Deciphering Culture

"Northern Roots," "Americana," "Traditional Music" — The Strategic Nature of Genre Definition

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Recently I interviewed singer Tim Eriksen and among the subjects we touched upon was his creation of the genre label “Northern Roots” for the mix of traditional Angl0-American music he performs (he also works in other genres, including punk, jazz and Bosnian pop). The quote below highlights the strategic considerations of genre definition for musicians, particularly those for whom industry-set categories seem inappropriate or constricting. Eriksen also eludes to the creative potential of creating one’s own niche (or genre label).

Tim Eriksen: Well, I’ll start with the Northern Roots thing with an observation my friend Joe Boyd made several years ago in an article in Pitchfork. He was asked if there was any traditional music that he was excited about and he mentioned me and said something to the effect that when people use the term “roots music” or “American roots music” or “Americana” they are usually talking about strictly Southern American traditions. And he singled me out for being unusual because of my interest in music from the Northeast. So for me, it is kind of a pragmatic thing, just a way of trying to identify what it is for people, to give a one or two word answer which is what venues are looking for, what magazines are often looking for, just to try and get a handle on it. So even if it’s not 100% true, it gets you a little way in the right direction (or in some kind of useful direction). Then you can complicate it and qualify it after that. So the way that I’m thinking about it is that I’m from the Northeast and I’m interested in my surroundings. I’m interested in little bits and pieces culturally, physically, the natural environment, history. And my eye has always gravitated toward things that aren’t supposed to be there, like old gravestones, things that were not a part of … my supposed popular culture (even though I’ve always participated in that in a million different ways).


Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 6, 2010 at 11:19 am

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  1. […] I posted a quote from my December 2009 interview of singer Tim Eriksen on Transgressions. That selection described his strategic definition of the Angl0-American repertoire he performs as a solo artist as […]

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