“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is an otherworldly force, an artist who I first became aware of in the Louisville, Kentucky band Rachel’s, whose first two albums “Handwriting” and “Music For Egon Schiele” I had been sent on promo tape via Touch & Go. They were full of epic, widescreen beauty, picturesque and poised. While similarly timed releases by Louisville friends Rodan had been angular and sharp, Rachel’s were a parabolic curve, an infinity pool for the cerebrum to swim in, part precursor to post rock, part deft nod to the classical minimalism of Steve Reich, Phillip Glass and Michael Nyman. I was already enamoured with Louisville through Slint and one of my first ever interviews on VS was a phoner with Will Oldham, so when I found Rachel’s (originally the nom de plume of Rodan’s Jason Noble) I was already to embrace their brittle yet grandiose, glacial and yet heartwarming soundscapes. When Noble (sadly no longer of this world) expanded Rachel’s line up to include violist Christian Frederickson and pianist Rachel Grimes as the core planet around which many talented players would orbit, their legend was sealed.
Post Rachel’s (who finished in 2003) Rachel has been a composer and pianist creating music for chamber ensembles, orchestra, film, and collaborative live performances and her pieces have been performed by the likes of the Louisville Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Knoxville Symphony, A Far Cry, Longleash and the Dublin Guitar Quarter. She’s also worked on film soundtracks including The Doctor From India (2018), The Blue Hour (with Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snyder and Angelica Negron, commissioned by A Far Cry, 2018) and several records both solo and with ensemble.
Now Rachel has composed “The Way Forth”, a new folk opera, using “lush layers of voices and orchestrations in an experiential, non-linear investigation highlighting perspectives of Kentucky women from 1775 to today”, a beguiling prospect due for release on 1 November on Temporary Residence. What better time than to invite Rachel onto Velvet Sheep for an intriguing song choice, welcome to these digital pages the natural brilliance of Rachel Grimes!
Take in the track “Got Ahold of Me” complete with Louisville imagery below…
“The Way Forth” was inspired by a treasure-trove of family documents, photos, and letters spanning several generations, which Grimes began to research in 2016, going to visit family, documenting on camera present day rural Kentucky life – kind of like an art rock episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” What captured Rachel’s imagination most was the gap between face value and remembered (and sometimes revisionist) history and what actually went on, particularly given a slight airbrushing over the State’s unsavoury connections with Slavery and it are these themes of “trying to reconcile her state’s history and how it relates to the westward expansion and settlement of the United States and ultimately how an era of domination, denial, and pain is reflected in the complex culture of today” which inform the record.
The intricate instrumentation for “The Way Forth” includes piano, harp, strings, choir, lead vocals and narrators. Special guest collaborators include actor Stephen Duff Webber, acclaimed US harpist and Jack White collaborator Timbre Cierpke, Bonnie “Prince” Billy collaborator Joan Shelley, and Alan Lomax archivist Nathan Salsburg.
But what song are we to dig out from the archives as Rachel’s choice of tune on VS? Without further ado, this is Rachel Grimes’ “song for ewe”, with a great fact for ewe also…
“Velvet Sheep – Song for Ewe
September 10, 2019
Rachel (Hebrew translation means ewe) Grimes
“The Electrician” by Scott Walker / Walker Brothers from “Nite Flights” 1978
I was in the studio this past weekend with friends and bandmates King’s Daughters & Sons mixing a three song EP that we recorded seven years ago. We had been listening to the tracks so intently for hours, and then on a lunch break of course we end up talking about other music.
The drummer Kyle Crabtree mentioned how “The Electrician” by Scott Walker would always bring him to a complete halt, and he had to listen in stillness to the end of the song. And so we listened on someone’s phone, right there among our sandwiches. Such a magnificently weird journey – creepy vocal harmonies, heavy restrained pacing, opening into a euphoric middle section with soaring strings, then back to the menace….and fade out. So bold and sure of itself, so unique and oblivious to any commercial expectation. This song and the production is a commitment to completely serve the imagination and only the imagination.
One thing I have always loved about band practice is listening to others carry on about the music or films that move and inspire them. It has been a while since I have been in a band that regularly has practice, and so it was a really sweet weekend to go back to that way of being together and hang for a little while.”
THANKS SO MUCH TO RACHEL AND TO JAMES VELLA AT TEMPORARY RESIDENCE/PHANTOM LIMB
Rachel Grimes “The Way Forth” is out on 1 November check out the link below…