George Howard: Beatie Wolfe. How are you?
Beatie Wolfe: Good. Very good.
GH: Very good. Thank you for doing this.
GH: That’s is so kind of you. So I want to talk about several things with you today. But before we dive into that, and this is probably the last thing you want to talk about, but you want to give 30 seconds on who you are and how you came here, or do you want to just walk through and have that come out more organically? Do you want to introduce yourself?
BW: So I can certainly say a few words.
GH: Do it!
BW: And if it’s 30 seconds?
GH: It could be three minutes.
BW: It could be three minutes, it could be be 30 minutes.
GH: Probably not 30 minutes.
BW: No. So I’m Beatie Wolfe. I’m a singer, songwriter, musician sort of traditionally, then maybe more untraditionally, I am an innovator and a storyteller and a social entrepreneur as you put it.
GH: Love it! Yes, but I think you sale yourself short and you did that under 30 seconds. So there’s fashion, there’s technology. You did, you mentioned technology. There’s sort of a plurality of things and I know you a little bit. I know you well enough to know it all stems from music. So I recently learned that you were in a Nirvanesque grunge band at some point. Right? You probably wish I wasn’t bringing that up right?
BW: That’s fine.
GH: Good and then that sort of grew and evolved and one of the things that lead it to evolve was this sort of, which is a big theme in your work and music is this idea of sort of purpose and so intention. You want to talk about that a little bit and how that guides you? And how that matriculates out into all these other things fashion, technology.
BW: Sure. So I think you know, for as long as I can remember I sort of had, I’ve had like golden 3’s. I had two sets of golden 3’s. And the first three are really what motivates me. One of them is intention, and the other is being of service in some capacity, and the third is keeping the parameters open to whatever inspires me. So not sort of having any idea of what a project should look and feel like before hand, necessarily. And then, on the other hand, the three things I care about in music really are storytelling, bringing some sense of storytelling back to music or keeping that alive; tangibility, having a tangible component to an album release; and then, ceremony, somehow creating that vinyl moment where you pour yourself a glass of wine and you put on a record and you listen to it and you create time for it.
GH: And in those three things have largely been, I don’t know want to say lost but they seem to be pushed aside by the traditional sort of business model. Right? I think, I’m going to steal one of your references, what Itunes has done for songs is sort of akin to ripping chapters out of a book. Right? And so then the digitalization generally taking something that was once a tangible thing turning it into ones and zeros that makes it sort of information and transferable and then of course you lose the ceremony through that to. Right because it’s almost too easy and yet and so what’s really interesting. Many things are interesting. But one thing that is interesting to me is you say this which through, in another person’s mouth could label that person as old fashioned or you know what I mean? Like, like oh, so you want and, and that’s the opposite of what you’re doing. You know I’m not going to say sort of say this, this journey that you’ve been on but it’s involved some of the big tech companies and big institutions where people are deeply interested in, in the musicality that you’re bringing but also the technology and yet you start with this perspective of well we’ve lost all these things and so how do you reconcile that tension?
BW: Well it’s interesting because I guess there is a part of me that’s quite old school and quite fuddy duddy but then I, what I get impassioned by is sort of using technology to reintroduce tangibility, ceremony, storytelling. Those aspects are traditionally associated with listening to music. But by using technology to reintroduce them suddenly they are exciting.
GH: It can be.
BW: Yeah they can be.
GH: Not axiomatically exciting.
BW: No, no they can be and they can also go the other way and sort of distract from the purpose.
BW: But if you use that it, well then you know suddenly, you’re getting this whole new generation listening to albums and excited about albums and creating time in the day to read the story behind the release.
GH: I love it. I want to talk about specifically how your doing that. So a big part of Music2020’s goal is to envision this idea of a music business that’s healthier. Right, now you could argue well maybe the music business is healthy, maybe it’s not. I don’t know! One could always be healthier. Right? So I look at the things that you’re doing and I can just sort of click off, “Yes, other artists should be doing this, other artists should be doing this”, and yet A) They’re not! Some are, some aren’t, but most aren’t. B) Many are still in this mindset, “Oh, I need to sign to a label. I need to do all these things”, that have been quarantined off in the mind of most people as unhealthy. So how are you taking this purpose, this intention, this ceremony, all those other things, and then turning that into a business and then building this thriving career in a state, in an era of impossible?
