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A Conversation with Aoife O'Donovan (continued)

AO: And then people just really responded to it. And as you know, it does have that one X-rated song. ["Too Repressed"--yeah, you'd have to call that X-rated.] But I think the album sort of stands apart from other albums out there. It's really different. And our live show is also really different. We sit down. It's sort of a day in somebody's dining/living room. That's kind of what we do, we try to take the living room vibe with us. We sit down around one mic, and it's a really cool--it's such a contrast to my other life in Crooked Still, because it's very quiet, and it's really feminine.

PM: Right. And I haven't seen Crooked Still, but I know it must really kickass live.

AO: Have you watched us on YouTube yet?

PM: No. [I have since, naturally; they Rock.]

AO: Oh, my God, you've got to--

PM: Why didn't I think of that?

AO: There's actually a professionally recorded thing, it's called "Come On In My Kitchen." It's professionally recorded, so that's the best quality.

PM: Oh, okay.

AO: And then there's a bunch of others, low quality stuff.

PM: So of course in the setup to this interview, I'll refer everybody to those YouTube videos so everybody can get the vibe like I should have.

AO: Yeah, you should definitely go do it, because Crooked Still--not to just jump right over--but one of Crooked Still's main things is, I think, our live show, both visually, and whatever we do musically.

PM: It's such an ass kicking enterprise right from jump street. But, so's not to gloss over that excellent X-rated song, I was listening very quietly this morning, because people were sleeping. And the first X-rated line went by, and I thought, "Wait a minute, did she say what I thought she said?"

AO: [laughs]

PM: And I had to turn my player up, and heard, "I want to f**k you." I said, "Omigod! I can't believe what I'm hearing!" [laughs] And yet, it was sung so sweetly, so musically--and I was telling a young hippie friend of mine later about it. I said, "I'm not talking about a passing reference, Dave--this is a six-minute song!"


AO: I know.

PM: It's so out there. I thought, "Damn, these old-time ambient chicks are off the hook." It's just beautiful.

AO: Oh, thank you. It's funny. Actually that song started as a jam between myself and Ruth's husband, Mike.

PM: [laughs]

AO: We were all at Merlefest, just kind of jamming on guitar. And Mike sort of came up with that riff, that da, da, da, deeyoo, deeyoo, deeyoo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo.

PM: [laughs]

AO: And then I made up all the words and sort of the rest of the song. But--

PM: Did you start singing those words on the spot when you and he were jamming?

AO: Oh, yeah. That was on the spot. We were at this cabin in the woods in North Carolina, and we'd just come back from Merlefest, and we were partying.

PM: [laughs] Right. Did he start laughing when you started singing those words?

AO: Oh, God, the guys were cracking up.

PM: Falling out!

AO: We were going for it. But the thing is that in so much music right now, in so much pop music and so much hip-hop, there's so much sex going on.

PM: Right.

AO: And there's a lot of sex going on in old-time music, too, but it's really subtle, and it's really under the surface, and it's usually a song from a guy's point of view.

PM: Right.

AO: Like "Going on up on a mountain, give my horn a blow, every girl in this old town says yonder comes my beau." And those references are definitely made.

PM: Yeah, all the way back.

AO: So it's never from a woman's perspective, ever. [laughs] I just felt like we had to come up there and say, "We're humans, we're women, and this is how we feel at this moment."

PM: I just think it's fantastic. And to hear a woman singing those words, it's really powerful. It's liberating, even to guys, I think. That's how it hit me.

AO: Cool.

PM: And so do you perform that song live?

AO: We do it in New York City.

PM: [laughs] Oh, that's a funny qualification. "We do it in New York City."

AO: We didn't want to do it on the Thile tour because we're opening. It's the kind of song where you really have to feel out a room. And it totally isn't appropriate for little girls to hear that song, I don't think.

PM: Absolutely not, right.

