Interview with Emily Hall.
“Folie à Deux is a psychosis where a delusion is transmitted from one person to another, normally a partner or family member. It seemed to me like an exaggerated version of many relationships and a good basis for drama.”
— Emily Hall
Words: Mark Carry
The prestigious Iceland-based label, Bedroom Community have recently unveiled a soaring artistic triumph in the form of ‘Folie à Deux’, a concept album by award-winning British composer Emily Hall, with lyrics by long-term Björk collaborator Sjón. The gifted composer represents the tenth artist to join the label since its inception in 2006, joining the formidable roster of talent that includes Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurðsson, James McVinnie, Sam Amidon, Nadia Sirota, Puzzle Muteson and others, who have forged some of the most deeply affecting and resolutely unique modern-classical works of recent times.
‘Folie à Deux’ was commissioned by Mahogany Opera Group. The remarkable full-length is an intense investigation into love and loneliness within a relationship. Hall’s minimal and intricately crafted songs in the modern folk tale are woven together for two singers, Sofia Jernberg (Swedish vocalist) and Allan Clayton (British tenor) and a specially created electro-magnetic harp. The album features electronics from Mira Calix, was mixed by Valgeir Sigurðsson in Reykjavík and co-produced by Sigurðsson and Hall herself.
Emily Hall studied composition at York University and the Royal College of Music, London. She has written for many different ensembles and orchestras including the London Sinfonietta, LSO, BBCNOW, the Brodsky Quartet, Opera North, LCO, Hungarian Radio Choir.
‘Folie à Deux’ is available now on Bedroom Community.
Interview with Emily Hall.
Congratulations on your stunning Bedroom Community debut, ‘Folie à Deux’. One of the aspects I particularly love about the new record is the many spheres of sounds – choral, pop, folk, electronic, classical – that is masterfully embedded (and seamlessly layered) into these sonic creations. Please discuss ‘Folie à Deux’ both in terms of its conception as a concept album and as an opera? I would love to gain an insight into the creative world that brought ‘Folie à Deux’ into glimmering life?
Emily Hall: Thanks so much. I guess it’s been 3 years in the making – In 2012 an opera company in London called ‘Mahogany Opera Group’ asked me to write a small-scale opera and I put it to them I wanted this to be a concept album and an opera, which could co-exist and would be co-conceived. They were more than happy to go for this and interested in it as a slightly unusual hybrid form. Unlike conventional opera, I didn’t want any recitative, just songs and instrumentals, like a dramatic song cycle. And I liked the idea the audience might have heard the songs on the album before they saw the live staged version. And on the flip side, I was interested in the idea of a narrative in an album which may or may not be relevant to the listener.
I have a good friend who is a psychiatrist and she suggested the psychosis ‘Folie à Deux’ would make a great subject for an opera. ‘Folie à Deux’ is a psychosis where a delusion is transmitted from one person to another, normally a partner or family member. It seemed to me like an exaggerated version of many relationships and a good basis for drama.
I knew I wanted to write for the Swedish vocalist Sofia Jernberg, I first heard her sing a friends piece (Larry Goves) in Leeds in 2009 and fell in love with her voice. And I knew I wanted to write for harp in some way because I wanted to work with harpist Ruth Wall but I wasn’t yet sure how….
Please discuss the collaboration between you and Icelandic writer and long-term Bjork collaborator Sjón. Can you recount for me your memories of first crossing paths with Sjón and indeed the collaborative process that clearly works so well between you both?
EH: I asked Sjón really out to of the blue if he wanted to collaborate on this in an email and I was happily surprised he said ‘yes’ straight away. I approached him because not only had he written amazing lyrics but also a number of opera librettos. So we met for lunch soon after when he was passing through London and then later had a 3 day brain storming session in the depths of Suffolk countryside with the director Fredrick Wake-Walker. Because the psychosis ‘Folie à Deux’ has very defined stages we were able to hang different scenarios on each until we came up with ‘the one’. On the final day, when Sjón had the idea of an electricity pylon at the centre of the delusion, I was taken by it straight away because of the strong sonic characteristics. Sjón then sent me the finished libretto/lyrics a few months later and I was completely entranced as soon as I read them.
After many revisits, I feel a lovely parallel exists between ‘Folie à Deux’ and Julia Holter’s ‘Loud City Song’ record from 2013. The characters, themes, emotions conjures up a similarly transformative world and beguiling soundscapes. Also, the master-work of ‘Ys’ by Joanna Newsom comes to mind. Can you discuss please the narrative to ‘Folie à Deux’, Emily? Also, the two singers, Sofia Jernberg and Allan Clayton add divine colours and textures to the record’s sprawling canvas. Can you discuss the input of these two gifted singers. A song such as ‘Wonderful Things’ epitomises the sheer beauty these enchanting voices create.
EH: OK thanks – those are very nice parallels ;)
The story is a back-packing girl meets a young farmer high up on the hill and they fall in love and move in together. Everything is rosy until a pylon is built next to their little house. The man becomes completely obsessed by the pylon and its potential power and influence. She becomes very lonely as he spends hours staring out the window at the pylon and humming along with its drones. She realizes the only way to re-connect with him is to join him in his adoration for the pylon and they sing ‘it’s saying such wonderful things’ together. ‘Mantra’ is a song at the point when they are both delusional about the pylon and ‘Folie à Deux’ in happening. ‘The Scream’ is her exit from the delusion; she bursts his ear drums and externalizes all the pain and fear she has had to endure. ‘Embrace’ is his release, his journey up the pylon – to the summit of his delusion – walking towards the light – to his Nirvana. And in the final song ‘Ode to Nature’, she sings a nostalgic song for him but from a peaceful place, back close with nature and long free of the delusion.
I wrote for Sofia Jernberg right from the outset. We spent some time together in Stockholm in the middle of writing which informed things quite a lot. And then the scream was something I asked her to do in a rehearsal but she took it to a whole new level by doing this long electronic sounding scream by slowly breathing in air. I knew the kind of tenor voice I wanted but not a specific singer, but once Allan Clayton came on board, he informed some of the songs like ‘Embrace’ – that amount of control so high up in the voice is pretty rare. I love how Sofia and Allan sound together.
Please talk me through the specially created electromagnetic harp utilized on the new record? What sets this apart from the more traditional harp instrument?
EH: As I said earlier, I had decided to write for harp already and when the idea of the pylon came up I was trying to figure out how to make a harp drone like the hum of a pylon. I looked at aeolian harps then came across some experiments by an Icelandic musician called Ulfur who had successfully used electro magnets on piano strings and make a beautiful drone instrument. My partner, David Sheppard, is a sound designer, and so he figured out how to make this work with a harp, along with an instrument builder called Jonathan Green. The strings are swapped for metal strings and then a specially made system of transducers is mounted to the strings. They are controlled form some bespoke software and MIDI devices. You hear a lot of 50Hz ‘G’ in the album which of course is the frequency of a mains hum in the UK.
