I have an entwined relationship with North American religious folk music. My father and uncle were both musicians and part of the Folk Revival movement of the early 1960s. The songs on this tape would have been songs that influenced them and their peers, some of which were songs they themselves sung. My parents raised me to be a religious person but luckily did not do so in a way that was punitive nor used as a means of control. It was presented as a refuge that was open, flexible and a path of love and forgiveness. They were both literally insane and this was their way of trying to give me some stability as a young person. Because I had a good experience with religion in its loosest forms it is something that has continued to part of my life, although a very private one aside from these notes I suppose? It is not for everyone of course and thankfully there are as many ways to be a person as there are people.
Through my father and uncle and through my own spiritual background I began to listen to these traditional songs. I was greatly moved by their connection to my family’s early exploration of music but also by how simple and direct they were in the expression of pain, hope, hopelessness, loss, sadness, longing, faith, death and confusion. They are INCREDIBLY goth. Their subject matter and my personal history with and of them made it impossible for me not to attempt to pursue this world more fully.
The opportunity to do so came with being asked to tour with Swans in 2013. Presenting simple, fairly quiet songs before their complex earth shatteringly loud ones seemed like it could be an interesting pairing. I played a 1953 Silvertone hollow body guitar that my dad bought for me when I was 20. It felt right to play music he exposed me to on a guitar he gave me. I still have it and probably always will. As a bed beneath the songs are field recordings I made on a bird watching trip to Guyana in 2011 and sub bass pedal drones. Werner Herzog talks about juxtapositions that do not necessarily correlate but regardless of that resonate emotionally. Adding those sounds for reasons I could not avoid but could not explain was an attempt at following his idea.
During a show on this tour in London Swans curated a festival which included themselves, Ben Frost, Grouper and myself. Musician Shahzad Ismaily was playing percussion for Ben Frost’s group and asked that night if I would be interested in his producing a recording of this set. Obviously I said yes as he is one this earth’s all time greats. He then said we would do it in Iceland at the Sigur Ros studio. Never having been there and it was now even more excited to work with him.
I arrived and he set me up in a friend’s guesthouse and after a day to get over jet lag, we got to work. Because Shahzad made it incredibly comfortable, easy and beautiful sounding we got the songs all down in one or two takes. Afterwards he took me on a spectacular drive through the countryside. It was beyond dreamy and I will always appreciate his generosity and talent.
All Tomorrows Party Iceland was happening while we were there and I saw Steve Albini at the airport on the way home. I gave him a thumbs up. He looked down at this Lungfish shirt and gave it a thumbs up.