November 8, 2010 / Art
In 1980 the young artist Jeff Koons presented his first major solo exhibition, a window …
Click play on the YouTube video below to watch the music video “Circles” from Tara Ward’s Revelations of a Blue Jacket. Thevideo was created by Chuck Potrykus.
Revelations of a Blue Jacket is a concept album created, directed, and performed by Seattle artist Tara Ward. The album includes contributions from musicians and visual artists who tell the story of Cordelia, a young woman who stumbles upon a blue jacket in a thrift store and, thinking it to contain magical future-telling powers, believes that the jacket reveals to her the man of her destiny. As the album explains:
[Cordelia] begins to question her premonitions and insights. Are they real or imagined? Could the jacket be good or could it be evil? Cordelia grows obsessive about seeking out the Jacket’s premonitions and is eventually led down a path of joy, exhilaration, confusion, and eventually, disappointment. The man that the Jacket moved her to fixate on moves on to settle down with another woman. After a year of clutching so closely to the leadings of her cloth-prophet, she gives it up and destroys it.1
The Other Journal (TOJ): Compared to your past music endeavors, what was it like to have so many people involved in Revelations of a Blue Jacket?2 Had you done anything like this before?
Tara Ward (TW): Well, I cannot say I have ever done anything like this, no. I have definitely put on big events before and organized shows or projects, but nothing on this scale before. I think Urban Hymnal was a step in this direction, but I never had to head any of that up on my own. This was a big deal for me because I had and have done so much collaborating in Late Tuesday and in other endeavors, but this was the first time in many, many years that it was just me—I called all of the shots. It took me organizing from many angles, and if I am organizing things, you know that means I am passionate about it. This one was definitely a labor of love.
TOJ: How long had you been considering putting together this album?
TW: I have had most of these songs in my head for a few years, and the idea for the album has been brewing for that long as well, but I never really had time to do a solo album while I was working with Late Tuesday.
TOJ: A few years? That’s a good amount of time. It seems there could be the potential for a work to deepen and evolve when there is a “sitting” period required. How did the need to internally carry the songs affect you? Did it inspire your other work? Did it make other work more difficult?
TW: At first, having a backlog of songs that you’ve done nothing with can have the effect of—pardon the way I describe this—artistic constipation.
I find that if I have way too many songs that have been finished but not recorded, released, or at least played in some fashion, it can kind of block new material. In this case, the songs were just filed away. After I finally began meeting with Casey for preproduction, I started rearranging my room, painting messages and thoughts on the wall, buying new bedspreads—basically nesting. I created a better space to work on my album, since I did most of my song-work in my room. Once I was in a good space to create, it did inspire other work.
TOJ: What finally gave you the impulse to release this album into the world?
TW: I think that is a mystery to me. There was a time that I was either uninspired or I did not want to revisit the material, though it may have haunted me slightly. Then, somehow, through a couple of living situation changes, I finally settled in somewhere and it was time. I definitely felt a nag or a push to revisit the songs and try to piece them together into a story. I was far enough removed from them and at the same time in a place where I needed to re-friend them.
It is funny that after the band Late Tuesday retired, I was thinking about who I would like to work with on the album, and the first person that came to mind was Casey Foubert who drummed on Late Tuesday’s last album.
Casey suggested we start meeting once a month to work on songs (preproduction) until we were ready to record. We did that for two months, and at the end of the second meeting—after we had gone over all the songs—he said, “OK, I think we are ready.”
I said, “What!”
And he said, “Yeah, we should book studio time and make the album.”
It all and all was a process of about a year from my meeting with Casey for preproduction to the album release. It is funny when I think of it—I really tried hard to convince him we needed to meet one more time, one more month of just taking a half a day to work on the songs.
I think I was just scared to really get this out. It’s been blocking me for quite some time, and sometimes that is a comfortable place to be—blocked.
TOJ: Once you got going, how did you piece together the accompanying parts of the band?
