BlackBook Interview: Following Carly Rae Jepsen to Finland

 

 

Taking cues and inspiration from nature’s soundscape, beloved singer/songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen traveled to Lapland, Finland – with the support of House of Lapland, Finnair and Visit Finland – to record the fan favorite track “The Sound (Live in Lapland, Finland),” from her fourth and latest album, Dedicated. Filmed and recorded completely outdoors on a remote lakeside jetty in Lapland’s Ruka-Kuusamo region, the performance was stripped of the electronic elements and recorded with organic and tranquil instrumentation.

Says the Canadian Carly of her love of Lapland: “Nature is a part of my childhood and my very best memories. Here in Lapland I’ve been amazed by how the quiet space allows for ideas to float into my head. It has been unlike anything I have ever experienced.”

Lapland is perhaps best known as “the home of Santa Claus,” and for the Northern Lights – but Jepsen’s video also showcases a different side of it, including the striking “midnight sun.”

BlackBook followed her there, to chat about the album, ongoing tour, and her newfound Scandinavian love.

 

 

How did you choose the Finnish Lapland for this project?

It was my first time in Finland, and I got a call to see if I’d like to explore the Lapland. I felt like it was a magical opportunity that happened to fall into my life! Honestly, my road manager thought I was going to be too tired – but nothing was going to stop me from [doing] this. It’s been the best decision, we’re having a blast.

Weren’t you homesick?

Going home isn’t necessarily the thing you want to do. You want to have a vacation for yourself, and this reminds me very much of Canada – but slightly different, especially the trees and the people. It’s been exactly what the doctor ordered. We did a Finnish sauna in the middle of a lake, and I got to try different foods like reindeer. It’s always fun to immerse yourself in a completely different culture, which helps you grow and is healthy for your brain.
We set up on the wharf where the sun was setting and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. We were done for the day, and I can tell my group was having a fantastic time when all we wanted to do was stay on the wharf, play games and take pictures. I love finding that joy with the people I travel with, because it’s just so vital if you are going to have this type of lifestyle and have your band members be your friends and family.

You’ve talked about your early days in Vancouver, playing in small clubs and working in a coffee shop, as some of the happiest days of your life. Could you tell us more about that? And how has that journey shaped your career?

I would say that those days were the happiest, as I developed my artistry out of college and took the path less travelled. It’s where I learned how to hustle and I worked hard for it, which is something I pride myself on. I really enjoy songwriting too, and I tend to overwrite until I find something that is really right; it ends up being 200 songs that I edit down to 15, which is what happened for my latest album.
But I would say this tour has been the most joyful experience so far.

Tell us about your new album Dedicated, and what it means at this moment in your career. 

I had a couple of different working titles until I landed on this one. There was actually a song that didn’t make it that was called “Dedicated,” which wrapped up a lot of what I had been writing about. I understand what that word meant to me in life, and I think if I am dedicated, it’s to this project. And it’s also to the meaning of love, holding out for that right person…

 

Is there a “right” person in your life right now?

Right now I am newly single. But I still have so much love for the boy.

It’s been eight years since you had your first hit. How has fame affected you?

When “Call Me Maybe” came out, it was Top 9 on iTunes in Canada and I was like, “Let’s throw a party, this is amazing.” The fact that it took off beyond that is still a gift of my life. I learned that there were many things that I thought I was going to love that I didn’t about the fame game. One of which is that I wanted the focus to be more on the artistry rather than the celebrity. I was pretty sure after “Call Me Maybe” that the best decision was to slow down a little bit and take my time, I wanted to figure out what kind of pop music was really authentic to me. I’m really glad we took our time with it.

Were there any songs that you’ve written that you expected to really take off and didn’t?

I don’t think I’ve ever had any expectations for what songs do in the world. Trying to chase the success of “Call Me Maybe” was never an intention of mine. First of all, I didn’t think it was possible; second of all, I just felt an empty happiness forgetting why I got into those coffee shops in the first place, which is using songwriting as a way to communicate and interact. As long as we keep finding the people we do connect with, that’s all that matters to me.

What other singers have inspired you?

Cyndi Lauper I find really inspiring. I’ve also had a Phoebe Bridges song on loop in my head this entire trip, and her lyrics are on a Joni Mitchell level for our era. I’ve always thought the types of careers that are attractive to me are like the James Taylors of the world, which was the first concert I’d ever been to.

 

 

How would you describe your personal style?

Playful, I don’t really have one set look I go for. I think on stage I get to be the extreme version of my theatrical side. But day to day when I’m home, it’s anything I want to wear, whatever I’m in the mood for that day. I love clothes and fashion, but I think if you don’t get to play, what’s the point?

Do you have a personal stylist?

Hayley Atkin is a stylist I’ve worked with for five years. She is like me but a tiny bit braver.

What are your next projects after the tour?

I’m just thinking day to day now, because we are literally going until March, Japan, China, Australia and then we hit Europe again. I think if we get through the tour I can have a long sleeping beauty sleep and then we will be ready to answer. Maybe I will move to New York afterwards for a couple of months. New York has always been my city for rejuvenating after a heartbreak. So I’m going to let the city romance me. Every time I’m there I feel like songs come easy to me.

Where in New York would you live?

In Soho, that’s where I landed first when I was performing in Cinderella. Jack has been trying to convince me to move to Brooklyn and I have also tried Greenwich Village. I think Soho is where my heart will take me. Some friends of mine are talking about how we can bring a pop musical to fruition. This is a ten year plan, and who knows if it will happen…but maybe New York will get me one step closer.

 

 

 

 

Beyond Château Versailles: Overnighting in the City of the Sun King

 

 

Versailles holds a curious place in the Western liberal mind. In one way, its infamous inhabitants from Louis XIV to Marie Antoinette perhaps represented the first modern fashion/media celebrities, with both still providing plentiful fodder for contemporary pop culture. Indeed, the former was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask…the latter by Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s surrealistic masterpiece Marie Antoinette. The seductiveness of Versailles remains curiously undiminished.

Yet the Château de Versailles once epitomized the sort of obscene, shameless profligacy that led to epochal class revolutions. Ironically, the United States of America, birthed by just such a revolution, is these days looking a lot like 18th Century Ancien Regime France.

 

 

All of which added up to philosophical food for thought on our most recent trip to the city of the Sun King – just an hour west of Paris, but a world away in so many respects.

The mission was thus: previous visits had always been of the half day sort, never really traveling beyond the Château – and leaving us yet wondering what the town spreading out below it was like in real life. Determined to stay a couple of nights, we appropriately checked into the rather dramatically titled Hotel Le Louis Versailles Château MGallery, before starting down the handsome, tree-lined Avenue de Paris.

Here’s what we discovered.

 

The Architecture

As the town grew up around the Château in the 18th Century, neo-classical, the style of the day, very much prevailed. Indeed, we were reminded of England’s great Georgian city of Bath, but without all the puffery and frippery; streets like Rue Colbert, Rue Georges Clemenceau and Rue Carnot in the quartiere Saint-Louis proved a flaneur’s dream of insouciant strolling. Here were the aristocratic homes that once held ambassadors, vicomtes and marquises – with the resplendent Versailles Cathedral, dating to 1754, rising gracefully above the Place Saint-Louis.
Back at the hotel, from our balcony we were able to gaze down upon the palatial structure that houses the École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Versailles, one of Europe’s most prestigious architectural schools. Inside, it contains two exhibition spaces, in which are regularly staged somewhat academically leaning exhibits. Versailles is serious about architecture.

