Mesmerized in Madison takes a strange cross-section of local music
A talk with the curator of the eclectic compilation, which gets its vinyl release Feb. 13 at Mickey’s.
To follow music in Madison is to grapple with an ever-shifting hodge-podge of genres. In fact, what keeps it interesting is the relative lack of a cohesive music community, and this messy variety is part of what inspired Jason Hartman, guitarist for local band Vanishing Kids, to create the recently released compilation Mesmerized In Madison. The compilation's vinyl release will be celebrated with a Saturday, February 13 show at Mickey's Tavern. Mesmerized favors the outlandish and the abrasive, but even in that it's all over the place, spanning from the instrumental doom-metal of Emerald Douglas to the menacing country of Those Poor Bastards to the playfully bonkers electronic jams of Kleptix. (Full disclosure: Tone Madison contributor Joel Shanahan has one track on the compilation, under his Auscultation moniker.)
The vinyl-release show follows in that genre-jumbling spirit. Only two acts from the compilation are on the bill: Eerie electronic project Red Museum and Vanishing Kids, who play a beautiful slurry of post-punk, metal, psych, and gloomy goth-rock balladry. Also on the bill are sludge duo Dosmalés (celebrating the cassette release of their new EP), synth-drone explorer Conjuror, and Hussy guitarist Bobby Hussy's new synth-pop project, Cave Curse. Ahead of the show, Hartman talked with me about what inspired the compilation and how Vanishing Kids' new material is shaping up as they work on a new release.
Tone Madison: You decided to make this compilation after you moved away from Madison for a while, lived in Portland, and then came back. As you got back into music here, what happened that got you motivated again?
Jason Hartman: I've gotten pretty excited about the music scene here since I've been back. It's changed a lot since I was here before. I think I was here last from 2004 to 2006, and I've been here a number of times over the years. Right now, I feel like it has a really eclectic music scene with a lot of different genres. Maybe it's more broad than it was back then, maybe just more my taste nowadays, I guess. But there's a lot of cool stuff going on and I wanted to try to capture that moment that's happening within the last couple years up to the present.
Tone Madison: It does always change over the years, just the mix of stuff that's here. What's reflected on this compilation is a lot of heavier stuff and abrasive stuff, but also experimental music and electronic stuff. Who were some of the acts who first got you interested in doing this?
Jason Hartman: It's not a broad spectrum of everything in town, because there's just so much going on right now. There's some genres definitely really lacking. There's not a lot of the garage-rock stuff that's happening—I know there's a lot of that going on—but the experimental stuff was really a change from before. I just don't remember it being as prevalent here as it is now. The whole Good Style Shop kind of scene and stuff, and Samantha Glass....I bought a couple of the Samantha Glass records and really liked that a lot, so I wanted to kind of mix that up with what I've always kind of been interested in, like different aspects of rock. The heavy stuff has always been good in Madison. So mixing all that together I think, works well together somehow. It seems like everybody kind of supports each other. Even though the genres are really different, it still seems to sort of work somehow.
Tone Madison: Some of the artists on this compilation are people you've known for a while, from your earlier periods living here, like DB Pedersen, but some were definitely new to you when you came back a few years ago. It sounds like Samantha Glass was one of those—what are some of the others that were more recent discoveries for you?
Jason Hartman: There is definitely some of my friends' stuff or bands that I've watched over the years, or bands that I've just admired over the years. Red Museum's a new thing. That's more of an electronic kind of thing too. I came back to Madison and had a kid, and I didn't go to shows that much right away, so it took a while to see the different things. So most of these people are all new. Madison has so much turnover of bands and people. There's a few bands on there that are old friends or people that I knew, but most of it is just new people I've met through going to shows and playing shows.
Tone Madison: Some of the bands here are relatively well-known around town, like Those Poor Bastards and Panther and Samantha Glass, but a few, like Red Museum and Emerald Douglas, are a little more new even to people in town. How did you come to know those bands?
Jason Hartman: Well, Emerald Douglas' Jon Lang has had a few different projects. I was in the band Sardonyx and played with some of his older projects before. I think we played with Mercian a couple times and then it changed to Orogen, and now Emerald Douglas I think is his main thing. Just from playing shows, I guess, and kind of following what the progression has been with his projects. Red Museum, Sam Shinners is a friend I played with in Sardonyx. I really liked what he was doing, and it's kind of like an '80s horror movie type theme.
Tone Madison: It's named for an X-Files episode, isn't it?
Jason Hartman: Yeah. He's got like a burlap cloak or something that he plays in.
Tone Madison: A few of the bands on here aren't really going anymore, including Sardonyx, which you were in, and then Panther, who contributed a new song here.
Jason Hartman: Right. Hart Allan Miller [drummer for Vanishing Kids, Wartorn, and other bands] recorded a lot of stuff on the comp. He did the Sardonyx track and the Panther track, and he did some work on the Vanishing Kids song, too. I guess Panther has seven or eight songs they recorded with him, and they're still trying to keep it together. I know Marit [lead singer of Panther and Sardonyx] moved, that's the main reason those bands aren't around right now, but I think their plan is to eventually try to make it work, at least with Panther. I would like to see them play again. It seems like they've just been doing holiday shows every year for a couple of years. They were really impressive, when I came back, to see that live, it's just a really good visual. It's a powerful visual.
Tone Madison: There's also a new Vanishing Kids song on here called "Eyes Of Secrets," which is part of the new live set you've been playing live lately. A lot of the new material is gloomy and ballad-y. How is that shaping up for you?
Jason Hartman: We have half of a new band now—we have a new rhythm section, Jerry Sofran on bass and Hart on drums. It's just been a natural process, I guess. We've written the songs together. Nikki [Drohomyreky, Vanishing Kids singer and keyboard player] mostly comes up with the songs—I would say 2/3 Nikki and 1/3 me have like an idea and bring it in and everybody kind of shapes it together. It's just kind of come out that way, a lot of slower stuff. We're still trying to make it kind of a powerful thing, but I think it's just natural for us to have kind of a downtempo—we've never been a really fast band, but I think the even more exaggerated slow side of us is coming out in this new stuff. Maybe we should try to write something to tip the scale, but I don't want to force anything.
Tone Madison: I'm used to the Vanishing Kids stuff being kind of all over the place stylistically from song to song, so it's interesting to go see you live now and have these sets that hang together really differently.
Jason Hartman: I think we're kind of consciously trying to be—not to be one style, but to focus a little more. I think some of our writing processes have been totally random and just whatever comes out, and it's still like that, but we want to set some boundaries and make it make a little bit more sense. We're trying to simplify it a bit more and make it more focused. It's natural, with these new guys. Our new bass player, he plays kind of just what's needed in the songs, and the drums are kind of the same way. It's a little bit less progressive and a little bit more song-oriented. The new stuff is maybe more melancholy-feeling than some of the previous material.