“It’s not enough to be a songbird, this world will work you to the bone,” sings musician Dan Waters on Sergeant Sparrow magazine’s new compilation CD. The latest edition of the magazine, just out with the disc included, has taken up the plight of artists working in today’s business-minded creative milieu.
Sergeant Sparrow magazine and its eponymous record label were designed to create space for artists, musicians and writers to show their work regardless whether they have been shown, signed or published professionally.
The publication and label themselves are just-do-it startups that have not waited for someone else somewhere in the “real world” to call them professional before getting on with their work. Sergeant Sparrow Records and the accompanying magazine were founded by Angel Russell, who edits the publication with Emily Spykman and Spencer Thurlow. It emerges from, and is infused with, the spirit of a larger Do It Yourself, or DIY, cultural movement.
The fourth issue of the quarterly, color print magazine features interviews with musicians, visual artwork and photography, poems, short stories, essays and a compilation disc of the issue’s featured musicians. These interviews are interspersed with artwork and reviews. As the magazine is organized, no single art form dominates the material for too long.
Often insightful, the interviews together are an excellent example of how every artist is as different as one human being is from another. All the featured musicians have different musical roots, which becomes clear in their answers to the questions “What are your top 5 albums?” and “What were the first albums that you loved?”
Most of the featured musicians — including John Shade, Cameron Stenger, Phil, the Tremolo King, and Eastern Phoebes — are not residents of the Island but are a part of a greater independent music community into which Sergent Sparrow has tapped.
One who is from the Island is Dan Waters, former poet laureate of West Tisbury. He has been a musician since childhood; illustrating his interview in the magazine is a photo of the newly-eight-year-old Dan holding his first guitar on his birthday.
Many of the visual artists who are featured in the magazine also have ties to the Vineyard. There are photographs of paintings, of real life scenes, and interviews with visual artists included in the magazine.
Many creative projects have cropped up in response to the difficulties of breaking into the mainstream music, art or writing worlds, and several such projects are noted in the magazine.
The magazine’s literature editor, Spencer Thurlow, writes an historical account of an art gallery in Boston called Yes. Oui. Si., which is based on the same DIY principles. The new gallery is devoted to giving artists who have not broken into the mainstream art world a place to show their work, among many other things.
Another DIY-related project featured in the magazine is a book called Children of Mercy. It is a compilation of essays written by independent musicians about the independent music industry. In a short statement about the book, Mr. Thurlow writes a defense of the book rejecting some criticism elsewhere that the essays are not objective enough. “Of course they are subjective!” Mr. Thurlow writes. “Of course they are personal! For almost every one of the contributors, the life of Indie music was never a choice. These tales are willful.”
The DIY spirit of the artists represented in the magazine permeates its pages. Most of the featured musicians record their music on their own equipment. (Mr. Waters takes DIY to another level in that he owns printing equipment circa 1900 that he uses rather than modern technology.) The bones of the magazine itself are independently designed.
Ms. Russell, with the help of her ever growing staff, has raised the magazine from infancy to early childhood in one successful year. The magazine looks professional, the music on the CD is of a high quality, and the artistic contents and interviews are well curated. This fledgling magazine is a publication to read and to follow as it grows into the future.
You can pick up a copy of the magazine, CD included, for $12 at the Scottish Bakehouse, Citrine, Alley’s General Store, Midnight Farm, Thimble Farm, Up-Island Paint and Tool, and Above-ground Records. Or you can download a copy at a discount from the Web site at www.sgtsparrow.com.