Emilie Simon in Chicago: the complete abridged interview transcript

Photo by: Elizabeth Sentianin , Sculpture by: artzura.com
Photo by: Elizabeth Sentianin , Sculpture by: artzura.com

Here it is. Finally. The (abridged) transcript of last month’s interview with Emilie Simon. Emilie is off touring Europe right now, so here in the States, we probably won’t be hearing anything from her for a while. In the meantime, you will just have to read this and get all excited for the eventual American release of her latest album: The Big Machine. If you live in Europe, you can already buy the album (or, at least you can in France). You can also catch Emilie on tour, which you ought to do, because it is a life-altering experience. You can read the complete (almost) interview here.

The Indie Handbook: First of all, let me say that it is such a pleasure to meet you. Have you ever been to Chicago before?

Emilie Simon: No, this is my first time to even leave the club, so I will discover it with you.

TIH: So you’ve been living in New York for a while, right?

ES: Yeah, it’s been almost two years now.

TIH: What made you pack up and come over here?

ES: At the beginning, I just came for vacation and I enjoyed it, so I decided to stay longer. And I ended up moving here. I think it was just the right timing for me. I was between two albums, so I finished my tour and came here.

TIH: How long do you think you’ll stay.

ES: I have no idea. I didn’t plan it, I don’t plan ahead. I plan what I have to plan, like if I have a tour. I know I am going to be touring pretty much all of 2010. But you never really know what’s going to be happening in your life.

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Emilie Simon gets the Big Machine up and running

Emilie Simon at BerlinI followed her for years – not in a creepy stalker way, but the way any true fan tracks the career of an artist he or she admires – spending countless hours in dusty independent and secondhand record shops near university campuses and enlisting the help of friends and family in Europe to track down a catalogue of records that you just can’t get here. It was all very calculated and deliberate. Meeting her, on the other hand, was (almost entirely) an accident.

It was on one of these prospecting expeditions (in search of a release date for her latest album, The Big Machine) that I caught a glimpse of Emilie Simon‘s tour schedule. Noticing almost immediately that the next show was scheduled to be in Chicago, I, without thinking, sent off a message to (literally) the only American contact I could find and several hours and half a dozen emails later, we had plans to sit down for a cup of tea after soundcheck.

As I approached Berlin Nightclub and heard the sound of “Opium” emanating from behind the swinging doors, I had no idea what to expect. I am not exactly a veteran of the club scene and I had never even heard most of the songs on the album she was touring, but walked in, trying as best I could to look like I knew what I was doing. What I found: half a dozen people prepping and decorating for the party that night, Elizabeth (my contact), and Emilie on a small stage in the middle of the room surrounded by machines and a keyboard. I stood and listened as she finished her soundcheck, attempting to recover the carefully planned talking points that had fled my memory the moment I came into the presence of my all-time musical idol. How do you cover such an impressive body of work in 20 minutes? You don’t, but the attempt became markedly easier when I discovered that we have a great deal more in common than I ever thought I would with anyone I consider a true genius.

Her first two albums (Emilie Simon and Végétal) and her soundtrack for the French version of March of the Penguins, included some of the most intricate textures I have ever encountered in the course of a four-minute “pop” song. The Big Machine is different, though. You could think of it as the first of her “American” works the way you might “Dvořák’s “New World” symphony. After all, she’s been living in New York for almost two years now.

“At the beginning, I just came for vacation and I enjoyed it, so I decided to stay longer. And I ended up moving here. I think it was just the right timing for me. I was between two albums, so I finished my tour and came here,” she says. And any such dramatic change is bound to make an impression: “I don’t know why, but there is something very intense and creative about New York with all of the artists…but something very noticeable to me when I was in New York was that it was full of a lot of energy…. I don’t want to say that it’s more energy or something, it’s just different and because you are not used to it, it is very noticeable, so it’s really inspiring.” It’s that spirit of change that was such a factor in the new sound heard on The Big Machine.

