Interview with Jane Siberry on “Hush,” June 28, 2000
Note: The first couple of minutes of this interview were lost due to engineer error (me).
Randy Roark: There’s lullaby-ish qualities to the songs themselves as a whole, as a unit, as a CD.
Jane Siberry: So there’s that too. That’s actually more of what I should probably say. You’re my first interview, Randy, so you’re going to have to bear with me while I actually try to remember the process. Why I came to certain things.
RR: I’m really excited about this CD. I’ve followed your career forever.
JS: Well, what do you think of it? Or where it will stand or what it means?
RR: I think it’s my favorite CD of yours. I’ll tell you, there’s a personal reason why, as well. My father died the day after I got an advance copy of it.
JS: I’m sorry to hear that.
RR: As you probably know, the days after is a very difficult period, and I could only listen to two things. I could listen to your CD and I could listen to silence, but I couldn’t listen to anything else. As far as where this CD stands in my mind as a fan and a listener for years, I found it to be my most favorite album of yours as a listening experience. And the reason I think that’s true, for me, is that there’s a stripping away of everything except Jane Siberry in this, and so when you speak and sing through the songs—and it’s interesting because they’re not your songs—there’s a presence in the room of this person everyone who’s ever followed your career has always been charmed by, only now the concentration is solely on the presence of this human being as a spirit or a voice or a presence in the room. And I tell people, and I sincerely believe it, that it’s my favorite Jane Siberry album. And when I tell people that it is, and then I tell them that its songs are traditional, public domain songs—none of the songs are originally yours—they look at me as if I’m slightly insane, because what everyone has always been drawn to and charmed by in your records is that sense of getting to know Jane Siberry and how could that possibly be with these songs? However, as an artist, I find that often when I have to read someone else’s poem, I can often put parts of me into the voicing or phrasing of it in ways that I almost can’t support in my own work, without any kind of self-consciousness.
JS: Very interesting.
RR: So did you find a sense…?
JS: I like the way you describe that. It is purer, more direct, I guess, contact with my essence than ever, just because of the nature of the arrangements, I guess. And that I’m out of the way in an odd way, making more room for other people.
RR: Or the sound or the song itself, to be able to communicate the song. You say that you used as much of the traditional song as possible, but you did the choral arrangements, right?
JS: All the arrangements are mine.
RR: They are absolutely beautiful. The layering of voices and the honoring and almost celestial . . . I keep coming up with the word “angelic” around it.
JS: Well, it was a luxury, really. It was a luxury because I love doing my own harmonies. I always have. And it’s an odd thing that happens when I start arranging. I don’t try to . . . when I try to arrange I can’t do it, but if I just listen to the song, they start to sort of descend like these beautiful mathematical equations. And then they fit together. And I don’t get a chance to do that very much, because I’ve found, in the past, for example, on “When I Was a Boy” where it . . . as soon as you heard more than one of my voices at the same time, the connection was not as direct with the listener, and I was going more for directness then. But now oddly I think because the context is correct on this record for a lot of me, that it hasn’t lost its intimacy.
RR: Oh, not at all.
JS: But I haven’t had this luxury for a long time, and so it was a joy for me to do this.
RR: How did you choose the songs that you included on this CD?
JS: Well, it was a bit of an adventure, pilgrimage. I wanted to do a collection of my favorite songs and I thought they were going to be mostly Celtic, but slowly they transformed . . . they started moving across the ocean to North America, and then became a mixture of Celtic and American spirituals, and then they sort of started to weave themselves together because, in fact, songs like “Shenandoah” are rooted in the British Isles. Or these songs came from people who migrated from the land of the Celts. So there was a connection that surprised me. And I also . . . there was a little girl called Rhona—there is a little girl called Rhona—R-H-O-N-A—who I spent quite a bit of time with in Scotland and she has Down’s Syndrome, but she loves music so I found if I sang the right song on piano, certain songs would just light her up, like a candle. Other songs would just sort of leave her blank. And so it became sort of a goal to create something that would make people really happy—not just her but a collection of songs that had that affect on people.
RR: Did you learn anything from this process? What it would be in a song, say, that would light somebody up?
