Lotte Kestner

+ Trespassers William

Under quiet Texas stars (V.O.)

» Interview

le 14.06.2009 à 06:00 · par Eric F.

What was your first musical experience ?

I was given a toy instrument on Christmas when I was 2 or 3, which we later dubbed the "musical thing", which was sort of like a melodica, but which doesn't require air. Apparently I ignored all of my other gifts and ran around the family room playing it. I believe there is a video of this somewhere. And I am still in possession of the musical thing.

When did you start writing songs ?

Aside from the songs that my little sister and I wrote when we were children... I started writing songs on the piano and took a music theory class at age 16. It was around then that I got my first acoustic guitar. My writing became less classical, more like the British music I was listening to. I'd write a song or two a day, trying to find out what my voice sounded like when I dug it out from all of my influences. I felt it was the easiest medium to communicate with people, and I started playing songs at poetry readings, and eventually played shows with my friend Jeff on drums.

Can you tell us how Trespassers William came to life ? What was your goal then ? How do you consider the band's evolution ?

Matt and I hung out at the same coffee house as teenagers and were introduced by a mutual friend. I was passed a tape of some instrumental tracks he'd recorded on his computer and I went to his house to play him some of my songs. On that first day, we wrote a song together (Desert) which was considerably different from what either of us had brought to the table in the first place. We liked it enough that it ended up on our first album, and we kept going from there. At that point, music was just something I did to sort out my life and to meet people and to learn.

Trespassers is now a whole piece of who I am and how I write, and I take the writing process much more seriously now. It's kind of amazing that I've been in the band this long, no other part of my life has lasted as long. I guess it's a keeper.

The band has shifted shape, the music has grown wider and deeper. Which is part of why I released a solo album last year. Trespassers had finally gotten to a point where it sounded so different from the way songs sound in my bedroom, and I wanted people to be able to hear things both ways.

There's been lots of line up changes over the years, how do you deal with that ? Does it affect the way you make music ?

We've had several different members and approaches in the band... and those have changed recently. But I've always written my parts of the songs on my own, so that isn't affected by the other members of the band. It can take a year to find someone who really fits the band, and then they have to learn all of the songs, so that really slows things down. So right now, Matt and I are planning to go into 2009 as a duo and have other artists that we're into sit in with us some of the time, instead of officially inducting someone... We recorded a song for an Innocence Mission tribute last month, and Eric Eagle (Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter) tracked drums with us.

I think that production has a very important place in your music. How do you feel about music being more and more listened to on medias that don't necessarly translate all the efforts put on sound by the artists ?

That doesn't bother me. Though I think a lot of the strength of Having comes from the production, and I'm sure it doesn't sound as good on an iPod. But iPods probably sound better than an old cassette player in a car. I wish everyone could listen to our albums with expensive headphones on, but I hope the songs translate for the most part, even over computer speakers.

Can you explain how you got to work with David Fridmann on T.W.'s third album ?

We hadn't really considered working with an outside producer, but we were on a major label and they felt we could benefit from someone else's touch. So we made a short list of our top three dream producers, one of whom was Dave... who magically agreed to spend 10 days with us after we had recorded the album on our own. We cradled our hard drive with the recordings on it on the plane in a box with a baby drawn on it...

You seem to enjoy collaborations, do you need them to put your own music in a different perspective ? Can you talk about how you got to work with Anomie Belle ?

It's not necessarily for perspective. Since I work on music on my own, and with Trespassers, I think in terms of big and small already. But getting to write or perform with another musician that you respect is like getting to kiss someone you have a crush on...

In the case of Anomie Belle, she is one of my best friends. I got to know her professionally when she recorded some violin for my solo project. We started handing our songs back and forth and adding bits. When she started performing live last winter, I ended up as part of the live band. It's been really fun touring with girls for the first time. They're quite easy to get along with.

What about this album you're supposed to do with Robert Gomez ?

