Saturday
Mar172012

Lindi Ortega Interview

A Canadian born singer/songwriter Lindi Ortega has self-released two albums and an ep, this was followed by an EP on Cherry Tree Records. Since then her current album Little Red Boots and a Christmas EP were through Last Gang Records. She spent time touring the US and Europe as a backing singer with the Killers Brandon Flowers behind his Flamingo solo album. She is now concentrating on her own career.

Your Irish/Mexican parentage must have given you a interesting musical heritage. What are your memories of the music around your house growing up?

My mum listened to a lot of old country when I was growing up, lots of Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton. She was who first got me interesting in the genre. My dad was listening to a lot of latino music, I recall hearing Santana and Gypsy Kings in my childhood and I think this may have had an influence on my rhythmic guitar playing.   

You mentioned the guitar on the wall at home as an object of desire. What finally made you take it off the wall?

I was starting to sing at around age 15, I knew if I was going to write songs I would need an instrument and that guitar seemed like the perfect fit.  

There was a self-released album prior to Little Red Boots, I believe, did it feature some of the same songs or a set of older ones? 

They were all older tunes, I didn’t start writing the newer songs till about 2008. 

A new album later in the year, how different will it be from Little Red Boots, given the  Christmas EP took a more acoustic approach?  

I believe with every record there is a bit of an evolution. I don’t anticipate a drastic difference, but I am constantly being inspired by new things which I’m sure will have an impact on my music. As well, I will be working with a new producer and recording in Nashville. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we cook up together! 

You voice seems perfectly suited to the blend of traditional country, rock and the other influences you incorporate. Where do you see your music taking you in the future or is that open to possibilities as you mentioned that you listened to a wide range of acts growing up? 

I feel very connected to country music because the lyrical content of the genre speaks to me. Its a language I understand. So I feel country will always be present. Its a good thing that country embodies a wide range of style and I can draw from those styles for future recordings. I’m sure I will continue to explore.

You obviously love Johnny Cash, including two of his songs in your set, who else would you see as primary influences? 

Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, Mazzy Star, and Wanda Jackson. 

Have you ever wanted to do anything else other than be a singer/songwriter? 

Yes, I have always been fascinated with Storms and Tornadoes. I would most definitely be a storm chaser if I wasn’t a singer/songwriter! 

You seem to have found a second base in Europe, is that an important career step? 

I think its wonderful! I love Europe. I have had a wonderful time touring. I didn’t expect to do well in Europe but I was pleasantly surprised at how excepting of my music people were and I’m thrilled that I have opportunity to cross the pond and play my songs for everyone!   

Heartbreak is at the heart of many of you songs and you mentioned a failed on the road relationship. Do you think that building a relationship while you are an active performer is something you have to sacrifice? 

Sometimes I think its a sacrifice, but not one I impose upon myself as I feel very strongly that I could make it work, its just a matter of finding someone who could make it work with me.  That’s the hard part. For as many heartbreaks as I incur, I somehow remain hopeful in possibility.  

On the other hand aren’t failed relationships  a great source of songs? 

Yes, that is the blessing/curse of my fate. But maybe a great love song is yet to be written in my books. So I guess we’ll see! 

You had a great band with you in Dublin, but you also play solo. Do you have a preference for either?

  I actually love both. I find it a great challenge to convince an audience armed with just my guitar that I am worth their attention. I like that challenge. The band is a lot of fun though, and its great to rock out! 

Being Canadian do you have a different perspective on America. Do you have any political interests? 

I don’t really pay mind to politics. One could drive themselves mad with it. Instead I chose to be inspired by beautiful landscapes and history. America has some of the most beautiful and varied landscapes I’ve seen. likewise, Europe has so much to offer in that respect also. 

As it is currently is your music may find it hard to get a place on mainstream country radio, is that something that annoys you? 

No, I’m very happy with what I do and how I get to do it. If I were to ever make mainstream radio I suppose that would be nice to get that kind of exposure. But the underground is a place full of some of the most interesting and unique sounds I’ve ever heard so I’m proud to be there. 

Finally what would you like to be doing in ten years time? 

Ah.. a whole decade. Well if I make it to ten years I would hope to still be singing and creating. I very much live in the moment with my life so I don’t plan too much ahead. My only hope is to continue doing what I love and that it brings me the same great joy that I feel now. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton

Monday
Feb272012

Audrey Auld Interview

 

Building a reputation in the Australian roots music scene in the 90s was Tasmanian native Audrey Auld's initial goal. After she established Reckless Records in 1998 she released a series of albums beginning with Looking Back To See, a duet album with Bill Chambers, then the ARIA nominated The Fallen in 2000 and the 2003 album Losing Faith. The latter release found critical favour in the US and she made inroads there by extensive touring before moving there on a permanent. She has since married and become an American citizen and continued touring and recording. She currently resides in East Nashville with her husband and pets. There she grows food, writes songs and is recording and touring. Audrey has just released a career overview in Resurrection Moon, it features two new tracks with fellow Australian Anne McCue. It follows her Mark Hallman produced Come Find Me which was recorded in Austin, Texas.

