If you’ve been checking this blog for any length of time, I’m sure Chris Donald will be familiar to you. He is a key part of the Sputnik team and I thought it was about time we caught up with him to spill the beans on his art, Minor Artists and his newest musical project Strange Ghost.
Who are you and what do you do, Chris?
I’m a 30 year old human, a lapsed capitalist, an introvert who loves company, a confused over-thinker. I write and produce music, run a record label, try to be a good friend, husband and brother, write music reviews (and occasional fiction) and I’m a self-employed graphic designer. That makes me sound super busy, but they’re all pretty slow paced. I regularly confess to the cultural sin of not being busy.
What is success to you as an artist?
Success at the moment is making and sharing something in a way that gets beyond the roles of product and a consumer. For the player and the listener to see each other as equally complex people who are generously giving each other their time in that moment of performance (or re-played performance). A human moment and not just a commercial transaction. That doesn’t have to be deeply profound or gut-wrenching, but simply getting outside the pre-defined roles and platforms is surprisingly difficult, even just in my own head. At the same time, I’m always drawn to crafting something of a high quality and beauty – it’s so simple it’s almost redundant, but success is making something that I would honestly want to listen to. I think it’s possible to do that without it becoming some elitist or self-negating exercise.
Tell us about Minor Artists. What is it and how can people get involved?
Minor Artists is a record label that puts out unconventional, non-church music made by Christians (check website here). We tell stories of oppression, injustice, revelation or mystery; avoid the Christian vernacular as best we can; keep you on your toes like Christ’s parables did, and sound great doing it. We’re also trying to level the field between musicians and their audience. Part of how we do that is the Record Club, a ‘per-product’ subscription service; essentially you agree to pre-order two or three albums across the course of a year. And that makes it possible for us to properly commit to making them. It’s an experiment. I hope subscribers feel personally engaged with it; at the least, we’re trying to re-frame this transaction that’s taking place. I appreciate it’s weird to subscribe to music you’ve never heard bStrut I think a certain type of listener will really like that, and will trust that we’re going to make it interesting. And perhaps now that we have the history of recorded music at our fingertips, we’ll want to reclaim a bit of personal investment in the music we buy. That’s my hope, anyway.
(The video above will fill you in on all the details and how to get involved)
What would you like to see change among Christian artists and artistry?
I’d love to see more reaction to the absolute absurdity of our times. Since the abject failure of modernism, Western culture is like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff, pretending the ground’s not gone beneath it. We want what’s good for the economy, but we can’t answer why that even matters. The West is absurd, and in constant crisis. Our art is going to need to be disruptive, because Jesus is disruptive. He’s not the icing on the bourgeois cake. I don’t mean disruptive in a ‘Modern Art’ way, where we absolve ourselves of responsibility for answers, or can’t be understood by your average observer. Quite the opposite. Disruptive storytelling can be fantastic art – the film ‘Get Out’ being a recent example.
You balance out earning a living from your creative skills and working on more self-initiated and passion projects. How do you find this balance?
Paradoxically, when I have lots of work it’s easier to find time for other things. When I’m low on work, it’s hard to do passion projects because I’m stressed about my income, even though I technically have the time. But I’m sure anyone self-employed knows about these crazy mind games. I don’t think the balance is much different from, say, going part-time to raise a kid. We all do recognise that the relationship between being paid for something, and that something being actually valuable to us, or society, is pretty weak. A YouGov poll said 37% of UK workers think their own job is pointless – I often think of Ron Livingston in ‘Office Space’, who finds salvation from his mindless tech job in becoming a construction worker. Surely people want to trade their time for something they care about, but I assume they feel like they can’t.
I’m not pretending I could just waltz into a high-paying job tomorrow, but ultimately I make a choice to value time more than money. I want to be radically generous like Christ, but I’d rather have lots of time to give to people than lots of money. But it’s easy to forget my own story. When I get swallowed by the neoliberal capitalist story, I begin to doubt myself.
Your latest project is ‘Strange Ghost’, a collaboration between you and your wife Wumi. How did this come about and what are your plans for this?
Wumi has a fantastic voice, and I’m sure we chatted about making music pretty early on in our relationship – which makes it sound so simple! It’s a new and intimidating thing for Wumi, and for my part I had a creatively tough spell while we were living in London. So it’s come about with a lot of deliberation and time. I think the time has been worth it, as I’m much clearer on what this project is for. I’ve had so many projects burn or fizzle out; I want Strange Ghost to be a vehicle for us to make music the rest of our lives – so, to be honest, I am just enjoying having completed the first step. As a friend said to me yesterday, if I had £20,000 for PR we could be famous next week, but as it is, I’m just going to share it and enjoy it, start figuring out how we might play this stuff live, and in what context we’d do that.
Thanks Chris. The Strange Ghost EP ‘Stagger’ is out on 18th May and we are proud to be among the first to announce that the first song is live to stream from this very page! Check it out, and save up your pennies for Thursday.