Portland's Tucker Martine is the storied producer and visionary behind much of today's best indie roots music coming out of the Northwest. He's the man behind The Decemberists 2011 album, The King is Dead (see our previous AST review), which rose to #1 on the national charts, and he's behind a host of other beautiful albums coming out of PDX. His ties to the folk and roots worlds are strong. Though he's worked with artists like R.E.M., Spoon, Mudhoney and My Morning Jacket, he's also produced all of indie-folk shining star Laura Veirs' albums (ok technically they're married, so that helps), as well as the lovely 2011 album from renowned banjo luminary Abigail Washburn. This album married Washburn's wind-swept vocals with Martine's aesthetic for soaring fiddle arrangements and lush instrumentation.
We just found out recently that Martine was actually friends with Harry Smith back in the day, and counts Smith's oeuvre as a large inspiration for his own work. Like Smith, Martine cut his teeth releasing wildly creative, eccentric field recordings. Released by NW label Sublime Frequencies, Bush Taxi Mali is an album of recordings from Martine's 1998 trip to Mali in Western Africa, and Brokenhearted Dragonflies is an album of "insect electronica," hyper-accurate recordings of insects in SE Asia. And like Smith, Martine has continually plumbed the depths of the American roots music for inspiration.
Thanks to the upcoming Tribute To Harry Smith that American Standard Time, Ball of Wax, and Hearth Music are producing at Columbia City Theater (Nov 25), we asked Martine for his memories of hanging out with mad maegi Harry Smith, and how this has influenced his own work. Here's what he had to say:
Tucker Martine on Harry Smith
"I got to know Harry because he came in each day to the coffee shop I worked at in Boulder in 1990 and 91, the Trident Cafe. The owners of the cafe, knowing my interests - suggested that I spend my breaks sitting at Harry's table getting to know him. He was usually wearing a blue and white pinstriped jacket that reminded me of the candyman. He would often pour a bottle of technicolored pills out on to the table and begin to organize them while talking to himself. He was always very happy to talk when I sat as his table, a complete stranger in the beginning. I never studied with Harry - at that time I'm pretty sure he wasn't "teaching" anymore but the Naropa Institute had taken him under their wing and were providing housing for Harry, who wasn't necessarily great at looking after himself. He would usually do all of the talking, I was happy to listen. He talked often of his many buddhist kittens and their rapidly expanding population in his apartment. He said there were even a few Buddhist squirrels on the Naropa campus as well. I wish I had kept the phone message he once left me where he was hoping I would take one of his new Buddhist kittens that he said had successfully completed it's basic Dharma training. My time with Harry mostly preceded my immersion into his life's work. By the time I had fully realized the profundity of his life, he was gone. I was left with fond memories of this warm, eccentric man that I felt drawn to - though didn't understand why until after he had passed away. Harry has inspired me in so many ways, as a field recordist, a guerilla ethnomusicologist and as a lover of things natural, manipulated and surreal."
Inside the Trident Cafe, Boulder CO
Laura Veirs: John Henry Lives (from The Triumphs & Travails of Orphan Mae)
Martine-produced track inspired by Mississippi John Hurt's "Spike Driver Blues" from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music
Join us on November 25 for an all-star Tribute to the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, featuring Kevin Murphy (The Moondoggies), RedDog, Kevin Barrans and Friends, Folichon Cajun Band, Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Singers, Jeremy Burk, Colin J Nelson, Sokai Stilhed, Norman Baker, Ben Fisher, and Virgin of the Birds.
Plus a Harry Smith story from John Cohen, animated by Drew Christie!
Friday, November 25
Columbia City Theater
$10 advance / $15 doors
Free copy of Ball of Wax 26 - a tribute CD to the Anthology of American Folk Music - with entry.