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Chosen One: Tara Jane O’Neil

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Interview with Tara Jane O’Neil.

“I went into the fire to meet you
And through the fire we walked”

—taken from ‘Elemental Finding’ 

Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Tara Jane O’Neil, Photograph: Megan Holmes

tarajaneoneil_whatsunflower

“what sunflower”, 2008, Tara Jane O’Neil.

The beginning of 2014 marked the eagerly awaited release of Tara Jane O’Neil’s latest full-length record, entitled ‘Where Shine New Lights’ on the prestigious Chicago-based independent label, Kranky. The Kentucky-born visual artist, song-writer and musician has long been synonymous with independent music, having collaborated with fellow-luminaries Papa M, Ida, Mirah, Michael Hurley, Jackie O’ Motherfucker, and the King Cobra. In addition to the plethora of stunning collaborative projects, O’Neil has scored soundtracks for film and theatre, composing instrumental music under the moniker Strange Clouds. During the 90’s, the Kentucky-native played in the duo Retsin and Sonora Pine. The latest solo work ‘Where Shine New Lights’ is the follow-up to 2009’s ‘A Way’s Away’ that contain choral voicings, and electronic and organic elements masterfully woven together.

The album’s defining moment arrives on part B with the torch-lit ballad ‘Elemental Finding’ that contains O’Neil’s ethereal vocals, warm instrumentation of acoustic guitar and percussion. The elements of water, light and fire are beautifully interspersed in the sprawling sonic canvas. Towards the song’s close, the lyric of “Take a look at yourself in the water” resonates powerfully. The heartfelt lament ‘The Lull The Going’ is an achingly beautiful lament. ‘This Morning Glory’ is built on a gorgeous acoustic guitar-based melody that is taken from folk’s age-old tradition but feels mysteriously new; belonging to the here and now. An intricate arrangement of strings serves the vital pulse to ‘The Signal, Wind’. A post-rock infused ambient web of sound is effortlessly formed on The Necks-esque ‘Glow Now’. One of the record’s empowering crescendos ascends on ‘The Signal, Lift’ where a brooding melancholia seeps into the immaculate instrumentation of banjo, guitars and drums.

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“Where Shine New Lights” is available now on Kranky. 

http://www.tarajaneoneil.com
http://www.kranky.net

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tarajaneoneil_meganholmes

“Tara Jane O’Neil”, photograph by Megan Holmes.

Interview with Tara Jane O’Neil.

Congratulations Tara on your latest album, “Where Shine New Lights”. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions in relation to this stunning masterpiece. I love how the layers of instrumentation effortlessly ebb and flow throughout, from the utilization of choral voicings, guitar, percussion and a myriad of other sources that conjures up a haven of enchanting sound. Please talk me through the recording of “Where Shine New Lights” and the aims you set out from the outset? You must feel deeply proud of this record.

Tara Jane O’Neil: Hey thanks. The record was a real odyssey. It was recorded at different times over 3 years. There were hurricanes and Kickstarter campaigns, and it was recorded in Portland, Woodstock, NYC, Los Angeles, Louisville. In some ways it was an exercise in getting out-of-the-way and letting the album take its own time and shape. My first thoughts about what I wanted it to be were not the thoughts that took over two years into it.

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Recurring themes throughout the record come from the elements: water, light, fire, air and Earth. As ever, there is a beguiling atmosphere captured on every cut on the album, where an intimacy is formed between the artist and the listener. Furthermore, a vivid sense of solitude emanates from the embers of these works. Can you please discuss the wonderful title, “Where Shines New Lights” and the themes that connect the twelve songs together? 

TJON: “Where Shine New Lights” is a question and also its answer. There’s a lot inside this record. I would betray it to break it apart and decipher its prompts. Just like any other music I put in to the world, it changes as soon as I play it for someone, or play the music with someone. Once it’s out of my own head and room, it’s a part of the environment where it is heard.

