July 5, 2018
Listening to versatile harpist Mary Lattimore’s newest album, Hundreds of Days, is equivalent to breathing in deeply for the first time in a long time. The concepts of each song are patient and moving, like the eventual, comforting way sand warmly anchors your feet when standing at the edge of a rising tide. This seemingly ancient movement versus anchored sentiment is premiere in Lattimore’s music–a playful floating against an intrinsic grounding. Lattimore uses her immense talent to emote specters within our psyches, longing for the whispers of a past home or a past friend we’ve never even met before in this lifetime. Hundreds of Days was recorded after Lattimore accepted a residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts, prompting an enormous move from her beloved Philadelphia to the removed edges of California’s Marin Headlands. The emotional and physical vastness and angst of the move are portrayed poetically in the seven song album. Timeless, sprawling landscapes fade into centripetal, thoughtful ripples that stretch lightly and unhurried. Hundreds of Days blends the mathematically natural beauty of the Golden ratio with the near otherworldly divine. This partnership creates a parallel in time, a suspended respite all your own, like the moment you realize you’re actually all alone in a loud crowded room, on a loud crowded planet.
Opening the show is Charlotte’s own rapturous jazz duo, Ghost Trees. Similar to Lattimore’s knack for entrancing, Ghost Trees brings a style of music that is often seen as either lost or avant into the public’s day-to-day realm. Music is not about pretension, it’s about sharing. Both Ghost Trees and Lattimore’s work stands on its own as a uniquely fascinating form of sharing that requires no academic prerequisite. Proving this, Lattimore’s unique touch of reflective authenticity has been championed by many of indie rock’s legends including Kurt Vile, Real Estate, and Thurston Moore for his album Demolished Thoughts, produced by Beck. Most recently, Lattimore contributed original music to the poignant Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor adding her tender energy to soundtrack the moment Mr. Rogers met Koko the Gorilla. Lattimore spoke with us via phone from Philly, where she celebrated the 4th of July with longtime friends.
CLTure: Harps are so often seen as stuffy but you’ve built your own fun and experimental lane. How did you find your unique voice on this instrument?
Lattimore: My mom is a harpist so I’ve always been around harps since I was a kid. I’ve always had that side classical side to me, then with the perfectionism of music school, the discipline of sitting in a practice room for hours and knowing a piece so well that you can put your own feelings into it. There’s this other side of me that loves listening to different types of music, like rock’n’roll. I used to work at a record store and college radio station in college at the same time as I was studying classical music. I didn’t really have an idea of how to meld the two so the music that I played and the music that I listened to were two separate parts of me. When I moved to Philly in 2005, people started to ask me to play with them so I started writing parts for records and composing melody lines to go onto guitar records which led me into more improvisational territory. The more you improvise the more your brain gets sharp in that kind of way. Now I’m at a point where I love improvising more than I ever knew I would, more than playing music that’s written down.
CLTure: That’s why it’s so fun to watch you play; it tends to take on its own atmosphere instead of hearing song a then song b.
Lattimore: Yeah, it’s different each time although you might hear a particular song, because I still keep its theme but there’s always risk and there’s always times when it could spiral out but the chords are still the same as the original song.
CLTure: While improvising, if you create something surprising and better than what was planned, do you write the progressions down to remember for later or just send it off as a c’est la vie to the moment?
Lattimore: Exactly, that’s what I would do just send it off, c’est la vie. I look at it as that’s what came out at that moment and it came out for a reason.
CLTure: While in the Marin Headlands, you stayed in a Victorian-era house that you’ve previously implied was haunted. Do you think any ghosts from the house seeped into the album?
Lattimore: Haha, I don’t think the ghosts really did but I stayed in what was called the Lady’s House where a lot of women artists and residents had stayed before me. They made this house guestbook where everyone wrote a message to the future people that’d be staying there. Some of them even called themselves ghosts, referring to themselves like “we had such a great impactful time, a part of us will always be out here” as though they never planned on leaving. Inspiration came from those people that had been there before so that’s infused into the record, the experience and feeling of it all.
During the residency, you weren’t obligated to make a record or finish work, but you had been given such a once in a lifetime opportunity with the quietness and space that you didn’t want to waste it.
CLTure: That sounds beautiful, how do you integrate back into reality after such an experience?
Lattimore: You just have to use it and take it with you. Take the peace you found there and put it into your everyday life. A big part was not having cell phones or internet access because it’s pretty remote. I read a ton of books and didn’t check my phone all the time and I’ve been trying to do that in my real life but naturally I’ll still check my phone. I definitely appreciated that part, the lack of technology and chit chat.
CLTure: You’ve never used your actual voice on previous recordings but for this album you employed vocals and a slew of other instruments. What prompted these additions?
Lattimore: I feel like it was pretty organic but also I had this giant studio so I wanted to fill it with all the instruments I had. I wanted all the textures just with me at my disposal. I’m not a singer or a guitar player at all so using those instruments were just for texture, to make it not purely a harp record and move into a new direction for fun and diversity between records.
CLTure: I heard you check Atlas Obscura for the area you’re touring through. Have you found anything worthwhile recently?
Lattimore: I just played an event for them a couple days ago at James Turrell Skyspace here in Philly, which Atlas Obscura sponsored! I love how they’ve come into my real life, not just my internet browsing life. I check them a lot but sometimes the attractions are eight miles out of the way and I just don’t have time. For instance, this past tour with Iceage has just been bookin’ it from one town to the next. That tour just ended and I only have three shows left by myself before driving across the country to do a little tour with Julianna Barwick.
CLTure: Driving by yourself for months at a time through the American landscape seems like its own sort of meditative Marin Headlands experience. Do you have any philosophies prompted by this solitary time?
Lattimore: It feels like an alien in spaceship in a way, or an astronaut in a ship. I start to go a little bit crazy but it’s always fun and in general I really love it. Getting to make my own rules, stop when I want, listen to what I want, is pretty fun.
CLTure: You’re originally from western NC – do you have any favorite hiking spots?
Lattimore: Yep, I was born in Asheville! My family owns a cabin in Reems Creek past Weaverville and I really like hiking up there and hanging way up in the mountains. I love going to Carl Sandburg’s house, with his farm and the goats plus I still enjoy Grandfather Mountain, Chimney Rock, the classics.
CLTure: Do you have a favorite summer song?
Lattimore: Brian Eno has an album, it may be Discreet Music, side A. It always reminds me of summer because I was house sitting for a friend and they had chickens, a garden that looked like one of Monet’s garden paintings and I had this gorgeous house to myself where I’d listen to the A side of that record with the breeze coming in and not having any worries. It reminds me of that alone moment in the summertime when the summer has stretched out. It’s not a poppy beach song, it’s a breezy summer song.
Creampuff Records brings Lattimore’s fascinating presence along with Ghost Trees to intimate Recover Brands, a local sustainable clothing shop, on Sunday, July 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available here.