James Rodriguez, a metal sculptor, possesses a steady hand, a keen eye for detail, and a relentless drive to succeed. James has already created some amazing sculptures. He draws his inspiration from his life experiences, family, friends, and his military background. Deployed to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, he now finds sculpting to be his therapy and a way to express himself in ways he’s normally unable to. By trade, James is a certified welder, with three years experience running his own welding & metal fabrication business, Vulcan Metal Works. He has been mentored by sculpting professor, and local metal artist, Adam Walls of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Still early in his sculpting career, James has dedicated himself full time to creating his next masterpiece, using symbolism you can truly understand, and relate to, in his work.
Thing making your life richer & why: Working on metal sculptures has definitely made my life richer. I find a different type of inner peace when I’m creating. The response I get from people the first time they see my work is warming to the soul; just knowing I was able to create a lasting impression through my art is an unbelievable feeling. Most importantly, though, is being able to physically show people what is truly in my heart, having a way to express myself in ways I’ve never been able to before.
Local artist you admire: Adam Walls is a local metal sculptor that was a mentor for me when I first started thinking about making a transition into art. He told me if I put as much effort into my art as I did my welding/metal-fabrication business then I wouldn’t have a problem at all. I listened. He’s an amazing local artist, one that I look up to a lot.
What is one of your current artistic experiments? I’m actually venturing into the world of clay sculpting and pottery. Working with clay is therapeutic in itself, and being able to sculpt in clay will definitely help me further down the road in my metal sculpting career. Being able to create a small scale reference of a larger statue is perfect for scaling and visual references.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? A LOT changed in my practice in 2020. I transitioned my business from general welding/metal-fabrication to creating works of art. It was terrifying at first. Being colorblind I never thought I would be the artistic type, until I started welding.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I practice my art right in the garage at my house. Some people call it messy, I call it organized chaos. I’m surrounded by family all the time, and friends stop by on a regular basis just to see what I’m working on next! I wouldn’t have it any other way! After all, they’re where I draw my inspiration to create.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Honestly, I’m constantly lost in thought thinking about my next piece. The ideas come at the most random times! It could be anything from a song on the radio, a relationship, a conversation, or random architecture. I’m always open minded and looking for inspiration on a daily basis. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking.
Advice to newer artists in your genre. Chase your dream, no matter what! If you think you can create, you want to create, then you can! Stop thinking and do. If you wait for the perfect opportunity you will surely miss it! There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing something no one else can, then creating it so they can appreciate your vision with you.
I was born and raised in Camden, NJ. I’ve been doing art in some form or fashion for most of my life. I started out drawing superhero characters I saw in comic books. Once I got to high school I learned how to paint and after I graduated I joined the Army where I served for 10 years. During my time in the Army I dipped my feet into Graphic Design and Digital Illustration, but it wasn’t until I left the military and went to college at Fayetteville Tech that I started taking Graphic Design seriously. However during my studies I had to take couple of photography courses and fell completely in love with it.
I consumed all things photography and anything related to it. Fast forward to 2004, I left college and started doing portraiture out of my house, where I still shoot from time to time, and then I discovered drones and the world of 360 photography and added those to my creative arsenal. I’ve been able to use the skills I learned and was able to combine them into what is now JRoss Photography – Fayetteville, NC, where I create traditional as well as custom portraits, sports banners, posters, and wall art. When people ask me what I do as far as art, my answer is usually “that depends on what you want done.”
I do have a regular job that I work during the week, but when the weekend comes, the cameras come out. I use Social Media exclusively for my business. You can find me on Facebook and on Instagram.
3 Things that make my life richer:
1. My family makes my life richer because they are my biggest cheerleaders. Whenever I have to go on location for a shoot I can always count on my wife, sons, or even one of my nephews or nieces to help me with anything I may need. I use my wife as my unbiased art critic whenever I create something because she will definitely tell me if what I create sucks or not. Fun fact: my wife and mother-in law went in to buy me my first professional DSLR camera so I guess you could say they were my first investors!
2. Art makes my life richer because I always try and figure out how a particular piece of art was created. The colors the artist used, the thought process behind it…I mean everything. Whenever I’m around art of any type, whether it’s music, video, traditional, etc, I just feel at peace in that moment because I can embrace what the artist created for that moment and put my troubles to the side.
3. Education makes my life richer. I’m a firm believer in the saying; you’re never too old to learn something new. I will find myself watching a random YouTube video on a skill that I might be able to use to create some art, and before I realize it; a few hours will have went by. I just find learning something new exciting and fun.
Local artist I admire: I really don’t know a lot of local artists; I have however gotten the chance to work with a talented music artist named Jamie Davis. I met him at an art show we both were featured in and I ended up creating the album art for his project entitled The Village. I admire the fact that he takes his art seriously and the fact the he gives back to his community.
