWERTY keys, or at an electronic keyboard utilizing A-B-C-D-E-F-G and their associated half-steps, McCall has something to say. Using a computer screen, the printed page, or a plastic-and-aluminum disc, that message is always presented in a manner that is interesting, thought-provoking, entertaining and likely to start an argument somewhere.

A well-known figure in the indie music circles around the Hoboken, New Jersey area and its sister music scenes in Brooklyn and New Brunswick, McCall has not limited himself to a singular form of expression. Releasing his second album, Shootout at the Sugar Factory (Melody Lanes Recording Company), in September 2003, McCall offers ten tracks that will be intimately familiar to anyone who lives in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline, yet will strike a chord of comprehension to anyone who has dealt with the politics and pathos of a local arts scene, city politics and the difficulties and desires of urban life.

While touching upon such dense topics as urban planning and zoning laws in one's art could make it incomprehensible, McCall's intent is to allow the reader or listener to uncover a message on their own, and enjoy the process of discovery. In a world too often filled with the obvious, the joy or relating to something on one's own terms, or even becoming passionately opposed to an new idea, is a rare treat.

But don't overlook the music, an eclectic barrage of synthesizers, organs and electronic pianos produced on top of of a myriad of complementary instruments that finally proves what ProTools software was meant to do. Shootout at the Sugar Factory (www.trismccall.net/shootout_splash.html) boasts enough hook and groove to catch of the ear of the least socially-conscious music lover. Certain songs, such as "Dancing to Architecture" have elements that are down-right pop, and "The Night Bus" is just dripping with potential for radio airplay.

Sit back and start reading, you're about to learn something. Even better, pick up a copy of McCall's latest CD, and and pop it into the player while you're reading. This is one article best viewed with a soundtrack.

You've recently gotten involved with hosting discussion panels about various music topics for Artist Amplification at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. Start off by talking about the goals of those panels, and what the results have been for those who were in attendance.

The panels were Andy Gesner’s response to a notorious article I wrote in Jersey Beat about how and why Brooklyn’s musical subculture was trouncing our own. Andy wanted to make his Artist Amplification festival at Maxwell’s similar to the Independent Music Festival, so we copied the "Indie Rock Boot Camp" format that Doug Forbes made semi-famous. Doug would have people from different branches of the music industry address the bands on various subjects of ostensible interest: publicity, self-booking, recording, promotion. What I recognized while emceeing the 2003 event was that I couldn’t have been less interested. "How indie bands can help themselves" is just not a fascinating subject. You can have a conversation about it, but after a few minutes, it’ll become reiterative: be courteous, be comprehensive, be persistent, don’t get discouraged, follow up on phone calls, work as hard as you can, do it yourself whenever you can. It degenerates into homilies, and I vehemently dislike homilies.

It was apparent to me that the proper questions weren’t being asked. It’s not how to tour or promote that most bands need to figure out, it’s why. Why bother? What do you, aspiring touring musician, have to say to people in Boston, or Muncie, Indiana? You’re onstage surrounded by amplification equipment, you step up into the spotlight, you’re going to be as loud as you can for as long as you can. What is it that you have to communicate that can justify all of the wattage and pomp? What can justify the van trips, the invasion of unsuspecting clubs in equally unsuspecting counties? The answer for many groups " including many groups I like very much " boils down to "well, we want to tour because it’s the next step on the conveyor belt that leads to rock stardom, or something quite like it." That’s fine, I guess, but it’s also boring. Rock stardom is boring. If you are a rock star, that means you’re a citizen of the world, and a citizen of the world is a citizen of no place in particular. We’re up onstage at Maxwell’s, in Hoboken, New Jersey, and none of us are rock stars " we are citizens of Hoboken, and Jersey City, and New Brunswick, and Asbury Park. Instead of having a purely hypothetical conversation about the blind route to a destination that none of us are likely to reach, I wanted to talk about the interesting particularities of the communities we share.

