Eerie Love: Visibilities, Politics, and Riffing on Folk, with Singer-Songwriter Lora-Faye: interview, MP3 download and new video
Lora-Faye is Brooklyn-based musician who locates herself loosely within the genre of Folk (see below for specifics.) She’s new to the scene, but making her mark: only three days ago she won the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest at Lincoln Center in NYC. Her work has a political pulse to it that beats underneath her smoky melodies. RECAPS was thrilled to sit down with her and chat.
Colette: Let’s dive into specifics. Your video of the song “Old Gas Station” is powerful. It’s triggering. When you sing it on stage, I’m sure you’re going to affect a lot of folks. What is your experience singing that to a fresh audience?
Lora-Faye: It’s actually been men who are the most shocked by it. Women’s responses have been along the lines of “that was a beautiful, heavy song.” I haven’t had it really trigger anyone in an awful way, and I hope it doesn’t. But men are disgusted by it. When the men I play with started actually listening to the lyrics they were like “what the fuck Lora-faye??” Perhaps it’s unusual for men to hear women talking about stuff like that?
C: Why did you pick “Old Gas Station” for your first video?
LF: It sounded like it was evocative of imagery. It sounded like it could be in a movie. I originally thought I was going to do a tacky film-noir, black and white, straight up interpretation of the narrative of the song. But we (the director – Aaron Fisher – and I) decided to subvert it and make it more complicated.
C: A word on putting together your first video?
LF: People who make movies have crazy lives. They stay up for 24 hours just working. (laughter)
C: How do you think of your music regionally? An easy thing is to locate you in New Orleans. It’s bluesy, jazzy, folky, it’s got banjo. But that seems too easy.
LF: It’s very American. Different songs feel like different places to me. I’m fucking obsessed with this country. On this record that’s coming out, there are songs like “Weary Eyes” that take a traditional Appalachian banjo tuning and obviously change it – It doesn’t sound like an Appalachian folk song but it has a lot of aspects from that – and then other songs that sound like they could be played in Club Passim by some kid in Massachusetts, and then “Old Gas Station” is a kind of New York City crappy smoky jazz club kind of song.
C: How do you think of yourself in relation to the Brooklyn Indie scene?
LF: It’s weird to be in New York because on one hand it’s where I grew up and there’s nowhere else I could be right now to make this happen, but on the other hand I feel like I don’t have any sort of relationship to absolutely anything going on here. There’s a really strong obsession with the New Orleans scene in New York right now. Everyone’s into that jug band, suspender-wearing thing. I’m sure it’s the same in San Francisco (where Colette was calling from.) I think its just hip right now. The Brooklyn Indie scene is sort of a mess. Everyone’s just trying to get a pop song on a TV show. It’s not political. Which is why I haven’t been able to find my niche.
C: One theme in your work is queerness. There are always tensions in art between an artist’s identity and what they chose to make explicit in their work. Talk about the relationship between an artist’s identity and art.
LF: It’s something I think about all the time. Queer “visibility.” It’s a specific tactic of the gay rights movement: if we’re seen that way, that’s an act of politics in and of itself. If I walk around the street looking like a fag, I’m being politically active. I’m just not sure about that. I think it has the capacity to simplify things a little — what does my choice to use my appearance as a political activity say about race/class/gender? As someone who has the capacity to even call that a “decision” in the first place (by which I mean as someone for whom the outward expression of gender identity has not been a source of struggle, and also by which I mean as a white person), what am I saying by making the “choice” to be “visible”? I want to experiment with it a little more, in terms of being a performer. Lately I’ve been wearing dresses on stage. I look super femme. (laughter) And then I get up there and sing my song “Cabaret,” and it really confuses the shit out of people because I’m screaming “dildos.” It’s been an interesting experiment for me. I don’t know if I have answers yet about how in my career I want to be politically active with my queerness. I know that I do want to, but I also know that I want to do it in a meaningful and creative way. For me I don’t think that only means singing really literal “finger pointing songs,” as Bob Dylan would have said, or being like Ani DiFranco. Neither of those are what I think I want to be doing. But it’s a question I struggle with every day.
C: There’s a political throb to many of your songs. How do you consider your politics in your music?
