By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
And yes, to answer your question, the new songs are pretty different. I don’t have much to do around the house except sit around rooting out and picking at the sorts of anomalies that lend themselves to crisis. As you can imagine, I am a real blast to hang out with, L.A. Weekly!
As I was reading Erik Davis’Arthurmagazine feature on you, he mentioned that you had just purchased a house. How, a year or so later, has owning your own plot of land affected your creativity?
It’s real nice. The main thing is that the house sounds amazing. I know I’m biased, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a house that sounds prettier. Every room has different acoustics, and they’re all real sweet and resonant. And I like that I can work on music any hour, night or day.
Are you a disciplined writer who sets particular hours each day for writing and creating music, or does inspiration arrive in fits and starts? Can you describe your writing rituals?
Every day I do sit down at the harp or piano, and improvise, and try to write, and sometimes practice my own songs, and other times practice old classical repertoire from when I was a good harp player, or even etudes if my technique is slipping too much. But happening upon an idea that I like, and think is worth developing, is pretty rare for me; and if I do decide to go with an idea, it often takes me months and months to finish a song. And I write a lot of things that are bad and I hate. But I work every day. I think I’ve worked on writing music almost every day since I was about 8 years old.
When you were on the road performingYswith your band, were ideas, either musical or thematic, in the songs that you discovered that didn’t reveal themselves when you were writing, or working with Van Dyke? Did the songs evolve from night to night on the road, and if so, will any of these evolutions inform the Disney Hall concert?
I think I knew the songs pretty well before hitting the road, having written them. But I certainly learned a lot about Van Dyke’s arrangements from playing alongside the very stripped-down versions that Ryan Francesconi (who plays tambura in the band) had prepared. I’ve made a lot of modifications to my harp parts to better accommodate the orchestral arrangements. I think that what I do with the harp at this point feels more like a conversation with those arrangements; I think that now the harp part more audibly anticipates the changes and nuances of the orchestral arrangement.
The band members have incredibly interesting insights into the songs. The craziest thing for me about playing with these dudes (Lila Sklar, violin; Neal Morgan, drums/vocal harmonies; Francesconi, tambura/banjo/guitar) is that I’ve gotten really attached to the changes and additions they’ve made. They feel really necessary. I never thought I’d get to that point with a group of musicians. For years I kind of wrote in a vacuum, and jealously guarded my ideas against the contamination of anybody else’s opinion. It was weird. I don’t know where that paranoia came from. But I’m so amazed and awestricken by the folks I play music with now; it’s gotten to the point where they can go back and suggest changes to, like, sacred cow songs, songs I thought I would never, ever consider adding anything to, and then once I hear the changes I never again want to play the songs the old way.
You’re playing Disney Hall here. When I saw you last you were performing in a smoky little Midwestern club. That’s quite an ascent in such a short period of time. What is it, do you think, about the music that you make that seems to have struck a nerve at this particular moment in time?
I thank Jah that it isn’t my job to figure out why people like my music. I’m actually pretty scared, or maybe just superstitious, about looking into that too much. I don’t want to encumber myself with that kind of awareness. That seems like it would dull the instincts, or the senses. I do get a little freaked out from time to time, but mostly I just feel really amazed. And grateful.
As someone who writes often about the natural world and wonder, I’m curious about your thoughts on where you think your songs come from. Some writers feel that they are only a vessel, a conduit, and that they’re simply delivering what has been dictated in some Other Place. Others believe in the power of the mind to construct and create, and that it’s all biology. Where do you fall along that continuum?
Aw, I reckon it’s a little bit of both. You’re born with a particular brain, and then you’re raised to learn to use it in a particular way, and then you find yourself moving through a particular spot in the universe that provokes particular reactions. And you experience love, and death and birth, and sex, and fear, and laughing at things, and you jot down your questions about what exactly in the world all THAT could possibly have been about. But I ain’t no conduit. If I could just go on record as rejecting the whole “conduit” thing in the strongest terms, that would be nice.
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