Archive for Inside the Songs category
Iarla Ó Lionáird has a preternatural ability to change the way we hear traditional music. Heir to the rich and ancient tradition of Irish sean-nos singing (unaccompanied ballads in the Irish language), he's turned this insider musical art form (often performed in pubs with closed eyes and near-trance-like energy) into the arena shows of his former band Afro-Celtic Sound System. He didn't do this by changing the tradition, but by moving even deeper into the tradition than you'd think possible. With Afro-Celt and with his earlier solo albums, he used sparse electronics, strings, and minimalist arrangements to create soundscapes to support the songs. He created a modern context for an ancient sound. This isn't something easy to do, and it took a lifetime of mastery for him to manipulate sound this deftly without losing site of the transcendent core of the music.Talking about why he turned down early offers to record before joining Peter Gabriel's Real World Records, Ó Lionáird says "They wanted to treat it as folk music. But sean nos is darker, more passionate and ancient than that. It has never been about strutting your stuff. You stand there and hold it. It's all about empathy."
Now, Iarla Ó Lionáird has a new album out, Foxlight, and it's a beautiful new round of songs, surprisingly most from his own pen. Not many artists are writing new sean nos songs these days, but it seems to come naturally to Ó Lionáird. So much so that the listener would be hard pressed to tell the new songs from the traditional songs on the album. Curious to know more about the inspiration behind the songs, we asked Iarla to participate in one of Hearth Music's Inside the Songs features. Here's what he had to say about three songs on the album.
Inside the Songs with Irish Singer Iarla Ó Lionáird
"I suppose this song started as a waking dream that I had about my own family. During the making of the album this was the first time in my life where I was surrounded by my own children, my wife, the household hubub as it were of daily family life. And I think all of this mayhem and all that beautiful chaos infiltrated and fed into the creative process of making the record at every level. This dream had at its core a somewhat dis-embodied and yet stark realization, and a sense of responsibility for all the lives that I had created with my wife and their independent trajectory. It was suffused with a sort of speculative energy pervading the writing and by that I mean this song as I was writing it explored this idea of the realization on my part that the future really belonged to them and that I would have to be not just satisfied with that but in fact understand that this was quite simply the order of things and the way things should be.
The song lyric itself describes a quasi-dreamlike situation of my then very young children dancing around the bedroom in the morning as I was sleeping and me somehow slowing everything down and looking at them as creatures connected to me but also as independent and beautiful entities unto themselves. At the end of it all what this song is really about is acceptance. It's about taking every day and every moment as it comes and being thankful for what we have."
"This is an ancient song composed by the blind harper Turlough O'Carolan (1670–1738). O'Carolan is famed for his harp music but is much less appreciated for the many songs he composed during his life. He composed this song in praise of Eleanor Plunkett of Robertstown in the County of Meath who was the only survivor of her family following a fire in which their home was destroyed. I came across this song many years ago whilst preparing for a concert with quite a few harp players and it is extremely well known as part of their ancient repertoire. These harpists were unaware of its provenance as a song and so I commenced a period of research, uncovering quite a few verses and working on them editorially to see if I could make them fit well with the melody. I felt from the beginning that the composer had perhaps performed this song in a semi-spoken manner thus the lyric did not always fit perfectly with the meter of the melody And what a beautiful melody it is.
Still throughout my several years of preparing this song for the recording I decided to strip back much of its harpish mannerisms and articulations. I love the version we settled on for the album. I believe it has an open expansive quality that retains the core value of O'Carolans tremendous melodic sense as well as the touching sentiment with which the composer addresses the lady in question, having, as he says, nothing to offer her but his music. There is a particular delight also in recovering this song from the past and giving it voice for the first time in centuries. Special thanks is deserved her by composer Jon Hopkins for playing piano so beautifully on the recording."
"The Goat Song"
"Inevitably we are lucky if we grow up in a house which has music song and dance. I was doubly lucky in that I grew up also in a region of West of Ireland where singing, traditional singing was endemic. My mother's family were well-known as singers but particularly her aunt Elizabeth Cronin who was recorded in the 1950s by among others Alan Lomax and Jean Ritchie for the Smithsonian Folkways Collection. So in that sense singing was in the blood and I learned many's the song for my own mother as a young boy. The Goat Song is one such song. This is a comic and light song and it describes humorously how a person is trying to milk two yellow goats into a hat but that the hat alas has several holes in it thus leaking the milk all over the place.
