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Chosen One: The Space Lady

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Interview with Susan Schneider, The Space Lady. 

“Now I inhabit the role of The Space Lady more enthusiastically than ever, and with more intentionality – that is, to inspire people toward self-expression, love, peace, and harmony here on our very fragile planet.”

—Susan Schneider

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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The Space Lady (AKA U.S. artist Susan Schneider) is a street-performing singer based in Colorado, USA. Originally beginning on the streets of San Francisco in the late 70’s, she has recently begun playing again. Last November, London-based Nightschool Records released a retrospective of The Space Lady’s utterly transcendent synth-pop creations featuring resolutely unique cover songs (Peter Schilling’s ‘Major Tom’, ‘I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)’ by The Electric Prunes and ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’, Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’, The Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ to name but a few) and her own stellar and singular electronic pop explorations composed by her ex-husband Joel Dunsany (‘Humdinger’, ‘Synthesize Me’). In the words of Nightschool Records, “This music has transcended genre, style and fashion, opening up hearts and minds along the way”. Having appeared on mixes by Erol Alkan and John Maus, The Space Lady’s music belongs to the here and now, where a lovely parallel exists between Schneider and the contemporary avant-pop movement of such artists as Julia Holter, John Maus and Maria Minerva.
The Space Lady began her odyssey on the streets of San Francisco in the late 70’s, playing versions of contemporary pop music on accordion and dressed flamboyantly (her winged helmet and blinking lights epitomizes the futuristic and ethereal sounds), transmitting messages of peace and harmony. Following the theft of her accordion, The Space Lady invested in a then-new Casio keyboard, birthing an otherworldly new dimension to popular song that has captured the imaginations of the underground and its lead exponents ever since with the likes of John Maus, Erol Alkan and Kutmah being devotees.

“At night I would sit down at the kitchen table, listen to a song on our boom box, and scrawl out the lyrics and chords as best as I could make them out. Then the next morning I would work out arrangements on the subway platform, trying hard to recall what the song sounded like the night before. People began telling me how “different” and “original” my interpretations were, when I was actually trying my best to recreate what the original artists had done. At any rate, I instinctively knew to keep my arrangements simple and slightly unorthodox”.

‘The Greatest Hits’ compilation marks a special document of The Space Lady’s near-mythical, storied career. The recordings capture the luminary’s legendary busking performances on the streets of San Francisco — dated back to 1990 — after recording a new album in a friend’s home studio. Over the course of the following years, ‘Live In Francisco’ became a treasured bootleg for the internet generation of music obsessives, and countless fan-mail, addressed to the creator of this other-worldly, cosmic music, would be always be a stone throw’s away.
This Spring, The Space Lady will be embarking on her first ever tour of venues. The tour begins in Bellingham USA before heading to much of the Pacific Northwest, touching down in California and then visiting the UK and Ireland. The Space Lady performs her highly anticipated debut Irish shows this April when she performs on Saturday 12th April at the Triskel Arts Centre, Cork.

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The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits is available now on Nightschool Records.

Listen to The Greatest Hits HERE.
The Space Lady Facebook Page HERE.

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Congratulations, Susan, on the release of your truly astounding ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation. This particular set of songs has introduced me to your utterly transcendent and otherworldly sonic creations, and feel very grateful to have (eventually) come across your music.

SS: Thank you, Mark!

First of all what strikes me about your music is just how original and way ahead of its time the songs are. Forgive the generalness of my question but can you please discuss the sources of inspiration that filtered into your creative mind to produce such timeless music?

SS: Although I came from a strictly classical music-oriented family, we would sing folk songs around the piano after dinner. By my early teens, I began to rebel enough to embrace some popular music, like The Kingston Trio, Roy Orbison, and Del Shannon. By the time I left high school I was immersing myself in Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, and the budding hippie culture and its music, which was far outside the box of my parents’ approval. Going to San Francisco in 1967 and experiencing psychedelia first hand sealed my musical fate. I was instantly hooked by the Doors, the Byrds, the Yardbirds, Donovan, Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas & the Papas, and all the rest. By 1970 I had hooked up with my future partner, Joel, who introduced me to the serious British Prog Rockers, like Pink Floyd, The Who, ELO, ELP, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, among others, an experience that shook me to my core. I couldn’t believe my ears, or that such powerful, intense, futuristic, and beautiful music could possible be made by human beings, and that terrified me. Where had I been?!!

As to my own music as it evolved on the street, I would say it started with a combination of alienation and desperation. Joel and I had gotten stranded in relatively conservative Boston, where I eked out a subsistence by selling our art work on the street. So we were hungry and insecure, especially after having our first baby, which is when I picked up the accordion and tried my luck down in Park Street Station. Even after going electronic a few years later, my music reflected an unschooled, do-it-yourself sparseness – which I didn’t realize would develop into a unique quality of The Space Lady’s sound, as I interpreted some of the outstanding songs of our time.

And I can’t overestimate the influence my fans had on me with their support and appreciation. That encouragement really brought me out of my shell and gave me a sense of belonging to the various counter-cultures I admired: the hippies, the punks, the New Wave movement, the Outsiders, and the gay community, not to mention the homeless street people, for whom I had a special empathy. Even being dubbed “The Space Lady” was a terrific and unexpected acknowledgement. All those factors helped my music soar to greater and greater heights.

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Before we go back to your beautiful background to music and playing, can you please take me back to 2012. This was the year you began playing your unique blend of utterly compelling pop music on the streets of Colorado. Having performed on the streets of Boston back in the late 70’s, how did the experience change this time around?

