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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stumpfest 2014: An Interview with High Priestess Rynne Stump

Take a glance at the lineup for Portland's Stumpfest 2014 and it's difficult to make sense of how such a staggering three-day bill came together. Spend just moments speaking with the event's founder and organizer, Rynne Stump, and it's immediately evident how easily she can pull off such impressively heavy company. Words like friends, magic, and love dominate her vernacular more than fans or money, and a disarmingly genuine nature bleeds through each sentence.  Heavy Planet enjoyed an opportunity to gush as Rynne opened up about the annually-expanding Stumpfest and its past, its future, and its purpose.

Heavy Planet: This is the third year for Stumpfest, right?

Rynne Stump: Yep, third year!

HP: What are some of the origins of the festival?

RS: It just kind of came to me. I used to do booking in Portland and I did production there with my best friend, Chantelle Hylton, back in the early 2000's. And I used to do my own little shows around town. I guess the origins would be from that and moving to L.A. and not really having much of a scene down here. Some people could argue that with me, but I've lived here ten years and if you wanna go to a heavy show you've gotta drive to Pomona or somewhere on God's green Earth out there. A lot of my friends I met in Portland who do play in heavy bands, they'll come stay at my house when they're in town but usually they don't have a good venue to play down here. So a couple years back, YOB was doing their first stint out with Tool and I asked them on the last show, "What if I had a festival? Would you guys play it? If I booked a gig up in Portland, would you guys headline?" And Mike (Scheidt) was like "Absolutely!" And I thought, Well how cool would THIS be? Do a show every year with my friends, bands that I like, bands that I don't get to see. Maybe my friends from down here come and play up there, we'll just get everybody connected. So really it was just the idea of bringing my friends together and actually getting to see all these amazing bands that I'm missing living in Los Angeles. That's probably not a very nice answer, but it's the truth! [laughs]

HP: 2012 was one night, 2013 spanned a weekend, and this year's three day lineup is fucking killer! How big is this thing gonna get?

RS: I don't know! This year I was like, Maybe we'll go back to one night. Then I just had an outpouring of requests from bands that I really love, bands that played the first two years and I can't say no to. They're my brothers. The Rieseberg's in Norska, my best friend Mark (Bassett) in Diesto...  "Of course you guys are gonna play because I wanna see you! I never get to see you!" So aside of that, Ancient Warlocks came outta the woods and I love them, I love their record. Bands like Drunk Dad, who I just got turned onto a couple months back. I wanna see them, y'know?! One of my friends from elementary school, Kevin Spafford, is the drummer in Honduran. He sent me their album a while back and I was like "Oh my God, you guys have to play!" I got excited and I cast the net kinda broad and wide because bands like Trans Am, you don't know if they're gonna say yes or no. You don't know where they're at in their creative process. They haven't played shows in a while. The last time I saw them was actually at Mississippi Studios. A year and a half back they did a show for their record label, it was like an all day thing. They've been friends of mine for years, we worked together and booked them at Berbati's a long time ago. I reached out to those guys and it just so happened they finished their tenth record (Volume X) and they're lookin' for a show. The only thing was Sebastian (Thomson) is now drumming in Baroness. So I was like, "Can we get Seb out?" And Seb said "Yeah, we can do it." And he's gotta fly back for Moogfest in Asheville (NC) like the day after. They're friends and they wanna be a part of it and it's really exciting, but I had NO idea they would say yes. Red Fang, we were negotiating with them last year. Pretty much everyone that plays this knows me or is one degree away from a close friend.

Ancient Warlocks
HP: It seems so tightly knit, the entire thing...

RS: Absolutely! It's a total family affair. I had a lot of requests from bands I've never heard of or don't know and that's really exciting that people wanna play it. That makes it awesome for me because I get a chance to discover new music and see new bands myself and that's exciting. But for right now, it's really just... family. [laughs]

HP: I keep seeing the term "Bro-love."