For 2004, we kept the panels on booking and publicity and the rest of it, and I did my best with them. But we also added something else: we gathered representatives from New Jersey’s major indie rock cities to talk about the state of the state. Surprisingly, we got a better turnout and response from this one than we had from any of the prior discussions. This may have been due to the presence of Todd Abramson and Jay Lustig on the panel, but then again, maybe not. Jerseyans love to talk about New Jersey, and it’s rare they get a sanctioned opportunity to do it.

Speaking of Artist Amp, you've worked with them quite a bit, and your song "The Werewolf of Bretton Woods" is included on their latest compilations. Talk a bit about how you met Andy Gesner and started working with Artist Amp, and your impression of the work he's done in promoting the New Brunswick/North Jersey music scene and the bands performing there.

When I met Andy, I knew very few people involved in independent music. I had just finished a record " If One Of These Bottles Should Happen To Fall " and I had no idea how it, or I, would be received by other local rockers. Here I was, wandering around the state with a freshly-minted concept album about the relationship between New Jersey and New York, our self-image, our development politics. Were my peers going to write me off as an egghead? As hopelessly un-rock? Andy’s approbation and assistance were tremendously helpful to me. He and his partner Mike Doktorski (now proprietor of New Brunswick Underground) made me feel immediately welcome, and their enthusiasm for my project gave me the confidence to believe that my weird ideas and associations could resonate for audiences.

I think my knowledge of Jersey rock history " and my belief in the continuity of it " was meaningful to Andy. As a kid sneaking into the Court Tavern in the late eighties, I’d watched him perform with Spiral Jetty. His peers were my original musical heroes: Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, Richard Barone, Janet Wygal, Jane Scarpantoni, Toni Peruta. I still have dog-eared copies of The Splatter Effect; I knew who Spiros T. Ballas was. I’d written a column for Jersey Beat. I think I had a broad enough understanding of the local rock narrative that I could make my sweeping statements, both in song and in print, about New Jersey without Andy writing me off as a snotty upstart.

Andy has displayed tremendous faith in me, regularly booking my very unusual act into Maxwell’s on nights and in time slots which would guarantee us maximum exposure. I owe him plenty.

Moving to another area, you do a great deal of writing, both on your own website, and recently in a new Weblog on Jersey Independent Music for the website (NJ.com www.nj.com/weblogs/music/). How did your relationship with NJ.com come about, and what's been the reaction to your blog there so far? Do you enjoy writing just for the sake of being creative and having your say, or is there some point that you're trying to get out there?

Like Chuck D, I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddling. I enjoy writing much too much to ever write for enjoyment’s sake only. If I ever did that, I’d probably get hopelessly lost in my own head, in my own abstract version of urban New Jersey. So if I sit down to type, it’s a safe bet I’ve got something specific to argue, to contradict, or explain. Luckily, I am never at a loss for subject matter, nor do I ever have difficulty finding a barn worth burning. My constant agitation can be infuriating, but I know it’s also entertaining, and if I mellowed out, even my detractors would probably be disappointed.

Because I don’t mind harping on the same subjects, any frequent visitor to The Tris McCall Report is probably painfully familiar with my core concepts. Qualitative distinctions between pop music acts exist, but the difference between the very best and the very worst has been wildly exaggerated. Modern popular music is hopelessly segregated along axes of race and gender, and nobody seems to mind. Every performer is ideologically motivated, every album is a "concept" album. "Emotion" in music, and art in general, is a pose like any other; sincerity tends to be little more than a realist trick to elicit sympathy. All treble instruments are essentially interchangeable, and electric rhythm guitar is almost always unnecessary. The heyday of popular music in my lifetime lasted from 1987 through 1990, after which a so-called "alternative" revolution enforced a radical resegregation of musical culture in the name of back-to-basics purity. Rock is a performance art; recordings, although wonderful, are secondary. A good recording will always tell you something useful about the time and place it was made " "timelessness" is not a virtue. An artist’s first responsibility is to respond and react to his local subculture.

Artists and participants in arts scenes are worth millions of dollars in property values and retail sales to their communities: municipal governments need to acknowledge that, and artists should behave as though they know it. Jersey artists are dogged by an inferiority complex, and consequently will tolerate shoddily-written criticism, government bullying, and general disparagement. Because our standards are so low we lose artists to Brooklyn, Manhattan, San Francisco, Portland, New Mexico. We accept the third-rate, because for years we have been told that we are third-rate, and we deserve third-rate. Well, I know we're not third-rate, and I know we don't deserve third rate, so I will not accept third rate any longer.