“I think I had a way of doing things from the first album….I was sort of building the basics. For the album after that, I feel like it was a little bit the same way of working: that I was experimenting and still building and I needed to change – to try something else…because…there is a point where you know that you are totally capable to do that again and again and there is no point in doing that again and again.” And so, the IRCAM alumna and winner of three Victoires de la Musique set out to reinvent herself. “I thought, I am going to stop writing on the computer first and see what instruments I need the most for writing songs and it’s been the keyboard, so…for a long time I was writing without a computer, without programming and everything, just working on the composition itself, the song and its structure.”

As a result, her vocals, once set back within the instrumental texture of her songs, have been moved into the foreground, featuring more prominently than ever before. “The other albums are more…like: I have my studio; I can spend a lot of time programming details and the vocals become a part of the instrumentation and are in balance with the other elements. This one was more about the energy and this kind of urgency of writing…. I was moving every week; I had a keyboard and that’s all…It was more of a raw energy, so the vocals took a lot of space because I needed to express myself and I didn’t have all the sounds.”

But such “urgency of writing” is the nature of an album conceived almost entirely in a live setting. After a short set at the Roxy in L.A. where she played several of the new songs for the first time, Emilie embarked on a five-week residency at The Cutting Room in New York. “At the Cutting Room… I was adding a new song every week. So every week I had to finish the programming of a new song and make it ready to be played.” That live atmosphere was maintained throughout the recording process as Emilie “decided to keep [the] energy of experimenting on stage and find [her] band and record”. And she seems happy with the results, assuring me that “everything was like it was meant to be like this”.

Still, someone so involved in the intricacies of composing, as Emilie is, does not relinquish control easily: “at the beginning, I thought maybe I’m going to find the right producer for this album and ask somebody else to produce it…but I didn’t find this perfect person that I can trust so much more than I can trust myself…. And because I produce all my own albums now, I really know what I like, what I don’t like, and trusting somebody else – it has to be amazing, and I trusted and I worked [on] this album with really amazing people and I opened a lot,..but I still kept being the producer of the album because I know where I want to go…I was more like the captain, but the crew was amazing”.

That amazing crew included Kelly Pratt and Jeremy Gara (both of Arcade Fire) and John Natchez (Beirut) as well as sound engineer Mark Plati (David Bowie, Alain Bashung) and Renaud Létang (Feist, Gonzalez…) who mixed the album. The result is an album that “is very different from the other ones: a lot of energy – a different type of energy – a lot of it because of New York and the kind of energy I’ve felt there. It’s the influence of New York on me”.

As we walked back to the club, part of me wished she had an extra day or two to experience Chicago’s own characteristically unique energy that slips so often and unfairly unnoticed beneath the glamorous cacophony of the coasts, rather than the 22-hour reality of airports, traffic, and Belmont Avenue (and you ever do have the time, I hope you will let me know). No offense to the neighborhood, but the one block stretch between Berlin and Starbucks at Clark and Belmont (much of which was under construction at the time) is not exactly the pinnacle of what my beloved Chicago has to offer. Still, for a few hours on October 15th and for reasons I cannot even begin to express, there could have been no more perfect place.

The lights went on and there was Garth from Wayne’s World and Elvis Costello playing Fisher Price percussion

CT1By Dan Holloway

I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to not going to a gig. True, last November I had to wrap my wife up in five layers of blankets and Benilyn to get her to Pendulum, but this night I’d actually started the journey home about 10 times before dragging myself in the front door of the Relentless Garage in North London, and it was only several pints of the sponsor’s strongest keeping my eyes propped open when the place went dark and the theme tune for jaws came on.

I looked up from my drink and there were two guys on stage. One looked a bit like a young Elvis Costello, and the other had a Garth from Wayne’s World thing. They were standing hunched over toy percussion, hitting them with a concentration and precision like they were doing open-heart surgery.