RS: It's SUPER bro-love! And that's the cool part! If you're there, it's cool. You can experience it and be a part of it. It's really an intense thing. People in the crowd, the audience, they feel like they're a part of something, they feel connected to the musicians, they feel connected to the vibes that are being procured. Every band, so far, has brought an incredible set. It's insane, it's leveling! Everyone is rehearsing, getting prepped; they really take it seriously and I think that's the inspiration of love, friendship. It's not a competitive thing, it's not like we wanna sound better than anybody else. To me, it's Stumpfest. We all just wanna get a quality thing together. And I love that! It's happening naturally, it's something I can't explain. It's magic. That's the magic and power of love and friendship. And I have no idea what's gonna happen in the next couple of years! [laughs] It's its own animal, it seems like it just keeps morphing and evolving into this bigger, cooler thing. Hey, I'm just holdin' on for dear life here!

HP: Our readers are familiar with Norska, Black Pussy, everybody loves Red Fang. I'm not even able to attend and I was stoked to see the lineup, especially when Ancient Warlocks were announced. Are there any bands there people would be foolish to miss? You'll probably say all of them...

RS: That's such a tough question. That's the reason I set it up, these are ALL bands I would NEVER miss. Trans Am, who's gonna argue with that? They're one of the best bands on the entire planet! Unequivocally, Trans Am is one of the best of the best. It's been over fifteen years they've been together and they still just deliver. If you miss Trans Am, you should just... [sighs] That would be the one for me. I would NOT miss Thursday night. That's a hard question, that's not funny! [laughs]

Trans Am
HP: Sorry!

RS: I don't know, YOB? Red Fang in a 300-capacity venue? When I first saw Mastodon in 2001 or 2002 in Seattle, they were playing at this tiny club up there. It was mind-blowing! Seeing YOB in a small place, Black Cobra, I just can't say enough about this year. I don't even know how I did it. I have no idea.

Black Cobra
HP: When I first saw the bill, I think it was on Cat's instagram or something, I thought, You've gotta be kidding me! But it seems so much a celebration of the Pacific Northwest and an increasingly prolific scene, if you wanna call it that. What would you say is special to the area compared to other hotbeds of heavy music like New Orleans or Savannah?

RS: What I think is of utmost importance to these musicians is that they care, they give a fuck about what they sound like. And like I said, not in a competitive format. Not in a "We wanna make it big" format. They care because the music means so much. The tone, y'know? The carving of the tone, the heaviness. They respect the heavy. They respect their craft and, as you well know, anyone who respects what they do has the integrity to do BEYOND. You wanna evolve. You wanna transform, right? Isn't that the idea of art? To transform, to transcend. THAT'S what comes out of the Pacific Northwest. Transcendence through quality. These guys work jobs. They go home and work jobs. They take care of their families, they take care of this or that. But they can tell you exactly their pedal board systems, their handmade cabinets from dudes that MAKE cabinets in the Pacific Northwest. It's just such a beautiful place, it's like a garden. A garden for quality, heavy music and rock n' roll. I just believe all that rain, all those clouds...

HP: There's something about it!

RS: There's something about it, right!

HP: I've been told not just Portland, but the Pacific Northwest in general, is a strange and special place.

RS: They know how to cultivate sound, and that's the beauty. It's the respect, it's that respect for the craft. And that's art, that's the DEFINITION of art. It's not to bastardize and make thousands of dollars being a jerk, not knowing what the hell you're doing.

HP: And a lot o' people make a lot o' money doin' that shit...

RS: I know, I KNOW! You see bands like Yes and old school bands that are still doin' it for the love. They're not out there tryin' to make money, and I doubt they ever were. It's the integrity of the art.

HP: And you've got bands coming out retirement because they have bills. And it sucks.

RS: It depends on what band you're talkin' about! You know what I mean, we gotta watch it! [laughs] But there's nothing wrong with making money, either. The money is not the evil. The evil comes with how you're motivated by the money. It's what you choose to sacrifice to make that money. If you just so happen to be completely devoted to your craft and you happen to be able to make money on it, fuck... more power to you! And if you happen to make money without that? More power to you, but I'm not gonna listen to your shit. Good music is good music, it doesn't matter what it is. I listen to EVERYTHING! I listen to MUSIC, I'm a MUSIC lover. I sang bluegrass when I was a little kid and I still listen to bluegrass. But, like I said... with anything, with art, when it's really, truly there....people know it. And that's the beauty of being a human. ONE of the beauties.

HP: Yeah! I was raised on my dad's old Mountain and Allman Brothers records and it's funny now, I love this heavy stuff, this sludge and doom. But I was fed a lot o' good music as a kid. And like you said, good music is good music. It doesn't need to be categorized.

