Katie Herzig on her latest album ‘Moment of Bliss’

I’ve been waiting for a while to say these seven perfect words and since it’s been about four years since any of us got to say them, permit me to bust out in all caps:

KATIE HERZIG HAS A NEW RECORD OUT!!!!

And trust me when I say it’s been worth the wait.

Say hello to “Moment Bliss!”

momentofbliss_sm

So how good is this record?

EXHIBIT A:

Oh and then there’s “Feel Alive.” The single was released toward the end of 2017 and I love it so much it made it onto my Best of 2017 list.

Oh and let’s not forget “Beat of Your Own.”

Point being, Herzig’s made an extraordinarily album with “Moment of Bliss” and along with its release came the glorious news of a tour which includes a date in Boston in July.

I’ve only seen Herzig twice before, both at venues here in Portland, Maine. The first time was at Empire in 2012. In fact, I interviewed Herzig for the Portland Press Herald in advance of that show.

The second time was when she came to Port City Music Hall  during the tour for her 2014 album “Walk Through Walls.”  {Sidebar, go buy this album if you don’t already have it.} On the day of that show Herzig was kind enough to swing by my office at the Portland Press Herald for a Newsroom Session and as long as you promise to picture me with better hair, fashion  and about 30 pounds trimmer you can see that session HERE. and I strongly encourage you to do so because during the session Herzig performs two acoustic songs which thankfully is the focus of it rather than the dopey interviewer. (yours truly.)

Want to know if Herzig is coming to your city? OF COURSE YOU DO! Find that HERE.

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Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

Herzig is originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and has been in Nashville for the past several years. Her  solo discography dates back to 2004’s “Watch Them Fall” and several have followed. Make it a point to go deep down the rabbit hole of her music because her stuff is really different.

I reached out to Herzig and asked if she’d be up for a conversation about “Moment of Bliss” and other stuff she’s been working on these past couple of years.  With fingers crossed I waited and indeed she responded and a week later we were on the phone chatting up  a storm. Here’s that conversation in which we covered not only “The Moment of Bliss” but also delved into the inner-workings of how Herzig makes a living with music.

AP: Congrats. Your record’s been out a little over a month. How are you feeling about it?

 KH: It has been such a long time coming that mostly there’s only relief. This record took a long time to get out; my records take a long time to get out anyway so for some reason this felt longer. Just a lot of life happened in there so it just kind of drew out the process. And now in this day and age with releasing singles upon singles leading up to the album it just really stretches it out so by the time the album was here I was just like ‘thank god, let’s just do this.’ So yeah, I felt much relief.

AP: Can you walk me through the chronology of singles? What was the first one?

KH: “Strangers” then it was “Feel Alive” then I think we did “Me Without You,” that was around the holidays and then we started off January with “Beat of Your Own” and then we totally threw in “Weightlifting” on a whim two weeks before the record came out.

 AP: You must be getting some decent radio play? Is that a safe assumption?

KH:  I had a lot of support at AAA and different singles along the way at different stations There was no AAA-sounding obvious radio song so I didn’t put money into it. A lot of that turns out to be trying to get on playlists.  There are stores playing it.

 AP: I would imagine every little bit helps like if you’re added to one of those Spotify fresh tracks playlists.

KH: To be honest there’s always this huge decision and it happens with all my friends who are independent, who are putting out music and trying to make smart moves about how to spend money and how to promote it. Do you put money into the playlist thing? Into the radio thing? In the last album I did, we put a lot of money into a lot of things and this time I’m gonna try to not do that again. It’s all kind of random.

 AP: How much difference does radio airplay make with getting people in the door on a tour?

KH: I think if a radio station is playing you a significant amount and at good times it does make a difference. I think the difference is, and I feel like I got a taste of this, in certain towns where -and this was back when “Free My Mind” was happening because that got to Top 20 or something like that so there were certain markets that were getting a lot of spins and I would show up and more people would come. But it was a much more fickle crowd, it was a ‘people there to hear one song’ kind of feeling. So you feel the difference between what radio does. There’s always gonna be people who dig in further and listen to your whole catalog but it feels a little more seasonal, the radio thing.

 AP: Have you worked with Cason Cooley before as a producer and what did he bring to the table? How would you described his contribution to “Moment of Bliss?

KH: This will be the third full length record we’ve done together and then he did half of “Apple Tree” with me. We’ve also been co-producing some other stuff together.  I’m a  very hands-on in production artist so a lot of times, an example would be, I would pretty much have a pretty fully-formed song and I just need help getting across the finish line. So a lot of times that’s where he steps in. And then at other times he’ll have a musical idea and I’ll take it and run with it, write lyrics and then we’ll come back to it and he’ll help me finish it. So it can be from the beginning we’re writing and recording together and then other times it’s kind of more fully-formed and I bring it to him.

