Tag Archives: bside

Reclaiming Identities of Addiction

Language is a powerful form of representation, and one that is largely absent on this campus for our students in recovery.

Professors banter about the consumption of alcoholic beverages in class, students openly recount drunken evenings on the bus and people jokingly self-identify as “alcoholics.”

Comments from professors — including one who said all heroin users are lost causes and should be locked up — are swept under the rug. Students and professors often neglect to realize there are numerous students in recovery from substance use disorders who are regularly marginalized on campus.

UVM supports these students through the Catamount Recovery Program, founded in 2009.

Amy Boyd Austin, the director and founder of CRP, worked tirelessly to create the program after a faculty member informed her of students struggling with substance use on campus.

“We realized that ours [program] was about building community and connection – a safe haven for students that celebrates recovery and honors recovery as a model of wellness,” Boyd Austin said.

The program follows five pillars: recovery, community, academics, service and advocacy. CRP consists of over thirty students, but Boyd Austin said she is in contact with fifty or more additional students interested in the program.

Senior Zachary Wyatt, a personable and tenacious psychology major in CRP, discusses his recovery as an identity with fervent authenticity.

“I think deep down, people want to share, but don’t because of the stigma. It’s an identity I hold, it’s part of who I am,” Wyatt said. “It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and why wouldn’t I be immensely of proud of that?”

Anonymity and recovery have been coupled for decades since the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. CRP strives to empower those in recovery rather than promote anonymity.

Genevieve Winn, VT Cynic.

Members of CRP are looking at the similarities with acceptance, learning from the ways in which the gay rights movement gained traction and removed the stigma that being queer was a choice.

Austin, while speaking about university programs in relation to CRP stated, “I honestly feel more connection to some of the other identity centers than I do to policies like dry campus or Wellness Environment, because I feel like those centers are working hard to support identities that are marginalized and that generally aren’t seen or understood and are expected to be able to just deal with the norms of college life.”

CRP is challenging this stigma by offering classes in community engagement and encouraging students in recovery to find confidence and strength through their personal stories of adversity.

Wyatt, along with other CRP members, finds advocacy to be an important aspect of recovery. “It’s taught me that speaking up about things takes the power away from them and that confidence and empowerment always follow.”

Universities, in addition to selling an education, are selling a college experience. Senior Joy Solomon, a thoughtful special education student in CRP, vocalized this idea.

“I think in a systemic way, this institution from orientation day has this college experience … UVM is a brand and the brand is for a very specific college student,” Solomon said.

Solomon said she received a booklet for off campus housing options, but even these came filled with assumptions.

“It just assumes that you’re going to be too loud for your neighbors and that there are certain things that you’re going to experience and encounter,” said Solomon.

Assumptions about partying and a culture of excess that are enforced through this type of language has consequences in that it doesn’t represent those in recovery.

Through University marketing and everyday language, Boyd Austin laments that we have accepted that substance abuse is a given on many college campuses.

When asked about how our institution could better support the CRP and our students who are in recovery, Boyd Austin said, “I think that UVM could improve in supporting the program by recognizing it as another form of diversity. This is an underrepresented identity on college campuses and can be really invisible.”  

Through institutional policies and the normalization of substance use culture, UVM perpetuates this invisibility.

While the university could make major improvements in diversity surrounding both recovery and marginalized identities at large, students and faculty should also take on the role of creating a truly inclusive campus.

Our community can also participate by shifting our biases from an anti-recovery attitude to one that appreciates and engages with those in recovery.

CRP has helped countless students thrive in a college setting, but isn’t by any means operating at its full capacity. Representation of this community allows for more students struggling with substance abuse to use this extraordinary program.

Whether it be through social media or in everyday language, moving away from a culture of normalized excess substance use can help ensure that there is enough room for everyone to be represented and have an equitable college experience.  

Eggplants: Cooking and Connecting with the Old World

Food is culture. I am a first-generation Romanian-American, but I don’t know much about Romanian food. My father fled the country in the height of Ceausescu’s dictatorship, and once he moved to the United States, he was dedicated to being an American.

He won’t speak Romanian around my brother or me often, and when we eat together, we usually go out for noodles. Sometimes he will talk fondly of his grandparents’ farm, how they would grow plums and eggplants and he would help care for the animals. He still goes back there at least once a year to see the family that lives there now.

My cooking has never been very culturally inspired, only driven by local availability, price and my deep love for fresh vegetables. I know how to prepare zucchini, and I have developed some second-natured intuition for the tenderness of oven-roasted root vegetables.

For years I’ve been committed to the leafy greens and squashes of farmers’ markets. I have spent many afternoons perfecting my vegetable hash, a recipe-less medley of seasonal produce, dusted generously with salt and pepper and cooked in stages, so that the potatoes are golden-brown and the kale isn’t crispy or the garlic burned.

Once, in an attempt to be more creative in the kitchen, I bought the prettiest vegetable I had ever seen at the farmer’s market. It was an eggplant: oblong and shiny, a deep magenta with delicate white stripes. I had eaten plenty of eggplants before, but I had never cooked them myself.

I excitedly brought the eggplant home, treating it more like a new houseplant than a food, and placed it on my kitchen counter. Overconfident and more accustomed to  cooking straight-forward potatoes, I chopped the eggplant into chunks and threw it into a pan of hot oil.

The skin quickly turned grayish, and the once-spongy white flesh absorbed all of the oil within seconds. I had no intuition for the vegetable. It wouldn’t sizzle. It wasn’t firming or softening. I seasoned it, waited and then reluctantly forked the pieces onto my plate. Whatever I had done was not right. I had naively mistaken it for any simple fry-until-golden-brown kind of vegetable.

Brigitte Riordan, B-Side.

I soon became fascinated with the art of cooking eggplant. It started with a phone call to my mom. She joked I was living my Romanian grandmother’s dream — Mica loved eggplants, she told me. My great-grandparents grew them on their farm outside of Bucharest, and Mica used to make a luscious Salată de Vinete, a traditional Romanian eggplant spread.

