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20 Minutes with Brandon Thornton

In 20 Minutes With on August 25, 2016 at 11:06 pm

book 2Brandon Thornton is September’s featured poet for Whisper & Shout: Open Mic for Poetry, Contemporary Art Center’s very popular monthly poetry event. He was the original host and feature poet curator of the event, serving in that role from February 2011-2014. Peoria is also on his latest tour in which he is sharing his spoken word poetry and plugging his newest project, Male-Nourished: Food for Thought from a Man’s Perspective, a collection of eclectic writings. Check out one of his many YouTube videos https://youtu.be/BZoJ206MGmo. Executive Director William Butler interviewed Brandon via email for this article.

20: You have produced four poetry cds and a dvd. Please share your complete discography.

BT: 2008 – Realize and Relax CD

2009 – SouLive CD

2010 – SouLive DVD

2011- Spoken Acid CD

2012- Life After Poetry CD

2016 – Male-Nourished Book

20: That is an impressive output. What was the impetus to begin writing poetry?

BT: I had written poetry when I was younger but didn’t take much interest in it. I began watching Def Poetry on HBO in 2007 and this started my love for poetry. The intensity and passion the poets spoke with gave me a spark I had not felt before in any other genre.  I started writing shortly after watching.

20: Describe your first experience performing.

BT: I had never been to a live poetry event and researched ones that were in my area in St. Louis. I built up the courage after a week to go and perform. I had memorized my poem but I became so nervous I went to the car and wrote it down just in case I forgot. They called my name to go on stage. I got through the poem just fine but I remember my hand and the paper was shaking the entire time.

20: How did you come to travel and tour?

BT: I met other poets from Kansas City and Chicago and they invited me to come to their city and perform. But it wasn’t till 2009 that I went full-time.

20: You have performed in 30 States and in over 100 colleges and universities. Can you share some of the schools/locations/events at which you have performed?

BT: Open for R&B Carl Thomas, Jaheim, University of Illinois, Illinois State University, Bradley University, Eastern Illinois University, University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa.

20: Why do suppose that you sought a degree in math when the path of writing and English would seem more likely? How does mathematics play a role in your poetry?

BT: Most people have the same reaction when I tell them I teach math. A common reaction is, “Better you then me; that was my worst subject in school.” So there is definitely a high demand for math people.

I always enjoyed the challenge of mathematics, problem solving. I do have a love for reading and writing but that didn’t come until after undergrad. Plus, teaching math is a means to support my projects , traveling and sharing my poetry.

Math and poetry have similarities. They both are somewhat formulaic and critical thinking is involved.  Higher level math involves creativity and piecing together complicated ideas to come up with a solution and I feel I do the same in creating my spoken word pieces.

20: When did you first teach math and where was that?

BT: I began teaching at St. Louis Community College in 2006. I liked it so I continued teaching off and on various places. At some point, I decided to get serious about a career. In 2016, I graduated with an M.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Dayton while teaching part-time at Sinclair Community College and Clark State Community College.

20: What school do you teach at now? Do you teach mathematics only? What is your exact title?

BT: I am now an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, where I teach Mathematics and Statistics courses.

20: Thanks for your time. I look forward to checking out your book and seeing you perform at the Contemporary Art Center’s event, Whisper & Shout: Open Mic for Poetry at 305 SW Water Street, Peoria, Illinois 61602 on September 1, 8-10:00pm.

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An Interview with Jennifer Hall

In 20 Minutes With on June 29, 2016 at 1:43 am

siging hardCAC: Hi Jennifer. I was wondering if we could chat on-line for a bit about your performance on Friday, July 15, 5:30-7:30 at Live at the Five Spot, Contemporary Art Center’s Friday night music event?

JH: Hi! Let’s do it. Ready to rock!

CAC: First off, I want to say thanks for contacting me in Peoria of you interest in coming down to perform.

JH: Thank you for having us!

CAC: How did you learn about our venue?

JH: Just a Google search

CAC: I see. You will be bringing a full band. What can people expect to experience at your concert?

JH: So when we tour we come with guitar drums and vocals! People can expect a full band sound. The set will be powerful but still intimate and personal like an acoustic show! Best of both worlds🙂 We’ll be performing our original materials as well as some covers by artists we are influenced by!

