Now the Los Angelas-based artist will perform for the first time in Pittsburgh on Sat., May 11 at the Andy Warhol Museum. She spoke with the Pittsburgh City Paper about her inspirations, her evolving sound, and her feelings about being pigeonholed as freak folk.
One of the things that I read about Quiet Signs was that it was inspired by the John Cassavetes film, Opening Night.
It’s one of those things where it’s not, like, a deep hard reference that I used as a real framework for anything. But I think that there’s a certain time period in which you consume things that can later come out in other ways. Right when I first started writing for this last record, I went to see that film in a double feature with A Woman Under the Influence in a theater in L.A. with Matt. I mean, I had seen those films, and I love Cassavetes and I love Gena Rowlands, but seeing something on a big screen is very impactful, and there are just undertones to that film Opening Night that I connected with for some personal reasons. When I heard the recording of “Opening Night,” even just the demo that Matt sent me, it just made me think of a big empty theater, and kind of drew up some sort-of sensory memories of that film and the way it made me feel and things I connected to. It felt like the appropriate way for that record to begin.
One of the reasons I really got into your music is because I’m a huge fan of '70s soft rock and a lot of moodier '70s music. Would you say that a big influence on you is music from that era?
Yeah, definitely. I think that I’m lucky in that my mind has always processed music in a certain way, where everyone is attracted to certain rhythms and sounds and chords, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have a lot of control over it. If I listen to something a number of times in a given period, it might come out three months later in something that I play, even in the smallest way. I think to that end, anything I listen to is a potential influence, but I definitely came of age really obsessing over music from the '60s and '70s. And yes, if I had to desert island-pick an era, maybe it would be that decade, for sure. A lot of my favorite artists produced what would be considered their best work in that decade.
I went back and listened to your earlier albums and they do seem a little more acoustic-driven, whereas now, the new album seems like there are more sounds mixed in. How do you think that your sound has changed since your debut album?
Since the first album, a lot has changed … it’s funny the way that the first record came out. It was kind of incidental, it was some recordings that I had from various time periods, most of which were from when I was like, 19. And I didn’t really have any plans to put it out, it was just kind of, I fell into this weird situation with a friend where they knew somebody who had a studio, and it was like, “Well, for posterity, you should record all the songs you have to date.” So the majority of those recordings is what ended up being the first record, and [Birth Records co-founder, Tim Presley] discovered them via my ex-boyfriend and decided to put them out. That record always felt far less intentional, and I’m lucky because I feel like that situation just kind of fell into my lap. And those songs, they’re very barebones — it’s just like, guitar, maybe some vocal overdubs. But it was more of a time capsule thing, than, “This is the record that I want it to be.” So it’s funny to think of that record with the other records … comparing that one with the new record is eons apart, it feels like.
I love how in the newer record, there’s some jazz flute in there. I love the piano bits. There are some harmonies. I just really like how complex it is.
Yeah, the introduction of new instruments on the new record is noteworthy.
A lot of critics have compared you to the freak folk movement. How would you define yourself or would you even want that definition?
I think that people naturally want to put you in some kind of category or make reference to categories that might help someone else understand what they’re getting into. I guess freak folk can be both a very specific thing and also kind of vague at the same time. I love a lot of the artists that fit under that umbrella, so I don’t balk at that reference, but I don’t think I’m 100 percent in that direction or anything like that. I guess there’s kind of a formlessness that’s implied too with the freak folk thing, which is not something I necessarily feel is totally reflective of the songs that I write, but it is something I appreciate in other people. It’s not something I think about a ton, but it is dropped now and again, and I understand where it comes from, with the unusual voices and stuff like that.
I really think your style lends itself to fantasy. I just think it’s very evocative in that way. I know Game of Thrones has had a lot of cameos from musicians like Sigur Rós. Do you see yourself doing music for a fantasy show or movie?
I can definitely see myself doing music for a show or film of some kind, and yeah, there are definitely lots of fantastical elements to the music. I think that it’s — and I feel like I say this a lot — but I feel like the music that I make is really connected to a familiar dream place for me, like, where that stuff comes from in my brain … So I think in that way it is very linked to a fantasy world. But yeah, I would like to do a soundtrack or something for a weird film. I don’t know if I’d be polished enough for Game of Thrones.