May 9, 2013

Mary Halvorson Interview 2012-12-01 (Part Three)

Mary Halvorson Quintet 2012-12-01

Secret Keeper, the new duo of Mary Halvorson and Stephen Crump will be playing "Indeterminacies" at Zeitgeist Gallery here in Nashville on Friday, May 10. The event starts at 7:00pm and is FREE and open to the public. In honor of their Nashville debut, here is the full transcript of my interview with Ms. Halvorson which took place on December 1, 2012 at the Blackwell Inn in Columbus, Ohio prior to her quartet gig at the University of Ohio. A drastically edited and rearranged version appeared on Spectrum Culture in January (Part One and Part Two). I am no journalist so I apologize for the rambling (if not totally incoherent) questions. She was actually quite gracious and generous with her time and it was pleasure to talk with her. The full transcript has been posted here over the next few days. Herewith is the Third and final part. Enjoy!


RC: You’ve mentioned that you like Deerhoof.

MH: I love Deerhoof, yeah.

RC: That’s really interesting, um, because a friend of mine is way into them, he’s into their drummer and you’ve mentioned their guitarist and I was listening to them this week and I was going, you know, I can sort hear it, particularly like during the more rock-oriented stuff, the sort of jagged rhythms—

MH: Uh-hmm and they have two guitarists now which I also really like because they blend in a really interesting way, I mean, interesting orchestration of the guitars.

RC: Yeah, and the whole rhythm of it is very different from most rock music today. What other sorts of music do you like to listen to that people might be surprised by.

MH: Might be surprised…hmmm…[pause]. I listen to all sorts of things. Um. I mean I love a lot of old soul stuff. Um. I listen to a lot of old music [laughs].

RC: Me too!

MH: A lot of old jazz. Um. You know, I’ll check out anything. I mean I also like to try to keep up with what’s happening now, especially in the jazz scene but also you know bands like Deerhoof. Um. I just got the new Frank Ocean CD, which I found really interesting.

RC: Hmmm.

MH: It’s a little bit of a different thing. But, I don’t know. I love Sam Cooke. Um…Yeah, a lot of jazz. I don’t know, it really depends. I don’t have like a regular routine of listening or anything.

RC: Do you collect records?

MH: Some. I don’t have a huge record collection but I, it is my preferred form for listening.

RC: So, vinyl? I was going to ask you about that because the second MAP record is vinyl-only.

MH: Yeah.

RC: And it’s gorgeous!

MH: Yeah, that label is really cool, vinyl label.

RC: I’m kind of surprised to see that is still available, I would think that would be snapped up, you know, right away, but um…

MH: Yeah, I have so many copies of it at home [laughs]. Because, I don’t want to bring it on tour because it’s heavy. You know, so that’s the thing, that’s the problem with vinyl is you don’t want to be carrying it around. So, I rarely sell it so I have all these—I mean, I bring copies to Downtown Music Gallery sometimes because I never sell it.

RC: So, you prefer vinyl to CD?

MH: I love listening to vinyl.

RC: What is it about it you like?

MH: Just the sound, I mean the—it just creates a different feeling, you know, just the sound of the record. The MP3s especially, it’s so, you really lose something.

RC: Yeah, sure.

MH: So I love listening and I inherited my dad’s record player, because he wasn’t listening to it, so he just gave it to me. And he bought it in like 1967, and it still has the original speakers, so there’s something really timeless about that, you know? Technology is changing like every day but you have this record player that still works, sounds great, with the same speakers from that year.

RC: Right, it’s just a needle being dragged through a piece of plastic…

MH: Yeah. Do you listen to it? Do you have a lot of vinyl?

RC: Oh yeah, thousands of records.

MH: Oh wow. I bet. I bet you have a crazy record collection!

RC: [Laughs] Well, I like CDs, too. You know, the thing about CDs that I like is that, you know, pitch is not an issue, it’s always on pitch, and, you know, speed variations don’t make it warble. I love vinyl, but it’s kind of a pain.

MH: It is. But I kind of like those weird quirks sometimes.

RC: Uh-hum.

MH: But it’s nice to have both. I think it’s nice to have both as an option.

RC: Do you find that when you go into the studio and you’ve made your record and when you finally get it in your hand, you’re like it doesn’t quite sound like what we were doing or is it pretty close, or…

MH: Usually it’s pretty close because you’ve monitored at every stage along the way, you know, you’ve been there for the mixing and the mastering and coming up with the order. I feel like if you’re involved with the process, hopefully you’ve gotten it to a point where you’re happy with it. The thing that happens is the process takes so long, you feel like it’s an old record by the time it comes out. That’s the thing about it that I don’t like.

RC: It seems like some things, they get recorded and then it’s years before they ever come out.

MH: Sometimes. I mean, the People record is going to be like that.

RC: I hear there is a new Anti-House record in the can.

MH: Uh-huh.

RC: Will that be on Intakt again? They’re generally pretty timely, it seems.

MH: Yeah, Intakt is a great label.

RC: Yeah.

MH: I have another record coming out on Intakt actually which is a duo with Stephan Crump.

RC: Right – Secret Keeper?

MH: Yeah, that will be out in March or something. But they’ve been great, great people to work with.

RC: Yeah, that Anti-House record is one of my favorite records of all time.

MH: Oh, that’s so cool.

RC: It’s just again that’s one of those bands where it’s like anything could happen, you know?

MH: Um-hm.

RC: And within a very short period of time, anything could happen. It’s interesting to compare that to like the Tom Rainey Trio, which is essentially the same people but the music’s very different.

MH: Yeah, very different. Ingrid is a great composer, I really like what she does.

RC: And a great player, too.

MH: Oh yeah, she’s one of my favorites.

RC: My sense is that the Tom Rainey Trio is more improvised.

MH: It’s entirely improvised.

RC: Oh, it’s entirely improvised, OK. And then Anti-House is quite tightly constructed.

MH: Yeah, again but with spaces for things to happen, but yeah, she writes—her compositions are actually pretty involved and pretty difficult. I usually have to spend a lot of time learning them, which I’m happy to do because I love her music.

RC: So how so, like what makes them difficult?

MH: Rhythmically, there’s a lot of tricky rhythm stuff and also a lot of like big leaps sometimes pitch-wise, so, um, yeah, it sometimes it just takes a lot of coordination and a lot of times there will be tricky rhythm stuff and somebody else will be playing a different tricky rhythm simultaneously but they don’t necessarily line up until a certain point. You know, it’s not like you’re playing against a beat so you have a sense of where you are so it’s also tricky. You have to really learn it.

RC: Well, it sounds so effortless on record and some of the live things I’ve heard.

MH: That’s good! [Laughs] That’s nice.

RC: But maybe that sort of tension is sort of built into it. Like, there’s some music that is, um, I think some of Braxton’s music is like this, where there’s so many complex rhythms going on that it doesn’t really matter if they don’t line up completely.

MH: Right.

RC: That sort of imprecision is sort of a part of what makes the music interesting.

MH: Oh, totally, yeah, I think that is.

RC: So, well the new Anti-House record be similar to the last one? Or will it be moving in a new direction?

MH: I haven’t heard the final version, I’ve only heard drafts of it but I think it’s great, I think it’s going to be really good. The sound is amazing and it’s, the band has been together longer, so there’s kind of more cohesion.

RC: Uh-hm. And is Kris Davis a little more involved on this one?

MH: Yeah, yeah, she’s on I think every track.

RC: You don’t play with pianists very often—

MH: Not very often. I love to, but yeah for some reason it doesn’t seem to happen very often.

RC: Well, I think it’s kind of hard thing, I think, two harmonic instruments like that, it’s hard to get a blend. But she’s really amazing player as well.

MH: Yeah, she’s incredible.