I'm actually sitting next to him right now while he's tracking some keys for our record... We've rented an adobe house in Marfa, Texas for the month of February. It's a town with a population of 2,000 where you can see every star in the sky and hear your own mind at work because it's so dark and quiet and perfect for writing. I've collaborated with many instrumentalists in the past, but never before with another singer/songwriter and it's sort of too good to be true. He is apparently amazing on every instrument ever made. I can't wait for people to hear what we've written.

How did you end up working with the Chemical Brothers ? I suppose it got you some more comparisons with Hope Sandoval... How do you feel about T.W. being constantly compared with Mazzy Star ?

I have always assumed that the Mazzy Star comparisons were just people referring to a few songs off of Different Stars. I feel like there are many other bands that we have more in common with these days.

As for working with the Chemical Brothers, I was very lucky there. They heard one of our songs and decided to invite me to collaborate on a song, and the timing lined up perfectly since we were going to the UK for a tour at the time. I think it was on Valentine's Day and I met up with them in their studio and just tracked the song once...

You seem to enjoy doing covers, can you explain how and why you decide to cover a particular song ?

I think I have found myself writing for so many different projects lately, and it's hard to write that many songs.. so when I feel like recording some music but I just can't write anymore I usually start recording a cover just for fun. Which I then get enthusiastic about and want to release or share in some way. I particularly liked how Falling out of Love and Let's go to Bed came out, so I figured it made sense to release a Lotte Kestner covers album in the future. I've compiled an interesting list of songs I'd like to try once I'm back in Seattle. I think I just intuitively feel like singing certain songs. Sometimes it's the melody that draws me, sometimes it's the words...

I was very impressed by the Interpol cover you did on the China Mountain album : your version seems to fit the lyrics a lot more than the coldness of the original version. Was it your original intent ? More generaly, is it more exciting for you to cover songs written by men ?

Thanks. I love how intense and intimate Interpol's songs are at the same time. The whole Turn on the Bright Lights album is a favorite of mine. I just felt like playing the song, and I remember when I posted it on MySpace I claimed it was just a demo and wouldn't ever be released. But as the album came along, I though it fit with the other songs in an interesting way. I'm always excited when I can get a whole song done in one night, and with the cover songs that's usually the way it works.

I suppose I feel more drawn to sing songs that were written by men. I feel like I'm just an instrument when I'm doing a cover, and it's a more different instrument from a man's voice.

My very favorite vocalists are Kate Bush and Liz Fraser, and I wouldn't touch any of their songs with a 10-foot pole. Why would I? Although Guy Garvey sounds amazing singing Teardrop.

I read you covered The Cure's Let's Go To Bed cause you got snowed in in Seattle : to what extent does things surrounding you influence your music ?

When I'm writing, I think that what's going on for me internally is more influential than my surroundings. But sometimes something like the quiet of the desert or the dark of the evening or an actual inability to leave the apartment can give you the space to come up with something or plant some sort of seed.

More generaly are there other forms of art than music that influence your music ? Seems like literature has an important place in what you do, if only for the name Lotte Kestner...

Yes, I do a lot of reading. The amount of time that an author puts into a book and the amount of time it takes the reader to read it is a lovely relationship. I often have alluded to passages or characters from books. But films have had a more direct influence on my music. I often find myself reaching for the guitar after a film has ended, while the mood is still in the air. But I still usually end up writing about my own universe.

How does your songwriting process go ? How do you decide if a song will fit better with Trespassers William or Lotte Kestner ?

I rarely force any parts of the musical process. I only write or record or mix if I feel the emotional pull to do so. Like eating when you're hungry. Unless I'm in one of these microcosmic situations like I'm in now, In Texas, with only 28 days to write and record a whole album.

I usually only have a guitar around, and sit in bed until the words in my head come out. Every now and then I'll have a piano at my disposal and that inspires me differently. The best songs are the ones where the words and melody and chords all happen in my mind simultaneously. Once I've had to struggle with something, it usually doesn't feel right to me in the end. But some songs require some editing later. Every now and then I'll just go straight to the computer and start recording a song before I even know what it's going to sound like. I might work more like that in the future, but it's not my standard process.

