BREAKDOWN OF A BREAKUP: TERRY RADIGAN SHARE’S ONE OF LIFE’S TOUGHEST EXPERIENCES THROUGH MUSIC

When her 20-year relationship broke off abruptly, singer-songwriter-producer Terry Radigan felt like she’d been knocked off a bicycle. Dazed, she took a year to rage, cry, and regain her balance, and to begin to heal through writing songs about the experience.

Although she didn’t initially intend to make an album about the end of her relationship, a friend and fellow producer persuaded Radigan to reconsider. The result is the recent album The Breakdown of a Breakup (Catherine the Great Music, Feb. 2012).

Terry Radigan

Radigan is known for her work with Nashville stars like Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood, but her own music doesn’t belong to any specific genre. The Breakdown of a Breakup is truly a multi-genre album, ranging from blaring brass-rock on the track “Mistake” to madcap waltz on “Siamese Twin,” and string-ballad on “Beautiful Lie” to alt-country on “The Truth.”

The Breakdown of a Breakup is a gift to anyone who’s ever gone through a breakup or experienced a major life change. With clarity, honesty, and an occasional dash of humor, Radigan opens her heart up to listeners.

She recently spoke with Apsara about the ups and downs of finding her way again, and about the process of putting the experience into music.

The songs on the album take listeners through a very natural progression of emotions. How did you go about putting the album together?

I ended up taking a couple of months just to get my feet back under me. The joke my songwriter friends and I have is that even if this kind of thing happens, we know we’ll get songs out of it.

It took a while to take everything in, and then I started writing some of the songs. I wrote most of them close to the order they are on the album, but I didn’t have a thought at all about making a record out of them.

David Barratt is another musician and producer who I work with. A year ago, he asked, “When’s your next record?” I said, “I don’t know, and I don’t really know what I want it to sound like.” He said, “You’ve been writing a bunch of songs—why do you feel like you don’t have one already?”

I thought about it, and about a week went by before I called him and asked if he wanted to be my executive producer. Once we sat down to put the songs together, I saw there was a really clear storyline. It wasn’t so much about two people meeting, but about how you feel in the aftermath of a breakup.

The Breakdown of a Breakup album coverIt isn’t really possible to pin a single genre label to this albumthere are all sorts of styles of music and instruments on it. How did you decide what type of music to use for each song?

It just flowed—that was the most liberating part of this album. The mood of each song laid out so clearly what the track would be. The only thing a song had to do during production was to back up what the emotion was.

What was the experience like while you were writing the songs?  

I almost felt like I was writing a letter to myself. When I was writing “Beautiful Lie,” it was like I was writing to myself, saying, “This is what’s happened, and this is how you were feeling.”

I’d been writing “Beautiful Lie” throughout the course of a day, and I remember I took a break in the evening to go to a music place just a few blocks from my house. It’s a tiny little club, and in the backroom there was a string quartet playing. Strings just kill me, and they especially killed me that night. Then I walked back, and finished writing around 2:00 a.m.

“Beautiful Lie”

I felt peaceful after writing that song. When you sit down quietly for a couple of hours and really sort of drift, you find out what’s floating around in your head and you get to put a name to your feelings. They’re right there in front of you, and you say them out loud. It makes me feel better to be aware of what I’m feeling, instead of just feeling it in the background.

The last song I wrote for the album was “The Truth.” That was the result of David’s sitting with me and saying, “The one thing I think is missing is the song where you tell on yourself.” I agreed with him, but I didn’t want to write it—I spent three weeks dodging him.

Just before I was going to have a breakfast meeting with him, I decided I needed to put something down and it just sort of fell out. I think it’s the most personal song that I’ve ever written. Once I decided to put it on the album and the song was written, then I knew the record was done.

“The Truth”

Since releasing the album, what kind of response have you received?

The release party we had for the album was such a brilliant night. There was a lot of chatting in between the songs as I expanded the story a bit. It felt like a conversation, but I was the only one talking.

