A CZK INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA MITCHELL
Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do for MWM.
My name is Rebecca Mitchell. I’m the studio manager here at Machines With Magnets. We’re primarily a recording studio so I handle, kind of everything that’s not engineering… on that end. All the coordinating with bands, sort of discerning what their projects are going to be like and what their projects need, dealing with rates, invoicing, whoever’s paying for them and stuff like that. We also have this fabulous venue. And when I started here, the venue was sort of an afterthought… there hadn’t been anyone here in the past that was just dedicated to booking shows and having more of sort of a public aspect to the space. So, I took quite a bit of that on. So I’m booking the shows now and coordinating the art gallery to a certain extent and whatever other fun things come up here.
What brought you to MWM?
Yes, it’s a miracle. I feel really lucky to be here. I’ve always been a musician and have always been doing music pretty seriously. So I initially got hooked up with the space years ago when they were actually in the building they had previous to this in East Providence. And that was the first proper Machines With Magnets studio. It was just a rented space that they got in 2000. And my old band Made in Mexico recorded with them. So that’s how I met Keith and Seth. Keith is the founder and Seth has been the house engineer for years and years. And I recorded with them and it was just so awesome. And, uhh… Just incredibly professional, but unpretentious and comfortable and fun and they are just wizards and have incredible ideas and a really fabulous aesthetic musically. Then we stayed in touch… I continued to do music and record with them after they moved into this space with that same band and with some other projects as well.
In the meantime, professionally I had been doing a little bit of grant writing here and there and ultimately worked with AS220 for a year doing some communications and part of the venue coordination with them as well. And that job had a fairly public voice since I was doing a lot of their newsletters, yeah… it was pretty vocal. And as my year there was sort of wrapping up they asked me to come on here and they decided to bring someone in – basically for the first time – that was an outsider from the space, not one of the founders or LLC members, but to bring someone else in to deal with the management and sort of big picture stuff because they were growing beyond the point where the engineer and founder could properly deal with all of the administrative stuff. Lauren Holt, who is one of the founders, had been handling that previously, but she ultimately got a job at The Ad Council and moved back to NYC so… they made it a proper position and invited me in and it has been a dream the whole time.
What kind of music do you play?
I like to have really varied projects. I grew up doing classical stuff and coral stuff and was in a pretty serious Victorian children’s choir when I was young, my parents were musicians. And started when I was in high school singing in a band and learned how to play guitar. Sort of… add rhythm to to that situation also. And that was in the mid west in 90′s so it was like very Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, indie experimental stuff I guess.
I came here in 2001, to go to school for voice in Rhode Island College, and I ultimately changed majors, but that’s why I came here. And started playing at the same time much more aggressive music and kind of getting into No Wave, Lydia Lunch and Teenage Jesus and that sort of stuff. So I think that was a pretty significant turn for me. And I think over the last decade or so I’ve gotten more into definitely more experimental vocal styles. And nontraditional voice use. I love Diamanda Galas and all that stuff. She’s so great. And I would not assert that I you know… sing anywhere near like that, but I like it and I’m interested in it. And I teach with Girl’s Rock Rhode Island.
MWM API Mixer
Explain the name, MWM.
It refers to analog recording in terms of what tape machines actually are. It’s a machine with magnets. When Keith started everything was analog then, and the first studio in East Providence was general all on tape also. That was just before everything went to digital. I don’t know, I think it was then just more standard. It sounds good, an illusion to the tape…
Please provide an overview of MWM’s history.
Well the quick backstory is that Keith, who founded the studio, started recording just in a basement studio he made in the 90′s until about 2000. And he outgrew that, but got to work with a lot of wonderful bands – many from Boston, but also from Rhode Island. I think in sort of the experimental and hardcore scene at that time – it was really big. And in 2000, moved into the rented space in East Providence and built the studio there. That was beautiful and that I experienced as a musician. Which was a really fabulous combination of being very professional, but also a little bit dank. It was a little bit of a cave. Which felt good, it was un-intimidating because of that I think. And the same thing happened I think, that he started to outgrow that space as well. And the studio was gaining a lot of momentum and they decided to expand and to find something more sort of long-term also so they bought this building.
