Patty Larkin Interview.
DS: Thanks for taking time out to chat with South Australian Roots and Blues. I look forward to catching your performance here in Adelaide on Wednesday the 31st of March. You will be appearing at The Trinity. A delightful space acoustically and the audience is always attentive and respectful. I am sure you will find the Australian summer welcoming especially after viewing on the news some of those snow bound scenes in The States.
Touring …is this the first time you have visited Australia? Without giving too much away, what can audiences expect from Patty Larkin on this tour?
PL: Hello. Thanks for your interest in my music!!
I toured in Australia in 2002, doing several of the festivals I will be playing on this return trip. I plan to showcase the love songs from my new album, 25, as well as some electric and acoustic songs from Watch The Sky, which came out in 2008. I've gotten into looping the electric guitar, and it's a lot of fun.
DS: I am yet to listen to your latest album ‘25” but SARB listed your 2008 album ‘Watch the Sky’ as one of the stand out albums of that year. Those evocative soundscapes …and ‘experimental sound effects’ …captivating! An adventurous and improvisational approach that you must tell us about!
PL: The way that Watch The Sky came about was very organic, but it was a departure for me in terms of writing and recording. Several of the songs were written in my studio, with loops that I created for them, or from loops and licks that were already on my computer from previous writing sessions. That was new for me. I played all of the instruments on the record, recorded most of it and edited it as well. It was a solitary effort, aided at times by my esteemed colleagues Ben Wittman and Bette Warner. For the most part, however, I had to rely on my skills as a musician and producer to create evocative arrangements. It was a challenge, but ultimately, a rewarding experience, and as a result of pushing myself to uncover creative ideas, I think I was able to stretch as a musician and come up with some interesting results.
DS: You have described yourself as a “guitar driven songwriter” …just on the guitar aspect of that tag, care to tell us about …
~your guitar collection?
~the guitar/s used in the unplugged format of your album ‘25’?
~and the guitar/s you are taking on tour?
PL: The guitar I play on tour and in the studio the most is a custom instrument built by the wonderful Jim Olson. I learned about Jim through David Wilcox, and I think Dave, in turn, found out about them through James Taylor. I kept the guitar in a low C tuning for several years, touring with an old Martin as well, and as a result, it has a very rich baritone timbre. Most of Jim's guitars have cedar tops, this one has a Spruce top. The other guitars I have: a 1946 Martin D 18, which was my main instrument for many years, another instrument by Jim Olsen, an 1860 Martin nylon string guitar, a wacky Harmony semi hollow electric, a Harmony Sovereign that I found at our local dump (in the Swap Shop), a Telsco (1970's Japanese copy of a Fender) baritone guitar that is fabulous looking--as seen on the photos for Watch The Sky, a blue Fender Stratocaster from the 80's that is a copy of the custom from the 60's, a nylon string beach guitar of dubious origin, and a Fender Lapsteel from the 50's.
I will be bringing the Olson and the blue Strat to Australia.
DS: I look forward to hearing your latest album ’25’. A big project! A double CD set! You reworked your songs and presented them in ‘acoustic mode’. Can you give us an idea as to how ‘reworked’ the songs are and what prompted you to go “unplugged”?
PL: I have wanted to record unplugged versions of songs from my studio releases for quite some time now. Most of my shows are solo performances, and I get a lot of requests for "unplugged" versions of the songs. For the most part, I recorded many of the songs on 25 as I perform them live. A few of the older ones like Cupid's Knee, I'm "Fine, and Lately were reworked to fit my current musical taste. Cupid's Knee was taken from a slow ballad to a cut time feel, I'm Fine went from a very fast flat picked guitar part to more of a rhythmic strum, and on Lately, I played mostly the root and fifth of the chord, leaving out the original Major and minor 7ths and the 3rds in order to leave the sound more open. Otherwise, the vocals are, of course, different from the original recordings, as I have been singing some of these songs for 25 years! You get to know them like an old friend.
DS: 25 tracks with 25 friends …any friendships “strained” at the end?
PL: Not a one. These artists are all angels in my book. Many of their tracks made me cry when I first listened to them. They are real gems.
DS: '25' …just scanning the list of friends that contributed to the album …I notice Chris Smither’s name there. He is currently touring Australia as well and will be performing at the Trinity a fortnight before you. Care to throw some light on this particular musical friendship and the track ‘Brazil’ that you recorded with him?
PL: Chris is an old friend, and was an inspiration to me when I first began to sing "folk" songs--or what was then called "folk". It was really an updated 70's version of roots and blues and traditional music, some of it incorporated pop as well. I think Chris is always learning, always searching, uncovering truths about himself and his music. That is what "Brazil" is all about.
