That bizarre thing above is called the Magnapinna squid (filmed earlier this year deep in the Gulf of Mexico), and it’s one of several unusual creatures that Michael Hearst wants to write a book and make a record about for his Songs for Unusual Creatures project. Rewards include Theremin lessons, pet portraits, and this, the single worst reward that we have ever seen:
Unusual Creatures is the latest in a string of inventive projects from Michael, including Songs for Ice Cream Trucks and the band One Ring Zero, where he collaborated with Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, and Neil Gaiman. He also podcasts with Rick Moody. Well done, sir.
Michael’s Kickstarter project has done well, with $2,000 raised thus far. And its rewards — barring the above — are particularly strong. But needing $3,000 with eleven days to go, the pressure is on and Michael is feeling it.
We asked him how the experience has been so far, and he responded:
Incredibly stressful. But also very enlightening. I really have a hard time asking people for help, especially my friends. And with Kickstarter, there’s simply no way around it. But it has also really opened my eyes. I’ve never contributed more money to other people’s projects than I have in the past month. I now realize how difficult it is to raise funds, but also how important it is.
It’s a really great point. It might feel awkward asking friends and coworkers about your project, but it’s a must. Those are the people who always care the most and will work hardest to spread the word.
We asked Michael some more questions about his project and its progress, and you can read our exchange below. For more on Michael’s project, click this. And New Yorkers, note that he’s playing Joe’s Pub this Thursday night.
Can you tell us about your project?
I’ve gotten good at this question, thanks to you guys! The project is called Songs For Unusual Creatures. It will be a book/cd, which celebrates some of the lesser-known animals that roam the planet. Things like the Magnapinna squid, the Dugong, the Horned Puffin, the Saddleback Caterpillar, and the Aye Aye. When I was a kid, I loved Camille Saint-Saëns’ Le Carnaval des Animaux. (Still do, actually.) Of course, those songs are mostly about common animals like the donkey and the elephant. I thought it would be fun to do unusual animals. To boot, I’m using a lot of bizarre musical instruments, including the claviola, the theremin, the stylophone, and a bunch mechanical musical instrument robots (provided by the guys at LEMUR). The idea of releasing this project as a book/cd seems ultra important to me, kind of a essential that it should include pictures of the animals, as well as some fun facts.
What are some of your favorite animals you will be writing about? Why?
The Chinese Giant Salamander! Thing is absolutely disgusting and totally amazing. It’s the largest living amphibian, measuring up to 5 feet in length. All it takes is one look at picture of the Chinese Giant Salamander, and you’ll see.
I also love the Bilby, which is a small nocturnal marsupial found in the deserts of Australia. The female Bilby has a pouch, which faces backward, helping to keep dirt from falling in while it burrows into the ground. It hops around like a bunny rabbit. In fact, there have been movements to popularize the Bilby as an alternative to the Easter bunny. The Easter Bilby!
You’ve had a great music career and you’ve recorded for a number of prestigious labels. What made you decide to give Kickstarter a shot?
Well thanks. And yes, I’ve certainly bounced around from one label to another. Most of my projects fall into very different categories from one another, thus making it difficult to stay with any particular label. For the One Ring Zero author CD, we released it with Soft Skull press, for Songs For Ice Cream Trucks, I released it with Bar-None records. For most of One Ring Zero’s worldlier albums, we’ve released them with Barbes Records. Really though, the music industry has changed so much in the past few years that one begins to question the whole need for a record label, especially when the record labels don’t really have money for album production. I still think labels can be super important, and there’s definitely something to be said for being part of a roster of like-minded artists, or even just being on a reputable label, but there really just aren’t advances for album production like there used to be. And although I’m still very interested in fining a label or publishing house to work with on this project, I still need to find the money to make the album. That’s where microfinancing is really fantastic. Kickstarter has made it much easier to say to your friends and fans, “Hey remember when you used to spend $15 a week on new music, and now you don’t? Well, we musicians and artists simply cant continue without you. Help!”
How has the experience been so far?
Incredibly stressful. But also very enlightening. I really have a hard time asking people for help, especially my friends. And with Kickstarter, there’s simply no way around it. But it has also really opened my eyes. I’ve never contributed more money to other people’s projects than I have in the past month. I now realize how difficult it is to raise funds, but also how important it is. And I’m so incredibly appreciative of everybody who has invested in my project. Even the people who just put in $3 are Saints. Seriously! I was lying in bed last night thinking, even if I don’t make the goal and get the money, I’m still going to find a way to make this album, and I’m still going to give each of those people a free copy when it comes out.
What’s your most popular reward? And what’s your best reward?
Well, my most popular reward is the $35 signed copy of the album with a special thank you in the book. I mean, its really no different than placing an advance order of the book/cd, but you get your name in there too!
The top reward is the opportunity to have me write an original song for your pet (or a friends pet). Of course there’s also the theremin lesson, or the “guided tour” of the Brooklyn Zoo, or even Sea Monkeys delivered to your house!
Any closing thoughts?
I suppose this is the perfect opportunity for me to plug my show at Joe’s Pub on Thursday Sept 17th (7pm). I’ll have a five-piece band, plus about 30 musical instrument robots.
Also, if you ever get stung by Saddleback Caterpillar, use scotch tape to quickly remove the urticating hairs, which cause the stinging.