This interview is part of a series discussing mandates, restrictions and censorship with musicians and music fans—read more of these interviews here.
Bean Trees is the solo project of prolific Merchantville, NJ based musician and artist James Dunn — who is creating thought provoking lo-fi recordings on his Tascam 424 in his basement. Listen to his latest release recovering from witchcraft, which I've been listening to nonstop lately on Bandcamp:
He's also creating fantastic art on his Instagram @suburbansymbolism
Music For All: How do you think we got where we are now where musicians won't even stand up for their own ability to perform live?
Bean Trees: The changes that have taken place in the "independent" music realm, have been slowly implemented. Where you were once free to speak your mind, regardless of anyone else's opinions, has become a prison. Free thought is no longer encouraged, it is attacked, and even openly advised against.
The earlier independent bands, were for the most part, independent. They found ways to press their own records, promote themselves, book their own shows, make their own fliers, record their own records, and even distribute it themselves. As those genres became more popular, labels began signing anything they could find that emulated it. I'm not opposed to artists and musicians making money for their work. I believe it's very important to remain in control of every aspect of your work. From creating it, to selling it, and every step in between.
Once a label, manager, or handler is involved, it loses its integrity. I can understand having some friends or family help out, if it becomes too much for just yourself, but that should be celebrated. I've always been on guard when it comes to involving anyone else in my creative pursuits. It's sort of a sacred connection, to create and turn visions to reality. Too many musicians and artists let their guard down if money or fame is offered. Whether you agree to it or not, what's asked for in return is control of your work. They own you, bottom line.
Artists are then slowly put into crippling debt to the label, and are essentially bankrupted. They are so dependent on their "following" to stay afloat, they could never speak their mind. In fear of losing their place on the totem pole. They rely on the fame, the attention, the notoriety, sometimes more than the money. They crave it when they lose it. They have a hard time going back to normal life.
Not only are the bands held to this standard, but the fans are as well. They are called followers for a reason. We are constantly being bombarded subconsciously with symbols, and messages. We look to the leaders of our digital communities to help guide us to the truth. We used to seek God, we now seek validation. It is a modern currency. You can see the social engineering colliding with a social credit system. It already exists, if you don't agree with the herd, you are "canceled" or ostracized. The same people demanding diversity, inclusivity, equality, and justice. Are shaming anyone who dare disagree with the narrative of the blood drinking demons.
If there was less fear about losing your scene points, and more emphasis on speaking truth. Music could have a great revival. I find myself turned off by bands I once sang along to, and paid to see live with what little extra money I had. I have no respect for any artist who goes along with whatever they need to, just to remain relevant. We are supposed to be telling the good news, not the media narrative. It is our duty as artists to interpret the spiritual signals and communicate them to anyone who wants to listen. The signal has been intercepted, but there are still quite a few of us who are turning the tuning knobs to get a clearer message.
The music you're making as Bean Trees is really great – can you tell me more about the project?
Well, thank you, I appreciate that. Bean Trees started around 2009. I had been in a couple of punk type bands prior, and did some touring in my early twenties. After the bands ended, I started working on solo stuff. I was burnt out on the band aspect of music. Not that any of my friends personally did anything wrong, we had great times, but I operate better by myself when it comes to art and music. I am capable of working with others, but I prefer to work alone.
My girlfriend at the time (now my wife), and I decided to go on an adventure. We packed everything we could fit into her Toyota Yaris, and moved to Austin, Texas, in September of 2009. From that point on I have just been laser focused on making as much music and art as I possibly can. I do take breaks here and there just to relax, but for the most part I am working on something daily.
I record everything in our basement, I record on a Tascam 424. Which is a 4 track cassette recorder. I play all of the instruments myself, unless otherwise specified on my Bandcamp. My friend Chris (outer body haunts, isditwg, mohican) plays on a few of my songs. I write it, usually do a phone recorded live demo, or a demo on my little sears one track cassette recorder. Then I will sit on it for a little bit, and make any changes I want. After that I move to the 424. I also record a guitar ideas on the fly and then layer them. Those are usually some of my favorite songs.
It makes it more fun for me to be in control at every level of whatever it is I am making. I don't necessarily think it's a typical control freak approach, as much as it is important to me to make sure its all as close to my vision as possible. I get really detailed visions of whatever it is I'm working on. Even when I'm just doodling, I get immersed in it. Having too many people around breaks my concentration. I consider everything I do artistically all as one giant thing.
What has it been like where you are for live performance over the past few years?
The past few years have been very productive for me, except for playing live. I'm not even able to remember when I played last. I got disconnected from the local independent music scene here. I lost interest in even keeping up with the majority of the bands I once thought I connected with. I'm sure they feel the same way about me, but I have receipts. I am on a mission, I don't stop because someone is offended or disagrees with me. They can write a song about how they disagree with me. I encourage them to, because at least then they're being creative.
They could all be thriving and playing a lot of shows. I wouldn't even know. The past two years, although frustrating, and discouraging at times — have been eye opening, and I wouldn't go back and change anything.
We now know who is who.
We used to all be free to think
We used to all be friends
We used to all stand as one
Now we're on the defense
History repeats itself
I've been here before
Like seasons return each year
With each I am reborn
We're all exposed as fakes
I used to talk to you so openly
I didn't hold back at all
But now I see that you believe all the rumors you've heard
"You're so disappointing"
We're all exposed as fakes
I'm old enough to remember when people were capable of creating art with people they weren't ideologically aligned with, and great things came from this. What has your experience been collaborating with other musicians?
Finding people who you connect with is important in life.
The connection doesn't always have to be politically, or socially. I've jammed with people I barely knew, and locked in immediately. It's hard to explain, unless you've experienced it, but you're communicating telepathically. That's why it becomes so addicting. There aren't enough people who practice that skill these days. It's becoming a lost art.
My friend Chris and I record songs under the name i see demons in the wood grain. We have always approached it as an art project. There is zero pressure, we do it when it works out. My friend Ray (silk brain, floorboards, mohican), Chris, and I have also recorded songs together. They've never been released though.
Thank you for reading!
Listen to more from Bean Trees & i see demons in the wood grain here: