Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cheyenne Marie Mize Discusses Her New Album "We Don't Need"

I first discovered Cheyenne Marie Mize through her six-song collaboration with Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) called Among The Gold.  I enjoyed it so much that I began digging around online and realized that in addition to working with Mr. Oldham, Ms. Mize has also been prolifically teaming up with the likes of Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and her partners in her band, Maiden Radio.

Last year, Maiden Radio released their second album, Lullabies, via Daniel Martin Moore's new record label Ol Kentuck (read my interview with Maiden Radio here). This week, Cheyenne Marie Mize delivers her second solo offering, We Don't Need (via Yep Roc).

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Ms. Mize, and discuss her previous recordings, her experiences working with some of the most exciting artists today, as well as chat a bit on the making of her latest recording.

I'd like to start by asking you about your early musical experiences. When did you begin inspired to learn, play, and write your own music? (feel free to dig into this as much as you would like, or be brief).

Cheyenne Marie Mize: My musical family members were my first inspirations. My grandmother played Carter family style guitar and sang classic country on the radio when she was young in the 1940's. My aunt played piano and loved to sing some of the female greats like Bonnie Raitt and Carole King. My uncle taught me my first song on guitar, "Sweet Home Alabama," when I was about 11. My parents both worked in the radio business in the 70's and had a killer record collection that I grew up listening to.

So I grew up with music all around me, but it was never forced on me. I have some old tapes of me singing songs to my grandmother when I was about 3, so I think I've always been singing. And I remember writing songs when I was younger to pass the time (I was an only child living on a farm), but I didn't really begin writing any of them down or remembering them until a few years ago.

What would you say inspired you the most early on?

Cheyenne: I remember the first time I heard my mom singing in the car and realized that she wasn't singing the melody but something different. I was probably about 10, and I decided immediately that I was going to figure out how to do that. Hearing harmonies has been huge in my writing, in singing with my old-time band Maiden Radio, and all the collaborating and back-up singing I've been able to do so far.

If I had to pick one album that really changed the way I looked at music it would have to be Radiohead's "OK Computer". That was my high school anthem. On the bus, in the car, in the morning, every night. It was an entirely new world of music to me, and I lived in that world, and it was good. 

Can you discuss how Louisville influenced your musical development?

Cheyenne: I moved to Louisville when I was 10. That was also the time that I started playing some guitar and playing violin in the school orchestra. Skip forward to partner at the time was very much in the Louisville music scene and eventually became the music editor at the local independent weekly. So I was introduced to a huge world of all different kinds of music and began playing violin and singing in a bunch of local bands.

I played with so-loud-your-ears-bleed rock bands, indie rock groups, a roots/bluegrass band, as well in the orchestra at the University of Louisville. I never felt pigeon-holed, that's for sure. And through these connections, I met Will Oldham and Ben Sollee, both of whom I eventually toured with and began my more music-performing based life.

Can you talk about the first Maiden Radio record? How and when did you all came together as a band? How did that experience influence your progression moving forward?

Cheyenne: I met Julia Purcell through the music therapy world. We both randomly did the same internship in upstate New York, and she moved to Louisville for a job. We always talked about playing more music together, but it didn't happen until I met Joan Shelley in the summer of 2009. I knew the universe had aligned and all I had to do was get the three of us in the same room. (Also randomly Julia and Joan were born in the same little town in Michigan.)

Luckily they were into it and we began playing together regularly. We finally got a group of songs together that we wanted to record, which we did in about 3 days, mostly around one microphone at The Funeral Home with Kevin Ratterman engineering. 

I discovered Maiden Radio when I picked up your Among The Gold 10" w/ Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Will Oldham). How did you and Mr. Oldham connect and decide to work together?

There's a band called Thomas A. Minor & The Picket Line who was going to back up Bonnie "Prince" for a show in the summer of 2008 at a mystical place called Funtown. They needed a fiddle player who could sing the female parts on BPB's current release at the time, Lie Down In The Light.

The band and I had mutual friends and I started practicing with them. After a couple rehearsals it became clear that it was a good fit, and Will asked if I would join his touring band the next year. Then over the rest of the months in 2008 he helped me record Among The Gold and he ended up singing vocals on all the six songs we chose.

(Hey Readers: check out Bonnie "Prince" Billy & The Picket Line's live recording Funtown Comedown)

Can you discuss the concept and process of selecting material for "Among The Gold"?

Cheyenne: In my music therapy studies, I had come across a few old songs that I really connected with. The melodies and chord progressions were so lovely and I heard all the harmony possibilities and I knew I wanted to record versions of them someday. Preserving and bringing new life to old music is so important to me.

These songs jumped out as being the most beautiful, as far as me actually being able to play the chords and sing the melodies. I knew I wanted Will to sing on a couple of them, but as we got into it, it was clear that the whole record needed to be duets.

What was most rewarding for you working with Mr. Oldham on Among The Gold?

Cheyenne: It was all such an enjoyable experience. A small room, in a beautiful home, with a couple chairs, a computer, and a couple microphones, and nothing more to do than make sweet music. 

Can you discuss how you connected with Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore? Can you describe your experiences working together?

Cheyenne: Ben and I were in orchestra together at U of L. We used to steal away to the practice rooms and jam fiddle tunes. We were some of the only folks who were into playing non-classical music, so we immediately clicked. Then over the years I was able to collaborate with him more closely, from playing in the string quartet on Learning to Bend, then joining him for some shows playing violin and singing backup, to co-writing a song on his new album Inclusions.

