FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Mary Lattimore

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I think making music is just my way of capturing moments that otherwise might be fleeting. They’re little time capsules, the songs and the records.”

—Mary Lattimore

 Words: Mark Carry

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Having first discovered Los Angeles-based harpist and composer Mary Lattimore’s 2013 debut ‘The Withdrawing Room’ (released on Desire Path Recordings), each new release has been a hugely exciting discovery. On this year’s ‘Hundreds Of Days’ – and third release for the prestigious Ghostly label – Lattimore’s ethereal, dream-wave bliss of her harp-based compositions casts a spacious, luminescent and captivating sound world of unknown dimensions.

The gorgeous album opener ‘It Feels Like Floating’ feels just like that: the sacred harp tapestries drift in the ether of faded dreams amidst swathes of celestial harmonies. Utterly timeless. Jonsi’s Healing Fields remix is a fascinating re-interpretation that conveys the inspirational quality of Lattimore’s hugely unique and shape shifting compositions.

Guitar, keyboard and percussion is added on the poignant folk gem ‘Never Saw Him Again’: forging a dreamy pop opus from a past we have not yet quite arrived upon. The soundscapes and intricate layers continually build, as if reawakening some once-vivid memories of a loved one. The sparse ‘Hello From the Edge of the Earth’ maps the human heart and Lattimore’s love of the natural world. The lyrical quality of this piece is quite something to behold.

Baltic Birch’ blossomed from the composer’s recent trip to Latvia where she was struck by the abandoned resort towns along the Baltic Sea.  A desolate landscape is etched across the ambient soundscapes with the electric guitar haze recalling Lattimore’s collaborations with Jeff Ziegler.

The LA-based harpist – in much the same way as fellow contemporaries Julianna Barwick, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and so on – possesses the ability to transport you to an entirely new realm wherein the music becomes beautifully buried in the pools of one’s mind. ‘Hundreds Of Days’ is yet another gleaming treasure in the composer’s storied career.

‘Hundreds Of Days’ is out now on Ghostly International.

https://marylattimoreharpist.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/harpistmarylattimore/

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Interview with Mary Lattimore.

 

Congratulations Mary on the stunningly beautiful latest solo full length ‘Hundreds Of Days’. Firstly, please take me back to the record’s inception and particularly this redwood barn overlooking San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. This must have been such an inspiring setting in which the compositions of ‘Hundreds Of Days’ emanated from? Please recount your memories of these colourful, creative days?

Mary Lattimore: I was awarded this artist’s residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in a national park outside of San Francisco. I stayed there for almost two months, absorbing the rugged, romantic landscape and meeting other artists who were painters, poets, activists, dancers from all over the world. We shared dinner together and lived in these Victorian military houses surrounded by eucalyptus trees. During the day, we were each alone in our own zones, writing or hiking, with barely any cell phone service or internet. My studio was this large barn where I’d set out all of my instruments, some I didn’t know how to play. Walking back to my house late at night was very star-lit and felt a little dangerous, in a safe way. Mountain lions had been spotted there.The ocean was grey-blue and the beach was rocky. We were surrounded by redwood trees, lots of fog, coastal sage and tsunami warning signs. We each had total freedom and met up at the end of the day to eat delicious food cooked by a gourmet chef. It was a very blissful couple of months of total creative freedom, where no one could hear me experimenting with things I didn’t know how to use or trying out vocals, embarrassingly. That kind of space and freedom within a time constraint of a two month, once-in-a-lifetime residency is very intense and very special. I’m really grateful for it.

As a listener I’m always struck by how expansive your harp-based creations truly are, and how the rich tapestries of sumptuous sounds drift in the ether of unknown dimensions. Looking back over these six pieces, I wonder were some of these borne from the act of improvisation? Also, I’d love to gain an insight into your mindset when you perform your trusted harp instrument? It feels as if there is some liminal state forever orbited when your music ascends into the atmosphere.

