Posted // 2012-09-02 -
No matter what kind of scene you're in, there are those who document it for preservation. Music collectors, home galleries, video libraries -- even this blog you're reading and City Weekly (journalism, as it's known) -- are, to some extent, a tome of the happenings going on. One of the most popular, and most telling, are venue posters. A glimpse into their designs and coloration and shows happening at any period give you an automatic sense of what that time was like without having been there.
So, it's only fitting with the boom of music happening in Utah County over the course of the past decade that someone would document as much of it as they could. Former Provo resident Chris Coy decided to take up that charge and launched the website Provo Shows, documenting an ever-growing collection of photos and posters from musicians and notable figures involved with the scene from, as far back as the 1980s to present day, giving a glimpse into the evolution of the city as it went from being a blip on the radar to the center of national attention. Today, I chat with Coy about the website and his thoughts on the scene. (All photos courtesy of Chris Coy, with photos and drawings from Greg Caldwell, Brian Gomm and Gilbert Cisneros.)
Gavin: Hey, Chris. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Chris: I'm an artist and filmmaker. I live in Los Angeles and currently work as an art director and graphic designer.
Gavin: What first got you interested in music, and what were some early influences on you?
Chris: I think music and other media is one way we self-identify outside of our immediate-family dynamic. It's a choice of affiliation that broadcasts our individual cultural tastes/interests and forming personalities. Then we build tribes around these things and contribute all sorts of meaning as we progress within them. I've found that it's always an interesting conversation to ask someone about their first cassette/CD. Mine, for instance, was Def Leppard's Hysteria — I was 8 years old.
Gavin: How did you get involved with the Provo music scene, and what were some of the bands you were involved in?
Chris: I moved to south Provo with my brother as he started attending Brigham Young University. My girlfriend introduced me to the music and art scene and it was with her and another friend that we started a small zine called FOE. FOE had band interviews, concert calendars, creative writing, illustration, art, design, etc. Around that same time, my brother also ran a pirate radio station that the FCC shut down by showing up at our door and confiscating key equipment. This was before the Internet became a hub of social and media activity; no YouTube, Facebook, podcasting, etc. At some point after that, I ended up doing design and show visuals for numerous bands and venues while I was a student: Muse Music, Return to Sender, Mathematics Et Cetera, Midwife Crisis, Drew Danburry, etc.
Gavin: What was it like for you around town during those years?
Chris: I wasn't in any bands as a performer, but felt very active as a general participant. More bodies make more warmth, right?
Gavin: What were the circumstances that led to you formally leaving and heading to Los Angeles?
Chris: After leaving Provo, I lived in Salt Lake City for two years, then quit my job there, put stuff in storage and traveled for about a year. The move to Los Angeles in 2010 was to attend graduate school at the University of Southern California.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up ProvoShows.com?
Chris: In Los Angeles, I've become close friends with a lot of people from very different backgrounds and cultures. Quite a few candidly address issues of gender, power, identity, culture, and sexuality in their art and general conversation. This willingness to openly share contrasted profoundly with my own buried and conflicted attitude as to my history and geographies. I'm not really from anywhere -- my father was in the U.S. Air Force -- but I was born in Provo while my parents attended Brigham Young University. For the majority of my life, I've been embarrassed of that Utah connection. I hated the idea of BYU and the default assumptions of well-intending Mormon parents who considered it the only real choice for my higher education. Still, after attending a number of other universities, I ended up there... and had a great time thanks to the creative community that I discovered. My relationship with it is still quite complicated, though — so Provo Shows is an attempt at positivity while I sort out the rest of my feelings. I'm trying to form different associations with that place and counter my own assumptions about Utah Valley as this place narrowly defined by its dominant ideologies.
Gavin: What was the process like for you in finding these old show posters and tidbits from the Web to start building the website?
Chris: I have a shoebox somewhere that has everything I saved while living there -- show flyers, zines, CDs, Mini-DV tapes, etc. Looking for it committed me to the effort of putting together a communal website that used tumblr.'s meta tags as a filing system. I still haven't found the box, but we're 400+ posts and counting.
