How did you get into music?
My dad had a pretty sweet record collection, mostly classic rock and this one record I was obsessed with at a really young age called Poetry Readings in the Cellar. One side was Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading over a jazz quintet. … My dad wrote poetry when he was in his 20s, and my grandfather on my dad’s side was a poet. Actually, he opened a coffee shop/bookstore in Milwaukee called the Purple Eye. It was a beatnik hang.
You created a song cycle and film for Milwaukee visual artist Mary Nohl. Can you talk about that multimedia project and how it came about?
Five years ago, David Ravel approached me about what originally was thought to be a project involving various artists that was stewarded by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
Around that time, there was all this debate about whether Mary Nohl’s house [sometimes called the Witch’s House by those who derided her for living alone and filling her home and yard with her idiosyncratic art] and artwork would stay in Fox Point, where it was created.
What really spurred this project on was driving down Lake Drive and thinking, “I had better check this out while I can.” I turned down Beach Drive, and it was a really gray morning and the waves were crashing, and something about the acoustics of the space that morning was really different than going to Bradford Beach on a windy day or something. It really sounded like an ocean crashing, and no one was outside. It was Easter morning, and everyone was either in bed or in church, so it was totally deserted. I scaled this fence crowned with barbed wire, found a spot that wasn’t barbed and climbed over and just respectfully explored the outside of her house and communed with the sculptures there, and the trees, and the ground, and the sounds of the water and the entire environment. … I was bewitched.