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Lonnie Holley

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Artist. Musician. Philosopher. Lonnie Holley is all of those things, and with his latest album “MITH,” the lyrical craftsman has created a visceral album that he had to make, not because the world demanded it but because the world inspired it. It is a free-flowing record reflective of the times filled with a haunting voice that has something very important to say, and we are listening.

We recently sat down with Holley to discuss seeking answers as an artist, finding them as a human, and why he has a PhD in material.

TrunkSpace: Could you have conceived “MITH” 10 or 20 years ago or is it uniquely influenced by the current social and political climate we’re living in?
Holley: I think it is definitely influenced by the times we are living in and I’ve changed so much as a musician in the last 10 to 20 years, but the ideas on “MITH” are not new to me and things haven’t just gotten bad for many people in America. We see more struggle now, but it’s not a new problem.

TrunkSpace: We read that the song “I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America” sort of served as the springboard for the album as a whole. Since that concept first came to you, do you feel like you’re waking up with more clarity on the state of things or more confusion?
Holley: I feel like both. Sometimes I think I’ve started to understand things and think that it’s as bad as it can get and then I hear about my country locking up babies. I travel a lot and meet so many good people. The country and the neighborhood I wake up in is a good place, filled with good people. I was just at AfroPunk in Atlanta and I met some wonderful people. We have to live where we live and try to make those places better for all of us.

As an artist I’m always seeking answers but as a human I don’t always find them. So sometimes I have to create them for myself.

TrunkSpace: We live in very divided times. Does music – art – help bridge those divides?
Holley: Art and music have always been the salve for the times we’ve lived in. I’ve said it before, but my mother and father, and grandparents and their grandparents woke up in a fucked up America. Our idea has always been that we have a great idea about a country, but we haven’t always been able to achieve what we set out to build. Art helps us understand the whys and why nots. Sometimes it’s all we got.

TrunkSpace: Was “MITH” an album that you had to make? Was there a sense of personal contemplation and possibly even emotional healing in seeing it brought to life?
Holley: Yes, but I think that’s true for every piece of art and every piece of music I make. I had to make it. And it heals and soothes and comforts, but soon it’s time to get back to work. “MITH” has been a long time coming. It takes a long time to put out a record. And it lasts forever so you want to get it right. It may sound weird but I listen to it a lot. I wasn’t making something just for other people. Mostly that stuff is for myself first. And I listen and listen and even I learn things I didn’t hear at first.

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, you never do the same thing twice when it comes to a song. With that said, how do you view what we, the audience, hears on “MITH?” Is it a blueprint for a bigger Lonnie Holley journey that we can discover by digging deeper into the art and man himself?
Holley: My art and music is like a continuing story. A lot of the ideas on “MITH” are ideas that I return to. My friend Matt Arnett (who I’ve known since he was just about a boy, because his father collected my work and was really the first person to understand my art and what I was trying to say) has helped me share my music with the world. He encouraged me to share it. He produced the record with me. When I have an idea and we wrote it down, he always says, “Is that a big idea?” Which forces me to think about what I want to say. When I feel like the idea is big enough, it makes me want to keep exploring it.

And I’ve got a great band I play with a lot and we sometimes come back to some of the songs, but they’d never be the same. I don’t want them to be the same because I’m not the same man who sang that song last year or last month or even yesterday.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Holley: All of it. I’m most proud that Jagjaguwar really made the outside and the inside and all of the package look exactly like what’s on the record. It feels like it sounds. It was a lot of music. It took two albums to fit it all, and even then there were songs that didn’t fit. But they made it so beautiful that sometimes I just want to sit and hold it and I forget to actually listen. It takes a team to make something like “MITH” happen, and my name is on the side of it, but there are a lot of names inside of it. I’m most proud that I got to work with all those great people.

TrunkSpace: You’re 68. Is it a bit of a trip to think that the next generation of voices are listening to yours, absorbing what you’re saying and applying it to what they’ll be voicing 10 or 20 years from now?
Holley: I made a record that I needed to make. I hope those songs help people to better understand things. They helped me. I’m always surprised when people tell me they’ve heard my music. I never thought they would or even expected they would. I put my words into physical things like my art. My friend Thornton Dial said once that, “Art ain’t about paint. It ain’t about canvas. It’s about ideas. And I got ten thousand left.” I understand what he meant. And I ain’t ready to stop.

