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Eliza Gilkyson

A Conversation with Eliza Gilkyson

Puremusic: This is a beautiful living room, how you bring different cultures together. They seem so unified here, the Tibetan and the Native American and the Central American and the Mexican. They all seem to fit together in your house.

Eliza Gilkyson: Well, all roads lead to Rome is my policy. I'm not really stuck on any one. I love religious art. I'm very interested in deities. I feel like those deities and those archetypes exist in all different cultures, but I think there are very similar archetypes that cross all cultural boundaries, and that interests me.

PM: And there are so many similarities, though geographically so far removed.

EG: Exactly.

PM: The same things keep popping up for very good reasons.

EG: Joseph Campbell, I think he was the one who really made the link up between all of the various cultural archetypes. My belief is that they exist within us--

PM: [laughs] Absolutely.

EG: --and that different cultures name different things, but they're like an energy that you tap into from the compassionate mother, to the warring god, and all the ones in between.

PM: Yeah, I mean, we're really a finite number of elements, we human beings. I mean, we think a finite number of things, we feel a finite number of things.

EG: Yeah, exactly.

PM: We just don't think so, but we do.

EG: And that's one of our finite thoughts, after all--

PM: Our infinite-ness.


EG: Yeah.

[Here I bring up a couple of very close mutual friends, to establish a "transitive" connection or to send regards]

PM: So I mean, it's been a long roll now, but ever since the latest record came out, I mean, there seems to be a well-deserved mounting amount of attention on you and your work, it just seems like everything is really coming together. Is that how it feels for you? That's certainly how it looks from the outside.

EG: I sense things building, but I've learned to not rely on anything outside of just my own little trajectory, in terms of how I perceive things going on in the business, because I've always been wrong. [laughs]

PM: Right.

EG: So I'm really always surprised when good things happen, because I've just been under the radar for so long that I have no expectations.

PM: Right. It's a good place to come from.

EG: And I don't mind that anymore. It used to really disturb me. I think it was painful for me to realize that I wasn't going to be the next something, and to realize now I'm too old to be the next something, and then that's--The thing is, any time you try to pigeonhole yourself, it turns out it's not that. I do think that people are more interested in what I'm doing. I think I've been saying the same thing for thirty years, so maybe I found a better way to say it now, and I think that's part of it. But I also think that people are more interested in what I do than they were when I first started doing it. So that may be part of it, too, that we're all just kind of on the same page, where maybe we weren't before.

PM: I watched the momentum building when we reviewed Paradise Hotel when it first came out, and we were certainly very big on it at Puremusic.com, and then watched it start popping up all over the place. But then it's been progressively a year of accolades.

EG: Yeah. Well, the previous release, Milk & Honey, was really a milestone. That landed me into politics, and I think that's the first time that I ever really went out on a limb with a political statement, and I think that was because my personal path just routed me into politics. It wasn't some plan I had. But I think people resonated with that. And at the time I put out Milk & Honey, it was before Steve Earle had put out his record. And not too many people were taking political risks.

PM: Right.

EG: I think that's because they didn't know which way the wind was going to blow. It was right when the Iraq war was going on. When we first went to war with Iraq it was very uncomfortable to say anything against the current regime's policies, because we were made to feel that we were evil. People were very uncomfortable with speaking out their actual views on the war initially, because the right-wing had really sewn up the spin.

When you make a record, you make it nine months before you release, so you don't know where the climate is going to be. And a lot of people warned me with Milk & Honey, they were like, "Don't make a topical record, because by the time they come out, things can be completely shifted, or they're topical for a season, and then they die." So I thought about it. They just said it's death. And I thought, you know what? I'm not famous enough to worry about that kind of shit.


EG: Nobody knows who I am, anyway, so it wasn't like, "Oh, no, radio is not going to play you." Radio never plays me anyway, so it didn't matter.

PM: Right.

EG: I didn't have the same kind of ax hanging over my head that more famous people have, the fear that they were going to be blacklisted, or they were going to be topical to the point of losing a fan base or something. I didn't have to worry about that, so that gave me a freedom that maybe some people didn't have. And then after Milk & Honey, I put out Paradise Hotel right that fast, I think I just kind of had this whole series of songs that really worked well together, so it seemed good to put them out close together.

PM: Yeah.

EG: And I haven't written another song in almost a year now.

PM: Since Paradise Hotel?

EG: Yeah. Those songs just came out, and I haven't--I've just-- [laughs] I haven't even been in my studio.

PM: But haven't you been continually on the road since Paradise Hotel came out?

EG: Yes. And I told my agent, "Next year I'm taking three months off." Because you can't write when you're on a forced march.

PM: No. You can't write on the road--very few people can. How many dates did you play this year?

EG: I've never even checked, but I know I was playing more than I want. I worked pretty much steady through the year, with a little bit easier on it in the winter.

PM: But yeah, the year of accolades seemed to culminate a night or two ago here in Austin, right?

EG: Yeah.

PM: I mean, you got all kinds of things. You got Songwriter of the Year and Vocalist of the Year, and Folk Band of the Year, and...

EG: And the same with the Folk Alliance, I kind of swept that one, too. Record of the Year, Song of the Year.

PM: I mean, that's amazing, right?


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