“If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” — Shel Silverstein
These are the lines of a poet that have inspired a non-profit, collaborative, international multi-media art project. Lead by the independent Vancouver label Peppermill Records, the poetry of Shel Silverstein will come to life at Little Mountain Studios on Saturday, April 18.
Born in 1930, Silverstein was an American poet who was also accomplished as a musician, songwriter, screenwriter and cartoonist. He won a Grammy for his musical and lyrical composition of “A Boy Named Sue” which was performed by Johnny Cash in the early 1970’s. His quirky writing style, use of slang and bizarre story ideas was attributed to the fact that he never read the work of other writers in order to preserve and enhance his unconventional flair with words.
Like Silverstein, Peppermill Records has established an equally alternative aesthetic through its connections with eccentric underground artists from all over the world. Silverstein’s work as a children’s author has attracted the attention of the label, and this is where the entire musical project comes from.
Peppermill Records began as a pet project in 2005, but has grown tremendously with projects such as 52 Weeks, and last summer’s Lunar Jam, a three-day festival at Pierce Lake, B.C. Peppermill Records was created by the spirited 31-year-old Peter Krahn, who is a visionary drifter. During the summer months, Krahn is a nomadic tree planter, giving him the winter period to mull over new artistic events and ideas. The Shel Silverstein project hopes to capture the creativity and imagination of the childhood experience by turning his poetry into songs.
Krahn has always been interested in the intertextuality of art across all platforms and mediums. “For a while I thought about turning a poet into a musician. So I spent a while reading a lot of poetry and found one that was the most conducive to music. I just wanted the whole process of turning literature into melody,” he tells Discorder over a milky chai latté.
For weeks, Krahn sifted through a myriad of poetry books and researched obscure authors, when he finally picked Shel Silverstein’s work because it was a very positive element of his childhood. ”A lot of people have had really nostalgic memories of him,” Krahn says. For many people of all ages, Silverstein’s books such as The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends are cornerstones of almost every North American childhood.
So far, Krahn has nearly 60 artists working on the project, some of which are from the U.K., Norway, and Denmark. Some notable Vancouver acts include Buffaloswans, the rambunctious psychedelic rock group with a country twang who will be playing to “True Story,” 2-step folk artist Nick Caceres for “The Loser,” and super unconventional Hymns To Werewolves playing to “Falling Up.” As the project is international, Peppermill is planning for three other shows playing for the same event in Toronto, Oslo and Montréal as well.
Drawn by the creativity of children and their curiosity about the world, Krahn chose bands that would bring out the offbeat, but morally yielding effects of Silverstein’s works. The aesthetic of Peppermill encompasses all genres, but emphasizes the need to be innovative and multi-textural. The Shel Silverstein project envisions the multidimensionality of art attuned to the mind of the child—the curiosity and imagination—accompanied by equally compelling music. ”This is one of the more folkier themes… it sort of taps into everyone’s inner child,” Krahn says.
Musician, curator, and collage maker, Krahn is also an investigator. He describes the pursuit of new musicians as an artistic kind of voyeurism, an inquiry into places and ideas. “You can search all places of the world,” he explains.
“I always look for the artwork first, then I give it to the musicians when I invite them.” Krahn tirelessly searches and scans through MySpace looking for promising artists, filtering through bands whose musical subject matches his artistic vision for his projects. ”I really enjoy being a curator for others,” he says.
Sometimes it comes down actively pursuing a specific country to search for new hidden talents. After not hearing anything from Sweden for a while, Krahn picked up Ljudbilden & Piloten, an ambient folk music band with highly ethereal, experimental montages who will be performing “Rain.”
The Shel Silverstein Project is a very promising one. While Krahn isn’t making a profit from the event, he hopes to sell artwork and other merchandise at the show in order to provide some of the bands with funds for their time. All of the previous Peppermill projects are available on the website, as free downloads. It truly is the age of new music when record labels are willing to disseminate and promote the creativity of others without asking for money first.