Musical Discoveries: How are things going?
Fast and furious right now, thanks! We're on the eve of the record release and we're receiving a lot of enthusiastic support for it, so there's much to do... We're gearing up for an exciting year of performance. I'm about to direct our music video on Sunday so I'm presently in pre-production on that with the guys.
I guess let's start with your new project with Anubian Lights if you wouldn't mind. How did you hook up with them and what was so special about them that you'd end your musical hiatus?
Good question! I've been friends with the brilliant provocateur Lydia Lunch since we were young hellions together on the streets of New York in 1977. She started working with Tommy Grenas and Len Del Rio (Anubian Lights) back in 2003 and it was a bit of a sonic departure for her, so she asked me to get involved; help write a few songs, do backing vocals, so in the interest of helping a friend, I dipped back in. I hadn't really heard the 'Nubes' music up to that point, but immediately resonated to what they were creating.
Their material 'til then sounded very filmic, like sonic collages that were inspired by many different genres, sometimes breathtaking, other times tongue-in-cheek and humorous, informed by so many things. I felt as if I was stepping into an exotic garden, like Eve with the apple, and I just couldn't resist taking a bite, you know. The admiration was mutual, they really loved my vocals on the Lydia tracks, and had been seriously thinking about adding a singer.
Although I hadn't done music for ages aside from a bit of scoring, I had to think long and hard about reinvolving, since the 'business' of music had certainly lost it's appeal for me. But I couldn't resist the music and the experience of creating again in such a fertile environment, which is essentially why I began to sing and write in the first place, so all of the best feelings about music came flooding back to me via the Anubian Lights. We commenced writing songs together without thoughts of record deals or projections.
Six months later we had completed a CD's worth of material that surprised all of us, and that we were all mutually very proud of having created together. It was all very serendipitous and nearly effortless, since we didn't have any record company intervention during the process.
Is your participation a one off album or are you looking towards this being a long-term collaboration?
Funny, I am the Queen of Commitment Phobia ha ha! But I have officially joined the band and we plan on continuing as a unit until it doesn't feel good anymore... I think that's the very best any band can hope to do. We're still getting to know one another and learning how we work best together, so yes, I've finally committed to seeing this collaboration through. We're already working on songs for the next CD, and are all psyched about what we'll be channeling and shape-shifting into next.
You have worked with a lot of great artists throughout your career. That said, you have seen many artistic highs. How do you feel the Anubian Lights fit into your body of work?
Back in the eighties people were literally throwing record deals my way as a solo artist and I just wasn't prepared for it all, personally, musically or professionally. I never had a group of musicians I could truly forge a sound with or rely on in terms of creating a signature sound for myself, or performing live, and I was a bit of a wild child, if you haven't already heard! So I threw away many opportunities and ended up veering off in so many directions.
Yet it was such an amazing journey and I learned so much along the way by working with the people I have, from James Chance to Brian Eno, to Thomas Dolby and on. In a sense, Phantascope is the first record I feel like I can really stand behind as an artist, and as part of a band I feel totally confident about, without the manipulations of record co. folks in terms of what we're creating too. This was another crucial part of it all, which threw me way off track in the past.
It's so much better for me personally, being a part of a band as opposed to being a solo artist, and we all are very equal parts of a unit. Our label Rhythmbank doesn't tell us what or how to write or record. It's very freeing creatively, and it feels great to rely on each other and work as a team. I think people who know of me or of the Anubian Lights from the past will be very surprised by this record.
Things happen when they're meant to. So I'd like to think of it as a culmination of all I've learned to date, and between the guys and myself, an offering we're putting on the table. Of course it may not be everyone's cup of tea but for those who wish to partake, the feast is ON.
I'm curious about the lyrics on the album. Did you write, or participate in writing them? If yes, do you feel that it is important for you to be a part of that?
Our writing process is wild, very "beat" as in 1950s beat in many ways. I write and collaborate on the lyrics with Tommy, and our process involves nutty sessions where we laugh our faces off half the time! Seriously, I'm talking stomach aches and tears of laughter! We spin mad word associations off each other until we come up with a song, and the themes of the songs reveal themselves in the process. Sometimes we're totally shocked at what we've come up with--these interesting subliminal things always seem to come through without intention, as if we're channeling other voices aside from our own.
It's the most fun I've ever had writing. Musically Tommy and Len generate initial soundscapes and my input there has a lot to do with structure, melodies and textures. Len is the silent genius of the band, the backbone in many ways, and Tommy's the clown who provides the black Irish humor and the demented musical twists. It's a great balance, and now Ryan--our guitar player who joins us live--is becoming more involved in the writing as well.
When all was said and done with this record, what did the band as a whole want to establish about themselves or capture on it?
