We caught up with French-born artist Melanie Valera (AKA Tender Forever) to get her thoughts on busking, her favorite coffee, and advice for doing your art. Tender Forever will be conducting a workshop on Reenactment and Public Content Source this Sunday from noon to 4 pm to explore re-enactment, recycled narration, and other topics by using found video on the internet.
Henry: First off, since this is Seattle and we love our coffee, who do you think makes the best cup from all the places you have traveled?
Tender Forever: One reason why I love America is because you’re all so nerdy about almost everything you get into. France is NOT. France is very simple. Simple food, simple cooking, simple coffee (contrarily to what most people think). The coffee isn’t that great. It’s thrown together. They don’t even know what coffee they use, where it was roasted and all that. They don’t care whether it tastes like leather or Skittles. They are just gonna make you a tiny coffee for one euro. They’re not going to ask you how you’re doing so you don’t stay too long. And NO you can’t take it to go. I like that about France, a lot. Italy has got GOOD coffee. But the best one I’ve had was in Spain for sure — only because I ordered it in Spanish. But if there was a decision to make between Portland or Seattle, hands down Olympia has the best coffee. Bar Francis it’s where it’s at.
Henry: Ah, Olympia, Love the hometown pride. How did you end up on this side of the pond?
Tender Forever: In 2004, I was busking on the streets of Bordeaux, France. I sold all my belongings and in April 2005 I bought a plane ticket with the money. I think I had $20 left after I bought the ticket. I still don’t know how I allowed myself to travel to a foreign land with $20. I played a few shows down the West coast with Khaela Maricich from The Blow and Squeeze Me I Squeak. I remember burning CD after CD after the shows. People would wait for their CD to come out of the toaster and I’d get $10 for it. That’s how I started! Our last show was in Olympia at the world’s smallest venue ever. Basically an attic. Ten people came. Calvin Johnson came. I didn’t really know who the dude was; I knew K Records, but not that Calvin was the studio. After the show he asked me if I had a CD. I didn’t.
Next night I was still in Olympia and we ended up at the same show. I guess he had gotten a CD from someone else. He asked me if I wanted to record. We pushed my departure date further and I recorded my first LP at Dub Narcotic Studios in Olympia in 2005. Then I went on my first real tour with him and played over 50 shows together. It was, of course, life-changing. I love [Calvin] dearly. Thinking back on that experience and history, it’s pretty amazing that a human can travel so far, change the course of their life, and end up in an amazing place like the Henry to talk about reenactment and representation. Anything I get to do, I always feel so privileged. You know? Everything is a step on a stairway to the next step. I think it’s important for me to remember that my capacities and skills are extremely flexible and unlimited. My mum set that role model for me. You can do anything you want if you want.
Henry: What advice would you give to someone thinking of busking?
Tender Forever: Remember when you were a tiny kid and you are playing hide and seek. You thought that because you covered your eyes with your hands no one will find you? So you’d just stand there, with your hands on your eyes thinking you’ve disappeared. Apply that to playing in the streets. It’s perfect.
Henry: Why the transition from busking to music production to performing at galleries and museums?
Tender Forever: I would really love to shift my performance work entirely to broader horizons. Being perceived solely as a musician isn’t what I’ve always envisioned. Art institutions, art galleries, less traditional venues are by far the places I would like to collaborate more with. I think we all have multiple careers, multiple mind set ups, and we can overcome the fear of perfectness, especially when tied to art. I can do anything and I can play anywhere.
I’ve actually never shown solely visual art before. It has always been music, media, and performance art together. I couldn’t have performed without playing and vice versa. I really liked the engagement of the crowd in the stories I tell. I like the feeling of people eating out of the giant hand of fake narrative and rewriting stories in their head. Using all the means necessary and available to me when walking in a new venue in order to engage the crowd remains the best part of creating performances. I like high energy. I like dense content. I like realness. I like janky and wonky things and I like unveiling magic tricks. That’s a lot of possibilities. So when I walk into a venue, I shake hands, but mainly I want to go in the back rooms and find “the weird things.” I’ve borrowed curtains before, couches, shoes, clothing, food, etc. Each venue is a little universe and I want to discover what it has to offer and what it will also take from me. I’m interested in that odd trade.
Henry: Speaking of finding the weird to use in your art – where have you found the pieces you will use this Sunday?
Tender Forever: I’m actually always trying to break out of the classic ways to get to new content. It’s not easy but mainly, I use people’s blog, comments, threads on odd blogs. Through that process, I’ve developed an interest in the ways that people research the content they’re after. I think the brain path and the personal stories to what pushes people to research or post certain content is the most fascinating part. No one can access another’s brain, at least not yet. Google is my go-to for general research and then I have my secret spots which I will keep secret.
Henry: We’ll let you unveil your secrets on Sunday. Thank you for catching up with us!