Jennifer Baron, backing vocalist, for The Garment District is October’s featured face on HughShows Live at Eide’s flier. Baron plays the electric piano, synthesizer, organ, melodica, guitar and percussion. If you have been putting off checking out this great event, time is running out. There are only three shows left and this is quite the line-up. Sleep Expiriments take the Eide’s free stage at 1, followed by Casino Bulldogs at 2, The garment District at 3 and André Costello & The Cool Minors at 4. Get to know the featured face, Jennifer Baron, below with our exclusive interview, and check out her great work with NEXTpittsburgh.
Photo 1 and 2 taken by John Colombo
Photo 3 taken by Beth Evans
Photo 4 and 5 from Warhol Museum Silver Studio Session
Sound Scene Express: What’s the name of your band? What’s the origin of that name?
Jennifer Baron: The Garment District. I came up with the name to reflect my love for vintage textiles and fashion, sewing and crafting, as well as my deep respect for the women—countless anonymous laborers—who toiled in dangerous conditions in specific parts of cities around the world (and still do). I am a crafter, so the name also reflects my other artistic outlets. I am drawn to the way certain words sound and look, both when spoken/heard and when written as typeface. For me, The Garment District implies a sense of making, creative labor, production and innovation—as well as a distinct sense of place—that I hope is reflected in my music, songwriting and videos. I like the idea of taking an overarching concept or signifier of a place/space/event that has certain connotations, and that involved an unfathomable amount of human labor and energy on a mass commercial scale, and co-opting it for a project that is very homespun, tactile and visceral, especially given that I have released music on hand-designed cassette and vinyl. On a more literal level, when I lived in NYC, I was obsessed with shopping for vintage trimmings on lower Canal Street, in Chinatown and in Brooklyn warehouses.
SSE: Please list the name and respective instrument of each band
JB: For my recorded material, The Garment District is me—with some contributions from family and friends, including my cousin Lucy Blehar on lead vocals. When performing live, The Garment District takes on various configurations. I have a core group of musicians who perform with me, something of a band of musical merry pranksters. At HughShows Live, the group will feature: my husband Greg Langel on synth and sampler; Dan Koshute (Dazzletine) on guitar; Ashlee Green (Butterbirds) on lead vocals and percussion; Corry Drake (Delicious Pastries) on bass; and Shivika Asthana (Papas Fritas) on drums and backing vocals.
SSE: What are your day jobs if any?
JB: I work for NEXTpittsburgh and SLB Radio Productions, and am also co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade.
SSE: What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your
JB: The genre I will leave up to the ears & minds of gentle listeners. I have always thought of this question more in terms of inspiration. The ocean, nature, art, film, travel, design, architecture, books, dreams, memories. I guess if you were to answer that question by walking through my house, pursuing my music collection, snooping around my walls and shelves, you would say music, design, film and art from the 1960s and 1970s, in particular. My husband has an astounding vinyl collection which has merged with mine, and we share a ton of musical interests. When I write and record music, I don’t concretely or consciously think about influences. I focus on listening to what is in my head and interpreting and giving it form via sound. My hope is that it takes on a new life that is out of my control cerebrally. Films (I am pretty addicted to watching documentaries)—as much as music—favorites such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Swimmer, Bunny Lake Is Missing, The Wicker Man, Grey Gardens, Seconds, obscure horror films—and experimental cinema of the 1960s-1970s—can sometimes trigger something that inspires me. I think more in terms of inspiration as an energy force, rather than a literal influence. Things seep into your subconscious and may end up making their way into your music in submerged ways. I am inspired by a massive range of music—including 1950s-1970s psychedelia, folk, pop, garage, freakbeat; 1950s—1970s rock steady, ska and dub; early electronic; free jazz; library music; 1980s hip hop; 1970s-1980s pop and new wave from Scotland, New Zealand and Australia; and film soundtracks and TV and cartoon theme shows. In any given week, I could be listening to: Kaleidoscope (UK), Lee Hazlewood, The Golden Dawn, Jackie Mittoo, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Syd Barrett, Soft Machine, Love, The Human Expression, Weather Report, Bobby Beausoleil, Suicide, Mayo Thompson, etc.—this list has no end! At home, we finally switched to Roku for streaming which has ramped up our obsession with finding obscure ‘60s and ‘70s films and TV shows. I love to discover soundtracks from then that are not well documented. One current obsession is Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, the 1970s color TV show he hosted and contributed scripts to. I am currently reading a fantastic book, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, by Rob Young, which delves into so much of the music, culture, landscape, history and politics that inspires and fascinates me from the late 1960s.