One of my current artistic experiments: I’ve been delving deep into the 360 Photography / Tiny Planet branch of the photography tree. I first saw Ben Claremont (the top 360 photographer in the world) on YouTube about a year ago, and saw how he creates his tiny planets, so I bought a 360 Camera and have been creating Tiny Planets ever since, when I’m not taking portraits. I eventually want to get a coffee table book of all my 360 planets.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Like most businesses that deal with customer service, when the pandemic hit, I had to adjust from doing studio sessions to doing more on location sessions. That’s also when I took up doing 360 Photography, and yes I plan on keeping it.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I have a spare room in my house to store my equipment and where I work on new designs. It’s usually messy…I’ll just leave it at that. When I have a shoot I’ll either use my living room, or dining area, otherwise I’ll most likely be on location.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? For my 360 photography, I’ll usually ride around town, or even go out of town and just look for interesting buildings, bridges, trees, etc. Basically anywhere that I think would look good as a Tiny Planet. I’ll usually spend a few hours shooting at a space and then cull the images to create a tiny planet.
Advice to newer artists in your genre: I honestly don’t know too many 360 Photographers, but as far as photography in general: never stop learning new techniques, absorb everything you can from more experienced photographers, learn how to take constructive criticism, and most of all remember: YOU are the artist, so create art that makes YOU happy.
I am from Los Angeles, California. Growing up, I spent most of my days swimming and surfing at the beach. In elementary school, I was immersed in natural science, which became pivotal to my relationship with nature. I studied illustration and received my BFA in Communication Arts from Otis College of Art & Design in L.A. After graduation, I taught after-school art classes in Manhattan Beach, until I decided to enlist in the U.S. Army as a Multimedia Illustrator in 2019. I found this to be an amazing opportunity to serve my country and further my education. I graduated with honors from the Defense Information School on Fort George G Meade, Maryland in 2021 as a qualified Public Affairs Specialist with a certificate in Graphic Design.
I met my husband in the Army while we were both attending school for public affairs. In 2021, we moved near Fort Bragg and create art together.
3 things making my life richer & why:
My husband makes my life richer because he helps motivate me to put my art out into the world. There are times when I feel self doubt, however my husband is the one who encourages me to keep going and keep making art even when I feel like it’s not good enough. I think it is important to be able to lean on someone in your life when you need emotional support.
Spirituality makes my life richer because it helps soften the blows that life throws at me and reminds me that I am part of a bigger plan.
Art enriches my life because it gives me purpose. It is therapeutic as well. I enjoy working everyday to better my skill as an artist and it is so rewarding when I see how my work has improved throughout the years.
Local Artist I admire: I just moved to North Carolina in May, so I haven’t met many local artists yet, but one artist in Wilmington who I admire is Kelsey Howard. I came across her page on Instagram and fell in love with her artwork. I admire her loose style and color choices.
What is one of your current artistic experiments? I wouldn’t call it too much of an experiment, but lately I have been painting a wash of fluorescent red or orange paint under some of my paintings. Not sure if it is making much of a difference, but I enjoy doing it.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? In 2020, I changed up the materials that I use. Up until then, I was using a lot of watercolor and gouache. I decided to try oil painting and get into drawing more with colored pencils. The change in mediums was beneficial for me and I will continue to use these new mediums in more of my future work.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space: Right now, my art practice takes place in the living room of our one-bedroom apartment. I have an easel and art cart set up near the sliding glass door so I can work near ample sunlight and ventilation.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Subject matter is sometimes a struggle for me. What I find most pleasing to paint and draw is plants. However, recently, I went back home to Los Angeles to visit my parents and took lots of pictures of our family’s cat. I am currently using the cat as the muse for my current collection of works to come.
Advice to newer artists in your genre: Hone your skills by practicing frequently, and do not get tied down to each piece of work you produce. As you keep producing work and getting better, it will be easier to accept that older work as learning milestones.
I’m Brittany, a graphic designer and hand lettering artist living in Fayetteville, NC. I was born and raised in Florida and graduated with a BA in graphic design from University of Tampa. I’ve always loved crafting and art so when I got to college, graphic design seemed to be the best fit for me. Straight from college, I worked a couple graphic design positions that I hated and then in 2009, I began designing for a small business in Tampa that sold invitations and stationery. Around 2015, modern and more unique fonts became a huge trend for invitations, so I began teaching myself hand lettering. I was awful at it for a long time, but eventually developed a skill and love for it. I was with the company through multiple military moves (working remotely), until 2019.
My husband is in the military and we’re both from Florida. After we married, our first duty station was Germany, then GA, and we now reside in NC. We have a seven year old daughter and two dogs.
