To be a member of Norway’s experimental jazz band Jaga Jazzist is kind of like …
Perhaps it wasn’t just happenstance that Lenore. came to play their album release show on the Autumnal Equinox. It was originally set for a different night, and then became the only night available beautiful old venue The Old Church.
The “witch folk” cometh via Joy Pearson and Rebecca Miller. Both seasoned singers and musicians, Pearson with The High Water Jazz Band and solo endeavors, and Miller with the Mynabirds. They met through kismet. Both had dealt with the weariness of hard work and a hard time getting their projects off the ground. But their connection was instant, and their harmonies spellbinding. Together everything began falling into place.
Their songwriting is strong, many songs follow a song of the natural order of things; Life, death, eternal rest, graves, returning to the earth, the seasons. This is something noted from Pearson’s last release Breaker, in which her songs are connected in a kind of historical fiction with a forlorn paranormal angle. The sun, the moon, and other elements are key players in their lyrics, so their motto “as witchy as we want” is very appropriate. But some songs are more jaunty and hopeful for love, like the sureness of “Sharp Spine”, or the gut wrenching mother’s love of “Blue” written for Pearson’s son inside his hospital room. This is also an album of finding respite and rest.
They took the stage of the Old Church after a barefoot Edna Vasquez, joined by a full band and string section. Candles flickered and the pews were packed with people sipping wine and listening intently. Pearson and Miller’s vocals soared, their palms raised as if receiving energy. They looked knowingly at each other as they sung “Autumn red bleeds into brown”, lyrics from “(I Just Thought) That You Should Know”. Probably because they knew they made that perfect coincidence happen.
Their candor was comedic and refreshing, Pearson is all too humble, and can easily get a crowd laughing with her jokes. Miller gave us all important advice before an encore performance of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin” , and “Sharp Spine”, featuring Edna Vasquez:
“Always pay attention when something magical comes into your life.”
I met with Lenore. before they headed out on their East Coast autumn tour to talk about how they met, quickly made their self-titled debut, and what the future may hold.
They return to play a homecoming show at Mississippi Studios this Saturday 11/11.
11:So how did Lenore. come together?
Joy Pearson: We both had made solo albums, and went on with our lives doing shows and stuff, but I think we both knew it wasn’t where we wanted to plant our flags. But then we met each other and it was like “here, this is the place”.
Rebecca Miller: The last show I played in Portland was a few years ago, I’m from Pennsylvania and was touring with a band called The Mynabirds. When I moved here there were all of these amazing opportunities, so much to do. At one point I agreed to play a house show with some good friends, but I remember that I worked myself up into a fit beforehand. Those songs just didn’t represent me anymore. I so deeply wanted to sing other songs.
Joy: My album had also just released. I remember sitting down and being like “I need the next thing” .
Rebecca: We met met shortly afterwards, and we were both going through these very similar things with our music. When we got together, and started talking about making music together, we weren’t trying to make it the next big thing. We were just blowing off steam.
11: So you were just making music together?
Rebecca: Yeah. The first time we hung out, it was like- “’i’ll play you a song, you play me a song, let’s talk, let’s have some wine.” But then we found the harmonies. They came really easily. It was like “Oh this sounds really nice” .
Joy: We are both choir nerds, and our harmonies hit in a very specific kind of way. Some bands do dissonant harmonies, or sprinklings of harmonies. But we felt like a two person choir, That’s exactly what we wanted, a lot of swelling and soaring,
11: So how long was it before you played on stage together?
Rebecca: We met at a Pokey Lafarge show in the summer of 2015, and had our first show in September 2015. Then we set out to record the album, and have just now released it.
11: How is this different than other albums? What happened with your last album, Breaker?
(Listen to Breaker, here: https://joypearson.bandcamp.com/releases)
Joy: Well, not much happened with it. Rebecca and I both have these solo albums, she has Trojan Heart, and I have Breaker. That was the point I knew I didn’t want to do music alone anymore. It’s not as much fun to get excited about stuff alone, it’s also scarier, like going through planning a tour and figuring out PR, it’s not easy to go through all of that alone.