Another gorgeous aspect is the presence of electronic beats, supplied by Mira Calix. I wonder at what stage in the music-making process did these beats come into the mix? The final third of ‘Mantra’ is a wonderful example of Mira’s input. Also, I am intrigued by the production of the album. Was this quite an intensive period? What precisely did the production – in which you and Valgeir Sigurðsson collaborated – consist of?
EH: Mira Calix came up with the beats once I had demo versions of loneliness and Mantra. It was very nice to collaborate with Mira – because she gives the songs a whole new aspect, all her work is always so inventive. With Valgeir, I sent him the tracks once I had gone as far as I could with them. Then I went to Reykjavík in March and I spent 4 days at Greenhouse Studios with him working with him on the final mix. An amazing experience.
Lastly, please take me back to your earliest musical memories and indeed your life in music? How do you see you have developed as a composer and what projects and plans do you have in the pipeline?
EH: Probably trying to figure out Pachelbel’s Cannon on the violin as a kid in my parents dining room having heard it on the radio and then playing it over and over and realising I couldn’t play it alone. And the strange and characterful sound of my parents and their friends playing string quartets which I would drift off to sleep to.
I am a weird mix. I know I’ve absorbed many types of music and ways of making it. I am drawn to song and melody of folk but I have a training in avant grade contemporary classical and also a leaning towards technology and electronics. I love to write for people and collaborate.
I’m working on an opera installation right now for The Corinthia Hotel in London. I have written songs for Allan Clayton, Sofia Jernberg, Puzzle Muteson, Mara Carlyle and a boy treble all linked together with a chorus, organ (James Mcvinnie) and cello (Oliver Coates). And then later in the year I’m going up to Unst – the most northerly point of the UK to write a 15 minute piece for Radio 3’s Hear and Now – using field recordings and one or two instruments. So fun projects ahead.
‘Folie à Deux’ is available now on Bedroom Community.
A Safe Harbour Vol. 2 [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. This Is How We Fly ‘Lonesome Road’ (excerpt) [Playing With Music]
// Bryce Dessner ‘Interview’ (excerpt) [Fractured Air]
02. This Is The Kit ‘Vitamins’ [Brassland]
03. Amiina ‘Rugla’ [Bláskjár, Ever]
04. Iarla Ó Lionáird ‘Scathán Na Beatha’ [Real World]
05. Julianna Barwick ‘The Harbinger’ [Dead Oceans]
06. Linda Buckley ‘Error Messages’ [Heresy]
07. Donnacha Dennehy ‘Misterman’ [Heresy]
08. Richard Reed Parry ‘Quartet for Heart and Breath’ [Deutsche Grammophon]
09. Seán Mac Erlaine ‘Buried Light’ [Ergodos]
10. Sam Amidon ‘Blue Mountains’ [Nonesuch]
11. Lisa Hannigan ‘Flowers’ [Hoop Recordings]
12. Skuli Sverrisson ‘Volumes’ [Sería Music]
13. This Is How We Fly ‘Pelargonens Död’ [Playing With Music]
14. Bryce Dessner (Copenhagen Phil, cond. by Andre de Ridder) ‘St. Carolyn by the Sea’ (excerpt) [Deutsche Grammophon]
15. The National ‘Sorrow’ [4AD]
Listen to ‘A Safe Harbour’ Vol. 1 HERE.
Sounds From A Safe Harbour is a festival of music, art & conversation, curated by The National’s Bryce Dessner, taking place on 17—20 September 2015 across various venues in Cork, Ireland. Tickets are on sale now.
The Brooklyn-based composer Julianna Barwick has firmly established herself as truly one of the most wholly unique artists making music today. Barwick has released three LPs to date: ‘Sanguine’, her 2006 self-released debut full length; ‘The Magic Place’ (Asthmatic Kitty, 2011) and ‘Nepenthe’ (Dead Oceans, 2013). Barwick has also recorded as a duo (alongside fellow Asthmatic Kitty artist Helado Negro) under the OMBRE guise; the stunning collaboration has thus far resulted in debut LP ‘Believe You Me’ (Asthmatic Kitty, 2012). Born in Louisianna and raised in Missouri, Barwick’s love for music stemmed from her participation in school choirs during her formative years. Current LP ‘Nepenthe’ (in Greek literature ‘nepenthe’ was a magic drug to wipe out grief and sorrow) was recorded in Reykjavík and features contributions from some of Iceland’s most treasured artists (Amiina, múm guitarist Robert Reynisson and producer Alex Somers).
Fractured Air 39: Call Across Rooms (A Mixtape by Julianna Barwick)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Moses Sumney ‘Man On The Moon’ [Self-Released]
02. Jessica Pratt ‘Wrong Hand’ [Drag City]
03. Jenny Hval ‘Sabbath’ [Sacred Bones]
04. Helado Negro ‘Young, Latin & Proud’ [Other Music Recording]
05. FKA twigs ‘Closer’ [Young Turks]
06. Hundred Waters ‘Broken Blue’ [Owsla]
07. Wet ‘Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl’ [Neon Gold]
08. Grouper ‘Call Across Rooms’ [Kranky]
09. Arthur Russell ‘Losing My Taste For The Night Life’ [Point Music]
Compiled by Julianna Barwick. 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.
‘Nepenthe’ is available now on Dead Oceans.
Interview with Heather Woods Broderick.
“Many times I see things, whether it’s a passing scene out of a window, or a combination of colours on a wall, that conjure up memories for me. So sometimes I use these images to help depict or frame a feeling.”
— Heather Woods Broderick
Words: Mark Carry
‘Glider’ is the highly anticipated sophomore full-length –and follow-up to the formidable 2009 solo debut ‘From The Ground’ – from gifted multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Heather Woods Broderick. The Brooklyn-based and Portland-raised musician has long been synonymous with some of the most breath-taking musical explorations of recent times, having closely collaborated with Portand’s Horse Feathers, Danish group Efterklang and is currently an integral member in U.S singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s band.
The nine immaculate sonic creations captured on ‘Glider’ unfolds a fragile beauty and striking emotional depth that inhabits an ethereal dimension from the opening dream-like atmosphere of ‘Up In The Pine’ to the closing country gem ‘All For A Love’. ‘Glider’s bewitching sonic canvas possesses a transient quality with each song cycle capturing a myriad of fleeting moments. The gorgeous vocal harmonies, pristine production and rich instrumentation serves the fitting backdrop for Broderick’s deeply affecting songs to flourish. For example, ‘Mama Shelter’ evolves into an infectious dub-infused groove which is masterfully inter-woven with Broderick’s richly soulful vocal delivery. The piano-based ballads of ‘Fall Hard’ (which could be taken from Marissa Nadler’s latest record ‘July’), ‘The Sentiments’ and the album’s title-rack ‘Glider’ serve the album’s most poignant and soul-stirring moments as the rich tapestry of vocal harmonies and piano notes drift majestically in the ether.