GH: Yes, how do you like that for a question?
BW: Big question! I think.
GH: Also, what is the meaning of life?
BW: Well the meaning of life is all in this jacket.
GH: Well of course.
BW: But no I think actually it’s about, it’s really about each step of the way and so every junction in my musical life on this musical road, when a decision came up, whatever that was. Whether it’s to work with this individual or that company, or what something was going to look like. It was always a question of going with what I saw the best outcome to be.
GH: Okay, so let me, let me inject a word that’s, that’s not injected into music business generally. This idea of autonomy. Right, okay maybe. I don’t want to foist a word on you but, but so much of the music has been non-autonomy. Whatever the opposite of autonomist is where you’re a musician only so long as I record label decide to be your patron or tell you what to do. And you just said, “No, I’m not doing that.” Right? How?
BW: Because I’ve, I’ve felt for awhile that the label model is outdated. But I felt it even a decade ago. Before it was really a prevailing thought. But for me it was always a case of, if I was going to stand on stage and sing something I didn’t believe in or if someone was gonna orchestrate the way I was gonna produce my tracks. I would rather be a receptionist. I just couldn’t do something in the musical space that wasn’t entirely in alignment with my vision and my integrity.
GH: Love it. So, so you start with this intention. Either I’m going do it this way or I’m not going to do it all. Right, so that’s sort of the definition of autonomy. Was it a conscious decision to go with no label? Or, was it just not even part of your thought process, “Of course I’m not bothering with that”. Or was it, “Well we could do this way, or we could do that way?
BW: It was really this unfolding and there would be times it looked like we might have been working with a label. So that was shaping up in a particular way and then maybe last minute it just didn’t feel quite right. So, it was never that I had it in my mind from the beginning like, I’m saying no to this, this, and this. It was always what guise does it come in and what are the conditions and what are the things you are going to have to relinquish? And for me I always wanted to be the ultimate overseer and the ultimate boss. And, my father, there’s this one very unpoetic quote that he would always tell me from when I was tiny. It’s not a great quote.
GH: I’m on the edge of my seat.
BW: I know. I’m really building up. It’s the eye of the farmer, fattens the pig.
GH: Okay. You’ve used that before. I puzzled that one out for a long time. Let me take a whack.
BW: Yeah have a go. You’re bright enough to work it out.
GH: Well it depends on who you ask. Right, that’s the pressure right. The eye of the farmer fattens the pig.
BW: And it’s a Bavarian expression if that helps.
GH: Oh, that helps tremendously yes. The Bavarian logic, of the logic of Kant. So the eye of the farmer – so what I would say is that means you’re taking ownership over this product, in this case the pig. And by looking over that, you are ensuring that it grows healthy. Now the problem that I have, having puzzled over this little phrase of your father’s, is that ultimately you’re fattening that pig to kill it. Right?
BW: No, you don’t think about that.
GH: I do.
BW: Okay, that’s not part of the quote.
GH: Okay so the eye of the farmer to fatten the big, so the big can live happily, healthy and fat.
BW: Like Babe.
GH: Babe, does Babe have a happy ending?
GH: Oh, good.
BW: I think so.
GH: It’s not like Bambi or something, it’s like a sucker punch.
GH: So did I get that guy right?
BW: Yeah I mean you got it right.
GH: Interpreted the Teutonic Bavarian phrase.
BW: 99.8 percent.
GH: So what is the 2 percent?
BW: Well actually it’s much more than 2 percent. It’s kind of, it’s everything.
GH: You missed it completely.
BW: No. Everything is correct except it’s actually the love with which you oversee the pig.
GH: So I left love out?
BW: You left love out.
GH: That’s the worst thing to leave out.
BW: That is the worst thing.
GH: I feel terrible.
BW: The Beatles would be, they wouldn’t have a catalog.
BW: Without love. But it’s the idea if you love something, if it’s your baby you know if it’s something that you’re so personally invested in, even the act, the simple act of overseeing, will make it grow.