JS: Good question. I don’t know, Randy. I guess I sort of . . . they’re all my favorite songs, too. I guess it was just whatever lights her up probably lights me up, except I just wasn’t looking at myself. But what is it about these songs? You know, when you hear the words “Swing Lo Sweet Chariot,” you just go, “Oh, I love that song.” The words are uplifting—even the sound of the words. Words like “sweet” and “chariot” and “home” and “carry me” and “abide” and “faith”—the words are uplifting, and then the music has a beauty to it; a poise and a balance in the thirds and fourths and sixths and sevenths moving around, and the resolutions all seem to . . . I’d say they’re gems. I don’t know how to describe it more than that but they feel good in my body anyway.
RR: It seems like the real turnaround. In other words, when an artist is in the studio recording songs for their own ears, they’re listening for certain things and pleased by certain things. It seems like you took the experience of being with Rhona and cast your eye out to see what was happening—the focus of the attention became something outside of yourself. And in this case a very simple situation or a primal situation with Rhona. Did you find that that changed your orientation as a performer to looking at the audience?
JS: Yes, it did. Because I was very careful in the arrangements to not exaggerate a part of myself that wants to interest my own ear. My goal was just to make . . . create something that was very easy for me to hear it—that wasn’t unusual or unique in any kind of way that would not feel soothing. So, yeah, I put on a bit of a different . . . I used a different filter system to make all my decisions. And at the end there were a lot of beautiful introductions—intros and outros—but I cut a lot of them right off. I felt it was a creeping in of more of Siberry-isms than . . . gee, you’re helping me crystallize my thoughts here. Anything that was too Siberry I kept out of it.
RR: And then by that process, as a listener, you became more Siberry.
JS: Oddly enough, that’s how it works, isn’t it?
RR: I had an interesting experience of the same thing—I had to give two readings this week and I got rid of all my good poetry the first week, I thought, and so I had to give this other reading, so I read what I thought was secondary poetry, and people said it was the most beautiful reading I’d ever given, because I think that I realized that the poem wasn’t going to carry it, it was my presence that was going to carry the reading.
JS: Oh. So you . . . I know that feeling. Yeah, so you…..
RR: So maybe I said the words with a little more passion or I said the words with a little bit more clarity or the focus wasn’t on this cool poem that I’d written. The focus was on the emotion or the sadness or whatever it was that was behind it. So that in your situation with these songs it’d be what you connected with in the song that . . . the word “simplify” isn’t the right word but by highlighting, in a way, those words like “home”—what it meant to you or what it could mean to somebody else, so that the words themselves become powerfully charged with meaning.
JS: Right. And all I had to work with was, you know, the song that someone else had written. Like you, I put . . . I made more with less.
RR: And that’s the odd paradox I found about art is that almost the less the art takes the attention the more the person or the presence or the art of the moment of being human in that place with other humans communicates, so the attention is not “Oh, I’ve got to do this stuff to keep people entertained,” it’s that I will share this moment of being human with someone. However, that oddly becomes the most artistic moment—and powerful moment—for a listener as possible.
RR: Which song on this would you like to hear most on the radio?
JS: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really think that way. Or I don’t have any thoughts that way.
RR: Do you ever listen to the radio?
RR: I kept imagining hearing certain songs like this mixed in with what I hear on the radio, and I think it would stop people in their tracks. I actually would love to hear this on the radio. It has a classic feel that I think will connect with a lot of people. I think it could be huge if enough people hear it. It’s pure, pristine. When you credit on the album Frank Sinatra and Paul Robeson—especially Frank Sinatra—“Only the Lonely” or some of his classic albums, I think it would fit right into that mode. Why did you credit…?
JS: Well, I credited him because of his version of “Ol’ Man River,” and Jimmy Stewart because of his role in the movie “Shenandoah.”
RR: Oh, right. And Paul Robeson because….
JS: Many many reasons.
RR: You had mentioned back around “When I Was a Boy” that it was very important for you, the idea of androgyny—that you wanted to incorporate the masculine parts and to embody them as well. And I’ve heard that along your recording career. This CD, though, strikes me as being almost transcendentally feminine. Did you have a similar experience?
