Hidden Highways comprise the songwriting duo of Tim V. Smyth and Carol Anne McGowan, who have released a self-titled EP (2012) and debut full-length “Old Hearts Reborn” (2013) to date (both via Irish-based independent label Out On A Limb Records). Hidden Highways’ recorded output shows a keen devotion to the age-old traditions inherent in the art of the folk song: it is one of purity, emotion and timelessness. Smyth and McGowan make the kind of sparsely arranged and heartfelt folk laments which recall such artists as Sibylle Baier, Elliott Smith or Marissa Nadler, while their vocal harmonies convey the spirit of Hazlewood and Sinatra. Interestingly, the pair have also shown a deep love for the cover song (Townes Van Zandt, Jeff Alexander and Jackson C Frank have been covered to date) in both recorded and live situations. Both Smyth and McGowan are also members of the Dublin-based musical collective Sunday School Sessions, who have an Irish tour this November (dates HERE); while this December Hidden Highways will support Printer Clips (dates HERE).
Fractured Air 28: Don’t You Forget (A Mixtape by Hidden Highways)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. El Ciego Melquiades ‘El Gato Negro’ [Arhoolie]
02. Ry Cooder ‘I Think It’s Going To Work Out Fine’ [Warner Bros.]
03. Micah P. Hinson ‘Don’t You (Part 1 & 2)’ [Sketchbook]
04. The Cairo Gang ‘Shivers’ [Empty Cellar]
05. Jolie Holland ‘On And On’ [Anti-]
06. Jim Campilongo Electric Trio ‘Pepper’ [Blue Hen]
07. Mojave 3 ‘Love Songs On The Radio’ [4AD]
08. Grant Lee Buffalo ‘Lady Godiva And Me’ [Slash]
09. Richard Hawley ‘Don’t Get Hung Up In Your Soul’ [Mute]
10. Baden Powell ‘Das Rosas’ [Elenco]
11. Big Star ‘Kangaroo’ [Stax]
12. Bob Dylan ‘Most Of The Time’ [Columbia]
13. Yo La Tengo ‘Take Care’ [Matador]
14. Mary Margaret O’Hara ‘Dear Darling’ [Virgin]
15. Tindersticks ‘City Sickness’ [This Way Up]
16. OP8 ‘Sand’ [Thirsty Ear / V2]
17. Dirty Three ‘1000 Miles’ [Bella Union / Touch And Go]
18. John Martyn ‘Small Hours’ [Island]
19. Alpha ‘Sometime Later’ [Virgin, Melankolic]
20. Bernadette Greevy ‘Ich Bin Der Welt Abhanden Gekommen’ [Naxos]
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
“Old Hearts Reborn” is available now on Out On A Limb Records.
Part 11 (and day 27) of our Road Atlas series with Peter Broderick. “(Colours Of The Night) Satellite” is the brand new EP from Peter Broderick, available now via Bella Union.
Words: Peter Broderick, Photograph: Alexander Schneider
Today is a special day of the tour. We’ll be playing in Luzern, Switzerland, where I recorded the new album Colours Of The Night back in May. I had received an invitation to come and stay here for a few weeks, and I was told they would put together a band for me and find a studio. Well, that experience went so well that we decided to take the show on the road, and now I’m touring with the same musicians! So it feels like coming full circle to play in Luzern. On Monday we played in Berlin, where I was reunited with a bunch of old friends. It was almost overwhelming to see so many friends at once. This photo is from that evening, taken by Alexander Schneider.
Peter Broderick’s European tour dates are as follows:
29 Oct Luzern / B-Sides Indoor Festival / Switzerland [w/ Loch Lomond]
31 Oct Soliera / Cinema Teatro Italia / Italy [w/ Loch Lomond]
05 Nov Cork / Half Moon Theatre / Ireland (SOLO Performance) [w/ Brigid Power-Ryce]
“(Colours Of The Night) Satellite” is available now via Bella Union.
Interview with Ela Stiles.
“People’s imperfections and vulnerabilities to me are the most beautiful parts, also when the emotion of someone’s voice comes through you can tell when it’s real or not.”
Words: Mark Carry
Earlier this year marked the debut solo release of Sydney-based singer-songwriter Ela Stiles on the Australian independent label Bedroom Sucks (who celebrate their fifth anniversary this year). The gifted musician has been integral to the Sydney independent music scene these past few years (as a driving force in Melbourne outfit Bushwalking, releasing two records with the band, and as a member of indie favourites, Songs, amongst others).
The exceptional debut record forged by Stiles is composed entirely of a-cappella performances, where her solo voice captures an intensity and raw beauty that few could summon with an array of instruments at their disposal. The musical compositions are reminiscent of New York-based composer, Julianna Barwick and her scintillating looped choral patterns. The album opener ‘Kumbh Mela’ is one such song to leave you utterly dumbfounded. Based on different vocal patterns, both melodic and rhythmic, the sublime creation conjures up the timeless sound of folk music and traditional African sounds.
The gorgeous acoustic guitar-based folk lament, ‘Misplaced Charity’ is a timeless folk gem featured on the brand new ‘5 Years of Bedroom Suck Records’ compilation containing a plethora of indie gems and lo-fi classics in the form of Blank Realm, Scraps, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Full Ugly and a host of other exclusive and rare gems.
This November, Ela Stiles embarks on a solo European tour, which includes dates in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and culminating in Utrecht’s inaugural Le Guess Who festival. For full tour dates see HERE.
Interview with Ela Stiles.
Congratulations Ela on your truly beautiful solo record, a collection of breath-taking a-cappella performances that never ceases to amaze the listener. Can you please discuss this particular project, Ela and the new direction of having your voice as the solo instrument?
Ela Stiles: I have always loved singing, I think I am better at it than playing any other instrument and had been thinking of making a solo album for a few years. I’m not sure I remember where the idea first came from but probably from listening to folk stuff in particular some acapella songs by Anne Briggs. To be honest I think one of the main reasons I made it an acapella record was because I wanted to do something entirely on my own, I have always collaborated with people in the past and wanted to know that I could write an album on my own and perform the songs with my own voice alone, although I do incorporate guitars into my live shows as well now.
The album opener ‘Kumbh Mela’ is such a beautiful and moving piece of music, reminiscent of Julianna Barwick’s recordings. I would love to gain an insight into the song’s narrative please, Ela? ‘Kumbh Mela’ conjures up the timeless sound of Ethiopian music and age-old traditions of folk music.
ES: Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world. Although I’m not religious, I like the idea of some aspects of religion and how it can affect people in such strange and intense ways – good and bad. This song is a fictional story about the Kumbh Mela that I made up after doing a lot of reading about it and spending a lot of time in India where you see religion in nearly every aspect of life, it was on my mind.
The album comprises very much of two parts, where the opening section comprises several a-cappella performances and the closing side is one single vocal drone. Please talk me through the recording process of these two parts? Did you envision from the outset the album would be sequenced in this way?