Initially I was unsure about including this song on the record thinking perhaps that it was a little too trite but my producer Leo Abrahams prevailed upon me, as he often did when I was in doubt, and good sense made me reconsider that it had its charms and more than deserved its place. It also pleased me greatly to have recorded this song for my mother knowing that she would enjoy it so much and that it would rekindle memories of the past for both of us. In all of these recordings for my album Foxlight I am incredibly indebted to Leo for all of his patience, extraordinary skill and enormous dedication to the project."
Special thanks to Iarla Ó Lionáird for agreeing to talk about the songs. Check out this video about the making of Foxlight:
04/22/2013 | comments (0)
I met Anna Tivel at the same fateful Triple Door show that brought me Inside the Songs features for Jeffrey Martin and Nathaniel Talbot, and the three are all friends and colleagues. Together they're building quite a creative songwriting community! On her new album, Brimstone Lullaby, Anna Tivel (recording with her band as Anna and the Underbelly) brings a raft of beautiful songs with brine-soaked images of Pacific Northwest tidepools, oceans, and the birds that wheel above them in the gray skies. Her gentle, fragile voice sounds a bit like Laura Veirs, and brings to mind the same effortless folk phrasing and soft inflections of Veirs' best work. We loved the songs on her new album and wanted to catch up with her to find out more.
Inside the Songs with Portland songwriter Anna Tivel
Rosy-colored Skulls is a song about watching the world go by from a treehouse. I used to live in the top story of a house in north Portland, and spent a lot of time sitting at the tiny kitchen table playing guitar and writing and looking out the window. The cutest firecracker of a seven year old girl lived next door, and I wrote that song watching her play with her friend down by the woodpile. They made up this game with lava and monsters and a wooden city and about nine thousand different rules. It made me think about what it is to be young and see so much magic everywhere, even in the places where the rest of the world can find very little, like dirt fields, and woodpiles, and concrete steps. It's about feeling hopeful and innocent and free, and about falling asleep and waking up trusting that there's good to be seen and done and had.
Reservation Road was a poem I wrote about this eerie stretch of road in my little hometown in Northern Washington. It's the first song I ever wrote from a poem, which is probably why it only has lots of words and next to none chords. Driving there late at night always gave me this feeling that time had slowed down to a crawl and everyone was hanging suspended in it, just waiting and watching for something. Maybe waiting to leave town, or for things to get better, or for someone to come home. It's the kind of quiet road where you can hear a dog barking somewhere far away, or a coyote, and the few houses through the trees are dark except for the blue flicker of a TV, or the glow of someone's cigarette on the porch, even at 3 or 4 in the morning.
I wrote Brimstone Lullaby in that same north Portland house. It had the best windows overlooking a park:) I guess sometimes I spend more time looking out windows or into windows than actually existing in the places where I am. Anyway, that little neighborhood park had so many different kinds of people and so much life going on. Daytime and nighttime were vastly different in their colors and sounds. There were gospel concerts in the summer, kids trying to chase each other and make out with each other, people lurking and dealing on the corners, people walking around and around yelling and talking to themselves, babies screaming and parents screaming and dogs barking and always the sound of sirens and ice cream trucks and basketballs thumping and bass lines thumping in the cars going by. I've never lived somewhere so alive, where people do everything as loud as they can, where they rejoice, and play, and fight, and sob with everything they have. The song is sort of about how people live and believe in things with their whole hearts in order to survive. And when something difficult and terrible comes and shoots it out of the sky, they find a way to keep trudging along and something else to believe in and hold on to just to get by.
04/03/2013 | comments (0)
I first heard Washington State songwriter Nathaniel Talbot at a songwriter's showcase in the Triple Door's Musiquarium lounge. He was playing with Jeffrey Martin (who's already done an Inside the Songs HERE) and Anna Tivel (who's schedule for an upcoming Inside the Songs). What a great trio of songwriters right here in our own backyard! Nathaniel's songs were intimately rooted to the earth, tied to the cycles of nature, and somewhat mystifying. So when I approached him to do an Inside the Songs with Hearth Music, I wanted to hear about his connections to the natural environment. Turns out he's an organic farmer on nearby Whidbey Island and works his love of the land into his songwriting. Here he talks about his new release, Here In The Fields.
