Benjamin Solah interviews poets Steve Smart and Amanda Anastasi, violinist/producer Sarah Curro & composer Yvette Audain

How did Loop City come about? How did you all meet each other and decide to work together?

980113_10151619477569329_1871130977_oSarah: I have a solo amplified violin show called VOLUME where I commission emerging composers, costume designers, image makers and sketchers, weave it all together and present concerts in really funky modern venues. Amanda reviewed my 2012 Fringe show where I presented Ghostboy and Sir Lady Grantham show ‘We Love You’. I invited her to my big show at The Edge (formerly BMW Edge) and we immediately said to each other “LET’S DO SOMETHING TOGETHER!” Amanda told me about Steve and that they were already working on something. Loop City was born that night over a glass of bubbly, and here we are presenting it all over the place now.

Amanda: As far as my working with Steve, we first performed together when I asked him to deliver some of my one-line poems at the launch of 2012 and other poems. He then asked me to read a three song mash-up with him at Passionate Tongues, then we read together again at Westword, then the Voices In My Head CD launch…it came to the point where we just looked at each other and said “Alright, let’s just write something together!”

Although many have commented on how different Steve and I are as poets, we find our themes and ideas to be quite similar. The differences that there are (in our delivery styles & life experiences) have made for a collection of poems that balance/respond to each other remarkably well. In Loop City, I play the character of Melbourne itself and Steve the everyman/artist, so in the show our poetic voices are often battling each other and at other times in surprising unison. Loop City is a rollercoaster journey that every Melbournian can relate to.

Steve: Amanda and I walked around the city over many days from mid to late 2012. We talked a lot – well, I talked a lot! – and we began to exchange poems based on these conversations. There was a vague plan to perform the work at some future stage but nothing settled. Around this time, Amanda reviewed a show produced by the incredible Sarah Curro. Thankfully Amanda loved the show and Sarah loved the review. Amanda pitched her idea for a poetry show about Melbourne as a possible addition to Sarah’s VOLUME series of concerts. Sarah said yes – in record time. About three heartbeats! Fast forward a month and enter Auckland based composer Yvette Audain. Timelines were set. Poems were to be finished by the end of February 2013, and Yvette’s musical score by May.

Yvette: I lived in Melbourne for all of 2012, and attended the Fringe show that it turned out Amanda reviewed. This was where I first met and heard Sarah, introduced by my fellow composing musician Richard ‘Sir Lady’ Grantham. Upon witnessing Sarah’s inspiring endeavours (and not only am I talking purely musically, but also holistically – the entire concept of her VOLUME shows, including the involvement of artists from other disciplines), I was quick to introduce her to my work in the hope of collaborating with her in the near future. A couple of months later when my New Zealand ‘re-relocation’ was already booked and planned, my heart sank when Sarah emailed me proposing I become the composer for this new major work involving spoken word poets – after all, would they be interested now that I was no longer going to be living in Melbourne?! Imagine my delight and relief when it turned out they were still keen!

Describe Loop City’s themes and style in a sentence or two.

Steve: Loop City is two poets and a violinist onstage, trying to figure out why they live in the place they live. We hope there is a positive message about interaction with and retaliation against dominant cultural icons, while empowering yourself to find a unique path through your own city.

Amanda: Loop City will make you laugh and cry at the same time, encapsulating the love-hate relationship one has for their own city.

Sarah: Loop City is the absolute essence of Melbourne in all its frustrating beauty.

Yvette: Loop City has been an uncanny opportunity for this transplanted Kiwi to debrief her utterly valuable, character-forming Melbourne year, through her composition, from her rediscovered home town. The work is easy to relate to for Melbournian natives, recent arrivals and short-term visitors alike; in fact ANYONE, being that not every poem is Melbourne-specific and that some of the themes are universal.

Poets, what is it like to work with musicians?

