Arthur Hatton created Linescratchers — a blog, podcast and web forum for LDS musicians who don’t write/record/perform “LDS music” (e.g. devotional or Christian-pop inspired LDS music) — in June 20008 as a blogspot blog featuring artist interviews. It has since moved to its own domain name and expanded what it offers, including rolling out a podcast last June. The interviews are great, but it was the podcast that really got me excited about what Arthur is doing and convinced me that there are some very talented indie LDS musicians out there. Just yesterday, Linescratchers scored its biggest interview yet — Low’s Alan Sparhawk (Linescratchers takes its name from the Low song When I Go Deaf) . It’s a good interview and so are the others. I recommend you take the time to poke around the site if you haven’t yet, and do subscribe to the podcast.
Arthur was kind enough to have the tables turned on him by AMV and do the following Q&A.
What was the impetus behind the creation of Linescratchers?
The short answer is, I created it because it didn’t exist. There is no other website for LDS musicians who don’t write LDS Music. However, I’ve never been satisfied by the short answer. Linescratchers really came out of my experience with a few people in my life. For example, a young man who was told by his mother that he couldn’t be a rock musician and a good Mormon. After an argument with his father, he moved out of the house and decided the obvious choice was rock music. He lived in a storage unit where his band practiced, staying warm only by plugging in their stage lights and pointing them at himself as he slept. He slipped into a world of sex, drugs, and bad decisions. After perhaps twenty years, he has returned to activity and his wife was baptized. They are now sealed in the temple, but he is working overtime now to correct mistakes and will probably never feel caught up.
I know another young man who grew up in a small Mormon community. I moved to this community when I was around twenty and noticed right away that all of the artistic kids (the poets, rock musicians, and other artists) seemed to be marginalized and under-appreciated by the community, and as a result these kids developed an us vs. them mentality with their parents and with the Church. They got into all sorts of trouble and abused, among other things, over-the-counter medications. One young man was extremely talented and could write amazing songs, but was similarly caught up in drug abuse. When he decided he wanted to go on a mission, he put everything (including his music) behind him, because the only people he could make music with in town were the same people dragging him down before. He really hasn’t written a song since then.
I’ve got plenty of stories like this but in the interest of time I’ll let that suffice. Each of these situations were complex, and I don’t want to simplify them and pretend that rock music was the only factor, but what we’ve created is a false dichotomy in our communities, and I don’t know why. I live in Kentucky and here every Christian church has a youth band that plays during the week. There are Christian music festivals that make millions of dollars and lots of talented and famous Christian rock groups, so I don’t personally believe that rock music is by definition incompatible with spirituality.
As a second component to this, there is a genre of music broadly referred to as “LDS music,” but frankly, the focus there is on very transparent lyrics that don’t require a lot of brain power, and simple and catchy music that doesn’t distract. A quick Google search of “LDS music” will show you exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t want to offend anyone, but it’s simply not that good. Our most talented and creative musicians think that in order to succeed in the LDS community, they have to write music like that (which unfortunately seems to be true). Thus, our best and brightest are leaving for markets that value substance. I’m sure your readers are quite familiar with these issues in the context of literature, film, and poetry, and I’m here to tell you that music isn’t any different.
That’s the long answer. Linescratchers fills a niche that simply didn’t exist. When I got involved online I found that I had basically no support in any of the “LDS Music” communities (it was very strange and frustrating), and so I rolled up my sleeves and just did it all myself. To this day it’s a one-man operation, but I love it!
What are your goals with the website and podcast?
The goal, hopefully, is to create a space for all these LDS musicians. For the musician, it shows that they can create art that is complex, subtle, honest, and real, and still be accepted by other Latter-day Saints. For the listeners, it provides a source for them to educate themselves about good art, and help support other Latter-day Saints. At the end of the year I’m trying to wade through the legalities of creating a “Best of 2009″ compilation CD. One day I hope to have a regular podcast, a huge library of music from all over the world, and perhaps even create a record label with non-bar musical venues in the future. A man can dream, can’t he?
Just publishing interviews and podcasts can get overwhelming for me. I’ve considered turning Linescratchers into a group blog, with contributors in different places, but I’ve found it hard to find people who really “get” what I’m trying to do. Too many are still caught up in the EFY, Deseret Book paradigm. I think if I do this myself long enough I can really establish a standalone genre that people can get on board with without diluting the driving force behind creating it.
What has been the response so far from LDS musicians? What response has surprised you most?
A: It was like the stone cut out of the mountain. At first, I was doing a lot of work in order to find these musicians. I didn’t even know how many LDS artists existed. I was afraid I would find maybe ten mediocre musicians out there, and that’s it, so it was a little scary for me. The last thing I wanted to do was to prove my suspicions right (you can’t be a good musician and a Mormon at the same time).
I found quite the opposite: a huge underground system of quality LDS musicians. It was amazing. And some of those musicians rival in quality the best of the world. In rap music, Young Sim and Definit in Salt Lake are just as good as any famous rapper you’ll hear (and they write clean music too). Canoe in Portland are just as complex as Sufjan Stevens. I would say that Roxy Rawson is even more creative than, say, Regina Spektor (to whom she is sometimes compared). Dream Theater fans should definitely check out Hourglass, they’re just as talented in their instruments and arrangements. Cary Judd is our resident thoughtful pop musician (who can somehow intertwine pop music and cosmology seamlessly). We even have Kristen Lawrence, professional organist, who writes Halloween music. There are plenty more, you’ll just have to see the website. If anyone tells you that “LDS Music is stagnant,” it’s because for some crazy reason, these musicians aren’t considered part of “LDS Music” and that’s simply sad.
