Local Current Blog

Astronautalis, Sophia Eris, Chastity Brown on why they moved to “exotic” Minnesota

Sophia Eris. Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR.

Though it’s not uncommon for local musicians to head out of state, it’s also quite common for musicians to come here, to Minnesota, to pursue their musical ambitions.

Singer-songwriter Chastity Brown moved to Minneapolis from Knoxville, Tennessee. A friend who was attending grad school here convinced her to come after telling her about the local music press and the supportive scene. Her friend eventually left Minnesota again, but Chastity has stayed.

“I found it to be kind of exotic,” Brown said of living in Minnesota. “It was this part of America I’d never been to.”

Sophia Eris, of the hip-hop groups GRRRL PRTY and The Chalice, moved to Minneapolis to attend the Institute of Production and Recording (IPR), and she chose to remain here partly because of the common open mic nights at local venues, which allowed her to hone her craft.

“I thought, ‘This is really tight…I could move here,’” Eris said.

Andy Bothwell, better known as the rapper Astronautalis, moved here from Seattle three years ago, “because of the music scene.” Like Brown, Bothwell was drawn in part by the strong local music press.

“Some of the local news channels broadcast Dessa,” he said, as an example of the way local media have fostered musical creativity in the Twin Cities.

Bothwell also noted that many artists already located here appealed to him, and that he admired the easy collaborative spirit of many musicians in the area. He cited “pretty much everyone in Doomtree” as exemplary of this ideal, and added that “you could lump in Justin Vernon and those guys,” since many of the Eau Claire musician’s collaborators have connections to the local scene.

Brown highlighted another aspect of Minnesota’s arts-supportive atmosphere: through what she referred to as a “loophole,” Brown is able to teach music at Watershed High School in addition to her work as a performer, even though she doesn’t have a degree. She also runs workshops at places like IPR and McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.

These sorts of opportunities, both for musicians and their potential students, are not easily found in other places, according to Brown. “There’s tremendous talent in Tennessee,” she said. “But there’s not really those programs set up.”

Though these musicians are all originally from warm climates, they all seem to have found a way of making light of Minnesota’s unforgiving winters. All three mentioned that they find the colder months conducive to working on music, even if they do not especially appreciate the cold on its own.

“It’s like everyone goes into a depression at the same time here,” Eris said of the winter—but both she and Brown maintained that the hostile cold is useful for forcing them to focus.

“It’s the best time to really dive into something,” Brown said.

Bothwell, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, expressed a similar sentiment. “When it’s 90 degrees all the time…why would you ever want to go into a studio?” he said.

Though these artists have found ways to make themselves at home in our unpredictable climate, they also still miss parts of where they came from. Eris wants a place in her native California—at least to use during the winter—and Brown says she sees herself eventually retiring to Knoxville.

Brown misses the mountains near Knoxville, as well as the carefree atmosphere of her home state.

“I miss the pace of life,” she said. “Tennessee takes its time.”

Although Bothwell said he misses the South and its “weird creepiness,” he’s also happy with where he is now. “It doesn’t cost a ton of money to live here,” he said. “And there’s no shortage of things to do. You have to force yourself to stay home.”

Eris, too, still holds the Twin Cities dear, even though she’d like to migrate west again someday. “When I do have my record release,” she said. “I’m gonna have it in Minneapolis.”

To hear these now-local musicians at work, tune in to sessions in the Current studios by Astronautalis, GRRRL PRTY, The Chalice, and Chastity Brown.

Austin Gerth is a member of the class of 2016 at Concordia College. He also writes for Concordia’s student blog, The COBBlog; and Concordia’s student newspaper, The Concordian.