INTERVIEW: Abraham Brody (new album Crossings and EFG LJF concert 18 Nov)

Abraham Brody
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US-Lithuanian singer/composer ABRAHAM BRODY’s second album, Crossings, comes out on 16 November with an appearance at the London Jazz Festival on 18 November collaborating with innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also be performing their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. Based in Iceland, he spoke to AJ Dehany in London about music as a transformational process.

The title of Abraham Brody’s new album, Crossings, encapsulates his personality and practice. He is a composer, artist, and multi-instrumentalist with Lithuanian roots who grew up in the US. He has lived in London, Lithuania, and now lives in Iceland. He originally studied classical music, then became involved in folk music. His first album From The Rich Dark Earth (2017) reworked Lithuanian folk traditions, but he has found himself evolving a more personal style.

“All the songs are very autobiographical. They’re about our society, on how people interact now –  relationships, childhood. A lot of the songs are kind of abstract, about certain things that I see or that other people see that are not necessarily real – they’re kind of imagined.”

His new video In The Dream, directed by Lithuanian artist MIST, was created for an international audience but comments directly on social issues in Lithuania.

“I love Lithuania. My previous album is a dedication to Lithuanian culture, but there are a lot of problems – with homophobia and racism. In The Dream is about all the diverse types of people that live there and trying to show their love in a beautiful way. Everyone is dreaming and sleeping and we all have the same kind of desires. We all search for love and to be loved – so it’s kind of like asking for acceptance.”

The album Crossings is rich and atmospheric, with a strange, ancient, ritual sense allied to contemporary energies and concerns. The album title represents the different influences that cross over in his music, with his classical background intersecting with the influence of folk traditions and now electronic and contemporary directions. There is also the importance of travel and movement to his artistic development, and more mysterious metaphorical crossings.

“The songs are kind of crossing between reality and imagined reality, and putting people in a kind of mythological role.”

I had read that Abraham Brody is pursuing a “mystical vision” and has an interest in Buryat Shamanism. He says, “I started being really interested in these things because for me it is really important that music is not entertainment. It’s a transformational process. A few years ago I went to Siberia and I made some films and a multimedia exhibition that I showed in Moscow that was about these rituals of shamans and how they use music to enter a trance. For me it’s important that I’m not creating music just as entertainment. I want to transform myself. I think that’s why it’s so important that people still go to live concerts. That transformation doesn’t really take place in a recorded form. It’s in the live space, it’s what the performer can transmit and the audience can give back.”

In 2013 he came to wider notice working with Marina Abramovic on a recreation of her piece The Artist Is Present using sound (The Violinist Is Present).

“That was when I first started going my own way. I was really really focused on this interaction with an audience. It wouldn’t be just passive entertainment, it would be a really direct contact. I would look in people’s eyes and I would improvise what I see.”

The concert at the London Jazz Festival is taking place at Village Underground, which is a large industrial space more associated with dance parties, an unusual choice to situate the intimacy and intensity of Brody’s music and approach.

“I wanted to create this special environment,” he says; there will be a light show, and videos made for each song by Latvian artist Zane Zelmene.”

The concert will present his collaboration with the innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also present their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. It will conclude with a collaboration with Icelandic electronic artist Áslaug Magnusdottir from the group Samaris.

Brody has a longstanding interest in exploring interactions between performer and audience, but, he says, “I actually think now I’m more interested in larger audiences. It’s more about the focus and the interaction, and what you can communicate non-verbally. I really look for that shared connection.”

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

Crossings is released on 16 November.

LINKS: Abraham Brody’s website

Abraham Brody and Wooden Elephant play the EFG London Jazz Festival on Sunday 18 November

Categories: Features/Interviews

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