Interview with Beth Wimmer
by Wout de Natris
by Wout de Natris
Copyright WoNo Magazine 2012
Some things happen in life by accident and one such accident led me to being introduced to the music of Beth Wimmer. The stories she told in introducing her songs, the songs themselves and the album I bought after her show led me to several questions. Here's our interview.
Most people of WoNo Magazine may not be familiar with you or your music. How would you like to introduce yourself to them?
Hi fellow music lovers and readers of WoNo. My name is Beth Wimmer and I thank you for reading about my music. I am a singer-songwriter born and raised on east coast USA, then further inspired in Southern California, now living and making music in Switzerland and Europe.
Your bio suggests a long road travelled towards your latest album ‘Ghosts & men’. Were you always a musician?
I’ve always been a singer. I have three older sisters and an older brother, so growing up I listened to all the rock and roll albums my siblings listened to. The music and stories of my favorite songs sunk into me. I was inspired and I sang along, every day. I was told (and I felt) I had a natural feel for it, so as a teenager I took some voice lessons, then some guitar lessons, and I continued to ‘dabble’ with singing for years, on other bands’ projects and as a background vocalist in studio. Around the year 2000 I had some new inspiration and I began writing and performing my own, original songs.
You’ve recorded the album with Italian producer and multi-instrumentalist Damiano Della Torre. How did you meet and what made you decide that he was the right man to record the album with?
I met Damiano Della Torre in Summer 2009 through a mutual musician friend, Massimo Gini. I met Massimo “Max” Gini on a bus in St. Moritz, Switzerland. I had my guitar with me, going to a gig. Max began talking with me and told me he’s a musician (turns out, he was a gifted multi-instrumentalist). When we got together, there was an ease and joy in our playing together. Max organized four concerts for me to play, in Valchiavenna, Italy ---his home region. He set up a full band to learn and play my original songs. Damiano Della Torre was one of Max’s closest friends and long-time music colleagues. Damiano was brought in to play electric guitar. He and Max switched back and forth between electric bass and electric guitar throughout the concerts. The four concerts were successful and quite magical for me.
In late 2010, when I had some new songs I was excited about, I turned to Damiano to ask if he’d record and produce with me. Della Torre had released a new CD in early 2010, “Radiosky: Viva la Vita”. It was beautifully recorded and arranged, inspiring, and I loved the messages of peace and joy in Damiano’s songs. And we had become closer friends as we both—and many other musician friends—suffered the sad and shocking blow that Max Gini had spiralled into a depressive state and, tragically, killed himself. Working with Damiano was a natural musical, and soul-connection choice.
Can you tell a little about the recording process as the songs are beautifully arranged?
Thank you for the compliment, Wout. The songs with all the melodies, verses, bridges and breakdowns, etc were arranged pre-studio. I worked on the songs at home, quite simply, and brought them studio-ready to Damiano’s home-studio near Como, Italy. But the recording process was quite unrehearsed. There were certain ideas I had for sure, like which instruments I’d imagined on certain songs. I knew I loved Damiano’s accordion playing and that I wanted that magic on some of the songs. So first, I played all the songs live, in studio, just the acoustic guitar and my voice. Then we’d feel and discuss what to add, one song at a time—almost always electric bass and always, electric guitar (my favorite instrument). The various ideas of electric guitar, like the Wah on the first track “Lover On The Run” and the ska rhythm on “For The Living”, and slide on “Bad Moon Rising” and “Easier Life” were my ideas. I’d learned a lot about what I like from working with three talented LA musicians on my first two albums. But the sound and the gorgeous playing and feel, and style: it was all Damiano. From there, Damiano and I would feel what was next: his adding Hammond organ, or piano, or percussion, or Swiss Hang ‘drum’. And as the songs would develop instrumentally, I would listen and feel for what harmony and background vocals I would later add.
When writing a song, do you already have “a plan” for it or does the arranging come later?
The arrangement for a song reveals itself to me as I write it. Like with the last track on “Ghosts & Men”, “For The Living”, I knew soon into the writing of it that I wanted two different refrains intertwining in the end of the song. I had one refrain written, lyrically, and then I worked on the other refrain so that it would sound harmonically interesting and add to the message. For the most part a song idea comes to me as I’m walking along thinking about my life, or what’s happened to a friend, or observing some strangers interacting in an interesting way. I come home and write down my lyric ideas. Then when I pick up my guitar and find the right phrasings to go with my lyrics….that’s when the plan comes. J
At the concert in the Q-Bus in Leiden, the stories you introduced the songs with suggested your lyrics are sometimes very close to you. In how far does your life inspire your music?
My life inspires my music completely. I find that the ‘closer to home’ that one writes a song, the more heart-felt it normally is for others as well. Almost every song on “Ghosts & Men” is from a highly personal experience of my own. Only “Lover On The Run” came forth out of total fantasy. But once into writing it, I immersed myself into the lead character: I had fallen in love with a man who was being secretive, who then disclosed to me that he’d shot and killed someone and he’s afraid to come clean about it. My lyrics are always very close to me. For me it’s the only way to write. And usually, the only songs I like from others are the ones with highly personal lyrics. That’s why bubble-gum pop, mainstream pop/rock and “I got a hangover, whoooaaa” feel like a waste of time to me, monotonous, gratuitous and tedious. The messages are generic, dumbed-down, and commercial.
What made you choose the title of your album, Ghosts & Men?