I had only met Mica once, when she came to the United States to see how my brother and I had grown and could only say “hello” and “I love you.” When she died a couple years later, the farm was left to my father, a self-proclaimed city boy. He grew up in a town outside of Bucharest infrequently visiting his grandparents’ farm, and never spent enough time in the kitchen to know the magic behind his mother’s eggplant dishes.

Having about as much knowledge of my cultural heritage as I did the proper preparation of the eggplant, my affinity for the vegetable only grew. Online, I found countless recipes, histories and iconographies.

I read every nostalgic narrative that accompanied traditional recipes, with stories of growing up eating eggplants cooked in Romania, Turkey, Egypt and India. Despite all of my research, when it was just me with a cutting board and a four-burner in my tiny kitchen, I was intimidated.

For the next eggplant I bought, I wouldn’t begin with any attempt at my grandmother’s Salată de Vinete. I would try and cook it in a pan, like I had before, but this time I was aiming for the velvety richness I had read about. I stood at my kitchen counter, and slowly sliced through the dark purple skin and cut the flesh into thin, spongy white ovals.

Each piece had to be salted, soaked in a colander, rinsed and then left to dry on paper towels. I heated up the oil in the pan, carefully placed the slices one-by-one, and waited. Every recipe said eggplants take time. My mother told me that once, when my grandmother came to visit, the oven became so hot from her eggplants roasting for such a long time that the window above the stove shattered.

Some recipes online described the transition from firm and spongy to soft and luscious as “the collapse.” I waited for the collapse. I added a little bit of salt and pepper. I flipped them. I started to see them soften. I didn’t break any windows.

I sat with my plate; the slices of eggplant were cooked through. Though my dish wasn’t all that interesting, the vegetable itself was. I felt connected to my father, to Mica, to my great-grandparents. One day, I’ll try and make the Salată de Vinete. One day, I’ll go to Romania with my father, I’ll see the farm and eat the eggplants of my ancestors. For now, I’ll sit alone in my kitchen with an eggplant, sliced thinly and cooked to collapse, salted and peppered and with every intention to cook another one tomorrow.  

Girl Got a (Tattoo) Gun

Vermont Custom Tattoo and Piercing is tucked a flight of stairs above Cosmic Grind Coffee at 104 Church Street Marketplace, Suite 2A.

You might just miss it if it weren’t for a plastic sign on the brick walk outside. The shop makes the most of a small space, with orange and teal-painted walls adorned with a murals of a sailor girl and a dragon — and sheets upon sheets of tattoo designs.

When Aja Briana introduces herself, the first thing that is apparent is her radiant personality. There’s an immediate warmth about her as she introduces herself, one that would make any nervous client looking for a tattoo feel instantly at ease. The only outward marker of her career in the tattoo industry is a dainty hand inked onto her forearm just visible under her sweater.

The 22-year-old tattoo artist is a new member of the team— she started her apprenticeship in October of 2016 and has now joined their team as a full-time artist. Equipped with two rotary machines that she bought from fellow Vermont Custom tattoo artist Joe Demers during her apprenticeship, she has made a career out of putting art on skin.

Vermont Custom’s website displays a gallery of her beautiful art on a dozens of bodies; from hummingbirds to mountain ranges to stunning floral arrangements to dog portraits. Her favorite tattoos to create are the product of personal consultations with clients, creating something uniquely for their body. One of the pieces she enjoyed working on the most was a John Milton poem that a client brought in and allowed her to draw out.

Caroline Slack, B-Side. Vermont Custom Tattoo.

Briana was drawing before she began to write, and in her childhood was invested in writing, art and music. The sight of inked skin sparked her interest in the path she eventually chose: “When I was 7, I saw someone with a tattoo and thought about being the person to put art on someone else’s body.”

Briana, who hails from Las Vegas, ended up in Vermont a few years ago to be closer to her younger sister. She was unable to attend college for financial reasons and, following a PTSD diagnosis, “basically came to Vermont for [her] mental health.”

“The tattoo industry is a white male industry. As a Latina female, I feel lucky to work with people my age.” She says she believes the current generation will destigmatize tattoos, embracing them as art.

As a Panamanian-American queer woman, she’s an outlier in her field, especially in Vermont. According to the July 2016 census, Vermont’s population was 93.1 percent persons of white ethnicity with no hispanic origin. With fair skin and a male partner currently, she is able to appear straight and white for the most part. “If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t necessarily have the same relationships with coworkers”, she says.

“I’m certainly very white-passing,” she said, “I’m freckled with typically light skin. But I think I take extra strides to assert that.”

“I’m outspoken about my sexuality because there’s so much discrimination against LGBT people. As a queer person and a Latina person, I will always be outspoken. I will always say that Black Lives Matter.”

She says that she is “In the very special position of having white privilege while still being a minority. I want to use it in a strong, powerful way.”

Caroline Slack, B-Side. Aja Briana showcases her art & tattoos.

“ If you have white privilege, fucking use it. It’s a tool that can be used to point a finger to the voice that isn’t being listened to; a neon arrow to the people that aren’t being heard, but need to.”

Her passion for social justice is a driving force behind her work. “I’m still finding my grounds and bearings, but I want to be part of an inclusive community. I hope that in 100 years, this industry is dominated by people who are passionate about the fact that people come with the vulnerability of wanting permanent art on their skin.”

Right now, her womanhood is the thing that “sticks out” the most, Briana said. “When someone calls asking if there’s a female artist, I carry in mind that this is an experience that they chose to share with me.”

She’s thrilled to be a queer woman who is able to relate with those who might otherwise feel intimidated by tattoo artists. She comments on the fact that women inking intimate areas of their body might feel more comfortable with a woman doing the work, while queer people may feel more comfortable with an artist who is part of their community.

