A Conversation with Mathew Marcum
Upon meeting performance artist and musician Matthew Marcum two years ago I had to do some serious research into the world of performance art.
I am a theatre artist and thought that I knew what it was, but I quickly came to realize that Performance Art is a completely different beast. Performance art, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as, “a nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience or onlookers (as on a street) and draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, or painting.” I quickly become familiar with the names Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono and Nick Caveowing to their extensive work in this art format. I was introduced to a varying array of performances that were often thought provoking, emotional, beautiful and many times just plain strange. So when I began to work with Marcum on our first project I was unsure as to what to expect from this artist.
Marcum presented his original one-man performance art piece, “The Sum of Some Parts” at the 2nd Annual Sideshow Fringe Festival in Nashville, TN. I was thoroughly entertained by the piece, and quite frankly relieved to be viewing work that was relatable, understandable and beautifully crafted. It combined elements of spoken word, visual art, music and theatrical performance that included a smashed window, original songs written and performed by Marcum, a pitcher of water emptied onto the stage and a sandbox. While it sounds like these would all be different and unrelated things Marcum crafts a creative narrative through the series of vignettes that form an intelligent chariacture of a person travelling through various stages of life and doing it their own way.
After the festival concluded Marcum began working on various projects throughout Nashville and continued to explore art in various forms over the last two years. He has presented work at Lequire Gallery, Actor’s Bridge Studio, Belmont University, The East Room, Ed Nash Studios, The Boheme Collectif, The Cumberland Gallery , Cannery Ballroom and continues to be a highly anticipated staple at the Sideshow Winter and Summer Fringe Festivals in Nashville. He continues to explore new ways to present and cultivate this unique art form as a trail blazer in the Nashville arts community. I asked him to sit down with me and explain his view on the current representation of Performance Art in Nashville, how he would like to help shape its future and what he has planned for the rest of 2014.
Spencer (me): So Marcum, give me a brief history of your work and what brought you to Nashville?
Marcum: Well I grew up in West Virginia and moved to Chicago when I was 19 where I lived off and on until relocating here. I spent some time in Pittsburgh, New Hampshire, Seattlle, the Bay area, Savannah, and toured quite a bit so the only thing that has ever really been a constant in my life has been my work. I classify myself as a performance artist because it’s a very broad term that allows me to encompas everything I do. I’m primarily a vocalist and a writer. I’ve worked in theatre since my early teens as an actor and director and started creating my own work in my early 20’s. I was signed to my first record deal at that time as well, and everything started to melt together. I was blending spoken word poetry with my own music when I would gig out, then I started to incorporate conceptual performance and add more of a theatrical framework to what I would produce and all of a sudden I was doing everything I loved at the same time. So I found my niche you could say in the world of “performance art”. Now Chicago is a great town for that kind of thing it provided me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten in other cities. I could go from doing these really large big budget shows, to smaller storefront spaces and then play a couple club gigs on the weekends so I got used to that kind of work ethic. I have amazing friends there and I feel like living there totally shaped my perspective on art and what kind of artist I wanted to be and the kind of work I wanted to make . In 2010 I had the opportunity to work on a couple films in Savannah Georgia so I headed south and kinda fell in love. The southern eccentric thing worked for me so I hung out there for awhile and wrote and met some really interesting people and had an amazing time and decided I would do a stop off in Nashville before heading back to Chicago . I had been through town and played some shows here when I was younger so after filming was completed I decided to come up for a weekend to check things out and I haven’t left yet.
Spencer: Who is/are your biggest influence(s) in the world of performance art/music?
Marcum: Ya know I should really be way more prepared for this question because it’s something that people always ask. Theres not one person. I’m into a lot of different things and I hodge-podge different influences together. I mean the beat poets fueled my turbulant youth, and as far as song writing goes I love Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, Ryan Adams, Lou Reed too. Ani Difranco comes to mind as someone that inspires me in the way that she has handled her career. I like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, and Jack Nicholson. Patty Smith I like a lot, Marina Abramović of course and Nick Cave. I love the Rolling Stones, Yoko Ono was my favorite Beattle, all the cats from the late 90’s like Ben Harper and Moby, Micheal Stipe…I mean its kinda endless.
Spencer: What do you think the Nashville art community can contribute to performance art and how do you relate to that?
Marcum: So much. I mean Nashville at it’s core is a city of the most gifted story tellers imaginable. I feel that performance art for years has been relegated to the fringes of everything else. I think it’s kinda coming into its own again. A lot of performance artists I know come from more of a visual arts back ground and are adamantly against theatre but I find that a hybrid of the two really works well in relationship to a more collective audience. Alot of people have this idea of performance art where they feel going into it they are not going to really get it and there is this notion that it is not really relateable. I think that can be overcome in the presentation. I’m more interdisciplinary in my approach to performance and I try to present it in this very accessible way. I mean I want people to understand my work and enjoy it but you know I like a little shock and awe. It’s good sometimes to get people a little heated, or to make them giggle , or to tap into something deeper. I’m not big on trying to manipulate or isolate my audiences, I’m more interested in introducing something conceptually and forging some kind of relationship where by the end of it we’ve all went on this little journey together.
Spencer: Where do you think you fit into the local scene and what do you think you can do to advance the art form?