TW: Well, Mark Mohrlang has played with me before, and so has Matt Chism. I was specifically looking for people who were really supportive. I think everyone in the band fits that description, along with being very talented and masters of their trade. Because this was such a vulnerable project and my first solo project in a long time, I needed to have a band of people who were able to jump in and learn the parts on the album, but it was key that they all be people that I felt comfortable with and at ease around—such a great group of people!
TOJ: Were those also factors that went into the other components of the project, such as the visual artists who participated and the space of the release?
TW: Yes, I sought visual artists with whom I had always wanted to collaborate. They were people who I would love to have dinner with to discuss obsession and what happens when you think you know the future—whether or not it’s God speaking to you or, anything, even a jacket.
TOJ: What was it like to invite visual artists to participate in the concept album by releasing them to visually explore Cordelia’s story in their own unique ways?
TW: It was interesting. At first I was nervous to even ask other artists to participate. I knew I did not really have money to pay that many artists, so the project itself had to be very interesting and appealing to them. I decided to host a dinner party and pitch it to them. I was surprised that pretty much everyone I asked was really excited about the dinner party. And then at the dinner, I was surprised how nervous I felt when it came time to pitch the idea of the concept album. As a musician, I know a lot of artists and painters, but I realized that outside of cover art for albums, I rarely got to collaborate with them; but they all got it.
Many of them were concerned about specifics, like what the jacket looked like and how that might create problems if someone else created a different looking one. But I explained that I thought this project could allow that because it’s about hearing voices or thinking that the jacket has power to foretell the future. That alone can create the scenario for many different artistic perspectives.
Letting it go was actually really fun and freeing. At that point I had these songs and wanted to create a broader picture with other story moments and had no clue how to do it. Releasing it to the artists helped. The flip side of the project was that I had to trust people and the process. It was such a learning experience for myself.
TOJ: That sounds almost as vulnerable as recording the songs themselves. What were some of the most helpful things you learned in the process?
TW: It was vulnerable to share the songs with artists earlier than the release, but the process confirmed something I have read and heard from other artists, which is also a concept mentioned a lot in any of The Artist’s Way books: synchronicity. So many things came together when I felt nudged to actually begin it and once I took that big step and committed to doing the album. Even though I was scared at different points—afraid I could not afford to finish recording, afraid to move forward with the big art collaboration/release—things came through at the right time when I decided to trust and move forward. I realized that the worst thing that could happen if it didn’t work out was that I would just have a normal release, and those are still fun.
TOJ: What made you decide to do a concept album rather than just another solo album?
TW: As I was fleshing the songs out, I wanted to create a story around them as well. I had been really into the idea of concept albums, and I know that I am a really creative person, but that can be very difficult when you don’t have direction. So the idea of a concept album really attracts me as far as writing and creating. Aimee Mann did one a few years back called The Forgotten Arm. My friend John Van Deusen had done a few with his band, and I also bought The Point by Harry Nillson, a totally awesome movie that was a concept album.
Plus, the album includes a lot of songs about disappointment, about love, jealousy, and obsession. Those things inserted randomly on an album can get kind of redundant and trite, I think. I really wanted each song to have a purpose. It was also my way of narrowing down what songs to put on the album.
TOJ: Where did the idea of the jacket come from—the magic blue jacket, to be precise?
TW: The jacket was actually a real thing. It was a weird day—I went into this store and felt like I had to buy this blue jacket and that it was significant somehow.
It was during a time in my life that I was always looking for signs from God, seeing messages in everything. I so strongly felt like I needed to buy the jacket and that it was meant to be. Serendipitous. So I bought it, hoping I would find out the significance—trusting I would—but I never did. You may say that I made it significant now by creating a concept album around it.
In a vague sort of way, the album concept and songs symbolize that time in my life where I was hyper-looking for signs and signals. I’m not saying that it’s bad to look or listen to God speaking, I just now believe that there is a fine line—sometimes our own desires get in the way and cloud things. It is tempting to want the power to know for certain what will happen, but most of life is learning to live the questions, right? And not being certain of the right answers.
