Interview: Jodie Landau on you of all things

Jodie Landau

Composer, singer, and percussionist Jodie Landau‘s new record with wild Up is now out on Bedroom Community records. There was a great listening party at Pieter Space last weekend (photo below), and the official release concert is this Friday at 9 at the Bootleg. Jodie’s been busy. In addition to commissioning works from fellow composers for this album — guess that was a while ago now, actually — he’s been world hopping to perform with Valgeir Sigurðsson and other Bedroom Community musicians, re-arranging the record for live performance, getting ready for wild Up’s NY debut next week, and, thankfully, answering questions from me. Here’s Jodie.

So what’s happening this weekend?
This Friday, we’re celebrating the release of our new album you of all things at The Bootleg Theater presented by Live Arts Exchange. I’ll be joined by members of wild Up and four singers to perform my pieces from the album, other original compositions, arrangements of Bjork and My Brightest Diamond, and a piece written for me by Valgeir Sigurðsson.

Featured in this performance are Andrew Tholl, Adrianne Pope, Linnea Powell, Derek Stein, Brian Walsh, Archie Carey, Erin McKibben, Richard Valitutto, Alison Bjorkedal, Ivan Johnson, Sam KS, and singers Anna Schubert, Justine Aronson, Sarah Beaty, and Lacey Jo Benter. With sound by Nick Tipp.

About the record: can you share the backstory on how this multi-part collaboration came to be?

I met Graduale Nobili, the Icelandic choir featured on the album, in 2013 while they were performing with Bjork on her Biophilia residency in LA. We got to hang out after the shows, and even had a pool party, at which they performed, I performed, and we sang a little thing together.

After hearing their beautiful, unique sound, and getting to know them, started to think, what if I went to Iceland to work with them? A few months later I sent them a message asking if they’d be interested in doing a concert and/or recording. At the time I wasn’t sure what this could be. When I mentioned this possibility to Chris Rountree, he eagerly said “I’ll conduct!” and we then both agreed that we should bring members of wild Up. With Chris and wild Up on board suddenly this crazy idea was legitimate.

But then… where do we record? We thought of no one else but Valgeir and Greenhouse Studios. To our pleasant surprise, Valgeir had a few available days and was intrigued by this ambitious project.

In July 2013, we ran an Indiegogo campaign to help cover the costs of the recording, the choir and our travel. We are so forever grateful to all those who donated to help make this project come to fruition.

A lot of those supporters were on hand for the album listening party at Pieter Space.

A lot of those supporters were on hand for the album listening party at Pieter Space.

You picked a diverse group of composers to write for you for this project, yet the album sounds very cohesive. Was that Valgeir’s doing? Or did you discuss a certain sound or direction with the composers you worked with?

Beyond the options of instrumentation/players, I actually made a point not to give Ellen, Marc, or Andrew any specifications regarding what they wrote. I wanted them to write anything their hearts desired.

The cohesiveness, I think, stems from a several things. For one, all of these pieces were written with these players in mind. They each have such a distinct sound and ways of interpreting the written material and moments of improvisation. And of course, the choir’s presence and unique sound throughout definitely helps to tie these all together. And then there’s all the exceptional work that Valgeir and his co-engineer Paul Evans did in capturing, editing, mixing this record.

I heard a bit about the choir learning everything by rote rather than reading parts. Can you talk a bit about working with them?

Working with them was unlike anything we’ve done before. Many of them have been singing together since they were very young and they have this impeccable unified, pure, and gorgeous sound. It was quite insane and wonderful teaching them an hour of new music… in a week. And some of this music is really hard. But they all pulled through so excellently. As group, they were fascinating. Some of them seemed to have perfect pitch, while others didn’t really read music, or at least music this complex and often polyrhythmic, but yet learned it all by ear.

There’s a certain androgyny in your singing voice, and some of the lyrics discuss gender – particularly striking is the line “I am neither boy nor girl.” We’ve been friends a while, yet gender or sexuality have never come up in our conversations. It’s not so much that I’m interested in your particular preference or identification, but I’m very interested in how whatever that may be influences your art making.

