COVER

At the Chutz­pah fest, spo­ken-word artist Bar­bara Adler and singer-song­writer Jake Klar bring mul­ti­ple art forms to­gether

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY MIKE USINGER

New Eng­land singer-song­writer Jake Klar and Van­cou­ver spo­ken-word star Bar­bara Adler join forces at the Chutz­pah Fes­ti­val.

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28 Arts 33 Mu­sic

Bar­bara Adler and Jake Klar have never met, but there’s plenty to sug­gest that their up­com­ing Chutz­pah Fes­ti­val per­for­mance will bring to­gether two peo­ple who see the world in the same way.

In Adler we get a mul­ti­dis­ci­plined Van­cou­verite noted for her poetry, var­i­ous mu­si­cal en­deav­ours, spo­ken-word per­for­mances, and dal­liances in dance and vis­ual arts. Her will­ing­ness to tackle any­thing is con­veyed by the fact she’s cho­sen Ten Thou­sand Wolves as an um­brella moniker for her var­i­ous projects.

Klar, from Amer­ica’s East Coast, is equally com­fort­able push­ing him­self. He’s per­haps best­known as a singer-song­writer whose style sug­gests Jack John­son and Ben Harper if they’d come up in the Texas trou­ba­dour tra­di­tion. A pas­sion for pho­tog­ra­phy and vis­ual arts is trace­able to a child­hood ob­ses­sion with skate­board­ing cul­ture. A love of sto­ry­telling steered him to­ward not just ob­ser­va­tional song­writ­ing but also poetry.

Tellingly, the two artists aren’t wor­ried about their Chutz­pah Fox Cabaret dou­ble bill, where they’ll per­form separately be­fore col­lab­o­rat­ing at the end of the night. Adler and Klar share a fas­ci­na­tion with what makes their fel­low hu­man be­ings tick. The fact that nei­ther sticks to one dis­ci­pline in their quest to make sense of the world is a bonus.

Reached at home in Pel­ham, Mas­sachusetts, Klar quickly cites a deep ad­mi­ra­tion for Just Kids, a me­moir by iconic poet, mu­si­cian, and vis­ual artist Patti Smith.

“She’s some­one that I’ve al­ways re­ally re­spected in that she’s an artist in the holis­tic sense,” he mar­vels. “It’s not about be­ing spe­cial­ized, or dressed up as one thing. Some peo­ple are—mu­si­cians, I guess. But I know I could never do just one thing.”

Adler is also a fan of com­ing at things through mul­ti­ple me­dia.

“I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in the way that ar­ti­facts and per­for­mances and the vis­ual stuff that peo­ple put to­gether all try and get to some­thing real,” she says, on the line from East Van­cou­ver.

Fit­tingly then, Adler’s part of the Fox show­case will re­volve around a piece called De­coy, which in­cor­po­rates sto­ry­telling, vi­su­als, props, and orig­i­nal mu­sic per­formed with an eight-piece band. Many of the songs Ten Thou­sand Wolves will per­form are from Adler’s weekly writ­ing ses­sions with highly re­spected Van­cou­ver mu­si­cian and com­poser Ron Sam­worth. Adler, whose past mu­sic projects have in­cluded Fugi­tives and Proud An­i­mal, gush­ingly cred­its her mu­si­cal foil with teach­ing her to be un­afraid of em­bar­rass­ing her­self and, at the same time, will­ing to take chances.

“Writ­ing with him has made me try to in­cor­po­rate some of the things that he does in my own writ­ing,” Adler says. “He takes so much care when ar­rang­ing things like har­monies, and I don’t have the same mu­si­cal knowl­edge to be able to do that.”

Pushed to la­bel their col­lab­o­ra­tive songs, she wor­ries that she’s go­ing to sound glib, and then takes a stab at things any­way, start­ing with “metic­u­lously crafted folk songs”.

“I dunno—you could also call them glum parks-and-rec songs, with oc­ca­sional rhyth­mic sec­tions and odd time sig­na­tures,” she adds with a laugh. “Come for the glum­ness—stay for the odd time sig­na­tures.”

De­coy has its roots in last year’s Ac­cor­dion Noir Fes­ti­val in Van­cou­ver, where, af­ter tak­ing part, Adler was given a beaten-up, painted plas­tic owl des­tined for the land­fill. A promo-shoot photo of the owl—usu­ally used for scar­ing away pi­geons—on the web led a friend to note sim­i­lar­i­ties to a se­ries of re­painted duck de­coys cre­ated by a Win­nipeg artist.

“So I got re­ally into the idea of how cool it could be to trans­form th­ese plas­tic na­ture ob­jects and make them even more ab­surdly ar­ti­fi­cial,” Adler says. “I found, by to­tal luck, that some­body was sell­ing their huge col­lec­tion of plas­tic de­coys for pretty cheap on Craigslist. So I snapped them up, and when I got them the bag had the name of the per­son who had owned the de­coys on it.

“I also had a lit­tle bit of in­for­ma­tion from the per­son who had bought them—ba­si­cally that some­one had died, given the de­coy col­lec­tion to his son, and his son hadn’t wanted them and sold them,” she con­tin­ues. “So there was a frag­ment of a nar­ra­tive al­ready in the ob­jects. I don’t hunt, so the whole thing was go­ing through th­ese bags and see­ing ran­dom goose heads and duck parts. There was this mor­bid story al­ready in the ob­jects and it spi­ralled out into some­thing big­ger.”

De­coy touches on ev­ery­thing from hu­man­ity’s com­plex re­la­tion­ship with na­ture to the fetishiza­tion of vin­tage ob­jects to the way peo­ple in­ter­act with each other.

