Mr. U, 2003
Chris Coy: Back when provoshows was a truly anonymous project Keith Paugh emailed and asked, “Who’s driving this nostalgic flying umbrella?” Some people thought it was you because you were the first to submit material—my response to Keith at the time was, “We all are hopefully!” I’m still intrigued by his question and particularly this term “nostalgia”. What role (if any) do you assign to nostalgia in all of this? What do you think of the term generally?
Rob: I think that I would hesitate to use the term nostalgia. Nostalgia to me implies looking back on some better/simpler times. While I have many fond memories of that time period in my life, I think that there is much about it that I am so glad that I don’t have to relive. I love provoshows so much because it is a documentation of that very important part of my life. Provo really transformed me in a lot of ways and I will always love and admire the friends that I made while I lived there. A lot of our collective experiences surround these shows that we attended and many of those are difficult to remember because of their size and/or randomness, so I am grateful that the site exists as a back up to my own fading memory.
I guess the problem with the site is that it can reinforce some kind of nostalgia for Provo. These documents in a lot of ways represent the best memories that I have of provo, thereby drawing me away from the sad bits and realities of the time.
Chris: Yeah, I don’t want it to be read as the byproduct of a nostalgic impulse. Which is one reason we’re archiving the present as well as the past… to keep it living, not dead. You’ve got me thinking now though—does Provo have its own particularly idiosyncratic “sad bits and realities” that the music and art communities are dealing with? Are these different from the Provo college culture at large? Or are they the obvious and somewhat universal things of any college town experience filtered through Mormondom? (e.g. living away from home, the stress of school, sex/abstinence, impending adulthood, over-achievement, experimentation, drugs, etc)
Rob: I definitely feel that Provo has its own flavor of sad bits. I mean, I think a lot of the issues are things that any college-aged youth face — relationships, identity, the stress of the future. But in Provo we add in the religious component and it tends to make things a little weird. That being said, I think that Provo music tended to just embrace the emotions of that time in our life, and not deal with the religious influence in any significant way.
Chris: Is there a reason for that? Like too much at stake to square off with religion?
Rob: I don’t know. I remember a few bands that tried to attack the religious influence a little overtly, and it always seemed to come off a little heavy handed. Maybe it was the fact that in Provo there is an obvious religious influence and it seems a little bit like beating a dead horse when music tries to confront it in one way or another. The media culture there is saturated by LDS messages, so I think that bands tend to not want to enter that conversation. I think most bands have opted for the Low route which is letting music be inspired by beliefs and culture (for good and bad) and not trying to be so didactic with their message.
Chris: Good point. For general readership: What bands or other projects did you participate in while you lived there? What did you study? What years did you live in Provo? Where are you now?
Rob: One of the great things about Provo was that you could be in 3 made-up bands at any given time. So including those I participated in Mr. U, The Freshman, Radiofoot, Mary Cox and the Pop Rocks, The Karate Kids, and The Handcart Company. I got a BA in Media Arts Studies as well as an MA in Mass Communications. Including mission, I lived in Provo from 1998 til 2007. I currently live in the Seattle area where I am a full time faculty member over the video production program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
Chris: What local bands were you into when you lived there?
Rob: I feel like I came to Provo at the tail end of a really great wave of music, and although I wasn’t super good friends with them I enjoyed the music of bands like Audio Armada and the Player Piano. While I lived in Provo, I am glad that I can say that some of my favorite musical acts were good friends of mine. OK Ikumi has always been fantastic and continues to evolve and change in exciting ways. I love JP Haynie’s music and am so glad that he is continuing to do some really great things. My friends Adam & Darcie continue to make amazing music although they’ve recently moved away from Provo. Can I just make a list of the rest of the bands? The Goodlife Experience, The Boy Who Could Fly, My Friend Fox, Morgan Handley, Actress, The Brilliant Stereo Mob, Details of Speech… I know I’m forgetting someone really important. I would also like to add Uzi & Ari, even though they are a Salt Lake band. They’ve made 3 really good albums which I think have gone relatively unnoticed. I think that’s one of the problems with Provo music back then…we were a little modest and kind of bad at marketing ourselves. I would have loved to have seen some of those bands go to a higher level and get some more recognition.
