BY JAMES MOORE
When I met Andre Perry a little over a year ago, he was in a group called the Karen Carpenter Syndrome and co-producing a very ambitious four-day music festival for Iowa City with Tanner Illingworth—the Midwest Mission Creek Festival. A native of Washington, DC, Perry had migrated from the Bay area to take part in a UI graduate writing program.
Perry is half of the West Coast duo the Lonelyhearts, who will be touring later this year, and has a new band named Heathers. I saw only a few of over 40 acts last year of the MMCF inaugural kickoff but each one pinned me to the wall.
This year he and Illingworth have rounded up some 55 bands, local, regional and beyond, to play five venues—the Picador, the Mill, the Yacht Club, the Java House, and the Englert—over a four-day period the end of March. I spoke with Perry by phone.
James Moore: First of all, thanks for doing this, Andre. Do you want to start with a little history of Mission Creek?
Andre Perry: Sure. A guy named Jeff Ray, who lives out in San Francisco, originally from Washington DC as I am, started the festival 11 years ago. There’s another festival in San Francisco called Noise Pop in their 15th year. Noise Pop brings in the most major indie rock acts from all over the country, some internationally. Jeff started Mission Creek as a way to really celebrate the things that were happening in the Bay area, California, and the Pacific Northwest. I started working for him a few years ago when I was living in San Francisco. Then I came out here in 2005.
What brought you to Iowa City?
I moved here to go to grad school. I’m working on an MFA in the non-fiction writing program. Jeff and I had always been talking about the idea that Mission Creek really should be happening everywhere. It seemed like there’s enough talent within Iowa itself and where we’re placed in the Midwest is just amazing because you have all these cities and little towns that are not very far away that have tons of people doing all sorts of independent music. Iowa is the center, but we’re really strong on the Illinois and Minnesota bands. It’s about the Midwest.
You are a musician yourself and in a number of outfits.
I play in two bands right now. One is a duo called the Lonelyhearts with my buddy John [Lindenbaum], who lives outside of Berkeley. It’s an experimental folk thing, Neil Young-type stuff but a progressive sound. And then I play with a band in Iowa City called Heathers, which is a three-piece with cello, a number of keyboards, guitars, and two of us sing. It’s all original and goes anywhere from chamber pop to Matthew Field to folk and dips into some stranger electronic things. We kind of get in a room and don’t really plan things, which is a nice way to do things sometimes.
So let’s hear about this year’s festival. You almost can’t get to everything!
Yeah, it’s a little overwhelming. We’re really excited about everybody but I’ll try and narrow it down to some of the bigger names. There’s a band from Omaha called Tilly and the Wall and they’re on the Team Love label. It’s just a great band. It’s acoustic but they have a tap dancer and a drum machine and it’s just this weird mix of sounds that’s really energetic, They’re super indie and have been at it for a bunch of years. We’re really happy to get them here.
Representing the midwest of Canada, we have Rock Plaza Central coming down from Toronto. This is a newer band to people in the US. They’re kind of bringing back that Neutral Milk Hotel feel of anthemic folk. They have seven pieces in their band. And we ended up booking one of the Mission Creek staff’s favorite bands—the Bound Stems. They’re from Chicago and had the number one album on a Daytrotter year-end survey last year called Appreciation Night. It’s definitely one of the most interesting and intelligent albums that’s come out in a while. I don’t know how they pull it off live. It’s a very know how they pull it off live. It’s a very schizophrenic record, but it all works. That’s really a big show for us. They weren’t going to be able to play and then they decided to take a break from recording.
And then some of our classics: Death Ships from Iowa City who are really getting out there this year. They did a tour with Jay Bennett that was very successful for them. And another band from Ames called Envy Corps, who just signed with Vertigo Records, which has the Killers. They just got back from recording their record in England. Amy Cooper is also coming out from Los Angeles. I could go on . . . .
Four days again?
Four days from Wednesday, the 28th, right through Saturday night, the 31st.
And you have people playing from all over Iowa.
From the Quad Cities, from Des Moines, from Ames, from Cedar Falls, especially the college towns because people are really plugged into the more indie college rock acts. There’s just are a lot of people from 19 to 24 or 25 who are on top of these bands. When they play, they’re usually only going to play one city in Iowa, so people come out.
How do you feel it went last year?
Opening night was huge. Thursday was the quietest day but the music was so good, the people who came out felt like they got something really special. Friday and Saturday were great. I’ve never seen the Mill so packed.
What are you doing between these festivals, and don’t give me that “graduate work” stuff.
[Laughing] But it is graduate work!
How is it going?
The writing program is wonderful and it takes a lot of time. There’s a lot of reading and a lot of writing. One of the things I do is music journalism and music features. Not only do I love to play music and love to put events around it, but personally, I just love seeing music of all types. So I spend a lot of my free time tracking down bands. Either if they’re coming through the Midwest, or if I can get on the road with them for a few days. I’m interested in deep features. There’s something important about these alternative lifestyles and it’s an ongoing interest of mine for people playing independent music.
For more information, see the Mission Creek Music Festival.