Interview: Clint Maedgen

Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a New Orleans icon. Seeing them play live is a must-do activity for any tourist who visits the Crescent City. It is always a pleasure to see this band play live with some of the best jazz musicians in the country. I always catch their sets at every music festival across the country and visit the Hall as much as possible when I am in New Orleans.

Clint Maedgen is a multi -instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and fine art photographer in New Orleans who has played with Preservation Hall for sixteen years but has also done solo work with recording his original music.

I was very happy to catch up with Clint in New Orleans to discuss music, fan connections, photography, Cuban travel and life in New Orleans. Please enjoy our in-depth chat below.

What are you doing to pass your quarantine time?

You know it is funny. I feel like I have been training for this for ten years. I have a very small room here in New Orleans. I call it my inspiration chamber. I have collaged every square inch of the wall space. I have my piano and all my strange puppet and toy collection I have accrued over the years. I have been running online concerts both for my larger public audience but my private subscription based Patreon audience. 

Let me tell you, we are having so much fun. I have literally had an online concert every day for the last 25 days. It is really interesting and I feel like I am coming into this amazing flow in my art. I know it is not a popular thing to be excited about what is going on in the world today. The rainbow for me, after spending 16 years of my life, touring endlessly, 120, 140, 160 road days a year lifestyle, to be able to be home and in my space with my things and be able to practice the things I want to and build the show and work on my stop-action, I am really excited about it. I have done nine episodes of my Live at 5 and I just finished my ninth show of my Karaoke Show. I have sung 73 songs in the last nine days for my Patreons. I have covered everything from Dolly Parton to Stevie Wonder to Ray Charles, Will Smith, Duran Duran, The Beatles, everything, Al Green. I just did Gladys Knight and the Pips on my Instagram.

I am trying to talk to people who are really trying to make some sort of connection to their fans and provide some lightness to the situation because some people are going through some terrible times and I know musicians are too but a lot of people are trying to stay positive and I appreciate that.

I feel like that has been my path through this whole thing. Despite what is happening with me or otherwise, when I hit that Live button I can’t explain what is happening with me. I didn’t even realize all that was in there. Something just happened and I turned into this TV talk show host and ended up speaking in an English accent and I don’t know where that came from. It is like it has this energy of its own and I am the vessel it goes through. It is exhilarating. I am really excited.

You talked about your Patreon, why did you start it, when did you start it, and what was the intent? I have heard you refer to it as a Clubhouse.

It is totally a little clubhouse. I have so much admiration for people like Amanda Palmer and how they interact with their audience and how absolutely devoted their audience is. When you have people behind you and that energy, beyond the money, just the support, just the love, and interactive think tank sort of activity that is happening in my clubhouse and it is so attractive to me. That is what I love, true connection with people. The beautiful thing about Patreon, if they are there in my clubhouse, they really want to be there. It is not a drunk in a bar that happened to walk by when my band is playing and they stuck around for a few songs. Typically, those in my clubhouse know me and what I have done for a long time. It is incredible. I have Pandas in my group that saw me with my Space Rock band in the 90s. The real thing that attracted me to Patreon, to me it is the one platform I have seen, artists, creators, musicians can implement the 1000 True Fan Business Plan.

1000 True Fans, and the definition of a true fan is someone who will spend 100 dollars on your art per year. If you get 1000 people paying you 100 dollars a year, that is a pretty good living. That is only 1000 people, not 36 trillion streams. To embrace the niche market approach, reduce the numbers in my head, realize this a goal to shoot for and is attainable and all I have to do is show up every day, be true to myself and art and interact as much as I can. There are 1000 people getting on and off the subway even in a pandemic. 1000 is a low number.

1000 seems very manageable for any artist to have that as a goal.

I think of that as the rainbow here. I think of all the artists I love and respect and admire in my friend base, the people I have known for 20 years, my favorite singer-songwriters. I truly would have to wonder, without this pause society is experiencing right now, would they have ever had the opportunity to digitize and monetize their product, their art, their expression and put it out in the world to claim some benefit to it and gain their power back and break out of this business model the music industry has thrust on us because it is not for us. If you are not Rihanna or Pharrell or Drake, I don’t see how the current platform is beneficial if you are not a mega platinum star.