I’m a songwriter and I’ve put out an intensely personal record for people to hear, but I’m essentially really private. My friends have asked, “Why in the world didn’t we get a phone call saying that you were feeling bad when you were writing this music?” But it was almost like I could get all of my emotions out in the songs.

Through this album and the feelings on it, I’m able to connect with people listening to it. When we were putting the album together I didn’t want it to be a “poor me” or an “angry” record. There’s a little bit of every kind of emotion in there, but the thing that people are walking away with and they’re coming to me and saying is that they feel good by the end of it and that they feel strong.

And that made me feel so good because that’s the most important thing. It’s like, yes, you go through all of these different emotions. But at the end of it you’re still you and you’re still there at your core.

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WORLD BEHIND CURTAINS: YAIR YONA STEPS INTO THE LIMELIGHT

Not all songs need lyrics. On his newly released album World Behind Curtains, Israeli musician Yair Yona once again shows his talent for communicating to listeners without saying a single word.

Yair Yona, Feb. 2009 (Facebook/Yairyonamusic)

Yair Yona immediately wanted to sell his bass and switch to guitar after buying a Bert Jansch album eight years ago in London. His life changed direction again a few years later when he discovered the instrumental acoustic music of guitarist Glenn Jones.

Yona, who just released World Behind Curtains, his second album for guitar, says his unmapped journey of discovery, frustration, and inspiration has all been worth it and life is better than ever. Although he’s immensely talented on guitar, he doesn’t actually call himself a “guitarist” and identifies more with behind-the-scenes roles in the music world.

It’s not difficult to see where he gets this self image from. In addition to writing, recording, and performing his own music, Yona keeps busy as a co-founder of the music label OutNow Recordings, manager of freestyle saxophonist Albert Beger, and writer/publisher of the music blog Small Town Romance.

World Behind Curtains, at heart an acoustic guitar album with cinematic inspiration, builds on Yona’s first album Remember (2009). Incorporating instruments like electric guitar and french horn and a special mother-son piano/guitar duet,  Yona has developed his musical voice in an even further, more meaningful direction.

He spoke with Apsara about the journey leading up to this latest album.

You first discovered fingerstyle guitar when you lived in London studying audio engineering. What drew you to this style of playing?

I played bass in London, and in my dream world I believed that I was going to find a psychedelic rock band, go on tours, and become ridiculously rich and buy more bass guitars. That was the plan anyway.

Then one day when I went into a record store in Camden and stumbled upon Bert Jansch and Jackson C. Frank’s first albums and I bought both of them—I’d never heard of either of them or their music before. There was just something about the album covers that made me curious to pick them up and listen to them. When I first listened to Bert Jansch’s music it immediately felt so familiar. I don’t know how or why—it just sparked my senses. I remember that feeling even today. It was like the excitement of the first time you see the girl of your dreams.

Has fingerstyle guitar been the focus of your music since then?

When I discovered Bert Jansch’s music, I immediately wanted to sell my bass guitar and become an acoustic guitar player. That was it. I’m a person who makes strong decisions and usually goes to the extreme with them. And then I meet myself somewhere in the middle. I didn’t even know how to play except for the basics, but something inside of me just felt so right so I went in that direction.

I don’t actually see myself as an acoustic fingerstyle guitarist, or as a guitarist at all. To me, a guitarist is someone who takes the time to practice for five hours a day, and knows all of the notes, scales, and modes. And I don’t. I have no formal musical education and everything I know about guitar playing serves my music only. If you put me in a band with a guitar in hand, I have no idea what to do with myself. I’m a good guitarist for my music—I think that’s the right definition.

I think art has nothing to do with formal music education. I like to improvise as I go along. But I do think if you know the musical rules and then go and break them you’re in a better position. Still, Paul McCartney’s musical education started later on in his career… I’m feeling good with myself and with the path that I’ve taken. I’ve just followed my heart, and my heart has taken me to where I am now. Things are going great and I’m happier than ever.

World Behind Curtains is even more of an instrumental album than Remember (2009). Guitar still takes center stage, but there are other instruments, including the violin and piano. How did the idea for this album evolve? What’s the meaning of the title?

When I initially thought about how to do the marketing for this album, I thought about tracking down a film director and proposing to make a film for which this would be the soundtrack. It was born out of lots of soundtrack listening hours—lots of Americana and 1970s Italian composers. The music was composed on solo acoustic guitar, and just evolved out of itself in a way.

“World behind curtains” is a phrase that my girlfriend wrote in the first line of a story. Translated from Hebrew it is something like: “The girl looked out of the window and saw the world behind curtains.” I told her: “That’s a good name for an album.” Only later did I learn that in English it can mean “someone behind the curtains.” It somehow fit me perfectly. I was always behind the scenes, as a label manager who was managing artists or as a bass player who wasn’t the focus of the rock band. This is an album that says: “This is a picture of the guy who’s behind the curtains.”

“Expatriates” 

You’ve dedicated several songs in the past to musicians who’ve influenced you. On this latest album, for example, you’ve dedicated one track to guitarist Glenn Jones. What has his music meant to you over the years?

When I discovered Bert Jansch’s music and the whole world of British folk music I tried to write songs in English, which isn’t my native language. When I tried to sing it just didn’t sound right to me because of my accent. I kept comforting myself by saying: “Nico had a German accent and that’s okay, it worked for her. And Björk has an Icelandic accent and it works for her, so I can do it too.” But it didn’t feel authentic to me, and I felt I would be lying to myself if I continued that way. I had a couple of hard years because I desperately wanted to be a songwriter, but it didn’t feel right and I was really frustrated by that.

Then by chance in 2006 or 2007 I listened to Glenn Jones’s first album, which was released on Strange Attractors Audio House, the same label as my albums. I had known of him before as the guitarist of Cul de Sac, an experimental rock band I like very much. When I listened to the music on his first album, which was for six- and 12-string acoustic guitar, it made so much sense. He said so much without saying a single word. It just liberated my mind. I listened to the music and said to myself: “You know what? That’s a good way to express yourself. You don’t have to sing.” I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, I could just do it my own way. It was all thanks to Glenn Jones’s music.

Since then he’s released three more albums, and people are starting to recognize him now. He signed on to a bigger label—Thrill Jockey—and he’s touring. He’s seriously amazing. And he’s been a big supporter of my music. When I finished the work on Remember, I sent it to him on a CD-R before it was released. He wrote me such an amazing note afterward. Reading those words coming from the most important person to me in that field was the ultimate stamp of approval.

In the liner notes for World Behind Curtains, you write that you composed the song “Bella” while watching TV: “The song just poured out in a couple of minutes.” How did this beautiful song, which features your mom on piano, come about?

It was written about two-and-a-half years ago for my previous girlfriend, whose nickname is “Bella.” Someone had bought me a guitar instruction DVD by Kelly Joe Phelps that I was watching. He’s a really amazing guitarist and a soulful singer. I like to watch guitar instruction DVDs because I like to see how guitarists move their hands and how they hold the guitar. I really like to study from other people. He was playing with an unusual tuning: C-G-C-G-C-D. I tried to retune the guitar and that melody just poured out in five seconds. It just wrote itself, and when that happens you feel like you’re the luckiest person on earth, seriously. Then I recorded the demo of that song so I’d have it at home to work on.

My mom was a wonder kid on the piano. But she stopped playing for about 40 years and just returned to it about four or five years ago. I decided that it would be amazing if she’d play piano on the album. I wanted to give her a stamp of approval again. She sees me as her “son the musician.” So I decided to bring her into the studio for the first time in her life, and have her put headphones on and make her part of the process. I was very excited and also very nervous because I was on a tight schedule and had limited time in the studio. Everything had to be quick, but it was very, very exciting. It was a different level of connection between mother and son. She was really happy with the result. She said she loves the album and that it’s so beautiful, but that’s just mom talking.

