Home is where the art is: A profile on Stephen Peck
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on June 17, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon Stephen Peck greeted me at his door with a warm smile, a handshake, and an apology over the messiness of his humble abode at 1015 Olive St., in Fountain Square.
It’s not an exaggeration to describe the scene at “The Speck House,” as friends have affectionately dubbed it since he moved here in early 2011, as if somebody had recently detonated an art bomb somewhere between the kitchen and the front door. Art supplies, various musical instruments, scrolls of collaborative drawings, half-finished projects, paintings and sketchbooks litter nearly every available surface of the home’s interior.
The walls serve as a sporadic history of Peck’s career as a designer, screen-printer and student of art. It’s a bit overstimulating at first glance, but before long I realize much of the activity around The Speck House tends to be this way.
A room to the left of the front door houses Peck’s drum kit. In the corner opposite of it sits a pile of boxes, stacked nearly 3 feet high with “art night” relics. Giant sheets of folded canvas have shellacked themselves to other discarded expressions. Peck digs through this hulk, occasionally unfolding larger works to describe the circumstances and individuals who created them. He reads each expanse of canvas as if its hieroglyphs unlock the story of 100 memorable evenings, which, for him, they do. Art night is a Thursday evening tradition, where Peck invites whomever is available and interested to create at his house.
“I don’t know that I really have a start date or anything,” Peck says. “I didn’t really know that many people down here. I would go to shows and run into people, and I knew Thursday nights worked for me, so I would say, ‘Hey, come out and let’s hang out on a Thursday. Let’s make art.'” Peck’s experience as a drummer and his inclusive attitude toward visual art quickly made his house a favorite of the likeminded twentysomethings that have flooded Fountain Square in the last few years.
“There are some art nights that are just wild,” Peck says. “They’re rare and beautiful. I don’t know. It’s a unicorn that arrives. Suddenly, there’s 30 people here all hanging out, and it’s awesome. It’s just everybody from the neighborhood who wasn’t doing anything on a Thursday and came over.”
Peck is an Indy native who attended Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) after graduating from Heritage Christian. After college he moved to Seattle where he opened a small screen-printing shop. “It was not doing that well,” Peck says of the venture. “I had a really good summer of success the first summer I was out there, and then that kind of died down.” As a result, he returned to Indy to work at The Art Press. That experience was short-lived, the details of which Peck refrains from discussing. He quickly found work at Broad Ripple’s Teeki Hut, where he continues to work part-time along with local start-up Pack Printing.
Peck developed a taste for screen-printing while promoting bands he formed during high school, but his passion for art grew out of necessity at an early age. “I have half a heart,” he confessed casually toward the end of our interview. “Actually, I had three things wrong with my heart that individually should’ve killed me, but because I had all three, I’m okay. It balanced out … Sports were never an option, so that’s why I got into music and art. I can do that and it’s fun. Why do I need to go run around all the time?”
In December, Peck had his pacemaker replaced, a surgery he describes as minor compared to three more significant procedures at different stages throughout his life. Though he doesn’t hide from his heart problems, he tries not to wear them on his sleeve. “I used to talk about it too much,” he says. “It would bring people down and make other people’s problems insignificant, which isn’t fair … [My heart] really isn’t as big of an influence on how I live anymore. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been right now.”
Rather than dwell on his limitations, Peck creates with reckless abandon. In the last year, his focus has shifted away from screen-printing toward more substantial optical-art pieces. He credits the shift with a revival of interest in his design work for local musicians, concert promoters, record labels and others. “I’ve done a lot of concert posters recently,” Peck says. “The thing is, no one for about a year asked me to do a poster, and I think it’s because I’ve changed how I’m doing my art. I feel like people don’t really know what I’m up to. It’s like, ‘Oh wait, we do still like the art you’re making. Now we’ll ask you.'”
His initial fascination with op-art flourished while at CCAD. “The Columbus Museum of Art is basically on the CCAD campus,” he says. “They had this op-art exhibit with Bridget Riley’s ‘Fall.’ It’s basically a 10×10 foot painting, and she did it all by hand. So, you walk up and there is this giant wall of black-and-white lines. I walked through it every single day to and from class. There and back, just so I could see this painting. There was a whole exhibit of op-art stuff, but that’s the one I really remember.”