 AP: Did I see that you posted that “Feel Alive” was on “American Idol” or something like that?

KH: I think so. I work with a licensing company, Secret Road, and those things, a lot of times they tell you the day of. Then I turned it on but I never heard it so I don’t know for sure.

 AP: You’ve had a robust history of TV placements. It’s a bit of a mystery how that all works behind the scenes. You hire somebody who specifically does that right? Licensing to TV and film?

KH: Yeah. That’s been a huge part of my career; working with a licensing company that is essentially representing me and pitching me to TV, film and commercials and some of that stuff means me writing for those things.  Some of it is just them using music that I’ve already created. Some of my music has started as writing something for them and then it became my own thing.

 AP: As a fan my process is -when I’m watching a show -like the recent reboot of “Twin Peaks,” I hear a song I like, rewind it, open the SoundHound app and then I immediately follow the artist on every platform so that I don’t forget. My point is, it’s awesome and I’ve become fans of artists because of one little TV placement so I think it’s a very powerful tool.

KH: It is. That’s kind of what my career has been built on. That and me opening for other artists mixed with a little bit of radio. It’s kind of a hodgepodge and I think the licensing stuff can be a really powerful thing because especially if these are TV shows that people care about and songs become the backdrop in these emotional moments. It can form this instant connection.

AP: I can’t imagine “Me Without You” isn’t  going to get a placement. You’ll get off this call from me and will get another one telling you that- I’m manifesting it for you.

AP: So today, my favorite song  from the album is “All This Time.” What’s your favorite right now?

 KH:  Right now I would say. Wait did you say “All This Time?”

AP: Yeah.

KH: That’s the one I would say because it took on a whole new meaning for me recently.

AP: How long have you lived in Nashville for?

KH: I moved here in 2006 so 12 years.

AP: What do you like about Nashville and what’s hard?

KH: The music community here is super supportive and collaborative. It’s such an easy and inviting town to make music in from writing to recording to putting music out. And because the talent and quality level is so high, it just ups your game at every level. I find it to be an energy like nowhere else, where music is a part of the fabric of this town. It’s so normal to be a musician here and to have  a career in it. If I moved from here I would greatly miss that. What’s challenging for me is that I miss the West and I miss being  closer to my family and I miss bike lanes.

AP: I know this record was a long time coming but you’re also someone who gets involved with a lot of other projects so what else has been going on?

KH: I have been collaborating with Ingrid Michaelson on her new project. Cason and I are co-producing that project with her. Now that the record’s out I’m starting to prepare for a tour. There’s so much work in getting this thing out now I’m getting back to music. It becomes so much about content and deadlines and artwork and all that stuff. I’m just kind of in the process of figuring it all out.

 AP: It seems like a new album has about a two-year trajectory as you release singles and videos and such so “Moment of Bliss” is still kind of a newborn.

KH: It’s just a weird thing too because to me these songs and this thing, it doesn’t feel that way and so I have to keep reminding myself of that. Especially with the little I put out, this doesn’t happen very often for me.

 AP: Speaking of things you put out, I’ve never really been much of a Cold Play fan but I sure love your take on “Viva La Vida.” I had forgotten you had done it and it’s gorgeous.

KH: Have you ever heard their song “Midnight?”

AP: I only know the radio hits so if you tell me listen to “Midnight” I totally will. I liked them when they first came out, I don’t know what happened. I’m just a terrible person. {note, 3 days after this interview with Katie I did indeed listen to “Midnight” with an open heard and mind. What can I say? It’s a goddamn beautiful song. Like REALLY beautiful.)

AP: As I think about “Moment of Bliss” as a whole, there’s just so much going on and I extract a lot of hope and positivity and also acknowledging  things that are kind of a struggle. But say you’ve just gotten on  an elevator with some random person and are asked to describe your record to someone who hasn’t heard it. What would you say?

KH:  As I was making this album it felt like a completion of an idea. It felt like the completion of this season of making the last three albums and somebody even pointed it out to me saying this feels like the third in a trilogy.  This is the third I’ve done with Cason and just kind of the evolution of where this vision and these influences and these seasons of life back to back kind of have gone where they’ve ended up. I do feel like this is a reflection of…there was kind of like this acknowledgment of a beginning and this world of possibility and it started with “The Waking Sleep” and these new sounds also this way of me taking in life and then this second “Walk Through Walls”  was  very much me working through this very difficult reason and then this one kind of feels a little bit like the aftermath of that and the arrival of some reflective maturity and some experiences and the resignation. It feels like resignation to these things I do as an artist. This is a very natural progression of what I’ve done and I am kind of indulging in these things that I have done in music in these landscapes and these tendencies and layers of sound, themes. And that doesn’t mean I’m gonna necessarily never do any of that again but it did feel like getting it out of my system in  a way. Whatever comes next is gonna feel really different but who knows?

