Larkin Grimm | Interview | Brad Rose

Having experienced so much already in her life, she has poured these adventures into songs about murder, love, sex, death...

Larkin Grimm emerged from the woods last year with her amazing debut, "Harpoon," on Providence imprint Secret Eye. With an absolutely stunning and powerful voice, her songs have a life of their own. Her music is brutally bare and honest, but that only adds to its magic and its beauty. Larkin Grimm is an old soul making her way through the world. Having experienced so much already in her life, she has poured these adventures into songs about murder, love, sex, death... and she does it in a way that makes the most awful things seem beautiful. These ghost songs will haunt you long after they're over. This interview as conducted in March 2006.

Where did you grow up and how has that effected your art and your music?
From conception to age six, I grew up in a hippie spiritual cult/commune called The Holy Order of MANS. After my parents decided to leave the commune, we moved to a small town in the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, just south of the North Carolina border. My father, a German/Gypsy had been a musician before he joined the order, singing and playing guitar in a
psychedelic band, but as he got older he spent more time playing traditional Irish, Gypsy, and Appalachian fiddle, and we moved to the mountains in order for him to be closer to the Appalachian tradition. We left the commune with basically nothing but the clothes on our backs and a little bit of money from my grandmother, which was just enough to buy a car and put a down payment on a little cabin on two acres of land, in the forest at the foot of a little mountain. I was a very solitary child, even though I grew up with two brothers and two sisters, and I spent most of my time in the woods with my dog, Cookie. To make money, my father played lead guitar in a Southern Rock cover band, played Appalachian fiddle and hammered dulcimer at weddings and parties, did a little carpentry and made stained glass windows. He was a jack-of-all-trades. We were very poor for the first five years or so, but we always got by. After a couple of years my father opened a music store and began selling instruments and teaching lessons. I worked there with him, tuning and dusting instruments and watching great musicians come and go, but I was a rebellious kid and I didn¹t want to do the same thing as my father, so I chose to be an artist instead of a musician. I ­miraculously- won a scholarship to study at Yale, and I ended up doing painting and sculpture there.

And what was it that first got you interested in playing music?
When I was 20 I decided to drop out of Yale, move to Alaska, and marry a guy I’d met in a commune in upstate NY, a Canadian massage therapist/ Alaskan horseback adventure guide named Nigel. I spent all of my scholarship stipend on a ticket to Juneau and arrived there with an expectation that this guy would take care of me. Ha! After some searching, I found him living in a tent on a mountainside outside of the town of Skagway, AK, hanging around with a guy named Wander who I suspect was his male lover. I liked these guys, and they taught me a lot about their anarchist and environmentalist politics, but the love wasn't quite what I expected, so after a few strange weeks in Skagway I bought a tent of my own and took off hitch-hiking into the Alaskan wilderness with about $150 in my pocket. After a few weeks full of really great adventures I decided to camp out in the woods outside of a tiny town called Girdwood. I was miles away from other humans but there was a healthy population of bears who liked to forage in the very same berry patch where I’d pick strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries for my pancakes. The secret to living with bears is that you mustn’t startle them, and so whenever I went anywhere, I would sing to let them know I was there, and whenever I was scared I would sing and whenever I was lonely too. I sang and sang and sang until I was a pretty good singer, and I felt like the bears and the trees and the river really appreciated it Then one day I climbed up to the top of a beautiful mountain and decided that I would never come down. On about the fourth day on the mountain I was slipping around on a glacier called Raven and I met a young woman there named Jezebel Crow, who was a Native American shaman and a pitbull breeder. She invited me to eat sausages, maple syrup, and cinnamon buns with her in the back of her old Toyota truck at the bottom of the mountain, and since I'd been eating nothing but pancakes, oatmeal and salmon for weeks, I couldn’t refuse. Jezebel convinced me, with more sweets and promises of adventure, to travel with her to her commune outside of Olympia, WA and on the long trip down, over 1,500 miles, she changed me into a singing bewitcher and taught me how to communicate. She convinced me to return to Yale, but I kept visiting her in Olympia whenever I could, and every time I went for a visit, the music got stronger.

Was there one album or one artist that really changed your perception of the impact music can have on someone when you were younger?
Bjork. Her music is filled with nurturing mother love, and love of wilderness. I discovered her music at age 12, and she feels like family to me, though I've never met her in person. Also, I must admit that I liked the Indigo Girls very much at that age, and the Dead Kennedys, Nirvana, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I learned the most from the musicians who knew my father, Southern Old-Time and Blues musicians. They taught me that to be a musician can mean living a lifestyle full of satisfaction and happiness, and they taught me the importance of community.