RC: And always seems to know what register to be in and never gets in anyone’s way but yet there’s always a lot going on. So that will be interesting to hear.

MH: Yeah, I’m excited about it.

RC: So this duet with Stephan Crump seems like that’s a recent sort of thing, you started playing together?

MH: Yeah, it’s been about a year and half ago we started getting together playing and recording—he has a studio in his home, a music studio, so we’ve been getting together and just basically recording everything we’ve done. And so we put out an album. And that’s all improvisations, although we’ve been writing compositions, too, so the following record, which will be on Intakt a couple years later is going to be those compositions.

RC: Ah, great! So, what about Thumb Screw, which is you and Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujuwara? So how is that different from like your trio stuff, it’s a guitar/bass/drums trio…

MH: Yeah. It’s funny because I was wondering that too but it feels very different, it just has a very different energy, partly just because Mike and Tomas are such different players than Ches and John and partly because it’s not all my compositions, it’s also their compositions. And I think you write differently for different people, so probably even my compositions are going to be different for that band, for the trio. Somehow, it feels really different. I can’t really articulate how but that’s been interesting to notice. I didn’t know what was going to happen and then once that band started, I was like wow, this is really different than the trio.

RC: That’s really exciting. I’m looking through your list of gigs with all kinds of people, Instant Strangers with Tim Berne—

MH: Oh, that hasn’t played yet, but we’re going to have a gig later in the month.

RC: Mike Reed’s Living By Lanterns….I mean it’s just sort of endless. It’s almost like, um, it’s almost like you’ll play with anybody—no, that sounds awful, I mean—

MH: [laughs] That’s fine!

RC: But it’s not like you’re locked into a “this is my thing.”

MH: Yeah.

RC: It seems like any of these people in this crowd want to get together and do something, you’re there and you’re contributing to what’s required.

MH: I mean it’s sort of a combination, because I like to do a variety of things, um, but then there’s a point where it becomes too much and you feel too scattered, so it’s kind of about finding that balance where you’re doing a lot of things but, I mean, a lot of the times there’s so many things that I want to do that I’ll have to say no to even things I do want to do, just because there’s not enough time.  Or if I feel like I don’t have enough time to practice or compose or things like that, I’ll have to start cutting down. But definitely don’t do anything I don’t want to do. So, there’s just a lot of things I want to do, so it’s a tricky balance, I think.

RC: Anyone that you’d like to play with that you haven’t played with?

MH: Oh, a ton of people. You know, it’s funny, though. I don’t necessarily think of specific people that I want to, I mean there are a ton. I mean I’ll hear someone that I’ve never played with and I think that would be great but I don’t think that far ahead [laughs] so I don’t necessarily think about that.

RC: So I’m guessing you’re pretty well booked well into the future.

MH: Somewhat, yeah. Yeah. But I just kind of take opportunities as they come, you know?

RC: So you’ve made some records on Thirsty Ear, Matt Shipp’s Blue Series—have you worked with Matt at all?

MH: I’ve never worked with Matt. I know him, but, no, I’ve never worked with him.

RC: That could be kind of interesting.

MH: I’m sure that would be great. He’s a great musician, I love his playing.

RC: Um, he comes from more that sort of aggressive, that sort of post-60s avant-garde kind of thing and it would be interesting to hear your take with that. I’m sort of abstractly imagining what that might sound like.

MH: It’s possible it could happen at some point. Who knows?

RC: Um, I should probably let you go. One last question: what do you do for fun when you’re not traveling and playing music.

MH: [laughs] Um, what do I do for fun…I really actually like getting away from music because all my friends, I mean that’s the thing, you get into this thing where all your friends are musicians and you’re playing music and you’re talking about music and it becomes difficult to get away from it. So, I have a few hobbies or things I do: I watch a lot of basketball—

RC: Basketball?

MH: Yeah, so I watch a lot of basketball games. I go swimming. That’s a really nice thing to kind of Zen out, so I do laps at the pool when I’m home. I study astrology so sometimes I’ll read things about that and do astrology-related things.