ES: The A side of the record was recorded first with my good friend Jack Farley in Melbourne. I guess these songs are a collection of short more traditional folk songs. I didn’t want to use any effects or too much layering with these ones. I wanted them to sound pure. I liked the idea of being brave and letting one voice sing alone. I think once I had recorded these ones I envisioned that the B side would be different because I had moved past those ideas by then, I wanted to experiment more with vocal drones as I had started to on the A side and also move away from the (mostly) love songs to something deeper I suppose.
I recorded the 11 minute drone myself – it took a long time because I did it all one after the other I didn’t copy and paste or loop or anything, I just created it from scratch and kept adding more and more harmonies and intensities, after that it was run through tape machine. Then I recorded the 3 ‘songs’ over the drone with another friend of mine John Duncan in Sydney.
You are also a member of the wonderful Melbourne outfit Bushwalking. Please take me back to the band’s beginnings and how you, Nisa Venerosa and Karl Scullin first crossed paths with one another? Is there a new record planned? Also, I imagine the work with Bushwalking served a major source of inspiration for your own solo material?
ES: Bushwalking began when I met Karl at a show in Melbourne in like maybe 2008 or 2009?? He introduced Nisa and I and we all became really close after recording some songs together then decided to become a band. I guess we didn’t really know what the band was going to sound like until maybe mid way through making that first record (First Time). And I guess after playing together for a while we sort of arrived at a sound which is more in tune with the second record (No Enter) but had also sort of evolved from the first one if that makes sense!
I’m not sure if Bushwalking shaped my record or not, people have said that it must have but I don’t really see that so much. A big part of Bushwalking’s sound is Nisa’s and my voices together and the singing is quite precise which I don’t think is the case on my record. I think my voice is kind of all over the place on my album, quite different to how we sing in BW which is very uniform and precise. We have been talking about doing another record yes, but I don’t think realistically we can start jamming again until December. But yeah another record is on the cards at some point I’d say.
What singers and records were defining for you to become a singer and to write music in the first place? As an integral part to the Sydney independent music scene, what bands and artists are you most obsessed with these days?
ES: I got kind of obsessed with folk and traditional songs before making the record and was I guess influenced by singers like Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins who are the more traditional folk singers and I always liked the acapella songs of theirs and the way they sing. I like singers who have interesting and imperfect voices. That’s why I guess I want to push my voice into a different realm, although I still like those traditional elements of the old folk stuff.
People’s imperfections and vulnerabilities to me are the most beautiful parts, also when the emotion of someone’s voice comes through you can tell when it’s real or not. I am also interested in chanting and eastern music which probably influence my singing style. That’s something that I would like to explore with the next record.
Edith Frost, Verity Susman, Josephine Foster and Nico are a few singers who I love, also obviously Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins as I mentioned above. Its hard to pick Sydney bands cause there are lots of good bands! But I’d say Orion are my new favourite band :) also love Holy Balm, Angie and Knitted Abyss.
What forthcoming projects do you have on the horizon, Ela? What do you think the sophomore solo record will comprise of?
ES: As well as working on a new solo record, I have been working on an album for the past year or so with Jensen Tjhung who plays in a couple of bands from Melbourne – Lower Plenty and Deaf Wish. We’re hoping to release it mid next year. I have also been playing guitar (and singing a bit) in The Roamin’ Catholics who are a Sydney punk band, we will be recording an album at the end of August which I am really looking forward to! Lastly I am making a record with Max Doyle and Stevie James (both of whom who I used to play in the band ‘Songs’ with) not sure when that will come out but we’ve been working on it for a while!
This November, Ela Stiles embarks on a solo European tour, which includes dates in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and culminating in Utrecht’s inaugural Le Guess Who festival. For full tour dates see HERE.
‘Ela Stiles’ is out now on Bedroom Sucks Records
Part 10 (and day 24) of our Road Atlas series with Peter Broderick. “(Colours Of The Night) Satellite” is the brand new EP from Peter Broderick, available now via Bella Union.
Words & Photograph: Peter Broderick
Today will be our last day in The Netherlands. We’re heading to Utrecht to play at EKKO, a lovely place where I’ve been several times before. Last night we played the Let’s Get Lost festival in Zwolle. When I heard the name of the festival I was immediately reminded of the song Chet Baker used to sing . . . ooooooo let’s get lost . . . So I started our set with a droney violin version of that song. And later I found out the festival was indeed named after that song and the film about Chet Baker, which has the same name. The day before yesterday we played in Middelburg, where I once fell in love with a piano and ended up getting the owners to sell it to me for a remarkably good price (see the cover of Moments Eluding by Greg Haines). And there’s a man in Middelburg who has always organized my shows there, Tonnie Dieleman. Tonnie is about as sweet as they come . . . a real saint of a man. And he makes very pure and honest music under the name Broeder Dieleman. He rode with us in the car to Zwolle yesterday, as he was playing at the festival too, and treated us to a performance on the road with his boomy voice and shruti box. Best road music ever! Here is a sign from the toilet in our bed & breakfast in Middelburg. When I arrived there quite late in the evening and saw this sign, I actually laughed out loud all by myself.
Peter Broderick’s European tour dates are as follows:
26 Oct Utrecht / Ekko / Netherlands
27 Oct Berlin / Roter Salon / Germany
29 Oct Luzern / B-Sides Indoor Festival / Switzerland
31 Oct Soliera / Cinema Teatro Italia / Italy
05 Nov Cork / Half Moon Theatre / Ireland (SOLO Performance)
“(Colours Of The Night) Satellite” is available now via Bella Union.
Your Heart Is So Loud [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Colleen ‘Your Heart Is So Loud’ [The Leaf Label]
02. Vashti Bunyan ‘The Boy’ [FatCat]
03. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis ‘West of Memphis’ [J-2 Music]
04. Linda Perhacs ‘Prisms Of Glass’ [Asthmatic Kitty]
05. The Troggs ‘You Can Cry If You Want To’ [Repertoire]
06. Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler ‘Echo Sounder’ [Thrill Jockey]
07. Steve Gunn ‘Tommy’s Congo’ [Paradise Of Bachelors]
08. Xylouris White ‘Old School Sousta’ [Other Music Recording Co.]
09. Tinariwen ‘Toumast Tincha’ [Anti-]
10. Smog ‘Strayed’ [Drag City / Domino]
11. The Brothers And Sisters ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ [Light In The Attic]
12. Calexico ‘Untitled II’ [City Slang]
13. Brigid Power-Ryce ‘Let Love’ [Abandon Reason]
14. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh And Dan Trueman ‘Laghdú’ [Irishmusic.net]
15. Hildur Guðnadóttir ‘Til baka’ [Touch]
16. Stina Nordenstam ‘The World Is Saved’ [V2]
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
Fractured Air. The universe is making music all the time.