The albums you made in New South Wales in Australia seemed to have their antecedents in a more classic traditional country, since then you have moved the US and have a developed a folkier/rootsy sound, with Losing Faith being a cross-over point. How has location influenced you in your music making?

My first two albums Looking Back To See and The Fallen were influenced by my love of traditional country music. In 2002 I made Losing Faith, hot on the heels of a horrible relationship breakdown. I found the songs I wrote reflected the range of moods I went through. Sometimes rock or punk lends itself to the expression of anger better than country music. I decided long ago to honor the song that came to me, not to confine myself by sticking to one specific genre. I prefer to use a broad musical palette to express the emotions and experiences I want to write about.
Moving to the US later in 2003 created a shift in my perspective. I was less concerned about the state of my heart and very aware of the state of the world, politically and environmentally. The US is such a huge presence influencing the global community. I couldn't help but find different things to write about.  Also, in California there's a very healthy acoustic music scene which I became part of. I'd played with bands in Australia and shifted to solo and duo performances in the US. So, the song selection changes to suit an acoustic setting.
 
What would the other major influences and motivations on your writing be?

I'm always interested in discovering the universal aspect of what I'm feeling. I'm influenced by Buddhist texts, motivational and inspirational books and poetry, nature, human behaviour. I'm honored to receive songs as gifts. My motivation is to stay true to the muse. I meditate sitting and walking in order to keep the channels open, calm my mind, and let the words come through in a truly honest way, so that a song is created, not 'made-up'.
Is living in the US a scary time now with a more liberal outlook, the hopefulness of the Obama presidency seems to have dissipated somewhat with the reality of recession?

The media would have you believe it's a scary time, but as I travel all over I meet friendly, warm people who work to create community, help the needy and stay connected. Extremists are scary, religious maniacs are scary, reality TV shows are scary, the power of the media is scary. But face-to-face contact and connection through music balances it all out for me.

What role can the independent musician have at a time like this?

I feel my small but important purpose in this life is to provide a few hours during a live show where everyone in the room feels connected through music and laughter; that they feel their experiences and emotions are common and shared. Through writing and recording I can hopefully express for others what they feel and want to say, but may not have the tools to do so.
The economy and changing times has a direct effect on a musician's life, from a simple thing like travel right through the methods of delivering music. How have you been affected?

Yes the price of gas affects the bottom line of a tour and the weaker economy affects how many people turn up to a show.  I hope more media and radio people accept mp3 delivery of my music as an alternative to the ever increasing cost of packaging and mailing a disc. The Indie musician's life has always been one of richness of life-style and experiences rather than huge riches in the bank.  So a weak economy for everyone makes me think "welcome to my world!"
You are now a part of a roving band of singer/songwriters delivering their songs to small, but appreciative audiences. Is there a strong affinity between artists like your self and say, Anne McCue or Mary Gauthier whom you dedicated a songs on Come Find Me?

Anne McCue and I are neighbors, friends and we sometimes tour together. She's truly a road warrior. Amelia White is another East Nashville musician with whom we party and jam, when we're all in town at the same time. Nashville is full of indie artists, working alone or with a little help to tour, record and keep the wolf from the door.  Mary Gauthier's a friend too, who's also out touring full-time. She's had the benefit of being on a major label and management so her story would be a little different to those of us who are the Underbelly. People like Anne and I will be playing music, with or without support for the rest of our lives.  We know how to survive no matter what.
Speaking of which are you still feeling gorgeous as you say in that title song?

More than ever! Late last year I went to a 10 day meditation retreat called Vipassanna. It's a silent time of purification, giving time to one's higher self. It has a remarkable effect, like a spring clean of your psyche! I feel the most confident and alive I've ever felt. I've never had a drink or drug addiction problem but now live a sober life.  I spent much of my life 'out of it' and now enjoy being 'in it'.
Forty, is a song about aging how do you come to terms with that in your writing and approach to life?

I love aging. Sure, there are times in front of the mirror where I wish some line would disappear, but I also look with amusement at the same lines. I see my mother's face and my father's face, I see the story of those lines. I love the wisdom I've gained, the certainty of some lessons. I reckon the 4th decade is truly great and really look forward to the revelations of the future. I'm very comfortable with who I am. As an artist and just plain human I strive to be truly me and surround myself with people who dig me.
There's a different, heavier sound, and an almost rap style vocal section on Petals, are you keen to explore new direction and have you ever considered doing a straight country style album again?

