Ronley Teper on Surrealism and Collaboration.
Ronley Teper‘s life is a surrealist adventure of FARTS, or “fused arts,” as the South African-born, Toronto-raised musician and performance artist calls it. Together with the band, "The Lipliners" and a cadre of animators and video artists, she’s releasing some of the most striking musical productions out there. (Read the Rawckus review of three videos produced for her songs by Montreal animator Davide Di Saro), drawing inspiration from the likes of Tom Waits, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Frank Zappa, and Kate Bush.
Ronley Teper was kind enough to speak with Rawckus about skipping school, guerilla filmmaking, and collaborating with groundbreaking artists around the world.
Rawckus: Which elements in your childhood lead you to become the surreal musical wonder you are today?
Ronley Teper: Ha! Childhood? To be honest I still think I’m more a child then an adult. That childlike sense of mystery and the unknown is where I find my relationship with creativity.
Maybe this is where it all began: I was bullied in junior high and basically had no friends at school for a year. I remember the moment of seeing the world with adult eyes and losing my innocence when I saw the first of many burned and bubbly pictures of me taped to my locker and chewing gum stuck to the back of my lock.
I skipped school almost every day to avoid the taunting. I'd wander around downtown Toronto all day, watching people. Sometimes I'd meet my dad for lunch, then, I’d go discovering new streets and alleys, talking to strangers, writing in my journal in coffee shops, and then hopping on the subway and heading back to the suburbs for dinner.
Tell us about FARTS
RT: About six years ago I got an email from an incredible artist named Marc O’Brien, who said he'd seen us (The Lipliners) play a few weeks before and wanted to write an article about us for an art mag.
It was Marc who coined the term FARTS in his title for the article, which read “The Stitching of Teper’s Ronster - An Adventure into Ronley Teper’s Laboratory of FARTS (Fused Arts).”
Why does so much of your artistic energy go into collaboration?
RT: The interplay and collaboration between an array of musicians, improvisation, digital theatre, animation, puppets, comedy, philosophy, dancers, performance artists, and audience participation, all are added ingredients that blend to fully realize the stuff going on in my head.
It’s all fine and dandy to write concepts, ideas, and works alone at home, but after the alone time it’s the energy of working with others, the creative conversation that really does it for me.
Traveling has given me opportunities to meet and collaborate with people on a global level. I've been introduced often by people saying, “You should meet so and so, I think you’d get along splendid.” Other times I’ve seen someone perform and just love their style or energy; then I'm that creepy person who just goes right up to them and asks to collaborate.
Other times I’ve seen someone perform and just love their style or energy; then I'm that creepy person who just goes right up to them and asks to collaborate
Has anything bizarre or funny happened to you in the course of creating or performing your songs?
RT: If nothing bizarre or funny happened in the course of creating and performing, I’d be bored out of my mind by now and probably would have moved on to other things.
One of my favorites was a release show where some sexy avant-garde dancers took to the dance floor and coaxed the room to join a massive dance party. Banks the bass player was so into it up on the stage that he ripped off his shirt, let go of his upright, and jumped in to join them. It was a sweaty harem kind of vibe and a blast!
Where did you get the idea for your "Cornered in the Alley" video?
RT: Graeme Phillips, a great videographer and journalist, was working at NOW Magazine at the time and contacted me. He said he'd heard my stuff and he'd like to film us doing our thing on a streetcar. I love that kind of thing, so we set a date and all met up at Dundas West Station, where we paid our fares and entered the streetcar as customers.
We took our gear out, put our bags and such behind us on the ledge, took our seats, and just played and filmed with two hand cams and a few mics. When we were done we all got off like regular riders at our appropriate stops. It was one of my favorite projects to do. Got some claps from other riders, too. The backs of the old streetcars are perfectly shaped and scream for a stage on wheels.
If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?
RT: I guess right now, in no particular order: To explore, challenge, critique, analyze, laugh, and cry. To evoke emotions in others, to be laughed at, to create, to disseminate, to reeducate, to learn, to climb, to fall, to climb again.
What projects are you working on now?
RT: A main project is a collaboration that I've been working on over the last year with videographer Saul Lederman (we filmed in Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Israel, and British Columbia) that we're editing right now.
I'm working on the final touches of my upcoming release, The Game. Currently also living in a self-directed artist residency, composing new works on Vancouver Island until mid-April while planning European tour for the fall, spring gigs on the Island, and a couple of dates in Ontario. Oh, and of course life projects like cooking, cleaning, getting groceries, sleeping, eating, pissing, pooping, hiking, and taking long drives. Vancouver Island is stunning.