Chris: Isn’t there something more pure in that kind of amateur endeavor though? Instead of trying to professionalize and monetize it? John Maus made this polarizing comment in an interview that: “music is not meant to be something that earning your keep depends on because it cheapens it and will force you into making decisions in the interest of earning your keep, as opposed to the interest of the thing itself.” I realize that for many this kind of wary refusal could just be an excuse for music careers that never happened. But maybe I’m just hissing at your use of the word “marketing” and missing the point of increased exposure.
Rob: I feel like its tough because I’m comparing it to what the Provo scene is now, which is essentially a machine for churning out these signed acts—some of which are incredibly talented. No disrespect to the bands that are around there right now, but I think that those musicians are definitely more aware of using their craft as an opportunity to make a living. Plus they have an arsenal of online tools to help themselves get noticed by the bigger world. I’m definitely not saying that I wish the bands that I loved were a part of that but I do wish that they were able to get a little bit more notoriety.
When I was in a band I loved it when people enjoyed the music that we made, and I would have really have loved it to be able to tour and release more records. Not because I wanted to make money or make a living doing it, but because it was something that I loved, something that fueled me. I think that I just want these artists that I love to get the support that they deserve so that they can continue making good music. I feel like Maus’ comment is about selling out and I’m not advocating that, I’m advocating the happy medium of having a bunch of people know about a really good artist.
Chris: I don’t know if John Maus is just talking about the traditional idea of selling out though. It seems like he’s saying that any erosion of self to make a more marketable product is unconscionable. He’s advocating for serious purity—a kind of cloistered aesthete. But if one is not making a living doing music/art they’re eventually relegating themselves to a weekended amateurism (regardless of talent). Or maybe they’re just establishing a different set of terms and re-evaluating what success truly means. And coming to the conclusion that the only way to realize art’s transcendent potential is to cast out the money changers from the temple.
Rob: I don’t know if there is an ideal form of what Maus is talking about. I think for any musician, especially a musician who intends to play that music before an audience, he/she needs to have an awareness of that audience. With that awareness comes a tendency to shape that music to make it more pleasing to an audience. That does not mean that the musician is crafting the product completely for the audience and is only giving them what they want, but instead they have that interaction in mind when creating that music. For most musicians I don’t think its about money, it’s about making sure that the collective experience is enjoyable.
Now that being said, I would say that an artist needs to find that balance of their own artistic integrity vs. the pleasure of an audience, and we can certainly see examples of where that relationship is imbalanced.
Chris: Yeah, I think I’m hijacking this interview with my own internal dilemmas and rhetorical questions. Just trying to see if they sound any better on paper, you know? Anyways, back to “nostalgia.” This summer I was visiting family in Utah and saw a book featuring historical landmarks in Provo. That old house converted into a duplex where you lived with Ryan, Nathaniel and Paul on 200 East was in there! Didn’t your neighbor have a python or something? Wasn’t there a fire also?
Rob: Obviously you are speaking of “Broham House”, and it rightfully should be on a historical registry for many reasons. That was such a “college” situation, that it is hard to believe that it happened in Provo. We had a neighbor named George who lived in an apartment attached to the house. It made for a bunch of really weird/awesome situations the best of which was him nearly burning our house down while he was cooking a hot dog.
Chris: I had forgotten it was called “Broham”! That’s funny. Anything else you want to say before this email interview is done?
Rob: Even thought a lot of people like to rag on it, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Provo. I found a community there that really shaped my worldview and contributed to the person that I am today. I feel like I tend to rag on the current state of the music scene, but the fact is that I am no longer a part of it and it seems to be working for the people that are currently a part of it. It’s definitely different than what I experienced, but that is great in a way. It makes my experience more singular and personal. I’m glad that this site is around to collect artifacts from a lot of those experiences that I had.