Melbourne Spoken Word’s Benjamin Solah had a chat to Joel McKerrow about his recent Pozible campaign launch, where alongside his band the Mysterious Few, they hope to launch an album blending spoken word and music.
What inspired you to form a band and collaborate with musicians? How does it enhance or support the poetics?
I have been performing poetry for years now and I absolutely love the synergy that happens between a poet and the audience in that moment of delivery. When the audience is right there with you and you feel as though you are on a journey together. Well, a few years ago I had the opportunity to do something with a musician and the same thing happened. Synergy. Connection. A fusion that surged me on in my performance and brought it to a whole different level. I have performed and collaborated on and off with muso’s since and in the last year found some that I just absolutely gel with and ‘Joel McKerrow & the Mysterious Few’ was born. The music, sets up a foundation for the poetry to sit upon. If its too overwhelming then it drowns out the poem, but if it is levelled just right and given the right tone to match the feel of the poem then it really adds another emotive punch to the lyrics. If poetry is about evoking a response and touching emotion then musical backing does the same, just as it does within a movie. It sets the feel that the words can then ride upon.
The other thing is that bringing in a band complete with muso’s and female vocals into a fusion of spoken word with acoustic, folk, rock type sounds is really not an expression that many others in the world are doing. There isn’t really a genre for it. Shane Koyczan would be the person doing this the best with his band, ‘The Short Story Long’. So its quite a pioneering field we seem to have found ourselves within.
What’s inside the poetics? Are these new pieces developed or older pieces with music mixed in? What kind of messages and stories are you hoping to tell?
The poetry of this new album is predominantly new pieces. There will be one or two renditions of older poems totally reformulated with the band, to the point where they feel like totally new poems. But it is mostly new material. Of late I have become increasingly obsessed with the power of stories and their ability to change the world around us. I even recently got a to do a TEDx talk focussed on such. I have been teaching lots of workshops in high schools all over Victoria in the last year and seeing what sharing story can do in their lives- it is EPIC! So much of the poems revolve around this general theme of stories and their ability to change the individual and the society. There will also be a few socially focussed pieces urging us to stand up for what matters in this world.
Why crowd funding? Do you think funding spoken word is harder than other art forms?
My band and I have decided to crowdfund for this album for a few reasons. Firstly it gives us the ability to bring about a really great professional album without having to take out a loan or sell a kidney. To bring together a quality album does indeed cost a lot of money and Spoken Word isn’t really at the point that music labels would pick it up. In this way Spoken Word is a lot harder to find funding for than many mainstream art forms. Though, unlike mainstream art forms it is not a saturated market. Instead of being one in a million trying to make it as a musician, we are one in a thousand trying to make it as a poet. And whats more we get to take a blossoming art form to a people that has, by and large, not heard it before. The moment when some experiences spoken word for the first time and falls in love with it and it changes their life. This is a way better reward than being able to get funding easily.
But more than the money side of things, through crowdfunding, the album becomes a community gathering point, a communal product. I am not going at this alone. I have my friends and my family and my poetry community backing me all the way. This is how it should be. The performance poetry scene is known for its community and its support of each other and I feel like crowdfunding really holds up such communal values.
Any advice for spoken word artists keen on collaborating with musicians?
Go for it. It absolutely stretches your artform in ways you dont even realise till you are performing so much better than you have in the past. It changes the delivery of poems and forces you to see them in a new light, in new rhythms. Make sure you find some muso’s who love improvisation and freedom and also who have a good ear to listen to what you are doing in the poem and so be able to follow you. Don’t let the music over-compensate. Let it be spacious- not to fill the silences between words, but to deepen the space between words. Experiment and have fun. You will be surprised.
Joel McKerrow & The Mysterious Few are trying to raise $7,000 to produce their album and have until the 15th of December to reach their target. You can find out more about their project, see the rewards on offer and make a much needed pledge on their Pozible Page.