I looked closer. There was a Teddy Bear on the front of the stage, several more dotted around the set, and an inflatable shark sitting at the drum kit. I’d entered the strange, delightful, utterly marvellous, yet really rather sinister world of The Candle Thieves, aka Scott McEwan (Garth) and The Glock (Elvis).

For the next half hour they took us through a set of pure kitsch magic, at once as delightful as a child’s party and as dark as the Montmartre of the fin de siècle (maybe that’s because my wife and I had been to see Le Grand Macabre the weekend before). And everything was done with a sense of wonder and showmanship that had the audience in their thrall. I’ve never seen that kind of connection with an opening act before. From opening a cardboard egg box to extract a shaker to the moment The Glock stood up put his finger to his lips, blew up a balloon and released it over the crowd.

It sounds twee, and, let’s face it, rather awful. And if it had been done with anything less than 100% conviction it probably would have been. But the conviction was there, and the result was a Pythonesque, Willy Wonka, Moulin Rouge of a spectacle. And yet whilst it was very much part of a larger whole, the music never took a back seat to the show. And that, in large part, is thanks to the other side of their persona. The Candle Thieves’ lyrics are like the childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They are a black heart beating in a glitzy body. Their twinkly glockenspiel and keyboard, and folk guitar accompany songs about death and angst and the end of the world.  “You can’t be young forever,” they repeat starkly in their current single Sunshine Song, “but you can be young for the rest of your days.” It is, in fact, the exact same message as that with which the cast of Le Grand Macabre left their audience. You’re small. You’re nothing. But what you are is part of the giant carnival of life.

I fell in love with The Candle Thieves like I can’t remember doing with a band in a long long time. They get inside your head, and drag it into their world. Which is a pretty good place to hang out. I wanted to speak to them so much I tweeted them the moment I got home (http://www.twitter.com/candlethieves) and asked them some questions. Here are their answers in full, because that’s the only real way to bring you into their world.

The Candle Thieves – it’s a perfect name for you. It sounds like something from a film, but where DID you get it?

Glock: Hi! Well I play the odd Wedding gig here and there to keep me from living on the streets. The evening guests often used to have those big church candles on their tables. At the end of the night I’d often grab one or two and put them in my bag. When Scott was over mine once he asked what all the candles were about, to which I replied, ‘I’m a bit of a Candle Thief.’ The reason that anecdote was a bit boring is because it’s totally true and that’s how we got our name.

I saw Noah and the Whale headlining this summer, and people in the audience brough along inflatable whales. You have an inflatable shark. That parallelism yet difference with them came across throughout your set (like they’re your cousins who moved to the burbs and became accountants). Would that be fair?

Glock: Well if they put the work in Accounting can pay very well.

Scott: I’ve still to this day never seen Noah & The Whale but I think what they seem to be doing is cool. I think at any scenario where people can bring a long in an inflatable whale to a gig and it be normal is a really cool thing.

If I were going to write a paragraph (which I probably will) about your influences or, if not influences, then all the associations you conjure up, I wouldn’t know where to start (correction, I wouldn’t know where to finish but I’d certainly say there’s Baz Luhrmann, Willy Wonka, The Streets, Elvis Costello,and for some reason I haven’t figured yet They Might be Giants). Where would you start?

Glock: Influences are always difficult to conjure up. I could say all the bands I liked but they’re not necessarily influences. I think the life you lead, things you see and the people you spend time with influence us the most. Certainly for me any way.

Scott: It’s so refreshing to hear influences from not just the music world, thank you! I think if we can take anyone out of the real world for even 10 minutes we’d be really proud.

I’ll come on to the layers within your work in a minute, but in terms of your actual sound, there’s an overwhelming sense of simplicity. It’s like you’ve consciously cut out the nonsense. You use the word intimate in your blurb, which I got. But I also got a kind of naive wonder (that’s part of what I mean by Willy Wonka – there’s a bit of Vince Noir there, too), both in terms of what you were trying to do and how you wanted us to feel, like you cared about each note. Is that way off-beam?

