MEACHAM, FALL 2009: There were many great writers here at UTC for the biannual Meacham Writers’ Workshop, but there was also something new this time: a songwriting workshop with Red Heart the Ticker, a band from Vermont composed of Tyler Gibbons and Robin MacArthur. We got a chance to interview Ty after the band’s set on Saturday.
SR: How do you write songs?
TY: I’ve always written songs–it’s how I express myself. I feel the most whole when I’m writing a song.
SR: What is touring like?
TY: It’s an amazing way to enter in to a place and have a reason to be there. It makes it easy to meet people–it’s a great excuse to travel. However, it’s very hard to make a living. It’s a privilege to get to see new cities, and if we break even doing it, that’s a start . . .
SR: So I guess you have a day job.
TY: I do carpentry, compose for media and film and also do some boom mic work for documentaries. Robin and I decided together that trying to make a living exclusively with music could be dangerous, both for our relationship and our love of music. We’ve had many friends who tried and their passion was squelched, and they dropped out. We do it when we want, because we love it, and if it works, that’s awesome. It’s not the best business model but it’s how we have been working it so far.
SR: What about publishing your albums?
TY: We’re on a very small label, Auger Down Records, where we paid for our studio time and they helped with the promotion around. This was good for us because we own all our masters, something that you can’t do with the bigger labels. We had management out of New York for a while, but we weren’t easy to work with: they’d come and say, “Do you want to do this ad?” or something, but we kept saying no, and after a while we felt pretty bad about it. It was these people’s job to help us make money, and we kept dodging things. These days, there seems to be very little benefit to being on major labels, at least artistically. There are some good things in being on the indies though–publicity, etc. Both of them, all labels, in fact, want you to tour. That’s their business–they make their money from bands touring around and selling albums. Essentially, the more people that get involved, the less control we have over our record, so it’s often a balancing act.
SR: You guys just had a kid recently, Avah. How has that changed the dynamic?
TY: Well, it’s harder to rehearse! She has this Johnny Jumpup though, and when we play she dances in it, spinning like a ballerina or something, going up and down. We’re touring less though, to spend more time with her, and when we do we often have a friend along to help out during shows. But night after night touring is difficult now–it’s too hard on us and Avah. We’re still finding time to record, and in some ways the energy of Avah transfers to new creativity in our little studio.
SR: Who are you all’s top albums and artists?
ROBIN: Loretta Lynne, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Bonny “Prince” Billy, that kind of thing.
TY: Lyrically, I think Leonard Cohen is one of the best. Most of the rest are pretty similar to Robin, though I also have some jazz influences, like Charles Mingus on the bass.
Interviewed by Case Duckworth
If anyone missed Red Heart the Ticker, check them out at rhtt.net, or listen to their Meacham shows by subscribing to the podcast at meachamwriters.org.