BRATTLEBORO—Jonas Fricke, a Putney-based musician and artist, who performs and records what he calls his “one-man radical-courage-music choir and drum brigade” under the name “If not I than who then,” released a new album, Radical Courage Music Vol. 2 last month.
When asked to describe his music, Fricke replied, “radio dial, many-personalitied, information beat-boxing.”
“There’s always a channeled aspect,” he said, adding, “my best lyrics come on the fly as I’m performing, and I try to capture them and learn from them myself. Some lyrics on this album I’d never sung before. There are few boundaries between my visual art and my music.”
Fricke, who plays a drum kit and sings, also incorporates beat-boxing to the “If not I than who then” musical mix, sending bits of his voice through a loop pedal to add layers of percussion to the melody. Meanwhile, he’s not just sitting there fiddling with sticks and knobs. Fricke moves around a lot on stage, adding rhythm-driven dance moves.
The visuals don’t stop there.
The clothing Fricke wears for his performances often displays the same patchwork style he brings to his pieces. A garment may begin as a simple suit jacket, but have other pieces of fabric sewn on the base; some elements are hand-drawn or screen-printed art pieces Fricke created.
When “If not I than who then” plays, Fricke’s paintings are often displayed behind him, and at the recent Brattleboro Printmakers benefit show, he used some of his artwork as puppets to illustrate themes in the music.
Making an album
Radical Courage Music Vol. 2 was created through the process Fricke described as “a many-headed creative hydra.”
What began as a simple idea — make an album — quickly took on extra layers.
“It’s been like a six-ring circus,” he said.
Fricke said, “my first idea was to record a live album, and use the door money to pay for it.”
He quickly expanded his idea, first asking local filmmaker Wyatt Andrews to record it.
Then, Fricke thought: “a masquerade ball will look more fun” on film, “so, let’s do that.”
“I own a full-size parachute,” Fricke said was his next thought. “I’ll bring that for people to get underneath” during the show, he said.
“Then I put two of my 10-foot paintings behind me, and a giant painting by Saturn [Moon Ladyheart],” the artist, musician and carpenter who recently moved from the area to Pittsburgh, Pa.
Aaron Chesley, a local musician, recording engineer, and Headroom Stages owner, explained how he recorded the album.
He said Radical Courage Music Vol. 2 is a live album that was recorded at Headroom Stages in front of an audience. “I did all of the engineering for the live sound and track capture simultaneously in a single night’s show,” Chelsey said.
“All vocals were sent through a loop pedal, plus live drums,” Fricke said. “Aaron split the vocals into two tracks, and put four mics around me and two on the drums, so there were six tracks in all. Then Aaron added weird effects to already weird effects.”
“I’ve heard the strange and challenging subtleties that he produces and often thought how much of it probably goes right over people’s heads as they’re bouncing around,” Chesley said, adding, “which is of course a completely fine and right way to experience him, but I couldn’t help but think that they’re missing so much.”
“Jonas is about as unique an artist as I’ve met. Throughout the process, we both wanted to keep the abandon and heartfelt flavor of his performances but take it up several notches to really hear the nuance that happens, but can be hard to hear in a louder show,” Chesley said.
Making a movie
Fricke said Wyatt Andrews’s filming style utilized a similar aesthetic. “A lot can get lost” between a live event and film, Fricke said, “but [Andrews] is using effects to bring it back.”
“I’ve done a lot of unconventional things,” Andrews said of his work on Fricke’s videos. “I used a lot of over-the-top coloring and editing techniques and really just hammed it up.”
“Part of what has inspired me was lack of equipment,” Andrews continued. “Originally, this was going to be a two-camera shoot, and I was going to do something much simpler for the videos. My second camera fell through, so I was forced to shoot everything on one camera. At that point I knew the only option I had was to get real weird with how I edited things.”
Andrews has “done a great job of capturing my performance style,” Fricke said. He told the story of one of his methods for beginning a show: he would arrive at the venue and hide before his performance. “The audience wouldn’t know I was playing, and I’d just jump out of a closet or something” and begin the set.
Beginnings and influences
Fricke said he has been playing music “formally” since he was 11. “I’ve been in a lot of bands. I made my first recording when I was 14” in a band he had with Ben Ridgeway, Pete Bernhard, Cooper McBean, and Eli Berkowitz. “We were experimentally punk, but not classically punk,” he explained.
“I put myself through the gauntlet of being in jam bands,” Fricke said, playing drums and singing “with old men in Brattleboro when I was 19.” Fricke said he saw then that those “old men” could be his future: “I could be a youthful aging weirdo, and be in it just for the expression.”
When asked his influences, Fricke’s first response was that he created his own genre: “radical courage music."
“I grew up listening to experimental punk,” he said.
The band that most influenced him was Fugazi, the Washington, D.C.-based punk band Ian McKaye started in the mid-1980s after Minor Threat broke up. Fricke appreciated Fugazi because he saw them as “artistic and poetic, DIY, and political but not too sloganeering.”
Another influence was Crass, the situationist-inspired anarcho-punk band with a strong environmental and feminist ethos, whom Fricke mentioned for its creative culture-jamming.
Fricke was also guided by hip hop, especially 1990s-era and “intellectual fringe-y” acts such as Cincinnati-based experimental band cLOUDDEAD, and Aesop Rock, the name under which rapper and producer Ian Bavitz has performed since the mid-1990s.
Although Fricke also mentions Björk, the Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and singer who brings elements of performance art into her works, he said “my biggest influences creatively are my friends. I’m not just biased because I love them, but because of the creative pollen that holds the world together. We’re loud and proud.”
Fricke’s day job is a child-care provider. The kids are “real, and full of unbridled creativity.”
Fricke said that “it’s cool to feel different supportive platforms in this town,” specifically mentioning his partner, Tess Lindsay, Brattleboro Printmakers, the Future Collective, the art studios in Brattleboro’s Peoples Building, and the old Tinderbox arts and music collective.
Fricke grew up in the area, and said he “moved away a bunch, but was drawn back” about five years ago. “People’s support convinced me to stay."
“There’s something about this place that’s always fluxing. There’s energy, but it’s not the hothouse energy of other places. It’s very supportive without having to be genre-specific. People are down for whatever creative thing people are up to. It feels different from everywhere else I’ve lived,” he said.
“People always come back,” Fricke said. “Brattleboro is a good place to incubate, to bring it out to the world. It’s good for me to vagabond, to see people [elsewhere], then come home and keep creating.”