So many Activities
By A.L. Herzog
“…A record can be made anywhere and by anyone,” says Riles Walsh. “I could hit five recording studios with an old mop from my porch.”
Best known as the vocals, guitars, and keys at the forefront of grandiose folk act The Candliers, Riles Walsh – who’s maybe cheeky, or maybe just far-out – recently established a DIY label and collective called Activities as a means to sustain his industrious self, friends, and bandmates and their “generally excessive back catalogs.”
Naturally, Walsh rejects the classification of both label and collective, preferring to describe Activities as “a group of people making lots of music” without “hard-line rules or preexisting notions of how music is made or how it must be.” Comprised of members of The Candliers, the Trusty Knife, Farms in Trouble and more, Activities boasts a long list of versatile individuals working behind the scenes.
Like-minded yet unaffiliated bands such as Elusive Parallelograms, Freight, John the Savage and Pigs on Ice helped officially launch Activities on September 19, 2008 in a two-night showcase at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. These bands, who don’t “rely on rock music’s traditional expressions,” also contributed to Activities’ Compilation Volume One: Milwaukee (ACT002) (read VITAL’s review here), as did Crappy Dracula and Dear Astronaut, among others. The comp is available for purchase only via mail order. “Wasting time, maybe?” Walsh says when asked to justify relying on the Post Office. “I don’t know. I’m usually too busy watching paint dry.”
He sells himself short; he still manages to keep a hand in everything, including the avant-garde Farms in Trouble, who used the kick-off event as platform to release a full-length called The Gas Station Soundtrack (ACT003). The appropriately titled compact disc — 27 tracks inside a collaged cardstock sleeve adorned by Activities’ signature classic typeface — plays like an impulsive pit-stop receipt. There are sound experiments (“Field Sweep”), short/sweet ditties (“Hot Lunch/Cold Lunch”), sunshiny pop (“Like a Needle in Heaven”) and even a stab at hip-hop (“Many Boss Levels”). A follow-up disc, One Word, is under way, but in the meantime, Activities plans to release The Gas Station Soundtrack on the thriving cassette tape medium.
“The only thing we can hope for is that people will like the music,” says Walsh. As for all the rest, he instead focuses on why small imprints like Activities are founded in the first place: “a necessity to create without worrying about how.” VS
Check out the record release show for the Trusty Knife on December 6 at Mad Planet, and/or see the Candliers play the Cactus Club in Bayview on November 29, 2008. If you like what you hear, you may direct all inquires about sales and possible collaborations to Activities at P.O. Box 510571, Milwaukee, WI 53202.