 AP: I’m looking out this super cool cover. Buttefly (Boucher) did all the art and layout right?

KH: Yes she did.

AP: The yellow squares over your eyes. Are those symbolic of something? The whole thing looks amazing I’m just wondering if there’s any symbolism in there? What went into the decision with that?

KH: There’s a really interesting story behind this album of that almost like art and life getting so tied up, talk about manifesting stuff. You write these songs and you explore these ideas and then the album is done and you’re doing the artwork and you’re realizing some of these themes are coming to life in your own life. For me, “Moment of Bliss,” what was like, that, you know, and even coming up with an album title, that whole journey can be very difficult and once “Moment of “Bliss” revealed itself it like really revealed itself. If I talk too much you’re gonna have to ask me more questions.

 AP: Dream collaboration. With anyone? Dead or alive. Who comes to mind?

KH: One that comes to mind is the composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

AP: (after lightning fast Googling) Wow, he did “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel.”

KH:  I first heard him on “Friday Night Lights” and there’s one song in “Babel” what was in “Friday Night Lights” and it was like ‘oh my god what is this?” so I tracked him down. Artists like him or like Bon Iver, there’s something I identify with in how I make music that is almost like it doesn’t have to be the most put together, clean thing. There’s just those layers of things happening that move in a certain way that just gets you. So I want to do something where we put this guy, Justin Vernon and me in a room and see what happens.

AP: I don’t think that that’s that unrealistic of a request.

KH: Dreamboard?

AP: That’s amazing.

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Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

PONTI OUT

p.s. Don’t forget to SUPPORT INDEPENDENT ARTISTS. YEAH!

Rickie Lee Jones delivers in Portland, Maine

When I walked into the Rickie Lee Jones show the other night at AURA in Portland, Maine and plunked myself down in my front row (to the left a bit) seat I had no intentions of writing about it. I was there strictly as a fan.  I had bought the tickets months ago the moment they went on sale and had been quietly feeling the slow burn of anticipation for the show. But 47 seconds into “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” I couldn’t help myself, I pulled out my notebook and pen and started scribbling notes because my jaw was on the floor by how fantastic Jones and her two band-mates sounded.

Rickie Lee Jones is a national treasure as far as I’m concerned. She’s one of our songwriting greats and her vocals are unique in that no one sounds quite like RLJ. Her voice is clear and bright but also jazzy and moody, depending on the song.

Some people think of Jones simply in terms of the  1979 track “Chuck E’s in Love” from her debut self-titled album. OK. Fine. The song’s terrific and all. But man alive, there’s SO MUCH more to her career than that.  In fact, on that very same album is where you’ll find the song she closed out her show with in Portland the other night called “Coolsville.”

“And now a hungry night you want more and more/And you chip in your little kiss/Well I jumped all his jokers/But he trumped all my tricks” is just a tiny bit of the spellbinding lyrics. At times her vocals sink so low you swear she’s shaking hands with the devil.

Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones performing at AURA in Portland, Maine on 3.27.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Jones played acoustic guitar most of the night but did sit at a baby grand piano for a couple of songs. She was  accompanied by a terrific electric guitarist named Cliff Hines  and a sensational percussionist named Mike Dillon.

She did hit us with “Chuck E.’s In Love” early on but no complaints because, again, it’s a damn good song and this was version was a stripped down chilled out one.

Jones’ third song of the night is one of her finest lyrical moments and it’s another one from that famous first album that is just shy of celebrating its 40th anniversary.

RLJ
Warner Bros. Records

“Last Chance Texaco” is straight-up one of the best songs out there by anyone. When Jones started playing I  for real got the chills and came damn close to having to pinch myself.

“A long stretch of headlights bends into I-9/Tiptoe into truck stops/And sleepy diesel eyes/Volcanoes rumble in the taxi and glow in the dark/Camels in the driver’s seat/A slow, easy mark.”

Jones sounded as good -if not better- on this night in Portland than perhaps I’ve ever heard her before. This was about my 5th time seeing her live.

The show continued along its riveting course with “Love Is Gonna Bring Us Back Alive.” It’s from the 1989 Jones album “Flying Cowboys” which is nothing less than sacred to me.  The album was my gateway into knowing and loving the music of Jones.

With an easy smile, sparkling eyes, blue dress and black beret, Rickie Lee Jones looked genuinely happy up on that stage  and although I wish the show had been maybe two or three songs longer, every second was captivating and it reminded me SO MUCH of why I love her music.

Other holy-bananas-this-is-so-great moments from the show included “We Belong Together” and “Living It Up” from her 1981 “Pirates” album,  her interpretation of the  Arthur Hamilton penned standard “Cry Me A River” which Jones told us was made famous by Julie London in the 50s,  “Mink Coat at the Bus Stop” from 2003’s “The Evening of My Best Day” and “Cloud of Unknowing” from 2003’s “Ghostyhead.” Oh and  especially “Eucalyptus Trail” from 2009’s “Balm in Gilead” with the lines “All my old friends have gone underground/They fall so hard, I am the last of my kind in this town.” This seems like the perfect line to end with because Rickie Lee Jones has always felt like an old friend and I’m glad  sure glad she resurfaced to put on such an extraordinary mid-week show in Maine.