11: Right now, Lenore. is self-released?
Rebecca : Yes, we did our Kickstarter, and we are looking to get picked up, maybe, by a label.
11: I’ve heard you say that being trained singers actually worked against you in some ways. Being trained singers and it actually worked against us?
Joy: I don’t know if the training worked against us, but it probably kept us out of different kinds of bands.
Rebecca: It’s more along the lines of “Your voice is just a little too pretty”.
Joy: “Your voice is just a little too perfect. I like a ruder voice, have you tried to gravel it up? Could you not do it so clean.” , I get those a lot. And I grew up in Montana singing in fucking street fairs. WIth like less Taylor Swift and more Garth-ette Brooks (breaks in deep country diddy). I just never felt like I fit in anywhere.
Rebecca: We just never knew where we belonged. And along the lines of being a choir nerd, out of choir–the effect of two voices. Individually we don’t sound anything alike, but when our voices are together, there are some parts when you can’t tell them apart on this album. They come together and match, and that can be more approachable for the listeners.
11: Yes, there are some parts where I can’t tell who is singing high, and who is singing low, it seems to alternate.
Joy: We trade off and on, I tend to write songs in lower keys, and Rebecca does harmonies. I tend to sing up and she sings down. But we are still finding our footing in it. We love going all over the place. Rebecca can sing this low baritone, not quite bass, really shocking. And I can sing high in a way that’s really uncomfortable. And I think we are finding the place where we love to play the most, we both have amazing range.
11: What is “Sharp Spine” about?
Joy: It’s about feeling contented. I wanted to get to a point where I felt contented. Whether it was whatever song I was trying to write, or project I was in, or my parenting. All the spinning plates. Having everything you need and feeling good. I read an article that says to treat your anger like a baby. Have you heard that? Care for it, and it will grow into something different. but don’t ignore it.
So I went through a phase where I wrote all of these anxiety induced songs, but it was a good phase, because I decided to actually shift it, care about it, acknowledge those feelings. And so “Sharp Spine” is acknowledging it and saying ‘hey calm down we have everything we need’. Of course now all I think about is having Eric Bachman singing on it, the dream of him doing it. And doing it so well.
11: How do the other players come into this? .
Rebecca: Eric Bachman has a really prolific catalogue, he’s been a part of Arches of Loaf, and Crooked Fingers. He’s really an indie rock legend. So it was a big deal to have him on the album. We opened a couple of shows for him.
Joy: Our full time members are Edward Cameron, a classical guitarist and a founding member of Y La Bamba, and Jessie Dettwiler, our cellist. She was a part of Alameda, she recently played with Father John Misty when he was in town. We are constantly amazed that we have them playing with us. They are incredibly integral.
11: Sometimes you have a full string section?
Joy: Jessie does cello but is incredibly skilled, she hired a string section and wrote out their parts.
11: What about recording?
Rebecca: We recorded mostly at B-Side Studios with producer John Askew, who has also worked with Laura Gibson and Neko Case. We had Paul Rigby play a electric guitar, providing a lot of ambient sounds, and he’s also worked with Neko Case. Dave Depper of Death Cab for Cutie played bass for the record. He does a lot of things.
Joy: He just released a track called “Do You Want Love?”. What an offer.
Rebecca: It’s a new album called Emotional Freedom Technique, it’s so good.
Joy: We are surrounded by so many nice people who are good at what they do.
11: What is your songwriting process?
Rebecca: We write separately and then bring everything to the table. We’ll say “ try this chord”, or “ you could cut that verse in half and come in with the chorus a little sooner”. By and large songs are written separately than the band works together to put that “Lenore.” stamp on it.
One of the things we would love to do more of , time permitting, is to craft songwriting scenarios and excursions where we could try to be more collaborative. But with this album, everything happened so fast. We had this momentum and steam,, so we worked to get this album made. And despite being written separately, there is a really cohesive sound which also comes from having other people involved that our able to intertwine the pieces into our aesthetic.
11: And what is that aesthetic? What is “Witch Folk” ?