I love going with the song as it's being written. I've been taking djembe classes in Nashville so I guess it was natural that a rhythm-based rap song would emerge. It also suited the subject of the song, Jon Dee Graham. I do plan to record a hard-core country album whilst I live in Nashville. I hope that Kenny Vaughan will produce it. He is cool, talented and totally understands genuine country music.
You have just released a career overview album Resurrection Moon how has that encapsulated your feeling about the music you have made to date?

I chose the songs based on those that I continue to perform live and the songs that people request. I felt proud to look at the collection of 18 songs and recognise that they touch and connect with people.  I included two new songs recorded with Anne McCue, which I love for their delicacy and femininity - a new sound for me.
Where will the muse and music (and life) take you next?

I'm working on finishing a bunch of songs for the country record I'd like to make next.  I'm touring as much as possible. Australia in March then all over the US later this year. I've been playing with a band in Nashville, in a bar on Broadway which is great fun. They're the bass player and drummer from Paul Thorn's band and Anne McCue on guitar. It's great to play loud and rock it out a little. But I'm pretty much a country singer, despite my forays into different styles. 

You haven't played in Europe and Ireland in particular in a while, any plans to come this side of the pond?

I'd love to return, but at this moment I don't have an agent or promoter in Europe or the UK to help me with a tour. I hope to tour there again, for sure!
Interview by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Joseph Anthony Baker

 

 

Tuesday
Jan242012

Moot Davis Interview

Naming two Hank Williams Snr. songs among his all time favourites sets the tone for the music that Moot Davis makes. He makes it to suit nobody’s taste but his own. Moot released a gig sale CD that was recorded in Nashville and was part of the scene that included Chris Scruggs playing in the bars of Lower Broadway in Nashville. He subsaquently moved to Los Angeles and signed with Pete Anderson’s Little Dog Records where he released two albums (his self-titled debut and Already Moved On). Former Dwight Yoakam producer Anderson helmed both albums and also played in Moot’s then live band in the US and in Europe. His new album was recorded in Nashville with renowned guitarist Kenny Vaughan as producer. The results are perhaps the best album that Moot Davis has released and follow a brief period of dissillusionment with the music industry. During that time Davis honed his acting skills on a visit to New Zealand. He is now back living in his native New Jersey. Man About Town is to be released on Highway Kind a label Davis founded with Paul W. Reed. Lonesome Highway spoke to both Davis and Vaughan to find out more about the album and its origins. 

I asked Kenny when he had first been aware of Moot. “I met Moot 11 years ago on Broadway in Nashville. I liked his style and dug his songs. I played guitar for him down there for a little while. He was cool.” He decided that time was right to work together after they were in touch again. “He contacted me about a year ago about producing a project. We met in NYC and discussed the details. I chose the studio (George Bradfute’s Tone Chaparral Studio), and the players (pedal and lap steel player Chris Scruggs, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin as well as fiddler Hank Singer). I listened to the demos he had made with his band, which were quite good, and made notes about individual songs. A lot of the arrangements came about on the floor as we were recording. There was some overdubbing, but a lot of the stuff is live. I take these kind of projects on a song by song approach, as things can change when the players get involved. It’s good to let everyone do their thing and play off of each other. Some songs changed when we experimented with the feel. A lot of quick decisions were made on the spur of the moment. We were on a tight budget and had very little time. There are always things that I’d like to do over, but, to quote the great RS Field,“I’ve never finished a record, I just ran out of time and money” . Overall, I’m very happy with my choices, and I know that I used all of the right people. As an aside I asked Kenny about the current state of country music given his love and involvement with playing and producing the real thing. “Country music has always been plagued by horrible “artists” and unfortunate recordings and material, but it remains my favorite music. Ernest Tubb, Hank, Red Foley, Acuff, Honky Tonk, Bakersfield , Hag and Buck, everything Jones did till about 1970, Tammy , Porter & Dolly, Loretta, Dwight, Warner Mack, Paycheck, Waylon and Willie all can’t be beat. Fantastic. I’m sure that a lot of Pop Country artists and Americana artists are very talented and good at what they do, but I’d rather listen to Howlin’ Wolf, thank you. Should I have try to like something? I like Jerry Lee! I like Dr Feelgood. I like The Animals. I like The Velvet Underground. I like Muddy Waters. I like The Sonics. Life is too short to listen to stuff that I have to try to like. When I play or produce anything, I’m trying to make something that I can listen to. Sometimes I succeed” .

