MY final interview of the weekend is with Abraham Brody…
as he talks about his new single, Judith. I ask what the story behind the track is and what we can expect from his album, Crossings. The songwriter tells me what he hopes to achieve before the end of the year and, as an American-Lithuanian, what the music scene is like in Lithuania.
Brody now resides in Iceland so talks about the music vibe there; whether there are any tour dates coming up; the albums that are most important to him – he selects some rising artists we should get behind.
Hi, Abraham. How are you? How has your week been?
I am fine! Currently in Reykjavik where it is a sunny 10 ºC.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I am a singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. I work with various influences: Electronic, contemporary Classical and Folk - and I like to layer these into my compositions.
Your single, Judith, is out. What is the story behind the song?
This song takes an ancient Lithuanian melody as inspiration and transforms into my own lyrics in English. I was thinking of breaking social norms. I dearly love Lithuania and they have come a long way since their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but the society is still too male-centric and hetero-centric for my taste. I wanted to tell an abstract story with this song.
It is from the album, Crossings. Are there particular themes and ideas that inspired the work?
The new album is coming out in November.
Unlike my previous work which mainly coming from the Lithuanian folk tradition (albeit Judith is the only song on the new album in Lithuanian!), the new album deals more immediately with my own life, relationships and experiences. The songs speak a lot about the relationships of our time, the transient-fleeting nature of how we often interact with others and the mythologies and mysterious of our own contemporary time.
I was listening a lot to Susanne Sundfør’s Music for People in Trouble, Antony and the Johnsons’ Cut the World, and Anna von Hausswolff’s Dead Magic while I was in the process of creating this so they were big influences.
You are an American-Lithuanian artist. What is the music scene like in Lithuania?
It is very vibrant. There are an incredible number of talented Lithuanian artists of all genres. We also have a deep history of folk traditions. Lithuanian has certain ritual songs that are still performed and were deemed by UNESCO as the oldest in Europe. So, it’s a mixed bag! But, I did feel that, while I love Vilnius (the capital) and the scene there, it was a bit too limiting - that is why I moved to Iceland. Although it’s a tiny country, the Icelandic music scene is one of the most creative and innovative I have ever seen.
Did music play a big role in your life as a child? Was the household you grew up on music?
Yes. I started playing the violin and piano first when I was six. I never stopped after that. My father was a Jazz pianist, so we also had a lot of music around and he taught me how to improvise. My mother is a writer and poet so I think her influence was more on the singing/lyric writing side of my work.
Your compositional skills have seen you compared to the likes of Björk. Are you flattered by such comparisons?
Very. I am not sure if that is true!
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
Along with finishing the new album, Crossings, I am working on a really exciting project with the string quintet Wooden Elephant; arranging all of my new songs with them. They are renowned for using very unusual techniques like milk frothers, vibrators (!); bells, wine glasses and percussion on their instruments to create a whole huge sound world. Their arrangements of Björk and Radiohead using only their wooden instruments is groundbreaking I think.
I hope to tour with them and grow this project - which starts at the London Jazz Festival in November. They are so rewarded to work with. I also hope that in Iceland I can absorb a lot of music here and maybe further develop my style in more electronic directions.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
I have a few. To be honest, one was performing last winter in the Great Amber Hall in Latvia for an audience of one-thousand. It sounds really random but it is one of the most beautiful concert halls I have ever played in (and I have performed in the Southbank Centre, Kennedy Center in Washington; Prague Philharmonic etc.). This one had an incredible acoustic and looked amazing! I really felt my music could speak there.
The second, more recent memory I think would be recording the video of Red Sun with Wooden Elephant. I haven’t had so much fun working with a group like that in years.
Which three albums mean the most to each of you would you say (and why)?
Antony and the Johnsons - Cut the World (Live)
I cannot praise ANOHNI (formerly Antony and the Johnsons) enough. She is such an intelligent, brave performer and human being. Not only is her voice unbelievably powerful and emotional but I believe her message and her music is so strong that she is capable of inducing significant social change. Her music has helped me through really difficult times, as I am sure it has many people.
Björk - Medulla
My favourite album of Björk’s. In general, as a composer, she is incredibly creative and I love how many different textures, sound effects; layers and noises she explores and employs. She is also an extremely brave performer of course and I often hold her as a role model - not to be afraid to be different.
Susanne Sundfør - The Silicone Veil
I have probably listened to this album thousands of times. Susanne’s voice and her melodies; the way she uses synths and electronics - I just love it. Her music is not simple but it has the ability to catch in almost everyone’s ear. Even my mother, who listens to mostly Classical music, likes her! Her song, White Foxes, is one of my all-time favourite songs. Her lyrics are just amazing.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
I actually couldn’t choose a musician, but it would definitely be one of the above three.
My rider…I think my current rider is already complicated enough to give any sound engineer a heart attack! But, if you really say that, probably I would be on vocals, synths; violin and organ. Then, I would have a string quintet (Wooden Elephant!), full choir and someone really good doing live beats.
Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?
Yes. Lots of things are in planning but, at the moment, I have confirmed shows in Lithuania (Vilnius and Kaunas, 28th and 30th Sept.); Oslo, Norway at Bla on 4th October; Reykjavik at Mengi on 6th October; National Sawdust in New York on 21st October and 18th November at the London Jazz Festival at Village Underground.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
IN THIS PHOTO: Saulius Spindi
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Nature. In Iceland, there are a lot of opportunities to unwind in a mountain or hot spring or lava field! Haha.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Antony and the Johnsons - I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy
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