SARAH SLEAN

* Your musical inspirations?  

- my rickety instruments, Leonard Bernstein, German Expressionists, Existentialism, Arvo Part, Tim Burton, Cabaret, Paris and Berlin, Eastern Philosophy, Egon Schiele, Red wine, states of wonder, monks and ascetics, Aldous Huxley, Herman Hesse, films, rivers.....
 
 * Favorite CD's, songs, or musicians?

- Joni Mitchell Bue, Radiohead OK Computer, The Rachels Music for Egon Schiele, Leonard Cohen, Tori Amos Little Earthquakes, Leonard Bernstein West Side Story, Judy Garland Alone, P.J. Harvey To Bring You My Love, Jeff Buckley Grace, Talk Talk Spirit of Eden, the list goes on and on.
 
* Has music helped you thru a difficult time in your life?

- indeed. and thrown me back into it.  

Sarah Slean describes the genesis of her fourth full-length album Day One as occuring in the summer of 2003 when, as she puts it, her house burnt down. It’s her metaphor for those periods in life when everything seems to be crashing to the ground at once. The fallout from this particular four alarm fire was so great that it sent Slean scrambling for a change of scenery. Sensing that she needed solitude, she left her Toronto home and took residence four and half hours away, in a remote log cabin just outside of Ottawa. It was there that she spent countless evenings in total isolation, thinking, drawing and composing new material. “I had to go out with my little container to get water every day,” she says proudly. “I would recommend it to anyone.”
 
By the time she returned home over four months later, she was absolutely bursting to get back into the studio. Renewed and creatively charged, she felt a far cry from the bruised and emotionally exhausted person who began the experiment eighteen weeks earlier. “I went to the woods because I had my 20s explosion,” she explains. “’What am I doing, my life isn’t noble, this is meaningless.’ I knew I had to come back because my piano was going to die over the winter, and when I did I thought ‘If I don’t make a record right now, I’m gonna lose it.’ It was buzzing from my fingertips to my toes.”
 
Back in the city, Slean tapped producers Pete Prilesnik (Sarah Harmer) and Dan Kurtz (of live house band The New Deal) to help with production duties. An accomplished programmer and bassist, Prilesnik’s rhythmic sensibilities proved the perfect counter to Slean’s melody-driven ear. “The reason I chose them was because I figured out in my cabin that what I loved about the music that I collect - Radiohead, Bjork, PJ Harvey - is its rhythmic structure,” Slean says, adding that the idea came to her one night as she was dancing to music booming loudly off the cabin’s wooden walls. “I had a revelation: duh, it’s rhythm! And it’s rhythm that I don’t understand. I have harmony under my belt, I completely understand the math of it, I’ve studied it. Western harmony is a beautiful structure that if you understand, it’s like you speak a language. But I don’t understand rhythm, and Peter and Dan have that.”
 
Recorded in Toronto over a five month period with Prilesnik and Kurtz, Day One is Slean’s wisest and best-realized record to date. Ranging from the torch light moodiness of opener “Pilgrim” and the cabaret-noir of “The Score” to the stunning balladry of “California” and the uptempo pop of the album’s title track, Day One communicates its central themes of ruin and rebirth while still retaining a sense of optimism and playfulness. “The image I had in my head was someone who’s broken down and really struggling, dirty and almost spent, crawling but still going, by the roadside,” she says. “Your wings are poking out but in order to get to that stage you have to have suffered. You have to be in the mire, you have to go down into the dark and be terrified by yourself and your fears and your weakness. I wanted the whole flavour of the record to be revolutionary  - a really strident awakening, one that occurs after a great amount of sorrow and destruction.”
 
Co-produced by Slean herself, Day One includes guest appearances from Toronto singer-songwriter Howie Beck and Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa. Beck appears on “Vertigo,”  while D’Sa can be heard on the album’s lead single, “Lucky Me”. “I’ve known Howie for years and I love and respect his work, so we did a little swap,” says Slean, who in turn lent string arrangements to Beck’s forthcoming album. “We needed someone who could do a really aggressive guitar tone,” she says of D’Sa. “Ian came in and absolutely killed it.”
 
Conceived and created entirely by Slean, the mixed media artwork that accompanies Day One is yet another product of that fruitful four month hiatus. “When I was in this cabin, I painted furiously, like I’ve never painted before. I couldn’t believe it. And this is what I was doing - I would cut out little things from books and then I’d start drawing around it. They were all small because I wanted to finish them that sitting, and so I made piles and piles of them.”
 