Keith and Lauren and two other LLC members bought this building and built everything out themselves. To sort of create the dream situation where the studio was there, but also had enough space to really have some variety, for both Keith and Seth for have apartments here – which of course is a dream – and to have these performance spaces. Umm… because it feels a little lonely I think and a little counter intuitive to have a music space that also becomes kind of a fortress of solitude. You know, if there wasn’t any other way that people could come in and experience it or any other way that we could sort of share what we’re doing it just loses something.
So, starting in 2005 I guess this building was purchased and maybe opened publicly in 2006. From that point on, they were able to start having art shows and music shows that really just makes the space feel better I think, for us. And also, I don’t know, it’s nice to sort of have a space that provides people whatever they want. I mean, we have enough space here and enough time that people can kind of bring in all kinds of projects that maybe wouldn’t otherwise have a home.
Maybe the next significant marker is that in 2010 I came on here and we together started to have a more dedicated vision of having a more active use of the space. And having more people in and just having more fun stuff you know, the kind of like fun, magical side of music where you’re just doing it.
What is the MWM community like?
It feels great. I’ll say that a lot of the shows we have are attended by a Providence crowd. The shows that we host here are largely curated by myself, by Keith and Seth as well – you know, we all have the same input and because we’re all friends you know, there’s definitely a particular community and a particular scene that we’re in and that we’re familiar with so the shows and the audience sort of lean towards that like a very artistic, wonderful, art-life, creative-life, full-time Providence music crowd. Maybe with some more… uh… less mainstream flavor I would say. And I love that. It’s also I think a scene that has traditionally had a complicated relationship with legitimate spaces, you know a lot of the stuff that goes on in underground venues which this obviously is not – it’s pretty glossy. But for me at least it’s really magical to be able to provide a space that doesn’t feel super sterile, but is not going to get shut down. You know, it’s nice to have a legitimate venue.
So all that said, I really love having outside curators also and have other people come into the space because if it gets too insular it’s almost defeating the purpose, you know… of having a public space. So when we have other groups in there and here or in you know shows that I wouldn’t normally think of it feels great and the energy is really good and its wonderful to see that really a variety of musicians and artists enjoy this space. It’s pretty classic in some ways and sort of nontraditional in others. Like, we’re a venue and because the space was started by sound engineers the sound system is great. And in terms of gallery stuff obviously we have kind of a plain white room on the other side, but this is not what a venue usually looks like and it’s certainly not what a gallery usually looks like you know it’s a little – wonky, you know… But I think the people who come here interpret it as having for a gallery a little more character and for a venue just being very, very clean. But it’s definitely important for me to have new energy in the space and for it to not just be for one kind of crowd.
Describe the type of music most often associated with MWM.
I will say that almost the only unifying factor is that it hasn’t been super mainstream. And I wouldn’t even necessarily be opposed to that, but I would say that it leans towards what I would consider to be either really interesting or fairly avant-garde, but unpretentious. We’ve had unpretentious crowds so far. And largely just bands that we all think are interesting. Which I think makes it satisfying for us – for the team here -, and also makes for a satisfying experience for the bands who are coming here. We’re not just cranking through shows, you know it’s not like were just a venue that will sort of like fill up the calendar with asks and then some guy who has never heard of this band is doing sound that night and you know like slinging PBRs and maybe there’s a crowd or whatever. You know, if were having a show here it’s because were putting special energy into it and were psyched about it and you know we’re sort of personally invested.
