Writer A. Wolfe and Musician Tim Fite Are (Not Really) Getting Married
Tim Fite makes music exposing the violent truths of koala bears.
Tim Fite makes music, videos, and storybooks about exposing the violent truths of koala bears, revealing the results of penny candy taste tests, and resolving consumer complaints with customer service and refunds with no attitude, and despite how any of this might sound “cutesy” through my descriptions, Tim Fite makes some dark shit. He’s so sincere it could be ironic in lesser hands, and I’ve never really thought about joining a cult before, but if Tim Fite told me my name is Jane and that I had to make and sell jams and jellies for the good of his people, I would totally fucking do it.
Tim Fite’s live shows have become something of a legend as well, and I feel like most music writers have to hold back from using the word “raw” multiple times in a single review of his performances or music, but, then again, most music reviewers are retarded and have no idea how to write about music, myself included. For lack of better contextual material, I’ll just say that reviewers have classified Tim Fite as a sample-based hip-hop folk artist backed by almost continuous choral rounds comprised solely of his own voice. And this year, he was also invited to compose a song to be jointly performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, a privilege maybe not so easy to come by for a guy who can croon “fuck” like a goddamned lullaby, but according to recent reports of the performance, completely earned. Because this guy is constantly evolving and creating, we thought it might be time to catch up with him before NPR claims him as their song-of-the-day for your “hip” gramma. (Esquire already wrote that one of his albums is the kind of record “that just makes you want to smile.” Listen to his records and watch his Gun Show, then discuss with me how fucking weird and inept that description is.)
VICE: What was the process of getting the Brooklyn Philharmonic fellowship? Was it at all like a super-fun summer camp?
Tim Fite: I had to apply. I answered a number of very serious questions as seriously as I could, and submitted some songs. They chose ME! It was very nice to be chosen. It was not like a super fun summer camp, although it was fun. It was more like if I was a kid and I actually enjoyed my piano lessons. I worked with composer Randal Woolfe (a lot like your name) at his house. He taught me all kinds of important things about writing for orchestra—strengths/limitations of instruments and players, dynamics, harmonics, and so on. I learned a great deal, and don't think I could have made my piece with out his tutelage.
Your stage shows are so well constructed and directed. I saw you play several years ago in Boise, and I remember being in complete awe at how synced and integral the video components were--a chorus of several Tim Fites projected behind you, dancing and reacting to the movements you made on stage—was it difficult collaborating with so many people with the Brooklyn Phil when you're so used to controlling the show?
It was not difficult. It was more scary. I was so worried that my song wasn't good enough. I thought that they might refuse to play it. Once they did, and it seemed like all was well, I was able to stop worrying and focus on the performance.
How much do you focus on creating a persona in your performances, and would you consider yourself an actor?
I am not an actor, but I would consider myself a character.
I've heard someone describe your style as "bib-overalls chic." My best friend's dad wears bibs everyday, even has a fancy pair with black leather straps that he calls his "tuxedo bibs." Bibs might seem anti-fashion, but I'm discovering that more people care about fashion than one would initially assume. What kind of conscious decisions do you make about your appearance, and do these differ as you transfer from your stage persona to your regular life?
On stage, I like to look like I am there to entertain. This means I won't wear just any old street clothes. I like some formality—a tie or a vest, for instance—to drape over my frivolity. I like some color coordination. I like pinks and greys. I love me some seersucker.
In the street, I make a conscious decision to look dreamy. The dreamier the better. Women and men alike have been known to drift off into a reverie after a single glance in my direction. Just yesterday a lady on the subway started snoring in the middle of complimenting me on my shoes.
Speaking of fashion, I think a lot about that video you made for "Camouflage." There's a very specific turn in that video (and song) that moves from the portion poking fun at people wearing camouflage in their daily lives not owning up to or understanding what camouflage represents, to a type of anger about all of it. It's one of the more artful critiques of war. What spawned all of it? Did you see some guy at the mall in a pair of camo shorts?
