Music – what would we do without it? As always I am thankful for all those musicians out there who present us with their hard work, their innermost thoughts and the beautiful results. Today I would like to draw your attention to new releases by Elkhorn, Envy The West, Happy Sadness, somesurprises.
Jesse Sheppard (12 string acoustic) and Drew Gardner (electric guitar) will release their first album “The Black River” on April 14th as lush 175g vinyl with UV spot gloss sleeve and in digital format on April 28th via Debacle Records.
References and collaborations of Elkhorn may not only make my mouth water: “Black River” will straddle the whole story of american guitar music. It digs into folk, Americana, jazz and psychedelia. Somewhere between American primitive guitar and the likes of Ben Chasny and Tom Carter. Elkhorn however shine as a duo in contrary to the solo artists. The combination of the fingerpicked acoustic guitar creating a tender background with the electric adding a magnetic psych layer, bliss. Music that takes you in and lets you dream.
Now, why oh why, did Elkhorn sound so familiar to me? Aaah, there it is: Philadelphia-based filmmaker Jesse Sheppard has worked with artists such as Glenn Jones, Daniel Bachman and Nathan Bowles (any fan of the record labels Thrill Jockey, Paradise of Bachelors and Three Lobed Records will savour this).
His performance documentary featuring Jack Rose, The Things That We Used To Do, came out on Strange Attractors Audio House in 2010. Which of course then easily explains that the recording of “Black River” took place in Jason Meagher’s Black Dirt Studio (home ground of Jack Rose, Nathan Bowles, Steve Gunn et al).
Drew Gardner is a multi-instrumentalist who has led bands featuring avant-garde musicians such as John Tchicai and Sabir Mateen, and often conducts experimental collaborations on the fringes of the New York improv music scene.
Right, now, those are SOME credentials…but Elkhorn’s music absolutely tops the expectations arisen. Here you can see the video for “The Black River” of the new album by Elkhorn (thank you for the permission).
A big thank you to Prana Crafter for referring Elkhorn to me!
Envy The West
Envy The West do not have to do so. I mean, envy the west. Pim Derene (vocals, guitar), Marcus van Slingerland (guitar), Geriejan Rockx (bass) and Robert van Eck (synth) hail from the Netherlands but they play indie Americana at its best. (Alt-country sounds fine but alt-anything has become such a negative wording lately…).
“Cave, Cash, Cohen and Curtis dancing on prozac” someone wrote and that is a perfect description and yet you would have to listen to Envy The West’s music to really get as engulfed by it as I have done.
Envy The West were founded in 2001, released their debut album “Folding Fangs” in 2004. It was later on, after much touring and their second album that they have reached their full potential.
On April 14th their new EP Prison will be released. I was allowed a sneak preview (thank you guys) and this is going to be lovely, I swear. Six songs of touching and hypnotic indie Americana with loads of little arrangement touches to discover and yet keeping it simple and to the point. A knack for songwriting Envy The West truly possess. Here comes the first official video for a song featured on “Prison”:
Isn’t sadness the driving force behind much of songwriting? Where we all want the artist to be happy but then again, alas, do not want to do without the cathartic music? So there is a kind of happy sadness and I find that the music of the band Happy Sadness encapsulates this feeling perfectly.
Happy Sadness is the solo project of Leeds-born Jason Brown who is also a visual artist. You will not be able to listen to Happy Sadness’ music on the side as it will take you in completely. The new EP is called From The Window and again, if you go by the name you cannot go wrong – sitting and watching and dreaming. My colleague Sandra Zettpunkt had it down to a tee: Headphone music, soundtrack music. Very tender and a lot of layers to discover.
Out already on Eiderdown Records you will find the new album by somesurprises from Seattle. some surprises initially was a solo project of Natasha El-Sergany in Virginia. She composed, sang and played all the instruments. Emotions play a big part in the music, especially the heartbroken kind and it is beautifully rendered.
