Monday, April 16, 2012
Joan Shelley (of Maiden Radio) Offers Us "Ginko"
Singer-songwriter Joan Shelley may be best known as a member of Maiden Radio. As one-third of the band, along with her partners Julia Purcell and Cheyenne Marie Mize (who released her latest solo album, We Don't Need, via Yep Roc earlier this year), Maiden Radio followed up their self-titled album from 2010, with a ridiculously enjoyable follow-up called Lullabies last year (via Daniel Martin Moore's Ol Kentuck Recordings label).
For her much anticipated new solo album, Ginko, (which was released on April 12th, and is her first for Ol Kentuck Recordings), Ms. Shelley has brought in an impressive list of collaborators including multi-instrumentalist Daniel Martin Moore, cellist Ben Sollee, guitarist Nathan Salsburg, the ladies of Maiden Radio (Ms. Purcell and Ms. Mize), and more.
For a little taste of what Joan Shelley has to offer on Ginko, check out this live version of "Siren" recorded in, of all places, a car wash:
Everybody's Hugging Joan Shelley from Kertis Creative on Vimeo.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Joan Shelley, which is the first time we spoke since my interview with Maiden Radio last year regarding their Lullabies record. We discussed her new solo record, as well as her creative and collaborative processes along the way. Here's our chat:
Can you discuss your experiences leading up to the writing of the tunes for Ginko?
Joan Shelley: The songs from this album come mostly from the period before and right after Maiden Radio made our first album together, before Lullabies. When we recorded that first album, that’s when I really got to know two of the key players that would be a big part of Ginko: Daniel Martin Moore, who was taking photos of the session and whistled on the song “Weary Blues,” and Kevin Ratterman, who engineered and recorded it.
Kevin did an amazing job capturing the sounds we wanted, and Daniel would hang out with him in the control room, being a second pair of ears. They were quite the dynamic duo. That’s when I decided to ask Daniel and Kevin to work together with me on my next record.
How and when did the record begin to take shape?
Joan: The record emerged without any preconceived direction, mostly written during a period in which I moved around a lot, physically and emotionally. What emerged, after some editing, was a collection of songs that exposed the beauty and the grief of a particular period of desire.
The album took form as the band formed. Daniel had worked with Ben Sollee and Daniel Joseph Dorff on several occasions. I was familiar with their music and so glad when they accepted our invitation. Ben would play the bass, and Dan the percussion.
The three of us practiced the songs intensively for about a week, before we went into the studio. Their presence gave the songs a mood and a space to live in. It was one of the most rewarding parts of the process of making Ginko.
How and when did you begin writing for the album?
Joan: It’s difficult to say when the beginning was. There was a moment in rehearsals where a line from an Archie Fischer song, “The Final Trawl” snuck into the song “Siren.” The line was, “and we’ll join the Venture and the Morning Star, singing haul away my laddie-o.” A group called Obscure Handsome Brothers (which includes two contributors to this album: Nathan Salsburg and Joe Manning) had played a version of that song and so it was in my head. We were trying to figure out the ending for “Siren” when Ben Sollee suggested we put in a part of a shanty song. This folk song came to mind, I yelled into the next room at Joe to sing the line to me, and there it was, it fit perfectly in the song.
Which artists and albums were most influential and inspiring to you during this time?
Joan: During that time period I was stuck on Neil Young’s On the Beach and Songs of Leonard Cohen. Also, I rediscovered my love for Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence and Van Morrison’s album Moondance. Before the session, I had those albums in a stack, with some others, with the aim of driving the sounds of the albums into my skull.
Meanwhile, I was playing a lot with some friends who play old-time music. I was getting exposed to old songs and the voices of Doc Boggs, Hazel Dickens, and Margaret Barry. They were songs sung like there were as old as time. Some were as old as time. The modal tunes really drew me in.
Can you describe your songwriting processes both musically and lyrically?
Joan: A melody usually happens first, when I’m cleaning or playing around on a new instrument. Developing the songs requires I put down some kind of sound recorder and say whatever comes out. Then I listen back and edit, repeat. And then sometimes it’s nothing like that.
You are joined with a number of excellent musicians and songwriters on Ginko including cellist Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, Cheyenne Marie Mize and Julia Purcell (of Maiden Radio), and guitarist Nathan Salsburg. Can you discuss working with these artists?
Joan: Besides Ben and Dan Dorff, most of the musicians featured on the album were people I met within the year before we recorded Ginko. Cheyenne, Joe Manning, Julia, and Nathan Salsburg were musicians whose talents I admired deeply. By the time we went to record it, these people were deeply ingrained in my musical experience and so having them be a part of the album was not a question.
Certain songs owe their existence to some of these people’s voices and styles specifically. For instance, “By the Ohio” was written with Julia and Cheyenne’s voices in my head. “Unbound” was shaped by the voice and guitar of Joe Manning, as “Ginko” was by Ben and Dan and their sense of rhythm. Cheyenne’s violin and banjo playing adds such attitude and moodiness throughout the album.
Kevin Ratterman was such an inspiration during the process. He seems to have endless enthusiasm and energy. He would get inspired to put Dan and I in one room and record the drums, guitar and vocals all on one mic, as with with “Into the Sea.” I love working with Kevin. Then Daniel was behind the scenes, coaxing all of this out of me and getting everyone together and working creatively. You could say it all came together just because of him.
Can you discuss the album artwork?
Joan: Daniel took the photos that now cover the outside and inside of the album. The images really captured the spirit of The Funeral Home where the album was recorded. The cover photo was taken on some old color film that Daniel had. The blown out image captures that morning light when, after weeks in the studio, we get in there early, make some coffee, and sit in the control room with the window open and listen to what we had.
What have you been listening to lately?
Joan: Lots of Irma Thomas, Sandy Denny's The Northstar Grassman and the Ravens, Mucca Pazza's Plays Well Together, Bonnie “Prince” Billy's Lie Down In The Light, Doug Paisley's Constant Companion, and The Hollows' Sweetie EP.
Will you be touring for Ginko in 2012?
Joan: This summer the band is going to tour around the midwest, as far as we can within a weekend (making it work with everybody’s work schedule).
Daniel (Martin Moore) and I will be touring more extensively around the states and in Europe for our upcoming "Farthest Field" album that we recorded this winter, which will be out in May. You can read more about the album on the Ol Kentuck Recordings website here: http://www.olkentuck.com/artists/danielmartinmoore_joanshelley