Once I decided that I was going to put out a solo album, I started to write more folk songs, with arpeggios and more personal lyrics, and less room for other instruments. I let myself be very feminine. So the Lotte Kestner songs were written specifically for that project and were never considered for Trespassers. But now that I've got myself in a folk state of mind, it's been harder to switch gears back to thinking on the more epic scale, imagining other parts chiming in and long instrumental passages. But working with Robert in the desert is probably the perfect step between those two types of songwriting and when I get home I will be broken in and ready for writing the next Trespassers album.

Do you think some songs for those projects could have ended on the other one ?

I think the songs all ended up where they belonged. A few of the Lotte Kestner songs would've sounded great with a whole band, but it was important to me to create something that was just mine. I thought of it a bit like a novel, something I did in the quiet of my own world that never collided with anyone else's.

When Matt and I start playing shows again this summer, I'd like to try arranging a few of the Lotte songs with him for the set. Writing and recording alone comes naturally to me, but the idea of playing solo live shows doesn't appeal to me too much. And I love those songs and want to share them, and I know they would sound so much more interesting live if he were playing.

Did you ever think about doing Trespassers William songs on your own ? I think that given all the work on production, a song like Safe Sound would take a whole new dimension...

No... I write the songs on my own and sometimes record my parts first and hear them on their own, so I know what it sounds like. And there's something to that, just the bare bones. But after the band has composed all of their parts and we start producing things, I would never want to go back to the starting point.

You also write about music, what led you to this ? Has it ever been of any help for your musical career ?

Yeah I've been interviewing artists for about a year now. I am the music editor of a site called Identity Theory and have done a few other one-off interviews for other sites. I only feature musicians that I admire and would genuinely like to talk to. Some of them were artists I'd already worked with (Phononoir, Minotaur Shock, Idaho). And others are people I ended up working with (Robert Gomez, John Grant). I think the communication probably strengthened those relationships, so it has helped me in that way.

Can you tell us a bit about the recordings you've been doing for the last days in Texas ?

Today is day 20 and we have been really productive so far. The first few days were easy, of course, because we came with a bunch of ideas and were excited about the change of scenery (it's tumbleweed desert out here). So we had three songs by the end of the first week. It hasn't been easy every day though, and taking time off here and there for a hike or to check out the mystery lights of Marfa or just looking at all of the stars has been an important respite. Learning about the town's history and reading the local paper and finding things that inspire us to write music. To generalize, I'm doing a bit more singing and melody writing, and Robert is doing almost all of the instrumentation and producing and edits my words (I'm not good at editing myself). But there are lots of duets too, and Robert has written this gorgeous song about a cactus... We have also recorded a cover of a Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg duet. We had been listening to the song over and over, and ended up playing it one night in English.

What are your goals for the future be them personal or musical ?

I've been writing music on the guitar for so long and would like to push myself to work with other instruments more. I recently purchased a drum, a banjo, and a melodica, which I'm sure will inspire whatever I do next as Lotte Kestner. I would love to find an affordable Rhodes that has all its keys working.

I feel really strongly about what Robert and I are doing right now, so I hope we tour these songs this year. And Trespassers has an EP coming out in May. We have plans to tour and it goes without saying that we'll be writing a new album this year, too. And then I'll work on the Lotte Kestner covers album in my off-time. So I think I'll be busy.

And I want my personal life to be filled with love and food and blue skies...

Could you tell us about your latest musical discoveries ?

Sergius Gregory (his MySpace page is an oasis), Bon Iver, Sarah Jaffe.

If I'm not mistaken, the only fan site for your music is a french one. Do you think there's a special connection between your music and the place ? (You don't have to lie just because we're a french webzine !)

We love the French fan site and often direct people to it, as it's more thorough than our own page. Cedric is lovely. Our favorite tour we've been on was in France several years back. We were well-received and we all fell in love with the country, so maybe there is some particular connection there. I suppose I need to learn to speak French, and then I'll be back. xo

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