3 Things making your life richer & why: Family has always been important to me and I’ve been lucky to have a very close-knit and supportive one! Before I was married, I was never more than a couple hours from my close and even extended family. Through the years, my husband and I have moved a lot with the military (to Germany even), but my family is home to me and I’m always doing what I can to be as close as possible to them.
Color & design. I love stopping to appreciate these things. I’ve always been the type to point out something I like. Whether I’m making a note of it in my head, snapping a picture, or calling someone’s attention to it, I feel that noticing and actually giving time to these things helps with creativity and overall well-being.
Positivity. I’ve always been a worrier and through the years, I’ve gone through highs and lows with anxiety. I’m definitely an optimist, but certain things will really set my anxiety off the charts. Because of this, I like to surround myself with positivity. No news unless it’s good news (hello, Good News Network), no Googling symptoms, and no toxic, pessimistic, gloom-and-doom-filled people surrounding me.
Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: My very good friend and business partner, Karoll! I’ve always admired her work around Fayetteville. She’s involved with so many organizations in Fayetteville and she has such a great outlook on life. She’s full of knowledge about so many different things and she has an amazing passion for color and things that fill people with joy. The “color alley” that she filled with hanging umbrellas in downtown Fayetteville in 2016 was what piqued my interest in her work. Eventually, I reached out to her and we worked together on a few smaller design projects. Then in 2020 we decided to really get serious and figure out a way to turn our passions into something new that would cater to both our skill sets.
What is one of your current artistic experiments? I’ve been looking into laser printing a lot lately. Right now, it’s just a lot of researching, but I’m hoping to turn that into a reality within the next year. Another is balloons, of course! Meraki has had a really great year and we’re always looking for ways to go bigger. Everything we know about balloons, we’ve learned in the past year, so as the installs get bigger, we’re able to experiment with more techniques.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Really, it’s been a learning experience for everyone, especially small businesses, but it shows the means we’ll go through just to get by. Karoll and I rented the space for Meraki mid-pandemic, so we sort of just figured it out as we went and tackled any issues as if they were regular small business issues. For a while we (and everyone around us) stressed about people not being able to be together for anything, much less a party! But people love to celebrate and they love holidays, so even if the lockdown and/or restrictions continued, we were prepared to find ways to bring joy and celebration into their lives. Thankfully, that has waned for now and I think people are looking for that excitement after more than a year of pure stress.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I’m a serious introvert, so working remote from home has always been my preference. I have a home office that’s a literal mess of books, craft supplies, shipping supplies, printers and more. I can never find anything I need! When I’m not working from home, I’m in the Meraki shop, which usually tends to be a bit of a (happy) mess due to the two artistic personalities that run it.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? It’s a constant search to find ways to make others smile. If it’s joyful, colorful, or has a positive message, I want in.
Advice to newer artists in your genre: It’s so helpful to have a variety of creative skills nowadays. Don’t be afraid to try out all different types of artistic expression. From crafting to fine arts, any of it can be turned into a successful business if you’re passionate about it.
I was born in Italy in a very creative family: my grandfather was a music teacher and organist with a passion for oil painting, my brother a talented illustrator, and my uncle a professional painter. I started singing at 11 and performed with my band until I came to the States in 2017.
When I moved here I was inspired by the urge to learn about a different culture and mentality. I inevitably started seeing similarities and differences in how people perceive and treat others with the same curiosity of a child observing the world for the first time. I started exploring this concept representing the beautiful diversity I saw through portrait painting. I had a new way of looking at the world and painting a face made me feel as if I was pointing a microscope to the soul.
In recent years, due to life circumstances, I had to transition from acrylic painting to digital art with which I continued exploring new styles of portraiture. Finally given the opportunity, I then polished off my old dormant passion for photography and started integrating photography with digital art resulting in a mixed media artwork. I’ve been studying several techniques and tools, and I’ve taken several online classes searching for my own style.
3 Things making your life richer & why: My creativity. I have always felt the urge to create, to express in a visible and shareable way my vision of the world in the hope to make a change. My family. My husband and my son who make my life and house lively, noisy, and full of love. My family at home and the one that I found here. They are encouraging toward my art and patient with my quirks. My curiosity. I love to learn new things, meet new people and see new places. The world is so big and diverse that life would be wasted without trying to know more about it.
Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: I haven’t been here very long but I’ve had the chance to meet and sing with a very good local musician: Zack Guinn. He’s a great bass player and a very good person. I’m happy to call him a friend.
What is one of your current artistic experiments? I’m mixing photography and digital art. I also like to add symbolism to my art so that every time you look at it you can notice something new.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? 2020 was a year of discovery. That’s when I started experimenting with different media: I work with wood, made moulds out of bottle corks, I tried watercolor, glitter, I scanned paper and imported it in pictures. Some idea worked better than others and I will keep using them.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I have a studio in my house. My husband and I put it together piece by piece. We put in a new floor, painted the walls, decorated, set the equipment. On the walls I hung some of my art and some art that inspires me.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? Sometimes it’s an interesting face I see on the street. I’ve literally stopped random people more than once to ask them to be in an artwork. Other times it might be a movie, a picture, something on the news. Literally anything can ignite the spark.
