Artists who live together, create together
“Everybody grab something weird!’’ The call goes up, a voice rising from the rubble and bubble of activity swirling around the center of a living room decadently decorated with just about everything imaginable: umbrellas hanging upside-down like rain-repellent chandeliers; bicycle tires tangled into elaborate wreaths resembling demented birds’ nests.
Within seconds of the command, people quickly assemble and indeed grab something strange — or at least odd enough for the occasion of a newspaper photo shoot. A squash plucked from somewhere. The broken neck of a guitar. A gaudy, gold-plated trophy suited more to an amateur bowling team than the gaggle of musicians, poets, and visual artists who reside here at the so-called Whitehaus — a sprawling five-story, eight-bedroom home tucked along Seaverns Avenue in Jamaica Plain.
“This house is one big, pulsing moment,’’ says singer-songwriter Morgan Shaker, a Whitehaus founding member and resident who recently moved out after getting married. The makeup and mission of the Whitehaus inhabitants, Shaker says, is “not just about being friends, necessarily. It’s about concurrent motivations. Living here is its own concept.’’
Ever since a small cluster of artists calling themselves the “Treemausers’’ began staging music hootenannies and poetry readings at a small Hyde Square apartment they dubbed the “Treehaus,’’ the creative concepts have increased exponentially. It wasn’t long before the residents’ ambitions — and their audiences — outgrew their Hyde Square space.
“We always knew there were folks out there who were interested in finding this kind of place,’’ Shaker says. “And it just so happened that we were all interested in getting together and trying to provide it. It was a deep serendipity that brought us here . . . a perfect storm.’’
Four years, countless concerts, and one change of location later, the Treemausers have turned into the Whitehaus Family Record, a closely knit music and arts collective that not only hosts its own performances and promotes shows around town but is a thriving record label with more than 50 releases to its name.
Tomorrow, WFR will celebrate its latest project: a 27-track double-LP compilation of artists affiliated with the collective’s in-house label. The album release dovetails with WFR’s ambitious Blastfest 3 concert at the Cambridge YMCA. The 12-hour festival curated by the collective features performances by more than 20 artists, many of them affiliated with the WFR. Like the Whitehaus itself, the music and material on the double LP morphs and transmutes, shifting from spoken word to fuzzy indie-pop to cracked folk to experimental soundscapes.
Until this year, Whitehaus cofounder Shane Donnelly, who performs under the moniker Many Mansions, had organized Blastfests (a scheduled appearance at South By Southwest conflicted this year, so Shaker has taken the Blastfest reins).
The idea for the first Blastfest was simple, Donnelly says.
“There was this scene that the rest of Boston probably didn’t know about, that we wanted to showcase — and it turned out to be hugely successful,’’ Donnelly recalls. “We raised a ton of money for the label, and it really showed us what we’re capable of when we’re working together as a group.’’ Last summer Donnelly also launched Weirdstock, a three-day blowout of experimental music that sounded as though it had been beamed by satellite from an alternate universe.
Whitehaus members hope the album is just the first installment in a series. “This [album] is a really broad snapshot,’’ says Donnelly. “The house is a living entity, and because it’s living, it’s always changing and growing and shifting.’’ In the foyer, a gallery of Polaroid snapshots of people who have come and gone adorns a wall adjacent to a winding staircase that ascends upstairs. Banjos mingle with hanging plants and dismantled drum kits in a front room, watched over by a huge Jimi Hendrix tapestry.
Whitehaus poet and performer Casey Rocheteau used to make the two-hour trek to the Treehaus while she was a student at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much,’’ says Rocheteau, who will perform at Blastfest 3. “It’s made me less afraid to do things. You don’t have to be afraid that an idea is too far out, because everybody’s going to help you find a way to make it successful. There’s no place that I would rather live.’’
By day, Brian Lawlor is a biologist who teaches classes on wild edible plants. By night (and any other time he’s at the Whitehaus), he’s the musician known as B. Law, who’ll also play tomorrow. At one point he had moved to Texas to study endangered birds, but he always knew he would come back. A question about how long B. Law sees himself living at the Whitehaus is met by a long, contemplative pause. “I hope,’’ he says quietly, “this place lasts forever.’’