SS: First of all, it was such a joy to be playing again after so many years. Except for a year-long stint on electric guitar, I had quit performing electronically after my cassette was recorded in 1990, and had gone back to playing accordion and singing. It was a huge surprise to me that I could even remember many of my old songs, and quickly brush up on the ones I had forgotten. During my long hiatus I can’t tell you how many nightmares I had about being all set up somewhere on a street corner, and not remembering what to do next…or even worse, suddenly realizing I had left all my equipment behind after getting on a bus! Returning to my music, after the drudgery of a 7-year stint at nursing – well, talk about a new lease on life! I am also excited about adding new songs to my repertoire, especially songs with a peace message. Now I inhabit the role of The Space Lady more enthusiastically than ever, and with more intentionality – that is, to inspire people toward self-expression, love, peace, and harmony here on our very fragile planet.

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I was interested to read you wound up in New Mexico by 2013. It’s a beautiful image of travel and music as there is this sense of adventure and freedom forever inherent in your songs. I can imagine the spontaneity of such an act of live performance in this way, and the sense of recognition and connecting with people must be filled with such fulfilling moments for you? Have you had special highlights of your time spent in New Mexico and Colorado?

SS: Absolutely, in New Mexico especially! Being paid in advance to play on the street at the UFO Festival in Roswell was really cool! And from that I got national exposure playing “Across the Universe” on the Weather Channel here in the U.S. One of the first times I played on the Santa Fe Plaza I was surrounded by a crowd of people, one of whom was the well-known DJ, Travis Perkin, who then invited me to appear on his radio show on KUNM in Albuquerque. That was another big breakthrough into the New Mexico audience. Everywhere I’ve gone there have been passersby who stop and exclaim, “I remember you from San Francisco! I wondered where you’ve been!” More recently, and again on the Santa Fe Plaza, a young woman excitedly reported to me that she works in a NYC record shop, and they got my LP in just before she left. She said, “We love it! We play it all the time!” and she was astounded to happen upon me playing live as she travelled across country to California. Then another day in Santa Fe I was playing a song I had written years ago about a Native American hero named Kientapusch / Captain Jack, thinking no one was listening…which was good, because that was the first time I had played it in public. But as I finished the song, a stooped-over, bedraggled looking man approached me from behind, walked around to my tip box, dropped a piece of quartz crystal into it, and then stood up straight, revealing himself to be an Indian. Before he turned to go, he made a fist and slammed it over his heart, which I took to be a strong validation.

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Can you please take me back to your upbringing in Colorado. I can imagine you must have come from a musical family? I was interested to read your mother taught you piano from a young age. Was this instrument the first encounter you had with playing music, Susan? I imagine the rural landscapes and peacefulness must have provided you with a nice sense of freedom and openness.

SS: Yes, my parents were classically trained musicians, my mother playing piano and my father viola. I started piano lessons at around 6, then chose to play flute in the school band at around 12. And you are quite right about the rural landscapes and peacefulness of the Colorado prairie grasslands, where I grew up, some 200 miles from the Rocky Mountains most people associate with Colorado. Probably like growing up near the ocean, those vast expanses give one a sense of proportion, a humbling grasp of our tiny place in the Universe. Then at night, the clear atmosphere provides for a view of the stars like no other. I spent many a summer night looking for falling stars, or the thrilling sight of Sputnik’s steady path across the sky.

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The inception of The Space Lady I feel may have taken place during this wonderful time where you began hitch-hiking and commune-living, eventually ending up in Haight-Ashbury. Shortly afterwards, you met a hippie named Joel and the rest, as they say, is history. Can you please recount for me your cherished memories of this period in your life? 

SS: My early years as a hitch-hiking, commune-living hippie were anything but a happy, free-wheeling time for me, as I was experiencing severe culture shock, having left my tiny redneck hometown in arrogant disgust, only to find myself adrift in a sea of other meandering young people trying to get a foothold in a scary world, aggravated by the by the confusing effects of the psychedelics we were all taking. I could easily have become an “acid casualty”, as did many others, like the late Syd Barrett, for instance. By the time Joel took me under his wing, I was so frightened and withdrawn I would barely talk. I hid behind him and let him speak for me, even when I secretly disagreed. That was the price I thought I had to pay for a little security. So what may look romantic and inspiring to you now from the outside and years later, was really pretty much nightmare, especially in light of the blossoming women’s movement of the times, which was having little or no influence on me.

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The path you both subsequently ventured down is such an inspiring and enlightening story. It’s hardly surprising that a similar enlightenment is clearly evident in your songs. Your determination and self-belief to “make a musical statement for peace through Joel’s performance art” (quoting your beautifully written liner-notes) is utterly inspiring. This period was still “Pre-Space Lady” and perhaps served the pre-cursor to The Space Lady. I would love for you to discuss life in Boston in the late 70’s? I was touched to read that it was Joel’s collages of various National Geographic cuttings and your ink drawings that provided you with income. I would love to learn more about these particular ink drawings?

SS: Yes, we were both idealists and determined to make it “doing our own thing”, without compromising, which was challenging, while simultaneously hiding out because of the draft. But thanks to our gnawing hunger and growing malnutrition, I found the wherewithal to utter the words “Spare some change?” and panhandle for food, and that evolved into additionally selling Joel’s collages and my pen-and-ink drawings as I went along collecting donations. Most of the people I approached remained aloof and simply ignored my requests, and a few were downright hostile. But many were kind and charitable, sometimes stopping long enough to look at my wares buy one or two. I gained confidence as a result of those gentle, empathetic folk, and Joel and I finally began to eat regularly again. As we gained in strength and confidence Joel began to produce little art and poetry booklets for me to xerox, bind, and sell. One of those books and a few of those artworks still survive.

