Can you start off by telling us a little about where you’re from? I know you currently reside in Asheville. Are you a North Carolina native?
I was born in Georgia but went to middle school in the North Carolina mountains, so they are totally imprinted on me. What's not to love about a temperate rainforest when you're a kid?
You recently announced that you’ve recorded another solo record. What’s the story?
My new record is called Deeper Woods and will be out on Thrill Jockey May 11th. I joined together solo guitar pieces with a capella songs I wrote and arranged parts for other instruments as well. The 12-string is so orchestral that it felt like a natural leap to multi-track. There are contributions from Sally Anne Morgan, Emmalee Hunnictt, Thom Nguyen and Tyler Damon. I wanted to keep it to a few close friends.
It’s gauche to generalize about a particular “scene,” so please forgive me. But it’s been fairly well documented that we’re 10+ years into a renaissance of acoustic stringed music driven by an appreciation for Jack Rose, John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Bert Jansch, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a fascinating sector of the indie music world, but most of the focus has been given to men. You’re one of the female leaders of this scene, as is Marisa Anderson, Sally Anne Morgan, and Emmalee Hunnicutt. Who are some others that we may not be aware of? Are you pleased with the female representation in this community of artists, or do you wish more women were drawn to this music?
I tend to not think about music in terms of micro scenes like solo guitar, so I'm glad you mentioned Sally and Emmalee who play other stringed instruments. But I could give you a list all day long of amazing female guitarists: Mary Halvorson, Wendy Eisenberg, Amythyst Kiah, Susan Alcorn, Kayla Cohen, etc, etc. I think the issue is that scenes/festivals, etc are defined in such a way that they exclude the possibility of having diverse voices. Representation matters.
Your music is rooted in history, and I read that you learned to play guitar by listening to prewar blues songs. Can you elaborate? I’ve recently been studying up on the Piedmont blues. Elizabeth Cotten. Pink Anderson. Reverend Gary Davis. Are you into any of that stuff? Does the musical heritage of North Carolina play a role in your approach to music?
I will love the blues forever and did learn a few pieces when I was in high-school, but I always wanted to forge my own path so never composed in that style. Some of my favorite blues guitarists are Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, Geechie Wiley and L.V. Thomas, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (the real founder of Rock and Roll!), Roscoe Holcomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White…I could on! The blues is an incredibly diverse genre with so many unique guitar styles that one could explore it forever and never get to the bottom of it.
I saw House and Land play at the Three Lobed day party at Hopscotch in Raleigh last year. Your set was amazing, but the real eyebrow-raiser was when you joined the headliners Kurt Wagner and Mac McCaughan on stage later that day. Kurt did the FLOTUS MIDI/drum-machine thing, Mac played analog synth, and you and Sally Anne sang backup. How did that collaboration come about? Did you rehearse a lot? Did you only play covers of song by The Frogs?
Yeah, that was fun. Sally and I toured with Lambchop, so we got to know Kurt that way. Then he reached out to us about joining their Hopscotch set. Neither of us had heard of the Frogs and were taken aback at first when we learned more about them. But the lyrics were "curated" and Kurt and Mac made original music for it that sounded really great.
I read one of your posts on social media not too long ago where you were highly complimentary of a show in (I think) Columbia, SC. The gist of your post was that DIY/grassroots efforts to put on house shows, gallery sets, or small club gigs is really important in today’s music industry. What are the things you look for in a good, supportive music community? How can we make Charlotte more friendly for touring artists like you?
I think this is an important topic to be transparent about because it can be really tough being out on the road when you're barely breaking even. I think people fantasize that if someone is doing well in the press that they're bringing home lots of money, but that's really not always the case. It's up to communities and fans to support them. I'm grateful to absolutely anyone who wants to go the extra mile to put on shows but there are some ways to help the artist come home with more money. Some things I've noticed that work really well for DIY spaces are: have someone stand by the door asking for donations. If people can afford to spend $15 on craft beer in a night they can afford to pay a $10 cover, so ask for it (and work to encourage the belief that music is worth paying for). Sell beer and wine and give the profits to artists; put on a crock pot of soup and make an event out of it; collaborate with promoters from different scenes in your community to encourage cross-attendance. Those are just a few ideas.
Can you talk about your musical relationship with Tashi Dorji? How did you first start playing music together? What is different about the way you play with him compared to your approach to playing solo or with House and Land?
Tashi is an old friend at this point and is really the life-blood of the Asheville scene. He is so supportive. The first time I played with him was with MANAS a couple of years ago and since then we've played as a duo a lot and in other configurations as well. Playing with him definitely brings different things out of me and has gotten me really excited about improvising. I admire him so much.
You and Tashi are playing a house show in Charlotte later this month. Have you ever played Charlotte before? What kind of set do you have in store?
I have never played Charlotte before, oddly enough. We'll just do our thing! It'll be different every night.