LF: Beards, my forthcoming record, is supposed to be about intersections of politics and love. Like the experience of being at a protest and seeing a couple making out and not knowing if they’re staging a love-in or just standing on the street making out, not associated with the protest at all. The best example of that would be the song “The Letter.” The first verse goes, “Did you read this love letter that I sent you?” And the second verse goes, “Did you hear about some politician being killed?” And then it gets louder and I’m talking about all these issues in Brooklyn: someone being burned alive in her elevator, a crazy story about a rapist here, a story about poverty. And at the same time I’m talking about my heart and my own personal love stuff. So I don’t know if this gets me there, but my primary focus is to try to get to the heart of some sort of queer issue in a round-about way. They’re two interesting things to compare to each other in music – politics and love – particularly of course when it’s queered.
C: One of your sites mentions “eerie politics.” What are “eerie politics”?
LF: When I first wrote that EP (Social Magic) that’s up on my site I was reading a lot of Greil Marcus who is really interested in Bob Dylan, and by virtue of that this anthology of folk music that was put together by the artist Harry Smith. It’s the weirdest shit you could imagine. Appalachian folk songs that somehow got recorded, for example one that sounds like a beautiful British ballad, but is actually a captain’s daughter who hangs herself or like some guy talking about how he wishes he was a mole in the ground. It’s bizarre, but strangely political at the same time. It’s about Americans always feeling like outsiders while at the same time always exploiting, and trying to reconcile those two opposing forces. Eerie politics. The weirdness of being American – the political potency of always being at odds with yourself.
C: Who do you write for?
LF: When I was a kid I used to keep the radio on when I was falling asleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would still be on and I would just not feel alone. I felt this connection to the music and I just felt okay. This kind of experience, of course, has a particular poignancy with gay kids, for many reasons.
But honestly that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to be that for someone. If I’m going to be a role model, I want to be a role model because I challenge people. I don’t want to be a GLAAD spokesman. I want to make music that connects with people, obviously, but I don’t want to make easy music.
C (unsatisfied): So who do you write for when you write?
LF: I write for the people I can piss off.
C (satisfied): Genres clearly serve to help us market ourselves, but your work evades rigid definition. How do you consider the genre of your music?
LF: I’ve been struggling with that. I think it used to be more obviously folk music, but recently I’ve been playing with a lot of jazz musicians. I was talking to my bassist, Andrew Sheron, yesterday and he said when he describes me he says it’s like if Tom Waits and Gillian Welch and Janis Joplin all had a baby together. And I was like That’s the Best Thing Anybody Has Ever Said. I’ll Go With That. I don’t know if there’s a genre called whiskey-soaked, folk, rock, punk, bluegrass jazz?
C: Oh yup. That one. One theme in your work is morbidity. Talk about that.
LF: I think it started out just being like “I’m gonna tell it like it is.” And I think there’s a performative aspect to it. It’s my pushing the limits of what I feel like women have been expected to say when they’re singing beautiful songs. When I was a kid I always wanted to hear women talk about sex in an honest way. And I never did (although of course I now know that there were lots of amazing musicians making songs like this, like Le Tigre (ED: check out last issue’s video with Eileen Myles and J.D. Samson, or the first issue’s J.D. Samson for President downloadable poster), for example, who I unfortunately was not exposed to at the time). And I kind of wanted to do that. There’s something there about the relationship between morbidity and sex.
C: Where’s your inspiration coming from these days?
LF: I’ve been listening to the latest Jessica Lea Mayfield record for its production value. Oh god I also just fucking love her lyrics. I’m always trying to get through some queer theory and putting it down for three months and picking it up again. Woodie Guthrie’s Bound For Glory. Weird book. I’ve been reading Leonard Cohen’s poetry. And I can’t tell if he’s maybe a little bit gay or not. So that’s fun. I’m queering it. That’s what I’m doing. Always the Anthology of American Folk Music.
C: Let’s talk about specific songs. “Cabaret”?
LF: It’s about Smith College.
C: Duh. Final word: We have this election coming up. What are your thoughts?
LF: I have this irrational fear that I’m going to forget to vote. It keeps me up at night. But also maybe Mitt Romney should win – I’m ready for the revolution.