‘A Call For Distance’ epitomises the evocative production masterfully dotted across ‘Glider’ as timeless dreamwave sounds of This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins comes to the fore. The joyous sounds of ‘All For A Love’ with its jazz leanings (thanks in part to David Allred’s trumpet part) contains gorgeous clean guitar tones, upbeat harmonies and warm percussion akin to a marvelous sunset on a summer’s night. “There is a lot to live for” is a lyric that resonates powerfully and marks the album’s over-arching theme of perseverance through life’s difficulties and therein the strength to find one’s inner voice.
‘Glider’ is available now on Western Vinyl.
Interview with Heather Woods Broderick.
Congratulations on your sublime new record ‘Glider’. The album is nothing short of staggering where the nine sonic creations unfold a fragile beauty and striking emotional depth that leaves the listener utterly dumbfounded. Rather than a record being a snapshot in a moment of time, ‘Glider’ possesses a transient quality with each song cycle capturing a myriad of ﬂeeting moments culled from a long period of time. Can you please talk me through the songs of ‘Glider’ and discuss the themes to ‘Glider’ and your aims from the outset?
Heather Woods Broderick: Thank you very much; I’m really happy to hear you’re enjoying the record. Most of the songs on ‘Glider’ are reﬂections of experiences I’ve had, or close friends or family have had. The songs were written over about a two-year period, but reference events spanning a substantial period of time in my life. The title track is the only song I wrote prior to moving to Brooklyn in the fall of 2011. Many years had passed since I released ‘From the Ground’ when I really began writing the material for ‘Glider’. I think I’d grown as a musician after playing with so many different projects, and also as a person after so much travel around the world. ‘From the Ground’ was my ﬁrst attempt to write any songs with words, so there were a lot of things I wanted to do differently when writing ‘Glider’. I like to create an atmospheric landscape for songs to live in. For ‘Glider’, I still wanted this to play an important role in the sound of the record, but I spent more time fully forming songs and writing lyrics. I think all of the songs on the record are pretty self-explanatory in a lyrical sense since they are all based on real events and emotions, but I do like to utilize a bit of metaphor in songwriting to help paint a picture an allow for more imagination. Many times I see things, whether it’s a passing scene out of a window, or a combination of colours on a wall, that conjure up memories for me. So sometimes I use these images to help depict or frame a feeling.
The range of sounds masterfully sculpted across the record is something that sets ‘Glider’ apart from your formidable debut full-length ‘From The Ground’ where this time around all songs are vocal-based, reﬂecting a song-writing masterclass in full bloom. Please take me back to the recording sessions and the wonderful cast of musicians you were joined by, not least your brother Peter and the wonderful David Allred among several others.
HWB: Every song on the record started out as a poorly self-recorded demo. I knew that I wanted to go into the studio having all of the material prepared, so I spent a lot of time with the demos – working with the structure and arrangements of the songs. I had all the vocal ideas worked out on demos, and knew the guitar sounds I wanted to go for, etc. When it ﬁnally came time to go into the studio I asked a few friends to be a part of the process. I spent ﬁve days at Type Foundry studio, working with engineer Adam Selzer, in Portland, OR where I recorded all of my basic tracks and vocals, and also tracked 2 of the songs (Wyoming + All for a Love) live as a three-piece. During these sessions Dave Depper played bass, Peter Broderick played Drums, Birger Olsen came in to lay down the guitar solo on ‘All for a Love’, and Eric Early played some hammond on ‘Desert’. All phenomenal musicians; I was lucky to have them join me on the songs. After the ﬁve days at Type Foundry, Peter and I took all those tracks out to a home studio he has on the Oregon Coast called The Sparkle. We spent a couple of weeks out there doing the rest of the overdubs. David Allred also came out and added some upright bass and trumpet during this time. We worked with the songs a lot during this phase, ﬁlling out the arrangements more, doing all of the post production, and then mixing the record here as well.
Aesthetically, ‘Glider’ is such a triumph and revelation. The piano-based ballads such as the heartwrenching title-track, ‘Fall Hard’ and ‘The Sentiments’ are beautifully inter-woven with ethereal dreamwave creations like ‘A Call For Distance’ and stunning folk gems like ‘Desert’ and ‘All For A Love’. I wonder was it ever difﬁcult to decide on a certain style or version of a particular song, Heather? Did any of these songs undergo a dramatic transformation (or mutation!) from your original sketch of a song to its ﬁnal recorded entity? For example, I can imagine a song such as ‘A Call For Distance’ is such a thrill to perform and record with your band?
HWB: I ﬁnd it almost impossible to go back and drastically change the structure or lyrics of a song once I’ve written it. So for the most part, the songs are really similar to the demos. I wasn’t really going for any particular style or anything when I was writing. ‘A Call for Distance’ was sort of my labour of love on the record. I used a lot of delays through the process of writing these songs, and I think this one in particular was really inspired by what I was hearing as I went. I had an electric guitar with a delay pedal, a vocal mic, and a basic logic setup, so I could play and listen back while writing. I wouldn’t even know how to replicate some of the sounds from the demos on this song, so we ended up ﬂying in some of the demo tracks. I have yet to perform this one live with a band, but I really look forward to doing that, and ﬁguring out some version of it that works in a band setting. Some fun developments did happen during the recording process though. For example, Dave Depper’s bass playing on ‘Mama Shelter’ ended up being a huge inﬂuence to the path of that song took. He came up with this dub/reggae bass part in the chorus’ that we loved, so we sort of played on that theme while adding the other instrumentation. It ﬁt in really well with the chorus echo and space echo machines that we were using with all the other tracks as well.
The art of collaboration has been a trusted constant in your musical path, from Horse Feathers to Efterklang and Sharon Van Etten. I would love for you to share your feelings on music as being the great collaborative art. I can imagine the sum of these experiences and journeys with all these special souls makes for such an inspiring and rewarding journey. What are the memories you most cherish from these particular collaborations?
HWB: I have been very lucky to play with so many talented musicians, and collaborating with other artists is something that I’ll always have an interest in doing, musically and beyond. I love learning other peoples’ songs as well as writing parts to accompany others’ music. I ﬁnd a lot of pleasure in practice and repetition. It’s a very different experience playing with different people. Everyone approaches music in their own way, and I ﬁnd that really interesting. I go through phases of wanting to work on music that’s much more structured or technical, and wanting to throw out all the rules and just play loud rock music. It’s all rewarding in different ways. I loved being able to play cello in Horse Feathers – something I haven’t done with any of the other bands I’ve played in since, at least in a live setting. I have particularly fond memories of traveling with Efterklang to places I’d never been, and haven’t been since. They were really special people to make music with. I was late in the game in hearing Sharon’s music, but I’m so glad I did. I still remember the ﬁrst time we sat in my living room and sang together – a moment I’ll never forget.
