2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Sam Clark)
by Steven Spoerl
No contributor has collaborated with me on as many projects, both in terms of writing about music and writing music, than Sam Clark. We’ve played together in at least three bands and we’ve written together for at least three different publications. We continue to make music and we continue to write about music on our own terms but jump at collaborating any time we’re presented with the chance. For the past few years, he’s been running the outstanding dimestore saints and last year he released two EP’s of deeply compelling ambient music under the Ancient Mariners moniker. I’m very fortunate to be able to call him a close friend and to have found someone in such an isolated town that shared in some incredibly niche interests. I’m also very lucky to have him back as a returning contributor to the A Year’s Worth of Memories series. Here, he turns his attention to the difficulties of living in an area that severely restricts access to good shows, finding solace in Washington through visiting Wisconsin artists, and learning that isolation isn’t always because of physical surroundings. Read the piece below, keep both eyes on dimestore saints, and remember that you can always build new homes.
2015 is already a flickering memory, and I’m fine with that. This past year was one of my darkest and most disorienting on record – save for perhaps 1992, which was half-spent in utero. I was out of school for the first time in seventeen years with little to show for all of my academic work, and spent most of it in the midst of a year-long lease on an apartment in the northwestern-most tip of the Pacific Northwest, two thousand miles away from all of my close friends and family; I was listless and sometimes lonely, and things generally felt stagnant.
A burgeoning homesickness for western Wisconsin was partially alleviated by an intimate S. Carey living room show in late February. I feel somewhat like a fraud in admitting this, but I go to relatively few live shows a year in comparison to some of my fellow writers. Part of this shortcoming is probably derived from social anxiety, sure, but another key factor has always been proximity; local music scene aside, the nearest concert venue was often an hour or more away from where I lived, and travel time frequently became an issue.
Bellingham is a bit different – it occupies a sweet spot on I-5 almost halfway between Vancouver and Seattle that’s often attractive to bands in the middle of West Coast stretches – so I jumped at the chance to see a homegrown artist whose national tour happened to bring him within a half-mile of my apartment.
The ensuing performance was beautiful; fifty people crammed into a pristine turn-of-the-century home with vaulted ceilings to hear sprawling ambient soundscapes culled from little more than a Fender Rhodes, pedal steel, and heavily-textured electric guitar. That brief respite was then extended into the following month, thanks to a stellar Field Report solo set at a bar around the corner from my apartment; together, these events served as a reminder that salient musical traits of home were, miraculously, much closer than I believed.
Coincidental Wisconsin-related things continued throughout the spring, from a co-worker whose improv trio had performed with one from Eau Claire that I know well, to a random stranger stopping me on a footpath for a conversation because he too had graduated from the alma mater embroidered on my sweatshirt nearly forty years prior, to Sylvan Esso stopping in at the bagel shop I managed the morning after their Vancouver show. A strange conglomerate of events, to be sure, but they were absolutely intrinsic to my growing level of comfort in an unfamiliar place.
I’m back home in central Wisconsin now, and will be for awhile, but it was reassuring to watch all of those connections fall into place so organically, and to learn that I’m never quite as isolated as I feel.