 

Where did your love of classic country music come from?

Well, both sides of my family are from West Virginia, so I guess it was always there playing low in the background.  As I got older, I watched as my father and his brothers would write and play their own songs in the basement.  The songs were not country but they were originals and really catchy.  So somewhere along the way those two things came came together and then I found Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash, then it was off to the races.

Like a lot of people where you further influenced when some real country emerged in the shape of Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle or even Rank and File - that this was something hip?

Early on I was very aware of Dwight, not so much Steve Earle or Rank & File. I loved the totally different sound Dwight had and it did seem way cooler then anything else on the country stations. So it gave me hope that not all modern country music had to be lame, you know with no teeth.  

You're back now in New Jersey do you feel more at home there?

Well all my family is here in New Jersey and I can live anywhere and do what I do. I don't think this will forever, it's just for now.  

How does it compare to Nashville and other music centers you've lived in?

It's very different and for the most part, there is no music scene here for music like mine. Again, I leave town to go to work. Same thing when I lived in Los Angeles.  

Your last album Already Moved On was released in 2007, has it been difficult getting a new album recorded and released in the current uncertain climate?

I was still under contract to Pete Anderson's label, Little Dog Records until just a few months ago. Once I was free, the album and the new record label, Highway Kind Records came about very quickly. But there was a few years where I was just in limbo.  I also think the climate is always uncertain. 

Will you get the opportunity to tour behind this album?

Yes, we are setting US and European tours right now. All date will be updated regularly on www.mootdavis.com. 

Do you have a live band that you're currently working with or is it more economic to tour solo?

Yes we have a four piece that I travel with but I also do solo acoustic shows. Well, you have to watch your pennies but we try to do as many shows with the full band as possible. Although, I really enjoy the solo acoustic shows and I am used to traveling alone.  

Are encouraged or disheartened by reach that many of the current crop of Music Row/Country Radio pop orientated acts seem to be achieving?

A lot of people love the current Music Row/Country pop music and I don't turn my nose up to it at all. Musically, it does not do very much for me but again, people love it. What I do is a little different, that's all.  Where songwriters get "country stars" to cut their songs in Nashville, I get song placements in films and television shows. The music is different and so is the business. 

You have worked with guitarist/producers like Pete Anderson and now Kenny Vaughan is that a co-incidence or do you find that that combination of talents draws them into your work?

I am really into the guitar sounds both Pete and Kenny make. I'm also terribly lucky to have worked with either of them. I think my songs are my passport to working with the guitar gods. If the content was not there, then I doubt very heavily that Kenny or Pete would have been there. It's a good fit, my songs and a guitar wizard.   

The first album I have is entitled The Essential Moot Davis on Ditch Digger from 2002, which features Chris Scruggs as does your new album. Was that your first album or had you recorded before that?

Wow, I had forgotten about Ditch Digger Records. Yes, that was my first collection of songs that I recorded in Nashville.  

It was that demo that got me the deal with Pete. Chris Scruggs has always been great. I met him in 2001. Just killer player and a sweetheart of a person. 

Are you fired up by your latest album release or are you more cautious regarding its potential to break through?

This is my favorite album that I've made. I'm very amped up about it and if ever there was an album of mine that could break through, this is it!

You have been playing country music now for over ten years do you see yourself playing anything different in the future?

I'm not sure, one thing at a time. We will see what happens.   

What do you hope for you and your music now?

I am trying like hell to make up any ground that was lost during the past few years. I am also, at the same time, trying to break new ground and crash through any road blocks. I hope we are very healthy, busy, respected and liked.  

Finally, what's the best thing about being Moot Davis?

My family, my friends, traveling and the very personal/private songwriting process. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid.  Picture by David McClister.

Wednesday
Dec282011

Paul Burch Interview


When you decided to do a whole album of Buddy Holly songs what did you think that you could bring to them that would make them equal parts tribute and testament to yourself? 
I’m not sure I ever sat down and thought deeply about what it would mean to do an album of someone’s songs, as strange as that might sound.  My reason to make Words of Love was that it seemed like a fun thing to do.  And in the past, I’ve recorded Holly’s songs and always loved the mood it put me in. I do think a lot of interpretations of Holly's music are missing the drive I feel belongs there.  I'm not sure I ever thought if Words of Love should or could be a sort of blend of Holly’s music and my own.  It may have come up in conversation that the album might be how I imagined we would sound if Holly produced us or if we could sort of be an older version of the Crickets.  Whenever I've been at my most relaxed as a musician or feeling especially rusty, I turn to musicians like Holly as a way to fire up my imagination.  I think some performers might have to gird themselves to approach older music.  But rock and roll is sort of like my street music—it’s the soundtrack to my childhood. Singing Holly’s songs for me is just like riffing with an old friend or a relative you only get to see once a year. You pick up where you left off and fall right in.  Your personality changes, your language changes—you get transformed, in a good way.  Holly's music has all the elements that I always wanted in my music--lovely words, lovely melodies, and a great beat.  I'm not sure I'm moved by his music more than I am by great Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, or Benny Moré records. For me what makes Holly stand out is that he's approachable. When you get into it, there's a lot of substance to his work but from the outside he's very inviting. In some ways, Tim O'Brien is like that. Tim's singing and playing seems very effortless when you're hearing it from the outside. But once you get on stage with him, you discover that he's a champion and if you're not ready to rock, he can cut you to pieces. That's a long answer—and all true, but really this seemed like a fun idea and we went with it and before we knew it, we had a platter.

