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Quick Q and A with Zoë Lewis
 by Kathy S-B  ·  3 May 2013

Zoë Lewis is one of the most unique musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness in concert. She’s full of life and conveys her love of music and, more importantly, she exudes her love of life from the stage. It’s impossible not to love her back. I dare you! Zoë is a most talented multi-instrumentalist and creative songwriter and makes fans wherever she plays!
To learn more about Zoë, visit her website. Check out this video to get a taste of Zoë’s music!

I absolutely love the description of you as “a band in a body” that is included in your bio. You’ve been involved with music since you were a child. Can you imagine what your life would be like if you did not have music in your life?
zoe-lewis_x240I would have a huge missing piece if I didn’t have music. I’ve always played music. Since I was little I was picking up things to play and writing songs. I simply had to! I used to take a picture of a keyboard on holiday with me and play fake keys because I would miss my piano so much. When I was older and traveled the world I started playing all sorts of portable instruments. I was in Africa and Latin America and there the people make music with anything they can get their hands on. I love this! If you have a gourd from a tree, some beans or and old piece of tin you can make music. Now I play over 20 instruments and keep collecting more.
You’ve been called “Part Huck Finn, Part Julie Andrews.” So what attributes of each of these characters would you say inspired this description of you?
I love both of these characters. I grew up with Julie Andrews films with her crisp voice and cheery outlook on life. She’s also quintessentially English. Maybe a little of her seeped in, throw in Huck Finn’s sense of adventure, add a little of Fred Astaire’s romance, some Noel Coward, a growl or two from Tom Waits and Louis Armstrong, some gypsy swing from Django Reinhardt, some words from Paul Simon and you’ve got me.
I’m fascinated by the fact that you were a Hammond organ, piano and synthesize for a Latin jazz band in London. What was that like?
In my first “proper” band I was hired as the keyboard player. This was great for me and got me much stronger on accompanying singers and taught me how a pop song was built. Latin grooves were hitting London at that time and we were trying our best to play them. I was blown away by the great rhythms I was learning. It was so different to anything I’d played before. I loved it!
I’ve also got to ask about playing with an elephant orchestra in Thailand. That’s not something that you hear about every day. What in goodness sake is an elephant orchestra? And how did that come about?
I love stories and when I hear a great one I head towards it. I try to follow my dreams as much as possible. A cellist friend told me about the elephant orchestra of North Thailand. I wanted to see it for myself so I jumped on a plane and suddenly I was jamming with 8 elephants on my ukulele as they played marimbas and gongs and even harmonicas! Most wonderful!
You’ve been known to do a workshop called “Music in Our Pockets” which teaches people to hear music made by all kinds of things — including ordinary items found in your pocket like spare change, keys, etc. How is this received and can you describe the kind of music that was produced by your workshop participants?
I believe music can change the world and it does all of the time. I love to encourage people to play music. So many people think they are not good enough but when they try, they have a fabulous time and it works! As I mentioned before, you can make music out of all sorts of non-traditional items. That’s what I try to show in my workshop. You can even make music from the percussion instruments you find in your pocket: your keys, coins or on your body. When I traveled the globe people would grab anything that was handy and jam with me. All it takes is the desire to do so. I’m very happy there’s a ukulele craze right now. I’ve been playing the uke for years and now people are discovering it and can’t put it down and strum with friends and learn tons of songs and forget about sitting at the computer for a moment!
Tell us about your new musical called Across the Pond. How did that come about and what’s it all about?
I’m very proud of this piece. It’s my second musical and now I’m bitten by the bug! Coming from England and having lived in Provincetown for the last 20 years, I often think about the meaning of “home.” I have traveled to so many places that I quite often feel at home wherever I land but then I have a strong pull to my roots too and a new anchor on the tip of Cape Cod. I guess this is common for expats but the more I chat with people they all have fascinating stories of what “home” means to them. This musical is set on a plane half way between Heathrow and JFK and a delightful array of passengers contemplate these questions high in the clouds. I have an amazing cast and Donna Drake, from the original cast of A CHORUS LINE, is coming from Broadway to direct. It opens on May 30th in Provincetown.
You’ve definitely got a cabaret vaudevillian side to you. Have you always been a student of music that was popular way before you were born? Do you feel that it’s important to expose people to this kind of music lest they forget or lest they have never heard it in the first place?
My ears go to music that moves me and I just swoon to all of the old 1920s and 30s tunes. They lend very well to the piano and I adore the sentiments, beautiful melodies and simplicity of the songs. We’ve been doing a show called ZOE LEWIS AND THE BOOTLEGGERS, a night of prohibition era jazz, and everyone dresses accordingly. I like to mix theater with music. It makes for a more entertaining show and I’ve been doing this more lately. I’ve been exposed to lots of cabaret in Provincetown and I’m sure it’s seeped in and I adore the old carnivals and circus times, working show men and vaudevillians and I like to embrace this in my show. It’s the “job” of being an entertainer. This is my profession, my bread and butter and I go around making people tap their feet and smile, tell a few stories and help them forget about their troubles for a moment.