One of the both strengths and weaknesses of Linescratchers is that you feature music from a whole variety of genres. There is a school of thought among some Mormon consumers of art that you should seek out the best art and not pay attention to whether the artist is LDS or not. What is your response to that? Why should LDS listen to the podcast and support Linescratchers?
Right before I created Linescratchers I heard a song that changed my life. I’d known about the band Low from my music-loving friends in college, and so I was shocked when I found out they are LDS and married in the temple, with kids. I was curious about their music, and so I just randomly searched for a song I could listen to. I eventually found a song called “The Lamb.” When I finished that song, I was shaking. Literally SHAKING! That song changed everything. It was complex, dark, deep, and absolutely beautiful, but what was more, I heard the secret message. My friends who loved Low had heard the song a million times but didn’t even know there were spiritual connotations at all.
This is why I think art from within our community is useful and deep for us. We grew from the same soil. Suddenly, music becomes a secret code, and we have the key. When Alan Sparhawk says “they’ll take my name/and feed my children/with my remains/in the holy temple/’cuz I am the lamb/and I’m a dead man,” we know what source he’s drawing his water from. The taste is familiar to us, and the song becomes amazing and beautiful on an even deeper level than those who just appreciate the song at face-value. I’m happy to say that after a full year-and-a-half of Linescratchers, I’ve finally gotten the opportunity to interview Alan Sparhawk, and that interview will be published on October 4th. I’m very, very excited about it.
That’s not to say that we should ignore art that wasn’t written by Latter-day Saints. Even after creating Linescratchers, my favorite bands with the exception of Low are still not LDS. But with Latter-day Saints, there is an added layer of complexity that makes it so much more interesting.
One misconception, I think, is that Linescratchers was created in order to find “clean” music. While I think appropriate and/or clean lyrics are a nice by-product of LDS artists, that’s really not what it’s all about. I would say it’s secondary. The primary purpose is to create a genre of music that includes all LDS musicians. They know what’s appropriate and they can govern themselves. I have no authority over them and I’m not a censor. I just give them a venue to express themselves.
One thing you do with each podcast or interview is provide links to the musicians’ MySpace pages or websites and to iTunes. Are any of the musicians seeing sales and/or new followers as a result? I know I added Northern Labour Party as a MySpace friend and am now following Jake of the Sweater Friends on Twitter.
To be honest, that’s hard to quantify. I think those musicians might be able to tell you better than I could. I will say that one thing I am happy about is the fact that Linescratchers seems to make connections between musicians. Scot Alexander from Dishwalla and Ian Fowles from The Aquabats! were connected for the first time in years through Linescratchers. One musician from Linescratchers has offered to produce the music of another musician after he heard his music on Linescratchers. I even had two musicians, Ian from Good Morning Passenger and Becca from Sunshine Brady and the Moonlight Lady, run into each other on the BYU-I campus and recognized each other through Linescratchers. Great story. I like hearing about this stuff because it makes me feel like I’m connecting people.
Tell us about yourself. How did you become an “LDS musician who doesn’t play LDS music”? What are your artistic influences and loves, musical and otherwise/LDS and non-LDS?
A: In order to avoid criticism of being self-serving, I’m under-emphasized my own music in Linescratchers. However, I am a songwriter myself. In fact, Linescratchers is really just an extension of my own experience. It was my struggle with being an LDS musician that led to my empathy with other LDS musicians. I’ve been involved in numerous projects but you can hear my music at my MySpace page and the MySpace page for my project Tremendous Machines.
I mentioned that my favorite musicians are not LDS, and that will probably continue to be true, if only because I love them so very much. When I was younger I was turned on to music by The Beatles and Yes, and that love grew as I discovered Bad Company, Black Sabbath, Dream Theater and Silverchair. Kevin Moore (Chroma Key and OSI) is one of my favorite musicians ever. I adore King’s X and Porcupine Tree, which is why I was so excited when they toured together recently. Last week my wife and I drove 11 hours to Philadelphia just to see one of those shows. It was amazing. Dug Pinnick is an amazing and compelling person and I pray for him often.
Finally, what are the challenges facing LDS musicians? As you’ve networked LDS musicians and now interview them for the Linescratchers podcast, are there any common threads that emerge?
I think the thing that has really stuck out to me is how different they all are. Not all of them would agree with me that there is a problem with LDS Music nowadays. Others do. Not all of them want to be career musicians. I guess it just surprised me to find out that they’re all different, with different challenges and hopes and dreams.
I have noticed, though, that it seems that deep down, all these musicians would love to find success in the LDS community, they just don’t know how. They’re afraid of being misunderstood. That’s why Linescratchers is focused on interviews. I think if Latter-day Saints really understood these musicians, then a natural extension of that would be buying their music. Hopefully Linescratchers can accommodate all of them and be an active part of their success. I want to be able to do this for years and years.
Thank you so much for this opportunity. I’m humbled that someone out there would be interested in my project. Thank you.
And many thanks to you, Arthur!