JS: I’m not sure. I think we would have to agree on what we mean by masculine and feminine, but I don’t know if I would agree with saying that this record my most overtly feminine.
RR: Maybe it’s the lullaby aspect or the sense of singing to Rhona, a child, that comes through as this nurturing, almost maternal, loving that maybe I….
JS: You associate with feminine. Yeah. And yet, how would you describe the masculine? What would you say masculine is?
RR: I would say more insistence on presence, active role, less nurturing, but more powerful in a certain way. Is that clear at all?
JS: Yeah, I guess I used a lot of masculine energy just making it happen because a lot of things were quite complex, and as I did the vocals and I would end up with so many vocals and I’d use a certain amount of time as free vocals, because that’s where certain things happen. But then when you have five tracks of a beautiful vocal that’s been created but there’s a few things that have to be cleaned up, it’s so . . . it can be mindboggling and stop you in your tracks and you have to really . . . you have to be really—what’s the word?—goal-oriented or you just can’t concentrate that long. So a lot of it took a lot of brain power.
RR: I got a sense of that when I was listening to an early version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and you just had the “coming for to carry me home” part . . .
RR: . . . at that point. And I got the sense of the architecture of the song. Although it sounds simple, because it’s clear, the conception and the practical aspects of building it . . . it’s almost a solo record in many ways. You’ve constructed this cathedral of sound.
JS: Yes, that’s a lovely . . . you have so many great words. I hope you talk to Mark Riva before he does his press release because already I can hear more . . . a lot of strong soundbites. Or ways you’ve captured things.
RR: Let’s talk about some of the songs, too.
RR: Starting with “Jacob’s Ladder.” I didn’t know this song. I know a lot of folk music….
JS: You didn’t?
RR: No, I did not. But I was playing it for two friends of mine who had grown up Baptist in a Baptist church and I put this CD on and they started singing along. They had known these songs from childhood. So where did you first hear these songs, such as “Jacob’s Ladder”?
JS: In childhood. I’m not sure whether it was in church or not. I’m not a Baptist, but it was just part of my childhood soundscape. I don’t recall wherefore. But everyone knew them.
RR: And you mention singing with your mother beside the piano.
RR: On “All through the Night.”
JS: Yeah, that was her father’s favorite hymn. He was Welsh. And that was the first piano duet that I learned and it was with her—she taught it to me. So she’d play the bottom hand, and I’d play the top hand.
RR: It’s a beautiful song. I don’t think I’d ever heard that one either.
JS: No, it’s less well known, but there are many versions of the lyrics, but these ones I thought were particularly beautiful. Although, oddly enough, I was reading a book about hymns last week and . . . who was it, some famous hymn-writer—or was it a famous poet? Yeats?—had written a poem called “Hushabye My Child and Sleep,” which I think was a version of “All through the Night,” and although “All through the Night” is considered traditional, it may have come from this church hymn-writer. Or this poet. I can’t remember. Isn’t that interesting, too, Randy—I can’t remember the details, but all I’m saying, in short, is that I think might be from a very famous . . . the lyrics might be from a modification of a very famous writer’s song. Even though I listed it as traditional.
RR: The lyrics I find interesting because the beginning and ending are a lullaby, obviously and clearly, but the middle section seems to be singing to someone who has either just died or is in the process of dying.
JS: I saw it as singing to someone as they go from birth to death.
RR: That brings up the idea that listening to this is a very close experience of being in the presence of William Blake and his “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” Are you familiar with Blake’s work?
JS: No, although certainly I’ve heard of him and that.
RR: I was wondering if you had . . . well, the idea that I heard in this collection is the idea of innocence and experience, or that opening up of the world that you can see in a child, and yet also the adult version of having to give these things up at the same time that they become conscious of them, and so you realize the value of your childhood when you look back at a child, but only from the position of not being a child any longer, but you have this other experience that now includes that holiness of being able to appreciate what your childhood really was. And it seems to me the songs that you’ve selected and collected here are an interesting mix of inspirational songs—of courage in a dark night, or tender songs that a mother might sing to a daughter—but there are also several songs of longing and loss and saying goodbye and that kind of bittersweet sadness. Did you want to balance these two forces in this, or are you aware of that?