Even they have to tour all year to make the money.

It is not a friendly business model. It never has been. I could go on that all day long. The first thing I think of is that African American artists invented this music and never got credit for it all. Just from those hurtful days onward, it has been a real mixed bag. Where is the love? Where is the opportunity for artists without being taken advantage of?

I think this platform provides a way for artists to do that. I have seen more artists use Patreon as a platform over the last six months or year. I think they are starting to control their business a little.

What a beautiful opportunity. The whole world is sitting at home looking at their phone today. That is the most amazing modern-day gold rush for creators. Their only responsibility is to get online and be their true self and embrace their weird. You realize the more eccentric you are and the more dedicated you are to your true behavior is the true currency here. Being authentic, in this crazy world where no news station makes any sense anymore, people are trying to connect with something that is real. That is the beautiful thing about this platform. You can deal with people that want to be there, and you can be as strange as you want to be. I am picking up the ball and running with it.

I saw your video for, “Hanging on For My Baby’s Arms.” It was surreal to see the streets of New Orleans empty. Did you write that recently? Is that something you were planning to do? What is the story behind that song?

It is very interesting how art shifts. When you read a book at age 13, you read it again at age 28 and you get something different from it. “Hanging on For My Baby’s Arms”, I wrote it about three years ago and it has sort of grown into this whole different thing. It is not exact same intent I had three years ago, but with the current state of the world it has become more focused and relevant. I feel like a lot of my music catalog has become more relevant.

It is amazing how things come full circle. I didn’t know you played guitar. That is what stood out in the video. You play saxophone and all the other instruments and also play guitar too.

I play a little guitar. I play guitar enough to accompany my songs typically. That is the beautiful thing about music, you can always get better. There is always somebody so much better than you to strive for and reach for. I will be playing guitar the rest of my life and at some point, hopefully can consider myself a true guitar player. I am super proud of that video though. I do feel like I have practiced my songs enough to pull them off, same with piano.

It’s wonderful and it is a rare opportunity to film with nobody there and see that.

My good buddy Paul Costello and I were talking, I had gotten word they were going to do a lockdown the next day at 5 PM. We didn’t know how serious that would be. We went and did the video that morning and I am so glad we did. I think it is one of the greatest things I have done. I adore that song. It makes me feel so good singing it.

I know you have been in Pres Hall for sixteen years. How did you meet them and how did you join the band?

Sure. Have you seen “The Complicated Life” video we did? That is the greatest little snapshot of my beginning with Preservation Hall. We shot that in 2004 before Katrina. I was delivering food on a bike in the French Quarter for about eight years. I rode for a little restaurant called Fiorella’s on Decatur Street. In addition to working for them as a bicycle delivery person, I ran this variety show every Thursday night out of the back of this chicken restaurant and it was called The New Orleans Bingo Show. 

We did that residency for three years at the restaurant and that band enjoyed a 12-year life cycle. When we were doing the residency at the restaurant, toward the end of the run, Ben Jaffee from Preservation Hall came and saw the final few shows. He approached me and said he loved the show and asked if I would be interested in collaborating with him and singing some songs with Preservation Hall that were recorded by The Kinks back in the day. He had been listening record The Muswell Hillbillies. What a lot of people might not realize, Ray Davies and his brother were raised in a house with a father who was an avid traditional New Orleans Jazz fan and that particular record of theirs echoes the particular flavor and cadence of New Orleans music. 

Ben heard that and approached me and we went ahead and did three Kinks songs, we did “Complicated Life”, “Alcohol”, and “Skin and Bones.” “Complicated Life” is the one that stuck. That started my career with Preservation Hall. I started as a guest vocalist. I didn’t start playing saxophone until after the storm. I had been with them for like a year or year and half before that. Ben knew I played sax because he had seen me play with Bingo. None of the other guys knew I played saxophone which was really fun. It was a fun caper to pull. I remember the day I brought that out, we were playing a Lee Friedlander photography opening at The Whitney in New York and that was the first day I played saxophone with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

I have actually seen you with the Bingo Show. I have shot JazzFest for many years. I definitely have some older photos of the Bingo Show toward the end of it. Do you ever plan to resurrect that?