The vaguely apocalyptic overtones to Slean’s artwork aren’t just representative of her headspace going in, but also of how she sees the world these days. As evidenced by the lyrics to “When Another Midnight,” Day One isn’t just about personal rebirth, it’s a call for Renaissance; surely not such a bad idea, given the world’s current political climate. “Five years ago I thought things were bad but they couldn’t get much worse,” Slean smiles. “But something’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be something major, and I really feel that it’s going to be artists and people that love art and care about art are going to facilitate that change.”
 
“Maybe that’s idealistic,” she concludes. “But idealism is the only thing in the world that’s ever saved anyone.”
 
July, 2004
www.sarahslean.com
Maple Music

PETER MULVEY

Photo by Abigail Seymour

* Your musical inspirations? 

I trend to fish for an intuitive response to the place where inner life meets outer life.  In other words, I tend to listen to a great deal of public radio and read history and sociolgy alongside novels, plus magazines like Harper's and the New Yorker.  Also, I listen to a fairly broad variety of music (see below) and talk at length with my family and friends about world events or events in their kitchen.  All this while I'm taking notes and percolating, I guess.  Then I sift through the notebooks, and sift through the handfuls of melodic and chord fragments, and follow the sparks that appear in the fog.

* Favorite CD's, songs, or musicians?

Oh, god.  Louis Armstrong, Kevin Burke, Los Lobos, Greg Brown, Sam Phillips (she, not so much he), Joe Henry, Radiohead, The Beatles, John Coltrane, Hoagy Carmichael, and of course my friends and colleagues, especially Jeff Foucault, David Goodrich, Kris Delmhorst, and Chris Smither.  Favorite song all-time?  Probably “Skylark” by Carmichael and Mercer.

* Has music helped you thru a difficult time in your life?

Music has helped me through every difficult time in my life.  Cohen put it just right: “I never could feel, but I've learned to touch.”

* Your thoughts on the connection between music and healing--

Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate managed to pull fierce beauty of of a history of schizm and oppression.  Stephen Foster died with thirty eight cents in his pocket.  Someone sings his songs every day.  It's a real force, truth and beauty.  Do You Know What It Means (to Miss New Orleans)?  It's all in there, always has been.


When he is home, Peter Mulvey begins his day as many people do, with the news of the day pouring out of the radio on his kitchen counter. Where that leads him, though, is the real story here.

With Kitchen Radio, Mulvey's third album for Signature Sounds (his eighth overall and his first album of original material in four years - see Discography below), he has put the songwriting solidly front and center, and the result is a moving, deft portrait of a place where the personal and the worldwide intersect. Peter Mulvey and longtime writing partner and producer David "Goody" Goodrich set the mood with vibrant, often surprising musical ideas. Supported by an excellent band of Boston's musical veterans, Mulvey's Kitchen Radio is an album of original music performed with grit and abandon.

From this music arise lyrics with great economy, emotional resonance, and clarity. Images of travel and longing weave through the album - a longing for meaning, for love, for home, for a peaceful world, for peace of mind. Mulvey says his writing process occurs "on airport runways, late at night in bed, across the kitchen table from Goody, and wherever else it seems to want to happen," and on Kitchen Radio, as on all of his albums, from this process come songs which seem to want to happen; there's nothing forced here. "Shirt" is a love song to moments given and snatched away by time. "Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad (and Faraway from Home)" is a rollicking basher, a tour de force for the unreliable narrator. "29¢ Head" leaves us proud to make no sense of a nonsensical world. Kitchen Radio is clearly the work of an artist fully grown.

Peter Mulvey began as a self-described "city kid" from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He played, wrote, and sang in bands while studying theatre there, and then traveled to Dublin, Ireland, where he learned the trade of the street singer. Returning to the States, he spent a few years in Boston, building an audience through street and subway performing, while also immersing himself in the thriving musical community. He recorded two projects for the now-defunct Boston imprint Eastern Front, and since his 2000 release The Trouble with Poets, has made records with the venerable singer/songwriter label Signature Sounds. His previous CD, 2002's Ten Thousand Mornings, recorded back on his favorite Boston subway platform, is a set of long-loved covers by the likes of Randy Newman, Gillian Welch, Elvis Costello, Marvin Gaye, and others. Mojo described the disc as "simultaneously Mulvey's homage to his one-time training ground and a beautifully atmospheric record of gifted interpretations."