What do you think is the lasting appeal of Holly's music and do you think that the multi-artist released in tribute to Buddy Holly are they're the best way to bring a new audience to his work?
 I think few Holly fans can really say what it is about his music that is so attractive. You can argue that Elvis and Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers made better sounding records. Most Holly fans I know have confessed to falling for his music pretty hard and listening to everything he did which is a bit unusual. There are some artists - like Muddy Waters or Hank Williams or maybe Elvis -where you feel so at home with their sound that you can listen to them non-stop until it becomes a kind of meditation.  Neko Case has that effect on me. We can listen to her for hours in our house and I'm just at home with it. Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker are a few others. Holly was able able to express himself with an instrument besides his voice. He also intuitively - it seems - knew that the recording medium allowed him some opportunities as a composer.  If you were to list all the instruments you hear in Holly's catalog, you'd include strings, celeste, horns, organ, gospel choirs, chairs, boxes, cymbals, handclaps, and piano along with guitars, bass and drums.  That's an impressive collection of sounds for what many of his generation think of as just a simple rock and roll singer. And though he didn't get to develop as a writer, the ambivalent streak in his writing voice is a dead-on picture of how it feels to be 20 and - as it turns out - how it feels to be 40 and probably 60. 

You have gone into the studio and recorded the songs in spirit and style that Holly may have approached them himself. Was the intention to capture that spontaneity that was a part of the recording process in the past?
It was intentional but that’s the way we work anyway. I think the WPA as a group and myself as a composer are probably most at home with the kind of atmosphere that Holly, Elvis, and Little Richard worked in where you record live. You rehearse for a bit and when you think you're getting there, you roll tape and play it a few times. If you're there, you know it. Sometimes a song gets better with age and you have to live with it and come back to it a few weeks later. I stress to the WPA that we might have to record something a couple times under different circumstances.  But you can tell if you’re getting there. Sometimes one musician can turn you left or right and make or break the arrangement you have. There's no substitute to performing in the studio when you’re playing rock and roll. I think most musicians who love that classic sound you’re talking about are not really trying to turn back the clock as much as they're connecting with that kind of method. It feels daring and exciting to record without a lot of hassle and just live with what you’ve created as it is.  Every musician I've met - on the big stage and small - have tried making records in a very formal precise way. And all of them are now back in the mode of just cutting live as your studio allows you.

Did recording those songs give you any insights into your own writing?
I’m sure it did but I’m not sure I can say how yet. Sometimes I feel very inarticulate to say what it is I'm doing. I really go on feeling. I do think the frame that I put Holly in is a very flexible and dynamic one. He recorded all kinds of songs and made it work. If you were to make a mix of a couple dozen Holly songs you'd probably have "Everyday" and "Well...All Right" and "Think It Over" - maybe some solo songs from his apartment tapes he made before his last tour. And from that cross section you'd hear many different kinds of styles. I think Holly's ability to freely reach for any instrument that would keep him going forward is in my thinking too. That's how I read him - I may be completely wrong but since I’ll never know, I'm ok with living with that fantasy. I just like him. Few artists seize the day and he did. So did Sam Cooke.  

