Recently, Carolyn Reddy, a visual artist and our Stumptown Trainer in Seattle, sat down for a conversation with Jesse Hughey, Stumptown Roaster and frontman for Grey Waves, Hughey’s visual and musical collaboration with drummer Brandon Hughes and visual artist Alison Pate.
The band is preparing for the release of their first record, Faith/Void, on January 30th, on the label People In A Position To Know. The 7-inch record will be for sale in a limited pre-sale on their Bandcamp page, and at their record release party on January 30th at 9 pm at the Lo-Fi in Seattle. The release party will also showcase a really cool project he’s spearheading – Jesse solicited 100 record cover images made by visual artists, including eight current and former Stumptown employees from both coasts.
Congratulations on the first Grey Waves record! This project has been a broad collaboration with visual artists as well as musicians. Was that the plan from the beginning, or did it evolve as you went along?
It’s definitely been an evolving project. But a lot of it was that I felt kind of alienated from my artistic community when I moved to Seattle.
I spent about seven years playing music really seriously in Portland, and then it was all just gone one day. And I feel really lucky for the community I have here at Stumptown in particular, and for the artists I’m surrounded by, and I guess I wanted to do a project that was representative of an artistic community, not only of the artistic community that I’m placed within, but just to showcase the generosity and talent of those around me.
You know, I have some really, really talented friends who were happy to spend time and energy and creativity on a project that I’m spearheading. And it’s humbling, and a reminder that you are a part of a community when sometimes its easy to forget.
I met Patrick, one of our roasters out in New York, when we got snowed in there a year ago, and sent him an offhand note like, “Hey, I’m putting out this record and I’m trying to get visual artists on board to make covers, I really like what you’re doing.” He met me for fifteen minutes and he sent me four absolutely beautiful covers that he’d clearly put time into but also had actually engaged with the work I was doing. That’s a pretty awesome level of generosity.
You’ve worked with artists from both coasts at Stumptown to make this – how has working at Stumptown with these kinds of colleagues impacted your work as a musician and artist?
It’s an awesome community to be a part of and I feel really lucky to be able to work in such a creative place. At any given moment you could book a really awesome festival with just Stumptown people. In music, in visual art, in spoken word, in poetry – there is a really cool creative group of people here and that’s been inspiring and supportive.
I remember the first show I played after starting to work at Stumptown. I had like twenty coworkers show up! You’re just encouraged to take care of the people around you – I’ve never spent time anywhere like that before.
How long have you worked at Stumptown?
I’m three and a half years in right now, and I’m a roaster here in Seattle, but I worked in production as a delivery driver in Portland for about a year before I started here.
Is this process of curating visual works new for you?
I’ve never been engaged in visual art at all – just as an observer. It’s all been very new and I actually did some covers myself and that’s been a cool process also.
And I think it’s cool to remind myself that the divisions we make in art are fake, you know? And ultimately restrictive to expression. To kind of draw these lines – a band makes music and a painter paints – to make these restrictions is just limiting on our ability to say things, and I think that art should be more collaborative and less medium-oriented.
So with Grey Waves, to honor the idea of not putting divisions between visual and auditory work, I asked one of my favorite artists [Alison Pate] to be a member of the band so she’s in control of the visual element of what we do.
So the visual element makes this different from your work in the past. Musically, how would you compare it to work you’ve done before? Is it a departure? A progression?
Yeah, it is a pretty big departure from what I’ve done before. I played in a band for a really long time and I’m primarily a writer – that’s what I feel most comfortable doing – but I feel like when you are in a band, there are certain things that maybe you can’t say, like you feel like you are speaking for a group of people when you’re the person writing for a band.
It’s different because I’ve done a lot more of it on my own. I really spent a lot of time writing, and on the recording I play everything except for the bass, which is different. I’ve never done that before.
I was always in bands where the goal was to make a little bit of money and go on tour, sell a few records, that kind of thing, whereas the goal here – it’s a 7-inch. It’s just an art project. I’m not really worried about if my voice sounds perfect and I’m not really worried about if it’s going to get played on the radio.
I am happy with it. To me it says what I want it to say and that’s my only goal for it. And that’s new. I haven’t felt that way in work before… I’m not trying to please anybody with it – I’m just sort of over that, which is very freeing. I can just make it sound the way I want it to.
Where did the name Grey Waves come from?
“Grey Waves” is very much an homage to my home in the Pacific Northwest.
I grew up on a little island in Southeast Alaska, and the shared color of the sky and the sea through most of the year in the Pacific Northwest is a really beautiful thing to me and I think that there’s something about the subtlety of that beauty. Like, people complain about the grey all year long but it is sort of beautiful, and it is the thing I always miss when I’m away. Kind of that point on the horizon where you can’t tell if you are looking at the sea or the sky – that right there is what the name is.
What’s next for you? Will we see more from Grey Waves?
Yeah, so this is two songs from a much larger collection. Releasing two songs was maybe just a way for me to get it moving and these are two that represent the extremes – the lyric extremes – on the record. I’m really excited to get in and do a full length record as soon as I have time.
Thanks, Jesse – and we’ll look forward to it!