Jason Webley is a fascinating singer-songwriter-accordionist and sometimes street performer-- if you missed his Eleven Saints video the first time around, I strongly suggest you remedy that. This song is so infectious I have made it my ringtone. I caught up with Mr. Webley after his west coast tour to have a little chat about magic, removing the letter X from the alphabet, and his good friends the Dresden Dolls.
I was reading your blog and it seems like you have an interesting relationship with the number eleven.
The eleven story is kind of long. One big thing about me and the number eleven is that I hate astrology and numerology-- all that stuff irks and irritates me. The fact that I am one of *them* I find really bothersome. So I don't really talk publicly too much how my life is ruled by numbers and stars. But me and the number eleven are getting along really well lately. There was a long period of time where we weren't speaking.
And you have a very private relationship, you and the number eleven.
There's a lot of different layers to this world. There's mundane, physical reality. But there's this world of magic and signs and symbols, which is equally tangible if you know how to look for it. But I think it's just another layer. Just because you can see it, doesn't mean you know the secrets or the mystery of life or anything. You just see a little bit more. The magic layer is very seductive. It's got all these triple-back flips of serendipity and synchronicity that are really exciting and addictive, but I think somewhere there is another deeper, truer and more important layer. And I think that layer is much simpler.
How did you come up with the idea for Eleven Saints? It seems very different from your other music.
I wrote it with a friend named Jay Thompson. He's a poet here in Seattle. I've got this idea that in the next few years I want to do eleven collaboration records with different friends and musicians. The one with him was the very first one. The idea was to get together for a ridiculously short amount of time—twenty-four hours-- and write as many songs as possible. That's where Eleven Saints came from. I think it's a pretty magical little song. (laughs) I think it's a four minute song we wrote in two minutes.
I did a second record in the same series with a folksinger from Michigan named Andru Bemis. That one is all kind of silly too but it's a little more fleshed out. A couple of the songs actually turned out really beautiful.
So that's two of your eleven.
Right after New Year's I'm flying to Indianapolis to record with this group, The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, who are good friends of mine. That's going to be the third one in the series. Then the second half of January I'm touring the Czech Republic with an accordion player I met there last February, Jana Vebrova. I'm pretty enamored with her. She's brilliant. Her accordion playing is really rudimentary like mine but her lyrics and her voice are amazing. The record I want to do with her is to take four or five of her songs and just have her play them, and then I'll translate them from Czech into English. I'm not really good at that, but I'll have help.
I'm curious about your fans. They seem very protective of you, and very dedicated. How do you think you inspire that sense of dedication?
I don't know. I've kind of always done what comes naturally. I try not to be mysterious, but there was definitely a time when I was putting energy into enigma. In a way that served me as far as getting bigger audiences, but I don't think it served me very well personally. That's not something I try to do. I try to be really approachable. I talk to pretty much anyone who wants to come and talk to me.
I was on your forum and came across a thread where people were arguing over when someone had the right to call themselves a tomato scout.
(laughs) Tomato scouts, technically, are people who have come to this dumb thing I do every year in Seattle called Camp Tomato, and get registered. But I'm pretty sure anyone can call themselves a tomato scout. Maybe I should make an official statement about that. But there is an oath—you have to take an oath.
I think someone posted the oath, yes. Then they started to squabble about it.
Well, that's good. Hopefully the different tomato scout factions will war.
So what's Tomato Camp?
That was me sort of replacing being enigmatic with something else. I used to die every year. On Halloween every year I'd stage a death. Around May Day I'd stage a birth. During my live six months I'd play and tour continuously-- pretty much a show every night. And then during the dead months no one would theoretically hear from me and I wouldn't do anything. I think it's been two or three years that I've not been doing that? Camp Tomato is the replacement of the spring getting-born thing. It's not really a concert. A bunch of people get together in the park. It starts with a potluck, and people get registered and get divided into four different camps: balloons, feathers, boats and tomatoes. You get a little membership card, and there are places you can get different merit stamps by doing different things. I think this year you'd get your feather stamp by writing a letter to Webster's Dictionary asking them to remove the letter X from the alphabet.
I think for the boat stamp, you had to walk holding an egg in a spoon carrying a snapshot of the moon across twenty feet, without dropping the egg. And then climb onto this big spool and say "Wheeeeeeee!" Then you could get your boat stamp.
For your boat stamp the year before you had to get shocked with a cattle prod, or give a massage to someone who had just gotten shocked by a cattle prod. OR, capture a live rabbit. Both years I think we had a couple rabbit captures, which I find really impressive.