Honestly, we just wanted to capture the essence of who we are creatively right now, at this point in time, without any specific intention. When all is said and done, we are affected by the forces that shape us, and there's so much happening right now in our culture, socially and politically, it was bound to come out in our music. It's funny, because it was all unintentional, but when we listen back to Phantascope, we realize there are so many themes of alienation in the CD, a longing for a new ways of being, of isolation and disappointment, and hope.
I believe we stumbled almost accidentally upon ways of presenting these themes without being didactic, with a certain vitality that's unique to us musically. I really don't think there's another CD out there presently that sounds anything like ours, and people seem to be scratching their heads a lot looking for metaphors ha ha, which we love! If people resonate to what we're creating, then we believe it's all worthwhile.
While "Lady Berlin" may be the last song on the disc, it's definitely my favorite. Would you mind telling me a little about that song and the thoughts/inspirations behind it?
Thematically I see "Lady Berlin" as the most complex song lyrically on the record. It began as an homage to the city of Berlin, which has been through many falls and phoenix-like resurrections, and to a few great German women; Leni Reifenstahl, Marlena Deitrich, Hanna Shygulla.
Tommy gave me this beautiful track and I started spinning a story that in retrospect seems to be about collective shame--by this I mean the aftermath of being complicit in crimes by going along, by being silent for fear that your good, safe life will be interrupted or that you'll be punished, which is the situation Berlin found itself in after the first world war, going into the second.
In many ways, we are on the same precipice today, here in America. There must be remorse and healing after destruction, self-forgiveness before the re-building. But implicit in all this is that we learn from the mistakes of the past, so that history will not be repeated. So essentially, Lady Berlin could be a love song to anyone who bears the guilt of silence in the face of crime, yet has the courage to forgive themselves afterward, to stand up and say "No, I will not go down this road again. I will rise."
When you are writing what do you feel is most important, what you mean when you write it or what the listener takes from what you wrote?
What the listener takes from a song is more important then the intention! We fulfill ourselves by the work we create, but we don't create in a vacuum. We channel the forces around us. When I first started listening to music, music videos didn't exist, so your mind was incredibly free to associate what you were hearing with your own personal experience, without a visual concept imposed on it.
This is what I've always loved most about music--the feelings a song might trigger in me personally. I love the idea that people will all have their own personal associations to a song that will be extremely different from one anothers'. That's why we're doing a performance video.
I'm just not into imposing strong visual concepts and associations on a song. Let everyone make up their own minds about what they feel or should think about a song! We already have way too much corporate media shoving stuff down our throats in this regard.
Is there a song, or even a particular moment, on Phantascope where you sit back and go, "Yeah. That was exactly right." When you listen to it?
Wow, quite honestly, no! I think the work as a whole is 'right' for us, it truly reflects what we were all going through and feeling at the moment, and still are.
Having been involved extensively in a lot of different mediums of media, do you feel that there is a certain outlet you enjoy more than the others? If yes, why do you prefer that medium?
Storytelling has always been my greatest passion, with music being the first and foremost--it saved my life as a kid, and continues to be my greatest thrill. I stopped making music primarily because of the "business," and because I wanted to take some time to pursue telling stories in film, which is another passion of mine, yet I never stopped singing or writing in my hermit moments.
Film is incredibly complex and there are a lot of people to manage as a director, as well as a lot more financial pressure. Unfortunately filmmaking in an independent spirit requires a helluva lot more money than making music does! Music is simpler and purer in terms of it's immediate rewards--you get together with your band, write a song, record it, perform it... Instant gratification all along the way, without having to be dependant on smart, competent producers and millions of dollars to make it all happen. And I'm finding that I can bring a lot of my resources from film to the band, in terms of the visuals. As we grow, our plan is to continue to build on the visual aspects of our show.
What projects aside from Anubian Lights are you working on at the moment?
I'm devoting all my time to the band right now, but when I have free moments, I'm writing a fictional memoir about three generations of women from Nova Scotia, focusing on a French girl growing up in Cleveland, Ohio named Elodie Trintet. I doubt I'll have much time to work on it this year! But there's always hotel rooms on tour.
Will Anubian Lights be touring to support Phantascope then?
We're working on putting together our tour right now. The plan is to do the States in the spring, then follow with Europe, and hopefully Australia and Japan. We love performing--I mean, when we're on stage, there's a mutual energy that circles back and forth between the audience and the band, a give and take that can be an incredible high for all involved. To see people responding to the music is the greatest return of all.
Thanks so much for your time. Would you like to leave our readers with any parting thoughts?
Just to thank you for the great questions, and to tell the readers, as the Anubian Lights have been known to say: Let Not the Flame Die Out.
Keep the independent spirit alive and kicking! Resist Tyranny!