She says “I want people to be able to share with their artist. It’s so important to feel accepted in such a vulnerable situation.”

Caroline Slack, B-Side. Aja Briana at Vermont Custom Tattoo.

Beyond her artistic prowess, Briana is great at what she does because she gives so much care to each and every client she takes in. “I see a lot of beautiful humans and have the utmost honor that they choose to share this transformative experience with me,” she says.

The meticulousness she once considered a weakness has worked to her benefit as a tattoo artist. “I remind myself to take my time,” she said.

“I was always the last one to finish tests, the last one to finish in art class.” The fact that she is patient with details makes her tattoos beautiful and intricate, every stroke made with full intention.

This career has also forced her to roll with the punches and make the best out of things that don’t turn out perfectly. “I have learned so much through this form of art. I used to struggle with finishing projects. If a line doesn’t turn out, I can’t crumple up a person and throw them away. I’m more accepting of my own mistakes. It’s a funny job for one with anxiety, but everything happens for a reason. Hiccups are a component that help it become a work of art.”

“One of my first tattoos, the girl laughed and it messed up the line I was working on.” She was nervous telling the client what happened, but ultimately, the hiccups inked onto her body “stuck out as a joyful personality.”

One of her recent clients was a “flamboyant” 18-year-old from Puerto Rico who came into the shop with a friend who was getting a piercing, and asked for a tattoo on a whim. He decided on his sister’s birthdate in Roman numerals, only to return a few hours later upon the realization that he had gotten one digit incorrect.

His thought? “The universe wanted us to spend more time together!” They eventually figured out a way to cover the error with a heart. “He was beautiful and gracious, and smiled the whole time,” she said,”  I honor that day and that boy.”

Caroline Slack, B-Side. One of Aja Briana’s tattoos.

Tattoos are taxing and painful; and not everyone reacts well to the experience. “We get told we should be first responders,” she says of herself and fellow artists at the shop. Some clients “throw up, faint, seize, but we still want them to leave here feeling as comfortable as possible. I like to think that people usually feel comfortable here.”

A huge component of maintaining her job is self-care. “You can’t come in hungover or on half a night’s rest,” Briana said. “I give myself time to sit and breathe, not bringing any negativity to the client.”

As a tattoo artist and collector herself, she has plenty of advice for those looking to get inked. “RESEARCH YOUR ARTIST. Write that in all caps.” she said. “Find someone whose work you like.”

Getting a tattoo in itself can be a healing experience. It’s taking ownership of one’s own body. “Tattoos are for no one but yourself” she said. And after a client leaves the shop, it’s up to them to take care of their body modifications and ensure that they heal safely.

“Tattoos heal like sunburns; they peel and flake, and usually heal in about 3 weeks,” Briana said. “Healing is an afterglow of the process— it’s up to you once you leave the shop. It’s a great practice of self love to take care of this decision that you made.”

During a difficult time, she tattooed a snake on her thigh and now she says it looks a bit scaly.

“I have regretted every single one of my tattoos at some point,” she explains. “But trust the self that put ink on you. Even if it’s bad, it’s a bookmark of your past self.”

She’s given herself 3 tattoos in addition to the snake: the first was a pie which her sister had said looked delicious from Crockett Johnson’s children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon. After the Las Vegas shooting this past October, she tattooed a cactus on her achilles as a tribute to her hometown and gave the same tattoo to a few friends as well. Just the other day, she gave herself a tiny white-ink eye on her finger for fun.

Her eyes light up as she describes her younger sister: a spunky, artistic 10-year-old. She said she took her to a water park, and it was the first time she had worn a bathing suit since she got a tattoo of a maple creemee — a staple of Vermont culture — on her butt. Seeing it, her sister said “Your life is complete,” perhaps a nod to the fact that the new generation is celebrating tattoos.

Assault in ‘safe spaces:’ Women in the DIY music scene speak out

The first DIY show I went to was a hardcore show in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was hosted in a Veterans of Foreign Wars center.

There were kids that looked like they could beat the shit out of me, but who were all probably just as awkward as me. The masking tape on the floor was the only thing separating the bands from the audience, but the crowd wasn’t letting that hold them back.

I tried to wade in the middle of it all, but ended up getting pushed towards the front, where the bass amps would make my ears ring and my head throb.

It was amazing. I’d never been in an environment like that before. Coming from a small, sports focused town in the suburbs of Massachusetts, it was a whole new world.

DIY is exactly what you probably know it to be, a Do It Yourself mentality. Modern DIY culture manifests itself in people putting on shows in their basements, supporting local artists, and a strong community of people who appreciate loud music. 

Those who have been a part of DIY scenes in other areas will often say the Burlington scene is underdeveloped. After a period of venue shutdowns that left an absence of places to play and an overabundance of bands, there’s been a revival in the scene.

New people are introduced to DIY every day, and new organizations are popping up to uplift the community, such as Friends + Family and Tuned In. People who are involved with these groups want to rebuild  the scene, and with that comes a sense of duty to do it “right.” But, as this is a community based off of “Doing It Yourself,” there’s no exact right way to do it.

 Creating these new spaces necessitates dialogue in our community, one that addresses difficult issues like sexual assault that may jeopardize the integrity of a space that is intended to be fun and inclusive.

Max McCurdy, B-Side. Rathaus on a Saturday night.

It’s a familiar story: a person goes to a show, or a party or anywhere, and someone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Sophomore Kenzie Hines is a member of the DIY scene; she attends shows regularly and is familiar with some of the bands.

The UVM Cross Country house is “a place notorious for sketchy dudes,” according to Hines.

“It was more mellow that night, and people weren’t really moshing that hard,” she said. “I had plenty of space but this guy really scooted to me.”

“He came up from behind me and was like, ‘Hey, I’m Henry,’ and then he put one hand in my back pocket and one hand on my left breast.”