“What De­coy is,” she says, “is a se­ries of songs and sto­ries about a fa­ther who hunts and a son who doesn’t, and about 70 duck de­coys. The de­coys are in the show both in pro­jec­tion form and a bunch of them are go­ing to be used as props. It’s not a mu­si­cal—there are no songs about duck hunt­ing, although no judg­ment about such a mu­si­cal if it does ex­ist. The songs are more po­etic ex­plo­rations of the set­ting and the scene, with a nar­ra­tive ele­ment about a fa­ther and a son and plas­tic ducks.”

EX­PECT KLAR’S PART of the show to draw heav­ily on his lat­est al­bum, Un­til the Wild Fire Be­comes Par­adise. Klar has dab­bled in street pho­tog­ra­phy over the years, lov­ing the way that it cap­tures av­er­age peo­ple in un­staged sit­u­a­tions. Like De­coy, his record is in many ways in­spired by the ev­ery­day, namely in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the singer and peo­ple he en­coun­tered dur­ing an ex­tended trip across North Amer­ica.

“Hu­man be­ings are what in­ter­est me,” Klar says. “Street pho­tog­ra­phers wan­der around do­ing hip shots, where they grab th­ese mo­ments of some­one who doesn’t know they are be­ing wit­nessed. You get th­ese amaz­ing ex­pres­sions—a woman walk­ing down the street maybe in fancy furs and a hat, maybe with a bum on the side of the street. They are very gen­uine mo­ments.”

Un­til the Wild Fire aims to cap­ture such

mo­ments. The record’s be­gin­ning can be traced to the tiny com­mu­nity of Soin­tula on British Co­lum­bia’s Mal­colm Is­land; Klar ended up in the town for his brother’s wed­ding, that lead­ing to a week­long stay in Van­cou­ver and then a two-month trip on the road across the line. Af­ter work­ing his way down the West Coast, he even­tu­ally made his way to Austin and Brook­lyn.

“I’d started writ­ing songs for the record, but I re­al­ized that it was char­ac­ters that I was look­ing for, and that I had to go out and travel on sort of a solo mis­sion,” Klar says. “It was a good ex­cuse that I was go­ing to be out there to go to his wed­ding. Now I re­al­ize that I was go­ing for the street-pho­tog­ra­pher men­tal­ity. But in­stead of a cam­era, I was us­ing a note­book and pen, try­ing to ob­serve and mull over th­ese char­ac­ters that came from meet­ing all th­ese dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple on the road. I didn’t have a car—i was trav­el­ling by bus and train the en­tire time so that I would have to in­ter­act with peo­ple and learn their sto­ries.”

That even­tu­ally led to a record that dips into ev­ery­thing from re­verb-bathed coun­try (“Over & Over”) to breezy pop (“Rosy”) to laid-back, coun­try-tinged soul (“Oo La La”). Klar wants re­lat­able snap­shots of ev­ery­day peo­ple to shine through—a mis­sion he ac­com­plishes with lines like “She hit the floor like a bot­tle bro­ken over the bar/she had a mouth like the front end of a mov­ing car,” from the pais­ley-kissed grunge-pop stand­out “Eleanor”.

“In my head I was try­ing to kind of see what Amer­ica is like right now, and where I fit into it,” he says. “I wanted to look at the dif­fer­ent ways that peo­ple live and what they go through.”

Dur­ing the trav­els that be­came part of the writ­ing process, peo­ple would in­vite Klar into their homes for short stays, and the singer would thank them by haul­ing out the gui­tar.

“What I started to see when I’d hang out with folks was sort of the same thing,” Klar says. “Ev­ery­one’s con­fused and just try­ing to make ends meet.”

AND THAT, ONE MIGHT ar­gue, sug­gests that mak­ing new friends is more im­por­tant than ever. It’s not lost on ei­ther Adler or Klar that art helps peo­ple con­nect at a time when an in­creas­ingly di­vided world seems con­tent to in­ter­act on Face­book, Twit­ter, and In­sta­gram. In­deed, Adler has in the past been vo­cal about her dis­dain for liv­ing out one’s life on­line.

“I’m not that in­ter­ested in my­self,” she says, laugh­ing, “so hav­ing an­other per­son to bounce off of usu­ally leads to a re­ally great spark.”

It should be noted be­ing teamed for Chutz­pah was nei­ther artist’s idea—it was pro­posed by fes­ti­val or­ga­nizer Mary Louise Al­bert, who has long had a knack for match­ing up per­form­ers in her pro­gram­ming. Given their sim­i­lar­i­ties, the two fig­ure it won’t take long to make a valu­able con­nec­tion.

“We were put on the bill to­gether be­cause we’re both po­ets and song­writ­ers and vis­ual artists,” Klar says. “I’ve never met Bar­bara, but we’re go­ing to get to­gether two days be­fore the show and work some­thing out. Col­lab­o­ra­tion has al­ways been im­por­tant to me—it teaches me about the craft that I’m do­ing, but also learn­ing the way that other peo­ple ap­proach things. It’s all about let­ting go of what you might be com­fort­able with.”

Ten Thou­sand Wolves and Jake Klar play the Fox Cabaret next Satur­day (Fe­bru­ary 24) as part of the Chutz­pah Fes­ti­val.

Ex­pect to hear po­etic songs and see some pretty eclec­tic props when Bar­bara Adler (Jorge Posada photo) per­forms in a dou­ble bill with New Eng­land singer Jake Klar (right, Alex Pines photo),

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