How long did it take you to write "Harpoon," and were there any particular events happening at the time that had a significant influence on it?
Just after the Alaskan Adventure I fell in love with a guy named Dave Longstreth. We started playing together in The Dirty Projectors. We fought a lot, we were foolish, we had a really dangerous and insane love affair, and we hurt each other terribly. I think we really succeeded in murdering one another, actually, a violent psychological murder, and now we¹ve both been resurrected as better people. That’s what Harpoon is about. Dave is the Serpent on the cover of my album. He is sad about killing me, and I am crying over killing him, but we do it anyway, because this is our nature. We are baptized in the blood of our battle and we come out clean and new, ready to love again. This relationship took place over a period of about two years, and I started writing the album as an apology/explanation to him when I realized that a final breakup was inevitable. It took about six months to write and record the album, and by the time it was finished, so was our relationship. He was making an album at the same time, called The Getty

Harpoon was recorded after I moved to Providence to start a new life alone, and the Providence Noise scene definitely influenced me while I was recording. I love Lightning Bolt, Barnacled, and Kites. They are shaman, too.

How'd you meet up with Jeffrey Alexander and get involved with his excellent Secret Eye label?
In Jeffrey's words: "We met in Tijuana, Mexico at one of those sex shows where the prostitute is fucking a horse." I think what he means is that he and his girlfriend/label partner/Black Forest Black Sea band-mate Miriam came to see me play in the gloriously toxic city of Providence, Rhode Island, the city we love and live within. They liked it. I trusted them. It's been great.

What role does tension play in your music?
My songs are trying to cure themselves of multiple personality disorder. I sing and play with many voices. One is love, one is anxiety, one is hysteria, one is ecstasy, and the last is wisdom.

Have your parents heard "Harpoon" or ever seen you play? If so, what was that like for you?
My father actually mastered the record, which was strange for me because it is so intimate and intense. As I said before, I was a pretty rebellious kid and I caused a lot of trouble for my parents, so giving them this album, which is full of a lot of my insanity and anxiousness and love, was like
being the prodigal daughter. They say that they love the record, and they listen to it often. My mother says it makes her cry. I have a lot of respect for my parents, and I think that it is important for me to be honest with them about who I am. I don't really hide anything from them. I'm honest about the worst things I do as well as the best things. It's really pretty easy to give my record to my parents, but it is more difficult to play for them. I really don't like to do it because despite my ideals, I still feel a bit restrained in front of my parents. I don't want them to see me singing about sex or drugs or murder or hopelessness. I don't want them to worry and think, "Oh, no! Our daughter is insane!" I'm always a little shy about playing in my hometown because it is a very
conservative, Christian part of the country and the things that I do reflect on my parents. I don't want to have people burning crosses on our lawn because I'm some kind of pagan witch doctor. Some of my most hardcore fans are there, though, mostly teenage girls who are looking for a way out. I found a way out of smalltown Georgia, and I didn't let the religious right keep me down. It's not as easy for me to make this music as it would be for someone growing up in New York or San Francisco, or even Atlanta.

So you're living in Providence now... How has that effected you and influenced your music and art, versus the impact living out in the Alaskan wilderness had? Do you notice a difference in what you're writing these days?
My family is a pretty wild and creative family, but we're surrounded by extreme conservatism. One of the reasons why I had to go to Alaska to find the confidence to be myself is that in Georgia I was constantly condemned and harassed for it. Some people didn't want their children playing with me because of where I came from and how I look. I remember my mom saying to me, "You better be good, or they'll start throwing bricks through our windows." Yale was torture because I was surrounded by the children of extreme privilege, who could do anything they wanted to do because they had money. It made their adventures and their rebellion seem pretty pointless, when you knew that their parents would always be able to bail them out of anything. There were some brilliant kids there, though, and I was inspired I love Providence because anything goes here. Really, the wilder you are, the more taboos you break, the more respect you receive. We've got our own little religion up here. It's ecstatic. You go to a noise show and you're transported into outer space. Before I moved to Providence I was shy about expressing the shamanic, ecstatic qualities in my music, but this place has really encouraged me to be shamelessly spiritual.

You mentioned the importance of community. Do you feel like there's this sort-of global community that's built-up around the kind of free/experimental/whatever music?
I don't think so. I think that's an invention of the press. Having a real community means seeing your friends at their best and their worst, helping them out when they're sick, fixing their bicycles, going to their shows even though you might have something better to do, supporting them when they've lost faith in themselves, and being overjoyed when they finally make that beautiful thing that's been rolling around in their head for months. It's nice that the internet allows for a wider audience and allows artists in separate countries to influence one another, but each geographical location has its own special energy. You have to live in the forest and swim in the lakes of the northwest to make music like Phil Elverum's. The earth's energy flows through your body whether you recognize it or not, and it works through you. The energy in Providence is really dark and destructive and apocalyptic, but it's got its purpose. The energy in Finland is quiet and sensitive and really, really beautiful. Finnish free folk is nothing like Providence free folk. But it is nice that we have enough political and spiritual freedom to express these differences without being burned at the stake. One of my female ancestors was hung in Salem for being a "witch" I'm glad that this hasn't happened to me. This freedom we have is given thanks to the global community, and a belief in tolerance, the equality of women, and basic human rights. I know there's still a lot of messed up stuff that happens, but I'm happy that I can be a wild lady in 2006.

