This weekend is another wonderful storm of live music, with some really interesting just-breaking indie acts gracing the Beachland stage. On Saturday night, after soaking up rays all day at Compound Fest, check out Zee Avi and definitely make plans to wind down your weekend on Sunday evening with the soothing strains of The Horse's Ha. The Horse's Ha's debut album, Of the Cathmawr Yards, is among the most beautiful releases I've had the pleasure of listening to this year (check out my review here) and I can't wait to see duo James Elkington and Janet Bean performing songs for the record up close and personal.
Recently, Elkington took time out to answer my questions about the band, the new album, and other aspects of his career as a musician. As always, the answers are pretty interesting, especially the last one about his most memorable Cleveland experience. I think we'll all be able to empathize and share a sorrowful smile at that one.
1) What are your influences on "Of the Cathmawr Yards"? In particular, I'm interested in sources of inspiration other than other bands/musicians? I mean, is there a certain type of art or artist, idea, spirit, etc.
I think that the band really started with Janet and I finding out what interests we had in common and how that could be reflected in what we were doing. I think that both of us share a love of spiky, descriptive language and almost theatrical darkness in music and art, and that seems to come out in the music. It feels like the lyrics are informed by that and the sort of earthy quality of being in an all acoustic band. Janet and I are also interested in sitting around doing nothing, which is why it took us so long to get this band off the ground.
2) Indie rock bands don't often rise out of urban jazz scenes, but when they do, they seem to be far more inventive and difficult to classify. In what ways do you think the interaction between the experimental jazz and rock scenes has influenced your work as a group?
I agree - I do think that when conventional songwriters chose to work with jazz musicians, they're inviting random elements into the proceedings that push the music to unusual places. When we started out, we made a point of playing with people that we knew would bring they're own personalities to it because we like a lot of music that was made that way. Janet is a huge fan of Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and I think that's a great example. What I love about jazz is that the person who's writing the music is only half responsible for how it comes out - its the choices you make in performers and what they themselves decide to do with it in the moment that makes it what it is, and that 's why Nick Macri, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Charles Rumback are such an important part of it.
3) If you were asked by a younger musician about to embark on his/her first tour, what advice would you give him/her?
Get a good sleeping bag and make an effort to commune with the people who are coming out to see you (if anyone does come out to see you). Unfortunately, most touring consists of sleeping and driving, with a 90 minute window for playing every night, so if you're not going to be seeing much of the places you're going to, at least try and make some friends when you're there.
4) Any pre- or post-show rituals you have found yourselves following over the years?
My vocal exercises consist of my walking round the block singing the highest notes I can to stretch in my voice. I sound like Minnie Ripperton when I'm doing this and have to avoid loitering gangs of youths, but it works OK. Everyone else in the band seems to be fine without having to do anything.
5) Your band got its start by playing other people's music before branching out to your own originals. Any favorite artists/songs out there you'd still love to cover, but just haven't done it yet?
I had a plan to do 'Here He Comes' by Brian Eno but there are a lot of words to learn and that's my Achilles heel when it comes to covers. I can remember the words to my songs becasue I wrote them, but I'm borderline useless with other poeple's. We have a new song of Janet's that has about 12 verses and observant members of the audience at the show will notice that I still have the words taped to the side of my guitar even though we've been playing the song for six months.
6) Regarding your album name - what brought you to the short story that was the inspiration for it (and the band name, for that matter)? Was it the Dylan Thomas factor or just the zombies? Either answer is cool.
I'm a big Dylan Thomas fan and have been since I read Under Milk Wood at school, but it was only about 10 years ago that I started to read some of his less well known short stories and The Horse's Ha was just about the weirdest of the lot. Time will tell as to whether its really a good name for a band because poeple rarely have a clue what the hell you're trying to say when you tell them you're in a band called The Horse's Ha. I like zombies too but I'm more of Frankenstein kind of guy, truth be told.
7) Last but not least, any memorable Cleveland experiences?
Last time I was there it was so goddamn cold that I was forced to by a strange green hat from the local Walgreens that I still have. My wife is not into it.
Be sure to check out The Horse's Ha at the Beachland Tavern this Sunday (8/2) night. Doors open at 8 and the show starts around 8:30, with opening duties going to a pair of local alt-folk acts, Golden Ox (check out their tune "Legend of Jesse James") and Lowly, the Tree Ghost.
4 years ago