Tim Easton — Exposition Sessions

Tim Easton: Exposition Interview & Gallery

The Interview

Keeping It Simple

I drove to Okemah in to see folk singer and song­writer Tim Easton. Easton was on the first leg of a multi-city record­ing tour for his new album Exposition. After we had lunch at the Hen House Café I took some pic­tures of him work­ing in his makeshift stu­dio at the Okfuskee County History Center, and then he very com­pe­tently art-directed an impromptu photo shoot that used the remain­ing frames on my roll of Tri-X.

We then sat down for a short inter­view, fol­low­ing which Easton sat for a for­mal por­trait in the style of my OKIE-X project. The weather was threat­en­ing to turn bad, so I dis­man­tled my photo stu­dio while he con­tin­ued track­ing songs. Easton helped me schlep the gear to the car and we said our good­byes, each wish­ing the other safe travels.

The fol­low­ing is the inter­view transcript.

Mercury Photo BureauTim — thumb­nail bio? How’d you get to be in this thank­less, remu­ner­a­tively skint vocation?

Tim EastonUm I don’t know what you’re talk­ing about; it’s just a prize of wealth and riches, at least emo­tion­ally […]. Well, I was born in upstate New York, and my dad worked for Goodyear, which is why I kinda grew up in Akron, Ohio. And then my broth­ers played gui­tar — I’m the youngest of four broth­ers and two sis­ters, two very impor­tant sis­ters — and those broth­ers taught me about Doc Watson and old blues music, and that kind of led me to Woody Guthrie […]. And then I ended up — because of Jimmy LaFave — […] com­ing to Woodyfest for the first time. […] I’d popped through Okemah before, of course, just to check it out, on my many cross-coun­try trips. And then I got to play Woodyfest. And then I got wel­comed into the fam­ily, and I decided, in order to ensure myself per­ma­nent sta­tus in this fam­ily I would come here and make a record, right here in Okemah — right here in the Okfuskee [County History Center].

Trying Out a New Arrangement — Exposition Field Recording Session, Okemah, Oklahoma
Trying Out a New Arrangement — Exposition Field Recording Session, Okemah, Oklahoma

MPBWhich brings me to my sec­ond ques­tion, why the heck are you record­ing an album here? Although I think you’ve already answered it.

Tim[Laughs] I did, I basi­cally — um, it’s a prac­ti­cal rea­son, right? I was like, I want to do another ‘field record­ing’ album! — my last album was done direct-to-lac­quer in Bristol, Virginia, and then I wanted to take to the road and record another album in his­tor­i­cal loca­tions. And I’m start­ing in Okemah pri­mar­ily because Woody Guthrie is from here, but there’s obvi­ously some­thing else good in the water here, ’cause let’s not for­get Mr. John Fullbright is from here, and a lot of great peo­ple I’ve met, over the years. So, I basi­cally, I came here to record because I knew I’d be able to find a big space and just use the town vibes to record some of these orig­i­nal songs. And next I’m going to go down to San Antonio, Texas and record where Robert Johnson worked, at the Gunter [Hotel], [Sidenote: The edi­fice was designed by St. Louis archi­tect John Mauran. Robert Johnson recorded ver­sions of twenty-two of his twenty-nine song cat­a­logue in Room 414 from to .] and then I’m gonna mosey over to Clarksdale, Mississippi [Sidenote: Legend has it that Robert Johnson met the Devil at the inter­sec­tion of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarksdale. The Devil re-tuned Johnson’s gui­tar in exchange for his soul. Other ver­sions of the myth posit alter­na­tive loca­tions for the leg­endary meet­ing place. Some blues fans inter­pret the lyrics of Cross Road Blues to be an account of that meet­ing. Additionally, Bessie Smith died almost in the nearby Riverside Hotel fol­low­ing an auto­mo­bile acci­dent on Highway 61. The Mississippi Blues Trail has placed numer­ous mark­ers for his­toric blues sites around the city. The Delta Blues Museum, the Sunflower River Blues Festival, and Juke Joint Festivals all call Clarksdale their home.] and work there a lit­tle bit too. So this is a field record­ing project.

MPBOkay, so do you have a name for the album yet?

