Ohio Interviews: Wade Schuman

Ohio Interviews


WS: “This from the animal class I am teaching… we had a very nice Goat. I have no idea who the guy in the bear suit is!”

I once had the terrible luck to follow Wade Schuman at a reading. He wasn’t reading anything; he played harmonica. What he did with the harmonica, though, was so radical and free that it completely changed the energy of the place. He literally blew the space open. It was like trying to play a bar after Godzilla has stomped on it.

Wade and his globetrotting band, Hazmat Modine, are one of the greatest live shows you will ever see. And as if possessing huge talent in one art weren’t enough, Wade is also a masterful visual artist who shows his fantastical paintings with Forum gallery, on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.

This month, on Saturday, Feb 23, he will be playing from 7 to 10 PM with Hazmat Modine at Terra Blues, 149 Bleecker Street, NYC.

Wade, I think we need to start by just catching up with you! Can you give me a quick run down of what you’ve been doing with Hazmat and painting or any other visual/sonic work lately?

Weeellllll……. We are preparing for the spring tour. This time around we are bringing Rachelle Garniez, a great New York City singer/song writer and accordion player. She will also play a Claviola my brother bought for me. It’s an extinct free reed instrument which you play by blowing through a tube but which has a keyboard…kinda like a weird melodica combined with a pipe organ. It sounds halfway between a harmonica, a clarinet, and an accordion.

In the spring we go to Borneo to play at the Jazz festival in Miri. I am very excited about that as I love that area of the world – Malaysia and Indonesia. I hope to do some snorkeling and trekking in the jungle. The biodiversity on Borneo is astonishing. They also have some of the largest caves in the world with about 60 feet of solid bat guano and millions and millions of bats.  Amazing jungles. Flora, fauna…I plan to look for the illusive Sunda Stink Badger and Proboscis Monkeys. Then we will go to Korea, then we do about a three – four week tour on the schnitzel circuit: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and then go to Holland, Sweden, maybe Italy. In the later part of the summer we will go to Canada.  There is also a chance we will go to Siberia and play at the festival of Nomads on Lake Biakal, which is a huge fresh water inland sea. it has something like 10 percent of the world’s fresh water and even has fresh water seal! Siberia is an amazing place and I would be very excited to go back. We were there last year and I got to visit Tuva (for one day!).

I am also working on some new tunes with my friend Erik Della Penna from Kill Henry Sugar. We are working on a song based on that old rock n’ roll staple: forbidden teenage summer love called. It’s called “Your Sister.” And another about Erik’s dad, who is building an insane huge stone wall near Woodstock. It’s like the Watts towers being made by an Italian-American ex school teacher from the Bronx. We are also working on a song from the perspective of the stuffed animals that are tied to the fronts of garbage trucks here in NYC.

I love the stuffed animal song idea! What’s going on with painting?

I am also finishing up a painting from a series I am doing on Virtue. Years ago I did the Seven Deadly Sins, now I thought I would do the Virtues, but I am making up my own, and kind of collecting them. That is, asking people what they think a virtue is. It’s quite revealing.

Study-for-Virtues---Humour- copy
“Study for the Virtue–Humor” by Wade Schuman

I did one on Humor which I think is the most under rated human quality. No one takes it seriously.  It’s a very human skill. For this I did a self portrait as a baboon, as I think the ability to laugh at one’s self is one of the greatest achievements of consciousness. It can literally keep us alive and going. The portrait is kind of a mirror of one of Velazquez’s buffoon paintings for King Philip: the one of the dwarf named Francisco Lezcano. So it’s also a reflection on the use and misuse of humor and objectification as apposed to self objectification in humor.  The king kept thousands of dwarves, the mentally ill, and physically impaired people at his palaces for amusement and to make himself look more regal. They were essentially slaves. The Velazquez paintings are incredibly moving. So anyway I have turned it around and am making a monkey of myself This is just a preparatory sketch done in ballpoint for the painting. I am also doing a figure of Fortitude which is a Bull with a boys head, and Self Sacrifice which is a fish with a human head. It’s  the head of my friend Robert Palumbo, a film maker. I am finishing that painting now: it’s not easy..the last part is always the hardest.

It is thrilling to hear about your world travels and I wonder–what country or culture do you think has embraced your music the most and why?

I guess I would say Germany and Austria. But that may be because our agent is German and has the most contacts there. We travel the most in Germany and American music is very popular in Germany. It’s really a great place to tour, great sound engineers, great venues, and Germans understand English and my sense of humor, which is very important for me. But so many countries are wonderful, Russians are so warm and I love playing there. Holland, Finland, Italy, etc. Portugal is fantastic! This past summer Canada was also great. So it’s hard to say.

Also, you are one of the few people I know who is performing at such a masterful level in two separate media. I am interested on your take on the process of creating for/with the eye vs. the ear. Can you tell us a little about how you experience the differences between those two processes?

In painting I am very trained and schooled in technique and traditional method. I studied a LOT of art history and have been teaching for over twenty years. So I would say that the creative process I use in painting is split between my mind and my intuition. I use both equally and it often requires slow deliberation and consideration. With the music I rely so much on intuition; I am self taught and can’t read or write music so it’s a very different process.

Also, music is very collaborative, I have a big band with eight people, and we often collaborate with musicians from other countries and cultures, so it’s a shared process of creation that exists often in real time.

Painting is slow, painting is solitary, and in painting I am also thinking in a different time space because in my mind I am interacting also with paintings that are hundreds of years old often trying to bridge a gap in the language from then to now.

The origins of kind of music I do is rather young. Even though we are often considered world music, in essence it’s really American roots music, and America as we know it now hasn’t been around that long… even if the roots of the music go way back.

One thing I do that bridges the two in a strange way is teaching. I am a very dedicated teacher, the third generation art teacher in the family, and teaching involves performance in real time and real improvisation, but teaching art at a graduate school is also very very visual as well. It’s a funny thing that often in the visual arts I get the sense that people feel embarrassed if they teach, as if it’s a sell out, that a real artist should only make a living in their art careers. From my perspective those people shouldn’t be teaching. I love it, and I feel that it’s really a privilege in so many ways, and also exciting when you can have a positive effect in another person’s life, something that allows them to achieve their own goals. That is amazing.

At the moment I have started a course on animals in art called Man & Beast. Last week we had a beautiful Angora billy-goat come to the school along with chickens and a duck. In a few weeks we will get a horse and I am hoping for a live alligator and a penguin.

For more info: hazmatmodine.com