INTERVIEWS BETHANY YARROW |
A WHOLE NEW MEANING (PART TWO)
BETHANY YARROW OF BETHANY AND RUFUS
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT 900 MILES
EMBRACING FOLK MUSIC
AND WORKING WITH RUFUS CAPPADOCIA
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH900 MILES is a collection a tales from a century ago set to the most haunting melodies and rhythms seldom exercised when the 19th century turned into the 20th Century. These songs tell of love lost, love found, a sense of purpose in the face of devastation and joy in the face of despair. This is folk music of the past 100 years souped up by BETHANY AND RUFUS, a dynamic duo with a sound that can't be pinned down. This is as untraditional ans traditional music gets.
First there is the voice. Disregarding the lineage, BETHANY YARROW (daughter of PETER YARROW of PETER, PAUL AND MARY) sinks her teeth into the material. One would think the material had been with her all of her life and not the result of endless hours of internet research. "The songs kind of chose themselves" says YARROW. Internet research or not, the selections are inspired and BETHANY whispers every notes into your ear. The immediacy is chilling.
RUFUS CAPPADOCIA is not at all upstaged by his partner-in-song, BETHANY. That's what makes this duo work. These two peas in a pod feed off of each other. It's a little thing called chemistry. Rather then being obscured by the spotlight, RUFUS brings something exciting to the material: virtuosity on the cello. Who knew the cello could rock like this? One listen to the song LININ' TRACK and you'd think you were hearing a MOTOWN rhythm section; not a girl and a cello player.
However, this is more than a girl and a cello player. BETHANY AND RUFUS are a compelling listen. Nuff said.
After speaking with RUFUS CAPPADOCIA on the phone, BETHANY gave ROCKWIRED a call. Here is how it went.
What brought the two of you together?
Originally, I heard him playing at THE KNITTING FACTORY. A friend of mine was playing before him. I thought RUFUS was incredible. I needed a bass player and he told me that he should be my bass player. I told him he was hired. He played in my band for a few years. Eventually we started working together doing all kinds of solo stuff together and the combination of cello and voice is really beautiful. It's taken us both by surprise.
It's a great CD (900 MILES)
The sound has really evolved. It started out being very simply, voice and cello and then people would come up and say 'I can't believe it's just two people on stage!' Even if they're not hearing drums or guitar and they close their eyes and listen there is so much implied music. It's like on of those psychological tests where you see things in a picture. You know what I'm talking about?
I do. I was mentioning to RUFUS about the percussion that you hear in LININ' TRACK, yet there are no drums.
That groove came from him playing the streets of Seville, I think. It's been an incredible adventure because with this project you can't hid behind anyone. You've really got to be on and be genuine. It's all got to be there or it doesn't work.
What drew you to these songs?
A lot of the songs I didn't grow up with. I didn't know them at all. We started doing folksongs years earlier and I started doing some research. That was how we happened on LINING TRACK. It started with RUFUS coming up with this groove on cello and we wanted lyrics to accompany it. It was looking for the original lyrics to BLACK BETTY but I couldn't find them on any of the CD's I had. So we found LININ' TRACK. It's unusual to base a folksong around a groove but I think that's what gives the track a contemporary feel. Other songs like EAST VIRGINA are just beautiful classic ballads. In a way, the songs kind of picked themselves. With the song ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, the first time we sang it was the night we recorded it. 900 MILES came about the same way. We had this groove and went from there. We had never played it before. Some of it was a real surprise and some of the songs gathered meaning as we played them. The point was to take these songs and stretch them and see how relevant we could make them. We didn't want to do a record of old folk songs just to do a record of old folk songs. i wanted to make the songs relevant. ST. JAMES INFIRMARY was this great New Orleans bar room folk song and after Hurricane Katrina, and the song takes on a different meaning. Current events keep doing that with these songs. The more you sing them the more they mean rather than the less they mean. And that's what makes them great old folk songs.
What drew you to music? Did your lineage have anything to do with that?
I always sang with my dad as a little girl and I always loved to sing and I always thought 'one day, I'll sing'. It was something that I had always taken for granted and then I went off and did a million other things that had nothing to do with music and singing. Then I was living down in Chile with my now-husband and started singing just for money. I was singing in places like bars - stuff like DUST IN THE WIND. I started sining music again. Growing up I sang in glee clubs and choruses throughout high school and college and then I turned my attention to making movies and documentaries. At one point I moved back to New York when I was 22 and thought, I really miss music. I started really spending time writing and playing guitar and writing songs and doing the whole singer-songwriter thing but it was returning to these old folk songs that music for me has taken root in a really different way. There was something more profound in what I was singing and what I was trying to do. Growing up I wasn't really;lly fond of a lot of folk music and I tried getting away from it , but to sing these songs now given where the country is politically and really have that cry of sanity, it's been so powerful and it's really changed the way that I relate to music, and what music is and what music can be for me in my life.
You say you kind of protested a lot of folk music growing up. What music spoke to you?
I spent a lot of time listening to hard-core music as a teenager. I moved to France for a while and listened to a lot of jazz and jazz vocalists like ELLA FITZGERALD and then ARETHA FRANKLIN and STEVIE WONDER. So it wasn't a lot of the sixties singer-songwriter stuff that I'm always getting asked about. I grew up in the seventies when all of that stuff was over. I grew upon things like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, but the folk idiom wasn't something that spoke to me.
Was it because of the parents?
I was exposed to it certainly and there were songs that I liked but it just wasn't musically exciting to me. I'd rather hear ELLA FITZGERALD singing or STEVIE WONDER playing than singer-songwriter stuff. Then I started listening to World Music and that's been really exciting how that style of music is easily available on the internet now.
What has the live response been like to your performances?
We get some pretty unbelievable live reaction. We've had people coming up to us in tears, crying, and saying 'thank you' and saying that they haven't connected to music like this in a long time. It's funny because there are two different camps. I'll get someone coming up to me and saying 'your voice is so unbelievable!' and others will come up to RUFUS and say ' I've never heard the cello played like that before!' There is a real magic in this duo. It's really magical what happens on stage. It's really gratifying to play live and see peoples reactions.
Other than being the cello player, what do you think RUFUS brings to the project.
What doesn't he bring to the project. He brings his whole musical sensibility. He's hardly a just a cello player. I do a lot of the song research but the whole groove and sensibility and the rhythm aspect of it is him. There's only two of us on stage. It's the two of us that are making it all happen. It's really collaborative effort and I don't think that i could do this with any other musician.
What would you like person to walk away with after hearing the music?
On the CD or live?
I would like them to see these folk songs as not just nostalgia. I want them to see them as living expressions from a long time ago but still have great relevance. The songs do mean so much to this American Culture. I'd like for them to see how music crossing different boundaries. You can take these old folk songs and bring them into a groove that's completely different from where it came from though the essence stays the same. This music is alive and it's that feeling of music being alive and connected and projected outwards for people to feel is what I'd like an audience to walk away with. I want them to feel alive and feel as if they are taking part in an evolution of music.