A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Tony Brewer

with Tony Brewer:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Tony: I drew a lot when I was very young. My mom is a visual artist and encouraged me. When I learned to read, I started doing lettering and titles for the drawings, then captions. The captions became paragraphs and I just kept making more paragraphs. I wrote my first stage play in 3rd grade – an Empire Strikes Back ripoff – and I was a short story writer in 6th grade and junior high. My first major influence was Ray Bradbury and authors like Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. McGuin, Tolkien, Clive Barker, Thomas Harris. My favorite album as a kid was Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. I have learned it was produced by the Disney sound effects department, so that makes sense considering I got into foley later on. I studied film and writing in college, at Bard and IU, and a girlfriend gave me books of Bukowski and Dylan albums – Love Is a Dog from Hell and Bringing It All Back Home were favorites – so around then I gravitated toward poetry. Experimental filmmaker Maya Deren wrote about the similarities of film and poetry and that really resonated with me, how poetry bends time and has the jump-cut and juxtaposition/montage quality of film editing. William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg were early poetry and artistic influences. Reading Beowulf in 8th grade was a major motivator.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Tony: Most recently CA Conrad and I’m reading a lot of Basho. Also Jack Gilbert, W.S. Merwin, James Tate, Louise Gluck, da levy, Neruda. People I actually know: Steve Henn, Tim Heerdink, Matt Hart, Hiromi Yoshida. I think William S. Burroughs is still a big influence, partly his writing and his voice – and he also is a Midwesterner – but mainly his process-based experiments like cut-ups and audio editing and shotgun paintings. There is intention in all that but he also liked to just set things up and see what happens. I have a background in improv theatre, so chance and free association have become central to all my projects. I like working across disciplines.

Entretiens avec William Burroughs | Daniel Odier, William S. Burroughs |  First Printing

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art? Have any travels away from home influenced work/describe?

Tony: I grew up in Ladoga IN, a tiny farm town of about 1000 people. I’ve traveled a bunch and lived in NY my freshman year of college, but I had a Ray Bradbury childhood: sheltered and somewhat locked in the past, even when I was a kid, but I had freedom to roam. I’m not resentful of that shelter. It still feels very small and trapped in amber whenever I visit. I’ve written about my family dynamics, which are interesting to me, and I have performed in many states and Canada. It’s important to maintain a sense of belonging to where I am originally from but I don’t want to just write downhome stuff – barn poems, I call them – but also not come off like I am “from the internet.” I don’t want to write about things that I have only read or heard about but haven’t experienced myself. I mean up to a point, but I remember hearing at a workshop “I want to know what you think, not what the New York Times thinks.” I like the stories you have to dig down to find. I think that’s what poetry “covers”: not simply the zeitgeist but what squishes out when the hammer of media attention falls. The thing that’s taken me furthest from home – in terms of physical distance but also getting “outside myself” – is performing live sound effects because it’s not words at all. It’s performative and requires intense listening and observing. Director David Ossman has said I am painting with sound – I really like that. I’ve worked coast to coast and that’s been a broadening experience, both because traveling does that but also any kind of production work, I pick up ways to make my own productions better: how to take care of people, how to get good performances out of people. I try to produce readings and events I would want to attend. I co-founded the first poetry slam in Indiana in 2001, mainly because it was a different way of hosting a poetry reading. That’s when I started traveling to do readings. I was also a roller derby announcer for 8 years and I traveled with the team to announce for them at away bouts. In fact that’s how I got to do a reading in Canada: I stayed an extra day and read in Toronto. Trips that still stand out and that generated a lot of writing: Devils Tower WY, Iceland, New Orleans, Toronto, Shiprock NM, Whidbey Island WA. I finished my book Hot Type Cold Read in a hotel room while I was working a live sound effects gig in Fort Lauderdale. I do some of my best work in one field while I’m in the thick of it in another.

Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Tony:

Meaningful to me, probably my 2010 chapbook Little Glove in a Big Hand. My cousin Jeffrey died in a farming accident when he and I were both 4 years old, and it tore our families apart. I was so young I was barely aware of it and no one really explained to me what happened to him. He was just gone. I’d been writing about that for probably 25 years but didn’t like any of it – I was either too close to the material or not close enough. Then the memories started coming back, more vivid than before, and I started having dreams about it and I filled a notebook with poems and workshopped them with the Reservoir Dogwoods and got them published all in about 8 months. I was doing some therapy at the time, really working on myself, so that’s likely why some dormant things resurfaced with more clarity. I really figured some things out in that project.