After several albums of your own songs, a music journey that started out on the resurgence of Lower Broadway and a attempt to reclaim the music of the past, where do you see your music now in the overall scheme of things?
I wish I knew honestly. There's a part of me that every musician can relate to probably that feels like I've been trying to get to the Americana party I see happening just over the hill but the bridge is washed out and I can't quite get there. The business is what it is. I don't fight it. If anything, I've kind of ignored it but it keeps knocking on my door for which I'm really grateful. I'm also really pleased that the band has survived and thrived and that it can also break off into duos and trios and go in various directions. When fiddler Fats Kaplin and I play together, we can get down on some good blues like the Mississippi Shieks and Charlie Patton. When I'm with Dennis Crouch, he's a huge fan of honky tonk country and all the great heavyweight bassists like Ray Brown and Jimmy Blanton, so we can get into some very expressive melodies. With the rock and roll trio, we're a little of everything. I will say that I don't think any of the Lower Broadway performers thought about reclaiming the past. We were all fans of what we thought was a very vital form of music and that Nashville really need a kick in the arse. The motives were punk. But we all wanted record deals - there’s no hiding the ambition. But we choose the path we did because we loved the music, we felt it was important, that we had something to say through it, and that producers like Tony Brown and Mike Curb had made a private party out of country music that only the chosen few were welcome to. We found them a bit ridiculous. I still do. They couldn't care less about what Nashville had to offer outside of what might impact their legend. But we cared about the people who came to see us. And I still do. I think music can save a life. I've seen it happen.  
You are going to release a new album on Bloodshot Records, a collaboration with the Waco Brothers, how did that come about? 
A few years ago Jon Langford and I became good friends and he just invited me to play with the Waco's one night. I think they're wonderful and it's such a jolt of electricity to be on stage with them. I do feel a different kind of power with them and at the time I first met them, I was in need of that. I think my experience with them really helped me get my own group together in such a way where now, the WPA we can create a really powerful sound that defies description when we're so inclined. I give my experience with the Waco's full credit for that.I think it might be possible they were seeking a different kind of recording experience and they thought I might be able to help them.  When you're from Nashville, you tend to be ready at a moment's notice - in tune, ready with songs, ready with arrangements - and I think that slight bit of seriousness about record making was something they thought might be good for them.In reality, I wanted to get away from that and get back to something a bit freer. We met in the middle. It's a fine record but I think live will be the way to hear it. 

Your Buddy Holly album is a vinyl and download release. Do you think that the CD is now not a viable format?
I like albums and one part of my opinion thinks however albums can be delivered is ok with me. I love LP’s but digital is here to stay. I'm not that torn up about digital except when I'm in the studio. In the studio, tape still sounds pretty fantastic but once things are mixed I tend to just groove on whatever I'm listening to. It's a shame that there are so many bad sounding CDs.  We're probably just on the cusp of getting them to sound quite good and now they're going to go away. What I don't understand is why we can't find a great physical form of delivery that can't be scratched. If something is going to be scratched, I just assume use a record so I can at least pickup the needle. Digital skips are total drag.  
How have the changes within the music industry affected you as a working musician? 
The changes have affected my ability to perform quite a bit and I think everyone is probably in the same boat. I miss the labels and most artists do. The labels miss the labels. They don’t know what to do. My writing and my music choices haven’t changed. Business wise, I'm in a constant harassed state where I'm hoping or begging to find someone with a vision to do the hard labor to get the music out. I would like to perform on a more personal level at house concerts, small theaters, schools, art centers - all of which are great places to play. If things can move away from bars, I'd be very happy. I don't really want to go on at midnight anymore.  I kind of like the scrappy-ness of the modern music industry. For artists like me that never sold very much to begin with, it’s kind of nice to see some of the superstars humbled.

Country music now seems to further than ever from it's traditional roots. Has the time come again for the kind re-energising that saw yourself and performers like BR-549 and Greg Garing playing the music of Hank Williams Snr for a old and new audience or has that time past?
Perhaps. Country music sort of thrives on that ebb and flow. And it wouldn't surprise me if it might come from within. There are some real talents in the pop country field. It will be a brave artist who breaks the mold and they'll suffer for it like Hank did probably. 

Have you any long term plans for your music and your studio or is now a case of taking each opportunity as it comes?
Both.  

Do you have any regrets about your career path?
I do, but I don’t think I’d make them public. One funny moment I’ll share. Chet Atkins heard my first album and thought at first that I was from the 50’s. He told a mutual friend: “how did I miss this guy?” I saw him walk into the Station Inn in Nashville that very same day I heard that story and I wanted to blurt out “I’m that guy” but I just held the door open for him. I’d have that moment again but otherwise there are not too many. Hopefully I’m still getting better and the people who thought I was no good when I started might come back and be surprised.
What have been the high-points?
I’m too young to talk about high-points but I appreciate you asking. I’d say singing with Ralph Stanley and finding that so easy to do was important for me personally. We instantly had a good rapport and a good sound together. Ralph told my wife that the tone of my voice reminded him of his brother. Every time I write something I like or make an album, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m thankful I still have verve for recording and performing. A lot of people I started with have faded out.