JS: It feels balanced to me so I don’t recall doing it on purpose but it does feel balanced. And as you were saying that, I thought where I am right now, and I’m not unaware that it’s just before the new millennium, or however you want to put it, and my life, my life has never been so stripped-down, on all levels—possessions, friendships, work, money, time—that to have this record be the right record to come through at this time seems significant somehow. That it’s a sort of a reduction of sorts. A reduction to the songs that have stood the test of time—a handful of gems. I don’t think I have many more favorites than what are on this record. So it’s a distillation itself. And then the arrangements.
RR: And then the songs that you’ve selected actually speak to that exact . . . where you get to say at the very end, with “O Shenandoah”—it’s the feeling that the listener or I heard is that same sort of feeling—of maybe life is stripped down now but at the same time there’s a certain . . . what’s left standing is very powerful because of that. There’s less distractions, there’s more reality. No bullshit.
JS: That’s right, yeah. These songs are what’s left standing. Yeah, that’s interesting.
RR: And what I found really interesting to me as a listener is that you’ve somehow taken these songs from different times and different cultures and different histories and different parts of the world and yet you’ve made them all . . . you’ve found something in them that’s contemporaneous with each other—which is, it seems to me, to be a human presence in the world, looking at the world with a little bit of longing or sadness.
JS: Yeah. It’s maybe also a distillation to what I think is important and what I guess has . . . you know, the most important things to people throughout time, and it hasn’t changed now. Love, home, your connection with God at the end of your life, or whatever.
RR: And children, and dying.
RR: Or to go into the next stage of your life, the necessity for leaving behind one stage—whether it’s an Irish person going to New Orleans, or “Shenandoah.” The version of that [of “Shenandoah”] that you have is absolutely beautiful. It so captures that feeling of “I know I have to go, but the beauty that I’m leaving—the love of what I am leaving—is almost crippling. But still, I know I have to go.”
JS: Oh, yeah. Thank you for saying that because that’s the nut of the human condition. And I had to change the words a bit because through the years there was so many verses added that it stopped making sense in a funny way—it was illogical. So one important change, so that I could sing it anyway, was to add the word “tho.” That simple thing made it make sense to me. “I long to see you, away, I’m bound away.” That didn’t make sense, so “I long to see you, tho I’m bound away.” And those two sentences are the most poignant, heartbreaking thing I think about the human condition.
RR: “The Streets of Laredo” was another song. I actually learned that—I’d heard it my whole life, of course, but at one time I was working with Allen Ginsberg and he was teaching that song in class and I was quite surprised. But what he loved about that song is that same touching . . . what he loved about it most was that it was, for him, obviously a man looking at a young man who has died too young, and acknowledging the heartfelt sympathy and sense of loss. And he found that so touching in a way. At this point he was quite elderly. And that same feeling of looking at someone—or a man looking at another man, say—and to find that in the Old West! But in that same way, that’s a similar situation of someone longing or leaving or looking at something that he or she has lost, and the tender feeling of “Beat the drum slowly.” He found that quite moving.
JS: Yeah, and I’m not sure . . . a lot of the lyrics are quite different than what you hear there. There are probably about twenty verses that go on and on but I think for me the most moving thing is the melody, perhaps. The sound of the word “Laredo.” And then a man in his prime, like you say. No one likes to see something full of life . . . it’s almost more upsetting to us. It is more upsetting to us to lose something as vital as youth or something really beautiful.
RR: Yeah, there seems to be an order in the world which is that children should see their parents die. There seems to be an order. When that order is stripped away some way in the way that it can be, it accentuates the pain or the loss or the “could have been.” And there’s that sense in “Ol’ Man River” as well.
JS: I had heard Paul Robeson’s version, and that was a family classic, and a lot of people sing it in the showers, as I discovered, and that’s the only song that isn’t really old. But for me it was the song of my childhood, that’s why I included it.
RR: The version of “False False Fly” that you’ve included….
JS: I’m just reading your notes here. Oh, a ballad. I did a search on the internet and found something weird.
RR: When I was working for Allen he was teaching ballads one year and I was his teaching assistant so I got very interested in a song called “The False Knight on the Road,” which is Child Ballad number 3, which is the same….