 

Quartiere Saint-Louis

 

The Shops

Since Versailles is not a place one visits on the cheap, splurging for an extravagant souvenir is practically de rigueur. To accommodate, the Château recently opened the exquisitely stocked Marble Court Boutique, whose temptations wind through four chicly styled rooms. An artful selection of books, housewares, jewelry, etc. ranged from the classy (a Le Gobelet du Roy Teapot) to the campy (a Marie Antoinette Rosebush Tray).
Seeking something a bit more personal, we popped into Maison la Varenne, which is sort of the biscuiterie/confiserie of kings. Carrying on the legacy of the exalted royal chef François Pierre de La Varenne, the shop was stylish and modern, the selection endearing playful. To wit, one can take away pastel skewers of essential oil scented marshmallows; dark chocolate lollipops; and, our favorite, wild strawberry and mango macarons.
A couple of blocks away, Art et Chocolat is very much what the name says it is. Isabelle Schneider’s inviting boutique is barely four years old, but the chocolates she sells, designed by Hélène Colas, smartly reference history – a Louis XIV shoe, a classical Greek vase, an African mask.

 

The Marble Court Boutique

 

Potager du Roi

Staffing the most spectacular château ever built meant also having untold mouths to perpetually feed. And Louis XIV, always ahead of his time, conceived his own farm-to-table concept all the way back in 1678. 341 years later, the Potager du Roi is still in operation, producing more than 50 tons per annum of fruits and vegetables, to be sold in the city markets and to the area schools. And with more then 400 varieties of fruit trees, it regularly satisfies the locals’ more exotic and uncommon proclivities.
We were surprised by just how modest it looked, since Louis is most remembered for his distinct lack of modesty; but it was emboldened by the majestic surrounding architecture, which made the experience of strolling through the gardens just that much more…Versailles. There was also a stylish little shop attached, where one can inquire about booking a tour – which fascinatingly contextualizes the gardens within the socio-political machinations of the last three-plus centuries.

 

 

Notre-Dame Market

Where St. Louis is so much dignified visual formality, the Notre-Dame quartiere buzzes with energy both day and night. Its beating heart – and provider of the city’s daily sustenance – is its namesake food market. Considering Versailles’ sometimes stuffy reputation, the place was pure theater, with lively meat, cheese, fish and flower vendors animatedly shouting out the day’s offerings, along with spontaneous discounts and ephemeral specials.
One could easily while away an entire morning here, just taking in the sights and smells, the infectious energy. And to be sure, we were endlessly entertained. The bounty of unusual fruits and vegetables, cured meats, spices, even local sausages, sweet and savory crêpes and escargot, all just begged for an impromptu picnic on the Château park grounds. But the lure of the lively cafes along the Place du Marché Notre Dame was practically irresistible – especially for the excellent Versailles people watching.

 

 

The Restaurants

Living in the culinary shadow of Paris can prove particularly daunting. How to keep visitors in Versailles, when the Michelin stars and trendy bistronomie of the capital beckon? But we dined like visiting dignitaries, with equal measures of pomp, camp and chic.
We first lunched at Carmen, a stylish little eatery that opens on to the winsome Rue Saint-Honore. Amidst the cool, stark white surrounds, the unfussy menu offered pea veloute with poached egg, farm chicken, roasted cod with basil virgin sauce, and a creamy lemon yuzu dessert that veritably epitomized summertime sweetoothing. Dinner at Le Bistrot du 11 – sister to the more formal La Table du 11 – was a decidedly trend aware experience, where a three-course pre-fixe (at just 37 Euro) consisted of a zucchini-sardine-sage starter, poultry-carrot-curry main, and apricot-yogurt-verbena conclusion. The cosmopolitan clientele was of the decidedly fashionable sort.

 

Le Bistrot du 11

 

Most amusingly, we made a spontaneous swerve into camp the following evening, opting for the flamboyant dinner theater of Reminisens. Done up like a baroque era salon, with staff in appropriate period costume, we were treated to the improv staging of a lascivious, 18th Century rom-com, while we dined on quite good asparagus veloute and guinea fowl. It’s not for everyone – but it was certainly proof that Versailles has its cheeky sense of humor, if you know where to look for it.
But the sophistication and plaisir of lunching at Versailles itself could hardly be overstated. In 2017, the many-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse opened Ore, a cool, contemporary 1st floor cafe, dramatically looking out onto the Royal Courtyard. Though it must be said, we were particularly impressed that the food didn’t bow to the setting, with confit duck foie gras, Charolais beef tartare, and Les Versaillaises, a signature take on the classic religieuse pastry, all being done to the master’s standards. And, well..the view.

 

Ore Alain Ducasse

 

The Queen’s Apartments

Obviously, there is no visiting Versailles without making at least one pass through the doors of the Château. And big news, the Queen’s Apartments were opened to the public this spring – which means we were jostling with the crowds for a glimpse of all that boudoir splendor. We have to admit, it was most definitely worth all the neck craning.
But feeling slightly claustrophobic, we made haste for the always ethereal royal gardens. And as we watched the fountains dance amidst the peek-a-boo late afternoon sunshine, we were genuinely contented that we wouldn’t be rushing to catch a train back to Paris.

 

 

Hotel Le Louis Versailles Château MGallery

To tempt visitors with an overnight stay, Versailles will see the opening of two new five-star hotels in the next year – challengers to the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace, with its venerable Gordon Ramsay restaurant. But for obvious reasons, we chose to lay our heads at the more cooly stylish MGallery.
We entered the spacious Art Deco lobby and were immediately struck by the buzzy energy of the hotel – always a good sign. Upstairs rooms had daring color schemes, with opulent chandeliers playing off of contemporary furnishings and headboards, and handsome parquet flooring. Our top floor chamber had a balcony overlooking the prodigious architecture school building and, much to our delight, the Château beyond.
The lobby bar offered one of the more cosmopolitan nightlife scenes in Versailles, with well-turned out-tipplers arranged around a retro-mod circular bar, under a dazzling canopy of lights. We highly recommend dressing to impress, and remember, it’s shaken, not stirred.

 

BlackBook Interview: Devendra Banhart on Motherhood, Mobile Phones and Walking in L.A.

Image by Lauren Dukoff

 

 

 

If tender, thoughtful intention were the measure of a man’s potential as a parent, Devendra Banhart will one day make a fantastic father. Packaged in a gentle, groovy, acoustic web of emotional intimacy, the myriad facets of parenthood are both explicitly and abstractly explored in his new album, Ma. But to a man such as Banhart, it is a predictably unusual creative concept. It’s expansive, if not vast.  

That’s actually one of the most attractive things about Buddhism to me,” he reveals. “There is a concept called Mother Recognition. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual whatsoever to understand the idea. It’s just the idea of saying that everyone has been my mother at some point. A stranger, the moon. They are mother. It just makes it so much easier to get through the day as an applicable, utilitarian concept.”

While Banhart speaks in terms of pragmatism, the subject matter is one of humanity’s deepest mysteries. We have no real answer to what love and mother are, exactly; to be a mother is in its simplest terms is to be a creator. It is to be the protector, the nourisher, an expression of unconditional love. Ma manages to philosophically and literally explore the extent of its seemingly simple title – a job that is virtually impossible. And yet it does it by being an incredibly beautiful, nourishing and inviting listen.

 

 

 

Sung in four languages, including his mother’s tongue, Spanish, the album is as beautifully dense and rich as it is groovy and sweet. Ma philosophically tackles our deepest impulses and wounds, yet it is also a collection of fabulous cocktail party jams. Written at times in homage to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and still others in duet with Banhart’s muse and mentor Vashti Bunyan, he says that Ma includes everything that he would want to tell his child, should he ever have one.  He himself lost his biological father right as his last album, 2016’s Ape in Pink Marble, was being finished. So Ma is in many ways about his father, who he had just begun to know better, too. 

The album transparently, yet tenderly, tackles political agendas by just existing across cultural barriers the way it does. Banhart, who spent his early childhood in his mother’s home country Venezuela, also dresses up in its flag in the video for “Kantori Ongaku,” and asks for support for the Venezuelan people in it. The video for “Abre Las Manos” is a montage of Venezuelan imagery. 

“This time more than ever, I feel the need to connect with other Venezuelans,” he explains, in reflection of the socio-political strife that has ravaged the South American country for the last several years.

