Chris Schlarb: Are You Creative?
AAJ: It's a collective, isn't it?
CS: That word is so overused but it really is an honest-to-god, free-form organizational, collective entity. It doesn't really exist in the abstract. It's only when the community comes together does it actually exist.
AAJ: Create(!) conducts workshops in schools and public parks in LA County; what form do these workshops take?
CS: Usually they are with children, anywhere from three or four to teenagers, and what we try to do is break down the active being an artist, being a musician to the kind of root essentials of telling all these kids that you are artists, you are musicians. The heartbeat is the first instrument, this rhythm, this drum.
I think that so much of society is geared towards consuming culture and information, and not actually creating any, and what we try to do is just instill that fire that you can create something, you can make something. If you hear music on the radio you can play along with that music, it is not just a passive consumption.
I remember this one class that we did in a park and we asked these kids: "Raise your hand if you think you are creative, and not one kid raised their hand. There were twenty, twenty-five kids there. By the end of that class, we had given them all small percussion instruments to take home and the kids were like, "Now I can play along to the radio and "Now me and the kid who lives next door to me can play music together. It was a total change, "I can do something. It was empowering.
We try to educate them and we play them videos of Fela Kuti and Coltrane, try and expose them to different things. Then we'd have a hip-hop DJ and an MC come in and then we'd bring in a master African djembe drummer. We show them these different kinds of music and show them different ways of expressing yourself.
AAJ: So, you're like musical missionaries?
CS: In a way, it's so much fun. When you do something like that and you see the difference it makes, exponentially...you know Create(!) had a show last week and Orlando, the bassist has been doing these weekly workshops with kids for a year and these kids got up and opened for Create(!), these kids were playing punk songs! This little ten-year old black kid sits down on electric bass and plays "Smoke on the Water ! I couldn't believe it, it was so encouraging.
This kid was totally obnoxious, horrible and ill-mannered, and annoying, and then he sits down and concentrates and he's totally focused. It really can show immediately the difference. Imagine if this kid wasn't doing this? These kids who have no outlet, they feel confused, or angry or abandoned. They have no outlet. They don't know that there is a part of them that they can work through, this kind of cathartic experience. And all of a sudden you hand them a bass guitar and there they go, like a fish to water.
AAJ: I think whether its Los Angles, London or Paris there are a lot of disenchanted kids; you see the riots in France last week, there are a lot of angry kids who, never mind the future, haven't got much of a present and nobody helps them to realize potential or even to recognize that they have potential. It doesn't take an awful lot of encouragement for the creativity in a young kid to come out or want to come out, but someone's got to help them.
CS: Totally. There's no faster way to kill nihilism than to give the option to debate nihilism, to talk about something. They have to be empowered in some small way and then they can immediately begin to transform their surroundings. They are changing so, their surroundings will then change.
AAJ: In 2004, you and drummer Tom Steck founded I Heart Lung, and this year you released Between Them a Forest Grew, Trackless and Quiet which, I have to say, I think is a stunning album; you two seem to click very well together. What brought you together and how do you see your musical relationship with Tom?
CS: I'll be honest, I've probably never been more comfortable playing with any musician as I have with Tom. We both have a very skewed sense of rhythm. I play with very heavy strings on my guitar so sometimes my guitar playing can have a big, percussive angle to it and, from the very first time we played together, I thought this guy is playing the kind of drums that I've always wanted to play with; I wanted to play over it, and through it, and wanted his drums to play on top of my guitar.