Science songster interview #2: Timothy Sellers

Today we turn to Timothy Sellers, another participant in the NIMBioS Songwriter-in-Residence program. Our questions for him were the same as those for Kay Stanton, but his answers were totally different!

SAS&M: DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT WORK AS A SONGWRITER/MUSICIAN IN A SENTENCE.

TS: At the risk of being boring but honest, I’m trying to reach people’s hearts and minds through their ears. At the risk of being evasive and silly, I’m trying to glue the moon to the sun while cheating death and getting my glue for free.

SAS&M: TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE SCIENCE AND MATH BEEN IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE?

TS: Extremely. To anyone interested in understanding the world, math and science are essential tools.

SAS&M: WHAT FIRST PROMPTED YOU TO THINK THAT COMBINING SCIENCE/MATH AND MUSIC MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA?

TS: I like to push songwriting into new, unexpected territory. Sometimes I want to share my curiosity and amazement about our universe. And I am frequently motivated by my concern about the fate of our planet and its biosphere.

SAS&M: WHAT SPECIAL CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE IN WRITING SCIENCE- AND MATH-BASED SONGS, AS OPPOSED TO WRITING, SAY, LOVE SONGS?

TS: To me, my songs that involve science and math are exactly the same as love songs. Maybe it’s a way for me to express the same spectrum of emotions without the obligation of singing explicitly about, say, being a teenager. Both songwriting paths are fine with me. For example, the early Beatles usually followed the teenager path; the later Beatles often chose more oblique angles.

As for opportunities, my frequent choice of geeky lyrical territory has turned off some potential fans but attracted a lot of others. I put the songs first and try not to worry about the rest.

SAS&M: HOW DID YOU SPEND YOUR TIME AS A NIMBIOS SONGWRITER IN RESIDENCE?

TS: I enjoyed getting to know people at the Nimbios program, exploring the Knoxville area, and working hard on my music. For a report on my Nimbios experience, please visit http://artichoketheband.com/2011/05/timothys-nimbios-residency/

SAS&M: WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER MOST VIVIDLY FROM YOUR TIME AS A NIMBIOS SONGWRITER IN RESIDENCE?

TS: I’ll remember the people I met, the beautiful stormy spring weather, and a hilariously terrible wine tasting. And I’ll remember sitting in James Agee Park at various times of day and night, working on songs or reading.

SAS&M: DO YOU FEEL PARTICULARLY PROUD OF ANY PARTICULAR SCIENCE/MATH SONG(S) THAT YOU’VE WRITTEN? WHY?

“26 Scientists, Volume One: Anning – Malthus” and “26 Scientists, Volume Two: Newton – Zeno” are pretty good. I think those records are ambitious and unique in the tiny genre of indie rock science music. And while I’m horn-tooting, there is a lot of science in my kids record “26 Animals.”

SAS&M: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SCIENCE/MATH MUSICAL PIECE OR ARTIST, NOT INCLUDING YOUR OWN WORK? WHY?

TS: I love the sheer genius of Tom Lehrer. And I love artists who work science into the edges of their songs, like the Pixies or the Talking Heads.

SAS&M: SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT MUSIC CAN BE A VALUABLE TEACHING TOOL, WHILE OTHERS FIND SUCH NOTIONS LAUGHABLE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS?

TS: Of course music can be a valuable teaching tool. Our brains are pattern-seeking lumps of grey mush! (There is no need to scoop them out of your skulls to verify this empirically, kids.)

SAS&M: ANY OTHER COMMENTS?

TS: Thanks for taking an interest, Greg and friends! Keep in touch with me and Artichoke at www.artichoketheband.com.

[Related links: NIMBioS video interview with Sellers; New York Times article on Sellers]

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