We sat him down just as Ma was being released, and he was embarking on a 24-date North American tour, to talk about some of the elemental impulses behind the album – the names, the origins, the need to disconnect from society, passing wisdom down through generations and acknowledging the mother that lives in us all. 

 

 

 

You sing in several different languages in your album. Language is a powerful tool, it’s a way to transcend barriers and understand other people outside of your language. 

I wonder how effective is Duolingo. I feel like everyone I know has it, gets it and does three languages for three days. But maybe it’s because I’m lazy. There could be incredible success rates. If you think about it, we spend our lives inside of our phones. And it’s just you as your avatar speaking the language. 

I suppose that’s true, but taking a language to the streets is the real test of how you can speak it. Of course, good luck to anyone trying to get out of their avatar in France!

The French will make it harder for you than anyone to learn their language. They’re the exception. Nobody will make it more difficult. I have said the words, and I know I’ve set it correctly. And they will pretend that they are not listening. And then they will finally respond and say, “Oh you mean…?”; and just respond back in their correct accent. It’s humiliating. Speaking in France is almost as humiliating as walking in Los Angeles.

L.A. is a weirdly walkable city, but it’s like nobody actually knows that. I always walk in L.A..

I walk in L.A. too! That’s why I know how humiliating it is. It’s so resistant to the walker, that you’re braving the resistance. I love it. I actually do not own a car and I live in L.A.. Up there is trying to speak French in France, but nothing is worse than walking in L.A..

We weirdly have rhyming names.

We really do. That doesn’t happen often. My name was given to me by my parents’ guru. You told me your name means snow-covered mountain and that your father’s people come from Zoroastrian lineages. I would like to talk more about Zoroastrianism. I think it’s so interesting, and it’s one of the world’s oldest religions and it’s vast. The name itself is so mystical and beguiling. It sounds like some sort of wizard floating in the stars. 

 

 

Nature is so vast and bewildering. When you are in spaces that are remote and where nature is your reckoning, you could only have a beguiling name. And a beguiling method of practicing your faith. 

That’s why so many of these ancient religions are so elemental and about worshipping wind, water and fire. It’s not so accessible to us anymore. We take so much of it for granted today, but think of the magic of it back in the day. Just the pure magic of finding a well, a stream, where the water is pouring from the heavens. We would climb a mountain and get to its height, and there find this nectar flowing from it. It makes so much sense that we would be in awe of these primordial elements. Being in Nepal, I really experienced that. We were pretty remote, in a very small village. The electricity would go out every 15 minutes. It really helped me appreciate electricity. Or how much I may take for granted my life in the city…plumbing. The village was still being developed, so I witnessed the effort that goes into creating a septic system. I came back to my life here, and I just felt so fortunate that everything was taken care of. In one sense, we are so fortunate because it’s so comfortable. But on the other hand, people don’t appreciate it as much. 

It’s important to understand those basic needs and luxuries. You somehow understand yourself better.

In an environment like that, you’re just forced to face yourself. The distractions aren’t there. I was in a remote village and stayed at a monastery at one point too. Monastic life is, well…you’ve got a bed, you’ve got a bedroom, you’ve got an altar table and a window, and that is it. I was given instructions that said: the person next to you is in a three-year retreat. Don’t open the door there, that goes into the balcony. And definitely be quiet. That person hasn’t seen another human being in three years and you certainly are not the first one that they want to experience.
I remember going on tour way back when, I didn’t have a phone on tour. That’s how old I am. We had the types of phones where you would have to type one key several times to get different letters, it was like a flip phone. I barely used it, and I definitely didn’t have a laptop with me. And I’ve never played my guitar better and I’ve never written more. I’ve never been more productive on a tour. It does require an effort, to think about the line. It’s so nebulous at this point. But you have to think to yourself – is this something that I really need to do, or is this a distraction?
And then it gets to the point of deep irony, and it’s a necessary irony. You’ve got apps now that are telling you to unplug, and I love that. I don’t know if there’s an app that you can time where every hour it just shuts off your phone for ten minutes. I’m sure there must be! Actually, maybe not. People need that app, but they probably wouldn’t get it!

 

 

I lived in Montana for a few years, and I miss that about my life there terribly – the lack of reception. It was eventually a convenience when the people in my life came to expect that I was always without service.

I just want my friends and my family members to know that I love them. But I really don’t want to hang out with them. And that’s it, but okay, leave me alone. That’s why I want to have a kid. It’s a reason to get out things, really. 

But you’d be connected to the kid all the time?

Yeah, but when they’re little they’re just like little poetry machines. You can just ask them anything, and then write down their answers. What’s that object you see? What’s that in the sky? Okay, got it! And then it’s like, “Hey yeah I’d love to see you and go out…but sorry, I gotta stay home with the kid.”

But it’s interesting to me that a man at your age – we are both at that age where we have to reconcile our personal timelines with the concept of parenthood – went so far as to explore the potentials of fatherhood, or motherhood, through an album. It’s touching.  Do you want to have a kid? 

I mean, I don’t know. Maybe you should buy me a drink first? I’m kidding. But it’s weird. The age that we are at, you do start to think about it differently. Prior to this window, you’re not really faced with the idea that you may never have children. You kind of assume that you will…later. And then time goes by and you’re in the window where you may, or may not. And then you have to understand if you can accept it if you don’t. And can you be open to having them too? It feels like a strange decision. It feels like something that should happen organically if the garden is fertile. The best thing I ever heard about parenting was that if you tend to the garden, the flower will grow. That garden is, of course, a relationship. So it’s not so much do I want to have a kid or not, but the ability to create that garden. 

 

 

 

The idea of “mother” is different to everyone. I like the idea of pushing it beyond the frame of one other mortal.

When we are born, we have this one person to call mom. It’s like, “that’s my mom.” That one person who is my mother. Human evolution may take you to expand that concept, once put on one being, to various beings and different objects. You can see mother in primordial objects. For instance, can you see the mother in the ocean? Can you see the mother in the stars? Which is what we were talking about earlier, which is in many ways the foundation for so many different pagan faiths. Can you see mother in other people? And in other elemental forces as well. And that could be a definition for what it means to evolve as a human being, I think. 
I couldn’t stop thinking about this one line in the autobiography of Swami Vivekananda. He was the greatest disciple of Ramakrishna, who was this super duper Vedantic master. Towards the end of his life, someone asks him how he’s been. But all he wants to communicate is that all he sees is mother. I just kept thinking about that, how beautiful it must be to be able to see mother everywhere. 
These people are set up in that they are spiritual superheroes, and it’s their karma and they’re born that way – but it’s applicable to all of us. It’s something you have to work at. It’s not something that just occurs. You have to practice it. But if you do, you can start to believe that mother is everywhere. You don’t have to be frightened by the things you don’t understand, they are mother. The world is not frightening, it’s mother. Imagine meeting a stranger, and immediately behind that thought, thinking, “You know what? That’s my mother. This was my mother at one time.”

I wonder if that application of mother is more my speed. It seems like all the loving, universal ideals of motherhood without all the etheric, negative attachments or the confusing line of where the boundaries of the mother’s life end and their child’s life begins.

There comes a point in our lives where we have to reckon with the idea if we like the people that our parents are. They are our first deities. But they are in fact human beings. And you have to asK, “Do I love you because you’re my parents? Or do I love you because of the human being you are?” This incredibly flawed human that you are? Probably at that point in your life where you ask yourself that question you’re just like, “Fuck you, Mom and Dad!,” no matter what. And maybe at that time you just love them in some fundamental way because they are your parents. Or, you can love them for who they are. 
I think it’s kind of the same way with a parent. It’s like, “Oh, this human I made here is not this accessory. It’s not this piece of clay that I can mold into what I want. It’s actually not mine.” And you to have to try to let it go. It’s a moment in time where you are a parent without the ego attachment of [ownership]. And that’s a choice you can make – to embody and practice a type of parenthood that is purer. It may be less direct, but it’s more pure. But we are genetically programmed to make it nearly impossible. 