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You first started busking in Park Street Station, playing some simple tunes on the accordion, as passers-by commuted in and out of work. Was it scary to do this and expose yourself in this way? I can imagine it must have felt daunting at first, particularly those first hours and days? What were the songs you would play first? I would think you must have learned so much during this time, and served your musical education is some respects. What was your repertoire during this time?

SS: I love your questions! Yes, it was a little scary to embark on a busking career without even knowing how to play an accordion, and Joel was skeptical about this new direction. But our baby, Chrissy, was growing fast, and my artwork sales had dwindled to nothing during the cold winter of 1979. People were hard pressed to stop on the street to look at my wares, and I had resorted to simply panhandling again, which I found humiliating after seven years of it. So I was excited and very eager to do something else. The first day I chose to set up at the top of a long staircase leading down into the Park Street subway, where people rushed past without hearing too much of my struggle to play even a simple tune like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the Red Sox fans, and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” for Boston’s many descendants of Emerald Isle immigrants. In fact, it was just before St. Patrick’s Day in March, I remember. What I learned, to my amazement, was that by doing this I no longer had to approach people for money, they approached me, with money in hand! That first day I made $20 in change, plus a $20 bill from an elderly couple who wished me well. I was thrilled beyond words, and Joel quickly gave up his skepticism about this new direction I was taking.

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A little later, you began to sing as well as play, adding mic, reverb, and battery-powered amp to your act. I would love for you to go into the technical set-up of your act and how you effectively incorporated your voice into the music? Your voice blends so effortlessly into the beautiful blend of delicate synths, creating an ethereal dimension to get wonderfully lost in. 

SS: By the next summer I was playing proficiently enough and enjoying it immensely, and would occasionally break into song with sheer delight, although my soft voice was barely audible over the loud accordion. Then I discovered a pedestrian tunnel near the farmers market in the Italian section (The North End) of Boston, where my voice was amplified, and slightly echoed. I made great money there every Saturday, and on Columbus Day weekend I raked in enough to buy a little Mouse amplifier and a headset mic. A week or so later, Joel – being knowledgeable about effects pedals – decided I should have a little more presence for my voice when I wasn’t playing in the tunnel, and we spent another $40 on a Radio Shack reverb unit. At that point I started adding some mild rock songs to my folk repertoire, like “Palisade Park,” “Summer Breeze,” “Runaway,” and “Downtown.” But my greatest accomplishment by far for those days was working out a rendition of “Mr. Kite,” complete with the chromatic runs of the calliope.

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‘Major Tom’ is one of my current favourites. The lyrics reflect the power of your deeply affecting and visionary pop music. The lyric “floating weightless” epitomises the sheer magic of The Space Lady. I would love for you to focus on the cover versions of your songs. You have the ability to make these songs your own (‘Major Tom’, ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’, ‘Fly Like An Eagle’, ‘Born To Be Wild’) and it’s this aesthetic and dimension within these worlds of song that is truly remarkable. How did you go about making these songs your own, Susan? Was it a spontaneous process? Were a lot of records at home for you to discover songs to interpret as The Space Lady? 

SS: When I started bringing home a more reliable income with my music, Joel began scouring the thrift stores and used record stores for the music we could never afford before. He also spent hours at home with the baby, listening to rock music on the radio and would sometimes record songs off the air. He specialized in making compilation cassettes of his favorite songs, which we would listen to as we biked all over town, with the tape player strapped onto the crossbar of his bike. At night I would sit at the kitchen table and focus on one song, usually of Joel’s choosing, scribbling down lyrics and chords as best as I could make out, and work out an arrangement the next day down on the subway platform.

As I began to get lots of attention and make good money, Joel was inspired to write his own songs for me, and thus were born “Humdinger,” “Synthesize Me,” “Slapback Boomerang” and “From the Womb to the Tomb” (for our second child, Huck). I wasn’t wearing the winged helmet yet, but had a blinking plastic daisy in my hair. When I finally mustered up the courage to don the helmet, the response was phenomenal, and we began seeking out outer-space and super-natural themes in the songs I did, most notably, Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom.” That song is a masterpiece of style, lyric, and melody, and lends itself perfectly to TSL’s sound and message. In fact I call it my signature song, and it literally stops people in their tracks like no other. I never tire of playing it, or listening to the original version, for that matter. (TSL tips her helmet to you, Pierre!)

I sometimes jokingly dedicate “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to Major Tom. I had a fantastic time developing my interpretation of that song, one of my all-time favorite songs since hearing it on the radio at about 12 years old. Joel had found a great version of it on an LP by Dennis Lynde, and I immediately decided to reinterpret it my own way. I had just bought a used bass amp (a Moose, the counterpart to the Mouse I already had) and couldn’t wait to try it out. I chose to set up on the Blue Line, a subway station with particularly good acoustics, and to my delight, the Casio drums echoed off the walls in thrillingly deep booms. I experimented with getting a rhythm that sounded like hoof beats, and when I found it I truly felt like I was galloping along on a mighty steed! The melody simply fell into place after that, and not long afterward I realized how the theme from the Clint Eastwood’s TV show “Rawhide” fit perfectly with the minor key and rapid beat of “Ghost Riders,” so I added an intro and ending using that melody. A few days later I realized I could make the sound of a revving motorcycle using a speeded up drum roll, and so the intro to “Born to Be Wild” emerged.

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The songs written by Joel Dunsany are equally as mind-blowing. I would love to gain an insight into the creative process and close musical telepathy that must have existed so prominently between you both? Was it a case of Joel writing the lyrics at home, and you playing some melodies on top? 

