Meg Baird answers the Questions of Doom
Dear Companion is a cult classic. The album is a swaying, spiralling and emotional experience, guided by Baird's enigmatic talents. Her lyrics speak of recovery from a bruised life, and there is a relaxing, rainy-day atmosphere of regret to her songs. Her voice? It eases emotion and soul out of her most personal obsessional ballads with an effortless cool. So yeah. Too say we are floored with excitement at the news of the forthcoming Meg Baird album 'Seasons on Earth' is an understatement to say the least. We had no choice but to get Meg in for this week's Questions of Doom and query her about Dear Companion, her forthcoming new album, and why the long wait in between both efforts?
Who is Meg Baird?
Maybe be better in person? One on one and small groups?
What can we expect from your forthcoming album, Seasons on Earth? How do you think it will push the narrative of your music forward?
This next record is mostly songs that I’ve written. They are more meditative, compositional and based on my guitar playing than the ones from Dear Companion. With that record, with all of these covers and traditionals, I wanted to play an absurdly high caliber of songs that far surpass the ones I (and even most songwriters) can write. The songs I picked also all had a pretty hefty black and white, and direct emotionality to them. With this newer record I took a good deal of care to be blurrier and softer. I know I am potentially making this sound really boring, but if you take the care to do all of that softening, my hope is that the heavy stuff can seem even weightier. Maybe you just feel the impact two seconds later, but harder. And then you can start to think forwards and backwards through the narrative. Kind of an emotional version of delay.
Dear Companion was a very intimate affair, and yet, you’ve entitled the new one ‘Seasons on Earth’, how does the title reflect the music within?
Since I wrote most of the material, I could load this record up with a far more complex set of resonances—in the language, the themes, the styles. The title definitely fits in with these resonances. The title is also taken from a Kenneth Koch poem. Maybe a nod to the idea that when you’re writing something original, you aren’t really being entirely original. There is so much intentional and unintentional stealing. I know that there are some artists that are extremely skilled at making incredible work that sounds as if it came from another world or space aliens, but I don’t think I’m able to fit into that tradition.
What prompted you to write the second album after 2007’s Dear Companion, and why the long wait?
I have been writing these songs since the last record. It took a while to wrap my head around what it even meant to do another record after that one, since I wasn’t even sure at the time if that was just going to be one time thing. The rest is just ordinary—embarrassing procrastination, obstacles—how time goes by so fast.
Your reading of Do What You Gotta Do is absolutely flooring, I’ve always wanted to know if it was the Nina Simone version that drew you originally to the song? And can we expect more covers on Season on Earth?
Nina Simone’s version is of course devastating, but mine is taken directly from Roberta Flack’s.
I have two covers on “Seasons on Earth.” One from the Mark-Almond Band and one from the House of Love. These songs are also a million times better than the ones I can write myself.
How did you the sessions with yourself, Helena Espvall and Sharron Krauss come about and can we expect more?
Those sessions happened pretty naturally. Sharron was living next door to me for a year or so, and she was homesick for her local singing session from Oxford. Just seemed like we should record before Sharron moved back to the UK. We just played these songs when we all wound up being in Philadelphia at the same time, but I am not sure that geography will be in our favor for a next time around.
I recently purchased American Folk Anthology for the first time last year and was incredibly struck on how those songs were so still alive, pertinent and still making strong statements about survival under harsh economic times, is that why you are still drawn to the standards, because they still make statements about today?
When things are timeless, they are bigger than relating to just today. You can hear dating in songs or recording technique, but not everything about them changes so much over time.
What is the most unlikely influence on your music?
Stand-up, uncomfortable remarks at special events, PowerPoint presentations? I spend a lot of time paying attention to the way a human voice sounds through PA systems in small to midsized rooms—especially when the use of effects is minimal to nonexistent. The ear is trained to have so many associations with voices and performance already, and this is just a whole extra dimension those associations.
What do you feel you’re expressing through your solo music that you feel you aren’t expressing in the Espers?
In Espers, we all made an effort to try and strip away really obvious personal markers. Espers works best when it’s not so attached to specific recognizable places and it shouldn’t be individual.
Philly is really happening at the moment - Purling Hiss, Kurt Vile, many more - what new and upcoming artists should we be checking out?
Somehow the concept of “up and coming” doesn’t quite fit into my experience of being involved in music in Philadelphia, but there is certainly a lot going on, and I look forward to hearing more good music. While they aren’t strangers to anyone, I obviously really admire Chris Forsyth and Willie Lane’s music (they both made outstanding contributions to this record). Or you could force yourself to listen to the band Watery Love where I play drums. I’ve been told that it’s my best work, which is pretty discouraging since I have been devoting so much time to the guitar these past years.