Interview with Linda Perhacs.
“The universe has many, many interesting sounds – the sound of a whale; the sound of a planet moving, its torque and movement through the universe – there are sounds everywhere.”
“See the waves that break,
Upon the rocks and stones,
Hear the winds that play,
Upon the ice and foam,
And it breathes, it breathes,
— ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’
Words: Mark Carry
2014 has marked the eagerly-awaited return of song-writing greats Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan and Mark Fry who have all been synonymous with the golden age of psych-folk music of the early 70’s. This autumn, English singer-songwriters Vashti Bunyan and Mark Fry have released their latest masterworks in the form of ‘Heartleap’ and ‘South Wind, Clear Sky’, respectively, having forged their own unique footprint in the psych folk explorations at the turn of the 70’s. This effect – which is enlightening, powerful and deeply touching – has lasted all these decades later. The title-track of Bunyan’s ‘Just Another Diamond Day’ is one of the most stunningly beautiful folk gems to have graced this earth. Similarly, Fry’s ‘Dreaming With Alice’ contains some of the most other-worldly psych folk creations – ‘Dreaming With Alice’’s dreamy verses, which are dotted across the record’s rich canvas – that belongs to the here and now as much it ever has. Some forty four years on from the release of the richly compelling and timeless psych-folk gem of ‘Parallelograms’, the American songstress, Linda Perhacs has returned with the follow-up, ‘The Soul of All Natural Things’. Sharing the aspects of ‘Parallelograms’’s healing force, cosmic spirit and visionary soundscapes, ‘The Soul of All Natural Things’ feels like the natural progression from this special soul and resolutely unique artist.
Raised in beautiful Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, music and nature would attract Perhacs, even as a child that would become a reoccurring motif throughout her life. At the very young age of six and seven years old, Perhacs started to write fairly complex compositions wherein song-writing surfaced naturally and freely, amazing people that surrounded the young girl’s family and friends. In the mid-60’s, the San Francisco-native attended USC (University of Southern California) on a full-tuition scholarship, focusing on a dental hygiene career. The career path entailed a healing profession, something that served a strong parallel with the songs Perhacs would later begin to write (and form the songs contained on ‘Parallelograms’).
A turning point occurred a short time later when Perhacs moved to Topanga Canyon; a rich environment full of artistic people, described by Perhacs as “an upward energy consciousness”. The music of the time included Crosby Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell and the songwriters of the Laurel Canyon. Inspiration surrounded the young student in the act of travelling up through the Big Sur coastline and up to Alaska and a deep reverent love of nature- the wilderness; pure, pristine and wild. The pivotal role played by the movie composer Leonard Roseman (who was a patient at an upscale Beverly Hills periodontal office) was hugely influential that led to Perhacs following down the music path (Roseman would produce the 1970 album ‘Parallelograms’). The unique mind of Perhacs was nothing short of staggering, as the gifted artist entered an “incredible sphere of musical imagination”. Central to the music-making process (and which continues on this year’s ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’) is the innate ability to visualize sound and colour wherein songs would be envisioned in picture form: “I have seen colours, sound and form inwardly all my life” (Perhacs would write on the liner notes of ‘Parallelograms’).
The essence of the rich musical tapestry of Perhacs’ cherished songbook is the empowering spiritual element that prevails throughout the American artist’s tower of song. For me, this is what bridges ‘Parallelograms’ and ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’- a cosmic spirit that floats majestically with each quivering voice and rise and fall of each musical note. As Perhacs as previously explained: “As I compose, I am working from the spirit. This is why I can jump from the healing sciences and musical composition with a fast pivot, because they are all one in spirit.” Forward several decades to ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’ and the album closer ‘Song of The Planets’ serves the perfect embodiment of the creator’s masterful works, and relight my first glimmering memories of hearing the song ‘Parallelograms’ for the very first time, some years ago:
“Like a hymn, like a prayer,
Filling all the universe
The most beautiful tones,
I have ever heard”
— ‘Song of The Planets’
On ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’, Perhacs collaborated closely with some of the leading lights of the current generation of luminaries; Julia Holter (a next-door neighbour and close friend), Ramona Gonzales (aka Nite Jewel) and the album’s co-producers (and co-songwriters on several songs) Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price. A special and illuminating batch of songs would be constructed that soon would see the light of day.
The angelic lament of ‘Freely’ is built on a gentle ripple of acoustic guitar notes and piano accompaniment that shares gorgeous shades of Leonard Cohen. The lyrics are sheer poetry: “High as a bird that flies/Warm as a wind on the rise” is sung by Perhacs on a later verse. ‘Intensity’ feels akin to ‘Parallelograms’ re-worked for the 21st Century such is its achingly beautiful three-dimensional sphere of sounds. A soulful symphony is forged like stars in the night-sky with mesmerising harmonies blended effortlessly together. The sound waves and vibrational energies ascend into the forefront of one’s heart and mind, where each sumptuous tone and texture offers a personal geography of the earth. The song’s intense groove is rooted in “the rhythm of an energy sea”. Holter’s voice coalesces masterfully with Perhacs on the uplifting chorus refrain, feeling a cross between Spector’s wall of sound and ‘Rumours’-era Fleetwood Mac. The universe and all its complex, inter-weaving systems serves the vital pulse to ‘Intensity’’s immaculate song-cycle.
A similarly other-worldly feel ascends on ‘Prisms of Glass’, a duet between Holter and Perhacs, sung beneath an ambient backdrop of celestial harmonies and shimmering keys. The heartfelt lament is closer to a prayer as a meditative quality exudes from the prisms of musical patterns. Music rarely feels so divine. A peace and tranquillity breathes like “the wind that play” as a vivid sense of joy and awakening floods through each and every aching heart pore. The resultant effect of ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’ is the healing power that spirals from each of these stunningly beautiful and highly-innovative sonic creations. To enter the incredible sphere of musical imagination sculpted by Perhacs is a feeling of pure joy and wonder.
Having re-visited the sacred opus of ‘Parallelograms’ endless times (and attaining infinite solace and healing from the album’s spell-binding creations), I decided to write a fan-mail to its peerless creator (at the tail-end of 2012). Little did I know what beautiful set of events would soon transpire. A short time later, a lovely and detailed message would come back, directly from the gracious artist. Included was a news update that a new record was in the works. After a few more correspondences, Linda very kindly sent on a few working demos of these new songs, namely ‘Freely’, ‘Intensity’ and ‘The Soul of All Natural Things’. In much the same way as the bewitching effect of ‘Parallelograms’, the new songs immediately cast an illuminating spell to truly sweep you off your feet, and heighten, empower, and strengthen your very being and the world that surrounds you.
A few months later, I would finally get to talk with Linda from her California home, on a Saturday afternoon in August 2013. During this time, Linda had begun touring the West coast with her band featuring Julia Holter, Ramona Gonzales, Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price in support of the new album, ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’. Just like her music, the voice at the end of the line offered an endless array of inspiration and enlightenment.
