Published on August 13th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Marcus Amaker Mixes it Up on ‘The New Foundation’
Longtime Charleston poet, songwriter, and artist Marcus Amaker will celebrate the release of a new collection of works on Thurs. Aug. 14 at the Charleston Music Hall. The spoken-word/musical performance is part of the venue’s three-night Summer Harvest: A Weekend Celebration of Local Art & Music.
On Thursday evening, Amaker’s Word Perfect Poetry Show will feature acclaimed Lowcountry percussionist Quentin Baxter (pictured above on the left). The two fellas collaborated on Amaker’s new studio album A New Foundation.
The Word Perfect Poetry Show roster boasts a lineup of local poets, spoken-word artists, and musicians, including Courtnay the Poet, Matthew Foley, Derek Berry, Carlos Johnson, Joey Tucker, Laura Cailtin Cox, and the duo of Nick Jenkins and Sara Peck.
Metronome Charleston caught up with Amaker this week:
Metronome Charleston: Tell us about the roster of poets and musicians at the event this week. Will you switch roles as the emcee and headlining performer?
Marcus Amaker: The poets at the Word Perfect Poetry Show all come from different backgrounds and have diverse styles. It was important to me that the show be a representation of all poetry — not just spoken word. I’ll be the emcee and will introduce each of the poets. Nick Jenkins and Sara Peck will do a collaboration, but that’s the only combo, to my knowledge.
Metronome Charleston: When and how did the first ideas for A New Foundation come together? Were you and Quentin Baxter collaborating from the start, or did you have material in the works already when you both hooked up?
Marcus Amaker: It was definitely an organic process. The seeds for the album were planted last year when I did a show at the Mezz with Quentin, [bassist] Kevin Hamilton, and [pianist] Richard H. White Jr. to celebrate my latest book. That show was on fire, and it made me realize how much more alive my poems sound with music. After that, Quentin and I decided to recreate the magic in the studio. We both liked the idea of the album being as sparse as possible — just vocals and drums. He bought a loop station, and we went in the lab. The results were great.
Metronome Charleston: When you compile and record collections like this, do you have a specific mood or tone or theme in mind, or does it sort of naturally take its own shape along the way?
Marcus Amaker: For most of my projects, I have a concept in mind before I hit “record.” All of my home studio albums are carefully mapped out, as if I’m following a script. I’m very aware of mood and theme for any project. But The New Foundation came together very naturally. Quentin and I initially thought this album wouldn’t take a long time, but we quickly realized that the material required a lot of care. The poems were pushing us into a new direction. Instead of focusing on the improvisation of our live show at the Mezz, Quentin wrote specific and focused musical pieces for each of my poems. That decision was made pretty early in the process.
Metronome Charleston: Were you reading or listening to anything lately than inspired or influenced these new poems and tracks?
Marcus Amaker: Definitely. The album that was in my CD player during this process was Reprieve by Ani DiFranco. That is a masterful record, both lyrically and production-wise. It’s also an album that uses silence well. I sent Quentin a few tracks when we started recording. The New Foundation could be a companion piece to that album, at least in my eyes. The book that I was reading was Nikky Finney’s Head Off and Split. Her poetry inspired the last track, “Brother Denmark.”
Metronome Charleston: How does the Lowcountry and Charleston play into the theme and message of A New Foundation?
Marcus Amaker: Charleston informs the whole record. Quentin is a master of playing music that reflects his surroundings. He taught me a lot about Gullah rhythms in the song “Upper King” as well as New Orleans rhythms in “Jazz.” Also, the poems are a mirror of a boy who finally found his home. I wrote these poems in a mental and physical space that continues to inspire me. Someone recently told me that they hope that I continue to write Charleston’s story, and I will definitely make that a mission of mine. The Lowcountry is a beautiful place; it’s hard to write about this experience.
Metronome Charleston: Does the title refer to something personal or something more cultural or general?
Marcus Amaker: The New Foundation is an attempt to make a spiritual and political statement from personal experience. We are all connected, so anything that I experience is also an experience for others. It’s the natural order of things. The title poem is basically a call to arms for all of us to get our house in order. To choose love over fear in every instance, and to recognize when fear is driving us. I debuted that poem at Pecha Kucha 20 and was overwhelmed by the response to it. I think it connected to so many people because we are all dealing with demons, and we all recognize the power of letting go. It’s a poem about mindfulness.
Metronome Charleston: How much did improvisation play into the making of this album? Did you and Quentin ever riff on each other spontaneously?
Marcus Amaker: Honestly, there wasn’t much improvisation on the album. The only track that happened with improv was “Upper King.” That track was performed on stage at the Mezz, and I loved the way it sounded. We recreated that sound in the studio. The rest of the album is Quentin masterfully laying down loops and rhythms over my poetry. The songs are recorded in a way that we can bring them seamlessly to the stage.
Metronome Charleston: There’s a cool dynamic and flow to this album — between rhythms and tones, between spoken-word and music. Was that a challenge to arrange?
Marcus Amaker: It was a little bit of a challenge, most definitely. I credit the mood of the album to Quentin’s skills as a producer. He understands flow very well. I knew what order I wanted the poems to be in, and I was conscious of my delivery of the pieces. He mixed and faded the songs in a way that made the music feel like it’s also telling a story. We are both music geeks and love albums. Not just a collection of songs, but … albums. Art. I’m very proud that The New Foundation has its own language, much in the same way that other concept albums do. It all flows together so well.
The Word Perfect Poetry Show will take place at the Charleston Music Hall at 8 p.m. on Thurs. Aug. 14. It’s part of this week’s Summer Harvest events. Tickets are available for $5 in advance and for $10 at the door. Visit charlestonmusichall.com and charlestonpoets.com for more.
Photos by Reese Moore.
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