Five before Live Q&A with Heather Leigh - Brötzmann/Leigh
Weaving a trail from West Virginia to Texas and now residing in Scotland, pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh plays in a way that is as physical as it is phantom, combining spontaneous compositions with a feel for the full interaction of flesh with hallucinatory power sources. We chatted with Heather about her thoughts on music, life and her musical partnership with Peter Brötzmann, the legendary saxophonist, ahead of their performance at Spectrum 2019, March 7th at The Fumbally Stables.
Q. What motivates you as an artist, to create music?
Life, death, sex, nature, understanding my (current/past/future) place in the world and my relationship with others, for the love of sound itself, the feeling that I communicate better with music than words, a burning impulse that if I don’t listen to my inner urges to create that I’m betraying myself and will die sadly if I don’t “go with my gut”, the joy (and frustration) of the process and the deep satisfaction of completing a work and moving onto another, performing live and dealing with the risks and compromises it entails, the lure of the “breakthrough”, traveling the world and connecting with other artists and communities that I otherwise wouldn’t come in contact with, working with and through the challenges/struggles/disappointments inherent in keeping the tap open and going with the flow, that it keeps me asking questions, stasis is not an option, I must stay busy and move with the tide, change truly is good and existence feels much more enriched, open and the possibilities seem endless when I consistently create. Dreams come true.
Q. Who or what inspires you at the moment - be it in music, arts, politics or your personal life?
When it comes to the arts, I listen, read and watch widely so inspirations change day to day. I try to follow apparent threads and personal instincts, what draws me in yet I’m always interested in exploring what I don’t know or ideas/art/personalities that I think I don’t even like or somehow find repulsive, for me it’s important to not always go with the obvious, even with what I consume, I want to challenge myself though entertainment is important for the soul too. My musical collaborators, walking, gardening, sex, calligraphy, deep conversations with friends (I feel lucky to have so many stimulating ones in my life), taking photographs, health/body/beauty care, exquisite meals, bird watching, rivers/lochs/the sea, idleness - all are constants in my life that keep me grounded and push the work forward. I like lists too so a handful of specific inspirations that come to mind (some more recent, some more enduring): Wallace Berman/Semina Culture, Doctor Who/UK Telefantasy, Poison Ivy, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Douglas Sirk, Edna O’Brien, Jess Franco, Lou Reed, Jean Rollin, Alan Garner, The Byrds, Lee Miller, Jimi Hendrix, Helmut Newton & Alice Springs, Antonio Lopez, Conrad Schnitzler, Dorothy Iannone, New Zealand landscapes & music, I could go on and on and on and on…my most important inspiration is my husband, the writer David Keenan, whose tireless work ethic, enthusiasm and lust for life motivates me every single day of my life.
Q. You’ve had some incredible collaborations as a duo - how do you think your individual styles work together in creating something new?
Peter and I are the most unlikely combination in many ways - we come from completely different backgrounds and generations yet our duo was born through what gives us lifeblood - improvisation - complete with everything I’ve mentioned already: risk, challenge, communication. I approached Peter the first time and he accepted my invitation with curiosity and openness, he wasn’t familiar with the pedal steel guitar or the unconventional way I play it, like me, he went with his gut, said yes and we’ve now found ourselves working together very intensely for going on 4 years now, playing some of the most unexpected and strongest music of our careers. The combination of horns and pedal steel guitar is unusual, it brings about sonic & emotional textures that creates a sound world that seems very specific to the duo. Neither one of us anchor the sound, we’re aware that this music, however hard it is to articulate with words, could simply not exist without our equal contributions. A very important aspect of the duo, is we play by feel, we know no other way, we don’t think or discuss musical notation or anything along those lines, in a way we try to keep thinking and discussion out of it entirely, we play and we feel. We’re both very sensitive people, classic Pisceans in many ways and I think the intuitiveness comes through in the music though we don’t take the easy/friendly route either, it’s always a fight onstage, even if it feels seamless, an unconscious flow, there’s always a fight.
Q. Do you have future plans for collaboration, more music you would like to create together?
Absolutely. This year we have a lot of live performances scheduled, mostly as the core duo though there will be guests along the way like Keiji Haino and William Parker. One of our big, new challenges this year is presenting our most recent studio album, Sparrow Nights, live which requires a more compositional approach - they are shorter pieces and Peter uses a wider array of horns than usual, for the first time, our live performances won’t be completely improvised. We’ll present Sparrow Nights in concert in New York City for the first time in May. And we’ll let the music lead our future collaboration. As long as we feel life & challenge in the music, this duo will continue.
Q. What direction do you see the music industry headed towards in the next 20 years?
Despite difficulties musicians face in the modern world, particularly financial, I always remain optimistic that creative, inspiring, challenging music will continue and there’s really only one thing I can be sure of, that the industry will continue to surprise and develop in ways that we can’t even conceive of at the moment. I grew up in a pre-internet generation where to search and discover required a personal commitment to delve into the unknown and find answers for yourself. My concern for our current situation is that over-saturation, the temptation to be “switched-on” all the time, constantly consuming, can cloud people’s inner visions and strip the process/the quest of its magic. I know a lot of artists who feel lost, overwhelmed, out of control - survival is difficult, sometimes it even seems futile to create, the world can feel like it’s cracking and art feels an indulgence in an environment when politics and ideology feel shoved down our throats, we don’t know what to think, how to be, anymore. Perhaps some of the strongest work will come from artists that are able to switch off, not in a reclusive sense, but finding that balance of engaging with the world while reserving space (mental, physical and otherwise) to let personal drive/instinct rise to the surface. Especially in what feels like today’s mad world, art is more important than ever, not as escape or entertainment, but as religion, understanding ourselves in the world and with each other. I’ve been involved in music for a few decades of my life now and I still experience so much around me that inspires me, younger musicians that are clearly serious about their work and know what they want. Bitterness is death, I’m determined to always remain open and respond to changes in the industry as best as I can.
Catch Heather Leigh and Peter Brötzmann on Thursday 7th March at The Fumbally Stables, Doors 8pm. Tickets HERE. Book quickly as very few tickets remaining!