Though his home is now back in Milwaukee, Mulvey spends most of every year as a serious disciple of the road, touring relentlessly from Anchorage to Dublin and all points between. In addition to this rigorous calling, Mulvey has also written and performed music for theatre and modern dance (Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, Amiri Baraka's Primitive World, and for The Wild Space Dance Company), penned articles for national magazines (Acoustic Guitar, Performing Songwriter, The Writer), and conducted numerous guitar and songwriting workshops. He has done voice-over work for various documentaries, has had songs placed in both film and television (the WB dramas Felicity and Dawson's Creek, independent films Origin of the Species and The Fisherman, the PBS documentary Wisconsin: An American Portrait), and has just wrapped production on a full-length DVD of his own, which features both interview and concert footage, to be released later this year.

Mulvey also has an insatiable appetite for collaboration, appearing on colleagues' recordings, or just stepping on stage with other artists to try something spontaneous, something unrehearsed. In 2003, he released the trio album Redbird with fellow singer/songwriters Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucault - an album of 17 songs, ranging from jazz standards to old country tunes to contemporary covers, recorded in 3 days, around one microphone.

In every aspect of his career, Mulvey draws on an extremely broad swath of influence; he is always reading, always listening, always eager to hear new poetry, modern minimalist composers, old-time fiddle tunes, Argentinian trip-hop, or top-shelf bar bands. And somehow, deep down, it all seeps into his work.

Still, it is the live performance that defines that work. Night after night, solo, duo with Goody, or sometimes even with a band, Mulvey attempts to be the sum of his parts, to draw on all the musical legacies he has studied, to make a fresh, vital moment out of everything he and the audience have brought to the table that night. "People need this. I need this. To come together in a room, to try to make music come alive, for real, for right now, and then to let it go... that is the whole deal for me."

If Mulvey's last record was a nod to where he is from, Kitchen Radio is an inspired telling of where he is going.
www.petermulvey.com
www.signaturesounds.com/Peter

BIRD YORK

* Has music helped you thru a difficult time in your life?

Saved my life many of times. The saving starting after both of my
parents had died by the time I was fifteen. (Not an accident , they
both basically gave up on life one at a time.) I was completely on my
own after opting not to go and live in another state with an aunt. A
fifteen year old girl on her own is like a leaf in the wind. Being left
by the people who were supposed to care for my safety and well being
was a big concept to swallow. Writing songs and making something of
beauty was the only thing that made sense in what felt like a senseless
situation. Gave me a purpose and feeling of forward movement as I lost
(found) myself in the melody and words. I spun my wounds into
 something I found transcendent. I can only hope that a listener can meet
 me there. In that field of beauty. Uplifted, yet graced with every place
 we have been.

Her smoky voice and haunting melodies lead Music Biz magazine to coin the term “torch trip hop” when describing her music. Bird’s self titled debut cd landed her as "one of the top ten Emerging artists" by the music editors of Amazon.com. She has worked as a vocalist and songwriter with the likes of Deep Forest and members of the acclaimed Scottish band, The Blue Nile.

Her release, The Velvet Hour includes collaborations with Grammy Award winning producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin)and Grammy Award winning engineer mixer, Thom Russo (Juanez, Macy Gray) and includes the theme song from the Lion's Gate film "Crash", as well as songs heard on "Nip/Tuck", "Everwood" and the John Cusack produced indie "Never Get Outta The Boat"..

Bird spent a season as the 'musical voice' for the critically lauded CBS drama “Family Law”. Her music has also been heard in director Dan Water’s Newline feature “Happy Campers”, and the indie films "Betrayed" and “Shelter Island”. As a songwriter, Bird has written songs for artists as disparate from her own genre as Cher and platinum selling Japanese dance diva, Yuki Koyanagi.

Doing double duty in film, Bird has recently gained popularity as liberal left upstart, “Andy Wyatt” on NBC’s 4 time Emmy Award winning series "The West Wing". Bird, (Kathleen) York’s credits, include films with Tom Waits, Dianne Keaton, Julianna Margules and Dennis Hopper as well as the HBO hit Curb Your Enthusiasm and Fox's THE OC.
www.birdyork.com

JOSH JOPLIN

* Your musical inspirations?  

my musical inspirations were originally phil ochs and bob dylan. phil
ochs live at carnagie hall, and the times they are a changin' were the
first records i ever learned every song on. i eventually became a big
bowie and costello fan.

