Blogger Grego: What made you do this music?
Artist Grego: I guess that's a story in itself. In the past decade I've been doing a lot of reflecting on the area I live in (just outside of NYC on the Jersey side, a once thriving industrial zone) and where I grew up (west of this area in Jersey, just outside a major factory town, Butler). I was taught in college to look at how economic forces help shape the culture that exists in any area and time. I accepted the idea but did not feel it as directly as I have in recent years. Recently I've spent a fair amount of my time in Hackensack, NJ, a very old town that formed as many towns did on the edge of a body of water (the Hackensack River), mostly because of the possibility of shipping-based commerce. Nowadays the town has shown much evidence of the blight of rust belt transformation...seen in the ruins and re-purposing of factory buildings that still dot the landscape. It's no accident that an old Salvation Army headquarters still stands, though perhaps ironically now a real estate office. It was built in the '20s on the eve of the Great Depression, when the beginning of industrial decline first made a real appearance in the area.
Anyway it got me thinking of my early youth. Butler was at one point one of the world's centers for the manufacturing of rubber goods, with the Butler Rubber factory there a major producer of hard rubber items like Ace combs, bowling balls, etc. There was also until 1958 and its fatal destruction by fire the Pequonnock Rubber Reclamation Center--an industrial complex that received endless shipments of scrap rubber--old tires, etc--by rail and melted it all down to create sheets of rubber which then were purchased by rubber manufacturers to make new goods. Between the two of them, Butler employed thousands to work the factories. The entire area centered around the manufacturing of rubber goods economically and socially. My dad made his living selling rubber goods himself--o-rings. Most people in eastern Jersey existed because of manufacturing, one way or another.
When I was four years old I remember one of my first shopping trips to downtown Butler with my mom. It was a god awful inferno of the smells of melted rubber, the thick smoke and the loud industrial sounds coming from both factories, but it was then the principal shopping area, too. So I remember walking down the sidewalk on Main Street with the huge block of wall-to-wall rubber factories going full tilt and giving me a very nauseous feeling, yet on the right of me the many shops. I had ten cents in my pocket and entered the local five and ten--now long gone as are the two factories. That time in 1957 was the end of the road for 78-rpm records but they still could be found, and so in one big bin at the five and ten there was an assortment of cut-out 78 recordings that were on sale for nine cents each. As it turns out they had a Roulette 78 of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross with Count Basie doing "Jumpin at the Woodside" b/w "Rusty Dusty Blues." I bought that one because it looked interesting (mostly because of the visual design on the label) and it turned out it was my first jazz record in what ended up to be a very long line of them.
So thinking back I realized in the last several years that the record existed, that the 5 & 10 existed, we living there existed because of the backbone of industry that thrived all over the region. Without it, everything I did or did not directly experience would have not been possible in the form things took. No job for my father, no 5 & 10, no jazz players making a living, no network of clubs offering music to people, none of it would have existed as it did then.
And now the factories are gone, industry has moved elsewhere, the local 5 & 10 is long gone, the jobs people had for better or worse in industry have disappeared, and the clubs, the record industry that fully thrived on people having spending money for things like jazz recordings, all of it has disappeared in the form that I took for granted as a kid. And looking back in this decade I relived that process lasting some 50-60 years, the process of the making of the rust belt. There was a story there, there was the sound of the factories, the music the factories made possible, the sound of everyday industrial life punctuated by church bells on Sundays, school bells, factory bells, railroad crossing bells, all gradually fading in their own ways and their place taken by whatever it is that makes the Eastern US support a population now, built over a set of crumbling factory foundations, bowling balls, combs and all the other accretions of the local historical industrial world becoming buried in time and space.
That was how I entered into a long sort of aural and mental meditation that culminated in the music of Rust Belt. I pictured the house I live in at the moment, an old one, as no doubt a house occupied by factory workers in the mid-last century. How was it to live there then? I looked around at the changes, felt very directly the economic recession and wondered what it was this part of the US could do now to support the population. Will we all work at fast-food restaurants? Wal-Marts? How can we support life if this is our future?
So it was a period where I suddenly GOT IT--that feeling of time and change and the economics shifting and de-creating a huge complex of lifeways that was the industrial Eastern US. And it gave me sounds and musical ideas that would express the time then, the disappearance, the ghost town of empty or reused factory buildings and the ghosts of the lifeways and the people that toiled and somehow made a living, ate those pancakes and hamburgers, went to high school football games, shopped in the stores, celebrated the war victories or mourned the war dead, listened to radios and TVs that told them something about their lives, raised their kids, did the everyday things we now feel exist a little less and a little less.