Here’s a clip someone shot in Paris, France last month of Jones playing “We Belong Together” which I’m sharing so you can hear for yourself how goddamn glorious Jones still is live.

Ponti out

REVIEW: Brandi Carlile’s “By The Way, I Forgive You”

I’ve been trying to write this Brandi Carlile album review for a few weeks now and I’m still struggling with what exactly I want to say. The album  (produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings) has such an emotional hold on me that I’m a bit of a mess.  I wasn’t sure if I could string my thoughts together enough to even attempt a review. Then it came to me; Conventional album review wisdom (if it even exists) be damned! This is what I’m going to do instead:

AN OPEN LETTER TO BRANDI CARLILE & ‘BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU”

Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile performing at Ryman Auditorium. 4.25.17
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Dear Brandi Carlile and your album “By The Way, I Forgive You,”

Holy hell, what have you done?

You’ve made an album that has called open season on my heart.  You’ve torn it out and put it back together nine ways to Sunday. You’ve made an album that has made me take a LONG look at the notion of forgiveness. You’ve made an album that, with each listening, permeates my bone marrow, my soul and everything I thought I knew about music.

You and the Twins and everyone else involved have made an album that is nothing less than brilliant.

So to simply say THANK YOU doesn’t seem enough. It doesn’t seem nearly enough.

Permit me to unpack “By The Way, I Forgive You” song by song,  so as to tell you the impact each song continues to have on me. Know that I’ve sung these songs at the top of my lungs on the highway. I’ve listened to them while walking my dog. I’ve listened to them at work. I’ve listened to them at home on my turntable (hell yeah, I have it on vinyl too.” I discover something new each time.

I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like hearing these songs live in the coming months.

Ready?

ONE: “Every Time I Hear That Song.” I don’t keep a journal. I wish I could. But I don’t because I’m too afraid of it being read by anyone. And I’m too afraid, I’ve realized, of documenting my deepest secrets.  This is one of the reasons why music is so important to me. Certain songs I adopt as journal entries and no matter how much time has passed, every time I hear that  a certain song, there’s an emotional charge. This makes “Every Time I Hear That Song” something of a song within a song. This song gives me permission to revisit past experiences, past relationships, past moments of connection, past pain, sorrow and all the rest of it. And you’ve packaged this all in a gorgeous song. And when you and Tim and Phil sing the lines “By The Way, I Forgive You/I never will forget you for giving me what I found/Without you around I’ve been doing just fine/’Cept for anytime I hear that song,” it’s profound. And speaking of forgiveness, you’ve asked us to look at forgiveness under a microscope. Goddamn it. I have found myself budging on things I never thought I’d budge on. I have found myself slowly starting to forgive myself for past mistakes. You have made a song into something of a movement. And you’ve asked your fans to document moments of forgiveness with a contest you ran and I saw some of the entries and people are baring their souls and it’s beautiful. Dear Brandi and ‘By the Way, I Forgive You,” this song is everything. It really is.

TWO: “The Joke”

When this single was dropped last fall I, like many other people, fell outta my chair. The song is HUGE and lush with strings and crescendos and Mount Everest vocals. I’ve been swooning over this song for a while now. But I’m going to share with you part of a Facebook post (with permission) by a friend of my named Ryan. He’s a new fan and this is what he posted the other day: “Sorry everybody, it’s another Brandi Carlile post. I can’t tell you how rapt I am with her. As I previously offered, I am glad I don’t have a song on the radio right now because it would sound foolish if it came on after “The Joke”. We’re all playing checkers. She’s playing chess. I haven’t liked music this much in years.” Then a few days later Ryan shared this: “As we’ve covered here previously, I recently was floored by hearing the new Brandi Carlile single on WCLZ. I finally found some solely listen- to-music time tonight, and am just now listening the whole record. This is a jaw dropping startlingly gorgeous and extremely visceral piece of art. It is astonishingly beautiful. Anyone who is not listening to her has got to stop and take a look at least. I am so mad at myself for having never given her time these past few years. This is my favorite record of the year so far, by miles.” Ryan’s discovery of Carlile reminded me of the scene at the end of “Field of Dreams” when Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law could finally see the ballplayers and was floored by it. Welcome, Ryan, to the party. Here, have a Jameson’s.

THREE: “Hold Out Your Hand”

This is is a barn burnin’ foot stompin’ feel good tune, complete with a sonic boom of a chorus. It’s an outlaw’s anthem and a redemptive, devil defying proclamation of faith all wrapped up into one gigantic song that makes me want to both dance around in a cowboy hat and go running up the stairs of the nearest church. And yet Carlile also slips in some not foolin’ around lyrics in the form of “Here is a license for killing your own native son/For a careless mistake and a fake plastic gun?”

