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In interviews you’ve mentioned that it’s really common in a more academic, compositional music environment for people to draw on older, classical texts. I wonder if that approach, now that you are embraced by a..."mainstream" isn’t the right word, but a slightly broader indie-pop audience, if you’ve found people’s reactions to that approach frustrating at all?
Well, with Ekstasis I didn’t do that. “Marienbad” was inspired by a movie, but it wasn’t a concept album, or whatever, it was a bunch of different songs. When I do it, yeah, I’m really happy with my set process. In the case of Tragedy and Loud City Song, I was amazed. I kind of had both ideas in an instant, and in both cases it just worked. I never had big crises creatively with those two records. They kind of just came out me and I let them flow. I really didn’t think too much or second guess myself. I trusted that the concept was there. There was a lot of difficult stuff once you get past that one moment of creativity. You have to work on it and build it and develop it. But all the songs came really naturally for me. It’s really nice to have a story to work off of already. It’s hard to do everything! It adds so much more dimension to something, and it makes it easier for you to do your job in a way.
I honestly think that’s how art is made. Folk music is all borrowed, people borrowing what other people have already performed over hundreds of years. Or Shakespeare, or like you said, in composition. I even moved away from only making songs off of poems that already existed. A lot of people are now doing that, even in school, but still it was kind of unusual to make your own text. That was weird.
Do I find it frustrating? I think that people outside of the academic world ask, “Why are so you so obsessed with the past?” Questions like that I don’t understand. I don’t think I’m obsessed with the past. I think that everyone reflects on things in order to write. I find that a little frustrating, but I also think it’s just interesting. I can always tell people, “Well, you know I’m not really obsessed with the past.” I think you have to draw upon other things to build something. It doesn’t all come from my experience with my boyfriend, you know?
I know that you’ve said a lot of the stuff on this record was, thematically, about the celebrity culture of the moment. Is that sort of an unusual method to comment on it? Does it create a disconnect for people?
All of the stuff about celebrity culture is sort of a tangent I go on in interviews. Interviewers always want you to explain everything you’re doing, and I understand that. It’s natural. That’s what they’re supposed to do. So I can tell everyone what’s going on in my mind. “Horns Surrounding Me” was kind of like, you see this person being chased by paparazzi. That’s what’s in mind. But if you listen to it, it could be a person being chased by a crazy ex-lover, or a person being chased by a dog. You can make it what you want, but that’s what it is for me.
It shouldn’t be, maybe, but’s it’s kind of odd for me to hear you talk about Taylor Swift or pop radio.
Because the work is channeling another time, or seems outside of its time, or something?
Yeah. What’s your favorite pop song on the radio now? Just to establish you as a contemporary lady...
I don’t necessarily listen to new music on the radio easily. I couldn’t say what is new right now. The radio I listen to is oldies, 90s R&B. Those kind of stations will also play Rihanna, but I don’t know what is brand new. I’ve been waking up every morning with Rihanna in my head.
I listen to what a lot of people listen to. A lot of older people. People who aren’t teenagers. I’m not listening to dub-step.
Follow Jeff Klingman on Twitter @jeff_klingman.