I guess there is no real way to know until you are faced with it in your own life. 

I wonder what that’s like as a parent though, when your kid asks you something you don’t know the answer to. It’s so built into us to know everything. Can you admit that you don’t know? And can you tell your kid that it’s okay not to know? The world is constantly telling us we should know everything. And a parent should definitely know.
We live such different lives than we did before. The concept of being tribal is really loaded today. But historically, in tribal societies, there was a lineage. Knowledge was just passed down through ancestors and you would just teach your child what you were taught. It still works that way, but the entire system and structure is so fractured today. It should be a source of compassion to remember that people who are horrible to their kids? Their parents were horrible to them. It’s a question of hoping to become the conscious birth that breaks that chain. It’s just so obvious – until you’re faced with it.
It’s so funny when we’re around our parents, how we revert to being little kids. How we change. So the question there is how can we spend time with our parents without reverting to this little, frightened creature? If you think about it we spend most of our lives physically or emotionally suffering. And that doesn’t go away, but our deal with it changes. And our ability to identify it emerges if we’re lucky. But I think it’s our parents who most associate with the time in our lives where we largely have not yet come to realize that we spend the majority of our existence in some sort of emotional and physical pain.

But what more important of a gift does a child bring you than the gift of being present?

I was thinking about this the other day, I got in a hot tub and I was like, “Wow. This is so nice.” And I was looking up at the stars, and it was like “Aaah, wow.” And then I thought to myself what have I been feeling all day leading up to this point that didn’t feel just like this? But if you can be conscious of that pain, you can identify it. You can ask yourself if you are consciously or unconsciously right now suffering. Either physically or emotionally, am I in pain? 
But this brings us back to that lack of distraction. You, in Montana…it’s a blessing and a curse. You have this lack of reception, and that is annoying. But then it gives you a focus on yourself.

Well, what do most of those calls and texts really amount to, really?

Well if we figured that out, we’d be on it! But it’s kind of like…in hospice care. There really should be more documentaries about it. What do people say that they wished they had done more of in their life? There really should be more shows about the ends of people’s lives. I mean, I guess the reason why there aren’t more documentaries about hospice care is that people would start thinking to themselves that they should watch less TV! But they always say, I should have worked less. I should have had more fun. I should have gotten out of that painful relationship and divorced earlier. Which is hilarious. Which I love.

It’s that ability to tune back into that space that brings the daily joy that can punctuate the pain and suffering. But I think a source of that joy also comes from that identification you spoke of earlier. For instance, I am currently in St. Louis, which is four hours from my mother, as she is working through some health issues. It’s the perfect place.

Ah, that’s funny, actually. My mom recently called me and she was so happy! She said that she had written a poetic line for me. It goes: “I keep my loving mother at bay!” It was something she wanted to give me, but I think that it was also her way of understanding what I do with her. Close, but not too close. I wish your mother a thorough recovery. 

 

N.B. Devendra Banhart’s Mother Venezuela is suffering through a longstanding socio-economic and political crisis that has left her people facing high disease, crime, starvation, inflation and mortality rates. For his current North American tour, he has partnered with PLUS1 so that $1 from every ticket sold in the U.S. (excluding Dana Point) will go to World Central Kitchen. WCK has responded to the crisis along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and has served more than 350,000 meals to date.

 

Report From Aloft Live: Troye Sivan’s Insider Guide to Perth, Australia

 

 

Until recently, Perth lurked in the shadows of sister cities Sydney and Melbourne, due to its remote position on the West coast of Australia – though it is naturally blessed with over 270 days of sunshine a year, refreshingly fresh air, beautiful beaches and a significantly laid back lifestyle. In recent years it has experienced an economic and cultural boom, however, and with that the emergence of hip, burgeoning neighborhoods outside the city center.

Recently we had the chance to experience Perth through the eyes of Australian pop sensation Troye Sivan, as he returned home as part of the Live at Aloft Homecoming Tour, giving an intimate concert on the rooftop of the Aloft Perth hotel.

“Being able to return home and connect with my fans in Australia is always a really special experience for me,” he enthused. “And being in my hometown of Perth, where my musical journey began, is truly magical.”

 

Aloft Perth

 

The Homecoming is part of Aloft Hotels‘ continuing efforts to cultivate a dynamic music program, pivoting between established and relatively unknown artists. In conjunction with Universal Music Group, the eight stop tour takes artists back to the places they came from, and gives the fans that supported them from the beginning a chance to see their hometown heroes in a genuinely intimate setting.

Sivan continued, “I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of Aloft’s Homecoming Tour and share my music with both the community that shaped me and with the music-loving travelers staying at Aloft.”

Hoping to get to know his home city a little better, we asked him to give us the real 411 on Perth.

 

Northbridge

What was formerly considered the skid row of Perth, Northbridge has undergone a major makeover and has become the center of Perth’s vibrant nightlife scene. Just north of the Central Business District, the area still maintains a gritty feel, but the graffiti has now morphed into Instagrammable street art, which decorates the concrete buildings that are now home to galleries, independent boutiques, bars, nightclubs, outdoor cafes and restaurants.
As the neighborhood borders Chinatown, Northbridge is considered to be Perth’s melting pot, where you can find different cuisines from around the world, such as Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Indian, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, Italian, and Mexican. As you pass through CBD to Northbridge, stop by Perth’s newest outdoor cultural and retail plaza, Yagan Square, also the hub of the recent Perth Fashion Festival – which attracted Australia’s top designers and newcomers from around the world.

 

 

 

Brunch in Leederville and Mount Lawley

One of the favorite weekend pastimes of Perth is brunch. And two of its coolest neighborhoods, Leederville and Mt. Lawley, are home to five of the city’s best brunch spots. The Eat the Street Brunch on Beaufort tour takes you to all of them, sampling local delicacies and meeting with the chefs and restaurant owners.

 

 

Fave Restaurants

Embodying a breezy, 1970s-Los Angeles vibe is Henry Summer, an urban indoor/outdoor cocktail and wine bar that always feels like summer. Bask in the sun amidst a lush décor of plants and colorful furniture, with a farm to table menu that changes seasonally, featuring classic Australian grilled specialties or delicious veggie packed salads. It’s a perfect spot to grab a rosé, sangria, wine spritzer, or mojito to get into the spirit of summer. (N.B. Australian summer runs from December 1 through the end of February.)
Load up on carbs before a late night on the town at the hidden gem Francoforte Spaghetti Bar, known for serving Perth’s best pasta paired with organic wines. For an ‘only in Australia’ experience try the kangaroo bolognese. Though the menu is small, there are plenty of other more traditional yet delicious Italian options such as an eggplant sugo, kale pesto and guanciale carbonara.

 

Henry Summer

 

Fave Nightclub

For a glam, over the top night out I head to Connections, Perth’s premiere gay and lesbian club, beginning the evening watching their extravagant drag queen cabaret show. The real party gets going after midnight, when the upper floors open to a dance club as well as an open air rooftop terrace with plenty of potent cocktails to fuel the night.

 

Rottnest Island

A protected island off the coast of Perth that is only accessible by ferry, Rottnest is a beautiful unspoiled nature reserve, home to the smallest and most adorable marsupial in Australia: the quokka. Thanks to Instagram and celebrity selfies with this cute creature, the island has seen a major spike in visitors, as tourists follow them around the island to take the perfect #quokkaselfie. Explore the coastline by boat and witness whales and dolphins swimming in the ocean in their annual southward trek to warmer waters.

 

Aloft Perth

For cool, loft style living, the design oriented Aloft Perth is the surely city’s best choice. Stylish guest rooms are decorated with well-chosen contemporary art and bright pops of color, and feature panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cityscape and the Swan River. Works by Western Australian artists adorn the hallways, embodying the unique landscape and cultural perspective of the region.
The seasonally driven Springs Kitchen has indoor and outdoor seating areas for casual all day dining – followed by drinks at the stylish XYZ bar, which also serves a light bar menu along with creative cocktails, against a backdrop of intimate live music performances.