FOUR: “The Mother”

I’ve been hearing  this one live for at least a year (maybe two) and am so glad it landed on the album. “Evangeline” is the name of Carlile and her wife Catherine’s three-year-old daughter. The song is one that mothers – and parents- will surely identify with. And for non-moms like me , it let me into a world I know I’ll never fully understand. And Carlile does  so in such a sweet, playful,  gentle and wise way.  “She’s fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn’t look like me/She made me love the morning, she’s a holiday at sea/The New York streets are busy as they always used to be/But I am the mother of Evangeline.”  I haven’t heard such a wonderful snapshot of parenthood since Bowie’s “Kooks.”

FIVE: “Whatever You Do”

This song’s first line is everything. “If I don’t owe you a favor, you don’t know me.” God I love that.  That said, this is among the most heavyhearted songs on the album. “There’s a road left behind me that I’d rather not speak of/And a hard one ahead of me, too/I love you, whatever you do/But I’ve got a life to live too.”  The only things that allows me to hold it together listening to it is how resplendent the song is. The strings come in slowly then build and then Carlile’s voice floats up to the sky like a soul escaping a body it no longer needs.

SIX: “Fulton County Jane Doe”

If I’m Dolly Parton , I’m putting a version of this on my next album. Call me crazy but I can hear her singing this one  in my head. And that, my friends, is very much meant as a compliment.  The song seems to be about second chances. And maybe third of fourth ones too.

SEVEN: “Sugartooth”

Not since K’s Choice  released the song “Not An Addict” more than 20 years ago has a song about addiction hit me so hard.  The addiction struggle is sadly very real everywhere, even here in  Maine. Carlile has painted a portrait of it that explains the disease in an understandable way and with empathy rather than judgment. “He wanted to be a better man/But life kicked him down like an old tin can/He would give you the shirt on his back/If not for a sugartooth.”

EIGHT: “Most Of All”

If you’ve ever lost anyone important to you, this song is going to make you cry.  “Most Of All” is heart-rending but it’s also bursting with love and hope and gratitude. It’s also full of kind-hearted inspiration.  “But most of all/She taught me how to fight/How to move across the line between the wrong and the right.”  Prepare to feel all the proverbial things with this one. But don’t you love songs that do that? I sure do.

NINE: “Harder to Forgive”

This is a  knee slapping gem of a song that had me at the first line because it’s so true! “I love the songs I hated when I was young/Because they take me back where I come .” Word, Brandi, word. The song is upbeat and snappy but with brooding lyrics; a perfect combination in my book. Plus the electric guitar and wailing vocals toward the end are motherfuckin’ spectacular.

TEN: “Party Of One”

This was the only song the album could have ended with and it is a reminder that the best way to listen to an album is all the way through, in the order in which they were intended to be heard. In other words, this is not an album to be listened to on shuffle play. Trust me on this. “Party Of One” is one of the saddest Carlile songs I’ve ever heard but it’s also stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning. At just under six minutes, it opens with a piano that sounds like its weeping. “Waiter send this to the table, the party of one/The only other lonely soul in this place” are the opening lines. From there the song speaks of love at first sight and a love that is without end. But also of a defeated love. It doesn’t matter what is happening in your life, this song’s gonna kill you. And just when you think you’re going to survive the song, in come the strings and then the drums and you’re swept up in a whole other layer of emotion. This song is a self-contained symphony of feelings, a relief map of longing and a timeline of a love that despite all the bullshit, won’t ever really be extinguished. Amen.


 

The holy trinity of Brandi Carlile, Tim Hanseroth and Phil Hanseroth have collectively written ten songs that are going to touch a TON of people both as they listen to them and see and hear them performed live.  “By The Way, I Forgive You” has touched me in a way I didn’t know an album could. I didn’t know  I could love a Carlile album as much as “The Story” but upon hearing this one, the code was cracked and another compartment of my heart was accessed.

Ponti out.

P.S. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Carlile on two occasions for the Portland Press Herald. Once in 2012 and again in 2015.

Concert Review: Healing powers of First Aid Kit shine brightly in Boston. 2.7.18

When you’ve been waiting far too long to see a band you love, I say go all in! Which is exactly what my friend Kathryn and I did at the First Aid Kit show at the House of Blues in Boston.

When tickets went on sale last October we bought general admission floor seats and also kicked in an extra $20 each for pre-show access to The Foundation Room which is attached to the House of Blues. This was a damn good decision because I never wanted to leave said room because it was like being in a far flung corner of heaven that looked like a Zen lounge with Buddhas and couches and little rooms and built-into the wall tables and incredible art and an all around calming vibe. And proper, low lighting too!