Inside the Songs with Nathaniel Talbot
Tell me more about your work farming in the Pacific Northwest and how this informs your music!
Nathaniel Talbot: Two years ago I uprooted myself from the Portland music scene to pursue a career in organic farming on Whidbey Island. An interest in growing food had been creeping inside me for several years. I grew up on a 8-acre, mostly-forested homestead tucked in foothills of the Cascades, so perhaps the move north stemmed from a deeper desire, not just to farm, but more generally to rediscover a land-based way of life, as an adult, on my own terms. This was in no way a music-based decision. In fact, I had already began to accept that a move to a small, rural community and a commitment to a career in agriculture would likely result in an end to my musical career as I knew it. But it hasn’t worked out that way. If anything, farming has only cranked the heat under my musical kettle, so to speak, opening up vaults of new lyrical themes and imagery. The basic acts of hoeing, harvesting, and evening driving a tractor allow space for my mind to arrange and rearrange new musical ideas, play with lyrics, and if nobody’s around, sing aloud to myself.
My songs have always been strong reflections of the landscape in which they were written, both natural and urban. It seems natural to now be weaving the images and stories of farmers, their fields and surrounding communities into the music. But more importantly, moving beyond the immediate subjects of the songs on this record, I think this album signifies a strong maturation in my general approach to storytelling... In “Here in the Fields” I think the stories, for the first time, played a dominant role in helping sculpt my songwriting. As I grow and evolve as a farmer, I’m inadvertently uncovering stories that are too rich to ignore. The interactions of humans with their land base, in my opinion, provides some of the most interesting, tragic and underrepresented, raw subject matter for songwriters to work with, especially in the folk tradition.
Jamestown was inspired by a very basic ecological observation. Why do crows and ravens, while exhibiting such strong physical similarities and genetic relatedness, occupy such different niches both in the natural environment as well as human folklore? Crows are the weeds of the city, thriving and multiplying from refuse of human civilization, while ravens are generally relegated to the wilderness, or at least areas where the natural world has been partially spared. This very simple relationship between wildlife and their preferred environments helped launch "Jamestown," essentially an accelerated narrative of the shaping of the American landscape via westward expansion. It serves as somewhat of an overview for the album, setting the tone by which some of the later songs get to further explore this theme in detail. There’s no agenda here, no attempt at delineating right from wrong, just a broad statement that what we have done as farmers, loggers, miners, engineers, etc. to forward our own basic condition has unequivocally left the natural world a profoundly changed place. As a side note, on the farm I often get to observe both ravens and crows interacting in concert in my own semi-natural farm landscape, but I think that’s fodder for another song.
“The Great Levee”
I guess when spoken aloud, the phrase “soil erosion” doesn’t sound like the most poignant topic for a folk song. But I think that if we allow ourselves to dig beneath the rather emotionless or cursory first impression, I think there’s a lot there to explore. In fact, the loss of topsoil has arguably affected human civilization more than war, disease, or any other like phenomena, combined (whoa). As a new organic farmer I’m learning that careful soil management is paramount to long-term growing success, and as I become more attuned to it, I see of the consequences of soil neglect around me more and more. “The Great Levee” is an attempt to shine a bit of light on this arena, while at the same time illustrating some of the social dynamics that have helped accelerate our global loss of soil. The song takes of the form of a somewhat playful parable, occurring in no specific time or place. “Bucket by bucket-full we will carry…the clay back to it’s home on the hill.” This has actually happened, and continues to happen, in farming regions all over the world where the erosion has reached extremes. At the risk of sounding too academic (I know we’re supposed to be talking about music here…) I’d encourage folks to check out the book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, which helped shape some of the ideas in this tune.