Meaningful to other people, probably the poem I wrote in 2004 “Cicada Blues Chorus 10 & 17.” I wrote it as a team piece for poetry slams the last time the 17-year cicadas came through. It continues to be my most endearing poem and I never get tired of doing it. I also have written a ton of meaningful poetry on demand, for total strangers as well as close friends who have trusted me enough to tell me intimate details about their lives, sometimes out on the street in the middle of a festival. A woman once asked if I knew anything about bipolar disorder (I do) and could I write a poem about her son? Another person was in recovery and asked me to write about it – and I asked questions like recovery from what? How long have you been clean? I’m not confrontational about it but this collaborative thing opens up between us and I feel compelled to push for details. I think the patrons feel compelled to tell me – after all they asked for it. I have written elegies on demand too for a haunted cemetery tour, and for those I always ask things like “So what kind of life did you lead?” or “Do you have any regrets?” and sometimes they laugh it off and sometimes they get very serious, more serious than they were probably imagining their night was going to be.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Tony: Learning how to parse any poetry, especially by reading Ginsberg’s big red book of collected poems 1947-1980. It took several years to work through because I really dug down into the forms and researched his life a bit to figure out what he was saying. Read most of it aloud. Suddenly the veil lifted and I could see with new eyes. Before that, some poetry was just unreachable, or maybe I didn’t work at it enough. There are poems I don’t like or poets I like more than others, but everything is available to me now. I think Poetry is enormous and I want to get at it. I’m not sure I ever wanted to be an artist, or a poet, but I’ve always done some writing and some music and some production work, making books or plays or movies. I just like doing the work: making poems, making live sound effects, making events. There is a certain amount of networking required and I don’t always feel like that’s conducive to getting underneath things enough to make poems, so that tension – the openness and the aloofness – fuels a lot of what I do.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Tony:

“Never hurry, never rest” -Nietzsche

I try to get into some woods near running water whenever possible.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Tony:

I just put out a new chapbook with Alien Buddha Press: The History of Projectiles. I was invited by Ryder Magazine to do a writeup on it here: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/392109039/10/

Why buy from Amazon when you can buy directly from me? https://tonybrewer71.blogspot.com/

Seriously, hit me up and I’ll kick in something special and unique.

I’m doing some readings with Tim Heerdink in July:

7/10 Bluestocking Social Bookstore in Evansville IN: https://www.facebook.com/events/204093574943742

7/16 Poetry in the Park in St. Louis: https://www.facebook.com/events/185279830160680

7/17 Barb’s Books in Belle MO: https://www.facebook.com/events/498526064727221

7/18 TBA but likely we’ll be live on KOPN out of Columbia MO https://www.kopn.org/

7/29 I’m doing a formal book launch with guest readers in Bloomington in the courtyard at the Runcible Spoon Cafe & Restaurant.

Aug 10 and 24 Poetry on Demand at A Fair for the Arts in Switchyard Park in Bloomington

Sep 4-5 Labor Day weekend Poetry on Demand at the 4th Street Arts Festival in Bloomington

I just wrapped co-producing the 9th annual HEAR Now Audio Fiction & Arts Festival (virtual this year) June 24-27 https://www.natf.org/, where I also taught live sound effects, did some voice acting, and performed poetry live with the ensemble Urban Deer: http://urban-deer.com/

I also co-produce a spoken word series (currently also virtual) with live music for the Writers Guild at Bloomington on the first Wed of every month: https://writersguildbloomington.com/

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?

Tony:

“May you always be prepared for what you want. Amen.” from “Toast”
“The waiting period for revenge / is a sentence” from “Why we will never get over this”

Q9: What has helped you most with writing?

Tony:

On the last day of Richard Cecil’s poetry workshop when I was a junior at IU, I asked “How do I keep doing this?” meaning making poems as some sort vocation outside of a college classroom. I wasn’t sure how serious I was about writing as a profession. He said there were 2 ways: get into an MFA program but you’ll be teaching and doing other things as much as or more than writing – although there is a supportive network there and you’ll get published and have books and all that. That was his world. I said OK what’s the other? He said just write and send your stuff out. Get a job that doesn’t destroy your mind and your willingness to keep submitting work, and eventually you’ll get things out there. I think I went that route, with an assist from audio theatre and poetry slams, which weren’t widely known at that point but I hosted a slam for 10 years and found my network that way. Many of my influences are “working poets” who have a job outside the field: William Carlos Williams, Lee Young-Li, slam poets who were active and touring before Poetry Slam incorporated. I liked that Richard didn’t say “and so you should take THIS path.” He just told me what was available.

