Monday, October 18, 2010


Stephanie Barber makes films, writes poetry, co-curates Transmodern Festival, and teaches at MICA with whatever spare time she invents out of thin air. She currently resides in Baltimore where everyone is the better for it, as evidenced by her collusions with Theresa Columbus, Geodesic Gnome, Performance Thanatological Society, Dan Conrad & Jenny Graf and recent readings at recent literary events about town (WORMS!).

What do you do? What are you doing the most lately?

i make art.  film, poetry, music etc.  i talk about animals. 

mostly right now i am making videos and writing a lot. i'm interested in making a something in a certain medium which manages to sidestep the concerns of that medium--or like a plain cardboard box might begin to sprout wings and armadillo shells, prehensile tails and the goofy smiles of human children with down's syndromes--so a film can be considered as a poem and a song can be considered as a film and a poem can be considered a cross country ski competition and hopefully the best pieces can be considered just pieces of art.  

Lawn Poem installation by Stephanie Barber at The Poor Farm

How long have you done these things? How have the things changed?
i have always been writing and for half of my life i have been making films and very recently i have been making videos. my music making is sporadic and unfocused but like a miracle when i wind up inside of a musical project.  the most enjoyable.
things have changed in that i am working within myself right now in a very particular way.  i mean that i am pushing against my own ideas and my previous work in a way that was maybe not as possible to do when i didn't have such a large body of work.  it is a very subtle feeling.  like artistic proprioception.  an interoceptive awareness of where i am in my art.  this is a simultaneously abstract and specific feeling. 
i'm unsure of how i feel about this morally.  there is something about the hardcore individualist motivation in working like this--responding to previous work i have made--avoiding the tropes of previous stories--etc.--something about strident individualism which feels tawdry and propagandistic.  the alternative seems either like being tossed around in the giantest ocean slammed by rocks and unnamed sea creatures or being in harmony and eternal dialog with all art ever made and about to be made.  

stephanie barber's 'in the jungle' with dan conrad and jenny graf

Why do you do these things? What's it like when you are unable to do these things?
probably to make someone love me or hear me (same).  ideally everyone. a deep sort of love which has to do with being known--a childish unattainable eradication of the aloneness of a life.
also because maybe i feel like it is 'the good work'.  i am a religious fanatic without a religion.

it feels terrible when i am unable to make work.  sometimes i don't work for a little while as a way to make myself feel awful and worthless and unloveable.  then i realize i am doing it and quickly stop. i have tried to think about worth outside of the creation of something poetic, or moving or funny or lovely--then i imagine i could be a monk and this seems like it could possibly be fulfilling (or a jogger--sometimes i think about jogging) but i think, for me, it would not be (or would cease to be after a certain time).  art work is spiritual charity.  both internally and externally.  

When was That Moment in your life that told you you would become what you are? 

i don't think there was a moment.  i've always been what i am. 
Another still from "In The Jungle", this time courtesy Kelly Kuvo
How has your life changed to accommodate That Moment's effect on you?
my life is really hard.  probably a lot of lives are very hard and much harder but sometimes i think the way i live is a bit too uncomfortable.  the hairshirts of financial destitution and ascetic self flagelation of expectation.  
no, my life is super easy and like a soak in a never cleaned hot tub in the post swinger mountains of colorado.  it need not accommodate.

How has your work affected your life in return?
my work affects my life in that i wish for it to be as multifaceted as i try to make a film or poem or video.  how something can be crass and tender simultaneously or funny and sad, or academic and cheap joke..............i guess in life you have to pick something and i am not so good at doing that--i feel let down by the lack of dynamism in lives and jobs and towns and loves................or maybe i am terrified by the actual dynamism?  more moved by the architectural angles and armatures of contrast and collusion suggested by challenging art than the messy, cruel way that these sorts of dynamics play out in life and interpersonal relations.

What do you think of the future?
i think it is going to come and i think it is already here.  i am a self aware substructure and as such am (though pessimistic) a believer.  

What do you think of when you think of David Lee Roth? Why?
i think he is super.  i love the way he and eddie van halen play fast and loose and funny with their super-talents.  he is as brilliant a physical comedian and dancer as fred astaire and steppin fetchit.  his radio show in ny is ok too.  he's sharp.

MICHAEL ANDREW TURNER: A Muscle Car Out of Cockroach Parts

Mike Turner! Oh man, where to start? Lexington Kentucky's own Mikey T plays solo musics, all lonely thready guitar ragas, and sometimes with his band Warmer Milks shows happen. He's always got a new chapbook or cassette, weird job or exciting and confrontational place to live. He's a poet, a real dreamer and the kind of conversationalist who can talk the paint off a tank. In the past year or two he's also taken a stab at bent journeyman noir with duo Cross aka The Sound of The Rat Vex. Warmer Milks played at the old True Vine space, where the shows were perfumed with the night air of Hampden, a burned feathers smell that was romantic and even mouthwatering. Eventually someone, probably Ian Nagoski, silenced any curiousity about the delicious nature of the odor in revealing that it came from the late-night crematorium down 36th St towards Ash. That one night, though, in that charring air, Mikey said to me "You should have a band called Lexie Mountain Boys" and then laughed his ass off. 2005. 

