“It was just a big beautiful blue kite” – Interview with Matthew McGee about Johnny Bertram’s Neon City

Friday, July 11, 2014
10 am
Downtown Jackson

Laurel: So how long have you known Johnny Bertram, and how would you describe your musical connection?

Matthew: A few years. Let’s see, about six or seven years. I met him at a show in Jackson. Wooden Finger was playing. I think he was opening up for us, and he said, hey man, you want to be in our band? (laughs).

Laurel: He did? That night?

Matthew: Yeah, that night! And I was like, wait second, who are you? (laughs).

Laurel: That’s bold.

Matthew: Well, then I heard his music, and he was great. So, I was like, very cool. He was making the record Sing Your Song and also Days That Passed and was needing some violin parts. So I just came in and played with them, and it was easy.  It was like…when things come together and it’s easy…easy to play with him. And I loved the songs. There was one song that I played guitar on. And I just picked it up and it made it to the record. I really enjoyed that one.

Laurel: Did that surprise you?

Matthew: Yeah, well, I was just playing around. I’m trying to think what year it was. It was the year that Jamie Weems got married. Whatever year that was!

Laurel: So, as far as the record Neon City, can you talk about your involvement in that project?

Well, I was helping produce him, and what that means is actually to get it done. Let’s actually make something happen. I had a bunch of recording equipment and I was like, let’s make this record. And that’s what happened!

Laurel: So you said, this is gonna happen?

Matthew: Yeah, because he was about to move, and we only had a certain amount of time. You know, I had all this equipment, and I just went into the 121 Studios (now NMAC) and did a lot of tracking there. And then, he would work nights, and around the clock.

Laurel: Well, I think a lot of people don’t know how much is involved in recording. How much time and focus. So having somebody produce that way and say, yes, we’re going to do this, here’s where we are, keep this rolling…

Matthew: Yeah.

Laurel: Did having that deadline that he was moving, in a way, was that a good kind of pressure?

Matthew: It was a really good pressure. I think it was like, we got to get this done, because we want to release something we’re proud of. And let’s work really hard to get it done, and that’s what happened. And Johnny worked really hard on it, I mean he just spent night and day working on it.

Laurel: Did he have his own gear at home that he was using or was he coming back in there to the studio?

Matthew: He was using mostly..I think we had one of my laptops, and a lot of ProTools interface kind of stuff. He was doing it all around.

Laurel: So you would share files…?

Matthew: Mm hmm. He did some of the tracking in Boise, Idaho, where his family lives.

Laurel: During that time period?

Matthew: Yeah, he made a trip up there…

Laurel: He just brought it all with him…

Matthew: Yeah! I think he put some Rhodes on a song, and maybe a Casio keyboard.

casio keyboard creative commons
Laurel: Well it’s neat sometimes how using an unexpected instrument can really put a new spin on a track.

Matthew: One of those songs there’s an organ that goes (demonstrates a sound, like rrrrrrttttttt!) but I wasn’t expecting that and it sounds so good.

Laurel: What would you say about working with Johnny that made the strongest impression on you?

Matthew: Oh man. Well, just his drive to do something great. It’s an awesome friendship to have, and musical friendship…

Laurel: Mm hmm, he’s got that drive, and it sounds like that may have inspired you to say, “yes, we’re going to make this happen.”

Matthew: Yeah…we were playing a lot of shows as Johnny and the Golden Bicycles, we were playing all over…

Laurel: It was almost a wave…

Matthew: It was a wave!

Laurel: I remember being a part of that – I think it was Jacktoberfest – it felt like the city was responding with you in this way…

Matthew: Yeah, it was so…just, awesome. I loved it!

Laurel: I bet it was nice to be a part of that, from the stage side.

Matthew: Yeah, it was.

Laurel: Do you think that when Johnny Bertram left, that he left a gap or a hole in the music scene in the city of Jackson?

Matthew: Mmmm…I like to think so. I mean, I still wish he was here. Just because I miss him, and loved playing with him and hanging out with him. He’s one of my best friends ever!

Laurel: And that kind of friendship…it’s rare.

Matthew: And I really miss him. But, you know, I talk to him a lot, texting and all that (laughs).

Laurel: So you stay connected…

Matthew: Yeah. I’ve been meaning to go up there, but I’ve just been crazy busy.

Laurel: Well that leads directly into my next question, which is, do you yourself have any connections to Portland, Oregon? Have you been out there? Is it a special place?

Matthew: YES! We did a tour one time, and we went from Jackson to Portland.

Laurel: With Johnny?

Matthew: Yes. I think that’s where we turned around (laughs) it was like, we got to Portland and then, we can’t go any further!

Laurel: (laughs)

Matthew: But it was great, and I love the town. I spent a few days there…you know his wife’s family is there. So we spent time with them. And went out to Cannon Beach.

Laurel: Oh! I went there…

Matthew: So amazing! I bought a kite….we flew a kite there…

Laurel: You did? What did it look like?