DS: You are descended from a long line of Irish American singers and taletellers!
I have often wondered about the Irish Diaspora and its impact on folk and roots music around the globe! It has certainly shaped Australian folk and country music. As far your Irish roots go … and how its influence on your music?
PL: It was my great grandparents on both sides of my family who arrived in America after the great famine in Ireland. They settled in the Midwest as farmers, miners and masons. The connection is the music . Both of my grandmothers played piano well--one was a church organist and choir director in her small faming community west of Chicago, and the other grew up one of 13 orphaned children raised by their older sisters on a farm where the great entertainment was the piano--which she was able to play nonstop. When she moved to Chicago she became a player in theaters for the silent movies of the day. Both families were also involved in politics, my grandmother for the Irish Democrats in Chicago and my mason great grandfather as a union organizer. I remember singing with both grandmothers, standing around the piano while kids roamed around, and our parents sang their hearts out to songs from the turn of the century and beyond. It was great fun, and gave me a reference for and a reverence for live music and the value it has in our every day lives.
DS: The 60s and 70s …a remarkable era in music and a time when Folk music enjoyed a Renaissance. I am curious about the impact, influences and inspiration this period may have had on you and your music making.
PL: The biggest impact, of course, was the evolution of the music from roots to rock n roll to pop. I was caught up in the acoustic, folk/rock/trad movement, and everyone seemed to know how to play guitar. It was great fun, and I cannot underestimate the impact that people like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, had on my songwriting. By the 70's I was very much identifying with the singer/songwriter scene, so that had a huge effect on my writing as well, people like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt. At the same time I was studying Jazz guitar, and singing Brazilian music, listening to Fairport Convention and the Pretenders.. It all came together eventually.
DS: Noticed Mum’s a painter. What does she think of you album covers ...not paintings I know ...but certainly creative designs and photos ... I am assuming you had a hand in designing them? Red … a favourite colour?
PL: My mother was my biggest fan. She passed away last September, and this album, 25, is dedicated to her. She never really commented on my covers--mostly it was enough to have the new music out, and she was always excited by what the next plan was. She will be missed.
Red is a favorite color--my partner and I have adopted two little girls from China, and it is a color used in their culture to signify good luck and happiness.
DS: Boston, am I right, is where you reside now, but Milwaukee, Wisconsin is your ‘home town’. Your fondest memory of the home town? The music scene in Boston …if Adeladians are ever in Boston, what would your recommendations be as far as live music goes?
PL: My fondest memory of Milwaukee is dancing to polka music played by accordions through Fender amplifiers. In Boston? There is so much to hear. Go to Harvard Square in Cambridge and you can catch the street performers. In Somerville, MA, next to Cambridge, there is a wonderful club that does all kinds of music called Johhny D's. Otherwise, outdoor festivals on the river, the symphony, a folk club called Club Passim, a jazz club called The Regatta Bar, college concerts. All good.
DS: Love songs!?! 25 of them! Love in the Folk and Blues genre …is often more about the trials, tribulations and tragedies that love can herald ...the downside of love if you like! The radio and TV … it is saturated with sentimental love songs ...the facile upside of love if you like? I have often entertained the thought that there should be a ‘love song free week’ where all media and consumers refrain from indulging in sentimental love songs! Why? Not because I am against love, on the contrary love is an all important dimension in life … that maybe we appreciate more if we were free of its trivialised over exposure. What a rant! Love songs …in the hands of Patty Larkin …what would there redeeming features be for an old cynic like me?.
The thing for me is: I hardly ever sing love songs. In live shows I am drawn to the guitar driven uptempo, dark, cynical rockers, with maybe one love ballad per set. It is only in the last year that I've realized how people love them, so I've added a few more to my live shows. The reason for love songs now, for me on 25, is that it seems that the timing is good: it was a hell of a year in 2009.
DS: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Patty. Where to after your Australian tour? What projects that are in the pipeline for Patty Larkin? Care to tell us about what the rest of 2010 has got in store for you?
PL: It was a pleasure. After Australia I return to the States for a few dates with Janis Ian and Chris Smither, among others, then off to Italy to do 6 or so shows with the fabulous Beppe Gambetta and friends.. The fun aspect of 25 is that I will be touring with many of the artists from the album throughout the year, so that will change things up for me musically and personally. I'm looking forward to that. Other than touring, I'm writing for my next album, and living the life.. Best to you. See you there
'25' Patty Larkin's latest CD is out now
and it features in Podcast 114.
Editor: SA Roots and Blues