After moving to Seattle, Natasha worked with friends from the underground experimental music community which had a deep impact on her songwriting.
In 2016 Natasha began performing with Josh Medina (Medina/Walsh), who adds warm atmospheric tones and effects on electric guitar. Later that year Nico Sophiea was added on drums and Andrew Scott Young on bass.
Natasha released a solo cassette called “Voice Memos” in 2016 via Happy Accident Records and teamed up with Josh to record the very new album called “Serious Dreams”.
And that’s what it is: Serious dreaming can be done with those songs in your ears. As hard to describe as a dream, as hard to capture as a dream. But oh so beautiful. Listen for yourself:
This year has seen and heard a lot of brilliant new releases (not to mention the loss of many artists that will leave a hole for generations to come). Amongst these new releases was the return of artists that have been around since my teenagehood and boys oh boys, did they shine and sparkle and sound fresh. Kristin Hersh is one of them. Her latest release is the awesome, all encompassing Kristin Hersh: Wyatt At The Coyote Palace. Even though, Kristin has never been away, maybe just not so much in the public eye as she was in her Throwing Muses peak days.
Where to start about Kristin Hersh? She sounds and looks as fresh as she did all these years ago. Battling mental issues since the age of 16 (and thankfully having being diagnosed properly and treated finally), losing friend (or even soulmate) Vic Chesnutt who took his own life despite their maybe silent pact to battle on, raising four sons (my word!) and divorcing after 25 years of marriage, she still gives us a continous well of music.
And several kinds of music in 50 Foot Wave and solo and in collaborations. And she writes books – children books and a fantastic account of her friendship with Vic Chesnutt to name a few. She founded her own project to release music independently and tours relentlessy. How on earth does she do it?
Her lyrics are of the truly confessional kind and immensely touching in her intimacy and wonder and yet she claims that as soon as the songs leave her, we all can make them our own. Now, “Wyatt At The Coyote Palace” could be a lovely holidays present for someone or yourself!
No less than 24 songs, ideas for which had been collected for many years from her own (often dark) personal experiences and observations, lyrically awesome and underpinned with dry humour and wordplay and twinned with mainly quiet but multilayered soundscapes and sung in her raw and sweet voice, from a whisper to a scream, await you.
That is not all: “Wyatt At The Coyote Palace” marks the third time that Kirsten Hersh releases a music-book combo and so you will be receiving a book with her stories and illustrations as well.
Have I mentioned that she plays all the instruments herself on the album and even had instruments built to the purpose of the album?
This album (never mind the whole alluring package with book and illustrations) is one for life…one to return to, to share, to be comforted and upset in equal measures.
Quote Kristin Hersh:
“The stories are all true. They happened over the last few decades. The songs were written in the last five years. They’re true, too, in a much more oblique way,” explains Hersh. “But it’s always felt to me that songs were pushing my life around so they could be born: I live the stories and then the song lives. Very much like children. A baby isn’t born because you got pregnant, you got pregnant because a baby was going to be born.”
Dear blog reader, I can almost feel you doubling back in sheer horror at the length of this post. Wait now, something good is coming or would you think that after two nasty viruses hitting the Offbeat household, three concerts and four interviews in a week, day jobs, radio shows and this being absolute Doomsday for mankind and the U.S. specifically, I’d be sitting here, typing until my fingers bleed? Naaaaw, it won’t be just me blathering – Steve Gunn will tell us about himself in his own words in the Steve Gunn & The Outliners Interview November 2016.
After the release of his first album for label Matador “Eyes On The Lines” which will have introduced him to a wider audience, Steve Gunn started a long tour all over the world (apart from doing a gazillion other things – read about it further down). It is always an immense pleasure to see Steve playing live and also to talk to him (see an older interview here) but this time was priceless even though it did not start out too well…
Trying to hurry to Cologne in the lashing rain on a choc-a-bloc Autobahn (on a Sunday evening?), getting lost, running hysterically in circles, getting advised by the mobile phone map thingie that you better call a taxi as you are facing a 30 minutes walk (erm, the venue was around the corner from us) and then missing each other repeatedly at the venue, it did not bode well.
