Brain gain is a reality, folks. It’s happening here in Buffalo, which is perhaps baffling for people who have lived here for more than five years, and endured a time when our region was considered a poster child for brain drain.
For me, as for many others, the descriptive “Millennial” is about as appealing as “grunge” or “Gen X-er,” so I’ll avoid it and simply suggest that our vibrant arts culture is now attracting vibrant artists of various ages, shapes, sizes and facial hair preferences. Bean Friend – yes that is pretty much the coolest name ever – is one such vibrant artist. Originally from Philadelphia, Friend and his Buffalo-born wife had been calling Toronto home for the past several years, but, as Friend said, “she’s a boomerang, and couldn’t help but come back (home) to Buffalo.”
Drawn to the dilapidated grandeur of Silo City on the Buffalo River, Bean conceived a project whereby the empty silos could be employed as an ambient acoustic environment. The result is “The Moving Decade,” a stirring and evocative collection of piano pieces tracked within the silos.
Bean’s project offers a snapshot of the cultural benefits that often develop concomitant with economic resurgence in long-neglected urban areas with battered-but-dedicated arts communities. Which is to suggest that he’s exactly the kind of person we need to lure here.
“We honestly weren’t sure we were going to stay here long-term, but it took us about a month and we loved it here,” Friend says of his migration south from Toronto. “We knew it was our home.”
A listening party and collaborative art show celebrating the release of “The Moving Decade” takes place at Jan. 21 at Big Orbit Art Gallery. Visual artist Max Collins will project his photography in time with Friend’s music.
Question: How did the Silo project come about?
Answer: My wife, Maris Grundy, was working on some landscaping projects down at Silo City with PUSH this summer. She kept telling me ‘You gotta check this place out- it’s phenomenal - I can’t even describe it to you,’ so I had to go see it. When I did, I was first struck by how full of life everything is down there, while also living up to its post-industrial solitude. You can just feel the history of the space, with the Buffalo River flowing by.
On that initial visit, I met the folks that help make Silo City what it is: Swannie Jim, Bob the Builder, and Rick Smith, the owner of Silo City. As they showed me around the old grain silos and told me a bit of history, their voices bounced off of the walls and I immediately thought, ‘What a sound! I would love to make music in here.’ The reverb was so lush and unlike any other space that I’ve ever been to.
Q: The natural reverb in those silos is outrageous. I remember interviewing Jim James of My Morning Jacket a few years back, and asking him about the gorgeous vocal reverb on their then-latest album, “It Still Moves.” He told me the vocals were tracked in a grain silo. Were there previous projects like this one that inspired you to record “The Moving Decade” in a similar way?
A: To be honest, I really felt ambient music was the way to go in the silos, because I felt it would afford the most space for the unique reverberations to be captured and appreciated. The work of the ambient greats Harold Budd, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno has had a profound effect on me. Their sense of space, minimalism and tone have always wowed me. I was looking to capture that type of space in my music, while also showcasing the beauty of the sounds in the silos.
Q: Is there a subtext at work here, as suggested by the album title? Some sort of commentary on these abandoned silos, and the hint of rejuvenation that’s in the air these days?
A: Yes. The title was a collaborative creation with my father-in-law, David Grundy, and it really felt appropriate on multiple levels. Firstly, for myself. I’m turning 30 this year and there has been a lot of change for me. It’s been one of those times where everything seems to be moving so quickly and so much is happening, but also a time where I have been doing a lot of reflecting. So ‘The Moving Decade’ seemed to fit where I feel I am.
It’s also fitting for my new home, Buffalo. The city has seen some serious change over the past decade and I felt the title described those changes. I think the subtext is actually almost subconscious, in that it is a reflection of how the past decade has gone, while being present in the moment - paying tribute to the past while expectantly forging the future. We really can’t wisely move forward without acknowledging where we’ve come from, and I hope that quality comes across in the music.
Q: How much of the material was improvised? Were you reacting in real-time to the environment and the sounds and overtones that environment created?
A: Every song was essentially written in the silos. I spent so much energy getting the details together - contacting the right people, moving the piano, renting the U-Haul, and figuring out how to record in the silos - that once I actually sat down at the piano, I had a moment where I realized I didn’t have any distinct plan. I actually think this worked to my advantage in a great way, because it allowed me to be inspired by Silo City, completely. Prior to this project, I never really considered myself a pianist, because I grew up mainly playing bass in rock bands. I appreciated that my process and the material really developed together in the silos and brought the music out of me.
Who: Bean Friend
When: Jan. 21
Where: Big Orbit Art Gallery, 30D Essex St.