AO: So we were at a show in Asheville the other night, and we were thinking we might do it, because it was Asheville, and it seemed like that kind of crowd. And then there was this beautiful little six-year-old girl in the audience, and we were just like, no way am I going to chance traumatizing anybody--she probably wouldn't even know what we were talking about--but just, whatever, it was not the vibe.

PM: Right.

AO: So we feel it out when it's all adults that just seem like they can handle it, then we do it. And I'm sure that one of these days I'll get a really angry e-mail. But it's art, and it's what it is.

PM: Have you taken largely no flak for that song?

AO: I don't know. I feel like people have wanted to e-mail me and say, "I hate you for doing this." But I haven't gotten any e-mails about it yet.

PM: That's amazing.

AO: But the record has been out for over a year. I'm actually shocked. I do warn people--and it says on the back of the CD, "This song contains explicit lyrics."

PM: Yeah.

AO: So it's kind of like you don't pick up a rap album without knowing what you're getting into.

PM: Absolutely.

AO: It's kind of the same thing

PM: And even though the lead vocals get shared between the three principals on the Sometymes Why record, you really get a lot of the essential Aoife O'Donovan from that record, since the tunes are original, and the story--I mean, when you're doing traditional tunes, sure, you can reinterpret the living hell out of them. But when you're playing your own songs, you get a lot more of the essential person.

AO: Exactly. And I think that's part of the reason I really like doing both, because with Crooked Still, though I didn't write those songs, I can really just kind of put myself in them, and really feel like I can do whatever I want with them. They don't want to fit the mold. So it's a lot more about me getting up there and not playing an instrument and just singing all night, like two full sets of me singing. And in Sometymes Why, the moments where I'm singing lead are so deeply personal. You know what I mean?

PM: I do.

AO: It's this really serious contrast for what I do on stage.

PM: It's amazing. Before we get off the subject, I'd love to hear something about Ruth and Kristin, what are they like?

AO: Well, Ruth and Kristin are two of my dearest friends in the world. And it's really special to be in a band with two people that you're really that close with. And recently we got asked in an interview to talk about songs. I remember Kristin telling me that she wrote "Middle," which is the first song on the record, because she was there in the story. And it was kind of like all of us are in all those songs. Even if they're from a different part of our lives, since we're such close friends, we're kind of there in the song with them. You know what I mean?

PM: Sure.

AO: Which is a really cool experience to just be listening to somebody spill their heart in this song and really feel like you know what they're talking about, and feel like your harmony part, or your piano part, or your guitar part is just a part of the song. You're not adding to it, it's a part of it. It's kind of a part of the body of the song. It's something that can only come when you know somebody really well.

PM: Right.

AO: And we have such a good time on the road. It's really fun. We were touring, actually, this past five days in Kristin's Toyota Matrix. And we were squished in so tight in this vehicle.


AO: And it was great. We just really get to bond. And we're all sharing one hotel room. And it's really, really fun.

PM: Yeah, there's something about the way that girls bond that I think some guys find fascinating. Girls bond in their own unique way.

     Chris Thile

AO: I think the Thile band was bonding pretty hard on this trip, I will say. It was actually really fun to be on tour with a guy band who were also really psyched about each other, and really psyched about the music they were playing together. They had a van, and we had a little Matrix, and they would just totally go goof off in the van and have a great time. It was really cool to get to hang out with them, because they're all really good friends of ours. And the reason why we're even on the tour in the first place is because one night in the summer, actually after we had been to the Sidewalk Cafe hearing somebody else--with--it was the three girls, our friend Cassie Jenkins, who's a great photographer, she took our photos, and Chris Thile. And we all ended up going back to Chris Thile's apartment in the East Village, and we were there until 7:00 in the morning singing songs. And that's how the idea for us to go on the tour was even born.

PM: Wow! He's such an amazing dude, and an amazing musician.

AO: Totally, he's unbelievable.

             a very cute still


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