Performing Songwriter got it right. They called Patty Larkin a “drop dead brilliant guitar player, a richly textural singer, a commanding, poetic songwriter, a hilarious and personable entertainer.” Yes, all combined into one fantastic performer. Patty never fails to amaze me. Her fingers fly up and down the fretboard, her lyrics exude honesty, her style is beyond classy. In this little interview, Patty tells us a bit about her latest CD, gives us a mini-lesson about looping and alerts us to some news about her next recording project!
When you first decided to put together a collaborative CD to commemorate your 25 years in the music business, how did you go about selecting the songs?
I wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of my first album, Step Into The Light, with a thank you to all of the people who have supported me through the years. It seemed appropriate to choose love songs as the theme for such a collection of material. I had been asked to record acoustic versions of my songs, so that set the parameters for 25.
The recording process for 25 was very 21st century in that you sent your guitar and vocal tracks to all the guest musicians and left them up to their own musical whims. Were you surprised by any of the results?
Yes! I describe the process as akin to getting a message in the bottle. I would record my guitar and vocals and send it out and wait. We would have a heads up that something was coming from a particular artist on a particular day, and I would wait for FedEx to arrive. It was such a gift to have these amazing artists join me on my songs. I cried often at the beauty of it, the time spent and the interpretations they created. Jonatha Brooke’s track was a reinvention of “Only One,” David Wilcox sang a beautiful vocal on “The Cranes” that was very Nick Drake, Suzanne Vega sounds so much like Suzanne Vega on “Pablo Neruda” that I was thrilled, Rosanne Cash did a gorgeous vocal on “Closest Thing.” I could go on… The other aspect of 25 that was really astounding was that I toured and did shows with many of the artists on the CD during that 2010/2011 25th year. It was enlightening and fun, and like a reunion musically and personally for me. All positive.
One song that I’m very struck by is the opening one, “Lately” with Martin Sexton. Martin is known for not only his amazing range but also his ability to whistle with the best of them. The whistling fits so perfectly! Have you played that song together before or was that impromptu with this recording?
No, that was all him. I was unaware of his admirable whistling, and he took the song to new heights between that and his soulful vocals.
Your music has evolved in some very cool and maybe some unexpected ways. The two studio albums before 25 (Watch the Sky and Red =Luck) were recordings where it was just you playing all the instruments and singing all the vocals. This gives you a lot of control over your schedule as well as the final results. Do you enjoy working like this as much as recording the “old -fashioned” way?
Actually, Red=Luck had many talented artists on it, including Merrie Amsterburg, Jennifer Kimball, Ben Wittman, etc. I have recorded every studio project here in my studio, mixing elsewhere, since 1997. Watch the Sky was the CD that I played/sang/engineered and produced on my own. It was revelatory.
I found that I pushed myself to new heights, and I also realized my limitations. I think the technology is such that it makes a lot of sense for musicians to record on their own, the only thing is–you’re on your own! I will continue to turn that stone over as I go forward on the project I’m recording now.
Tell us about looping. The last few times I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you live, you’ve used a looper to supplement your sound. It looks like something that one has to learn how to use effectively or else you could end up with some rather “interesting” results. Did it take you a while to get used to using it or did you take it quickly?
Ye, looping is all the rage–it’s a way of sampling music “on the fly” and setting up a loop so that it repeats and you can play along with yourself. Actually, I think Tim Buckley used to set up tape loops live back in the day. It’s now used everywhere in recording and on stage. There is a steep learning curve, indeed, and you just have to make sure nobody gets hurt when the thing falls apart. It took me about a year to feel comfortable with it–and that was after looking at the gear in the box for two years! It’s fun, and can be used as a writing tool. Looping live allows me to set up some textures that are similar to my studio recordings. I keep it pretty organic, though, to fit in with the primarily acoustic aspect of my shows.
Do you have any plans brewing for a new project?
Yes. I’m recording a project called Down Through The Wood. It’s a collection of three suites of songs. We are planning a release in June 2013.
For more information about Patty, check out her website.
Here’s a video of one of my favorite Patty tunes – “Tango.”
Patty Larkin will be appearing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on February 8.