by Ben Shine
Local Mix Masters is a series where occasionally I introduce people who are mixing it up, making stuff happen and holding down the decks in music around Indy. This time I'm chatting with Jon Rogers, a musical jack of all trades, a multi-project mix master whose impact on stage, online and in real life is pretty impressive, especially for someone who -- to me at least -- is a wunderkind.
Jon Rogers has been making music since 1997 when he was 13. Six years later, he and his Everything, Now! bandmates self-released the group's first LP, setting the stage for its experimental-indie-pop-noise adventures. In addition to Everything, Now!, he's performed with: Beer (the band), currently on hiatus; Golden Moses, a "performance-art/dance party lizard DJ from outer space;" Meta Monk with DMA (David "Moose" Adamson) and Devon Ashley; DJ Jun Ra, which is him spinning vinyl records; and a new, secret band with some of his pals.
But he's also the executive director for Musical Family Tree, a website that champions Indiana music of all kinds and times. And he has a label, Holy Infinite Freedom Revival, dedicated to releasing other people's music on audio cassettes.
In short, he's doing a lot of stuff. But what I like most about him is that he does it with a mix of energy, authenticity, humility and the ability to embrace the absurd. He's a good guy who relies on talent and enthusiasm, rather than a cool-guy posture. And that open attitude, that curiosity, coupled with a work ethic that would impress all of our grandfathers, allows him to advance Indiana music.
Ben Shine: How would you describe Musical Family Tree to someone who's never been there or doesn't have a connection to it?
Jon Rogers: Our website is the best way for curious listeners to get introduced to Indiana music and for longtime fans to plumb the depths for hidden treasures. In a larger sense, MFT is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and spreading Indiana music. We archive, document, and promote it, focusing on works and artists that have not yet been "commercially successful."
BS: How did you become involved in MFT?
JR: I started adding my music to the site pretty early on. A few years ago, when I was about to enter a career teaching high school English, Jeb [Banner], MFT's founder, asked if I'd be interested in blogging about Indiana music, to help increase awareness of the site. I enjoyed that opportunity so much that I decided I wanted to dedicate my skills to helping MFT grow and realize its full potential. I became the director of MFT in early 2012.
BS: What are your hopes and vision for it in the next few years? Where are you going?
JR: I want to increase our focus on doing work in the community, including more MFT-curated shows and other special events like workshops and educational programs. We also want to focus more on building MFT's physical archive, preserving "lost" or unknown works, doing more releases and reissues of great Indiana albums, and communicating about past and present Indiana music in more ways than ever. That includes the new MFT Zine, recording projects, blog features, documentary projects, potentially some radio stuff, etc.
BS: Are there other MFTs out there? Why do you think this is happening here now?
JR: I don't know about organizations or sites in other states that do what we do, but I imagine they're out there. Lots of other states and cities have the reputation of being great places for music, and I think Indiana has the talent and potential to become known that way as well. MFT is unique because the people involved with it over the years have spent a lot of time making and interacting with Indiana music -- they love it and they want to see others experience the joy of all the weird, obscure stuff that makes life in Indiana's underground music scene exciting.
Indiana music has always been pretty underrated or just not known by many people outside of the state, but we want to help change that. I think there are also lots of other groups and people who recognize that there is something special and unique about the music here, so I'm excited that MFT can be part of a larger movement that is helping bring attention to this great aspect of the state's culture.
BS: Why a label focused on tapes? What's up with that? How did it happen and what are you doing?
JR: I like releasing cassette tapes because they are inexpensive and fun. I'm definitely a vinyl guy, but pressing 100 copies of something on vinyl with full color artwork is next to impossible, so you have to spend more and print more copies and risk losing a lot of money on something only a few people want. I know that the releases I put out have limited appeal, and I know that lots of people these days only experience music in digital formats, so I like to make the physical releases cheap and accessible. I know some people don't have tape players anymore, but they're not expensive, and there can be a real beauty to the cassette experience, especially for fans of certain styles of music -- lo-fi, experimental, home recordings ... I love the experience of handling and listening to cassette tapes, and I've always been into making mixtapes, so it's been fun to interact with the format again after a few years of basically ignoring it.
BS: What are three bands on MFT that everyone just has to listen to?
Bonus reading: Check out Jon's choices for his top three life-changing albums in my previous post "The Top Three."