SSE: How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
JB: I have known each member of the band for a different amount of time. Some I have known for more than 10 years, and others I met during the past few years or fairly recently. Some I met while I lived in New York City, and most of them I met here in Pittsburgh through mutual musician friends and shared interests.
SSE: Who writes your song lyrics? What is your inspiration?
JB: I write all of The Garment District’s music and lyrics (for my songs that have vocals)—much of my music is instrumental. When I write music, I don’t concretely or consciously think about influences. I try to focus on listening carefully to what is in my head and interpreting and giving that form via my collection of analog instruments, a sense of melody, possibly lyrics, and allowing what I am playing to have room to evolve. I am interested in using different analog instruments and how they can work together to communicate a song or piece of music that is inside one’s head. Allowing the instruments, melodies and counter-melodies, patterns, and textures to create a sonic universe that transcends the limitations or pre-conceived notions of language. Almost like a pre-verbal phase, or a dream state. Lifting the limitations imposed by narrative or words, and allowing the music to become almost spatial. Sometimes writing and recording music is highly personal and private, almost a process akin to alchemy. You can’t always translate that to language, and it reveals itself over time. My way of writing is naturally melody-based, and the process is personal and intuitive. I think carefully about each note, melody, pattern, instrument, lyric, layer, etc. A lot of thought and care goes into my process, even if the end result is more freeform or experimental. I am very interested in an intersection of orchestrated pristine pop music and the vibe and feel of more ambient experimental sounds. I love that music exists in a particular point in time, with a beginning and an end, it’s temporal and also temporary, and can take you to another place or time, or to your own past, or memory of the past, or be wrapped up in projections of the self, and can be a form of escapism. I love ambient sounds, and often take an inventory of sounds around me, making field recordings in my yard and around Pittsburgh, and on trips, for possible use in future music.
The writing process fluctuates from song to song. Different methods are used—filling notebooks with ideas, collecting field recordings, making demos with a digital 8-track, or song sketches with my iPhone, or recording an entire new song in one sitting. Our house has instruments in different rooms to facilitate a freeform process. Our Hammond M3 organ in the living room, lots of our records and stereo equipment for all manner of musical formats, LPs, cassettes, CDs; and a rehearsal space in our basement. I like to have instruments around the house, so that my writing and demo process can sometimes be inspired by surroundings, such as the dramatic views from our top floor.
Some of my earliest musical inspirations go back to the preverbal stage, listening to my parents’ albums and having my mom sing songs to us like Free To Be … You and Me and “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” enjoying the music in Schoolhouse Rock and Saturday cartoons. At the time, all of that music was imaginative, visceral and pulled me into new worlds, and today, I continue to be in awe of its complexity, texture, sense of melody and lush arrangements. Growing up, vinyl records were literally some of our first toys. Some of my first memories are of staring at visually rich album covers, such as The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, all Beatles records, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold As Love, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Jefferson Airline’s Surrealistic Pillow, Donovan’s A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, and others. As a family, we have attended many concerts together—Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bert Jansch—it’s a special kind of bond to share with your parents. My step-dad even snuck me into a 21+ club when I was in high school to see The Replacements. Music is also in our family’s heritage: my grandfather and his siblings played in a Croatian Tamburitza band led by my great-grandfather John Baron, who brought the family to Braddock from Zagreb (http://www.nowseethis.org/peopleshistory/posts/21).
SSE: When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music
JB: After I moved back to Pittsburgh, I played organ for a while in The New Alcindors, an instrumental combo inspired by 1960s soul and garage music. During the mid-2000s, I became very involved with running Handmade Arcade, Pittsburgh’s first and largest independent craft fair, and also operating my own craft lines The Polka-Dot Life and Fresh Popcorn Productions. I was also doing a lot of photography and was able to channel my love of vintage signs and roadside culture into a book, as co-editor of, and a contributor to Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010), a grant-funded project I worked on with three Pittsburgh artists, including my husband, Greg.
This was a period when things were germinating for me music-wise; I started writing a lot of new music that led to Melody Elder, my first Garment District release, which came out on cassette on Night-People Records in 2011. It was a natural extension for me to go from the indie music scene to the indie craft scene and vice versa. In my old band, The Ladybug Transistor, we were always designing and making our own t-shirts, buttons and some stage paintings and of course peddling all of this while on tour. In 2012, the French label La Station Radar released my 3-sing 7” (which features a remix by Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum); and in July 2014, Night-People released my debut full-length album, If You Take Your Magic Slow.