Advice to newer artists in your genre: Experiment and learn your craft. Everything else comes with time. Today you’re better than how you were yesterday and tomorrow you’ll be better than today as long as you keep working on it.
Doug Burton is a singer-songwriter based in Fayetteville, NC. He has been actively writing & performing since forming his first high school punk rock band, The Cooties, in 1985 in Williamsburg, VA. Doug and Cooties drummer Chris Layton began a songwriting partnership in 1992 that quickly morphed into the band Gunston Midas. Gunston Midas would go on to be a mainstay in the Tidewater, VA/Outer Banks, NC indie rock scene over the next 20 years.
Upon relocating to Fayetteville in 2014, Doug embarked on a solo career, releasing the album, “Hotel Reverb” under the pseudonym Junction Medias that same year. He played regularly at the local venue The Rock Shop, and made frequent appearances in the Triangle area. 2019 saw the release of his second solo album, “Context Is Everything,” which was recorded & produced by Shawn Adkins at Back-A-Round Studio. In July 2019, along with local musician Michael Daughtry, he co-founded Fayetteville Songwriters In The Round, a monthly live original music series. The series features the best local songwriters as well as guests from around North Carolina. During the COVID hiatus, Doug wrote a new album called “Good Music,” which will go into production in early 2022 as the sixth Gunston Midas album. He has been happily married to Katie Jones Burton since 1998. They have no children and wouldn’t have it any other way. They enjoy staying at home and listening to a good record as well as going to concerts & traveling.
3 Things making your life richer & why
1. My love of music is my foundation. My main goal in life is to leave the world a better place than I found it. My way of doing this is through the music I make. Being that my wife and I decided to not have children, the music I leave behind will be my legacy and I take that seriously with every album I release and with every live performance.
2. The love I share with my wife and my closest friends sustains me and when I need them, they’re always there. Likewise, being a good friend and a loving husband is of paramount importance to me and when I fall short, I feel extremely bad about myself. I am a perfectionist. I don’t consider a song and/or album to be finished until it is exactly the way I want it to be and I extend that high standard to most things in my life. It sometimes makes things difficult but when I do succeed, I feel like a tremendous success.
3. The music community here in Fayetteville is, for the most part, a close knit circle and a caring & giving support system. There are healthy rivalries to be sure, but ultimately, there is a real sense of community here that I haven’t experienced elsewhere. Artists here are often inspired by each other, which is also rare in my experience. When a fellow musician says they listened to my album and it meant something to them, that means a lot to me.
Local artist (any genre, Cumberland County preferred) you admire: Michael Daughtry. Upon relocating to Fayetteville in 2014, Michael was the first musician who befriended me and he has been an endless source of inspiration as well as a great friend. I’ve seen him behind the scenes and I’ve seen him on stage and he is by far the hardest working musician I know. His work ethic, passion, and positive attitude are infectious. Though he seemingly has more projects going on than time in the day in which to complete them, he is always giving with his time when I need to run an idea by him or just to chat. He sets an unbelievably high bar for local musicians to aim for. Keeping up with The Joneses? No, I try to keep up with The Daughtry!
What is one of your current artistic experiments? During the COVID lockdown, I wrote a large batch of songs and I have written more in the meantime. I have selected twelve that will make up my new album, “Good Music,” and I’ve been busy recording home demos in preparation for the planned recording sessions in early 2022. I am also re-launching the Songwriters In The Round series every month at Fayetteville Bakery & Cafe.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Throughout 2020, I periodically posted songs performed acoustically at home, in the studio, and at various locations in which I found myself. This “Acoustic Series” allowed me to practice my newly written songs as well as revisit many older Gunston Midas tunes. I have not continued the series into 2021 as I have been able to get out and play for people in person more. The various Open mic opportunities in Fayetteville allow local musicians the ability to try out new material and get the immediate feedback not possible with home practice.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I have a music room in our house where I have my guitars and recording gear set up. I keep my Fender Telecaster out and readily available as well as my Epiphone Hummingbird acoustic guitar and Mustang bass. My other guitars are packed in their cases but I do use some of them occasionally on recordings for a variety of tones. I practice there daily but sometimes I also practice while sitting at the computer, especially if I am working on something new so I can make notes to remember parts and/or lyrics for future use.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? I would stop short of calling it “random,” or “magic,” but it’s often a little of both. “Love Makes You Stupid” from my “Context Is Everything” album was inspired by a Seinfeld episode. My early Gunston Midas song “Vancouver” was written in the aftermath of a friend I knew I would miss moving to Vancouver. The title track on “Good Music” is about my desire to leave as much good music behind as possible, when “my time disappears.” Then there are songs like “Fire Ants” which is a story told through the eyes of a fire ant and how life is often disappointing but “you get used to it.” The first song I ever wrote was in high school in 1985. It was called “Chair.” One day, a friend sat down next to me in class and said, “I wish I had a nice chair ’cause all of these are so uncomfortable.” A lightbulb inside my head suddenly switched on. The first line of “Chair” turned out to be “I wish I had a nice chair ’cause all these are so uncomfortable.” My songwriting mantra is “Never question The Muse.” My Muse has been singing to me since 1985 and I will listen until she stops.