And I think that’s even more true in the studio. I think we’re really lucky to have just a really, really interesting roster of bands that we’ve worked with here and some that have quite a bit of notoriety and that are sort of more high profile and also those that kind of no one has ever heard of but they’re just wizards you know. And for our engineers and producers I think it makes it a real pleasure to be invested and to be so engaged in a project because, you know… the music resonates with them and I feel like the bands we’ve worked with are just overwhelmingly just incredibly nice, like good people to be around. I realized that occasionally there will be a band in for a week and it’ll sound great and were having a great time and at the end of the week they’ll like leave to go home to New York or wherever they’re from and I’ll be like “noo… I thought this was our new life together!” That has been true a handful of times, and it’s just.. it really is kind of heart wrenching. Which is the story of playing music you know, it’s like you meet people for a night and they stay at your house and leave the next morning and you’re like “nooooo we were best friends…” It’s like your cosmic soul mates and you feel like you’ve known them your whole life and when people have that kind of nomadic touring life I feel like they easily fall into the zone of just like letting your guard down immediately. When you’re on tour when you’re playing shows with people, you don’t have time to, you know… spend a year or a few weeks working up a rapport. You just kind of fall into that zone of connection and you’re like “yeah were on the same page…” and sometimes you don’t even know… like, “what’s that person’s first name?”… “I don’t knoooowwww,” but that feeling is real and that sort of knowledge that you’re like, “I’ve found my people” is real. And that’s definitely been true here with… like the band Fang Island is so nice. And us Javelin was recording here very recently and their music is just so incredible, but uh… they’re just so nice. And Battles lived here for almost nine months while they were making their record which was insaaannne, but uh, by the end I couldn’t imagine, you know, when they left I really felt like there was a hole. I was like, “…but you guys are like my weird wacky brothers!” And they’re just musical geniuses as well, I mean what they do is just incredibly, profoundly contemporary and unique. It’s neat to see the musical side of them and see how interesting their music is and then also just be around them and be like, “you’re just a wacky dude.” It’s very humanizing and it’s very cool.
Gramophone repurposed into a light fixture.
What kind of artwork do you feature at MWM?
There’s sort of two ways that things happen. I mean, I wouldn’t say that it would be just anything and everything. This space definitely has, I think… a particular personality. So, to a certain degree the work that comes in kind of self selects. There have been very few requests we’ve had that I would feel really uncomfortable showing. You know, there’s a few things where we’ve been like, “I find this offensive…” or… um… I don’t know. But, I guess similarly to the music, some shows are curated because myself or us here personally are attracted to and really believe in it.
And there’s also asks we get and rentals of the space that are not particularly what we’ve sought out. And that’s been interesting because sometimes it’s stuff that has blown our minds that is just so unexpectedly cool and sometimes you know, it’s stuff that is a little more mainstream than what we would normally curate ourselves. But I think, I still enjoy having that other energy in here so that the space doesn’t become too much of a tight scene, you know… so that our perspective doesn’t become too small.
What we’ve sought out to curate ourselves is often Providence artists who are our friends. We’re lucky to have a lot of really interesting, really talented people here who need a space to show. Or who we think should show. And many of those people we have gotten hooked up with through music. A lot of them are also musicians and that’s how we sort of first came together with them. Jason Bartell from Fang Island has had some work here. And their music is so kind of fun and power-house-y. And his visual work is so meticulous and so detailed and not quite dark, but definitely has a really different vibe. It’s not what you would expect. It’s not what you would expect at all. I like that a lot. I like how sort of like different parts of a person come out in the different things they do.
What was your favorite MWM art show to date.
A couple of times we’ve had Love Thy Neighbor here which is a tattoo art show curated by some of the serious tattooers here in town. And they have done such a phenomenal job. And they solicit work from tattoo artists from all over the country. And much of it is presented in a pretty traditional way. You know, it definitely looks like a tattoo art show when you come in, there’s no second guessing what it is. But sort of within that being able to see the different styles is very cool. And they have filled both rooms salon style with work just floor to ceiling. Uhh… It’s just a staggering amount of work and so beautifully presented. And such an incredible painting style. And I think it’s nice that it sort of draws attention to the fine art side of tattooing. But it’s also nice because it is an art show and the work is for sale, you know? And it has a traditional gallery opening but, uh… it’s just like, full of metal heads. I feel like it’s magical for a gallery show. It’s one of the most successful things we’ve ever done. Had more people in here probably than we should have. Like, sold out of Narragansett and had to go to the store and get more cases. But yeah, they definitely make it a home for a different crowd. Definitely have a comfortable, comfortable still gallery environment for a crowd that I think, that’s not usually associated with. And their vibes are so good. And they just do such a good job with everything – their presentation and their organizing and their curating and start to finish it’s just one of the best shows I’ve ever seen here.
