3 Questions

3 Questions with Musician Michael Garfield

He coulda gone into dinosaurs, but this local musician is connecting music nerds instead

You might call musician Michael Garfield a bit of a philosopher-scientist. He’s the first to admit he likes to use $50 words; he’s got a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Kansas; he likes to talk and dissect and collaborate and intellectualize; he likes to go deep. Garfield comes to Santa Fe by way of Colorado, Texas and California and recently wrapped a 4.5-year stint at Santa Fe Institue where he, among other jobs, hosted the Complexity Podcast. And while he came close to going into academia,

Garfield ultimately pursued the more creative world of performance and podcasts. In Garfield’s Future Fossils show, he talks about anything and everything from the metaphysical and psychedelics to dinosaurs, sci-fi, human nature and beyond. And that last little tenet makes up much of the connective tissue of the upcoming Tumbleroot Music Lab (7 pm Friday, May 12. Free, but donations welcome. Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery, 2791 Agua Fría St., (505) 303-3808), a combination improv night/semi-planned open mic that finds Garfield shepherding a group of musicians, painters and dancers through spur-of-the-moment performances. There is no specific directive, but Music Lab is, according to Garfield, meant to both enliven the night and find some semblance of social and musical reciprocity in a post-COVID world. Get to know him a little better with this-here interview, which has been edited for length and clarity. (Alex De Vore)

How does one phase from science to the performing arts as you have?

Well, right now I am what my buddy calls ‘funemployed.’ But really, I don’t know. Basically what happened is I got preoccupied with very, very deep kind of profound cosmic questions and the very last year of undergrad, I realized I couldn’t ask those questions in any program that I could find. And after years of trying to find a way to continue as an academic, I basically gave up and moved to Boulder, Colorado, and started writing for a music blog and working as a sound engineer; playing concerts around town and painting at concerts. I didn’t know what else to do, and I was just sort of, like, scraping my income together. And that became a career touring as an artist and musician and public speaker at music festivals. And that led to me hosting the Future Fossils podcast.

Academia is structured in a way that you’re not going to be able to pursue [certain questions] until you’re a tenured professor because at that point, they let you kind of do what you want—and even then you’re gonna come up against resistance because everything is hyper-specialized. I just got fed up with a world in which I wasn’t allowed to think freely and pursue the things that seem...to matter most. So I sabotaged my career in a different way, and went ahead and did something that I thought would be at least nourishing to my spirit.

As a musician, what are your thoughts on writing versus improvisation? Is there a balance that you’ve struck between them or that you’re hoping to achieve?

I would like them to be more well-balanced, but I’m still sorting that out. Most of the shows I’ve played in the last 15 years were fully improvised. But I continued writing songs and producing songs in the studio, because there’s something about polishing an idea over a very long time and embellishing it and getting it dialed in and getting it just right. And that satisfies a completely different part of me. As an artist, the serendipity and surprise and magic that happens when you’re just throwing stuff together on the fly, though, right? It’s like cooking, right? You can work with a really, really careful, old, refined recipe with a procedure and list of ingredients—or you can just, like, do jazz in the kitchen and...throw stuff together, whatever it happens to be. I love them both.

Tell us about Music Lab. What can we expect and how can we get involved with potential future things?

It’s based on this thing I used to do in Austin, Texas, called Looper’s Night where you bring together a bunch of people that are used to playing alone. You synchronize all of their equipment and everybody gets a little solo showcase...to let people know...it’s like a like a cheese plate: You can taste this thing by itself, and then you can combine it with a bunch of different stuff and explore what all the different flavors are at the intersections of everybody. And, oh, you can find me...on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook—I’m called Michael Garfield. Email me at michaelgarfield@gmail.com.

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