History of the Project
I’ve always approached my career in music as if I was making a movie; each project tells a different part of the story, expresses a particular interest of mine, and bears the imprint of the collaborators who created the music with me. As the collaborators change, so the music changes.
I started down the path that led to SUCH IS LOVE in 2003 thanks to my old friend, Alan Steele, a New York painter who is also a dealer in primitive antiquities. I hadn’t seen Alan for 17 years, then one afternoon his voice popped up on my answering machine announcing that he was in town and wanted to get together for dinner. Alan grew up in Brazil, and he arrived for dinner carrying a stack of cassettes of Brazilian music, all for me. I didn’t listen to the cassettes for months, though, and kept finding a million other things to do. Alan continued sending me painstakingly labeled mix tapes of the Bossa Nova greats, and I threw them all into my car, figuring I’d get around to listening to them eventually.
A Dark Night on Pacific Coast Highway
Several months later I was driving home late at night from a rehearsal in Malibu. The Malibu coast is like wilderness. The hills lining that stretch of Pacific Coast Highway are dark and massive, and the road curves in unexpected ways; for whatever reason, Alan’s tapes crossed my mind as I wound along the road. I popped one into the player, and suddenly Nana Caymmi’s voice filled my car. It was sad, earthy, and low -- it was the voice of a woman, not a skinny waif trying to sound forlorn. Cesar Camargo Marianno’s piano danced around her voice, nimble and cool, but this wasn’t campy piano bar music; these were Brazilian torch songs, and they were immensely powerful. The songs were in Portuguese, of course, so I couldn’t understand a word, but they cast a spell on me the moment I heard them. Two songs in particular -- “Por Toda Minha Vida” and “Nosso Tempo” -- lodged themselves in my mind and began to haunt me.
After listening to that first tape dozens of times I called Alan and asked, “What are these songs about?” It took him weeks to translate them for me, because he wanted to make sure he got them right. I recorded his translations on my speakerphone, learned the Portuguese phonetically, and then hired a pianist to take down the arrangements on the tape. I had to sing these songs. As always happens when I discover a new musical style, I dove head first into this world. I was particularly thrilled by a recording from 1974 called Elis and Tom, by the exquisite vocalist, Elis Regina, and the man who pretty much single-handedly invented Bossa Nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim. I loved the way the album interwove the light grooves of Bossa Nova and the more somber art song style. Then, on Christmas day of that year, I went to see Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant film, Talk to Her, and during a climatic scene at a bullfight a version of “Por Toda Minha Vida,” sung by Elis Regina, wafted out of the sound system in the theater! I’d only heard Nana’s version of the song, and this was a fully orchestrated arrangement with Elis crumbling into tears at the end. These songs were making me crazy!
Making the Music My Own
I wondered what to do with this music I’d fallen in love with. Record all the songs in English with new arrangements? Who needs another American singer doing Brazilian songs? I realized that what I really wanted to do was write a series of my own songs that captured the sophistication, maturity, and experience I heard in Bossa Nova. I called my old songwriting partner, Steve Stewart, and to my surprise, he told me he was learning how to play flamenco and Bossa Nova guitar, and was deeply into the music of João Gilberto. We agreed to start writing.
Steve began sending me mp3’s of new, fully realized songs, and I would listen to his music while studying a list I’d compiled with the help my writer friend, Irene Borger. Irene helps me write by giving me specific instructions, and one day she said, “make a list of ten moments in your life that you want to be remembered.” I immediately thought of several things that had to be on my list -- my first kiss with my husband, Mark, for instance, walking home on a warm summer night, or the way I used to feel after a great telephone conversation on with my mother. After completing the list I would sit and ponder it as I listened to the music Steve sent me, and try to open myself to the feeling and mood the music was conveying. Once I’d connected with the emotion of Steve’s music, I’d pick a moment from my list that seemed to correspond. Lyrics came next, and then, after I’d set them to Steve’s music, we began experimenting with harmonies and grooves.
The songs written with Nate Scoble utilized a different approach. I wanted to write music that was similar to the Weill and Eisler material that I had performed with the Eastside Sinfonietta. I found my modern day Schubert in Nate Scoble (the guitar player in the punk art band The Blue Daisies) who had a secret sunny side that was perfect for writing bossa nova inspired art songs. Nate would come to my studio with a cell of a musical idea and I would be ready with completed poems. We would compose, I singing a melody to his changes, or suggesting that the music go somewhere else based on the words. We would start a song and not stop until we were finished, usually working for 5 hours at a time and recording as we went along.
I then put together an ensemble of players that included Joe Berardi on percussion and vibraphone, Jessica Catron on cello, and Ken Lasaine on guitar, and we began practicing the new songs. We played a few shows – at L.A.’s Central Library, and the Redcat Theater in Disney Hall
As the recording of the songs wound to a close, it dawned on me that I wasn’t creating authentic Bossa Nova music, or even a nostalgic recreation of the style; rather, I was using Bossa Nova to create my own, very Los Angeles, approach to the genre. The songs are Brazilian by way of Echo Park, which means that although they refer stylistically to Bossa Nova, they have an American bite. I’ve always believed that music must be personal and specific to the person creating it, and I wanted to use Bossa Nova to explore things that occurred in my life during the period I was under the sway of the style. My mother had always been a hugely important source of inspiration and encouragement in my life, and she died while I was working on this project. I was also exploring my feelings about my marriage, reflecting on the fact that I’d reached middle age, and looking at the consequences of decisions I’d made decades ago. Bossa Nova uses beautiful shades of light and dark to explore feelings of sadness and joy, and it’s perfect for this cycle of songs exploring loss,grief, and hope.
I was hoping you’d ask that. I’ve been working on SUCH IS LOVE for a very long time and it’s finally ready for unveiling. I had the good fortune to work with many gifted colleagues on SUCH IS LOVE, and on completing it we asked each other: How should this music come into the world? We all agreed that these beautiful songs demanded a bigger frame than a CD could provide, and that they needed the classic format of a vinyl LP. We’ve finished the recording and mixing, and designed a gorgeous album sleeve featuring art by my mother, Virginia Holland Garretson
I know what you’re thinking; for cripes sake, she can release the music as a download! Why does she have to have a vinyl pressing?! I’m prepared to answer that question. I’m part of the last generation to come of age on vinyl recordings, and I can testify that the generations who’ve followed missed something wonderful. The experience of getting, then playing, a record album is different from the experience of playing a CD on every level. Lets start with the packaging; LPS were so much easier to open than CDs!! A quick slip of the thumbnail to split the shrink-wrap and you were good to go. Then there was the cover: album covers provided a canvas for artwork that was bigger and better than any CD could ever be. You could sit and hold your album and stare at the cover art in a trance, while you listened to the new music that just came into your life. Flip the album jacket over and there was all the personnel information in type big enough to read! And then, of course, there is the aural experience vinyl provides. A record is a living thing, and when it begins to crackle and pop you know that the music on that record meant a lot to some someone, who’d played it again and again. Legions of purists insist that music recorded on vinyl is richer, more resonant – just better than music on a CD, but I want you to have the opportunity to decide for yourself!