Recommended if you like: The Swell Season, Arthur Russell, Beth Orton, Iceland, Alan Lomax field recordings, Dock Boggs, the National, Sharon Van Etten, R. Kelly
Brooklyn-based musician Sam Amidon comes to the Wexner Center for a show this Friday evening, February 18 (more info and tickets here). On his latest effort, I See the Sign, the premise is deceptively simple: take a hand-picked selection of traditional folk songs, bend, twist and rework them into something that is completely new and new sounding, yet somehow retains the bones of the original. At the ripe old age of 23, Amidon (who is proficient on banjo, fiddle, and nearly anything with strings) seems to already possess the musical perspective of a much older soul. Add in the fact that he's collaborated with artists like the Swell Season, Beth Orton, Bryce Dessner, Shahzad Ismaily, and Nico Muhly, and it has the makings of an evening not to miss. Sam was nice enough to answer a few questions in advance of his show Friday night:
Q: Tell us a little more about memories of growing up in Brattleboro, Vermont. It seems remarkable to be so young and so well versed in both fiddle (when you were all of 8!) and a catalog of traditional songs. And the fact that your parents were in a choir that sang sacred harp hymns.
A: I was very lucky to grow up in Brattleboro, which was a town where a lot of interesting crazy people moved there and then had kids. So we were all the kids and a lot of our parents were interested in folk music and having that just be part of our lives growing up - folk dances, storytelling, shape note singing, etc. But in general they weren't too intense about it in a certain way, so it's not like we were forced to take lessons, but it was just part of the environment we grew up in. One of my earliest memories is hearing the shape note songs at our house when we'd have people over to sing and it was loud and beautiful.
Q: This Wexner Center show is by yourself, and you describe it as lecture/video/concert/performance. Part concert, part thesis defense?
A: Comics, images, tunes, songs, videos, dances, mistakes, suggestions, stories, memories, self-inflicted field recordings.
Q: You recently did a few evenings with Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner (of the National) at St. Anne's? How was that event?
A: FUN. It was a children's choir and they were great singers. I sang a few old songs and my parents came to one of the shows.
Q: Your selection of traditional folk songs for I See The Sign is pretty wonderful. When did the decision to mix in the R. Kelly song happen? Was it there from the beginning of the recording process?
A: It just crept in there because i listened to that album that was leaked, 12 play: fourth quarter and loved his melodies so much and I realized that with "relief" he'd really written a folk song, an old 60s style protest song like Blowin' in the Wind, except that it was a much more complex, 2010 version because it had a highly ambiguous relationship to reality.
Q: Not sure if you're aware of Brian Harnetty, that's opening the show (he's recorded in the past with Bonnie Prince Billy). He works a lot with found Appalachian sounds to create a sort of odd, ambient, backwoods haze.
A: Excellent! I am very excited to hear him play. I like haze. Thanks.