Advice to newer artists in your genre. 1. Get it on tape. Or ones & zeros in modern parlance. I wish I had recorded many of the songs I wrote early in my life as a musician that have disappeared into the forgotten depths of history. It was more difficult in those days to record but with today’s technology, songwriters are in a golden age of convenience so take advantage of it.
2. If you write something you are not entirely happy with, don’t consider it done. Put it aside and move on. Then maybe go back later and listen with fresh ears. Sometimes you will find that your initial reaction was too harsh, or maybe you like the chorus or the verse and you can use just that part in something else.
3. A song is whatever you say it is. Don’t restrict yourself to a formula or structure. Every rock & roll song doesn’t have to be: intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/outro. If you just have a verse and a chorus that you like and they work well together and all combined, it’s only 50 seconds, so be it, that’s what the song was meant to be. My favorite band, Guided By Voices, has more drop-dead brilliant songs that are under a minute than most bands have what you would even call a good song. There are no rules to songwriting.
It’s interesting to watch show concepts circle around. MTV debuted its Unplugged show in 1989 and it’s been a pleasure to watch the format–musicians sharing background stories and writing process with stripped down acoustic versions of their songs–move from tv to local stage.
When we did it at Deep Dish Theater in Chapel Hill a dozen years ago, we had local greats like Tom Maxwell (Squirrel Nut Zippers), Peter Holsapple (the dBs and R.E.M.), Caitlin Cary (Tres Chicas), and Django Haskins (The Old Ceremony) as well as a dozen others. The concept was picked back up in 2016 in Durham, where local Fayetteville musician Doug Burton performed at the 106 Main venue. “I ended up learning so much more about the other two performers’ lives and song craft than I ever would have under normal circumstances. We were encouraged to tell a quick story about what inspired our songs, or any anecdote that might offer a glimpse into our process. I immediately thought of the 90’s MTV show. I can still remember watching the very first one with Ray Davies, a personal songwriting hero, and I loved the episodes with Elvis Costello, R.E.M., Tom Petty, and David Bowie in particular.” Burton said.
Now it’s Fayetteville’s turn to showcase local and state-wide musicians: how they link up with their muse, where their song ideas come from, their favorite musical memories, and perform their best and latest work. Burton teamed up with Michael Daughtry and started the show in 2019 at The Sweet Palette. After a pandemic hiatus, Burton is remounting the show this month and plans to run every Third Friday at the Fayetteville Bakery & Cafe on Boone Trail Extension.
I asked Burton how he selects musicians to perform for Songwriters in the Round. He replied, “Originality is something we highly prize. Also, some performers just have that “it” factor. I saw Shaun McNamee perform three songs one night at Coffee Scene’s Java Expressions and I knew I had to book him. If your songs tell a story, paint a picture, set a mood that the listener can easily find themselves in, we want to hear them. Likewise, if your songs are confrontational and force the listener to think in ways they hadn’t before, we want to hear those songs as well. Another good example is Jim Hurst. I’d simply never seen anyone play the piano like he did. It was almost like he was stabbing the keys. He played with such passion and feeling, you’d have thought he was at Madison Square Garden and not a local Open Mic. That’s what we’re looking for. And there’s lots of it here. I’ve seen some young performers recently who are extremely impressive and they will be on In The Round bills in upcoming months.”
Burton is eager to feature musicians who want to share their stories, even if they don’t consider themselves strictly performing in the singer/songwriter genre of music. “In fact, our October bill will feature Herman Ospina from Charlotte’s The Mood Kings. They are one of the hottest rock bands in the state at the moment, so I was really happy when Herman was interested in joining us. He told me he is interested in performing in a more stripped down, acoustic format. From our original run, Chris Scroggins from The Scroggins Band was another example of a rocker who broke his songs down to the bare essentials, and Tish Mone, though definitely outside of the Singer-Songwriter mold, fit right in with our format and was one of my absolute favorites.”
Fayetteville has an incredible depth and breadth to its music scene. From Jazz to Rock, Classical to Hip-hop, Country to Pop, there are artists (alive and passed) who have gone on to fame and fortune from their beginnings here in Cumberland County. Songwriters In The Round is another great production to let us get to know the next round of artists on their way to making a name musically for themselves.
