I was offered to do an interview with Timbre - a completely unknown artist to me - about a month ago. So I took a chance, and after checking out her music and background (for interview purposes, mostly) I learned to really appreciate her and her music. I hope this interview encourages people to check out this wonderful musician, too.
Could you describe yourself and your music for people who are not familiar with you?
I play the harp and sing, and am usually accompanied by my three siblings on piano, cello, and vibraphone/bells.
My music is a mixture of classical minimalist and Indie, I suppose. Harp doesn't fit well into any category, and I like that. It's very peaceful, but can also be very intense and emotional. The songs are always based around the harp, accompanied by either my voice, or a variety of other instruments, like cello, piano, drums, bells, oboe...
How did it all start? Have you always aspired to be a musician?
I was a musician from birth, pretty much. My parents are both amazing musicians, so I was raised in an rich atmosphere that planted a love for music deep inside me. I was singing in choirs as soon as I could make noises. I've wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember. When I was 4 years old, I told my mother that I wanted to play the harp. Or rather, I told her I was GOING to play the harp. She did her best to convince me otherwise. We were really poor at the time, and the idea of me playing such an expensive instrument was out of the question. After bugging her about it for a while, we made a bargain. I would take piano for a year, then I could start taking harp lessons. Well, I started playing piano when I was six, and that one year turned into two as my parents stalled for money, I'd guess. But I finally started when I was 8, and my heart was tied to my instrument from the very beginning. My mom said that my first teacher pulled her aside and said, after my first lesson, that I was "ordained" to play the harp; my hands went right to the correct position. They just knew what to do. After that, there was no question in me or in my parents that this was what my life was going to be.
What was the first song you ever wrote and what did it feel like when it finally was completed?
The first song I ever wrote was Chorea Amori, which I re-recorded for "Winter Comes To Wake You". Writing it was actually a really intense process. It was the summer after my sophomore year in college, and I was truly depressed for the first time in my life. I was in a place where I didn't believe there was anything good left in me, that I had nothing to offer anyone. I thought all my beauty had died. I stopped playing the harp for that entire summer, stopped doing everything that mattered to me. And then, one day, I walked into the room where my harp was, and just started crying. I needed something, anything, to let me know that there was something good in me, and that I wasn't alone. And I sat down at the harp, and just played. The whole song just came, poured out of my fingers like water. I found myself crying as I played, so grateful for what I was hearing and feeling. The song is played in a circle, one hand playing a beat after the other, and it spoke to me about a dance, this interplay between us and God. It reminded me I wasn't alone, and that out of our darkest times can come the most beauty. When the song was done, I laid down on my harp cover and fell asleep, and as I dreamed, the song played in the back ground. The dream was about being in love, and when I woke up, I decided to call it Chorea Amori, which in Latin means a circular dance of love. It's strange how unintentionally my new record, "Winter Comes To Wake You", has that theme running through it, that through death and pain come our greatest moments of understanding, of shaping, and of comfort. I guess I have been learning and relearning that moment throughout the past few years.
Does the music come first or do the lyrics?
My writing process changes quite a lot from song to song. Most of the time, it all comes at the same time. This usually happens when I'm really emotional about something, and when I sit down at the harp, the whole thing pours out of me.
There have been a couple of times when I started writing a poem which turned into a song. I think I tend to be a bit of a purist sometimes. If the song comes without words, then I usually don't put words to it. I just get a feeling that tells me what the song wants to be. If it's supposed to have words, I explore it until they come. It's a bit like mining, I guess. I feel like the song is already there; I'm just chipping away at it.
There is a cute note on your Myspace about you sounding like the lovechild of Radiohead and Sigur Ros. How have these bands influenced you?
I'd say, as far as bands go, they are my greatest influences. Radiohead is really my first love. They were the first band that woke me up, that made me want to digest their lyrics like a T.S. Eliot poem and just immerse myself in their sounds. And it wasn't until I heard Sigur Ros live that I understood how I wanted people to feel when they hear my music. Seeing them was such a deeply spiritual experience for everyone involved, no matter their religion or background, and I loved how people were so drawn together. The first time I saw them, strangers were hugging each other after the show, wiping tears out of their eyes. I knew that night that I wanted to make people feel that deep of an emotion.