RS: No, it doesn't! It can, but it's not necessary. You know when something's good, you know when it hits you right in the sweet spot. I think that's one of the beauties of this year's festival: every band has a sweet spot. Every band that's on this bill has the potential to be headliners. Or ARE headliners!

HP: Right! I could ask which of these bands are primed to explode, but I look and I can answer my own question. ANY of them!

RS: Yeah, any show could have been developed over any number of these bands. I got lucky. The powers that be aligned and here it is. The beauty is that when things are right in the world, everything just works. It's a problem when you try to force things. Fortunately, the magic was in the air and everyone said yes! Everyone I asked said yes. Except Sandrider, because they were having a child or something. And I was like, We need to get some more days at Mississippi, because we love it there and they take great care of us. And I feel like if we have to move to a larger venue at some point, maybe for a night, we might do that in the future. But Mississippi should and will always be our home. I like the intimacy and I don't wanna have to start charging people a lot of money for tickets. That's another huge point of contention. I'm trying to keep the cost of the festival livable so people can come.

HP: And the tickets are modestly priced.

RS: I want everybody to have a chance to come to all the nights. It's all about the whole picture. Maybe some people don't wanna come to the same venue every night. But the people who ARE gonna be there all three nights are gonna experience something really special.

HP: Looking through photos from the first two years, there's nobody there that isn't smiling and loving the shit out of their life at that point.

RS: [laughs] Well, yes! It's fun! Everybody gets paid, everybody gets fed. I give a free t-shirt to every member of the bands. Usually I screen-print the t-shirts by hand but this year I'm gonna actually go down to a shop in town and have them do it because it's red and black and really intense with a red washout. I'm a printer, by the way. That's my college degree, printing. I have my own little set up here at my house but this year's artwork demanded a little more attention than I could provide with the time frame because I just got home from tour with Tool and I didn't have enough time to actually screen-print the number of t-shirts I'll need. So that's kind of a drag. I just went down and had a meeting with the printers yesterday and they said, "Come on down, you can help us!" So I'm actually involved, but I won't be doing them all by hand. But everybody gets a little love. My sister and I make handmade laminates out of nudie magazines for all the bands. High Times, Playboy, National Geographic... little collages for each band member. It's fun! Everybody is involved because they want to be. Our artist who's done the artwork every year, one of my dear friends, Gabriel Shaffer out of Asheville, North Carolina... he's done artwork for us at our home, and naturally he was the first person I asked to help me with this because it's a family affair! It gives us all a reason to get together. It's easy when it's just all your friends. [laughs] Everybody just likes to see each other and it's like a big reunion. And we get to bring other people into the fold. We make new friends, new relationships get forged, bands meet each other that maybe otherwise hadn't in the past. I know Floor is taking out Hot Victory, that happened because they all met last year. I think that's why it happened, at least. It's just cool. New bonds are made, that's the whole idea.

Hot Victory
HP: I wish more festivals were like this one. The way it's presented, the way it's arranged and delivered. It's difficult for me to describe as an outsider. I won't ask you to sell the festival, it seems to sell itself. But is there anything people may not know about Stumpfest that you feel they need to know?

RS: Not really! They just need to be armed and prepared to open their hearts, connect, and have a blast!

HP: Can they get in if they don't have a beard?

RS: [laughs] Absolutely! I don't discriminate! There's a lot o' hair goin' on, it's amazing! John Theodore, when I asked Life Coach to come up... We already had Phil (Manley) from Trans Am, and I was like "Come on, Johnny! You gotta come up!" And he was like "Man, Stump! That's a lot o' heaviness there, I don't know!" I told him he'll be fine! Because I want each night to have its own identity. What's a festival if it's one big clod and everybody sounds in the same ilk? It kinda gets to you after a while. So it's nice. That's maybe one thing that I'll leave you with. Each night crafts its own sound, its own style. And I've tried to cultivate it that way. We have one night that's different to keep it fresh for everyone who does want to come for three days. You ARE getting a different vibe on stage each night!


Don't sleep on this one, kids. It seems there's no over-stressing the heart that goes into Stumpfest at every angle. From Ms. Stump, through the bands, and directly into the lucky few in attendance runs a stream of unity and passion. If only the rest of the world would catch on, eh?

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