Sunday, September 19, 2010

37 Flood Interviews Cheyenne Marie Mize

I was lucky enough to sit down with one of Louisville rising stars in the music scene this week. Cheyenne Marie Mize has two albums being released in the next month, one with Maiden Radio and the other is a solo album to be released on Sonablast! Records on October 12th. You can preview the solo album, Before Lately, and also listen to her EP with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Among the Gold, on her Bandcamp website.

Dylan Greenwood: Thanks for sitting down with us. We’ve been real big fans of yours for a while now. So, let’s start real basic, what’s the name Cheyenne Marie? Cheyenne Mize? Cheyenne Marie Mize?

Cheyenne Marie Mize: Ahh… definitely any of the three. I mean all three are my name. Cheyenne Marie Mize is the latest permutation.

DG: What is your musical background?

CMM: I’ve kind of been playing different instruments at different times in my life and each instrument took on their own path. I did piano and that was more learning how to read music and that kind of stuff. And then I started playing guitar and on guitar I was mostly just doing stuff by ear, you know, learning old classic guitar riffs and trying to figure out Bob Marley songs and things like that. (laughs) And I started violin when I was about ten and with that I was doing classical music in school. Then I started to kind of get into more traditional Kentucky Appalachian types of music and started to go that way as well. And so my solo music ends up kind of being a mix of all that: older influences, what I used to listen, what I still listen to, and then all the stuff I’ve kind of played with along the way.

DG: So what would you consider your primary instrument?

CMM: Oh, it kind of depends on the situation. In school my primary instrument was violin. I was in orchestra and did all that. And when I play with other bands, when I do a lot of support work that’s generally the instrument I use because that’s, I think, the one usually that’s most needed. But when I play by myself usually guitar or some kind of keyboard.

DG: I’ve seen you perform alongside a long list of musicians here in town here. Who are you currently working with?

CMM: Maiden Radio I guess is the most active right now. We are actually doing an album release show on the 26th of September. We recorded an album earlier this year, all live, all with one mic. And have just finally gotten it all together to put it out. That’s with Joan Shelley and Julia Purcell. Arnett Hollow has a show coming up on October 1st. And I still play with the Picket Line whenever we can work it out. Those are the main ones right now.

DG: Well, I’ve always thought you picked the best people in the area to play with. Is there anyone that stands out as particularly interesting to work with or that you really got a kick out of?

CMM: Well, the Picket Line boys are always a blast to work with. Whether it’s just rehearsing or performing or whatever it is. They’re kind of a motley crew and we always have a really good time. But there’s not much that’s better than singing three-part harmonies with my ladies in Maiden Radio, that’s pretty special, for sure.

DG: So, I understand that you’re expanding the EP into a full-length album and releasing it nationally. Congratulations.

CMM: Thank you.

DG: What should we expect from the release?

CMM: Hmm.. it’s ten songs. There are several elements that go into it. There’s the more guitar, like, pattern-driven guitar pieces. The piano pieces kind of have their own element. The pieces I added to the record are mainly on piano. Those are a little bit different, a little more sparse and a little more spacious. One of those tracks being the track from the last Louisville is for Lovers record. It was a song I recorded with Ben Sollee, he did the tenor banjo and I played piano.

DG: Okay. Well, I was actually going to ask you, because I understand when it was released as an EP you pretty much performed the entire EP, correct?

CMM: Yes.

DG: You played every instrument. So, how does a person known as being a great collaborator come to decide to not collaborate with anyone for her CD?

CMM: It was more a function of necessity and time and finances than anything. These are songs, some of them I wrote years ago, some I wrote more recently. So I had kind of worked through a lot of them at home. I didn’t really know if I was ever going to record them or do anything with them for a long time but I had already demoed them out just exactly how I wanted them. So when I was recording in the studio I was basically repeating that process but with better gear. So it was easier at that point to just get in there and do it, then it was to rehearse a band or to figure some stuff out. I really wanted to do more of a live album at first, but a couple of the people I was trying to work with, we couldn’t work it out. So I ended up deciding to just go for it. There were even some instruments that I had never played before. Like the upright bass and I even played the cello parts on With(out), and I’ve never played cello before. And it’s funny because the only part on the record that someone else plays is that banjo part that Ben plays on the song “Lull”, but he plays banjo not the cello. (laughs) So, yeah, more necessity than anything.

DG: So looking forward to a next album, do you think you’ll start calling in some favors?

CMM: Definitely. I think it’s a lot easier to be completely satisfied with something when it’s not all you doing it, because when it’s you doing all the parts, you’re like “Oh, that could have been better and that could’ve been better and that could’ve been better”. But when it’s someone else playing it, you’re like “Wow, that’s perfect. That’s exactly how I wanted it.” So I think it’ll be really nice to have some other people, but with that said I could get into the process and just decide I want to do it all myself again. (laughs) But more than anything I’ll definitely have somebody else play drums. I love playing the drums but I should probably stick with stringed instruments.

DG: I didn’t know you played the drums until I saw you behind the set on the rooftop. I was like “Wow, that’s unexpected.”

CMM: Yeah, that was just me having fun more than anything. (laughs)

DG: So what is the songwriting process like for you?