CAC: sounds good. I have listened to your recordings on-line. Trying to think who to compare you to. The songs are very dramatic. How would you complete this sentence? If you like ‘blank’ you will like Jennifer Hall

JH: Mmmm. I get comparisons to Janis Joplin for the vocals

Cover_2048CAC: I actually hate to do that to you…compare you to someone else. But it helps people to connect

JH: And St Vincent for some our production choices

CAC: This may answer it, Randy Nieto of Minimal Beat wrote “I have met the lovechild of Neko Case and Norah Jones, and her name is Jennifer Hall.” I would interpret that as something old and something new. How would you unpack that statement?

JH: Totally! Down with that description !

CAC: You also have listed Edith Piaf, Patsy Cline, Ray Charles and Rufus Wainwright as influences…what are some common threads there?

JH: The most common ones are Janis, Norah jones, and St Vincent

CAC: Chess Hubbard of UR Chicago compared you to Katy Perry and Ke$ha. What do you think of that? I think that could be closer considering the way the music is produced. But St. Vincent, I can see that.

JH: Oh, I think Chess was saying the opposite in that article! I think she may have been saying that our music was different than Kesha and Katy Perry I think! Patsy Cline, Rufus Wainwright, all folks I grew up listening to! Rufus was a big influence, how he mapped out his songs, what we was willing to reveal about himself personally, huge game changer! And Ray Charles had such sorrow and joy in his songs, all at once. That was so inspiring!

CAC: So was that an influence via your parents, your access to and listening to those older artists?

JH: Not my parents, songs I must have found online! My mom was a mega Elvis and Beatles, fan! Ray Charles has an incredible stylistic vocal moves that have definitely influenced me! Nice! Yeah it feels like I know every Beatles song out there ha!

CAC: I have heard a bit of the Beatles in your music in places! The internet has been a major influence on us all. A major way to be receive new influence is via radio still for me. I used to live in Aurora and enjoyed WXRT and admired how they operated….that the music was curated by the DJs just like the old days. You must be pleased with an endorsement from them. “She has been named as ‘an artist to watch’ by Chicagoist and a ‘phenomenal singer’ by Lin Brehmer of 93WXRT

JH: Oh, Lin is an incredible person, so kind and so nice to give such a warm “review” so to speak, such a nice person.

CAC: A similar radio station has cropped up in Peoria 99.9 WWCT. It is, of course, what I listen to the most for music.

JH: Totally, my friend Marc Alghini is the program director! He knows every song that’s ever existed, has such an inspiring passion for discovering new music and has incredible taste! Marc used to work at XRT!

CAC:  Yes, I know he used to work there. So that is the radio station that you mentioned that you had a connection with? I have sent stuff to them before with no reply. I hope they have you on.

JH: Oh, yeah! I still have to reach out! But will make sure to!

CAC: Please try. It would be so great to have them promote the show!

JH: Absolutely!

12961750_1059988730706028_4380441925953748324_nCAC: Considering your influences and in reading some of the other quotes you sent me, like these two: “Jennifer Hall is wise beyond her years..She sings like she’s been around a lot longer” -Mark Bazer, WBEZ and “Chicagoan Jennifer Hall writes music that combines youthful exuberance with old-fashioned sincerity.” Sarah Terez-Rosenblum, Chicago Sun Times. Sounds like you could be a bit of an old soul.

JH: That’s what i hear ha! That seems like a fair analysis

CAC: So others have said that to you?!

JH: Yep!

CAC: Did you study music or voice formally? If so, where?

JH: No formal training I did have an incredible choir teacher my freshman year, huge influence for me

CAC: What about for songwriting…also no formal training?

JH: Correct. Winging it if you will

CAC: What came first songwriting or singing?

JH: Definitely singing! I was singing in choirs starting around 10 years of age.

CAC: When did you write your first song?

JH: Maybe 17? And it was horrible! Haha

CAC: Happily is got better!

JH: Haha totally!

CAC: Well, I am thrilled that you and the others are coming to Peoria. Thanks for sharing today.

JH: For sure, first time! We’ve played down state before, Bloomington and Champaign but never Peoria!

CAC: I hope you have a great reception!

JH: Thank you!! We are excited.

20 Minutes with Chris Holbrook

In 20 Minutes With on June 6, 2015 at 10:00 pm

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If you have ever strolled in through the rear entrance of the Contemporary Art Center, chances are you’ve met eyes with an aproned, serious-looking man quietly gouging away at metal plates. Perhaps he was lugging tubs of cloudy acid, or arrays of gleaming picks. These seemingly harsh tools fill the laboratory of etcher Chris Holbrook as he creates images intaglio, to be later printed onto paper. Chris best personifies the artist as mad scientist, as ceaseless searcher of experience, as alchemist.