Ellen chose Mandy Kahn’s text for her piece based on one of the first conversations she and I had. We were talking about writing operas, and she asked what topics I was interested in. Ideas of gender, gender fluidity and transgender came up. And, I think, both she and I relate so heavily to these words “I am neither boy nor girl, I am a figure that has known and lost a love.”

Gender is definitely a major topic in my life, and yes I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in our conversations. So thanks for asking about it. And I’m happy to be quite open about it and give you a bit of my personal history.

To start, my parents tried to have a girl and they got me, “the boy with long eyelashes” as my mom says. Also, my name is Jodie. As a kid, I occasionally received girl’s trophies in sports leagues (I’m a little bummed I didn’t keep them). In high school, the class roster had an M or F next to each name, and mine mistakenly had an F next to it. Substitute teachers would get very confused when they called “Jodie” and I raised my hand. Their double takes were priceless. And, I’m occasionally asked if Jodie’s my real name, or if it’s a nickname or short for something.

Most Halloweens I dressed up in some combination of my mother’s clothing (which unfortunately doesn’t fit me any more). I even went to prom in a dress, because I wanted to go as a girl without a date, because it strongly upset me that a few friends hadn’t gone the year before because they didn’t have a date and/or a guy hadn’t asked them. Also, for whatever reason, I felt more comfortable and was able to have more fun going to prom in a purple dress and heels.

Last anecdote. From 8-13 years old I played hockey. My teammates listened to music together, often rock and rap. We’d sit in the back of the car and curse along with Eminem. But I also taught a few of them some choreography to dance and song “I’m gonna ruge my knees and role my stockings down…” and the rest of the Chicago musical soundtrack.

Anyway… all of this to say that I’ve never quite felt like “boy,” “guy,” “man,” or “male” accurately represents all of me, as I don’t always relate to meanings people associate with them, and I’ve received a lot of, let’s say, interesting, or maybe influential comments about my gender and/or sexuality based on the way that I behave and interact with the world, simply because of my name, or even my singing voice. (A youtube comment from several years ago reads “He sounds like a little gay girl”. I found this oddly flattering.)

These are all certainly a major part of my identity.

Now, I’ll stop myself from continuing with the anecdotes — I could go on forever — let’s talk about gender as it relates to my music.

All of my pieces on the album, are sung from the “I” perspective and sung to you. I, myself, never directly bring up gender or gendered pronouns. I hope that they can be sung, or heard, or felt from any one perspective to another. So I think this adds to the sense of androgyny, along with my own personal androgenic tendencies, and the fact that I’m quite often singing in my upper range.

Along with these ideas of gender and androgyny, sexuality is also certainly an influence. Though, by sexuality, I don’t quite mean sexual preference, especially not in relation to questions like “do you like men or women?” as the nature and structure of this type of question is quite limiting (and super binary). Rather, a lot of this music is about allowing for any type(s)—or maybe, my type(s)—of sexuality and sensuality.

You’ve been, from a career standpoint, on the up and up lately, and of course signing with Bedroom Community is going to be huge for both you and wild Up. Has anything changed in how you work as a result? Does music making feel any different to you now than it ever did?

What a great question. Certainly remains to be seen. But, thus far I certainly feel my music making beginning to enter the “professional realm,” whatever that means. In some ways, both in joining Bedroom Community and just in working with wild Up, there is a different sense of care and thought into what I’m presenting to the world and why.

I recently performed in London with Bedroom Community, and it was such a warm welcoming and a wonderful experience. It was so fascinating to thrown in the midst of this tight-knit group. They played new music, and older music, and new versions of older pieces that are in their BedCom “repertoire”. They way they engaged with the music and the charts, was some beautiful hybrid between an ensemble and a band. This made me feel right at home. So in regards to your question, maybe joining Bedroom Community is actually going to help keep music making that beautiful hybrid that I so enjoy… while of course elevating it quite a lot, as they are so wonderful and incredible!

What’s next for you?
This Sunday I head to the east coast with wild Up for our NY debut. Then, I go to Iceland to perform off venue shows during Iceland Airwaves with Bedroom Community. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see 🙂

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you!

Info on the release concert this Friday is up at liveartsexchange.org/event/jodie-landau-wildup-you-of-all-things. More on the record is up on Bedroom Community’s site, at bedroomcommunity.net/releases/you_of_all_things.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: