Chosen One: Mary Lattimore
Interview with Mary Lattimore.
“I really love to improvise, at this point, and feel like there is a lot of untapped potential weirdness and beauty that my harp has in it. It’ll take time and playing more and messing around with more pedals, so it’s exciting to be not totally comfortable and satisfied. It’s fun to try to evoke these moods and colors through playing and I wanna get dark with it, and then probably light again.”
Illustration: Craig Carry, Words: Mark Carry
‘The Withdrawing Room’ is the debut solo album of Philadelphia harpist, Mary Lattimore. Released earlier this year – limited to three hundred copies on black vinyl – the album draws from the worlds of drone, ambient, folk and world music, creating in turn a gleaming treasure of sacred sonic tapestries. Lattimore’s harp compositions can be compared with Julianna Barwick’s choral-based harmonies, where both artists loop their chosen instrument to magnificent effect. Much like Barwick’s ‘The Magic Place’, I have found myself revisiting Lattimore’s solo work on endless occasions, during the early morning hours and the quiet still of night. ‘The Withdrawing Room’ is a place to seek solace. A hidden realm is tapped into by Lattimore; evoking the cosmic spirit of Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey In Satchidananda’ where the cascading notes envelop a myriad of feelings. The music is pure and sacred, just like the beautiful album artwork that graces ‘The Withdrawing Room’. The gorgeous artwork is by Becky Suss, and is entitled ’76 Meadow Woods Road’ (oil on linen). Be removed. Come wander deep inside the stunning harp song-cycles, where you indeed become withdrawn from the world outside your window, and transported to an entire ‘other’ place.
At the heart of ‘The Withdrawing Room’ is a beautiful collaboration between like-minded souls – Lattimore, armed with her beloved harp and line 6 looper; and Jeff Zeigler who recorded and mixed the album, as well as playing synthesizer on opening 24-minute piece ‘You’ll Be Fiiinnne’. The music is largely improvized and amazingly, the recording took merely one afternoon to complete. The song ‘You’ll Be Fiiinnne’ is simply breathtaking. The experimental and digital wizardry of Zeigler blends effortlessly with Lattimore’s rich acoustic sounds of clean harp notes and shape-shifting tones. The result is something enchanting, otherworldly, and utterly unique. The track conjures up the sound of Rodion G.A. – an artist I have only recently discovered these past few months – whose primitive makeshift set-up of early drum machines, Tesla reel to reels, and live instruments reveals a sacred treasure that has been unheard and unreleased for over thirty years. ‘The Withdrawing Room’ similarly inhabits a certain space and time that is ultimately something transcendental. As Lattimore has said of the recording session: “We slipped into a different zone.”
Lattimore has long been synonymous with the independent music scene, long before the arrival of her solo full-length player. Previous collaborations have included luminaries such as Thurston Moore, Meg Baird, Kurt Vile, Ed Askew, Fursaxa, and Jarvis Cocker. I feel the folk song tradition is embedded throughout the stunning piece, ‘Pluto The Planet’, which follows the blissful – near-mythical – sound clouds of ‘You’ll Be Fiiinne’. Across sixteen minutes, bewitching arpeggios of harp chords resonate deeply into one’s consciousness. The slow and resonating tones float in the air’s atmosphere that becalms all that surrounds you. A cathartic effect radiates from the ambient tour de force. Some time later – what feels a lifetime – the harp sounds slowly meanders to a state of completion. The river below has found its sea. The skies above have formed a perfect blue. The closing gem, ‘Poor Daniel’ feels like a lullaby to safely guide you to sleep. The meditative tones serves as a remedy to soothe all of life’s pain and troubles.
File alongside Virginia Astley’s ‘From Gardens Where We Feel Secure’, Julianna Barwick’s ‘The Magic Place’ and all records pure and divine. ‘The Withdrawing Room’ never ceases to amaze.
‘The Withdrawing Room’ is out now on Desire Path Recordings.
Interview with Mary Lattimore.
Congratulations on your truly inspiring debut work, ‘The Withdrawing Room’. Your harp compositions are steeped in gorgeous beauty that transports you to a whole new dimension. A work of true art and beauty. I would love for you to discuss please the recording of this album?
Thank you so much, Mark. I appreciate the lovely compliment. The recording of it was pretty simple and just took an afternoon. I brought my harp over to Jeff’s studio (Uniform Recording) and just improvised for a few hours. Nothing was really sketched out and it was very casual. I think we had some champagne. It was last year at the end of winter. I think we slipped into a different zone, too, while we were working on it. We definitely lost track of time and the songs came out pretty long!
My current favourite is ‘You’ll Be Fiiinnne’. I love how the subtle electronics by Jeff Zeigler blend so effortlessly with your harp sounds. The piece is utterly transcendent–all 24 minutes. There is this ebb and flow to the piece that feels so natural, like the air you breathe. Please discuss this song and the collaborative aspect of making music that you and Jeff tap into so wonderfully?
Oh, awesome. That one was the first one we worked on. Jeff has recorded a lot of friends and is known around here for having a great ear and a great musical brain, so I’m grateful that he agreed to play because he really enhanced this song and made it more interesting. One of my favorite parts is when I’m taking this 9 volt battery and scraping the low wire strings creepily and he is matching that sound and playing off of it. These days, Jeff and I play shows together and have gotten to the point where we both feel creative and conversational when improvising. Feels like it’s only getting better. We’re good friends.
I think, as far as the ebb and flow goes, the arc of the song, I see it like a little narrative, like a story where things get hectic and disturbed and then come back around and all’s okay. Jeff was ready to take it there with me, so I think I found the perfect person to work with.
Please take me back to your earliest memories of playing the harp? When did you start playing this instrument and what is it about the harp that gravitated you towards it?
My mom is a harpist, so I’ve been around them my whole life. My earliest memory of playing, I guess, was in my first lesson when I was 11. I wasn’t fully into it until later, though, because I’d get frustrated and bored and feel lame. My teacher in high school was really wonderful, though, and encouraging and I went to a couple of summer music camps where I met some cool friends that were really into being part of orchestras. It was a lucky foundation to be given, the lessons and I also went to music conservatory, so having that training is something I don’t take for granted. But I only started to really feel connected with the harp after I got to know it better, after a few years of practicing it. It took awhile for it to sink in that it was really my thing.
While listening to your music, I feel the same spell is cast upon me that Julianna Barwick’s album ‘The Magic Place’ renders. So many layers of enchanting sounds create this mesmerising tapestry of sound. Is this a record you are familiar with? (I’m sure it is!) If so, please discuss why you love her music?
I love that record! I actually wrote her a fan email. Haha. Cool compliment!! I like the idea of a one-woman choir and focused, happy solitude, painting a mood by yourself in a room. I really like those Grouper records, too, so much. Would love to see them both play live.
Discuss the possibilities that improvisation brings in your music?
I really love to improvise, at this point, and feel like there is a lot of untapped potential weirdness and beauty that my harp has in it. It’ll take time and playing more and messing around with more pedals, so it’s exciting to be not totally comfortable and satisfied. It’s fun to try to evoke these moods and colors through playing and I wanna get dark with it, and then probably light again.
What albums or artists have inspired you the most in your music?
I’m really inspired by friends and people I’ve played with – Fursaxa (Tara Burke), Helena Espvall, a great cellist, Meg Baird my best pal, Samara Lubelski, who’s like a sister. They all have beautiful, elegant records, both with other people and solo. I love this piece by Gorecki, the 3rd Symphony. I love Brian Eno and the Cure, Om, Blues Control, and Growing’s earlier records. Getting to know Thurston M. and Kim G. and seeing how they play music, totally unencumbered by dumb self-doubt, just totally free, has been really inspiring. Can’t wait for Watery Love’s new record. My old roommate Daniel Bachman is great at the guitar and would play all the time, a testament to practicing and working hard by yourself. Close friends from Rochester, Andy Gilmore and Jason Schulmerich, sit alone and draw and what comes out is detailed, sometimes-strange, perfect art. Lots of creative people close to my heart.
The artwork by Becky Suss beautifully encapsulates the music wrapped inside. The vinyl is a work of art. It must be a wonderful feeling for you when you see your work being represented by artwork such as this? A celebration of the awe-inspiring music you have created.
Becky is sooo talented. It IS a wonderful feeling! I can’t believe she let me use her painting. She later told me that the room in it is actually her grandfather’s living room and he’d just passed away when she painted it, so there’s that loss there, but the trees outside seem to be so comforting, along with all of his collection. I imagine that the room smells like old books and a Frank Lloyd Wright cool glass, dark wood smell. The painting is actually huge, gigantic.
You have collaborated with many indie-rock greats such as Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile to name but a few. How does the collaborative side of your work feed into your own music?
I think writing harp parts that have a complementary melody is really fun, fitting together the instruments like puzzle pieces. Just focusing on melody and creating a line and I think that carries over to what I’m trying to do solo, to always indulge the ghost of a melody even when its hidden in noise.
What is next for you, Mary? I hope you come play in Ireland sometime soon?
I would love to play in Ireland. I love Ireland so much. It’s the prettiest. Would love to see more of it and to travel all around and see the coast.
Next, I’m playing a couple of shows around here with Jeff, one at a contemporary art museum. I got asked to score a silent film in Marfa, Texas in the distant future (December), so stoked on that. Jeff and I will work on a duo record this year. Playing keyboard with this new band Mild Time. A good friend Rosali and I are jamming in June and our band’s called Ghost Ship. Her voice is gorgeous. Should be a good year!
‘The Withdrawing Room’ is out now on Desire Path Recordings. The limited edition vinyl can be ordered here.