And if my words can help someone else find their words, then I’m pretty contented with that.

Holley’s art.

TrunkSpace: Is one of the benefits of difficult times – periods of national/international contemplation – that artists have more to say? That they become the voice for those who don’t have a platform?
Holley: In a word, yes. No one is born to be an artist. Our times make us that. I didn’t know what art was. I don’t remember ever hearing that word. So if you’d have told me when I was 10 that art would save my life, I’d have wanted to meet this Art guy.

TrunkSpace: Where do you feel most at home creating? Is it in a visual capacity? A musical capacity? Do the two intersect?
Holley: I think of my music and my art as being Siamese Twins. I go back and forth and do both together. I’m always making art and singing. If I sing and it isn’t recorded, there is no record of it. But if I make something, it exists and I can see it. And touch it. But I sing about the things I make art about and I make art about the things I sing about.

TrunkSpace: You make art out of things that others discard. People themselves often feel that way – pushed out from society. Outcasts. Do you have a connection to those things that you use in your work that goes beyond what your artistic eye sees in them?
Holley: I think all humans are like butterflies, in a way. I sang a song about the lifespan of a butterfly and I asked how much we could do in the lifespan of a butterfly? But I think I’m also like a bird making a nest. I pick up materials that other people think have lived their cycle and are finished. I then use that material to make something beautiful or ugly or whatever. Art isn’t always beautiful to look at. Sometimes it best not be beautiful if the message it needs to tell isn’t beautiful. My art is like a nest or a cocoon. It comforts and soothes me. And hopefully makes someone else think. The materials I use in my art have been great teachers throughout my life. When I didn’t always have a parent there or someone to teach me about the world, the material did that. I earned a PhD in material.

MITH” is available now on Jagjaguwar.

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Listen Up

Cut Worms

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Photo By: Joyce Lee

The latest album from Cut Worms, the brainchild of Brooklyn-based Max Clarke, has been finished for some time, so unleashing it into the world is a creative win for the singer/songwriter, one that formally signals that it’s time to move on to new 8-track endeavors. While Clarke says he has been actively writing quite a bit lately, for the listener it is important that we not get ahead of ourselves, or in this case, the music. Released today on Jagjaguwar, “Hollow Ground” is a sonic time traveler – influenced by the past, made in the present, and enjoyed in the future. (Check out our review here.)

We recently sat down with Clarke to discuss his songwriting process, guitar garage sale adoption, and why a strong desire to do something well trumps natural talent.

 

TrunkSpace: As you gear up to release new material to the world, what kind of emotions do you juggle with?
Clarke: This record’s been done for a while, so I just want it to be out there at this point. But yeah, sometimes with putting stuff out there, there’s some hesitancy as far as, “Are people going to like it?” or whatever, but… I don’t even really care that much anymore. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: A number of the songs off of the album have been with you for some time now. Do they feel like old friends or do you want to move beyond them at this point and make new friends?
Clarke: Yeah, I want to focus on writing new stuff. I’ve been writing a bunch lately, but I’m not totally sick of the songs on the record yet, which considering how many times I’ve played them in the past couple of years, I guess is probably a good thing.

TrunkSpace: Are they still reflective of who you are today, in 2018, as an artist?
Clarke: I think they still translate. I think about them differently now, probably, than when I wrote them, but it’s hard to… I don’t know. I guess, just time goes on. You write something in a certain moment, and then it just keeps going. I can still kind of go back to, I guess, especially the home demos that I’ve done, and remember more where I was at at that time by listening to it.

TrunkSpace: As you mentioned, you have a desire to work on new material, but what does that process look like for you in terms of core inception to a finished track?
Clarke: It’s different every time. There’s not really any formula I’ve come up with that allows me to just put it all down and go from start to finish in a timely manner. It’s a lot of meandering around, seeing what works and what doesn’t, recording a version of something, and then seeing how it sits over a couple days – and if it doesn’t, then changing it.

TrunkSpace: Can a song live inside your head for a long time before you put your stamp of approval on it?
Clarke: I would say so, yeah.