The Pacific Northwest empire was built by the logging industry, an industry that over the course of a mere century voraciously gobbled up over 90% of our native forests while simultaneously stripping itself of it’s own future. By the early ‘80s, when I was born, many small logging town like Edison, WA were already reeling from a decline in our forest lands, and then came the ‘90s when the Spotted Owl controversy and Northwest Forest Plan finally put a halt to what little clear-cutting opportunities remained (at least on certain federal lands). A lot of these towns never really recovered from this bust, and you can still see the impact as you drive through the economically depressed foothills of the cascades where I grew up. But Edison had a more interesting fate, seizing on an opportunity for tourism development, blended with a dose of art, slow food, DIY hipster culture and organic farming. When I first stumbled into this little town I was completely charmed and fascinated by its revitalization, which from talking to some locals, seemed to emerge out of a very intentional effort to create a way of living independent from any corporate industry. I hope their dreams last longer than those of their predecessors, as it will take something stronger that a house of cards to survive whatever economic storms the future inevitably holds.
03/01/2013 | comments (0)
I first heard about fiddler and songwriter Jenny Anne Mannan from my friend Kevin Brown, an excellent bluegrass roots songwriter (and festival producer) who knows much about roots music in Eastern Washington (Jenny Anne lives in Spokane, WA). Having just ventured to Twisp last year for the first time, there's about half of my state that I know very little about. But there's long been a history of excellent fiddlers in Eastern Washington, with one of the most prominent being Kimber Ludiker of Della Mae, who comes from a line of awesome fiddlers, including her mom JayDean Ludiker (not to mention her brother, mandolinist Dennis Ludiker in Austin's MilkDrive). Now we can add Jenny Anne Mannan to this list as well. On her debut album, Saints & Sinners, she contributed two beautifully written fiddle tunes and plays them with aplomb. But it's Mannan's songwriting that is the most stunning part of this album. The songs are written in an Appalachian vein, and sound as rough-hewn as an old Kentucky barn door. "Lindytown," to me, is the highlight of the album, a visceral, cutting stab at Appalachian strip mining. It has possibly the best line I heard in any new song in 2012: "Faith moves mountains, but money moves man." On "Open up the Door," Mannan's fiddle twines seditiously with the gospel lyrics, snaking along with a well-earned grace, and "Moonshiner's Son" sounds like something from early Gillian Welch. We're not the only ones singing Mannan's praises, by the way: Sara Watkins co-wrote her song "Lock & Key" with Jenny Anne on her new album, Sun Midnight Sun.
We caught up with Jenny Anne over email to ask her about her new album and the inspiration behind our three favorite songs of hers. Here's what she had to say:
Jenny Anne Mannan: Open Up the Door
"The idea for this song actually came from my husband, Caleb [Mannan]. He's a fantastic writer and is always working on something, and his mediums range from prose to poetry to song to art...I never know what he's going to come up with next! One day he sat down at the dining room table and sang this chorus, slapping out the rhythm with the palm of his hand. I responded right away to the idea of a new, reinvented spiritual song - we've all heard old-time spirituals about the joy of being saved or delivered, but here's a person who's in a kind of limbo. They're still in despair because they see themselves clearly for the first time, they suspect salvation is the answer, but as yet there's been no breakthrough. They're sort of half-way saved. It's an interesting idea, and one that Caleb and I both relate to - we're so used to hearing about 'seeing the light' in positive terms, but there are times when, without the hope of something beyond ourselves, seeing the light can mean we see the worst in ourselves. The resultant plea, "Dear Lord, open up the door..." comes from that desperate hope that a power greater than ourselves intervene on our behalf.
Musically, this song is a true collaboration. Caleb had been listening to a lot of blues and old-time–the likes of Roscoe Holcomb, John Lee Hooker, and Lightning Hopkins–and those influences definitely come through in the arrangement. As I was recording and layering parts, I wanted to maintain the raw authenticity that I heard when Caleb first sang it for me, so, much to my engineer's dismay, I slapped out the rhythm on my guitar. It's a tricky thing to find the line between polished and sterile, and on the other side, the line between raw and just plain rough, but I think it all works. For me, the song really came together when I added the banjo - who'd have thunk?!