I met Daniel Martin Moore when he and Ben asked me to be a part of the Dear Companion touring band. He is one of my favorite people on this planet. He also is Maiden Radio's biggest fan. He photographed our recording session for the first album, and he recently helped us put out our Lullabies record on his new label, Ol' Kentuck.

I love those men. Good Kentucky fellas... 

Can you briefly discuss the writing and recording processes of your next album, Before Lately?

Cheyenne: I had a handful of songs that I had recorded on my computer over the years. After touring a solid part of 2009 with the Bonnie "Prince" Billy band, I had some time and wanted to try to record them in a more professional way. Danny Kiely at In Room One studio here in Louisville helped me to re-record those songs as well as a few new ones that I had more recently written. Then in the early part of 2010, I recorded a few extra songs with Kevin Ratterman and mixed it with Duane Lundy at Shangri-la Studio in Lexington...and "voila"!

I think I had different inspirations for the sounds of each of the songs. Simplicity and space and mood were always at the forefront though.

In between Before Lately and We Don't Need, Maiden Radio released their second album, Lullabies. Can you you briefly describe working on the album?

Cheyenne: Julia was pregnant, and as a gift to her, we wanted to record an album of lullabies with mostly her singing and with super-simple instrumentation. We recorded it in my attic with one microphone and my computer. It was very intimate and sweet, and I still tear up every time I hear and/or sing those songs. Those ladies make my heart sing and that amount of good carries over everywhere.

Before we dig into your new record specifically, I'd like to ask you if you can describe your own musical philosophy, openness, and willingness to try out new things as a songwriter, musician, and artist? What is most rewarding for you by working in such diverse ways, and how do these projects feed each other and influence each other?

Cheyenne: I have really different parts to my musical life. It is certainly helpful to pull from all of those places when I can, but it's sometimes hard for all those influences to congeal. But I know how many different types of music I love and I can only imagine that most other people also have those varying interests. So I have no problem at all moving in multiple directions at the same time until one direction pulls me more than another. It's less of a conscious decision to do as many different things as possible, and more just a function of my passion for all things musical.

When I first heard We Don't Need, I was struck with the sound of the record. Sonically, the album seems to offer a fresh, heightened-sense of experimentation, as well as an exciting expansion of the instrumentation and arrangements. How did this develop?

Cheyenne: As opposed to Before Lately, I didn't have all the exact arrangements completely set for the songs on We Don't Need until I got into the process of recording them. My recording engineer Kevin Ratterman also was co-producing, so he had a great deal to do with the overall sound of the songs, as well as the digital drums and post-production work.    

Can you discuss how the acts of exploration and experimentation played into your process this time around? Was this a preconceived direction, or did just happen over time?

Cheyenne: We Don't Need is definitely more a collection of six songs than it is a cohesive six-song album. These particular songs were floating around, and I didn't think they would necessarily find a home on my next full-length album. It made sense to just get them out into the world however I could.

I don't think I consciously made a decision to go in any particular direction, but in the recording process, each song seemed to have its own little world with different needs, instrumentation and otherwise. I tried to stay true to that more than to try to make them similar to one another. 

All of the songs except for "Back Around" were written going into the studio and most of them I had already been performing for a while. But definitely once the basics were tracked, each song begged for different things and Kevin and I did what we could to find what those things were. "Back Around" was definitely a big experiment. I feel like we could record it 100 times and each time it would have come out differently.   

Can you discuss your lyrical inspiration for the new material?

Cheyenne: I wrote "Wishing Well" one night while trying to keep myself awake, driving home alone to Louisville. I don't really know where it came from, but it was done by the time I was home and my steering wheel was the only accompanying instrument.

I wrote "It Lingers" after having a dream about a past relationship...the idea that situations you think you're over can come back over and over again, and trying to let go of those things. I think it's pretty obvious that most of my other lyrical material is also relationship based. Oh, relationships...  

How did you connect with Yep Roc for the release of We Don't Need?

Cheyenne: My manager works hard! He did an amazing job at finding ears for the record and eventually a label home at Yep Roc. It is really wonderful to be working with a team whose first priority is making sure that great music is put out into the world. I just feel lucky to be a part of the family now.

Now that the album is finished, and you will be embarking on a tour to support the record, do you have any predictions as to where this experience may lead you next?

OK, so here's the funny thing. I actually just finished the bulk of tracking for a full-length record to come out later next year, so the studio time is all getting conflated in my mind. I will say that working with Kevin in recording these songs was an absolute blast and the final sounds are certainly above and beyond my expectations.

What can fans expect from your live set?

Cheyenne: I stick to almost all original solo material, although we throw a cover in every once in a while for fun. I have an amazing drummer and a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass, sings, and also plays drums. We've been having a great time figuring out how best to arrange my songs for our setup. I play a little keys, a little guitar, and a little violin when I can work it in.

What are your plans for 2012?

Play, work, play, and work. Of course, by work, I mean play more! As I just mentioned, I just got the bulk of the work done on another album for later in the year, so luckily this gives me the opportunity to be out and about as much as possible. Otherwise, I'd like to work in some camping, lots of swimming, maybe a houseboat trip, and voting for Obama.

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