JS: Oh, my goodness, look what you’ve got here.
RR: It’s a great song, but the thing I find the most interesting about it is you said that you learned this song in Ireland, or this version of “False False Fly” in Ireland?
RR: Because Ewan Maccoll had a series of records that versions of this appear on. At that time, it was actually the sixties, it was very rare in the United States, and only in Nova Scotia was there a culture that had incorporated this tune. And so you had gone from Canada to Ireland to learn a song that was only popular in Nova Scotia.
JS: Oh, isn’t that strange? That’s so fantastic. Yeah, well there you go.
RR: How songs move.
JS: And there’s a song called “She Is Like the Swallow,” which I did for Hector Zazou’s record . . .
JS: . . . an Irish man told me that it was Irish and sang his version of it. So it came from Ireland originally.
RR: It’s like these songs have lives and histories like families do. And “Pontchartrain.” You said you learned that song in Ireland as well.
RR: Because I’ve always associated that song completely as a New Orleans . . . I don’t know the history of the song.
JS: Oh. So you knew the song already?
RR: Bob Dylan actually did a version of it in the seventies.
RR: During live concerts. He never released it.
JS: He didn’t release it.
RR: No, it only appeared in concert.
JS: Oh, I see.
RR: In the New Orleans area, it’s a very . . . in their area it’s almost like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”; it’s just something that’s thought of as New Orleans. It also has my favorite line of all time in it that I hadn’t heard till I heard your version. “If it wasn’t for the alligators, I’d sleep here in the woods.”
JS: Well, Randy, I have to tell you that that’s one of my favorite lines too because I’m very afraid of alligators so I would be very excited when I sang that line. And it was hard not to laugh, too, doing it, because it just really charged me up. But I agree.
RR: I leapt right out at me. As a poet I hear words often and I was listening to the album as song and sound and all of a sudden there was like this incredibly startling, almost surreal line. It’s so absolutely true. I mean, if there’s alligators you wouldn’t sleep in the woods. But that somebody would say it and say it so plainly and simply and also incorporate it into a longer story where there’s not quite that sense of danger. It just startled me in a very pleasant way.
JS: I almost didn’t do the song because of that line, because it jarred me at first, and then it became my favorite line. You can’t have that on a . . . you can’t talk about alligators on this record. And then it became . . . and now it gets my vote for best pick-up line. Most original pick-up line.
RR: Yeah, “Do you have a place to stay? I’d sleep outside but there’s alligators.”
JS: That’s right.
RR: It’s original. And it could work, too. I mean, you can’t argue with it.
RR: Do you plan on touring behind this CD?
JS: Not so far.
RR: I’d love to see you tour, Jane. Really.
JS: I don’t know why, but I’ve turned everything down. I don’t know what I’m making space for but that’s where I am right now.
RR: Well, yeah. I hope that at some point you come again to a feeling that you would like to get out on the road again and meet people and sing not only these songs but other songs too. It seems like this is such a special, pristine recording. I would love to see how you would translate that—the experience of singing to Rhona only it’s a thousand unknown Rhonas sitting in your audience. To sing these songs to them. It would be difficult to get the choral arrangements, of course, in it somehow, but I had this vision of people falling in love with you totally having the courage to have done the work you have done to get to the point in your life and your career where you’ve collected these songs, recorded them in this way. It’s a real . . . it’s a landmark moment and it would be workable, I think, and a very charged experience if you did. I can understand that you’re not in the place where you want to do it.
JS: Well, it may well be the perfect thing to do, Randy, but until energy starts coming toward me. Maybe when the record comes out it’ll start to dictate certain plans for me, but right now everything feels really quiet and I do feel like very solitary and when I introduced different musicians into the arrangements—I had worked with an uilliean pipe in Ireland when I was there, and a percussionist, and I didn’t feel right introducing other people’s energy to the record. I feel very solitary right now, in other words, and so I kept reducing the record back to mostly myself, and that’s how I feel right now, timewise. I don’t feel like being available onstage or working with other people right now. That might change.
