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Chosen One: Heather Trost

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“My first love will always be my violin, but the Hammond chord organ and Davolisint have a beautiful timbre that was really inspiring in the creative process and allowed me to explore some new ideas.” 

—Heather Trost

Words: Craig Carry

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This year marks the eagerly anticipated release of “Agistri”, the debut solo album by the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Heather Trost. Best known as violinist and one half of the much-loved and world-renowned duo A Hawk And A Hacksaw (alongside longtime collaborator Jeremy Barnes of Neutral Milk Hotel), Trost has also contributed (in both studio and live contexts) to a wide array of musicians and songwriters in the past, including: Neutral Milk Hotel; Beirut; Josephine Foster; Thor Harris of Swans; and stargaze, the Berlin-based, André de Ridder-led orchestral collective. “Agistri” follows up Trost’s pair of previous solo recordings, the debut 7″ for Ba Da Bing! Records (2014) and 2015’s stunningly expansive and dreamlike “Ourobouros” (Cimotti Recordings), the latter consisting of two epic side-long tracks revealing multi-layered synthesiser-based passages of both quiet intensity and profound beauty.

“Agistri” – released via Living Music Duplication in early June – is named after the Greek Island whose unique Saronic Gulf surroundings provided an early inspiration to the album (Trost first encountered the island while on tour with A Hawk And A Hacksaw in Greece). The spellbinding album weaves its irresistible spell upon the listener from the title-track opener to lead single “Agina”, touching effortlessly upon a myriad of sounds and styles along the way – from Éthiopiques to Brian Wilson and from Van Dyke Parks to the landmark productions by 50s/60s pioneers Spector, Meek and Nitzsche.

Trost’s own stunningly surrealist and poetic lyricism (recalls Lee Hazlewood’s mastery of song craft in being able to imprint such a lasting impression in so few words) beautifully compliments the immaculate musicianship of Trost’s esteemed ensemble, her bandmates consisting of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeremy Barnes on drums and bass, Deerhoof’s John Dieterich on guitar, and Drake Hardin and Rosie Hutchinson of cult New Mexico band Mammal Eggs.

“Agistri” by Heather Trost is available now on LM Dupli-Cation.

http://lmduplication.com/

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Interview with Heather Trost.

Congratulations on the making of “Agistri”, it is such a special and magnificent album. The breathtaking range of instrumentation and ideas for the songs’ arrangements, the poetic and surrealist lyrics and immaculate production makes the album pulsate with so much heart and life. If you could first take me back to the genesis for the making of “Agistri”: When did the writing process begin for this set of songs? 

Heather Trost: Thank you so much for the kind words! I started working on “Agistri” two years ago. I had done two releases under my name, a 7″ and a tape, and I kept writing more songs. I joined Jeremy Barnes touring with Neutral Milk hotel in 2015, and started thinking of songs in the van, and even playing them on a tiny keyboard with headphones. When I got home I would record them in our studio.

When did you first visit or come across the Greek island of Agistri?

HT: I have always loved Greece, and Greek culture, food and music. Jeremy and I were on tour last summer, and we played in Athens. We had some time off, so we took a boat to the closest two Islands, the second being Agistri. It was extremely hot, you could cut the air with a knife. We rented bikes and rode around the island, and then found a totally isolated cove. The island is basically a bunch of huge hills with pine trees, and very arid. It reminded me of New Mexico, except with turquoise blue water.

The songwriting on “Agistri” is so stunning. I love how – on the one hand – there is a kind of purity and simplicity in the lyrics like those classic 60s pop songs (like Spector, Nitzsche or Wilson), while on the other hand there are so many hidden layers to be found and revealed upon repeat listens (for instance: “I’m a castaway / looking for the shore” from “Agina” or “oceans rising all around / ‘Till I float away” from “Agistri”. In terms of writing lyrics, where do you find your inspiration? 

HT: Thank you so much! I’ve always loved the lyrics of Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson, they tell a story, but there’s multiple layers. I guess I write a lot of my lyrics thinking about dreams, symbolism and trying to create imagery. I have always loved the writing of Carl Jung, especially his descriptions of his dream life.

I also love the fact that you draw upon the landscape and immediate surroundings a lot (the ocean, the moon, the sun, the desert) for your writing. It brings to mind folk spirits like Sibylle Baier or Vashti Bunyan and how you can transform the everyday into something magical. New Mexico itself must be such a magnificent source of inspiration for you too, as its landscape and history clearly finds its way into your music and songs?

