For many modern musicians, crowdsourcing the funds to cover their albums, tours, and other projects has become a natural part of the creative process. Established artists like Haley Bonar and burgeoning newcomers like Katy Vernon have asked friends and fans to pony up a little cash in advance of recording in exchange for a copy of the record when it’s completed. On a larger scale, nationally respected artists like Bob Mould have taken to Kickstarter to fund massive projects — in Mould’s case, a new concert DVD that he estimates will cost $95,000 to edit, produce, and distribute.
But not all of the buzz about Kickstarter has been positive. Amanda Palmer is the most visible lightning rod for criticism in the music community, and is an example of the intense level of scrutiny that artists can endure after raising large sums of money. Fans have also complained about the fees they are unknowingly paying, as 5% of all proceeds earned on the site are funneled back into the booming Kickstarter company instead of given to the artist. And some musicians have yet to embrace the “crowd funding” model, feeling that it cheapens the art that’s being made.
Minnesota-born bassist and composer Chris Morrissey was one such skeptic. “I had kind of a Republican view of it, like, well, if your s**t was better you wouldn’t need to do this,” he says, speaking over the phone from his current home in Brooklyn. “I was one of the people that was like, I’m never going to do that, that is some internet panhandling. That’s a reflection of the quality of someone’s work — if they have to appeal to their friends and family for money, that just means they’re not good enough to get someone from the music business to invest in it.”
Morrissey, known in the rock world as a bassist who has toured with Mason Jennings and Ben Kweller, recently started exploring his passion for jazz. He released his debut record, The Morning World, back in 2010 on New York’s Sunnyside Records, and the label has been able to offer him a modest level of support. But when he went to record a follow-up to that outstanding debut, he realized he didn’t have enough to cover the costs of the high-caliber studio space and in-demand musicians he hoped to employ for his new album. Slowly, his position on crowd funding started to change.
“The more I saw people that I really respected doing the kickstarter stuff — you know, tons of people in Minnesota like Haley did one — I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know if I should be as loud of a critic of this thing as I am,” he says. “And then after I was able to secure some help from the label, and I did the budget and it wasn’t enough to do it the way I wanted to do it with people I wanted to do it with, I started looking around. I applied for a grant, I worked really hard on it and took two weeks and did my homework, and I edited it, and I thought I turned in a perfect grant proposal, and it turns out it wasn’t what they were looking for. So I went back to the drawing board, and I was like, I think it’s come to this. I think it’s come to Kickstarter.”
Morrissey launched his Kickstarter campaign last month and has five days left to meet his goal. Already, he’s raised over $5,500 of the $6,500 he needs to record his new album. “Now I’m in the middle of it, I feel very grateful to the people that are helping. I think the connection to that process is definitely valuable,” he reflects. “And the organization of the budget is definitely something that I know much more intimately with this record than I have in my two previous records.”
North Hero will be Morrissey’s third release and second under the jazz umbrella, though he hesitates to toss around the J-word when discussing his compositions. “It’s piano, bass, drums, saxophone with improvising, and it’s got threads to rock music and classical music and more modern music, but it’s definitely jazz,” he admits. “I think my hesitance to call it jazz is because I think the perception of that music is really skewed. I’ve worked the majority of my career in rock music and songwriter music, and I know just through working with people that don’t have connections to the jazz world that the word ‘jazz’ has this connotation. We live in an age when music fans seem to think that jazz is either hyper-cerebral, or it’s not modern or relevant. Or that the modern stuff is hyper-cerebral, and the other stuff is throwback music. Growing up in Minnesota, that was not at all the case.”
Morrissey says his experience with the forward-thinking and internationally renowned improvised music scene here in the Twin Cities continues to inform and perplex him. “To me, seeing Anthony Cox and Mike Lewis and Dave King play with Ron Miles at the Artists’ Quarter in 1997 was like — that’s the music I want to play. And seeing all of Anthony’s group’s and all of Dave’s groups and all of Mike’s groups, I came to New York with a very different view of what jazz is. Every time I hear somebody use the word jazz as a way to describe something negatively, I cringe. Jazz as an art form is music that features improvisation and music that requires originality. To have that get to a point where it’s viewed as something negative is a drag. I do hesitate to call it jazz for that reason. And maybe I just need to be more proud, and wave that flag.”
For North Hero, Morrissey will tap two of his biggest influences, Happy Apple’s Mike Lewis and Dave King, to once again contribute to his work. King will produce the record and Lewis will play sax, and they’ll be joined by a pair of musicians Morrissey has met since moving to New York, drummer Mark Guiliana and pianist Aaron Parks. Like many young jazz artists, Morrissey migrated to the Big Apple to explore the massive music scene there, and continues to champion the Minnesota community while plumbing the depths of the much larger New York music web.
“New York dwarfs Minnesota,” he says. “Musicians from all over the world come to New York — they come to study here, or they come to follow the dream to come to New York and get your music made, so just the scope, the number of scenes, and the number of scenes within scenes, it’s just very huge. And as much as it can feel like a community, and you get to know everybody after a while, it’s huge. But to me, there’s nothing that compares to the experience that I had with Happy Apple, which was a band that was playing relevant music but playing very experimental music. A band that was able to do what they did. And I still go and see that band, and I think to myself, ‘there’s nothing that has as much to offer, that I’ve seen in New York, as this band.’ And that statement could not be more biased. They’re my boys, they’re my dear friends, and they’re also the band that I fell in love with at the impressionable age of 17. Minnesota, it’s totally singular. There is a common thread that runs through the hip-hop there, the folk music there, the punk there. And it’s always been that way. In my musical life, I’m not more proud of anything else than I am of coming from that state.”
For more on Chris Morrissey’s new album, visit his Kickstarter page.