Wednesday 10 February 2010

Allison Moorer interview

Released this week, Allison Moorer’s seventh studio album Crows finds the Alabama-born singer-songwriter in rejuvenated form, turning in a thematically rich set of songs that take her into a sonic space she hasn’t really explored before. Produced once more by Nashville producer R.S. Field, who helmed her stately 2002 release Miss Fortune and contributed to its follow-up The Duel, Crows is a classy collection that, at its very best, exudes reflective Southern soul and a sensual grace that mainstream country artists just can’t rival. I caught up with Allison over email recently to find out more…

You’ve spoken about Crows as something of a departure from your usual compositional style. Could you elaborate on this a little?
It is a departure in that I wrote about half of the songs on piano, as opposed to guitar, which is new for me. The songs developed very organically over a period of about a year or so, and I was very easy on myself in letting them come naturally and didn’t force myself to write if I didn’t feel like it was happening. I think the songs reflect that ease. No specific music influenced Crows directly; if anything I would say that all of my influences converged in a more successful way than ever before, in that this record reflects more of my natural musical instincts than anything else I’ve done.

The album reunites you with producer R.S. Field. What were your reasons for working with him again?
I wanted to work with a producer that I knew would understand what sort of sonic environment I wanted to create, and I wanted to work with someone I already knew how to work with. I wanted to take the ‘getting to know you’ learning curve out of the equation. R.S. and I are great friends and already know how to communicate successfully. Plus, he’s great!

Do you see a specific mood or thematic thread developing across Crows?
The thread, if there is one, is triumph over tragedy, light shining in and drowning out the dark. Even if it’s hard won. Sonically, I really wanted to create a three-dimensional environment, one with shadows and highlights, smooth spots and also rough and rocky terrain. I wanted it to sound deep and textured.

What’s your favourite song on the new record?
Probably the title track, because I feel like it’s the most realised version of my musicality; or ‘Still This Side Of Gone’, because it’s so painfully honest.

The title track is great. What was the inspiration behind it?
The inspiration was literally a murder of crows in my yard. They spooked me at first, then I decided to make friends with them.

You appeared on the latest Transatlantic Sessions series, along with Martha Wainwright and James Taylor as part of the North American contingent. That show always looks like a group of musicians hanging out and just having the best time. How did you become involved, and how did you find the experience?
Jerry Douglas is a friend of mine and he asked me to come over and do it, and I said “Of course!” – it was that simple! I had an amazing time doing the show and felt honoured to be there among that group of musicians.

What do you enjoy most about playing live?
I love to connect with an audience and I love to sing and play, so it’s a win–win for me. I love to travel, too, so anytime I can experience a different culture I’m happy to do it.

Tell us a little about your contribution to ‘The People Speak’ documentary.
I sang two songs for the documentary – Yip Harburg’s ‘Brother, Can You Spare A Dime’ and Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. The first one ended up in the film, and I am honoured to be a part of it. Not only because of the illustrious company, but because I think it’s a very important piece of work. When Howard Zinn calls, you show up.

A song of yours I’ve always particularly loved is ‘Ruby Jewel Was Here’. Could you say a little about how that narrative developed and what some of your inspirations for the song were?
Gosh, that feels like another lifetime! That lyric was really Doyle Primm’s idea; I’m not sure what his inspiration was for it – maybe a Western movie or something. Musically, we wanted it to be loose and roadhouse-y, and it was also very influenced by The Band.

What’s your take on the current country music scene? Are there any emerging artists whose work you find particularly interesting?
Honestly, I really don’t pay attention to mainstream country music. I think Miranda Lambert is really talented and is doing good work.

And your attitude to shows such as ‘American Idol’?
Talent shows are lame.

Your last record, Mockingbird, was a covers album featuring songs by some of the female lyricists that you admire. What motivated that project?
I had wanted to do a covers album for a long time – I think most singers want to – and when I decided to do it I knew I had to narrow the song choices down somehow. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do female singer-songwriters?’. It was also a way to shine a light on the breadth, depth, beauty and diversity of the female singer-songwriter canon.

I believe that you originally had around fifty songs listed for the album. Are there any chances of a Volume 2?
Not at the present moment. I did that album to take a break from myself and to refresh my own reserves, so now I’m having a lot of fun with my own compositions.

Is the label ‘female singer-songwriter’ one that you embrace? Or do you see music as essentially genderless?
Well, that is what I am, so I might as well embrace it! No, music is not genderless to me. There are very specific male and female energies that come out whether we want them to or not.

It’s often said that this is a great time for women in music, yet albums by female musicians or female-fronted bands represented around only 15% in polls of the best music of the last decade. Do you feel that female producers, composers and singers continue to be undervalued?
I do believe we are undervalued, underutilised, underestimated. Why that is would take longer than I have and longer than you want to read. But I would start with the fact that women are expected to do everything these days – taking care of the home, the relationships, the children, and also going out into world and being great at our careers. It can be overwhelming and I personally don’t know one woman who isn’t [overwhelmed]. The making of art is something that is ultimately a very selfish thing, in that you have to give yourself permission to take the time to do it. And it’s also seen as expendable in this country, so of course it’s always the first thing to go on the backburner. You really have to commit to making and fighting for your art, and when you have a million other things pulling at you, it’s hard to stand up and say, “No, I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to make my art, whether anyone else likes it or not.” Women aren’t taught to put themselves first. Therefore, we don’t put our art first.

What’s your great hope for the world this decade?
For everyone to find a way to live with one another, to accept each other’s differences and not feel threatened by them, and to think before acting.

And a very nice acoustic take on one of her new album's songs here:

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