HT: I have always loved the New Mexican landscape, but it took leaving New Mexico to realize it’s grasp on my heart and imagination. It’s incredibly varied, from desert to forest, mountains and endless vistas. I found similarities in the topography of Greece and Spain, but it’s totally unique. There is a lot to draw on from your environment if you look around. I’m lucky in that I love where I’m from and draw inspiration from it.

Growing up, which musicians and songwriters did you most identify with and resonated with you the deepest? 

HT: My dad had a great record collection. We listened to the Beach Boys, Santana, Pink Floyd. But we also listened to a lot of classical music. When I first heard “Surf’s Up” by Brian Wilson, I thought it was the most perfect song ever written. I also really loved Fleetwood Mac as a teen, and Stevie Nicks was one of my first concerts. In high school I was into darker music, Björk, Portishead and Black Sabbath.

“Me And My Arrow” is my current favourite, I love the progression from the verse to chorus (from “And in the morning when I wake up” onwards) and the melody of the song itself is so pristine and timeless, where the rhythm and vocals work so beautifully together. The magic of how those drum and vocal sounds combine together reminds me of groups like The Ronettes or The Crystals. I’d love for you to reflect on the making of this song? It must have been such a lovely moment for you all when listening to this back in its final recorded form?

HT: This song came together pretty fast, but then we did a lot of tweaking and pulling certain things in and out in the mixing stage. It has a couple of organs layered to make this nice staccato chord things, but then becomes really sparse with just a Wurlitzer and voice during the breakdown. Jeremy did an amazing job of adding piano chords, and electric bass. The piano I think adds a nice organic layer to the sound, giving it a classic acoustic feel. I’m also in love with the way our old upright sounds, it’s got a lot of character, and I’m glad it’s on the album.

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In terms of the song arrangements, I’d love to first go back to your solo tape cassette release “Ouroboros”. Those two side-long tracks “Berkshires” and “Święta Góra” are so gripping and moving, it brings to mind so many of the great synthesiser-based composers of the seventies and eighties but it also touches so effortlessly upon so many types of music and traditions: krautrock, new age, ambient and electronic. I’d love if you could talk about this project and the making of “Ouroboros”?

HT: These were compositions I worked on while on tour with Neutral Milk Hotel. We were driving through the Berkshire mountains, and it was grey and rainy, and I wanted to try and capture the feeling of those gloomy landscapes somehow. I just found myself adding layers and layers, making it feel like clouds and fog covering a mountain. “Święta Góra” I wrote using an Italian Davolisint, and DX7 which is also prominent on “Agistri”, and layering sounds with a tape echo. I was thinking about a mountain in this piece as well, Šwieta Góra means holy mountain in Polish.

The arrangements on “Agistri” are so diverse and nuanced and yet very tight and finely honed at the same time. Yourself and your band members Jeremy Barnes, John Dieterich, Drake Hardin and Rosie Hutchinson combine to create such a breathtaking sound. It reminds me of the inventiveness from Dieterich & Barnes’ “The Coral Casino” or the songbooks of bands like Lambchop, Camera Obscura or Julia Holter in terms of how you can incorporate so many separate sounds into a single pop song structure. In terms of recording set-up, what was the main instrumentation that you chose to use? How were these songs initially composed, was it simply voice and guitar or voice and piano? 

HT: I started many of the harmonic ideas using a chord organ. I often come up with chords, harmonic movement and basslines before melody and lyrics, but not always. “Real Me/Real You” was composed first with the melody and lyrics. I played the beat on DX7 and then started singing over it. Then I added all the other layers and Jeremy played drums, and Drake added electric guitar. “Abiquiu” was written on piano, and then I recorded it on the Hammond chord organ.

“Agistri” and “Agina” were started by Jeremy and I each playing an organ at the same time, both hammonds, and one of us would play chords, the other coming up with a melody on top, and vis versa. Then John added really great guitar lines on “Abiquiu” and “Agistri”, and of course Jeremy added drums, electric bass and a layer of piano and organ on “Plastic Flowers”, “Agina”, “Agistri” and “Abiquiu”. Drake added guitar, vibes and bass on “Me And My Arrow” and guitar on “Real Me/Real You”. Rosie sang amazing back up vocals, and we did some vocal experimenting on “Plastic Flowers” that came out nicely.

