Following is 1999 interview
from defunct HEARSAY magazine:
...in which Neil and Ewen exchange musings, observations and
dream therapy with divine chanteuse and songwriter ANNA DOMINO
in the wake of a new compilation and a new band project, SNAKEFARM
(which gently swept the nation in Sept 1999 - we spoke to AD
about it three years earlier so never let it be said you didn't
hear it here first!). The unexpurgated 'Anna Papers' appeared
in Hearsay #14b and The Portable Hearsay.
HEARSAY: Do you think an outsider
can unravel the mysteries of America better than a bona fide
American, in the way that Wenders manages in Paris, Texas?
ANNA DOMINO: In the sense we can't see what's in front of us,
yes. America is a myth. All history is tall tale for that matter.
The people here first have to recreate themselves from fragments.
The people who followed by volition or violation make a lot of
noise right now and live in a very young culture. We get to dress
up as a variety of fictional characters and eat deep-fried food,
like children. The cowboys out on the range wear those ten gallon
hats and them pointy boots as much because they've seen the movie
as any larger purpose. Same difference here in NYC - all dressed
in skinny black or huge sportswear. The thing you realise once
you leave anywhere is how much you're defined by your language,
looks, clothes and mannerisms... And though you aren't the
sum of those, how little you'd have without them. That desolate
thing is America. It's not hard to find your metaphor in or of
it, but can you see how big, how huge it is? USA is for whatever
you want to find, or don't. We need new meanings for these letters
(universal symbol approximator? under sun anything? utterly slavish
acquisitiveness?). There's simplicity here, at least single-mindedness,
that will be clouded in time with increasing, and relevant, gripes.
Bye bye, empire... Hello, civil strife (and adulthood?). ...But
you asked me a question. I think America is a great place to
hide and certainly someone from elsewhere would find it easier
to turn over a rock, unafraid of what they'd find, because they
can retreat from it, unlike someone who must call it home (except
David Lynch and Primus and...). I predict that in a hundred
years the USA will be three countries, or six, each heavily armed
against its immediate neighbour.
Tell us a little about the Snakefarm
covers project; the band you've assembled and the choice of
Years of research have led me to the obvious. When I was twelve
I took guitar lessons above a shop called The Blue Note from
an old looking man who sat and smoked and had me listen to the
classics. Scratchy old blues and folk records; songs of drunk
wives and trains and murder and trains and jail and heroes, on
trains. Michel and I arranged it and invited a band called Lazy
Boy to play on it, as well as other old friends. We aren't quite
done. Early 1997 I'd say.
The appeal of the folk songs you cover with Snakefarm is traditionally
oneof reflective melody and yet, from the tracks we've heard
so far, you seem to have taken a dramatically different approach,
playing down the melodic lines and constructing your performances
around rhythms or grooves. Was it important to you, when recording
well -known songs, to reinvent them? What of yourself do you
hope to invest in the songs?
These songs have been around. Some go
back to British street ballads. Others came down from the Appalachian
hills. They have dozens of verses and different melodies and
everyone who sings them changes them a little, makes them theirs.
My grandfather sometimes sang after dinner, same melody for every
song and often a new verse or two. You are, no doubt, familiar
with some renditions provided by saints: Woody Guthrie, Huddie
Leadbetter, Cisco Huston, Barbara Dale and Odetta. What do I
hope to invest? "NOW" These songs remain relevant,
moving and scary. To keep them from becoming relics they get
reinterpreted every few decades. I used a strong rhythm section
because I love that and don't get much chance to with my own
melody-centric music. Mostly the songs adapted themselves, some
got a little bent, but not irreparably. One lullaby went over
a Black Sabbath drum loop, but it works. They're unusual arrangements
but they're still just variations on our ancient themes. And
it is so much fun!
We first heard your voice emanating
from The The's Infected album. And, most recently, you've worked
with Stephin Merrit on the 6ths release. How did both of these
collaborations come about and what are your memories of working
with Matt and Stephin?
They each called me out of the blue, I sang the parts and wished
there was more, I love collaborating. For The The we were in
a tiny, fancy, recording studio here in NY. You could watch yourself
on a big screen in front of the control board which we thought
was hilarious. For the 6ths Stephin sent an ADAT tape, I worked
alone, then we came over and we talked for hours about other
things. There was one 6ths performance which was fun, but exhausting
for Stephin (12 singers!).
I sent Snakefarm to Matt after I heard
his Hanky Panky tribute to Hank Williams. He liked it enough
to tell me so. These days he's just down the street, working
and worrying about the hardest part of his record, the words.
We will meet next week to discuss lyric strategy (good idea don't
you think?)... Stephin, when in town, stays with relatives and
doesn't give out the number. He is shy and knows, whether he
knows it or not, the importance of keeping to yourself. He appears
fragile but is really focused on what counts - work and love
- and that takes a lot of concentration.
Who or what has had the profoundest influence on you, artistically?
Do you take inspiration from fields outside of music such as
cinema, literature and art, as well as music?
Influences aren't the same as inspiration are they? They're
hard to separate. NYC is my biggest inspiration, followed by
everything else. I don't get out much because when I do it takes
a while to get back. Movies are hardest, especially scary ones.
A week after seeing one I'm still dreaming it. A friend told
me recently she thinks frightening films are replacing our myths
- yet more work for the analyst who must trace the patients'
dreams to Hammer horrors and Hellraiser. I have to be careful
about music sometimes. The same way movies slip into your dreams
and actors seen on the street are mistaken for people you actually
know, someone else's sound can change my mind. I work on instinct
and don't question my motives when writing so it's only later
I'll realise I've lifted a passage from something I heard at
the time. This is a fine way to start (arranging puzzles) but
I'm after my own sound now. And then major influences are like
exposure to the sun: whether or not you get melanoma once you're
grown up has more to do with what you soaked up as a child. All
I know is only music is strong enough to take me out of myself
and make me glad - and it's time I wore my own hats - wouldn't