World Behind Curtains released Feb. 14 from Strange Attractors Audio House. Preview it, and Farthest South, Yona’s latest musical project, on Bandcamp.

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MARAQOPA: DAMIEN JURADO RELEASES LATEST ALBUM

When Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony, he saved his show-stopping piece, the “Choral,”  until the very end. Seattle indie rocker Damien Jurado and musician/producer Richard Swift have inverted this idea.

They’ve created a grand entrance for Jurado’s latest album Maraqopa with the opening song “Nothing is the News.” The album explodes, like a supernova, with full-on psychedelic sound before settling into nine quieter tracks.

Jurado and Swift specialize in creating lush, layered audioscapes, a trend they established with Saint Bartlett (2010), their first album together. On Maraqopa, they playfully intersperse chimes throughout several of the songs, and utilize different backup singers for choruses and vocal harmonies as they do in “Life Away from the Garden” and “Working Titles.”

There’s such a range of songs and sounds, but there’s always Jurado’s voice and guitar—so sincere, so nostalgic sounding—that make them authentic. It’s in their stripped-down acoustic versions that the songs really shine.

And as on previous albums, Jurado displays his fierce love for Seattle and for his home state of Washington. He sings of evergreens and mountains, and even names one track for the Museum of Flight.

Maraqopa released on Feb. 21 and is available through Secretly Canadian Records.

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HEART LIKE FEATHERS: ROBERT DEEBLE DISCUSSES HIS NEWEST ALBUM

Life hasn’t always followed the exact course Seattle sing-songwriter Robert Deeble has thought it would. It’s even been painful sometimes, and required taking a long break to focus on family and self. But it’s led Deeble to deeper understandings about what it means to be human, and about change. After several years away, Deeble decided in 2011 to return to the studio and turn this wisdom into the album Heart Like Feathers, which releases on Feb. 7.

As with his earlier recordings, Deeble’s latest full-length album lulls listeners into a beautiful world of gentle, lazy-sounding guitar, and vivid lyrics that are honest and sometimes even slightly haunting. There’s sadness in many of the songs, but it’s ultimately a triumphant story about finding one’s self and cherishing relationships. Featuring Deeble and the contribution of many of his longtime friends, Heart Like Feathers sensitively captures the shades of life’s pain and joy.

Deeble spoke with Apsara about the album, his life and music, and about his enduring friendship with Emily Dickinson.

You’re originally from Long Beach, but have lived in Seattle for several years. How have these two places influenced your music, and as a musician do you identify more with one?

I never felt at home in California, although I have a soft spot for San Francisco and Long Beach. Rainy dock towns better match my personality and also my heritage (my family traces back to Wales). I think I was alluding to this in the “Boy with the California Sun” (Thirteen Stories).

The new album’s title refers to Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers,” and the poetess even appears in a song on Thirteen Stories. What is the significance of your latest album title, and has Emily Dickinson had a larger influence on your music?

Emily just sort of came along for the ride in my career…We met in the song the “Secret Life of Emily Dickinson” (Thirteen Stories) after I was introduced to her in a poem by William Carlos Williams.

From there Emily and I learned a bit about each other, and grew to appreciate each other over the years. Her phrase “Hope is the thing with feathers” is one I probably conjured subconsciously in the title of the record. I had been writing what would become the title track when I fell into the phrase “Heart Like Feathers,” which perfectly described what I was trying to say. The song is about the battle between the head and the heart, with the heart gradually getting free…It was later as I read a review by Image Journal of the record that I realized the similarity to Emily’s poem, so it is nice to know she is still hanging out with me.

Robert Deeble (Xeandra Wescott)

What are some of the most important elements from the past six years listeners can find in the songs on Heart Like Feathers?

It is a very human record yet one that tips its hat to the spiritual, but always in an earthly manner—not in a dissociated way. The material covers a lot of very real struggles from depression, marital issues, fear, and anxiety, with some slivers of light that finds its way into those dark places.