Tony began playing guitar, piano drums, trombone and guitar at an early age. After seeing Elvis Presley and later receiving his first electric bass for Christmas, his life path was made clear. Tony started playing professionally while in high school, later attending UNC-Pembroke and earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Business. Today, Tony is the sole proprietor of Rally Point, LLC aka Cape Fear Music Center, where he spends his days repairing instruments and teaching students of all ages guitar, electric bass, ukulele, beginning piano and music theory. His shop employs several of the area’s finest instructors and instrument repair technicians.
Tony is the bassist and a songwriter for Rivermist, a regionally recognized and award-winning variety band playing in the Carolinas and Virginia. His newest ballad, ‘Tangled’ is being released in late August, 2021 and is getting great responses at live shows. Hear and purchase Rivermist’s available releases on all of your favorite streaming services at https://rivermist.hearnow.com/
3 Things making your life richer & why: Obviously music is my passion and I live to perform and teach. I love my wife, Suzanne, who is my motivator and cheerleader in all things. My love for animals inspired me to become a vegetarian last year.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? With the world in disarray last year I found I needed to develop productive habits. So I started to really focus my practice and write more music. Part of this process has led me to experiment with writing several pieces with similar subject matter. Lately I have been using roads, highways etc. If you pay attention to your surroundings, inspiration is everywhere.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. I do most of my practice and writing in my teaching studio at 110 Old Street. It’s just a block from where I played my first gig in front of the Market House in 1980 and on land where the mill was in the late 1700’s that our whole community grew around. It has good mojo.
Advice to newer artists in your genre. My advice to musicians who desire to make a living or just want to enjoy playing and writing music is to be true to yourself. Write and play what makes you happy. I play a wide variety of music from classic rock, beach music, latin and jazz to musical theater. I love many styles, but love most to play whatever makes the audience happy on any particular night.
This is an answer that has changed for me over time. I think it’s happening for everybody: COVID forced us into a different set of priorities, and we’re going to come out changed.
I’m an ambition-oriented guy, or that’s been my story. I like little achievements. I like badges. I like awards. I like degrees. I like collecting things like rank and status. And the sort of gamification of life has been the language I have understood and been successful at to this point in my life.
But I think where that’s changing is the artist in me actually has always wanted to push against that. To disrupt it, to use the language all the young people use these days. What does it mean to make art that actually doesn’t try to get to the next level, but is perfectly fine and happy where it is? I think the framework that runs counter against achievement-oriented success is meditative and reflective space. So how do you do that? I mean, theater does that naturally but, how do you, say, run a theater company where the goal is not to grow? That’s what the business world does: the pressure of work, capitalism generally, is to keep achieving and to keep growing. There’s a personal health version that’s necessary, but the economic version of that is not particularly healthy.
So it’s just more and more and more, and if you chase that rabbit too far, it goes to the opposite of Wonderland. So for me, what is the space that pushes against that? What are the hedges we build to create that space? What does success look like in that world, which is sort of quiet, maybe methodical or repetitive or, to use another word from another part of my life, liturgical. What does that work look like? I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately and it’s drawn me to some early conclusions about how success is quiet. Success is being able to get up in the morning and have two hours with a cup of coffee and my mind. I’m not getting up, looking at my planner and trying to think about the nine things I have to knock off my to-do list.
In my recent history, the last five years, I’ve had to really re-examine what success looks like. It used to be how many tickets can I sell and will my theater company survive? Will I get the kind of attention I got into this business for? But is that space as healthy as it can be? Is it as sustainable as it can be? That’s been a real shift in terms of success personally, artistically.
I also think success is about how am I empowering others to do what they need to do. I just turned 40 this past year and I’m working with folks in the Sweet Tea world who are younger and I’m remembering, oh yeah, I was basically exactly like that. What did I need that I didn’t get that I can provide to others? I worked in that sort of mode for a long, long time. I no longer have to prove anything to anyone. I can just live my life. And there’s a calm that can come with that.
I think this is true for all kinds of artists, but I know it is true for theater people: it’s like an addiction. And I mean that in the most direct and literal sense. It takes you to dangerous places if you let it. And it requires a kind of constant state of recovery–in all of the senses that that means–to be ongoing. And so success is a little bit like what success would look like in AA, which is did you make it through today? Do you have support? Did you make responsible choices today? And if you didn’t, are you cool to reset and keep moving on? So much of the talk about artistic life is really positive. I mean, there’s the negative side of it, nobody makes any money at it, for example. But if the positive side is oh, you’re this leader, you do eccentric stuff, you do things that nobody else does, you have talents nobody else has. And all of that is true, but I think for a lot of artists, if they’re in it, they’re doing that expression because there’s so much pressure and a lack of conformity in the other parts of their lives and it’s super stressful, incredibly exhausting, and risks being pretty dark. That is the addiction part of it, too. Everybody wants to talk about the high, they don’t want to talk about the withdrawals. They don’t teach about that in directing school. And so success is am I doing this in a way that is making an ideal life, just today?
