INTERVIEW/PREVIEW : Joanna Wallfisch (The Forge, 19th November, EFG London Jazz Festival)

Joanna Wallfisch's Great Song Cycle reaches Big Sur

Vocalist JOANNA WALLFISCH is a Londoner now living in Brooklyn. Her most recent album "Gardens in My Mind" is currently in the Grammy ballot for Best Folk Album. She will be at the Forge on Saturday November 19th at 2pm as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Sebastian asked her about what she hs been doing in the past few months:

LondonJazz News: Last time we spoke you it was about the new album. Since then there has been the amazing bike ride...?

Joanna Wallfisch: Ah yes, the bike ride! I called it The Great Song Cycle, as it was in fact the official album release tour for Gardens In My Mind, and I chose to bicycle the whole tour. The tour took me from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, 1,154 miles under my wheels, and 16 solo shows, all along the West Coast. I decided to go by bike for a number of reasons. The first was that I needed a holiday. I know, the idea of biking 1200 miles isn't exactly everyone's idea of a vacation, but what I was craving was an adventure. A visceral experience that reminded me that I was alive, and a means of traveling that had the power to alter my perception of space and time.

Another reason was economic — to execute a month long solo tour in a place I've never played, in relatively small venues that often only pay via a tip jar, as good exposure as it may be, can be very expensive and financially unviable, especially if renting a vehicle or traveling by bus and train. I was intent on making this, if not a profitable tour, then a tour that would break even, and going by bike meant I had virtually zero expenses — no gas, grocery store food, and most of the time my accommodation was free, since I was either camping or hosted by kind strangers, now friends. I also wanted to get back to the roots of who I am as a musician and a human, especially after a hectic city-bound summer. Executing a music tour by bike prooved to be an incredible way of connecting with people, and a great reminder of the beauty that is both out there and that we have the capacity to create ourselves.

LJN: And were there more idealistic reasons too?

JW: Above all, I would say that the main reason was freedom. Getting out of the city life and into the world. Life on a bicycle is to be completely self-reliant and self-sufficient. I carried all that I needed for my multi-faceted month - my instruments, my home, my clothes, food, water, and myself. When traveling by car, train or plane one can easily forget that you have to carry yourself with you wherever you go. On a bike you become so attuned to the body you live in and how mind, spirit and flesh can actually exist simultaneously together and also as separate entities. It was a complete thrill to know that the only way I was going to get from A to B was by the strength of my own body and mind. You are your own master on a bike, but of course, with that comes a pretty great responsibility, especially when you are so exhausted and simply can't fathom another mile…

LJN:  What were the happiest moments?

JW: There were SO many happy moments. Waking up in my tent on a beach to see a pod of dolphins swimming in one direction, just as a humpback whale breaching just off shore in the other. Or the ballet in the sky of a thousand small birds suddenly flying from a tree. You don’t miss anything when on a bike. You get to experience every hill, wave, cloud, bird, tree, smell, taste, temperature and breeze. You really are one with your environment, and you can’t help but gain a unique perspective on the shape and workings of the planet we live in.

I also experienced a deep sense of the presence. My mind barely ever reached back into thoughts of the past, and only when I was tired and in need of getting to my destination did it reach forward into the necessary future. Otherwise my mind, my sight and my body remained firmly in the present moment.This gave me the deepest sense of happiness.

On a human level, I experienced a wealth of kindness from strangers. It is amazing that, in a world filled with fear, fighting, prejudice, selfishness and anger, I was experiencing nothing but kindness, generosity, joy and acceptance from everyone I met. I never felt threatened, and I think its because, in general, people respond well to great human endeavor. I was really surprised by the following response “you have inspired me”. Whether a message on Facebook or from the people I met, somehow I was doing something that was inspiring others to get up and out and do something too. I had not intended this when I set out on the trip, but felt inspired myself at the idea that I had inspired others.

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LJN: What else have you been up to since the summer?

JW: As soon as I returned from the west coast tour I disappeared into the recording studio with my band (Jesse Elder - p, Pablo Menares - b, and Kenneth Salters - d) to record my brand new album, "Blood and Bone". We spent three incredible days at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, where these unstoppable musicians took my songs and charged forth like wild horses, giving this record a magic that I could not have dreamed of. I can't wait to start sharing this new music with you all... it's quite an epic project! Alongside that, I have also been performing many shows, including a mini tour in Ohio, and other shows around New York, and planning the next moves for 2017.