It is interesting and we are talking about art and how it changes over the years. I wrote that catalog of music from the viewpoint of being a delivery person in the French Quarter. If you spent any time in the Quarter, if you are delivering food in the Quarter, you are going to spend half your time up and down Bourbon Street in the various strip clubs that are pretty eccentric at best. It is perfect for songwriting and that particular lifestyle was a beautiful run. All these years later, I don’t feel like songs about that particular lifestyle are what I am trying to put out into the universe and I don’t feel like those are the songs I need to be singing in the face of the #MeToo Movement out of respect of the time we are living in. It is really easy to fall into that subject matter when all your friends are dancing on Bourbon Street.

I think New Orleans is its own universe in many ways.

I totally agree. My dream is for something like John Cameron Mitchell to perhaps come in and produce Bingo the Musical and perhaps even have a bit of a twist on it and perhaps cast a female in my role. Then that catalog of music would shift yet again. It would be very interesting to me. I am not completely sold on that part of it, but there is definitely an Off-Broadway musical in the Bingo Show. I’d love to see that come to light. I don’t think I am the one that will be singing the songs. I am very keen on casting someone else to do it, so I can keep doing what I am doing now.

That is definitely an interesting twist on it. I did enjoy it when I saw it. It was super fun.

I love it. I adore it. I adore the people that took a whole community of 350 people to make it happen, all of our dear friends, all the inside jokes, the joy, the silliness, the love, I love all those aspects of the show. That was the real currency, the connection we all shared and breaking the third wall having the Bingo King embedded into the show. There are aspects of that I am carrying over into my online presence. I feel like that sort of silly, wide open fun energy is coming out in this strange English accent that has come out. Next thing you know I will be walking around with my own applause track. 

I have been to Cuba three times. I love it. What is your best story or memory of when Preservation Hall went to Cuba?

That was the most amazing place, that first trip we took there, we were there ten days and it was unlike anything I have ever experienced before or since. We got to witness the beginning of the change when they lifted the embargo. When we got there, so incredibly, so shortly after we were allowed to get there, it was like landing on a different planet, a planet completely unaffected by the West. It was just like breathtaking and beautiful. Eighty five percent of the cars on the street at that time were antiques from 1959 or before. The times we have gone back there you can see how much it is changing. So many memories there. 

I would say one of the most unforgettable moments was, a lot of what we experience with the Hall filming the documentary was jumping on the bus and driving 30 or 40 minutes in any direction and interacting with communities that were keeping tradition alive for the past 300 years. Like this particular town is known for this particular type of dancing and they have a tiny museum that reflects that. That culture showcased and cherished that way. To walk into these situations. We were walking into a home of a family that has been making string instruments for 250 years or travelling through the night to see a theatrical re-enactment of a dance ritual of slaves back in the day. They would have this fire-lit dance choreographed ceremonies in the fields in the middle of the night and it was so surreal to be there for that. I don’t know if I will ever experience anything like that again. I felt so incredibly honored to get to see that.

Just like I didn’t know you played guitar, I didn’t know you were a photographer until I did some research. When did you start doing photography? What are your favorite subjects? When did that start? What camera are you using?

You are making me so happy today. We are talking about all my favorite stuff. I love photography. I have been a gigantic photography fan since I was a kid. I started shooting in the early 90s with a Pentax K1000. My French Quarter doorbell throw pillow series is a favorite thing I have photographed. All those images I shot in the late 90s so most of those doorbells aren’t there anymore. I shot them on slide film on my Pentax. Through the years, about nine years ago now, I found my favorite camera of all time. All my fine art photography that you see, the collage work, the continual strip approach I use, I use a Lomo Wide C camera. That is my favorite tool. I adore that camera.

Do you develop that yourself?

I don’t process my film. What I do, I shoot, and I try to do a continual story through 36-46 frames.

That’s what I love, you put thought into what scenes and items will go together.

