By Eryn Brothers, Staff Writer
In this week’s MIXTAPE, Jaimee Harris takes us on a two-step tour of Texas music and the country queers there, mixing in Mary Gauthier, Willi Carlisle, Carry Illinois, Taylor Swift, Zoom songwriting, Arkansas, long lost Austin venues, and the power of collaboration. It’s a hootenanny!
Willie Carlisle told me to tell you that he sings, “I won’t always have you” to his dog.
That’s awesome. I love him so much. I don’t know if he told you, but we spent about a week together in Arkansas working with House of Songs.
That’s so cool! I was really excited to interview you because we have this Arkansas connection, but I lived in Austin for about twelve years. I miss it, so can we scream mutually about how much we miss Texas? I even miss the Texas heat. Isn’t that weird?
Oh my gosh, I know! I totally feel that. I’m so used to the heat. When I lived in Austin, I went swimming in Barton Springs every single day.
It’s so cool that on this playlist there are people I know and really love, like Carry Illinois.
Yeah!! You do? Lizzy (Lehman, driving force behind the band Carry Illinois) was one of the first friends I made when I moved to Austin. I actually hear from her every day! I met her around 2009, 2010, at this festival – I can’t remember the name of it, something like “women who love women that like women for women,” We were back to back on a songwriter’s bill and we’ve been friends ever since. I don’t know if you know the story of John Windsor who was the sound guy at the Mohawk, he was in Carry Illinois. He was roommates with a guy that I was in a band with for a long time. He committed suicide in 2016, right after SXSW. So the song, “Electric Charm” [on the playlist] the illustration for the song is of John Winsor.
That’s what I think is so unique about Austin. When you’re there it is sometimes hard to realize it, but the scene and the musicians there are so heartfelt and special.
Absolutely. There’s a lot of crossover, a lot of collaboration. Not even just between the bands and musicians. John was the sound guy at Mohawk and you walk in and you’re like, “Oh man, that’s great. This guy that’s in my buddy’s band is probably gonna take really good care of me while I’m playing here.”
Now that I think of it, I think Lizzy is the first queer folk musician I ever interacted with on a broader scale. She was friends with my buds Merey and Eric. They were in a band called Mother Merey and the Blackdirt. She’d come over and they’d swap songs and jam. She probably doesn’t remember me, I was always really shy around her – she’s a powerhouse.
Oh wow! Aren’t they in Arkansas now?
Yeah! Eric has his own studio, Homestead Recording.
That’s crazy, I met them in Arkansas and not Texas. Small world!
One of the most staggering things to me is that you can live in Austin for a long time and still be surprised by the musicians that come out of there. Jane Ellen Bryant is one of them. She is awesome and I want you to tell me all about her.
Wait, did you not know about her until now?
No, and it’s been time wasted!
Well let me tell YOU. Jane is actually a native Austinite. Jane and I met – this is so crazy – but Jane and I met through my guitar player, Brian Patterson. Brian and I have known each other since I was in middle school. We both went to the same church. Jane teaches guitar and so does Brian and he said, “Hey there’s this person I’m playing with, I think you guys would be friends.” She asked if I wanted to be on a bill with her. It was her and Suzanna Choffel at One-2-One Bar. So I said, “Sure, I’ll totally play this bill with you.”
Then she said, “Oh, do you want to sing harmonies too?”
I said, “Yeah, that’ll be great.” It turned out that a while before when I had done my birthday tribute show for Wrecking Ball – because I have the same birthday as Emmylou Harris – Jane had come to the show by herself because she’s a big Emmylou Harris fan.
So I did this gig with her, and she played a song called, “Twenties.” It’s all about moving back in with your parents after you go to college because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do with your life. So after we did this gig together, I started hearing that song on the radio and I was like, “Hey Jane, is this story about you living with your parents? Is this a real thing?” And Jane said, yeah. I had just moved into a new place, and so I asked her to be my roommate. We lived with each other for three years! I got to hear a lot of her songs, even some that are on her newest record. I remember listening to her practice through the walls. I had a lot of dude friends in my life until I met Jane, and Betty Soo, Bonnie Whitmore. Jane is still one of my closest friends and encouragers…She takes her songwriting really, really seriously, and she’s now learned how to record at home. She’s a monster guitar player. She’s just great. I love her.
You know, when you sent me over the playlist, I got goosebumps. Like, this is a big ass Texas league: Joe Ely, Ali Holder, Lomelda. I also got goosebumps when you were talking about hearing Jane through the wall. It’s so natural and cohesive when you are younger to sit around and play guitar with your friends, play pass the bottle/ pass the guitar. As you get older, you have to work harder at that instinct, making it an institution in your life. How do you incorporate those sentiments in your norm? How are you doing that in the mires of 2020?
