Transformation, Rebirth, and Unsolved Mysteries Inspired Latest Marissa Nadler LP The Path of the Clouds

Photo by Nick Fancher

Marissa Nadler binged Unsolved Mysteries during lockdown. Among other things, obviously – the Boston-based “dream folk” songwriter took piano lessons, and wrote, recorded and produced her ninth solo album The Path of the Clouds, out October 29 on Sacred Bones/Bella Union. These activities are less unrelated than you might think, as the long-running true crime show inspired several songs on the record.

The implied brutality doesn’t track at first, set against the notion of Nadler’s sparse acoustic riffs, carried higher into the heavens by her now-iconic mezzo-soprano. She notes, though, that the stories that inspired her most were not necessarily the most violent, but rather, perhaps, the most mysterious: the ones of those who disappeared, never to be found.

“That concept of starting a life again was something I found very interesting, and personally related to,” she explains. “Just the concept that maybe if these people did make it, that they were able to recreate themselves. In some ways, I’ve gone through some transitions in my life that made the overlaps kind of clear.”

That idea of transformation, of being reborn, plays central to the record. Acclaimed for her brilliant guitar playing and haunting vocals over the course of her nearly twenty-year career as a songwriter, she’s got some consistently big shoes to keep filled. Music critics (perhaps worth noting, male critics) frequently ascribe the siren narrative to her: Pitchfork wrote in a glowing review for 2004’s Ballads of Living and Dying that hers was “the sort of voice that you’d follow straight to Hades,” and in a 2006 article, The Boston Globe said, “She has a voice that, in mythological times, could have lured men to their deaths at sea, an intoxicating soprano drenched in gauzy reverb that hits bell-clear heights, lingers, and tapers off like rings of smoke.”

Without projecting anything onto Nadler myself, I can imagine that such consistent, albeit well-deserved praise, praise evoking the divine, might weigh one down with a certain type of pressure to perform, to repeat successes. Which, I think, is what makes The Path of the Clouds not only special, but perhaps Nadler’s most impressive album yet. Her yearning for transformation, for definition on her own terms, shines through with the experimental risks she took not only in the lyricism itself, but in the scope of the instrumentation too; the album features piano, woodwind and synthetic elements, what she calls “a return to some of the spacy stuff that I’ve always liked,” i.e. the Pink Floyd records she grew up on. It’s ambitious and complex, evidence of an artist in constant evolution.

Despite the inherent anxiety and downsides, the pandemic offered her space to try new things time to be “very creatively fruitful.” Thematically, it strays from earlier work. “A lot of these songs are more about personal growth and change, instead of some of my early records, [which] were lovelorn, heartbroken,” she says. “There’s a lot less of that on this record, and more about a personal journey.”

Meanwhile, her experimentation with other instruments played into the LP’s different sound. Though her piano teacher Jesse Chandler ultimately played keys on the record, she wrote much of it on a piano. “If you’ve been playing an instrument like the guitar for a long time you get stuck, or you gravitate towards certain chord progressions,” she explains. “But when you sit at a piano, your fingers go to different places. Chord progressions that are harder to play on the guitar are easier on the piano, and little things like that gave a lot of melodic inspiration to me.”

We are left with eleven songs about “metamorphosis, love, mysticism and murder.” While the fresh instrumentation is best displayed with the sweeping grandeur of tracks like “Elegy,” the lyrical storytelling shines on the Unsolved Mysteries-inspired tracks. On “Bessie, Did You Make It?,” she asks just that: “Did you make it on your own?” She inverts the traditional murder ballad narrative, one where victim becomes survivor in a stunning journey of resilience. Similarly, the title track tells the story of plane hijacker D.B. Cooper who famously hijacked a Boeing 727 in 1971, escaped by jumping out and purportedly faking his own death. In Nadler’s hands, it becomes a tale of mastering your own fate and going out on your own terms.

In many ways, perhaps that’s what the pandemic offered Nadler: the chance to disappear and start over. And she did, subverting our expectations to give us something fresher, fuller. This didn’t just apply to her musical practice – a RISD-trained fine artist, she’s honing her painting practice and seeking gallery representation as a visual artist, training she’s also applying to her music videos, while also exploring the idea of film scoring, an intuitive next step for music so cinematic and rife with drama. Considering what the first twenty years of Nadler’s career have offered us, I look forward to what she brings us with the next twenty, with each reborn version of herself.

Follow Marissa Nadler on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Bella Union Founder Simon Raymonde Finds Creative Balance with Lost Horizons

Photo Courtesy of the Artist

When we met on a recent video call, Simon Raymonde was in the studio he built in his garden just a few years ago. “It’s my happy place, really,” he says. “It’s a real treat to me to have this place, to be able to come in here and actually make music.” 

Initially, Raymonde was best known as a musician – the longtime bassist for Cocteau Twins, who played on albums like 1986’s The Pink Opaque, 1988’s Blue Bell Knoll and 1990’s Heaven or Las Vegas. Following their split, Raymonde continued to make music here and there, but much of his energy went into his label, Bella Union. Since 1997, the indie label has amassed a roster of critically acclaimed artists, releasing music from the likes of Beach House, Father John Misty, Spiritualized, and The Flaming Lips.  

In recent years, though, Raymonde struck a balance between musician life and label life. He teamed up with drummer Richie Thomas, who had been part of Dif Juz and toured with Jesus and Mary Chain, Felt and Cocteau Twins, to form Lost Horizons. They released debut album, Ojalá, in 2017 and the first half of sophomore effort, In Quiet Moments, last December.  The second part of the album is out today, February 26. 

For Raymonde, the music that he creates now in his studio doesn’t necessarily have to be for a project. It can be music that exists solely for himself. “I can’t believe I wasted so much time not making music and missing it so much,” he says, “but now I’m happy.”

Several years ago, when Raymonde was preparing for Bella Union’s 20th anniversary, something was amiss. “I guess I should have been feeling really happy with, proud of, the achievement of making it this far, which I am and was,” he says. After some thought, he realized that it was because he wasn’t making music all that often. 

“I just think I was not managing my time right,” he says. Raymonde also had a change of scenery. After growing frustrated with life in London, he moved to Brighton in 2012. He and his wife now live just outside of the city, where he can see the sea from his window and take his Labrador for walks along the beach twice a day. It’s been a major quality-of-life improvement, he says. 

He says too that he had a “mental block” related to the dissolution of Cocteau Twins. “I needed to grieve that, I think, better than I had,” Raymonde admits. “Once I worked out why that was, I asked myself, ‘What are you going to do?'” Raymonde had wanted to work with Thomas. “I adore his style of playing and I thought it would be fun and I just wanted to have fun, to be honest with you. I didn’t really ever think, ‘I need to make a record.'” 

