Tag Archives: caroline shea

Wit and Wisdom with Matteo Lane

Matteo Lane is a master of many trades: he’s a painter, an illustrator, an opera singer and now, a stand-up comedian. Lane will be at the Vermont Comedy Club Sept. 9 and 10, treating audiences to his trademark sarcastic wit.

Opera may not seem like the traditional path to comedy, but for Matteo Lane, everything is connected.

“I tried to get my start as a singer in Chicago and i joined a group of drag queens and strippers and it was a year and a half of hell,” Lane said, “so stand up seemed glamorous in comparison.”

His past experience continues to influence his stand-up today. He told me he’s found similarities in all his artistic pursuits.

“The most important thing in all art forms is to surround yourself with people better than you. That’s the only way to get better at any art,” Lane said.

His transition to stand-up was inspired in part by his large Italian-American family.

“I’m mostly shaped by my family. They’re the funniest people on the planet,” Lane said, “You have to compete; you learn what is and isn’t funny. You learn your timing at a very young age.”

Lane paused here to refill his coffee and tell me the fried chicken he was enjoying from the comfort of an NYC diner was delicious, before we began to talk about what makes stand-up unique as a form of entertainment.

“Stand-up is one of the rawest forms of performance,” Lane said, “it just requires a microphone, your thoughts, and a lot of hard work; singing, you can hide behind the music, acting behind the character. Stand up is just a dialogue between you and the audience.”

This “rawness” Lane values in stand-up, which he compared it to a combination of sexting and Catholic confession, has increasingly allowed more and more diverse voices to break into the business.  

“I think there’s been a shift even in the past five years in what people in the industry are interested in,” Lane said, “I’m not someone who’s like ‘straight white men suck,’ but I do find it refreshing that more people are seeing themselves reflected on stage.”

His experiences as a gay man have provided material for his stand-up. Lane particularly values comedy as a kind of coming to terms with his past.

“I’ve found humor in healing all the shame I held onto as a child,” he said, “the stage will heal whatever I’m going through.”

Although Lane unapologetically embraces all aspects of his identity, the comedian also does not feel the need to limit himself to only performing to certain audiences when speaking on certain issues.

“I don’t think of myself as a spokesperson for anything but I’ve gotten a lot of outreach from kids in the closet and it means a lot to them to see me,” he said, “if you’re LGBT, you’re doing a lot just by being yourself. Anything else is extra.”.

Lane’s ability to create humor from  the shameful, the scary and the awkward is what has allowed him to connect with so many audiences, from his work on MTV’s GirlCode to his growing career as a touring comedian.

“When you are really honest, it’s not so much shocking as it is interesting,” he said, “I’ve said things that make people’s skin peel off them. But it’s a relief to say them. It can be dark and intense but life is dark and you have to find the light in it.”

Cricket Blue’s Io: An Exploration of Music, Myth and Agency

“Myths and old stories feel unresolved. You want to explain them,” Taylor Smith told me as we sat down to discuss Burlington folk duo Cricket Blue’s new EP “Io.”

Their new EP opens as Smith and the duo’s other half Laura Heaberlin softly croon: “When the woods were full of wolves, the girls tied back their hair. They covered up their hands because it gave away their age.”

With this first track, “Angela Carter,” Heaberlin said they were “emulating Angela Carter’s  weird fractured fairytales.”

Carter’s fiction, with its combination of feminism and magical realism, is the perfect fit for Cricket Blue’s mythological folk.

This desire to explore and complicate traditional myths and fairytales is an undercurrent in much of Cricket Blue’s music, from earlier work like “Forsythia,” a love story set in the garden of Eden, to “Angela Carter’s” investigation of what lurks after the words “once upon a time.”

Their lyrics read like missives from another time or place. They remind the listener that the myths and stories they were raised on often have a dark underbelly lurking behind their apparent innocence.

“I think I have sort of a tendency to mythologize places,” Smith said.

This attention to place is evident on “Kentucky,” a song inspired by the state where Smith spent his formative years. He both wrote the lyrics and arranged an impressive cello part for the song.

Lyrics like “lost like a boy with his lord bound around him with cords” and “the staff and the rod of the terror of God have finally gotten to you” are almost visceral in the way the violence they discuss is made concrete through metaphor.

However, even at their most melancholic, Cricket Blue does not make music for cynics. In “Kentucky,” kernels of hope glimmer as Smith and Heaberlin sing wistfully: “Let all that is old be made new.”

Unlike Smith, who is more influenced by place, Heaberlin said she thinks she is more influenced by the theme of time when she writes.

““For me, it’s not so much place, as era,” Heaberlin. “I write in the past a lot.”  

The influence of past eras on Cricket Blue’s work are obvious not only in their fondness for myth but in their song “Eleanor,” a ballad of young wife who has an affair when her husband ships off to war.

One of Smith’s personal favorites of the album, the song exemplifies the eerie and complex harmonies that make Cricket Blue so intriguing.