I had a lot of insecurities about writing with people. The House of Songs was kind of a gateway to me writing with other people. I’d been writing on zoom with Graham Weber and we finished a couple of songs, one that I started three years ago. Zoom has actually been really great for that. I also think it’s the first time I really experimented with some home recording. That’s been a source of creativity for me that I haven’t explored as much until I needed to, you know, out of the necessity of the lockdown. I’ve actually, instead of coming up with a lot of new songs, I have worked on firming up some that I’ve had [for awhile] and now I’ve got the songs for another record.
They say confines breed more creativity, though there is the fear of a generation of musicians being left behind. (This quote is paraphrased from Justin Douglas at King Electric Recording in Austin, whom I have to credit.) I feel as though the challenges we face now, as musical people, can create stronger instinct and song writing craft.
Something I feel fortunate about that happened to me was that in Austin I played with a seven piece band. That’s a different craft than me just being alone on stage with a guitar. It made me realize that one of the things I have a lot of fear about is talking in between songs. One of the good things that came out of that realization is that made me…want to tell other people’s stories. The other day I saw this true crime story that just blew my mind apart! I’ve been thinking about writing about that because I feel like it’s something I can talk about on stage between songs. It’ll be a little bit easier, oddly enough! Also, there’s the thought of, “Wow, we’ve been on lockdown. I haven’t had a lot of experiences. The only thing that I’m seeing are my walls.” But maybe that will breed more imagination for a lot of songwriters.
I honestly think more storytelling is what people want. On the new Taylor Swift album, folklore, the strongest song on it is “the last great american dynasty,” which is about a famous choreographer, Rebekah Harkness. It’s gotten some pretty popular reception.
You know, I haven’t heard it yet! Mary was on that record for a few weeks, and highly recommended it.
The thing I like the most about this playlist is that it’s so nice to hear a slice of my second hometown, and also to just be absolutely blown away by the talent that exists there. The track by Nagavalli, holy shit.
I became aware of her because I went to see her play a show at the Paramount. I was sitting with Jody Denberg, you know, the legendary KUTX DJ, and Mark Hallman, who’s a fantastic producer, and our jaws just dropped. She totally blew us away, she’s incredible live.
It’s one of the things I miss about Austin, and reality in general. The live music. It was so comforting to be able to go catch a friend’s gig and have the audience just be full of buds. It was always like a family reunion in some ways. Austin’s scene has some supportive back bone to it.
The power that these artists have – James McMurtry, Eliza Gilkyson – to uplift the next person in line or someone they believe in is so cool, it’s a big spirit of Texas music. James McMurtry’s taken Bonnie Whitmore out on the road. Joe Ely’s always been so supportive of up and coming songwriters.
What’s your favorite show that you’ve played in Austin?
I don’t think I can have a favorite! There have been so many. Anytime I got to be on stage at the Cactus (Cactus Cafe for y’all not from around Tejas) was pretty incredible. One of the most memorable was definitely the Wrecking Ball show. When we finally did it, we sold out, which is so special, since I’m such an Emmylou Harris fan. I also played a show with Jimmy LaFave, at The Paramount, three days before he passed away. That night…I’ll never forget it. As long as I live, it will be one of the most powerful, powerful things I’ve been part of, and been witness to. What’s also crazy is that Mary was there that night too, but we didn’t meet each other. We didn’t know each other! She happened to be in town. She made it over to say hi to Jimmy. It kind of feels like there’s something about that, like it’s part of the path of Mary and I getting together.
That’s so beautiful. There really are shows that happen that just feel like destiny. Everything falling into the right place. In your collaborations and exercise of song writing muscles, is there anything we can be looking forward to?
The first thing I did during the pandemic was I sang on this record for a guy named Bob Hillman that’s coming out in December. It’s a collaboration between him and this guy named Spooky Ghost, who was a guitar player for David Bowie. The writing wasn’t a collaboration [between us] but I sing on every track of the record. I’m also putting out an acoustic version of seven songs for a rescue called Congress House Sessions that will be coming out in early 2021. And I’m making steps for the next full length record as well. I don’t know when it’s coming, but the songs are there!
The thing is, I feel grounded again, in a weird way. I think a lot of musicians are feeling the same way. It was weird to come to a complete stop, but the forced break has helped recalibrate a lot of us in a way that would never have happened, had the shutdown not happened. I think the peace that comes with that is a good thing, can only be good for music carrying on. In the gratitude that it brings for every time I get to play in front of people or share a song. It’s massive. The people that have been supporting us every week on Mary’s live stream, you know, keeping us going, that’s beautiful. Being able to reach people throughout the world. We have a woman that checks in and is in a nursing home, she’s not allowed to leave her room. Those are the people that we were reaching. I guess we technically are entertainers, but I think as folk singers we’re singing for the folks. It feels like with what we’re doing with these online broadcasts we’re able to reach people. And that feels like what we’re doing really matters right now, that the songs are not necessarily what we’re doing, but what the songs are able to do is really helping people. And that’s a pretty powerful thing to be.
MIXTAPE is our bi-weekly feature in which Eryn Brothers invites an artist to create a themed playlist and talk about the tunes on it.