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‘Elemental Finding’ is one of the album’s defining moments, a stunning tour-de-force in minimalism and captivating song-writing. The lyric of “I walked into the fire to meet you / And through the fire we walked” evokes such vivid beauty and raw emotion. Would I be right in thinking that this song opened a gateway for the rest of the album to come into being, Tara? I would love to gain an insight into the construction of ‘Elemental Finding’ and your memories of writing/recording? 

TJON: That song was one of the first in the collection, yes. I wrote it in a day in Woodstock, recorded a demo the next, and a proper version with Dan Littleton a year later. It was not included in the in the couple of months where I was in the process constructing the record. In fact, it was the last day of mixing and that it was fit in to the sequence. So, it’s good to trust the first thought, and also the very last thought.

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You are an accomplished visual artist with a seamless array of exhibitions and wonderful publications to your name. I would love for you to discuss please the relationship between sound and visual art and how one process must feed into the other? For example, your music — going back to your compelling debut in 2000 — possesses a powerful visual aesthetic and abstract detail. How does both worlds differ for you, if so, and would you work on music simultaneously alongside art?

TJON: Well… sound and vision are just balancing hemispheres here in my person. I don’t often work on them at the same time. On tour I get a lot of time to draw, then I do the show. Usually I have to sink in to a real musical brain, or in to a real visual brain. They activate senses, and the somatic sense that both music and visual art require is the real meeting point for both. Each are very much in the body for me.

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You grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and later moved to New York, before living in Portland, Oregon in 2003. I would love for you to discuss your memories of each of these places and how these worlds helped shape your music and art? 

TJON: I grew up in many cities. I did go to high school and start my adult life and my musical life in Louisville. It was the very early nineties and our community there in our small mid-south town was inspired and tight. There are a million records and films and other ephemera documenting some of what we did during those few years. Formative groundwork there. Some of us have left this world recently and it’s amazing to have that stuff. Louisville is a bittersweet heavy dose of deep family vibes… my time in New York and Portland are totally different beasts. I learned the next phases of everything in those places. My best friends and my forever collaborators are living in them still…

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I am a huge fan of the various collaborations you’ve been part of, particularly Papa M and Michael Hurley. I can imagine that collaborating with other artists must feed into your own solo projects? How does the collaborative process differ from the solo compositions? Is there a particular favourite record you have from these wonderful collaborations, Tara?

TJON: Collaboration totally informs my playing and how I interact with different musical voicings. Collaboration is the best teacher. That communion which happens with other people while playing or doing some kind of performance is really the finest kind. I’ve been working with some dancers for the last couple of years. Improvising within a structure and responding to movement. All the work I’ve done with people on musical projects helps me understand how to invite others into my solo recordings and shows. The process of composing a record on my own with contributions from other players is kind of the inverse of going to play on someone else’s record. Sometimes I feel like a writer, working at their desk while I’m working on a mix that’s full of amazing sounds from different players. The actual playing, whether I’m a guest, or I’m inviting people to play on something I’ve written basically requires the same spirit of listening and getting free within a certain criteria. And my favorite records in the pile? Well I love them all, they were all really special times. But for today… Catherine Irwin “Little Heater”. Papa M “Whatever, Mortal”. Ida “Lovers Prayers”. Danielle Howle “Red Candles”.

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What are the most important albums out there that you feel have inspired you to make your own music? Would you have certain records you always come back to? In terms of song-writing, who would provide everlasting illumination? Also, in terms of instrumental music, what bands or particular records do you feel proved pivotal for you?

TJON: Everlasting illumination? Maybe….Joni Mitchell “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns”. Judee Sill “Heart Food”. The Beach Boys “Friends”.  Prince “Sign of the Times” side 3.  The Velvet Underground. Leonard Cohen. Arthur Russell. Eno. Instrumental stuff recently… Alice Coltrane “Universal Consciousness” and “Eternity”. Harold Budd “Pavillion Of Dreams”.

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What is next for you, Tara? Are there new collaborations on the cards? 

TJON: I would like to start an R&B soft rock group. There are a few folks interested in this endeavour but nothing to share just yet. I will continue to collaborate with my partner Jmy James Kidd on her ritual modern dance pieces.