Was This Bar Has No One Left, your previous shorter release, part of the creative process leading up to your new album?

Yes, that really is the preface to Heart Like Feathers. In my mind it was supposed to be one record, but then it started as an EP which was supposed to move into a full length…life does not work the way we plan. The EP came out and I traveled extensively supporting it, but I felt things beginning to slip in my life. It started with my label but soon afterwards my life seemed to show the cracks of potential collapse. I think I started to see my life as a reflection of my art instead my art as a reflection of my life. I needed to take some time off and reboot. I found myself shutting down, retiring a band, and stopping writing for awhile.

I spent the time during that hiatus rebuilding who I was at home more than who I was on the road. This included paying more attention to my marriage and the changes in myself as a man, and I eventually found a restorative way to reintegrate my artistry.

Who are some of the key individuals who lent their creativity and voices to Heart Like Feathers?

Well there are a lot of them starting with a new band. About three years ago, I gradually started writing and playing with some guys that I had built really good relationships with. All us are in committed relationships and most of us have children, which always makes a band more difficult but I like how it reflects who I am as a person. Naturally we all make significant sacrifices to be in a band together and yet we all totally respect how not to let it compete with the rest of our life. As I got older, I wanted to integrate the two and be with others who were in the same boat.

So for the band it is: Jeremy Summer (also part of the Whiskey Swillers) on bass; Jeremy Dybash (an original member of Velour 100) on drums; and Neal Vickers on guitar and strings. And then I flew Lili De La Mora, my backing vocalist, up from California to record the album.

Our producer was Dylan Magierek, who runs Badman Recording Co. Dylan had come to see several of my shows over the years when I was on tour. And I have always loved the kind of artists he associates with, so it seemed fitting to ask him to be a part of he project.

Then there is an amazing array of guests on the album. It meant a lot to me that so many folks would come out of the woodwork to celebrate a new album with me. Stephen Hodges, who plays percussion,was my musical mentor over the years. He currently drums for Mavis Staples and was known as Tom Waits’ drummer during the Rain Dogs years. Victoria Williams, one my favorite folk heroines, returned to join me on the song “Sunflower.” Ric Hordinksi (Monk), originally from Over the Rhine, had a big part in encouraging me to write and record this record and he offered up two guitar tracks for the album. Anna-Lynn Williams (Trespassers William) is an old pal from my California days and she did an amazing vocal with on the song “Undertow.” And lastly, we pulled a choir together with some great friends from over the years. Daniel G. Harmann, Kate Tucker, John Vecchiarelli, and Adam Selzer—just to name a few—are all some wonderful folks from my musical past that came together to sing on the last track.

Most of the sessions were filmed by two great film makers: Todd Zeller and Tommy Harrington. So we got a lot of great footage of the album, which we hope to feature on a limited edition CD.

 
“Sun Flower”

Here comes the bird to eat the worm, 
but he’s hiding ‘neath the corn
Big black cat hanging underneath the tree, 
waiting for the bird to meet

Sunflower, 
where did you go? 
Sunflower, 
did you know? 

Humming bird never hurt no one, 
troubadour strayed away from home 
All of life under love and toil, 
two hands digging in the soil

There’s a garden in our souls, we forget to water 
all those storm clouds coming north
I guess we’ll get that shower
So rise up now… let’s shine

Sunflower 
I miss you so
Sunflower did you know?

Desert storm across the plains
we dug a ditch to direct the rain
Bright red tractor in the mud
teach us to tinker with a flood

And I just got your weather report
I’m so sorry about it girl
All those dark clouds around your porch
I think they’re blowing over
Let’s rise up now and shine

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SOURCE OF LIFE: CONNECTING PEOPLE THROUGH MUSIC WITH THE NILE PROJECT

Flowing steadily through countryside and city, the mighty Nile River connects 10 north and sub-Saharan African countries. It is a source of life, history, and culture for the citizens of the countries surrounding it, but how much do they know about one another and about the invaluable resource they share? What can they learn from one another about the cultures and environment of the Nile?