You’ve caught me in a pugnacious mood. I’ll see how long I can sustain it.

The New Jersey Online blog has only been up for a week, and I’ve got no webcounter for it, so I don’t know how frequently it’s being read, or if I’m getting return visits. So far, I have been the hectoring puritan of local indie rock " challenging one rock group for circulating a pornographic promotional poster, and laying into our local arts publication for regurgitating press-release copy. I tell myself I’m going to try to tone it down a bit next week, but who am I kidding? Tomorrow another target will draw my ire, and I’ll be fulminating again. I warned Pete Prochilo and John Shabe, who set the blog up after encountering my writing on The Tris McCall Report, that it wasn’t going to be pretty. I hope those guys aren’t regretting their decision already. I don’t want to upset anybody, I just want to stimulate discussion " and to stimulate discussion in a cultural arena where it’s lain dormant, it’s always best to come out with both fists swinging.

The Weblog concept has crept into mass media over the past year or so, and has even become a part of political strategy as part of presidential campaigns, most notably Howard Dean's. What's your view of the blog as a means of disseminating information across the Internet? Do you see it as something new that will continue to have a long-term presence, or will it just become part of the noise and chaos that's the online world?

I’m a fan of noise and chaos, so I’m probably coming at the issue from a completely different angle. I am afraid the blog format is systematizing the Web and making it look and feel samey. The popular acceptance of the blog has increased legibility on the Internet, but it’s also starting to stamp out sites filled with strange corners, weird detours, mystery links. Load up a modern McWebsite and chances are you will see the same date and title headings, the same dull list of links to friends, the same comment and trackback bars on the bottom. I’m sick of it already. The Wild West days of content on the Internet appear to be over, and I’m already mourning the loss of imagination and vitality. Of course, I am contributing to the problem by blogging, but The Tris McCall Report will continue to be vexed and confusing, rambling, sprawling, everything I like a website to be.

As a musician who also writes about music, and does music and album reviews, do you feel that you have a different perspective on writing, than someone who's never performed in front of a crowd, and might not even play an instrument or write music? Do you feel that you review albums from a different perspective, having recording and performed on your own?

That’s a good question, and I am not sure what the answer is. Ideally, every musician would write, and every writer would perform; everybody within our subculture would get her turn in the spotlight, and everybody would exercise a critical faculty. I’m sure this is nobody’s idea of utopia but my own, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling to me. I don’t believe "musician" or "artist" is any innate special quality. It’s something that everybody can be. Likewise, criticism isn’t anything you need to be trained in. Every writer should try to perform, and every rocker should write about her peers. It’s the best thing for the community. It circulates discourse, and shatters Romantic myths about the special genius of the artist, functioning in a bubble, separate from the community she lives in.

When I’m onstage, I don’t experience performance as different in kind from the writing I’m doing on the website, or right now. When I write a song, it’s just an essay in a slightly different language; an argument set to music. All my writing emanates from the same source. Whether I have a piano keyboard in front of me or a computer keyboard is immaterial.

When you read mainstream music journalism, what are your general impressions of the quality of the writing and its usefulness in helping people to find out about great new music and learn more about their favorite artists? Are there certain things that really annoy you about music writers or, conversely, things that you look for that stand out as interesting and worthwhile?

Plenty of modern rock criticism is not so hot, but then lots of contemporary fiction is not so hot, too. Professional-level rock criticism attracts weirdoes and misfits with axes to grind, and that has been salutary " people who write about rock often do so with entertaining, unhinged passion. You’re much more likely to find a good critical essay on 50 Cent than you are about the latest Tom Hanks vehicle.

But because the music industry is so enormous and so multifaceted, it’s very difficult to talk about rock criticism as a stand-alone entity. It may have been, years ago before you or I were born, but now it’s fragmented into subgenres pitched to different audiences. There’s almost no way to compare an essayist in a daily newspaper to a reviewer on a website like Splendid or Delusions of Adequacy. Give the same record to a daily columnist and an Internet columnist, and you will receive reviews so dissimilar in tone and format that they’ll seem like missives from two completely different critical universes.