RC: My wife wanted me to ask you about astrology because we noticed that you’ve said, or intimated that you were into astrology and she’s studied astrology.

MH: Oh, wow, I’ll have to talk to her about it.

RC: So, what’s your sign?

MH: A Libra. Libra sun, Libra rising and there’s Capricorn moon.

RC: We’re both Scorpios, we have the same birthday.

MH: Oh, wow, that’s so interesting. I’ve met like two other couples who share a birthday, or are one day off. That’s very interesting, double Scorpios, very intense
RC: Yeah, ‘cuz Scorpios generally can be kind of prickly but we get along great.

MH: Terrific.

RC: Do find the astrological stuff fitting into your music or affect your music or inform what you’re doing musically?

MH: Well, it’s interesting just the way you relate to people, like, um, the band Instant Strangers is a funny example because me and Tim Berne have the same birthday and then Tomas and Stephan, their birthdays are one day off and the angle that our four Suns form is a trine, which is like an easy flow of energy. So there’s kind of, you can see things like that sometimes. I had a band once in college where we had all four elements: earth, air, fire and water, each person in the band was a different element and that was also kind of a cool balance. Also, in my septet, five out of seven of the people are Libras.

RC: Wow.

MH: And I didn’t do that on purpose, that just happened. I tend to be drawn to Libras, I think in some sense, especially musically. Ches is a Libra, Jon Irabagon is a Libra, Ingrid, Jacob Garchik (__), Peter Evans. So there’s, I have a lot of Libras in my life so, but it’s not just about the Sun sign, everyone is a combination of many elements so that, if you look at the big picture, it’s one of those things where the more you know, the more interesting it gets.

RC: Right. Is the opposite true,  that if there’s some sort of tension or you don’t find yourself not getting along that maybe it has to do with sort of astrological issues?

MH: I think it sometimes does, yeah. Although I guess I tend to look more at the charts of people I do get along with [laughs].

RC: Uh-huh. That makes sense. And I just remembered one other question I wanted to ask you: it seems like you were on your way back from Europe when Hurricane Sandy hit. Is that right?

MH: Yeah, I got back like the day before the storm hit.

RC: Were you badly affected by that?

MH: Actually, not really. My area which is Fort Greene, Brooklyn was pretty, relatively unaffected and I feel very lucky because some neighborhoods, I mean, still the Rockaways and Red Hook and some areas are just devastated.

RC: And it shut down public transportation and—

MH: Yeah. I was, for me it was kind of weird, lucky timing because I didn’t have anywhere to be, I’d just gotten back from a five week tour, I was exhausted, I just wanted to stay home. So that’s exactly what I did, I didn’t go anywhere.

RC: Did you have power?

MH: Yeah, they kept kind of flickering but it never went out.

RC: Wow, that’s fortunate.

MH: I mean the winds were like whipping, I have a kind of wind tunnel out my window because I’m in the back of the building and it’s kind of a narrow thing to the next street so the wind was just like whoosh, whipping down alley.

RC: Wow.

MH: Yeah, it was—but everything was fine, really.

RC: I haven’t gotten report from ____, but some of those downtown venues, I think, were affected by it.

MH: You know, I don’t know. _____ told me the Stone was fine, which I was really surprised about because Avenue C, I think, got hit pretty bad although I haven’t been to the Stone since it happened. I know that the Kitchen had a lot of damage, Issue Project Room, I think, had some damage. So, yeah, I mean, it’s tough. A lot of people are really still struggling.

RC: Yeah, it’s horrible. And apparently, it’s just going to get worse and worse.

MH: The gas thing was insane. You couldn’t get gas.

RC: Oh, right.

MH: I mean, I don’t have a car, but even I was trying to get a ride to the airport, things like that. Just, people were waiting in line, the guy who drove me to the airport, he said he waited for gas for 18 hours, he had to wait overnight.

RC: This was to come here?