SS: Yes, Joel and I had very similar taste in music, and he introduced me to so many artists and bands I might never have discovered on my own. He was an avid reader of Melody Maker and NME, and I would be sure to pick up the latest issues for him at the Harvard Square Kiosk on my way home from Cambridge. I’ll never forget seeing a photo of a budding British rock star in one of those issues, and marveling at how beautifully androgynous he looked, something as yet unheard of in the U.S. It was David Bowie. At any rate, Joel was voracious to hear new musicians, and when he came across bands he loved, he always shared his discoveries with me, and then he would get busy writing songs of his own on his Les Paul copy. That necessitated him “consulting the muse” – meaning he would smoke joint after joint of pot, or bowl after bowl of hash, or super-joints spiked with a layer of hash oil smeared onto the ZigZag rolling paper. He had a circle of friends who lived nearby, or in our apartment building, who were more than happy to partake with him. I had stopped smoking dope during my panhandling years, finding it only added to my fear of people and strange circumstances, and certainly didn’t smoke during my pregnancies, but I begrudgingly supported his habit financially. When he was home alone, he would get really stoked and compose songs on his acoustic guitar, then sing them to me when I got home. I would take the lyrics and chords with me downtown the next day and do my best to arrange them on my Casio as close to his intentions as possible. Admittedly, he sometimes would say, “I barely recognize my song done your way!” But he always seemed to approve anyway.

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My favourite of these songs is ‘Synthesize Me’. Can you take me back to writing and recording this song? I can’t believe how contemporary the beats and synth melodies sound as I listen to the song today. It really does belong to this new generation of music where the likes of Julia Holter, Ariel Pink and so on, create a similarly affecting blend of shimmering music. 

SS: Thank you! It’s so amazing and such an honor to be included in the new generation of avant-garde artists and appreciated by their fans.

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After a very successful busking period during the Christmas season, you were able to afford the $200 priced Casio keyboard. Was this another turning point for you, Susan? Having played the accordion up to that point, I can imagine the new instrument offered up a whole new world of possibilities? You must have felt a natural (and rapid) artistic progression from this moment onwards?

SS: To be sure! People’s heads were suddenly turning, after having defined me as street urchin, then an accordion playing folkie. Although I was at a loss as to how to use all the buttons and knobs on the Casio, I think my palpable insecurity garnered me both respect and support from people who empathized with my struggle. Their comments and contributions gave me a brand new self-respect as a recognized artist. So I tried all the harder to please my audience, and come up with unique interpretations of songs I thought they would like too.

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Please talk a bit about the near-mythical crazy winged helmet. It really does symbolize the uniqueness of your music. 

SS: Joel and I found the winged helmet in a costume shop shortly after we met in 1970. At the time he was doing acrylic paintings on plywood and enhancing them with twinkling bulbs poking through holes he drilled into the board. So he naturally thought about illuminating the helmet with one of those bulbs, and sure enough, it fit right into the red vinyl ball on top. We were living in an art studio complex in an old, partially renovated salami factory on the backside of Telegraph Hill beneath Coit Tower, where several other painters, sculptors, film makers worked, and Joel would parade around everyone’s studios with the helmet blinking away on his head. When we left society and fled to Mt. Shasta, he turned to music, and wore the helmet as he played his guitar through an Echoplex, calling himself The Cosmic Man. We took it from Mt. Shasta to Alaska as we tried to escape society even further, then to Boston in 1972, where he planned to play for the college crowd. But he lost heart there, and reverted back to doing artwork instead. It wasn’t until 1983 that he suggested I wear it as a prop for my new Casio act, and I reluctantly did…“but just this once,” I swore. Well, it turned out to be such a hit, and got so many laughs and comments, the rest is history, as you said.

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In time, you saved up enough money to leave Boston, and arrived shortly in San Francisco. What were your memories of playing in San Francsico and indeed living in this city? What were your favourite venues/places to play?

SS: Well, the very first day I set out to play downtown on Powell and Market, where the cable cars turn around and attract lots of tourists, someone in a car driving by leaned out the window and yelled, “BOSTON!!!” I was floored. But no one else recognized me, and precious few seemed to understand my music or what the heck I was doing with that “blinkin’ helmet” on my head.

I tried my luck playing on Fisherman’s Wharf, which wasn’t much better. There were lots of popular street acts there, like black boys break dancing, and they never failed to draw big crowds and lots of money. There were young Mexican men making amazing spray paintings, Chinese portrait artists, “frozen statues,” small rock bands, blues guitarists, jazz saxophonists, and a memorable baritone opera singer who occasionally stopped in mid-aria to exclaim in a high falsetto, “Oh no! I’m losing my power…please help!” as he passed his hat. There was a guy in a van displaying “Charlie the Dancing Chicken” through a cut-away window in the side of the van, behind which a trained rooster would pull a string that turned on a spotlight and rock ‘n roll music, prompting him to high-step and twirl around a small stage. There was Grimes, “The Automatic Human Juke Box” – a master trumpeter who played requests through a small window in a tall cardboard box whenever someone inserted a coin in a slot. All of these acts seemed to get lots of attention, and I got some attention too – rarely a crowd of more than 3-4 – but occasionally someone would say something complimentary about my music (usually in a European accent, I noticed), which was like a message from above to keep going. Once on the wharf a man dropped a $100 bill in my box, without otherwise saying a word. So I kept at it. But it was certainly a struggle to make enough for rent for our North Beach hotel room, plus food, and the 17 batteries I needed for my equipment and lights.