I personally don't know many musicians that play the harp, so I find your music very refreshing. What pushed you to learn this instrument in the first place?
I don't really have a logical answer for that. I just knew, with every part of me, that the harp was my instrument. There was never a time that I doubted that. It is just apart of me, and has been from the first time I touched it.
Judging by your and your siblings' names, you seem to come from a musical family. Is this true and if so, how has your family affected your music?
My family is absurdly musical. My father is an orchestra director and music professor at Trevecca University, and my mother is a vocalist and choral conductor. My siblings all play instruments, obviously. I was raised listening to only classical orchestral and choral music. I am so grateful for that. I grew up with a deep appreciation, love, and understanding of music. Sadly, so few people in our culture appreciate the depth and beauty that is in classical music. I not only listened to it constantly (even on my Walkman), but I had it constantly commented on and explained by my father. "Do you hear that theme in the woodwinds? It's a variation of the one you just heard in the first violins..." I learned to pick apart the pieces, but never lost the joy of getting swept up in them. I think that's why my record has such thick instrumentation at times, what with a full choir, hand bells, oboe, french horn, and other instruments. I just love the power and passion of symphonic music, and I think I might be subconsciously trying to capture that.
I also have been greatly influenced by the piano compositions of my brother, Tenor. He is nine years older than me, so I grew up listening to him write. I remember laying on the living room floor, just soaking in his beautiful music as he played. I think his process of writing probably made its way into my mind throughout the many years of listening. Because of that, when we write, we have an amazing compatibility. We just flow together.
What is it like to work with your siblings? Is it a challenge to keep your personal and professional lives apart?
I love working with my siblings. We are a very close family, and I love each of them so so much. Our practice time together is riddled with dumb jokes and lots of nerdy Dune and Star Trek references. I love it. Of course, there are moments when it can be tense, but really, we have spent so much time together that we know how to interact really well. We love playing together, so that really covers any conflicts we might have. And really, our similarities and differences only lend to the creativity of our music. We flow together so well, and have a lot of the same instincts and influences, that I think we end up with a very cohesive sound. And of course my family is super weird, so it ends up sounding very unique.
Do they (your siblings) give any input in what goes on in the music as far as writing is concerned?
Every song has been different in that respect. When my siblings play, they sometimes write their parts. At other times, I write them. I also write all of the extra instrumentation/choral parts. Lately, I have been writing on my own a lot more, but only out of necessity. Tenor just got married, and Treble and Tetra are so busy that I find myself doing a lot more shows alone. I obviously need to have songs that stand on their own. But when we can write together, Tenor tends to be more of the predominant voice out of my siblings. He is a composer in his own right, so it makes sense that he would move more easily in that realm. The rest of my siblings are fine musicians, but they haven't really written much until now. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't until I started writing that we started playing together. It's my mom's dream come true.
mewithoutYou is not a band that I would have pictured you collaborating with, so I was very surprised to read about that. What was it like to work such a different band?
It was an amazing experience. Honestly, I was intimidated by the idea of writing something so energetic, but I think it stretched me, and I really enjoyed it. It's so exciting to play with them. I think it gave me a stronger desire to collaborate with a wide range of bands. I really enjoy exploring the harp's versatility. It's also a really amazing feeling to enter into someone else's music. I love mewithoutYou, everyone of those guys, so it was beautiful to be able to share music with them. It's also such a different feeling to be on stage with them. It's really exhilarating.
What other bands and musicians have you worked with and how have those experiences influenced you?
I recorded on Anathallo's "Floating World," which was a beautiful experience for me. Their music and friendship inspires me constantly. It fueled my desire to play with more people that I love. Now when I love a band, my first thought is about wanting to play with them. This all started when I recorded on Cool Hand Luke's "Fires of Life." Mark Nicks and I were really good friends, and he wanted to have me on the record. That opened a lot of doors for me, so I am very grateful for that experience. I have also recorded with the Winston Jazz Routine, which was one of the most collaborative things I've done so far. With every other record, I've written my own parts. For WJR, Nathan had brilliant ideas that we worked out together. It was really refreshing and inspiring for me. I've also recorded/collaborated with Umbrella Tree, a slight breeze, Psalters, Aireline, Bradley Hathaway, Foxhole, Hundred Year Storm, and a few others.