“Still, maybe the stars will disappear,
Still, maybe the clouds will reappear,
Yet morning comes and you are still the same,
Daybreak comes and you’re amazed as anyone”
Interview with Linda Perhacs (August 2013).
Linda Perhacs: We just did a show in Pasadena – I’m sure you saw the pretty pictures on the website – it’s the one in the little amphitheatre with pretty lights. Well, Julia [Holter] was onstage that night and then the next day she left for Europe. She was helping us and Ramona Gonzales [Nite Jewel] was on keyboard that night and then Chris [Price] and Fernando [Perdomo] were both onstage; they handle all kinds of keyboards and guitars. And then the two back-up girls – there’s a beautiful history here – there was a black woman there and her name is Durga McBroom. But she was the backing singer with Pink Floyd when they were doing major, major work with a tour for two years where they toured constantly and they had this huge display of light show and visuals – it was exceptional for its era, it was one of the biggest ever – and she was one of the three black ladies onstage doing all the back-up singing. So, Durga was with us for the last two shows and it was so much fun. We did one in Big Sur – the last day in June – and then we did this one in Pasadena which would have been the Fourth of July weekend. And they were both just wonderful experiences, I can’t tell you; it was just great.
It must be lovely to be playing both your songs off ‘Parallelograms’ and these new songs at these shows. It must be a special feeling.
LP: It is, it really is. As long as I am talking the creative end of it, I am in my element and totally in love and we’re having just a ball. But the contractual stuff; thank heavens for my two co-producers Chris and Fernando because I don’t think I could handle it. It’s very very digital type stuff, it has understandings that you would have to have from more their era – Chris is about 28 and Fernando is about 33 – they’re just prime for understanding all that. It goes over my head to be honest [laughs].
The music should be the priority, I mean it must be difficult when all the other things become the focal point.
LP: Yeah, well I’m so glad that I am working with people in that age bracket to be my co-producers because in this era you have to be very astute to understand all that. Between the three of us, it’s been a tight team and a wonderful, wonderful experience and all the other people that contribute musically have been – like sentiment I can’t tell you; it’s not like studio work where you just call someone in who is an expert in something. This has been like God almost sending me these people, it’s just so, so special.
Tell me about you, Mark? I never quite understood, do you have other things that you do, like another job on top of that?
Oh I do, Linda. Well my passion has always been with music so I love this hobby of interviewing musicians like yourself and you know, just to write about music. But then I actually have a degree in science. Well, it’s not quite your path but biotechnology.
LP: Well, fantastic. No wonder you like all those layered sounds that are closer to the universe that draw you into thinking about it. It’s those of us who have that background where we come from nature and from a study of the universe. Close to music, it’s a wonderful combo because it’s all united, you know.
In relation to your music Linda, nature and the universe is something so integral to your music.
LP: Yes, yes. I love the co-creation of it. You know, we make medicines and we try heal people and try to help; I hate to say this but in our country, it’s becoming very mechanical and it’s a business disguised as a healing profession. We’ve kind of become disassociated with healing for the sake of helping people –well I would say very disassociated – and money is just way too out there in the prime importance is the flow of the money through this whole healing situation and healing is getting lost in the shuffle. So, when I look at nature and God and the universe, I see a creation like the DNA molecules, it has a little repair crew. I mean what kind of mind would create something so beautiful? So I’m in awe of him because it’s taking care of the system while it uses the system. In man’s way, we destroy the system while we use the system. We have so much to learn. So much.
I agree with you absolutely. You were very kind to send me two songs, two demos, and the song ‘Intensity’ encompasses so much of this feeling as well.
LP: Well it takes a special person to have the patience to even listen through that piece. I want to send you the title-track of the album, which is called ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’. I was thinking of making ‘Intensity’ the name of the album and also the title-track but it’s going over too many people’s heads, because they’re in a hurry and it’s a very long piece. The song ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’, when we played that for anyone and watch the reaction, it’s just 100% wow and it’s quiet and they just stay with it. It’s also a good title for an album that’s trying to still remember the people who love the 70’s album [‘Parallelograms’] as well as people who are merging into this era.
The title itself – when I read it first – I feel those words really sum up your whole ethos and musical philosophy.
LP: Yes, we’re kind of growing into that. It’s pretty much decided that we’ll put it first and that will be the title [laughs]. And at the shows, I take the time to talk to the people and tell them the stories that go with some of the songs that will draw them even more towards thinking more about these balances. And the crowds, Mark are predominately aged 19 through 37 and any age after that. But so many of them are what I would call young and the best the world has to offer to face the future, you know that’s a very important age bracket. And the questions that they ask are marvellous but I know that many of those questions are because they want to explore invisible energies; they realize taking artificial substances has a risk but they also realize they need to understand it. And I’m really good at explaining to them how to deal with this choice between taking too much that’s not natural and being able to do this in a natural way.
I come from a family line – I don’t know if I told you this Mark – where many of the people would be able to see ahead and they could tell years ahead, how many children they would have and little things like that. But my father was astounding, he was in World War II and he saved many, many lives because of his keen, almost – it was almost like an Indian where they just knew there was danger off to the left, whether they could see it, smell it, taste it, whatever; they perceived it vibrationally. And my father was drafted I guess for World War II and he ended up being an active duty in the middle of Italy and then into the area where Hitler was and so it was very, very dangerous. He was asked to train the troops in survival I harsh cold, like mountain-climbing, back-packing; all the harsh conditions that would be the mountain.
Then the rest of his career they sent him all over the world into Japan, Alaska, Colorado; any place that had high, cold, snowy, icy conditions to train troops in survival. So he took his intuitive which was a gift that we seem to have in that blood line, and he would say to the troops “don’t go over there to the left, there are mines there; you can’t see them but they’re there” and when people disobeyed them they usually got blown up. So he developed a reputation for, you know pay attention to what this man says and he was an officer so that helped. Many times they would use him for that purpose; they would put him on a jeep – on the front of the jeep – and ask him as they drove through places like where Italy might be; where are the Turkish people, whatever the different groups are. He would tell them where they were; which part of the mountains they were hiding in or which part of the train because he could sense it, he knew where they were.
And then the one astounding one is that they put him on a battle boat at about three in the morning to land in Alaskan waters where they were trying to get rid of the Japanese because the war wasn’t over yet and the Japanese were still trying to attack through the Alaskan islands. So they put him on the bowel of the boat and they had to turn the lights off on the boat and the engine and drift ashore because they couldn’t afford to make any noise. And they pulled him up on the bowel and said “can you give us any idea the amount of danger? Where are we at out here?” and he said “it’s extreme danger at the moment; they are on the island”, he said not only do I know they’re there but I can smell the cigarette, I can smell the fire, I can smell the food; it’s very, very current that they are here. And actually by the time they walked on ground, the Japanese were so scared that they ran away. He would give a twelve hour prediction of what they would find in a situation; a twenty four hour and a forty eight hour; he kind of made a time-frame for them so they would know how fresh the signals were; those intuitive signals as well as smells, anything he could pick up.
