When I try to think of talented singer-songwriters who are also virtuoso violinists capable of playing comfortably and passionately in many genres of music, from pop to rock to funk to jazz, I am hard pressed to think of anyone other than Lili Haydn. From the impressive list of artists with whom she has played, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin; Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd; and many other notable musicians from around the world including, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton, and composer Hans Zimmer, one could easily assume that they can't either. It seems no one else does what she does. With the debut of her newest CD, Place Between Places (following three previously released projects, Light Blue Sun , Lili, and an EP titled Goodbye Stranger ), a string of concert dates (which include playing for the many charities and socio-political organizations she champions), and appearances on radio and television talk shows like Air America, on AM 1150 and The Tonight Show, with Jay Leno, soon everyone else will recognize her talent, too.
I saw her show a month ago in Hollywood at the Roxy on Sunset. This was the second time I had seen Lili Haydn and her band perform and, if possible, I was even more blown away by her talent and the incredible energy she emanates. As an enthusiastic, awe-struck fan remarked to me afterwards, “not only is Lili Haydn incredibly easy on the eyes, but she can absolutely play her ass off.” The combination of her skill, along with her emotionally sincere, reflective, profound lyrics and infectious musical arrangements, created a positively electric vibe that connected her to each member of the band and each individual audience member, dissolving any illusion of separation.
I was honored to have the opportunity to speak with Lili Haydn for this interview.
DS: First let me say congratulations on a beautiful CD Place Between Places, and all the positive reviews and audience responses it has received. And truly you deserve praise for all the remarkable work you have done thus far in your career. It is a testament to your incredible talent, skill, virtuosity, limitless passion, and deep compassion that so many artists have sought you out and continue to do so. I can't think of anyone who has contributed to the musical landscape in the way you have. You are truly an original.
Lili Haydn: Thank you so much!
DS: In what ways do you challenge yourself and push your creative envelope?
LH: On the tangible level, I do vocal exercises every day striving to achieve a higher level of fluidity and lyrical expressiveness with my voice and violin playing. On an intangible level, I try to strive to get more of a sense of my larger spiritual connectedness, so it feels more like channeling as opposed to contriving. When I toured with Herbie Hancock, we would improvise for the first half hour of every show. We would have no idea what was coming next. He has such a genuine curiosity to try new things. He's truly inspiring.
DS: There are several pieces on the CD that do not have lyrics, such as The Last Serenade, Place Between Places, and The Reverie . Does the music usually come first and if so, are lyrics something that you later are inspired to write only if the inspiration comes?
LH: Sometimes a melody will come to me. Ultimately, everything on the album came as a gift, given to me as if a little bird had landed on my shoulder. It can be a lyrical phrase, melodic phrase, or a pattern on the piano. So, pretty much once I got the nugget of a song, I would then work to refine it. It was like going through an excruciatingly hard birth, like in the song “Satellites,” I had this broad concept… an image actually of us all floating in space in a very lonely way, colliding into each other, trying to make sense of all the beauty and the pain, trying to come together in a way in which we could feel grateful for. It was a divinely inspired moment, which then has to be followed by hard work. In some cases, I would get to a certain point, like as if it was a baby only six months developed, and I would need somebody else to come in and help. The brilliant Marvin Etzione has had a couple of sons on this album. “Memory One” was written and had already been previously produced, but to finds its way to this CD properly, it needed my producer Thom Russo's guidance and vision.
DS: Again, your show at the Roxy in Los Angeles last month was phenomenal. You really developed a rapport with the audience over the course of those two hours, which I imagine might not be as possible in bigger venues. Do you prefer either smaller or bigger venues? Are there pros and cons to both?
LH: Small audiences are easier to relate to usually; it's a less strict format and I can stretch out a little more without the pressure of performing for 150,00 people. The down side of playing in bigger venues, such as when I may be opening for another performer, is that there is a time limit, thirty minutes- and not one minute over. The benefit of playing venue however, is the collective energy from the volume of people. If you are sensitive to it, it's electrifying and it enhances a performance. It's like a jolt of electricity and the energy can be exciting. I want to have an authentic relationship with everyone; with the other musicians, and each member of the audience. I want to experience their humanity. Before each show I meditate on feeling that sense of connection with everyone. I remind myself that we are all human, we all feel.