Coming from a musical family – both your parents are musicians and you began piano lessons at the young age of eight – music has always been in your life. I would love if you could reﬂect on pivotal moments that occurred during your musical upbringing that you feel helped you in a signiﬁcant way? I can only imagine you and your brother at home must have been playing music together, almost on a constant basis?
HWB: There was deﬁnitely a lot of music going on in my house growing up. My parents both played guitar and always spun records after dinner. My older brother Noah played saxophone and also electric in a grunge rock band. I took piano lessons for years, and then quit for about a year when I was 15 or 16. Probably typical of that age and not wanting to be told what to do. I came back around to it though. I found some classical pieces that I really fell in love with and contemporary bands that I heard classical crossover with (everything from Rachels to various math rock bands), and it made me excited to keep practicing, and to be able to apply what I’d learned to making music with people. My brother Peter started taking suzuki violin lessons when he was really young, but we never really played together until I was 18 or 19. We started playing in a band together then, and also went to the same school for a brief period and would write and perform pieces together for composition classes and recitals. My parents were always really supportive of whatever I wanted to do with music, and I’m sure their support encouraged me to go down my own musical path.
The tender lament ‘Desert’ is one of the album’s (many) deﬁning moments. I love this sense of a travelogue that ﬂickers in and out during many of your songs. The imagery and poetic prose
conjured up on ‘Desert’ resonates powerfully. Please talk me through this song and your memories of writing ‘Desert’.
HWB: ‘Desert’ was one of the later songs I wrote for the record. I was on a break from touring and trying to spend some quiet time at home with my guitar in Brooklyn. I wrote the song in one afternoon in my living room there. I had recently been playing a lot of music with my dear friend and fellow musician Alela Diane in support of her record ‘About Farewell’. I was playing second guitar along with her and had been messing around with some of those ﬁnger picking patterns. The core of the lyrics are based around a conversation that I’d recently had with a former boyfriend that had left me feeling unresolved. It was also late winter in New York, and the imagery is embedded in observations of the season.
I feel the empowering piano ballads contained on ‘Glider’ serve the vital pulse to this remarkable album, reminiscent of Marissa Nadler, Grouper’s ‘Ruins’ LP and indeed, Sharon Van Etten. It feels as if these songs represent some of the earliest written songs that helped shape the rest of the record. I love the ethereal dimension the piano-based works inhabit, creating in turn, utterly transcendent moments.
HWB: Those are all lovely ladies to mention, thank you. ‘Glider‘ was the earliest track written for the record, and was written while I was still living in Berlin before moving to Brooklyn. ‘The Sentiments’ was written somewhere in the middle of that two year writing period, and ‘Fall Hard’ was actually the last song I wrote for the record. Maybe it’s appropriate that they are scattered like they are throughout the record in a sense; I hadn’t thought about that.
What records do you ﬁnd yourself coming back to, time and time again? Please discuss any books/gigs/music/ﬁlms you have been most impressed with lately?
HWB: My musical tastes really vary. On the classic side, I always go back to records by Kate Wolf, Neil Young, and Springsteen. These are all records I grew up listening to. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Dawn Upshaw performing Henryk Górecki’s Symphony no. 3, Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto no. 2, or any Chet Baker record. I also love a lot of new indie bands, jazz, ambient – the list could really go on forever. I think the most memorable performances I’ve seen in the last few years was Antony and the Johnson’s performing Swanlights at Radio City Music Hall. I love seeing dance performances. ‘Drift’ by Cindy Van Acker, and a piece titled ‘Leading Light’ by Suniti Dernovsek are two of my favorites I’ve seen in the last year. I recently read ‘Light Years’ by James Salter and ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion – both beautiful books. I’d highly recommend both.
‘Glider’ is available now on Western Vinyl.
“I’m particularly interested in the human voice: it’s the way a song can be performed or transmitted or changed depending on who’s singing it and it’s the voice that particularly interests me.”
— Kate Stables
Words: Mark Carry
A close familiarity and glowing warmth radiates from the music of Kate Stables’ This Is The Kit. The title-track of the band’s latest record, ‘Bashed Out’ (Brassland, 2015) evokes the infinite spell that the age-old tradition of folk music is capable of emitting. The deeply heartfelt ballad gently unfolds like the gradual break of day: the clean, warm guitar tones effortlessly glide across the deep blue textures of Stables’ deeply affecting voice and meditative drum-beat. “Blessed are those who see and are silent” resonates powerfully whose resonant tones hang majestically in the air.
The Bristol-born and Paris based singer-songwriter recorded the band’s ‘Bashed Out’ in Brooklyn with producer Aaron Dessner (The National’s guitarist and frequent collaborator) at his home studio. Joining Stables’ close-knit band of gifted musicians of Rozi Plain, Jesse Vernon and Jamie Whitby-Coles were the gifted musicians from the Brooklyn music scene, Thomas Bartlett (Doveman/The Gloaming), Matt Barrick (The Walkmen) and Ben Lanz (Beirut, The National). Instilled in the beautiful textures and aching pores of ‘Bashed Out’s illuminating folk laments comes a yearning to savor the present moment and absorb life’s magic and beauty in one fleeting step. The banjo-based lament ‘Spores All Settling’ – complete with gorgeous shades of Karen Dalton from another space in time – flickers like an array of hope-filled starlit skies. On the second verse, Stables sings: “So open out and let the clean air in/we’ll wash away/Let’s get some weather in/Soak us through the skin”, and moments later the majestic beauty of a violin-led melody ascends into the mix. The record as a whole feels like a window to the world outside from the viewpoint of a curious, vivacious soul.
The masterful pop gem of ‘Silver John’ reveals the peerless musicianship and immaculate production that lies embedded in the ten glittering creations. Compelling post-rock sounds, a rejuvenating brass section and irresistible groove forms the ideal backdrop to the towering ‘Vitamins’. “All we need is a place to be” quickly becomes the essence of ‘Bashed Out’ as the listener is immersed in the endearing qualities of a songwriter’s unique and rich voice.
‘Bashed Out’ is available now on Brassland.
Interview with Kate Stables.
Please discuss the making of ‘Bashed Out’ and the recording sessions with Aaron Dessner?
Kate Stables: It was great working with Aaron. It was a little bit of a challenge finding time when he was available and when I was available, I think that was the main challenge just because of two busy people who live on opposite sides of the Atlantic which is difficult to co-ordinate [laughs]. But when we were able to overcome that it was a very nice and natural process. He had quite a clear idea of the sound and direction of the songs so all I used to do was play them and sing them and he shaped them into the album. It was really nice being over there and working in his studio with him and he’d bring in friends of his that he likes to work with and so that was nice to meet new people and to work with different guys, it was a real honour.
