Interview: Land of Talk Vocalist Elizabeth Powell + Info on Broken Social Scene Show

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Elizabeth Powell is going to be a busy lady this Saturday night in St. Louis. Her band Land of Talk will be playing at the Gargoyle -- and then she'll hop onstage with Broken Social Scene right after. The show is sold out, although the venue says "50 tickets have been held will be available for purchase at the door. Come early if you want to snag one of these guys." The show starts at 9 p.m., tickets are $20 for the general public and $5 with a Wash U ID.

(Powell, courtesy of saddle-creek.com)

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Shae Moseley interviewed Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning in this week's paper -- but Powell was kind enough to answer some of our questions about working with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, her musical background and her influences.

MP3: Land of Talk, "Some Are Lakes"

MP3: Land of Talk, "Corner Phone"

Shae Moseley: The new Land of Talk album [Some Are Lakes] was recorded with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). How did you guys come to work with him? How was that experience and what kind of influence do you think he had on the recording process? Elizabeth Powell: Justin did some production/engineering work on the Rosebuds’ Night of The Furies and toured with them as their guitarist from February through July 2007. We opened for them for most of their US tour. This is how we met. I believe we were only four shows into to the tour when he passed me a rough mix of For Emma Forever Ago. At the time I thought the album was called Dogs because that’s what he scribbled on the CD-R. Turns out, this was just some sort of cryptic greeting and was never intended as a working title of the album. Maybe he didn’t want to tell me the real title because he didn’t want me to think he was hung up on a girl named Emma. Either way, I listened to the nine songs on repeat for the eighteen-hour drive from Colorado to Seattle (“Re:Stacks” got played 30 times in a row during my pre-dawn driving shift.)

During load-in at Neumo’s (Seattle) I asked Justin if he would ever consider lending a hand on our new album and he almost punched me in the stomach. That’s his way of saying, “Of course I would love to.” The rest is history. He definitely lent his, what I like to call, “soft magic Midas touch.” Singling out my vocals, but layering the harmonies, softening the vibe when it needed softening and putting my heart wear my mouth is, whereas before I think I hid behind a lot of distortion and doubled vocals and whatnot. I still like my flawed approach, but I appreciated his ability to have temporarily exposed myself more than I would have had I been left to my own devices. He also laid down some irrefutably classis guitar and organ on “It’s Okay.” He’s a big talented Norwegian ball of passion and pain and I will be forever grateful for his role in Some Are Lakes. It is a very personal album and I can’t think of anyone else to whom I would have opened up especially in the dreaded “studio setting.”

Saddle Creek is putting out the album here in the U.S. How does it feel to be on such an influential independent label and how has response been to your music here in the states so far? Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good. They are lovely and smart and well rooted and honest. And eager to help me out even with the most mundane, stupid ideas about release dates, artwork, online stuff, life stuff, which is more than I can say for other labels I’ve dealt with.

You and bassist Chris McCarron have a jazz background and attended college together. How does that background inform the music you’re making now with Land of Talk? I don’t really have a jazz background. I actually can’t wrap my head, or voice, or hands around jazz to say the least. The Jazz Vocal program was the only program at Concordia that would accept my untrained, kind of technically questionable voice. Chris is a downright wizard on any instrument and probably wouldn’t list jazz as an influence. Nirvana, Metallica, Ben Folds, Weezer, Elliott Smith are more his thing. On our last UK tour he played the shit out of the new School of Language album Sea From Shore.

Land of Talk went through some lineup changes before recording the full-length. What sort of challenges did that lead to when recording the new record? How much of an adjustment period was there? We are fortunate enough to live in a city full of ridicutardedly talented drummers, all of whom fully respect Bucky’s drumming. So it wasn’t hard to get Andrew Barr to play off of Bucky’s original parts. He added his own style while sticking to the true base.

The new album has a very full sound but most of it still sounds like it could be performed by three people. How did you achieve such a full sound? Did you consciously limit overdubbing? Yes, we did. Thank you for noticing. There are some things we can’t do live, i.e. the violin part on the bridge of “Yuppy Flu” and the three-part harmonies on the chorus of “The Man Who Breaks Things,” but we’re slowly trying to work that into the set. I’m trying to get my dear friend (and artist whose drawings grace our T-shirts) Corri, to sing back-ups with me. She’s got a brave, lilty voice which would be perfect for all of our songs.

"It's Okay" -- as well as some of the moments on your debut EP -- has a bit of an Afghan Whigs vibe with a dark, soulful sound. That's not a group usually cited as an influence on many modern bands. Are you a Greg Dulli fan, or is this something you guys were aware of after the records were finished? Funnily enough, I never listened to Afghan Whigs, but you’re the 100th person to draw the same comparison. Perhaps we have some mystery in common. Another band I never listened to, but to which we are often compared is Polvo. I don’t know. I’ve seen stranger things.

You'll be singing with Broken Social Scene on the upcoming tour as well as opening with Land of Talk. What's the biggest challenge singing BSS songs as opposed to singing LoT songs? Amy Millan, Feist and Emily Haines are awfully big personalities -- is it intimidating having to fill in for them? Of course it is!!! Well, it WAS. But the band members did an incredible job at never entertaining my insecurities and so, like, anything that doesn’t get fed, they starved and eventually perished. And it helps to NEVER read what the critics say. I am sometimes tempted, but it’s usually trash anyway and I decided long ago to throw trash (and bullshit, and hearsay, and poppycock, and the cynical rantings of embittered trollers) in the garbage. Wait a minute, what IS poppycock exactly -- aside from being a hilarious word?

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