The title came to me during the recording process. I became aware that every song we were recording was about a man I’d been with, or who’d inspired me (be that inspiration negative or positive), or with whom I’d had a relationship---in my past, or present. And my songs “Bring You Back”, “Damn Angel”, and “Blame Yourself” were inspired by men I’d loved and who had died. One was my father, Paul Wimmer, the other was Max Gini, the musician I mentioned above. So I went with the theme of the songs and came up with “Ghosts & Men”. I liked the title, for me it was poetic and precise and I never second-guessed it.
You must have gotten used to the reaction from the audience to the line “making love in the shower” by now? Did you expect that the first time you sang the song in public?
I didn’t expect any particular reaction; though I hoped people would enjoy it, get a little laugh. My US audiences know now that I sing with some sarcasm, some humor, and some ‘provocative’ lyrics at times. My song “Self-Righteous Son Of A Bitch” got big reactions when I sang it live. There’s a lyric in that song that goes: ”thought maybe we could just have sex…once in a while we’d reconnect…but you’re a self-righteous son of a bitch”. And there’s lots more name-calling in that song. I like to be provocative at times, it’s much more interesting than being nice. J I wrote the lyric you mention above because it went with sexy longing of the song, and it was a fun rhyme. And sure, I like the reaction I get at times. It’s fun.
The opening song on the record, Lover On The Run, has the 1972 The Bouys’ song Give Up Your Guns theme, but also one of total dedication. Does this say anything about you once you commit to someone or something?
Haha, I don’t know. Yes and no. “Lover On The Run” is a fantasy piece, a story, but I did think hard and feel my way through it, if these circumstances were actually happening to me. But you could say that when I commit to something, I certainly try and plead for every possible, positive option before calling something quits if it is clearly dangerous, or no longer working.
Lyrically the album tells of new found love, but also of loss. Is your music a way to come to terms with this?
Maybe, not intentionally, at first… but yes, as I write a song, finish it, play it again and again, feel certain that the lyrics are ‘done’ and that I’ve expressed myself and what I’ve wanted to say… yes, my songs are a way to come to terms with my love, my feelings, my life, my story.
What made you decide to cover CCR’s Bad moon rising?
Two words: climate change. One word: disaster. The song is more than 40 years old yet the lyrics are precisely about what is happening today and has been happening over the last 4 decades: more severe, “bad” weather and lives lost: hurricanes, earthquakes, rivers overflowing. And the song is about trying to be aware and accepting of this devastation. Plus, I’d heard a bad cover band in Switzerland sing the song, regularly, up-tempo. The singer was singing the wrong words and clearly had no idea what he was singing about. I looked around at the audience, it seemed no one understood the message of the song. So I started playing “Bad Moon Rising” very slowed down, live, and people loved it – telling me that for the first time, they understood the message of this amazing song.
What artists did you listen to in your youth?
Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Heart, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen, The Beach Boys
And who influenced you most working towards your latest album?
Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Mojo Monkeys, Robert Plant & Alison Kraus
You are making “American” music in Europe these days. What are the most significant differences for an artist between the US and Europe?
The most significant difference, speaking for myself, is that my living and playing in Europe is full of opportunities to play my songs for appreciative, eager, listening audiences. Perhaps to European audiences my songs, my style, and my personality become more interesting. In the US I was ‘just another talent’ one of many, many, MANY female singer-songwriters hoping to stand out and be different. Here I feel more appreciated, more accepted for who I am, my message, my style.
I understand that you are also a photographer. It is also on observing, like your song writing. Do you have a preference for the two art forms?
Interesting question. I guess my preference, if I had to choose, is for singing and guitar playing and writing songs, and performing live. So there you go. But I love, love, love photography and I am thrilled when I can capture a beautiful moment and its light, action, feeling and serenity or joy with my camera. I will never stop doing either art form. And I hope to incorporate even more art forms into my life.
The cover of the album is beautiful. I have my own idea of what it may symbolise, but what made you choose this picture?
Thank you! I chose the picture because the light is simply stunning. It’s my own, original photograph – I took the shot from the moving car I was in, with my husband, as we made a road trip across the US. My song “Easier Life” is inspired from this road trip and the feelings I got from travelling with the right person. So it seemed fitting to put one of my own shots, one of my favourites, on the cover. All the photography from “Ghosts & Men” are photos I took while travelling with the right person. J
The last song on the album "For the living" is musically quite different from the rest of the album? A hint for the future?
If you listen to my other albums, “Live Within Live Without (2004) and “Miracle Girl (2008), you’ll hear different influences of style in my songs. There is a ska song on “Miracle Girl” as well; it’s called “Lover From Last Summer”. I would say that “For The Living” is not exactly a hint of the future of my style of music. I am generally influenced with a few different styles on each album. But perhaps the message of “For The Living” is a hint for the future: more songs about Love and Compassion and being brothers and sisters in this strained world.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
Near future: Definitely more live concerts, new songs, I’ll come up to Holland again to play music in Spring of 2013, and hopefully also to the UK then. There’s a good chance I’ll begin recording again in 2013. I’m not totally sure. But you CAN be sure I’ll keep you posted if you stay in touch. I welcome any messages or contact from new folks, friends and music lovers. You can find me on facebook.com/bethsongs or on BethWimmer.com J
Thank you so very much for your time, devotion to music, and your interest, Wout. I appreciate that you’ve enjoyed “Ghosts & Men” and wish to share it with more people! And thanks to everyone for reading. Peace and Harmony, Beth Wimmer
And so the interview turned out as interesting as her music. Ghosts & men is a great album. You should listen to it sometime soon.