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Silence Is Golden: Tiny Vipers, June 19 at Huckleberry’s PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 17 June 2009 07:57

Jesy FortinoWhen Jesy Fortino talks about her experiences with touring -- particularly opening for rock bands -- she sounds self-pitying and ungrateful. Most musicians would kill for her situation.

"The hype around here was pretty cool in Seattle," Fortino said in a phone interview last week. "I just went from starting to play to getting signed to Sub Pop. It was really quick. I hadn't gone through the trial and error of being an unsigned musician."

As Tiny Vipers, she released Hands Across the Void in 2007, and Pitchfork called it "as sobering as folk music gets: patient, resonant, and, perhaps most importantly, curious."

Download Embed Embed this video on your site Tiny Vipers - "Dreamer"

But despite the buzz and early acclaim, touring was torturous. "Nobody [in the crowd] gave a shit," she said. "They're there to see the band that's after me." When she opened for Minus the Bear (again, most emerging artists would be more than envious), "the audiences would mostly just chant 'Minus the Bear' while I was playing. When it first happened, I was totally devastated. I really internalized it. ...

"I got really lame and kind of selfish in my own negativity," she continued.

"That went on for a really long time. I had to really evaluate why I was going up there every night just to get talked over. I think it was a really huge, humbling experience. ... When people are quiet, I just love 'em, whereas before I just kind of expected it."

But you only need to hear a few seconds from her forthcoming album, Life on Earth (due July 7), to recognize that Fortino is not being overly sensitive on this issue. Her songs are so spare and slow that they barely exist, and they'd be lost in anything but a nearly silent room.

Download Embed Embed this video on your site Tiny Vipers - "On This Side"

So when Tiny Vipers performs at Huckleberry's on Friday in a show, the intimacy of that venue should work in her favor.

"I need it to be quiet, or it sounds stupid," Fortino said. "There's a context for that kind of minimal music, and it's a really rare context."

It's become less rare, though. Following those stints opening, Fortino considered quitting the touring circuit. But her European booking agent convinced her to try a solo tour, and it was then that she found attentive audiences.

"I found a way around it [noisy crowds]," she said. "I'm careful about the shows I pick." She's turned down good paydays for gigs, she said, but she doesn't regret the choice. "The trade-off of morale versus money is pretty tremendous."

Fortino has been compared to Joanna Newsom, and there are occasional moments when it sounds as if they come from the same musical family, but it's generally an inappropriate simile. Newsom's harp and affected vocals are about the accumulation, the rush of notes and words and foreignness; Fortino employs a similarly small palette -- primarily voice and acoustic guitar -- but uses as little as possible to achieve her effects, and her singing is measured, languorous, casual, and soothing. The space around and between the sounds is as essential as the notes themselves.

"I feel like I'm more comfortable with myself than I was then ... ," Fortino said of the difference between her two Sub Pop full-lengths. "I felt like I hid behind a lot of stuff on Hands Across the Void. I was really cautious about the way I was recording. I wanted to do a good job, because it was my first record and it was on Sub Pop ... . I wasn't willing to take risks. I was just too freaked out."

I'd be lying if I said Life on Earth was instantly compelling. But over the past month, Life on Earth has grown on me like moss; it's distinctive and daring in its nakedness, and it rewards quiet courtesy.

Tiny Vipers will perform at Huckleberry's (223 18th Street in Rock Island) on Friday, June 19. The all ages show starts at 7 p.m., and the bill also features Balmorhea. Admission is $5.

For more information on Tiny Vipers, visit

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