When we meet Joe Rainey, he’s sitting in his basement in Green Bay, Wisconsin, surrounded by microphones, audio recorders, rare Native American tapes, and a lifesize Zelda figurine that he picked up that day by chance on the job (he works in heating and cooling as his nine-to-five). The Minneapolis-born, Red Lake Ojibwe audiophile has been capturing powwows – Native ceremonies that involve feasting, singing and dancing – since he figured out how to use a tape recorder at eight years old, and his archive now contains hundreds of recordings dating back to 1994, some of which you can listen to on his Soundcloud.
But, for Joe, it’s not just about recording for posterity – it’s about capturing the music in a way that does justice to the singers and the social dimension of the celebrations. On Niineta, his debut album from last year, Joe dramatically expanded the boundaries of powwow music. Working with experimental producer Andrew Broder, he created innovative songs using his vast archive as the raw material: at different moments, you can hear kids yelling and running around, powwow announcers introducing the next drum group, a phone call from Joe’s incarcerated relative singing from inside a correctional facility, and samples from people who have passed away.
Here, Joe talks about his craft and his vision for the future of Native music.