Then one night as I was returning to the hotel in a cab – after the buses had stopped for the day – the driver suggested I try Castro Street, the famous gay Mecca that I knew nothing about at the time. I went there the next day, and the tide forever turned! I had never been so appreciated and supported in my career – not even close. I was subsequently asked to play for parties, gallery openings, small clubs, and was even featured on the news. Other TV or radio gigs I had to refuse, because Joel and I were still walking a thin line between making a splash artistically and continuing to fly beneath the radar. So for the most part, I stuck to the street, venturing from the Castro District, to the Haight-Ashbury District, to the Mission District, to Noe Valley, where I was much better appreciated and supported than in the tourist areas.

Our family of four were temporarily taken in by loving art-supporters in San Francisco and Berkeley over the next few years, until we finally landed a small basement apartment on Buchanan Street in the Haight-Fillmore District. We lived there for free, thanks to a benevolent landlord, staying there for about five years, and it was there I gave birth to our third child, Daisy – secretly as far as the authorities were concerned (as was the case with our older two). But the place was little more than a squat, and the landlord finally had to ask us to leave so he could renovate and bring the place up to code. We lived out of our car for several months that spring, and I was really at my wit’s end for fear of Family Services taking the children away.

As the summer of 1992 arrived, we left San Francisco and traveled to Mt. Shasta, coming full circle back to where Joel & I had spent a winter in a cave during the height of the Vietnam War. This time around all five of us camped in a tent, and on weekends our young son, Huxley, and I commuted the 275 miles to the city to play accordion duets on the street, with the intention of making enough money to get a cheap rental house in Mt. Shasta, since it was getting too cold to continue camping.

Winter set in with a record-breaking blizzard that year (1993), so for the first time since Joel and I met, we surfaced, renewed our legal status, and declared our children, with no consequences. Then with the help of welfare, we got a little rental house 7 miles outside the nearby town of McCloud. To say we rented the house “sight unseen” would be no understatement – it was literally buried under 10’ snow drifts! But a house was a house, and a home was a home, something we were in dire need of. It was the first stability our children had known, and they agreed to be enrolled in public school, having not had that experience either. I continued to commute to the city, usually alone, and sometimes staying for several weeks at a time.

Later on, in 1998, I got a job in a water bottling plant in Dunsmuir, still driving to the city to play accordion in the BART stations on weekends. Electronic music wasn’t allowed in the subway stations. I enjoyed learning songs from the 40s during that time, and with the help of an excellent vocal coach who took an interest in me (Joe Williams, of Desarte Dance School fame), I expanded my vocal range and improved my tone.

But my weekend commute was hard on the family, and the water bottling job was mind-numbing. So by 2000, after our two older children had left home, I quit the job, gave up on my music, gave up on my marriage, and returned to Colorado with our younger daughter, to care for my aging parents.

Since the local community college offered a nursing degree, it made sense for me to get the degree, and I became an RN. I subsequently worked in a nursing home and at a boys ranch for disturbed adolescents until 2012. I loved the people I cared for during that time – but I don’t much love the nursing profession as it exists today.

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I can imagine the sense of appreciation you must receive from strangers and passers-by as you are busking must be so deeply gratifying and fulfilling for you, on a personal and professional level. Can you discuss the feeling of those wonderful moments please, Susan? I know it must be hard to minimise into mere words.

SS: You are so right, I can’t say enough about people’s appreciation, and mere words can’t begin to describe what it has meant to me. So let me illustrate with these fairly recent developments in TSL’s career:

In 2008 I met Eric online, thanks to his having posted some of his music. He’s a superb singer/songwriter based in Santa Fe. We married the next year and together performed some of his music in a few coffee shops and churches around Colorado for the next couple years, with me accompanying him with my accordion, flute, and vocals.

By 2012 he began to get curious as to why I kept getting emails from around the world inquiring about The Space Lady. So he insisted I set up my gear and play for him. I still had my Casio, and borrowed his mic, but I had serious doubts as to whether I could remember a single song. Ghost Riders didn’t fail me however, and as I launched into it, Eric’s mouth fell open – talk about appreciation! Even after four years of knowing me, and three years of marriage, he said he had never seen me so self-expressed, and insisted I send out an email on the spot to my entire fan list, announcing The Space Lady’s return! I did so, but with great trepidation, fearing I couldn’t follow through after such a long hiatus.

But I’ve since retrieved from memory many of the songs I used to do, added many more (including some of Eric’s), begun to perform again all around the Southwest, including at the Roswell UFO Festival and the Santa Fe Plaza, performed live on radio and TV, signed a record deal with NightSchool, resulting in the release of my CD, LP, and single, been interviewed for several prestigious ‘zines, and I am now preparing to travel the world to meet my fans where they live! Can you imagine how this must feel to an artist who thought she had hung it all up for good?!? And all this the result of one man’s appreciation – as well as his insistence, encouragement, and managerial expertise. Credit where credit is due!!!

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‘The Greatest Hits’ was recently released on the wonderful Nightschool Records. It’s lovely to think how new generations of fans will discover your music. This sense of artistic recognition and critical acclaim must be very nice to receive all these years later, Susan. I think it’s beautiful to feel that your musical statement to spread peace, harmony and love radiates as powerfully today as it ever did before. Congratulations once again on this special (and significant) release, Susan and I hope to see you in concert later this Spring. 

SS: You’re welcome…and thank you, Mark…thank YOU!

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The Space Lady performs at the T.D.C., Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, on Saturday 12 April. Doors: 8pm, Tickets are €10/€8, available from Plugd Records. To see all of The Space Lady’s world tour dates, see HERE.

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The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits is available now on Nightschool Records.

Listen to The Greatest Hits HERE.
The Space Lady Facebook Page HERE.

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Very special thanks to Susan, Eric and Michael for their kindness, time and warmth.