A daily newspaper rock critic is writing for a readership that will not be familiar with Belle & Sebastian, let alone Calexico. His challenge: to write critically despite knowing that most critical language he’d like to employ is off-limits, because it’ll read like gibberish to grandma in Sayreville and Fred in the circulation department. A good daily newspaper critic, like Bob Makin of the Courier-News, understands himself as a community emissary to rock and roll culture. His dispatches from the front are slanted toward local concerns, and he doesn’t indulge much in editorial digression. A writer at a local arts paper, on the other hand, has a dual responsibility " both to the community and to the arts scene. Her prose needs to be edgier, more critical, more in touch with contemporary issues. On the one hand, this can get her into hot water; on the other, it’s much more fun to produce. A certain level of self-indulgence, or just opinionated ranting and raving, is mandatory. For writers at national magazines like Spin or Rolling Stone or smaller magazines like Amplifier, there’s no responsibility to any particular group beyond the imagined community of rock and roll fans. This freedom can be intoxicating, but it can also encourage untethered prose. With no specific local scene to contextualize records, magazine reviewers tend to drift into lazy comparison pieces and corporate cheerleading: i.e., "band X is a perfect cross between the Pixies and Nirvana! If you like those bands, run out and buy this now!"

The Web brings the rootlessness of the national publication to its logical conclusion " it exists everywhere and anywhere, so really it’s nowhere. Yet most of the best and most illuminating rock writing can be found in Internet columns. That is because the Internet has been a tremendous boon to independent-minded critics, and not because it’s proliferated oddball publication sources. No, what the Internet does is this: it obviates the word-count limit. It removes the carping, chastening editor from the shoulder of the writer. Now, for some journalists, this is going to result in disaster " a fourteen-car pileup of language " and the Web is littered with fenders and wheels and other detritus from those accidents. But for writers with the capacity to self-edit, brevity is no longer the only route to wit. The lack of space limitation allows an imaginative author to pick up her horn and really blow. While Internet review sites are often decontextualized, the prose styles are sometimes so elegant and original that it’s hard to mind. I almost never agree with Last Plane To Djakarta, but the writing is passionate and deep enough to challenge all of my assumptions, and to encourage me to think harder. I read The War Against Silence every Thursday morning. The subject matter can drift from time to time, but the review-in-a-letter of Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica was the best piece of rock writing of the year. I’m biased because he’s proven himself such a keen reader of my own writing, but Brian Block’s thorough analysis of records for Epinions and his own 33 Rebellions Per Minute is always an immense pleasure. And Block proves that you don’t have to give up local concerns to write about national records. He stays engaged with Boston music, because, well, who’s going to tell him not to?

Your latest album, Shootout at the Sugar Factory, continues many of the themes present in your writing, an unabashed tribute and critique of your local indie rock music scene and the area in which you live. In what time-frame was the album written, and what were some of the moments of inspiration that led to the concept?

I didn’t pick the material. J Braun of the Negatones (www.negatones.com) " the record’s producer " decided what to record. J knows me very well and understands what’s important to me, but I don’t think he was interested in telling a coherent story about my experiences in Hudson County. He was looking for certain musical virtues, a certain rock ferocity. He chose the songs that my group had been playing most frequently; the ones that have gotten the best audience response.

Because of that, I think I strained to draw explicit connections among the songs. The last three songs added to Shootout are the most polemical: "This Is Another Public Service Announcement," "A Commuter’s Prayer," and "The Night Bus." Shootout would probably have worked as an album about public culture and the fragility of urban spaces without the presence of those songs, but I think we would have run the risk of being inscrutable to the casual listener. I don’t want to run that risk. No Music For Airports for me, I like projects that can’t be hidden from. If you’re going to be in the presence of my music, I want you to get the full force of my argument.