Glock: Not at all, and thank you for looking at us in that way. We certainly wanted to keep our songwriting simple. I tend to complicate things and Scott’s simplicitly I’m sure has levelled me out. When I joined the band it was to escape a bubble I was trapped in so suddenly it felt like I was allowed to express myself in a different way. If we appear weird or eccentric, in my case it’s probably a product of that. I love our band because it’s not put on, we developed into weirdos organically.

If I had to use one word to sum up your set it would be “showmanship” in the proper PT Barnum sense. I kept thinking of Jim Broadbent in Moulin Rouge. I got the sense you were creating not just music but a whole world for your audience to lose themselves in. How did that aspect of your shows come about?

Glock: Again, thank you! When we started out we were fully aware that we were basically an acoustic duo, and we wanted to make it interesting for ourselves and for the crowds of few watching. We’re also fans of people like Eels & Duke Special who if you ever get to see live, they can really take you outside of yourself. We really aspire to do that too.

And do you think that’s going to make it hard for you to make a go of it as a recorded act?

Glock: Aww I sincerly hope not. Underneath the party poppers and balloons are our songs which are more important to us than anything. The live set it just how we present ourselves.

I love your MySpace. You’ve recreated some of that world from the live show (and I’ve got another association – the first series of Pushing Daisies – while it was still good!). I get the impression part of your future may lie in a world that’s more than just music. Are you trying to create a whole parallel Candle Thieves world, or is that just chance?

Glock: A thousand thank yous! It’s probably a bit of both. I’m not sure why a grown man sitting at a toy piano and blowing up balloons works, but it just feels right.

Scott: We got to do a video for The Sunshine Song with a guy called Richard Cullen from Pixelfing and he helped in creating this world for us to be in within the video, and we loved it so much that eventually the artwork and our myspace became themed on those.

You describe yourselves as a guilty pleasure for deep thinkers. Could you explain?

Glock: Aww who are you kidding? You know me better than I do! If you only look on the surface you might see a couple of boys the wrong side of 20, dressed funny and playing silly sounding songs. Granted that’s what we are but there’s more underneath if you want to dig.

Scott: It’s true, and there’s a side of me that really likes that you might find something deeper, but you have to dig deeper to find it.

There is a streak running through your work that’s almost nihilistic, and that plays wonderfully off the actual sound. It reminded me of some of the parts of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, or the gaudy absinthe-soaked world of fin de siecle Paris. What are you trying to do with that? What do you want your audience to come away feeling?

Glock: Yeah if we can take people outside themselves for a short while and bring them back a little lighter that’s all I can ever hope for.

Scott: There’s a surrealness to Monty Python which is brilliant, and it’s only brilliant because first and foremost it’s very funny. We could have all the stage props in the world but if our song’s aren’t any good and people don’t have a good time then it would be devoid of meaning for us, we’re still learning in both departments but we’re havinga  lot of fun doing it. We couldn’t appreciate it more someone coming to our gig, or writing nice things or getting a cd. Means the world to us. Oh and I’m definitely going to put on Monty Python when I get home!

The instruments and props. Do you go looking for things to incorporate into your music, or do you see something and think “how can I use that?” And is that really an egg filled with sand that you took out of the egg box?

Glock: He he yeah it’s just a regular egg shaker. The box was bought separately. No we don’t really go looking. Every now and then on the drive home Scott will will say something weird like ‘It’d be cool to use sparklers in the set.’ Or ‘It’d be cool to call a song Sharks & Bears.’

I can’t imagine your set working on a huge stage. I know you do garden parties and private shows. Part of me thinks that would work as TV, but there’s something almost alchemical about the way you interact with the crowd that wouldn’t work on TV. What do you see yourselves doing if you “make it”?

Glock: Well I’m answering some fine questions to someone that cares about what we’re doing so we’ve already ‘made it’. I think we could get bigger and remain pocket-sized. We want to keep developing so it’d be cool to play will a full line-up sometime. Or a string quartet would be amazing. I think we could adapt to changes.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

Glock: Amongst weller known classics, we’re both extreme fans of the 1st season of ‘Game On’ and it’d be a total dream come true to have lunch with any of the cast.

