Artist Spotlight: Cosmic Joke Collective Interview

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The CFCU Summer Concert Series features free concerts on The Commons from June 22 to September 7. Most shows occur on Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. on the Bernie Milton Pavilion. As a way of curating the series, Tatiana Sy, the Director of Events for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said she tries “to present a well-rounded narrative of what goes on here in Ithaca.”

Sy added the Cosmic Joke Collective to the Summer Concert Series bill after she attended their “We’ve Got You Covered” show at Lot 10. This performance group originally formed in 1999 in New York City. Since then, the group has relocated to Ithaca and their shows feature different artists performing under a particular theme. Their “We’ve Got You Covered” shows consist of local musicians covering other local acts.

Mickie Quinn is the current organizer for Cosmic Joke Collective. Elena Piech, the Outreach Coordinator for MegsRadio.fm, had the chance to interview Quinn. The two talked about the Collective’s history, current lineup, and their July 6 performance at the Summer Concert Series.

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Elena Piech: How did the Cosmic Joke Collective Form?
Mickie Quinn: Well the Cosmic Joke Collective formed in 1999 in New York City. Two friends of mine, Audrey Dana and Mary-Noelle Dana, two French girls, wrote this one act play. They booked the Pink Pony in the East Village to put on this one act play. But, in order to book the night, they had to fill up the whole entire night. So this was a work in progress for themselves—this play. They decided to bring together people who also—folks who also wanted to present works in progress. So it was about the artistic process. It was about sharing. So, there was a little bit more of a conversation between the audience and the performer. There was some one night only collaborations that happened that first time. So they decided to call it the Cosmic Joke Collective and it was a one act play surrounded by different musical performers, a couple spoken word performers, and that was the beginning of it.

EP: Why did the group move from New York City to Ithaca?
MQ: The two sisters, they each one at a time moved back to Paris. They handed the reins over to myself and one other person. So we took over hosting and organizing it. Through 2008 our attentions were taken in other places. And I was like ‘Oh.’ So I thought about it for a minute because one of the central tenets of being part of The Collective is that you have to first come to a show and stay and see the whole thing. And you also have to be referred by another performer. So when I came up here, three years ago, I thought about it right here in town, Jennifer Middaugh performed for the very first Cosmic Joke Collective. Mike Stark used to come down from Ithaca to perform at them. A couple times he brought Hank Roberts. (It was) Bronwen Exter’s first time performing on stage as a singer was at a Cosmic Joke Collective. So um, just right there, Will and I had four solid people who had already done The Collective, you know? And so I approached them all and I was like ‘What do you think about restarting The Collective up here?” With the idea of breaking through social cliques and exposing more people to each other. It was my goal to make it a bigger community around (how) people know each other and can find ways to inspire each other.

EP: Do you ever sing in any of the shows put on by the Collective?
MQ: I am not musically inclined, except at karaoke night. But every once in awhile I will sing with somebody. I’ve done some spoken word pieces. If I’m moved by the theme (or) if something inspires me, I will interject in there. There is something that is going to be coming up next year that is sort of a performance piece that uses puppets and acting and I’m a part of. I’m always willing. Anytime someone says “Hey will you be a part of this?” I’m like “Yes.” While we are mostly music, I encourage other types of performances also.

EP: According to your Facebook event description, this Cosmic Joke Collective Performance at the Summer Concert Series will feature local artists covering other local artists. Who came up with the idea for this event?
MQ: I was having a conversation with Jen Middaugh and she was talking about wanting to cover Jenny Rooster. And she said, “Do you think Jenny would do that?” And I was like, “Yes.” And she was like, “Yea! And there’s a Bronwen (Exter) song that I was thinking about covering.” And I was like “That would be a really cool idea for a show.” So I put it out—we have a Collective Performers Facebook group—and (I) put it out to everyone and I was like, “Hey. We’re going to do this show where you guys pay tribute to other performers.” And I got such an overwhelming response of people who wanted to perform at that show, that we did it two months in a row. We did it in January and February. It was incredible, the performers were so excited by the theme, and because it is such a rich musical community, everyone knows and respects each other and loves each other. So, (these artists are) able to pay a tribute to (other local artists) by diving in and putting their own spin on it or telling stories about how these songs have affected them or whatever. Just a celebration of each other’s music. We did that for two months in a row and Tatiana (Sy, the Director of Events for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance) was at a show and at the end she said, “Can you guys do that again? Can you do this? For the Summer Concert Series?” And we said “Yes. Yes we can.”

EP: How does the group practice for this type of show? Are there group practices? Does everyone practice on their own?
MQ: Everyone does it on their own. When I curate a regular show, I’ll tell people what the theme is and people will sign up. I get my five, sometimes six acts and tell them that they have 15 to 20 minutes to do whatever they want to do. And then they show up and they do it. I focus on producing the actual show and promoting it and then them seeing it. The artists bring the talent.

EP: So the show on July 6 will be a little surprise for you as well?
MQ: Absolutely. Shows are fun for me. I sometimes feel like the shows are purely for me. I always sit right up front and I’m like, “Yay! The people I love are doing amazing things. Or new people that I can’t wait to know are doing amazing things.” It is great.

EP: Are there any covers that you are looking forward to hearing?
MQ: I’m just looking forward to it all. I love the spirit that everyone takes on when they perform at any one of the collective shows because it is something special. They get to really show themselves as an artist and they don’t have to do the same type of work where they are playing a show for their fans per se—where they have to come up with two hours worth of materials and promote the show and do this and do that. They are coming in purely from a place of inspiration and playfulness and experimentation. Getting to play with someone that they have always wanted to play with, but never had the opportunity to before. But now, again they don’t have to go and book a whole entire night because they want to play a few songs on stage in front of an audience with this other person. So everyone’s performance is something I always look forward to because it is always full of surprises. It is not like going to see your favorite band and knowing that you are going to hear your six favorite songs. Because at these shows, you never know what you are going to get. But you know it is always going to be good.

E: Talking about never knowing what a person might hear, how would you describe Ithaca’s music scene?
M: That is a really good question. I don’t know that I have the answer. I think we are this oasis just in the middle of this beautiful landscape. This oasis brings us intelligent, educated people. However, transient because of the colleges, because of the world. I think that just keeps culture vibrant and keeps the conversation current. And that enables people to keep building their repertoire.

EP: Looking at local music, I’m working with students from Ithaca College and Cornell University on a web app called MegsRadio. Essentially, this ad-free and free to use service promotes Ithaca’s music scene. Users can discover new local artists and also be notified when that artist has an upcoming show. What do you think about the idea behind MegsRadio?
MQ: I think that is great. I think the more outlets artists have to promote and share themselves is great. I think as students learning what it takes to curate and cultivate something to be put out to the world and say “Hey this is great,” and to develop an audience that can say “Oh, I’m in the mood for something new. I know I can go find that on MegsRadio.” I think that is important for musicians, if they are performing it is because they want to be heard. Having support from all types of areas is key to their survival as an artist.

 

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Artist and Listener Outreach Coordinator. All around dynamo and local music enthusiast.

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