What change do you seek to make with your art?
The change that I still have the fire for is a change in belonging, how we think about belonging. I had a lot of theater experience before I started Sweet Tea. That’s essentially why I founded a theater company because I think it was very rare to get right the idea of belonging. We use ideas like “community” and “common experience” and how we’re getting everybody in a room and we’re breathing the same air, how all the heartbeats in the room sync together.
But then we have professional structures where everything is temporary. And this is true, not just in the professional world, but also in community theater, educational theater. At the same time that we champion safety and care for actors but don’t provide that economically. Yes, there are lots of people who do this just because they love it, and the pay is bonus, but there is no security even in unpaid theater contexts because you never know the next play you’re going to do. You’re sort of artistically homeless the whole time. And that was something I felt like we mostly get wrong. And a lot of that, I sort of lay at the feet of bad tax policy and non-profit policy.
The theater world is such that you go contract to contract four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks at a time, if you’re really lucky, it’s much longer than that. But then you’re homeless and you’re jumping from spot to spot. But there are things that people like me can do, that theaters and arts organizations can and should do within that context. What does it look like to play around with the idea of a continuing community ensemble where actors and other artists have a stake and a say in the direction of the place? And that’s the experiment: the art is the company structure. The way of making plays in this regard has been the thing behind things.
And I say that on the educational side, too. There are days I feel like I’m good at teaching. For me, it exists on two extreme poles: I can work some magic because of my actor background, in a room full of 80 people who need the fire of a great sermon about whatever that thing is that day. And then the other side is one person at a time. But so much of the expectation of being a professor is nonstop measurement of what you’re doing rather than doing what you’re doing. And that’s just built for discouragement. Despite theater being a collaborative art form, if you’re in higher ed, you’re a silo, doesn’t matter what you do, you’re a silo because that tenure race is yours to run by yourself. There’s no one to hand the baton to. So we’re not good about creating spaces for belonging in that world. That’s the kind of change overall that I think I’m after.
How have you constructed the bridges of your career?
The bridges I’ve built have to do with two things. One is miracle: I have a mix of great privilege as who I am constructed in the universe. There are people who are constructed like I am, who don’t do what I do. The simplest way to describe it–although it seems a little woo-woo and new agey–is that I can manifest some shit. I can have a dream, whether it’s career-based or artistic-based, work or life oriented, and I think about that and it basically becomes true.
And the other piece that is a different kind of miraculous is I have just incredible resistance and grit, although I pay for it dearly. Like, I can keep going many times more than others who will quit earlier. And I have learned enough over my life to know that–I’ve had to go to therapy for some of this–but there’s a magical mix of questionable self-worth that I am built with that would cause other people to quit because they have too much self-respect or their time becomes too important to them. There have been long stretches of my life where that just hasn’t been true. I’m trying to prove something because I feel inadequate or whatever, and that kind of drive doesn’t happen in everyone. And the fact that I keep going, I think makes the manifestation thing more likely to happen.
And so, in terms of building bridges, there are lots of things that people who might otherwise be in my shoes would have said no to, and I haven’t, I said how can we make that work? My first two jobs in higher ed I got because I was a sort of jack-of-all-trades who could do theater tech work in addition to directing plays. I wouldn’t have gotten those jobs had I not said yes to the tech and design stuff. There are examples like that all over the place. There’s a version of that with Sweet Tea and founding the company: is this the way I would have done it had I the budget I wanted and the way I wanted? And the answer is no, I’m going with a path of at least less resistance. And that’s been part of the puzzle too.
I am happy and glad that Sweet Tea is able to expand to Raleigh, but I don’t think we expand there and then think, Hey, we’ve achieved the end. I’m honestly not sure what the other end is except more adventure. And, frankly, a little bit more financial predictability.
Who do you consider your present artistic cohort?
A handful of folks. Individuals and groups at Sweet Tea: two assistant artistic directors Claire Martin and Tracy Zapata, and music directors Jake French and Aaron Alderman. Dena Vassey, who does our costumes and Sana Moulder, who wears several hats from box office to costumes and other things: they’re part of that mix. And it includes this funky company that’s built on a medieval guild structure. So all the folks involved in that: it’s structured for us to develop those people and for them to weigh in on the company. That is a really, really difficult thing to manage and smarter people would probably choose not to do it, but it’s part of the soul of the place.
Outside the company, in terms of people that have and continue to influence me, I would include the American Shakespeare Center as a cultural institution.