She said he leaned into her and ground his pelvis into her, without her consent.

“At that moment I was tired; I was trying to dance,” Hines said. “It’s like, if you want to dance with me, ask — I might say yeah,” she said. “I just hate being on that defense when I’m trying to have fun. It’s almost like I’ve been trained to be constantly aware.”

Senior Aaron Lucci declined to comment on behalf of the Cross Country house.  

Mariel DiMidio, a junior who co-runs the popular DIY collective Friends + Family, agrees that it feels like everyone has to go through this “training.”

“When you are raised as a man, these codes of masculinity just completely ignore body language,” she said. “I feel like because men are not educated in emotional intelligence as women are, they’re missing this important training.”

Autumn Lee, The Vermont Cynic.

Friends + Family is volunteer-run and intended to be a “space for the artists that are noisy, loud, avant-garde, goofy and generally out of the norm,” according to their Facebook page.

DiMidio also talked about Tuned In, a newer music organization in the Burlington scene that’s started up about a year ago, that is a “member-owned cooperative dedicated to prioritizing women and non-binary musicians,” according to their Facebook page.

Senior Marley Zollman is a member of Tuned In. She’s said that she enjoys the emphasis the group puts on intersectional feminism, as well as their confrontation of sexism in the general music industry.  They run “Snuggled Up” shows where femme and non-binary musicians perform to femme and non-binary audiences and open mics in order to foster a supportive environment where people can build their confidence in a safe place.

For DiMidio, DIY is a “wholesome community where [she’s] met a lot of really cool people.”

These organizations, and the people who run them, love this community. They want to see it flourish and become a place where everyone can feel safe, have fun and feel like they belong. DIY encourages active involvement, and people are here to fulfill that role.

Senior Casey Little co-runs Red Handed Records, a new DIY venue that is active in the community and wants to help with this problem.

“People like myself who run these DIY venues can’t help but feel agitated that people don’t want to come out to our shows because there are people out there who wish [them] harm. We want nothing less than a friendly, hospitable place for people to get their jams on,” Little said.

At a recent meeting of DIY Burlington, another collective, I met up with Little, Brian LaClair of Jim’s Basement and Senior Haley Quinn of RatHaus to discuss the community and how it addresses sexual assault.

 “Somehow we need to come together as a collective and recognize the people (the accused) when others know they will be around,” Little said. “Someone who is an unbiased source, who can stand up to scrutiny and keep an eye on said individuals and report those incidents to someone.”

DiMidio said the answer is not to immediately blacklist people who are either accused of or are guilty of sexual assault, but instead to offer some form of redemption or learning opportunity.

“If you’re trying to make change then you can’t just create a prison model,” she said.

“There has to be a space for learning and coming to terms that’s not just kicking people out, but I think there should be some form of restorative justice.”

Max McCurdy, B-Side. Rathaus on a Saturday night.

DIY is like everything your mother wanted and didn’t want for you all at the same time. I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever known through this community. I’ve also been punched in the face in the mosh pit and slammed against sweaty basement walls. It’s a weird dichotomy of love and pain.

This issue isn’t one that will ever be completely resolved. Discrimination will live on for a long time after our generation of basement-going has moved on. Just last week, I was called a “cunt” and a “bitch” because I was running doors for a show and couldn’t let someone in because the venue was over capacity.

But if there’s any take-away from this, it’s that DIY is a community that attracts people from all walks of life.

And the people who truly care about cultivating and pushing the scene forward are willing to listen, discuss and take action in order to create a space in which people can feel loved, welcome and safe.

Fresh Tracks

 

While winter slept stubbornly through the early days of December, my friend and I spent our Saturday scraping the icy slopes of Sugarbush.

We arrived late in the morning and found the elements at the base of the mountain caught in a fierce war.

The muddy earth and wilting meadows were battling snowfield troops down the slopes from their wintery kingdom.

James Gaudreault, B-Side. Rime ice clinging to summit trees.

Despite the fake snow blowing from cannons, the woods and far edges of the lower trails clung to the earthen fall palettes, refusing to allow skiers more than a few icy routes down to the lift.

Before we set out, we hobbled down the iron steps to pick up our ski passes, clinging to the handrail as our early season legs tripped along.

After a brief wait among the few hungry enough for those scarce early winter tracks, we climbed back up the gauntlet of stairs and rode our first lift to the peak.

The contrast in climate between elevations can be magnificent, especially during the first weeks of winter. In minutes, the stubborn grassland and rushing streams gave way to a sheet of white coating the trees and wooded glades.

All the energy and warmth of the base is locked in an icy cast of winter placidity. We pushed off the lift only halfway to the summit, already in a different world.

James Gaudreault, B-Side. PJ whittling while the food stews.

Our skis’ worn edges struggled to find purchase in the ice on the first few turns. As we moved through the groups of skiers, we found that the best snow lined the trail’s edges in thin strips.

After a few decent runs we turned our attention to the summit hidden above us beyond the rolling clouds.

The Heaven’s Gate lift brought us closer to winter; each foot of elevation added a new layer of drift to the trees and trails below.

As we rounded the peak, we were transported to a spot above the clouds. Each fir tree lining the crystalline hills was coated in its own shell, drooping under the heavy ice.

Before adventuring down the more promising summit trails, I shed my skis and clambered to the top of the lift  to rest and look around.

In the warmer months when snowless slopes call for hiking, I have to work for every inch of altitude. Hiking demands an appreciation for the mountain views; every rock, root and stream I pass is a milestone in my climb. I feel a certain intimacy with the rock beneath my feet.

James Gaudreault. B-Side. Skiers starting down Jester.

Each time the trees part and give way to the rolling hills and adjoining peaks, I have no choice but to stop and look. In winter, as I sat there on the summit, I made the resolution to sit and reflect every mountain day, regardless of the season.

Later in the afternoon, our unconditioned legs wobbled. We watched others filter into the lodge to spend their paychecks on fries, but we unclipped our skis and took to the woods instead.