ML: Wow, that’s a beautiful way to put it. In general, all of the pieces are borne from improvisation, where I’ll press record and start to make something, then if I like where it goes, I’ll add the extra layers and morph where those layers go by adding layers on top of that. So it’s just kind of stacks of improvised tracks. Part of that method might be because I don’t really know how to edit, technology-wise, so I just add until it sounds cool and sounds the way I want it to. I guess it’s the same way when I play live. There are always happy accidents and loops that I have to figure my way out of, so it remains thrilling because there’s so much improvisation woven in there around the themes.

One of the new directions here is the added instrumentation of keyboards, guitar and grand piano, intricately woven with the harp tapestries. Truly, these new layers further heightens the otherworldly and timeless quality of your musical works. I’d love for you to talk me through the gorgeous album opener ‘It Feels Like Floating’ (a title which perfectly encapsulates the entire record)? Did the various layering provide any challenges? How long was this particular melody simmering in the pools of your mind, Mary? It feels such an effortless process, it’s almost as if a piece of music just comes to you, like a raindrop falling from the sky….

ML: I mean, I have to say, it’s not effortless, but it did just come to me, where I was just messing around, came up with that little figure that starts the song, and then I hit record and that’s what came out. It’s not effortless but I’m basically just playing with a kernel of an idea and then just seeing where it goes if I add other things. As I’m bad at editing, I scrap the whole take if I don’t like it and then just make something else. But usually, I can get myself out of trouble if I just add more things or take away big chunks rather than going in there and dissecting the tiny bits. It Feels Like Floating came from a place in which I had a little heartbreak and was trying to digest that. The title is a quote from the conversation I had with the dude, and I thought it was a pretty thing to say. Making up songs is how I navigate myself out of those things, in a way, too, I guess. But I also love to swim and that feeling of floating is one of the best feelings in the world.

The artist residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts must have served a significant source of inspiration for you, and particularly spending time with an entire community of creative souls. It reminds me of the Loft in New York or the Big Pink house in Woodstock from different moments in time. I would love to read a diary entry (if you will) from this time you spent along the Northern Pacific Coast and the characters that filled these days? 

ML: I should’ve kept a diary! Instead, I wrote lots of letters to other people. I was really psyched to get so much mail and to generate so much mail while I was there. I read 14 books in 2 months, which is a lot for me. A lot of my favorite days were those spent not talking with anyone, just making a little breakfast, drinking coffee, walking to the studio, playing some, then taking a hike down to the beach or up to one of the abandoned military structures high on a hill, then coming back down for dinner, then walking up to the studio, playing a little more, drinking a little wine, walking back home under the stars, reading and going to bed. I think the simplicity, the simple options of what to do during the day, the lack of mental chatter/worry and general stability where you didn’t have to fret about driving anywhere or the news or anything outside of the little bubble was super unique and luxurious. I’ll remember it forever.

Can you discuss your set-up for the recording of ‘Hundreds Of Days’? I wonder did you try out and experiment with new processes and techniques on this latest record? 

ML: I want to keep moving forward and trying out new things. I had this beautiful Moog Mother 32 and the Theremini and some pedals and some cheap thrift store keyboards, electric guitar, there was a grand piano in the main building, I just wanted to make the palette as full of colors as I could, so that was the main difference in this record, expanded palette. I didn’t really try out new techniques but I also think that the hourglass of two months being turned over, the limited time, inspired me to get lots of work done.

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‘Hello From the Edge of the Earth’ is such an achingly beautiful lament with the graceful harp notes unfolding a quiet magic instantaneously. As the title suggests, this piece of music is an ode to mother nature. I’d love for you to discuss the narrative of this particular piece and your memories of writing ‘Hello From the Edge of the Earth’? Were you steeped in nature from your upbringing back home in Philadelphia?

ML: I’m actually from North Carolina, so I did grow up amidst a lot of nature, in the mountains in the western part of the state. I figured out pretty early on that I love cities, the culture and the anonymity and the possibilities that come with living in a big city. I moved to Rochester, NY when I was 17, which is a larger city than the town where I grew up. My life in Philly didn’t have that much nature except for a park overlooking the river at the end of my block. I think being at the Headlands was the closest to immersion in nature that I’d felt for a while and it really lined up with my need to make something that encompassed heartache and a general sadness about leaving Philadelphia, where I’d lived for thirteen years. The record and this song are both a love letter to the wildness and jewel box beauty of the California coast and a postcard back to Philadelphia from my new location. I see this song as a postcard. It’s a little musical transmission from my new planet.

