Sofie Winterson and I only film in musea it seems. Last year we had the honor of filming at Panorama Mesdag in The Hague - find her Unknown Mortal Orchestra cover on the website - and early 2020 we gave it another go at the Eye Film museum in Amsterdam. She had just decided to spend most of her time in Los Angeles for the forseeable future, so I figured I had to capture some more songs while I could. This time, Winterson recorded a lovely cover of Judee Sill's 'The Kiss' and an acoustic of her own killer song 'Moral'.
The summer of 2018 would soon be coming to an end, and Rachel and I had just seen two of our favourite bands – Hiss Golden Messenger and Courtney Marie Andrews - play a double bill in Ghent, Belgium, when I started talking with Andrews’ bass player. Somehow, Ole Kirkeng knew The Influences already and soon we’re talking about sessions, Buck Meek and other musicians we both like. The Norwegian songwriter lived in the United States for about six years, but soon after our meeting in Belgium moved back to Oslo just before coming to Utrecht to record this session in the exact same spot as Buck Meek a year earlier.
The Amsterdam Songwriters Guild has been around as long as I can remember and my friend Ro Halfhide is one of the people of the collective promoting the local songwriters. I visited one of their weekly open mic nights in Amsterdam some years ago, because Ryan Joseph Burns was in town and felt like playing some songs. One of the few things I remember about that night was that we drank too much and there was one performer who had us both in awe. That was Jara Holdert, who now performs as Lewin. So, a bit later Jara performed our live show in Utrecht and last January we filmed this session at Johnny Wonder's office. Lewin covered Joni Mitchell and The Beatles and played her own 'The Giant'.
Usually when I interview someone, I go in pretty well prepared. I never have questions written down or anything like that, but I’ll have read things and have an inkling of what I’d like to talk about. Not this time. I had focused mainly on filming the session with William Fitzsimmons, but when we sat down at the Backstage Hotel in Amsterdam to talk afterwards, it didn’t take much to get deep into conversation with the songwriter who was born in Pennsylvania. It started with pretty much a ten-minute monologue about his love for Tom Petty, whose 'Learning To Fly' he’d just covered.
Earlier this week I dreamed of walking through Glasgow's Kelvingrove Park. I looked at the wild squirrels, sat on a bench, ate a curry at Mother India's Cafe, strolled through the Art Gallery and had a coffee at Artisan Roast on Gibson Street. Then the coffee woke me up, and I realized I was in Utrecht, with no idea when I could visit Glasgow again. But, I did still have this session that I filmed with John Alexander, in Kelvingrove Park surrounded by blossom. We filmed Who Why When and a cover of Tom Waits' Walking Spanish.
Do you still know what day it is? I don't, half of the time. I do know it's Thursday though, because I'm posting a new video. About a year ago, Scottish songwriter Ryan Joseph Burns was in Utrecht and as always, we end up filming songs. You've already seen the 'Hickory Wind' duet with Demi Knight, but we also filmed this stunning cover of Courtney Marie Andrews' brilliant song 'How Quickly Your Heart Mends'. "Her voice I suppose is the first thing that grabs you, but I find the lyrics and pacing within the melody so captivating."
When we filmed this session, after Ruben Hein's sound check for a Beach Boys tribute in Utrecht’s TivoliVredenburg, his most recent album Groundwork Rising had yet to be released. An album Hein described as a milestone at the time. "That record was important. And determinative, because it had been a new step for me in the process. You can clearly tell it's different from the things I've done before. It may always be the case that I continue to vary in my work. Which might be incredibly awkward marketing-wise, but it is what it is." Watch him play The Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' and 'Disney Girls', plus 'February Days' in a big empty room.
'White Noise/White Lines' is already Kelsey Waldon's third record in five years time. The Kentuckian country singer has followed her own path since the start. And the cheers of her friends, colleagues and music journalists were noticeable, even from this side of the ocean, when she signed to John Prine's label Oh Boy Records for her third record. I was cheering too, when we arranged this session in Amsterdam last February, where Waldon covered John Anderson and Townes van Zandt. Watch those covers and 'Kentucky, 1988' and read what her friends and colleagues Michaela Anne and Caroline Spence wrote about her.
Mikaela Davis is a harpist and singer from Rochester New York, USA. She released a stunning record called Delivery in 2018. And she’s toured with The Staves and Bon Iver and played in Grateful Dead founder Bob Weir’s band. For The Influences she recorded covers of Gillian Welch and Cass McCombs, and her own 'In My Groove'. “I think we’re always getting better. Over the years I’ve actually learned to play less. Sometimes simpler is better. Especially after getting into Neil Young, and realizing a song can just be one chord to four chords, and it can still be brilliant. You have to do what’s right for the song.”
The first time I heard Alela Diane was live at the Motel Mozaique festival in Rotterdam, back in 2008. 'The Pirate’s Gospel' got a European release in 2007. Here was this folk singer, encompassing everything I love about traditional folk music in modern day folk songs, sung with her brilliant voice. Her latest record 'Cusp' had a similar effect on me. For this she ‘locked’ herself up for three weeks in a cabin surrounded by snow, with nothing but a wood stove, her guitar and a piano. I guess we should be asking her for tips on how to make it through these times of self-isolation and social distancing. Instead we talked – back in 2019 – about the power of traditional songs and motherhood in this complicated world.