Larkin Grimm | Interview
Dream Magazine | George Parsons
Heartbreak. Violence. Obsession. Regret. Self-annihilation. Big, big transcendent love.
When I first contacted Larkin Grimm by email to do this interview she agreed and fired back her own mini-interview to me, which we’ll reprint at the beginning of this interview. At the time of this writing (September 2006), she’s just released her second full length album on Secret Eye; The Last Tree is a very different sort record than her first, and perhaps an even better introduction than her excellent debut Harpoon (2005, also Secret Eye), though both are clearly the work of an uncompromising artist with a singularly hallucinatorily vision that isn’t afraid of the dark in herself, or elsewhere. Larkin was born in a Memphis, Tennessee commune, and was raised in Dahlonega, Georgia in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; she’s since transplanted herself to Providence, Rhode Island.
L.G.: Where are you in the world?
G.P.: Nevada City California. We were called simply Nevada until the state stole our name and we tacked on the “City” Northern California high desert pine trees red clay, granite boulders.
L.G.: What was your most powerful dream in recent memory?
G.P.: Being at a huge party and trying to get myself together enough to leave but repeatedly failing.
L.G.: If you were granted four wishes, what would it be?
G.P.: Too personal, but they involve life and death.
L.G.: Do you prefer scorpions or hummingbirds?
G.P.: Love them both too much to choose.
L.G.: Metal or Prog?
G.P.: Prog I guess, but there’s some metal I’d choose too.
L.G.: I will ghost print your answers in my own issue of dream magazine, which is published nightly on the astral plane.
G.P.: Do you prefer scorpions or hummingbirds?
L.G.: In love, I am both a scorpion and a hummingbird. A troublesome combination. The scorpion is more truthful, but pretty nasty, aggressive, possibly deadly. The hummingbird is beautiful, but it feeds without landing. The scorpion breaks your body and the hummingbird breaks your heart. I think I prefer the snake.
G.P.: Do you think a lack of comfort helps to fuel creativity?
L.G.: Well, it certainly worked for me. But the truth is a little more complicated. I think it has to do with the source of our comforts - the destruction and waste that produces them. The American sense of comfort is deeply corrupt, and malignant. Mama Tierra ain’t gonna show you her wisdom and beauty if you are bleeding her dry. Try an outdoor composting toilet today. That’s a pretty inspiring experience.
G.P.: What are the main themes running through The Last Tree?
L.G.: I pull you into my heart and then I start flooding the body with light, so that you will be better prepared for the troubles to come. It is an invitation to join up with my dreamworld, which is a very green world. There are cicadas constantly chirping and spiders crawl across your face and you will be drinking snake milk. Everything is going to be okay as long as you remain kind and open to change.
G.P.: Metal or prog?
L.G.: Balance. Dark mysticality or optimistic skepticism?
G.P.: I read that you grew up in Dahlonega, Georgia, what was it like growing up in that neck of the woods?
L.G.: Imagine growing up inside the world of the films “the Last Unicorn” and “Dark Crystal” mixed with “The Dukes of Hazard”. Yeah. That paints a perfect picture of it. And I’m a mixture between Daisy Duke and the neurotic Wizard who can’t control his powers.
G.P.: Do you come from a musical family?
L.G.: Oh, yes. My father is the best old time fiddle player in Georgia, and plays just about every instrument, from the banjo to the sitar to flute, jawharp, mandolin, hammered dulcimer... You name it. He owns a beautiful little music store called Vintage Music and I recently helped him build a recording studio there, so now he works as a recording engineer, too. He has two or three old time bands, including The Georgia Mudcats, Rural Radio Company and The Georgia Potlickers, and when I was a kid he made money by playing Skynyrd covers in bars. He played lead guitar and sang in a couple of southern rock cover bands and played shows every night in the roughest bars, playing behind cages, being pulled off stage by rabid hillbilly women who picked their teeth with switchblades, that kind of thing. When he was my age he fronted a psychedelic rock band.
My mother’s sister is a composer named Wynne-Anne Rossi. She writes a lot of choral music and likes to spend time in Iceland. My mother teaches music to children.
My older brother is an electronic music composer and he plays shows under the name, “The Wind-Up Bird”. My Sister Annelise sings with me often and we have a dance band that she calls “Moccasin High Five.” She is an amazing dancer. She also plays music with her boyfriend’s hip-hop project. I think it’s called Javelin, but there’s talk of changing the name. They have an album coming out on the Finnish label, Lal Lal Lal, this year.
I also have two more siblings, Hannah and Spencer, who sing and play instruments. They are young, and will probably start bands eventually. The music world has a very Grimm future.