For his op-art paintings, Peck begins with an Illustrator file that he often creates from sketches. Once he has a perfect version that he’s satisfied with, he cuts the design in vinyl, which he uses as a stencil. “So, it ends up being paint-on-paint at the end of it, but I’m creating it as if it’s a stencil and then I peel away the vinyl,” he says. “So, I paint the board black. Then, I put down a red stencil and I paint the whole thing white. Then I peel away the stencil, and you see the black underneath.” While this process defines Peck’s more substantial op-art paintings, he is also experimenting with other media — everything from video to custom coffee tables.
Peck is obsessive when it comes to perfecting his designs, but his planning for the future remains much more open-ended. He has flirted with the idea of graduate school. In the meantime he plans to pursue more gallery opportunities for his op-art work and expanding his freelance design business where he can. More than anything, Peck appears content with his life in Fountain Square, making music and art with his friends every Thursday. “I’ve never had a terrible art night,” he says. “The worst it can be is that it’s just me, and I’m just making art by myself — which is still great.”
Stay up-to-date with Peck’s artwork work on Tumblr and Facebook. Come by The Speck House on June 19th for his first “directed Art Night,” when he will guide guests through the subject of “back drawing” — literally drawing the backs of people. Or drop by for his third annual Slip N Show on July 13, with live music from Absonites, Bonesetters, BYBYE, Cat Crap Fiasco, Chris Dance & The Holy Echo, Derek Johnsongs, Jessica Albatross, Benny & The Planes, Brian Jones & The Misadventure, Bait & Tackle Tabernacle and more.
Written by Rob Peoni
Curating songs from the outside in: Kyle Long on TedxIndianapolis
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on October 16, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Like most people attempting to earn a living within Indy’s music scene, Kyle Long wears a lot of hats. He is the cofounder of Cultural Cannibals with his partner Artur Silva. He pens a weekly column and hosts a radio show entitled “A Cultural Manifesto” at NUVO and WFYI, respectively. He’s the music consultant at Eskenazi Health’s Marianne Tobias Music Program. After next week, Long will add Music Curator of TEDxIndianapolis to his lengthy list of job titles.
To all of these positions, Long brings a perspective faced outward. “Whatever I do, whether it’s writing my column for NUVO or my deejay sets, it’s all about bringing what’s perceived as an outside musical tradition into the world of mainstream entertainment in this city,” Long says. This focus made him a perfect fit for TEDxIndianapolis’ 2014 theme of “Get Outside In.” Below, discover the eclectic lineup of musical guests, who will perform at Hilbert Circle Theatre on Oct. 21 and learn why Long chooses to hang his many hats in Indy.
Sky Blue Window: So, how did you get involved in TEDxIndianapolis this year?
Kyle Long: That goes back to last year, where they asked me to deejay throughout the day during the intermissions. I did some collaborations last year as well, the most interesting of which was a collaboration with Oreo Jones and Time For Three, where we blended all of our unique abilities together for a cool little performance. I think they wanted to incorporate me last year, because what I do here in the community is pretty unique, and it didn’t necessarily make sense for me to do a talk. I’m not very fond of public speaking, and I’m probably terrible at it. So, they threw in the idea of having me deejay throughout the day and have some input on the musical performances. That led to a more substantial role this year. It’s a title that gets thrown on me a lot, which is “music curator.” It sounds really pretentious [he laughs], but I like it and it’s a cool, fun title to have.
SBW: How did you incorporate TEDxIndianapolis’ theme “Get Outside In” into the musical lineup this year?
KL: I think the organizers, particularly Anne Laker, who is a great member of the Big Car team, felt like the theme of “Get Outside In” really aligned with my work. Whatever I do, whether it’s writing my column for NUVO or my deejay sets, it’s all about bringing what’s perceived as an outside musical tradition into the world of mainstream entertainment in this city. So, she made that connection and reached out to me, and I immediately recognized there was some substantial connection between [TEDx and] what I do in the scene.
Beyond that, I’m always looking for any opportunity to use whatever voice that somebody was generous enough to give me to spotlight artists who I think are doing really important things, but … aren’t getting the attention they deserve. We have a lot of amazing artists on this lineup who have achieved a lot outside of Indiana. Even though they might have a substantial base here, they might not have been given, in my opinion, the exposure they deserve.