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March 21, 2014 at 11:38 am

Something’s Going On: Colleen plus Seti The First & Áine O’Dwyer

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We are delighted to present Colleen (plus Seti The First & Áine O’Dwyer) at Triskel Christchurch Cork on Saturday 2 November 2013. The concert will be Colleen’s debut Cork performance and will feature support from acclaimed cello-led group Seti The First and Áine O’Dwyer. Early bird tickets are priced at €13 and are on sale now. Full details below.

Posters: Craig Carry

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Fractured Air & Triskel presents:
Colleen plus Seti The First & Áine O’Dwyer
Saturday 2 November 2013 / 7:30pm / €15/€13

Colleen is the alias of French musician Cécile Schott who, from 2003 to 2007, released three critically acclaimed albums on The Leaf Label. After a long break from music-making and live performance, she is now back with a new album, The Weighing of the Heart, out now on Second Language.

While her first album Everyone Alive Wants Answers was made up entirely of acoustic samples taken from her eclectic record collection, second album The Golden Morning Breaks saw her exploring a wide range of instruments which she all played herself – cello, classical guitar, ukulele, music boxes, windchimes, and a rare 19th century glass harmonicon. After the music box interlude of the Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique EP, she made an old dream come true with 2007’s Les Ondes Silencieuses – a modern album using almost exclusively baroque instruments (viola da gamba, spinet, clarinet, classical guitar and crystal glasses), focusing on their resonance and the silence between the notes.

The Weighing of the Heart, however, sees a significant shift in Colleen’s approach: she is now focusing her attention on the possibilities of the voice and on a more colourful and rhythmic approach, using a treble viola da gamba tuned like a guitar and various percussion instruments. The combined influences of Arthur Russell, Moondog, Brigitte Fontaine and the music of the African continent loom large in her new work, and the live show will be a direct reflection of this new direction.

Colleen has played live all over Europe, the US, Brazil, Singapore and Japan, giving more than 150 shows in prestigious or original venues such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and Union Chapel in London, the Britannia Panopticon music Hall in Glasgow, Dublin’s Spiegeltent, Brussels planetarium, the Sé cathedral of Lisbon, San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre and New York’s Society for Ethical Culture, as well as some world-renowned festivals such as The Wire’s Adventures in Music Festival in Chicago, Transmediale in Berlin, Mutek in Canada, Présences Electronique in Paris, and many more.

Colleen’s performance at Triskel Christchurch will mark Cécile Schott’s debut performance in Cork.

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Press:

“Maybe it’s the hummed choral lines with their medieval inflections, maybe it’s the Zorba-the-Greek style echoing classical guitar, maybe it’s the simple thudding drumming, earthy and minimal. Schott’s work here takes you to all sorts of places while all the while keeping your focus firmly hooked on the music, this beautiful music, at hand.”
(The Quietus)

“There is a distinct sense that this is an album that’s been stowed away in the back of her mind for years, and that what has changed in the last decade is that she has finally developed the ability and the peace of mind to finish what she started. A creative leap forward doesn’t always have to mean changing your entire identity, and few albums show that as lucidly as The Weighing of the Heart.”
(Fact Magazine)

“The Weighing of the Heart has arrived with sudden, gentle surprise, like a migrating bird that has appeared too early. It is a gleaming treasure.”
(Folk Radio UK)

“Precious folk experiments…her muse has been willingly unshackled by nature.”
(UNCUT)

“‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ doesn’t disappoint, despite a considerable burden of expectation. The oneiric shimmer of her music has its contemporary analogs in the likes of Grouper and Julianna Barwick, but on this record in particular Colleen communicates with an elegance and clarity few could hope to match.”
(Boomkat)

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Discography:

Babies, active suspension, 7’’ (2002)
Everyone Alive Wants Answers, LP, The Leaf Label (2003)
The Golden Morning Breaks, LP, The Leaf Label (2005)
Mort aux Vaches, LP (live session from VPRO), Staalplaat (2006)
Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique, EP, The Leaf Label (2006)
Les Ondes Silencieuses, The Leaf Label (2007)
The Weighing of the Heart, Second Language (May 2013)

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Links:

www.colleenplays.org
https://soundcloud.com/colleenplays
www.secondlanguagemusic.com

For our interview with Cécile, please click here.

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Fractured Air & Triskel presents:
Colleen plus Seti The First & Áine O’Dwyer
Saturday 2 November 2013 / 7:30pm / €15/€13

Early bird tickets are priced at €13 and are on sale now. Tickets are available from Triskel Arts Centre, Tobin St, Cork. Order tickets by Telephone: 021 4272 022 and online: https://triskelarts.ticketsolve.com/shows/873496800/events

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colleen_corkposter_2

Seti The First is the much-celebrated cello-led group comprising the duo of Kevin Murphy and Thomas Haugh. ‘Melting Cavalry’ was the band’s debut album, released last year to wide critical acclaim and championed by everyone from RTE Lyric FM’s John Kelly to Copenhagen’s finest Efterklang. The band’s influences encompass a diverse array of artists, including The Haxan Cloak, Toumani Diabaté, Matthias Loibner and Hauschka to name but a few.

Since the release of ‘Melting Cavalry’, Seti The First have provided the original score to the soundtrack for Paul Duane’s film ‘Natan’, a documentary on the Franco-Romanian film director Bernard Natan. The follow-up to ‘Melting Cavalry’ is due out later this year. This concert sees the band’s eagerly-awaited return to Triskel Christchurch where they will showcase new material after last November’s memorable performance.

