Julian Koster’s The Music Tapes — an offspring of musical collective Elephant 6 — have conceived of an ambitious spectacle for their forthcoming tour supporting September 4th album Mary’s Voice, dubbing it, The Traveling Imaginary. Deemed by Koster as “a long-dreamt-of undertaking on a grander scale than anything we have ever done,” The Traveling Imaginary is a carnival-esque enclosure that will welcome concert-goers’ active participation with various amusements including “music, games, stories, [and] films.”

On August 21, Julian launched a Kickstarter campaign (video below) to fund the circus-inspired, dream venue and immediately snagged headlines with one incredible pledge reward in particular: his first-ever banjo which he famously played on Neutral Milk Hotel’s near-legendary, Aeroplane Over The Sea. Perhaps needless to say, Koster has already raised over double his initial goal of $5000, and the campaign — currently powered by over 120 backers — is still going strong.

We caught up with Julian by phone yesterday to get more details on the impending reality that is  The Traveling Imaginary.

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Tell me about The Traveling Imaginary concept – when did you first conceive of it and how have you brought it to the place where it is now?
I began trying to work on this when I was living in a summer house in Maine that I’d stay in in winters. I had all these ideas that revolved around sharing things with the people in a much more intimate way, and in a way that obliterated specific expectations — because very, very special things are possible when you completely have no idea of what might happen. What I really wanted was to invite people over to my house (laughs) so I could share all this stuff with them, which of course is impossible for most people… then I thought of a traveling tent instead.

And naturally you built the prototype in your living room…(laughs).
Yeah (laughs)…I had this big open space, so I made a carnival-esque circus tent that filled the entire first floor of the house. It touched three of the four walls of the downstairs and it touched the ceiling, too. I would work on ideas and stuff in there and that was basically my downstairs for the two years that I lived there. The idea was that I would be able to make a mobile version of ‘my house’ and take that around. We want to invite people into an environment that’s comprised of what we use to make our dreams, and to make them feel really comfortable and welcome…like guests.

Why is it so important to you that fans become involved this way?

There’s something really limiting about being in an audience and feeling like an anonymous presence. I think it’s really important for audiences to feel comfortable and absorbed in order to really enjoy themselves, but they ought not always have to be some anonymous thing that isn’t an important part of the proceedings. I remember being a kid and going to shows and seeing one of my favorite bands and realizing, ‘Wait…They don’t know me. It’s me and them in my room, and in my imagination I know them so well, but they don’t have a clue who I am.’ That relationship you have with bands in your head has no role or place at the event… so I’ve always been fascinated with other ways for things to happen between musicians and fans.


Any practical concerns at this point?
Weather will be an issue because it will be fall and winter,  so when we first set this up we’ll have to do exactly like how we did it at my house: indoors. We did all these caroling and lullaby tours — which allowed us to create evenings where really wonderful things happened — and we’re hoping to take it one step further this time and not necessarily exclude people who aren’t in on the word of mouth or who can’t go seek out some crazy location in their hometown because they’re 14 and their parents won’t let them. We can’t always control all-ages access at all the venues but we sure try. But, you know,  it’s just the beginning. When something good is about to happen, you don’t know exactly what’s its going to be, but it’s an adventure.

So why is a circus tent the fitting platform for The Traveling Imaginary?
Well, it’s specific and easy to understand. For me, part of the reason I love that tent — and mine is sort of a carnival booth structure with certain parts of the walls missing because I still wanted to see the ocean (laughs) — is that I just always thought that this stuff was beautiful. Also, in our houses, the bedrooms we set up always were transformed and felt sort of like crazy gypsy circus tents or something. I just want people to show up someplace that they find beautiful and comfortable and feel welcomed. A big music venue doesn’t necessarily guarantee that; it’s more about black paint, stale beer and cigarette smoke.

You’ve had a remarkable response so far to the Kickstarter campaign. Has it exceeded your expectations?
Oh completely (laughs). Again, we didn’t know what to expect. On the first day, our jaws were on the floor; we were just stunned. Its all so ephemeral…but we’re delighted with everything. Of course, now we’re also feeling like we’d like a little more time — somehow you always end up wishing you had a couple more months to complete whatever endeavor it happens to be — so it’s this mad, insane, crazy, lunacy right now (laughs).

Well, the endeavor is full of possibility and I imagine that tons of interesting stories and results will come out of this experience. Do you have a plan to document it in any way?

You know, we’ve had folks mention that they want to come and document what goes on, but right now everything gets documented on cellphones and it’s on YouTube no matter what you do (laughs). But yeah, it would be nice to have someone film some things — and I’m sure someday we’ll write memoirs. This is the beginning of something I hope will go on for years and continue to grow and change and evolve for long time. We’re just at the very start of it now.

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Back The Music Tapes’ The Traveling Imaginary project over at Kickstarter before its final funding date of September 11. Look for a feature interview with Julian about his decision to give up his beloved banjo, The Music Tapes new LP, Mary’s Voice, and his penchant for storytelling to run this Friday, August 31.

pixel Julian Koster: The Traveling Imaginary becomes reality