GH: I get it. All jokes aside, I did leave out the most important part. Not because I’m an idiot or not consciously, I was just trying to puzzle through the Bavarian thing. But the love part to me relates directly to the intention. So given that, I don’t want you to speak for all artists, but why do all artists not do that? Why would – let me go back just a little bit to something that you said. You said along the way there were times where maybe you could’ve signed to a label and didn’t want to do it. At no point did you stop. And yet, so many artists do, “Oh, I can’t get a record deal, I guess I will stop”. And so, it’s a two part question, it’s the same question. So why do people stop? Why do they not just keep fattening the pig with love?
BW: Well, you know it’s a lot of work.
GH: It is a lot of work. Thank you for saying that.
BW: Hell of a lot, It’s a hell of a lot of work.
GH: You’re here in Boston after traveling around. You’re here at one of my classes at Berkeley. You’re tireless. It’s work.
BW: It’s work.
GH: What keeps that going?
BW: Determination and also but also when you love what you do, you put in so many extra hours. You don’t even realize it because essentially your work it’s your love.
GH: Well it’s the intention right?
GH: You’re not going to be able what’s the reference you used shopkeeper, receptionist.
BW: No. No.
GH: It’s, It’s not in the cards for you, Beatie. I don’t want to be the one to break that to you. It’s not gonna happen right. You have a higher chance of being a Bavarian pig farmer than you do a you know. So where is Bavaria, Germany, right?
GH: Okay good.
BW: Munich, that area.
GH: Fine. I was just afraid I was in the, completely wrong country.
BW: I think to answer your question as well, on the other track. You know I think it’s also this idea, that people always feel that they need to sound like someone else. Or they need to speak like someone else. Or they need to model themselves on the trend of the day. And they don’t realize and this is a flaw with society. That we all have our own unique perspective and that unique perspective is very powerful and can be very powerful if we cultivate it. And so, if it’s to work and I’m sure that Miles Davis said something like this, “Sound the most you that you can sound”. Along those lines, but it’s just really working out what it is that you have to offer.
GH: With you and one of the tenants of Music2020’s manifesto is it would be great if music could be judged on more of a meritocracy way, rather than it being purchased through Payola, purchased through that sort of thing. What I find so interesting with you and you’ve said this before too, the music’s gotta be good. How you define good, how I define good, I don’t know. To me, I define good as remarkable. That someone will talk about it. It may not be me, but someone will. That’s half of it, right? Is it a full or maybe it’s ninety percent of it. It’s some, some part of the pie. The other part of the pie is all the other stuff that you’re doing. Would you mind talking a little bit about it?
BW: No, no. So you know yes.
GH: Was that a fair statement though first off?
BW: Yeah I think so you know the music is the heart. The music is everything and for me that’s something that you know I’ve worked on since I was eight, since I first started writing songs.
GH: And heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
BW: And heard Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic. So, the funny thing is you say that we all have different ideas about what music is good. You have that album in your car.
BW: And I talked about it an hour ago.
BW: So, you know, there are overlaps. I think ultimately it’s the music that moves you that uplifts you despite the genre. You know, so it could come on and you could be a sort of solely classical jazz kind of person.
BW: And it just shakes you out of that and you’re like you know, what is this? So I think music is, good music is genre less.
BW: And it, it has.
GH: Or transcends genre.
BW: Yeah, it transcends genre and I think it’s something that actually almost not picks us, but…
GH: I love that.
BW: But we don’t really have a say.
GH: I get that. That’s what [Bob] Dylan says, “have that antenna up”. And, and then so you’ve got the antenna up, and the music picks you, you work your craft though, right? Then to make it a sustainable business, which is what I think so many people are challenged by. How does one do that? And again talk specifically if you want. How are you making the Beatie Wolfe Experience?
GH: Or I said experience you said empire. Empire is what was going to almost come out my mouth but I didn’t wanna
BW: And then Jimi Hendrix Experience.
GH: There’s that but I also didn’t, I felt like it was getting to German again you know.
BW: Okay. Yeah, so you know my first album was released as a lyric book, as a vinyl which is obviously on the older side of the spectrum.
GH: The lyric book and the vinyl is cool too, but the lyric book is really cool. And talk about that a little bit. The way that sort of, A) more artists should be thinking about using different types of medium to deliver their music.
GH: Is that a fair statement?
GH: You chose a medium that really puts the lyrics front and center literally cause you gotta flip the pages of the lyrics to get to the CD in the back.