“We were delighted to be asked to play a triple header with Colleen and Áine O’Dwyer. It should be a really magical night. We are currently recording our second album which is obviously a big buzz for us. Musically it represents a bit of a departure from our first record Melting Cavalry so we are both nervous and excited at the same time. It will be still cello driven but Thomas’s Marxophone is set to take a very prominent position also. We have also recently finished our first soundtrack for Paul Duane’s remarkable documentary ‘Natan’. It was a real privilege for us to be involved and the experience has whetted our appetite for more. We will be showcasing material from our new record in the Triskel in November.”

Kevin Murphy, Seti The First

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Press:

“thrilling soundscapes” The Irish Times

“a thing of great beauty” John Kelly, RTE Lyric FM

“Not quite classical, not quite jazz, not quite pop, they somehow manage to weave elements of a multitude of genres (including Flamenco and folk) into pieces like, ‘La Bassinette Noir’ which, to these ears, recalls the Morricone-inspired textures utilized by Calexico and Giant Sand.” Hot Press

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Links:

http://setithefirst.bandcamp.com/

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Opening the evening will be gifted musician Áine O’Dwyer, hailing from Limerick and currently based in London. Best known as a harpist, O’ Dwyer has collaborated with a wide array of musical artists; Mark Fry & The A Lords, The Cloisters, Piano Magic, and United Bible Studies amongst many others.

The beginning of June marked the much-anticipated release of “Anything Bright Or Startling?”, the first full length album of O’ Dwyer’s released on London-based independent label Second Language. The album comprises a song cycle of fragile beauty and ambitious scope recalling the likes of Joanna Newsom, Nico and Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks.’ The album features stunning arrangements composed of harp, piano and pipeorgan, while the album also marks the first time O’ Dwyer enters into the world of song. In 2011, Áine released “Music For Church Cleaners” on the Fort Evil Fruit independent label, a collection of improvisations made on church organ recorded at St. Mark’s Church in Islington over a seven-month period.

Áine O’Dwyer has performed extensively in a wide range of live settings. This July Áine performs at the Museum Of Modern Art, New York, while in August Áine performs at the Fano free folk festival, on the island of Fano, Denmark. Áine has recently performed as part of the Museums At Night series in London to celebrate the 170th Anniversary of the Thames Tunnel and has toured extensively across both the U.K. and Ireland.

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Press:

“Ireland’s Áine O’Dwyer has treated us all to a beautiful voyage. It’s a voyage that sails through the golden harps of sunshine and through the thick sludges of pitch black terror. Arching over all, like an intricate, entangled vine, is an excited beauty…” (Fluid Radio)

“…[O’ Dwyer] proffers a potent combination of plangent, arpeggiated folk beauty and soaring vocal melodies alloyed to an almost feral Gaelic earthiness.” (Second Language)

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Links:

https://soundcloud.com/aine-o-dwyer
www.secondlanguagemusic.com
For our interview with Áine, please click here.

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Fractured Air & Triskel presents:
Colleen plus Seti The First & Áine O’Dwyer
Saturday 2 November 2013 / 7:30pm / €15/€13

Early bird tickets are priced at €13 and are onsale now. Tickets are available from Triskel Arts Centre, Tobin St, Cork. Order tickets by Telephone: 021 4272 022 and online at: https://triskelarts.ticketsolve.com/shows/873496800/events

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Something’s Going On: Mountains

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We’re delighted to be co-presenting (with Plugd Records) Thrill Jockey’s finest Mountains who will perform at The Black Mariah, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork on May 8th. The duo’s current album, the sublime ‘Centralia’ is out now on Thrill Jockey. 

Illustration: Craig Carry

mountains_poster

 

Mountains comprise the duo of Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg. Based in Brooklyn, the pair have been responsible for some of independent music’s most treasured music over the last decade or so. This year marks the release of ‘Centralia’ (on the Chicago-based Thrill Jockey label), the band’s fifth album and follow-up to 2011’s ‘Air Museum.’ I never thought the band could possibly improve upon their masterpiece ‘Choral’ (Thrill Jockey, 2009) but Holtkamp and Anderegg have somehow managed to do just that with ‘Centralia.’

As we’ve come to expect from Mountains, the music on ‘Centralia’ is spellbinding; wonderfully crafted sonic textures effortlessly fuse together to create an otherworldly sound. ‘Centralia’ itself is named from the town of Centralia in Pennsylvania, which was the site of a tragic mine fire in 1962, which lead to the town’s abandonment. Ghosts of Centralia can be heard throughout the LP, where ambient drone passages and nuanced textural details (such as a softly strummed acoustic guitar, an uplifting cello, or a melodica) create a magical atmosphere – sometimes haunting, other times truly uplifting – but always utterly compelling and imaginative.

An interview with Mountains will be published shortly. ‘Centralia’ – as well as the Mountains back catalogue –  is available to purchase at Plugd Records, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork.

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Mountains (plus guests) perform at The Black Mariah (Floor 2, Triskel, Tobin St, Cork) on Wed. May 8th. Tickets are €12/10 concessions.

‘Centralia’ by Mountains is out now on Thrill Jockey.

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For more information on Mountains:

http://www.thrilljockey.com/thrill/Mountains/
http://www.thrilljockey.com/

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March 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Something’s Going On: Cut Hands

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Interview with William Bennett, Cut Hands.

Cut Hands is the latest incarnation of William Bennett. The latest sonic venture from a man who is quite simply a true icon of the British underground. Spanning several decades and a multitude of genres and sonic terrain, William Bennett is something of an enigma, a mystery, who is forever pushing new boundaries in the realm of sound and experimentation. Cut Hands performs at the Triskel Arts Centre, Cork on March 3 2013.

