Friday, 28 November 2014

Imagined Conversations

Most of the things I love in life - conversation, books, friends, clothes, art, adventures, walks, coffee – form subjects I’ve written about at one point or another. It’s easy to draw observations and ideas from those areas I’m interested in or relish evaluating. Yet then there are all the other things I enjoy hugely that barely get a mention: such as music. Beyond the odd post or two fan-girling over Kate Bush (and a tweet every few months re-stating my adoration of Nick Drake), it’s not a subject I often hold up to the light of a 700 (or so) word article.

I think this may be partly because I know my own areas of strength, and writing about chords and key-changes isn’t one of them. I function on a gut-response level - or maybe ear-response - gravitating towards those musicians whose work just, well, works. I don’t know a better way to describe it. A combination of melody, beat, lyrics and whatever alchemy of voices and instruments really does something. Could be 60s pop or folky singer-songwriters or prog rock (hi King Crimson) or Motown or Electro-swing or chart hits (hello Beyonce) or Electronica (apparently that’s what Bonobo and Morcheeba are?) or Indie Rock or Jazz or... Ok, now I’m just quoting the genres you can find on iTunes, and that’s not exactly known for nuance – especially as it seems to have given up on me and lumped most of my music together under the vague banner of ‘Alternative’.

Yet, recently I was thinking about the divide between those whose music I listen to, knowing relatively little about the individuals themselves (beyond their names), and those for whom I have an extra layer of appreciation because I admire their intelligence/ ethos/ outlook/ aesthetic. Indeed, often enough I’ve probably sought out interviews and reviews, and of this latter group, there are a fair few.

In fact, enough to play the game of ‘which musicians do you think you might have a great conversation with over a coffee, and why?’ I began by excluding all the ‘greats’ who would cause much trembling simply by being in the same room as them – such as Kate Bush, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell. (And in any case it would just become a love-in of decades past). So – it’s a very enjoyable displacement activity when I really ought to be doing something else – this is the initial list I came up with; musicians who come across as being really interesting people as well as creators, who I could imagine being very good company in a cafe…

Hozier – I spent lots of this summer past listening to ‘Take me to Church’ to get me into a writing frame of mind. Not sure how or why a critique of institutional dogma achieved this, but something clicked. Really though it’s the combination of salient political observations in both music videos and interviews, a range of influences from Oscar Wilde to Joyce, an obviously smart and enquiring mind, and a lot of really gorgeous, charged songs. Plus a seeming lack of ego given his rather zippy rise to success. Can’t wait to see him perform in December.

Lorde – Mainly for all the reasons I articulated here when I dressed up as her. To summarise: her common sense comments on feminism, her position as a smart, outspoken young woman willing to challenge others (see this Guardian interview), her intellectual and creative curiosity, and the small fact that she only just turned 18 and put together the Hunger Games: Mockingjay soundtrack, plus I might be ever so slightly jealous – in a good sense, as seeing that kind of achievement is always a good spur.

Sam Lee – I’ve seen him live twice, and really love/ respect/ am slightly awed by his interest in re-working, performing, and preserving traditional songs from gypsy/Romany/traveller communities (there's a wonderful piece discussing the process here). These words and melodies, handed down from one generation to another as aural heirlooms, are collated and discussed for hours before being given another life by Lee. The results are by turns rousing, bittersweet and moving. Oh and he began working on his music whilst working as a Burlesque dancer.

Moko – I met her briefly once after a fantastic panel discussion last year in Oxford on women in the media. She was captivating to listen to - talking about everything from her gospel choir background to her position as a young woman of colour in the music industry. Plus, the hair, the hair, the hair. See her interview with Rookie here

Bat for Lashes – Natasha Khan’s multiple visual personas, wide-ranging artistic influences and interests, and strong awareness of image are all pretty fascinating. Plus, there’s the penchant for gardening, various honest observations on the sometimes challenging process of getting an album together, and an impressive number of strands to her output from video-making to clothes designs.  

Kate Tempest – I mulled over including her, but hell, she was shortlisted for a Mercury, so why not? Besides, a few Fridays ago she was responsible for one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. It was a jubilant mixture of lyricism, sharp-witted observations and music that had us dancing (and sweating) very energetically. Added kudos to anyone whose central message for the audience to take away was “cultivate some radical fucking empathy, and check your greed.” After the gig, I spoke to a lovely English teacher who mentioned how he’d used some of her videos to get his year 9 class enthusiastic about Shakespeare – how wonderful is that?

St Vincent – I’m not quite sure how to summarize Annie Clark, because it’s tough to tell what I think is cooler – the innovation in her music, the fact she’s obviously both intellectually and creatively imposing (in the best way), her absolutely ace guitar playing, her attention to design detail (see her description here of the thought that went into the cover of her last album) or the quality of her writing, be it song lyrics or music commentary. Also, extra points for her cameos in Portlandia. 

Kate Nash – A distinctive aesthetic and playful, rather joyous outfit choices, and various very cool things done or said about women’s rights (think the Rock n Roll for Girls After School Club, her recently launched Girl Gang initiative and her partnership with Plan USA in 2013 to talk about ‘the transformative power of investing in girls’). What’s not to like?

Over to you. Who'd be on your idly dreamt up list? 

Posed with my ancient iPod classic here (sadly deceased) as it just happened to look better than anything else. Had lots of fun pretending to dance around this field near our house. I'm wearing a sixties dress my mum gave me and vintage Bally men's brogues. 


