Larkin Grimm Discusses Tony Visconti, Michael Gira, and Soul Retrieval
Larkin Grimm's infant son Otis is already more rock 'n' roll than you.
From the safety of his car seat, the four-month-old interjected a couple times during my interview with Grimm. Larkin and Otis are on tour, headed in her Prius to Albuquerque, New Mexico for another gig.
"I'm playing a lot of house shows, because I have my infant son with me, who's four- months-old," Grimm says. "It's all set up through friends, and friends of friends, so that I know that it's all mellow enough for my baby to be there."
An infant tour-mate is hardly standard, but not much about Grimm is.
"I asked the pediatrician," Grimm continues. "She said, 'Yeah, it's good. It'll help build immunity.'"
Otis is just one major way that Grimm's life has changed since leaving Michael Gira's Young God Records after the release of her 2008 album Parplar; since splitting from the label, she moved to New York, married the fire-breathing artist Master Lee, became a mother, and recorded a stunning new record, Soul Retrieval, with David Bowie and T. Rex producer Tony Visconti on electric bass and co-production.
The new album (due in February on Grimm's own Bad Bitch Records) is beautiful. Opener "Paradise and So Many Colors" shuffles on a lilting waltz cadence, with Grimm's kaleidoscopic images swirling via the lyrics; "Without a Body Or a Numb and Useless Mind" borrows a Cajun-cum-Paul Simon's Graceland bumping beat to dance with its existential questions; and "The Road Is Paved With Leaves" is already one of 2012's best, a low-soul jam, with aching, reverb bathed guitars, horns, gospel vocals, sawing violin, and buzzing analog synths.
That such a lush record was recorded in two days is insane. Over the course of our conversation, Grimm discussed working with Visconti, leaving Young God Records, and her hope (imparted to her by a white shaman, natch) that 2012 will be a very good year.
Larkin Grimm is scheduled to perform tonight at Funny World.
Up on the Sun: Your infant is with you. Four-months-old. That's tiny to be on tour.
Larkin Grimm: Yeah. He's good. I asked the pediatrician. She said, "Yeah, it's good. It'll help build immunity."
He'll be able to say he was on tour when he was a baby. Talk about future rock 'n' roll cred.
My dad was a musician, so I was on going to shows when I was a little baby, too. When I was little, we didn't have any hearing protection, and now I've got a set of noise-canceling headphones for him to wear and stuff like that.
That said, I imagine the shows are pretty low key.
Well, I play electric guitar. So it's not as quiet as an acoustic show, but I'm playing solo, so it's not as loud as playing with a rock band. I play with a band and sometimes that gets pretty loud.
You previously recorded on Young God. When and why did you leave that label? Michael Gira is very difficult to get along with, and I'm not the only person to be on his label for one or two records. I knew it was just a matter of time. I decided to collaborate with him on my last record, because I admired his work and I always wanted to work with him I thought, "How exciting to do that?" So I did and then the next record...you know, he really like dark, heavy, intense music. I wanted to make a more beautiful album and Tony Visconti wanted to work with me, as a collaborator and co- producer -- he recorded a lot of the classic David Bowie records and he plays bass on my whole new record.
"They Were Wrong," from Parplar, produced by Michael Gira
I had to choose between the two, and I was like, "I already worked with Michael Gira. So...I'm going to try this guy out." It was between the time between my last record and my newest record, I moved to New York City so, it's just a whole different community of musicians, and a different scene. And the music world has changed so much that I really don't think there's any point on being on a record label. If you've got enough money to put your own record out, you should do it. That's what I did. I don't have to split my profits with anybody now. That's great.
So Visconti contacted you about the record. How did you two hook up?
Well, when I was doing a tour in Italy, I recorded a cover of a song by Tyrannosaurus Rex, which his a pretty obscure acid-folk band.
Marc Bolen, before the glammier T.Rex stuff.