We walked off-trail to a spot among the trees. With a stacked pile of birch tinder and dead twigs, we fired up a wood-burning stove and cooked a mountain feast.

PJ Solomon, B-Side. Tending to the food.

Every meal tastes better on the mountain, and this one was no different.

As we ate, we discussed our adventures so far, planned a few more runs and basked in the glowing contentment that always follows a day in the clouds.

The snow was sparse, the day was short, but the reward of just getting out was unmistakable.

A Conversation with Rick from Pile

2017 has been big year for Pile.

Since the March release of their latest studio LP “A Hairshirt of Purpose,” the Boston band has been busy delivering their unique brand of frenetic and asymmetrical post-hardcore to audiences across Europe and North America.

Extensive touring hasn’t been the only thing on Pile’s plate this year. The band was recently presented Boston Magazine’s Best in Boston award for Artist of the Year. As the magazine’s blurb boasts, “Maguire’s drawl and octave yawps soar over a cacophony of compulsively listenable tunes” – a glowing review for a band whose accomplishments have sometimes seemed muted by their dependence on word-of-mouth promotion and seemingly deliberate cult status.

NICK VIDAL. B-Side. Rick Maguire.

“A Hairshirt of Purpose” is Pile’s fifth full-length record and third official release with their current label, Exploding in Sound. Pile, however, was originally conceived as the solo project of guitarist, lead vocalist and primary songwriter Rick Maguire.

An Acton, Massachusetts native, Maguire spent time living and working around Boston after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a degree in music performance. Though he admits feeling somewhat discouraged by professors from playing in bands, Maguire said he considers his time at UMass formative and ultimately beneficial. Although, he is quick to admit, “I really learned more about myself there than any of the things they were trying to teach me.”

Maguire went on to devote his post-collegiate years to playing in bands around Boston and, particularly towards the end of the 2000s, to his own solo material, self-releasing a handful of albums under the name Pile, including 2006s “Demonstration” and 2009s “Jerk Routine.” Around late 2009, while working at a local grocery store, Maguire was introduced to a then previously unknown fellow coworker: future drummer Kris Kuss.

With the addition of bassist Matt Connery and guitarist Matt Becker later that year, Pile officially become a collective project and followed quickly with the release of their self-produced 2010 LP, “Magic Isn’t Real.”

Maguire has since quit his job at the grocery store following the release of 2015’s You’re Better Than This. Using his newfound freedom as an opportunity to devote himself fully to the band and its endeavors, Maguire moved out of his apartment and converted the band’s practice space into his new bedroom, a professional decision  which informs the significant creative progress Pile has made in the years since.

Nowadays, as the band’s chief songwriter and lyricist, Maguire generally supplies the rest of the group with the raw material that eventually becomes what we hear on record. Maguire admits, with an air of frankness and humility, “if I did a good job, there’s not a whole lot to alter,” but “if I haven’t, we need to do some work.”

Maguire says that these periods of collective writer’s block don’t generate a feeling of “I don’t have any good ideas,” but more so of “I don’t like any of my ideas.”

ELIZABETH FUCHISIA. WBUR. From left to right: Kris Kuss, Matt Connery, Matt Becker, Rick Maguire.

Translated to the group setting, this can prove stifling. “When you labor over a song so much in practice,” Maguire explains, “it’s pretty tough to garner the same enthusiasm the next time around,” Although, he candidly admits, “it usually helps if there are few a beers involved.”

But when cracking open a cold one with the boys isn’t enough to get Pile’s collective creative juices flowing, the band has a set of routines that Maguire says help tremendously with maintaining a healthy creative output.

Maguire says that his own process generally involves working in the morning with a cup of coffee, a book and a guitar, while strategically avoiding the internet. As a rule, he tries to “either be writing or reading,” in order to remain open to creativity. 

The majority of this time constitutes what Maguire considers to be “direct” work – that is, the actual substantive processes of practicing, writing and recording his music – though he is careful to note the importance of more “indirect” processes like going to the gym regularly, getting enough sleep, and, in particular: reading.

When pressed about what exactly he’s reading, Maguire lights up. His list of texts is diverse, with topics ranging from neuroscience to musicology to chess strategy. At the forefront of this list currently sits Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century,” a brief but dense book on the dangers of latent authoritarianism that Maguire claims he felt was “a good choice given our current landscape,” while also being just short enough to read in the van.

When asked about his recent listening history, however, Maguire takes a momentary pause to collect himself. “I listen to a lot of mellow stuff,” he says, breaking the silence, “a lot of piano-based music and electronic music like Aphex Twin and Mount Eerie – basically music with sonic textures that are sort of uncommon for rock music.”

NICK VIDAL. B-side. Kuss and Connery share the stage at Club Metronome October 7, 2017.

Given the ambiguity of what constitutes “rock music”, Maguire offers his own working definition. “In general,” he says, “rock music is some sort of vocalist talking about their feelings against some kind of melody – either singing or yelling or screaming – underlain by some sort of a pulse,” he stops short before adding, “ and there’s usually a guitar involved at least somewhere.”

According to those criteria, Pile might just be the quintessential “rock band.”

As for the musical interests of the rest of the group, Maguire admits, “Our tastes are growing somewhat more disparate” – be it Matt Connery’s unique preference for crust punk or Maguire’s own love for mellower, less conventionally rock music – “but I think that ultimately it’s a good thing in that it allows us to all be able to bring something new and exciting to the table when we sit down to write.”

The sheer range of interests among the members of the band is immediately evident from their live shows, and Pile’s recent performance last at Burlington’s Club Metronome Thursday, October 7 stands as no exception.  As wildly unpredictable as they are emotionally sincere, Pile have always been a group that shines more on stage than on wax.

