Grimm's tales: Former Yalie folkie returns

Patrick Ferrucci, Register Entertainment Editor | New Haven Register

When Larkin Grimm arrived at Yale in September of 2000, the Memphis-born singer/songwriter wanted to be either a politician or an actress. But like many wide-eyed teenagers, she changed those goals multiple times, eventually winding up one of the most important names on the ever-growing freak-folk scene.

"I got to Yale," recalls Grimm during a recent phone conversation, "and had a little bit of a spiritual awakening when I went to Alaska. Then I decided I wanted to be an artist."

Trained as a visual artist, Grimm soon found Yale's arts scene discouraging.
She didn't fit in. Having been born into the spiritual commune Holy Order of MANS, an orthodox Christian sect that eventually made its way onto the federal government's list of cults, she wasn't used to a big city. After her parents left the commune early in Grimm's life, the family relocated to a rural area of Georgia where her parents performed folk music. The cliquish arts scene in New Haven didn't feel right.

"It was a little too elitist for me," she says, "so I started making music.
One of the only ways I had a connection to where I was living was going out and seeing music at places like Rudy's, BAR and Cafe Nine. Students were strongly discouraged from interacting with other people at Yale, so I moved off campus because I wanted to feel part of the town. The New Haven music scene was easy to get into, so I got more and more emerged in that."

With a haunting, ethereal quality, Grimm's songs fit snuggly into the freak-folk genre, with gently plucked acoustic guitars, dulcimers and sprinkles of other instrumentation played under multitracked vocals. On her first couple albums, Grimm recorded improvisationally. But on her newest disc, "Parplar," the 27-year-old recorded with acclaimed avant-garde musician Michael Gira (The Swans), so she had to write the songs before entering the studio.

"Michael didn't realize I wrote my songs while tripping on psychedelics while looking at the universe. He was like, 'Is she totally insane?'" laughs Grimm.

"I had to learn how to write some songs. I did it the same as ever, but I did it more frequently. I would record songs on my minidisc player. I did that about 50 times until we had songs that we were both happy with. We then went through the process of trying to reconstruct my demos. Michael had to learn that my first take was my best, and he had to allow for improv and to make sure the vibe was right. He's really happy with the record and I'm glad. And I'm really happy with it because I got what I wanted: to have a good time. What's ironic is that the album (2005's ŒHarpoon') that made him want to work with me was written through improv."

Even though "Parplar" is Grimm's third full-length album, in many ways she feels it's her first work as an actual musician. For a long time, she could barely play her instruments and just kind of messed around until something sounded OK.

"I think I became a real musician when I started to teach bands to play my music," she says. "I was basically telling them what I wanted to do. That's really only happened in the last two years. A lot of experimental music is made by people who don't know how to play yet, and that's why so much of it isn't very good."

And now Grimm will return to her old hometown for the first time since about three years ago, when she played a small gig at a bookstore in Stratford, a concert put together by Crazy Cloud & The Joyful Beginners' Cal Robertson.
While she's not completely fond of her time at Yale, she did learn a lot.

"I came from a small town in Georgia, a very community-oriented place." she explains. "It was nothing like the urban thing of New Haven. I got to Yale, and everyone has big barricades to keep us away from the town and everyone's filthy rich.

"It was like a big crazy trip. People from Yale don't leave from behind the barricades and people from the city don't go to places like the Yale library often ‹ that's a tremendous place. I wasn't rich and I didn't belong there and it was a struggle. I learned a lot from it. And I loved the music scene.
It was the first one I really experienced."