I recorded a song called "She Was Born to Be My Unicorn," and Tony Visconti is the guy who produced the original track, so somebody who knew him heard my cover and forwarded it to him, and he was just so surprised that anyone still listens to Tyrannosaurs Rex. He was like, "Who is this person?" He lived in the West Village and I lived in the East Village, so we met through a friend, through a photographer who knew us both, and it was basically her idea that we work together musically. I don't think I would have ever had the nerve to ask him. We ended up producing the record, and he played some shows in my band. He's such a legend in New York City. He would show up, and just be backing me up, and all of the sudden people would be treating me differently, like, "Oh my god, Tony Viscontti is here, what?" He's been working on a lot more projects, he hasn't been playing in my live band lately.
So you wrote the songs, and he took on a production role?
I wrote all the songs, and I did a lot of the arrangements. I chose all the musicians myself. He was there for the recording sessions, and he has an incredible musical mind. He did a lot of the arrangements on those Bowie and T. Rex records. He could work so much faster than me; it was like working with a master. I would have an idea, and he would just bring it to a point of perfection. Since I was working on it all on my own dime, I only had two days in my studio. So we did the whole record in 48 hours, and the fact that we were able to get such lush arrangements, and such a great sounding record out of 48 hours of recording kind of blows my mind. I don't think I'd be able to do that without Tony's help.
I hear that classic Bowie thing a lot in the record, kind of a cosmic folk element. Was Tony aware of the resurgence of that sound in America?
[Laughs] He knows that people are giving him a lot of respect. I think he had a rougher time in the '80s and '90s. But the fact is, a lot of that sound is just Tony Visconti's sound. David Bowie is an incredible songwriter, vocalist, and performer, but I think that Tony should have gotten a lot more credit on those records than he did. A lot of people don't realize what a producer does. He plays a lot of instruments. He has this amazing bass sound, that actually sounds like a synthesizer. He plays on "Flash and Thunder Came to Earth" -- he plays this beautiful bass line, and I was like, 'Oh my god. That's the Bowie sound. It was you all along!" That's when I realized I was working with a true rock legend.
I'm a young woman, and I know what I'm doing, and I love being in the studio, but I don't always get a lot of respect from the engineers, who are all guys in the 40s and 50s. When I get in there they are more like, "She's a pretty girl." When I came in with Tony, it was like, suddenly they all listened to me. It was nice. They were like, "Wow , you must really have something if you brought in this guy."
Larkin Grimm, "The Road is Paved With Leaves," from Soul Retrieval, 2012
Tell me about the album title, and the concept of "soul retrieval."
IT's all about the idea of 2012 being this significant date in the Mayan calendar. I had this experience studying with a guy, his name is John Perkins. he's the author of this book called Confessions of an Economic Hitman, which ended up being a New York Times best-seller. But he was a Wall Street guy, who went down to Ecuador and got really, really sick. A shaman there saved his life. As a result, the shaman said, "Now I own you. [Laughs] Now that I've saved your life, you're my apprentice. I'm going to train you to be a shaman."
So I met this guy, who's now a white shaman, who was going around doing these shamanic ceremonies with CEOs of companies, trying to prepare the world for 2012. And 2012 is supposed to be this time when the heart and the mind, or logic and institution come into balance. Some people call it the masculine energies and feminine energies. And part of the thing to get people to achieve this balance is you do these ceremonies called "soul retrievals." It's a ceremony where you search for pieces of your soul that have been lost, and you try and make yourself stronger and better and more uniquely you.
I thought that was good. It became very difficult to be a musician when the economy got bad. It got really depressing, and I was working really hard, and not seeing much results and really struggling. I felt like I was losing confidence.
Was that loss of confidence due to just the economics, or a creative difficultly as well?
With my record label [Young God] they really wanted me to have a hit record, and really worked me extra hard, and I did more touring than I had ever done before, and the tours where not organized by me. I wasn't going places I necessarily wanted to go. Before I did that record I was always doing this for myself, and after that record there was a lot of pressure on me from the outside. It was no longer a beautiful thing I did to make myself feel good; it was a job. So I took a pretty big break. I needed to get back to that place.
Part of that was getting married and having a child. Did those things contribute to finding parts of yourself?
I realized that there was no big hurry. This is my life. I don't have to put out at record every year. I don't have to worry about if people notice me or not. This is something I do so that I have a fulfilling life. I had my little brushes with fame and realized that famous people are not all that happy. That should not be the goal. The goal is to make really good music with people that you love and have a really good time. And make it soulful.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.