 

 

The Aloft Live Music Series

The best thing about the Aloft’s live music events are that the performances are free and open to everyone; those looking to attend Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour should RSVP to alofthotels.com/homecomingtour. Obviously capacity is limited, RSVP does not guarantee entry, and attendance is on a first-come, first-served basis. However, a Marriott Bonvoy credit card gives one VIP access to cut-the-line, plus attend meet & greet events with the talent.

 

10 Corso Como’s ‘bold, beautiful and damned’ Pays Homage to Legendary Fashion Illustrator Tony Viramontes

 

 

10 Corso Como, it turns out, has transitioned effortlessly from the rarefied heights of fashionista Milan to the more approachable confines of NYC’s newly revitalized Seaport District. Still archly conceptual and multi-faceted, the new outpost integrates fashion, design and art, and its eponymous Italian restaurant allows one to stop and consider all they’ve just seen (and purchased).

One thing that simply must be seen is a striking new exhibit at 10 CC’s in-house gallery of the works of late and lamented fashion photographer and illustrator Tony Viramontes. It’s co-sponsored by Fondazione Sozzani, a foundation whose mission is to promote the intersection of fashion and art.

 

 

With Tony Viramontes: bold, beautiful and damned, they’ve assembled a breathtaking overview of his iconic fashion illustrations, mixed media collages, and photographs from the 1980s, curated by design historian Dean Rhys Morgan. Viramontes, who was lost to AIDS in 1988, was a prolific and trailblazing creator of fashion art, collaborating with some of the most exalted fashion houses, sketching haute couture collections for Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Chanel, and Christian Dior. His work was featured in virtually every major fashion publication of the day – and even graced the cover of 1985’s So Red the Rose album by Arcadia, whose members included Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes.

Also a clothing designer, makeup artist and hair stylist, his illustrations quickly becoming known for his bold, graphic lines and dramatic use of color. Viramontes challenged the status quo with drawings of dominant women dressed in the theatrical haute couture of the day. His models posed in make-up, jewelry and exotic turbans.

 

 

 

 

“Tony was the enfant terrible of fashion illustration,” says Rhys Morgan. “His strong and direct drawing style was a marked contrast to the whispered, pastelly, WASPy visuals of the time. There was an insolence about his women. They were very hard and aggressive.”

Of course, his depictions of men exhibited the same sort of audacious sensuousness, boldly stretching the boundaries of masculine identity.

Working in pencil, charcoal, collage and occasionally even lipstick or eyebrow pencil, Viramontes decisively revived the tradition of selling fashion through drawing, which had largely been sidelined by photography at the outset of the 1980s. And in changing the way we viewed high fashion illustration, he created images that remain unquestionably influential to this day.

Tony Viramontes: bold, beautiful and damned will be on exhibit at 10 Corso Como NYC from September 8 through November 10.

 

 

The New Order: 48 Hours in the Revitalized Manchester City Centre

Manchester Corn Exchange

 

 

Visiting Stockholm in 2010, we were expertly tipped off that the newly minted SoFo was the Swedish capital’s most happening new neighborhood. To be honest, we’re always a bit skeptical of such things; and, indeed, SoFo turned out to be just two cool kid cafes and a vinyl record shop. But such is the urgency to declare the next “hip” whatever.

Just prior to our latest trip to Manchester, we were similarly informed that its Ancoats neighborhood had recently secured the distinction as one of the 10 most buzziriffic hoods in the known universe. And our first night out, at a significantly happening new restaurant called Elnecot, seemed to confirm just that.

Ancoats in the 19th Century epitomized the promise of the new industrial age, which England had embraced with uncharacteristic gusto. Majestic rows of Victorian factories urged Manchester towards a new era of technological prosperity. Alas, by the mid-20th Century, that promised had all but disappeared – and decades of downturn and, well, greyness, followed.

 

National Football Museum

 

But as is the 21st Century urban drill, developers began converting those same factories into iconoclastic living spaces. In fact, we became quickly, palpably aware that Manchester City Centre had been undergoing a radical transformation upon checking into the stylish new AC by Marriott Manchester City Centre hotel – where the international media had gathered for the launch of AC Unpacked: A Conversation, a new series that brings together creative visionaries for inspirational discussions.

But we have to say we found ourselves most inspired as we actually traversed the new cityscape of this infamous birthplace of Factory Records and the Gallagher brothers. Here was our takeaway.

 

The Music

Being as we were unshakable American Anglophiles, for us Manchester’s allure has revolved entirely around its illustrious music history. It was here that Joy Division, The Fall, New Order, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, The Hacienda, Stone Roses, Take That, Oasis and their considerable like all rose up from tower block dreariness to international exaltation. Two post-Millennium films -Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007) – captured all the bleakness, humor, drugs, mayhem and musical genius perfectly brilliantly.
To set the mood, we programmed a playlist of Manc classics, which we left blaring in our room at all hours throughout our stay (“You and I are gonna live forever…”). And it was the contemplation of that very music that emphasized just how much everything had been changing in Manchester, for better or worst. Surely there would never be another music scene like it…so, as they say, on to the next.

 

New Order 

 

The Architecture

For as long as anyone can recall, most workaday Mancs retreated to suburbs like Didsbury or Burnage at the end of each business day. But SimpsonHaugh architects have spent the last two decades reshaping the City Centre for full-time habitation, careful not to follow the crass contemporary model of shameless, mercenary overdevelopment. One of their latest projects was the aforementioned AC hotel, where we met partner David Green for a tour of the Manchester’s landmark structures.
Since a 1500 ton IRA truck bomb devastated the area around the famous Corn Exchange building in 1996, the firm has been instrumental in moving the city forward to a new contemporary reality. Without a doubt, striking edifices like the residential No. 1 Deansgate (which, when completed in 2002, was a watershed for City Centre development), Great Jackson Street apartments/retail, the Manchester Civil Justice Centre (by architects Denton Corker Marshall), and more recently the Manchester Town Hall Extension and the Library Walk have visually transformed the city into the 21st Century urban success story that now decisively has the world’s attention.

 

Manchester Town Hall Extension

 

The Derby Day rivalry between Man United and Man City dates all the way back to 1881 – and possibly only Brazilians and Italians take their footy teams more seriously. But the National Football Museum (another headline-grabbing SimpsonHaugh project), whether you’re a fan or not, is at least a must architectural visit – as it stands like a modern Great Pyramid above Todd Street. And, well, the exhibitions are a genuinely fun afternoon’s diversion.
Still, history does ground the city; and we were riveted as we roamed the stately rooms of the neo-gothic John Rylands Library, first opened to the public in 1900. It’s considered one of the most important collections of books in the world.
But a visit to the Manchester Cathedral (dating to the 15th Century and built in the Perpendicular Gothic style), turned surreal, as we stumbled upon a “family” of teddy bears set up in a corner for an imaginary…tea party? Leaving us to wonder if it was something metaphorical, or just meant to keep the little ones occupied while the grownups ogled all the religious grandeur. Later we stumbled upon a chap setting up a full bar at the back of the church – and our curiosity netted the information that it was for some sort of music performance that evening. Only in Manchester?

 

John Rylands Library 

 

Ancoats

It’s hard to argue against the allure of loft-like apartments in Victorian era factories – and row after restored row now makes up one of the most visually striking neighborhoods in all of England. Sure, it’s still a little early to declare Ancoats the next Shoreditch; but along with Elnecot, groovy new spots like The Counter House, Canto, The Jane Eyre, Panda, Sugo, and a super mod bakery called Trove (with its corresponding restaurant Erst) were abuzz with media types. Here and there outside tables gave the streets the hum of emerging energy, and most of the aforementioned places shared a sort of unifying rustic-industrial aesthetic, many with factory windows gloriously framing the surrounding architecture. Yet despite the newness, it all felt very, distinctly English.
For urban trend watchers, Ancoats is most definitely worth keeping an eye on.