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Before Cut Hands, there was UK noise group Whitehouse, who Bennett is the founding member. Formed in 1980, the aim was to create “the most extreme music ever recorded”. Several albums and legendary live shows followed, placing the group as mythical figures in the experimental and noise scenes. The sheer ferocity of Whitehouse’s sound was put to the extreme, pushing the limits and at all times, challenging ears and minds. What has proved a constant over the past years is Bennett’s single-minded determination to do what he wants to do; to create art on his terms, as he sees fit. I think this is a rare quality to be seen in any form of art and what is most inspiring about the icon that is William Bennett.

Cut Hands is the natural evolution on from Whitenoise, which Bennett himself has dubbed “afro noise”. Rhythm lies at the core of the compelling African-influenced poly rhythms and compelling beats. The latest album, ‘Black Mamba’ showcases one of Bennett’s most accessible, yet rewarding works, in my opinion. The title-track itself is dark and menacing. I feel the gravel-throated voice of Tom Waits will ascend upon the mix at any moment. The tempo rises and falls, culminating in a magnificent climax of sinister synths and beats.
Take ‘No Spare No Soul’, taken from ‘Black Mamba’, recently released on Blackest Ever Back. There are infinite subtleties immersed in the mix, with its hypnotic, slow-tempo rhythms unravelling your very consciousness. The Haitian and Jamaican traditions and cultures resonate powerfully through the wall of intense sound.

My personal favourite Cut Hands track must be ‘Impassion’ from 2011’s ‘Afro Noise 1’, an album eight years in the making. It’s one of those tracks that casts a magnificent spell upon you and makes you ask, just how was this made? An ambient layer is re-configured throughout; flowing effortlessly amidst hand percussion rhythms and compelling noise.

The Cut Hands live concert is an intense exploration of these sounds and William Bennett’s forthcoming appearance at the Triskel Development Centre is a rare opportunity to witness this innovative artist.

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William Bennett Interview.

Congratulations first of all on your wonderful solo sonic venture with Cut Hands. Please discuss the background to your love of African music and your fascination with Africa, in terms of culture and tradition? 

thank you!
I used to know an amazing Cuban santería priest while living in Madrid about 20 years ago, at about 30 he was pretty young; he’d spent a couple of years in the Congo, was familiar with Kikongo language and tribes there, so much comes from his influence and the Caribbean islands tradition in general, particularly Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica.

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How do you feel the experimental and noise scene has changed during the 27 or so years you were at the helm of Whitehouse and how do you see it as of now?

as with most contemporary musical scenes (for want of a better word), its fate has become determined by the evolution of technology and its opportunities and its limits; Whitehouse could never have existed before 1980 without the EDP Wasps becoming available, and you’ll find this kind of technological imperative is true of most forms of modern music, experimental and noise is no exception – furthermore, now that there’s such a crazy wealth of choice, and whether performer or listener, the real art has become one of being able to curate your experience; there’s really lots to be excited about right now.

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There is a large cross-over in your work, and as an artist this is represents success for you in pushing the boundaries at all times. ‘Black Mamba’ is hugely influential on the British techno and industrial scene. Where do you see your music of Cut Hands belonging to and how do you see it develop in the future? (what musical avenues would you like to explore next?)

it’s really nice to be able to operate in different domains, by definition I guess this wouldn’t be possible if you belonged to one exclusively: who knows where this is all going, I’ve never had the wish to sound like anyone, even though you can be deeply inspired by them; every day I spend hours looking for sounds that can give you that special feeling and the smile of recognition, and hopefully there’ll be somebody else that likes it too

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An entire musical spectrum is inherent in your music, both present and past, under the guises of Cut Hands and Whitehouse. What are the obsessions for you as a music collector?

it’s a pretty eclectic collection and I had to think specifically about this for a talk on collecting I did at MACBA, I managed to identify 4 main subdivisions (read ‘obsessions’): experimental, Italo disco, African/Caribbean, film soundtracks – then beyond West Coast rap and 80s Chicago house originals there’s almost nothing else.

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What are your current inspirations?

as such a voracious reader and consumer of films and music, too many to mention
for example, this week I’ve spent watching some obscure Frederick Wiseman documentaries, reading Mary Daly, books on Gestalt therapy, listening to Skull Disco – it’s all great inspiration even though musically that translates itself in weird mysterious ways!

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The Black Mariah and Plugd Records present: Cut Hands; live at the TDC SPACE in the Triskel Arts Centre, Cork on Saturday March 2. Doors 9pm and tickets are €15, on sale from Plugd Records (Tel: 00353 (0)21 4276300). DJ Bennetti AKA William Bennett (his italo guise) will also play Sun March 3 at Gulpd. Priority Boarding to ticket holders to Cut Hands show.

The following is the full listing:

THE BLACK MARIAH & PLUGD
present
STRANGER_02
SAT MAR 3 – 2013LIVECUT HANDS (WHITEHOUSE / BLACKEST EVER BLACK)
SINGERSONGWRITER
TRACEDJART BASTARD
GYM NASTY
KENNY HANLON (APARTMENT RECORDS)
TDC SPACE/GULPD CAFE, TRISKEL, TOBIN ST., CORK.
DOORS 9 / ADM €15
TICKETS ON SALE FROM PLUGD
00353 (0)21 4276300
DJ BENETTI AKA WILLIAM BENNETT AKA CUT HANDS WILL PLAY SUN MAR 3 / GULPD. PRIORITY BOARDING FOR TICKET HOLDERS TO CUT HANDS SHOW.

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http://williambennett.blogspot.ie

http://triskelartscentre.ie

http://www.facebook.com/pages/plugd/163945017374

Written by admin

February 12, 2013 at 8:28 pm