How many people show up to this every year?
The first year was a hundred, last year was maybe two hundred. It's probably been the right amount of people, but I was a disappointed by the numbers a little bit. People do travel for it, but back when I was doing the births and deaths people traveled a lot more for the Seattle shows. They'd come from Winnipeg, California, Texas-- all sorts of places. The biggest audience was the last time I died.
But everywhere else things are getting busier. I think opening for the Dresden Dolls in Australia was really fun and a lot of people are really excited for me to come back there.
How did that come about?
In 2000 I was in Australia as a street performer in the Adelaide Fringe Festival. There was a street performer who was doing statue work and asked if I wanted to hang out and have dinner and see a play. At the play I saw the most beautiful woman in Australia and fell crazy in love with her and chased her to Bali and she left me and broke my heart. About four years later I got an email from the street performer that I went with to the play, saying "Hey, I don't know if you remember me, we hung out in Adelaide. I'm in this band now, you should check us out sometime, we're going to be playing in Seattle on this day." And that was Amanda from the Dresden Dolls.
Theoretically one of the compilations is going to be with her. Our project is going to be cute—it's called Evelyn, Evelyn, and we're conjoined twins. ++
Learn more about Jason at his site and MySpace-- and you can pick up his albums here. (Don't forget to join his mailing list, as he has a book of fairytales coming out that you'll want reminding about!) In the meantime, here are a couple more tracks from the fantastic Mr. Webley.
Aside from creating some of the only shirts on Cafepress I might actually buy, Alberto Cerriteño is the artistic mastermind behind the little Christmas miracle that is Don't Die Ding. His twisted illustrations of monsters and demons are worth checking out, and his design work ain't too shabby either.
I fell in love with The Very Good Adventures Of Yam Roll from Jon Izen a good while ago-- it's a cartoon about talking sushi. Talking sushi wearing cowboy boots, at that, in love with other talking sushi. And, really, it's pretty hard to go wrong with that. It'll be airing on Cartoon Network in the fall, but you can see some of the episodes here.
I was in thinkspace a month or so ago, and asked the owner who had done this great sculpture that was mounted in the corner. There was no plaque by the piece, and the gallery owner said "I don't know. The guy came in today and showed me this piece out of the back of his truck. All I know is his name is Derek."
The owner was so enamored with the art that he put it on display for an opening that very night. The piece itself was large, nearly 3 feet tall-- and looking through his gallery, it seems all of Derek's pieces are sizable sculptures of men with tired eyes, occasionally set against the shanty town of which they seem to all belong. (Aside from digging his sculptures, I also have a fondness for his titles: "Illuminating the Lonely Road of Forever" and "Signs of the Soon and Obvious Truth.")
Resist Today is a small collective of independent artists based out of Florida-- they hand screen shirts and pillows and my favorite of the bunch, their wallets. It's a sub-creature of Red Labor, where you can find more pretty eye-candy to sift through.
"Obviously the apologetic nature of the title and the material is partially a British thing. We tend to apologize for everything, even when we haven't done anything wrong. I'm sorry about the War of Independence, by the way. It's unfortunate."
- David Ford, about his album I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble I've Caused
I put up that lovely song by David Ford and Duke Special, and someone asked who they were, exactly. And while I posted recently about Mr. Special, it's been a bit since I've mentioned David Ford, another wondrous singer from the UK. His music is likely best listened to alongside your spirits of choice, though-- this is a great soundtrack to put on when the bottle's about half-empty.
It's been a good long while since I made a toast post. And while this is technically not about toast, but about a toaster-- and well, not even technically about a toaster, but about a guitar amp-- well, it's close enough.
Hottie Amps has gone and somehow combined the magic of music and toast in one fell swoop. They make guitar amps and fit them into vintage toasters. And they're sparkly.
Happy Xmas to you, Fabulists. To my fellow Jews: I hope you enjoy your chinese food and movies as much as I will. Enjoy these songs (which I give to you, despite normally being vehemently opposed to all music Christmas) and your day.
While we've extolled the virtues of Mr. Jarvis Cocker before, and shared with you the joys of his storytelling extravaganzas, we never did share the wonders of his music with you. And that, my friends, must be remedied.
While doing a search on El Perro Del Mar on iTunes, I came across It's Not Like Christmas, a little Christmas album that benefits charity. Not only does it feature El Perro Del Mar, but I've found one of my new favorite songs on the planet, rendered amazingly by David Ford and Duke Special. I can't stop listening to it.