Songs simmer, swell, lurch, and collapse as Maguire oscillates rather frantically between moments of subtle tenderness and explosive tenacity. With technical prowess that borders on the obscene, Kuss commands authority from behind the kit and provides a crucial backbone to the band’s often dizzying and cacophonous arrangements, themselves performed diligently by Becker and Connery.

BEN STAS. Allston Pudding. Pile at the Great Scott in Boston, Massachusetts.

Given the power, professionalism, and intensity of emotion that each member brings to every performance Pile gives, it is understandably difficult to imagine them doing anything else. To the hypothetical and existentially challenging question of what other career paths the band might consider in Pile’s absence, Maguire chuckles, “Well I kinda put my eggs in one basket.”

In his own regard, Maguire is well known for having done just that. Since quitting his full time job in 2012, he has been notorious for taking little time off from the group, writing and recording regularly and maintaining a near constant touring regimen, whether with Pile or under his solo monicker, Rick From Pile.

But when not on tour, he says that he and the rest of the band stay pretty busy, each member choosing to work part time,punk Connery working at a local guitar shop, Kris, part time at a movie theater. Even Maguire finds time to work a few hours a week at a used book store.

“But ideally,” Maguire says,“ if the whole Pile thing didn’t work out, I’d hopefully be doing something to make the world a better place.”

With that, Maguire grows slightly sentimental and the tone of our conversation begins to hush. Posed with the question of what advice he might offer the average struggling DIY musician, he muses, “Always be willing to do it yourself until there’s something that comes along that seems like a better deal.”

“But ultimately,” he finishes, considering his words for a moment, “don’t expect anybody to do anything for you.”

Be sure to pick up, stream, or sample “A Hairshirt of Purpose” and, especially if you missed their set last week, make sure you don’t miss Pile on their extended east coast tour this fall. You won’t regret it.

For Tom

The air was hot and thick as I stumbled outside of my Northwest Washington, D.C. home and into the golden morning light of a mid-July day.

At nine years old, I had big ambitions on my summer swim team and at my Corcoran Art School summer camp, so I packed up my pint-sized duffel bag and hopped into my dad’s 2004 Volvo s60 to zip across town in time for practice. The car smelled like a potent cocktail of Dentyne Ice and moldy summer rain from the night before and the CD rack holding a handful of classic rock anthologies was filled with gum I’d not-so-successfully hidden stuck to their plastic sleeves.

MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

I sifted through my favorites, but what I wanted to find was already in the disc drive. As we turned right off of 30th Street and headed into Rock Creek Park, the opening chords of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” filled the musty atmosphere of our car.

We blasted the AC and opened all the windows as we wound down past the creek and under the vast oak trees lining Beech Drive all the way to the Maryland state line and beyond, passing vistas of the National Monument and the Basilica across Georgia Avenue all the while.

One of those few Washington mornings in July when the sun isn’t already oppressively hot, it was a polaroid perfect summer moment as I jumped in the pool for my first lap. A flawless Tom Petty day.

MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

Years later at 17 on a Tuesday afternoon in Marin County I sat next to my mom on Redwood Highway barreling toward Point Reyes with those same chords ringing out from our shaky little rental car. Here we were among the golden hills and vast blue skies of Petty’s California, and no other soundtrack would have been fitting.

We veered off to explore country roads snaking down coastal mountainsides and dipping in and out of redwood forests before reaching the great Pacific. A thick fog passed over us for about an hour or so as we stared into the abyss to the Farallon Islands barely discernable in the distance before a brilliant sun greeted us again for our ride back to San Francisco. An unmistakable Tom Petty day.

MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

At 21, Oct. 2, I’m biking furiously on a Tuesday afternoon as far north as I can get before the sun goes down. “Full Moon Fever” blasts in my cheap headphones and I swerve between joggers, dog walkers and slow cyclists up the Burlington bike path with Lake Champlain glistening at golden hour, dotted with late season sailors and the occasional whitecap.

The Adirondacks hang tall and triumphant as I peek over my shoulder to take in the view for a second before dipping back into the deep woods. I peel back some forgotten fences to ride the newly paved sections of the trail, and coasting along I pass couples playing with perfect puppies and families walking hand-in-hand to the closest overlook before sunset.

MAGGIE RICHARDSON.B-Side.

Finally, I break the trees at Maye’s Landing not too high above the Winooski River and stop on the same wood and steel bridge I speed past almost every weekend on this ride. Somehow this view looks more brilliant, more blue, more delicious than it ever has. Those same old songs are still ringing in my ears as I take a deep breath and say goodbye to an old friend, a companion on so many sunny days, the voice in my head telling me to keep running down a dream.

Slurred Words and Spatzle: Oktoberfest Vermont 2017

On a quest for locals to bear the last days of Burlington’s Indian summer, the solution was clear: bubbling brews, festive hats and games easy enough for those under the influence to win prizes.

Oktoberfest Vermont held its third annual festival this past weekend from Sept. 21 to 23. Forty local, regional and world-renowned brewers and seven food vendors gathered at Waterfront Park to bring Burlingtonians a taste of German festivities.

BETTINA CATALDI. B-Side.

Friday night of the festival began with a pink and orange-hued sunset over Lake Champlain, washed by the sound of the traditionally-costumed German band The Inseldudlers. The band kept the night lively playing all sorts of music from traditional German tunes to “Sweet Caroline” until the taps closed at 10 p.m.

Each attendee received a small glass for vendors to fill as well as 15 green tickets, each equivalent to one beer from a vendor of their choice. A plethora of options surrounded the borders of the festival, from Magic Hat Brewing Co. to Sierra Nevada – even hard cider options such as Citizen Cider for those facing a gluten intolerance or who just prefer a little sweetness in their beverage.

Upon arrival, 15 tickets didn’t appear to be enough; though after reaching our fifth high-percentage beverages, we deemed that the amount of tickets was plenty to sustain a socially-acceptable buzz.

BETTINA CATALDI. B-Side.

