Melissa Czarnik heads to France for new album
Not only do her initials match her calling, but Milwaukee’s own Melissa Czarnik’s skills match her passion and aspirations for the local hip hop scene. Czarnik has been selected to participate in a two-month artist residency at Camac Centre D’Art in Marnay-sur-Seine, France. In a few short weeks, Czarnik will embark upon a journey of music, culture, and creativity made possible by support from her beloved hometown.
Czarnik first learned about residence opportunities through her employment at Woodland Pattern Book Center, which hosts events for travelling writers and musicians. Deciding it was time to focus more on her work as an emcee and poet, she applied to five programs in France. The proposal highlighted her work as an internationally-known hip hop artist, and requested the time and creative space to work on her fourth album, Non Merci. (Previous albums are available through her website, http://melissaczarnik.com.) After being accepted by two residencies, she chose Camac’s program for its affordability and proximity to Paris.
For Czarnik, the residency offers her the opportunity to explore her creative process in a new environment. While she admits to being a bit intimidated by the prospect of travelling alone to a foreign country, Czarnik is looking forward to a challenge. Her plan is to include the experience of the residency into the album via field recordings and collaborative guest appearances to be scheduled during her stay. She’s already made plans to record a track with indie singer-songwriter Roxie Beane, and hopes to take advantage of connections made on-site and through her work as an editor for Annattitude, a German-based hip hop magazine.
What makes Non Merci special for Czarnik is the chance to push herself as an artist and writer. Much of her experience as an emcee has been strongly tied to her work with producer, collaborator, and long-time partner Eric Mire. Mire produces the beats, and Czarnik writes the lyrics to accompany. The residency allows both artists to challenge their creative process, while giving Czarnik the opportunity to steer the project more organically. During her stay, she plans to commune with creative sorts from around the globe, get her poetry on, and write at least 20 songs.
Though the album’s name translates to “no, thank you,” Czarnik acknowledges the support she has received from the community. The name came after a camping trip where she reflected on Wisconsin’s current political climate. Hip hop is historically a medium for expressing resistance to oppression, and Non Merci is Czarnik’s way of saying no to the wrongs experienced by the people of Milwaukee.
“[Eric and I] kept thinking about things like healthcare, and the education system, and how people can’t even get a job if they want one,” said Czarnik. “We think about all of these people who are controlling our society. We say, ‘no thank you, because you’re screwing us.’ That’s the major theme of this project.”
After a successful Indiegogo campaign, Czarnik is focusing on finding additional funding in hopes of making the most of her time abroad. While Mire will play an instrumental role in the production of the album, having him on the ground during the final week will give Czarnik the upper hand: the duo will be able to promote Non Merci while already abroad.
While her portion of the expenses are covered, Czarnik continues the campaign to schedule a full-on European tour. If the fundraising goals are met, Mire will travel to France to record Non Merci and join Czarnik on tour. “There are no more grants for individual artists in Wisconsin, so I have to go another route to make this happen,” said Czarnik. “If I don’t do this now, seize the opportunity, I’ll always wonder, “am I strong enough to do that?””
Perks for supporters of the Indiegogo campaign include the usual pre-release downloads, autographed CDs, and posters, but Czarnik is putting her creativity to use here as well. Supporters who donate generously can look forward to an experimental DVD shot by Czarnik on 16mm, or an in-home concert with a French wine and cheese spread.
You can also check out Czarnik’s skills at a few upcoming events in Milwaukee. Her hip hop will be featured as part of UW-Milwaukee’s “Heroines and Hellions” series on Wednesday, March 14 in the Union Art Gallery. As a woman about town, she and Mire will host a farewell party during the conclusion of the Beat Music Series on March 24th at the Art Bar. Both events are free, but goodwill donations will be accepted.
For more information on Czarnik, her work, or the campaign, visit her website at http://melissaczarnik.com. Click here for Melissa Czarnik and Eric Mire’s contribution to the WMSE & ThirdCoast Digest 12 Songs Holiday Project.