I always love how instruments themselves carry their own unique histories and that sense of identity and complex history is always associated with them no matter what new context they are being used in. I always love reading how musicians – for example Jeremy or Calexico’s John Convertino or Joey Burns – talk about how all these disparate music traditions (whether Portuguese fado or Hungarian folk etc.) find their ways into so many new contexts and sounds. I’d love if you talk about the different instruments as used on the album? What are your own most prized musical instruments?

HT: Sure! I mentioned already the Hammond organs, Wurlitzer and the Davolisint which has a totally unique character, and our upright piano. I also used a DX7 to create some different bass and percussion sounds, as well as an 80s casio to add a shimmer. I also used a mellotron on “Bloodmoon” and “Agina”, the saxophone sample. Also just some nice basic things, guitar, bass. John has this tiny French guitar he used on “Agina”. I also played violin on “Abiquiu”.

My first love will always be my violin, but the Hammond chord organ and Davolisint have a beautiful timbre that was really inspiring in the creative process and allowed me to explore some new ideas.

I love the closer “Three Feathers”, its slow pulse and organic flow is like a desert being slowly enveloped in shadow. It also forms such a touching counterpoint (and closing note) to the more up-tempo and more densely arranged songs. It also ties back wonderfully to your “Ouroboros” work. I’d love if you could talk about the making of this piece? 

HT: I think you described it wonderfully! It was a similar process to “Ouroboros” in that I was trying to make a soundscape that would invoke the listeners imagination to create their own imagery.

What music, books or films have recently inspired you?

HT: I recently learned of an incredible hammer dulcimer player and singer named Dorothy Carter, she has an amazing album from 1978 called “Wailee Wailee”, she has a Sibylle Baier quality, and reminds me a bit of Catherine Ribiero, but she is completely unique. I recently read Thomas Mann’s “Der Zauberberg” (“The Magic Mountain”). I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about Mann’s descriptions of place, emotions and time are otherworldly and magical. I have been loving the films of Peter Strickland, especially his Hungarian Epic “Katalin Varga” and “The Duke of Burgundy”, both beautiful films.

“Agistri” by Heather Trost is available now on LM Dupli-Cation.

http://lmduplication.com/

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June 22, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S02E05 | May mix

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May’s mixtape features selections from a pair of the year’s most essential compilations: Alice Coltrane’s “Turiyasangitananda” (Luaka Bop) and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ retrospective set “Lovely Creatures” (Mute).

“Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 1984-2014” comprises a gorgeous meticulously assembled archive – spanning music, previously unseen photographs, memorabilia and extensive archival footage – of Cave’s first three decades as frontman to the world’s most revered and significant bands: The Bad Seeds. “Lovely Creatures” is compiled by Cave and founding Bad Seeds member Mick Harvey, with additional help from the current Bad Seeds. On the announcement of its release, Cave issued the following statement via his website:

“There are some people out there who just don’t know where to start with The Bad Seeds. Others know the catalogue better than I do! This release is designed to be a way into three decades of music making. That’s a lot of songs. The songs we have chosen are the ones that have stuck around, for whatever reason. Some songs are those that demand to be played live. Others are lesser songs that are personal favourites of ours. Others are just too big and have too much history to leave out. And there are those that didn’t make it, poor things. They are the ones you must discover by yourselves.”

“World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda” is the spellbinding compilation of music made by the legendary composer, pianist and spiritualist Alice Coltrane with members of Sai Anantam Ashram in California during the eighties ad nineties. Much of the music here is culled from self-released tape cassettes released from the period. As Luaka Bop have said, the music from “Turiyasangitananda” is “inspired by the gospel music of the Detroit churches she grew up in, mixed together with the Indian devotional music of her religious practice, and even finds Alice singing for the first time in her recorded catalog. Originally only made available through her ashram, they are her most obscure body of work and possibly the greatest reflection of her soul.”

May’s mixtape also features new releases from: A Hawk And A Hacksaw’s Heather Trost who releases her sublime solo debut “Agistri” on June 2nd via LM Duplication; Animal Collective’s “The Painters” EP (Domino); Stockholm-based electronic duo Roll The Dice’s “Born To Ruin” (The New Black); “Wade In” by Julianna Barwick (part of the extensive “Our First 100 Days” benefit compilation); Wolfgang Voigt releases “Narkopop” via Kompakt, his latest ambient opus under his GAS guise and first for twenty years; Heather Woods Broderick’s gorgeous new 7″ single “Home Winds” (recorded in response to the photographs of Benjamin Swett and published as a collaborative project between both artists by Planthouse Inc).