TimI do; I’m call­ing the album Exposition. It’s maybe not wise to name an album, and/​or do the pho­to­shoots before the album is done because it starts to take on a life of its own. But also, I also — I’ve never done it like this before, where I started a [PledgeMusic] cam­paign to help raise the money just to help pay for the trav­el­ing, and then for the even­tual mix­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing of [the album] to vinyl. But I decided to to give it a name, and expo­si­tion is a word, you know you see it a lot in Europe [about] art exhibits, you know, an expo­si­tion of art. And I got it from a Walt Whitman poem, [Sidenote: Whitman, Walt, “Song of the Exposition” in Leaves of Grass (The Deathbed Edition), (New York, Book of the Month Club by arrange­ment with Simon and Schuster, ), 148 – 155.] and I, um — just the word itself jumped out, and I thought it’d be a good title for an album. And it means a lot of dif­fer­ent things, but right now it’s just about show­ing what it’s like to be a trou­ba­dour record­ing on the road.

Five Guitars, One Mandolin, and Tim — Exposition Field Recording Session, Okemah, Oklahoma
Five Guitars, One Mandolin, and Tim — Exposition Field Recording Session, Okemah, Oklahoma

MPBYou keep antic­i­pat­ing my ques­tions. I was gonna ask about the cre­ative fundrais­ing you’ve done for this; you showed me some [dis­pos­able] cam­eras, ear­lier?

TimYeah, part of the thing I do at Pledgemusic​.com is you give incen­tives away to get peo­ple to come with you on this jour­ney […]. [Sidenote: Since this arti­cle orig­i­nally posted the crowd­fund­ing plat­form PledgeMusic has under­gone a very pub­lic implo­sion. Easton issued a state­ment in ; in it he said If any­body you know wants this album, all they have to do is go to TIMEASTON​.COM and write me on the CONTACT page and I can get them vinyl or CD. The dig­i­tal ver­sion is avail­able at my Bandcamp Page. You can lis­ten, stream, or buy it here https://​timeas​t​on1​.band​camp​.com/​a​l​b​u​m​/​e​x​p​o​s​i​t​ion. Thanks for spread­ing the word.] This is the first time I’ve invited peo­ple to come along while I do it. The [dis­pos­able] cam­eras are just a thing I offer, you know — you donate a cer­tain mon­e­tary thing, you know, and you get a cam­era that I took pic­tures on […]. So, who knows what you’re gonna get? I do know that they are ana­logue, so you as a pho­tog­ra­pher know that they’re the cheap­est ver­sion of that, but, in fact, if you get the right light, and you get the right thing — an image, a moment — it’s nice to know that there are sur­prises, what­ever they’re gonna be.

MPBLike open­ing a present.

TimYeah, yeah, this room we’re sit­tin’ in right now has got a big reverb in it, right; maybe you can hear that on the tape? And — and that’s part of sound; now, light is a whole other gig there, and this room’s got some inter­est­ing light in it. I gotta say, it’s got one big win­dow at the end; it’s fac­ing a grand piano. And I’m kinda using the light and the sound of this room to make my record.

[Brief digres­sion on Northern European painters’ use of north-fac­ing win­dows and sky­lights omitted]

MPBTell me a lit­tle about that song you were just track­ing and work­ing on dif­fer­ent ver­sions of.

TimOh, I got a song that’s called “Broken Brain,” and it’s flat-out — you know, Cory Branan, the great song­writer from Memphis, Tennessee, he and I were on the road once, and he said that he hated when song­writ­ers rhyme the word brain, with any­thing; any rhyme with brain was annoy­ing to him. So I decided to write an entire song where the word brain was at the end of every cho­rus, in a blues for­ma­tion. […] It’s easy to rhyme brain, you know, all the words are easy to find. And I wrote a tune; it starts off I mar­ried a redhead/​And she’s a fighter/​Smokes more weed than you or Todd Snider. I wanted to have […] a com­edy song on this record of some­what seri­ous tunes.

At the Piano with Hazel Jones — Exposition Field Recording Session, Okemah, Oklahoma
At the Piano with Hazel Jones — Exposition Field Recording Session, Okemah, Oklahoma

MPBAny other songs you want to talk about?

TimWell, there’s one called “Saint Augustine” that I started down in Florida, and I fin­ished it in Spain a cou­ple of weeks ago. There’s one called “New Year’s Day” that I wrote . There are a cou­ple tunes that are a lit­tle bit older […].

I can’t stop writ­ing songs. I keep work­ing on tunes, and I gath­ered a bunch of songs that would work in a “folk” set­ting, a folk album stripped-down set­ting, which is what this album is gonna be.

MPBSo, you’re record­ing the entire album by your­self. You’re over­dub­bing instru­ments and vocals as needed?.

TimI’m keep­ing it to a min­i­mum; it’s mostly me and the gui­tar. But every once in a while I’ll throw in a man­dolin or another gui­tar or another voice. But, very stripped down. There’s a rea­son for that. I want to keep it sim­ple when it comes to mix­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing this album; I’m not gonna go down the big pro­duc­tion hole that I’ve gone before. That’s fine; that’ll be for [a] future album, but for this one, we’re keepin’ it simple.