Lost Horizons’ songs begin with jam sessions between Raymonde and Thomas. From there, Raymonde will tinker with the arrangements and incorporate additional instruments in his studio. Once the instrumentals are at least roughly finished, he’ll start looking for the appropriate guest vocalist. “You’ve got to think about what’s right for this tune,” he says, “and that part of it I really, really, really love.” 

In Quiet Moments clocks in at one hour, 14 minutes, and it’s an eclectic album, stylistically ranging from the groovy title track to the ethereal “Every Beat That Passed,” with Swedish singer Kavi Kwai on vocals, to the dark, noisy rock of “One For Regret,” featuring British band Porridge Radio. Each of the 16 tracks features a different vocalist, including John Grant, Marissa Nadler, Karen Peris of Innocence Mission and many more.

The length and breadth of the album is why it was initially released in two parts. Raymonde explains that a traditional campaign might have confused potential listeners. “I thought the idea of spreading the whole thing out a bit over a longer period, and releasing a lot more tracks during the build up, would give people more of a clue as to what was going,” he says. “Splitting it into two parts was a way of achieving that, so at least people have something at Christmas time to listen to online in one place and then they get everything at the end of February with a full vinyl release.”

One of the standouts is the title track, which features vocals from veteran soul singer Ural Thomas, who had performed with such artists as James Brown and Otis Redding, and now leads Portland-based soul band Ural Thomas & the Pain. Ural Thomas’s collaborators “started sending me bits and pieces of demos of [his] tracks” Raymonde says, and he fell for the music. Meanwhile, he was sitting with a mellow, contemplative instrumental that he and Richie Thomas had recorded for Lost Horizons; it needed a vocal that would add soul and mystery, and “all I could think about was Ural Thomas,” he says. Raymonde reached out to see if there was interest in a collaboration, and of course, the rest is history. “That came so organically and out of the blue,” says Raymonde.

It was the kind of serendipitous collaboration that reflects the balance Raymonde strikes between his A&R ear and his skill as a musician and producer. Says Raymonde, “I’ve been incredibly lucky and very grateful with all the contributions, because it would just be 16 instrumentals without them.”

Follow Lost Horizons on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

A.A. Williams Gets Moody on Debut Forever Blue with Heavy Collabs

A.A. Williams is a classically trained pianist and cellist, a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and vocalist. Her beautiful, dark debut album Forever Blue was recorded in the two-bedroom North London apartment she shares with her husband, bassist Thomas Williams.

Released in July via Bella Union, Forever Blue combines Williams’ skillful classical arrangements with post-rock and metal elements from guest vocalists Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg of Swedish metal band Cult of Luna. While other artists may have felt out of their depth with recording an album from home, Williams says, “I didn’t think too hard about it, I just got on with it really.”

Williams’ process is to record demos then take the elements and refine them in post production. The beauty of Forever Blue is that much of the material from the demos remains on the final album. “It wasn’t necessarily our plan to record the album at home in our apartment,” she says. “But we didn’t have to worry about paying and booking a studio this way. It was made before COVID-19, so it wasn’t the product of lockdown. Ultimately, the demo sounds like a less shiny product of the original, which I like. A lot of what I do in the demo stays, to be honest, so a lot of that original stuff landed on the album.”

On Forever Blue, Williams did all the guitars, the cellos, the keyboard instruments and all the vocals. “Having the ability to play the cello is so handy because I can put strings on stuff, but I’ve done it for so long, I consider it usual,” she says. “My dog makes a few appearances on the record. The sounds of North London, ambulances from the nearby hospital, are on there too.”

The lack of perfection or flawless production gives Forever Blue a raw element, “not shiny-shiny,” as Williams says. This is also part of the joy of working with her husband, who is on the same page in terms of writing and producing.

“It’s great working with my husband,” she confides. “Some people aren’t good at working with their partner, but for us, it works so well. He takes care of all the bass stuff; I trust his instincts a musician so I let him write and play his parts. It’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off [who will] be honest.”

Less familiar were Persson and Kihlberg, but the pairing was fortuitous. The duets are both ferocious and bleak, born of an unpredictable idea perhaps, but a musical match that makes sense on the album. “I didn’t know the Cult of Luna guys personally but we shared the same booking agent,” Williams explains. “My agent sent Johannes my first EP and we communicated by emails so it was easy to sort out. We did it all remotely since they were in Sweden and I was in the UK, but it was awesome to work with them. We went on tour together last November so it was nice to meet each other properly, touring around Europe.”

After a childhood and teenage years spent learning classical instruments including cellos and the piano, Williams’ first discovery of heavy music came from an unlikely place: a movie soundtrack. “When I was younger, movies were a great way for me to discover music,” she says. “I’d seen The Matrix and my parents bought me the soundtrack. It had Deftones’ ‘My Own Summer‘ on it and it blew my mind, and also Marilyn Manson, Rammstein and Rage Against The Machine. I loved the Spawn soundtrack too. Lost Highway had a great soundtrack.”

Williams’ album is cinematic in that same way, but also confessional, both melancholy and fierce in turns. I wonder whether any of the songs still hit her emotionally, viscerally?

“I’ve known my music since it was a tiny little seed, so you can never have the experience of listening to it for the first time,” she says. “I’ve been hanging out with the songs for six months before anyone else hears them. I have a closer relationship with the songs in terms of performing them live rather than songs to just listen to.”

Not that performing live is on the schedule of many musicians at present, though Williams has overcome logistical obstacles to do social media streams. “It’s hard work to do the live performance on social media,” Williams admits. “This is one of the blessings and curses of this pandemic. It’s forced us to learn new stuff and communicate in new ways and to think outside the box. The logistics are not quite so simple. Having said that, it was super fun. It was so nice to be able to get together and make some noise.”

Williams’ next task is to return to writing, a process she’d normally take to local cafes in order to prevent binge watching TV or cleaning instead. “Usually, my songs start with piano and voice, or guitar and voice. I work on the chord progression, speed and key first, then I start to vocalise a melody on top. From there, usually I record the instrumental part and take my little notebook and sit in coffee shops humming away for a long time – getting funny looks. Then, once I’ve got the melody and the instrumentation, I build the layers up.”

While she has not considered the specifics of her next album, nor is she writing with this front of mind at the moment, Forever Blue has provided her the confidence to approach the next album with one under her belt. The critical acclaim certainly doesn’t hurt, either. But, in her humble and sweet way, Williams is more interested in talking about her dog, who makes frequent appearances on her Twitter feed. “Everyone needs some pictures of small dogs in their lives,” she says.

Follow A.A. Williams on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

ONLY NOISE: The Ethos of Ezra Furman


It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress. Shit, I have a hard time with it, and I lack the pesky external organ complicating the endeavor to begin with. However, Ezra Furman’s ballsiness goes far beyond his ability to look excellent in a miniskirt. And he does look excellent.

The Chicago native has been on the music circuit for over eight years now, but has just begun to make international waves since the release of his 2015 LP Perpetual Motion People last spring. PMP was Furman’s inaugural release on the acclaimed Bella Union label, and its positive reception has had him touring extensively, including a few dates we covered in New York and a set at Glastonbury earlier this summer.

Backed by his band, the Boy-Friends, Furman’s sound is unlike anything else on the current scene. It is rock n’ roll at the end of the day, but a translation incorporating a love of everything from doo-wop to Lou Reed to the Replacements. The strength of Furman’s frenetic, wavering rasp and saxophonist Tim Sandusky’s screeching melodies truly distinguish their sound from contemporaries.

Recently, Furman has released a lone single off of his upcoming EP Big Fugitive Life, which will be out August 19 on Bella Union. “Teddy I’m Ready,” the EP’s first track is an absolute anthem, pairing thundering drums with delicate guitar builds, cooing harmonies, and of course, the requisite sax licks. It is a ballad that suggests Furman has stadium potential.

The EP itself is actually a collection of “orphaned songs,” as Furman put it in a press release. He continues to explain the relevance of this particular selection of work:

“They are focused on the theme of the mind unmoored–those of us who have been left to drift unsupervised through the modern world. Four of these tracks were originally intended for inclusion on ‘Perpetual Motion People’. Two of them were for ‘The Year of No Returning’. But they weren’t ready until now.

The first three songs are our vision of rock and roll. A madness that overtakes your mind and body. It’s wanting to go somewhere you’ve never been, knowing you’re on your way. The second side is acoustic guitar as open wound, a troubled mind on display. Emotional in a different way, tender like a bruise. It includes “The Refugee,” my first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.

We dedicate this record to refugees of all kinds, all over the world. May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and and may those with power welcome them as fellow citizens of humanity.”

It may have been while reading these words, in simply reading a press release, that something finally clicked for me regarding Furman: this is an artist who actually gives a shit. Pop culturally speaking, we’ve long been on hiatus from making political statements. Irony has pervaded, the urge to be nonchalant and, god help me for saying it, chill has been rife, and it’s still pretty rare for an independent artist to speak in earnest about the sort of topics Furman tackles. A few of those being, but not limited to:

Gender Identity/Body Positive Issues

In a beautiful piece that Furman wrote for The Guardian last year, the artist explains the struggle he’s faced understanding his own sexual orientation and gender identity. He credits musicians like Bowie, Lou Reed, Antony Hegarty, and Grace Jones (to name a few) for helping him accept his own ambiguity. He elaborates on his current state of pleasant uncertainty:

“The full list of musicians who don’t conform to traditional gender roles, of course, would be nearly endless, and more and more appear every year, whether by debuting their work or coming out as trans or gender fluid.

Over the past few years, I’ve added myself to this list, performing more and more often in clothing, makeup and jewellery traditionally intended for women and girls. I’d like to set the record straight (so to speak): this behaviour is not just part of an onstage persona, nor is it a gimmick to get people’s attention. Gender fluidity is very much a part of my life offstage, though I am still exploring what it means. I’ve not quite decided on a gender identity, I may never decide, and that’s all right with me. I am proud to exist in an ambiguous, undecided state.”

Mental Health

Furman has been equally open about his struggles with mental health and depression since the inception of his career. Perpetual Motion People comes with a lengthy letter from Furman, admitting a very dire time he faced after graduating college. He goes into detail about a period of time when he wanted to kill himself, and then leads the reader out of that darkness into his recovery, sharing a long poem called “FOAM FACTORY” directly after. It seems as though whatever difficulty Furman has grappled with in the past, he wants to share it, and he wants to be a device in the healing of others afflicted with similar issues. And that’s no small thing.

Social Unrest

Before he signed with Bella Union, Furman was still churning out an admirable amount of material, some of it highlighting admirable topics. Shortly after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, Furman released the song “Ferguson’s Burning” to exhibit his solidarity with the Brown family, which goes thus:

When the fires burn out/And the tear gas disperses/When the work is all done/For the doctors and the nurses/The cops may stop shooting/And the street get less wild/But Michael Brown’s mother/Will never get back her child/And the hatred and fear/That America harbors/Will only grow bigger/Beneath big body armor/So keep a close eye on our laws and our leaders/No justice for Mike Brown/There’s none for you either

Ferguson’s burning/And the world’s turning away/Turning away

It isn’t too often that you come across an artist like Furman. He is swiftly becoming much more than a musician – he is becoming a movement – a fully rigged artistic piece complete with a mission statement. A truly unique songwriter, performer, and character, one of the best things Furman leaves one with is a sense of confusion.

When I think of Ezra Furman, my music critic reflexes always ask: “Who can I lump him in with? What trend did he sprout from?” But there is no answer. He is not the last cry of the folk-revival scene, or the latest electro-pop outfit, or another fucking “dream pop” act. He is, undeniably, Ezra Furman. And he’s not going anywhere.


ALBUM REVIEW: Money “Suicide Songs”


Glancing at the tracklist for Money’s sophomore LP Suicide Songs, one might suspect singer/songwriter Jamie Lee has a tenuous relationship with subtlety. Titular track aside, the record touts audacious titles such as “Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year” and opening anthem “I am the Lord.” The album art is no less provocative, featuring a par-naked Lee balancing a knife on his forehead. Though these names and images may seem flippant on paper, the gorgeous density of Money’s music elevates them contextually; there isn’t a scrap of irony to be had here.

The Mancunian band made a grand entrance with their debut record The Shadow of Heaven (Bella Union) in 2013, a dazzling hymnal pop opus that is nothing if not beautiful and original. The album dealt with dense themes, manifesting in songs such as “So Long (God is Dead)” and “The Cruelty of Godliness.”

In keeping with the last record, Lee is approaching concepts laden with baggage and trying to look at them from a different vantage point, perhaps imbuing them with new meaning along the way.

“Above all else, I’m just trying to project and portray a poetic truth,” Lee said in a press release. “Suicide is about anonymity, to the point where you don’t exist, which I definitely feel in my songwriting and as a person. But rather than writing myself out of anonymity, I want to remain there, in this record at least. It’s recognizing a kind of sacrificial nature, in making artistic choices. By rummaging around in your feelings and trying to make sense of life, to the detriment of your health, there might be some poetic value to what you have created.”

In a strange way, despite the intensity of Suicide Songs, it does seem Lee has achieved a sort of anonymity, if only due to the force of the album’s instrumental arrangements. His vocals are less pristine on this new material…there is a drunk and snarling slouch to them, and they easily surrender to the orchestral maelstrom of each track. He sounds raw, worn and drowned by desperation, but with good reason. In a press release, Lee confirms that he “wanted the album to sound like it was ‘coming from death’ which is where these songs emerged.”

It seemed that The Shadow Of Heaven would be a difficult act to follow up, but this new record is nowhere near slumping. Instead, it’s leaping upwards towards vast sonic peaks employing horns, strings, choirs, sorrow, and pandemonium. It is, in a word, a BIG album. Sprawling and open, it practically generates its own tidal system.

“I am the Lord” kicks off with lulling strings that resolve to twanging guitar. It builds with atmospheric hand drums, and ghostly harmonies reminiscent of Cocteau Twins. Lee diminishes the implication of the song’s title when he sings “I don’t want to be god, I just don’t want to be human.” It’s the kind of otherworldly, yet oddly relatable statement that has become Money’s lyrical trademark.

Part lullaby, part funeral ballad, “You Look Like a Sad Painting on Both Sides of the Sky” is a strangely sweet song. It is one of the more sonically sparse offerings on the record, sticking to hushed acoustic guitar and piano, with understated drums and cello. But its pretty simplicity doesn’t ebb its melancholy. In fact, the contrast seems to heighten our sense of woe as Lee belts out lines such as: “there will be music all around, when they put me in the ground.”

The entire album is rife with this sort of tension, whether it lies in the discrepancy between lyrical content and the key of the song, or Lee’s ability as a composer to make you feel uplifted and miserable at the same time. This isn’t a record for people who like background music. The closer you listen, the more nuances you can enjoy. It’s a piece of work that unfurls more with every play.

In “Night Came” Lee establishes himself as a modern maestro of crescendo. The track commences in sprawling, muted riffs only to rise steadily into a skyward collision. But the album’s most powerful track is without a doubt “All My Life,” a banging six and a half minutes of heartrending majors and plummeting minor chords. This is Lee at his biggest, holding nothing back. Not reverb, not gospel harmonies, not lead guitar, and certainly not a full drum kit. But once again, the emotive scale of the song is undercut by bleak lyrics. In the chorus Lee confesses “all my life I’ve been searching for something, so I always ended up with nothing,” a truth that leaves him neither here nor there.

Part of what makes this record so great is that it was composed as nothing less than an album; as a continuous narrative in which each song sonically relates to the next, like chapters in a book. While so many contemporary LPs seem thrown together as a compilation of disparate tracks, Suicide Songs maintains a dense thread throughout its 42 minutes. And this thread is as much formal as it is textual. Lee delivers a consistent dose of heady subject matter, yes, but he’s also managed to arrange this album to bear the aural equivalent of dramatic structure; grabbing our attention with “I am the Lord,” building to the crashing climax of “All My Life,” and settling with “Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year” (the latter having Lee at his most Tom Waits).

At the end of the day, Lee does seem to prefer the overt to the subtle, as he plainly explains that “the record is morbid and bleak, and never resolves itself. The only real kind of triumphant realization is being able to express the morbidity of the situation I found myself in.” It’s the kind of statement you’d expect from someone like Lee, a self-effacing British musician, but I’d say that Suicide Songs is triumphant all on its own. Period.

Suicide Songs is out now on Bella Union.


CMJ 2015: Ezra Furman


Ezra Furman was all over CMJ this year. I was lucky enough to see him twice-once at a matinee showcase for Brooklyn Vegan, and again at a headlining spot at The Knitting Factory. I’ve always felt like seeing a band more than once in a short span of time is like hearing a the same joke back to back-you get to see if it really holds up, or whether it was never all that funny to begin with.

To stick with the simile: Ezra Furman is a fantastic joke.

Both of his sets were almost entirely different. I only heard one or two repeat songs and even those were performed with little idiosyncratic tweaks in delivery or time signature. One thing that did stay constant was the quality of the gigs. Much like Furman seems incapable of writing a bad song, he also can’t manage to play a boring show. I guess there are things it’s good to be bad at after all.

Ezra Furman is often labeled a new act, but he’s already got a decent sized catalogue to pull from while performing. Several albums deep in his career, he still plays from many of them, which is both convenient and wonderful because, well, they’re all great records.

His latest release Perpetual Motion People however, seems to be the one that’s finally getting him noticed internationally (including by the godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop.) I first heard the record on BBC 6 Music and knew Furman was something special straight away. PMP zips from folk to punk, doo-wop to soul, and is never scant on infectious pop licks. It’s not an easy sound to define, but neither is Furman the man – and I’m starting to think he likes it that way. Many of his lyrical themes involve sexuality and gender identity, or as he put it last Wednesday night before introducing “Body Was Made” at Knitting Factory, being “body positive.”

Despite Furman’s flamboyant appearance – he’s rarely without his pearls and red lipstick – he is an endearingly shy performer. As a fan shouted, “I love your shoes!” he coyly looked down and whispered, “thank you” off mic. At the Brooklyn Vegan showcase he fawned: “Aw look at all you, standing there, you’re all so cute just standing there. Look, I’m infantilizing you for personal gain because – well, I’m really uncomfortable.”

Yes, Ezra Furman certainly is a strange one. And we wouldn’t have him any other way.


LIVE REVIEW: Ezra Furman @ Rough Trade


“We went overseas for about two years and became a really good band, and now we can do whatever we want.” Ezra Furman, the eccentric Chicago native who sold out Rough Trade on Wednesday strikes me as someone who’s always done whatever he wanted. He can do such things as wear red lipstick, a striped boat neck shirt, and tiny shiny gym shorts with oxford shoes and still look sexy, for instance.

Furman has just released his third full-length record Perpetual Motion People on the acclaimed Bella Union label, and it’s a true gem. Tossing together rock n’ roll, folk, and delicious sax licks; PMP rests in a unique niche of contemporary music in that it doesn’t sound quite like anything else. I suspect one of the best compliments you can pay a musician is that their sound is truly their own, and true to that: Ezra Furman doesn’t sound like Mac Demarco, or Sunflower Bean, or Foals. Ezra Furman sounds like Ezra Furman.

Lyrically the album is brilliant. Furman not only possesses a knack for writing pop songs, but for equipping them with profound wit, wisdom, and heartache that stretches far beyond his 28 years. A personal favorite comes from the ennui-charged “Ordinary Life”: “way back in our mothers’ wombs, folded like notebooks, we had no idea of all the tote bags and the meathooks waiting out in the world.” A grim remark rendered cheeky when you realize it’s coming from someone who’s endured severe depression and mental illness, as Furman has. In a beautiful letter printed on the album’s lyric sheet Furman confesses that for the majority of his life he was gripped by a fear that he would die at 17. It’s no wonder his songs strike so deep.