There was not one type of attendee, either. The crowd ranged from older, local beer buffs to German-outfitted festival lovers, to college students looking to enjoy some cold brews in lieu of room temperature backpack beers.

“It’s my first time here,” senior Garrett Chisolm said. “I’ve tried some great local brews and food, and I’m really loving looking out onto Lake Champlain.”

Oktoberfest’s food choices were able to cater to a range of palettes, from local fan-favorites like Kountry Kart Deli to traditional cuisine from the Vermont Spatzle company.

The night wasn’t only for drinking and eating; the festival vendors also brought their games to the table. A local sticker company, Sticky Brand, had a plinko board set up in which players could drop a wooden chip to a numbered slot determining how many stickers they could take home. Samuel Adams brought an inflatable slide, fitted with hops flowers awaiting the participant at the bottom.

BETTINA CATALDI. B-Side.

A group of friends and I attempted the Escape Room challenge set up in the middle of the grounds. The theme was to escape from the drunk tank, so we were all handcuffed to a wall in the prison cell-themed room. We were given the last slot, thus, by far the drunkest of those who had attempted the game. Contrary to the title of the game, we did not escape the room.

“About 75 percent of the teams have been able to escape the room,” said Mike Garber, an employee of Escape Room.

Apparently, we were the unlucky 25 percent.

By the end of the evening, the crowd began to dissipate, and seemingly disappeared once the clock struck 10 p.m. and the taps closed. Overall, participants appeared to be extraordinarily happy with their choices in brews and abundance of food and games.

 

Chasing West

My friends and I departed on a Friday afternoon during the peak of summer, leaving behind our homes and any concerns for the time of day.

We’d entered into a losing race with the setting sun, united by our common western destination, winding through those vibrant green New Hampshire mountains without a look back. 2,297 miles, 35 hours and six questionably hygienic gas station bathrooms later we arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I was raised in the excessive familiarity of an isolated New England town, a town boasting a thriving tourist scene and more ski resorts than people of color.

JAMES GAUDREAULT. B-Side.

Although my family certainly traveled, we tended to limit our excursions to the east coast, exploring Maine and New Hampshire tirelessly, yet content with gleaning knowledge of the distant “West” through National Geographic photographs.

I think this was the root motivation for the trip – the idea of the vast unknown and the unfamiliarity that accompanies it. My friends and I had never ventured more than five or so hours from our homes, limiting ourselves to day trips and overnight hikes in the seemingly limitless White Mountain wilderness.

We’d had romanticized talks of “pilgrimages” out West. We had daydreamed of dropping everything and exploring the Pacific Crest Trail or the boundless beauty of Yellowstone. We’d had visions of camping under the stars, living off hand caught fish, and spending our days wrapped in the arms of mother nature.

While it wasn’t possible to fully realize our fantasies so soon, this past summer I was able to take that initial exploratory step.

For the first leg of the journey I was fortunate enough to have the help of one of those old friends, Ian Lubkin, who was on his way to New Mexico to study at Albuquerque University. With his dog Alta as our third amigo, we piled the sum collection of our belongings into his blue Subaru Outback and headed on our way.

On that first night we left home with only one final destination in mind and no obligations in between. We cruised through the first few hours comfortably, passing familiar New England territory, bubbling with a freedom-fueled energy, as if our newfound independence would sustain us for weeks to come.

Conversation and laughter flowed freely that night as our motley trio left first New Hampshire behind, then Massachusetts, before pushing deep into the winding rural roads and thickly-wooded hills of upstate New York.

We weren’t sure where we stopped for the night, and it didn’t matter much. As the gas gauge crept low and the clock edged into the early morning hours, we pulled off into an abandoned field, the swaying grass standing nearly as tall as the car itself.

JAMES GAUDREAULT. B-Side.

Once we cut the engine and surrendered ourselves to the natural world, a kind of surreal realization of our situation settled in: we were doing it.

We pulled a tent from my 45-pound all-inclusive hiking pack, unrolled our sleeping pads and bags and made ourselves at home with the crickets and the distant giggles of an enthusiastic creek. We gathered a few twigs and fell into our dinnertime camping routine, resulting in a “feast” of ham, potatoes and toast.

We rose with the sun, prepared some farm eggs, and, with the help of Alta, packed up our things back into our miniature makeshift RV.

Saturday was spent in the car. We continued through New York, stopping only at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, the famed birthplace of the buffalo wing. From here we drove nearly straight through the night, stopping every few hours to walk Alta and alternate behind the wheel.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the unbearable gauntlet we’d been bracing ourselves for. Up until this point we both had limited long-drive experience, and we’d braced ourselves for the pain and boredom of those 4-5 hour family vacation treks, each minute agonizing, without a second unnoticed or uncounted.

Instead we fell into a routine not far from enjoyable, napping off and on, our attention shifting from music to books and inevitably back to the unrelenting stretches of highway laid out before us.

As we passed through Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and eventually Texas, the color gradually drained from the scenery flying by. The tall pines were the first to go, leaving only their distant shrub-like cousins and occasional oak towering over the livestock fields.

For miles on end our only company was scattered cattle and thundering semi trucks emblazoned with massive brand names, advertising to the empty fields.

Soon after the sun rose we entered the desert zone, passing through Amarillo, Texas, the gas prices declining with our latitude.

Before noon, New Mexico swallowed us, and all greenery with us, leaving only bleak high desert plains stretching on for miles uninterrupted. Although we were running on little food and even less sleep, it was the excitement of the destination that pushed us those last few hours into the sandy city of Albuquerque.

Rather than rising magnificently, it seemed to almost grudgingly emerge from the plains, the few ranches sprinkled about morphing into a cohesive civilization built with the ingredients of asphalt, billboards and oppressive heat.

JAMES GAUDREAULT. B-Side.

The city was no exception to the bleak Southwestern palette, each and every building created with a severely limited spectrum of browns and grays.

