11 Questions: Tyson Ballew

interview by Brent Cole

courtesy photo

When I heard Tyson had been hired as the new director at Make.Shift, I was thrilled. He’s the most deserving person (in my opinion) to take Make.Shift through its next chapter. I don’t remember exactly how or when I met Tyson, I think it was while my family was traveling in Missoula and he (a former resident) told us what to check out. It’s a perfect example of what Tyson is about – he cares and likes to help. As I’ve gotten to know him, he’s become someone I trust to be honest, caring and creative.

And with that, he’s this month’s 11 questions.


Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us about yourself.

I was born in a small town in Montana and had a positive childhood with my mom and stepdad. I was always a creative, imaginative kid. When I was five I wanted to be a movie director and I did theatre. I was just this quirky kid who liked silly things. When I was a freshman in high school I went to my first punk show which was The Gotohells and Disgruntled Nation. That summer I started learning guitar, and as a teenager my friends and I booked punk rock shows with touring bands and bands from Missoula. I went to Missoula for college, struggled to get a bachelor’s in photojournalism while being involved in the DIY, all-ages scene and various nonprofits during that time. I have three kids and no one believes how old I am, let alone that I could have kids as old as they are.


You moved from Montana to Bellingham a few years back. What initially drew you here and why have you stayed?

In 2003 I went on my first tour and played at Stuart’s Coffee House here in Bellingham. Every time I came back here on tour Bellingham was the best place to play. My aunt and uncle live here and it seemed like a good place for my kids to grow up. We came here in 2012 when the world was supposed to end…and it didn’t. So it all worked out. Washington is far more progressive than Montana. There is a lot more going on in the music scene here and it just feels like a really good fit.


Recently, you were hired as the director of Make.Shift. What was the first day on the job like?

The first day was very validating for the work I have put in the last 15 years being involved in all-ages music, nonprofits and DIY culture. The support I got from my friends, family and community members in Bellingham and Missoula was incredibly humbling and emotional. It showed that I can always be involved in music in a meaningful way, and maybe someday it won’t just be something I do on the side. Their support really made me feel like people do have faith in my experience and abilities and have my back.


There have been some changes at Make.Shift with moves in board members and at the radio station. Can you tell us about the changes and what it means for the short term of Make.Shift?

Recently we elected six new board members, promoted Hollie Huthman to board president, hired Jeannie Gilbert as KZAX station manager, hired Lauren Iida as gallery director, promoted me to executive director and we are trying to create more staff positions down the road. The hope is that we take Make.Shift into a direction of sustainability. With none of the founding members left, the organization’s legacy is truly larger than all of us. I feel an obligation to the community to sustain and improve a safe and inclusive all-ages space that can exist and grow indefinitely.


What do you most enjoy being a dad?

It’s great watching someone learn and grow. It’s also really wonderful to have someone who loves you unconditionally the way that children can. My kids really inspire me and they influence so much of my day to day thoughts and hopes for the world. Also kids do some of the funniest things in the world and they are just truly fun creatures to spend time with.


If you could change one thing about the Bellingham music scene, what would it be?

I don’t think there’s anything I’d want to change about the Bellingham music scene as much as there are things I hope will happen for the scene. I hope to see more diversity in musicians and bands that come out of Bellingham. I’d love to see more support for singer-songwriters. I would want to see a change in the way people invest themselves in Bellingham. If we could foster a scene where music is both art and industry maybe we wouldn’t lose so much great talent to other markets every year.


What one local person inspires you the most and why?

I can’t really say one person inspires me the most. I am inspired so much by the creativity and hard work people pour into their projects here. I am inspired by the folks who stay here and continue to build community spaces that aren’t aimed at profit and try and take care of people. I’m really just impressed by what this town has to offer. It’s hard to believe there is a magazine that comes out every month that spends most of the time talking about local bands. That’s so cool.


Where do you see Make.Shift in five years?

Currently, Make.Shift breaks even each month. I hope in the future that we will be able to secure the grants and funding to make improvements that will allow Make.Shift’s mission to move forward. Because money is tight, programs that made Make.Shift iconic have gone away, like The Magic Van. It would be great to recreate those programs that allow bands to tour again and feel supported. Due to the limitations of our building, we do not have the space to provide artist in residencies. We are at our max for studios and there are still more artists looking for places to create. I have a long-term dream to have an international band exchange program where we host a band from another country, take them on tour in the states in exchange for taking a Bellingham band on tour in their home country. But to get to do any of these things, as an organization we are planning to do some serious fundraising and will need as much support as the community can give to shift us into sustainability and prosperity.


The Block Party is happening happening on Sept. 24. Tell us about the event and who you are most excited to see (I have dibs on The Palisades). 

Block Party is going to be so much fun. This year will feature a beer garden, kid zone, dunk tank, SHRED OFF guitar battle, 14 live bands on an outdoor and indoor stage, and arts and crafts vendors selling quality goods. This year we are asking $5-10 donation. So please help, it’s a lot of work and expensive to pull off, but no one will be turned away. We have a hip hop act this year from Seattle, DoNormaal. I am really excited about that! Also Heroes is the youngest band on the bill but they have some serious chops. Don’t miss them!


If you could have dinner with anyone living, who would it be?

I would love to meet Bernie Sanders. To borrow from Mark Ruffalo’s sentiment of the man, he makes me feel like all of my ideals as a young person can grow up with me. I just want to buy him a coffee and a sandwich and say thanks for that.


Any last thoughts?

See you in the pit.