Ashley Walters and Nicholas Deyoe on their history as collaborators

Composer Nicholas Deyoe and cellist Ashley Walters celebrate the release of their albums for Duane and Another Anxiety on October 20th, 2017 on Populist Records.

Each album has a distinct narrative, but the two releases are connected — two of Deyoe’s works appear on Walters’ album and Walters appears as both a member of the WasteLAnd ensemble and as a soloist on for Duane.

For this interview, Nick and Ashley reminisced about their collaboration over the past decade. Here, they present stories about their albums, music, and friendship.

First Impressions of Each Other

ND: I first met Ashley Walters in rehearsals for my second jury piece at UCSD (September-ish 2007), but I’d seen her perform with the Formalist Quartet a few times in the year before that. She was really astonishing in the quartet performances that I’d seen and I was really excited to get to work with her. She was detail-oriented, clear and direct in her feedback, and unbelievably positive. When we met, I was still really figuring myself out musically. I had a lot of insecurities that I was desperate to keep hidden and regularly felt like I wasn’t making music that was as interesting as that of my colleagues. Ashley was someone whose support and enthusiasm for my music made an incalculable difference in how I saw myself. As I became more confident in myself and my music, I began to feel much more free to develop my language (I’m not sure I’ve ever expressed these sentiments to Ashley). Daniel Tacke (who wrote a beautiful essay for my liner notes) and Stephanie Aston were two others who played pivotal roles for me. These were people who helped me question my work in a constructive way, helping me understand who I wanted to be musically.

AW: I met Nicholas Deyoe when we were grad students and neighbors in San Diego. I immediately noticed Nick’s presence and energy in rehearsals — he was professional yet sensitive; gregarious yet humble. I found tremendous energy and extreme contrasts in his music, which has biting, severe, and brutal sounds with moments of purity and sweetness. Whether I think of Nick in those early meetings or as a current collaborator and friend the word that always comes to mind to describe him is kind. He is a prominent force in the LA music scene not only because of his professional drive but because our community knows that he is invested in making connections with people and building strong friendships. I think there are many people who would consider themselves lucky to have met Nick.

Cellist Ashley Walters and composer Nicholas Deyoe. Photo by Warren LaFever.

Cellist Ashley Walters and composer Nicholas Deyoe. Photo by Warren LaFever.

ND: After this, Ashley and I started working together a lot, especially once we discovered that we were neighbors. Hearing Ashley’s perspectives on working with other composers, rehearsal preparation, and performance materials shaped my own approaches toward all things. I had the luxury of not only learning from her through our collaborations, but by drinking tea and talking about issues in other music, teaching, and life. She is thoughtful, direct, and never negative without warrant. If Ashley thought something was a problem, there was a good reason. She was the person to teach me that cello music is just as much about the person holding the instrument as the instrument itself (seems silly to make such an obvious statement) and that not all cellists have massive hands. She also demonstrated time and again that she would always strive to find a good solution for anything. Her dedication is remarkable and is something I witnessed immediately. In the 10 years we’ve known each other, I’ve only watched that dedication to her craft, her community, and her students deepen.

AW: Our first collaboration, For Stephanie (on our wedding day), was written for a momentous occasion — the marriage of Nick and Stephanie Aston. I am still touched to this day that our first collaboration was presented at such a personal event for two dear friends. During the process of creating this piece we spent as much time drinking tea and building our friendship through conversation as we did experimenting with sounds. This allowed us to connect first as friends and artists and then as collaborators not long after. [There is a work on each of our albums that was written for and performed at each other’s wedding. Six years after Ashley performed For Stephanie at my wedding, Stephanie performed Immer Wieder, which was composed for Ashley’s marriage to Luke Storm.—ND]

Then and Now

AW: In some ways it is impossible for me to imagine my career without the presence of Nick Deyoe — both as a colleague and as a composer. Releasing these two albums on the same day feels like the perfect celebration of a chapter in my life that has been enhanced by our work together.

As a performer, I try to be a portal between a composer’s voice and the audience’s experience. It has been a true honor that Nick has chosen me time and time again to be his ambassador of sound. Nick has challenged my technique and my own creativity; his music constantly inspires me to explore new colors and timbres on my instrument. I am a better cellist because of our work together. Nick’s musical language is unique but now feels completely familiar and comfortable to me. It’s like riding a bike — but his music is much more difficult than that!