What’s more, we got to enter the venue when the doors opened through a special entrance. When the clock struck seven we were able to make the proverbial “mad dash” and snagged a spot right up front.  And when I say right up front I mean RIGHT up front. My arms were draped over the barrier between the photo pit and stage. I thought to myself “why not?” and it ended up being the right decision because the show was a thousand perfect spectacular and although sometimes the sound can be not as good when right up front, such was not the case at this show; it was PERFECT.

First Aid Kit
Klara Söderberg
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After an outstanding opening set from Van William, Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg  took the stage at 9 p.m. sharp along with a keys player/trombonist, drummer and pedal steel player/guitarist/mandolinist; all of whom were first-rate players.  Johanna plays bass and Klara plays guitar and together they’re a force of nature; especially when the vocals start.

From my spot  Klara was right in front of me and her sister Johanna was about a dozen feet away. They opened the show with “Rebel Heart,” the first track from their latest album “Ruins.” Side note; If you haven’t listened to “Ruins” yet, for the love of all that is holy, make that a priority. The album’s a damn masterpiece. “Rebel Heart” is moody and emotional and I can’t think of a better one to set the tone for the entire show.  Vocally, the song is like Jack climbing the beanstalk in that it goes higher and higher and ultimately reaches high into the heavens. Hearing it live also brought with it a sigh of relief for me. I was FINALLY seeing First Aid Kit live and holy shit, it was amazing. “It’s a Shame” came next and it’s another favorite  “Ruins” track.

First Aid Kit
Johanna Söderberg
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Rather than give you a blow by blow of the entire setlist I’ll instead tell a few of the standout moments as long as you promise to believe me when I say that every nano second of this show was spot-on perfect. First Aid Kit really is THAT GOOD. A few times I turned around to look at the thousand people behind and above me and knew that we were all witnessing something special.

One of these special moments was the title track to their “Stay Gold” album. Hearing it live gave me happy chills that I’m still feeling days later.

This brings me to perhaps the most potent song of the night and it’s one they released as a single last year on International Women’s Day.  The song was written in response to hearing about a lenient sentence of a convicted rapist. Klara and Johanna were fucking pissed and wrote a fierce, truth-bomby song about it. And this was months before the #metoo and #timesup movement. “You Are The Problem Here” has these lyrics: (and I’m including several lines because this is important.)

“I am so sick and tired of this world
All these women with their dreams shattered
From some man’s sweaty, desperate touch
God damn it, I’ve had enough
When did you come to think refusal was sexy?
Can’t you see the tears in her eyes?
How did you ever think you had the right to
Put your entitled hands up her thighs?

You are the problem here
You are the problem here
No one made you do anything
You are the problem here
You are the problem here
No one made you do anything

And I
And I hope you fucking suffer”

Suffice to say it brought the house down.  When it ended Klara and Johanna told us “Ladies, we have your backs and we love you.”

I had barely caught my breath when First Aid Kid played my favorite song from “Ruins” called “To Live a Life.” Sharing lyrics again because I love them SO VERY MUCH.

“I wrote you a letter
To make myself feel better
To redeem some part of me
I thought I had lost
And we were a lost cause
Long before we fell apart
‘Cause honey, I was too eager
And you were too smart
Yet I look for you
In these empty rooms
You’re a phone call away
I’m on the interstate
And I’ve been drinking cheap wine
Just to pass the time
I’m falling behind
And it doesn’t matter
Who you are to me”

The song is slow and the pedal steel guitar was played  just enough along with acoustic guitar. When Klara and Johanna’s voices collided it was like music was showing me the face of God.

And there there was the dreamy “Fireworks” and the oh-my-god-are-you-kidding-me cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” that I pretty much lost my mind during. And there was “EmmyLou” and, well, you get the idea.

During the encore, Van William came out and sang his song “Revolution” with First Aid Kit. I found myself singing along as it’s something of a radio hit and since Klara and Johanna are on the album with William it made sense for them to sing it with him during the live show. Damn fine song.  After “Master Pretender” from the 2014 album “Stay Gold” it was time to close out the show with another song from that album. “Silver Lining” is the first song I ever heard from First Aid Kit and it’s been a personal anthem for me and I suspects thousands upon thousands of other fans. It’s a song that never grows old and one that always does its job of inspiring me, lifting me out of a dark space and helping me to do just what it tells me to do; keep on keepin’ on. Hearing it live by a band that stood just a few feet away from me in a room of other adoring fans was a moment I won’t soon forget.  Klara and Johanna are still in their mid 20s and I can’t wait to see what comes next for them.  “Ruins” is their 5th album and in three weeks since it’s been out has received high praise and understandably so. They’ve struck a nerve with their lyrics, their harmonies, their playing and their message. I absolutely bow to them.