An hour late we started the interview and the concert was starting early as The King Georg venue is in a living quarter not outside town, meaning, you have to stop the music by 10pm. And yet Steve Gunn took his time to answer each question elaborately, looking for the absolute right words in that soothing voice of his (just imagine this for a moment now until I finally figure out how to put interview snippets on here or listen to my shows on www.novumfm.de and www.byte.fm). I once said and I still stand by it, the man should be doing audiobooks! Maybe though, Steve is just too polite to say no (could be that, too). Anyhow, I bet you to find a nicer interviewee and in many years of interviewing I have had only two bad experiences (who won’t be named as there is no such thing as bad publicity).
Another fact that made the evening special was that Nathan Bowles played support on the banjo (in Steve Gunn’s The Outliners he plays the drums. Nathan hails from the band The Black Twig Pickers and he also has a solo album out – “Whole And Cloven”).
In the rather intimate venue (and I don’t mean the colour scheme and seating arrangements dating from its former somewhat seedy existence) the pleasantly mixed audience were treated to a feast of musicianship. Now, I have seen Steve play solo, with another backing band, then with also Jason Meagher on bass and Nathan Bowles on drums but Paul Sukeena on guitar. All great but maybe due to the “new” delegating Steve, this show ranks high up there, simply because of his guitar harmonies and duels with James Elkington who indeed graces this tour. All Stars band in my humble opinion.
But without further ado, let us have Steve Gunn speaking in his own words.
Offbeat Music Blog: Steve, thank you for taking the time, first of all.
Steve Gunn: Of course, my pleasure.
OBM: I read an interview and article with/about you in “Uncut” and you were going to a record fair with them for three hours and you were happily perusing the records on offer. How do you know all this music of all these different and sometimes exotic genres?
SG: I am a kind of, I guess what you would call, information junkie. I have been collecting and reading and asking questions about music since I was a teenager and then I sort of became slightly obsessed with certain genres and certain players and certain regions of the world. I have gone through a ton of different recordings whether it be at the library or at friends, collections or reading about things in books and online. I am not a scholar by any means but I definitely like a wide range of music and it took a lot of time to investigate certain things, particularly music around the world, understanding the structure of certain types of music, scales and the instruments themselves. I try and correlate a lot of the tones and scales into what I do. I really appreciate not just western music. Even to this day, I am constantly trying to explore and find new things. It’s cool that some of my peers are also similarly interested in getting musicians from around the world to come and play. It gives a new breath, a new life to some things we are doing because we are only really recycling things that have already been done. That kind of music offers a whole new perspective and window and a story as well. That’s also what I’m interested in: People’s cultural stories and personal stories. That music really provides that for me and my peers.
OBM: You originally started out doing hardcore/punk music, then skater music and at some point you’ve had it with the electric guitar, found yourself stuck and picked up the acoustic. What would it be nowadays, would it still be the acoustic guitar first?
SG: It usually always is if I am at home. It is also because of the style in which I play. I have gotten a lot more interested in electric guitar, obviously, if you’ve seen me play and heard my records. But I think, the basis of what I know and how I learnhow to play is from acoustic. I always go back to that if I am simply playing and trying to write songs. Playing with a band has got me pushed more into playing electric. I really do enjoy that aspect but if I had a choice, I would definitely pick acoustic (laughs).
OBM: What would be your favourite acoustic guitar?