What do you do?
I write a lot of poetry and fiction.  A "lot" could be small as well but I guess it depends. Some things I've written have appeared printed but I can't recall off hand where but that's irrelevant.  I'm bad at keeping up with that stuff anyway.
I suppose I've more so "known for" within underground circles as someone who plays guitars. Electric and acoustic ones. I write songs on them and then either perform/record the songs with other people under the guise of "band" or by myself as "solo".  I've also played around with many other instruments throughout the years but guitars are my "candy" for sure. That sounds ridiculous doesn't it?
What are you doing the most lately?
The past seven months have seen me acting out in the group Cross as well as under a variation of my own name, Ma Turner. Cross toured for a couple of months over the summer, tried to move to California then gratefully came back to Lexington, KY. The past few months we've been writing a new record to be recorded early 2010 in a hair salon/art haus here in town.
The past two weeks I've been playing with open tunings on my acoustic here at the house. Elaborating on chord sequences and scales, warping them into songs. Also sketching out my next short story while my first one is coming out early 2010 via issue one of Heavy Bombardment (Rampart Tapes).
How long have you done these things? How have the things changed?
Writing has been a part of my life since I could first hold a crayon in my hand. It is what I know how to do more than anything else. Talking to God through writing. It is my way. The majority of my writing has been poetry but the past few years I've been writing short fiction. What a thrill it is!  With poetry, I stay pretty free form and but since I've been tackling short fiction, I've grown more accustomed to structure. Being torn apart via editing is an amazing feeling. I get to hang out with the words longer. It is starting to rub off on my poetry and music as well.
I have played guitars with other people since the early nineties. At first I just made sounds on them, then almost a year in to owning a guitar (around ninth grade), my mother got me into some guitar lessons. I learned most of the basic chords as well as some "rock" tricks. After writing a couple songs on my own, I quit taking lessons and sat in my room combining the sounds I was making beforehand with the stuff I'd learned through lessons. Early on I knew it was all about writing my own songs.
Unfortunately I lived in a area where I didn't meet that many people who thought very much like me (Nicholasville, Jessamine County, Kentucky) so my songs were confined to the bedroom. Meanwhile I played in a few high school bands but none of them were really up the alley of what I wanted sans one group called 'Sunburn' which leaned towards grittier 'pop' music that aligned with my interests and I think we actually played one of my songs. I remember being laughed at for wearing a Depeche Mode shirt and not being familiar with the high from marijuana. I believe this was 1993 0r 1994. A beautiful time. Memorex cassettes with "Fire in Cairo" and "Divine Hammer" blasting in my headphones. So tender and wide eyed. I'm closing my eyes right now and thinking of it. I can still be there. So nice.
I'm not sure that me playing guitar has changed as much as progressed. Writing songs is still the point but now I suppose my idea of a song has opened up larger. Perhaps I've always known a song can be anything I want it to be but now because I've been playing around with a guitar for roughly nineteen years, I have many different angles to work with. More tools, more colors, it's easier to pull an idea out of my head now and mold it into what I want it to be. However, I go through moments of unlearning where I just fall into the space I was in as a kid, "DUNH, DUNH", bar all of the strings on one fret, bang on it in time with a personal vibration no one else is getting but myself.
In the realm of acoustic guitars, I've been sitting around with one since I was very young. 'Ma Turner'. The 'a' is my middle initial but I like Ma because it is obviously feminine, MOTHER. I dabbled in that with the name 'Warmer Milks'.  Ma and WM are similar in their beginnings. Writing songs on acoustic guitar about love and life but as I get older I allow more tradition to trickle in as well as space and abstractions. Don't get me wrong, I know how that "trad" word sounds but in all seriousness, I'm friendlier with folk and country then I used to be but I also have no interest in nostalgic torch music. Like any other music I play, it feels nice to leave the door open in every room. It comes down to more emphasis on song and it happens to be kind of handed down from the past but yet still moving into the future.
Playing in Cross, I'm going back further into a high school mind, a kind of guitar hero worship, MOVES, occult sexual possession like Page slides and Jagger hips but Ginn on his tip toes heckling the football team. Total Television Personalities pulsating lack of//major sophistication. I dunno, just wanting to fucking boogie again feels amazing. It's me and three other guys,  a total team effort. I write riffs and bring them to practice, so fun. The group in turn, puts it all together and it becomes it own thing.  In my early twenties I played in what people would consider a "street punk" band but in actuality it was a hybrid of like Motorhead and some southern rock spiel but the skinhead/punker scene ate it up. We toured a bunch and made a record that I'm super proud of and (it) did really well in that world. When I wasn't jamming in this unit, I'd be at home listening to Jim O'Rourke or some shit like that. I think it was the Gastr Del Sol record 'Upgrade & Afterlife', a total masterpiece of insanity and beauty. At the time, I was really torn up and confused, like I thought I was cheating on that album by playing rock n roll so eventually I quit. A few years later I was playing music that could be compared to some boring ass Archers of Loaf water. Jesus, the REAL rock n roll band I left was so much better. I suckered myself into empty ideas of what is and isn't art. Fuck art! Have fun! Luckily I started Warmer Milks and we just did EVERYTHING that came to mind for around six years. Art or no art, I projected a new manifesto for that thing every other minute and actually followed through with the majority of my (for better or for worse) ideas. People I played with, hung around or performed for either got stoked or bummed on that deal but I am so proud of it.  I learned so much about myself in that period of time and wouldn't take it back for anything. Warmer Milks ended last May and I'm really stoked that it is over. It was time for a change.  