Fractured Air x Blogothèque – S02E05 | May mix

 

To listen on La Blogothèque:

http://www.blogotheque.net/2017/05/31/fractured-air-x-blogotheque-s02e05-may-mix/

 

01. Steve Reich“Come Out” (excerpt) (Nonesuch)
02. Daniel Brandt“Eternal Something” (Erased Tapes)
03. Forest Swords“Panic” (Ninja Tune)
04. Roll The Dice“Cannonball” (The New Black)
05. Everything Is Recorded“Washed Up on the Shore” (feat. Obongjayar and Warren Ellis) (XL Recordings)
06. Dirty Three “Furnace Skies” (Bella Union, Anchor & Hope)
07. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Tupelo” (Mute, BMG)
08. Tom Armstrong“Thunder Clouds” (Tompkins Square)
09. Slowdive“Sugar for the Pill” (Dead Oceans)
10. GAS“Narkopop 5” (Kompakt)
11. Biosphere“Black Mesa” (Biophon)
12. Mount Kimbie“Marilyn” (feat. Micachu) (Warp)
13. Mamman Sani“Samari Da Yan Matan” (Sahel Sounds)
14. Umoja“707” (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
15. Molly Nilsson“About Somebody” (Dark Skies Association / Night School)
16. Heather Trost“Agina” (LM Duplication)
17. Lukács István & Burka Sándor“Szállj Le Hattyú” (Hungaroton)
18. Carla dal Forno“Fast Moving Cars” (Blackest Ever Black)
19. Laurel Halo“Jelly” (Hyperdub)
20. Jlin“Black Origami” (Planet Mu)
21. Alice Coltrane “Om Rama” (Luaka Bop)
22. Shabazz Palaces“Shine a Light” (feat. Thaddillac) (Sub Pop)
23. Bobe Gáspár Ernő és Zenekara“Becskereki Pipagyújtó” (Hungaroton)
24. Animal Collective“Man of Oil” (Domino)
25. Julianna Barwick“Wade In” (Our First 100 Days, Bandcamp)
26. Heather Woods Broderick“Home Winds” (Planthouse Inc, Yebo Music)
27. Saltland “Forward Eyes II” (Constellation)

Compiled by Fractured Air, May 2017. The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

http://www.blogotheque.net/
https://fracturedair.com/

 

Chosen One: A Hawk And A Hacksaw

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(Part 1) Interview with Jeremy Barnes, A Hawk And A Hacksaw.

“I’ve loved A Hawk And A Hacksaw ever since I first encountered them with the release of their first album. Over the years they’ve surprised and thrilled me repeatedly – both on record and at their incendiary live shows. I find their music so thrilling, I think, because their music offers many qualities I rarely hear in music either new or old.”

—Dan Snaith, Caribou

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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‘You Have Already Gone To The Other World’ is the highly anticipated new release from A Hawk And A Hacksaw. Over the past couple of years, A Hawk And A Hacksaw sporadically toured a live soundtrack to Sergei Parajanov’s 1964 film ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’, and earlier this month saw the highly anticipated release of this new music. The New Mexico based duo of Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost have made yet another captivating and compelling body of work, using the Turkish and Balkan folk template. The duo explain the new music composed for Parajanov’s film “accompanies, comments on, and sometimes overtakes the original soundtrack and dialogue.” The title-track of ‘You Have Already Gone To The Other World’ is a breathtaking piece of music. Trost’s violin conjures up a world of forgotten dreams. The pulsating rhythm and percussion evokes life and death. The flow of majestic keyboards offers the perfect counterpoint. This represents A Hawk And A Hacksaw’s latest chapter in their long-established vivid songbook. ‘You Have Already Gone To The Other World’ is a work of pure beauty and pure emotion.

