Erika Stucky: Black Widow
“Actors inspire me much more than music does”, Erika Stucky asserted in an interview already years ago. “When Jeanne Moreau totters through a movie classic, I immediately think of at least three song lyrics.” Movie characters play primary roles in Stucky’s songs again and again, sometimes as diffuse visions, another time as clearly recognizable characters. For a long time now, the artist from Zurich has been making her own short films for her stage programs, in which at times, she newly interprets well-known scenes in an individualistic style. If you carefully examine the booklet of Black Widow, you will find a cunning allusion to this genre there too.
“While we were in the mixing process of these pieces, James Gandolfini died, who enacts Tony Soprano, the main character in The Sopranos,” Erika Stucky remembers and tells that she had already previously virtually absorbed all episodes of the celebrated Mafia series. “I crawled deeply into the movies and later exhaled the impressions in many songs,” Stucky grins. “Especially, of course, in Mob Mama with its direct quotes.”
Tom Waits provided another source of inspiration for Black Widow, though not in his role as an actor. In 2011 Erika Stucky took part in the Rain Dogs-show, which brought David Coulter to the stage as a musical director.The musician and arranger Coulter has been a part of Tom Wait’s closest circle for years and already participated in the legendary theatre production Black Rider, which was staged by Bob Wilson at the time. The 18-piece ensemble of the Rain Dogs revue had a top class line-up; besides Coulter and Stucky, with Terry Edwards, Martyn Jacques (Tiger Lillies), Jane Birkin, St. Vincent and Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello’s pianist) among others. The shows were celebrated accordingly exuberantly, at the festival in Montreux for example. After that it was clear to Stucky that she wanted to record her next album with Coulter and Edwards. These two established the connection to Michael Blair, who toured with Tom Waits years ago, before he settled down in Stockholm.
“These musicians can be extremely subtle and make total noise just a moment later”, Stucky happily exclaims. “They are wonderfully adept on incredibly many instruments and arouse tremendous bursts of energy; furthermore they have downright dry and sharp humor.” This is how, according to Stucky, they unified a both subversive as well as intellectual attitude, finely nuanced skill and rebellious-anarchistic humor. Characteristics that are equally present as central themes in Tom Wait’s works as in Erika Stucky’s aesthetic. Of course the enthusiasm for this special aesthetic is mutual, Stucky says; the musicians were happy to accompany a singer with “extended vocals” (Coulter) and to be able to play in this unique jargon again.
That the album begins with the most abrasive and onomatopoeic song, even though it is also one of the few covers, is rooted in the production story of Black Widow. While Stucky was recording with Michael Blair in Stockholm, she developed kind of a ritual: every morning she would record three versions of the song Black Betty. As a warm-up round, so to say. It’s no surprise, that Stucky’s version sounds different from the historic original from blues-singer Leadbelly. This massive album opening shows parallels to Stucky’s concerts. “I always come on stage with huge tumult”, the skilled actress laughs. “That’s why I feel very much at home with Black Betty as the first track of the CD.”
In the further process Stucky found songs with which she surprised herself and that might also reveal new facets to her fans. There are quiet, almost meditative ballads like Miles High, that “came to me at 4-A.M. one morning like from a dream; a spontaneous inspiration that still amazes me.” Much clearer is the source of the idea for I’m good.“I was hiding for two months in Amsterdam to work on writing”, Stucky explains. “There I was living close to the red light district.” The luring of the woman in the window now mixes with musical memories of streets in Philadelphia or Broadway. Through her adaption of Helter Skelter Erika Stucky still seeks to come to terms with the scenes of Charles Manson’s mass murder, who even engrossed the Beatles in his delusion. The frugal-delicate cello arrangement of Easy contrasts brooding thoughts, One More flirts with allusions to Scott Walker strings. On Watching Over Me pianist Steve Nieve turned out to be a guardian angel, by very sensibly co-composing the song.
Aside from few dramatic moments, Black Widow especially shows Erika Stucky’s typical Humor. It demonstrates itself in diversified arrangements, her unusually variable vocals and small citations, which flash by like sheet lightning on the horizon. Finally, also the new album is a very personal expression of a self-confident artist. “For me it is totally coherent, that I wear pig-ears sometimes, even if that might seem completely absurd to others”, says Erika Stucky. “What I do arises from an intuitive process, therefore it makes absolute sense to me.”
- David Coulter (keyboards, guitars, singing saw, violin) worked as musical director of „Rain Dogs Revisited“ and on „The Black Rider“ with Robert Wilson and Tom Waits. Besides he worked with a.o.The Pogues, Kronos Quartet, Marianne Faithful and Yoko Ono.
- Terry Edwards (bass, saxophone, trumpet, flugelhorn, keyboards) worked on „The Black Rider“ and played with a.o. u.a. Dury's Blockheads, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, andTindersticks.
Michael Blair (drums, percussion) played on famous Tom Waits album „Rain Dogs“ dand worked with a.o. Lou Reed, Jeff Buckley, Elvis Costello and Allen Ginsberg.