I wrote “Camouflage” in the midst of Bush era warmongering. I was astonished that during a time of war, bombarded with images of combat and death, that we would choose to don the garments of war for the sake of style. I think the tipping point for me was when I saw an ad in the window of Babies-R-Us for a camouflage diaper bag.
I watched a video that focused specifically on your work ethic and your creative output. I wonder if you've watched that finished video. People tend to inherit their work ethic from their parents, religions, or the low-level buzz of their constant fear of death. Where did your constant need for progress stem from? Do you have a fear of death?
I am scared to die, but that is not my main motivation to work hard. I work hard because it is the best way to continue to improve. If I can improve until I die, I think I will have lived a life worth dying for.
How do you afford rent in Brooklyn as an artist? What happens to art when you must make money from it to survive?
I am having trouble affording rent in Brooklyn. Last year, I began the 12 Months Rent printmaking series to help with that problem. I printed an edition of 50 letterpress lino-cuts each month, and sold them on etsy. The prints were priced so I would make the exact amount of my rent. Nothing more nothing less. I sold every print. I paid my rent. I need to do it again. Soon. Before the eviction notice comes.
Who/What are five people/things you admire right now and why?
1. Sexy Leroy, cuz he is the best brother in the world. Plus, he is real good at fixing bikes.
2. Christopher Powell, cuz he can MPC the illest jams in the jelly aisle.
3. Copic markers, cuz they are the re-tippable and re-fillable.
4. Shara Worden, cuz I want to be like her when I grow up.
5. The sky, cuz it's the sky!
May is National Mental Health Month and National Hamburger Month and contains Mother's Day, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, the Kentucky Derby, the Supermoon, Armed Forces Day, Peace Day, Space Day, Lost Sock Memorial Day, and National Train Day. You have a cynical streak; can you celebrate invented holidays in earnest?
Had I known they celebrated invented holidays in Earnest, I never would have moved there!
How did you describe your music to a family member the last time you were asked? And how would you describe your new album to a thirteen-year-old boy?
A: I told them it was a big mess of everything clanked together.
B: I would tell him it is an oracle.
I sent your website to a friend in Brooklyn last week, and he wrote back the next day and said, "Do you think this guy needs a new best friend?" Your music and your artwork are so tight in their visions that people must often feel a personal connection to you. I've heard someone describe you as the "extraordinary everyman." As you tour and make more music, do you have to develop more distance between yourself and your fans, or do you feel you're still under the radar enough to field fan notes as a human?
I think it's great when people feel a personal connection to the things I make. I worry if they feel a connection to me, though. It's one thing to make a disappointing record. It's another thing all together to be a disappointing person. I fear that I am capable of both. Perhaps that's is what keeps me under the radar. Who knows?
And now my super-creepy fan note time: my boyfriend knows I'm a huge fan of your music and videos and general personhood. (I'm a lady, which often isn't clear from my name, but it's best for me when I'm writing.) He also knows I would totally marry you, even though I don't believe in the institution of marriage. Can you describe our wedding in detail? Please don't forget the catering.
Ha! I totally thought you were a man!
We will be married at night in a wooded grotto hung heavy with paper lanterns. I will be wearing a cool-grey, cotton tuxedo. You will be in a white linen gown that flows about your figure with simplicity and grace. Your hair will be up - your veil will be crafted of the most delicate Japanese paper. You will walk toward me down a path of sparkling powdered mica chips. I will smile and shed a single tear of joy. When you finally reach me, I will hold your hand. Once clasped, our hands will both cease their individual trembling. We will look into each other's eyes as the ceremony begins. Vows will be exchanged. You will tie a soft yellow ribbon around my wrist. I will place a cold smooth stone in the palm of your hand. We will be pronounced husband and wife. I will kiss you.
There will be a picnic and a fire. Someone will have a boom box. Everyone will dance. Our families will laugh together. Our friends will be happy. There will be fireflies and cake.
We will make a baby. And live happily ever after.
- Vice Blog