Some of the songs selected by J for Shootout are very old " I’ve been playing "Go Back To West New York" for ages, and the verse to the final track is prehistoric. Those songs were written at a time when I thought the best lyrics were the most cryptic ones. Given my well-known penchant for obscurity, it should surprise no one that I duly composed several years’ worth of songs that I now recognize are impenetrable. I don’t think it’s possible to deduce the intended meaning of "Go Back To West New York" from examination of the lyrics, and that, to me, makes it a crippled song. Since I was never able to do a satisfactory rewrite, I figured that my best bet was to surround it with other, more explicit songs that do a better job of articulating the concerns of the "West New York" narrator.

Several of the other songs were pieces of a temporarily-abandoned rock suite, meant to be a Garden State Parkway version of The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking. The narrators of the suite were characters who identify so thoroughly with their city and with the non-organic, built environment, that they have lost the capacity to differentiate between their bodies and the streets and buildings that surround them. I wanted to bring out this identification with asphalt, this dehumanization as something of a positive " these characters have, perhaps, lost their link to "nature," but have substituted something better, something constructed, something public. So the idea of becoming subsumed within the city turns up all over Shootout: the unnamed tollkeeper’s desire to merge with the road on "Scatter My Ashes On The New Jersey Turnpike," Alison’s sexual love for her devices in "Machines To Make You Feel Good," Tim’s wild wish to stay on the "Night Bus" until his neighbors accept him as part of its apparatus. All three of those songs were originally part of the suite.

"The Man From Nantucket" and "Robert Menendez Basta Ya!" are two examples of an idiosyncrasy of mine that some dig and some just shake their heads at: songs about politicians. "Nantucket" is a soapbox rant that is somewhat out of place on the album, but "Robert Menendez" fits in just fine " two verses sung from the perspective of municipal employees.

If it seems like the long shadow of the World Trade Center hangs heavily across Shootout at the Sugar Factory, it wasn’t intended, but it was probably inevitable. "Dancing To Architecture" masquerades as the album’s love song, but you don’t have to dig too hard to reach a subtext about reconstruction in the face of constant peril. The site of passion here is the skyline, the architectural detail of the city. "A Commuter’s Prayer" doubles as an anti-war song, but I wanted the narrator to own up to his complicity in our national misbehavior. Stuck in the tunnel, siren lights up ahead, alerts raised to orange, he prays from survival instinct, mostly. But that’s an instinct we’ve become all too acquainted with since 2001, and so that song has resonated.

Shootout at the Sugar Factory boasts an impressive array of seventeen musicians credited on the album, including your own turns on lead vocals, synthesizers, organs and electronic pianos. What were the recording sessions like working with so many different musicians? Do you enjoy the whole process of being in the studio, working with electronic effects and the production and mixing process to create a sound you're hearing in your head?

For the vast majority of the time spent working on Shootout at the Sugar Factory, it was just me and J in the studio, trying to make the mixes sing. J is an extremely painstaking worker, and will spend hours in ProTools trying to get just the right amount of effect on a tambourine track. My own proclivities run counter to his " I’m sloppy, slapdash, I constantly want to cut and run. I don’t tend to enjoy the studio, because I don’t believe that studio speakers give an honest representation of the sound of the finished product. J, on the other hand, has a proven ability to hear outcomes. Learning to trust his judgment was useful, but it separated me from the process. I spent most of the time seated in the live room, reading and re-reading Philip Dick novels, holding my tongue and reminding myself that J knew best.

While it’s true that a cast of thousands worked on the Shootout, the amount of studio time logged by other musicians was minimal. Robin van Maarth cut all of her drum tracks in four hours, and then waited for six months while we finished overdubbing and mixing. All of the electric guitar on the album was recorded in about an hour " but it was tinkered with and tarted up in ProTools for days. J likes to capture a few well-played sounds and parts quickly, excuse the musicians, and then assemble the song afterward. Upon reflection, I believe it’s the best approach. At most, there should be three people in the studio " the producer/engineer, the musician tracking, and the ideologue behind the project. The very worst thing you can do when you record is to start incorporating your democratic ideals. Two hands on the mixing board are more than enough.