SSE: Where have you performed? What are your favorite venues?
JB: Thus far, The Garment District has performed at the VIA Music & New Media Festival; The Andy Warhol Museum; Brillobox; The New Bohemian; and 6119 Penn—and I love them all. With my old band, The Ladybug Transistor, I toured extensively in the US, Canada, Scandinavia and Europe. One of my favorites was performing at The Bowlie Weekender–the first All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival—in Camber Sands, England, which was curated by Belle & Sebastian.
SSE: What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each
week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
JB: While The Garment District does not take the form of a conventional band, we do get together on a semi-regular basis to rehearse in the practice space located in my house. In The Garment District, I write and arrange the music and lyrics, so the creation process has been me up to this point, with contributions that emerge in an organic way while I work with other people. I work in a variety of different ways with different band members and guest musicians for live shows and on my recordings, and I do a great deal of planning in terms of arrangements, instrumentation and structure before rehearsing for a live show or a recording session. That said, I try to remain open to new, unexpected and improvisational or spontaneous contributions that may emerge during recording sessions, rehearsals or live performances. Some of my material is just me playing all of the instruments and some songs feature a full-band lineup that includes others—just as some songs are intricately orchestrated and meticulously mapped out, while others are more experimental, spontaneous and ambient in nature.
SSE: What’s your ultimate direction for your band? Are you seeking fame
JB: To always get at the core of and express my own voice as a maker of music and sound in authentic ways, and to listen to, further develop and share that result with others. Continue to record and release music as The Garment District, perform live our tour occasionally, and collaborate with others such as video artists and designers. Travel.
SSE: What do you think of the Pittsburgh Music Scene?
JB: Questions like this are great to discuss over drinks. I do not know if I tend to think about things in terms of a scene too much anymore. I go to a fair amount of shows, perhaps now not at many as I wish I had the time and energy to attend. I am someone who does feel the need to feed off of the energy and chemistry of a live show from time to time.
It has been great to connect and collaborate with other Pittsburgh musicians, such as Buscrates 16-Bit Ensemble, who did a remix of my song, “Bird Or Bat,” and who is a member of East Liberty Quarters, and has performed with me live. I am also so excited to have two gifted Pittsburgh musicians—bassist Matt Booth and drummer Chris Parker—play on my new album. They are both very organic players, and it was a joy to record with them, almost like having my own personal Wrecking Crew!
Being invited to perform at the 2012 VIA Music & New Media Festival, opening up for Julia Holter, was a huge honor that came at a pivotal time for me when starting The Garment District. It has also been a wonderful experience and opportunity to perform several times at The Andy Warhol Museum for their Sound Series, and participate in 2013 in their new Silver Studio Sessions (http://www.warhol.org/connect/silverstudiosessions/The-Garment-District/#.VC23Jufc3Dk), and I am happy to see them supporting more local bands.
I absolutely loved being a part of the 2014 SYNC’d Film & Music event. I was invited to compose soundtracks for five film shorts made by Pittsburgh artists, and then perform them live, along with the films, at The New Bohemian, located in a magnificent 1900s-era former Czech church on the Allegheny River. We performed as a three-piece, and it was one of my favorite live musical experiences yet. I love working with video and film artists.
Pittsburgh-based filmmakers Keith Tassick (https://vimeo.com/keithtassick) created a collaborative video for my song “Nature-Nurture” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2cpB49wSL8) that was a 2012 Design, Art and Technology Awards Finalist selected by the Pittsburgh Technology Council. The video features 700-plus still photographs that I took of Western Pennsylvania television news over the course of one year, which I have been collecting online (http://photosoftv.tumblr.com/).
It is impossible for humans to not be impacted by their surroundings, and we are social creature by nature, but in my heart I feel that the music I make has to come from within, and that I would be making it regardless of where I am living or any kind of scene. That said, I do believe that aspects of The Garment District are able to percolate and evolve because of my immediate surroundings in Pittsburgh and the mental and creative space provided by having a home to settle into—something I might not able to achieve in a more confined, frantic and expensive city. Sometimes to complete an intense creative project like making an album I have retreat into something like a personal cocoon or vacuum of my mind, blocking out the many distractions. At times I feel that Pittsburgh is more transient, fragmented and insular of a city than I personally would like, but that fluctuates. I tend to look at a place as a whole, and not just in terms of a music scene. A sense of place—and a relationship to surroundings—weighs heavily on my mind no matter I live. I am very inspired by Pittsburgh’s topography, art scene, architecture, authentic neighborhoods, thrift shops, and record stores. There is a spirit that you can truly start or try something here and have a hand in its creative evolution. The mix of grittiness and green here fuels my own creativity.
