Emory Report
February 19, 2007
Volume 59, Number 20

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February 19, 2007
wayne fishell experiment
BY kim urquhart

A corkscrew, a pair of scissors and a can of aerosol: Emory School of Law employees Wayne Fishell, Keith Miller and Jonathan Wagner can conjure music from even the most unconventional of sources. Their band, the wayne fishell experiment, transforms these objects into instruments and draws on guitars, mandolins, drums and various other sounds to create what is perhaps best described as "musical art."

The group has just released its first CD, "optimistically hopeless," featuring 10 tracks of what they call "gay-acoustic-indie-folk-pop." Fishell offers this definition of the hybrid description: "Gay, because we're gay artists and want to identify as such; acoustic, because it is not electronic or dance music; indie, because we are independent artists; and folk and pop because our sound comes from the folk vein with more of a pop influence.

"As a project, I wanted to make sure that all 10 songs, while tied together, would sound different. That's why it is hard to categorize exactly what genre we fall into, when one song sounds bluesy and another song sounds very folk," says Fishell, the "titular leader" of the wayne fishell experiment, who composes all the songs and writes most of the lyrics. Fishell is also a program coordinator in the law school's Career Services Office, where he manages the office's extensive recruiting program among other duties.

Percussionist Keith Miller, assistant director of development in the law school, is the source of the band's unconventional beat blending traditional drums with found objects. "I stand in my kitchen and bang on things," says Miller, only half-joking.

Miller's experience with sounds effects stem from his days working with National Public Radio. He has also written, directed, produced and performed for theater, television and film, been a stand-up comedian and served as a contributing reporter for Outweek magazine.

Wagner, assistant director of the law school's registrar's office, is the newest member of the band. He first met Fishell when they were both working as program coordinators in the law school. "I found out we had a lot of outside interests in common, music among them," recalls Wagner, "and after that we discussed playing together." Wagner, who has played rhythm and lead guitar for many blues and rock bands, taught himself how to play the guitar at age 14. Because he is a recent addition to the group, Wagner's guitar wizardry is not on the new album that took more than two years to record.

It was a long process, Fishell explains, the result of juggling full-time jobs at Emory with weekend studio sessions, and a collaborative recording process with other local artists. Fishell points out that "optimistically hopeless" was recorded on an analog machine once owned by Isaac Hayes. "The reel-to-reel was later transferred onto digital," Fishell explains, "but it gives it a warmer sound than all-digital."

The album is lighter than Fishell's first foray into the music world. Voted Best Male Musician in Southern Voice's "2005 Best of Gay Atlanta," Fishell released a solo album, "going down," in 2002. "It was a phenomenal experience," Fishell says. "But I learned that I would rather take more time to get a bigger sound."

Fishell met Miller when Miller was still a temp in the dean's office at the law school. Miller, who began playing drums at age 10 and said he has "been beating things ever since," seemed a perfect match to expand Fishell's sound. Miller soon adopted the stage name "big.peaches" -- "I have terrible stage fright so being in character helps me to be more comfortable," he explains -- and the wayne fishell experiment was born.

Fishell is more at home in the spotlight. He's played guitar since he was a child, was classically trained for five years, and took "countless" voice lessons, but admits he hated to practice.

The band is practicing quite a bit these days -- Miller's Decatur living room doubles as the band's practice space -- in preparation for a sold-out CD release party Feb. 24 at Push Push Theater. Doug Lothes, an Emory administrative assistant, will perform his one-man act "Gone With the Wind in 20 Minutes" to open the show.

The wayne fishell experiment is also planning an upcoming tour schedule that includes festivals around the Southeast, as well as a few shows in the Northeast.

The band says "optimistically hopeless" shows "a different side of gay music." The album spans many different tempos, styles and emotions and should appeal to fans of all sexual orientations.

"I wanted to make sure that the music was accessible, that the lyrics were meaningful without being clichéd, and that the music would be varied enough to keep people interested from the first song to the last," Fishell says. "You don't have to write in the second person to make music that all people can enjoy," he adds. "We make sure that we keep our pronouns exactly how we want them."

The band itself "is a diverse group," Fishell points out.   "I'm the lone hetero in the group," Wagner volunteers, and Fishell gleefully replies: "We're going to make him wear a sign that says that on stage!"

"One of the things I really like about playing with these guys is that despite having a definite direction that they wanted to take the music in, they were wide open to trying different things," says Wagner, who is experimenting with more exotic instruments such as the didgeridoo, the kalimba and the berimbau.

That sense of experimentation is inherent in the wayne fishell experiment. The band lives up to its name and its members are optimistically hopeful that their fans will agree.

For more information about upcoming shows or to purchase a CD, visit www.ofishell.com.