Quick Q and A with Cormac McCarthy
 by Kathy S-B  ·  29 April 2013

For folk music fans, there is only one Cormac McCarthy. In this interview he discusses the “other” Cormac McCarthy, living and creating music in New England, his brand new CD Collateral, the creative process, and his old buddy, Bill Morrissey.

To learn more about Cormac McCarthy, check out his website. Here’s a good example of Cormac at his best.

Does a week go by when you don’t get at least one person asking you if you are a) Cormac McCarthy the novelist or b) if you’re related to THAT Cormac McCarthy? I heard your radio interview in which you said that at least he’s a good writer! ;-)
Cormac McCarthyYes, but, less and less, most of the people at my shows know the difference. Cormac has been an unusual name, tho, I did hear a guy yelling at his kid at the aquarium, “C’mon Cormac! Let’s go!” It got me a little riled.
And occasionally I will sign the novelist’s books, “To so and so, this isn’t the best thing I ever wrote but, thank you anyways, Cormac McCarthy”
New England has been your home for many years. What is it about this area that keeps you here? It can’t be the weather.
I’ve been and lived in many parts of the country and I really like New England. The weather is great three quarters of the time. Winter is a good time to concentrate on projects. There are fewer distractions like going outside and having fun.
And I like the quirky and irascible people who live here. The North Pond Hermit (note: a man who lived in isolation for 27 years in a remote part of Maine who recently got caught stealing some provisions) could have been lots of people I grew up with.
I like the New England grit and opinionated attitudes. When I lived in California, I found it was very difficult to get into an argument. The response to a challenge or a disagreement never went any farther than, “Hey man, I can dig where you’re coming from.” Although, I have to say, I’m more like that now.
I like the Portsmouth area, the music and arts scene is vibrant. And the area
is very tolerant of the eccentric. Last night they held the Spotlight on the Arts Awards. Collateral was nominated for album of the year and I won for Best Folk in the category of Folk/Roots and Reggae. It was very nice to acknowledged in your hometown. Very often you get appreciation everywhere but, your hometown.
I’ve seen Portsmouth go from a tough, dirty seaport to a yuppie laden 4-dollar coffee bar. That is the way it goes. Artists and musicians gravitated to the seacoast because of proximity to the ocean and cheap rent. They created an arts scene and community and it made the area attractive and then raised the property values. Then of course, the artists couldn’t afford to live there anymore. I live across the border in Maine now but, spend my fun time downtown.
So tell us about your newest CD, Collateral. For starters, what does the title refer to?
Collateral is a re-entry into the roots of the music I grew up on. Ballads, blues, bluegrass and protest music.
There are stories that could come from the dustbowl era, some gut bucket blues and even a bluegrass murder ballad. Along with the love songs that are the heart of all songwriting. All you could really want in a record.
There’s a lot of talk about the middle class but there’s little talk about the great difficulty of moving up into the middle class — about the working poor. Many working people are just one minor disaster away from being homeless. The songs I write are inspired by what I’m seeing and what I’m not hearing.”
Collateral is that thing of value, that thing you put up or gamble in order to get something else. It begs the question, not just of material goods but of things you’re willing to do spiritually, emotionally — what you’re willing to ante up and put in the pot.”
Your songwriting reveals much about your understanding of the human psyche. Do you ruminate about people whom you meet day in and day out, on the road and at home and then think up song scenarios? Or in other words — what sparks your songwriting?
Ruminate is a good word for it, like a cow chewing its cud. I try to make sense of things I experience and witness. I tend to mull over scenarios for story songs to try and find the logic of the moment, the things that make the narrative believable. Driving through Iowa is good for that.
The songs I write come in about three categories: songs I want to write, songs I need to write and the songs that just drop into my lap.
We all miss your buddy, Bill Morrissey. You knew him perhaps the longest of all his other songwriting friends. When you think of him, what comes to mind?
I think of Bill daily, one of his old guitars is here by the computer. We grew up together musically and I knew him when the world was still new. We challenged each other and had some great times together. Mostly I remember the great abundance of humor and learning and discussing music and lots and lots of laughter. There are couple of songs on Collateral inspired by Bill. One about old friends and one called “The Crossroads.”