Although “Io” has much in common with their previous work – the attention to mythological detail, the bluesy orchestration, the recurrence of the figure of “Eve” (“because feminism,” Heaberlin quipped) – it also is a departure from their previous work.

This is the first album the duo has recorded in studio, and because of this they were able to collaborate with other musicians and had access to more resources than they have had in the past.

“We were a little worried about bringing a creative partner in, but it was wonderful,” Smith said of their experience working with Beehive Productions.

Thematically, “Io” is more “character driven,” than their previous EP Heaberlin told me.

Named after a myth where Zeus pursued a woman against her will, only to transform her into a cow in order to hide her from his wife, “Io” takes up the plight of the downtrodden and trapped.

“We were writing about characters who had lost agency in one way or another,” Heaberlin said.

From the fairytale women who so often are reduced to archetypes, to Eleanor the suffocated 1950s housewife, to the namesake of their album, Cricket Blue uses their music to provide a voice to those who have been rendered voiceless.

This reclamation of agency is what makes their music so interesting to return to. You’re lulled in by the sweetness of their melodies that are reminiscent of traditional Appalachian folk or literary indie rock like Andrew Bird and find yourself suddenly surprised by the epiphanies that their songs so often crescendo to.

“We haven’t run out of stuff. We don’t get sick of each other,” Heaberlin said when I asked what it was like to work with Smith.
“Io” is something else you can count on not getting sick of. The EP is replete with literary and mythological references that don’t yield themselves up upon first listen. “Io” begs to be played over and over.

An Education: Lessons Learned from Converse Hall

Incoming college students can arm themselves with myriad study guides, syllabi, and workshops that promise to deliver academic success. What they don’t prepare you for is the various oddities of day-to-day dorm life.

My education has been delivered to me courtesy of UVM’s oldest (and spookiest) dorm: Converse Hall.

My first rude awakening was that locking your door here is a necessity. Coming from the Living/Learning Center, where we left our doors open 24 hours a day and were unfazed to come home to people in our rooms who didn’t live there, this was a weird adjustment.

Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

I came home not long ago to the smell that was part opium den, part Easter vigil, and part Seattle basement. The smell was expected. The bedraggled middle-aged man wandering my hallway and knocking on doors was not.

 After kindly telling me many stories of his time at UVM in the ‘70s, he went on to explain an elaborate conspiracy involving banks and invite me to an “all ages, BYOB barn dance.” I still can’t decide what my favorite part of that concept is.

I turned him down. Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice dude. But even I knew that sounded like a bad idea. Apparently there was a naked man running through the building the other day, too, which should have been surprising news when I heard it, but wasn’t.

Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

Anyway: I lock my door now. I feel pretty good about that decision.

I’ve also stopped expecting anything to really be where it’s supposed to be. Couches routinely turn up part way down stairwells. There’s a graveyard of unwanted bed frames in the attic and someone has managed to tear a sizeable hole in the ceiling. Like, big enough to hide treasure or a dismembered body in.

Some mornings, I’ve walked down to the basement to find all the pool cues stuck in the ceiling and the floor strewn with underwear and empty bottles. A miniature garden of potted plants and trays of germinating seeds clutters one of the the fourth floor window sills.

Somehow, the plants have made it this long, so I assume someone is taking care of them. Or at least taking as good care of them as college students take of themselves.

IMG_9822
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

There aren’t any secrets in Converse. Other than the ghost, that is. We don’t have your typical idiot-proof cinderblock dorm walls. I hear everything. I see everything. If you ever wondered what it would be like to be omniscient, just live in a centuries old dorm building. You will know everything you possibly could want to know.

I knew when the person living above me had the flu for a week. I know the fourth floor plays an impressive amount of Kendrick Lamar. Weirdly, I know a lot about the recent shares purchased on the stock market by the guys who smoke outside my window every night. Apparently Chipotle’s stock isn’t doing so hot. 

One of the more obvious, although most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that buildings built in 1895 behave exactly like you think they would. The pipes make this incredible banshee like shrieking noise whenever you turn the heat on and rattle against the wall. The tile on bathroom wall is falling off, leaving gaping holes. Ice freezes over the inside of the windowsills.

Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON.
Attic, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON.

This fall, the fire alarms started going off everyday for absolutely no reason. We would all stumble outside in our barefeet and bathrobes and sulk until the fire department came. It was kind of bonding experience, I guess.

My favorite, though, is the attic. It’s like a room where Victorian gentlemen locked up their insane wives was redecorated by a carpet salesman from the ‘70s. You can’t really go for a cooler vibe than that.

Stairwell, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Stairwell, Converse Hall. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

People complain a lot about Converse. And to be honest, I get it. The decrepit haunted mansion crossed with a frat party life isn’t for everyone. 1 AM fire alarms aren’t anyone’s favorite and thin walls (despite my newfound knowledge of the stock market) have their drawbacks.

So I don’t blame you if the Converse life isn’t for you, but if you need me, I will be hanging out in my creaky, weird, possibly haunted dorm room. Knock first— the door will be locked.