* Favorite CD's, songs, or musicians?

right now my favorite cd is dr. dog's "easy beat". a musician i listen
a lot to and love is, jean ritchie.

* Has music helped you thru a difficult time in your life?

music and songs help me most in difficult times. maybe it's because
music is the most accessible portal to every memory we have. like a
scent we never forget, music returns us to the place we were in our
lives (for better or worse) when we first heard a song, or saw a show
or bought a record.

* Your thoughts on the connection between music and healing--

people everywhere seem to turn to music for everything from enjoyment
to social change,  so imagine it must have healing properties that make
it so essential to who we are.

You might remember Josh Joplin. A couple years back he was signed to Artemis Records and contracted as a Jive songwriter.  Folks enjoyed his records. They were produced by fancy guys with big names who liked to play with knobs. He was making a living. And he was making “hits.” But he wasn’t making himself happy. Until one day, he went to do some laundry. While making the 10-minute walk through his Brooklyn neighborhood, Josh came across a small group of people watching a man playing guitar on his stoop. At one point, the man noticed Josh and asked if he’d like to join in for few songs. He did, and it reminded him why he loved to play music. And no – it was not to craft glossy pop songs for a multi-national music conglomerate.

More on that later. Now, some history: As a kid in D.C., Josh was a little like Billy Bragg –an opinionated, impassioned songwriter who spent his nights opening up for local hardcore bands with nothing more than a guitar. In the 10th grade, he dropped out of high school, changed his name and pursued the only route natural for a Jewish kid posing as Bob Dylan – he moved to New York City with the goal of playing at Gerde’s and The Village Gate, only to find out those kind of clubs closed years before. Josh did, however, become a fairly well known dishwasher at several restaurants in the West Village. But, finding dish-pan hands unsightly and the wages sub par, Josh went South to Decatur, GA. There, he settled in with the burgeoning music
scene and manager Russell Carter who swiftly procured Josh contracts with Artemis and Jive. Josh used those advances to move back to NYC – this time, Brooklyn. He’s been there for seven years.

Which brings us back to that guy on the stoop. That guy turned out to be Del Fuegos mastermind, Dan Zanes. And their chance meeting prompted Josh to recover the simple joy of playing songs and answering to no one. Childhood friend Issa Diao (Good Clean Fun, The Saturday Team), who had long thought Josh should stop making crappy records with big producers, suggested they make it happen at his D.C. studio (Monster Island), and even sent Josh a list of musicians they could use. Having no desire to corral a gaggle of session musicians for this project, Josh was skeptical. But when he looked at the list he realized it was comprised entirely of old friends and musicians they’d grown up with in D.C. – including Josh’s middle school principal. It was an ideal roster for the record he wanted to make. So even though Artemis was still holding an option for his next one, Josh took a gamble and began recording with Issa - enlisting contributions from old friends all over the country, including Ani Cordero (Cordero, Man or Astroman), Ken Olden (Damnation A.D.), Mike Schleibaum (Darkest Hour) and John Steahle - the principal. After eight weeks, the record was done.

On the outside, Jaywalker is a redemptive record. At its heart, it is a hopeful record – one comfortable in its own skin, driven as much by a long-stifled creative itch as it is by the wide-eyed optimism of those who made it. Josh’s knack for literate pop songs still shines, but isn’t bogged down by bulky production tics and perhaps the more stifling bulk of other people’s expectations. Jaywalker is big because it thinks big - not because Josh hired someone to make it that way. It delivers a perfect mix of wit, candor, irreverence, sneaky wordplay and fervent exuberance – all the while harnessing artful yet undeniable melodies and hooks you simply can’t let go of. Josh has Woody Guthrie’s gift of storytelling, a swagger in the name of Elvis Costello but a tune all his own.

When he got back home, Josh sent the Jaywalker to Artemis, who informed him that Danny Goldberg was leaving the label, and Jaywalker was not the type of record they needed. But that’s okay – it’s exactly the type of record he needed.

DISCOGRAPHY: The Future That Was (Artemis Records, 2002); Useful Music (Artemis Records, 2000)
www.joshjoplin.com

DAR WILLIAMS

Photo by C. Taylor Crothers

*Your musical inspirations/favorite musicians?

