Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
Sebastian Scotney interviewed American singer-songwriter Dawn Landes. She will be performing newly-commissioned songs and arrangements by American composer Nico Muhly with the Aurora Orchestra, in their American ‘ Road Trip’ programme, which also includes works by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and John Adams, at Kings Place on January 4th.
Sebastian Scotney: You grew up in Louisville, Kentucky but now live in New York?
Dawn Landes: I’m a Kentucky girl at heart but am starting to feel at home now in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I made the move to the East Coast in 2000 to study at New York University.
SS: So, Is Kentucky still ‘home’?
DL: I do still feel very connected to Kentucky even though I haven’t lived there in years. My dad lives there and I get back a few times each year. I’m nostalgic for it and in a way do still think of KY as home.
SS: Listening to your own songs your musical roots in American folk music seem quite strong. What were your influences?
DL: I grew up listening to the radio all of the time. Everything from pop radio to country and gospel… the midwest is vast with lots of long drives to educate you via radio. Some of my favorite singers were Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez, and Lucinda Williams. They were all telling amazing stories with their songs.
SS: Your singing has natural, honest sound. Was there a lot of singing in the family?
DL: I come from a long line of hummers. All the women in my family hum around the house. We’re like a swarm of bees when we’re all together!
My brother is a jazz trombone player, my aunt plays organ at the church and my grandfather played the violin. There were some sing-alongs around the holidays for sure.
SS: Were you formally trained as a musician?
DL: I took piano lessons for a few years as a child and then a few guitar lessons. Mostly I’m a self taught musician. I dabble in a lot of sound-making in the studio. As a producer and engineer I consider the computer to be my instrument as well. I do a lot of painting with different sonic textures. I have been singing my whole life and have had some amazing experiences working with great vocal coaches and choir directors.
SS: You have also written film scores?
DL: I’ve written two feature film scores “Blackbird” and “Familiar Strangers“. It was a great experience and I’d love to do more work with film.
SS: What’s your current album?
DL: My newest album is coming out Feb 18th, 2014 on Western Vinyl/ Secretly Canadian. The album is called “Bluebird” and was produced by Thomas Bartlett. [LISTEN HERE ]
It features string arrangements by Rob Moose (from Y Music) and guest appearances by Norah Jones on piano and vocals and Tony Scherr on upright bass. The song “Home” is from the forthcoming record.
SS: Your song Straight Lines (below) has been used by Transport for London in their campaign to get more people cycling. Any comment?!
DL: I feel honored to have my song in an ad to promote bicycling! I ride my bike year-round in NYC and don’t know what I’d do without it.
SS: You’ve been to the UK before?
DL: I’ve been touring in Europe now for over a decade. I believe my first performance in London was back in 2004 at the ICA supporting Feist. I always love playing in London.
SS: What folk songs will you be singing on January 4th?
DL: Some shape note songs and some Scottish ballads – and some surprises!
SS: How long have you worked with Nico Muhly?
DL: Nico wrote a flute arrangement for my song “Brighton” from my 2009 album “Sweetheart Rodeo“. Recently I sang the ballad Brown Girl (short extract below) in his score for Benjamin Millepied’s ballet “Two Hearts” at Lincoln Center. I’m looking forward to singing that song again with the Aurora Orchestra for this performance.
Sebastian Scotney: The songs you will perform at Kings Place written/ arranged by Nico Muhly with you in mind. Is working with him a collaborative process?
Dawn Landes: It’s collaborative in the very early stages and he’s wonderfully open. Then he shuts the doors and makes his magic.
Kings Place / Aurora Orchestra tickets HERE