Scott: It’s true! We’re also very grateful for the interview, many thanks Dan.

Thank you for the interview!

A long short interview with Brían Ó hAirt

If I had to guess, I’d say there are about as many Irishmen living in Dublin, OH as there are native Scotsmen living in Granville, 36 miles to the East, which is, approximately, six. But none of this matters on the first weekend in August, when the city’s Irish population increases at least tenfold, augmented by tens of thousands more people who think they’re Irish. (I admit that, once upon a time, even I, now vehemently proud of my Scottish heritage, found myself wishing I could be cool like my Irish friends during the weekend of the Dublin Irish Festival. I really ought to write our Chief and beg his forgiveness.) They come for the music. They stay for the scones. (Ok, so maybe the scones thing only applies to me. Most of them probably stay for the music as well. And the beer.) And there is a lot of music, and pricewise, it is probably, when you think about it, one of the best values out there for such a comprehensive festival covering a (sometimes startling) range of styles.

“…And that’s all Irish music,” Brían Ó hAirt (singer and concertina player for the band Bua) assures me, but “we really are a traditional band. We do some progressive stuff, but most of the things that we do are traditional, [even though] we compose our own tunes sometimes or play newly composed tunes from other people”. Only fifteen minutes ago, the band were on stage, wrapping up their final set of the festival. Fifteen minutes from now, they will be on their way to Ontario for their next festival appearance. Our interview will be short, but Bua are the only band I have bothered to see twice this weekend and I have to talk to this man. I need to find out what makes this band who they are.

But what drew me to Bua (MySpace) in the first place? We don’t necessarily tend toward the traditional here at The Indie Handbook (well, at least not publicly*). Aside from the superb musicianship of, and obvious chemistry between, all of the band members (Brían, Brian Miller, Jackie Moran, Chris Bain, and Seán Gavin) there is the fact that this Brían also speaks fluent Irish (not a skill one necessarily expects from most people living in the St. Louis metro area). As one who has a weakness for, and is prone to, eccentricity in any form, I am intrigued by anyone who would bother to learn such an impractical (at least by contemporary American standards) language as Irish. Brían’s reason:

“I’d heard Irish for the first time when I was in junior high, and I was kind of a bookish kid at the time, so I looked stuff up and started learning things on my own. And when I started junior college, there were courses offered, and by that time I had a pretty good understanding of it. And when I moved to Ireland I progressed even further, because I was in Irish speaking areas and I was using it all the time.”

And what about the road to traditional music? Let’s face it, Brían would not look out of place fronting a Belle & Sebastian cover band (for the sake of argument, we’ll call them Judy and the Dream of Horses).

“I had been doing music my entire life, and when I reached the end of high school, there were three roads really: you could go and get your degree in classical music, or enter a jazz program; but I didn’t really feel like my voice suited that or that it felt like it was really a way to express myself. But, when I heard Irish singing for the first time when I was fourteen or fifteen, it hit home, really, and kind of pulled me in.”

I think I speak for Kristin as well when I say that we appreciate, admire, and endorse such an earnest pursuit of any art form. Add to that the fact that Brían’s delivery and vocal quality is perfectly suited to the music that he is performing (his voice is pure, uninhibited by that affected nasality that so many artists seem to view as a prerequisite for success and the delivery unadorned, allowing the songs to speak for themselves) and the result is bound to impress. But what thrusts Bua beyond the range of “good bands” to the level of the “truly excellent” are the four other stellar musicians standing (and sitting) on that stage.