For the next eight days Albuquerque was my home. These were filled with desert hikes, canyons, camping, swimming, dog walks, sunsets, laughter and new friends, each of which could be a story of their own.

The following Tuesday I gathered my limited belongings and carefully traced out a cardboard sign: “LA or West: (probably not an axe murderer).” I planned to hitchhike, a kind of surrender to the flow of the highway and the spirit of the American adventure.

I spent the following seven hours stranded on highway curbs and rest stop entrances, presenting my sign and upturned thumb, doing my best to convince passersby that the straggly 19-year-old with a ratty Hawaiian shirt and even rattier mustache would be good company for the next few hours of their road trip.

JAMES GAUDREAULT. B-Side.

While I did receive several ride offers to Mexico and one gentleman who attempted to recruit me to rob a bank (promising plenty of “guns and scary masks” in his truck), the kind-hearted family or truck driver never pulled to the side to take me under their wing.

As dusk settled in and my crude sign was lost to the swallowing darkness, I decided to dig into my shallow bank account to buy a one-way Greyhound Bus ticket to Los Angeles.

The Albuquerque bus station was an adventure of its own, inhabited by diverse and fascinating specimens: a young father and son with only the clothes on their backs sharing a seat in the corner, a large older woman with a shopping cart and colorful pajamas sprawled over a three-seat kingdom, and a collection of nearly identical latino men dressed in tank tops and army shorts, engrossed in an ‘80s crime drama unfolding on a small pixelated television.

My bus left 2 a.m., and I’d arrived at the station 5 hours prior. As we entered the morning hours and the bus to LA was the final ticket left to board, the group grew, and the smell with it.

JAMES GAUDREAULT. B-Side.

We finally boarded, the veteran driver grudgingly checking each ticket as if he had a personal vendetta against each and every paying customer. The following 17 and a half hours were some of the most grueling of my life.

We drove through a sleepless night, the air conditioning struggling as if clogged by the tangible stench hanging in the stagnant air. The sun rose with the temperature, the bus reading an exterior temp of 110 degrees, the interior not far behind.

Brief desert stops interrupted the rest of the journey, each mile adding another drop of sweat to my shirt.

When we eventually rolled into the Los Angeles station, the first half of my journey ended. From here I jumped to San Francisco, Northern California, Chicago and finally back home, colorful stories to be saved for another day.

All in all, there is no universal moral to extract from this story, no motivational pitch or grandiose inspirational message to concluded here. Rather, I hope that this serves as evidence, if nothing else, that sometimes “winging it” works out just fine.

Sometimes just going for it produces the best memories and most powerful experiences, even if your idea of “it” isn’t fully articulated at the onset.

Not everyone can drop everything and head across the country (I certainly I wouldn’t have made it more than a few miles without the generosity of friends and sufficient savings) but regardless I hope more people will expand their definitions of what is feasible, and ask themselves “why not?”

On Being your own Outing Club

As I near the start of my senior year, every so often I stop to look around this little college town in that starry-eyed way I did as a first-year: in awe of mountains, water and vast open spaces in every direction. It’s the kind of feeling that draws so many students here and leaves so many missing their once-temporary home in the dog days after graduation.

SUSIE NAGLE. B-Side. Summit of Wright Peak, Adirondack Park, NY.

Living in Burlington and going to UVM, there is an undeniably strong connection between community and the outdoors. This weekend, I saw newly moved in first-years walking out of Outdoor Gear Exchange with new gear for their first fall season, and last week I saw the first TREK groups pouring into the Outing Club house together.

MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side. Giant Mountain Wilderness, Adirondack Park, NY.

For someone like me who grew up in a city with only the occasional field or rolling hill to romp around, coming to UVM is like entering a vast wonderland of natural beauty unfolding all around you, all the time, waiting to be explored. During my first year at school, though, I found myself shying away from those adventures I had been so excited to embark on when I first came to campus. The new friends, schedules, work and general intimidation by the intensity of outdoor options kept me away from the woods for too long.

A long winter and a summer away from Vermont passed until I decided to take another shot at prioritizing time outside. In the fall of my sophomore year, I tried my luck getting into the Outing Club’s WILD outdoor leadership program and failed, as did many of my close friends. We spent hours complaining about the missed chances and the competition of it all, wondering why we were left behind when the outdoors is supposed to be all-inclusive.

MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side. Giant Mountain Wilderness, Adirondack Park, NY.

That weekend, we decided to start our own outing club. October had come and a blanket of orange and red confetti stretched out across the Champlain Valley as my two best friends and I drove south to the Green Mountain National Forest, just east of Middlebury. We took our time reveling in the cold fall morning, got coffee and cookies for the road and when we arrived at the trailhead, were greeted with a quiet mountain breeze bringing the season’s first snow.

We marched up through the Breadloaf wilderness for a couple miles until we reached the Long Trail and the Skylight Pond shelter just beyond. Waiting for the heavy snow to stop, we snooped around the shelter, reading old entries from hikes past. One of our favorites was from a Boy Scout group years ago that read: “We came as boys, left as renegades.”

MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side. Algonquin Peak, Adirondack Park, NY.

A little soggy and fairly cold, but with high spirits, we tramped down the mountain. Halfway to the end, we ran into the WILD group setting out on their first overnight trek. We said hey to familiar faces, wished them luck and headed back to the car for the drive home and a night with our friends back in Burlington.

MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side. Adirondack Mountain Reserve, Keene Valley, NY.

Since that day, we’ve left few Saturdays un-hiked, un-skied and un-explored. We’ve tackled a handful of the Adirondacks’ high peaks, revisited Breadloaf many times anddriven countless miles of country road in sun, rain and fog just to get that breath of fresh air. I don’t want to be cynical about the clubs, the gear heads and the competition, but the best way to get outside is on your own terms. Don’t wait to make the cut, don’t wait for instructions, just get out there.