Paul Simon, Janis Ian, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez

Lyrically MY BETTER SELF is a political album, in the most personal way. It combines songs of love and hate with tales that illustrate some of the many social and environmental issues that Dar Williams holds dear to her heart. “I’m thinking about where we are right now in history,” Williams says. “The other common theme to this record is that the songs all put stuff I find important out on the table. Less metaphor and more me. As to the album’s name,” she goes on, “it’s best illustrated by the image on the cover, that your better self is not always the one you plan out or even motivate yourself to be.”

“As much as I love to control what I write and perform, I know my better self is not an intentional construction,” Williams explains. “It’s a spontaneous creation that I stumble across while I try to tell the truth,” she candidly admits. ”I hope my audiences have seen that. I try to keep a window open in performance and in recording just as I do in songwriting.”

Dar took a new approach in the recording of this album. “I wanted to bring in members of my touring band who I have never recorded with before, along with the team I’d worked with on my last two albums,” Williams explains. Featured are Ben Butler (guitars), Steuart Smith (guitars - currently with The Eagles), Steve Holley (drums/percussion), Julie Wolf (keyboards), Mike Visceglia (bass) and Rob Hyman (keyboards). “They each had their own ideas of how to go about recording this album so my role was to stay out of their way as much as possible. When I got home from the studio and listened to it,” Williams continues, “I heard all these little things they had added to make a song come together and build momentum. I was really excited to hear these incredible details that were put in without my really noticing at the time.” She sums it up by saying, “There was just this generosity of spirit to the recording.”
 
MY BETTER SELF was recorded in Woodstock, New York’s Allaire Studios’ “cathedral of sound” and consists of ten original tracks and three aptly chosen cover songs. The album, produced by Stewart Lerman (The Roches, Loudon Wainwright), includes amazing guest performances by Soulive, Ani DiFranco, Marshall Crenshaw and Patty Larkin. It continues an evolution in the sound and vibe from Dar’s previous albums. The songs on this record are filled with blasts of guitar, xylophones meshing with organs, and interesting musical nuances that stretch across the record’s landscape. In a way, this can be described as an updated version of a classic ‘70s record, the type that headphones were created for.

One of the three carefully chosen cover tunes on MY BETTER SELF is the innovative reworking of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” in a stunning duet with Ani DiFranco. “I always thought a woman should record it,” Dar Williams explains, “So I decided to do it, but I thought it needed another woman. Ani was my dream choice and she just nailed it,” Williams says. “The song is a commentary on who we are in the aftermath of the last election, no matter who you voted for. On one level it is about a dream which seems to have died in our society and the ultra convenient numbing I am witnessing these days.”

“Two Sides of The River” finds Williams working in a new musical genre. “As strange as it seems to be writing a blues song, “Two Sides” came into my head like a fever dream as I was leaving New Orleans in 2003 and it wouldn’t leave until I finished it.” Backed by Soulive, the track features the energy and musical passion that band has become renown for; the jazz/blues guitar riffs of Eric Krasno and the tight and powerful rhythm section of brothers Neal (organ, piano and keyboard bass) and Alan (drums) Evans.

“So Close To My Heart,” a song dedicated to Williams’ young son, is a mysterious blend of percussive instruments and haunting guitar parts accenting Williams’ intimate vocals. “The Hudson,” an ode to New York’s great river, finds Williams joined on vocals by singer/songwriter Patty Larkin. Perhaps the most hypnotic and magical music on MY BETTER SELF can be heard on “Blue Light Of The Flame,” a blend of picked string instruments, lush keyboards, and Williams’ voice hovering weightlessly above it all.

Another of the covers is Williams’ version of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” The track begins like a bluegrass march with mandolins and snare drums and turns with little hesitation into the stomper Young intended. Williams and Marshall Crenshaw trade verses while beautifully harmonizing over the chorus. Crenshaw goes on to add a ripping guitar solo, which Williams claims is one of her favorite parts of the whole album.

Tying MY BETTER SELF together is “Echoes,” written by Jules Shear, Rob Hyman and Stewart Lerman. “It’s like a ‘70s song, just innocent but with all this detail and muscle added in to its underlying sweetness. The chorus says ‘Everything you do echoes all over the world’. It’s a feeling thing, not a thinking thing,” Williams adds.

In addition to Williams’ work on this most recent recording, she has been lauded for her debut as a novelist. Her debut, Amalee, a compelling coming of age story for young adults, garnered a slew of excellent reviews. She has just completed the sequel, which will be out next year.
www.darwilliams.com

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 2003-2005