Have you ever dreamed of working with a specific musician or band? If yes, why them?
Oh my, I have a secret list. Well, it's not really secret, but it sounds more exciting to call it that! My top 5 are Sigur Ros, Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead, Efterklang, and Múm. After them, I'd say Bjork (she's not on my top five only because she already has a harpist), Animal Collective, Amina, DeVotchKa, Explosions in the Sky, Jeremy Enigk, Grizzly Bear, Album Leaf, Mogwai. I really could list a ton of them, because it's pretty much just listing music that I love. I just revel in being apart of amazing music. I want this to always be apart of my career.
I would LOVE to work with Sufjan, which seems the most feasible. His style of writing is very similar to mine, with lots of themes playing in and out, and a touch of minimalism. Whenever I've seen him live, I just get restless, wanting to create music with him. Playing with Sigur Ros would maybe be the most emotional and heart wrenching thing I could do. Their music moves me so deeply. I can hardly imagine how is would feel to be apart of it. And Radiohead? I would just explode. Everyday.
I was reading one of your blog entries and I couldn't help but smile at your excitement about this album. It's sometimes rare to see such genuine happiness. How hard was it to finally get to this point and just how happy are you about this album coming out?
Oh I am SO excited! I have been writing this music for over 4 years now. I couldn't afford to start recording until a year and a half ago, and it has taken all that time to get this record done. I feel like I have been pregnant for 4 years, and finally I'm holding this beautiful little baby! My CD's got delivered to my house today and I started jumping around and somehow ended up on the floor rolling around laughing.
The process has been very hard, trying to get all the musicians and instruments that I wanted to be on this. We had around 25 musicians contribute, so of course, organization was stressful. It all came together in the end, although it took over a year. I even managed to buy a pump organ to play on Tes Yeux, which is standing gracefully in my living room. All that said, I am so excited and so so happy to finally have my heart poured out fully.
Many new artists credit Myspace or the internet for a lot of their success. Has the internet as a whole impacted or helped your music career?
Oh yes, I think Myspace has been quite a big help for me. I am so new to this side of the music world. I grew up playing symphony concerts and competitions. Booking shows and all that is so foreign to me. Myspace has been wonderful only because it connects to wonderful people that have helped me immensely.
Do you have any fun tour or show stories that you would like to share? I mean, it can't be easy carrying a harp around at all times.
Let me just say that if anyone else sees me moving my harp and asks, "Don't you wish you played the piccolo?" or "Is that an oven mitt?" I'll punch them in the neck. Oh and on our last tour, I helped birth some baby goats. With my bare hands. And caught a hawk. I'm totally serious.
What music do you listen to on your own? Any favourite artists that we should check out?
I listen to a lot of classical minimalist composers. I highly recommend Eric Whitacre, who is an incredible composer of a Capella choral music. Also, Philip Glass, John Adams, and Arvo Pärt.
As far as bands go, I'm really excited about the new band my sister Tetra is apart of, Cigarette Trees. It's the musical side of a book/art/music project our friend John McSparren is creating. It's wonderfully mysterious and beautiful. Also, I've been in love with Umbrella Tree. They are really eclectic and unique, and one of the best live shows in Nashville. I'd also check out Efterklang, Amina, Dignan, Múm, Anathallo, a slight breeze, Psalters, and The Winston Jazz Routine.
Music seems to have been a big part of your life, but is there anything else that you really enjoy doing? When you're not playing music, of course!
I love books oh so much. I read a little too much sometimes. I even found myself reading while driving the other day, since traffic was so slow. Not a good idea, probably. I also, secretly, have an undying passion for Anime. I don't care if it's nerdy. I embrace my nerdiness!
Do you have any last words for fans or people that have yet to check out your music?
I hope that my music can give you a moment when you can stop and feel. we don't really ever stop. I think we forget what our heartsong sounds like. I hope that this music will create an environment of peace and hope, that will allow you to slow down and open up those dark and dusty places.
Fantastic interview. I've had the great honor of performing with Timbre at a Christmas show last year in support of Austin Manuel.
It was really great to hear her play her own set and to see how she contributed to Austin's music. She's definitely got a gift.