Joseph Kerschbaum and I have workshopped each other a bunch. He co-founded that slam with me and we’ve done book tours together. The Reservoir Dogwoods poetry performance group I’m in – Jason Ammerman in Indy, Matthew Jackson in Columbus (IN), and me in Bloomington – has taught me a lot about collaboration and writing poems together. Same with all the poetry on demand. I have written a lot of poems I would not have thought to write except someone asked for it, and that compulsory aspect has stretched my boundaries. POD has helped me break out of writing slumps and keep my mind open to new forms. It’s another form of connectedness.

Poets Tom Hastings and Eric Rensberger have been mentors. Eric once commented after an open mic I was hosting: “More chips with the salsa please,” and that has stuck with me. Spice is nice but your need a sturdy delivery system. Tom has said: “You’re always working on a manuscript,” I think meaning you are always editing and collecting material for the next project, whatever it ends up being. I am definitely doing that all the time.

Poetry by Tony Brewer : “You and I are Human Beings” “the Seashell & the Clergyman”

An Interview with Indie Musician Austin Lucas (2020) Fevers of the Mind Press Presents

Austin Lucas has a new album “Alive in the Hot Zone” which many have in their year-end best of 2020 award nominees.

 (Cornelius Chapel Records)

First off Thanks Austin for granting an interview with us at Fevers of the Mind Press for the Fevers of the Mind Poetry Digest: The Poets of 2020.

Austin: Thanks so much for including me

Q: It has been over a year since the last issue.  It is weird, it seems like something might have happened to try to jog away from the creativity into a slow depression month after month as this has continued.   The year 2020 has been some work, and it has taken nearly a year for me to fully get my creative fuses (mostly out of the anger of this year) to feel like there has to be another edition!  There are many voices out there that have been writing through the year, and their voices all need to be heard. 

With that, how have you kept your creativity with writing songs & putting out a new album? Was it any different going into the studio and recording the new album in the wake of the pandemic.

Austin:  I have found myself baffled by the disconnect from reality among my fellow americans, along with their seemingly limitless capacity to entirely abandon reason.  As for inspiration and the process of staying active in song writing, it seems that I was able to have even more time to exercise my capacity for creation with so much time off the road.

Q: I was a huge fan of Immortal Americans & Shallow Inland Sea after hearing your appearances on the comedy podcast Improv4Humans with Matt Besser.  Even my 8-year-old daughter became a fan of “Immortal Americans” and I love that song and Shallow Inland Sea) How is Matt Besser and the Improv4Humans experience?

Austin: I love Matt and all the I4H crew so it’s always so cool when I get to collaborate with them and also when I hear that someone discovered me through that medium.

Q: I’ve been listening to the new single “Drive” on repeat listens, and watching the interesting Pandemic feel of the video on Youtube.   Where was it filmed?

Austin: Well it was shot in Berlin during the pandemic, so what you were seeing is life as it is currently lived. That video was a phenomenal experience because I was able to cast a bunch of my favorite people who I honestly don’t get to see often enough.

Q: How are you maintaining focus and coming up with new creative endeavors without the touring and the availability of concerts?  Tell us a little about the Save the Stage movement also.

Austin: As I mentioned before, I seem to have almost boundless creative energy when so much of my time isn’t spent traveling and feeling worn down by life on the road. Sometimes I get incredibly tired still, due to my intense training and coaching schedule with Muay Thai but even that doesn’t distract me and leave me feeling so depleted as constant travel.

Q: When I heard your interviews regarding your songs in the past, I was excited to learn that you grew up in the Bloomington, Indiana area.  I grew up in Western Kentucky and lived in Evansville for nearly 20 years.  I’ve spent many nights visiting Bloomington.  Always good shows up there.  What was it like growing up in the Midwest?  What about the Midwest do you love, and what part of it makes you shake your head?

Austin: I don’t know, there are so many things I both love and hate about the Midwest but honestly, I don’t find much more wrong with the Midwest than I do with any other part of the USA. There’s good and bad and the bad things are found in literally every corner of the United States. I do love how direct people are in the Midwest vs. other parts of the US though. We’re polite but we won’t bend over backwards and bullshit you if we think you suck.

Q: I know you have many roots in punk music and for most of your career, you have spun punk ideologies into an Americana/rock-folk carving.  So, who were your heroes musically, and inevitably with writing song lyrics that maybe have helped you weave the two musical styles into your niche?

Austin: His Hero Is Gone, Discharge, X, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Beatles. Jason Molina is probably my greatest lyrical influence but there’s a lot in my repertoire that’s derived from my upbringing in the Bluegrass and folk lineage.

Q: What is your process when you write a song?  How long does it usually take to come up with a full song to your liking, music and all?

Austin: It really depends, I’m a notoriously furious and extensive self editor so it can take anywhere from hours to years for me to write a song. I generally begin with a riff and build words and melody around the first riff that I write and go for there.