ND: My relationship to pieces like another anxiety or for Stephanie are a lot different now than when I composed them four and eight years ago. At the time of creation, I was very focused on every detail, fussing over the sculpting of small moments. Now, as Ashley plays the pieces over and over again, across several years, I’m continually excited by the way she surprises me. At this point, I assume the time she has spent practicing the pieces surpasses the time I spent composing them. She has put incredible thought into every moment of the interpretation. She owns these pieces now, and it is an honor to watch her thought process unfold. In our early meetings refining her part for Lullaby 6, it felt like I was hearing her play an old piece. Ashley’s earliest interpretations were already nuanced and persuasive. It felt like she had already internalized the piece in a way that felt so familiar despite the music being completely new to us. [I truly think this work is a masterpiece, Nick. While it is an intensely difficult to play it was never anything but pure joy for me to uncover the nuances in your notation.—AW]

AW: Nick is often outgoing and effusive after concerts but the two performances that I remember and cherish the most are when he was speechless backstage — it was in those moments that I felt like we truly understood the magnitude of our collaboration. For me the performance of Nicks’s concerto, Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” is my most memorable — that night was not about virtuosity or even about collaboration — it was truly about friendship. Nick and I stepped on stage, he with a baton [“baton” is figurative, because I rarely use one.—ND] and myself with my cello, and together we celebrated the life of Nick’s father, Duane, who had passed away earlier that year. I was again honored to be asked to share a profound moment in Nick’s life through his music.

ND: Each new project we start together feels like it is embedded in everything we’ve already done while still moving forward. My collaborations with Ashley (similar to what I’ve done with Stephanie Aston and Matt Barbier) are what I use as a model when encouraging composition students to focus on building relationships with their peers. With these people, whom I’ve made so much music with over the last several years, a very different set of possibilities emerges. A new piece is a continuation of a long, thoughtful, and mutually respectful dialog rather than a fresh start. I am excited for every new musical relationship I begin, but maintaining the old ones is what I cherish about being a musician.

The Recording Process

AW: The collaboration between the composers and myself on this album extended past the composition/performance stage and into the recording process. Every composer (except Berio) was present when I recorded their piece. For me, recording solo repertoire in a large studio can feel lonely and isolating. However, in these sessions the energy of each composer was palpable through the glass. Wolfgang von Schweinitz brought his masterful ear and bolstered my own confidence with the fragile intonation in Plainsound-Litany. Wadada Leo Smith’s spirit in the booth was as contagious as it is on stage. The flexibility of his notation allows the performer to find her own voice and Smith provided constant support about the decisions I was making and the risks I was taking in my interpretation. Andrew McIntosh, a string player himself, is more frequently sitting in front of the mic than in the producer’s seat. (However, he is a talented producer in his own right, as you can hear on Nick’s album!). Knowing the great difficulty of his own piece, Andrew was my cheerleader throughout the process. Nick Deyoe was the first composer who joined me in the recording studio. Because this recording was documenting our first collaboration it felt like a special moment for both of us.

ND: All of the topics that Ashley and I keep discussing come back to collaboration. Making this album was a giant collaboration, involving 20+ people. My role composing the music, making the scores/parts, and editing the recordings feels, relatively, like a small part of everything that came together to make this album. This was the incredible work of 15 performers, 2 poets, a visual artist, a designer, and the miraculous producer/engineer pair of Andrew McIntosh and Nick Tipp. During our recording days last March, I spent time on both sides of the glass. I conducted Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along and Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” and I sat next to Andrew in the control room for Immer Wieder and 1560. As a performer, I was trying to simultaneously think in-the-moment while considering what would make a good recording. Thankfully, Nick (Tipp) and Andrew (Mcintosh) were paying great attention to everything, taking notes, and also reading the room and managing the overall flow of the session. Recording challenging music is stressful for everyone, and having people who can help keep a productive flow while ensuring that everyone in the room is happy can’t be understated. On the other side of the glass, with the opportunity to listen more objectively (Immer Wieder, 1560), I was no less grateful to have Nick and Andrew’s sensitive ears reinforcing (and sometimes contradicting) what I was hearing. Their notes were crucial to me when I edited the album.

To learn more about the albums and the release party/concert that will take place on October 20th, visit here: http://deyoe-walters.brownpapertickets.com/

Pre-Order from Populist Records here:

Ashley Walters – Sweet Anxiety
https://populistrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ashley-walters-sweet-anxiety
Nicholas Deyoe – for Duane
https://populistrecords.bandcamp.com/album/nicholas-deyoe-for-duane

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