By MIKE CHAIKEN
There’s the art of music. And there’s the artistry of painting.
Typically, if the two meet, it’s a case of inspiration.
For example, a piece of art may inspire a piece of music. Think Mussorgsky’s classical composition, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which was inspired by the work of the 19th century composer’s friend— artist and architect Viktor Hartmann.
And a visual artist may pop in a favorite album to help create flow and movement for the brush across the canvas.
Typically, the two rarely meet in a face to face session… live musician in the same room with a painter at work. And just as typically, you rarely find the duo simulatenously working on their respective art before a live audience.
But the Connecticut-based duo of Pocket Vinyl is not your typical ensemble.
Pocket Vinyl is pianist Eric Stevenson and visual artist/ painter Elizabeth Jancewicz.
Yes, they’re a pianist and a painter.
When Pocket Vinyl steps up on to the stage, Eric performs on his instrument. Meanwhile Elizabeth paints on a canvas. And when the last note sounds, Elizabeth’s work is complete and ready for sale to an audience member.
Pocket Vinyl is on tour. And thanks to the Desultory Theatre Club, Elizabeth and Eric make a stop at Bare Bones at 156 School St., Bristol?
The journey of Pocket Vinyl didn’t necessarily begin with the idea of melding music and art. It actually began with the emotion that binds two lives together, explained Eric via Facebook.
“We fell in love first and started dating,” explained Eric. “Then, when I was going on my first tour, it was going to be just myself. Of course, we wanted to spend more time with each other, so we looked to one of our favorite bands: Cloud Cult. They tour with a full band and two on-stage painters. We just kind of figured ‘Why not give it a try so we can hang out together more?’”
The idea worked. For the band and its audiences.
“Most people haven’t seen (the combination of live painting accompanying a live musical performance,” said Eric. “Having that visual aid helps the audience keep focused, we’ve found. In fact, knowing this, I consider it a challenge for me to be as lively as possible at the piano to fight for the audience’s attention.”
The biography for Pocket Vinyl explains that Eric used to be in a band and the solo thing is a relatively new venture in the course of his musical endeavors.
“I miss playing with a band,” said Eric. “But honestly, I mostly just jammed in practice spaces with friends before Pocket Vinyl. We hardly played live, so most of my live training has been solo.”
However, Eric said, “I never want to play just by myself. Even though I’m the only one on stage making noise, I couldn’t do it without Elizabeth there. I kind of use her as a mental shield. I think it’s because if I’m up there alone and I’m sucking, I just feel lonely and depressed. But if we’re both there and give a bad show, we can laugh it off, move on, and not feel too bad about it. I could never do this by myself.
What will audiences hear when Pocket Vinyl strikes up the band?
Eric describes the music of Pocket Vinyl as “me banging away at a piano. But I’d be hesitant to call it ‘Piano Rock.’ It’s hard to describe, but to me that term suggests a kind of music that is much different than ours… I like using a lot of different chords. I jump around in my piano seat a bit, and I travel all over the dynamic perspective. I guess that’s the best way to give you an idea of what the music is like. Listening to it is always a preferred way to study it.”
As far as what inspires the music, Eric bristles a little bit at the thought. “To narrow down what inspires someone is incredibly impossible. I mean, Elizabeth, nature, movies, books, other music, friends, weird sounds, mirrors, feelings….the list never stops you know?”
But, then Eric continues, “More recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Not in a negative way, but more in a contemplative way, like how it feels, what happens after, when it will happen, how, etc. In fact, the next album might be one centered around the idea of death. For whatever reason, I’m just so interested in it right now. But not in a depressing way. And I promise the music isn’t depressing either.”
As for how the live setting inspires the art work, Elizabeth explained, “because of the speed at which I have to work, I can’t really say that the music directly affects the subject matter of a live painting. However, experiences together on the road, as well as our collective feel for the venue, audience, other bands, etc, often have a big impact on the mood, color scheme, and overall feeling of the finished painting.”
As for the style of painting that Elizabeth brings to the stage, she explained it is full of “bright and bold colors, whimsical, child-like, abstract-figurative; the kinds of illustrations you might find in a children’s book.”
Elizabeth, the artist, does not only exist on stage. But there is a difference between Elizabeth, the live artist, and Elizabeth, the artist in the studio.
“I take much more chances on stage. I create more bold shapes and marks on the canvas, and make quick decisions about what’s going on. On-stage, I don’t have time to step back, tweak things, contemplate composition and colour decisions,” said Elizabeth. “On the other hand, when I’m at home I’m usually working on commissions for people, so I’m spending a lot more time trying to get into the head space of someone else to bring their visions alongside my own painting ideas.”
One would think the melding of music and art on stage would take some planning to ensure it’s not the same show and same painting every night.
But, Elizabeth said preparation for the shows is “very flexible. We’ve played shows for as long as three hours and for as short as 15 minutes, so typically Eric will create a set list to accommodate for the length of the show. He rotates in new songs he’s working on and retires older ones. But his first song, one full of high energy to get things going, is usually the same; and he almost always finishes up the set with the same last two songs, which I have memorized to the second so I know exactly how much time I have left to finish up a painting.”
At the end of each show, Elizabeth’s completed work is sold off to an audience member. If there is a case of seller’s regret, it’s not necessarily for the reasons you might expect, such as being too fond of the piece to let it go.
“Every once in a while we’ve encountered a rude audience (usually the product of drunkenness mixed with entitlement) and their attitudes will make me not want to hand over one of my paintings to them,” explained Elizabeth, “but it’s something you’ve got to learn to move on from.”
“And as far as ever feeling like I’m not happy with a piece… I’d say most shows, since I can’t really take the time to step back and see how things are coming along, I worry that the painting will turn out horribly and no one will want it and we’ll need to figure out what to do with a big ugly wet painting,” said Elizabeth.
Pocket Vinyl released its last album in 2011 and there will be new product from the band in the coming year.
“We have a 7-inch coming out on Jan. 5 both physically and digitally,” said Eric. “It has 11 one-minute songs on it. Kind of a full-length album on a tiny record.”
“In terms of a proper full-length follow-up, we’re aiming to record all those death songs I spoke about earlier sometime summer 2013,” said Eric. “We’ll see how fast things go from there.”
And when audiences turn out to Bare Bones for the show, Eric said, “Because of Elizabeth’s paintings, we promise that each show will be different.”
The Desultory Theatre Club presents Pocket Vinyl Friday, Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Bare Bones, 156 School St., Bristol. Tickets $7 at the door. For more information, go to http://www.pocketvinyl.com or http://www.barebonesbristol.com/