SBW: Did TEDx give you carte blanche in terms of your musical curation this year, or did they offer input?
KL: It was definitely equal input, but they certainly gave me freedom to put my own spin on it. That’s what is great about working with Big Car; they focus on creativity. There’s nothing that’s going to turn them off in terms of being too experimental or this is going to freak people out — that’s what they want. They want to see those types of performers come in. So, yeah, I think we had an equal back-and-forth. They made some recommendations, and I made some.
SBW: How does Stuart Hyatt fit in with the musical lineup?
KL: Stuart Hyatt is a Hoosier multi-disciplinary artist. He recently did a project, which you may have heard about, where he made a sound map of Washington Street. He traveled the entire distance of Washington Street, east and west, making field recordings of people he encountered. Then he took those recordings and created a musical composition out of them, which he called The National Road under the name Field Works. This is another interpretation of approaching music with this Outside-In concept. He traveled this road and traveled the Marion County region from the outskirts into downtown and back to the outskirts. And he developed this composition based on his experience. He’s going to present some sort of experimental version. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to shape up, but he’s going to collaborate with Time for Three and present some sort of interpretation of that work at TEDx. So, that’s going to be really exciting to see how he puts it together.
SBW: Can you tell us about the balance of musicians from outside of Indiana and local acts who you have booked for this event?
KL: The Sweet Poison Victim performance probably speaks best to that. They’re probably my favorite local rock band. I go to all of their shows, and am just a huge fan of theirs. You have this group who’s made up of musicians from all sorts of backgrounds, from hardcore bands to guys who play Latin music. The central figure in the band is Kwesi Brown, who grew up in Ghana and came to the United States to get a PhD in Ethnomusicology from IUPUI. So that band sort of personifies this balance between people from outside traditions here and people who grew up Hoosiers and are doing traditional sorts of Indiana music.
For their performance, they’re going to be collaborating with an amazing woman here in the community named Pam Blevins Hinkle … She’s very involved in music improvisation. She goes into women’s prison and teaches music improvisation to the women. She plays so many instruments and is one of the most creative people here in the music scene. At the introduction of Sweet Poison’s performance, she’s going to be doing a collaborative improvisational piece. Again, that’s another situation like Stuart Hyatt with Time For Three. We don’t know what it’s going to look like. We don’t know if they’ve really worked it out. It’s just very free-flowing and loose, and they’re going to come out and do something in front of 1,500 people that may be spectacular or everybody may be scratching their heads. That’s part of the fun of this event is the open-mindedness of everyone involved.
SBW: Sweet Poison Victim, Salaam, and Jefferson St. Parade Band are home-grown reflections of your world music interests. Can you talk a bit about Indiana’s ability to foster local projects with such a panoramic world view?
KL: Jefferson St. Parade Band is a really interesting group. It’s a marching band, essentially. Ben Fowler, who’s the leader of the group, has created a very diverse repertoire for them. They play some Mexican cumbia stuff. They play some Eastern European music that reflects the Roman or gypsy culture. They’re just loud and they make a lot of noise, and it’s sort of like a junkyard band that’s playing all of this really incredible music. When you see them live, they’re sort of dressed like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band making this loud noise with these great rhythms. So, they’re just an incredibly fun group. The marching band is such a part of Hoosier culture with the Big Ten conference here, but they’re opening it up to a worldly repertoire.
A lot of these bands have deep connections with Bloomington. It really speaks to the importance of the music school there. Salaam [another TEDxIndianapolis performer] is an Iraqi music ensemble based in Bloomington. They’ve gotten international recognition for their recordings, and they’re one of the few Iraqi music ensembles working in the United States. The group is led by Dena El Saffar, who is an extraordinary musician. She has toured with an icon of African music named Youssou N’Dour from Senegal. His biggest exposure in the United States or Europe was “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. He was the African voice on that tune … So she is somebody who has worked at this very high level, and has received lots of important recognition outside of Indiana, but her work doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves here because it’s such a foreign thing to people. That’s why I’m so grateful for the opportunity to present this music to a wider audience here.
SBW: How do you think music helps to further the other conversations that will be going on at TEDxIndianapolis?
