woensdag 19 september 2012

Interview with Doris Muramatsu of Girlyman

Interview with Girlyman for WoNo Magazine and WoNoBloG by Wout de Natris

© WoNo Magazine 2012

My compliments for Supernova. How happy is the band with the new album?
We are pretty thrilled with the album. It came together quickly because we had a lot of material to work with and we demoed a bunch of songs to see which ones felt the best. It was a satisfying experience and producing and arranging the songs were a lot of fun.

Having added JJ Jones as drummer to the line up, did this add to the possibilities that are offered to a song and what was the reason behind changing the line up at this stage in your career?
JJ joined in 2009, and at that point, we had been a trio for about 7 years. We longed for a bigger sound. She had been a Girlyman fan since 2003 and had been in touch with us here and there, dropping hints that if we ever wanted to add drums to the mix, she'd be more than willing.  We enjoyed having drums on our recordings, but I don't think we seriously considered having a new band member, let alone a drummer for our live shows. But when she played with us, it felt like a magical addition, and suddenly our songs expanded into something even more. We immediately asked her to join after that.

As I understand Ty and you sang together before Girlyman. When and how did you meet Nate and what made you decide this is it to start a band?
Ty and I met when we were in second grade, and started singing together when we were 11. Harmony was always our thing, and we diligently practiced singing Simon and Garfunkel tunes together and practiced their different parts. We went to college (university) in NY, where we met Nate and fast became good friends. Ty and I became a duo called the Garden Verge after we graduated, and Nate was a solo singer-songwriter, but we would play shows together and always end up singing on each other's songs. Soon, singing three-part harmony became more fun than the duo and solo stuff we were doing, and we decided to join forces, scheduling our first formal rehearsal on September 11, 2001. The rehearsal was canceled due to the events of that tragic day, but in our grief and shock, we felt even more compelled to make music together because it was the only thing that brought any sense of love and healing to us and the people around us. Thus, Girlyman was born.

On the album there are other musicians added sporadically. What makes you decide a song needs something extra?
Sometimes you taste a recipe you're making and you know it needs something extra. Some extra spice, a little more salt, a teaspoon of sugar. Finding other musicians to play on your songs is kind of like that. You know the song needs something and you just try to find the right voice or instrument to match what you're hearing in your head.

You also switch instruments regularly. When is it decided which instrument fits a song and who best?
When we arrange a song that someone has brought in, we start off with the instruments we think will sound good. Most of the time our instincts are correct, but sometimes it won't sound as full or complete as we had thought. So we mess around and try other instruments until we get the right mix. The beauty of a studio recording though, is that we can track multiple instruments even though in a live situation, we'll have to choose one over another because we don't have enough hands to play.

Ingrid Elizabeth toured with you, her band Coyote Grace is on Supernova. How close is your relationship to Coyote Grace?
We are very close with that band. They toured with us extensively in 2010 and 11, and our chemistry is unmatched. It's almost like we become a power band together, because our energy expands and doubles. They are a lot of fun and write beautiful songs and have a ton of energy together. We feel really blessed when we meet other musicians who compliment our music so well.

I describe your music as close harmony pop, others write folk(pop). What are your influences on the music you make and who on the singing part?
Well like I said, Simon and Garfunkel was my earliest influence, as well as the Mamas and the Papas, Indigo Girls, Bee Gees, Patty Griffin, Allman Brothers, John Williams (the classical guitarist), the Beatles. I studied classical guitar  and voice and piano when I was in high school and college, and even though you may not hear a lot of that in my playing and singing, the musicality and dynamics that I learned from studying those subjects are.

Your Wikipedia page says that you are a favourite in the gay community. My best guess is that you attract people that are “different” from the average. Do you feel that this comes with a responsibility also?
I feel like we appeal mostly to people who like well thought out lyrics and music and who especially enjoy close-knit harmonies. A lot of our fans feel like they know us through our music, and we have thus created kind of a family of fans. We've had lots of skeptics who come to our shows put-off by our name, Girlyman, and then become the most die-hard supporters because something about our music has touched them so deeply. Children also seem to love our sound (and they love the tuning songs Nate makes up) as well as teenagers, adults, and older folks.

Are you concerned that being outspoken in your presentation, which I assume to be a conscious decision, could hamper your career?
I think we've always tried to be ourselves because that's all we know how to be. Having a name like Girlyman probably doesn't benefit us all the time, because people have preconceived notions about who we are and what kind of music we'll play, but there's nothing like seeing a total convert after a show. I think that is a beautiful thing, to help someone see something in themselves that they may not have wanted to recognize or acknowledge before, whether that has to do with gender or overcoming a stereo type, or just discovering that they have something in common with our songs and personal stories and that we're not so different after all.

Do you ever get negative reactions to your presentation?
We get a lot of "you might think about changing your name!" I think some venues and festivals might not want to take risks with a band called Girlyman, too, but we can't know that for sure. Hopefully the music should just speak for itself.

The latest tour turned out to be a financial disaster for the band. How do you deal with this? Does it upset your motivation or has it made you more determined to succeed?
I think after 10 years of doing this, it was a pretty big blow to work as hard as we did for so little financial payback. Not that that's why we do it, but this was the first time we felt like we were in over our heads. I think, if anything, it alerted us to the fact that we haven't ever taken a significant break from touring the way we do, even when I was diagnosed with leukemia, and that it might be time to consider doing that. 10 years is a long time to be touring and making music together, and though we love each other very much, I think we've outgrown the Girlyman shoes, so to speak. So if anything, this tour made us pay attention to what the Universe was trying to tell us.

You mention St. Augustine in the same titled song. What makes the debaucher gone ascetic church father relevant to the character in the song?
The song is a plea to one of the patron saints of vision, Saint Augustine, to help me out of a debilitating depression. I was diagnosed with CML, a type of leukemia, which was a vastly life-changing event. Luckily, the cancer itself was treatable with drugs, but the depression that settled in afterwards was an extended winter. Imagine seeing bare trees, gray skies, and frozen lakes out your window and believing that's how it would always look, for eternity. That's how my life felt before I'd wake up and before I'd go to bed, I'd hear a voice whisper "Saint Augustine." So I wrote a song about St. Augustine, Florida. The music felt complete, but the lyrics felt detached and incidental. I continued to hear the voice, and would even see street names like St. Augustine Place, when I'd drive around Atlanta, and finally realized that the song was asking me to listen more deeply. When I found out he was the patron saint of vision, I kind of knew that that's what I needed to write about.

Ty and Nate do the same with Michelangelo. You sing “How could you know, you are Michelangelo”.  What is the idea about this phrase? 
The phrase is "your mom and your dad/never knew what they had/so how could you know/you were Michelangelo?" and I believe it addresses the hesitancy and insecurity *all* artists feel when they're vulnerable and creating their art.

In several songs I notice a longing for acceptance in different situations. In how far is this topic important to you? 
Well, I think it's part of the human condition to want to be accepted! And loved for who they are. So I think it's a topic that is quite relevant to us.

I almost do not dare to ask, but what can we in The Netherlands expect from Girlyman in the future?
Oh, Wout. We'd love to come back to the Netherlands at some point. The people there are so kind and friendly and we were amazed at how well everyone speaks English. That was so impressive. So let's keep our fingers crossed!

You can order Supernova here

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