Guante performing for free at Cedar tonight, drops new video for "Smalltalk"

Guante in the middle of the 2012 Twin Cities Slam Team
Guante in the middle of the 2012 Twin Cities Slam Team

Those in search of cheap entertainment in the Twin Cities tonight need to look no further than the Cedar's free Outdoor Music series, where the talented and insightful spoken word/hip-hop artist Guante is set to perform beginning at 7 p.m. Guante is the stage name of local activist Kyle Tran Myhre, a skilled and accomplished educator and writer, who is also a two-time National Poetry Slam champion.

Guante is set to deliver two different sets this evening, one featuring his spoken word, and one hip-hop performance. He also has a few special guests lined up for the evening, which should prove to be both highly entertaining and educational. Guante is a rare talent in that he can not only inspire and inform with his riveting words, but he can also galvanize a community into thoughtful action as well.

Gimme Noise was lucky enough to get to ask Guante about what he has in store for his performance tonight, how supportive the Twin Cities is to the spoken word community, and what he has in store for the future.

Gimme Noise: I see that you are planning one spoken-word oriented set, and one freestyle rap set. How do those similar but distinct art forms differ for you, and how does your approach change when switching between the two styles?

Guante: First, a quick terminology note. Though it means different things to different people, "freestyle" usually connotes improvisation. So I am doing a poetry set and a hip hop set tonight, but neither one will be freestyle. I'm trying to use tonight to showcase some of my best written material.

In terms of how rapping and poetry are different, the basic formal difference is that rapping rhymes and is over music, and my spoken-word is a capella and doesn't rhyme at all. It's like a combination of poetry, rhetoric, oratory, stand-up and storytelling. So having both forms to play around with has been incredibly valuable for my career. The free verse form allows me to be more subtle and really push the emotion and the substance of my work, and the more regulated rap form is great for just punching people in the face with words. The two are very different, but at the end of the day, they're both about some kind of balance between style and content. Say something meaningful, and say it powerfully.

You've achieved quite a bit of success with your spoken word efforts, as well as teaching and coaching young kids in spoken word competitions. What do you find most appealing about expressing your thoughts and emotions in this way, and how does that form of expression appeal to the kids you come in contact with?

The thing about spoken-word is that it's a very naked art form. It's just you and the microphone and the audience. No props, no music (generally), nothing to hide behind. That makes it extra intimidating, especially for someone who is more introverted like me. But because it's so intimidating, it's unbelievably empowering when you just get up and do it. Many of the students I work with don't have a lot of other outlets, so the stage can be life-saving.

I always tell students, with spoken-word, you have the freedom to talk about whatever you want to talk about, in whatever way you want to talk about it. No rules. And I mean, there are always techniques and strategies to be more effective, but that's the baseline. Complete freedom of form and content--it's very liberating.

You've consistently been involved with many different projects in the Twin Cities, whether they are musical or spoken word based. Are there ideas that you have that work better in one medium than the other? Or, are you able to further develop the thoughts and ideas you touch on with one project by taking it even further with another?

Sometimes, a certain issue just has to be a poem, and sometimes another issue just has to be a song. For example, I can't really write a poem that's just three minutes of me talking about how awesome I am, but in hip hop, that's the norm. Conversely, it's hard to write a song that really digs into a persona, because we're all so used to the singer or rapper being the "I" in the song--it's not impossible by any means, just tougher. But generally, I think both forms are pretty flexible. I pretty much just think of myself as a person with shit to say, whether rapping or spoken-wording or writing articles or whatever. It's important to keep that in perspective.

I've heard that you have some surprise guests planned for your show at the Cedar tonight? Can you shed any light on what you have planned?

I've invited the 2012 Twin Cities united National Poetry Slam team to perform a few pieces. I'm on the team too, and we're one of the toughest teams in the country. We'll be leaving for the national competition in two weeks; we'll be trying to bring a third National Poetry Slam title back to the Twin Cities. I've also invited Heidi Barton Stink and See More Perspective, who are both friends of mine and both wildly underrated hip hop artists. It'll be fun.

Do you find that the community here in the Twin Cities is as supportive of spoken word artists as it is of musicians? Or is there still some work to do in helping foster a thriving spoken word scene here in the Cities?

The spoken-word scene is great--big and loud and supportive and beautiful. But as soon as you step outside that scene, it's very different. Spoken-word and slam poetry suffer from a massive PR problem. Very few people have access to the best spoken-word--they go to a single open mic and it's horrible, or they watch a single episode of Brave New Voices on HBO and it's horrible, so they think all spoken-word is horrible. And hell, a lot of it is.

But the good stuff--and the Twin Cities is home to some of the very best stuff--is the most engaging, forward-thinking, challenging performance art in the world. You just have to dig a little bit. I've tried to assemble my favorite spoken-word videos (both my own and other people's) at my website, as a kind of intro for people.

I was really moved by the raw sentiments you expressed in your new "Smalltalk" video. Can you tell us a bit about where and when that was filmed, and what your motivations were for that piece?

I got a MN State Arts Board grant this year, and used the money to throw a one-man show at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater and have the whole thing filmed and edited by Patrick Pegg, who runs the stellar Unique Techniques podcast. I think if spoken-word is ever going to be taken seriously, we all have to really manage our web presence and give people great-looking videos. I have a million videos online, but only half of them are of an acceptable quality; I'll be releasing a bunch more over the next few months.

As for the piece itself, it's really about what it means for someone with the social anxiety and introversion that I have to get up on stage, night after night, and be so open with people. It's torture, but it's very rewarding torture, if that makes sense. When you give people pieces of yourself, you get that energy back in other ways.

You always keep yourself quite busy, artistically and otherwise. What's next for you, and what projects are you working on for the future?

My next project is the new Guante & Big Cats! album, which will be out in late October. Lots more details coming on that, but I can honestly say that it's my best work ever and will stand out even in a year chock-full of great indie-hip hop releases. It's a very special project, and will sound unlike anything else out there. Much more to come.

Guante and his special guests will be performing for free tonight at the Cedar's outdoor patio, with doors opening at 6:30, and showtime set for 7:00 p.m.

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