Well, it finally happened. I was able to sit down and have a face-to-face interview with artist Rose Polenzani and her awesome guitarist Austin Nevins. before and during a recent show of hers here in Omaha, Nebraska. I recorded the entire interview, and had to listen to it in order to make this transcript. After hearing myself I have to wonder how they didn't laugh me out of the venue. I was so nervous, though, so I just said the stupidest things I think I've ever said in my life. You know how it is when you meet someone with so many expectations and they really seem to go above and beyond all of them? Anyway, here is the interview, and a couple more downloads of her songs at the end of the post.
She played an amazing set, with some of my favorites of hers. She played a few cover songs, including her amazing versions of DCFC's "Soul Meets Body" and Leonard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire". Unfortunately I had to miss her second set, but what I did see (and heard) was beautiful. I couldn't believe we were in some bar in Nebraska listening to this amazing music being made.
You guys seem a little wiped. In general, has the tour been a draining experience?
Rose: I think any tour would be up and down. You know, there have been days on the tour so far I kind of buoyed, and other days when I was like, "I can't believe this is going on." But I feel like... driving hasn't actually been that bad. I haven't ever arrived in a town yet, and been like, "Oh, my god! I can't believe I have to play." I mean, we may have seemed tired.
Austin: I think, like, [it's been] rough sleep for me, I don't know about you [looks at Rose].
Rose: Every night in a different bed...
Austin: It's pretty rare that I get a full night of sleep, which I would normally get at home, but we've had plety of time to do things, so it's our own fault.
Rose: Being on the road is mostly great cause you meet new people all the time, and that's really inspiring. It's a boost.
Austin: It's easy to get lulled into the situation we have back at home where it's a great music community, and we have all our friends that we play with. We're pretty isolated up there, and so this sort of makes us realize that there's a whole world outside of our community.
At home, do you have more of what you might call a following?
Rose: Yeah, and actually, there are other towns that we've gone to more often than Omaha. And we have a good following on the east coast. To some extent we have a good following in the Midwest, like in Chicago, and in Madison...I'd say my following in Chicago and Madison is comparable to my following in Boston. If I could describe it without sounding really full of myself, it would be ardent but modest. They're really good fans, but it's not a huge crowd.
What do you guys listen to in the car, and have you gotten sick of it?
Rose: What I'm sick of is myself. We've been listening mostly to other things, but we'll get some CDs from live shows, and I'll put them in, and within two songs I'm like, "I'm taking it out." But we do have some things we're dying over in the car. Right now I think, Neko Case, the new CD we just got in Austin, but we've listened to it everyday. I'm crazy about Ron Sexsmith, and I have a "Best of" that I made which we listen to a lot. I'm also crazy about Ana Egge, who we just played with...
Austin: We'd like some books on tape, but we don't have any of those.
Rose: We forgot to bring any. NPR just fades out so fast, you know, they have weak signals. We heard some nice NPR today in Iowa.
Austin: This might be in answer to the previous question, when we were talking about fans. Rose has one particular fan that did something to himself. [looking at Rose] I don't know if you want to share that...
Rose: In Atlanta, there's a guy named Mikey R--, and I met him when he was living in Pittsburgh. He came to a show, and after the show he asked me to sign a CD, and then he said, "I have this other question. Would you mind signing my a**?" And I was like, "Sure." Cause how often does that happen...So I signed it, and then I left town. And the next time I came to town he came up to me, and he said, "I hope you're not going to be mad, but the next day I went and I had it [the signature] tattooed."
I have to ask..You see, I am in love with steak. I have a love affair with beef. But I don't think that people who are vegetarian are crazy or anything, I can really appreciate it...I was just going to ask why are you guys vegetarian?
Rose: My vegetarianism has changed so much over the years, as what I eat and what I don't eat, and I'm not vegetarian anymore. I eat vegan at home, but when I'm out I'll eat fish, when I'm at somebody's house and they serve me chicken I'll eat chicken. I never eat dairy, cause I've found out that I'm allergic to it. But when I first started to be a vegetarian it was because of River Phoenix, because I was obsessed with him, and he was vegetarian. He was vegan...I researched it a little bit, but not much. So then I was a vegetarian for a couple of years, and then I became a vegan when I was eighteen. A week later I had so much energy, and I realized that I must've been allergic to something, and through process of elimination--I brought eggs back into my diet, and then fish, and the only thing that was left was dairy.
Austin: I remember when I was sixteen and it was Thanksgiving, and I thought it was kind of strange that in celebration of this holiday that all these Turkey's are dying. That was the thought when I was sixteen. So I think I became vegetarian the next day. Of course I ate turkey that day. It's easy to be vegetarian now cause there's a lot of different options. I would kill the animal if I needed to, and so the biggest problem that I have is the disconnect for people who just go into the store, and just grab a package of meat, and the don't really see where that came from. If I was raised, maybe as a Native American where they use everything, I could see doing it, but since where we are it's so easy to be a vegetarian I went down that path.
Rose:...we were thinking of opening one [a vegetarian restaurant] since I love to cook and Austin loves to...
Austin: I love to eat!
I read somewhere that you've recorded with a four-track that you got from someone in your family, and you just taught yourself to use it. Have you had any training musically, or have you taught yourself to sing and play like you did with the recording process?
Rose: I've never had any training in an instrument except for piano, which I barely ever use.
Austin: I went to Berkeley College of Music out of High School. I sort of graduated as fast as could. I feel like that's not really where we all [referring to their circle of musician friends in Boston] learned to play, but I met great people there. It was a great experience, but I think you don't really learn to play there, necessarily, but I still have friends that I met there. In Boston you don't actually want to say that you went to Berkeley, yet everyone at one point has, save for Rose, but most people there [in Boston] have. There's a negative connotation that if you've gone to music school then you're going to play a certain way, but it's just information and people are going to do different things with it.
What hopes do you guys have for the music industry? What do you want to see happen in it?
Rose: We have one idea that we just came up with today. Should we lay it on him?
Austin: I'm blanking on what it is, but yeah...
Rose: It's so silly, but I think on our next record we're going to start a trend...You know when the record ends in the car, it starts again, then we hit eject. It almost feels like the first song came on during the credits. Wouldn't be cool on this next record if the first song came on again, but softer, and a voice would come on and say, "On track one, this person played this, and this person played that." Since everything is going digital now, you don't get to see the credits on the record.
Austin: That's very specific, Rose...I think he's looking for a more general idea.
Rose: I know, I know. What I always say is that I just can't wait to see what will happen. It's going to be so different, and I feel like independent labels are so much more important than they ever were before. Major labels are so much less important than they ever were before, and they're losing money like crazy. They're starting to make ridiculous deals with people with all kinds of ways to make money off of people. And it's becoming so funny.
Austin: And everyone can record at home and it sounds beautiful, so the need for the record companies is becoming much less.
Rose: What I want to see is more grants being given to the arts.
Austin: We want to be Canada!
Rose: We want to be Canada. I feel the biggest thing that's lacking for us right now is tour support. I think grants would fill in that hole.
So what comes after the tour for both of you? What will you guys do next?
Rose: Well, I've got a couple of projects that have to do with my music. I'm finishing a record that I collaborated with a band called Session Americana on, all live in the studio. They're starting to branch out. Then I want to make my solo record. I think I'm leaning towards doing that again, and recording alone.
Austin: I am probably just going to go back home and be finishing an album that I'm recording. I'm working on a few other albums coming up. That's about it. I teach guitar as well...Nothing too, extraordinary. That's all. Probably be sleeping well, for once in my life.
Rose Polenzani - How Shall I Love Thee?
Rose Polenzani - This Bitter Heart