SG: Hm…right now…I just bought a guitar in Los Angeles at this shop. It is called “Old Style Guitars” and is a small shop. I wouldn’t call it boutique shop per se but the owner has a lot of old instruments and fixes them up. I went in there, not thinking I was going to get anything. I’ve heard stories about other players doing this where they pick up a guitar and it just feels as if they should own it. Easy to play. It is also for me the kind of thing where I am sort of looking for something to inspire me to play in a different style. Anyway, I went to the store and there was this guitar there from the 1930s from Hawaii. A Hawaiian guitar that was more lightly strummed. It has a smaller body so it has a particular tone. This guitar-maker, he put an electric pick-up in it and these flat round strings so it had this really incredible tone. It almost sounds like an oud or some sort of middle-eastern instrument. I started playing it and felt, I could tell, if I owed this guitar, I would play it all the time.
OBM: It spoke to you.
SG: Exactly. I bought it. I brought it home. Drove it all the way back from California to New York. Before I left for this tour, I basically played it every day. I am really developing a relationship with it. Currently, that’s my favourite instrument. It’s funny because I went to this very fancy guitar-maker’s shop in Santa Cruz where he makes these incredible guitars from all different kinds of wood which are super beautiful and sound amazing. They are really expensive but he really takes his time and he is one of the few people in the States taking as much time in the craftmanship – doing it right. And I was so ready to put the money down and buy one of these incredibly nice guitars. But something just said no. I don’t want the instrument to be too precious. Because I worry about it. So, this Hawaiin guitar now was perfect because it had lived a life and ithad its own existence. This guy found it and rebuilt it. It just made it special. When I picked it up, I realised that “I don’t need to buy some fancy guitar to be inspired”. This is perfect because it has its unique sound and I really like playing it. The point of my story is that I like guitars that have more of a story and are unique in their own way.
OBM: Not necessarily brand-related then?
SG: Yeah, and that also goes for electric instruments. The two electric guitars that I have are made by people that I know and they get special materials from very unique sources. The one guitar that I have – there is a guitar-maker in New York City who excavates wood from old buildings. There’s all this development been happening in New York City of course in the past thirty years and this guitar-maker knows a lot of the wood that these old buildings that are almost 200 years old have, like beams. Some of the oldest parts of Manhattan contain wood from trees that don’t even exist anymore. It used to come from down the rivers, from Upstate. There are still existing trees but they don’t mill them because they are so precious. The guitar-maker was going to these sites where the builders were demolishing and rebuilding and basically throwing the wood away. He took all the pieces and makes these beautiful guitars out of this wood. He has this incredible shop, he is super friendly and he takes his time making these amazing guitars and they are not that expensive. He makes guitars for Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson. He knows all these people and is really friendly. He made this guitar for me. I waited two years for it, slowly paying it off. That’s one of the guitars and then the other one, similarly, is a from friend who makes guitars and he got this special piece of wood. I like to know exactly where it’s coming from.
OBM: And support these people rather than a big chain?
SG: Yeah, totally.
OBM: You are a bit of a perfectionist as in you lock yourself in your room and practise singing until you are confident to bring it to stage or likewise you sit in your room and play and play guitar until you are really perfect at a piece. Your guitar playing also is very intricate. Nowadays, especially with Jim Elkington in the backing band, you are letting go a bit, delegate a bit. Was that a very hard thing for you to do?
SG: It was!I guess I was so programmed to overthink things. The way that I learned how to play, particularly playing solo – I was not trying to be a virtuoso per se, I was just trying to do a lot within what I was doing, playing fingerstyle, playing the bass parts and trying to play all these different melodies and all these tunings. All this stuff is from memory and pretty specific and complicated. Then singing on top of it makes it even harder but I forced myself to figure out how to deal with it. So playing with a band, I realised: “Hey, this could potentially be too much sound and too much playing at once.” It was interesting and it is almost like this reverse way of learning. Maybe it is getting a bit more mature, learning how to simplify things. Learning how to listen for other instrumentation within a group setting.So it took a bit of time but I really enjoy it. Particularly with a player like Jim! I know a lot of guitar players and he really is the best guitar player that I know.
OBM: And that says something!
