How was your summer?
Perfect. My worlds collided this summer, in a great way, during the National Campus and Community Radio Conference that CFUV hosted. I was able to connect with my cross-country radio pals and the fine folks who run Weird Canada. This summer has really stoked my fire.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do at CFUV?
As the Program Director, I am responsible for everything that broadcasts on air. I teach and supervise all of our volunteer DJs (there are over 100 of them) and make sure they’re meeting the government regulations. I keep the equipment running smoothly. I do strategic planning. Help with grant applications. I also get to be an innovator in alternative media: I’ve been able to develop a live performance video series called Basement Closet Sessions and I also host my own show called True North which focuses on alternative/experimental Canadian bands. Since we’re independent, whenever we come up with a crazy idea we get to try it out. There’s no head office filled with suit-wearing money-counters beholden to advertisers that we need to check with. For example, on Victoria Day every year we just play artists from Victoria–we thought it would be fun so we did it.
Promoting local music is something we talked about and that you’re passionate about, what are some local bands that you would like to see get some more attention?
This is really tough to answer and I’m a bit afraid I’ll miss out on some friends (apologies!). One of the local bands I’m really excited about is called Batstew. They’re fronted by Mark Alexander McIntyre who is also a host at CFUV. Of course there are tons of other great local bands I’m very excited about right now: Fountain, Cosy Father, Jons, Psychosomatic ITCH, Wand, Hush Pup, The Backhomes, Pinner… I’m sure I’m missing a few and if you asked me again in a month there’d be a bunch more.
What’s on your playlist?
Being a long-time radio host I got a bit carried away with this. I made you a mix of some of my favourite tunes I was spinning this summer:
CLICK HERE FOR JOHNNIES MIX!!!
Can you remember a time when you felt discouraged? How did you keep going?
Like so many people, at the end of my undergraduate studies at UVic I felt incredibly discouraged. I graduated from the Fine Arts program with a BFA in Creative Writing and English. My focus was poetry. I had a heap of debt. I was still working at the movie theatre I was employed at through my degree. So many of my friends, especially those I was close to in the music scene, had left town. That network of people that made me feel like a part of the arts community was gone. I wasn’t a student anymore so I couldn’t work at CFUV until a full-time position opened (they rarely do and they’re fiercely competitive). I never played music and there was a whole new generation of bands making noise. It would have been really easy for me to forget about this intangible thing called creativity. One crazy thing I did to keep myself going was getting a tattoo on my right forearm (the hand I write with) of the ancient Greek root-word for “poet.” The translation breaks down to: I make, produce, create. I bring about, cause. I make it so, make it my own. I do. This has become my mantra. As long as I am making or doing something important to me I’m living up to it. Since then, I’ve made sure to take on every opportunity that’s been presented to me and to pursue everything I wanted to achieve. I kept applying for jobs at CFUV. I worked as an editor and director on a webseries called Freshman’s Wharf. I started writing for Weird Canada. I joined the National Campus and Community Radio Association’s Board of Directors. There have been failures and further discouragement along the way, but the more things you try the more often you’ll succeed.
Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years? What are some fears that come with that vision?
I want to continue supporting alternative communities. Championing experimental arts. Helping other people do the same. I hope to film a documentary about the Victoria music community in the next few years. Eventually, I’d love to run my own non-profit arts initiative. Something that combines all the things I am passionate about doing into one entity. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I think that’s okay. It’ll be whatever it is and needs to be. Of course one fear is that I won’t make it that far. That at some point I’ll tap out and return to the easy stream of life. Trying to achieve anything in outsider and alternative arts is a battle. Not only do you need to create a product or idea, but you need to convince others of its importance. Sadly, so many things simply don’t come into existence just because of money. You have to figure out how to convince rigid funding systems that something intangible and fluid has significant value that can’t be measured with math. That isn’t easy and probably never will be.
Who inspires you?
I used to draw a lot of inspiration from dead writers and prolific filmmakers, but that’s changed recently. Now it’s real people. This summer I got to know two of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, the founders and organizers of Weird Canada: Marie Leblanc Flanagan and Aaron Levin. These two people live their lives in a totally honest way. They live what they stand for and it is so inspiring. Whether it’s passion for outsider art and fringe communities or social justice and equality, they exhibit it in everything they do. I’ve been so privileged to work closely with them on some of their projects. I seriously think that I’ve become a better person because of this connection I’ve made with them. And I only got to spend one week with them.
What have you learned about yourself since being at CFUV?
I’ve been at CFUV for a very long time, so I’ve learned lots about myself. Most importantly I’ve learned that I have the determination and mindset to create successful artistic endeavours. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your own goals and projects, but my time at CFUV has shown me that I have the ability to succeed. It’s something I’ll always appreciate about this place. I’m sure it’s done the same for many other people who’ve been involved with the station.
The hardest part about your job?
An impending sense of hopelessness that comes from battling the mainstream. You can work so hard on something and be so proud, but in the end you’re still a tiny voice. Whether it’s trying to convince funding bodies that our work is important and should be supported, or trying to open people’s minds to the idea of supporting local music and art. It can all feel very pointless at times. People will flock to a concert with the same group of artists and pay hundreds of dollars for this generic experience, but you can work hours trying to get people out to a cheap show to experience something new and in the end it doesn’t pan out. It’s a sad reality, but also that’s sort of the point of working on the fringe.
The most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part would be when you actually break through. The little victories. When someone out in Ottawa I know tells me they love a Victoria band because we mailed their CD to them, and then everyone in that town goes out to see their show. The sincere appreciation and thanks you get from those bands and artists. Or when you finally get recognition of a project, for example this summer we received two separate grants to support CFUV’s Basement Closet Sessions and we also won a Community Radio Award. It sounds kind of vain saying awards are great, but the more recognition we receive for our work the more recognition those artists we support receive in turn.
Why did you agree to a True Grit interview?
I’ve really enjoyed watching this project grow. I think it is really important to take time to reflect on our local community of artists. I wanted to add my voice to the choir. I also hope that maybe a few people out there who aren’t directly involved in the ‘scene’ can feel that they can carve out a place for themselves by hearing my story.
What is key in having “grit”?
I think a key thing in having grit is constantly looking forward. Visualizing the landmarks of anything you want to achieve. If you’re looking down or behind you you’ll never be ready to overcome something difficult.
Do you have any regrets?
When I was in first year at UVic one of my first friends was a guy named Ryan. He encouraged me to get involved with CFUV. He also played guitar. When we first met he wanted me to jam with him and I was too embarrassed because I didn’t think I was very good. In hindsight, I would have been able to play just fine. He went on to play in lots of local bands, my favourite being ‘It It. I often think that if I had took him up on his offer to jam I may have actually played in some bands and made music. It’s never too late I suppose, but now I’m so busy with my other pursuits I don’t make much time to practice.
Can you give one piece of advice to someone who might be feeling discouraged?
After some difficult personal experiences, when feeling discouraged or stressed about something I always think to myself “in a month from now it’ll be a month from now.” Time will always pass and you’ll be on the other side. Nothing goes on forever.
Can you tell me a secret?
The first concert I ever bought tickets to was Eminem, Limp Bizkit, X-zibit and Papa Roach. The show ended up getting cancelled and I never saw any of them. My first actual concert ended up being a “punk” festival in Vancouver called Edgefest. I think my life might’ve been a lot different if had seen that first line-up.
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