CMM: Some people have kind of a method they go by and I really… it’s all over the place. There are some songs that I have music that comes out when I’m playing around on the guitar or the piano and some sort of part comes about and I’ll develop that and it might be months or sometimes… I mean I have one thing I’ve been trying to find lyrics to for over a year. I keep putting things to it and then it doesn’t make sense and I throw it away. So there are those songs that are definitely the music and just letting the right idea or lyrics come to it. But there’s also times that lyrical ideas come to me and then I put music to that. So it’s a combination of the two, I guess.

DG: I noticed you have a video coming out for your song “Friend”. You called in some favors with Wax Fang and the Squallis Puppeteers. What was that shoot like?

CMM: It was really awesome and creepy. It was in the Rathskellar, which is great. They had it all creepy with of course the huge puppets everywhere. We were all dressed like grungy Oliver Twist characters or something. Mike Fitzer, who coordinated the whole thing, did a really great job of getting everything set. Then even had pieces of fruit and vegetables that were on the plates of the puppets that they had let rot for weeks at a time just to make them look real. It was really kind of gross and creepy. And of course the Wax Fang guys did what they could to add to the creepiest, which was great. It was really fun.

DG: That’s a creepy room in it’s own right. The first time I saw you perform was with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Picket Line at Funtown. Do you kind of consider that your first big break, so to speak?

CMM: It was definitely my first big, bigger show. Bigger meaning 300 people, so, at that point, that was, yeah… definitely all the work I did with Bonnie “Prince” Billy in all those configurations with the Pickett Line but also touring with him and doing that Among the Gold album. That has definitely been a huge leg up just in getting in the door a lot of places. Seeing my name next his or seeing me on stage with him was a big help. That was definitely one of the most nerve-racking shows I’ve ever played, because I knew almost everyone in the audience and they were mostly really great musicians that I knew or were at least acquainted with them and I didn’t even consider myself much of a performer or a singer at that point and I was just kind of starting to get into that role so I had very little experience doing that, so it was a little nerve-racking.

DG: Well, you put a great show, I love that show.

CMM: Thanks.

DG: Yeah, I still listen to it and the album all the time.

CMM: Yeah, it was a special moment for sure. It doesn’t get much better.

DG: I love all your work with Will Oldham. Do you expect there to be any future projects with him?

CMM: One never knows. I would love to. I think there’s always a possibility that we’ll do something in the future in some capacity whether it’s playing a song of his at some point, or recording it, or playing with him again, or doing some more recording together. I hope that happens but there are no plans at this point.

DG: Okay, well I hope so too. I have to ask you because to me Will seems like the kind of guy who never sings a song the same way twice.

CMM: Yeah, yeah sure.

DG: Does it make it difficult to harmonize with him?

CMM: No, that’s actually that's fun part for me, because I’m the same way. I mean, I like to learn a part and get to know it. But once I’m comfortable with it I would rather go outside of that. Especially when you’re doing a run of shows like we did on that last tour. We had almost 80 dates and it’s like if you sing the same song the same way every night it’s not as fresh. No, that’s actually the most fun that I had was to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and just sing rather than singing a part. That’s my favorite part of singing with him, for sure.

DG: So would you say harmonization is something that comes natural to you?

CMM: Yeah, it’s something that I’ve done for a long time. I actually have a story of the exact moment that I realized what vocal harmonies were and it blew my mind. I was in the car with my mom, she was never a professional singer but always sang a lot and she has a beautiful voice and harmonizes all the time. She was harmonizing with a song on the radio and the harmony wasn’t in the song on the radio she was adding a harmony to it. I was like “What are you singing? That’s not what they’re singing” she’s like “I’m singing the harmony” and I'm like “What? What’s a harmony? I don’t understand, you’re not singing what’s in there, how to do know what to sing?” She’s like “You just do it. You just hear it, I don’t know, you just do it.” And I just could not understand how you could know what to sing when you’d never heard that part before and it wasn’t there. So I kind of made it a goal of mine to figure it out. So I always drove my friends crazy in middle school because I’d be listening to a song but I’d never sing the melody I was always singing the harmony and they were like “That’s not what they’re singing” and I’m like, “I know, it’s the harmony.”

DG: Well, I think it served you well.

CMM: Same thing with violin. I never played first violin in school, which is always the kind of super-high melody stuff. I always played the harmony, the inner stuff that’s… more interesting to me. Kind of the behind-the-scenes parts I guess.

DG: Well, you mentioned the Maiden Radio release coming up. Are there any other projects or shows that we should be aware of?

CMM: Yes, one in particular, October 16th, which is going to be kind of my second national release concert. We’re calling it the indoor release since the last one was at Glassworks. The album comes out October 12th, so October 16th. It’s kind of an amazing, bizarre, international lineup. Doug Paisley from Toronto is opening. He’s a kind of folk singer, an amazing, amazing singer and an amazing songwriter. And then Olof Arnalds, she is from Iceland and the main guy from Sigar Ros produced her albums. She’s doing a U.S. tour and she’s coming through. So it’s going to be Doug and me and Olof and we’re doing it in this Church at the corner of Barrett and Breckinridge Street in the sanctuary. It’s going to be really beautiful and I’m so excited to hear the two of them sing in that space. I’m so excited to put together a kind of quieter show there. It’s going to be really special for sure. And then Maiden Radio on the 26th of September. Those are the main things around town.

DG: Thanks again for talking with me.

CMM: Yeah, no problem.

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