G.P.: How was it being a part of the Dirty Projectors, and why did you part ways?
L.G.: It was like being in Fleetwood Mac. It got too dirty.
G.P.: What are some of the main ingredients to Harpoon?
L.G.: Ha! That’s the follow-up question. Yeah. Heartbreak. Violence. Obsession. Regret. Self-annihilation. Big, big transcendent love. Also, most of the album was recorded in total darkness and I was holding the microphone between my legs most of the time. It was winter, very cold, and the attic room I recorded in was not insulated. I still remember the smell of the wood in there. It was a wonderful old house. I had a tiny space heater that I used to keep warm, but I had to turn it off every time I recorded something, because it was noisy. And the heat would disappear as quickly as I turned it off, because of the lack of insulation. I was wrapped up in two beautiful old quilts and a psychedelic rainbow afghan, but of course, it was pitch dark, so you wouldn’t see that part. One song, Future Friend, was recorded in a cathedral while I was in a frenzy. I was mostly insane during the time I was making that recording. I don’t do well with a broken heart in wintertime.
G.P.: Do you have a ghost story?
L.G.: Oh, they’re all too sad to talk about. I try not to get involved with ghosts. They are extremely unenlightened beings, and they see the darkness in you and that draws them like a magnet. There was a time when I was constantly exorcising ghosts from my consciousness. Spirits, though, I like spirits. My new album, “The Last Tree,” which will be out in October, contains three of my saddest ghost stories, and some spirit stories, too.
G.P.: What drew you to Providence?
L.G.: Forcefield, Fort Thunder, The Dirt Palace, The Hilarious Attic, AS220, Lighning Bolt, Alec Redfearn and the Eyesores, The Lucky Dragons, Kites, Mudboy, and my brother and sister, who were both studying at Brown when I moved there.
Providence has a real, strong community of brilliant, visionary artists and musicians. A lot of the hipsters are weeded out because it’s very difficult to live there. Jobs are hard to find, the air, land, and water are completely toxic, and it’s bitter cold in winter. There is a harsh puritanical vibe that blankets the whole city, and very few people there are openly friendly, but they are always willing to help you and collaborate on projects. They are willing to sacrifice everything for inspiration. These people are hardcore. I have a huge love and respect for them.
G.P.: Who are some of the musicians who’s music connects best with you?
L.G.: 1. You know, I really love Devendra. He is a sweet, soulful brother, and I think he’s only just beginning to discover his full potential.
2. Lightning Bolt are my heroes. Brian Chippendale, the drummer, is the most
powerful shaman I’ve ever met. He pushes himself to the limits of human possibility in his live performances, and I think his music heals people.
3. Michael Gira and Jarboe. They are not afraid of exploring and understanding darkness, violence, and emotional anguish. Because of this acceptance of the full spectrum of human emotion, they are two of the most well-balanced, kind, honest, and generous people I know.
4. Spires That In The Sunset Rise - four real women on stage being as huge and powerful as they ought to be, no compromises, scary nurturing hysteria, death, destruction and rebirth, booty-shaking heartbreaking rhythms, beauty, sleep and love. They are the best live band in the western world.
5. Brendan Massei of Viking Moses. He is the real thing, an intrepid traveler, and he has been very kind to me.
6. Josephine Foster - she and I are on separate but equal planets.
7. Bjork - exuberant happy mama, taught me how to be a woman.
8. Chan Marshall - showed me how beautiful it is to be sad.
G.P.: What part do dreams or dreaming play in your life or your work?
L.G.: I have a big interest in the workings of the subconscious mind, and as I explored the landscape of my own subconscious over the years through music, love and art, I stumbled upon another level: the door that opens to let in the universe. That’s where the MAGIC comes from. So I’ve been walking through this door a lot lately, while awake and asleep, and I have
discovered that there is a similar door that leads into the subconscious dreamworld of each individual. So we are all linked. This idea is not new - people like Carl Jung and Jackson Pollock and a lot of free jazz musicians have talked about the collective unconscious, but it was very exciting to discover it for myself. Now when I am on tour I visit people I love, through their dreams, and when I play shows I often travel into this world to call up energy, to bond with my audience, and to get help from friends in the past, present, and future who use me as a conduit. I channel. I uncover secrets. I try to help people to connect with this dream-world energy, as I have, and to discover that they are all one with the universe.
G.P.: Is your music psychedelic?
