Saturday, May 15, 2010

Show Preview - Wailing Wall - Interview - 5/21/10 - Warhol - Opening for Tim Fite

The Wailing Wall is multi-instrumentalist Jesse Rifkin. He will be opening for Tim Fite on Friday 5/21 at the Warhol. Below is an interview he was kind enough to give us plus streaming audio of a song from his forthcoming album The Low Hanging Fruit.

You grew up in a Jewish home even attending an Orthodox HS. How would you characterize your beliefs today and how does it influence how you create your music?

I would say that music is the medium through which I struggle to figure out what my beliefs are. I read a lot of books about religion and philosophy, so there are constantly new questions being asked, new ideas being examined. Recently I read David Lynch’s book about Transcendental Meditation and creativity (Catching the Big Fish) and that raised some interesting points.

Bones Become Rainbows by The Wailing Wall

You create a majority of your compositions. Do you ever have friends you record with influence any structure, etc. on a track?

Oh for sure! The chords and lyrics are always mine, and I’ll usually bring in some ideas about arrangement, but the beauty of friends coming and going through the band is that they all bring in their own playing styles and ideas. Depending on the players available at any given moment, a song can go through some pretty drastic changes, even down to the very structure of the thing if that’s what has to happen.

With recording your last album I read you used all acoustic instruments. Is this how you are performing live as well?

That was something I stupidly told an interviewer before we even started making the record. Once we started recording, I think we stuck to that rule for maybe an hour or two before the first song we were working on just seemed to be begging for a distorted electric guitar part. That being said, I did insist on using natural/organic sounds whenever possible. A lot of what sounds like a synthesizer on the album is actually a real live pipe organ. We probably could have gotten the same sound from an electronic keyboard, but recording the pipe organ in a church added a lot of natural room sound and ambiance and breath that we would have lost otherwise. To my ears, it kind of makes the record.

This tour, are you with a band or just doing an acoustic set by yourself?

Solo this time, with an electric guitar and a whole ton of pedals. Maybe some other treats here and there too.

What is your songwriting process? Do you create the lyrics and music to follow or?

There’s no one way it happens. Usually the two kind of form independently over long stretches of time, and then at some point (weeks later, months later, years later even) I’ll kind of notice how a lyric and a tune might fit together, and the start to introduce them to each other and do some editing. The songs always point the way and I follow; I can’t ever force it or it just comes out wrong. Takes a lot of patience, for sure. If I had more of a “process” I’d probably have a lot less anxiety in my life, but there you have it.

From your album title to your lyrics have a defined religious undertone. Do you ever find this turns some people off?

I wonder about this sometimes. Nobody’s ever told me that they’ve been turned off, but why would they? If they listen to the music, though, I think they’d notice that there’s a lot more questions asked than answers given. I think of heroes of mine, people like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), Phil Elverum (Microphones/Mount Eerie), Will Oldham (Palace/Bonnie "Prince" Billy), John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats), Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), Sufjan Stevens, Nick Cave, Joanna Newsom, Vic Chesnutt – all these songwriters (and so many more) have grappled with religion and/or spirituality in their work, and as far as I’m aware it hasn’t impacted their secular appeal. Plus – and I really can’t emphasize this enough – I do write about other things as well (like sex, for example).

Is there an album or show that made you want to dedicate your life to music?

It had always kind of been there in my mind, since discovering the Beatles as a little kid. But seeing The Olivia Tremor Control at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, August 2005, was the thing that finally got my ass in gear. Still the greatest show I’ve ever seen. As soon as I left I started making a list of friends that I could ask to join my band.

What are the goals for the band? What would you like to accomplish?

I’d like to be one of those people like Neil Young or Will Oldham who just creates a massive, varied body of work that is consistently high quality, or at least consistently interesting. I mean, no matter what mood I’m in, there’s pretty much never a Neil Young record that doesn’t fit it perfectly. So I’d like to have that be true for WW as well. Also, I’d be super happy if music could facilitate my travelling all over the world.

Do you have any professional training? How did you get your start playing music?

Guitar lessons off an on through my childhood and in college. I had this one teacher growing up in Annapolis, MD, his name was Rob Levit. He was a jazz guitarist. I was never a really devoted student of jazz guitar, kinda hated that style of playing to be honest, but the main thing I really learned from Rob was how to manage your own life as a creative person – both the business end of things, and just doing things like reading and drawing and listening to all different kinds of music to keep yourself creatively engaged and inspired. So for that I’ll always be grateful.
And then on the flip side, playing in punk bands in high school and discovering indie rock and home recording. My friends and I playing with a four-track in a basement, learning how to layer sounds and arrange things. When I finally started playing publicly as The Wailing Wall, the guy who really gave me my start was my friend and mentor Jason Anderson. He was the first real “professional musician” who really believed in what I was doing and brought WW to open some shows for him. He’s been an incredible friend and inspiration ever since, and even plays in WW on occasion.

Anything you would like to say to Pittsburgh?

As a matter of fact, yes, there is. The only time I have ever come to your city before to play music, which was some time ago, it ended up being one of the worst and most heartbreaking nights of my career. I was really excited for the show, really excited to be in Pittsburgh, and then lo and behold, nobody showed up. Not a single person. To date, that is the only time that has ever happened to me. But I am really excited for this show. I’m excited to be playing with my friend Tim Fite, I am excited to see the Warhol Museum, and I’m especially excited to meet some awesome people and play an awesome show and repair my broken relationship with Pittsburgh.

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