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Published: 1999/08/15
by Dean Budnick

Strangefolk Introduces The Chic Nile Rodgers To Its Garden of Eden

DB: On to a different topic, I must confess that you have my great respect, because soon after you signed with Mammoth, while you were out on the road, you posted a long letter to Strangefolk’s listserve, allaying the fears of your fans about the developments. To me, that immediacy is one of the amazing things about the internet. What inspired you to do that?

JT: That happened because I had a new laptop with me out on the road and I decided to check out our Fan-To-Fan to see what was going on. This was right about the time that we were to be signed and people there had two attitudes. The first was that we had made it- some people were saying “Congratulations guys, you’ve arrived.” The other one was “They’ve sold out, they’re not our band anymore.” I thought they were equally humorous because while having a record deal does help put the wheels in motion and gives us a much bigger platform to be heard, it is far from making it. I mean I guess everyone has their own different perception of what making it is. Similarly, people have their own definitions of what selling out is. When I was hearing so much talk of us selling out, and that we’re automatically going to be out of touch with our fans and playing huge places and that this was all tied in to selling out, I felt I had to address that, to tell people what the mechanics of our record deal really is and that we’re still the same old Strangefolk. So far it’s been about a year since I wrote that and it still hold fairly true.

DB: What did the Mammoth signing bring to the band?

JT: Basically it expanded our operations. Now we’re just tied to a bigger support group. They’ve been a real understanding label. Originally they just licensed and distributed Weightless In Water but now that we’re creating our first Mammoth-funded album we’re finding out how they work. They’ve been leaving up to our own devices. They have really just brought a sense of security and a larger community to us.

DB: Jumping back to Fan-To-Fan, how often do you read it and what dangers are there inherent in monitoring the opinions and attitudes of your fans?

JT: I occasionally check in because I like to see what’s going on although I haven’t been on it for a while. It’s sort of similar to reading reviews. I don’t like to read good ones because they sort of give you an artificial feeling of positiveness about yourself and then the negative ones can rip you apart, and give you a really negative sense of yourself. They both just arise out of an individual’s view. I have to keep that in mind when I’m reading Fan-To-Fan and that’s the beauty of it. I don’t like to read too much good or too much bad press, I like to keep my own views self-generating. At the same time I do like to check Fan-To-Fan especially to gauge people’s reactions if we did something out of the ordinary, to see what they thought.

DB: Let’s move on to Garden of Eden, which is now in its fourth year. How did that come about?

JT: The idea was that we wanted to just throw a party for ourselves and our fans- everybody who had been supporting us. We decided to do an outdoor show in a nice place and thank everyone for being there for us.

DB: How has the event evolved over the years?

JT: It’s grown a little bit every year. This time it’ll be exciting to have Bread and Puppet. We’ve always tried to have some non-musical entertainment because it can be a long day especially if you’re there for the whole weekend. So when they have all day to do nothing, some people will just fill the day drinking beer. We’d like to give them something to do so that they aren’t passing out before our first set even starts (laughs). Plus we have a great deal of admiration for Bread and Puppet which is a Vermont institution. Of course we’re happy to welcome Gordon as well.

DB: I’m curious what it’s like to stand on stage at an event like Garden of Eden where you can look out and see so many familiar faces. I’ve noticed that you look out into the audience while you’re playing.

JT: I love to do that. Actually, I either look at my feet or I look at the people in the audience (laughs). It’s fun to see old friends and friends in general. These shows have really been a marker to see how the community has spread. We’ve met so many people from being on the road and they’ve become our friends. We have this little community, which started in certain regions like New England. Then there were people who might travel a little bit to see us in the south or come west and they’d meet other people out on the road and they’d become friends. It’s become this network of friendships. It’s kind of cool because a lot of them travel to these shows, and it’s neat to have them come together and we can all see how our little community has built up. Of course it’s always fun and exciting being up on stage and seeing everyone out there dancing, and seeing old friends, old friends and far-flung friends all mingling together and having a good time. It’s pretty cool.

DB: What do you think a live audience contributes to the band’s performance?

JT: I really think our audience makes the show. I don’t know who starts it but when we walk out there we feel them and then when we kick off and the first song hits, they usually hit us right back with energy. It really does seem like it goes in a big circle. You get such huge audience energy and then we try to give it back and usually it can just build and build and build.

DB: You and Reid have been at this for a while now. Did you anticipate that your sound would evolve to where it’s at?

JT: I am happy with the way things have evolved. When we started doing it we had no plans. It wasn’t like “Hey let’s be a band and go out and tour the country.” I would never have imagined that we would be doing what we’re doing now when we just started playing together in dorm rooms and the open mikes. I am happy that the sound has gotten a bit bigger and deeper tonally. I think that those moments when I switch to electric guitar has helped my playing with Reid become a little broader and deeper sounding.

DB: Was there a moment after you first started playing with Reid when you said to yourself, “Hmmm this is pretty interesting, let’s see where this will take us?”

JT: I think it was the first thing we ever did. Before we started playing together we would just go to the same open mikes at UVM Slade Hall. There was a lot of really serious talent there. It was a real happening thing back when we were freshmen. I usually just sat on the sidelines, I wasn’t yet in the mode of playing in front of people, I was more of a bedroom player. But Reid would go and sing and I heard him and I knew we could work it together. That first time we ever played together, it just felt right. Our styles matched really well. We played at a party for friends of ours in Burlington. After that party it seemed like there was something going on, there was an energy. I remember leaving that party, walking home and just laughing, “Wow that really felt good I think there might be something to this.” We kept doing that duo for the rest of the year and then we decided to call up Erik and Luke and make this even bigger and expand on it. The four of us have been doing this for a while now and it still never fails to bring a smile…

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