Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview: Maiden Radio Sing "Lullabies"

The women of Maiden Radio have just released their second effort, Lullabies, on Daniel Martin Moore's brand-new record label called Ol Kentuck. It's the first official release for the label and Lullabies is already generating an exciting buzz.

My appreciation for the group began when I first discovered Cheyenne Marie Mize's 2010 collaboration with Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham), called the Among The Gold EP. That release sparked my interest and inspired me to track down more of Mize's recordings, including the first Maiden Radio self-titled debut. Maiden Radio is a catchy and appealing debut, filled with a collection of traditional tunes are as easy to listen to as they were casually recorded. Lullabies makes a great companion to Maiden Radio, and if you combine them in the same playlist on your music player like I have, I assure you that it will be in your steady rotation before you know what hit you.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with all three ladies of Maiden Radio: Cheyenne Marie Mize, Joan Shelley, and Julia Purcell. We dug into each of their own musical histories, the band's history, the first album, their relationship with Daniel Martin Moore and Ol Kentuck, as well as the making of Lullabies.

Can you discuss your own musical experiences:

Julia Purcell: I was surrounded by music as a child. Listening to my dad singing harmony in the car and around the house stuck with me. I was a "choir kid" all through grade school and studied music therapy in college. Moving to Kentucky brought me even closer to my love for music, particularly bluegrass and old time music. I've been playing and singing ever since.

Cheyenne Marie Mize:
Like Julia, I was also around music a great deal when I was younger, my uncle and aunt and grandmother were big influences. My mom always sang harmonies, which totally intrigued me. I also studied music therapy in college and got in touch with the more improvisational side of music at that point. 

When and how did you begin playing music?

Joan Shelley: I started writing songs when I was nine, and then began submitting them for contests at school. I stumbled upon a guitar in the attic one day and started playing it to write songs with. It wasn't until I moved down to Athens, Georgia, where I went to college, that I really started playing out regularly and writing songs frequently. When I came back to Kentucky I discovered old-time music and picked up the banjo. And here we are.

What were you listening to that inspired you to begin playing music?

Joni Mitchell, Doc Watson, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel.
Cheyenne: An eclectic mix of old greats like the Carter Family and Hank Williams, with some classic 60's/70's rock thrown in there, topped off with some more current things like Radiohead and Bjork.

Joan: The Kingston Trio, Neil Young, J.J. Cale

What was your first instrument and how did that lead to others?

Julia: Piano-voice-guitar-banjo. Someday the fiddle.

Cheyenne: Piano-violin-guitar-banjo. Really once I played violin, anything else with strings was relatively easy to pick up...Not that I'm great at any of them but I can pick out a tune if I need to.

Can you describe when and how Maiden Radio got together and how did your first set of recordings (Maiden Radio) come together?

Cheyenne: We'd been playing together casually for about a year, playing a few shows here and there and starting to get a few larger gigs. We had a group of tunes we wanted to record really simply with one mic and minimal production. The idea was to capture a musical moment that could have happened decades ago or yesterday. Kevin Ratterman at The Funeral Home studio helped us to make that happen. We did it all in 2 days so it forced us to be pleased with imperfections- which we would rather refer to as "charms."

Can you discuss song selection and recording processes?

Cheyenne: Those tunes on the first album were our favorite ones we had put together at that point. We all bring tunes to the table and then figure out which ones would be the most fun and work out the best. "The Reason Why" was one that Joan had written and we arranged for the band- Maiden Radio's first "original" tune...

I actually discovered Maiden Radio's debut after picking up Cheyenne's EP with Bonnie Prince Billy. Since then, I have been following her solo recordings and looking forward to more from Maiden radio. J and J, do you have other musical projects outside of Maiden Radio?

Julia: Nothing formal.

Joan: Playing with Maiden Radio has fed a lot of my solo work. My taste for songwriting was highly informed by listening to Gillian Welch's Time (The Revelator). I like writing a crooning love song just as much as a murder ballad. I've released one album, with another one on the way. With Daniel Martin Moore wearing the producer's hat, we recorded it this past winter (also at the Funeral Home with Kevin). I'm looking forward to releasing that, and in the meantime I play with my band around town.


Can you describe the inspiration for Lullabies?
Julia: I was pregnant and had the idea to record a simple album of lullabies for my daughter. As a baby shower gift, Cheyenne and Joan helped the idea become a reality. I am passing on my love of music to my daughter. One can keep a song forever in one's head and heart and call on it at any time. Emotions and memories are intrinsically linked to music.

You selected such tunes as "Lavender Blue", Gillian Welch's "Dear Someone", and "Go To Sleep Little Baby". Can you discuss how these were chosen for Lullabies?

Julia: "Lavender Blue" is a song that I remember fondly from childhood.  I like the idea of preserving traditional song and passing it along to the next generation in hopes they will do the same. Gillian Welch is a big inspiration of ours. We love the feeling of her songs and appreciate how she can make something new sound like it's a hundred years old, yet still relevant and accessible. We also have fun working up interesting three part harmonies to her songs.

Joan: To start the project, we all brought our favorite lullabies to the table. "All The Pretty Little Horses" has always been my favorite. Dark and mysterious children's songs are fascinating. I am a fan of soothing songs in minor keys and that song might be the root cause.

How does motherhood and family influence the band members' experiences together, as well as  apart?

Julia: My new role as a mother has forced me to put music on the back burner for a while. I am less available to my bandmates and when I am available, I am always distracted with mom-thoughts. 

Watching Julia come into that new role has certainly been an inspiring and eye-opening experience. To watch someone grow a human inside them and then the continued growth of the baby and of the new's truly an amazing thing. I don't know that it's changed us too much as a band except that we used to drink alot more wine at practices!  

How was the record recorded? Can you describe the band's process, inspiration, or influences for this process?

Julia: Minimal rehearsal, and very informal. It was recorded in Cheyenne's attic around one mic. We had originally not intended to release this album to the public, and as a result the recording process felt very relaxed. I think there is an intimate, laid back feeling that comes across when listening to the album... which is what we had intended.

Prior to recording I had internalized a "resting mother's heartbeat" which is about 70 bpm. I wanted the tempo of many of the lullabies to be around this tempo, in hopes that through entrainment, my baby's physiological responses would sync up to the music, resulting in sleep!

How does where you live influence your work? How much does regional music and geography play in your work?

We are definitely lucky to be in Louisville and to have a pretty great old-time community. We have some good friends that organize musical gatherings often, and it's always a great time to just jam with pals, but we also usually learn new tunes to throw in our sets too!

Outside the old-time crowd, too, we have such a rich music scene here. Its one of those towns that attracts a lot of interesting and interested people. Nathan Salsburg, for example, is a friend and sometime collaborator who works for the Alan Lomax archive and lives in Louisville. I asked him once for a mixed CD of some good female singers and in one fell swoop I learned of Mollie Jackson, Sandy Denny, June Tabor, and Hazel Dickens.

Can you discuss the band's relationship? Do you all live in the same place? How often do you play together and perform out together?

I love these ladies.

Cheyenne: Julia and I new each other from the music therapy community after she moved to Louisville. Coincidentally, we also did the same music therapy internship at different times in upstate New York before we really met. Also, Julia and Joan were born in the same small town in Michigan, which we didn't figure out for a while and when we did, it kind of blew our minds. But I met Joan on a camping trip in the summer of 2009 where sparks flew immediately. We played music and sang by the campfire for something like 8 hours straight. I pretty much knew from that moment that the stars had aligned and all I needed to do was to get Joan and Julia into the same room. I did, and the rest is history.

Can you talk about the cover art for Lullabies?

Joan: This image came to me before I set of on some weeks of touring earlier this year. It kept coming up and I kept on liking it and carrying it with me. There's something comforting about setting out into the unknown on a kind ship-woman.

Can you discuss how you connected with Daniel Martin Moore?

We love DMM!

We all have mutual musical friends, but I really got to know DMM on the Dear Companion tour in early 2010. I introduced him to the band and he was smitten upon first listen! He's definitely our biggest fan. And a huge help with documenting our first recording session in photos and now with putting this record out...

Joan: After we recorded the first Maiden Radio record (which features him whistling on "Weary Blues"), I asked Daniel if he would help me produce my second solo record. It was great working with him and we had a lot of fun making it. After that, I joined him on his tour in April, singing harmonies and playing banjo. He's got such an interest in music from every angle that it makes him very easy to work with. I expect to work with him on more projects in the future.

How did you decide to put out Lullabies on his new record label, Ol Kentuck?

Cheyenne: He made his case for releasing it for the general public and offered to do it on his brand-spankin' new label. He's pretty convincing so we said yep!

Will you be touring for Lullabies?

Cheyenne: Due to baby-raising and touring on mine and Joan's part for our solo projects, we won't be touring for the album just yet. We will, however, be playing in Louisville at several events in the coming months, as well as opening for Pokey Lafarge at the end of September. So come on down to Louisville if you wanna hear us live!

Who are some of your biggest influences?

The Carter Family, as well as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings stand out as some of our biggest common influences, especially in the way of harmonies. We are all familiar with Bill Monroe and our bluegrass heritage.

When we first got together, we each burnt a mix for each other. We exchanged music from Dock Boggs, Pearly "Grandma" Davis, Tommy Jarrell, Cousin Emmy, and the Louvin Brothers, to mention a few. I was just starting to play the banjo at the time and my head was full of songs that I was learning from clawhammer banjo collections and CDs from friends.

What have you been listening to lately?

Lots of children's music, new and old. Both Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger's have wonderful childrens' music. Gillian Welch's new album. The Louvin Brothers.

Cheyenne: My new friends Mountain Man, PJ Harvey, a Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba record called I Speak Fula. Unfortunately, not too much of my own music these days since I'm working on a new EP and full-length...

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