I presume Kate that the majority of these songs were written before you arrived into the studio?
KS: A few of them I’ve been playing for quite a while and they were all established songs, as it were. But to be honest actually a lot of the songs were unfinished so they could become finished in that context. For the final session we did a few last-minute numbers that were written really recently that I didn’t know if he was going to pick for the album but they were put on the last-minute. Songs like ‘Cold and Got Colder’ was a last-minute add-on and so that worked out quite nice as well. So he found their shape on the album but at the same time they are continuing to change shape with every gig that we do, you know things evolve every time we play them live.
That’s the beauty of it really in the sense that what you hear on any album is only one version of that time but it obviously changes a lot then down the line.
KS: Exactly. I mean for me the album is like this little time capsule of documentation of this collaboration that we had with Aaron and working with him and the chemistry and sounds that came out of that; that’s the album as it were. And then outside of that, the songs just take on their own life and go their own way depending on what we do with them as a band or who joins us in the band or things like that. Sometimes I play solo shows and then of course the vibe of the songs are going to be totally different.
The album’s title-track is really amazing and I love how it’s placed in the middle of the album too.
KS: It was a little bit of a puzzle trying to work out what order to put the songs in but in the end my brain works in a sort of side A and side B way [laughs] so for me it made sense for it to be at the end of side A and then it carries on past that and side B is the second half of the album.
You’ve been involved with other bands and projects over the last few years, I’d love for you to discuss your love of folk music and growing up?
KS: I grew up in a family that listened to a lot of folk music and played a lot of folk music. My parents would often be in bands and band dances and stuff so there were tunes as well as songs. I’m particularly interested in the human voice: it’s the way a song can be performed or transmitted or changed depending on who’s singing it and it’s the voice that particularly interests me. And then over the years obviously, you listen to everything when you’re growing up don’t you; you go through the noisy and angry stuff and the experimental, clicky, drony stuff and it all sort of feeds in and bubbles out in what you make in terms of music.
You have a few nice concerts coming up too, you must be looking forward to playing those.
KS: I’m looking forward to this summer, it’s going to be lovely. It’s nice how many times we’re hopping off to Ireland actually. We’re playing this Cave gig in July [Cork Opera House event] and then again we’ll be over for Electric Picnic at the end of August and then over for the Sounds From A Safe Harbour in September. It’s lovely because we have some very nice festivals to look forward to in England this summer so we feel quite lucky gig-wise at the moment, it’s really nice.
Are there any records you’d recommend that you’re listening to a lot lately?
KS: Definitely [laughs]. Where shall I start? Well I’m listening a lot to Rozi Plain’s new album ‘Friend’, Rozi plays bass in my band and it’s just a total masterpiece and equally a very important friend and collaborator of mine, Rachael Dadd who is an incredibly talented, busy and prolific musician and she’s got an album out at the moment called ‘We Resonate’ and that is a total masterpiece as well. Apart from that I’m just listening to a guy called Richard Dawson at the moment, he is so amazing. Listening to his music makes me feel incredible and seeing him live reduces me to a jibbering wreck and I just think he’s an incredible musician who everyone should know about. They’ve got a good music library here in Paris and I’ve been getting out tribal stuff like Touareg stuff from the Sahara.
I wonder what is Paris like to live and work in?
KS: I really like being in Europe and being able to just get a train to any neighbouring countries, that feels really nice and for touring that’s great as well. It was quite a shock to the system moving here, it’s more different culturally than I was expecting but that’s good because I’ve learned more than I was expecting to learn. It’s a busy place but it taught me a lot about surviving in a busy city because before I was in Bristol and that is just a happy friendly land compared to Paris [laughs] where everyone is so friendly in Bristol and there is a really amazing creative and community spirit everywhere. It’s been hard seeking that out in Paris, you sort of have to scrape past all the city stress before you find the people who are really making the city in terms of culture.
In terms of collaboration, it’s something that’s central to your music and all the projects you’ve been involved with. Do you have any particular plans and hopes for forthcoming projects?
KS: Well I’ve got an alarming long list of things that I’d like to do. I’d really like to make a record of songs that get sung with other people. There are a lot of singers who are so great and I think have brilliant voices and I’d really like to try and work with them and sing with them in some way. There’s different producers who I think make really excellent albums, it would be nice to try and work with them. There’s a nice modern-classical collective in Berlin called Stargaze and they do really nice collaborations and I think we’re going to try and do some work together in the future. It would be nice to just keep going and meeting people and learning new skills is the goal.
Similar to you and the Dessner brothers and so many musicians, you continue to learn and develop so much by working with other people and getting new perspectives.
KS: I think that is how you learn, I think in any area of life by working with people and meeting people and travelling and not getting stuck in one little rut is how you learn and grow really. I notice it watching my daughter grow up; the more different the experiences are, I can see how much she learns and being able to observe that. You can tell from the different experiences of travel and situations you’re slowly getting an idea of themselves and of the world and I think that process continues until we die. Lifelong learning and self-discovery [laughs].
Lastly, have you been reading any good books of late?
KS: At the moment I can’t get enough of Ursula Le Guin. She wrote the ‘A Wizard At Earthsea’ book and she is also very well-known for her science fiction stuff and I never got totally into science fiction until I started reading her stuff. She’s an excellent woman and an amazing writer and she’s in her eighties and still as sharp and intelligent and engaged as ever and she’s really great. But then there are a few books I will always go back to reading like JD Salinger and I like old-fashioned, humorous books like Jerome K. Jerome.
‘Bashed Out’ is available now on Brassland.
Interview with Joey Burns & John Convertino (Calexico).
“So much of what we do comes from tone and timbre, what the sound waves are doing that day in the room with the moisture or lack of. How high is the ceiling? The wood in the walls or the adobe, the thickness of the strings, the loudness of the amps, they all come together when the silence is broken the tide comes in.”
— John Convertino
Words: Mark Carry
The arrival of a new Calexico record is always a cause of celebration and pure joy. Since first discovering the Tucson, Arizona collective’s shape-shifting music – circa 2000 with the mariachi infused opus of ‘Hot Rail’ – Calexico’s songbook has proved the most pivotal and endearing of artistic creations that seamlessly seeps into your veins and hits directly to the heart’s core. Last spring saw the eagerly awaited new full length release, ‘Edge of the Sun’; a sonic marvel of a record that stands tall as the band’s strongest work to date. Like a river finding its sea, a natural ebb and flow ceaselessly permeates from the well-cultivated sounds and timbres cast by the core duo of Joey Burns (singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) and John Convertino (drums, songwriter, percussion, vibes).
It’s their windswept, breathtakingly beautiful instrumentals (is there anything more pure and beautiful as ‘Minas De Cobre’, ‘El Picador‘ or ‘Above The Branch’?); heart wrenching ballads (‘Bloodflow’, ‘The News About William’, ‘Fortune Teller’); brooding cinematic opuses (‘Red Blooms’, ‘Black Heart’, ‘The Vanishing Mind’); life affirming symphonies (‘Quattro’, ‘Epic’, ‘Victor Jara’s Hands’); songs of hope etched in the heart of darkness (‘Para’, ‘Crooked Road And The Briar’, ‘Not Even Stevie Nicks…’, ‘Trigger’); and momentous rejoice (‘Crystal Frontier’, ‘Guero Canelo’, ‘No Te Vayas’, ‘Inspiracion’). As always, the deeply rooted music telepathy between Burns and Convertino, combined with the peerless musicianship of the greater Calexico ensemble (spanning continents and encompassing worlds of sound) and producer supreme Craig Schumacher, means that true art is endlessly created.
The jubilant album opener ‘Falling From The Sky’ contains the stream-line approach the band previously utilized on the highly under-rated ‘Garden Ruin’ record with a rejuvenating brass section and the mesmerizing synth-led melody (courtesy of multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Sergio Mendoza). In addition, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell adds vocals. The lyric of “like a bird lost inside the cloud/cut off from the stars” evokes the vivid sense of searching that flickers like rays of sunlight throughout the record’s sprawling canvas. A brooding atmosphere exudes from ‘Bullets & Rocks’; reminiscent of ‘Bend To The Road’ (live cut) from the ‘Carried To Dust’ tour. The multi-layered electric guitars conjures up the timeless sound of ‘Zuma’ era Neil Young (or vintage Iron & Wine whose frontman Sam Beam joins Burns & co, in turn, forming a fitting parallel to 2005’s collaborative ‘In The Reins’ EP). “Families disappear to the dark of the night” evokes a loss, pain and suffering; lying at the heart of the “devil’s highway” but the light of hope undeniably prevails through the shimmering darkness.
‘When The Angels Played‘ is a stunningly beautiful country lament recalling Gillian Welch and the heart of the great American songbook; a Dylan-esque folk splendor which could be a distant companion to (the previously recorded Pieta Brown duet) ‘Slowness’. The sublime ‘Cumbia de Donde’ brings the whole latin world to new dimensions, as Manu Chao and off-shoot Buena Vista sound systems flicker onto the horizon. The arrival of Spain’s Amparo Sanchez is akin to a spiritual journey as a lost brother to ‘Guero Canelo’ comes to the fore. ‘Cumbia de Donde’ somehow sits at the intersection between ‘Roka’ and ‘Guero Canelo’ creating, in turn, a spiritual journey: a road trip of epic proportions.
‘Tapping On The Line’s chorus refrain resonates powerfully as Burns asks, “could you step a little bit closer to the line?“: a song which shares the spirit of ‘Nebraska’ era Springsteen; charged with a gripping immediacy and vital pulse. ‘Miles From The Sea’ represents one of the album’s defining moments and undoubtedly one of the most formidable Calexico recording ever put to tape. The chorus refrain is immaculate as Burns sings of “dreams about swimming miles away from the sea“. The vast blue seas of the human heart is explored from the skies above to the seas below. ‘Woodshed Waltz’ is a pristine slice of divine americana. Sonically, it takes me to ‘Toolbox’ (the band’s towering instrumentals-only album) where the burning spark of creativity and spontaneity radiates throughout. The rise/bridge is one of the album’s endearing moments. A song about letting go, moving on. Another songwriter’s song. ‘Moon Never Rises’ is steeped in new and compelling sounds. The nuances and textures added by guest vocalist Carla Morrison brings forth a cinematic feel as new sonic terrain is masterfully explored.
The opening section of ‘World Undone’ – Burns’ hypnotic acoustic guitar is beautifully melded with Convertino’s meditative drums – shares a similar sound world to the band’s instrumental cut ‘Above The Branch’. The (singular) aesthetic created by the duo of Convertino’s drums and Burns’ guitar unleashes a staggering beauty that creates a resolutely unique and singular sound (kindred spirits such as White/Ellis/Turner and Davis/Coltrane also come to mind). There is something magical about how ‘World Undone’ unfolds. The stunning vocal delivery of Burns (joined by Devotchka’s Nick Urata) is a joy to witness as Burns sings “waiting for the devils to come“. The way in which this tour-de-force builds and evolve, represents the immense power and glory of the ‘Edge of the Sun’ as a whole. The cathartic energy of ‘Black Heart’ is likewise emitted here: “the world’s coming down“.
‘Follow The River‘ is another milestone in the sacred songbook of Calexico, reminiscent of ‘Epic’ where a healing quality and power of redemption abounds. In the liner notes of the band’s retrospective ‘Road Atlas’ (1998-2011), Fred Mills wrote: “But it’s not until you take in the entirety of the group’s sprawling discography that the sights, smells, textures and timbres of the Calexico experience fully reveal themselves.” As ever, one feels the emotional thread embedded deep in the songs: a common thread that connects all the band’s studio albums, tour cds, collaborative releases to date.
‘Edge of the Sun’ is out now on City Slang (Europe) & ANTI- (USA).
Interview with Joey Burns & John Convertino (Calexico).
Congratulations on the truly inspiring and captivating new record, ‘Edge of the Sun'; a sonic marvel of a record. You, John and the entire Calexico family should feel deeply proud. A world of detail and intricate layers of immaculate instrumentation are rooted in these songs; some new elements that I haven’t heard before in a Calexico studio album. As ever, an emotional depth of rich intensity & magnitude permeates the headspace and a cosmic spirit that captivates the heart.
Please discuss the making of ‘Edge of the Sun’ and particularly the Mexican city of Coyoacán where the album was recorded. Similar to how you decided to record ‘Algiers’ in the aforementioned New Orleans neighbourhood, as ever you all must have soaked up the surrounding city’s culture and neighbourhood that seamlessly tapped into the album’s twelve gems?
John Convertino: Thanks so much for all the compliments, careful listening, and insights to the new record. As with ‘Algiers’, we felt we needed to get to a place that had the space for us to focus on the album and songs, to put ideas down whatever they may be, and to spend some time together without having the responsibilities of home life. Coyoacán like Algiers has a great vibe and history to think about as you go for walks or runs in the park. Where we lived and recorded there was a courtyard and big trees that gave you shelter from the big city outside, we had two meals a day prepared for us with love, so we never had to worry about what and where to eat, the energy was strong, and we were able to get a lot work done and some sightseeing as well.
Joey Burns: It was important just as it was making ‘Algiers’ to go somewhere for 12 days where we could eat, sleep and breathe music. It really helps to get the ball rolling when we can focus on writing like that. Being in Mexico City was a plus. The food, people and sights all help make for a special experience. One day we went with a friend to see the work he had been doing on Pedro Reyes’ art piece “Disarm”. He was helping Reyes build musical instruments out of pieces of broken weapons seized by the Mexican government from the drug cartels. We got to see a rehearsal and even try playing some of the instruments. I tried the electric bass, guitar and cello, John checked out the percussion which was all midi controlled and Sergio was intrigued with the violin. The symbolism was beautiful and inspired us all.