“There was a band before called Gan Bua (Jackie and Chris were kind of the instigators for that), but a few of the band members moved on with their jobs and careers, so Chris approached each of us about joining the band… And we play well together. That’s kind of the secret. It just clicked. We all seem to work well together.” He continues, “and [there are] connections within the band, too. We’re not all connected together in the same way. Brian Miller and I may be connected in a way that maybe Brian and Chris are not, but maybe Chris and Seán are connected in a way that Brian and I aren’t. There are all these smaller pairings with their ideas of music and the kind of tunes they play. So, overall, there’s more cohesiveness in the group because of those smaller groupings.”

So, this is Bua, folks. Get to know them. You’ll be a better person for it. Their album An Spealadóir is out now on Mad River Records. There is, I believe another one currently available as a download only. And you owe it to yourself to catch a live performance. After all, that’s where many of these songs grew up, long before anyone you or I know ever heard them.

*Personal confession time: For some time now, longer than most of you have known me, I have toyed around with the idea of a serious pursuit of Scottish folk music. Five days after I met Brían Ó hAirt, I bought a beginner’s guide to Scots Gaelic and a Gaelic dictionary. It is happening, kids. And if any of you have an in at the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen and would like to put in a good word for me, I would be eternally grateful.

Interview: Shara Worden, part 2

Critics like to talk about a band’s literary influences as if they (the critics) have actually read more than 12 words together that anyone other than they themselves has written. Read these 485 words and you will at least be able to talk about Shara Worden’s literary influences without making stuff up.

The Indie Handbook: I know the last time I saw you, about two years ago, you had made mention of At the Back of the North Wind, during your concert. I forget what song you were introducing.

Shara Worden: Well, it was definitely the impetus for writing “From the Top of the World”. I guess it was more the pictures and this ideal. Sort of like, um…which Chronicle of Narnia is it where they’re on the boat and Reepicheep dives into the water?

TIH: Was it Voyage of the Dawn Treader?

SW: Is that it? And they get to the end of the world. And so it was kind of this melding of that. And I had also been looking at a lot of Anselm Kiefer paintings and a lot of things that have ladders in them. Anselm, his whole life in many ways has been dedicated to sort of examining our desire to ascend to the heavens, but the irony being that Heaven, [un]like the way we understand space to be, is not “out there”, but it is actually here, and there is no up or down, there is no East or West, which also plays into Alice in Wonderland. So, I feel like fairy tales and these kinds of children’s stories have actually known things for a hundred years and writing things for a hundred years that science is only proving now.

TIH: I’m curious about Alice in Wonderland.

SW: I did some singing and instrumental-izing for a puppet production of Alice in Wonderland in New York, I think right before Workhorse came out, so that would have been 2006. So I did that production of Alice in Wonderland and the people that did the video for “From the Top of the World”, those were the folks that I worked with.

TIH: So Lake Simons…

SW: Yeah, Lake Simons. I had already written the song “Magic Rabbit”, but that show came up and it was really special for me. So Alice just keeps coming up. I mean, it’s sort of ubiquitous.

TIH: Would you like to do more involving different media?

SW: Yeah. We did a puppet show for one song in the fall when we were touring and it was so fun and so special. I really loved it. So we’ll see, hopefully.

TIH: You worked with Tim Fite on that video as well. Do you have any plans to do more work together in the future?

SW: It’s just kind of when it happens. He’s definitely one of my favorite artists and a dear friend. The last sort of thing we did together was a Paul Robeson tribute album. I sang a song for him, but I don’t know what’s going to happen or any details about that.

Interview: Shara Worden, part 1

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, one of my favorite songwriters of all time, in hopes of getting some answers to a few questions I have always wanted to ask her, and maybe (hopefully) convince a few single ladies that I am considerably cooler than I actually am (as World’s Sexiest Vegetarian finalist Gareth Campesinos! would say: “I am nothing if not a pragmatist”). So, here is part one. I will post the rest of it for you as the week progresses.

Oh, also, I’ve never actually interviewed anyone before, so I’m sorry if I suck at it. (Like I said, I am not for real cool.) Anyway, there it is.

The Indie Handbook: You studied voice at the University of North Texas. What was that experience like?