Gavin: What was it like when you first launched the website, and what was the initial reaction from people in the first month?
Chris: Initially, I kept the site's authorship anonymous. The rationale was that Provo itself has no author — it's a continually forming entity comprised of all these disparate people and overlapping groups, so a website that took on the task of reflecting that diversity could work better as an open system with each contributor/viewer becoming a co-author. After a while, I realized it didn't really matter and that people seemed as turned off by the anonymity as appreciative of its novelty. That said, many of those who initially reached out to me were super-thrilled at the scope of the project.
Gavin: What did you think about seeing the word getting spread about it and watching it become a kind of cult phenomenon?
Chris: If I had to guess I'd say only a few dozen people follow it with any sort of regularity. We average 100 unique visitors to the site monthly -- not sure how to define "cult phenomenon," but in web terms that's a pretty low number. I recognize that influence cannot be measured solely by the number of visitors, though — if it truly matters to that small group of people, that's great.
Gavin: Have any of the bands or venues hit you back for featuring their stuff?
Chris: A little, yeah.
Gavin: Does it feel odd for you being in another state and archiving a scene that's constantly growing?
Chris: Not really, no. It's the Internet. My fondness for Provo grows as the distance increases. I needed to leave. I'm convinced that people move to major urban centers as an act of personal reinvention and in the pursuit of better opportunities. For me, personally, this flight carried with it some deep ambivalences. I think that for many, Provo, Utah, represents the last time they were in an environment that mirrored their active participation in the LDS faith. I'm not saying that everyone who leaves Provo for bigger cities leaves religion, but I'm working through some of those realities and the questions that they produce. I think the music scene in Provo in part is addressing the inherited culture of faith as it butts up against the vitality of youth and music and art and college and libido. My friend Francesco had this funny mantra when we were there: "College! No Parents!" Of course, I realize that many are just interested in playing and listening to music and not as hyper-intellectualized as I'm making them out to be.
Gavin: Considering the library you have, how do you go about finding new material to post on the website? And how much of it do you find on your own and how much is submitted to you?
Chris: People contribute their own materials and I source a lot of things from various places on the web to keep a steady flow going. I'll queue up the content for daily posts and just let it do its automated thing. I've had some great donations: Matt Wood gave me all of the Provo Podcast
episodes, photos and promotional materials that I am slowly going through and organizing, posting, uploading, etc.
Gavin: With all the posters you've gathered, has the thought crossed your mind to do some kind of book or release all of these in another medium, or do you prefer keeping them free for the public to view?
Chris: Definitely! I have a lot of sketched-out ideas relating to a future publishing imprint, called PROVOAN, that would be a set of companion materials augmenting the online archive. For example: Some of the people behind Sego -- Jason Metcalf, Maht Paulos -- and I have been discussing publishing a survey of their creative activities as the art gallery and the annual music festival. It would offer a type of closure and a retrospective look at their endeavors in Provo in the mid-2000. We have the proceedings from a 2009 symposium on the filmmaker Stephen Groo that Jason and I conducted at the Provo City Library that would be interesting as a print-on-demand type of book. I want to do a very nice short-run photo book focused on a single photographer's documentary photographs of the music scene there. I have a person in mind, but haven't reached out to him just yet. The biggest issue with anything print-based is finding the time and obtaining the necessary money to pay for printing and design. For now, I think operating with no expenses as an online archive is ideal as we grow to the point of sustaining something like a future publishing initiative.
Gavin: What's the overall goal you have with the website, and are there any plans to expand beyond what you're doing now?
Chris: Tod Robbins, my primary collaborator, is in the process of creating an informational database of bands, shows, band members, venues, etc. He has a lot of interesting ideas and expertise; a masters of library and information science from the University of Washington. So, the overall goal is to continue this and then launch related things as time/money allows. Also, our location means we'll do an MLM of some sort in the near future; collecting sweat from shows and bottling it as a fountain of youth drink and hormone supplement. We're tentatively calling that Fount™. Then we'll get into security systems and themed 5K runs probably.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of this year, and is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
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