So I came through the doorway of nature. My young husband when I was married introduced me to nature in a very beautiful way, we’d only go to wild and beautiful country. I met him when I was at UFC. But anyway, he got me out into raw wilderness, it was the first time ever I was in country that wild and he taught me so much and I’m so grateful for what he taught me. But the whole point I’m making is even in my love for God, I had to come through nature first; nature came first, nature and sciences and the understanding that this kind of magnificence has to be the result of a very, very clear, high, clean, loving being; it’s just the natural progression. And the more you study the more involved you are [laughs]. I am sure you can relate to that Mark.
Definitely, Linda. They were some beautiful stories about your father.
LP: Yeah, it’s all true. It’s documented. My family on that side have saved the documentation of these things. It’s all true, that’s what he did. But it runs in that family line, they’ve been listening inwardly for two hundred years that I know of in history and most of them are from Ireland, Scotland and England, almost the whole blood line through my father’s line. My mother’s people would have been England more; proper and a little colder but not as loving of God so it’s my Dad’s people I relate to the most and he’s no longer alive but neither is my mother. But all my blood line comes from the same part of the world where you’re in. Well I feel it you know, as I hear a Celtic piece of music or those wonderful modal tones, I mean I just stand still, it just gets to me; I just love those sounds [laughs].
I love how you’ve said before – exactly what you said so nicely there about your blood line – how you’ve always seen colours and sound and form, you know, inwardly all your life. It must be an amazing process that goes on to make your music.
LP: Yes. The title-theme, ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’, that was probably one of the closest where I had to work. I think inwardly; I pray inwardly; I listen inwardly and this particular piece I can tell you there was a light in the room over my head; the lighted beam over my head, at like twelve at midnight when we had time to create this piece and I did not do it all by myself. Sometimes if you just ask for it, He will come to anybody if they would just take the time. You know what it is, you know we’ve got these cell phones and we call each other, which is like sending signals out to the world, and we’re on these things constantly and all our digital stuff constantly. When you really need help, like if it’s a 911 situation and buildings are blowing up, you’ve got to send the signal straight up – I’m sure you know that – like, help and you have to have the signal reach its mark in seconds if not sooner and you need to know how to hear the answer. It’s our mechanism; it’s available to all of us, it’s just a matter that we know how to use the cell phones, we need to take a little time to figure out how to go straight up and ask God for help too. So, do I do this daily? Yes. Did my father? Yes.
I think we need to work in the world we’re in. Our children who have now become teenagers; making marvellous discoveries even in medicine at age fifteen. I can only remember one of them but all of these people were fourteen or fifteen and one of them was from a very poor part of our country – I think he was in Harlem and he was in the advanced programming and he was put into a more advanced school because he did seem to be pretty exceptional- there was three very recent occurrences where they knocked the medical world on their feet by learning how to do a cancer screening from blood or something like that. Apparently it was amazing enough they asked the young man, “how did you come up with this idea?” and his answer was “well how come you didn’t?’” [laughs] So yes, our children are going to be such a help because they understand that world but we cannot forget the invisible part too which is also an energy-based wavelength phenomenon.
And when I go to these concerts, after we do our singing and the young people come up and they just want to talk about that and they want to understand these energies. They have some very good questions. Well I try to work with them on these levels because of feeling it is so important they even ask these questions and study them. And you know, when you think about what my father could pick up and what I can pick up and all the family line and many, many, many other people but they just don’t talk about it – they’re working on those levels – it is a wavelength, someday we’ll be able to put it on a graph like a heartbeat and we’ll understand them better but right now, it’s still sort of a mystery but it is a natural phenomenon. It’s not an unnatural thing that I know.
I can imagine it’s like how the healing world and the musical world are like one entity.
LP: Absolutely and I can do more healing through the music now than I can in the fast clinical world.
I think the song ‘Parallelograms’ itself is a wonderful example of healing, it’s like this three-dimensional structure.
LP: Yes. Well when we do it live we sort of kick through and make it a little bit louder in the middle section because it’s fun for the audience. But I know what you mean Mark and again you can hear the Celtic sounds in there too. We were also asked to go to Big Sur. I’ve been there many times because of course it’s in California where I live. But they still have uncut timber there on the private properties and we were doing this special festival that they do once a year, way up high where the eagles might be looking straight down at the magnificent beauty of the cliff sides that go into the Pacific ocean. So we had an unobstructed view of nature from a very high point, right directly above the ocean and they put us into a little cabin like a Henry David Thereau type cabin, all very rustic and charming and then also a little house that was more modern. But the tickets I could read on their website were $120 a piece and they said it was limited to only five hundred people but that can’t be true it must have been five hundred cars because when we got there, there was no less than fifteen hundred people – maybe more there were a lot of people there [laughs] – and I think it was two to three days and we were the headliner for the Saturday night. I can’t tell you how breath-taking and wonderful the experience was; the crowd was a nature crowd and the vibes were just fabulous. It was very special and I will have to go back again [laughs]. It was really a lot of fun.
One of my favourite stories about ‘Parallelograms’, I remember reading about Leonard Roseman and how he was just a patient where you worked.
LP: To this day I’ve never knocked on a door, Mark. The powers to be have sent people to me. And sometimes I don’t recognise it right away, I have to be reminded you know. But Leonard and Kay were my favourite patients at this large, prestigious periodontal office in Beverly Hills. It was right almost on Rodeo Drive, it couldn’t have been more central to the entertainment world and just huge flows of money in the world passed through that area, especially in that era. And I have just come out of UFC and I’ve been there for free on this scholarship – a full tuition scholarship – for four years so I was sophisticated enough to figure all these things out but again I must have been led. The professor who had run that office in Beverly Hills was a professor in UFC and he asked for one hygienist student with the helping of a special project and he said “what I want is patience; I don’t want speed, I want patience” so they said “well Linda is the one to choose for that”. So they put us together and we did this research project together and then he said “when you have your licenses, as soon as you do, don’t even interview, come to my office and work for me” and that’s how I got into that whole arena of people; I never even did an interview. I was with him for fifteen years so I got some of the best training you could ever have and his whole clientele were world-class famous people and I had to learn to be in harmony with their level of thinking which for a person at my age at the time was a challenge.