Marcum: Nashville has been so kind to me. I’ve been lucky enough to have people really respond to what I do here. My work is a little unusual sometimes and it requires people to stretch a bit. But who wants to see something boring? So that’s what I try to bring to the table for people…something a little different. I don’t know if I have one specific scene I kinda bounce around in a few different cirlcles. I work with Side Show Fringe and Actor’s Bridge, along with my own solo performance work that I put up independantly. I do club gigs where I sing and play music, I do the poetry slams here and spoken word nights, I host and produce It’s A Happening which brings together a lot of local artists that normally would not get a chance to collaborate. So I guess I just kinda get in where I fit in. But what I like about Nashville is that everyone I know here is making something. I can leave one of my shows, then catch a friends set down town, and then something late night and funky on the East Side. It really is an amazing place to be right now.
Marcum’s current endeavor focuses on his original music creations, which often finds its way into much of his performance art work. He has released 2 full albums and a 5 song EP in the last year. During this past summer he released Drugstore Cowboy, a “lo-fi Americana fest full of hard-luck lullabies and blue collar fairytales” and The Reineventionalist, which leads to the heart of Marcum’s true love of blending art forms by including a mix of his original music along with several of his original spoken word pieces with musical beats and elements that give it a very unique vibe. His newest release, entitled WNTR , is a 5-Track EP that was written and independently produced here in Nashville over the last two months through Marcum’s production company/record label, The Unconventional Empire. The EP is described as a,“5 song conceptual EP celebrating the colder seasons of life and love” . It features the tracks California, Celestial Festival, Shades of Grey, So Cold and (my personal favorite) Davidson County. The sleeper hit of the album though is the track titled So Cold. It is a song that you can’t help but relate to and you unconsciously find yourself moving along to the guitar licks and tambourine hits. It all starts with a little toe tapping, followed by a rhythmic little head nod and the next thing you know you are in full on car-dance mode and the song is stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
Marcum: It happened really organically actually. As a performance artist I’ve always produced my own work and I had recorded Drugstore Cowboy in Chicago prior to moving here. I started working with a really great producer here in town named Andrew Adkins on the mix and master of that album, which lead to the recording of the material that I had written while in Savannah that eventually became The Reinventionalist. I write my own stuff so material isnt a problem for me and music is now primarily issued in digital release format so instead of shopping for a label I just incorporated. Plus I was signed when I was younger and the major thing I learned was that I wanted to own my masters as well as my publishing. Fortunately I had enough response with my oline distribution that it proved to be a lucrative decision on my part. I’m really into that model actually and I really enjoy it. It gives me all the freedom I want. I decide my own content and my own release cycle. I also don’t write strictly in one vein. I do rock, country, gospel, blues, I can be more experimental when I want to be, it works for me.
Spencer: So you have no desire to go major label at the moment?
Marcum: I have a desire to increase my audience base so I can move more units and having more radio play outside of the college circuit would be great. But I can groove this way until something comes along that I’m comfortable with. So I’m open to it, I just want it to be in the right deal with the right label.
Spencer: No Country for New Nashville , which is one of Nashville’s top music blogs named you one of the best local writers in Nashville and D.I.Y. Tennessee referred to you as Nashville’s Premiere Performance Artist . How does that make you feel?
Marcum: Amazing, I was honored…it was way too cool. Because Nashville is the best of the best. Hands down there’s no other place to be as a songwriter really. People come from all over the world to write and record here. To even be mentioned in that regard is quite possibly the best compliment I have ever been paid. And to be recognized by D.I.Y. that way was amazing as well, one of the things I’m most proud of is being an independent artist. I am grateful.
Spencer: You have a reputation as a bit of a workaholic in the last 2 years you have started your own production company/label released 2 full cd’s, and your newest E.P. WNTR, produced 3 fringe festivals with Side Show Fringe with an original show in each, played Justin Timberlake and Harrison Ford in the Nashville premiere of Crumble Lay me Down Justin Timberlake, was on the producing team/stage managed the Nashville premiere of She Kills Monsters, produced 4 Happenings, had your work featured at The Cumberland Gallery, and as part of Voices: Readings from the Brehman Collection, as well as being part of the showcase series at Cannery Ballroom … am I missing anything?
Marcum: I don’t think so that about sums it up.
Spencer: My next questions are How and Why?
Marcum: I don’t know really… you know what they say God is good, all the time. I do it because I love it. It’s what I do, like as a human. I feel privileged to work as much as I have with so many amazing projects and fantastik people. I thought when I moved here I would hang out for a couple months maybe play a few shows then probably move back to Chicago. It just turned into so much more for me. I’ve been blessed. I don’t want it to stop so I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing.
Spencer: So what can we expect from you in 2014?
Marcum: Well I’ve got some really amazing stuff lined up that I’m just really excited about. I’m working on a new experimental album right now that I’m calling Water Box. It’s different from anything I’ve released before. It’s coming out in early Summer and I’m planning a little tour to accompany it. I also have a release that will come out in early Fall called Under The Covers, and a project with my old band The New Tattoos in the works that I’ll release this year too. In July we have the Side Show Fringe Festival where I’m premering my new show An American Dream, I have plans to be a part of an art exhibition that is happening around September, a book that goes into publishing soon that I’ve been working on for awhile and of course The Happenings. I’m also in talks with some partners for a new business venture that will happen late 2014 or early 2015 fingers crossed. So yeah 2014 is going to be a big year.
Spencer: For those who may not be familiar with your work where can we find you on line.
Marcum: You can check out my official website at www.Matthewmarcumofficial.com and you can also check out my face book through that site as well.