Matthew: Oh it was just a big beautiful blue kite.

Laurel: The wind there is just amazing.

Matthew: Oh, I know. But the day we were there was just the warmest day of the summer and the whole band was out on the beach just watching the sunset. It was just, really really really cool.

Laurel: Wow!

Matthew: Yeah, but we spent about a week there, just hanging out, and playing, you know, it was really, really really great.

Laurel: When you all play, do you write new material together, or is it mostly Johnny?

Matthew: Mostly Johnny comes in with some songs, and we’ll listen to them, and then he’ll have the ideas and you can just kind of improvise. That’s the way I play.

Laurel: So it’s not necessarily that he says “play this,” but he’s got the framework and you jump in on it.

Matthew: Yeah, exactly.

Laurel: So do you think you might ever do a project with him again?

Matthew: Oh, yes. Yes! Yes, indeed.

Laurel: What would you like to do? I mean, is it shaped in your mind yet, or do you just know you want to?

Matthew: We just know we want to.

Laurel:  Is there anything else you want to add about anything we talked about?

Matthew: Well, hopefully sometime in the future we’ll make another record. That’s what I hope. The thing that we did already…I’m just so glad to be a part of that.

Laurel: Yes! I remember when my husband Daniel put “Neon City” on the record player for the first time and we just looked at each other…!”

Matthew: Me, too! I was just like “whoa” I put it on the record player and laid on the floor and just listened to it with my eyes closed and…I don’t know…it just made me feel great.

After the microphone was off, Matthew and I talked a bit more about the power music has to keep us connected, and how the musical communities in Jackson have something special that keeps people together.

My personal connection to Matthew has been in and around the Jackson music scene for years – he is unfailingly cheerful and polite. I saw him about 4 days after a serious bicycle accident in the summer of 2014. Matthew said, now you have something new to write about! And he was right. I was grateful to him at a time when my spirits were low. His enthusiasm translates to his playing, as he genuinely shines in the joy of music each time he performs.

This interview is the second in a series of interviews connected to the making of the record “Neon City” by Johnny Bertram (2012). The next interview forthcoming will be with Richard Stowe, manager of the building where “Neon City” was recorded.

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, amesh ng
Gohomenew.png From : Eravathur Village, Thrissur District, Kerala, INDIA


The Nautilus Project Participants


The following is a list of the musicians, visual artists, poets, journalists, bloggers, dancers and BBQ-mavens who have participated in The Nautilus Project so far. Many thanks to Emily Mathis, who painted this lovely nautilus for the CD disc art. I look forward to adding more names as “The Nautilus Project PDX” gathers steam in 2014. Here’s the list:

Andi Agnew (Jackson, MS) – writer and event organizer for The Nautilus Project PDX (2013/2014)

Lisa Kislingbury Anderson (Portland, OR) – writer, journalist, and co-curator of “The Nautilus Project PDX” Tumblr (2013/2014)

Loye Ashton (Jackson, MS) – percussion on the CD “Nautilus” and during the 2012 live show

Johnny Bertram (Portland, OR) – songwriting featured on “The Nautilus Project PDX” Tumblr (2013/2014)

Krista Pieper Bower (Jackson, MS) – structured dance improvisation during 2012 live show

William Patrick Butler (Jackson, MS) – photographer of 2012 art show and performance

Valerie Cullaton (Jackson, MS) – structured dance improvisation during 2012 live show

Tony Davenport (Jackson, MS) – visual artist for 2012 art show

Monique Davis (Jackson, MS)- BBQ sliders and superb crowd support for 2012 live show

Lynette Hanson (Portland, OR)- internationally-known blogger with entries featured on “The Nautilus Project PDX” Tumblr (2013/2014)

Clay Hardwick (Jackson, MS)- visual artists for 2012 art show

Brandi Katherine Herrera (Portland, OR) – writer and poet, co-curator of “The Nautilus Project PDX” Tumblr (2013/2014)

Valley Gordon Hildebrand (Jackson, MS)- acoustic bass on the CD “Nautilus” and during the 2012 live show

Andy Hilton (Jackson, MS) – designer and producer of modern art porch swing featured at 2012 art show

Gerard Howard (Jackson, MS)- photographer with work featured in the 2012 art show

Wes Hughes (Jackson, MS)- guitar on the CD “Nautilus” and during the 2012 live show

Rachel Jarman Myers (Jackson, MS) – vocals during the 2012 live show

Emily Mathis (Jackson, MS)- visual artists, designer of CD artwork, and organizer of 2012 art show

David Rae Morris (Jackson, MS)- filmmaker and photographer with work featured in 2012 art show,

Rhonda Richmond (Jackson, MS)- vocals on the CD “Nautilus” and during the 2012 live show

Akiko Sekihata (Jackson, MS)- visual art featured in 2012 art show

Jessica Russel (Jackson, MS)- visual art featured in 2012 art show

Kateri Tolo (Jackson, MS)- visual art featured in 2012 art show

Jamie Weems (Jackson, MS)- mandolin on the CD “Nautilus” and during the 2012 live show

Julia Weems (Jackson, MS)- vocals during the 2012 live show

Dimitrus Williams (Jackson, MS) – visual art featured in 2012 art show

Bebe Wolfe (Jackson, MS)- visual art featured in 2012 art show

The Nautilus Project Explained

The Nautilus Project Explained

Laurel Isbister Irby founded The Nautilus Project in 2012, and it has grown into a multi-year, multi-city interdisciplinary series of art projects.