First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit live at The House of Blues in Boston on 2.7.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Here’s a few quick segments I shot from my to-die-for spot. With huge appreciation as always to my pal Shamus Alley who will always have way more technical skills and patience then I ever hope to possess.

THANK YOU First Aid Kit for making my first time seeing you so memorable and moving.

KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON…

Ponti out.

Interview with the incredible Paula Cole

My love for Paula Cole began in 1994 upon hearing her debut album “Harbinger” with the songs “Happy Home,” “Ordinary” and “Watch the Woman’s Hands.”  And then in March of 1995 I saw her for the first time live opening for Sarah McLachlan at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine. My friends and I were right up front and our jaws collectively dropped hearing Cole sing and bang on something like a pizza pan. It was a “holy shit” moment I’ll never forget and to this day I still maintain that Cole has one of the most powerful and gorgeous voices I ever hope to hear.

In 1996 Cole released the self-produced album “This Fire” and it won her a Grammy for Best New Artist. The album tore up the charts with “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want to Wait.” And the single “Me” is still a personal theme song.

“Amen” followed in 1999 with the song “Pearl” which is even more a theme song for this writer. The album’s single “I Believe In Love” is still is a contender for a planetary national anthem as far as I’m concerned.

A lot has happened since then. Cole took a several year hiatus to care for her daughter who was born with severe asthma, went through a rough divorce and stepped way out of the spotlight. When she came back to the music world it was in a much quieter way but with no less impact in terms of the music. 2007 brought with it “Courage” followed by “Ithaca,” “Raven,” “7” and the live “This Bright Red Feeling” in 2016.

This past August, Cole released a glorious double-album  called “Ballads.” It’s all songs she loves from the 30s to the 60s from artists including Rodgers & Hart, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan and Bobbie Gentry to name a few.

Photo courtesy of 675 Records

I saw her play the entire album live in Massachusetts last summer and the show did not disappoint.

This brings us to now. At present, Cole is on faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston, plays shows regularly and lives on Massachusetts’ North Shore with her family.

I got her on the phone the other day for a candid chat about music, life and turning 50  and it is with sincere joy I share this conversation.

How long have you been teaching at Berklee School of Music and what specifically do you teach?

I’m in my 5th. It’s hard to believe. I’m in the voice department. I teach singers all kinds of things; how to relate to the rhythm section, things about the voice and learning new material. The most specialized thing that I do is my songwriting class. They are very wonderful to me and I can tour as I need to.

“Ballads” has been out in the world since August. What’s your favorite song to perform live from it?

“I just know “God Bless the Child” inside and out so well it feels like hand in glove and it’s like swimming, it feels so great. And the lyric writing on those two Bob Dylan songs is so wonderful (“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.“) I love those. The lyrics are like mini-novels. I felt like they could be re-interpreted and blended into some of these other writers’ work. Interestingly, most of these songs are from the 30s and the 60s. With maybe just a couple falling outside those boundaries. Those were such times of social upheaval in America and great content was written through all of our suffering. I’m drawn to the angst and the suffering and the meaning.

I really appreciate that you care so much about these old songs and wanted them to have another lease on life. I can’t imagine my favorite not ever being “Ode to Billie Joe” because it’s such a good song but then I hear on ones like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and that’s pretty awesome too and “Skylark” too. It’s just such a great record.

I can credit you for inspiring me to record “Ode to Billie Joe.”

I don’t know if you should give me that much credit.

Yeah, I would.

I’m flattered. That’s one of those songs that just never really gets old and to hear you do it is the combination of her lyrics and your vocals it’s incredible. Every once in a while, I dip my toe into a bunch of her other songs like that record she did with Glen Campbell. And I just love the fact that Bobbie Gentry’s out there somewhere. Who knows what she’s doing; if she’s a recluse or what’s happening with her but I love that somewhere out in the world Bobbie Gentry is somewhere sitting at a table drinking tea right now for all we know.

I heard she was in the San Fernando Valley somewhere.

Why hasn’t there been a documentary done about her? Or maybe there is and I don’t know about it.

I just want to give her a hug and just thank her.

And speaking of other people’s songs, did my eyes and ears deceive me or did I see a recent clip on YouTube of you covering Aerosmith’s “Dream On?” It’s fucking awesome. How long have you been doing that one for and what inspired it?

It was a Kickstarter pledge finally manifesting. It’s really fun and the audience loved it. I guess when you step over lines and barriers, you know a woman doing a big cock-rock song or a woman stepping into classic rock, it’s just much more of a man’s playing field and it used to happen when I sang “Black Dog” a lot as well. It just gets a lot of attention.

That’s awesome. I listen to some of the big classic rock stations around here sometimes and it’s awesome but it’s also frustrating because hours can go by without hearing a woman artist.

That’s right. It’s a desert. They might play Stevie Nicks but that’s it.

Or a Heart song. I love it but sometimes the feminist in me roars.