But Leonard and Kay were my favourites because they were creators; they weren’t the stars of a film but they were creating the music behind the film. So after about ten or more appointments with both of them, finally Leonard, the husband spoke up and he said “I can’t believe this is all you do” and he was looking at me with curiosity because he sensed something and I said to him “well, I have a very creative husband and we live in Topanga Canyon and he has a bird collection; we had to move there from UFC where we had to keep his birds in a rural situation and there hawks, falcons and birds of flight. And then my ex-husband would take the birds to UCLA and lecture on aerospace dynamics showing the difference in the feathers, the wings and in the form and function of these birds. Then in addition he was a sculptor and a painter ad he was just an enormously creative guy”. So I’m telling Leonard that it’s my husband who is creative and Leonard said “well what do you do then when he takes you into the wilderness and he’s climbing mountains and cliff spaces and stuff?” I said “well not me, I take solitary walks and I write little songs” [laughs] and Leonard says “You live in Topanga Canyon, you’re in your middle twenties, the hippies are all over there as well as Laurel Canyon etc”, he said “we get a fineness to need to write music about the hippy world, we’re about twenty years too old to have that flavour and feel, could you help us?”
So my original invitation from them to join them was to help them capture that flavour for their assignments. But once Leonard began to see the composition ‘Parallelograms’ that I wanted to somehow, he said “that’s it, we’ve got to do an album”, he said “this has to be done with you and it has to be your album”. So he walked over to Universal Studios where he knew everybody and said “we need a budget” and he had so much power and respect, they just said, “well do four of them- maybe four to six – we’ll give a budget for that, we’ll review it and see if we’ll give you the full budget for the album”. So as soon as they heard our first four, they said it’s a done-deal. But we didn’t do ‘Parallelograms’ initially for him because he said “that’s too small for them, they won’t understand it” so we did more normal songs. When they would come into the room, the black suited business men, he said “you can’t do this piece of music around them Linda as they won’t understand”. And yet that is the piece of music that has carried the album for forty years, the ones the executives didn’t understand.
And the world for the past forty years since the album has been out, you know there is such a deep love for this album.
LP: This has come as a surprise to me, Mark. I’m still sort of wondering what’s going on.
I remember too how you said that the song ‘Parallelograms’ just came to you one night.
LP: Oh I saw that one Mark. I saw it. I came home from Leonard and Kay’s house at eleven in the evening and then driving on a major freeway here in Los Angeles going back home to Topanga Canyon. And I looked up in the sky and I could see exactly what I tried to draw, I think you’ve seen the drawing of it. It looked like a light show; beautiful colours but yet it was moving like music would move, it was almost in a scroll like if you write music but at the same time it was creating three dimensional shapes of geometric shapes. There was just something about it I couldn’t hear any sound but I knew that what I was saying was the light pattern of music. So we have screensavers now that help this generation understand that phenomenon but this was a girl who only had coffee and some Italian spaghetti that day: Leonard and Kay had filled me with eight hours of all kinds of music; they played everything in their repertoire on big speakers in a very magnificent home as well, I was just infused with music as I was driving home in the silence and I saw this amazing phenomenon in the sky. I scribbled it down on tiny note paper in the dark and pulled off the freeway, and wrote it the best I could and I presented the idea to Leonard a week or so later. I said “I’ve already written a celtic tune, I didn’t know what to do with it; now I know what to do; I’m going to put the celtic sounds on either side to frame it like you frame a picture and in the middle I need to somehow convey these geometric shapes and the movement of the music the way I saw it”. And I said each colour represents a tone. Each colour, so if it was blue or green it would be a lower note. If it was high bright brassy yellow, it is a higher pitched frequency, you know like a high flute. And he loved the idea, he said “we’ve got to do this”. And that’s how it all happened.
Leonard was working in electronic sounds in his day at the time he is talking to me about this piece. He was using the only thing available to modulate the human voice and it was called a ring modulator. He was already attaching that to the sounds from a contralto; a beautiful woman contralto named Sally Cherry and he was using it in very avant garde classical pieces that were not meant for film or TV – it was his great passion to do these pieces of music – so he let me hear those sounds that day I saw this phenomenon in the sky. And I had already said to him “Leonard, we’ve got to use these sounds; I love it, what are you doing to that lady’s voice? It’s wild!” So Leonard was already using these sounds and then he would play some of the unusual tones and things in space movies when they assigned him to do a space movie. The point I’m trying to make is I made an era now in trying to make my second album –well now I’ve done it – but everybody wanted it to stay totally organic. In the future I’m going to start to do, maybe song by song – maybe even put out a single – I’m going to return to a great passion that I had and I was sharing it with Leonard. I like some of those electronic sounds. The universe has many, many interesting sounds – the sound of a whale; the sound of a planet moving, its torque and movement through the universe – there are sounds everywhere. I like those sounds because they are natural, we’re just a little primitive in the creation of them right now. In nature, those sounds exist everywhere, so I’m not afraid of them. I think there is a strong division between those who are doing techno sounds and those who are not. I believe it’s because the techno people have gone too corny in many ways; they haven’t used these sounds with great compositional skill, maybe. But I’m going to start experimenting with some of those pulsating sounds because I know they are in nature and I happen to be intrigued by them [laughs]. So, I’m not against those sounds, it’s how you use them.
‘The Soul of all Natural Things’ is out now on Asthmatic Kitty
Interview with Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler.
“Somehow I wanted for us to make something that represented flight, maybe some kind of enlightenment, getting lighter.”
Earlier this autumn marked the highly-anticipated release of the special collaborative work between Philadephia-based harpist Mary Lattimore and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler on the prestigious Thrill Jockey label. The debut album, ‘Slant of Light’ is a mesmerising collection of four stunning improvisations, built on the immaculate instrumentation of synthesizer, guitar and harp that seamlessly taps into a divine state of transcendence. An other-worldly feel permeates the rich tapestry of ‘Slant of Light’s sonic canvas as a deep telepathic connection is forged between the gifted duo.
In many ways, the pair’s collaborative work began with 2013’s ‘The Withdrawing Room’ – Lattimore’s debut solo record- which Zeigler recorded and mixed, as well as adding synthesizer parts to the epic ‘You’ll Be Fiiinnne’. ‘Slant of Light’ represents the latest chapter in the pair’s musical journey that continues to explore new sonic terrain; delving wonderfully into realms of folk, ambient and drone soundscapes.
The opening ‘Welsh Corgis In The Snow’ is a slow, meditative lament that contains gorgeous harp arpeggios and gentle pulses of synths, resulting in a haven of celestial sounds. A drone infused ambient opus unfolds with each sacred note. ‘The White Balloon’ immediately transports me back to cult singer-songwriter Ed Askew’s ‘For The World’ album (a record Lattimore collaborated on) as a timeless folk gem ascends into the atmosphere. The voice of Askew feels just a heartbeat away. The synthesizer parts become more pronounced on the record’s part B, particularly on ‘Echo Sounder’. The closing ‘Tomorrow Is A Million’ explores deeper into sonic experimentation as an eerie feel exudes from the scintillating soundscapes.