Speaking of that, you just got back from a tour through Europe. What were the highlights? Is there anywhere you didn't get to play, but really want to? Where do you want to go next?
Speaking of that, you just got back from a tour through Europe. What were the highlights? Is there anywhere you didn't get to play, but really want to? Where do you want to go next?

The highlights... Finland! I was so impressed by all the Finnish folks, by their openness and creativity and ignorance of "cool". Sami from Fonal Records is one of the best, purest, most down to earth members of the "music industry" I've ever met. He puts out beautiful music from Islaja and KEMIALLISET YSTÄVÄT. Jan Anderzen, the boss of this band, reminds me of my older brother Joe, who is a musician as well. Avarus is great, too. I fell in love with their drummer, Arttu. Lau Nau brought her newborn baby to the show in Turku. What trust!

I was really impressed by the Belgian music and art scene, too. My shows in Ghent and Antwerp had wonderful audiences. There's an artist in Antwerp by the name of Dennis Tyfus who will blow your mind, and a great band called Orphan Fairytale.

Scotland felt really good, and in Scotland I met the best new band I've heard from Europe, called Nalle, fronted by a young woman who is half Scottish, half Finnish. The folk music there is based on storytelling and the lyrics are great. I played with a great guy in Aberdeen whose band is
called The Kitchen Cynics.

I had a great time everywhere I went. I traveled through 11 or 12 countries, and in each place I stopped, I found a new best friend. I was traveling alone and I really appreciated the kindness and hospitality of the promoters. Some of the best bands I played with are going to be coming to
Providence this month, to play at the Terrastock Festival, and I just can't wait to to see them again.

I'm probably going to spend the summer farming, and then I'd like to tour through the United States again, stopping in all the national parks. I would like to visit Alaska, just to check up on the things I love, and then go to South America. I've never been to Brazil.

How'd the recent tape on Sloow Tapes come about?
I don't even know. Bart found my music somewhere, probably because I was playing some shows in Belgium, and he sent me an email, followed by a really awesome tape. I gave him some music written by myself and my beautiful and elusive friend Earl Monster.

Is there any particular story or reason behind naming the album "Harpoon"?
When Sophia Dixon first made the artwork for me, I left her Brooklyn apartment with the drawings and went to a Dirty Projectors show. This was after Dave and I had broken up, and things were a little tense between us. He had heard my album and liked it very much, but we weren't really speaking to each other much. My album didn't have a name yet at this point. I showed Dave the drawings right before his show began, and he was really touched by them, especially by the one that was to go on the inside, in which we are both dead but it looks like we are sleeping peacefully together, and there is a smile on my face. He got up onstage and improvised a really beautiful
song about it, which involved the phrase "Harpoon Baptism". So Dave actually named the album.

It sounds like your European tour was totally amazing. What was the worst thing being out on tour alone, though?
Loneliness was both the best and the worst thing about being on tour alone. Sometimes you realize that you don't have a partner, and you look around and everybody else seems to have one, and you wonder why. It's hard to be an Amazon lady. I don't think that I make sexy music. I make music that is expressive of my feminine truth, which can be strange and ugly and frightening at times. Some people tell me that it's beautiful, and they try to romanticize me, but I'm not a pixie. I'm no angel. I'm a battle-scarred, blood-soaked world-weary warrior of love. The worst thing about tour was probably that whenever I met somebody I felt really comfortable with, I'd want to stay with them, and I couldn't. I had to keep moving. I would have liked to stay in Finland, eat pickles and black bread, drink fairy's pee, make silver-skinned birch babies...

What are you looking forward to most at Terrastock? Any band you are really looking forward to seeing that you've never seen perform before?
Ghost. Avarus. Spires That in the Sunset Rise.

What are you most excited about in 2006?
I am excited about my friend Luke's band, The Lucky Dragons, and I am excited about this throat-singing choir I'm starting in Providence, and about finding a way to save the city I love from the creepy corporate developers who are buying up all the warehouses that artists and musicians
ought to be living in. I am excited about chaotic love and I am hoping for the collapse of civilization and the rise to power of the tree people.

Any closing comments?
Everything is going to be okay. Love your friends. Take care of the earth. Be yourself. Share your joy. Don't complain.