Yet there was no shred of a tortured soul on Wednesday evening. Opening for Furman was Emily Einhorn and fellow Chicagoans J. Fernandez. Ezra could be spotted at the back of the crowd, politely chatting with fans and cheering on his supporting bands. You gotta love a headliner who watches the early sets with the sweaty rest of us. When Furman and his band (The Boyfriends) took to the stage the floor was packed out with admirers. They opened with “Day of the Dog” a track off of 2013’s album of the same name. “Well, this is interesting. This isn’t how I remember New York. I remember five people in the crowd at Arlene’s Grocery in 2007.” Clearly absence has made the heart grow wholly fond.

I could gush about Ezra for paragraphs, but his band demands some serious fawning. Not one of them is assigned a solitary task; Ben Joseph swapped between keyboards, guitar, whistling and singing, as did bassist Jorgen Jorgensen. Though he didn’t have a mic, drummer Sam Durkes insisted on mouthing the lyrics and whistling between beats. But the most dazzling to watch was sax-man Tim Sandusky, who produced, engineered, mixed and mastered Perpetual Motion People. He flailed around the stage filling out each song with defining woodwind phrases that congeal Furman’s sound.

Ezra played the majority of Perpetual Motion People as well as Day of the Dog, and the crowd ceased to dance throughout. During “Wobbly” Furman shelved his guitar for a shimmy break. He twisted around the stage with a strange mixture of girlish flirtation and proper sex appeal, though a clumsier side emerged while dancing by the drum kit and accidentally knocking the crash cymbal to the floor.

It was a show no one wanted to end. And though it had to, Ezra Furman was kind enough to gift us not one, but two encores, the latter of which being a smashing rendition of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” Higher and higher indeed, Ezra.



PINS band photo

In an age where genres seem to only exist as a conduit for music journalists to flex their encyclopedic knowledge of rare stratified sub-genres or inventing hollow multi-hyphenated descriptors: PINS is a breath of fresh air. The red-hot Manchester quartet are putting out straightforward punk with refreshing pop sensibilities, and doing it all with that effortlessly cool flair that made rock ‘n’ roll sexy to begin with. They’re touring the States now and are set to release their sophomore album Wild Nights June 9th (on Bella Union). While out on the road Faith Holgate (vox/ guitar) and Lois McDonald (guitar) took the time to answer a couple burning questions about the band, their style, and what music gets their gears turning.

AudioFemme: First an easy one – what’s the origin story behind PINS?

Faith: I wanted to do music my whole life! I tried to join a bunch of different bands, but nothing felt good and I’d end up quitting after two practices. So I decided to make my own band. It took around a year to have a stable line up, but it was a lot of fun. We had a small rehearsal space in Manchester where we would meet up, drink beer, and play music all night.

AF: What are some of your major musical influences?

Faith: My go-to bands are Suicide, Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3, the Fall, Modern Lovers, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. But I go out to see live music all the time and constantly feel inspired. For instance we toured with Drenge and I was like we totally need a baritone guitar, or when we saw Sunflower Bean and we were like we need to do some psych bass!

Lois: I think the Beatles at the moment, there’s so much music they made and so many different techniques they used it’s amazing. But influences for me change day to day with my mood. I try to listen and soak up as much as possible. There’s the garage girls from the 60’s which are collectively like an anonymous enigma of attitude, but most recently I’ve been listening to Wire, The Fall, Drenge, Girlpool, Timber Timbre and Deap Vally.

AF: What’s touring with four girls like?

Faith: For the most part it’s like a hen party.

AF: On a more serious note, being a “girl-gang” group do you feel a sense of responsibility to be visible and vocal for young female, and otherwise, musicians out there?

Faith: Yeah, myself and Lois run Haus Of Pins, which is a cassette label, and although it’s not exclusive to women at all we do like to champion girls. Our shows are often girl-heavy too, again, we don’t exclusively ask female acts to open for us, but it’s something we are aware of.

AF: How’s the music scene in Manchester?

Faith: It still needs the ladies to join the party! The local scene is very male heavy. New bands to listen to are Peace and Love Barbershop Muhammad Ali, whom I recently played keys for, and Black Lung, they seem to be conjuring up something exciting.

Lois: There’s lots of different scenes happening here, and it’s nice to be near so many other cities that are thriving creatively too. Bands from here I’m into are Kyogen, Bernard and Edith, and Bad Grammar.

AF: What’s your favorite city to play?

Faith: Paris!

Lois: That’s a tricky one, we did two very different shows in two days recently in Berlin and both were amazing, but I’ll always love playing Manchester.

AF: You guys are constantly being praised for your slick fashion sense, how does fashion fold into your music?

Faith: The aesthetics of our band has always been important to us, from the way we make the stage look to the videos we make, to the covers of our records and the clothes we wear. I suppose image is both a reflection of who we are and another extension of our personalities. However trivial putting makeup on and getting dressed for a show could seem, for us it has become a ritual, it’s a uniform that visually unites us.

AF: What were some of the driving forces behind soon to be released LP Wild Nights?

Faith: Dave Catching and Hayden Scott were great driving forces. They showed us how to enjoy recording. Most of it was done live and then we played around adding textures, it was so much fun.

Lois: The album is sort of summed up by the title, going with the moment and enjoying every minute whilst you can.

AF: What’s everyone’s current favorite jam?

Faith: I’ve got Crocodiles Boys album on repeat.

Lois: Probably the entire of Drenge’s album Drenge. I love “Let’s Pretend” and “Fuckabout” live.

AF: What comes next for you ladies?

Faith: We’re touring the US in June, then playing some festivals in Europe and doing a headline tour in the UK and Europe later in the year. Still writing music and working on different projects.

AF: And last, but not least, if the band had a theme song what would it be?

Faith: Cyndi Lauper – “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”.

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VIDEO REVIEW: Marissa Nadler “Firecrackers”

Marissa Nadler

Marissa Nadler

Though it was released back in February, Marissa Nadler’s stunning sixth album July (on Sacred Bones/Bella Union) is very much rooted in the month it was named for. As she explained during an interview with AudioFemme, the record deals specifically with her personal experiences, lived from July of 2012 when her romantic relationship dissolved as she self-destructed, through her regret and pain to a place of healing and rekindling lost love in July 2013. The record’s emotional centerpiece, “Firecrackers,” deals with that fallout and subsequent recovery with stoic grace, its simple guitar chords nonchalantly lilting around what sounds like a dead-eyed challenge to unnamed “attackers” – it’s me, it’s me, it’s me you’re lookin’ for – but, for Nadler, was more of an admission of guilt on her own part for the troubles she found herself in back then.