My first introduction to A Hawk And A Hacksaw was back in 2006, with the release of ‘The Way the Wind Blows’ on the Leaf label. This, their third album, includes contributions from Beirut’s Zach Condon and Balkan brass heroes Fanfare Ciocarlia. The album encompasses a world of achingly beautiful sound, a common thread in each and every of the duo’s releases over the years. Heather Trost’s violin and viola is in constant dialogue with Barnes’s accordions, piano, percussion and vocals. A deep telepathic understanding is forever inherent between the pair. This is immediately obvious when witnessing one of the band’s incendiary live shows. During the same year, I was incredibly fortunate to see them in concert in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre. The band was part of a magnificent triple-bill, alongside Beirut and Tuscon, Arizona’s Calexico. The kindred spirits inhabited a magical realm, casting endless inspiration on all those present. Trost and Barnes live onstage, is one of those rare moments in music where time and space stands still. I remember seeing glimpses of the entire roadcrew and members of Calexico and Beirut at the side of the stage, standing as silent witness in awe of their heart-wrenching songs. I think it offers a beautiful snapshot of just how A Hawk And A Hacksaw are a pure joy to savour who will forever be revered by their peers.

In a recent interview with guitarist and composer Ryan Francesconi, he described his love for Balkan music: “It has the technical skill that the brain enjoys, but a depth of heart that isn’t matched by much else out there.” I feel this epitomises the music of Barnes and Trost, whose newest masterwork ‘You Have Already Gone To The Other World’ embodies a fulfilling and enriching journey.

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Jeremy Barnes Interview (Part One)

Please tell me first of all the origin of this (beautiful) album title?

The title is a quote from the film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.
We are talking about the Other World, as in the Afterlife, the BEYOND.

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The new double-album is a soundtrack to Sergei Parajanov’s 1964 film ‘Shadow Of Forgotten Ancestors’. I would love to gain an insight into the process in which you both composed and performed the music to accompany this film?

We watched it over and over and over. We watched alot of Hutzul weddings on youtube (the Hutzul are a Ukrainian minority who live in the High Carpathian Mountains of Southern Ukraine/Northern Romania). We also worked on the recordings for a year.

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Discuss please your love for film director Sergei Parajanov and the stimilus that led you to soundtrack this particular film?

He is a great storyteller, but very unique in the way he tells stories, in that he often uses images or abstract suggestion. As a mostly instrumental band, it is inspiring to see the way he treats cinema.
We also love the way that reality, magic, institutional religion, and the religion of the woods, of nature, are all intersecting in his films. Dreams and the beyond are never far away.

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What film scores hold significant resonance for you?

Have you seen Dead Man? The Jarmusch film? Off the top of my head, that one is so good- Neil Young’s best guitar sound. But also, Nino Rota’s films, Raymond Scott… Crossing the Bridge…Romanistanbul.

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Please rewind to (circa) 2004 when you both started working together. Can you please recount the first time you both met and where and how this took place and what was the first conversation you shared?

I went to hear Heather play at a bar in Albuquerque. I asked her if she knew the composer Béla Bartok, and she said she loved his music, so from that point I knew that we could play together.

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Discuss please the strong musical connection that is so powerfully evident between you both? How has this developed over the years?

That is hard to discuss… we play music, we do the dishes, we work on the garden together, we travel together… there is a love between us, we are happy together…

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Across several compelling releases, you have mastered the Balkan and Turkish folk tradition. Trace for me please the moments in your life that proved to be the gateway into Eastern European music?

It would take generations to master. That is one of the beautiful things about folk music.
One of the first live shows I ever saw was a klezmer band at my friend’s Bar Mitzvah. I was completely entranced in the music and the art of making music, the unspoken connection between players, the secret language, the secret skills that you have to learn…

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I love ‘The Way The Wind Blows’. A work of divine art. Even, the artwork that adorns the sleeve, before any music is heard. My favourite pieces are the title-track with that sublime accordion and brass arrangement. Also, ‘Oporto’ with Heather’s lead violin takes my breath away. Can you discuss this album in terms of recording and the space and time in which ‘The Way The Wind Blows’ was conceived?

It took about six months, some of it was done in my one room house in Albuquerque, where I would sleep on the couch. Some of it was done in Romania with Fanfare Ciocarlia, who were so nice, and just loved to sit and record and add solos and harmonies and drink coffee. And their kids would come over and watch me record on my lap top and laugh at me, and we would draw pictures together while watching Mexican soap operas on the satellite dish.

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Can you please discuss the experience of working with the Hungarian folk group The Hun Hangar Ensemble?

It was school for us. We all worked super hard together, and Heather and I learned quite a bit, not just about our instruments, but about arranging for wind instruments and living and working and practice!

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‘You Have Already Gone To The Other World’ is out now on L.M. Dupli-cation.

http://ahawkandahacksaw.net

A Hawk And A Hacksaw play the Workman’s Club, Dublin on April 23rd and Half Moon Theatre, Cork on April 24th.