Shara Worden: In school the only role, the only kind of complete role that I had was in L’enfant et les sortilèges, so playing the child was a turning point for me. Where I was able to find pleasure in singing again…so because I got to play a kid …I was able to be playful and explore so I think that piece in particular has had a really special place for me because it’s a fairy tale in its own way.

TIH: So, is that why you did “Black and Costaud”, your own personal connection to the song?

SW:  I think that I, for many years was trying to reconcile myself with the idea that I had chosen songwriting because, in classical music, you dedicate an enormous amount of time to doing one very, very specific thing, which [is] to sing this really difficult music, well, and beautifully, and with feelings, and connection. [And] to compare that with writing songs, which is very internally motivated – If you hear someone like Itzhak Perlman play or Yo Yo Ma or really amazing classical players – Renée Fleming or Barbara Bonney – and you just think Wow, you’ve devoted your life to doing this one thing really beautifully…. That’s really profound to me and I feel like there is something really honorable – there is so much energy in life put toward destruction and put toward negativity and I really admire people who dedicate themselves so fully to something that is so beautiful – I’d rather explore lots of different kinds of things, and I found myself more excited about songwriting and more enthusiastic about spending hours and hours. It’s the same amount of time spent on making music, but the sort of form results in a different thing.

TIH: How would you say your classical training has influenced your songwriting?

SW: Honestly, the singing, I don’t think about it at all. But at the beginning of the writing process for Shark’s Teeth, I was listening to a lot of Boulez and so I was trying to write songs, more so trying not to be prescriptive of the songs, not dictating the form of the songs. Allowing the harmony to take it to a different place, or not having repeated choruses or kind of trying to find different ways of setting the text, so in a certain way the texts was more important, the texts and the harmonies were the priorities. You can see that with songs like “Goodbye Forever” or “If I Were Queen”

TIH: The thing I love about your music is, at least on Workhorse, that your melodies are really unconventional, at least they seem to me to differ from a lot of pop music – you use a lot of repeated notes…

SW: I’m curious which ones you mean, where you are thinking that, because I was conscious of it only for Workhorse.

TIH: Now that you’ve put me on the spot, I can’t remember titles of them, “Workhorse”, for instance.

SW: Well, on that one for sure I was thinking about it, because it was right after “Today” had come out and there was “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon, Yesterday…” and I thought Hey, you can use rhythm rather than using melody, so that was my experiment in that. It’s actually very atypical for me.

TIH: I thought I noticed it on five or six tracks.

SW: Yeah, for Workhorse, for sure. Though what is more natural for me is to do the octaves, big intervallic jumps, like on “Disappear”, for instance.

TIH: Your work with Padma Newsome: what sort of things did you work with him on?

SW: Well, to keep it specific to the record, I would bring him an idea for a string quartet, an accompaniment or arrangement for a song and he would give me suggestions on it. Say, “I think if you invert this, it will sound like this and this is why,” or “bring the bass note up here or you need to spread out” just how you should voice things, helping me learn about the ranges of the instruments. We would listen to different classical pieces, and look at the scores and figure out how things were working. Or I’d bring in something I liked, Rebecca Moore or a Björk track, and he would listen to it and give his feedback on what he thought was cool, what he didn’t think was cool. So it was a lot of [that]. He played me Ligeti for the first time.

TIH: I do love Ligeti.

SW: Yeah, so he was trying to bring in a bunch of different things that he thought I would like, and things that I, as a vocalist, was maybe not familiar with.

TIH: There is so much we miss out on. Did you look at any of his music in particular?

SW: Yeah, we did. We looked at Clogs music a lot and trying to figure out different ways of writing things. Like if you want something to be freer, what information do you give a player? Like in jazz, is there a head, is there a melodic theme, and when does that return? Clogs is actually pretty improvisational, but highly organized improv, so we would study how the organization but also looseness and lack of organization works….It was funny that we started out and he was sort of my mentor, but now we are like collaborators. I sang on their new record. It’s not out yet, but sometime this year.