Drunk Swimming, Telepathy and Harp Love With Mary Lattimore
Numerology > Vibeology. So, what better way to get to know a band than probing numerical associations? Today we Count Off with refreshingly candid, extremely prolific harpist extraordinaire Mary Lattimore. She released her "Bold Rides" single, streaming below, in late August, and will be playing Basilica Soundscape in Hudson N.Y. tomorrow. (Get pumped on that by checking out out our comprehensive interview with Basilica curator Brandon Stosuy.)
1: Describe your band in one sentence.
Improvised harp through effects, hopefully sounding like when you're crushing up some diamonds into a controlled, chaotic cloud of dust and then trying to make some diamonds out of the dust.
2: What do your parents think about your music?
My mom is a harpist, too, so she's really psyched that I'm playing music. She plays with orchestras and for lots of weddings, and I guess I'm taking it to another place, but I think she's happy that I'm playing the instrument that she does, following in her footsteps. It's not the easiest thing to tote around, and you have to make some sacrifices, playing such a giant thing, but it's cool that I've seen her navigate through all of that and sort of validate it as a career. Dad seems fine with it, too. I wasn't good at school, so I bet he can't really see me doing anything else and is happy if I make some money and feel good and get better at something, work hard at it. He and mom both got new hips though this year, from moving a harp around for 40 years. Yikes!
3: What are three things you can’t do without on tour?
Visiting record stores while on the road is one. I feel like it's the key to getting to know a city, and it's fun to see all of the ephemera on the walls and to buy a bunch of records that remind you of the place.
I love finding swimming pools in different cities, especially in Europe. I like waking up really early before the other people on the tour and figuring out how to go to a public pool to swim some meditative laps, or swim at the hotel before breakfast. My favorite thing, which is probably dangerous, is to go drunk swimming, sneak into the pool after it's closed and after you've played the show, when the whole hotel's asleep and the night's like a dreamy, hilarious haze.
My tuning key is something I can't do without, and it's a nightmare to feel like you've lost it while on tour. Nobody else has one, there's usually not a harp store around, and you can't tune it with anything else, really. Somebody needs to make one on a golden chain that I can wear around my neck, or make one that beeps until I find it again.
4: Who do you play music 4?
I like to think that I play music for people who choose to like weird stuff, weird instruments and imperfection; people who love old charming houses instead of corny bland condos; my cat Jim; people who draw quietly in their rooms; the idea of Brian Eno, the hospital room and the creation of Discreet Music; people that sit on the floor at bars when they wanna listen to music kinda carefully, even though it's grimy; my family; people that memorize poems for themselves and who re-read beloved books; people that know some sadness; loners in a crowd; the memory of people that aren't around anymore; my quirky, sometimes-angry favorite city of Philadelphia; sensitive people that feel like they're up in a spaceship looking down at earth; astronaut Scott Kelly; myself; future me; people that have shit on their minds that they're trying to wade through; my harp itself, because it likes it; Teen Mary, who hated high school and who never has to go to school again; my bandmates and collaborators and companions and friends.
7: Do you believe in luck?
Yeah, all the time. Bad luck and good luck all strung together in a sequence that we can't comprehend. I also really love coincidences and think that they happen all the time, but you don't notice all of them. They're the best kind of nudge and cosmic joke. It's a lucky good feeling when you catch them. I probably also believe in aliens, horoscopes, parallel universes, heaven, psychics, curses, palm reading, astrology, bad vibes, evil eye, lucky pennies, Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board, the power and wisdom in ancient religions and rituals, ghosts, telepathy, God. I don't really have any answers and am not sure, but feel lucky for a lot of stuff, have been at the right place at the right time, and am grateful for that.
10: What was your favorite album when you were 10?
I think it was when Blood Sugar Sex Magik came out? I had a friend who had a bad older brother, so she knew a lot about music from him and his friends. I had the tape and kept it in my backpack, and eventually it got smashed in there. We listened to "Under the Bridge" a lot and watched the video. (MTV seemed / was really good back then. We had slumber parties and they showed the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video so many times in the middle of the night, and it seemed really dark and unlike anything else, hard to grasp and captivating.) Also, learning what heroin was and that Anthony Kiedis would go down under the bridge and draw some blood was kind of mysterious and gave me a melancholy feeling as a kid. I was really nerdy, but had a really earnest little-kid heart that was like an empty, open vessel for music that had a kinda sad voice or was infused with authentic frustration or whatever.
20: If I gave you a $20 bill right now, what would you spend it on?
I'm moving out of Philly at the end of the month, after 12 years here. For awhile, my roommates have been Chris Wilson — great drummer who plays with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Titus Andronicus and Hound — and Rosali Middleman, who plays her songbird-pretty, stunning songs under her name Rosali. Our house has been so cozy and lovely for years, with lots of killer parties in the backyard and records and books and instruments and pets. Since our neighborhood is gentrifying super fast, like in every city in the world, our landlord is kicking us out so he can get richer tenants, and I'm moving to L.A. Rosali and Chris are sticking around Philly. Tomorrow night, we're gonna have a final dinner together at a pizza place. I'd spend your $20 toasting to some really good roommates and some really good years in our house, and then we're gonna burn it down.
80: What will you listen to when you’re 80?
I can see myself listening to all the bands of my homies and trying to feel connected with them and feel nostalgic, and tap into what was a really exciting time for people who I love who seem far away or are gone. My memory will probably be bad, so perhaps their music will seem new. I'll probably listen to sounds around the old people's home where I'll be gumming some food. I'll keep the window open and I'll listen to the birds and to the hum of the self-driving cars on the highway, and maybe to the sounds of the internet embedded into my wrinkly face.
666: Who or what would you go to hell for?
If I was somehow convinced that hell was a place where you could binge-watch a lot of good TV, it's summertime all year, all the friends were there, [there's] really good food, you'd never get old or tired, [it's] full of cold swimming pools and cute boys with good taste in music and art, [there's] a harp showroom, you could drive fast with no speed limit, and [there's] champagne in the fridge at all times, I'd probably just agree to go there. It'd be a trick, but I'd probably fall for it.