DS: Can you please tell me about how you came up with the design for Lililand (her recording studio)? I've seen a photo of you sitting in it on your MySpace page. I love the red velvet!
LH: I hung up red and purple velvet and basically designed it esthetically like the way a kid would, to give it a fun vibe. I drove down to Little India in Artesia and got multi-colored saris that I hung on the ceiling, and then I also had stuff from my trip to India several years ago. I always loved that type of esthetic.
DS: You have worked with so many people, being a fan of yours and knowing how amazing you are it is no surprise that you continue to be sought after to tour, record, and perform. How do you find people to collaborate with? Do you seek them out or do you just let your path lead you to them?
LH: Both. With George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars (who she'll be playing with in Santa Barbara on September 24 th, ), I knew I had to one day play with them. At a House of Blues show of theirs a few years ago, I had my violin with me just in case, so I jumped up onstage and started jamming with them. I ended up forming a bond with George and I've been playing with them for years now. I'd love to play and collaborate with Prince. I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd before recording this CD. My publicist was brainstorming and sent a CD to Roger Waters' publicist, who sent it to him. He listened to it and invited me to play with him at last year's Coachella for 150,000 people. With that kind of venue it was still fairly scripted and not as experimental as I would have liked, but it was still a great experience. Roger Waters has created a sound that still stands as one of the most important contributions to music.
DS: On your web site you talk about playing on your Gramma's baby grand piano and letting the music come to you. How big of an influence was she in your life musically and as a person?
LH: My grandmother only had a piano because in Russia every cultured family had one. She did sing though. My mom sang and played the piano brilliantly. On my last CD (2004's Light Blue Sun), I covered a song of hers called “Denied”. I sang it a capella at a Great Minds lecture series event, where author Deborah Kanafani spoke. My dad was a singer songwriter also. Music is in my genes.
DS: I got a chance to read a little bit about your mom, the late comedienne and actress Lotus Weinstock, online. From what you say about her, both on your site and in the song Memory One , as well as what others who knew her well lovingly say about her, she must have been such a one of a kind person, with humor and compassion being her two biggest attributes. She comes across as such an illuminating spirit, full of wisdom and passion for life. As far as her influence on you and who you are as an artist and a human being, I can see the compassion by your lyrics and your amazing political and social activism, but how has your mother's sense of humor influenced you?
LH: I think I try to have her sense of irony, her sense of absurdity about life. Nothing is as funny as when you are in the throws of something and it tips over the edge into absurdity. The results can be the outpouring of such a deep hearty laugh. She appreciated the absurdity of life; one moment you may want to jump off a bridge, the next you are scrutinizing a stain on a dress in front of a mirror. It can happen in an instant. From my mother, I was able to learn to develop an appreciation of human behavior. She was great at being able to shine the light of awareness on everything. Levity is available at all times. The hilarity and paradox of it all. I miss her the most. She had a way of appreciating the depth while shining the light. I think it was really a special gift.
DS: When I read your quote on your web site: “ everything we do, sacred or profane, awakened or unthinking, is all the unfolding of Grace,” I am reminded of when Joseph Campbell said, “we should say yes to life not as we would wish it to be, but as it is,” which didn't mean to pretend that pain and suffering don't exist or ignore them, but to embrace the world's pain, which is our own, as we embrace love and laughter. You have a lyric that reflects that as well.
LH: …It is actually yours. I've wrestled with this lyric. For so long it was me against the world; I was the lonely warrior. Now I feel like I'm growing out of that. I am blessed to find love in my life. On the other hand, when I don't take care of myself, no matter how much affection I get from somebody else, it will never be enough. That connection to all source of life is yours. Whatever you believe in, you gotta realize we don't have all the answers. You just gotta trust that thing that is bigger than yourself. It's the love that you find within.
DS: It's like you said on your site, “Everything we do, sacred or profane, awakened or unthinking, is all the unfolding of Grace.” It all leads back to rediscovering that love inside of us that is also God-love, or whatever word you want to use for that which is bigger than us that we are all always a part of.
LH: My mom would say,“ Love is always there. It's just we who aren't.”
Place Between Places can be purchased at I-Tunes, Amazon.com, Werksop, and eMusic
© Melt Magazine 2009