The impossible and the actual are never very far apart. “These kinds of things just don’t happen here” is forever the mantra of the person who just witnessed that very thing happening right here.
Songwriters know this feeling maybe too well. For months you slog through the days thinking “I’ll never write another song” and then, out of nowhere, suddenly you’re starting … you’re singing … it’s happening … it’s done. From never again to right now is a mysterious transition in art.
The Iowa songwriters Extravision and Brooks Strause are both full-time practitioners of the craft and they’ve been on the road together for the past few weeks touring the East coast. They’re headed back home now, with return-from-tour shows planned in their respective towns of Des Moines and Iowa City this weekend. Ryan took time to talk to me last week about touring, meeting new bands, seeing powerful art and trying to reconcile the feeling of impossibility with the fact of presence.
You guys have been out on the road for a few weeks now, any cities in particular that have stood out so far?
Yes, we’ve made the Turn and we’re heading back to our beloved Midwest. This was our (Brooks Strause and my, Ryan Stier) second trip out to the northeast in the last 6 months. Some of the shows in October came from people that had seen Brooks open for Modern Life Is War 7 years ago, others came through social media tentacles. But we returned to most of those places throughout this May, which was an amazing experience.
We have seen familiar faces at every show. Phoenixville, Pennsylvania stands out for me, it felt like my music had made its away around town a bit since our recent visit, and Phoenixville is an interesting town with a potpourri of people with different backgrounds and interests putting their weight behind an effort to be open to fringe art, which I think is a reason Brooks and I are finding something that feels good there.
Hartford, Connecticut and Jersey City are places that run deep with Brooks Strause fans, so those were really fun to be a part of. Boston and Washington, DC were also inspiring shows and I was fortunate to see some old friends. St Louis saint Googolplexia (Rob!) played a set in DC.
But singling these shows out isn’t fair to the rest. We’ve experienced some amazing things all along the path. It’s been a really awesome mix of bar venues, living rooms, sanctuaries, candle lit magic stone shops, outdoor patios, and cafes, all of which I’m a huge fan. I’m growing to love this region after only my second visit. Places like Portland, Maine and Burlington, Vermont and Rochester, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Akron, Ohio just feel great. Sometimes it seems odd that the universe would immediately lead you to the most amazing people you could imagine, but that has been our experience every where we have been this trip.
Speaking of the universe, I saw that you guys made a stop at an Alex Grey museum, what were your takeaways from that?
Wow. I feel like Alex Grey and I are connected in some way. Many of his paintings feel like a visual parallel to ideas that Extravision as a project was founded on. Searching for deeper connection to yourself and what’s around you. Noticing the parts of your subconscious that appear and remembering how much others influence us. I’ve been trying to blast myself with perspective lately, to strip away some of the conditioning that doesn’t help me, and lately, remembering how small and simultaneously infinitely a part of the Universe I am. Alex Grey blasted me in just the right way with his visions.
Anything you’ve been listening to in the van have that type of inspiring impact?
We’ve been listening to this Daniel Higgs track called “Say God” every day, which has begun to have a transcendent, meditative effect. Higgs’ band Fountainsun is great. Ella Fitzgerald, Om, Fruit Bats, Grateful Dead, Gal Costa. Lots of psychedelic/experimental stuff. All very inspiring.
I don’t want to pry into any tour secrets that are TOO deep, but I know that Brooks likes to practice Tarot, have you guys been doing any readings? Has that had any resonance with your travels at all?
Not a lot of Tarot, though the trip isn’t over. We haven’t needed magic cards to experience magic though. Every time we play a show or someone feeds us or gives us a place to stay, or finds a connection with our music, that feels like magic. The more I travel and the more I spend time with wizards like Brooks, the more I begin to realize that everything is magic. Every tree, every city, every idea are nearly “impossible” as Brooks would say, and yet look around!
Have you played with any bands that really stood out?
Saint Joan is a lovely folk duo from Akron we both loved. There was this amazing band from Rochester called Passive Aggressives Anonymous that had a strings section and a miniature drum set and played really funny (and very well executed) songs about things like Jesus and grinding (those songs weren’t related). I really enjoyed a fella named Dustin Saucier in Portland, ME – great voice and songwriter. Some existential vibes which I always appreciate.
We also played with a couple amazing groups in Boston, both of which are tied to the New England Conservatory where Tommy Boynton of my other band The River Monks attended school. Many many world class musicians come from that place and it was an honor to perform alongside some of them at an intimate house show. One group was a duo and it was their first show, though you would never guess because it was so good, and the other was a 5 piece jazz influenced prog/improv band named Man Cactus that totally blew me away. We also got to play with one of my favorite humans Googolplexia in DC because our tours crossed and happened to know the same guy booking the show!
You and Brooks are each doing separate return shows this week. What can local audiences expect as they come see you wrap up the tour?
We’re both playing some very cool shows, both with Northeast natives Liv Carrow and Sam Moss. Brooks’ Iowa City show is in Danforth Chapel on Saturday, May 28 and I’m playing with a full band on the Des Moines Social Club Rooftop on Sunday, May 29.