Just in time for Independence Day, Nadler has released a haunting, black-and-white clip directed by Ryan Hamilton Walsh. Over the brutal opening lines July Fourth of last year / We spilled all the blood / How’d you spend your summer days? Nadler’s ghostly image performs destructive, if inconsequential actions – smashing glass bottles, throwing her guitar to the forest floor, pouring water from buckets. Everything happens in rewind, the grainy footage recalling home videos, or how we might imagine our memories would look if others could view them. The symbolism lies in Nadler “undoing” her ruinous behavior, and as the clip progresses, overlays of oozing liquid wash away her pointless sins and obscure her devious past. We’ve all been the kid sticking a bottle rocket in our neighbor’s mailbox, and we’ve all been the adult committing crimes we felt were victimless that lead to our own demise. Nadler puts the two on par by juxtaposing the innocuous imagery in the “Firecrackers” video with her real, lived experience in the song’s lyrical content, reminding us that no matter how calamitous our lives, there is no rewinding or rewriting history – all that’s left is to forge ahead.

Marissa Nadler heads to Europe in the fall; she’ll be playing throughout the US this month (see dates below).

Jul 8 – Rock N Roll Hotel – Washington, DC
Jul 9 – Pinhook – Durham, NC
Jul 10 – The Earl – Atlanta, GA
Jul 12 – The Beatnik – New Orleans, LA
Jul 13 – Holy Mountain – Austin, TX
Jul 14 – City Tavern – Dallas, TX
Jul 15 – White Water Tavern – Little Rock, AR
Jul 16 – The Stone Fox – Nashville, TN
Jul 17 – Mike N Molly’s – Champaign, IL
Jul 18 – Rumba Café – Columbus, OH
Jul 19 – Cattivo – Pittsburgh, PA
Jul 20 – The Ballroom at Outer Space – New Haven, CT
Aug 1 – Northern Routes Festival – New Salem, MA

LIVE REVIEW: Bella Union Label Showcase w/ Marissa Nadler, Mt. Royal, Ballet School & Pins

Pins Live Bella Union

Still a bit SXSW-weary, I ventured out to Baby’s All Right for Bella Union’s stacked showcase this past Wednesday, a chilly Brooklyn rain washing some of the Austin dust from my boots.  At first glance, the artists on the bill seemed pretty disparate, but then again, that’s really the beauty of Bella Union’s curatorial scope.  Though not sonically cohesive, something gelled as I watched sets from Pins, Ballet School, Mt. Royal, and headliner Marissa Nadler, and remembered how Bella Union was born – as a way for Cocteau Twins to release their own material.   When the enigmatic Scottish group disbanded, Simon Raymonde kept the label afloat, signing Dirty Three and other genre-defying bands of high artistic caliber.  And given that history, it’s no wonder that Raymonde is so acutely tuned to picking out female vocalists with innovative approaches, much like his former bandmate, the incomparable Liz Fraser.  Wednesday night’s line-up shone a spotlight on some newer additions to Bella Union’s stellar roster who follow Fraser’s tradition of fearlessly pushing female vocals to new, experimental heights.

Pins Live Bella Union

Manchester-based quartet Pins started the whole thing off.  They showed no fatigue despite the fact that it was the group’s third show in a string of NYC appearances, also coming on the heels of SXSW, where I caught them at Music For Listeners’ day party.  These ladies play searing garage rock with dire lyrics, but their penchant for the dramatic narratives belies a decidedly fuzzy approach.  They are a bit reminiscent of early Dum Dum Girls and in fact are scheduled to play shows with Crocodiles upon their return to the UK, so Dee Dee should probably watch her throne.  Frontwoman Faith Holgate sings in a troubled, deep-throated wail, occasionally interjected with spritely yelps.  Lois MacDonald’s back-up howls and distorted guitars lend elements of shoegaze to the froth, while plodding bass from Anna Donagan and Sophie Galpin’s crashing drums allow post-punk to creep in.  Though Bella Union released their debut record Girls Like Us late last year, the gals also run an impeccably curated cassette label of their own called Haus of Pins, no doubt part of the reason Raymonde was so impressed by the British babes.

Ballet School Live Bella Union

It was the first NYC show for Berlin-based Ballet School, who played next.  Of the four acts playing that night, Ballet School bore the closest resemblance to Cocteau Twins, but have updated that sound just enough to elevate it far above retread.  The trio look more metal than they sound, leaning toward shoegaze-tinged new wave pop more than anything else.  Irish chanteuse Rosie Blair has an almost operatic range, her voice trilling gorgeously over extended notes, taking on some of the abstract qualities for which Fraser was renowned.  The vibrations settle easily against the electronic loops and guitar manipulations that Michel Collet provides, his silky black mane falling over his face while Louis McGuire lays down R&B-inspired beats, often opting for a drum machine over pieces of his kit.  Blair’s stage persona is that of tortured wraith or sea-nymph, her pale skin framed by long, white-blonde hair, both set against dark garb which flared dramatically as the singer contorted her otherworldly frame.  Audiences at SXSW were awed by Ballet School’s performances; suffice to say this emerging band could be the next huge thing for Bella Union, who’ve already put out one EP (entitled Boys Again) for the newcomers.

Mt. Royal Live Bella Union

Mt. Royal was, for me, the true standout of the evening.  They’d already made the trek from Baltimore to Brooklyn for a few scattered shows, but this was my first opportunity to catch one of the band’s gigs.  Lead singer Katrina Ford is best known for her work in Celebration, and as with friends Future Islands and Wye Oak, has always had a reputation for putting on a phenomenal live performance.  Not only did Mt. Royal meet all those expectations, it destroyed them; Ford is an engaging performer who gave a powerhouse vocal performance, ululating between sensuous low registers and lilting peaks.  Her movements gave the impression of wrenching that sound from a deep emotional core, and her bandmates built anthemic paeans around it.  Their ferocious energy spread like wildfire around the room, with most of the crowd shimmying as enthusiastically as Ford herself.  The band hopes to put out a full-length in the fall to follow up their excellent six-song self-titled EP.

