Published on November 2nd, 2012 | by Julie Davis0
Jamming with Musician and Writer Abigail Young
“I’m a serial hobbyist, a chronic dabbler who has yet to master anything,” said Abigail Young during our interview.
That’s probably a different choice of words than most would use to describe Young’s artistic output, which includes everything from zines to yoga to writing and music.
“My art of choice as a six-year-old was writing short stories,” she said, laughing. “The plot lines were my own, but I’d steal all my characters from pre-existing creations. One included both Donkey and Diddy Kong being friends with Minnie and Mickey Mouse.”
Young’s artistic background was as varied as her current output. In high school, she reports (regretfully) that she didn’t take any art classes, but did keep a cartoon journal with her best friend, “complete with snarky rhymes about the horrors of high school.”
“I didn’t think of myself as creative, though,” Young said. “I actually had it very firmly in my head that while I wanted to be one of those cool, artsy kids, I couldn’t be. I have no idea why. I didn’t start really making things again until I bought my ukulele a couple years ago.”
Now, Young writes her own songs, and posts the results to YouTube and Bandcamp.com.
Art Animal met Young at the San Francisco Zine Fest, where she was selling a selection of her eclectic output, including the zine, Camel Toe, and cassettes of her music. In between sales, she graciously told us more about her work and process.
Art Animal: What attracts you to the ukelele? Is it just the sound, or is it particularly easy to play or…?
Abigail Young: I bought my ukulele after living in San Francisco for six months. I was depressed and lonely and I needed an outlet. I bought it as a Christmas present to myself and started tinkering around. It seemed like a very accessible instrument and hobby — warm and friendly with a low entry cost. Once I nailed strumming and singing at the same time (the hardest part), I started writing my own songs, which was easier than learning other people’s.
AA: Do you play any other instruments?
AY: I’d like to — I have a harmonica that’s been neglected, and I still tinker on the piano from time to time.
AA: What inspires you when you’re writing music? Can you describe your process?
AY: For the first four or five songs, my process was: 1. Buy two bottles of J. Roget “champagne.” 2. Open bottles with roommate and fellow cynic Liz Miller. 3. Bitch, rant and riff off each other as I wrote rhymes about people we found terrible. Alternately, I’d be in my room, write a song in 20 minutes, and debut it to her over the rest of our wine. It was fast and messy and the best way to dive right in to songwriting.
AA: What other musicians inspire you?
AY: After I wrote “Vegan Boys Are The Worst”, a friend sent me Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “Scenesters”, finding it similar and thinking I’d like it. I loved it and soon loved all of their music. The chords are simple, and their lyrics are wonderfully straightforward and talk about the ugly things and feelings in life.
And while I will never be as poetic and thoughtful and wonderful as Fiona Apple, I’ve loved her for many years and will continue to do so. Leslie Hall is my hero when it comes to clever, humorous lyrics and tight pants. JD Samson is my spirit animal.
AA: Why did you decide to release your music on a cassette tape as well as downloadable tracks?
AY: Because I’m ridiculous and love cassettes. They were my childhood’s music medium, and I still find value in them. Downloadable tracks are essential, though. It’s 2012! CDs have become some strange, dated thing. I’d never buy a CD, but there’s something silly and interesting enough about the cassette that I’d pick one up at a merch table, as long as I could still get the tracks on my iPod.
Speaking of iPods, I lost mine years back when I was living in St. Louis. I was broke and didn’t have the cash to replace it, so I bought some cheap old cassettes from a thrift store and a portable tape player from Walgreens. I used that for my pedestrian commutes around the city (I don’t know how to drive). I had The Clash’s London Calling and Bob Seger’s Greatest Hits in heavy rotation. That rekindled my cassette respect.
AA: What’s your opinion on the difference in sound between cassettes and digital files? (Or, for that matter, between vinyl and CDs?)
AY: Cassettes have nothing on digital files in terms of sound quality, although I’m charmed by tape hiss. I’m not cool enough to have a massive vinyl collection, and I know very little about the whole scene, yet somehow I buy into the idea that vinyl is “how the music is supposed to be heard, man.” But digital files sound a-ok to me, and the insane ease and speed in which musicians can share their music is beneficial.
AA: You recently performed at the Frankenart gallery in the Richmond district. Can you tell us about that show and how the audience reacted to your music?
AY: That show was very small, and by small I do mean the owner was the only attendee. But I’m an introvert, so it was a lovely experience. I like connecting with people one-on-one. She laughed at the appropriate times, asked questions, and was very generous in letting me play through my entire library.
My previous gig at Madrone Art Bar [in San Francisco] was part of a community variety show, which had a decent turnout. I think the reaction was similar and supportive there, too. The bar setting helps, even if they aren’t liquored up. I tend to curse a lot in my songs, so playing in a setting that doesn’t have a lot of opportunity for pearl-clutching is important. Also, no children.
AA: You have such a varied set of interests: yoga, running, writing, comics, cooking, music and more. Can you tell us a little bit about how each of these fits together in your life?
AY: I have no idea, really. Each has its own little path of how it came into my life, and I just try to maintain a balance as best as I can. But I still have a lot of work to do on that front. Usually when one interest takes center stage, the others get put on the back burner. I’m not one of those people who can function long-term on three hours of sleep, so I haven’t figured out how to do all the things all the time. I think not having a day job would probably help, but I have bills to pay and a Boo Bear to feed (my dog).
AA: You also mention dancing on your website. What kind of dancing do you like?
AY: Hah! Oh, that. I do love dancing, although that particular proclamation of dancing ability is linked to a ridiculous video I made for my last birthday. It’s a montage of me dancing and playing air sax. Birthdays are the greatest holidays ever. The best day of every year for me is my birthday, as you can tell by my very pleasant mood and high level of silliness in that video. I believe I had a happiness hangover the next day.
AA: Let’s talk about your zine, Camel Toe. What inspired this project?
AY: Most predictably, I was taking a shower, where I have 20% of my good ideas (the other 80% manifest while I’m running). At first I wanted to create a Tumblr for it, but as you would suspect, the URL is already occupied by some NSFW material. I’d been doing the zine thing and SF Zine Fest was around the corner. I decided to put out a call and see if I could get some submissions and take the theme offline. It all came together pretty quickly, and I’m really happy with the finished product. Issue #2 is slated to come out before the end of the year, and I’m accepting submissions now.
AA: What’s the best recipe in your tortilla book?
AY: Totally Tortillas is actually my mom’s [Ros Young’s] zine, which is the culmination of decades of experience and creativity. They’re all really delicious, but I’ll have to be boring and say the classic tortilla recipe is my favorite. You can take it sweet or savory with the proper topping. I like to have half sweet and half savory at my meals, so it’s the perfect base.
AA: What are you working on these days? Any upcoming shows, publications or new work you’re excited about?
AY: I’m excited for the next issue of Camel Toe as well as getting more zines in the pipeline. I want to start writing new songs and put out another album next year. I’m in the beginning stages of developing a kid-friendly line of work too, both songs and comics. I’m also pulling together an Intro to Uke course in San Francisco. The class is in its very early stages of development, but it is slated to happen at Makeshift Society. It isn’t on the website, but that’s where it’ll be!
Daily, I’m working on producing a doodle a day and documenting it on my blog. It may not seem like much, but developing consistency in my work and disciplining my creativity is a big step. As I said earlier, it’s easy for me to let one facet of my life distract the others. So far I have a solid month under my belt, which is a personal blogging record.