It’s lonely, though. Shootout was often more about subtraction than addition " I would run buck wild with synthesizer overdubs, and then we’d spend the next day deciphering what I had done, and the day after that retaining what was essential and discarding the rest. Repeat over the course of several months, and you’re looking at a very insular, very repetitive project. Trip after trip up and down the stairs, back and forth to the health food store, lights on, lights off, patch cords, microphones, effects, looping parts over and over, comparing vocal tracks, staring at the colored sound waves on the computer screen. It lacks the vitality and immediate give-and-take of performance; it’s solitary, quiet, sheltered, reiterative. I give J tremendous credit for keeping the process enjoyable as well as instructive. He is in many ways a model producer, and I consider myself lucky to have had his attention and intelligence applied to my songs.

You've generally worked with a revolving door of musicians, rather than putting together a proper band. Does that say anything about your attitude towards music and how it's created? Are there certain musicians you do enjoy working with on a regular basis?

I do give the impression of keeping a revolving door rotating, but the New Jack Trippers have been pretty consistent over the past four years. Robin van Maarth has been the drummer at almost all of my performances, and Karen Meehan has been on electric violin for the vast majority of them. I owe much of my development as a piano player and synthesist to Sasha Alcott, who has played with me in both the New Jack Trippers and in the Possibilities (her own group) since 2001. Martin Nienstedt played much of the bass and almost all of the guitar on Shootout, and is a mainstay of our live shows when he is in town. Regan Solmo and Rachel Fishman have been singing with me even longer " they were the supporting voices on Bottles, they’re the supporting voices on Shootout, and you’ll hear them on the next record, too. Despite my taste for trotting out weird permutations, I think close examination reveals that we’ve been one of the steadier indie rock acts in North Jersey.

I would always prefer to do a full-group show, but circumstances intervene. Everybody in the group is involved in other projects, and that means I’m sometimes forced to shuffle the deck a little. I am restless and easily bored, so I never hesitate to play with wild cards. What would it be like if Robin played guitar for a show? What would it be like if Karen played the piano? Since I’m so easily excited by novelty, I find it difficult to resist the lure of lineup experimentation. We’re very lucky to have a pool of very talented musicians who’ve agreed to take part in those experiments, and probably would do so again if called.

Being a New Jack Tripper has its rewards, but it can be frustrating coping with the vagaries of me. For instance, I refuse to give the musicians in the group guidance about how and what to play. I will explain to the band what a song is about and what I’m trying to get across. After that, it’s on them. This can be disconcerting for musicians used to getting feedback from bandleaders. Also, I dislike practicing my songs and I am usually disinclined to do it. I do, however, write new stuff all the time, and I will usually spring a new song or two on the band just before a show. Everybody in the New Jack Trippers has a horror story or two about the time Tris made them play a song they’d just learned an hour or two before showtime, in front of a full house at Maxwell’s or Northsix.

It’s a funny leadership strategy, but it works more often than not. I believe that rock bands sound best when unprepared and caught off guard, and I also believe that songs sound best the first or second time you play them. When bands practice all the time, they begin to do things by rote, and rote is death; you end up like Coldplay. You hit all your marks, but you stop listening " the song becomes a museum piece to be observed rather than a living thing to be experienced. I also don’t believe there’s any correlation between the sound of the group in practice and the sound of the group in performance. I honestly don’t care what we sound like when we’re rehearsing.

What is the state of the music scene in Hudson County, New Jersey? Where are some of the cool venues to play and some of the publications or media outlets that have been most receptive to what you're doing? Do you find yourself optimistic about the future of live music in your area?

Maxwell’s is the best rock and roll club in the galaxy. Uncle Joe’s still has its set-up and sound issues, but it’s become the linchpin of Jersey City music, and a definitive hipster hangout. Beyond that, you’re pretty much out of luck. There are other places to play in Hoboken, but wear your raincoat if you do " beware of the flying beer pitchers. The Goldhawk hosts singer-songwriters, and feels upscale and vaguely NPR-ish. Whiskey Bar isn’t too friendly to idiosyncratic projects. It’s mostly a post-fraternity crowd, and bands that cater to that demographic. At times, there are shows at the Shannon Lounge, but the back room feels more like a grange hall than a rock club. Jersey City could easily sustain an additional acoustic or quasi-acoustic venue, but there’s been no move to open one here as far as I can tell.