Quick Q and A with Three Tall Pines
 by Kathy S-B  ·  25 April 2013

In this interview, Three Tall Pines talk about the band name, their influences and how they ended up playing bluegrass in very cold and snowy New England. You’ll also hear all about their forthcoming recording of traditional music and some reflections about the Boston music scene.

Check out this example of Three Tall Pines jamming at the Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival.

Three Tall Pines

I’ve got to ask a pretty straightforward and obvious question right off the bat. Why Three Tall Pines when you are a quartet?
Good question, we actually named the original duo after a photo Dan (the lead singer) took on a trip to British Columbia. Bands can be like a pet or a person, once you name something it is hard to rename it (especially when you buy the domain name!)
How did you all get into this kind of music? Many young musicians dream of being rock stars — so what drew you to bluegrass and Americana music?
I think my rock stars growing up were actually the guys and gals at the local bluegrass jams. All I wanted to do was be able to keep up with them and sing the songs they sang. By asking who wrote these songs or hearing the people jamming talk about who they liked led to finding records and cassette tapes that were copied and emulated. So I think we may have bypassed the rock streams or that bug never hit us.
If you had to choose a handful of musical artists who have inspired your music, who would they be and how have they inspired you?
Our group has been influenced by so many different things including the New England landscape/history, the rich trove of American music from bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers & Del McCoury to singer/songwriters like Gillian Welch, Steve Earle and Tim O’Brien, and of course local musicians and friends including hometown musicians and the rich/diverse seed bed of Boston based American string band musicians.
I understand that you recently recorded an EP up in Maine and that you were assisted by the great Darol Anger. Tell us about that experience.
We just wrapped up an EP the will take us in a bit of new direction for recorded music. All of our previous recorded material has mostly been original material. On this EP we decided it was time to honor our roots and record a few of our favorite traditional songs. The record was recorded at The Studio in Portland, ME by engineer Steve Drown and produced by our friend and great musician Ron Cody. We were planning to record our version of the Bill Monroe classic “Body & Soul” and we wanted to make that our version of the tune still honored the traditional version. Ron had the idea of reaching out to Darol as a great musical mind that knows how to push the boundaries of the traditional music while retaining respect to the original tune. It turned out great. We also brought in our good friends Lauren Rioux (of the Republic of Strings, fiddler/teacher Portland, ME) and Brittany Haas (of Republic of Strings and Crooked Still) to get an amazing triple fiddle sound. This was a really a great experience and everything seemed to make sense while it was happening, seemed very organic (other than trying to schedule all these musicians to be in one room at one time, that was a challenge).
I recently read a review of one of your performances and it talked about how amazing it is that your sound is so “southern” yet you’re a “northern” band. I suppose that’s a compliment because most people do connect the dots between bluegrass and the Deep South or at least Appalachia. How do you put yourself into a mindset to write songs that translate from your New England heritage and end up sounding like they were written on the back stoop of a small cabin in the mountains in Arkansas? :-)
We get this a lot as Dan’s phrasing is influenced heavily by southern artists including both bluegrass and country artists. I guess you end up emulating what you hear on the records you listen to. We are all heavily influenced by the rural (disappearing) New England landscape both inland and costal and the context of our songs contains references to many things like stonewalls and broken down farms which were and are prevalent in our region. We are also surrounded and moved by the Boston string band scene that has been championed by bands like Crooked Still and Joy Kills Sorrow that combine the sounds of intricate arrangements and rhythm patterns with traditional American folk music. I also think the Harvard/MIT higher educational atmosphere of Boston has a strong cultural influence. Historically the Boston/New England area has been known for being on the cutting edge for lots of things like manufacturing, factories, social reforms, transportation etc… and I guess that demand to keep things moving forward informs the music too.
To answer the question if you take some New England boys and rear them on lots of recordings with southern accents and surround them with their this landscape and the progressive atmosphere you get a unique New England sound that has a little “Southern Flavor.”
You’ve played indoor and outdoor bluegrass festivals, clubs, and coffeehouses. Do you have any memorable experiences that stand out?
To be cheesy every show has been memorable and unique. We always try to make each show special not only for the audience but for ourselves as well.


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