Marissa Nadler live Bella Union

It was a bit of a shame though, for Marissa Nadler, who had no choice but to take it down several notches in the now very noisy bar.  To her credit, she took it in stride and sounded perfectly ethereal despite having a bit of a sore throat.  Her elegant, moving record July is the fifth studio album the singer has released but a debut on Bella Union, who handles it in the UK while Sacred Bones oversees its US promotion.  Nadler mainly stuck to material from her latest, backed by cellist Janel Leppin, who added  some beautiful atmospherics with reverbed strings.  The less-than-attentive folks in the audience missed out on Nadler’s inspiring versatility – her resolute delivery of the very personal narratives that comprise July was both unflinching and delicately nuanced, indicative of the relentless touring she’s done over the last ten years of her career.  To those that were listening raptly, she had a special treat: closing the set with “Fifty Five Falls” from her first record, Ballads of Living and Dying.  It showed how far she’s come as a songwriter and performer, that there’s far more to her than the wispy caricature so often drawn due to her folksy roots.  As dreamy as her music can sound, it’s never timid, particularly on this last LP.  And it’s that quality that allows her to make a home on a label alongside bands like Pins and Ballet School and Mt. Royal, even if on paper it seems like a bit of a puzzle.

The common thread of the evening, then, was certainly commanding performances from charismatic women.  As Bella Union expands into the States, we can count on them to reliably unearth the most compelling voices in the industry, without rigid preoccupations as to what genre fits or doesn’t fit.  It’s endlessly encouraging to see a label truly invested in such an admirable endeavor.

INTERVIEW: Marissa Nadler talks ‘July’

Marissa Nadler

Marissa Nadler is too shy to do karaoke.  Despite the loveliness of her timeless-sounding lilt, Nadler turned to Twitter for encouragement before “chickening out” on a rendition of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game”.

But that self-consciousness isn’t present on her sixth proper album and first release for Sacred Bones/Bella Union.  Entitled July, Nadler’s haunting vocals deliver brashly poetic lyrics, aggressively examining the personal change that comes about during the painful dissolution and subsequent rebuilding of relationships.

The startling work she’s produced in the past decade traces the events of her life through the lens of a storyteller, rich with recurring characters both real and imagined.  Her latest record examines self-destructive tendencies, complicated entanglements, vicious environments, and the hope that can exist within despair, each subject explored with a depth and tenderness that few singer-songwriters can match.  We talked with Nadler about how her career got started, the effect that self-releasing her last album had on her work and her psyche, and what her latest record means to longtime fans and new listeners alike.  July is out on February 4th, and you can stream the record over at NPR.

Marissa Nadler

AF: To start, I’d like to talk about your first records on Eclipse and working with Ed Hardy.

MN: Back about… it must have been 11 or 12 years ago, I recorded my first record when I was still in graduate school at RISD.  And I sent it to this guy Jeffrey Alexander who ran this label called Secret Eye in Providence.  He hooked me up with a couple contacts and I emailed Ed Hardy and Ed got back to me and he put the first record out.  He’s lovely to work with.  I actually had spent a summer living in Bullhead, AZ working for his label too.  So we’re pretty close.  I think he opened up a lot of doors for me in terms of the underground music scene.

AF: What made you decide to pursue music after so much training as a visual artist?  How did your time in art school inform what you do as a musician?

MN: Well I had been writing songs as a teenager.  And I had a little punk band in high school.  I had like a mini, a four-track recorder… probably there are some tapes somewhere in my parent’s house but… I just got more and more serious about my songwriting when I was at RISD. I don’t know if maybe it was a little bit of the disillusionment with the fine art world.  The more and more I got intimidated by being this hip fine artist, the more the honesty of music started to appeal to me and so my interests kinda switched and I think it was a way for me to deal with the stress of such a hardcore fine art academy.  So I started playing open mic nights and really digging around Providence.  I really consider Providence my first hometown.  It was where I played all my first shows.

I do think my fine arts training does have a lot to do with the way I write my songs, because the way I see the world is still as a very visual person.  I’m not an analytical thinker, I’m still a painter.  So when I write lyrics it’s a very painterly, expressive way of writing.

AF: You exercised a bit more of your left brain in self-releasing your self-titled record and The Sister EP.

MN: Yeah.  That shit really burnt me out.  I think a lot of people would be shocked to know that I’m an incredibly OCD person.  I’m very detail-oriented, but I was spending so much time in front of the computer reading my own reviews and dealing with the distributors and the post office stuff that I just got really depressed and I felt like I needed some advocates.  I stopped believing in my own music.  I just started to get really depressed, I think.  It was too much of that side of the brain and not enough of art-making.

AF: I can see how that would be a lot to deal with.  Do you still view those albums as successes from an art-making standpoint?  Or was it tarnished by the fact that you had all this other stuff to deal with on top of it?

MN: I definitely view the self-titled record as a success.  I’m really proud of that record, I’m proud of how far it reached, it being a self release.  The Sister I think of more as an EP that I, lacking a manager to tell me not to release it and lacking anybody to say you know, this isn’t ready, like… that’s what you run into when you’re self-releasing records.  Nobody told me, you know, “Hey Marissa, this doesn’t really feel like a record” and so that’s what I kind of benefit from now, having a label, having some people to bounce things off of.  But I’m very proud of the self-released record, I think it was a really good comeback for me after some hardships.  I definitely stand by that one. There’s a couple songs on The Sister I like but it wasn’t a “record” the way that July is a record.  Or the way that the self-titled is.

AF: A big part of your ability to self-release a record came from crowd-funding and via your tremendous fan base, which was built on the continuing narratives you tend you revisit across albums.  You’re one of the few artists who has created a ten-year, career spanning narrative and it feels really unique in an industry that’s more singles-focused.  Do you ever feel like you’re struggling against that sort of mentality that craves hits and rarely has the attention span to delve into a body of work?

MN: I think I have a dual interest when I write songs.  It may seem like they’re continued narratives because I’m writing about my own life.  Our own lives are a continued narrative.  But, especially with this new record, a big thing for me was asking “Are these songs catchy?”  I’m definitely interested as a songwriter in songs that can stand alone regardless of an album and regardless of the body of work.  I think about whether each song on the record is good enough to stand on its own while maintaining my own integrity as a songwriter.  So yeah, I think there’s a lot of things that go into play with what makes the cut.

AF: Well, with this latest record it does feel as though most of the character arcs have been put to bed.  It seems like you’re less interested in mythologizing your experiences.  You’re using first person more, or addressing singular individuals directly.

MN: Yeah, definitely when I was younger I was more afraid to write in the first person.  I didn’t want to be thought of as a confessional singer-songwriter, like coffee shop bullshit.  I mean, I’ll be self-deprecating and say I was a little pretentious on my first record, like covering Pablo Neruda and Edgar Allen Poe.  And then I started listening to more and more old-time country music and my tastes changed and I wasn’t afraid to confront what I really wanted to write songs about without the mythological shroud, if you will.

AF: It seems a lot like this record specifically is more about a journey.  There are literal moments on tracks like “Drive” or on “I’ve Got Your Name” when you sing about changing dresses in a gas station.  But there’s also explorations on personal, emotional journeys, as with “Anyone Else”, where you’re coming to terms with who does and doesn’t belong in your life.  How have your journeys shaped this record?