RR: Well, I’d say go with that feeling as long as you can and hopefully I’d like to . . . I hope some more work comes out of this. It would be amazing to document this time that you’re moving through.
JS: Yeah, well, I think you have that . . . this is a special record for me too because . . . and I’m surprised at how thrilled I am with it because I’ve never had a record that I could hand to older people or certain people that I really love without apologizing for being me. You know what I mean?
JS: And so I have so much pleasure thinking that I can give this to the people in the old age home, because I guess I’ve never had something like this before, and I’m so thrilled, just for that simple reason. And I think that’s why I tried to keep myself out of it as much as possible. A certain part of myself. And as an aside, like you said, it pumped up more of another part of myself. I do think it’s a landmark record for me of sorts, and significant, although I haven’t put it into words like you have, but I really appreciate that.
RR: I think as we’re going through the world together in a way and you’re slightly ahead of me, and in that sense I’m learning from you with the things that you record. So you’re experiencing things on the frontlines in many ways, and the burning away or the stripping away and the acknowledgement of what’s left and to find meaning and where it is that you find meaning and to be able to, like a jazz musician would say, “blow” on that is a real inspiration to me. I’d be interested to see what you do . . . where you go next. Do you have an idea of what’s up for you?
JS: Not sure yet, but just sort of vague shapes around me, but I’m not sure. One thing I thought of was the arrangements on the record I was hoping to do a lot more elegant work with the strings, etc., but every time I tried to get too fancy, I felt false. So I ended up with things I’m not necessarily even that, as a musician . . . using string pads—I would have preferred to replace them with real strings more often, and yet as soon as I did that, they started to pull focus, and so I felt I had responsibility to use almost nondescript synth sounds, and ignore a part of me that felt they were a bit, what’s the word, “cheap” or whatever. So that the ear would not become interested in them and the focus in the painting, so to speak, would be the vocal arrangements.
RR: And the emotions behind the words themselves, and the phrasing of them.
JS: Yeah. It could have been a much more complex and elegant record in a certain way, and yet it would have lost so much, so that surprised me. And then vocally there’s very few places where there’s a single vocal. In an odd way, although I did . . . it was right to have a bed of just me, for some reason it seemed too intimate when there was just one of me, so I did a lot of doubling and tripling to create a mat that felt more correct for putting out on the common table.
RR: And, if I remember right, “As I Roved Out,” I think, the first stanza is completely acapella. Do I have the right song?
JS: I’m not sure. I think there’s a pad there.
RR: Oh, maybe. But the single vocal is so forefront. I think your instincts were right in how you assembled this record. I have no complaints about the arrangements. There’s no arrangement that feels false or phony to me. There’s nothing that seems to be bringing my attention to a place that has less power and emotion than where you have decided to lie them, which is a mixture of the lyrics themselves, and also, I have to say, your voice sounds more angelic, especially the way that you have it layered here, than I’ve ever heard it, which I think is what people who have listened to you for years now are going to be humbled by. Just how beautiful you were able to make the human voice, traditional lyrics, and simple . . . the word “simple” doesn’t cover it. I think it’s appropriate arrangements. The way that you would say at a party listen to someone who played the piano, but it was real in that moment, and it was real in a way that no studio orchestra could ever capture—that same sense of immediacy and emotional content, that these arrangements . . . that you were able to capture.
JS: Emotional-content wise, when I had a single voice, they become too emotional, oddly enough. That to get the right emotional amperage, I had to mask my voice a bit by doubling it or tripling it, because I had a solo version of “Shenandoah,” but it would make me . . . too much information was carried in my voice when you could hear it alone.
RR: Maybe it softens it a bit when you have….
JS: Yeah, it takes me out of it a bit. It takes . . . because these aren’t my songs, so it’s not really appropriate that I sing them too intimatel
RR: I found that with a song that— “Water Is Wide,” I’m thinking of, which I’ve heard a lot of versions of—I’ve heard versions that literally make me cry from a sense of the person being broken down in their life in that moment and saying “I can’t make it on my own; I need a boat that’ll carry two.” And yet I found that with a lot of these songs, the lyrics are incredibly almost tragic and world weary, but you’re able somehow to soften that or heighten a more transcendent quality of that so that they don’t come across as tragic or sad, even—they come across as transcending that sadness or worldweariness to a realm of beauty. But I imagine that you connected with songs like “Water Is Wide” and “Shenandoah” because the lyrics are tragic, in a way, or sad.