I love hearing stuff. Robert Plant when he sings and Steven Tyler when he sings, that so works for me.

Maybe I’ll start a secret fund for your next Kickstarter campaign and I’ll have you do “All My Love” because that’s my favorite Led Zeppelin song.

You’re turning 50 on April 5. What are you going to do to celebrate? But don’t jump out of an airplane, that scares me too much.

The closer I get to it the more pressure I feel. I don’t want to do anything typical. I’d like to do something that allows me to stretch and grow into some areas where I have not had growth; learning more things. Because you know in mid-life we’re kind of patterned to stay in our groove and make income. But what I’d really like to do is shake some of these chains and learn and one thing I’d really love to do is learn more whole systems design and permaculture, especially with this author named Ben Falk. He and his wife Erica have a farm in Vermont and a learning center. I tried to register for the course but I can’t because I have gigs and I can’t pull out of the shows. I decided instead of going to Paris or something I wanted to do that; I wanted to learn. I think what I’m headed for once the kids start stretching their wings and flying off independently from our nest, I would like to move to an era of more social justice work. I would like very much to work for sustainability and less plastic, less petroleum and less pigs. The three Ps; we’re addicted to those things; we’re addicted to meat eating, we’re addicted to plastic, we’re addicted to petrol. I think being a vegan – and sometimes I struggle because I fall off the wagon with dairy- but I think being a vegan is one of the most awesome and  subversive acts someone can make that creates real change. So if I can even continue that and influence more people to see the light  in that movement where you’re not participating in the holocaust of animals and you are being more conscientious about your waste and your food and what you do. I want to be on that trajectory. Yes, I’ll still make music but something is gonna shift and I feel 50 is a doorway for that. I can’t be doing back-breaking work, I’m feeling it in my body for sure. But I’m in good health. I’m very aware of my lifetime being finite and I want to be meaningful and purposeful. I’m tired of being as quiet as I’ve been quite frankly. The planet needs more advocacy and I’ll probably move into that role a little more.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive though as I imagine organizations like P.E.T.A. and people involved with Earth Day would love to have you play benefits for them and such.

Definitely. I play benefits every year. It’s hard to choose. I tend to be a bit of a hermit because people ask things of me and it’s hard balancing all the things in my life, whether it’s teaching or touring, even a Kickstarter campaign, I’m still not done with that fulfilling all those pledges. And then of course being a homemaker and a mom. I’m pretty domestic when I’m home. Getting older is nice, you take less bullshit on, you feel more entitled to your opinions, I definitely would not want to be 25 again. Or 35. So far I really like myself at almost 50. I’m fortunate to have my partner David and my sweet kids and my sweet fans. I’m so lucky to be healthy. I’m really aware of that. And I feel like, well, if I’m still here because so many in the music business aren’t. Look at Dolores O’Riordan and Prince and David Bowie. All these heartbreaks. But I’m still here and there’s something to be said about that. I think my trajectory was too fast in the pop world; it was inauthentic then. I pulled myself back and it’s been very slow and small since but it’s real and still here like the tortoise. I’m still here and I think it’s actually manifesting well for me. I think I’ve got more so much more creativity in me yet.

I love to hear that. Let me ask you this final question. This is going to sound cliché but I’m genuinely interested in your response. I’m wondering what bums you out about the current state of affairs with the music business  and what makes you still feel hopeful?

What sucks is that musicians are the most beautiful species of homo sapiens in my opinion. We’re sensitive, we design and and we make something from nothing and yet I don’t feel that our gifts are appreciated enough by our society the way say Finland supports their artists or Canada. Musicians struggle to exist in this society and more so now than ever with the digitization, distribution, Spotify; a single stream is .0005 cents. It’s a non-money amount so how are these sensitives, with a very gifted and specific skill set, how will they have time or make the very thing that heals us in our pain. It’s proven again and again. You look at the data; music heals society, where there is music there is healing and there is less crime, there’s more  business fruition. The whole society is healthier. So I travel the world and I see the societies where art is supported and everyone is supported, it has an effect on the whole. That bums me out that our American society does not support that arts sufficiently compared to the rest of the world. It’s a shame.

What gives you hope? Maybe your students?

Yes. I’ve gotten close to enough millennials now through teaching and even through touring with younger players now.  They show me something, they’re learning in a principled fashion that inspires me. It’s less materialistic, it’s more about seeking meaning and I really respect that. They are inheriting a more difficult workplace, a more fraught world, a more polluted world with less natural resources. It’s really different. It will be harder for them. You and I are luckier in many ways even just that we listen to vinyl. Maybe we have a hope of Social Security, maybe not. They’re looking at it in a more spiritual, more holistic way and idealistic way. I appreciate them. They’re open to listening to all kinds of music. They’re listening to their musical ancestors.

cole two mcdonald
Photo by Erica McDonald