 

 

Epicurean Manchester

The dearth of new generation restaurants in the UK was a stark reality until chefs like Marco Pierre White and Fergus Henderson began celebrating Britishness in cooking in the swinging new post-Millennium London. That culinary revolution eventually spread north, until cities like Leeds and Birmingham were boasting Michelin stars.
In Manchester, though, we steered clear of the haute in favor of the happening. And indeed, the aforementioned Elnecot is as cool as anything in New York or London’s Chelsea or Soho, with its Corbusian aesthetic, and clever menu divided up by Nibbles, Fish, Meat, Veg and…Balls (who wouldn’t love wild mushroom pearl barley arancini?).
Elnecot
The hyper-fashionable 20 Stories is exactly what is says it is, and is surely the city’s most international scene (we detected Israeli, Balkan and Latin American accents). But for all the flash, and heart-stopping views, the modern British cuisine was also a genuine revelation, with Shetland cod, roasted Goosnargh duck and slow cooked pork belly all rising to the heights of the lofty location.
But easily our favorite was Mackie Mayor, a trendy but mad fun food hall in an 1858 Grade II listed building. Spread over two industrial-chic floors under a massive skylight, vendors like Baohouse, Honest Crust Pizza, Fin Fish Bar and Pico’s Tacos make it a pretty much non-stop party. From our experience, bring as many friends as possible, and don’t skimp on the gluttony.

 

Mackie Mayor

 

AC Hotel by Marriott Manchester City Centre

A sudden tourism boom leaves Manchester now playing catch up when it comes to the contemporary boutique hotel races. The AC Hotel by Marriott Manchester City Centre is a good start, opened in early 2018 at a perfect midpoint between burgeoning Ancoats and the City Centre of its title, which now hums both day and night.
As is always the case with AC, it’s very much about design, with a lobby done in urbane, earthy tones and stylishly clean lines. To the right is a lounge area that is very much the nerve center of the hotel, with creative and business types mingling and working away by day, giving the hotel a persistent sense of energy. By evening, it transforms into a lively bar, where we had the privilege of gin tasting with the Manchester Gin Company, responsible for the hotel’s signature AC G&T. It’s a “must” order – as is bringing home a bottle of their inimitable Wild Spirit gin.
Upstairs the rooms are all understated chic, with warm woods and elegantly contemporary furnishings. But best of all, generous windows frame a new Manchester skyline, one that has changed at a manageable pace – and that leaves one genuinely wondering just where the fabled music city will go next.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Shakespears Sister Are Here (Again) to Stay

 

 

The ostensibly endless capacity for ’80s nostalgia seems to conveniently forget what a cultural goose egg the last half of that overamped decade mostly was. There were exceptions, naturally. Yet until rave culture, a thrilling new wave of independent film, and the provocational antics of the Young British Artists finally got things stirring again, the good had been worryingly outnumbered by the bad for far too long.

Into those uncertain times was born Shakespears Sister, the decidedly unexpected duo of Bananarama defector Siobhan Fahey and singer Marcella Detroit, who had previously worked with the likes of Eric Clapton and Leon Russell. Fahey had parted ways with the UK’s biggest ever female pop act in 1988 to attempt to summon again the iconoclastic spirit which had originally birthed them; Detroit was just looking for a musical challenge.

Their 1989 debut Sacred Heart quickly went UK Top Ten – but even now they admit to the production being a little too aligned with the prevailing pop zeitgeist: very slickly realized, and overtly overly-synthesized. Though the record holds up surprisingly well to this day.

 

 

By the release of 1992’s classic Hormonally Yours, however, it was clear the pair were setting off down a much more irreverential path. It worked, and the record went to #3, spawning the massive worldwide hit “Stay” (top ten in nine different countries). But in one of music’s all time horrible breakup stories, Siobhan’s publicist indifferently read a statement releasing Marcella from the band, as the latter stood up on a stage collecting a 1993 Ivor Novello award for the both of them.

More than 20 years passed before Fahey would find herself part of a wildly successful 2017 Bananarama reunion tour. It was a “bury-the-hatchet” experience that resonated powerfully enough within her to extend to a reconciliation with Detroit – who had herself kept quite musically busy in the years since the split.

 

 

Much to the thrill of their long-suffering fanbase, the pair are back and claiming it’s for good this time. Signed to London Records once again, the just-released, 32-track Singles Party (1988 – 2019) gathers together remastered versions of their shining moments, along with previously unreleased tracks, remixes, even an acoustic “Stay.”

But two truly excellent new songs – “All the Queen’s Horses” and “C U Next Tuesday” decisively confirm that this is merely the next chapter of what looks to be the continuing story of Shakespears Sister. Further substantiation will come by way of a new 5-song EP, due in October…as well as a 14-date UK tour this autumn.

We sat the busy pair down long enough for an enlightening chat about their past, present, and surely electrifying future.

 

 

Let’s start from the beginning – how did you first come together?

Marcella Detroit: A songwriter friend of mine, Richard Feldman, lived right across the street from where Siobhan and her husband Dave Stewart had moved in. He went over and introduced himself, and they started working together. He told Siobhan that she should meet me, and when they invited me down, it turned out she and I had this great chemistry.
Siobhan Fahey: Richard had this amazing writing studio in his garage, we started experimenting there musically. He said that he knew this person whose voice would work very well with mine, and he was right.

You were a bit of an odd pop duo in the context of the late ‘80s. What was the general musical zeitgeist like at that time?

SF: I do remember wanting to do something that wasn’t to do with the pop zeitgeist. My influences were English punk, funk, and early art rock like Bowie and Roxy Music.
MD: There was some pretty cheesy, over-produced, electronic orchestra sort of stuff going on at that time.
SF: Yes, the ‘80s did suffer from a surfeit of machines.

Both good and bad…

MD: Yes, our friend Roger Linn was the one who created the drum machine [LM-1] that everyone wound up using throughout the ‘80s. It changed pop music.

Then it eventually made everything sound the same.

MD: But everything sounds the same now, so…

Um…Auto-Tune.

SF: I hate Auto-Tune.

Yeah, couldn’t have guessed that.

SF: Our first album actually sounds very ‘80s now. But when it came to making Hormonally Yours, it was very much a move away from machines, and towards more organic sounds – real drums and guitars. That particular album still sounds timeless, I think – more quirky and experimental in its influences and structures.

 

 

Well, it really does need to be said: Bananarama were always a far more iconoclastic act than you were really given credit for.

SF: Yes, thank you! We were.

But it was often treated like, “Oh, just three pretty girls doing pop music.”

SF: Exactly.

So, it’s been 26 years that Shakespears Sister has existed seemingly just as sort of an alter-ego for Siobhan Fahey, right?

SF: Well, it’s certainly a magnified aspect of myself.

What made this the right time for it to be about the two of you again?

SF: It was not a clever master plan or anything; it just happened now because it was meant to happen now. We were ready to meet up and have that conversation I’d been shying away from for a long time. That put the past to rest, and paved the way for the really great side of our relationship – which is that we create very well together.

The acrimony must have been quite significant at the end.

MD: Uh…yeah! That’s an understatement. Over the years I had reached out to Siobhan a few times, but like she said, it just wasn’t really meant to happen then. After Siobhan did the Bananarama tour, I got a message from her management asking if I would like to get together for a chat. And I said “Sure, should I bring my boxing gloves?”

Guessing it didn’t come to that?

MD: I just wanted to resolve things between us personally; I had no idea that we would be creating together again.

 

 

Siobhan, you didn’t really want to do the Bananarama reunion at first?

SF: No, it wasn’t that at all. It just never really occurred to me. When I left in 1988, I signed away the name, and they carried on. They held all the cards, and never really reached out – except to ask me to get up on stage with them and do an encore at the G-A-Y in London [in 2002] for our 20th anniversary…which I did. We had become friends again, but they didn’t ask me back in the band.

Why did you leave back then?