It is so interesting because if I am walking down the street in Lisbon, Portugal and I see the most beautiful tile work I have ever seen and wow I get this amazing tile shot, I am at an impasse because the next image has to be so amazing and everything around here looks amazing so how do I pick what will intersect with this perfect tile I did. That’s why I like to shoot with 2 cameras, I can be frivolous with one and then the other one is really locked down. It is a continual story and I absolutely love it. I love the process of doing it. On the road, I get up early in the morning, I find a coffee shop. I find an antique mall. And I start walking and shooting. It is not uncommon for me to walk 10 miles before sound check on any given day on the road with the Hall.

I am a photographer but I am also an engineer so I am very methodical and I want the pictures to be perfectly rule of thirds. My photos are ok for editorial work but sometimes I feel like they have a lack for creativity. When I see photographers that have that sense of whimsy and creativity I am in awe of it.

It is a craft like anything else. You talk about law of thirds and implementing that. Plus, trial and error. I had probably shot 150 rolls with this camera before I realized what I was doing or what it was capable of doing and took some chances that didn’t work out. Between the amazing light meter and exquisite lens and the portability, I feel like I am going to be shooting film with this camera for the rest of my life. I am really in a rhythm with it to get consistent results. I have 27 rolls of newly developed film that I have shot over the last year in a bag by my feet. I am about to dig into my amazing 35mm collection I have shot. I am so excited, all the images you see online, up to this point, I consider it my finest work. I am already taking a glance at what I have and I have a lot of really good stuff to show for the future. I find it exhilarating. What an amazing story of journal to look back on. Like that was Lisbon, that is Tennessee, we must have literally flown from Lisbon and ended up in Tennessee three days later, you can look back on it and re-experience life that way documented in this fine art application.

That’s what I am trying to do. I have been diving deep into my archives and finding the photos to write the stories I haven’t had time to do. It is a great experience to have those memories and they last forever. I am definitely going to see your exhibit in person next time I go back.

Thank you so much. What a thrill to be in that gallery. I have been such a huge fan of the Gallery of Fine Photography for 25 years. I remember delivering food on the bike and anytime I had a pause, to see a Joel-Peter Witkin photograph or Ruth Bernhard or Edward Weston, all my favorites they have them in there and now there are six pieces of mine on the wall of one of my favorite museum galleries anywhere. I am so excited about it.

We have lost a lot of amazing New Orleans musicians the past few months, weeks even. It has been terrible. The one that hit me hard was Ellis Marsalis last week. Do you have any fond memories of him?

I had the great pleasure of being in the room with Mr. Marsalis countless times over the years. I can remember when he moved from Virginia to take over the music program at UNO. At that time for me, being a young Jazz enthusiast and having high dreams of being a Bee-Bop musician one day, the Marsalis family was, I just can’t even explain how much of an impact that family had on me. I would attribute Branford for being the main catalyst for me being a young musician that I don’t have to be in any kind of box and I can enjoy and pursue all of my interests. Who covered more ground than Branford back in those days? The man has won Grammys for his classical saxophone chops, won Grammys for his next level Bee-Bop chops, but he has also toured the world with Sting, the Grateful Dead, and all the other things he has done. 

They could have only gotten that wide open approach from having a really strong support system at home. That was totally his parents making it possible for him to pursue any dream he wanted to. I recently saw the clip of them on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and Branford is talking about that very thing just in terms how much his dad instilled in him and gave him the legs to walk through life in an elegant way. They were superstars to me and still are. To lose someone like that is horrible and we are all feeling a great sense of loss and blown everybody out of the water. If it can reach someone like that, it can get to anybody. The rainbow is that I hope people will take this more seriously and take every precaution they can.

I agree. I was so happy I got to see them all play together last year at JazzFest. It was amazing they all have the musical ability in one family. 

And Jazz has so much to thank the Marsalis Family for. Would it be where it is today without the Marsalis Family. What they did through the 80s and 90s, to bring a world focus on this music. I don’t know. I look back on it and it blows my mind. It is incredible what they achieved and still achieve every day.

I agree. We just had Madi Gras, always a special time in New Orleans. What was your favorite Mardi Gras moment this year?