JS: Yeah, and they’re a distillation of people’s thought for many, many years, right? They’ve stood the test of time, so they’ve spoken to many, many people, and endured. So they must the nut of, you know, the human heart.
RR: Yeah, those specific moments like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Like when my father died, you become a part of a world that has had to live with fathers dying for all time, and there’s certain emotions that you’ll experience only, and they’re very private, and yet, at the same time, if you’re able to capture them in a song, they can reach out and speak to somebody and touch them in that moment. And so these songs are more or less a collection of moments.
JS: Yeah, distilled moments—exactly that. Of man’s journey. I’m sorry to hear about your father, Randy. I’m not saying I’m sorry to say he died, necessarily, but it’s always hard.
RR: Thank you for saying that. Actually I listened to your CD off and on for those three days. It was the only thing I could really listen to. I guess I was Rhona at that moment. And I think that’s why I connected so deeply with it, because I was in one of those moments where the world outside stops in a way, just the way the cars pull on the side of the road to let a funeral cortege pass. I had to, in many ways, let a lot of things . . . I couldn’t touch a lot of things or be touched by a lot of things. I was in a place where I was watching a lot of things go by, and in that moment, in that series of moments of mystery and surprise and being carted away, I had your voice singing like angels to me. And as just one person out in the world, that’s why I’m so excited about . . . I want a lot of people to hear this, and I think that they can . . . that you . . . I’m so in awe, as an artist, as a practicing poet, I’m so in awe of an artist—another artist—who is able to capture the essence of what I’m working toward and all, I think, great artists work toward, and to have one person succeed in that becomes an inspiration for everybody else, and also a sort of hand-up in a way, you know? A little map. And I know that you had to go through this yourself, and that you created this, and I’m the beneficiary of it in many ways, and I just admire and appreciate what you’ve done.
JS: How articulate you are. Thank you.
RR: Is there anything that I haven’t covered that you would like to talk about, that you’re excited about, that maybe I missed?
JS: Well, I wanted to say that actually, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” I was totally thinking of my father when I sang it, because he is I guess on his way out. Oddly enough that you would connect to that song. The mix—the sound of the record—worked very much to the way I like to hear things, which isn’t how an engineer normally works. I would be continually pushing all the vocals up. And I’d say, “No, it’s not a lead with two harmonies—it’s three-part singing.” And it has a totally different effect on the body and sometimes I had to sacrifice being able to track the melody, because the harmonies were up at the same level. But for some reason it felt the most pleasurable to me.
RR: It becomes almost 3-D to the listener.
JS: Yeah, that’s a good way…. I think so. I think it’s very pleasing to hear that scupltedness and quite dry a lot of the time—not always, but quite, quite in the face but, yeah.
RR: Anything else?
JS: Not that I can think of, Randy. But, anyway, you have a great eye and way with words, so I do hope you can sort of crystallize a few things and give them to Mark.
RR: Okay. What I’ll do is I’ll hand this off to the transcriptionist, and they’ll transcribe it, and I’ll give a copy to Mark as soon as possible.
JS: Yeah, with your eye. It’d be great if you could sort of circle a few things.
RR: Okay, I will.
JS: I think what I think is important in that press release is the overview that you have. And that you used the word “landmark” and why in fact this is so, and that you used the word “pure.” Even though they’re not my songs, it is in fact, in an odd way, purer work than I’ve done before.
RR: I think so.
JS: Anyway, the way you put it was really great. So, there you go.
RR: It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Jane.
JS: Yeah, same here, Randy.
RR: I really miss you. Why don’t you come back? Come back!
JS: Come back where?
JS: Oh, Boulder. I probably will, as we get rolling and get on track.
RR: It’d be good to see you again.
JS: I’m just starting to work with people there. It would make sense for me to come down again.
RR: We’d like to see you. You have a lot of fans here.
JS: And you could pick me up and tell me more stories on our long journey.
RR: It’s a deal.
RR: Thanks, Jane.