SF: I left because I was the oddball element, and I wanted to go back to doing something a lot more quirky. But I must admit, it was really great fun doing that Bananarama tour, it was a great celebration of what we had been to each other and to the world.

So that got you thinking…

SF: It made me feel really inspired, and I wanted to be creative and make new music again. Bananarama wasn’t really the right environment for that, though – they are very different artists to the way I’ve developed. So, though I knew I was going to make another record again, I did not necessarily know that it was going to be with Marcy.

More than a few people were very pleasantly surprised. 

SF: Well, once we were able to communicate, in a way that we’d never been able to communicate in all those years previously, it resolved everything. And six months later, it seemed like an obvious thing to see if we could make new music again.
MD: So we set out to see if we still had that creative connection between us.

Did you feel the chemistry was very natural?

SF: Extremely natural, we were very open to each other’s ideas, and to being experimental. We come from opposing musical backgrounds, but we bring those backgrounds together in Shakespears Sister. That’s why this is so unique.

In remastering the singles, were there any of those songs that resonated with you again in a particular way?

SF: Yeah, absolutely. I hadn’t listened to our old material for years. And I was kind of blown away by Hormonally Yours – I had forgotten how odd it was…and how good it is. I’m amazed that it sounds so timeless and unique.
MD: It was a concept album based on this 1950s 3-D B-movie called Cat-Women of the Moon. We were going to try to buy the rights to the film and superimpose ourselves into it. The label didn’t really get it. But we were still very inspired by the film, and wrote several songs based on different scenes. So we definitely weren’t thinking about what else was going on in the pop world at the time.

 

 

You’re back on the same label – how have things changed?

SF: It’s a very different experience now being signed back to London Records – there’s a woman in charge, and she loves the material.
MD: Back in those days it was a total boys club.

You both came up through a time when music was changing the world, on a cultural, as well as a socio-political level. Do you have the sense that it’s more like wallpaper now?

SF: Yeah, it’s just like a backdrop to people’s lives, instead of being a centerpiece that defines you, and galvanizes you…
MD: It’s very much taken for granted now.

If you’re 17 now, you might care more about your brand of phone than the music you listen to on it.

SF: I know, that’s insane. The whole experience of music has changed, the emotional experience. Where back then you became best friends with all the scratches and pops on the record, poured over the sleeve notes, and learned all the lyrics.

You’re doing a series of live dates – what can we expect from the shows?

SF: We’re really looking forward to celebrating our music with our fans – we have a very devoted fanbase. But we really didn’t want it to be a retro exercise; so we’ve got a five track EP coming out in October, which I think is the strongest work I’ve ever done. It sounds classic, it sounds organic. We had a brilliant producer in Nick Launay, who’s done the last five Nick Cave records, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

What was the inspiration?

SF: We set out to make a record that sounded like the records we fell in love with when we were young. We put it together with love.

Did you manage to achieve that feeling personally with the new songs?

MD: Yeah, because what’s the point if you don’t? If you don’t like it, what’s the point of unleashing it on the world?

Well, there is a lot of that going on. Like, here’s yet more banal music for you to settle for…

MD: I know! Because that’s what’s kind of expected of certain genres. But just because you can create a song on your phone, doesn’t mean you should.

Democracy has turned out to be a bad idea when it comes to culture. But what do you like most about the new songs?

SF: Two of the new songs are just in your face, punk attitude, with rock-and-roll swagger. And two of them make me cry. One is this strange, beautiful Scott Walker kind of duet.

Could you say right here that this is not just a quick stop, but that it is the next long chapter of your creative lives?

SF: I’m hoping for that, for sure.
MD: Yes, I love to learn and keep my mind open. When I started working with Siobhan, before that I had been more of a purist – and what we wound up doing opened my mind up to lots of new things. What we’re doing now is very adventurous, going against all this electronic pop just being churned out. And I’m really proud of it. I’m so glad we’ve been able to resolve our differences and find that connection creatively again.

 

BlackBook Interview: Ingrid Chavez on Her Stunning New Album ‘Memories of Flying’ and Paying Poignant Tribute to Prince

 

 

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, there seemed to be an inordinate number of up-and-comers whom the press were labeling “Prince protege.” It wasn’t really much of a surprise – after all, who wouldn’t want that title? But one in particular, Ingrid Chavez, arrived on the scene in a most arresting manner, a young Hispanic girl from New Mexico, of absolutely breathtaking beauty – and, like her mentor, also remarkably adept at shrouding herself in mystery. Which only heightened her allure.

She and His Purpleness recorded a poetry album together in 1988, which was temporarily shelved. But 1990 saw her pop up playing the love interest in his beloved film Graffiti Bridge, while “Justify My Love,” the slinky-sensual song she co-wrote with Lenny Kravitz for Madonna, shot straight up the charts.

Her debut album, titled May 19, 1992, soon followed, curiously actually released in fall of 1991; and an adoring public swooned to such irresistible singles as “Elephant Box” and Prince’s “Heaven Must be Near.”

 

 

During that time she also met the romantic British post-punk crooner David Sylvian (formerly of the band Japan), and thy were wed in 1992. The enigmatic couple moved to a farm in New Hampshire, had two children, and Ingrid for all intents and purposed dropped out of music. They separated in 2004, and, returning to music, Chavez’ 2010 album A Flutter and Some Words simply did not get the attention it deserved.

Now she’s back for real. And new album Memories of Flying sees her at her most visceral and self-assured. From the sultry, opening/title track, with its chilling observation, “The lines between Heaven and Hell are a blur,” to the cosseting beauty of the affectively sanguine “Light Rays,” to the haunted, enigmatic synth-funk of “Driving to the End of a Dream,” to the hopeful “Let the Healing Begin,” with its striking harmonies, lush atmospherics and lyrical proclamations like, “I’ve been broken / But I’m still open,” it’s a work of remarkable emotional complexity, and equally accomplished musically. She is without a doubt at the height of her creative powers.

We caught up for a chat with Ms. Chavez about this new chapter of her life, and how she came to write a moving tribute to Prince, “You Gave Me Wings,” which is a particular highlight of the album.

 

 

You won accolades for your debut, and seemed ready for certain stardom. What made you decide to disappear from music for nearly a decade?

When I set out on my path as an artist and musician at 19, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find myself caught up in the whirlwind of Prince’s world. As exciting and life changing as it was, it was overwhelming. The excitement quickly waned, as my record on Paisley Park was not getting the attention it deserved from the label. The movie, Graffiti Bridge, was getting a bad rap, and then there was the very public feud between Lenny Kravitz and me over credit for “Justify My Love.” I was getting a bad taste in my mouth about the business of music. On a European publicity tour for the movie, I interviewed with a German magazine in Paris; the journalist asked who I would most love to work with in the future, and I said David Sylvian.

Then you actually met him.

That interview set a course in action that would find me working with David within a few months and eventually married to him. I made a decision then and there to put all of my creative energy into making a family with David and living vicariously through his music. That was enough for me for about eight years, but as the girls got a little older, I started to miss that part of myself that I had set aside.

How much did working with Prince shape you as an artist and a person?

I always incorporated spoken word into my music, even before meeting Prince; but for me it was not something I had considered a focus stylistically. When he put me in Studio B at Paisley Park soon after meeting him, I recorded “Cross The Line” – that was his introduction to me as an artist. That first recording became the piece that was played during intermission on the Lovesexy tour. He was the first person to really encourage me to use more spoken word in my music. He asked me if I would like to make a poetry album, and because of that collaboration between the two of us, I am known for that style.

 

 

What are you wanting or needing to say with Memories of Flying?

Memories of Flying is the newest chapter in my life. By now, my life is measured out in songs and albums, and this is a record about healing and trying to hold people up. Every record I’ve ever released has elements of light and darkness, joy and sadness. Ingmar Bergman asked the question, “Isn’t art always to a certain extent therapy for the artist?” I write to communicate, and to heal myself and the listener.

What is the significance of the title? Are you trying use music as a way of soaring to some higher place? Spiritually? Creatively?