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“Where Shine New Lights” is available now on Kranky. 

http://www.tarajaneoneil.com
http://www.kranky.net

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August 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Ten Mile Stereo

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Birds Of Passage ‘This Kindly Slumber’ (Denovali)
Released on January 24th 2014 by the wonderful Berlin-based label Denovali Records, ‘This Kindly Slumber’ is the much-anticipated return of New Zealand-based artist Alicia Merz. Her latest Birds Of Passage album, ‘This Kindly Slumber’ — and follow-up to the sublime ‘Winter Lady’ — is a deeply engaging and truly moving affair. The album’s seven songs reveal a haunting darkness and stark honesty throughout, perpetuated by moments of light, hope, intimacy and revelation. The album showcases Merz’s impressive songwriting talents (‘Stranger’), a heightened atmosphere in drone and ambient textures (‘Ashes To Ashes’) and masterful songs combining innocence and vulnerability with darkness and fear to spellbinding effect (‘And All Of Your Dreams’). ‘This Kindly Slumber’ confirms Merz as one of the most special souls making music today.
‘This Kindly Slumber’ is available on 24 January on Denovali Records.

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Marissa Nadler ‘July’ (Sacred Bones/Bella Union)
Boston-based musician Marissa Nadler has been consistently (and quietly) making some of the most intricately written and movingly delivered songs over the last decade or so. ‘July’ further confirms Nadler as a wholly unique and visionary songwriter, where songs such as ‘Dead City Emily’ and ‘Nothing In My Heart’ recalling the gothic noir tales of Gillian Welch or the timelessness of Leonard Cohen or Van Zandt’s respective songbooks. Poetic, starkly beautiful, and always straight from the heart. ‘July’ will be released on Sacred Bones on 4 February (US) and Bella Union on 10 February (EU).

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The Gloaming ‘The Gloaming’ (Real World Records)
This January marks the long-awaited arrival of much-heralded The Gloaming’s glorious self-titled debut album by Real World Records. The Gloaming are a five-piece of supreme talent, comprising some of the finest musicians Ireland has to offer: Iarla Ó Lionaird, Thomas Bartlett, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill. West Meath in early 2011 provided the setting and time for the collective’s first meeting together. The following, as described by The Gloaming’s website, perfectly surmises the band’s unique, utterly contemporary sound: “The Gloaming carves new paths connecting the rich Irish folk tradition and the New York contemporary music scene. From haunting sean-nós songs to rousing instrumental medleys, they make music that is both ancient and utterly new.”
‘The Gloaming’ is available now on Real World Records.

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Tara Jane O’Neil ‘Where Shine New Lights’ (Kranky)
Musician and visual artist Tara Jane O’Neil provides Chicago-based independent label Kranky with their first offering of 2014. O’Neil has a richly diverse musical background to date, ranging from collaborative works (including Mount Eerie and Papa M), commissioned pieces, improvisations and founding numerous bands, including Rodan. O’Neil is also an internationally recognized visual artist who has had four monographs published on her work to date. ‘Where Shine New Lights’ features a gloriously mystery-laden, atmospheric set of songs (typified by the stunning closer ‘New Lights For A Sky’) recalling the likes of Félicia Atkinson and Grouper’s Liz Harris.
‘Where Shine New Lights’ will be released on 27 January by Kranky.

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Hydras Dream ‘The Little Match Girl’ (Denovali)
Hydras Dream is the new collaborative project of the Swedish musicians Anna Von Hausswolff and Matti Bye. Hydras Dream’s debut ‘The Little Match Girl’ will be released in March 2014 by Berlin-based Denovali Records (Greg Haines, Birds Of Passage, Dale Cooper Quartet).
Anna Von Hausswolff was responsible for one of the singularly breathtaking albums of 2013, with her solo album ‘Ceremony’, showcasing Von Hausswolff’s immaculate talents as a lyricist and composer. ‘The Little Match Girl’ is set to be one of the year’s most precious albums.