What is most special about the Calexico songbook (and indeed becomes the essence of the band’s rich legacy) is the deeply enriching narrative that flows throughout each record where one flows into the next like a river finding its sea. ‘Edge of the Sun’ continues this search for hope in the depths of despair; a strive for a better life; dreams of better days. I would love for you to discuss the themes of the new album and what ideas and concerns you felt were important to address on ‘Edge of the Sun’?
JC: I agree with you Mark, I think Joey and his brother John, as well as Pieta Brown and Sergio Mendoza all came up with some of the best lyrics yet for the record. I find that immigration and borders have been continual themes throughout all of our records, and now that we have become so familiar with those themes I believe there is greater clarity in how we feel about these issues therefore translating into the songs in a natural way. As we all get older, it becomes more and more apparent that it’s not always easy being a human on the planet. There are so many misunderstandings and communication can so easily break down, what may be such a brilliant thought comes out sounding completely wrong, it takes time to formulate how to verbalize what your feeling, maybe it comes easier as you get older, maybe not, it could just be more familiar ground. I think this is an apparent theme in the record.
JB: I wanted to acknowledge the difficulties in life, the things we all share and have to endure and yet I wanted to the music to help balance that and give a sense of hope. Near the end of the album sequence the song “World Undone” shows signs of grief from the character’s perspective and by the final track “Follow The River” that same character has found a way out of despair to recognize there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Transformation is part of the process and every album takes on a slightly different direction. Sometimes they parallel the world around us and other times they map out the emotional paths we are on.
The ocean (and possibly your upbringing in LA) and “dreams about swimming/miles away from the sea” on ‘Miles From The Sea’ feels a distant companion to similar themes explored on ‘..Not Even Stevie Nicks’, ‘Sinner In The Sea’ and indeed several aspects on ‘Carried To Dust’. Please discuss these re-occurring themes that are wonderfully re-visited here?
JC: I’ve always wondered about that too, I know it’s really a question for Joey, but having lived in the desert for so many years I have thought of water and the ocean more than when I lived in Los Angeles. Water is such a huge part of life, it is life, water and sun and all the elements. Living in El Paso Texas now, I have visited the wonderful Chinoti foundation a few times and have become a fan of Donald Judd. The massive concrete squares with the bright blue desert sun behind them bring to my mind the beginning of creation, that bang, the snare drum crack that sparked us all into being….there is that moment when the silence is broken, the wave crashes and the world keeps moving.
JB: I wasn’t sure about this song lyrically. I sent it to my oldest brother John who is a good source for feedback and inspiration. He helped with some of the lines in the verses and was supportive for keeping the lines in the chorus which I wasn’t so sure I wanted to keep. For sure there are themes of nature and specifically the ocean that have made an impact on my writing. However recurring they may be I try to shed new light on them with each song. I was surprised when doing some interviews in Europe that this song was some of the writers’ favorite song.
Collaboration has always been integral to your work but with ‘Edge of the Sun’, the spirit of collaboration is taken to new heights and possibilities. I feel this spirit of togetherness and an openness radiates throughout these soaring songs. Talk me through please the songs and the guests on each track? One of the formidable highlights is Mexican chanteuse Carla Morrison’s vocals on ‘Moon Never Rises’. It is also beautiful to witness the many special souls who have served a vital pulse to the Calexico songbook, including Amparo Sanchez, John Burns, Sam Beam and Neko Case. It is hardly surprising that ‘Edge of the Sun’ quickly becomes a source of comfort and solace.
JB: The idea of inviting guests was something that Christof Ellinghaus had once suggested a few years ago. “Make a record of duets with guest singers” is what he suggested. It wasn’t until after Sam Beam sent his vocals for “Bullets & Rocks” did I even consider asking other musicians to sit in on this album or for it to become such a developed theme on this album. We for sure wanted to invite some of our favorite musicians from Mexico on the album. Having Carla Morrison was a big deal as she is super busy and we had never met before. Fortunately we know her manager, Gil Gastelum who used to live in Tucson and he helped arrange for her appearance as well as Gaby Moreno’s. We were really hoping that Camilo Lara could contribute some tracks since he was in a way responsible for us getting to Coyoacán and working at his friend Ro Velazquez’s home studio.
Having Neko Case on one of our albums definitely was something we had always wanted to do since we do so much work on her albums, so we were extremely grateful when she took time out the day she played Tucson with her band The New Pornographers. She nailed it and then gave us all hugs and ran onstage. Incredible! Sergio’s lap steel player in his band suggested that we contact members of Band of Horses and made the introduction. He knew that we were trying to get someone to sing on “Falling From The Sky” and when he made the suggestion to ask Ben Bridwell, I instantly knew it could be a good match and it blew me away. It still stands out as one of the most impressive collaborations for me. Pieta Brown is another good friend who has offered up lyrics in the past, “Fortune Teller” for example. When I read her first lines of “When The Angels Played” I felt a connection immediately. Sure enough it came together quickly and John and I tracked the song one late night in Coyoacán.
Amparo Sanchez has long been a big influence and we were excited to hear her bring some fire to “Cumbia De Donde“. Sergio has been performing with DevotchKa on tour for several years and he suggested asking Nick Urata to sing on “Follow The River” which again was a big surprise to hear his incredible vocals take the higher harmony and make the song go somewhere else. “Coyoacán” features an outstanding harp player from El Paso, Adrian Perez who we’ve worked with at live shows with Mariachi Luz de Luna here in Tucson. He comes to town a fair amount so I had him come in and try not only a pass on this song but add some Kora style lines on “Bullets & Rocks“.
JC: All the guests came about in such a natural way, there towards the end of the recordings when the songs were established Sergio would encourage us to add vocal guests, as in the case with Carla and Gabby, who we didn’t even know, and from there inviting our friends who we knew could help us out so much, it was always such a treat to hear what they would come up with, Ben and Sam living with the songs alone in their own home studios and coming up with parts that took the songs to different places. Neko taking the time on tour to drop by the studio and make one of my favorite moments on the record in “Tapping On The Line”. It really became a part of the whole record to have guests.
The stunningly beautiful ‘Follow The River’ brings the album to a fitting close. The immediacy and honesty hits you profoundly, where a soul’s heart is laid to bare. The harmonies, striking vocal delivery, accordion, lapsteel, drums conjures up a timeless and mesmerising sound. Can you recount your memories of writing and recording this particular track please?