BW: Because I’ve always had the belief that songs should be out there to be read as poems, as well and that lyrics carry as much weight as melody.
GH: Have you ever stripped the Chili Pepper lyrics away from the music?
BW: I might have.
GH: High poetry.
BW: I might of learned a few of those.
GH: T. S. Eliot and Anthony Kiedis.
BW: Yes, but then, that’s why Cohen was such a great inspiration.
GH: So, we’ve switched now to Leonard Cohen? Okay, we moved away from Anthony Kiedis, I think Leonard Cohen’s lyrics do stand as poetry and maybe Anthony Kiedis’ do too, I don’t know. So, and then what’s interesting, do this in terms of getting back to the ceremony, getting back to a thing, it’s also a hell of a business idea right?
BW: I guess so.
GH: I think so. I can say it, maybe you don’t want to say it. I, as a business person who have released more records than I want to think of, see this and go, “Ahh this is something that probably doesn’t cost a lot to make, but people are really going to cherish it”. So aside from the profit margin, which is nice, it also becomes this thing that marketing losers like myself call a social object.
GH: Something that will sit on someone’s coffee table, and someone goes, “What’s that?”, and you get to say, “Oh, let me tell you about this”. Right?
BW: Yeah, absolutely and it’s also one of those things that, it’s repurposing the CD because the CD is slightly in a gray zone at the moment.
GH: You think?
GH: I think the CD is dead.
BW: It’s pretty much dead, but then you know lyric books people love them, and they actually love having that CD component, because it’s sort of a package.
GH: Yes, yes.
BW: So that sits on the more traditional side of the spectrum with the vinyl. I mean, the lyric book is kind of like a reimagination also of the vinyl.
BW: And then on the new side for the first album it was released as the world’s first 3D interactive album app. Which is always a bit of a tongue twister, and essentially that’s like a digital record for your iPhone or iPad. So you’ve got all of the aesthetics. You’ve got the liner notes. You’ve got the artwork. You’ve got everything you’d have in a vinyl on your phone.
BW: But then you can slot into this little Japanese device and suddenly you’ve got a theater in the palm of your hand.
GH: That’s cool.
BW: And you’re watching an artist perform to you.
GH: Right and you haven’t mentioned, you have these bad ass little NFC cards you tap them against your phone and you get this experience too. So we started the conversation going “Oh, maybe you’re a person out of time, maybe you want to go back to gatefold albums”. Well, maybe, but you’re marrying technology. To me, there are other artist friends of mine that I know – I think of Imogen Heap or Zoe Keating – that also have this interesting overlap between technology and art, and it leads to these unexpected partnerships, of which you have many. But I don’t know if you wanna talk about any those, but it’s a way that your music has been able to transcend audiences that might be relegating you to, “Oh, she writes really nice songs”, but there’s more to it that that.
GH: Because of this, and I think that’s important for other artists to think about, you can’t be mono maybe you can. But I think it’s harder to be mono-purpose. I just write songs and that’s all period.
BW: Oh partnerships is – that element of it is so key. And this is actually a wonderful example. A wonderful embodiment of one of the recent partnerships around my latest album.
GH: So, so tell us, tell us about this wonderful embodiment.
BW: So this, so this was made for Montagu Square. My last release and it is a musical jacket.
BW: And it was cut by the tailor who dressed Bowie, Hendrix, Jagger.
GH: You can so see, you know the way. You can see the 1962.
BW: Color. Yeah you can see it. It’s got Hendrix’s color, the Sargent Peppers vibe. It’s got the flamboyance that Bowie would have.
GH: Right the collar.
BW: And so you know, all of that is yet kind of fused together. And the fabric is actually woven with the geometric patterning of my latest single, Take Me Home.
GH: So, so would you say that these like Pro Tools sound wave lines?
BW: Pro Tools, the textile designer and artist called BeatWoven, who is remarkable, is quite secretive about her decoding.
GH: Okay, but there is some, this is encoded of some visual representation of the audio wave.
BW: Totally, so it’s kind of like a wave form.
GH: A wave form. Yeah, sure.
BW: And this could be the base and this is my voice.
GH: It’s amazing. Right.