The projects are created to revitalize communities of artists and art lovers, to connect diverse groups of people, and to envison an alternative to the typical goals of a “CD release party.”


Rather than a one-time, commercialized approach to celebrating the completion of a recording project where the goal is to sell as many units as possible, the goal for the CD release of “Nautilus” by Laurel Isbister Irby is to expand consciousness, connect people together, and tap into a long tradition of artists and art lovers for reinventing the world.

2012 – Jackson MS (visual art, music & dance, held at Eudora Welty Commons)

2014 – Portland, OR with Jackson, MS (writing, visual art, music & dance)

2016 – Brooklyn, NY with Jackson, MS (teaching, food, visual art, music & dance)

2018 – Nashville, TN with Jackson, MS (gardening, love, visual art, music & dance)

The Nautilus Project – Jackson, Mississippi (2012)

Now that the 2013/2014 Portland Nautilus Project has been getting underway, it seemed a good time to post some information about the first project in the multi-year series. The 2012 Jackson project featured a live music concert and a show of visual art created by Jackson artists. The artwork was chosen by the artists in relationship to three songs for the “Nautilus” CD  – “Jackson,” “Gold,” and the title track, “Nautilus.”

Many of the guest musicians featured on “Nautilus” performed live, including Rhonda Richmond, Jamie Weems, Wes Hughes and Loye Ashton. There were also improvisations by two members of the local Front Porch dance company, Krista Bower and Valerie Nicholson.

The event took place at the Commons at Eudora Welty’s Birthplace, a relatively new spot in Jackson’s downtown scene. The Commons has been a place where creative types can gather, put on concerts, shows and other events like yoga classes. The atmosphere is casual and homey there.

The visual artists featured at the show ranged from professionals such as Tony Davenport, BeBe Wolfe and David Rae Morris, to beginners exhibiting in their first formal show, such as Akiko Sekihata and Dimitrus Williams. The show also featured a wonderful hand-made modern porch swing by Andy Hilton.  His swings are now featured at the Mississippi Museum of Art.

The evening that the show opened the space was filled with all kinds of folks, professional types, artists, students and professors, scientists and musicians. The way the Jackson community thrives on such events creates opportunities for collaboration, dialog and hope. This event was a huge success!

When there’s more time I plan to share more about the artists and dancers, and also include some photos from the art opening & music and dance performances.  Next week I meet with the Portland Nautilus project participants and I’m thrilled about that!

The Nautilus Project – PDX

“The Nautilus Project – PDX” is the second collaborative arts project in a series of four over several years (2012 – present) called “The Nautilus Project.” In 2012, I released a CD of original music titled “Nautilus,” that I recorded and mixed myself. The concept for the CD was inspired by haiku poetry (the song titles make a haiku), and also haiga, a blended art fusion of haiku poetry with brush painting, or in some more modern cases, digital imaging. Inspired by interdisciplinary artists who merge visual art with poetry, and having been a student of many forms of art myself, I challenged the standard CD release party by releasing “Nautilus” as a collaborative, interdisciplinary dialog between artists. Thus, the four-year “The Nautilus Project” series was conceived.

“The Nautilus Project – PDX”  is the second in the series, focusing on the art of the written word, taking form in a curated Tumblr blog, and featuring a variety of writing genres. My Portland project co-creators are Brandi Katherine Herrera and Lisa Kislingbury Anderson.

Three songs from my CD  (“Jackson,” “Mississippi,” and “Nautilus”) are featured on a Sound Cloud playlist here:

The writers are asked to choose works from their portfolios and/or create new works that relate to the themes in the song tracks, the “Jacks Ex-Pats” experience, or both. The submission period is open now, and we expect to publish work to the Tumblr blog in July Posts will be added over the next year as they are received and accepted, and we invite you to share the blog with friends, family, and the networks you are a part of.

On Wed, July 24, 2013 we will hold an informal meet-and-greet social hour in Portland at the Oregon Public House (6 – 8:30 pm) to allow the people involved a chance to get together. In 2014 the Tumblr will be launched and celebrated with events in Jackson, MS and Portland, OR.

There are two main purposes of The Nautilus Project. First, to intentionally push the boundaries of genre and expectations about CD releases to create something new, meaningful, and enjoyable. Second, to encourage mutual support amongst artists who share common experiences, and to help strengthen artistic communities.