JC: One of my favorites too. Being there in Coyoacán and hearing Joey and Sergio playing guitar and vehuela outside in the courtyard, and then stepping into the studio and recording the idea in that natural cut time feel, it quickly became a favorite because of its ease, like it was so meant to be here. And then to have Nick Urata from Devotchka add his vocal layer put the song into that blue mood even further.
JB: This was based on an idea that we came up with while writing in Mexico City. Sergio started with playing a vihuela rhythmic pattern, and I came in with nylon acoustic guitar suggesting certain chords to follow his motif. We re-recorded the idea in Tucson with a full drum sound and upright bass with a few overdubs of piano and vibraphone. John really liked the minimal arrangement, but I heard some other parts that could help make some of the transitions from verse to chorus and to bridge sections. So we added very minimal trumpet parts from Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela as well as a gorgeous pedal steel part from Paul Niehaus. Some of the Brian Eno sounding synth parts were from a pocket piano synthesizer that wound up on a lot of tracks on this album.
‘Cumbia de Donde’ feels a lost sister to ‘Guero Canelo’ from ‘Feast of Wire’ or even ‘Roka’s Danza de la Muerte. I feel the energy of Calexico’s live concert is effectively translated to the sprawling canvas of ‘Edge of the Sun’. I’m sure it is an extremely exciting prospect to be in the midst of touring this new record. Talk a bit please about the space and aesthetics that inhabits each and every Calexico song? I feel this remains the trusted constant and magical spark to the unique sound of this ever-evolving ensemble.
JB: We wanted to show the variety inside our band, and so every track takes its own path and highlights different sides to the band’s musical styles. The last album “Algiers” was more focused style wise and this time out and reflecting the vibrant spirit that Mexico City exudes, we wanted to change it up. I will speak about “Cumbia de Donde” a little bit. This was influenced from spending time in Mexico and was written after the trip and recorded the first day at Wavelab Studio in Tucson. I had an idea of recording a few snippets of instrumental cumbia tracks to have come in and out of the record. This one turned out so good that we decided to make a full on song out of it. There’s a lot of distortion on the bass, percussion and vocals. We wanted to give this song the werewolf treatment and give it some teeth.
JC: Another fun one for me, I came in the next day after they had recorded this romp to a click track, and found myself a beat to play over it. In reality the beat I am playing is not a cumbia beat, it’s something else I don’t know what, but it’s not cumbia, and playing the song live I am still figuring out what to play….maybe I could try a cumbia?
Beginning back in the 90’s, you’ve been collecting musical instruments, which has been an important part to the creative process. I’m curious to know what new instruments or new tones/textures were added to the sonic palette of ‘Edge of the Sun’? One of the striking aspects to the new record is indeed the wide range of sonic timbres utilized on ‘Edge of the Sun’.
JB: The most impressive addition to the sounds on this album are the jalisco harp featured on “Coyoacán” and the Greek instruments; the kanun and bouzouki featured on “World Undone“. Oh yeah and how could I forget the addition of the pocket piano by Critter & Guitari. It’s an addicting little keyboard. Be careful when you bring it to the studio. My twin daughters Genevieve and Twyla loved playing with it at home.
JC: I did get a new drumset, something I thought I would never do, I love my vintage instruments so much. But this father and son company called C&C make these drums so much like the old ones, and even better, the tones gave me great inspiration. So much of what we do comes from tone and timbre, what the sound waves are doing that day in the room with the moisture or lack of. How high is the ceiling? The wood in the walls or the adobe, the thickness of the strings, the loudness of the amps, they all come together when the silence is broken the tide comes in.
In terms of the production, it was very much a shared experience between the core duo of Burns, Convertino, but this time out, Sergio contributed a lot to this side of the music. I would love for you to recount your memories of this process of the music-making process?
JC: Sergio is positive force; he is ready for the challenges. Coming up with something out of nothing can be like digging ditches some days, you got to have the strength. He has it. I think too, I was not there this time for a lot of the process, using email and texts don’t always translate well, so for this it was great have Sergio there to bounce ideas off of in the mixing process.
JB: It was helpful having both Ryan Alfred on bass and Sergio Mendoza on keyboards in the studio while recording the foundation for the songs. I know it helps out a lot with locking in to the groove. In addition I really enjoy recording with just John and myself as well. So we did some sessions as a two piece and came up with a bunch of basic tracks for songs like “Miles From The Sea“, “Woodshed Waltz“, “Bullets & Rocks” and “When The Angels Played”. John was there for the recording of basic tracks and Sergio was super helpful for me personally being there everyday and supportive on finishing the whole album including reaching out to guests. The studio engineers get overwhelmed with all of the ideas and possibilities, and I am sure the other band members do as well. But Sergio was good at helping me make decisions on what songs to focus on and to finish.
Please pick one song you feel most proud of and reminisce for me the song’s inception and blossom into its final entity?
JB: “World Undone” was started at home with a simple melody line. While I was driving into the studio that morning I listened to Bill Callahan’s ‘Dream River‘ album and thought it would be interesting to try a similar minimal approach. Tracked live, Sergio Mendoza and Ryan Alfred accompanied John and I on ambient guitars instead of keyboard and bass. This helped free up the form and allowed us to experiment more with a live take between my guitar and John’s drums. I like this version of the song and even though I kept wanting the dynamics to build more. That is the beauty of a live take. We did however make an edit so that the song was 4 minutes long and not 7. I think that helped a lot especially in wanting to release so many songs on the album.
Months later while on tour in Greece we added some musicians from the band Takim which really helped outline the melody with bouzouki and oud, plus doubling an electric guitar part with violin. The harpsichord sounding texture that weaves in and out of the track is the kanun, a traditional hammer dulcimer type instrument. When Craig Schumacher went to mix the song he noticed there was no bass and so he added a Moog synth bass which I like a lot and was a nice surprise when listening to his mix. When I played the album to our live engineers in Holland both Patrick Boonstra and Jelle Kuiper commented that this was their favorite song. It was hard choosing which songs out of the 20 we had finished were to be on the album. I’m glad that “World Undone” made it to the album.
JC: I like them all, and that becomes a problem because I was thinking they all should be on the record, but that makes a record long and who has time to listen to long records??? People download songs now, and that’s the world we live in. I have to believe that if all the songs are available in the digital world, people will find them and like them if they take the time to dig.
What books, records, films have served inspiration these past few months for you?
JB: Buddy Levy “Conquistador“, Natalia Lafourcade “Mujer Divinia – Homenaje a Agustín Lara, Mexican Institute of Sound “Politico”, painter Rodolfo Nieto and writer Carlos Fuentes.
JC: As I mentioned before the Donald Judd exhibit in Marfa was in my mind. I’ve been reading the Morrissey autobiography and loving it. His writing and insights to poetry and music is something I can relate to very closely. And I appreciate so much his honesty, even in the most difficult of situations being in a band, the business, fame and all the rest of it.
‘Edge of the Sun’ is out now on City Slang (Europe) & ANTI- (USA).