Interview by Steve Rapid

 

Sunday
Oct302011

Lynn Miles Interview - October 2011

 

 

Canadian singer/songwriter Lynn Miles is a frequent visitor bringing her literate and lean songs to the listening rooms of Europe. This year she released what is arguably the best album of her career. She was born in Quebec to parents who loved music, ranging from jazz and opera to country. She started to write at an early age and to perform in her mid-teens. Later she took took voice lessons before becoming a teacher herself in Ottawa. She began to release her songs in 1990 with a self-titled debut album. In the late 90s she released two albums on Rounder and in 2006 Love Sweet Love came out on Red House. She is now recording with True North records who have released her Black Flowers album as well as her current album Fall For Beauty. We spoke to her prior to her appearance on Sandy Harsch's live Country Time concert. She was as open and honest as her songs are.

When did the process of writing your own songs start? 

I started writing songs when I was 10 and this (Fall for Beauty) is my eight studio album. I have written about 650 songs. I tour the USA and also come to Europe to Holland and Ireland probably about once every two years or so. This is my third time over here.

 

Is there any difference that you perceive with an audience in another country?

No, I think singer-songwriter audiences are the same. They're people who care about the lyric and their usually pretty well read in terms of other song writers, they're listeners and they seem to care about the words. I think they're an educated bunch. They seem very passionate about this style of music. So, in the end I think they're similar. I mean there might be some place were they're a bit more reserved in their responses but always at the end of the night it's the same as people come up and say to me thanks for doing a particular song, or "I love that song".

You seem to have a very clear theme in your songs. Do you have to work at that?

I think I have a very clear voice. There's not a lot of rough edges on my voice and I also think I work very hard on the lyrics as I want people to know what I'm saying. It's kinda the main part of what I do. I love to sing but I love to express the feelings I have as I want to connect with people. And in order to do that they need to know what I'm saying. 

Do you then start a song with lyrics or is it an open process?

It works every different way. Because I've written a long of songs they come from different ways of writing. Sometimes I come up with the title and I'll go on to write the song or I can come up with a melody and I'll add lyrics to it or I have books and books of lyrics, little pieces of lyrics, that I go back to. Sometimes a melody will come into my head and I'll think "oh, I have some words that will go with that". 

Three chords and the truth is a Harlan Howard expression and he often used to go into bars to pick up phrases or expressions that he would later turn into songs...

Melanie Howard, his widow, told me that he would go to bars every night to listen to people talking and I thought that was brilliant because there's a lot of wisdom spoken in bars. I lsten to peopel when I travel, when I'm on the train or at an airport or sitting in a cafe. I do listen, but I don't go to bars as much as I used to because I quit drinking. So that kind of a hard place for me to go (laughs). But I did get some inspiration from bars when I was hanging out in them. I get a lot of inspiration from literature because I'm a voracious reader. I'll read fiction by somebody and something that is said in that will make me think "that's an interesting concept and I'll try to expand on that". 

The song Little Bird on the album about addiction being a case in point?

That was a book by Gabor Mate (In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts) who this amazing doctor in downtown Vancouver, one of the worst neighbourhoods in Canada, where there are a lot of heroin addicts and crack addicts and prostitutes and he works at the needle exchange clinic which is the only one in Canada. He's constantly battling the government but he wrote that most compassionate book about addiction that I've ever come across. He loves these people and he knows where they come from and why they end up where they end up. It's a very compelling book and it was very inspiring so I wrote about it. 

We most of us have addictive possibilities in our own lives.

You know I have song that I just wrote that I haven't put on an album yet that has a first line that says "everyone is addicted to something" and I think that that is true. Somebody said to me when I was trying to quit drinking that "it's just a way of avoiding the void". That hugh void that we all have and all carry with us. Something we're afraid to look at - shopping, sex of food or whatever it is that you use to avoid the truth about yourself to deal with your darkness or aloneness or whatever it is. That's the truth about it.  

Is age a distraction for you?

Why, because I brought it up a couple of times? You know I wrestle with it but sometimes you see a band and they're old people and it doesn't quite work. I wrestle with it but I'm in a music where it's ok to be a bit older. It's because I'm a woman and I think there's a thing when you're a woman that it's more difficult to age. You're not supposed to age and there's hair colour and facial surgery and all that stuff and your not supposed to put on weight. There's a lot of pressure from mainstream society. I wrestle with that and I wrestle with my own level of exhaustion fro touring which is much more profound now that when it was when I was thirty. It's just harder.

Is that sense of being alone is very much part of who you are as a traveling troubadour?

Yes. I'm on the road alone a lot. So I face it every day. I have to get up and say "well. I'm alone here, who am I and am I good, you know". I have to check myself and say "I'm good". I've struggled with depression and all those things that a lot of people struggle with and it is a one day at a time thing. I have days when, like last week, when I'm in England and I had a first class ticket and I was crying in first class. I had my sunglasses on and I wasn't happy. I was sad. So I was crying on the train and sometimes that's what you have to do. 