List five words best describe MWM.
Magical, Warm, Creative, Comfortable, & Expert.
What do you mean by “Expert.”
Our engineers here are just staggering. And Keith’s ears are like… he’s like a weird animal. He hears things that I just don’t hear. We’ll be in a room together and he will hear things that I don’t hear. And I’ve got a good sense of pitch and I was raised by musicians and he just… it’s just unreal. Seth who engineers most of the sessions… his ability to engineer is just astounding. And I think that’s true and everyone I know that’s recorded with him thinks it’s true. But it became particularly apparent to me after years of being astounded by him and just his recording style. I’ve seen him record in the past… a couple engineers, you know, who were in bands that came in to record, and even the engineers are just… they’re like more astounded than people who don’t know what’s going on. ‘Cuz it’s just like, “wait a minute… did you just do that edit? just now?” and he was like “yeah” and they were like, “that literally would have taken me seven minutes.” And he’s just like click click click and it’s done. And his aesthetic is really unreal. He’s like a secret producer, just his ideas are just always so good. They’re always so good.
I feel like I know what I’m doing in terms of booking in terms of dealing with financials with labels and all that and I think that all of our experience is really made more valuable by the fact that we’ve all been playing music. You know, like when I book a show here I know what’s standard and what’s fair and I’ll negotiate whatever kind of guarantee is reasonable, but then I’ll also be like, “let’s also just make some lentils.” Because it sucks to be someplace and just have to spend money on dinner and not be able to chill out. You know, and it’s great that we have all this space because when you’ve been on tour you might not have been in a room alone for five weeks, which makes you feel crazy. And here there’s rooms you know? Like you can be in a room alone here.
Keith and Seth are now on tour in Europe with the band Callers, they’re playing with them who have recorded here in the past. I just feel like being on all sides of a situation really informs how you approach it and I think… make it more productive and more successful, make the end product more perfect, but also just makes the experience of it much better – and that’s sort of what shows in recording. Our experience kind of directly influences the outcome. You know, if a recording is done in a way that was uncomfortable or sort of clammy creatively it’s just not going to sound the same as if the whole time people were like, “THIS IS AWESOME!!! LET’S TRY THIS THING!!!” And that’s frequently how it is in there. Both because of the professionalism and because of the vibe. It’s those two things together. It’s that they can do anything in there because they’re geniuses and it also just feels good to hang out with them.
What would be your dream MWM event.
Oh man, okay, here’s the thing… In my mind I could go two ways. And the first thing I was like, okay… I could either try to think something up real quick and be like, “it would be uhhh….” I don’t know, like… who’s the most fabulous person in the world? I don’t know. Here’s what I basically think. I feel like we get to have the dream event here alllllll the time ‘cuz there kind of aren’t that many limitations. We’re a little bit off the grid just being not right in the middle of Providence, we’re in Pawtucket. And we’re not a venue that has a million costs to cover. You know, we’re not a huge 900 person capacity place that has $500 worth of expenses every night just in terms of staffing. So it is kind of is like a wild-west-build-your-own-adventure over here.
There have been a couple times when I really freaked. Like, we got an ask just from a booker about the band Oxbow who I have been obsessed with for many years. And they are definitely one of the bigger bands that we’ve had here and one of the more sort of legendary bands, for those who care… for those who are into that sort of thing. They had a much higher guarantee than we usually work with. And I just totally sold the farm and agreed to it and then like, put my own band on the bill and we played with them and then it was like we all fell in love and it was magical. And now they’re playing All Tomorrow’s Parties and I just saw this interview with them where the interviewer was like, “If you were curating in All Tomorrow’s Parties, who would you have on – what three bands would you have on it?” And they listed my band Whore Paint as one of the bands and I literally saw it online, my friend forwarded it to me and I screamed and screamed, I was in a van driving back from New York. So it’s just like that all the time. It was just awesome, you know.