So all those folks that are out there read­ing that have gone to TimEaston​.com, or check out what I’m doin’, this one is gonna be another in a series of stripped-down folk albums.

MPBExcellent. Let’s redeem a song. Name a song that doesn’t get much respect, and con­vince me that I should really love that song.

TimWell, you asked me this at lunch, and my mind imme­di­ately went to all these hits that are on the radio that peo­ple kinda like to make fun of or what­ever, but it turns out that they’re all great songs. So just now, it occurred to me that there’s a tune that Paul McCartney wrote that nobody really knows, and peo­ple that do know it make fun of it [Sidenote: McCartney is on record as being one of those peo­ple.] because basi­cally, it’s just this lit­tle coun­try-blues stoner thing that he prob­a­bly wrote while quite baked, walkin’ around in Scotland. And it’s called “Bip Bop,” and it’s on his first album or some­thing like that. [Sidenote: It’s actu­ally on McCartney’s first album with Wings, Wild Life. In McCartney announced the album would be reis­sued in a deluxe edi­tion.] It’s just one of those songs you can tell McCartney wrote kinda walkin’ around the house, and didn’t write to0 many lyrics to it and just kinda went with the vibe. It’s like:

Tim Easton Plays “Bip Bop.” Words and music by Paul McCartney, pub­lished by MPL Communications.And — I think it just — I love it because he wasn’t afraid to just record the crazy thoughts in his mind and wasn’t going to sit there and worry about peo­ple jud­gin’ him for it. This guy had already […] writ­ten some clas­sics; you know, Paul is just one of those Beatles that gets poked fun at a lot by us Beatle-freaks and Rolling Stones-freaks, for good rea­son; he’s kind of super self-conscious.

But he’s also not afraid to expose him­self and let you see that he’s workin’ on some­thing. Or just let­tin’ a sound be a thing, you know. And Exposition is the name of this record, and I’m kinda just — kinda just look­ing at things in a dif­fer­ent light of goin’ with a vibe and goin’ with a feel instead of wor­ryin’ about cre­at­ing this mas­ter­piece.

That’s just what holds peo­ple back, you know, I’m wor­ried about what the world [is] gonna think of me, you know, he was just tryin’ to have fun. His band was bro­ken up; his best friend was mad at him; he was just in a mess, and he had yet to come along. He was still gonna cre­ate lots more great tunes […].

Tim Easton Exposition Film

MPBAnything else you wanna tell the folks out there?

TimI just want to thank all Oklahomans for wel­com­ing me into the state and kinda giv­ing me some hon­orary Okie sta­tus. It’s just kinda good to be around […] peo­ple who are doin’ art for art’s sake. A lot of inde­pen­dent artists workin’ hard.

MPBTim Easton, thank you so much.

TimThank you, Chris.


Gallery: Exposition Recording Sessions

Before I inter­viewed Easton [Sidenote: After this arti­cle pub­lished Easton licensed sev­eral of the images from the shoot for the Exposition LP and CD, which he com­mis­sioned me to design. I also designed a pro­mo­tional poster. You can see the final designs here.] I took some pic­tures of him track­ing songs for the album. Afterward he art-directed an impromptu photo shoot tak­ing advan­tage of the unusual sur­round­ings. Who know the Okfuskee Historical Society had a bas­ket­ball court upstairs?


Documentary Photos:

Leica MP Classic
Zeiss Biogon T* 21mm ƒ/2.8 ZM
Leica Summilux ASPH LHSA Edition 50mm ƒ/1.4
ƒ/5,6 – ƒ/11,0
150th second
Exposure Index
Vivitar 285HV pow­ered by Quantum Instruments Turbo SC com­pact slim power pack
Kodak Tri-X 400
Adox Adonal (Rodinal) 1:100
semi-stand in a semi-stand in Paterson Super System 4 day­light tank
Epson Perfection v850
Adobe Lightroom 6


Unknown maker 250mm Petzval
1/​25th second
Exposure Index
Key: Paul C. Buff Einstein -5.7ƒ with sil­ver beauty dish & 30° grid
Background: Paul C. Buff Einstein -4.7ƒ with 7″ reflec­tor & 10° grid
Fill: 42″ col­lapsi­ble reflec­tor, silver
Carestream CSHB
Pyrocat-HD 1:1:200
semi-stand in an HP-Combiplan day­light tank
Epson Perfection v850
Adobe Lightroom 6, Adobe Photoshop, and NIK Silver Efex Pro

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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