Rebecca: It is thematic. Once we started working together there was this vibe and energy created that influenced our writing. Even if we were off in our own separate corners.
Joy: We’ve often said that, we’ve written the best songs of our lives, as soon as we started making music together. When we come together with a song, it just takes on a life on it’s own. We instantly started writing songs for each other, for this project, for Lenore. We really agreed on that vibe that we wanted.
And so as far as witch folk–It really has felt like alchemy, her and me together with our intense love and respect for nature and the natural process of things, There are reocurring themes of death and life. It’s metaphorical songwriting that is nature heavy. It’s led us to where we are, musically and as women. It was something It was a little joke, but I honestly thought-It’s just fucking magic.
11: What about the name “Lenore.”?
Rebecca: It’s another one of the things that just manifested out of thin air.
11: Were there other candidates for a name?
Rebecca: There weren’t. That’s what is so crazy. We knew if we were going to do this ,we were going to have to come up with a name. We were messaging each other and it went like this. Me: Off the top of my head I am feeling Lenore.”
Joy: And then I texted her back and said, “yeah I love it!”, I had pulled out some old title lists that I had made for possible projects, or songs, and found that I had previously written Lenore, twice. So I messaged her back and said “OK. That’s the name. “
Rebecca: We really mulled over how to spell it.
11: Is the period at the end to distinguish you from all of the Edgar Allen Poe info online?
Rebecca: Yes, but I also just really liked the finality of that period at the end of the name.
Joy: It also helps to distinguish us from a Lenore, the folk singer from Canada. I really like our name and i’m really into it. I hate sharing it.
Rebecca: It’s pretty impossible to confuse our music with hers though.
Joy: But then again there’s also a metal band named Lenore, and I DO like being confused with them. Sometimes I sing our lyrics in death metal.
11: How are the plans for the tour going?
Rebecca: We have the east coast tour, we’ve booked cities like Nashville, Asheville, NYC, and my hometown, Harristown, PA. I want to give them the most solid version of us.
Joy: I’ve never been to the east coast, so i’m unreasonably excited to go during a fun time of the year, and to see Rebecca’s hometown.
11: What’s next?
Rebecca: We’ll have a vinyl release in the Spring. We have a couple of songs that didn’t make it onto the album so we’ll be releasing them as part of the vinyl release, and we will have a vinyl remaster. We’ll have some other shows, and will be opening for a special performance at Revolution Hall in early 2018.
Joy: We’re coming into this album still fresh and new. We want to see our music out there. We have this kind of band dream-board, like getting our music onto a film soundtrack. And some of these goals are coming true, like the show at Revolution Hall next year.
We know a lot more than when we got started two years ago. I’m excited to be a more well oiled machine. If it’s on the board we expect to see some good things happen. We expect to be a wiser, sleeker, quicker band. It’s great to move forward with our eyes and sights set on a lot of great things. I think people tend to get an idea of who you are as a person, but also who you are as a band.
Rebecca: Remember when you had to fight to be a four piece? We had to beg bookers and managers of other bands we were opening for to bring in our cellist and classical guitarist. People wanted just the two of us as a package, as two women. They didn’t understand that our new members were a huge part of our sound and who we were as a band.
Joy: Then we came out with the album and some of it is kind of ass-kicking. It’s really cool. Not just “pretty”. We were like “Just trust us, listen to us” .
It was about, like-”you’re pretty”, “your music is so pretty”, “We really don’t want you to mess with that package”, “we really just wanted to just have a duo”, “Don’t lose that special thing that the two of you have.”
But it’s not just Rebecca and I anymore, it’s really the four of us now. And we are going into this with some goals, and I think the next album will be a really different, still good, but a different experience. This one was good too, it was just so much learning.
Rebecca: We are so ready to work on the next thing, it’s tough to say that. But we’ve been very rushed this time around. It’s fun to move forward because we have our eyes set on so many things.
Joy: We’re getting to explore all of the different parts of ourselves now. It’s easy to get pigeonholed in this business. Lenore has really offered us the legs to be “pretty” and also have a really fun, deep groove. We can do all the things.