It comes from the idea that when you are weighted down by the world and feel heavy, it is a temporary state. If you can remember what it felt like to fly, to be weightless and easy, it can give you strength and courage to push through the hard times.

There is a noticeable signature to your sound. What did you try to differently on this record, sonically and aesthetically?

I don’t overwork my vocals. I record myself. There is a rawness and an intimacy that I am able to capture by being alone. The recordings can be messy and a nightmare for someone mixing my vocals. What is lost in quality I hope is made up for in the capturing of a moment. This album, in particular, was a bit more of a challenge because I worked with five different co-writers/producers. I had to have faith that my voice and words would be the thread to pull it all together and make it a cohesive collection of songs.

 

 

When you’re writing the words, is it more as a poet than a lyricist? 

I write as a lyricist, but I don’t see a big difference.

On the title track, there is the line, “You smoke to think straight / And drink to stay numb” – is that a confession of sorts?

This song was to and about a friend. Songs are like letters to me. I talk to people I care about through my songs.

When you proclaim, “You deserve all the love in the world” are you addressing yourself?

I am proclaiming it to myself and to everyone who needs to hear that. Again, this is a song that I wrote to a friend who was coming out of a bad relationship that had left them broken inside, and I wanted them to see themselves through my eyes. We are all a little broken inside and sometimes that is all we can see of ourselves; but if someone loves you and you can see yourself in their eyes, it is healing.

“You Gave Me Wings” – is it about Prince?

Yes it is. An artist named Ganga out of Denmark had sent me a track to write to that I had been sitting on for a few weeks, so I decided to take it for a drive. It was April 21, 2016. I stopped at a cafe to grab a coffee for the drive when a friend of mine called to ask if I had heard about Prince; she thought it might be a hoax but within seconds both of our phones started blowing up with calls. I knew it was true; he was gone.

 

 

And you reacted to his death by writing this song?

I did what I do, I just started driving with no destination, until the words came. I was listening to Ganga’s track, and through tears, the words came. They speak of our winter together, me writing the poetry record and him writing Lovesexy.

“Let the Healing Begin” and “Spread Your Wings” seem to suggest a desire to move on from trying or difficult times. Did you find the writing and recording of this album particularly cathartic?

“Let The Healing Begin” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I wrote this song driving from Jacksonville, Florida to Orlando, at a heavy time for me. There are two songs on this album that refer to me as a child; this one and “Calling Out The Thunder.” I am always attracted to music that has a little heaviness to it; it forces me to dive a bit deeper. I always say it’s the sad songs that I love the most and although there is often a tinge of sadness to my music, there is always that redemption, that light at the end of the tunnel.

You can hear that on both tracks.

“Spread Your Wings,” again, is a letter to a friend. Writing a song is like summing up all the swirling of emotions, finding words and melodies to make sense of it all. Yes, writing and recording this album was cathartic, it sums up the past four years of my life, a closed chapter, and now the book of my life is ready for a new one.

The musical landscape has changed radically from when you first came on the scene. What do you hope to get from making music at this time in your life?

I would never want to go back. I am comfortable here in this new geography where I am able to navigate my own way through it. I was never good at playing the game. I have managed to stay true to who I am no matter the climate. And I feel blessed to have gotten the big label experience of the early ’90s – what a ride.

 

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Chef Roy Choi on His Provocative New Show ‘Broken Bread’

 

 

Roy Choi is nervous. He’s about to launch his first ever television show, Broken Bread, on KCET and Tastemade…and he doesn’t know how it will be received.

“Are people going to get on that bandwagon of like, Who is he to cover these topics?,” Choi wonders aloud. “What’s his resume? Does he have the right to talk about these social issues? Or are people going to really care? I’m really curious to see.”

First off, if you’ve been hiding under a culinary rock, Mr. Choi‘s resume is definitely not the problem. It’s grown exponentially since he first drove onto the scene in 2008 as owner of Kogi, the L.A.-based Korean taco truck that, arguably, launched a whole new era of food truck culture. Since then, he’s opened several other immobile restaurants: A-Frame, Chego, Locol, and (the former) Pot Cafe and Commissary at the Line Hotel, all in Los Angeles. Just last month his new restaurant Best Friend opened to critical acclaim in the new Park MGM in Las Vegas, coinciding with Lady Gaga’s residence there (how’s that for catching the zeitgeist?).

 

 

Indeed, the stars are most certainly shining upon him, as well as beside him, as he has successfully taken his rightful place on the Strip’s glittering celeb chef row. Television, naturally, had to follow.

But, speaking to the other side of Choi’s CV – as an activist and regular volunteer for local non-profits – this will not be your average celeb-chef show. More Parts Unknown than Top Chef, there will be no hard-won competitions, no battles over how to ingeniously incorporate cilantro into a dish or masterfully serve a hungry crowd from a food truck (all of which Choi has done, by the way). Broken Bread is just Choi, chef, entrepreneur, activist, moving through the streets of his city, exploring issues that are meaningful to him, and putting a well-deserved spotlight on people making a real impact in their communities.  

“We don’t glorify people on the ground doing this really, really hard work,” says Choi, “I wanted to really explore that and what motivates them. How do they get up every day when there is no camera and nobody is paying attention except for the people they take care of? To put that on mainstream television and not have it sanitized, and be able to be myself and speak to the world about it –  I couldn’t turn that down.”

 

 

In Broken Bread’s premiere episode, Choi speaks to Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, and Mar Diego who runs Dough Girl pizza shop in Van Nuys. Vega hires teens struggling to get off the streets and has spent her own resources to put up several of her young employees in an apartment, so they have a safe place to live.

“We really made a point to get the kids’ voices on there too,” says Choi of talking with Diego. “These kids are struggling, but they’re just kids. You’re letting them basically live on the streets and get addicted to these opioids. We wanted to show that if you do care about people, if you do care and love and want to be a part of it, that it can be done. Even with no resources and no backing and no media spotlight, Mar is out there every single day doing it.”

Choi is no stranger to this kind of advocacy. In fact, he’s been giving a voice – and jobs – to the voiceless for a long time. Despite rising to culinary fame, he keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground. It really started with Kogi.

“I wouldn’t be able to be the same person before Kogi that I am now,” he says. “I was thrown into that environment where I had to face thousands of people on the street every night, and this energy and this love that was being transferred definitely changed me. That’s how I live my life now. I never look at it like ‘I’m The One.’ I just try to contribute how I can. Maybe I can’t be a Mar, but I can be a guy with a TV show that can [shine a light on] Mar.”

 

 

When KCET and Tastemade approached Choi with a skeleton of an idea for Broken Bread – putting a spotlight on social issues through the lens of food – it felt like the right fit, Choi says. Not only because of his commitment to giving back, but because restaurants, and specifically the kitchen, seem to be a natural springboard for second chances. The food industry has long been a place for those without hope, or for the just plain rebellious, to find a home.

“It’s probably one of the purest places as far as not discriminating or judging people,” Choi explains of working in a kitchen. “It’s like a martial arts dojo. It’s based on what you put in. A lot of us are rebellious, and a lot of us are like ‘fuck you’ to the world; but cooking is cool because for the most hard-headed of us it gives us a goal to accomplish everyday. There are a hundred pounds of onions that have to be peeled, and you can’t run away from it, you can’t shortcut it. You have to face it head-on, and that becomes like a metaphor for coping with life in many ways. The kitchen is great therapy for that.”

In true Choi fashion, Broken Bread covers a wide spectrum of topics near and dear to him, from food deserts and rehabilitation to pot politics. In another episode, Choi talks to the connoisseur of weed himself, Cheech Marin, about the origins of L.A.’s marijuana culture and how, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just growing on trees back in the day.

He enthuses, “To hear it from Cheech about how it really was, and what they had to do to get high…you know, that was fun.”

Find out what else Broken Bread has in store on May 15, when it premieres on KCET and Tastemade, and will be available for streaming.