Jenny Anne Mannan: Lindytown
"One day I opened an email from my husband Caleb containing a link to a New York Times article written by Dan Barry entitled, "As The Mountaintops Fall, A Coal Town Vanishes". I read and reread the article, enthralled and heartbroken by the true story of the disappearing Appalachian hamlet of Lindytown. The song centers around mountain natives Quinnie and Lawrence Richmond, whose heritage, way of life, and legacy were literally destroyed by surface mining. While most of their friends and neighbors sold their family's land to the Massey Energy company, the Richmonds didn't. They stayed behind because Quinnie was in the early stages of Alzheimer's and Lawrence was afraid a major move would be too upsetting to her. So Massey gave them a $25,000 settlement, and the Richmonds watched their home become a dust-covered ghost town. Having grown up in the mountains of northeastern Washington on the banks of the Columbia river, I wondered what it would be like if the very land that raised me was altered beyond recognition. I think it's impossible to be raised in a rural setting and not think of the land as a living, nurturing, maternal sort of energy, and this image of blowing off the mountaintop and leaving slurry in the streams and valleyfill in the lowlands seemed so violent to me. I thought of the line, "They raped our land for 25 grand," and the rest of the song came from there. I thought of the vast achievements of human ingenuity, and the ways in which progress can be perverted by greed, and came up with, "Faith moves mountains, but money moves man." In the end, songwriting is really storytelling, and I just wanted to make sure my friends heard the story of Lindytown."
Jenny Anne Mannan: Moonshiner's Son
"I'm doing much better than my daddy done..." Who hasn't thought that, at some point? But in my experience, comparison to the previous generation is usually made in reference to what sort of living we're making or whether our laundry room is more organized than our mothers' or how well we handle our kids when they misbehave...most of us aren't talking about whether or not the living we make is sanctioned by the Federal government! This song was inspired by the legend of one of the most colorful characters I've come across: my husband's grandpa JE Jones. JE grew up in dustbowl Oklahoma to a daddy whose moonshine still got busted up by the Feds every so often and whose booze binges took him away from his family for months on end. According to his kids and grandkids, JE was no saint. He was a coffee drinking Camel smoking reformed alcoholic country-song-writing Okie WWII Vet whose efforts at prosperity led him everyplace from cotton fields to psych wards. But he stuck around, he worked hard, and he gave his 5 kids a much better life than his daddy gave him. A sense of heritage is really important in our family, and I wrote this song because I want our kids to know their place in this world isn't only defined by their generation. Music is a living, breathing, visceral way to experience history. We know what the Oregon Trail sounded like when we play Arkansas Traveler, we experience a tent-revival when we sing "Just As I Am", and hopefully my kids will learn a little something about their great-grandaddy, and themselves, when they hear "Moonshiner's Son".
01/04/2013 | comments (0)
Rayna Gellert is perhaps best known as the fiddler for firebrand alt-old-time band Uncle Earl, and though her old-time fiddling is truly wonderful, with her new album, Old Light: Songs from My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds, she's turning over a new leaf as a singer and songwriter. Of course, many artists have tried this before, but it's not very common for someone to nail it quite so well. Released this October on New York-based Story Sound Records, Old Light is a gem of an album, and Rayna's original songs are proof positive that she's an new talent in this crowded field. Of course, Rayna's voice should be familiar to any fan of Uncle Earl, but listening to this album, she seems to have come into her own even more as a singer. On Twitter I called her "the American Kate Rusby", and I still stick by that statement.
The songs on Old Light are split evenly between original songs from Rayna's pen and traditional songs pulled from Rayna's lifetime spent immersed in American old-time music. She learned many tunes from her dad, Dan Gellert (a renowned old-time banjo player), and more from friends on her many travels. I was curious how learning tunes for so many years and now moving to writing tunes interacted with her musical memory bank, and it turns out Rayna was curious too. Much of the album is a musing on memory and what a fragile hold it has over our lives. I'll let her tell the rest in her own words:
Hearth Music's Inside the Songs with Rayna Gellert
Rayna Gellert: "Nothing"
"I had been picking away at this album for quite a while when a friend lent me a book called The Seven Sins of Memory (by Daniel Schacter). It's about how and why our memories are inaccurate, and the trouble this can cause. I'd been reading Musicophilia (the Oliver Sacks book about music and the brain), and I'd already written "The Platform" [the song on her album most concerned with memory] -- so this brain-related stew was swirling around for a while. This song came bubbling up out of that stew, informed by how the stuff we take for granted (our memories of our own experience) can be utterly WRONG. It's also addressing the project itself, in a way -- my friend David MacLean, who wrote the liner notes for my album (and about whom I wrote "The Platform"), referred to "Nothing" as my "mission statement". I guess it's a bit dark, since it's dwelling on how fragile and liminal it is to be alive and cognitive; but it's also saying we're all in this together, which I find very comforting."