Sunrise on the Nile River, Uganda, Jul. 2010. (Flickr/Andrew West)

Mina Girgis and Meklit Hadero, two San Francisco-based visionaries originally from the Nile region, have set out to connect the countries of the Nile through music and dialogue. Their multi-phase Nile Project involves an album, performances, a TEDx event, curriculum materials, and more. They hope to raise $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign by Feb. 1 for the first phase of the project, a scouting trip to find the musicians who will become the heart of the Nile Project.

Girgis, an ethnomusicologist and founder of the non-profit music organization Zambaleta, spoke with Apsara about the ideas behind the project.

How did you and Meklit Hadero first come up with the idea to collaborate on the Nile Project?

This was last September. Meklit and I had not seen each other for months. I had just returned to the Bay Area from two months in Cairo, and she had just returned from a tour in Ethiopia. We met at an Ethiopian concert by Debo Band, and I was sharing with Meklit how I only came to discover Ethiopian music after moving to the United States. This lack of cultural exposure among East African countries is a bit strange seeing we are neighbors and we share our lifeblood—the Nile. So we decided to embark on a new project where we would bring together musicians from various Nile cultures to perform along the river and abroad.

Mina Girgis

What do you most hope to achieve?

Well, we definitely hope to make good music. But we have other ambitions. Through these cross-cultural musical collaborations, we hope to foster cultural connections among the people of the Nile to help us tackle our water-based environmental challenges. So the Nile Project is both a musical project and a platform to spread environmental awareness and inspire social change among Nile citizens.

The Nile flows through 10 countries that are diverse, yet are also linked by historical and cultural ties and present-day politics. What role will music play throughout the different stages of the project?

There are some problems only the arts can help solve. And in the Nile Project’s case, there are two challenges we hope to tackle through music.

I come from Cairo. And when I look around my hometown today, I see that we have become so disconnected from both the river that runs through our city and the people who live down that river and drink from the same water. To most Cairenes, the Nile is either a natural barrier you have to cross, a reservoir of water you cannot live without, or a demarcator of privilege for those who can afford waterfront real estate. When we lack such a visceral connection to our immediate ecosystem, how could we be aware of our environmental impact? Bringing back this visceral connection will not happen through intellectual campaigns. But it could happen with music.

The other issue is a cultural one. Because the Nile is so crucial to our livelihood, it has become the domain of political discourse. When we began working on this project, we were asked the question: “Do either of you work for the government?” We obviously do not. But the question shows you how polarizing the Nile has become. One way to rekindle our cultural connections is through the music we will make.

What will you do during the Lincoln Center presentations in 2013?

We will definitely have a performance series to showcase the many musical collaborations we are developing. All of them will feature cross-cultural performances among Nile musicians. We will also have presentations by scholars, artists, and social entrepreneurs who work on the Nile. We also hope to collaborate with other river projects.

What issues will be discussed during the TED conversations, and who will participate in them? Is any part of the project intended to get at the subject of water control along the Nile?

TEDxNile will feature scholars, social entrepreneurs, and artists who will share their expertise and ideas about the Nile. We hope the videos will help spread these worthy ideas and bring more attention to those who are coming up with solutions. We also hope these solutions will inspire others to come up with more ideas.

The Nile Project is not a political project. It is an environmental and cultural project. We want to spread a new paradigm that overlooks the political boundaries among our people. We like to think of the Nile region in a holistic way, as an ecological and cultural system that predates nations and states. And we believe the solutions will come from this outlook. In our book, the only way towards sustainability is equity. But we are not in the business of fighting over water.

The Nile Project Kickstarter Campaign Video 

Feb. 4, 2012, Sarah notes: I’m excited to share that the Nile Project surpassed its goal by Feb. 1—thank you to everyone who helped support it!

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