SG: Yeah, he can play jazz, blues…he can do anything. Sometimes, you don’t even know and he is playing some flamenco thing (admiring sigh). He is just an incredibly brilliant musician. And pretty humble about it which is great. He has a new album coming out. He recorded a solo record for Paradise of Bachelors label that will come out at some point next year. It’s sounding really good!
OBM: Will keep my eyes open for that and my ears! Which brings us to your label change from Paradise of Bachelors to Matador. Are you happy with your new label?
SG: Oh yeah, it’s been great!
OBM: The new album “Eyes On The Lines” sounds as Jason Meagher put it, not for commercial reasons, maybe as a stage of your development, tighter. Was that a natural development?
SG: It was a natural development and it also was a choice because I realised that sometimes concerning some of the longer songs (even if you see the show tonight – we do some of those songs a lot longer): I had a lot of trouble in the past with having songs too long that are on albums, particularly if it is one LP and you have two sides. If you have a song between seven and eight minutes…
OBM: That’s a quarter of the album.
SG: Yeah, you have a really tough time fitting all these other songs on there. And I also wanted to bookend the first song with the last song. I was working within this kind of formula. It was the first album where I was really thinking about every piece as a whole whereas before I would go: “Ah, I really love this song. Let’s do it. Oh shit, that’s like seven and a half minutes.” You never really try and work within these timeframes. For this one I was very conscious of the length of the songs. Also I wanted to kind of switch it up because I felt, sometimes, even with the album before (“Way Out Weather”), I was falling into these trappings of people describing the music and I wanted this new album to reflect something a bit different. I live in a city! I was not getting frustrated but I felt like people were interpreting my music as a place where I was from. I never thought of it that way. It made me choose perhaps to try and reflect more of a city feel.
OBM: The stories were definitely from the city.
Steve Gunn: Yeah, they are. Everything is.
OBM: But the music kind of conveyed…
Steve Gunn: A more pastoral feeling.
OBM: Yeah, a kind of folksiness, the wide open road.
Steve Gunn: Like a wide open landscape. Still, that’s also a big part of my life. I wanted to have more of an edge sonically. I was thinking about my favourite city bands and city albums and conceptually I thought it was an interesting thing for me to do. New York is an important place in my life: Matador Records is from New York. Some of my favourite bands are from New York. In a sense I wanted to make a New York themed album. A lot of the topics from the songs come from New York or being away from it and thinking about it. There is no cityscape photograph on the front but I am trying to integrate it.
OBM: But is still Steve on the outside, observing?
Steve Gunn: Yeah, yeah! Maybe it has a bit more urgency. But I am not going from that point into the more extreme. For the next one I am going to try something a bit more different. Every time I have these little conceptual ideas.
OBM: You did videos now for the first time. Did you have some input into them?
Steve Gunn: The thing is, working with Matador, they come up with these interesting ideas for videos. We were getting people pitching ideas. Matador was really interested in my relationship with Michael Chapman. The song itself (“Ancient Jules”) was about a character, not about Michael Chapman specifically, but some older figure in my life or anyone’s life that was a bit more detached from current society or having trouble understanding this mindframe or a different way of perceiving things and time and attention spans. All that stuff is tied in the theme of the album as well. I picked a song about an older whacky man that was in a sense our guru. He was basically telling us to pull ourselves away from all this stuff. In a sense that’s what this song is about. Michael is, you know, a very good friend of mine but also an inspiring figure to me. Matador saw that relationship and thought it was a good idea to see if he wanted to make a video. I was already visiting him and they sent a filmmaker up there. I think it worked out well.
OBM: Did you feel comfortable getting filmed?
Steve Gunn: Probably….NO! (laughs).
OBM: You can see it a bit! Michael Chapman is like a natural…
Steve Gunn: Yeah, he’s a ham…he’s like (growling resolutely): “So!” He’s all into it. It was just weird. The guy was sort of telling us to do things and I am not going to pretend. We were just hanging out. Yeah, it’s strange.
OBM: The video come across as being about this younger musician who travels and is restless and comes to the home of the older musician, a very homely home – there is the roaring fire and the glass of wine and hanging out. And the older musician is all settled down and has seen all that and done all that.
Steve Gunn: That’s exactly what it is. It is incredible to know though that he still does do that (touring).
OBM: I saw Michael Chapman doing support (should be the other way round) for Ryley Walker last year. He was excellent.
Steve Gunn:He is amazing. We are playing a show with him in Leeds on this tour. We made an album with him.
OBM: I was going to ask you about that. You produced the album?
Steve Gunn: Yeah, produced it. I guess that’s what you’d call it but I basically was talking to the label and said, you should send him over here and we can use our band. The band I am playing with tonight (Nathan Bowles, Jason Meagher and James Elkington), we made the record with him. He came and presented the songs and we just helped arrange them. You know, I know Michael. Musically we have toured together a bit and I understand certain things about him. I was trying to guide him in certain directions and helping bridge the gap between him and the studio and the band and stuff. The bass player in the band (Jason Meagher), he owns the studio (Blackdirt Studio). It is a very close family kind of thing. Michael is an old school person. He is an older man, recorded a lot of albums in the seventies and has got all these old studio tricks. I was like: “That’s great but that doesn’t work. We can’t do it that way. We have to do it this way.” (Grins.) We were working within certain parameters from engineering. Jason is amazing but he is doing his own job so there needed to be someone to help. Make it work. But we are really happy with the way it came out. They just released the first single online, probably my favourite song on the album (“That Time Of Night” from the album “50”, release date January 2017 via Paradise of Bachelors)
OBM: You are planning to record with Mary Lattimore as well?
Steve Gunn: We have been talking about it for a while so hopefully…She’s been travelling all over. I hope to get into the studio with her at some point. Because we play really well together and I love her playing.
This tour is the last big tour for this album (“Eyes On The Lines”) and I am doing a solo tour with Lee Ranaldo in January. And I am going to record some solo guitar instrumental stuff, not even for release, just to go into the studio. Just to do it. I have some new songs I am working on, so I will take a break and start working on some new records.
OBM: You have an enormous musical output. Do you ever get stuck as in a song is just not forthcoming and you feel the well is drying up?
Steve Gunn: I think in whatever medium, whether you are an artist or writer, there are those times. But for me, I had to trust the process and live with certain things and just keep working. I am not a natural like some people that I know like for instance Kurt Vile: He’ll write a song and you don’t even know what he is singing about but it sounds right and it is simple and really good. It just pours out of him (laughs). So for me, I’m like playing eight hours a day. Then I have to put myself into this mindset and trust the process. Lately I have been trying to just live with things. I never want to put this kind of pressure on myself: “Is this my last song”. Even if I write a bad song, it is still something.
OBM: You wouldn’t want to turn music into something stressful because it is your life.
Steve Gunn: Well, it is stressful. My life is stressful. I am just trying to find a balance.
OBM: But you are doing something that you like?
Steve Gunn: (smiles) Of course, sometimes I forget that. I’ve had jobs. I worked manual labour, construction jobs and on trucks which is fine but sometimes I forget: “Oh right, I am not supporting myself with a different job anymore.” It is also frightening as well because I feel the rug can be pulled from under you any time. It’s a brutal business.
OBM: And on that note (no, because time is up): Thank you very much, Steve!
(And thank you very much to the whole band, to Tout Partout Agency, to Matyas, always all round tour manager as well as Dominik Schmidt at Matador.
Lisa Hannigan released her third album “At Swim” to much critical acclaim a couple of weeks ago. Currently she presents her new and some old songs on tour in Europe after having played in the US. She will also be supporting Agnes Obel on her tour in Europe. Offbeat had the opportunity to talk to Lisa and presents you a fresh Lisa Hannigan Interview November 2016.