Rayna Gellert: "The Stars"
"Being new to writing songs, it's really fun for me to find out what other people hear in songs I've written. This one has elicited all sorts of personal projections from folks, which is really touching, and makes me feel like I tapped into something. It must be a universal experience to reach a certain age and gaze back on a past that seems magical and innocent, before whatever loss or life-change or trauma came in and knocked us for a loop. When we recorded it I wanted it to sound a little drunk, but, despite the sense of disorientation in the lyrics, it's not about actual drunkenness. It's a sort of kaleidoscope of youth and music and blissed-out-ness that I'm trying desperately to make sense of through the veil of time, while simultaneously pinning so much onto a past that's gone. It is a personal song, and an exploration of one of my own "gone worlds", but one I hope other people project their own experiences onto."
Rayna Gellert: "The Fatal Flower Garden" (traditional)
"Most of the traditional songs on this album are songs that my parents sang. This one isn't -- it's one I heard on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (aka "the anthology"), which we listened to all the time when I was a tiny kid. It's performed by Nelstone's Hawaiians, and is creepy as all get-out. My vivid early-childhood imaginings of the story this song tells are burned into my brain. I pictured it all happening in our yard and our neighbor's yard (and house). My brothers and I frequently talk about how traumatized we were by some of the songs we heard as kids, but how those uncomfortable songs were the ones we wanted to hear over and over again. My goal in recording it was to evoke the melodramatic creepiness this song carries in my memory."
11/01/2012 | comments (0)
I've been sitting on this album for a little bit now, afraid that anything I could say about it would only diminish how much I really love it. I've jealously guarded these songs, savoring them, enjoying them, singing along to them, for once in my work not wanting to share them around with everyone. I wanted to keep them special. To keep them for myself. But like anyone that tries to hang on to the fragile treasures of life, I keep forgetting that these things only grow stronger by sharing and appreciating with friends.
So now I open my arms to you, friends, to share the songs of British Columbian songwriter Jenny Ritter. I've been keeping tabs on her since she was in the wonderful, but criminally under-exposed, band The Gruff. They were like Po' Girl, back in the late 90s and early 00s, turning out hand-crafted folk songs with a slight Celtic tinge to the instrumentals. Great music, but what I remember were the songs. Anything Jenny touched in that band turned to gold, and their song "General Store" stands out to me as truly beautiful. The Gruff broke up a while ago, and I hadn't heard from Jenny since, until happening on a post of her single, "We Must Sing," on Facebook. My jaw dropped. The soaring vocal harmonies, that clear clear crystal clear voice, the beautiful words, the catchy melody, this was fine fine songwriting. When I got my hands on the whole album, Bright Mainland, I realized that this was the kind of music that a lot more people needed to hear about. It's got that special spark of life that makes a song come alive, the very rare spark that so many singer-songwriters are questing for and so few really have. I've literally stayed up late crying to these songs. And I get teary eyed half the time I hear them. What surprised me was how much more the songs came to mean once I got Jenny to break down the inspiration and stories behind a few of them. Also, I hadn't realized how funny she is! I'm SO happy to be able to share this with you all now:
Hearth Music's Inside the Songs with Jenny Ritter
"This song came about when I had moved from the Island to Vancouver, and the unfamiliar city was squashing me. In the predictably angsty aftermath of both a band breakup and a relationship breakup, I was having a good old fashioned identity crisis. This is a pretty common story. You know the one. The one where you get a tattoo. You drink too much. You live alone in a tiny one room apartment. Except for the mouse who nests under the sink. You name him Hank, but later he gets stuck to sticky paper and dies. Okay, that was a tangent. My apologies...
Anyway, the point is, that I was a stranger in Vancouver, and I didn't know my role in the community. This is something that's important to me. I didn't know what the city wanted from me, what I could provide, and I rode my bike to and from my dead-end job and felt useless. One of the things I loved about the neighbourhood though, were the back alleys which run behind all the residences in East Van. I felt - and still feel - this strange vibrance to those quiet lanes. I wished that I lived in a house with a back alley. And I wished for love and lots of babies. That's where the lines in the chorus come from "Dreaming of our families, waiting in the future, waiting in the alleys".
