Lori Carson’s voice has a way of oh so softly burrowing into you, her words, graceful little drills making their way past the sediment of your surface perceptions. After a listen, insight lies exposed like embers burning down after a fire; not a conflagration, but the gentle long fires of home, hurt, loss and emotional mistake. You fall in love a little bit after taking in this voice. In love with who you are, who you were, and what it all might mean. Lori Carson has a way, indeed of connecting us to how it feels.
I took the opportunity to ask Lori some questions about her songwriting process, her history in the industry, and her niche as a go-to artist regarding film music, and why her work seems so suited to the medium. Her unadulturated responses are found here.
PH Lori, I have long been attracted to the shifting emotional shadows in your music, to the fact that most of your songs lean towards bittersweet questioning, and veer away from the false lyrical resolutions of so much pop music. Where does that come from? What’s the story behind this type of energy that your history, muse or circumstances seems to steer you towards?
LC I think the appeal of songwriting, of any writing in fact, lies in the pleasure found in combining a deeply felt idea with one’s craft or technique.
But, I think there are certain methods, techniques, used in songwriting that rely heavily on artifice. I’ve never liked forced rhymes, clichés, overused metaphors. I try to avoid them. For me the pleasure lies in finding a way to polish and perfect without resorting to those things, because they act as barriers or distractions to the genuine experience.
As for why my themes are what they are. I suppose it’s because of my specific personality, experience, brain chemistry, etc. I’m a romantic with melancholic tendencies! My songs reflect my experience directly.
PH You have had an interesting career in that mainstream “fame”, whatever that means, seems to have escaped you as a recording artist regarding CD sales, etc, but have been extremely successful in having your songs placed in film. Do you feel that the songs naturally lend themselves to cinematic collaborations?
LC Well, it was my recording career that brought me to the attention of directors and music supervisors. It happened very naturally, was not something I ever pursued.
I was on tour in Asia supporting my record “Where it Goes” when I heard that Bernardo Bertolucci had licensed “You Won’t Fall” for his film Stealing Beauty. This was in 1995, I think.
Then, at the end of that tour I flew directly to LA to work on a new song with Graham Revell for Katherine Bigelow’s “Strange Days.” One thing led to another.
I think the gentle, emotional quality of my voice and songs lent themselves well to acting as score in movies and television. But being a part of the Golden Palominos didn’t hurt either. It lent me a bit of cool. Never a bad thing in terms of getting your songs licensed.
PH Can you tell me about the genesis of your relationship with Anton Fier in Golden Palominos? How did your inclusion in that project come about, and how do you see that time, in retrospect, as influencing your life, let alone your career?
LC Well, I kind of answered this a bit in the last question. Before the Golden Palominos I was one more singer-songwriter. After, I was suddenly a cool singer from a cool band. In the music business that means a lot. It brought me a lot of opportunity. Of course, after I was always “the singer from the Palominos” which sometimes bugged me, but overall, it was a good thing for my career. Looking back, I can see it was the best thing that could have happened to me, to be a part of a collaborative project with Anton. He really knew how to make records. I learned a lot and he protected me from myself sometimes. Also, he was my biggest fan and that was nice.
I met Anton when he interviewed to be my producer on my first record (on Geffen). I didn’t pick him then, but later, after I was dropped by Geffen, I’d started to play some gigs in New York. I was trying to get back on my feet. Anton came to a show and asked me to work on some songs with him. He gave me seven rhythm tracks, basically bass and drums, programmed stuff, Bill Laswell on bass. I wrote lyrics and melodies over them. They were all written in about two weeks time. We recorded the songs and it was really magic. Anton asked me how I felt about releasing the record as a Golden Palominos record and I was into it. I liked the idea of being a part of something else at that point. So those songs became “This is How it Feels.”
PH So many musicians that I have worked with and befriended over the years are entering their late 40s, 50s, and are in a introspective mode concerning their career, their lives from this point forward, and their shifting artistic and personal priorities. What drives you at this time in your life? What is the focus of your love, dedication and energy, and how does this meld with your artistry?
LC I’ve slowed down, to put it mildly. I remember when I was younger, I’d look at older artists and think “What happened to him? Why isn’t she writing those great songs anymore?’ You could feel the diminishing energy of those artists, and I feel I understand it a little bit now. I think ambition for recognition, and approval from the world, is a young person’s ambition. I think age gives you the perspective to understand it doesn’t matter what the world thinks so much. Time is limited, so it’s important to do what you want to do with your life. I value walking in the park as much as writing a song today. I enjoy things I didn’t allow myself when I was spending every minute of every day trying to be successful in the music business. I feel I’ve done what I’m going to do as far as the world is concerned. My music is something I do for myself now, although I continue to share it, of course.
PH You have been very transparent in your writing concerning love, your experience with it, its losses and challenges, its obsessions and joys. It seems to come easy for you this type of disclosure. Do you write about love from a standpoint of catharsis, confessional, a combination of both, or for some other reason?
LC Although, the songs have an aspect of being confessional, I think they are more a catharsis than a need to reveal myself. I suppose there is a part of everyone that wants to be heard, received, identified with. I’ve also heard it said that when we write we have one listener in mind, so maybe, sometimes I’m addressing the subject of the song. (Then the world is the eavesdropper). More often, the listener, the receiver, whoever he/she is, is secondary to the experience of releasing a spiritual question into the world. That’s what it feels like to me. I’m sending out my loneliness, my longing into the unknown!
The journal I see as an extension of my songwriting. I get a flow going and just kind of rif. It feels good. I like to do it.
The idea that a song, or even the journal, is a diary entry is one I don’t like it because it suggests a song is merely a regurgitation of an experience. That diminishes the importance of craft, which is a big part of what I love. I think the reason my songs seem so transparent is because I write with subtlety, not because what I write is true. Or true in the literal sense at least.
PH I’ve been reading your blog, and have noticed that you have recently moved back to NYC from Long Island. There is a distinct lifestyle change from Mattituck to NYC. Being an east-ender myself I can understand this. What was the impetus for the move, and how do you see this affecting the creative process for you?
LC I’m a New Yorker in my heart. Central Park, great restaurants, the museums, great people watching. I’ve spent most of my life in New York City and although I lived for ten years on the East End, after the first few, I was itching to come back. I’m so happy to be back. It’s the perfect place for people who spend a lot of time alone. You can isolate all day in your apartment, then walk outside and be surrounded by people. Also, it’s the capital of the world for people who don’t fit anywhere else. Those people tend to be artists and I love living among artists.
PH Who do you listen to? What current musicians do you see making important, resonant work that inspires you, ads to your positive emotional/spiritual landscape?
LC I don’t listen to a lot of music. If someone gives me something, I’ll check it out and that’s often how I’ve fallen in love with something, like my friend’s Ida, for example. I love their music and have been listening to their new records. I heard Regina Spektor perform the other night at the Tibet House Benefit and she was outstanding, really magnificent. I love music so much, but I don’t go looking to discover it somehow. I think it’s because it takes me so long to write and I find listening to other people’s work is often distracting.
I’m inspired by everything though. Movies, books, the world. There’s never a shortage of things to be inspired by!
PH What musical or artistic projects are you working on now? Any collaborative work in the making?
LC I’m hoping my friends, Daniel and Liz (from Ida) will help me finish this group of songs I’ve been struggling with finishing. I’m done writing the songs, but the recordings remain half done. I’d like to release these songs on a new record at some point.
I co-wrote the music and lyric for a new Lee Jeans ad recently. Also, I work with a company called Spring, putting music to short films, often for philanthropic projects, but some commercial projects as well. I’m currently not performing, but writing is something I hope to never stop doing.