By now we know it all changed or is changing and now its all about texting, cell phones, making cell phones in China and selling them here, a life all seemingly centered around those phones. I started feeling vividly all the differences between then and now, for good and ill. I wanted to make that into a musical suite, though at first when I started making the music I had that gotcha enlightenment but did not give name to the music it produced. Only later as I got into it did I see the relationship of the realization of time and process into its direct creative transformation. And then it all really came together. Or I hope it did, anyway!
Blogger Grego: All that as an introduction...I see. Do you always talk/write so much?
Artist Grego: No. But this whole complex of feelings and thoughts I also envision as a novel, where there's going to be even more words, so you should be grateful I don't just spring that on you!
Blogger Grego: OK, OK. So let us get to the music. I heard you mumbling the other day how the music contrasts bell sounds with rust silence. What is that about and how did that come about?
Artist Grego: The image in my head and the sounds that grew in my head have to do with the story--of how the music then filling the world mingled with the sounds of all kinds of bells and the sounds of industry. What I was hearing I set about intuitively to create. For this project it was very much an additive process. I started with bell sounds from various sources and started to manipulate them electro-acoustically. Once I had created some of that I went into the basement studio and tried out some things that might layer atop the sounds, so I grabbed my various guitars, keyboards, drums, percussion and bass guitars that had by then congealed as instruments of choice. One thing lead to another and after trial and error and lots of time playing, listening back and thinking, a suite began to take shape. There were bell sounds, both free and composed elements all falling into various sections. The free and new music elements took shape with a bunch of sections that dealt with rust belt locations, factory rhythms and human rhythms, the punctuation of all the time with bells, the life of the workers and residents centering around periods of work, rest and break time, the ghostly feeling of the loss of all of that and the silent sound of architectural and cultural ruins.
Blogger Grego: Why do you start with "Music on Mbuti Themes"?
Artist Grego: I can't rationally answer that. The Mbuti peoples of Central Africa make some extraordinarily beautiful music and at the same time as this rusty industrial buzz was playing out in my head, there was the contrasting elaborately primal beauty of the Mbuti music that seemed to flicker back and forth in my mind with the music of industry. We all come out of Africa, ultimately, and the Mbuti music symbolized a very different life that we all must have experienced in some way, that we all carry with us in the deep recesses of our DNA and our unconscious music minds. So that seemed like a way to begin--to go back to a beginning and then shoot forward to the industrial revolution, skipping agricultural byways I know, but kind of making a point about the industrial world and how it changed us all quite radically, while also musically giving us other things in response. So that I guess was why. But I just HEARD it as a starting point. I wasn't thinking then WHY I was doing it.
Blogger Grego: And then there are some sections that are more obviously rock oriented, psychedelic in ways.
Artist Grego: Yes--again that all just fell into place because I felt that the music contrasted, gave punctuation, that those passages were like time marking bells of their own, since that style of rock was a big part of my upbringing in this pre-rust world, too.
Blogger Grego: So you ended up with this two-volume suite of music. Is it supposed to show off your being able to play a bunch of instruments?
Artist Grego: No, not really. It has some leeway for just playing, yes, but in no way am I putting myself forward as a guitarist, a keyboardist, or an anything-ist. I play composer's instruments. It was a way to create an orchestral blanket of sounds, to think pretty carefully about sound colors and electric-acoustic blends that expressed the tolling of the bells and the coming of the rust. I hope that each section tells a sonic part of the story, which the song titles pretty much explain. It probably doesn't make sense to talk about the music much further, as the listening will I hope have a kind of narrative beyond my words.
Blogger Grego: "No Putt-Putt for Pop-Pop?"
Artist Grego: Well, yes, at the end Pop-Pop is unemployed, or can't have a car, or is making a hasty retirement from the work world, like it or not!
Blogger Grego: So these albums are out now?
Artist Grego: Yes, happily. I thank Ruby Flower records for putting them out and all who have encouraged me in the last rather tough year I've had. They are priced at $10 per volume, not to make money but to make the music available so that people can hear it. The Amazon link is http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Grego+Applegate+Edwards Copy and paste the url into your browser to get to that page.
Blogger Grego: Anything else you'd like to say?
Artist Grego: Sure, but I think I've said enough already. I humbly put this music out in the hope that it will express something of how I have felt over the last few years about how it is to live through huge changes in your world, OUR world, and what that might sound like. Thanks to everybody out there who reads my blogs and, I hope, might listen to my music, too!