MH: No, no. Just to get gas in Brooklyn, because there was no gas for cars.

RC: Has it gotten any better recently?

MH: Yeah, now it’s back to normal—but it took like three weeks. It was really hectic [laughs].

RC: Wow. And New York is hectic enough, you know what I mean? You don’t need any more complications.

MH: That’s crazy.

RC: Well, it’s after 4:30, so I should really let you go. I really appreciate this, thank you so much!

MH: Yeah, well, thanks so much for coming, that’s really cool.

RC: Oh, great and, um, I sort of fell into this website thing. They saw my blog and said, hey, you wanna write? So now I’m sort of their heavy metal and avant-garde writer, so—

MH: That’s awesome.

RC: There really isn’t very much jazz on there, but I’m—

MH: And what’s the name of the site?

RC: Oh, Spectrum Culture.

MH: Spectrum Culture, OK.

RC: So my goal is to like bring in more jazz and avant-garde stuff. It’s mostly pop music, so…

MH: Is it based in Nashville?

RC: I think he’s in Portland, Oregon.

MH: Cool.

RC: I don’t think it has a big readership yet, but he has big plans for it—but who knows. I was sort of flattered to be asked to do it because I never really set out to be a writer, much less, you know, interviewing rock stars—

MH: [laughs]

RC: So, I really appreciate it.

MH: Well, cool.

RC: So it will probably be up in a couple of weeks.

MH: Great.

RC: And I’m looking forward to the show tonight.

MH: Yeah, me too! And you said you wanted to take photos? If you do, just tell them I said it was OK if they give any kind of a problem.

RC: OK and I also wanted to ask you for you autograph.

MH: Oh, thanks, sure.

RC: I love the covers on your records, they have like a similar aesthetic. Is that something you set out to do?

MH: Well, that’s actually, the covers are designed by Megan Craig who’s married to Nick Lloyd, who runs Firehouse, she does all the graphic design. So she did this. The other ones that had drawings by my dad, which she then put into color and did the layout, so it was kind of a collaboration between her and my dad. And this one she did all by herself. So basically, she kind of presented me with different directions she was going in and then we kind of went from there. I liked this one.

RC: Oh, they’re beautiful. Well, if you wouldn’t mind signing it, I’d appreciate it.

MH: Yeah. Is your name R-O-D-G-E-R?

RC: Yeah.

MH: OK. I couldn’t remember if it had the D in there.

RC: Oh, you are left handed.

MH: Yep [laughs].

RC: So I understand in Suzuki it doesn’t matter which handed you are, they teach you to play right-handed.

MH: You know, I don’t know, because I picked it up naturally rightie, which is weird.

RC: And you play guitar right-handed.

MH: Yep. But I do, it’s kind of weird, it’s like certain things, like half of sports I would play, like I would play baseball rightie but I would play basketball leftie. You know, I write leftie, eat food leftie, but I play guitar rightie so it’s kind of a weird—

RC: So you’re sort of ambidextrous.

MH: Yeah, I guess so.

RC: Interesting. So I wonder how would it must be like to have your fretting hand be your dominant as opposed to your non-dominant hand.

MH: Well, actually I had to spend a lot of time working on my picking hand because that’s the weaker hand. So I spent years just doing like picking exercises with a metronome just trying to get that hand up to speed because it was weaker. So, I mean I still work a lot on picking stuff.

RC: Wow. Well, you have a very aggressive pick attack—or it can be, not always.

MH: I always wanted, instinctually that’s how I always I would, from the very beginning I think I’ve played like that, for some reason.

RC: Hmm.

MH: I don’t know why [laughs].

RC: Interesting. Well, I feel like I could talk with you for hours but I’m sure you have things to do.

MH: We have to go soundcheck soon, so I’ll probably go get ready for that. Anyway, maybe I’ll talk to you after the show but, yeah, thanks again.

RC: OK, well thank you—I really appreciate it.

MH: Cool, well I’ll see you in a little bit.



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