Jago Thorne: Fieldhouse Artist of the Month
Jago Thorne has been busy since I interviewed him in Combustus a year ago.
Besides being selected as the current Artist of the Month for Fieldhouse, the New York singer-songwriter has just completed the score for the upcoming film, Victoriana.
INTERVIEW WITH JAGO THORNE
New York City, USA:
“Nothing gets you naked quicker than the feeling of an approaching ledge. I wrote most of the record while in bed dealing with an undiagnosed illness for an entire year. Maybe that’s the ‘purity’ factor you mention…which can be very risky because there is less self-reflection from a critical standpoint— it’s all from the gut. One part testimonial, one part alt-rock Americana.”
“Most of the time I could only manage a pencil and paper, so the process took on a diary-like quality, full of lines and no eraser—nothing was scratched out.
Not to complicate things with big existential stuff, but my perspective is still tied to the experience of my illness and a musical process that became increasingly urgent. It was like: You better get shameless fast ’cause you might be running out of time!
Fire in the Wake came from a place of urgency.
This record is a songwriter’s project with very musical ideas wrapped around it. I love performing live and being in the studio; but I feel most at home throughout the solitary process of discovering a sentence, a melody, or a noise. I can’t imagine missing out on the process of writing my own music and lyrics.”
“Musically, my inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere and definitely from my exposure to a huge library of music. I grew up in a very musical house—my dad, a self-made musicologist, had vinyl spinning all the time; and it felt like a mash-up mostly. Things would go from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to The Beach Boys, from Brahms to Fats Waller.”
“This particular record was a crazy joker card since it forced a change in how I wrote the music—this inspiration came from limitation. I was used to being able to flesh out string arrangements, dive into granular synthesis and minimalist obscurities; but since I couldn’t get out of bed, and had zero energy, I couldn’t really test ideas the way I usually did. It was all internal, and I would structure the music with just a guitar.
Everything came in an octave below my normal vocal register, which I later realized was due to my sick-bay pillow posture that kept my chin down and my singing low. Guaranteed, singing ‘The Sound of Music’ is impossible when you feel like throwing up. So, inspiration? There was a time I thought inspiration was a pretty thing— a kind of luxury that just befell the artist.
For me, inspiration comes from a combination of being right where I need to be, wanting to be somewhere else, and running towards that ‘elsewhere’ like there are outlaws ready to gun you down if you don’t.”
“I think part of music’s power is that it physically hits us as sound and shakes things up inside. Although it does this in a mysterious way, because there’s also the invisible wind of emotional transference that goes with it—sometimes you don’t know what hit you and you go all limbic.
I find there’s something sublime about loudness and being taken over by its shear voltage and volume. It’s like being in the subway as an express train bullets past, destroying all peripheral sounds and bringing with it an unexpected peace in its world-cancelling white noise.
Or on the flip side, listening to Arvo Part has a perceived depth that is equally massive and can totally take me over because it speaks quietly. I think that when music reveals the artist’s interior weather, and it solders itself to your insides, that’s when the conversation gets interesting–at any volume. Growing up, there was always a piano in the house and from a very young age I was fascinated by how simple it was to strike a note and make something from nothing. I remember being excited by hitting a note on the piano, letting it ring out, and imagining a motorbike disappearing into a desert horizon. As early as I can remember, I understood the connection between imagination and music. I owe a lot to the childhood music teachers who encouraged composition while teaching the standard recital material. I remember entering a composition contest when I was about six with a piece called, ‘Volcano’. It sounded like John Cage before I knew who he was and I was really into it. I remember thinking, ‘This is a winner. No doubt.’I lost, and so began the process of testing new options.”
“I wrote, As I Walk instantly and without thinking. I felt like I was just transcribing it and I couldn’t write fast enough. Even more than what the song means to me lyrically, was the experience of channeling it.
Bloom was one of the first songs I wrote while I was bed-locked, and so it brings me back to that urgency of fighting for my life. Before I was sick, I was heavily into boxing, and enjoyed all that comes with being in peak condition. Then suddenly, from one moment to the next, I couldn’t even stand.”
“I think it was a mutual love of music and boxing that sealed my friendship with bassist, Tony Garnier, and I wonder if he volunteered to work on the record because he sensed all of this. As for other songs in the world? I still don’t understand why Sergey’s Liturgy of St. John Chystostom gets me every time.
“There are so many that have influenced my music directly and others that influence the way I listen or explore ideas. Since there is no hierarchy, I’m throwing it all out there like a cloud: Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Dave Van Ronk, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Feist, composer John Adams, Steve Reich, U2, Arcade Fire, Afro-Cuban, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, all kinds of electronic music, and currently checking out Woodkid, and My Brightest Diamond, and many many others.”
“Besides these artists, and my parents who surrounded me with musical exposure and opportunity, I had the good fortune of working under producer/composer John Petersen in New York City straight out of high school for several years. I would not have known how to put this record together were it not for his influence. I had to be my own producer, string arranger, performer and programmer for the project; and John had everything to do with that acquired ability. Not a lot of people are generous enough to give the kind of knowledge that leads to self-reliance. We are great friends today and we still spend hours talking about music every chance we get.”
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