Sorry for the clickbait headline folks, but this really should bring a smile to your face. Unless you hate Massachusetts, which probably isn’t the case if you’re reading DigBoston.
We got an email this morning from Noah Wisch, an Emerson College senior who is better known as BananaCactus Ukulele on YouTube, telling us about his rather nutty project of traveling to all 351 cities and towns to record one song.
While the idea sounded odd, if not seemingly impossible since songs are short and that’s a whole lot of municipalities, it turns out that Wisch executed dutifully. Hours later, we still have his Commonwealth tribute playing on repeat.
We wanted to learn more about the expedition, and so we threw Wisch a few questions…
Where did this insane idea come from?
A couple years ago, my girlfriend and I had the idea to go to all the towns in Massachusetts with unique names and make some kind of video at each of the signs (wearing all orange in Orange, eating a sandwich in Sandwich, etc.) That never happened, but the idea came back to me earlier this year. I have this instrumental ukulele YouTube channel that I’ve been working pretty hard on, and I was looking for a big project to take on over the summer. In 2015, we spent the summer driving around the United States, and I made a music video for an original song along the way. Why not go on a road trip around Massachusetts? The idea just kind of fell into place.
Where are you and the members of your team from?
The team consists of me and my girlfriend, Emmalie. I’m from Stow and she’s from Bolton. I go to Emerson College and she attends UMass Amherst.
Did you write the song just for this?
Yeah. I had the idea for the melody floating around in my head for a while, but the song was formally written for this project. I write a lot of songs, but the process for this one was a bit different; it was more mathematical. I had to make the song flow as smoothly as possible while being exactly 351 notes.
Roughly how many of these towns had you been to before?
Hard to say exactly, probably somewhere around 50 over the years.
What were you hoping to learn in your trip across the Commonwealth?
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of how a town can mean so much to its residents while being nothing more than a name to the rest of the population. I have such a strong adoration for Stow (my hometown), and yet a lot of people I meet have never heard of it. I wanted to go to all the towns that were nothing more than a name to me to see what they were really like. I wanted to see how communities and landscapes varied around the state. I essentially just wanted to have a better understanding of the area I grew up in.
What did you end up learning on your voyage?
There are people tucked into every tiny corner of the state. I think that’s one of the many beauties of Massachusetts—from the big cities to the tiny farm towns, there’s a place for everyone to feel at home. I learned about about the tiny communities (less than 100 residents) in towns like Monroe and Gosnold—two uniquely beautiful places that I likely never would have known about if I hadn’t done this project. I also learned that while the distinct white town line signs on the border of each town are unique to Massachusetts, they’re not always in the most convenient places for people looking to take a picture, never mind record a song.
What did the people who you met along the way have to say about your project?
I think the most common response I got when I told people what I was doing was “Why?” It was the kind of project that made total sense in my head but wasn’t easy to explain verbally. There were some places where people would stop and watch, thinking I was about to perform something. I’d stand there and play the note a couple times, and they would say, “That’s it?” I’m glad to have the video now, which explains the idea way more clearly than I ever could. There were also plenty of people who thought it was a super cool idea and were excited to see the final product, which was awesome. Hearing that kept me going during the times where I felt like it wasn’t worth it or the video wasn’t going to turn out the way I had envisioned, which there were a few of.
Did you run into any major problems on your journey?
We definitely ran into some issues along the way. The car broke down once. My original idea was to record every shot in front of the white “Entering [town]” signs and to have those align throughout the video, but since those signs are only on state roads, there were some towns that didn’t have one. Once I got over the idea of the video turning out exactly as I had planned, that wasn’t so much of a problem. Another issue that was inevitable with trying to record a song on the side of the road was traffic noise. We’d often have stand around waiting for a break in the traffic so we could record the note clearly, especially in urban areas. Also, a lot of the signs were obstructed by tree branches or overgrown bushes, and I wanted them to be very clear in the video so they could line up from shot to shot. I think we did the highway department some favors in cleaning those up. My favorite instance of this was at the Amesbury/Merrimac border, where the bushes were so overgrown that the sign just barely stuck out through the top. It was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be able to remove enough of them to make me visible on the ground, so we just raised ourselves up instead. Emmalie stood on top of the car with the camera, and I raised the mic up as high as it would go and balanced on the guard rail beneath the sign, my head poking out through the bushes. That was fun.
Now you only have 49 states to go. How long do you think that will take you?
Haha. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it. It’d probably take me another 49 years. I have some other projects that I definitely want to get to first. Maybe somewhere down the line I’ll come back to it.