In Conversation with Shannon Shaw, Greer McGettrick and Hannah Lew
Some musicians shred their instruments. Some make striking visual art, too. Three modern examples include Hannah Lew of the bands Cold Beat and Grass Widow, Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams, and Greer McGettrick, previously singer-guitarist of the ferocious The Mallard, and a revolving member of other bands like Carletta Sue Kay, Cold Beat and FRONDS.
In addition to playing bass, Hannah helps run two independent record labels and shoots films. She’s screened her work at the San Francisco Video Festival, Theatre Arteau and SFMOMA. A sample of her music videos include The Mantles’ “Hello,” King Tuff’s “Alone and Stoned" and Hunx’s "Private Room,” all of which belong on your playlist. Cold Beat put out its first full album in July, and she designed the cover and shot three videos for it. If you’re going to release a record on your own label, you might as well design the whole thing.
Even before retiring The Mallard in April 2013, Greer had been making woodcut prints and silkscreens. She’s used a number of her prints on concert posters for her band and others, including White Fence, Habibi and Thee Oh Sees. The print she made for Woolen Men would look like it belonged in the swinging sixties if it weren’t so modern and original. It took her two layers of paint and about a week of work, and it needs to be on an unbranded billboard─just boom, enjoy this, it’s for you, not Coke or blue jeans. Once she transcribed Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury by hand and hung the pages as a thirty-five inch by sixty-five foot installation at the Michael Rosenthal Gallery in San Francisco because, why not? The first record by her newest musical project, ELINE COUT, is a collection of soundscapes called 13 pieces.
Shannon Shaw is a bass player and singer whose rich, gravelly voice you will always recognize once it graces your ears. In addition to playing in Shannon and the Clams, she plays with Seth Bogart in Hunx and His Punx, and played in Ty Segall’s one-off cover band The Togas. She also draws and paints. She painted Mark Bolan’s face. She painted the cover of Nobunny’s second album, First Blood. Another painting appears on the cover of the I Need You Bad compilation, which features Burnt Ones, Warm Soda, Sonny & the Sunsets and The Sandwitches. She’s shown some of her work in Bay Area galleries, including a show with Greer at a venue called Vacation.
So, how do they do it? When do they do it? Does their music influence their visual art and their visual art influence their music? They kindly agreed to share their thoughts and stories.
Right now, San Francisco is an expensive metro area growing prohibitively more expensive. Somehow, the music coming out of it remains some of the country’s best, though with the high-tech boom (to quote the band POW!) and the exodus of many musical residents, who knows for how much longer. The title of the San Francisco Is Doomed comp makes a guess, and it plays off of Crime’s 1979 punk album, illustrating how boom and doom are longstanding parts of the city’s lifecycle, from real estate to art, on down through the unstable substrate. Oakland is its own animal, and it’s thriving in response. For now, these Bay Area artists are fortunate enough to live in a lively creative community where they can collaborate on projects with so many other musicians on both sides of the water.
Shannon was on tour in Australia and Spain, Hannah and Greer busy playing and traveling, so the group traded the immediacy of phone conversation for a rolling email exchange. When you work in multiple mediums, sometimes you do a blazing live show, and sometimes you curate a virtual gallery of thoughts on Gmail.
I. FLEETING QUALITY / INSTANT CONNECTION
BLVR: Do you think of yourselves as musicians first, visual artists second, or is that an arbitrary, unproductive division to impose?
HANNAH LEW: Although I admire people who specialize in one thing and are defined by that skill, I am not one of those people. I don’t feel like one medium satisfies my creative needs or has the ability to express my feelings/ideas 100%, so I make space for varied artistic practices. Music feels like the most direct practice in terms of accessing and communicating my feelings, so I guess I prioritize that form. Visual art is another language altogether, though video making can be pretty similar to songwriting. The process has a different flavor of catharsis.
GREER McGETTRICK: I’ve struggled with the semantics of using “artist” and “musician” for a while now. I tend to consider myself an artist that plays music. I think music can be another medium of art or craft based more in technique and theory. I consider that I express my emotions better in music and my thoughts more in visual art. Lately I’ve been learning cello and reading music for the first time. Ideally, when I get to know the instrument better, I’d like to compose with cello.
SHANNON SHAW: I feel like a generally creative being that naturally gets into something new all the time. I guess I am riding a music wave currently but that may come and go. I often revisit themes or methods from the past when I get into a new medium but ultimately want my art to be ever changing. I fully agree with Hannah on feeling as though one medium cannot satiate her creative needs. I also find that I handle most daily human tasks in a “creative” way because that is what works for my brain. Communicating, cooking, planning, exercising, traveling, etc. I find that I approach most of these things in a similar way to how I approach writing a song or painting a portrait.
<3 <3 <3