I stumbled on a brand-new tradition for myself this year. I don’t know how I didn’t figure it out years before. Literally this year with Preservation Hall, we had a private gig at House of Blues on the day of Krewe du Vieux, an early soundcheck at like 3 o’clock. It was going to be a crazy night so there was no way to go home and re-park so I decided to stay down town. I decided to walk down to Press Street because I know that is where they are lining up for the parade. It was the greatest idea I ever had. Walking the parade route from House of Blues all the way to the neighborhood, across Elysian, down to Press street, because everyone is all lined up with nothing to do. All 50 of the friends I ran into, we had nice conversation with no pressure because everybody is just hanging around. I got to walk up to each float take my little pictures, see all my friends and walk the parade route all the way back, see 50 more friends I knew and make it back to House of Blues before the parade even started.

I did the same thing actually and walked to the beginning of the lineup to take pictures.

I’ll never do it another way.

I love all those walking parades. They are really fun.

I got to see the end of Eris, the secret parade that happens in the Bywater. Obviously, St. Anne’s every year is wonderful and exquisite. I had a really great time at Mardi Gras.

People have this misconception that Mardi Gras is all about Bourbon Street and drinking and strip clubs and that is not what it is about at all.

If you want to see people from other places behaving poorly, go to Bourbon Street because the only locals there are the ones working. Nobody else from here would even bother.

You have toured all over the world with Pres Hall. Do you have a favorite travel location you have seen?

First off, the most beautiful place I have been in my life and it wasn’t with Pres Hall was Hawaii. Without a doubt. Hawaii is a miracle. It is formed by a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It might as well be another planet. It is so beautiful and exquisite. I can not wait to get back there. I have been to Maui, Oahu, and Kauai.

Other than that, some of my favorite places I have been with Preservation Hall, I have had the great honor of being with this band so long, we have been so many places. I have been lucky to be on five different trips to entertain the King of Thailand for ten days at a time. Since the late 80’s, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, up until his passing three or four years ago, the band had gone to entertain the King of Thailand probably 23 times since the late 80s. 

In a bizarre, beautiful, Simpsons proportion sort of situation, the King of Thailand is not just a traditional New Orleans Jazz fan, he played trumpet and saxophone and composed countless music in the vein of traditional New Orleans Jazz. We actually recorded an album with the King of Thailand. It’s unbelievable to get, to see Thailand in general, but to go over there with the royal treatment I will never forget.

Many People don’t realize how revered the King of Thailand is in Thailand.

I’ve never been in the room with somebody, when they come into the room, everyone falls to their knee and bows. There could be 150 people. There could be 3,000 people. It doesn’t matter, everybody hits the deck when the King walks in because you can’t be taller than the King. That was unbelievable.

There are billboards, you can be driving along the countryside and see something in the distance that is huge and you get closer and it is an eight-story tall billboard of the King of Thailand. A lot of times it will be him doing something like painting or a picture of him with a camera around his neck.

You have recorded with so many legendary musicians. One that struck me was Brandi Carlile because she makes me cry when she plays music.

She is an angel on Earth. I love Brandi. She is so incredible.

All of these musicians listed that you recorded with are very different in style and genre. What do you do to prepare for the recording sessions?

It is interesting, for my particular viewpoint as it pertains to collaborations with the Hall, nine times out of ten, I am the only band member who knows who these people are. I’ll give you a great example, we played Henry Ford Theater in Los Angeles with Robby Krieger. I have bene listening to the Doors since I was eight years old. I know who the heck Robby is. I got to sing “People Are Strange” with Robby and the band. I got to sing “Crystal Ship” with Robby, just him in the green room backstage. 

It is so surreal to me to be in the room with my heroes and kind of sitting on that. The reason our heroes are in that room is because in some ways the band doesn’t know who the heck they are. I don’t want to blow the cover. Eventually I do. Another great example is, we are really good buddies with Dave Grohl. I rode in the trunk of a car in 1989 to see Mudhoney at Jimmy’s uptown in New Orleans. I know who Nirvana is. I know who Soundgarden is. All those bands, that was my soundtrack for many for part of my life and it is just funny. 

Have you ever been star struck with them?

I do really, really well in the room with them. I think it is because I have imaginary conversations with my heroes all the time in my head and ultimately, I am preparing for that moment. When that moment happens, I am great. When it is over, I am blown away crying in the corner. Like I got to hang out with Tom Waits for three days. I can’t even believe this right now. When it is happening, I do great.

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