L.G.: My music is shamanic. Many shamans use psychedelic drugs as a key to unlock the door to universal oneness, but drugs are not necessary to the process. There are a lot of ways to get through that door. Meditation is great. My music, as a meditation, brings me there, but It’s up to you whether you’re going to go there with me or not. I’m still using my music to work out the kinks in my own subconscious mind, and my trips will only help you if you relate to my own experiences in the first three dimensions. Otherwise you might just be entertained. In my performances I’m just showing you how I do it, sharing knowledge, trying to be honest. I am still unfolding myself, peeling away skins, growing leaves... When this process is done I hope I will be able to take the music beyond my boundaries of self. On the other hand, my brother Joseph already does this very well with his drone/trance project which involves throatsinging, sine waves and the magical harmonic series. Maybe I should let him handle that stuff. Maybe there is something about my experience in this world as a woman that is important to express through song.
So, psychedelic people, go ahead and smoke weed while you’re listening to my music, but remember that you should only visit the spirit world in order to help yourself and others on planet Earth. You have to be responsible in the world your body lives in, too. Maybe instead of wrecking your lungs you should go for a jog and listen to my album in your ipod headphones. Ha ha!
G.P.: When I asked you about your music being psychedelic, I didn’t mean that people had to be stoned to hear it, but that the songs are a psychedelic listening experience in and of themselves. I think your stuff is very psychedelic. Not really a question...
L.G.: When will the psychedelic become manifest in the physical world?
G.P.: The psychedelic is constantly manifested in the physical world by every moment of existence.
G.P.: What inspires you?
L.G.: 1. A desire to nurture and heal others, and a deep respect for Mother Earth’s consciousness.
2. The Forest Spirit
3. The need for love, and the rare moments when it’s given freely
4. Other musicians
G.P.: How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it before?
L.G.: The sound of life filtered through the mind of a tough, sensitive woman who draws in energy from the world around her, mixes it with hers, and uses a strong, healthy body to push it out into the world with voice and instrument. Also, songs. I sing songs. And I play acoustic instruments so as not to waste electricity.
G.P.: A few favorite recordings?
L.G.: Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares Vol. III
The Microphones - Mount Eerie
Lou Reed, Berlin
Joanna Newsom, Milk-Eyed Mender
Carlos Santana and his band filmed live at Woodstock in 1969, on DVD
Lightning Bolt - The Power of Salad and Milkshakes DVD
Dolly Parton - Just Because I’m a Woman
Lisa Germano - In the Maybe World
Angels of Light - “New Mother” and “How I Loved You”
Otis Redding - Dreams to Remember
Espers - Espers II
Arrington De Dionyso - Breath of Fire
Little Wings - Wonderue
Led Zeppelin II
G.P.: The Last Tree feels like a big shift from your Harpoon album, there’s so much more tenderness, and openness. There are all kinds of feelings of renewal, and comfort throughout. Can you tell me if you agree, and if so what accounts for this shift?
L.G.: I was working with children at the time when I began writing the songs for this album. I was taking care of five little girls and six little boys, aged 5 months to 7 years. I was singing to all of them and making up songs with some of them. I wrote a lot of children’s songs that didn’t make it onto the album. I had to clean up my act when I became a nanny. No more swearing, no clothes smelling like marijuana cigarettes, no alcohol, no irony, no nihilism. These kids forced me to find my balance and became my new best friends and I started thinking about all the troubles facing them as they grew older. I discovered that I had a strong nurturing instinct. I got in touch with my primal femininity. I totally loved these kids, and then I broke all their little hearts when I quit my various babysitting jobs to become a touring nomad full time. The real meat of the album was developed on tour as I was traveling around the world observing the extreme environmental crisis that’s building. Then when I was thoroughly exhausted I went back home to Georgia and I sat in a little cabin in the forest and I finished the album there, and recorded most of it there. I brought my father in to engineer a couple of the more difficult songs. This album is really intense, but it’s for the whole family. Ha ha.
G.P.: The first line of The Last Tree is “Sorrows come and sorrows go.” Would you say in some way this is indicative of one of the themes running though the album?
L.G.: You got it, mister. Also: be brave in the face of chaos. Also: it is beautiful to acknowledge your shadow and it is necessary to do so if you want to know true goodness. Also: respect that everything around you is alive and full of spirit. Also: turn your back on civilization. Trees will save your life. Technology is poisoning you.
G.P.: Are you more blessed or cursed?
L.G.: That depends on the energy that I project out into the world. I am blessed when I bless, and cursed when I curse.
G.P.: Are your songs often written to or about specific people?
L.G.: Yes, most definitely. I write songs for people I love and people I can’t stand, and I write a lot of songs to encourage other musicians. I also write songs to heal wounded and neglected parts of myself. But the ones that made it onto the album are the ones that smile and extend their fingers out to everyone.