When WMSE DJ Era is not playing the blues on WMSE on Monday afternoons, she’s busy reflecting on what she’s playing and what kind of impact it has on her listening audience. Her newly released Blue Book (on Laundry Day Press) and her upcoming “Radio Show Show” digs a little deeper into what one genre means to one person and what she hopes to share through both.
The night was great! I think. I wasn’t present for the release. I was working, and then left for Hawaii at five in the morning so didn’t see much of the afterglow. The release itself was small, but potent. Curator Sara Caron of Small Space/Laundry Day Press, who I collaborated with on the project, felt it was important to have the release be a presence during during this first incarnation of the larger event, organized by curator Ashley Janke of nAbr Gallery. Riverwest Satellite couldn’t have been anything less than awesome. There was a string of artistic happenings and exhibitions all over the neighborhood including my release, a bike tune-up, and a birthday party for Green Gallery’s John Riepenhoff, complete with great live music including Best Friends Forever, and a RiepenRoast. The whole event was a fun way to celebrate this moment in art-life.
What’s Blue Book about?
Blue Book is a collection of some of the questions and answers and I’ve found regarding my exploration into the blues thus far. It’s a short book of prose, poetry, illustration and photography. With Blue Book, I wasn’t trying to tackle every tenet of blues music or its measured effect on our culture, I was just trying to reflect a snapshot of what I’ve seen as a DJ and listener of the blues.
What is your definition of ‘the blues’?
The blues is many things. It’s a genre of music, that has ephemerally and explicitly birthed other kinds of music: rock, dixie, bluegrass, jazz. It’s also a feeling. It’s a condition, experienced both on a personal, cultural and historical level.
Has it changed since you’ve become a blues DJ?
Definitely! You can’t fake that kind of specific knowledge that people like Sonia possess about the history of blues music. I thought that starting with a palette of classic modern blues musicians would be acceptable when I started training with [WMSE Station Manager] Tom Crawford. The listenership of what was his show swiftly reinforced a taste for the modern Chicago blues. Straying from that at times invited confusion and sometimes anger from the listeners, but it also brought even more excitement from listeners who were refreshed and excited by hearing John Cale in a blues set. Quickly I realized that the feedback that people choose to share anonymously has a lot to do with what people are already feeling.
People will call and kind of open up to me, use the music as a path to their own feeling or memories. Getting comfortable being a blues DJ was very much about realizing that there is an infinite amount of ideas about the blues. It means something different for everyone. You can’t be all wrong in characterizing when it’s something that’s dictated by feeling, which the music of the blues, itself, is. It doesn’t have to be all shredding of Les Pauls. Eventually, I granted myself permission to not grasp at things so much, and to work with a palette of what I know. I find traces of blues in all kinds of genres and music instrumentally, tonally, thematically, lyrically…so, I work backwards from there, trying to see the root and then climb back up to the branches.
What’s the idea behind your upcoming event, “Radio Show Show” and what do you hope will resonate with your audience?
Radio as a medium is a strange thing. I am both with thousands of people each Monday, and also am completely isolated in the studio. My plans for the music I play are often personal, but are influenced and impacted by callers, friends and fans.
I’m interested in this intersection between public and private, and the tension and emotion that lies at the root of that. It’s that isolation that I think is often the subject in blues music, itself. Like Son House, when he sings, “bear this in mind / a true friend is hard to find / don’t mind people grinning in your face.” That’s what Blue Book deals with. I think this tension resonates with people, because that’s where music comes from. When music is an upwelling.
“Radio Show Show”, on March 26th, will be a showcasing and gathering that couldn’t exist without the specific conditions of the overlap of WMSE and its community, this city, this time we live in, the people who touch my life to various degrees. I’m inviting people into a space that will be prepared by me, with the sound system I use at home (for programming and for pleasure). The radio show will be streaming into the space of a new art gallery at 631 E. Center Street, live, from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. People can taste homemade chili, listen to the music of the show, enjoy or avoid connecting with other listeners and peruse the Blue Book. The last hour of the radio show will be a call and response. I’ll play the requests from the people in that space, and then with each request that’s played, I will follow it up with a musical response — with the template of my collection and WMSE’s collection. It’ll be a real-time community exhibition, where the artwork is partly you, and the rest, experienced.
“Radio Show Show” takes place on Monday, March 26th from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. at 631 E. Center Street, 2nd Floor.