Monday, June 18, 2012

Luther Dickinson On His Three New LPs

Luther Dickinson is a prolific artist, songwriter, and performer that is clearly not content with just investing himself in any one of his musical projects. He is a member of the North Mississippi Allstars, South Memphis String Band, The Wandering, and is a high caliber solo artist in his own right.

On May 8th, Luther Dickinson released three new albums: an all-acoustic solo recording called Hambone's Meditations, a new SMSB record called Old Times There, and the full-length debut of his new band The Wandering called Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here.

Hi Luther. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your new recordings. Before we dig into each one, I'd like to ask you what inspires you most on a philosophical and artistic level, and why?

Luther Dickinson: I like old primitive records. They sound timeless to me. Primitive Modernism. I haven't wanted to produce records in a long time but I hate the the way so many modern records sound so much that it inspires me to get back in the game and try to apply my sonic aesthetics and taste. 

Before releasing your new instrumental album, Hambone's Meditations, you participated in the 78 singles series on Tompkins Square. How did you connect with Tompkins Square for the recording?

Luther: Josh (Rosenthal) heard Hambone's Meditations before it was released and contacted me.

I was honored to have the opportunity to make a 78 but intimidated! I love vinyl records and old timey music and the 78 is the ultimate medium in both realms. I had no idea what I wanted to release as a 78 with my name on  it.

The first session I did was unsuccessful except for the fact that I had the idea to record "Beautiful Dreamer". Once I had chosen "Beautiful Dreamer" the other songs fell into place easily. "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", "Peace in the Valley" and "Nobody Knows" are songs I have loved since my childhood. They are touchstones of my early musical and cultural landscape.

You have mentioned guitarist John Fahey as an inspiration for the writing and recording of Hambone's Meditations.

Luther: My father had tried to turn me on to Fahey many times, but I wasn't ready. A guitarist of the Tacoma school and my generation, Jack Rose, led me back to Fahey and it was a huge sigh of relief. I was finally ready. Fahey is a timeless artist who transcended time and space. I was still reeling from my father's passing and also under the spell of my newborn daughter when I wrote these songs.

Can you taking us through your writing and recording processes for the album?

Luther: I enjoyed the freedom of writing for solo acoustic guitar. Many of the songs went places harmonically that my other outlets don't tread. The recording was simple. Ribbon mics and dead strings. We kept the front door open with a mic in the hallway for natural reverb, hence the occasional birds.

Let's move onto The Wandering's Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here. I read that you had the idea to start the group from Valerie June's banjo playing.

Luther: Yes, Valerie's banjo led to Amy's upright, which led to Sharde's drum playing, which led to Shannon's singing.

I have known Sharde since she was a little girl and have been friends with Shannon and Amy for a long time. This project is the first time Valerie and I have worked together and it turns out we see eye to eye on roots music.

Can you describe the chemistry between you all when playing together?

Luther: We all got along and it worked so well! The ladies' musicality was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. They were so sympathetic to and supportive of each other.

Sharde's songs with the Mississippi cane fife alongside the banjo and mandolin symbolized the whole southern roots music experience for me. I asked each lady to bring traditionals they liked. It was funny to see what some of the girls' ideas of a traditional was!

Can you discuss the recording of the album (which was all captured in 3 days!)?

Luther: Ribbon mics, live vocals and dead guitar strings! If you can commit to live vocals and get a real recording of a moment, there are no problems. It is the modern (as in the 1960s on) inventions in the studio that make it hard. Keep it real, simple and honest.

The third album you released on May 8th is the new South Memphis String Band record, Old Times There. How did this one all come together?

Luther: It has been so hard to get us together lately that we were all thrilled to get together and do our thing. A few laughs were had.. Jimbo kept coughing really badly and I kept referring to the record as "The Last Sessions." Stuff like that. The truth does come out in jest and we keep it real! We are setting the movement back.

Alvin wanted to shine a light on socially and politically conscious protest music of the past which had always been performed in the camouflage of blues, jug/string band music.. It is so American to act like none of the unpleasantries of the past never happened. This old music is important art and is here for us to reflect on in modern times..

How collaborative is the writing, arranging, and recording of the new record?

Luther: Alvin is the boss but Jimbo may be subversively persuasive.

Reflecting on your experiences in crafting these three albums/ projects, what would you say connects these together for you?

Luther: Ribbon mics, dead guitar string and live vocals.

What have you been listening to lately that has been significantly inspiring?

Luther: I dig Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell, Robert Ellis, Seasick Steve and Silly Symhonies.

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