This band Sun Foot just played here from the West Coast. It was a small show and they were one of the best bands I’ve ever seen in my life. Sooo weird, sooo minimalist and understated and sooo nice. We all became best friends. And they just ruled. It was so great. Another band played here maybe year ago called Skull Defekts from Sweden and they’re from Stockholm. And one of the guys I knew about, his name is Joachim [Nordwall], and he used to be in a band called Kid Commando and my old bandmate had toured with him a bunch and I had just heard the legends of how nice he was and how he was a magical wizard and whatever, whatever and I had just known his name for so long and we had just corresponded briefly on the internet about the show here and they came to load in and he walked in the door and I didn’t know if it was him or just one of his bandmates and I was walking this way and he was like, “Reba?” and I was like, “Joachim?!” And we just hugged and of course because we’re blood brothers because that’s what touring is! And his band was great. And they had Dan Higgs from Lungfish singing with them and they were on tour with Zomes who is Asa [Osborne] from Lungfish but just with kind of a solo real minimalist kinda keyboard loop project. And they were such dreams and they were so nice.
And then, this is the dream, but it seldom happens but we had a day off the next day in the studio and their show the next day somewhere in upstate New York I think was canceled and within like five minutes of them being here they were like, “yeah, we’ll just stay and record tomorrow.” So they all did this thing that was totally improv that was Skull Defects and Higgs and Zomes and it’s, for all of us, one of the top favorite things we’ve ever recorded here. And it’s like the kind of thing where we’re like this is life changing. Like, this is an important moment in the history of all music ever. That record they made that day was staggering. And now it’s on Thrill Jockey, I think. And it just happened by accident. And it’s just one of those magic things where it’s like… you people are in the history of art you know… just the jewel in the ground. And had this rare mashup moment that would not have happened otherwise. And also they are just. fucking. nice. They were just nice. And that was that thing that when they were leaving I felt like my heart was just getting ripped out. I was like, “can’t you just live in the studio forever?” And that day I was working in the other room and Dan Higgs was in here just playing the banjo and singing to himself all day. And not every musician does that. It’s funny when you’re around some musicians they don’t actually play music but Higgs was just sitting by himself and he is the real deal you know he just was playing music all day instead of doing other stuff – instead of reading a book or dickin’ around or being bored. And I was sitting in the other room and he is such a legend too and I had this moment where I was like… no one gets to do this. No one gets to sit just at their job doing whatever listening to Dan Higgs actually in the next room just singing quietly to himself all day. And I was just like… I just soaked it up. It was magical.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Just in terms of logistics, I’ll say that it is likely that we’re sort of embarking on a new era that has a lot more events and a lot more gallery shows going on. We’re putting a lot more focus into the public side of this space. The studio is definitely sort of chugging along and has a good situation where it’s sort of like riding it’s wild success. But now that I’m here, also now that we’re getting Willa on board, we can sort of dedicate to the rest of the space the time that it needs. And it makes it better in all ways. It’s better to liven up the space and to have new music coming through and new art and new energy. I mean, I love having the things here that have come my way and that I’ve curated. But I feel like it’s just as important to have things that I don’t know about, things that I would never think of coming through. We just built out sort of all this wood stuff. All those platforms and this incredible custom bar that was built by Nick Konopka who we met because his brother Dave Konopka is in Battles who has recorded here, so that’s another like way these things are coming together.
Explain how someone would guest curate a show with MWM.
You would call me up or send me an email and tell me what you wanted to do and probably I would be psyched and say YES! It’s easy to share ideas here.
Machines With Magnets
A: 400 Main Street, Pawtucket, RI 02860, USA
C: Rebecca Mitchell, Studio Manager
S: Audio Recording Studio, Live Music Venue, Gallery Spaces