Both artist’s highly collaborative pasts forms a trajectory to many of the indispensable records of the U.S independent music scene. Lattimore has recorded with Kurt Vile, Meg Baird, Steve Gunn, Ed Askew, Sharon Van Etten, to name but a few after years of touring with Thurston Moore. Zeigler has played with members of Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band, The War On Drugs and A Sunny Day In Glasgow in his group Arc In Round. In addition, Zeigler is the much-sought-after recording engineer in the heart of the Philadelphia music scene, recording for artists such as Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs, Nothing and Purling Hiss.
Interview with Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler.
Congratulations on the wonderful collaborative project. ‘Slant of Light’ is a really special record that that transports you to a magical realm of treasured sounds. On your own solo record “The Withdrawing Room”, Jeff is also present on the recording sessions so it feels very natural (and fitting) that this duo has been officially formed. Firstly, please discuss the collaborative process between you both and how you have developed such a deep understanding of each other’s music? Has the process changed in any way between ‘The Withdrawing Room’ and ‘Slant of Light’?
Mary Lattimore: Jeff recorded ‘The Withdrawing Room’ and played synth on the first piece and we’ve been playing together since then, realizing that we really like improvising together. With ‘The Withdrawing Room’, I was playing, he was in the control room playing, with the door between us closed. I asked him to add a few things, just experimenting to hear how different sounds could enhance the harp record. He played synth, but it didn’t feel like a collaboration like this one is. ‘Slant of Light’ was recorded after lots of shows and some travelling together, so it feels more conversational and informed. It’s still an experiment, but we’re more comfortable with each other and know how to react to where the melody is being taken. This time we were in the same room!
Jeff Zeigler: The first time I worked with Mary was on the day that we began recording ‘The Withdrawing Room’. The vibe was really low key and she asked me if I’d like to play on one of the pieces and I just tried to add an extra level of atmosphere and reinforce what she was already doing without stepping on it — it was a really effortless first collaboration, so I think we both felt that it made a lot of sense to continue in that fashion. The process changed really significantly after we wrote our score for ‘Le Revelateur’ — up until that point I had focusing more on texture and atmosphere than melodies, which was one angle, and definitely made everything a bit more droney and hypnotic, but when it came time to write instead of free improvise, it seemed to make far more sense to focus on creating memorable haunting melodies that glued together the harp and textural elements. So yes, the process has changed significantly on my end.
In terms of the compositions, how much of the new music is borne from improvisation? On ‘Slant of Light’ to me, there seems to be an equal balance between experimentation and meticulous song-craft (representing the closing half and opening half, respectively!)
ML: You know, none of this one was really composed either. We just sat down, I thought of a little opening part, Jeff figured out the key, we were just going for it. The pieces are all first or second takes. They do feel a little more song-y, but it’s all just ideas that we were just feeling out in the moment, trapped in Jeff’s studio during this huge snowstorm for two days. I think the time of year really affected how the ideas were coming to us in those few days, with no light distractions of a lovely summer, just sloshing through the relentless, endless winter of 2014.
JZ: The album is essentially all improvised aside from ‘The White Balloon’. Mary or I would start playing something, the other person would join in, and then we’d jam it out for an unspecified amount of time. Afterwards, we’d usually discuss it for a minute, maybe figure out a few different things to try or talk about the structure and then try a second take. I don’t think any of the pieces on the album, aside from ‘The White Balloon’, made it past a third take before we were satisfied with the results.
I feel part B is more improvised-based but certainly the first two tracks seem to have been mapped out before the sessions took place. The opening ‘Welsh Corgis In The Snow’ is such a beautiful title and I love how the gentle arpeggio of harp notes blend effortlessly with the synth pulses. I would love for you to talk me through this particular harp-based composition, Mary? What are your memories of writing this piece of music?
ML: I wish I could say that I put lots of brain-effort into the composition, but really, I think all of the songs came directly from our human hearts! Haha. I thought of the beginning part and then where it would go, with those low notes in a chorus, and then just started slowing everything down and Jeff did too. It was an intense few days – I packed a bag and spent the night in the studio where Jeff lives, as more heavy snow was expected. The next morning, we’d found out that a friend had passed away and I feel like all of the elements were there to translate some feelings, making something that marks a point in time for both of us. Jeff will be happy to hear that you like the title! He made it up! Jeff and his cute dog Baxter like winter and I’m glad he gave it a cheerier title than something goth-y I would’ve given it. I’m from the south and I go real darkside when it’s cold!
JZ: The track starts with my Korg Mono/Poly slowly fading in and droning. My whole setup is going through a Roland Space Echo tape delay, and I’m making slight adjustments to the rate of the delay by hand, which creates a woozy, seasick feel by minutely altering the pitch of the synth drone. Mary starts playing on top of that, and in another minute or so I add an octave up pitch shift, which opens up the sound, and then I start looping and layering the synth and Mary begins adding in tweaked-out harp delays. I honestly don’t remember what’s going on with acoustic strumming noises that you can hear in the room. I think I may have been playing a psaltery and just strumming it open somewhat randomly? The track becomes a bit more static around the 4 minute mark and both Mary and I are tweaking our pedals. At 4:15 or so introduce a melody on processed melodica that I continue playing and looping for the next few minutes. Elements then gradually strip away until you’re left with the initial drone and the new melodica melody, and the track fades out on the Mono/Poly drone.
Mary, you have been involved in an endless array of utterly compelling collaborations, having recorded and performed with Kurt Vile, Meg Baird, Ed Askew, Steve Gunn and Thurston Moore to name but a few. These projects must be so rewarding and fulfilling to be part of. How do these collaborations feed its way into your own music and music-making process? Are there certain parallels you see that exist between these collaborations? Can you shed some light please on what collaborative works will next see the light of day?
ML: I love both collaborating and contributing to other people’s songs, writing parts. It’s fun to see how people you admire work, to see behind the curtain, to be a part of the process. For me, it doubles the magic of it, when you get to see the human trial-and-error, the scrapping something, and the million takes, and the finally getting it. I love the sitting around listening to what somebody else is doing, listening back to your overdubbed part, and trying it again but up an octave, listening back, over and over. On my own record and for this duo one, it’s a totally different process, where it’s all exorcism and improvisation, but I also love the perfectionism of working on someone’s thought-about song, and witnessing the deliberate series of choices that are being made. All the little choices, capturing a vibe and sharpening a song. Working on the new Steve Gunn record was a total feelgood delight, up at Black Dirt in upstate New York. The musicians were next level, a solid group of talented people. I just had the pleasure of making a harp and koto record with this friend Maxwell August Croy. It’ll be out next year. That one was improvised.
Jeff, as a recording engineer you have recorded albums for musical luminaries such as The War On Drugs, Kurt Vile, Nothing and Purling Hiss. I would love to gain an insight into this aspect of your work. Are there certain rules or beliefs you abide by and stick by when recording? Also, I would love to know how early in life did your fascination with sound begin? Can you pin-point the moment you realized music would be the path for you to follow?