Why do you do these things? No, really, why? How does it make you
feel? What's it like when you are unable to do these things?
Like I mentioned earlier, writing was my first true form of creative expression. I've written a lot of poetry. Started when I was 5. I write at least two a week, rarely skipping out on said activity. I've thrown away a good 80% of the stuff I've written but haven't forgotten any of it's essence. I keep writing the same thing over and over again. Just want to improve. I also said earlier that I'm writing to God and if I can't write to God then I feel as if I'm dying. I want to channel this into my short fiction and I think that it's happening. Communicate to to a higher plane through some short story about a kid with down syndrome that builds a muscle car out of cockroach parts. Amen.
I play music because it feels so good.  It has been the one thing externally since day one that has been a constant turn on, total passion, relentless form of expression. I always walk away with a sense of adventure, curiosity, wonderment, excitement but yet it also makes me nervous, anxious and often times frustrated because I love it so much and like any other powerful relationship in my life, have had some extreme ups and downs with it.  There are times I've allowed other aspects of my life to steer me away from music or writing and that is something I will never let happen again because it is weak on my part and causes major sadness inside. I've arranged everything in my life at this point to compliment my love for playing music and writing and I'm thankful that I am at a place where I can always participate in those activities and nothing can touch that.
When was That Moment in your life that told you you would become what
you are? What happened? Please elaborate.
The Moment with writing was the first time I ever tried to write a letter. My parents were fighting and I attempted to write them a letter explaining that they were scaring me but it was just scribbles. I knew those lines didn't exactly translate out to the world what I was thinking but it sure made me feel a whole lot better and I haven't stopped since.
With music, a combination of situations really. My mother's record collection blasting on the stereo when I was four. The two of us would dance to Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, Carpenters, Beatles as well as countless awesome christian rock albums from the seventies and early eighties. It truly warmed my heart. Watching MTV at it's inception. Just taking in the visuals (haircuts, outfits, stage set ups) and obviously the pulse of electronic drums and synths shook me intensively. It truly felt like alien music and I knew I wanted a part in that which went hand in hand with 1980's fm radio. Stuff like Billy Idol and Wham! struck me as so intense and I loved beating on my kiddie drum set along to their songs in my bedroom after school.
I suppose the "super reality connector" between me and music was hearing:
 a) Black Flag via a dub from some asshole in junior high (1990) (he thought it sucked so he gave it to me because I was a nerd) 
b) Nirvana on Z Rock several months later and wondering what the fuck was going on (I promptly grabbed a baseball bat and played along, it was like someone set my house on fire).
c) The fire was completely lit when local college radio ( was added in the mix shortly thereafter to fill in the gaps of underground musics and helped me along Self Highway. I found a copy of their zine (RiFLe) and it had an interview with Mike Watt. Floored for life.
How has your life changed to accommodate That Moment's effect on you?
The impulse to create constantly jerks me around from place to place, back and forth through time, in and out of conversation, etc. so I guess in the end The Moment controls my every move. Good job Moment!
How has your work affected your life in return?
Not to be cliche but my work IS my life. That being said, everything else around me plays into the moment I make up something musically or through written/spoken words. It can be scary for sure but for the most part, my life is full of joy because of my guitar. Jesus, good grief.
What do you think of the future?
I love the idea of getting older. Improvement. The future is great. A constant shift. Go Future!
What has David Lee Roth meant to your life? Please elaborate.
David Lee Roth has a lot to do with the future for me. The older I get, the more I appreciate and respect David Lee Roth as lead vocalist in Van Halen circa 1980's. DLR now? Absolutely no clue what he means to me NOW? As a kid, his thing kinda got under my skin for some reason, especially his solo situation. It was too campy for me at the time. Now, I can handle it but put on the first Van Halen lp and there is some serious rock n roll going on and that is the essence of DLR to me.
I wrestle with the idea of worshipping "classic rock" icons, groups, songs, etc. but regardless, I find myself back in the middle of it, studying up on whatever I can about it and David Lee Roth plays into that, of course! As much as I wish I could just focus on something eternally cool as Whitehouse forever and let go of VH, I can't. But Whitehouse IS cooler.