TOJ: Rilke seems to think so! It is interesting, Tara, that that sentiment actually echoes how you’ve described your approach to completing the album—living the questions, that is.
TW: Absolutely. I was thinking the same thing. Making the album was very much a listening process, but most of the time I had no clue what was going to come of it. I had no clue what people were going to paint or how the release would end up. I just kept moving forward as things came. It was a great learning experience for me.
TOJ: So do you still have that special jacket?
TW: No. While I was preparing to record my album, I worked very hard to surround myself with things that would inspire. I found one picture of the jacket, and I think I donated it to Good Will so maybe some other Cordelia has found it. Now I have a green jacket but no plans to record revelations of a green jacket, thank you very much.
TOJ: [Laughs.] Do you have hopes for those listening?
TW: I hope they love it. I guess at the heart of things, this is what I hope for the album in particular. When I was pitching this to the artists, I kind of pictured Cordelia as an indie rock kind of Amélie from Seattle. French even worked its way onto the album. This may sound dumb, but it was all a movie in my head, a movie with a sound track. So I guess I hoped that people would be endeared toward the character, even though in the end she did not get the guy, right?
My hope with the concept album was that people would actually use their imaginations to step one step further into the music, into that world. I’m not sure if that is a realistic hope, but it is a hope I have. It helped me endear myself to the project. Like I said, I have been amazed at how many people have already said that the story reminds them of something they went through at some time, and that is always touching.
TOJ: Yes, profound even. As the songwriter, you’ve offered particular, yet universal, moments of “I’ve been there. I know this.”
TW: It’s humbling, and it actually means a lot to me, because all of the songs I chose for the album seem very emotional in their own way, and therefore vulnerable. Sometimes I get embarrassed about them, honestly, because they are really things I have felt at different times.
TOJ: And then you share it with the world.
TW: Yeah. That can be embarrassing. However, people that hear the album and were at the release seemed to resonate with the character.
TOJ: Well, I would dare to say that we all relate to love seemingly near and love lost. We all have infinite stories from the ways relationships have shaped us. In many ways, you take us back to adolescence—that significant time of life where our emotions around relationships go completely haywire, that time we ever strive to run away from as adults, and yet return to instantly when love is in the mix.
TW: I definitely see that. With “More Than Mere Jealousy” and “Lullaby,” for example—few things make one feel more adolescent than pure jealousy. We like to try and control those things as adults. Then there is “Hail to Her” and “Sabotage,” which have the same kind of twist—we appear all right, but maybe we’re dying inside.
TOJ: Tara, thanks so much for your time, labor, and vulnerability in creating and releasing Revelations of a Blue Jacket; and thank you for your time and honesty in talking about it! One final question: is there anything that you would have done differently in the making of the album—say, for next time?
TW: What might I have done differently? I am a perfectionist. I have always wanted to really take my time and do things right. The problem with that is that often with the amount of time I think I need, things would never get done. However, I would have liked to have a few more things in line before the release, mostly for promotional sake. But I was very happy with the art show/album release outcome.
I learned so much. I am not sure I would have done much differently, except for stress out a bit less.
1. Adapted with permission from the Revelations of a Blue Jacket website: www.revelationsofabluejacket.com. Album cover designed by Sea Benjamin.
2. Revelations of a Blue Jacket included the art of Nathania Tenwolde, Jen Grabarczyk, Chuck Potrykus, Matthew Whitney, Shannon Roche, Dana Ollestead, Victoria Brown, Annie Gibbons, Sallie Keena, Jocetyn Meyer, S. Benjamin, Jess Flegel, and Brett Porter.
Jen Grabarczyk-Turner is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in Corpus Christi, Texas. She holds an MFA in studio art from Claremont Graduate University and an MA in theology and culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. She is currently transitioning away from her position as art editor for The Other Journal to return to her work in the studio.
Tara Ward is the cofounder and music director of the Opiate Mass.