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Damien Jurado ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son’ (Secretly Canadian)
Damien Jurado’s ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son’, available now on Secretly Canadian, confirms Jurado as one of the finest songsmiths of today. ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son’ reunites Jurado with friend and producer Richard Swift after previously working together on Jurado’s last full length, ‘Maraqopa’ in 2012.

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Juan Wauters ‘N.A.P. – North American Poetry’ (Captured Tracks)
‘N.A.P. – North American Poetry’ is one of the finest debut records for quite some time, heralding this unique and hugely impressive talent of Alberto Wauters (born in Uruguay, now based in Queens, New York). Wauters’ own back-story is told perfectly here:
“In 2000, Alberto Wauters left Uruguay to live in a basement in Queens. Two years later he called his son, Juan, to join him. Juan Wauters crossed the threshold into manhood when he arrived in New York. Working at a factory, the father and son pooled their money to bring their family to the borough of opportunity. With no friends to speak of, Juan turned to music to take control of the loneliness of his isolation. Juan was inspired by his new neighborhood of Jackson Heights and delighted to find that his library card gave him access to an abundance of new music.”
‘N.A.P. – North American Poetry’ is out 4 February 2014 on Captured Tracks.

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The War On Drugs ‘Lost In The Dream’ (Secretly Canadian)
‘Lost In The Dream’ is the third studio album (and follow-up to the wonderful ‘Slave Ambient’ LP) by Philadelphia’s finest The War On Drugs. Including the album’s lead single ‘Red Eyes’, ‘Lost In The Dream’ is an album showcasing Adam Granduciel’s songwriting prowess while revealing a darker and more vulnerable underbelly than previous material. The beautiful ‘Suffering’ and ‘Eyes To The Wind’ reveal a more intimate and ‘Americana’-leaning sound recalling such bands as Whiskeytown, Richmond Fontaine or The Replacements. “I can see the darkness coming my way” sings Granduciel on ‘Red Eyes’, while the album’s ten immaculate tracks see Granduciel navigate his way out of the darkness, producing a modern-day ‘Born To Run’ in the process.
‘Lost In The Dream’ is out on 18 March 2014 on Secretly Canadian.

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The Notwist ‘Close To The Glass’ (City Slang/Sub Pop)
‘Close To The Glass’ is German indie giants The Notwist first studio album since 2008’s ‘The Devil, You + Me’. Since then the band have scored a soundtrack for ‘Storm’ (2009) and have been running their own label, the wonderful Alien Transistor. Best known for their classic 2002 album ‘Neon Golden’ — which fused the indie-rock and lyricism of brothers Acher with the electronic wizardry of Console’s Martin Gretschmann to stunning effect — it’s follow-up ‘The Devil, You + Me’ showcased a more leaner and accessible sound. ‘Kong’ is the first taste of The Notwist’s long overdue eighth album. This February City Slang will issue ‘Close To The Glass’ in Europe (their label since ‘Neon Golden’) while Sub Pop will release to American audiences on 25 February 2014.

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Lambchop ‘Nixon’ (Reissue) (Merge)
To celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary, Merge will be reissuing classic albums from their back catalog each month throughout 2014. First up will be the reissue of Nashville’s beloved Lambchop’s classic fifth studio album ‘Nixon’, first released in 2000. The album was a significant breakthrough for the band, both commercially and critically acclaimed across both sides of the Atlantic, marking the band’s reluctant rise to the overground. The album sees a shift in the Lambchop sound as Wagner and co. sought to fuse country, soul, gospel and funk into their own unmistakable sound to wondrous effect. Featuring such gems as ‘You Masculine You’, ‘Up With People’ and ‘The Book I Haven’t Read’. The reissue also features a bonus disc, ‘White Sessions 1998: How I Met Cat Power’, a remastered live solo session featuring five songs Kurt Wagner recorded in 1998 (both Wagner and Cat Power were doing back-to-back promo sessions that day).
The reissue of Lambchop’s classic 2000 album ‘Nixon’ is released on 28 January by Merge Records.

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