As you may remember, Poster was lucky enough to get a magical combination of talented Winnipeggers in the same great space (MAKE Coffee + Stuff) a few weeks ago to hang out and discuss making a living do something creative. For Alexa Dirks, that’s as vocalist of not one, but two great bands. For Jill Sawatzky, who styled and photographed Alexa for the shoot, that’s as designer of Tony Chestnut. (Wookey Films was kind of enough to film the whole thing, including when Alexa broke out her guitar for a gut-wrenching rendition of one of her songs off the new New Lightweights EP.)
Here, we’ve got the full story on what Alexa and Jill are up to these days, how they stay creative, and what it’s like working in music and fashion in Winnipeg. Oh, plus some absolutely gorgeous film photos of their day together. Lucky us!
What have you been working on lately?
Jill: Lately, I’ve been working on growing a baby, and keeping a toddler alive, and building a house, and trying to fill orders. Oh… and putting together a spring/summer collection that I think will rock some socks off!
K, don’t print that. With Tony Chestnut, I’m working on putting together a very small collection for spring/summer. It has to be very small because of all of the other things going on in my personal life, but i like to use my restrictions as challenges to try new things.
My idea for the upcoming collection is to make it more of a project. I’m in the midst of setting up the FUNNEST photo shoot. We’ll have two models (best friends in real life), and in each image they’ll be wearing the same Tony Chestnut clothing, but styled COMPLETELY different. Over-the-top different. “Royal Tennenbaums-character” different. The collection will focus on simplicity and contrast. Feminism vs. androgyny, glamorous vs. grubby, classic vs. alternative.
I’m quite excited (as my excessively wordy answer may have lead you to believe).
Alexa: I like the “growing a baby” thing, Jill. You got me feeling all, “I’m every woman” over here. But I’m feeling like “you’re every woman.”
Anyway! My primary focus in my life right now is my band Chic Gamine. We are currently in the process of putting out our first official US release, so that’s a bit of a nerve wracking slash exciting situation. And we’re constantly writing new music and trying to tour the world. Haha not really… but really. We just got back from SXSW in Austin, Texas, which was insane. We laughed, we cried, we played music and I ate a lot of food. So that’s the baby that I’m growing, if you know what I mean. (I’m referring to a music baby and a food baby).
Then there’s The New Lightweights. We just released an EP around christmas. That project is super close to my heart and we try to get gigs together in the city as much as we possibly can. We’re all full time touring musicians, so the coordinating of schedules can get difficult, but we are also full time really good friends with each other and I really believe in the music we make.
I’m also working on my confidence as a guitar player. I played my first solo show this year, and it showed me that it’s something I want to do more of. I’m always always, always trying to write music. So that’s what i’m always kind of “working on”
Some songs I write fit with one project, and some fit with the other, and others are just floating in the air waiting to have life somewhere else. I haven’t got it all figured out just yet. (I think i just quoted Alanis by accident.)
What is it like trying to make a living doing what you love?
Jill: Trying to make a living out of doing what you love is partly insane and a recipe for anxiety disorder, and mostly really, really dreamy. But, I believe that just LOVING something isn’t enough to be able to do that and make a living from it. I think you need to logically see the business side of things as well.
You just have to hope and pray that when you inject that business part into the passion part, that the love doesn’t begin to fade. Just using your left brain is sometimes not enough.
Alexa: It’s a world of extremes for me. One day I feel like the luckiest human on the planet, and the next day I feel like, “can somebody fill me in on what the EFF I am doing?”
There are no “rules” anybody can give you when you decide to build a creative career. I believe that has to come from the individual. Success for me at this point is being able to wake up everyday and have a voice to sing, songs to write, and a platform to sing those songs on while also being able to scrape by (sometimes with a little help…thank you, Mom).
I also know my definition of how I see “success” may change as I grow older and my desires grow with me. I’ve known since I was a small child that music was what I was married to. There was really nothing else for me.
But I totally agree 100% with what Jill said, at the end of the day if you don’t treat it like a full time job then you’re kind of dumb. Rude, but true. You can’t expect to just sit on your ass and be so insanely emotionally involved and really make a go at it even if you are the most talented and amazing person in the world with the most love for what you do.
Balance is so key, and I have to always remind myself how lucky I am to be so passionate about what I get to do, while also reminding myself to strive for better and to never settle. There are days when I am reduced to a small emo baby in a corner wondering how I can ever work up the balls to stand out in this industry. But the feeling that always comes back is my overriding love for all that music has to offer to the world, and the fact that I can be a small part of that humbles me ALL THE TIME!
Why do you base yourselves in Winnipeg?
Jill: Winnipeg allows for life outside of always pounding the pavement. Winnipeg allows for having your cake and (sometimes) eating it too.
You can have a lucratively inconsistent job in this city, and still pay rent. You can choose to take some time off to start a family, and still feel as though you haven’t left “the loop.” I credit this to the culture and overall priorities of the people in this city. Winnipeg is forgiving, and Winnipeg is encouraging of people putting themselves out there.
I guess winnipeg has essentially allowed me to go after all of my dreams at once. Wow.
Alexa: I was born here, my family is here, my community of friends are here, and it keeps me sane to always come back here.
For an artist, cost of living is low and the arts community is so welcoming and full of chances to learn and collaborate with some of the best musicians around. There are people here who are not only insanely talented, but also incredibly nice and humble and willing to share their craft just for the love it not for the glory of “being the best,” even when they are.
It’s kind of insane. I love what Winnipeg has to offer for the creative heart. Or maybe even just what it has to offer for any heart that’s willing to accept it. There are so many passionate people doing wacky things all the time and if you’re not a Winnipegger, sometimes you just don’t get why that is so special.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE traveling, I love other cities in the world a lot, but I know that I will always want to come back here. Nowhere else quite measures up.