LJN:  You were on the soundtrack of a film recently right

JW: Last year my song 'Satellite' featured on British indie movie "Pressure", starring Danny Huston. You can hear me singing over a nude mermaid scene, which, for anyone who knows my obsession with the ocean, is quite befitting!

LJN:  What subjects are your current songs about?

JW: The songs that I mostly tour with now, and that also feature on my new record "Blood and Bone”, go on a journey from heart break to, for want of a better word, healing. Over the last year I have gone through some pretty life affirming and challenging experiences. From heart break and recovery, to working with kids in slums in India, to cycling and singing down the west coast of America alone, and everything in between. As a result my songs are infused with love - love lost, love found, tales of fight and survival, and stories of journeying. I think my lyrics are the most honest and raw they have ever been, and I am really enjoying taking this leap into baring my heart on my sleeve, but in as genuine a way as I possibly can. It's a challenge, and requires taking a step outside of myself and externally observing the work I am making. I find performing regularly and also playing with my band really helps me feel how successful my songs are. I think the following lyric from my new song "The Ship" encapsulates the journey within my songs well: "Out of the splinters of my broken heart I built this ship"... Over the last year I have experieced some pretty incredible life affirming, and challenging things. From heart break and recovery, to working with kids in slums in India, to cycling, and singing down the west coast of America alone, and everything in between. As a result my songs are infused with love - from love lost, to love found, tales of fight and survival, and stories of journeying. I think my lyrics have found the most honest and raw place as they ever have, and I am really enjoying taking this leap into baring my heart on my sleeve, but in as genuine a way as I possibly can. It's a challenge, and requires taking a step outside of myself and externally observing the work I am making. I find performing regularly, and also playing with my band really helps asses how successful the songs are. The following lyric from my song The Ship encapsulates all of the topics within my songs well: "Out of the splinters of my broken heart I built this ship"...

LJN: For your gig at the Forge, who are you playing with? / What do they bring you musically ?

JW: At my LJF gig at The Forge Venue, I am really excited to be reunited with The Sacconi Quartet. We have not played together since we were at Nimbus Studios in August 2015, recording "Gardens In My Mind", so it is very special to be bringing this music back to life on stage, especially for London Jazz Fest. The Sacconi Quartet are one of the UK's leading string ensembles, and their sound is not only world class, but they bring an incredible roundness, warmth and beauty to this project. What I find so exciting about writing for, and playing with string quartet is how their sound can go from the most intimate to the most orchestral. Joining us isthe brilliant London pianist Liam Dunachie.

LJN: When you come back to London you must remember your student times.

 Well, I was a student of both art and music, studying first at Central Saint Martins, and then at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. aAnd I mostly reminisce when I go to the new Foyle’s Bookstore on Charing Cross Road and think - this was where my studio once was.

LJN:  So what was the best thing you were ever told at college? 

The best thing I was ever told at the Guildhall was probably just to keep going. I will say though that it was Pete Churchill who gave me the greatest piece of advice, back when I was 19, and I still call upon today at almost every concert. He told me, "even if you think you're ready, just take one extra breath, one extra moment before counting in the band or starting to sing". Golden advice, thank you Pete! Time and patience, especially when performing, is essential, because it is a live encounter, and as soon as you jump off that cliff you need to know that you have prepared yourself, as much as you can, to land in a way that can honor your intention.

LJN: And what do you wish you had been told as a student?


JW: What do I wish I had been told? I guess when you're starting out it helps to know that everything takes a lot longer than you want it to, and not to panic. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had so far, and the support network of musicians in both the UK and the USA to fuel this fire to keep going with my music, but it is a long road... a life time of work. Joni Mitchell really said it best in these two lyrics — "In search of love and music my whole life has been..." (Black Crow) "I am on a lonely road, and I am travelling, traveling, traveling, traveling, looking for something, what can it be?" (All I Want). (pp)





LINKS: Bookings for the Forge on November 19th
Our June 2016 interview with Joanna Wallfisch about Gardens in my Mind
Joanna Wallfisch website

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