I wrote this song while I was actually riding my bike home from work in the middle of the night... It's probably dangerous to be concentrating on songwriting while cycling, but you know, strike while the iron's hot and all that.
We Must Sing:
Oh man, this song came from such happy feelings, mixed with a little bittersweetness...
There is a music festival on Mayne Island, BC, which is put on by a bunch of my dearest friends. It happens to be on the very same property where this album was recorded. It also happens to be on the weekend of my birthday, and one year I hired my dream band to back me up. On stage I grinned so hard I think my cheeks broke. On top of all of this, I was in the process of falling for a foreigner - someone I had agreed not to fall for, but we were there together, just swaddled up in temporary bliss.
I've always thought if there's a heaven, it's a music festival. So amidst all this love and celebration, I became aware of how everyone I know is this gorgeous fiery hotbed of artistic talent. We have so much to express, and are compelled to let it out through music, or art, or whatever... It's truly compulsive. I mean, happiness begets creative productivity as much as sadness. And all the feelings in between. Whatever they are, they're clawing their way out. I feel so proud of all the artists I know who are putting their hearts on their sleeves and sharing their talents with the world.
That's why I got my choir to sing on this recording ... Did I mention that I run a rocknroll choir called the Kingsgate Chorus? Uhhh... I do. So it was important to band together in a big group, and ... well, sing about singing! Express ourselves about expression, and how it makes us stronger. I seriously love working with those guys so much. They really brought the whole song home for me.
You Missed The Boat:
Every year I travel to this idyllic farm in Northern Ontario, and am graciously, unconditionally hosted by a couple of dear friends. There's a darling little cabin on their property called "the Hobo House", in which I live, which I guess makes me a willing hobo. I end up writing a ton of music there every time, and call it a self-imposed songwriting residency.
When I wrote "You Missed The Boat," I was being a hobo, and suffering from yet another breakup. Huh, yeah, this is turning out to be an embarrassing theme in my life... So the song is both a triumphant Fuck You to someone who had dumped me, and also a lament for the loss of the very same relationship. I was sad, but not that sad, as it was Springtime in the Ontario woods. There's only so much grieving one can do when the river is rushing, birds are singing horny songs from the treetops, foxes are barking, wild leeks are sprouting everywhere... I was traipsing around in borrowed gumboots, and getting the same message from the world no matter where I looked; Basically, life goes on. I was processing the end of the relationship through observing nature, and all it's resilience. I was a little .... shall we say, "impaired", thus the "I was blind in one eye/deaf in both ears" lines, but I was coming out alright. And at the same time, flipping the bird at the one who missed the boat. I always think of the part when we burst into the "La da da daaas" at the end of the song as being the moment we find closure, and begin celebrating whatever new chapter of life lies ahead."
After we both realized that breakup songs seem to be a real thread in her music (and I consider "You Missed the Boat" to be one of my favorite breakup songs!), I asked Jenny to go into what makes a good breakup song. Here's her answer:
"Honestly, breakup songs sometimes kind of gross me out. I mean, we've all been through it, right? But if you can approach the concept with a new perspective, I'm all aboard! For example, I love them when they're quirky: I think "Papa Was a Rodeo" by the Magnetic Fields is probably the best breakup song ever. Holy moly, those lyrics are genius. But it's written with this ridiculous mix of brutal blatancy and metaphor. I feel the same about "Mitzi's" off of Luke Doucet's first solo album for the same reason. It's covers quite a lot of imagery, but it's set in the context of a destructive relationship which he wants to end. It's dark as hell, and I love it.
YET... I have to admit I'm also a sucker for a good sappy overemotional heart-wringer. Like "Two" by Ryan Adams, or "You're Still on my Mind" by the Byrds, or Gillian Welch's "Back In Time". So I guess the goal for me is to write something in between... something you can think about, even smirk at a little... clever turns of lyrics, while still acknowledging the emotional content. There's nothing like a good wallow, right?"
BUY THIS ALBUM!! In addition to these three tracks, you also get my most favorite track "They Can't Tell", a song so good I could write a whole blog post about it. Seriously, this is beautiful music.