BW: So the idea was we take this live recording and actually where we did the recording and another you know piece of history is, it was recorded in the room where McCartney wrote Eleanor Rigby, Hendrix wrote The Wind Cries Mary, Yoko and Lennon first famously got naked. It’s this amazing secret Abbey Roads Studios where all these guys lived consecutively, and I stumbled upon it.
GH: Not the Abbey Roads Studios where Abbey Road was made but, is that what you’re talking about?
BW: Yes. So it’s like a secret version of that.
GH: Oh, okay. Oh, I see what your saying, it’s like a different place.
BW: A different place.
GH: Similar to Abbey Road.
BW: Exactly, but it was a private home. It was Ringo’s home fifty years ago.
BW: He was using it as sort of his drumming rehearsal room.
BW: He then leased it to McCartney. McCartney had Zapple, HQ from there and recorded William Burroughs, then wrote The Wind Cries Mary. Hendrix flies over from America and needs somewhere to stay and McCartney’s like, “Oh, well you know, you could move in I need to move out anyway.” And Hendrix has this partner who’s middle name is Mary and she hates being called Mary. One night there’s this sort of tempestuous argument over who’s going to wash up or something.
GH: I bet it wasn’t that. Was it really?
BW: I think it actually was.
GH: I was thinking it was the drugs.
BW: Yeah and she storms off and he writes and records The Wind Cries Mary.
GH: That’s great.
BW: And then he gets evicted for whitewashing the walls when he’s high on acid, typically. Yoko and Lennon move in and get naked. This is all in the room where we recorded Take Me Home. So the idea for me was this is the most extreme example of seeing music differently.
GH: That’s cool.
BW: This goes beyond the digital vinyl which is wonderful and the album NFC deck which is also another kind of really interesting idea of bringing tangibility and digital immediacy together.
BW: But, this, is this also a wonderful celebration of what was going on in the 60’s fashion wise, history wise and music wise. And it all synthesized by music, technology and textile.
GH: So it brings so many of your different parts together.
BW: Yes exactly.
GH: There’s one part maybe this brings it together. I don’t know, but you haven’t talked about it, and I know it’s a big part of your world. Music as therapy and that’s another vector of interest that I find remarkable. That has led to more people knowing about you. But, more importantly, has actually healed people and actually relates directly back to your intention. Can you talk about that just a little bit?
BW: Yeah, so with one of the intentions being of service. I had thought about that as a motivation. Long before I ever thought that I was going to do something in this space. So it wasn’t like “Oh, I’ve set out this idea of being of service, now let’s see how I can do that.” It was really a case of being very inspired by the work of Oliver Sacks, the neurologist.
BW: And just thinking how tremendous it was to see music being used in this way.
BW: And, suddenly it’s like what better sort of function does music have than bringing people back to themselves?
BW: I don’t see anything as being a better fulfillment as an artist.
GH: And no, it’s a wonderful metaphor. I mean on the one hand this is an actual thing where people that are suffering dementia and can be brought back to themselves. In a more macro sense, music does center us generally, whether we are suffering or not. One of your innovations, is that historically it has been memory, in other words – if someone is suffering from dementia, and they hear some song that was resonant to them when they were teenager they snap back; what you have shown is that music generally does that. Can you talk about that?
BW: Yeah, so there have been you know, a number of studies not that many we thought there were so many more than there actually are. Those studies had proved that if you used music that was ingrained in your subconscious so something you were deeply attached to when you were younger, that could be a trigger.
BW: And bring you back maybe momentarily maybe for longer, but traditionally it was always using familiar music. We actually did the first study that was able to prove that music unconnected to memory. So music that people were hearing for the first time in Iive performances or in the audio equipment.
BW: Was able to you know, transform individuals from being catatonic to dancing, from not speaking in almost a year to singing along with these songs they’ve never heard.
BW: And we saw a sustained improvement in memory communication across the four month period and so there were so many reasons why this shouldn’t have worked.
GH: But it does.
BW: But it, but it does.
GH: And, and this has led again as your innovation surrounds sort of packaging of music to partnerships at very, very high levels to then sort of put some concrete data behind this and scale it out.