JZ: There are certain sounds and techniques that I gravitate towards, and people tend to come to me for that aesthetic, but to not break your own rules every once in awhile would be pretty limiting and counter-productive. I guess what generally appeals to me is what’s fairly evident on ‘Slant of Light’— a combination of the organic and the inorganic helping to create a unique and somewhat unidentifiable space. I’m a huge fan of luring people in with a familiar sound and then “enhancing” it in such a way that either accentuates its’ beauty or warps it in such a way that creates a sense of unease. Or maybe takes you to a place that’s less literal place then the elements suggest on their own.
I think the point at which I realized that there was no turning back was when I began playing guitar again in college and would borrow the school’s 4-track cassette recorder and just experiment with different recording techniques and unintentionally started incorporating a lot of “concrete” techniques into my songwriting, making the two somewhat permanently intertwined in my mind.
‘The White Balloon’ is yet another stunning tour-de-force. The music evokes moods and colours in much the same way a beautiful landscape painting would create. I imagine the voice of Ed Askew will appear at any moment during the meditative harp passages- returning nicely to a previous collaboration of yours with ‘For The World’. What are your memories of writing this particular piece of music?
ML: This song was created with my friend in mind, the one who’d passed away. I’d just seen these photos:
A photograph from photographer Lena Herzog and aeronaut Graham Dorrington’s sketchbook ‘Airship.’ The series details Dorrington’s dream of “pure, silent, slow flight over the jungle treetops,” which was documented in Werner Herzog’s film The White Diamond. (Paris Review)
Somehow I wanted for us to make something that represented flight, maybe some kind of enlightenment, getting lighter. I love Jeff’s playing on it. My Granny had also just died, too, so I think the piece was kind of influenced by recent ghosts of beautiful people. There’s a really nice music video for it, created the wonderful Naomi Yang (www.naomivision.com) and it was shot in my hometown, Asheville NC, at my Granny’s cabin.
The cover painting is by Philadelphia-based artist Becky Suss, whose stunningly beautiful work also graces the sleeve of ‘The Withdrawing Room’. Please talk me through the concept of this artwork and indeed your fascination with her work? It’s so very distinctive and unique, I’m very glad to have come across her work through your music.
ML: Becky is so talented!! She is amazing. Her work on both covers has gotten so many compliments and I feel really fortunate that she’s been so generous. I think the worlds match well, hers and mine/mine and Jeff’s. They just make sense together. A lot of her paintings are of rooms of her grandparents’ house. The style reminds me so much of a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house or something. Nature, collections and treasures, clean shiny big windows, weird sculptures, thoughtful and layered memories of an empty house – I feel like I can smell what the house smells like just looking at them. It was, sadly, demolished and she’s painted from her memory of it. Her website is www.beckysuss.net. The best.
Please discuss the current music scene in Philadelphia, Mary? What a time it is right now with the likes of The War On Drugs – as ever – going from strength to strength.
ML: My friend Kathryn just put on the greatest event of the summer, the second Kensington Picnic. All of the buddies from the neighborhood came out and lots of good genius friends played – Laura Baird, Fursaxa, Randall of Nazareth, Spacin, Hohlraum, Strapping Fieldhands, the amazing Birds of Maya, and Jeff and I played too. We have a great community in Philly. Our great pals Purling Hiss have a record coming out on the same day as ours. Yeah, War on Drugs are killing, Kurt Vile and those guys are gonna be working on a new one, Chris Forsyth and his Solar Motel band are always awesome, Jeff is working on a great solo record, Watery Love are gonna be playing the night before my birthday, so that’ll be a treat. Feel lucky to know a ton of sincerely creative, driven people and it all feels really supportive.
JZ: Philadelphia’s music scene is pretty insane right now! There are so many great bands and artists working on so many different fronts and it makes me really happy. There’s generally a ton of support and positivity and a bunch of different scenes that exist outside of each other but still tend to cross-pollinate to some extent. There are some exciting newer bands — Amanda X, White Lighters and Myrrias spring to mind, and also a bunch of lifers like Chris Forsyth, Purling Hiss, Kurt Vile, the War on Drugs guys, etc that are just doing what they do and have been for ages because it’s their thing. I think the fact that Philly is still relatively cheap and very central just draws a lot of people to it who have a common purpose. It’s getting increasingly gentrified, which worries me, but I think we’re safe from getting as soulless as New York has for at least a few decades.
Jeff, your band Arc In Round creates such a mesmerising wall of sound. Please discuss the inception of this band and plans for an upcoming release?
JZ: Thank you! We are unfortunately on a semi-permanent hiatus. I’m currently recording an amazing LP for Myrrias, the new band of Mikele Edwards, who was the other creative half of Arc in Round, and I’m in the process of finishing up a solo LP that’s sort of in line with the AiR material, but aside from the occasional show and possibly a loose album of extended improvised music I don’t foresee us doing much. I should have this new as-yet-unnamed project up and running in the Spring and am also currently working on a beat and sound design-heavy record that will probably include some pretty great Philly rappers on it too.
Last December, the both of you performed a live score for Philippe Garrel’s 1968 film ‘Le Revelateur’ in Marfa, TX. Can you please recount your memories of this particular night? What is the process and experience like when performing a live score to a film? Do you have plans to do this again in the near future? I hope you and Jeff tour this new record of yours, before too long.
ML: Yeah, we definitely have plans to tour! We played the score with the film in Philly and Chicago in September. We’ve been on tour with Steve Gunn for the first two weeks of October, which has been real cool, but not with the film.
We were asked to compose and perform a score for a silent film for Marfa’s annual event that happens around New Year’s Eve. Jeff and I got together and wrote some themes that corresponded with images and scenes, with bits of improvisation connecting the themes. The film is very beautiful and strange, intentionally silent, but we were able to get Garrel’s blessing. I’d never been to Marfa before (Jeff had been there with his band Arc in Round) and so it was such a treat to check out that little town in a new part of the country.
Saw my first shooting stars out there!! It worked out really well, I think, and we’re looking forward to diving into the film again and getting reacquainted with the music we wrote.
JZ: It was amazing! Nicki Itner and everyone else from Ballroom Marfa are great people and were such a pleasure to work with. It was all a bit of a whirlwind, as it was only the second time we had played along to the film on a large screen instead of a laptop, so it was harder, for me at least, to recognize cues, which was slightly nerve-wracking but once we started everything fell into place pretty naturally. Process-wise, things worked in a manner that’s fairly similar to how we wrote the album: one of us would come up with a part for a scene and the other person would try to enhance it, we would go through the scene, discuss what worked and what else we might be able to do, and then go from there. Since it’s all semi-improvised there’s a bit of wiggle room…..but not much.
‘Slant Of Light’ is available now on Thrill Jockey Records.