Ivana Split said...

That sixties dress is absolutely dreamy...and who would have guessed that the ipod is not in function? You look like a genuine dancer here. You must be one of those people who can dance even when there is no music ( I do that often but who knows could that actually be called dancing...I can't be jugde of that:) )

You list is wonderful and you make me want to research those from the list I'm not familiar with right away!

I do think that a number of musicians would be a good company for a nice chat and coffee, especially those who write their own music or lyrics.

I met quite a few local musicians over the years and they were all really sweet (and often enertaining) people (and company).


I really love your list, and I've seen St. Vincent a couple of times as well as Lorde. There's so many artists that have inspired me, I'd add Paul Simon, Otis Redding, and Ray LaMontagne I've only recently got into Hozier because my bf loved them. I loved the (Kate Tempest) story about the English teacher and his students.

Anupriya DG said...

I have been looking for a nice pair of brogues since such a long time....I think I should start looking at the men's section now!

You can always know a person by his/her playlist! :)

Weronika Matyjas said...

Love this dress! and the photos are amazing too, you did such a great job xx
thank you for the music inspiration, definitely gonna check it out! x

Hannah McManus said...

Really great post, such an interesting idea to write about! I think I will definitely have to do some further research into some of the musicians you've mentioned, they sound very interesting :)
Hannah x

Lally said...

What a great list! Sam Lee and Natasha Khan would definitely both be on my list too. I would also love to take coffee with Devendra Benhart and maybe Courtney Barnett too because I love her lyrics and just get the feeling she'd be very cool. Anyway, great outfit as per! I love that the i-pod you used is broken, mine is very old and likes to do a fun, skippy shuffle whenever it fancies! X

Izzy DM said...

I love the dress, especially paired with the brogues. Very cute pics as always.

Having fun listening to some of the people you listed here. I haven't heard of a lot of them, and some of them only through you previously-- Kate Bush for example. A lot of mine are alternative, too, but a bit older!

1. Patti Smith-- Have you read Young Folks? Oh. My. God. You must! Talk about your dream conversationalist: the whole book is fashion as costume, her bohemian life in NYC, poetry, and art. I love her original version of "Because the Night" better than 10,000 Maniacs even, but she's also the original punk goddess and "Gloria" is pretty kickass.

2. John Lennon-- I'm recently obsessed as you know. Never realized he wrote so much great music after leaving the Beatles. Or had so many interesting things to say that were non-music related, or that he was basically the first male feminist.

3. Tracy Chapman-- I just love her so much. I like how political and anthem-y her songs are and yet they also work perfectly simply as songs, too. And I like how gender neutral she is, a nice counterpoint to all those blonde barbies running around Nashville.

4. Carla Bruni-- I don't know if I exactly love her, she seems a little terrifying, but I love her French folk songs. I could imagine chatting with her about that, how she found her inspiration in another language.

5. Stephen Merritt- you gotta love a guy who makes up various band names like The Baudelaire Memorial Orchestra, although I love his work in The Magnetic Fields the mostest and especially his songs from 69 Love Songs. Have you heard them yet? I think you'd like that album-- it's very clever and poetic. And VERY alternative. They're like oldies to you, I imagine :).

6. Kurt Cobain-- I want to say, almost have to say, but kind of can't. He just makes me so sad, committing suicide so young, but oh my God, his "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is still my go-to for both getting into and out of my own head.

I clearly need to explore more living musicians/ recent music I'm noticing from looking over this list...

Very fun idea! Looking forward to listening to more of the bands you mentioned! x

Sofie Marie said...

The dress is lovely, and I wouldn't have thought it was from the sixties!

Great list, will have to look into Moko and Hozier, two I've never heard of/listened to. Kate Tempest is a star, I also saw her recently and it was beyond belief! If you haven't already read it, I really recommend her new poetry collection 'hold your own'- think you;d be into it. :) I think Amanda Palmer, Janelle Monae and Mary Lambert would be great to meet in a coffee shop/ tea house!
Sofie :)

Shanna F. Jones said...

PJ Harvey! I met Kate Tempest once... Made an extreme fool of myself in front of her so probably would be too awfully embarrassed to invite her round for dinner!

Krystalle Teh said...

I think Björk represents for me what Kate Bush is to you. I could go on and on about her voice and music and her keen eye for talent (among others), but most of all I admire her for her fearlessness and adventurous spirit—sonically, visually and conceptually. And she's still making intriguing things after nearly 40 years! So yes, I'd love to meet Björk.

I've also been getting into Joanna Newsom recently, and her songs are so whimsical and distinctive. I'm sure she'll be an interesting conversationalist. Oh, and I would add Lorde to the mix too!

Emalina said...

Hello hello Roz, great to see you dancing your heart out and looking so well and happy! Funny you talk of favourite tracks, one of my best friends is interviewed on Desert Island Discs tomorrow giving hers! Tricky for me to decide, but I'd have to include Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, The Rolling Stones (Gimme Shelter in particular), Dylan plus I share your love for Lorde St Vincent and Bats for Lashes. The babies (now 6 months old would you believe) have a particular fondness for Goldfrapp and 70s funk soul, we dance to it every morning (I swan around pretending to be la Bush and they kick their legs wildly in the bouncy chairs). I have finally got round to updating my blog, won't get to very often but I do love to do so and will keep trying to find time to take piccies when the bubs let me! Hope all's great with you, been missing your blog my dear.

Emalina said...

Ooh and Nick Cave, how could I forget him! xx

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