Light + Shadow – a guest mix by Melissa Ecker

Alright, kids, today is the last guest mix this week before a much-needed break for Christmas, and it comes from Melissa Ecker…and it’s phenomenal. Melissa resides in Houston (if you want to know what shows are worth your time in that city, go here), is one of those folks I was lucky enough to meet through twitter dot com and the internet and all that, and she knows good music front and back. Put this one on and enjoy it- it’s not like you want to/are going to do work today anyways. 

It started out of necessity. Growing up in rural Montana, the radio mostly consisted of the Ag Report, Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of The Story” and classic country, so I learned to make mix tapes from my older brother using a convoluted process that included recording videos from MTV on the VCR and playing them back through the tape deck to record. Those tapes became the soundtrack to bus rides to high school events and drives out to Ackley Lake or into the mountains. In college, my musical horizons expanded (thanks to college radio & the Internet); tapes gave way to cds and, eventually, with the invention of the ipod, playlists.

Running parallel to the obsession with discovering new music is sharing these finds with friends. Instead of Christmas cards, I send out mix cds. Happen to be going on a vacation with me? Expect there to be a proper mix, which would be how “Release the Kraken” came to be for a 4-day kayak trip in the San Juan Islands. So in 2010, changing jobs at my company resulted in moving to an office near my house. The drive was roughly one song long: from this realization, #MorningCommuteProject began. Each morning I post the song I listen to on my very short commute to work (well, excluding the occasional flight to Africa, but that is a whole different story). Six years and over 1200 songs later, I essentially have a musical yearbook that was selectively curated day-by-day and shared with friends and strangers via social media.

Now onto the Q&A portion of this project.

* Does this mix have a name or specific cover art? What’s the story behind it?
The draft version started out as “Freezer Burn.” Residence in Houston means there is a lack of Winter, or at least what I know of it from growing up in Montana. While I still feel grey gloomy days should be a brisk cold instead of the warm humidity that I often encounter here, I’ve at least learned to judge the passing of time by what seasonal beer is on tap.

I settled on “Light + Shadow” as the final name, based on what I would use as album art. With camera in tow, I recently visited an art installation by Anila Quayyum Agha called “Intersections.” It was a suspended wooden box with laser-cut intricate geometric designs that encased an intense single point of light casting shadows upon the entire room. It was absolutely amazing to just stand there. The selection of music on this playlist is what I would want to listen to while being immersed in such a space, whether that is an art installation, in front of a cozy fire with a Tom & Jerry in hand, or driving across Montana after freshly fallen snow.

* Why’d you pick these songs? (or better put: what’s the story you’re trying to tell with these tunes?)
I decided to limit myself to songs that were part of this year’s #MorningCommuteSong project to start. For a Winter mix, I wanted the songs to be more subdued, but hopefully not ALL acoustic sad bastard tunes. It’s more about feeling and how all the tracks fit together sonically.

* Why’d you put these tunes in this specific order?
Normally when I’m making mixes, I spend quite some time with the order and balance given to the songs. A good mix starts off with a track that sets the tone, followed by an ebb and flow that leads to the closing track that caps it all off. It takes time, time which I did not have, so the order for this mix is simply when they were posted this year, starting with Damien Rice’s “Colour Me In” on January 26th and ending with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweat’s “Wasting Time” from December 15th. Surprisingly, I think the order works fairly well.

* How’d you decide this mix was ‘finished’? How many iterations of it did you go through before you were satisfied?
The iteration process in this case was one of whittling down the songs. So 200 songs became 53, which was dropped to 48, then 33 after a couple more passes through the songs. Opting to use Spotify for hosting the mix cut several more songs that weren’t available on their service. The last cut from 28, with the deadline looming, becomes a bit illogical. These lyrics are too repetitive. CUT. The title “Monday” makes me think of work. CUT. Adam posted that song in his mix. CUT. CUT. Who exactly is Jimi Charles Moody? CUT. In the end, when the run time dropped under 80 minutes I gave the songs a final spin without skipping any track, which is how I knew it was done.

* Favorite song on the mix? Any particular reason why?
The source of this mix is a list of songs that I can listen to repeatedly and many of them are tied into moments/memories that give their meaning weight, which makes it hard pick a favorite. A few examples of how the meaning goes beyond the music: Joshua Hyslop covered a song by The Weepies that lead me to rediscovering their music, and learning about Deb Talen’s breast cancer diagnosis. Damien Rice’s song is tied to seeing him live with Shannon in Seattle, then again in Houston with several friends. My introduction to Darlingside is a reversal of roles where G surprised me with their record, just insisting their music be in my life (last time she did that was with The Head in The Heart).

* Any song you had to cut/didn’t put on it that you were hoping to include? Why didn’t it make it?
There are always songs that are hard to cut, especially when you are confined to a limit. There’s a cover of Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” that Noah Gundersen and David Ramirez did in one-take for the pilot of SerialBox TV that is just amazingly raw. Deciding to use Spotify eliminated any songs that aren’t available on the service. I also would have liked to include Frances’s “Coming Up For Air,” Hey Marseilles’s “North & South,” and Foy Vance’s “She Burns.” I tried to make Foy Vance’s “Make It Rain” work, but just wasn’t quite right.

* Anything else you want to say about the mix or your process for creating it?
For as messy, arduous, and frustrating as the process can be, at the end of the day I absolutely love curating these mixes that encapsulate a mood or theme. I make them as much for myself as I do to share with friends, so thanks to Adam for asking me to participate. Feel free to follow along via Twitter (@mjecker or #MorningCommuteSong) or the periodically updated http://morningcommutesongs.tumblr.com/.

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