When contemplating what it means to be an artist, we’re more than acquainted with the inherent financial instability and dubious chances of success. We sometimes overlook the intense professional fulfillment and personal joy that such a life can bring, the way that artists can use their work to discover more about themselves and their world, all while sharing something of beauty with their community. AUP Comparative Literature alums Joanie Wolkoff (2005), Cheney Munson (2006), and Andy Maag (2013) prove that realizing one’s artistic dreams isn’t only possible: it can bring a happiness unlike any other.
A few years after graduating from AUP, Joanie Wolkoff started her first band, Her Habits, with producer Sangford Livingston. Although now a highly respected musician, Wolkoff’s road to success wasn’t a smooth one. In an interview with Unrecorded, she describes living in a perpetually freezing house with only a folding chair and a mattress as a time of clarity, when she could entirely give herself over to her music. “In the year leading up to the completion of these songs, I found myself, as terrifying as it was, building them out of personal momentum and taking rightful ownership over parts of my life that I had neglected for a long time.” Her latest project is a full-length solo album, in collaboration with producer Icarus Moth, entitled Without Shame, where she uses her unique talents for vocal arrangement and poetic storytelling to explore the role of shame in our lives.
Similarly, after eight years of teaching, Cheney Munson found that in order for his music to become something lasting and meaningful, his creativity couldn’t remain a mere luxury. He quit his job and with his six-piece folk-rock band, Tacoma Narrows, initiated a kickstarter campaign to help fund the recording of their first full-length album, Good Mourning. The band has played sold out album release shows, headlined various music festivals, and played venues all around the United States. As Munson himself put it when interviewed for AUP’s Comparative Literature & English blog, “I would hope that if you have something creative you love to do, you’d set aside the time to really do it. That doesn’t have to come at the expense of practical decisions; it can actually be in service of them.”
Little is known of the origins of The Other Band on Earth, composed of Andy Maag, Dan Schwartz (who met Andy while a visiting student at AUP!), Tyler Shenk-Boright, and Adley Penner. Descriptions of their music range from “psychedelic doom lounge” to “experimental-progressive rock” but what holds true in all of their songs and videos is their dry humor (“The Other Band on Earth always lives up to its name”) and the ways in which they mix the visual and the musical to create complex and fascinating soundscapes. After releasing a self-titled album in 2015, the band has just come out with a new single, “Pleasure”. There is perhaps no better way to describe their mission than in their own words: “As lovers of art and love, the members handle their fame well. They each have car collections and have amassed famous friends and lovers. If you like high-energy deep-dives into the pits of subconscious compost, you like The Other Band on Earth.”
Is it easy? Nope. Is everyone going to understand? Probably not. But for these three alums, as well as the many other artists and artists-to-be in the AUP community, following their own creative paths, no matter what the roadblocks, turned out to be the only possible way to live their best lives.