KL: Music just touches people in a very different way. It certainly can stimulate you intellectually, but there’s also this emotional and visceral element to it. It reaches you in places that are beyond words and beyond concrete ideas. It also provides a break of sorts from all of the heavier presentations that people will be seeing … It just switches up the mood for a few minutes and gets everybody recharged.
SBW: Can you tell us a little about the after-party event featuring Osekre?
KL: I’m really excited about the after-party, because it’s free. Not to diminish anything that TEDx is doing, but the ticket price for TEDx can be off-putting for a lot of people. A lot of my friends are frustrated, because they don’t get to go and see all this great music, but the after party is free. So, we’re inviting everybody to come and get a sense of the music that we’re going to be presenting that day.
Osekre is much like Sweet Poison Victim — they’re a rock band led by a gentleman who grew up in Ghana. They mix ska and some elements of punk rock with the kind of traditional African sounds that people might’ve heard Sweet Poison play. I had been talking with the leader of the group, Ishmael, for a while about bringing them here. They’re based out of New York, and it just worked out that they were going to be around town at the time of TEDx, so we asked them to play the after-party.
SBW: What keeps you in Indy as opposed to working in a city that might have a larger audience for the type of music that you’re interested in?
KL: When you take on these thoughts and immerse yourself in the struggle for social advancement in the arts — or whatever field you pursue — it can get a little bit depressing. Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall here, but the reason I stay is because I think it’s important to make this progress here. I want to be a part of this immigrant community and their struggle to make their place here. I want to be a part of that. It’s very fulfilling to be a part of that.
My friend Artur [Silva], who’s my partner in this organization we created called Cultural Cannibals, he’s a visual artist. He just left to pursue an MFA at Cal Arts near Los Angeles in California. I went out there to get him settled when he made the move, and I was like, “Oh my God, I would love to be here on the ocean and do what I do in this beautiful environment.” There would be so much of an audience for [my work], but I really don’t think I would have the same fulfillment there that I would here. I think we need more people in this fight here. I’m very grateful to have been given opportunities to express myself here. I think it’s important to make the points I’m making and be a part of this community that’s trying to carve out a space for themselves … I don’t want to paint the picture that people here are close-minded. The opportunities that I’ve been given here are indisputable proof that people here agree with the essence of my argument that immigrant cultures deserve more respect and greater rights.
SBW: Is Cultural Cannibals on hold while Artur attends grad school?
KL: That’s how I see myself. I’m not even a human being. I’m a cultural cannibal. That will never end, until they bury me. So, that’s definitely still going but it’s a little quieter than it has been in the past. Artur and I are preparing for a big mural project here in the city that will be a visual representation of the musical projects that we’ve done in the past. Right now, it looks quiet from the outside, but we’re getting ready to explode across the city when this project comes to fruition.
Written by Rob Peoni
The Avant-Garde invades Irvington
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on November 12, 2014. Some changes to content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Nick Ohler is on a lifelong search for the origins of musical innovation. As a former record store owner, on-again, off-again concert promoter, and general music junkie, Ohler’s quest has led him further into the fringe, where he believes pure, unadulterated creativity takes place.
“After you hear so much music, you start to learn that everything is actually a fragment of something else,” Ohler says. “Usually the ensembles or bands that generate that core essence, not always but usually, they’re the ones that don’t make any money at it … So the goal of our group is to take what I think is an innovative core and promote it.”
The group to which Ohler refers above is his concert promotion company Mythopeic Industries. He launched the organization with the intent of becoming a nonprofit a few years ago, before his role as a father and family man took a higher priority. Even though the nonprofit never came to fruition, Ohler’s reputation as a promoter of experimental, avant-garde music occasionally draws him back into booking events.
“I still do one or two things a year,” he says. “Somebody will get ahold of me, and it will be something that I have to do.”
Friday, Ohler’s latest musical experiment will arrive in the form of the Irvington Creative Music+Film Festival. The event will take place at the historic Irving Theater and the performance space at Irvington Vinyl, in the basement of Bookmamas book store. More than a half-dozen musical performances will take place on two stages between screenings of a new documentary on avant-garde, jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, called The Case of the Three-Sided Dream.
