Leading up to Thanksgiving, Creative Capital celebrated their 15th anniversary with a series of performances at Joe’s Pub running Monday November 24 through Wednesday November 26. The week kicked off with a champagne toast from none-other than Champagne Jerry and his entourage, the Champagne Club, featuring Max Tannone, Sophia Cleary, Gillian Walsh, Farris Craddock, with an appearance by Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock. I was sold from the get go—a ruckus entrance with confetti poppers and table dancing—and kept laughing through the epic, melting, slow motion finale. And I left with this piece of advice: “Say something ridiculous.” So in the spirit of the hilarity that ensued that evening, I caught up with Neal Medlyn (2013 Performing Arts), aka Champagne Jerry, for a conversation on celebration.
Brighid Greene: Creative Capital is celebrating 15 years; what were you up to 15 years ago?
Neal Medlyn: Fifteen years ago I was living in Texas playing experimental noise music in coffee shops for horrified people. I was a few months out from quitting my noise band, taking my boom box to various cafes and galleries in Austin, and putting on Lionel Richie songs and running amok in front of horrified Austinites.
Brighid: Creative Capital also supported your past project “King” in 2013. When did Champagne Jerry come into the mix, and how did it spawn out of “King?”
Neal: I had been making this series of pop star based shows and as I reached the final one, “King,” one of the things I was grappling with was how to end the series, what I wanted to do next, how this new thing I had just started doing, Champagne Jerry, fit in with my whole body of work. It was really at the Creative Capital retreat, talking to other artists that really helped me come to more unified vision of what I was doing. I figured out how I was going to end “King” and how that ending fed into Champagne Jerry and how, going forward, Champagne Jerry would feed back into “King” and all the Pop Star Series shows.
Brighid: Everyone was having a great time, especially going wild for “Yo Kev,” your song about softball that’s a collaboration between Champagne Jerry (Lyrics; #16, Ht: 6’1″, Bats: Right, Throws: Right, Raps: Left) and Adam Ad-Rock Horovitz (Music and Lyrics, #3, Ht: 5’7″, Bats: Right, Throws: Right, Raps: Ambidextrous). You perform quite often at Joe’s Pub, is there a home team feel?
Neal: I love performing at Joe’s Pub! I love everyone from Shanta to the wait staff. I feel like people are always talking about how context affects one’s work: how the shape of the space affects it, how the economics of non-profits or for profits or museums or DIY spaces, etc. affect your work.
For me, the freedom afforded by working in place where they really believe in you makes me feel more creative than the presence or absence of certain kinds of flooring or architecture and Joe’s Pub has always made me feel free and supported in a truly wonderful way.
Brighid: This past weekend was Black Friday, the biggest day of the year for superstores like Walmart. Coincidentally Champagne Jerry has also performed at Walmart. How does this versatility amplify the complete Champagne Jerry experience?
Neal: Versatility is super integral to the whole Champagne Jerry situation. This was also something that came up for me via Creative Capital and the Artist Retreat, and I’m not just saying that because it’s you that’s asking! I realized I wanted to try to get my work in front of as many different people in as many different contexts as possible. That is very important to me conceptually and politically, especially given where I came from, growing up in such a rural isolated place. It also allows me to focus more on the liveness of the show, on the presence of people in the room, on music, on that pseudo-religious experience of concerts.
Also, we performed at Walmarts because we couldn’t book a show on that day of the tour and didn’t want to let that stop us from bringing our situation to the people!
Brighid: The live Champagne Jerry experience also relies on video, ranging from low-fi found iPhone footage for “Be Number One” to a slick music video for “Business Pony.” How do you make those aesthetic choices and then integrate video into the show?
Neal: Really, Jason Cacioppo, who I work with on most of the videos, has been totally integral in the whole look of the Champagne Jerry videos. I like the whole project having this aesthetic tension between super slick, high resolution, high definition things and really homemade, low end looking things: bragging about selling out the New Museum and then bragging about driving a Chevette.
Jason really understands how to make that happen on film. He’s just a brilliant genius who is so wonderfully meticulous and pours so much into making the videos. He’s a real thrill to work with.
Beyond that, I really liked releasing each song as its own event, with its own look, its own video, its own live show, etc. and each video sort of introducing new elements of Champagne Jerry and the Champagne Club. “Be Number One” introduces the Ghost of Champagne Past. “Get the F Up” introduces Farris. “Business Pony” introduces Sophia. “Yo Kev” introduces Adam and so on.
Brighid: And so to close then, where will Champagne Jerry be in 15 years?
Neal: Fifteen years from now, Champagne Jerry and the Champagne Club will have shelves full of various trophies, standing in a hallway about to go onstage in front of thousands of people. At the end of the show, they’ll slide on champagne- and dildo-covered slip-and-slides into history.
You can see Champagne Jerry perform live at Pianos for free on January 9, 2015. For more information on Champagne Jerry’s live performances and music videos, check out his website www.champagnejerry.com.