The act of travelling and road-trips across America has provided you with many stories, I’m sure which get captured beautifully into your deeply affecting music. As a musician and artist, I’d love to gain an insight into the ways by which your creative mind becomes unlocked (and the flood gates open, so to speak) when you’re in motion and witnessing different places along a continent spanning trip? For example, the seeds were for sewn for the predecessor ‘At The Dam’ LP from a U.S. road trip?

ML: Yeah, it’s true. I think making music is just my way of capturing moments that otherwise might be fleeting. They’re little time capsules, the songs and the records. My memory is pretty shot and it’s my way of recording the places and the feelings and it’s my way of communicating with other people, albeit wordlessly. Being on the road or being in a strange new place really flips a switch on in your brain, where you’re more aware and alert and awake, more present in your own body. I watch a lot of tv and I drink a lot of cocktails and mess around on my phone a lot and just hang out kind of duuuuhhhhhh, so being in motion really makes me right again, where I have to revive things that have fallen asleep, if that makes sense. So residencies and road trips feel important to the music because that’s when my ears and hands and brain and way of looking at the world and assessing situations are most alert. I want to go to Copenhagen in the summer to make a new record and to get to know that place, so that’s the next escape route.

Please describe for me your trusted 47-string Lyon and Healy harp. When did you first play this instrument and in what way do you feel you have developed this special relationship with the harp instrument? After first discovering your music in the form of ‘The Withdrawing Room’, it feels as if you are continually evolving with each new release. The possibilities are endless, perhaps the essence of your harp-based creations.

ML: Thanks so much! Yes, I want to keep evolving and seeing what the instrument has to offer, sound and personality-wise. I started playing the harp when I was 11 but didn’t really have such a personal relationship with it until I went to college (music conservatory) and had to spend solitary hours and hours in a practice room focusing on one piece at a time. I got close to my harp in a love/hate kind of way that felt like an important war we went through together. Now, it’s only love, though, because I have to protect it so much, taking it with me places. It’s like a sister to me.

Lastly, can you shed some light on your compositional approach when it comes to your harp playing, Mary? For instance, the myriad of sublime moments dotted across pieces such as ‘Never Saw Him Again’ and ‘Baltic Birch’ could never have been as a result of solely improvising? I love how transporting these pieces are, and these masterfully sculpted sonic creations feel like a sprawling abstract canvas of deep, resonating meaning.

ML: Baltic Birch was one where I had the main melody line in my mind beforehand in a singular melodic voice, so I thought of how I could build it. I thought I couldn’t loop that melody line because it was too long, so I looped the accompaniment, but then I realized that the melody actually could also be looped if it became kind of a round. Never Saw Him Again was definitely all improvisation and experimenting and I definitely thought it sounded kinda cheesy when I first made it. I also don’t really like my voice, so I put it through some Garage Band filter reverb stuff and had Jeff, who mixed it, kinda tweak the pitchiness of it when he was mixing just to make it not horrendous. I definitely just use vocals as texture and don’t claim to be a singer at all. Haha. I was just going with it. Everything comes with just messing around. I’ve never made a (solo) song in a real studio, only on my own with flexibility and an empty room and Garage Band on a laptop, so maybe it’s time to see what would happen if there was a little more pressure, with somebody a little more experienced controlling the actual recording and actual songs that are thought about more in advance. Who knows. Gotta keep trying things out! Thanks so much for the thoughtful questions! I always love to read your take on things!

‘Hundreds Of Days’ is out now on Ghostly International.

https://marylattimoreharpist.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/harpistmarylattimore/

Written by admin

January 9, 2019 at 2:55 pm

One Response

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  1. Heck yes!!!!

    >

    Nathan Walker

    January 9, 2019 at 2:56 pm


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