“Irvington is very cool culturally,” says Irvington Vinyl owner Rick Wilkerson. “There’s a lot of good vibes and a lot of people doing interesting things, but there hasn’t really been a music presence.” Wilkerson says that’s what distinguishes this historic neighborhood from Fountain Square.
“[It’s the] same with art. We had the Irvington Guild of Artists disbanded around three years ago,” he says. “I think we’re going to see a big rebound with both of those things as time goes on.”
Ohler, who booked a lot of shows in Fountain Square alongside his friend Matt Chandler prior to that neighborhood solidifying its status as a local music destination, agrees. He thinks “Irvington has changed a lot” since he moved there in 2003. Ohler says he used to spend a lot of time in Fountain Square, but these days Irvington is the place to hang with its additional options for eats and drinks from Black Acre and Jockamo’s Pizza to Legends. “With events going on at The Irving and all that … We’ve got a record store and a bookstore,” he says. “It really kind of reminds me of Fountain Square when Tufty first opened Radio Radio and we were doing shows there.”
In terms of musical curation for the fest, Wilkerson was more than happy to rely on Ohler to do the heavy lifting. Wilkerson recently finished the release of his retrospective Indy compilation, spotlighting local punk and new wave acts from the 1980s. The release was NUVO‘s cover story last week, penned by frequent Sky Blue Window contributor, Seth Johnson.
“I’m just providing the venue, and am happy to do that,” Wilkerson says. “Nick is pretty advanced when it comes to avant-garde music. Although I know a lot about music, I don’t know a lot about that. So, all of those bands will be new to me.”
He says he’s looking forward to the Rahsaan Roland Kirk movie, of course, but as for all the rest, he’s going at them with judgment or set expectations. “It is going to be like, ‘OK. My mind is open; Let’s see,'” he says.
Eastside native and current Irvington resident, David Adamson leapt at the opportunity to perform at the single-day festival. “I pretty much just said yes right away, because it seemed like such a cool event,” Adamson says. “I’m stoked that it’s going on right around the corner from where I’m living.”
As the former front man of Jookabox, Adamson has been making noise across Indianapolis and beyond for years. His current musical pursuits are divided between DMA, which released its album Pheel Phree on Joyful Noise Recordings last year, a Chicago footwork-influenced project called TUFFBLADES, and his most recent instrumental endeavor Sedcairn Archives, which will release its debut LP on local label Warm Ratio at the end of the month. For the set at The Irving, Adamson plans to blend selections from all of his current projects.
Adamson will perform alongside locals Sea Krowns and Lost Cult. Lost Cult is the project of Eric Brown, who runs local label Audio Recon. Sea Krowns features Alix Cain and Tom Burris. Burris is a longtime friend of Ohler’s, dating back to his days running A1 Records in Anderson. Their repertoire runs the gamut from avant-garde to accessible. Listen to a pair of tracks below for an example of the contrast.
“A perfect event for me is a local, regional and a national, because the local act gets to hang out with a regional, and that will usually get them a show in Chicago or Cincinnati or wherever,” Ohler says. “So, a perfect scenario for me is that three-tiered approach, because it really helps everything in general.”
For non-Hoosiers, Ohler tapped two Minnesota musicians who employ homemade instruments to create otherworldly sounds in Paul Metzger and Tim Kaiser, the heavier, guitar-driven sounds of Ohio’s Hyrrokkin and hip-hop/jazz fusion ISWHAT?!. Metzger is known for his unorthodox play on his 23-string banjo. Kaiser built his reputation upon the ambient sounds culled from his vast array of Frankenstein-esque instruments, field recordings and the proverbial kitchen sink. As an introduction, scope a pair of videos on the singular musicians below.
Ohler believes The Irving’s reputation as a welcoming space to experimental musicians through events such as Midwest Electro-Music Experience and its all-ages atmosphere should prove a recipe for success. “There’s something going on at The Irving. I just like the vibe of it,” he says.” For the most part, the folks in Irvington have been fairly supportive. If this is successful, I would be totally down with making it an annual event.”
Whether you’re intrigued or confounded by the lineup Ohler has curated, the improvisational nature of the performers promises an experience that should prove impossible to duplicate. At just $10 (Tickets), the inaugural Irvington Creative Music+Film Festival is an auditory pair of dice worth rolling.
Written by Rob Peoni