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Amanda: Sarah Curro has been like a fairy godmother to us! From day one, she embraced our work. When we sent her the finished and recorded forty- minute Loop City poems, we received a text from her that night which read “You guys are f***ing brilliant!” What more could you ask for? We are also extremely grateful to her for finding us a high calibre composer in Yvette Audain.

My musical background definitely helped me during our rehearsals with Sarah. At times, I act as a kind of bridge between poets and muso, being the poet who can read Yvette’s musical score! During Sarah’s loop pedal issues, it was handy that I could hop on the piano and play the loop violin line. Steve has a natural sense of rhythm and musicality, which is immediately evident to Sarah and I (although he often doesn’t realize this!)

Steve: That all depends on the musicians. Thankfully we got to work with two exceptionally talented musicians: our composer Yvette Audain and our producer/violinist Sarah Curro. It sounds like a suck-up job but the process has been remarkably easy and stress free for all of us. Sometimes you luck out and find other artists you have an instant connection with, and this has certainly been one of those situations.

On a practical level, there are always difficulties coordinating busy schedules, but we’ve worked around that and it hasn’t been a huge issue. As poets we get used to working in a vacuum and having complete control over our words, rhythms and tempos and such. So there were challenges with that. You have to make compromises and work for the greater whole and not just throw a little fit and say ‘well that’s not how I always perform that poem so you can go to hell’.

I think Amanda and I are both pretty adaptable in that respect, and when the music that you’re working with is such a joy, it makes it very easy…and fun. Each new piece of music we get to work with is kinda like Christmas. We’re remarkably controversy free…very dull! I feel like we should throw in some screaming matches with Sarah smashing her violin over one of our heads, but that’s really not the case. We’re a big love fest. Sarah makes us brownies and totally mums us.

Musicians, what is it like to work with poets?

Sarah: For once in my life I’m working with people who actually have the ability to book shows in and organise themselves really well. I haven’t lifted a finger and it’s usually me doing everything so if they represent the spoken word scene…I LOVE IT. Steve and Amanda also chose exactly the right composer out of the three whose work I showed them. They are opposites in many ways though truly appreciate each other’s work…. and, consequently, have created what I consider the most worthwhile event I have ever initiated (and that’s saying something!) Anyone who has ever even visited Melbourne even once can enjoy what they have written and if they have not, well the quality of these artists needs no background.

Yvette: I agree with Steve that this has been a love fest! In fact I feel completely spoilt by this project, haha. Everyone involved has been so kind, not to mention reliable to work with, and it’s a shame I only got to meet them just as I was about to board the plane back to New Zealand. In other news, I can now no longer enter a department store or even a supermarket without silently cracking up laughing at perceivably ‘nothing’, when in fact a line from Loop City has just arrived in my head…be it a line of music, poetry, or both simultaneously. I greatly enjoyed the development of the work’s ‘characters’ through the music as the work’s composition progressed, and feel this project (my longest work yet) has played a significant role in my growth as a composer.

Loop City has three shows planned in Melbourne so you won’t want to miss this!

July 20, 8pm – Loop City Premiere @ Hares & Hyenas, 63 Johnston St, Fitzroy

August 25, 4pm – Loop City @ Stripfest, Big Mouth, 168 Acland St, St Kilda

November 9, 8pm – Loop City @ Fed Square, The Deakin Edge (formerly BMW Edge), Federation Square, Melbourne

Benjamin Solah

Benjamin Solah

Benjamin Solah is a writer, poet, spoken word artist, activist and the Director of Melbourne Spoken Word. He grew up in Western Sydney before calling Melbourne home in 2008, where he's performed since 2010 around Melbourne's regular spoken word and poetry nights including Passionate Tongues, The Dan Poets, Voices in the Attic and House of Bricks as well as the NGV and White Night. He's released a chapbook, broken bodies, and two spoken word albums, Duel Power with Santo Cazzati and The World Doesn't Make Sense EP.
Benjamin Solah

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