Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Artist Interview: Abel Mouton on Singing, Shows & Liberation

I first befriended San Francisco musician Abel Mouton some years ago at a Hotel Utah open mic when I was just starting to perform. Abel, an exactingly intelligent songwriter and person, reminded me equally of Elvis Costello and Steve Earle and would go on to teach me a lot about music, performing and life in general. Now fronting the rock band The Seedy Naturalists, he gave me an update on the band, his next show at Cafe duNord and his work with The Liberation Institute.
Q: You have a show coming up with The Seedy Naturalists at Cafe Du Nord. What can audiences expect?
AM: Yes! The Seedy Naturalists are playing at Cafe DuNord on Sunday, August 15 with FpodBpod and Glenn Labs! We open the show at 9PM!
People who haven't seen us can expect tightly constructed original pop songs delivered by a group of musicians who are proficient in several genres, playing exactly what they want to play. People who have seen us should know that we have spent a great deal of effort elaborating our arrangements—especially vocal arrangements—so even the more familiar material has new details that hopefully will allow audiences to more readily connect with the songs.
Also, some really good friends of ours will be contributing vocals and guitar. Annie Bacon, of Annie Bacon and her O-SHEN will sing a duet with me, and Matt Sieling from Brookhaven will play guitar and sing on three songs. Should be good!

Q: Do you write as a band or do you each bring material to the project? Will you (or have you) been working on any band recordings or do you have plans to do so?
Most of the writing—as in determining the melodies, chords, and lyrics of our material—is done individually. About 60-70% of our set originated in my bedroom with me, and the rest was authored by Michael Mullen, the keyboardist in the group. However, preparing the songs for performance is an elaborate collaborative effort in which every instrumentalist pretty much has the final say over their own parts. It takes months, and never really ends.
However, on a couple of recent occasions, Michael has been inspired to write passages for songs that I initiated that brought additional dimensions of texture and meaning to the material— making them true co-writes in every sense. We have a few vague ideas for how to continue in this direction, but it takes time and has to happen naturally.
As for recording, we are currently working on our first full length record with Tim Mooney producing! It has to fit in with everyone's busy schedule, so it will probably take until the winter to finish, but I'm really proud of the material and everyone is getting along great so far.

Q: Would you say your sound has changed in the past couple of years? If so how?
Well, we are now on our third bass player and our second drummer, which affects the overall sound quite a bit. Our current drummer, Phil Crumar, is adept with funk, reggae, and fusion, and that has made our material a lot faster and groovier. He is also really good at feeding rhythmic ideas to the whole band, especially Michael, and their interplay in particular has set the band's ensemble playing on a higher level.
This has also inspired a lot more detail and concision in our writing; we can now say in three minutes what used to take five, which is very exciting!
Also, we are taking the singing a lot more seriously than we used to. I have gone back for additional vocal training, as well as participated in a mystical singing ritual to remove physical and emotional blocks to getting the music across that. Skeptical as I was going into it [it has] actually has made a difference! The singing does sound better!

Q: What are you listening to of late? Any other musicians or artists or events inspiring you in particular?
AM: For the last five years or so I've been obsessed with Brazilian pop; especially Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Caetano really inspired me to be more studious and adventurous about singing; and Gil is incredibly joyful and freaky in all of his musical endeavors, allowing him to get really strange music across to a huge audience.
And I still listen to The Band every day....

Q: You mentioned some benefits with the Liberation Institute? What is the Liberation Institute? Have you been working with them for a while?

I've been a community activist for most of my life, and have put a lot of thought and energy into damaging or destroying existing power structures over the years. About six years ago, all of that negativity really started to get to me. Plus, it occurred to me that no revolution could be progressive unless we create an alternative system alongside the existing dysfunctional one to provide for people. The Liberation Institute has provided me with an opportunity do something constructive along those lines.
The Liberation Institute is a non-profit mental health clinic that my good friend Stever Dallmann started about two years ago. The idea was to provide mental health services to people who ordinarily wouldn't be able to get them due to cost or bureaucracy. Since he started it, it has grown to include six or seven therapists serving between fifty and a hundred clients on a true sliding scale (therapy sessions range from $1-40), and Libi plans to open a drop-in center by the end of the year. The clientele mostly includes low income people, especially artists and musicians, working on issues ranging from substance abuse recovery to the overcoming of creative blocks, but also includes people transitioning from jails and rehabilitation centers as well as developmentally disabled adults. And this is all on a tiny budget with support coming directly from the community!
I have been on Libi's Board of Directors since it was founded, and now serve as vice-president. In preparation for opening the drop-in center, I am helping Stever organize a couple of benefits, including a Rock Show at El Rio scheduled for October 28, and the second annual Beggar's Banquet, which will include dinner, live music, and an art auction at the Swedish American Hall in early December. It's an extremely worthy cause, especially since government cuts are making it harder and harder for low-income people to receive these kinds of services. Check it out a www.liberationinstitute.org!

You can get advance tickets to The Seedy Naturalists, Sunday, August 15 at Cafe Du Nord online


Anonymous said...

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Mouton-ite said...
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