Q: I’d like to congratulate you on your nomination in the category for  Americana Song of the Year in the upcoming AMA-UK Awards in 2021.   How do you handle the recognition that you deserve for your work? 

Austin: Thanks so much, I honestly just smile and feel grateful. I’ve been in this songwriting game for a very long time and have yet to receive many accolades. Which means that while I appreciate it all the more as a result, I also have a hard time imagining that it will be a regular occurrence. At the moment I’m just gonna soak it up and be grateful that some folks cared enough to nominate me for an award in the first place.

Q: You’ve worked with many great artists on albums such as Lydia Loveless & John Moreland.  Is there a musician out there that you would love to work with, or came close to working with that once (hopefully) someday when COVID is gone that you’d feel like this could be the ultimate collaboration?

Austin: I’d honestly love to work with several artists but the dream for me would be to just sing duets with Dolly and Emmylou or Gillian Welch. My other biggest dreams are to make albums with Baroness and Neurosis and also to make an album with Blitzen Trapper would be an absolute dream.

Q: Out of the many, many songs you’ve written.  Which do you feel the most complete lyrically let’s say, or just satisfied with the outcome.  Do you ever feel like hey, where did these words come to me from?  I think lyrically Monroe City Nights resonates with me so well.  I can feel the sadness of the Midwest & the vulnerability to adapt and so everything just seems stagnant (in the solitude of okay, I guess this is how my life has to be?)

Austin: To my mind, that song is absolutely one of my crowing masterpieces in a lot of ways. I’m honestly very proud of my body of work overall but my last 2 albums have probably had the most of what I’d consider “me” in them.

Q: Tell me about the new album “Alive in the Hot Zone” released this Fall.  What about this album is getting the buzz of Austin Lucas out there in the Americana & Indie scene.  What about this album, do you feel is different from your other albums? 

Austin: I honestly don’t know, I guess it’s the fact that I managed to write about what everyone was going through in the world right now and actually release it while we were still experiencing it as a global community

Q: Finally, the dumb question.  Let’s say some bozo with some weapon comes up to you.  Let’s say He’s like I’ve got 2 albums that you have to re-make, and you have to choose one to cover completely (no matter what it does for your career) and hey maybe you can change the dynamic of people’s minds about the albums, Do you cover Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” album or Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes”?

Austin: I’d personally rather cover Go Go’s “Beauty and the Beat but I think I’d go with the Debbie Gibson album, if those were my only two options.

Q: No really, we’ve seen like full album covers by artists like Beck, the Bird, and the Bee, and ummm…yeah Ryan Adams do such, if you ever went that route with an album what would you consider an awesome honorable album to cover?

Austin: Oh, haha, I guess I already answered that question but let me say two things. 1. Ryan Adams is a creep and 2. I’d also really love to cover the entirety of the Cure “Pornography” or “Darklands” by Jesus and Mary Chain

Q: Thank you, Austin for spending a little bit of your time with Fevers of the Mind, and much success on the new album & good luck with the award nomination.

Austin: Thank you so much for sitting down and asking me these questions.

Bio Courtesy of Austin Lucas.com

Austin Lucas is a punk journeyman, activist and songwriter from Bloomington, Indiana. Consumed by an overdeveloped sense of wanderlust as a young person, Austin spent his formative years in the driver’s seat of various beat-up Ford Econolines. Burning through countless miles and living the world over, he’s made his home everywhere from the American West Coast to the Czech Republic.

As a young person, Austin worshipped a diverse mixture of Classic Rock, Country, Punk, Psychedelic Folk and Mountain Music, and has made a career by successfully fusing these disparate influences into something uniquely his own. Emerging as a prominent and revered talent among his fans and peers, Austin has stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the most recognizable icons of Folk, Punk, Indie, Country and Americana, all the while uplifting the traditions of Roots Music and holding true to the attitude and ethics of political DIY Punk and Indie music as the lifeblood that runs through his veins.

Releasing albums since 2006, Austin Lucas has been a fixture in the worlds of Alternative Country and Folk Punk for nearly two decades, having sang alongside and toured with everyone from Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson, Ray Price, Brent Cobb, Frank Turner, Chuck Ragan, Dawes, Langhorne Slim, Joe Pug, John Moreland, Lucero and many others. To hear Austin Lucas or see him live is to discover the type of well-kept secret that can only stay that way for so long.

During the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown Austin Lucas has sheltered in place in Mainz, Germany. Although growing homesick far away from his home and family in Indiana, he has successfully used this extra time and inspired energy to prove that it’s impossible to keep a good troubadour down, writing and recording songs for his forthcoming album, “Alive In The Hot Zone!”.