Somewhere I read that only real music nerds into a certain kind of music who have a pastime of perusing credits will have heard of Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler. In my humble opinion, anyone who listens to music could not fail to come across the two lately.
Mary Lattimore is a harpist who plays her extraordinary instrument with virtuosity beyond all genres. She played with Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile & The Violators, Sharon van Etten, Meg Baird, to name but a few. She also released her EP The Withdrawing Room on which she already got supported via tonal soundbed by Jeff Zeigler.
Jeff Zeigler in turn is a musician, band member of Arc In Round and producer, sound engineer, tour sound engineer for all the Philadelphia greats such as Kurt Vile, Purling Hiss, The War On Drugs and (soon to come) The Morelings’ debut full album (which I am so happy about). He also mixed Steve Gunn’s latest album Way Out Weather and currently, together with Mary Lattimore is support act for Steve Gunn & Band on the European leg of his tour.
But before I prattle on, you can read all this in the interview the two so kindly gave me on the occasion of their gig in Hasselt, Belgium, May 26th 2015. Again, just like for the Steve Gunn interview, the audio files will go up here a little later. I also include some photos, but it was sooooo dark….
Again, grab your chance to see Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler with their awesome project supporting Steve Gunn on his tour right now, or should you have missed it, definitely at a later stage and also have a listen to their beautiful, unlike no other, album “Slant of Light” (Thrill Jockey Records) – oooooh, even in limited edition vinyl.
Question: Mary, you picked the possibly most expensive, certainly most cumbersome and most difficult instrument to play, the harp. How did you decide on the harp as a kid?
Mary: My Mum is a harpist and so I grew up with it. She’s got harpist friends. It was just in my house all the time. My Mum is always practising. She plays for an orchestra too. I went to see her play a lot when I was a kid. It came naturally.
Question: You must have gone through years of classical training (Mary sighs). Was there ever a point where you felt like chucking it in?
Mary: Yeah, definitely (laughs). I guess, in high school it is not that fun to get ready for the prom in a McDonalds bathroom because you have a recital you have to play right beforehand. It is just sort of a nerdy thing to do but it is really fun – now. Love it.
Question: Once you had the basic training you could find your own style which kind of transcends all genres. What does inspire you?
Mary addresses Jeff (“Jeff?”) to help her out – Jeff feels addressed as “the inspiration” and is a bit flustered.
Jeff: What inspires YOU? Mary: His name is Jeff. Jeff: Yes…oh, I SEE! I was like suggestions are welcome…(big laughter).
Mary: I dunno, lots of things, landscapes, places, just sort of translating how I feel when I am hanging out somewhere, the feel of places. I listen to a lot of music, too, different artists.
Question: What’s your connection to Philadelphia like?
Mary: It’s cool. I have been there ten years. We have a lot of musician friends, very good scene there. Lots of collaborators, creative things going on. It is really fun. A good place.
Question: Jeff, to most of us producer and sound technician of the album of the year 2014 (The War On Drugs’ “Lost in the dream” (Jeff chuckles: “Yeah, one of them.”) but also multi-instrumentalist, band member, collaborator in many projects. Would you tell us a bit about your biography? What did you start out as?
Jeff: Yeah, I played guitar a lot when I was a kid, in high school and before that. And then I stopped and started doing other stuff all the time. Lost the interest in that from the angle that I was doing it as a kid. It was all hardcore stuff and that can only go so far. Then I rediscovered guitar in college at the same time that I started a recording class. I would borrow the recording equipment and write and relearned how to play guitar. The two became gelled together, so I always thought of the process of making the music and recording the music at the same time. And that sparked it from there.
The term multi-instrumentalist is a bit misleading because in the studio, there is a lot of cheating involved. So I ended up playing a lot of instruments but probably at a skill-level that is below than someone like Mary, her insane virtousity.
But there is a level of trickery where you can create a more intricate mass of things. (Mary: He’s having a great ear!) An overall aesthetic is beyond everything, yeah, to possess an aesthetic…whatever that is. It seems to translate somehow.
Question: Do you find that the creative and the engineering side complement each other or do they sometimes disagree?
Jeff: They generally complement each other. I think the talent for a while was to find the balance between the two because it can be so all-consuming to be working on records. And the same for art and artists. It is very hard not to be consumed by that. That and trying to keep a focus on making music. There is that itch, when not scratched, you are going all crazy. But I figured out to make a balance that I am happy with at his point.
Question: I was thinking about that. You are going on tour, quite a long tour and meanwhile people are queuing up at your door wanting production work done. How do you get it all done?
Jeff: Before I left there were a lot of 18 hour days to finish up everything. Yeah, but I know. Generally, it gets a little crazy sometimes. But there are also times when it is not like that at all. I find myself taking on more than I should. But there is not so much you can do about it. Short answer: I dunno!
I love my work, it does not really feel like work – maybe on hour 17 it starts beginning to feel a bit strenuous.
Question: You are both from Philadelphia or moved there quite a while ago. How did you first meet, did you have friends in common or have you know each other forever?
Mary: I was touring with Thurston Moore and Jeff was touring with Kurt Vile as his sound guy and we all hang out at the tour together. Jeff and I, we have a bunch of mutual friends. We always heard about each other, been in the same bar. But we had not really hung out until that time.
Jeff: Mary was about to start working on a solo record and she talked to Kurt (Vile) about it and Kurt suggested potentially us working together. And then we did. There was a point at which I helped processing. She is all involved in her harp processing, effects on the fly. And I added some other processing on top and the side, some synths. Then we played together.
Mary: Then we decided to make it some sort of a project.
Question: You have done music to a silent film together but your first proper album together “Slant Of Light” came out now. How do work together, do you sit together and start jamming?
Mary: That’s it, basically. That whole record was improvised. We did take a couple of takes. We improvised and then were like, ok, let’s do this again. First or second take. I think, it was a lot about the environment. It was super snowy in Philly. We were stuck in the studio. I spent the night at Jeff’s that night. We couldn’t move out of the studio at all. That was one or two years ago.
Jeff: Yes, we were holed up for a few days in the middle of the winter.
Mary: Was that last year?
Jeff: It was two winters ago. It was the last of the winter storms. We had had quite a lot that year. That kind of set the tone for us. The last track on the last side, we did that in one take – the darkest of them all. But there are a few popular short tracks, Mary started that one and I go: Oh, that sounds nice and I tried the guitar and that was not easy.
Mary: And then we just recorded it.
Jeff: Yeah, and play the track a few times. But that was probably the most refined process for any of them.
Mary: It was pretty laid back. Jeff’s studio is really, what’s the word, not “cohesive”. It lends itself to that kind of…
Jeff: It is conducive to.
Mary: Conducive to!!! It is conducive to that kind of thing. It is very cosy. It feels like a good place.
Jeff: It is not like a sterile environment, really, instruments everywhere.
Question: I hope the “Welsh Corgis In The Snow” did not spring from that?
Jeff: They are frozen in the snow.
Mary: Corgi blood in the snow.
Question: Your music reminds me – maybe not so much in style – but sort of the atmosphere it conveys of The Durutti Column. Do your musical tastes sometimes clash or what you want to convey?
Mary: I dunno.
Jeff: I dunno either.
Mary: I think we have similar taste in music, stuff we like to listen to.
Jeff: Yeah, hm, hard to answer. Not necessarily, no. There are times, like on the tour the last few days, when you are completely improvising a set, we are coming from different angles. Because when you do an improvised set during the whole tour, it starts feeling less improvised, less spontaneous, so have to figure out ways to spark it. We talk about it when we go back to some stuff that we already know and working that off too.
Mary: You’ll hear the song “Welsh Corgis in the snow tonight”, for example.
(Me: The song is beautiful, but it is just a very funny title).
Mary: I knoooow.
Jeff: It’s pretty ridiculous.Yeah, we come from a lot of the same places musically. It makes it a lot easier.
Question: It is possibly also about sensing what the other half wants to express. You cannot possibly shout on stage: No, I did not mean THAT!
Jeff: I think, we both kind of know where we want to go to some extent at this point. I like to make more of an atmospheric bed for Mary. The more intricate, the more dynamic – there is a certain response to that. If we both constantly tried to take the fore, we would not be as successful or effective. I am creating a sonic bed for what she is doing which is a bit more on the composition end of it.
Question: Mary, I heard you were once using a battery on the harp strings?
Mary: A battery??? Where did you hear THAT (Me: Can’t remember.) I once used a screwdriver but not on stage. (Me: Would have been very Einstürzende Neubauten anyway, a battery.)
Question: Your album is not something to listen to in the background, well, maybe some people do. But you have to really immerse yourself and get rewarded. Is this album difficult to reproduce on stage?
Mary: I don’t think so, only that White Balloon song. We don’t get the feeling right.
Jeff: Also from a practical standpoint, I’d have to play guitar which is otherwise not part of the set at all, at least not for right now. Generally we go the same way we produced the record: We have loose idea and go from there. It’s never going to be the exact same as on the record. So it is more the spirit.
Mary: I feel like that is the point of the project, not to make it exactly the same every time. It is all about creating some colours, a vibe, a mood.
Jeff: Yeah, just kind of keep it loose, not so much like a traditional band.
Question: So, how has the tour (with Steve Gunn) been so far?
Mary: So far, good. Steve is a really good friend, we worked together and it is great touring with him and the band.
Me: How are the audiences?
Mary: Yeah, everybody has been super quiet.
Jeff: Audiences have been great. I think, in general, Steve’s audiences are a bit more open-minded. It is not as if we were touring with a traditional rock band. There is a bit of an open-minded audience appreciating the contrast. Also, there is something about a harp that commands a little respect. Like: Holy shit! Something serious is about to happen.
A big thank you to Mary & Jeff who surely must be some of the loveliest, funniest people I have met lately! They complement Steve Gunn & Band perfectly on this tour, their album is a sheer joy and thank you:-)