Mon June 17
Wed June 19
Two of the most creative musicians imaginable--glorious ex-Helium noodle-fantasy Mary Timony, and macabre NYC songwriting belle Nina Nastasia--are playing in Portland this week. Along with bloodletting guitarist Shannon Wright, Mary and Nina are part of my personal Holy Trinity of Amazing Solo Artists, due to their abilities to turn out great, compelling melodies and stay away from weepy singer/songwriter cliches.
Because of this, you may think of the following interviews as miniature verbal shrines.
MARY TIMONY, CONJURER OF MAGIC AND MYSTERIOUS MELODIES.
Mary Timony's second solo record is the best example of her unique guitars and instrumentation--lots of elaborate, Baroque-sounding melodies--balanced with the poppiest hooks. Mary Timony has treaded upon previously virgin territory: she's perfected the art of both impressing guitar geeks and entertaining audience rockers.
Lyrically, she's become more straightforward. "I think the songs on The Golden Dove are more about actual people and situations--less inside my own head, I guess. But I'll sometimes just choose words that happen to fit with the rhythm of the song." Her newest record returns to a form most aligned with Helium's 1995 record, The Dirt of Luck, than her later work. However, lines like, "You showed me pictures of your girlfriend on the beach without her shirt on/And it made me sick," still accompany the fantastical, otherworldly imagery that makes Mary's lyrics so unique. So could it be she's returning to the more staunchly feminist leanings of her earlier music?
Not quite. She says, "I don't feel as much like I have a message to give people about that stuff anymore; I feel like if I do my own thing and I am my own person, maybe someone will take it in a feminist way, because I am female or whatever. I kind of feel like the personal is political at this point. You wouldn't expect a man to be always talking about 'being a man' all the time, so"
Perhaps one reason why Ms. Timony no longer has to cater to her feminism is because her guitar playing clearly blows most boys' out of the water. Hmmm.
NINA NASTASIA, SINGER OF DEATH KNELLS AND PLAINTIVE BEAUTY.
"I'm sure I'm influenced by every little thing, really; I don't think there's just one thing. So I guess it's good if the songs don't seem so blatantly personal. Sometimes, if I read some of the lyrics to the songs, I think, 'Oh, that's blatantly personal!' But it's probably good that you don't think so, cause maybe that would be uncomfortable to listen to." Nina Nastasia has a gardenia-sweet speaking voice, like a proper Southern belle, even though she's a native of Seattle, living in New York via Los Angeles. When you listen to how she speaks, you can hear her singing voice in there--a lilting, delicate soprano, with a sweet ring that betrays the dark humor underneath.
Backed up by acoustic guitar, violin, cello, piano, and musical saw, her second full-length album, The Blackened Air (Touch & Go), doesn't seem overtly personal at all, though it is in no way detached, either. In fact, it progresses like a series of little stories, covering such arcane topics as death, love, loss, and anger. For instance, in one song, she sings simply, "Oh my stars! You should have seen it!" but you can hear the excitement in the delicacy of her voice. In contrast to her first album, Dogs (Socialist Records), a gem of simple, folky tunes, The Blackened Air's cornucopia of instruments adds a grander scope to Nastasia's pretty songs.
Initially, though, her elegant knells start out in an unlikely place: her bathroom. "I live in a studio apartment with [partner/ manager] Kennan," she says, "and that's just the other room that I have."
The very humility that lets Nina compose gorgeous, honest songs next to a toilet is reason enough to pledge undying love.