Does the actual performance then help to exorcises the demons and those feelings?

I don't know if it exorcises the demons but it connects me to other people who have the demons. That makes me feel not as alone in my own experiences as a human being. I always that it woukld be a more compassionate world if more people confessed their frailties and insecurities. The more sharing there is the better off we'll be as a human race. So I'm not afraid to express those things. And I know, as I said earlier that when I finish a show I will get people coming up to me and saying that " that song really helped me with my divorce" or " I lost someone and that song got me through it". I use music for the same reasons. When my father passed away I listened to Patty Griffin and Tom Waits. That's all I listened to. Everyday when I would come out of the hospital, where he was dying of cancer, I would put my headphones on and that's what I would listen to and it got me through. So I understand about that, it's the gift of music. 

You have to have that fearless heart.

I wish I had a fearless heart.

There is not much music around today that can draw on those negative aspects of life and turn it into something that is positive and inspiring. Especially modern day country music or what passes for the genre.

There's a fear of it. A fear of looking at that stuff. But I think that it's imperative that we do. How do you get through a difficult time like that unless you go through it? If you van have something like music to help you and soften the edges then more power to it.

Leonard Cohen used to be accused of making downer music but I found it very positive.

I love his music and I have his set list from his last tour as I sat in the second row of a show and it's hanging in the bathroom and I read it everyday when I go to the bathroom. It's so beautiful. The poetry is so beautiful. It's so profound and it's not suicidal music. It's actually very hopeful and joyful.

He would perfect his lyrics over a long time to get the rhythm just right.

Oh my god, that's what he does. I think every single word is chosen for its beauty and its place in the song. Every word in every single line is absolutely correct. He's the master of that.

Your last album has a great sound...

That's really just me and Ian (LeFeuvre) we like to have a sparse studio and not too many people around he plays a lot of instruments. 

Do you get the opportunity to use a full band in Canada?

I have a guitar player that I use a fair amount. When I release the CDs I have band shows in a couple of cities but I can't really afford to do that. It's hard.

Do you have good label support?

True North is the oldest and largest independent label in Canada. It was started by Bernie Fingelstein in the 60s in a hippie village in Toronto with Bruce Cockburn. They started it and it's been going ever since. They have been very good to me. I signed my first record deal in Canada when I was in my forties. Which I love (laughs). I love that I'm 53 and I get to still be doing what I'm doing. I just think it's a very cool thing.

Do you gig in the States a lot?

I did, when I was on Rounder I did a lot of shows. I don't have a label in the States right now so it's not as easy for me to do. The US government makes it quite difficult for artists to cross the border. It's expensive. They charge you money and you have to apply for your visa three months before you go. So it's complicated. So if i go it's a big deal. I have to put a lot of effort into it. There was a band from Vancouver who just tried to get in a van and drive across to play and they got caught and deported for 5 years. I'm not a good liar so I know I'd get caught if I tried that.

Are you think about where your next album might go in musical terms?

I am. I have some new songs and I've talked to my label about that and we're going to have a discussion when I get home. I'd like to put one out sooner that later. The last one took about 5 years which is way too long so I'd like to start recording in December but I don't think that's going to happen. In a perfect world that's what I'd do. 

Will you do more voice and guitar albums like Black Flowers?

I will, I love doing them. I do play a lot of shows solo and people come up and ask me if I have anything like I just did.

Well, both work.

Yeah. I love the idea that you can take a song and do it with just voice and guitar or you can go and put make-up on it and dress it up. Then you can also take that version and change it if you want. That's the beauty of songwriting. You can have a song but you can change the groove, the pace of it you can change so much about it. I love that. 

Are there any aspects of your music that you haven't done that you would like to try?

I would like to do a more pure country album. It's something that I've been thinking about and writing some more pure country songs. I'd also like to explore bluegrass. So I'd maybe do a record that has a bit of both on it. I have a real thing about country music and where it comes from, the real stuff, like bluegrass and I'm not a pure bluegrass artist but I love that music and country music and I been listening to it my whole life. So I'd like to explore that a little. But what it is now is pop music it's not country, but it doesn't have anything to do with me. I don't really listen to mainstream radio. I just find artists that I like. But the truth is that when I listen to country music I listen to Hank Williams. When I listen I listen to Dylan, Leonard Cohen. I listen to the master of the craft because I don't like background music and I want it to be exceptional. So it's Hank Williams or Del McCoury or back to Dylan or Neil Young or Tom Waits, people like that.

Who's your favourite contemporary artist?

I'd say Patty Griffin, she's the one I go to. She's a great songwriter.