One of my favorite Pittsburgh topics is its remarkable role in America’s music history, in terms of jazz, soul and funk (Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Beaver Harris, Dodo Marmarosa, Billy Strayhorn, Gene Ludwig, Betty Davis, Henry Mancini); rock and roll (Fantastic Dee-Jays, Swamp Rats, The Duchess, Todd Tamanend Clark, The Cynics) and 1950s/1960s pioneering DJs, teen dance clubs and pop hits, such as the late great tastemaking DJs such as Terry Lee, Mad Mike and Porky Chedwick (RIP all 3 of them!). So music is in our roots and DNA here which is awesome to think about.
I am glad to see a diversity of types of music makers, music-related events and opportunities for locally based musicians, but I think this could be deepened and improved upon. Pittsburgh has long needed a venue with a capacity in the area of 350. As a city we need to always have a progressive space for the future of music in Pittsburgh, to support underground and experimental music scenes, and not just certain genres. It’s important to have in the mix independent tape/vinyl labels based here, house shows, recording studios, art galleries, industrial spaces. For a medium sized city, we do have a staggering amount of arts organizations and incredible museums. What Hugh and many others are doing to promote shows is inspiring and impactful.
SSE: How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website
with sample songs or a demo CD?
My debut full-length album, If You Take Your Magic Slow, is available locally at Mind Cure, Sound Cat, The Attic and Desolation Row.
SSE: How do you feel about being featured on HughShows Live @ Eide’s
JB: It is a hug(h)e honor and I am incredibly touched and grateful to be invited to be a part of this sweet local live music series! Hugh is a one-of-a-kind being, and his passion for local music is energizing and endearing. I also admire his attention to detail with creating the concept and the visuals for the series. The space he has created on the 3rd floor of Eide’s is a cozy nook for bands to perform in, along with a display of his flyers and band lyrics that he has collected over the years from his blog interviews, and I appreciate this kind of DIY dedication. He had an idea and he made it happen. I keep telling him Hugh that he should create a book based on his First/Last interviews, photos, fliers, sketches! It could be like a time capsule of Pittsburgh music.
SSE: When is your next show?
SSE: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JB: My debut full-length album, If You Take Your Magic Slow, was just released on Night-People Records, both on vinyl and digitally. The vinyl is available locally at Mind Cure, Sound Cat, The Attic and Desolation Row. It is also available from Night-People: http://raccoo-oo-oon.org/np/ and Midheaven Mailorder. If your readers are lacking a turntable, they can find it via major digital retailers, with my personal favorite being Boomkat (also available via iTunes, eMusic and Amazon):
Multimedia artist Thad Kellstadt (he used to live in Pittsburgh and is now in Iowa City) created videos for two songs on my new album. We plan to collaborate more in the future on both music and videos.
Secondhand Sunburn video:
Cavendish On Whist video:
In the Spring of 2015, I will have a limited-edition CD release on Kendra Steiner Editions, an independent label and press dedicated to experimental music and contemporary poetry based in San Antonio, TX. I will also have a new song included on a forthcoming vinyl compilation and mix series released by the French label, La Station Radar.
Read about The Garment District on Hugh’s blog:
First/Last-The Garment District (Jennifer Baron) http://hughshowsredux.blogspot.com/2013/02/firstlast-garment-district.htm
First/Last-The Garment District (Greg Langel) http://hughshowsredux.blogspot.com/2014/08/firstlast-garment-district-greg-langel.html
I was recently invited to contribute a new track to ESOPUS Magazine’s 10th anniversary issue, called Special Collections, a book and CD project based out of Brooklyn:
I also have songs on compilations on Crash Symbols (Return to Dope Mountain) & Moon Glyph (Various Artists: OPAL I & II):
HughShows is free monthly family-friendly Pittsburgh concert series featuring:
Sleep Experiments (Ambient Dream-Pop) 1pm
Casino Bulldogs (Alt-Rock) 2pm
The Garment District (Lush Psych-Pop) 3pm
Andre Costello & The Cool Minors (Folk-Rock) 4pm
presented by The Wilderness Recording Studio
If you are attending, please consider bringing a new school supply item (listed below) for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund’s GEAR FOR GRADES BACKPACK DRIVE.
-Small Boxes Crayons
-Small Tissue Packs