Your latest EP: The “Trouble Comes” has just been released? Can you talk us through how the song was conceived and the process of producing it?
The inception for the song came after watching a program on Wolves. There was a section about how a wolf howls at a precise frequency which doesn’t echo across canyons, so that other wolves can detect direction of the howl and locate the wolf. That concept fascinated me, and the first line came out of that: ”A Wolf howls in the canyon / Obeys some ancient rule / No echo to follow / The sound is beautiful and cruel.”
What struck me, also, is humanity’s primal, visceral connection with Wolves, how that ‘cry’ or that ‘call’ is something we fundamentally understand. So the lyrics delve into that vestigial – yet powerful – connection between our primeval selves and our present selves. At the same time that we are abstracted from Nature, we are aligned with it, and that forms the tension of the song.
The connection is both a Universal one and a personal, intimate one. The call of the Wolf mysteriously goes to the core of understanding of ‘self’ somehow, and while it’s a ephemeral emotion, it’s an overwhelming one. It’s a lot like being in Love and the longing one feels when missing someone. The next lines in the chorus expresses that:
”Half-way around the world / I can hear your call / Like there’s no distance at all.”
Wolves also howl before a hunt to bring the pack together. I tried to imagine my primal self, existing in the wilderness, hearing the call of Wolves and the beating of distant drums, knowing that each was a call, in some way, to War. The last line of the chorus makes that moment – where fear and awe collide, when that ‘loss of self’ is palpable and immediate, expressing that urgency. And so, the final line in the chorus: ”Trouble comes when you hear the drums.” The music, produced by Lem Springsteen, is first and foremost rooted in ‘Groove’, but is also complex & sonically nuanced. The sounds he uses are subliminal; they’re not just supporting the song and my voice, they inhabit your mind & get under your skin.
The song is very much about how our primal nature hasn’t changed all that much. We are still awed by vastness, by sunsets and full moons. We still sense the sublime and liminal aspects of existence, and still respond with abandon when we hear drums played in an incessant or rhythmic way. There’s no one more attuned to that than a DJ who invites everyone to partake in that primal, ecstatic act of surrender.
The release is accompanied by another stunning video. Can you tell us about the ideas behind it and how it was made?
Thanks Greg….. With my new material, I’m particularly interested in the concept of duality, in juxtapositions and dichotomies. I’ve also been drawn toward Film Noir, French New Wave, and Black & White footage from experimental film makers like Maya Deren. I love the grainy, raw quality, the blurred edges and subtle oscillations that occur when light shifts and things move, and the jarring effect that occurs when this is contrasted with footage that has clean & crisp edges. Again, that dichotomy: old vs new world, clarity vs obscurity, creating a space you both can and cannot enter.
My new material also explores the idea of identity, and the challenge of how one defines the ‘hybrid’ self in a world that expects that definition. I thought the ‘mirror image’ metaphor worked well with the message I was trying to convey: that the self is a shifting, moving, malleable thing. I decided to incorporate Dance into that message because it can express the inchoate ‘self’ without words. And the further reference to the Rorschach ink blots brings Psychology into play, where you see what you want to see on one hand, but are also surprised by shapes that suggest unformed imaginings.
My movements connect directly to the music. In many ways, I think Dance is the art that can best convey the subliminal & subversive because it’s the one art that – because of its stringent physical & coordination requirements – so few partake in. We are awed by dancers, in part, because of this. It’s also the art that connects us most directly to our primal selves.
Your current album: Light Sweet Crude touches upon many styles, including the heart-stopping, ‘Bar D’O’. How would you describe the album to people?
Thanks again…. that ‘heart-stopping’ moment of Love’s first-recognition is the precise feeling I was going for, and DJ Bander – the producer – captured so powerfully with the music.
In terms of describing the album, I’d say I chose the word ‘Hybrid’ to put the listener in a stirred-up, strange-brew mindset. In hybrid species, for instance, it’s hard to discern where the influence of one begins and the other ends. And so, with this album, I wanted to mix things up, to blur the lines between Electronic, Acoustic, Soul, House, Jazz, Blues…..