TrunkSpace: We read that you picked up your first guitar from a garage sale and then you nursed it back to life. Did that process help you establish an appreciation for the instrument beyond just the desire to play it? It’s almost like that whole, you pay for your own car and you treat it better kind of thing.
Clarke: Yeah, kind of. At the time, I was 12 or something, I didn’t personally fix it up. My mom brought it to a local music store, and they put strings on it and fixed some of the other pieces – put a new bridge on it and stuff. But yeah, it definitely became something that I cared about and took care of, but I’ve never been that much of a gear head as far as guitars and stuff. I tend to not treat my instruments that well. They get banged around.

TrunkSpace: It’s just fascinating to think about an instrument’s journey in that regard. Like, what did that particular guitar experience before it found its way to you?
Clarke: For sure. When my mom got me the guitar from the garage sale, it had this embroidered, weird rainbow strap that looked like it was from some ‘70s church group or something, which, I wish I still had that strap. It’s gone now. It’s lost. But yeah, who knows who owned that thing, and how many times somebody played it and went through all kinds of emotional things with it, probably.

TrunkSpace: For you, what is it that you get from writing and performing music that you can’t get from being a listener alone? What does the process give you?
Clarke: I don’t know. I’ve just always had, ever since I was pretty young, an itch that I’ve felt like… I remember going to, any time there was a band or something, from the time I was 12 or 13, to see a live band. I remember once going to – I grew up in Cleveland – going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They had this high school Battle of the Bands thing, and seeing some of those people playing, and just feeling like I could do that, and do it better. But it took me a really long time to actually do that.

TrunkSpace: Did the instrumentation side of things come easy to you? Was it natural or was it something you had to work at?
Clarke: I worked at it a lot, but I wanted to work at it. Natural talent… I feel like it’s more of just whether or not you want to do it, or want to do the work, or if there’s something that drives that. It’s like working on a puzzle or something.

Photo By: Joyce Lee

TrunkSpace: Going back to that 12-year-old you that got that guitar for the first time. If you could sit down with him now, would he be surprised by the artist you have became?
Clarke: Maybe. I don’t know. There’s no way that I could have known how things would pan out, but I did want to eventually get to this point.

TrunkSpace: But were you listening to music in that time period that you would say directly influenced what your sound is today?
Clarke: I listened to, I guess, whatever was around at that time. I listened to all kinds of stuff when I was younger. I listened to boy bands, and Britney Spears, and all that stuff of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, which I think all that stuff is somewhere in the music that I’m still playing. It’s all pop music to me.

TrunkSpace: Do you think the next record will be far removed from “Hollow Ground,” or will it still feel close to what that album represents?
Clarke: I think it will be somewhat close. I’ve just been going after a certain sound, I guess, for a while now. That’s the closest I’ve gotten so far, but the next thing will probably just feel like another attempt at that, but maybe from a different angle.

Hollow Ground” is available now on Jagjaguwar.

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Sit and Spin

Cut Worms’ Hollow Ground

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Artist: Cut Worms

Album: “Hollow Ground”

Label: Jagjaguwar

Reason We’re Cranking It: Like an old dusty LP passed down to us from our mother’s prized record collection, “Hollow Ground” is a trip of a trip, a callback to a prior generation’s definitive rock vibe when 60s-era pop ballads served as the dawn of the commercial music industry. All artists pull from what came before them, some without realizing it, but Max Clarke, aka Cut Worms, proudly stands arm in arm with his rock ‘n’ roll predecessors.

What The Album Tells Us About Him: Although a vintage approach was taken in the production of “Hollow Ground,” the lyrical positioning of Clarke is very contemporary, making him the Marty McFly of modern music – existing in the present but perfectly comfortable in the past. We can’t wait to experience what comes next.

Track Stuck On Repeat: Wedged somewhere between the song stylings of The Every Brothers and The Hollies, “Don’t Want To Say Good-bye” feels like a long lost track, at one time destined for Billboard greatness, rediscovered after being tucked inside an old vault for 50 years. If our childhood time capsule came with a soundtrack, this song would be on it.

Coming To A City Near You: Cut Worms tour dates can be found here.

And that means…

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