Concert Heartstrings Interview Review

Art Can Also Be Free: A Night with Tim Stickrod & Kevin Schlereth

By Arran Fagan (KDUP/University of Portland)

While Tim Stickrod and Evan Kunz (members of Oregon-based duo — Foxhollow) are known for their acoustic post-hardcore, as well as electric sets, the pair’s impressive variety is ever-expanding. Tim wanders from his Foxhollow post and has officially released his new solo concept record, Will I Ever Understand?, with his Foxhollow brother, Evan, as his producer. Tim’s album title presents doubt but, as the saying goes, not all who wander are lost, and you can rest assured he delivers with conviction.

I had the pleasure of getting to know both Tim and fellow musician, Kevin Schlereth, who doubles as Tim’s dear friend and touring partner. On a stormy Sunday night I trudge through the onslaught of rain to meet Tim and Kevin, parked on the side of the street in a silver Toyota Camry. We haul four boxes of merchandise, one poster box, two guitars, and ourselves through the pouring rain across campus and up the steps to KDUP. Tim and Kevin don’t miss a beat, checking their merch and setting up on the hope that a few souls will come hear them play their hearts out. Tim is twenty-three years old but already more accomplished than many men his age, he is married to a wonderful woman “Petra” and in the last year has embarked multiple times across this vast country on tour after tour, being away for weeks and months at a time. One tour this year lasted three months and the route outlined the United States. Kevin, who I believe is in his thirties, is a relentless musician, a musical nomad, he tours full-time with his wife and young children. Originally hailing from the great state of Missouri, Kevin has toured the United States many times, playing as a veteran of house shows. Tonight Tim and Kevin will play in Portland, one of the last shows for a two-week stint of shows in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Although I am relatively close in age to Tim and Kevin, they have a sense of wisdom about them, making me ponder moments and grow in every interaction I have with them. Attendance for the night included four people. At first, I’m disappointed, mostly due to the amount of friends I invited. It was a Sunday night, but nevertheless disappointed. “Shows with good people are what matters, it doesn’t matter how many, you don’t want a bunch of lame people in the room,” says Tim. My realization of what he means comes to light when Kevin starts to play. His formidable guitar skills and poetic word play are enhanced by the emotion he plays with; a feeling of honesty exudes from the room. I realize that he doesn’t care how many people are in the room, he just wants to play, and plays his best whether there were as many as forty or as little as four people in the room. He sings a song about QVC, the home shopping network, speaking to how unlike his friends while growing up he didn’t have cable television which made him believe he was poor, he watched QVC in an attempt to feel like the world was at his fingertips, intertwining the American culture, religion, and his own insecurities.

Tim played songs laced with melancholy and metaphors; his new album Will I Ever Understand? Is a concept record about how religion can sometimes reflect society instead of reflecting God. Tim only paused three times the entire set, seamlessly intertwining almost every song on his new record, one after another, like a story unfolding before our very eyes, and ears.

At the end of the show, Tim and Kevin showed their merch to everyone. Tim had knitted beanies, and printed his own albums, as well as screen printed T-shirts for Kevin. Kevin had albums with beautiful works of folk art covering them; at a second glance you realize the album is cleverly made of a paper bag. All of these items were made to make money, to help support Time and Kevin on tour, but the catch was that it was all free. Nothing cost a dime to the consumer. Unbelievable at first, until when you realize what exactly is that these two guys are doing — making art.

One night after a Typhoon concert I was standing in Ari Morris (General Manager of KDUP) living room and he and Emily, his girlfriend hit the nail on the head when speaking about art — “The moment that something is made free and given away, it instantly becomes art, because it is a true form of giving yourself.” Those words stuck with me and have been continually reinforced in the past year. All four people, including myself, bought merch because of the care that put into each piece, as well as the influence that Tim ad Kevin’s playing had on us, rather than out of obligation.

We live in a time when it is almost impossible to make a living as a musician. People are frantically selling their souls to record labels (if there are even any record labels with money left), or writing for the audience, compromising themselves at the cost of art and their own self worth. In contrast, the idea of giving away free hand made, one-of-kind merchandise that has been meticulously designed, made, and sold is absolutely beautiful. Folk art is an attempt to show the art of the society, how people are feeling in the time we are in, their interests, their losses, their essence, and why not show themselves through music merchandise.

Tim and Kevin both write music for themselves, it is something they need to do to survive and feel fulfilled. Talking to Tim at a show he played at University of Portland a few months back with his other band Foxhollow, he told me that he wasn’t doing any of this for money. He didn’t want to make more than he needed to tour, just enough to make CD’s, fill the car with gas, and support his wife and himself. This isn’t a new mantra for Tim, as I think back to my first Foxhollow concert about three years ago. Tim handed me a CD and a sticker and said “Here, it’s free, all I ask is that if you enjoy it, you share it,” and share it I have. That first Foxhollow album has bounced around to at least twenty people.

We are in a new generation of DIY musicians, who, in my belief, have every chance at making it. Tim and Kevin are like small business owners, they screen print their own merchandise, let friends help make their art, make products that are appealing to a consumer, and surround themselves by good, caring people. Independent musicians are artists, they live and breath as true individuals, instead of compromising themselves, they enhance their own well being by staying determined, humble, and hardworking. Some are able to share and give away what means so dear to them for free, not because they know it will gain hype, but because they believe in their words, and hoping someone else may too. Singer-songwriter Jeffery Martin stated in an email to me once, “If you’re making music to try and improve your sense of self-worth, you’re gonna fall hard. Make music for the same reasons that anyone pursues truth. And if people dig it, cool. If not, no worries.” Kevin and Tim are each pursuing a truth of their own, and making art along the way.

If you would like to Support Tim and Kevin please check out their Bandcamp sites and attend one of their shows:

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