GH: And so for me to just sort of wrap things up and I want you to have the last word however you see fit but you represent a vision of what the future of music, music2020, music by the year 2020 could be that is so consistent with the artist as this maybe overused, but sort of the artist as the entrepreneur. The artist that is actually sending love to that pig and doing it with music at it’s core, looking and being open to all these other opportunities. To both get the music out there to heal but also to get something back to keep sustaining and doing more. Is that an accurate summation of what you do? What advice do you then have for people who are going, “Well okay that sounds good but how do I do that?”
BW: Well I mean if there was a roadmap within. No.
GH: But you are, you are a roadmap.
BW: Yeah, but I think everyone creates.
GH: They can’t copy it but they can learn from it.
BW: Sure but i think ultimately everyone can create their own roadmap.
BW: And I think a lot of the time the stops that are the most interesting aren’t on your original plan. So, for me I guess the words of wisdom I would pass on creatively, is always create with integrity so you’re creating from the highest place possible. You’re always profoundly thinking of music in the deepest possible sense. The music is then taking care of itself, in a way. And then when you’re looking at presenting that to the world, do it with imagination. Take great pride in coming up with wonderful ideas that excite you. Oftentimes if they excite you and you want to listen to it it’s generally okay. There might be times where people are like, “Oh god, this person is on their own”, but a lot of the time it’s something as simple as, if it’s something you feel passionate about and you think it and it seems so obvious then, then just really go with it. I think that imagination goes such a long way. The idea that if you thought of it someone else has too, don’t ever think that because so often, I’d be in a meeting and I’d just sort of think, “Oh they must have already seen this potentiality here” and yet, that wouldn’t be the case. So, you’ve always got to speak up and say what you think is exciting and what’s unique. I think that a lot of the time you know, and the rest hopefully follows.
GH: The rest I’m with you and that was beautiful and I almost don’t want to add anything to it but I think the rest ends to follow better when you’re A) open to partnerships where you’re not keeping it closed in and B) when you are tireless in your conviction and in your work to build a business around it just having the ideas is crucial execution and partnerships and those type things building up business that’s really the hard part right.
BW: It is I mean you know again it’s not something that I’ve ever sort of consciously thought in terms of constructing this, Beatie Wolfe Empire but ultimately-
BW: Ultimately it’s like you know, you do your apprenticeship and then you sort of prove that the stuff you’re doing is adds value to society and then people will come to you and these partnerships they initially start off maybe you know lower tier and they get bigger and instead of you chasing other people people start chasing you and it’s one of those things that I don’t really believe in short cuts. I think the best stuff takes time and it I’ve always had this analogy I, I always saw myself as an oak tree I always wanted to be this wonderful, sorry I just realized I started to sound like a big hippie.
GH: You wanna be an oak tree? What kind of tree would you be Beatie?
BW: No so okay I’m gonna say it again but I’m gonna say it better rather than having than being a genetically modified tomato that has a flash moment where it looks appealing you know for maybe a couple of hours.
BW: And then it’s done or maybe even a sunflower you know another short life span. I thought why not be an oak tree you know, and why not really grow your roots deep and you know just keep on sort of gravitating towards higher climbs.
GH: No, look I know, I know you’re, I know you’re self conscious about your metaphor but it’s not the wrong metaphor.
BW: Yeah, no it’s worked before.
GH: There’s, there’s durability what you speak of is sort of, great art has durability, great artists have durability. In other words they keep putting work out and sometimes some of that connects some of it doesn’t but over time you create sort of this corpus, this body.
BW: Yes and you know what it is going back to intention I had the intention from a very young age probably 8.
BW: Which was the magic year of making music for generations to come and not making music specifically for my day. I was always thinking about my legacy, which again is an odd thing to think about when you’re a kid. I was thinking, what am I going to leave behind, what kind of contribution can I make? I think when you’re motivated from that place, you’re always gonna try and make the best work possible and you’re not going to do it to say satisfy whatever is in trend at that particular month. That’s why the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bowie, all these people actually are very much part of the jacket that’s why they’re still relevant because music doesn’t date, good music it gets passed on and on and on. I think our cultural heritage is so, it’s like a treasure. We have to be able to keep on making great art to give to the next generation. Even if that is just a redefined version of the album there has to still be some entity there still has to be a lot of love and attention beyond making things in a slapdash way.
GH: Beatie Wolfe you’re fantastic. Thank you so much.
BW: Thank you, George.