We in Hudson County operate with an enormous disadvantage. Our local arts publication has abdicated its responsibility to the community, and the regional daily has discontinued its musical coverage. The local arts paper makes no effort to write criticism, or even to write well " it’s a laughingstock, its articles are fluff, and it doesn’t lift a finger to cover the county’s most important stories. The daily had, as one of its sole assets, the weekly services of Jim Testa, a legendary rock writer who has been covering local music for twenty years. They find space to run horoscopes and garbage pieces on pets, but the pittance they gave Jim to do his Constant Listener column was evidently too burdensome for them to cope with. Because of our lack of options, we’re forced to turn to Manhattan and Brooklyn publications for intelligent coverage of our local projects. And we get it, sometimes, but of course we always have to wait in the queue behind New York City acts.

Let's finish off with some social activism. Your website talks about the effort to save 111 First Street in Jersey City, New Jersey. Readers can get the whole back story on your website, but can you give us a brief idea of the importance of this effort, why you've been a supporter of it, and what people in the area should do to make their opinions known?

Besides being a really great place to hang and explore, 111 First Street (www.111first.com) is the flagship building of the Jersey City arts district. Actually, 111 First Street is the Jersey City arts district. There wouldn’t have been a WALDO ordinance or a Power House Arts District plan if visual artists hadn’t grabbed that building and turned it into a testament to their imagination. If the municipal government allows Lloyd Goldman to drive the resident artists out of the building, it will make an utter mockery of the city’s plan. They will have on the books two massive pieces of planning legislation designating nine full city blocks for arts use, and exactly zero arts buildings on those blocks.

Jersey City has attained a reputation for the visual arts, and it is essential for the long-term economic health of the town that we retain that reputation. The caché of the fine arts is worth millions of dollars in property values and retail sales. Insofar as downtown Jersey City has generated a sense of place, and gained some traction as a destination, it is because of events like the annual artists Studio Tour. Without the participation of 111 First Street, the Studio Tour would be severely hampered.

It is vital that the municipal government now step in and broker a deal between the tenant artists and the landlord. If the Cunningham Administration is serious about creating a world class city " and not just a glorified bedroom community for waterfront condominium dwellers " it must make a commitment to the arts. An idealized blueprint for an arts district that may or may not happen? Sure, that’s fine, as a direction. But without a commensurate commitment to actual artists, many of whom have spent the past ten years enriching both the city’s cultural life and its bottom line, that blueprint is pointless, a sham, shameful.

Landlord Goldman condemns the artists at 111 First as "esoteric," which suggests to me he hasn’t spent any time in the building he wants to destroy. 111 First Street has a statewide " hell, worldwide " reputation. The fourth floor Chamot Gallery is probably the most beautiful arts space I’ve ever seen. It gives me the shakes to imagine a crane biting into those walls and floors. The artist currently exhibiting at Chamot is Kathy Forer, a sculptor from the Red Bank area. The closing of 111 First affects artists throughout the state. I am not a big believer in petition drives, but this one matters. You can get the petition, plus much of the backstory, on the Tris McCall Report, or you can just proceed to www.111first.com.

What's coming up for you in the next few months? Are there any future recording plans, live shows, or other musical projects that you're working towards? Are there other writing projects or creative outlets that you're looking forward to?

We’ll be performing at Uncle Joe’s on the 26th of March to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Tris McCall Report. I’m going to finish up work on the next album, which is all about my experiences making music in Williamsburg, and, hopefully, revive the suite concept, too. I’ve also got an idea for a purely electronic-disco project, but that’s still in the drawing-board stage.

I’ll continue writing for Jersey Beat, other local publications, and New Jersey Online. I’m working on a book of essays about Gnosticism with my pal Sander Hicks for his DKMC publishing imprint. I’ve also got about half of a twelve-chapter fiction piece finished, and I do intend to finish that someday! But most of my writing effort is currently going toward a super top-secret project that is not so super top-secret that, if you’ve read this interview, you couldn’t guess what it is.

[ Website: www.trismccall.net ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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