Lisa played only a handful of gigs in Germany and so the intimate venue Studio 672 in Cologne was sold out. Heather Woods Broderick was supporting and playing in Lisa’s band (and selling merchandise, too, multitasking in its true form but more on that in a separate post).
The audience might not have been so happy about the venue: The small, low stage and a dark long room that stays the same floor level was not really helpful to anyone not standing in the first row to catch a glimpse of what was happening on stage. Actually quite a lot was going on: Lisa, three musicians, plus Heather showcased perfect musical craftsmanship – a quiet set without a glitch and yet in no way distanced or sterile. It probably would be – especially for the quieter songs of the new album – a good gig to watch seated, just to absorb the music and the lyrics a little better without craning your neck to see and trying to avoid fainting in the heat. (Note: Why oh why do photographers who were only allowed to do their thing during two songs have to cling to the front of that very small stage for the whole set blocking the view for everyone else? And this guy who records some concerts shiftily will one day get a kick from me, so there.)
Anyhow, as I was saying, the audience was more than content with the long and varied set anyway (and encores amongst which an a cappella or sean nos rendition of “Anahorish” just like on the album or even better) and especially thrilled that Lisa took to the merchandise table herself afterwards and patiently signed and had pictures taken and had a kind word for everyone.
Lisa also kindly took some time out beforehand to talk to Offbeat Music Blog. Interview excerpts and music will also be due at Kaleidoskop, Mondays, 5-6pm CET on www.byte.fm as well as Offbeat, Thursdays, 8-10pm CET on www.novumfm.de. There you have it!
An incredible fresh-faced friendly Lisa awaited us and answered the questions patiently in her (it has to be said) also lovely speaking voice with the sweet lilt. (Actually, the band are trying to teach Heather Woods Broderick some Irish English while on tour and they are having loads of fun).
Thank you very much, Lisa Hannigan and the band and Heather Woods Broderick (blog post to follow) and Una Molloy and everyone at PIAS and the venue!
Offbeat Music Blog: Lisa, touring can make you feel disconnected from home where life goes on without you. How do you feel about it?
Lisa Hannigan: I think the main thing is you feel very tired. That’s the main thing when you come off tour. A lot of people have these records about feeling disconnected, away from home. That was certainly what my last record (Passenger) was all about – being on tour a lot and feeling like, you know, what are the things you take with you when you travel. And this record (At Swim) is again about feeling disconnected but it is more about feeling disconnected at home than actually being on tour because I was living all over the place. But that’s how a lot of people feel a lot of the time. It’s worth writing songs about it, I think.
OMB: Could you take us on a short journey through your musical development and maybe what you had in mind when making your three albums?
LH: I was always singing at home in my house. My parents, my Mum in particular does a lot of singing. It was just always so. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing. I sort of thought I might be an opera singer when I was a teenager for a brief amount of time. When I realised how quiet I was, I knew that was never going to work. I just had to find my place really. I realised, first of all I needed a microphone (laughs) because no one could hear me. I fell into singing backing vocals and writing my own songs. So it happened very meanderingly. But I always wanted to be a singer.
I don’t know whether I have anything in mind particularly when I first start making a record. It is sort of a song by song situation. It’s only sometimes the further you get into finishing songs that you realise how they hang together, what sort of theme there is there. On the outset, I think, you are just fumbling around in the dark and hoping to bump into things. I certainly wanted this record to feel different. But I didn’t really know what that meant. And it took me a long time to write the songs. I was grateful for any song at all that I liked. But it did start to come together and start to feelcohesive. But I think, starting out, you just hope to write another song which as a songwriter is always the worry. When you finish a song you think: Will that be my last song? You know, for a not very prolific one like me (laughs).
OMB: Your new album “At Swim” was a great pain to make, wasn’t it?
LH: It took me a lot longer than I wanted to. I think, as we were saying earlier about touring: I came back from the “Passenger” tour which was probably about two years, just feeling really really tired – and quite sort of burnt-out and empty. I just thought “Oh, sure, I’ll write a song next week.” I just found it so hard. I realised I hadn’t written a song in a long time and the more I tried, the more difficult it became. It sort of snowballed like that and I got very anxious about not writing songs. I would sit down every day and try and write and didn’t quite work. But eventually, once in a blue moon, I would write a song in twenty minutes and I’d have a song that I really liked. I knew I was getting there – just very slowly. Then I got an email out of the blue from Aaron Dessner from The National saying did I want to write together or did I need someone to produce my record. That was amazing. That was really helpful. He would send me these little pieces of music and I would be able to write to that and sing into my phone and send it back to him. It really helped me gain momentum in my own writing as well. We have three songs co-written on the record. But more than anything it helped me gain my confidence back a lot. He is so easy and enthusiastic about everything. He is a really great person to be around and to write with. That helped a huge amount.
OMB: Aaron Dessner also produced in a way to make the album sound much darker than your previous albums or would that have been a natural progression for you anyway?
LH: Yeah! Who knows? I am not sure. The songs themselves are a lot darker because of the theme so that was already there. But he definitely reduced the kind of lyricism of a lot of the arrangements. He took a lot of those melodic instruments and contrapuntal melodies that I would have normally done and made it more textured which I think helped reduce the exuberance somewhat. In a good way! Because that’s what the songs required. He did an amazing job producing it, making this interesting world out of the songs.
OBM: A lot of the titles of your new album are very dark but maybe the songs themselves are not so much as the titles mean something different to you?
LH: Some of the songs are definitely quite dark to go with the stark, dark melodies. “Funeral Suit” for a example is not in any way a sad song. It’s purely a love song. I always know when people haven’t listened to the record when they say (moans): “It’s so depressing…” (Laughs loudly). They haven’t actually read the words. And “Prayer For The Dying” as well. It’s a sad subject but I don’t think it’s a sad song. It’s not meant to be, it’s meant to be quite celebratory and a tribute of sorts more than being sort of dour. But the titles are quite dark when you read them in a list (loud laughter).
OBM: You also have a Seamus Heaney poem on the album (“Anahorish”)?
LH: Yeah, when I was finding it hard to write…I always read a lot of his poetry because it is so beautiful. And I felt like that would be the best thing if I fill myself with up with lovely words as opposed to my empty head. I saw “Anahorish” and it looks like a song on the page first of all but also the theme of it about memory and home and that central coheir of things, I thought, would fit really well with the rest of the record. I started setting it to music as an exercise in my time when I couldn’t write anything to help me write stuff. But I actually I loved it so much that I really wanted to put it on the record. I sent it to his family, asking if it was okay and they very kindly said yes. I love singing it live, too, it is great fun.
OBM: Do you have a trained voice, Lisa?
LH: Well, I did a little bit of classical training when I had my notions of being an opera singer. I did some lessons in school. But that was it. I did that for a couple of years. I learned how to do warm-ups, that sort of thing. But I don’t tend to warm up anymore because usually I am singing all day. I don’t really need to. If I have been ill or I haven’t for some reason been singing, then I warble away and do some scales.
OBM: The singing range is amazing and some people said that you could sing anything, jazz, anything at all.
LH: I love singing all sorts of songs and funnily enough since I started and since I gave up smoking about ten years ago, my range has totally changed. I’ve gotten lower and higher also. That’s been fun. It is playing to me, singing. I like to think of the voice as an instrument. That’s more how we approached it on this record actually. There is so much to a voice in communication in terms of texture and timbre and all the rest that is controllable to a certain extent. There is no reason why your voice shouldn’t get better as you get older…as long as you are not drinking whiskey and shouting all night which I don’t tend to do much anymore. There is no reason why your voice should not add complexity as you get older which I hope will be the case.