One writer described the album very concisely as “Noirish House Music”.Another very eloquent description is from the writer Imran Khan in his feature interview in Pop Matters,
‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights: An Interview with Vanessa Daou‘. He describes the album as “existential dramas you can dance to.”
Where do you find the inspiration for words? Who are your main influences?
I keep a list of words that interest me, one of them is the word ‘Trouble’. The word ‘Trouble’ has roots in “to trouble, disturb; make cloudy, stir up, mix”.
The word has interesting other facets, referring to a woman who, in one way or another, spells danger & destruction through her actions, motivations, even her physical presence. Women in history – Art, Cinema, Literature, Poetry – have been both admired and vilified for their beauty, at some point, the Vixen, the Bombshell, and the Femme Fetale were born. A beautiful woman, throughout history, spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e. Equally fascinating to me is the fact that there is no word or archetype for male equivalent.
I find inspiration absolutely everywhere and anywhere. Riding the subway on advertisements or overhearing conversations, news reports, Poetry, the Online Etymology Dictionary, The Urban Dictionary, text-based artists, writings on Physics, Biology & Botany.
My main influences are:
Music – Billie Holiday, Leonard Cohen, Francoise Hardy, Nico & the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Tricky.
Poets – John Ashbery, Pablo Neruda, Paul Celan, Baudelaire, Erica Jong, Anne Carson, Collin Kelley.
Artists: Gary Simmons, Fiona Banner, Glenn Ligon.
Film – Maya Deren, Jean-Luc Godard Dance – Erick Hawkins, Yvonne Rainer .
The Daou, ‘Surrender Yourself’ is a personal favourite for many from that mid-nineties period of NYC inspired Dance music. What are your memories of that recording and time in New York?
We recorded ‘Surrender Yourself’ in a grungy downtown studio. We were up all night recording, and when it came time for me to record it was early morning, and I remember that we were all in somewhat of an altered state.
At the time I was singing & doing spoken word on NuGroove Records, and Danny suggested that I add some spoken word to the track he & Peter had just created for ‘Surrender Yourself’. The lyrics were spontaneous, inspired by and infused with the hazy spirit of that night and the edginess of that time here in NYC. While recording, I had in mind TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ (hence the reference to ‘sawdust streets’) and EE Cummings (the ref. to ‘love crumbs’ and ‘countries’). It was a distinctly dangerous yet creatively charged time here in New York City.
After that session, we were working all through the next morning, and while Danny & I were eating breakfast in the lounge area of the studio, we noticed a tiny gray mouse standing at our feet, watching us eat. We both began very casually feeding the mouse some crumbs from our muffins, as though it was a perfectly normal thing to do. We began laughing uncontrollably realizing I had used the term ‘Love crumbs’ on the track! We still laugh hysterically about that!!!!
How do you find running a record label: DAOU Records in the digital age?
It’s incredibly rewarding as well as challenging. It’s important to stay on top of all of the new & shifting developments, & changes. It’s also important to imagine new possibilities that technology can bring. The most important thing, though, is to never losing sight of the fact that it comes down to the music, and what’s most important is the message, not the medium.
Any forthcoming plans to play out ‘live’ that you can tell us about?
The other is a ‘Stripped’ set which reflects the sound of my next album, ‘Light Sweet Crude: Act 2’, a new set songs which are sonically pared-down. The Stripped show includes 4 amazing musicians & performers: Drums: Anthony Johnson (of 24/7 Spyz & the lead in STOMP, NY for many years) Guitar: Viking (https://www.facebook.com/vikingmusic) will be opening on occasion, Sax & Clarinet: Fernando Arruda aka FJazz (http://www.fernandoarruda.info ) Electronic Bass & Keys: André Baum aka Beyondré (http://www.andrebaum.com) (produced ‘One Thing I’m Missing’ on the album) will also be opening on occasion.