My dad has been a big piece of this. He and I kind of follow each other: I got into Shakespeare grad school and then he took an interest, then I started a Shakespeare company and then he started a Shakespeare company, and we directed for each other, things like that. And he’s a college professor. So we sort of lead the other person now and again. And my mom is a jane-of-all-trades sort; the music piece is definitely tied to my mom, who plays piano.
Then there are a couple of other people: Rob Gibbs, with whom I’ve done a podcast off and on for years. We went to grad school together and we just fit. He’s a Hollywood screenwriter now. He landed in a different spot than I did, but we work together really well. And Rick Blunt, who’s another grad school friend. He’s just a good friend who cuts to the actual truth, whether we’re talking about art or whatever else. And that’s great.
Matthew Stuart Jackson is an actor, writer, standup comedian, and voiceover artist currently living in Fayetteville, NC. He loves pizza, cats, and (for some weird reason) mowing the lawn, and he hates scratched DVDs, wet socks, and getting logged out of his accounts arbitrarily.
3 Things you can’t live without & why: I don’t mean to be impolite or think that I know better, but I’m going to reject the premise of this question. I’d like to flip it so that we see it from the positive angle, rather than a scarcity-mindset. Artists spend so much of their lives with a scarcity outlook, that I actively try to see the positive, and what plenty I have in my life. So here are three things that make my life richer. [Ed note: I appreciated Matthew’s take on this so much that I asked if I could borrow it. The reframe will feature in future Q&As!]
A) My family. My wife, also an artist; my sister, who is also an artist and teacher; and my parents, who are life-long teachers and academics. They are also artists in their own right (or own write, if it’s my dad). My entire family has been so supportive of my creative journey; I will be eternally grateful for their encouragement.
B) My mom’s home-made pizza. She makes the dough from scratch. She gave me the recipe, and I can make a good pizza, but it somehow NEVER matches hers. She’s the Queen.
C) Rain. I just love the rain. I grew up in Washington State, which everyone thinks is super rainy, but that’s only the western part. I grew up in the eastern part, where it’s remarkably dry (we’re basically neighbors to a desert). But I went to college and then subsequently lived in Western Washington, and I just love the rain there. I also love the rain in North Carolina. While Western Washington rain is the tortoise (slow and steady for about nine months out of the year), the rain in NC means BUSINESS. I love how hard it rains here. And for all you folks who don’t like getting wet, here’s a quote from my wife’s grandma: “I won’t melt. I’m not made of sugar.”
Local artist (any genre) you admire My instinct is to name my wife, Ella Wrenn, because theatre administrators–ie, the ones who HIRE all the artists–don’t get nearly enough credit. But I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to choose her, so I’m going to go with Marc de la Concha. He’s the Director of Education at Cape Fear Regional Theatre, and I am simply astounded by the work he does. The talent he fosters, the productions he creates, and the classes he offers… it’s incredible. THEN you add on top of that his live performances (did y’all see “Shrek”?) – I can’t get through a performance with Marc in it without crying. Either he’s so moving and truthful that it moves my soul, or he’s so flipping funny that my eyes leak with laughter. That man is a gem, and we are so lucky to have him in this town.
What is one of your current artistic experiments? I currently work at The Sweet Palette, peddling cupcakes. I just sell them–I am not nearly talented enough to make them. But the reason I even got this job was because they have this incredible gallery/performance space, and CFRT did a show there that I was in, and so I got to know them over a few weeks. When they started getting more business after Covid and needed more staff, they hired me to sling desserts, with the goal that we could really start using their gallery to its full potential. I’m really excited about what we can start hosting in that space, and what creativity will be born in that room.
What changed about your practice in 2020? Will you keep this change? Man. Everything changed. I felt like I was really gaining momentum and making headway into the voiceover industry, and then Covid hit, and every single film and stage actor turned to the only thing that was still available: voiceover. The demand stayed the same, and the supply skyrocketed. I had to get *gasp* a “real” job. That job was terrible terrible (don’t worry, it wasn’t Sweet Palette), and it was honestly a pretty bad time to be an actor. My hope is that I can merge this current position at Sweet Palette to cultivate more creativity.
Where do you practice your art? Describe your work space. The most work I do is in my “booth”. It’s the closet of our guest room, and I’ve converted it into a recording studio. I’ve padded the walls, trying to dampen the sound, and have set up my little nest in there. It’s janky, and I love it.
How do you find your subject (next piece, idea, voice)? This is still in flux, and I think it might be for a while. Adapting is never easy, but it’s always necessary. I’m just trying to keep my eyes and ears open for new opportunities, now that the world is starting to open up. My guess is that it will be a partnership with Sweet Palette and their space, and we create something together.
Advice to newer artists in your genre. Listen, and be humble. The minute you think you know better than someone is the minute you become unpleasant to work with. Every person you encounter is an opportunity to learn, as long as you listen to them.