MN: There’s so much personal stuff on this record.  “Anyone Else” is definitely about someone that ‘done me wrong’; “Desire” is about infatuation… I mean, there’s a lot of real-life details in this.

AF: The lyrics are very rich, which goes back to what you were saying about painterly songwriting.  I wanted to talk about that line in “Firecrackers” in which you reference an attacker whom you’re confronting.  It feels like an important cornerstone; the title of the record comes from this song.

MN: That’s about me being, especially during that period of my life before I stopped drinking, incredibly self-destructive.  So that song kind of speaks to the self-destructiveness ruining my relationship. My boyfriend and I broke up on July 4th two years ago.  And we got back together about a year ago, so the record has a lot to do with that.  Side A has a lot to do with the ups and downs of that relationship. And Side B has a lot to do with people in between him and… him.

AF: It’s so funny that you’re releasing a record called July when it is literally 8 degrees outside.  Do you feel like there’s such a thing as a winter song or a summer song?  Was it more that the relationship was an impetus for making the record?

MN: Yeah, I definitely don’t think this a summer record at all.  If there’s any season I have a lot in common with it’s winter.  But the reason I called it July was very specific in that I recorded the record in July and everything about the songs had to do with a year’s journey from one July to the next.

AF: I wanted to talk a little about the video for the record’s first single, “Dead City Emily.” Can you tell me more about it?

MN: Well I try only to work with people that I think are really talented artists.  I first met Derrick Belcham because he used to shoot videos for this French site Blogothèque.  I met him through  my friend Cat Martino.  I really like his aesthetic.  He’s worked with Julianna Barwick, and White Hinterland and a lot of artists.  The dancer, her name is coincidentally Emily but that has nothing to do with the song. In fact, it’s totally fictional, a make-believe conversation with a friend that was kind of a narrative device I used to write the song.

AF: If it’s not about a specific person, was there a particular city you had in mind while writing it?

MN: My own.

AF: That being Boston?

MN: Yeah well, not even that.  The feeling I was trying to evoke was the feeling of coming to terms with the place that you live and just feeling depressed and finding no joy in anything.  And then the contrast is in the chorus where it’s “oh, I saw the light today, opened up the door…”  I struggle with mood swings and ups and downs and it’s kind of about realizations you have about relationships to your city.

AF: I definitely have that sort of reaction to NYC.  I actually don’t think I ever want to live in a place where I don’t have a kind of volatile relationship with living there.  I’ve never actually been to Boston, but it seems like there’s a lot of good music coming out of that scene.  Although most of what’s getting attention is DIY-scene punk stuff – Speedy Ortiz, Potty Mouth.  Because you’re making music that’s so different – more timeless, less tied to a scene – do you ever feel like an outsider or distanced from your community?

MN: Definitely.  To be honest, I love Boston, but I have what I call a hometown curse.  I had more trouble getting a gig here on my opening record release tour than anywhere else in the world.  I’m not talking just the U.S.  I don’t know what it is.  I think maybe it’s because I’m not a networker or a shmoozer.  I would love to be embraced more, I’m hoping it changes with this new record.  It’s kind of a tough town if you’re not like heavy heavy or super folky.  I’ve always been somewhere in between.

AF: Well I think the irony of that is that while your music is often referred to as “dream-folk” or that there’s this permeating winsome quality to what you do, lyrically you get pretty dark and are a lot more aggressive and emotionally confrontational, almost more like a punk band in attitude.  Do you ever feel pigeonholed by those descriptors?

MN: Yeah, I mean, I guess people are always gonna have some genre tag they want to stick on you but my hope is just that people listen beyond the genre trappings.  My labels both asked me what genre I wanted to be tagged for on iTunes and I was like “I don’t fucking know…. I guess like, alternative rock, just don’t put folk, whatever you do”.  And they were like “okay, okay, we got it”.

AF: How did your connections with Sacred Bones and Bella Union come about?  Sacred Bones kind of has a reputation for associating with edgy projects.

MN: Well with Sacred Bones, when I finally was like “I can’t do this anymore, this self-releasing, I’m going to give up making music” it kind of dawned on me that maybe I should just try signing to another label.  So I went back through my emails and Caleb had written me years ago and I was like “Ohhhh, that’s that awesome label with Jim Jarmusch on it” and so I wrote him back and he said “Yeah, let’s do it!”  With Bella Union, I saw on Twitter that Simon Raymonde had played me on his radio show,l so my manager put me in touch with him.  It was really cool how it happened this late in my career to get signed to two really great record labels.  I feel like I’ve definitely earned it.

AF: It’s definitely been a long time coming. Do you feel like in working with the label they had any influence over the material or did you approach with the record already laid out?

MN: They definitely did not influence the material.  I finished the record and then gave it to them and they hadn’t heard any of the demos or anything like that.  It was really important to me to have 100% creative control.

AF: Was there anything about working with them that allowed you to do things you hadn’t done on prior records?

MN: No, I think I’ve always just done whatever I wanted to do.  That’s maybe gotten me into some trouble in the past.

AF: The new album is gorgeous.  I love how roomy it feels, the atmosphere built by the string arrangements.  Do you get to have a hand in the production at all?

MN: Well, no.  The producer’s name is Randall Dunn.  He’s worked with bands like Earth and Sunn O))) and he helped with that stuff.  I had written all the songs and all the harmony vocals that I sing on the record but instrumentation was a joint venture between Randall’s ideas and me saying “yes, that sounds like a good idea”.

AF: Was it hard for you to let someone else in on that process?

MN: No, because I’ve always worked with a producer on my records.  I think that word is confusing to people.  In the pop idiom the producer is very different than in the indie rock idiom.

AF: You’ve had a hand in a bunch of really great collaborations, working with Angel Olsen, and Emily Jane White to name a few.  What’s different about working on those sorts of projects?

MN: Well, they’re really different.  With Emily it was really just background vocals.  It wasn’t as much of a collaboration as I was a guest player.  With Angel it was different, it was more of a collaboration.  We got in touch after meeting years ago, and I wrote her to congratulate her on Acrobat and she was like “Oh, we should do songs together, let’s do covers” and so we sent cover songs back and forth over the internet to record those harmony vocals.  It was really fun; I like doing stuff like that, although it’s very different than doing my own work.  It’s probably less of an emotional investment.

AF: Do you have any collaborations coming up?

MN: Not a lot right now.  I’m hoping somebody gets in touch and says “Hey, why don’t you score my film?”

AF: You want to do film scores?

MN: Yeah, that would be really fun.

AF: What kind of film would you want to score?

MN: Just some kind of sad drama.  I think that would make the most sense.