Interview

The Rates: Mary Lattimore shares her underrated artists, old and new

Each month we ask an artist or group to share three musicians they think have gone under appreciated, and three new names who they hope will avoid a similar fate. Harpist Mary Lattimore discussed her list with Max Pilley

Mary Lattimore has established herself at the centre of the alternative music community with the same quiet and delicate grace that elevates each of her four albums to date. The composer and harpist, now settled in Los Angeles, understands the restorative capacity of her chosen instrument whilst also knowing how to sidestep the tired angel-at-the-pearly-gates clichés that burden its commonest cultural associations.

Listening to Lattimore’s music brings you closer to the earth than the heavens, her beautifully observed and effortlessly natural writing seeming to mirror the intricate majesty of our organic world. Far from a classical purist, she seeks new palettes for the harp to explore, whether in conjunction with other unlikely instrumentation or augmented with electronic experimentation.

Born in North Carolina, Lattimore spent over a decade immersed in the Philadelphia music community, forming personal and working relationships with artists including Kurt Vile, Jeff Zeigler and The War on Drugs. Alongside her solo albums, she has become a highly sought-after collaborator too, appearing alongside Jarvis Cocker, Thurston Moore and Julianna Barwick, among many others.

Now, with her latest record Collected Pieces II, a compilation of obscurities and unreleased material, being released on October 29 via Ghostly International, we asked her to guide us through six artists that she feels are still awaiting their due. With typical modesty, she did not need much convincing, starting with her three newer names.

Nailah Hunter

She is also Los Angeles-based and so I kept seeing her name pop up in ambient music circles around here. She is a harpist, so of course finding out that she plays the harp was really exciting, and so she and I became friends. I have a lot of friends that play the harp, just from being in that world for so many years, but I feel like she is definitely one who has a similar aesthetic to mine. She has similar music tastes and just her way of playing is very similar to the way that I see the harp. Aside from playing the harp beautifully, she also has this crazily amazing voice and the way she pairs her voice with the harp is just heavenly. I would definitely encourage people to check her out. Her EP Spells came out last year and just blew me away.

During lockdown, I had a few concerts in my yard, just very small concerts in the front yard, and I didn’t invite many people to play but I thought it would be just gorgeous to hear her in person, because I’d only seen her live once, and it was just magical. I love people who are taking the harp into different contexts like that, really exploring with the instrument.

When you say you feel she has a similar aesthetic to you as a harpist, could you explain that? I think a lot of us don’t know too much about the harp.

I feel like her use of pedals, taking it into a more affected plane, exploring the sounds of the harp with synthesisers is kind of similar to what I like to do. Just seeing the potential of using electronics with the instrument and creating a palette that has a lot of soft colours. She’s amazing.

Is there a harpist social network out there somewhere? Do you guys all hang out online?

Sort of, I guess so! It’s so nerdy to say. When you play an instrument that isn’t played so often, it’s like we have to kind of stick together. It’s also a cumbersome instrument, there are problems that other musicians might not be able to relate to. Like, when you see tons of flights of stairs at a venue and your heart just sinks, or if it’s really hot and you’ve been asked to play outside and you have to think about the wood of the harp, things like that. It’s kind of fun to commiserate with other harpists and share tips.

Myriam Gendron

She’s a French-Canadian singer and songwriter and I really, really loved her debut record, which was all songs which she had made from Dorothy Parker poems. She just has this plaintive, plain, simple, beautiful folk voice and plays the guitar. The record was called Not So Deep as a Well and it was just the most enchanting, simple, sad, beautiful music. She has a new record coming out soon and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never seen her perform but we have mutual friends and I would really love to see her play live. Simple is the word, but a beautiful simple. Heart-wrenching songs.

My friend Bill Nace turned me onto it. Her record came out on Feeding Tube Records and they’re based in Northampton, Massachusetts and I was hanging out there a lot at one point. That’s how it came to my attention and it’s a record I listened to so, so many times.

Does it ever wind you up when people ask you why you enjoy ‘sad’ music?

I don’t really have many people that ask me that! I only really hang out with people that have a little bit of melancholia in there and love listening to sad music. I would say that about the people that like to listen to my music, too, so I don’t really encounter many people that say, ‘I only like to listen to music that makes me happy or joyful’. I just can’t relate. Aliens!

Out to Sea

This is a really close friend of mine, Steven Urgo. He and I both lived in Philadelphia in the same neighbourhood for many, many years and although we were friends in the same music community, we didn’t really get to hang out one-on-one so much until we both moved to LA at the same time. Steven is a great, great drummer, but this is his first project where he has written the songs and he’s singing. His record came out earlier this year and I played on it and I feel like it’s just great songwriting, a solid record. It’s out on Bandcamp, I think he’s looking for a label.

He’s played with lots of bands [including The War On Drugs] as a drummer but this is his first real foray into being the band. He’s had it in him, but sometimes it takes a while to get the confidence to actually make the thing and release it. It’s great, what he’s made.

It sometimes feels like everybody in Philadelphia has had a spell as a member of The War on Drugs, just like The Fall in Manchester. Is Philly as tight a musical community as it seems?

Definitely, yeah. Especially around that time. I mean, I’m sure it is now, with different people also coming into the mix and new people arriving, but back then when The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile and I were all living there in the same neighbourhood, that place felt very vibrant and rich with music, and Steven was also part of that. It’s a great music city. My heart is still there, I really love Philly. It was very, very hard to leave, I lived there for thirteen years and I still miss it every day.

Alex Somers

Alex is one of my close friends here as well, we got to know each other through Julianna Barwick. He is an amazing musician. I have been listening to the two records he put out earlier this year, Siblings and Siblings 2. These are his first solo records, but he has been involved in the Sigur Ros world and Riceboy Sleeps, and he is also a very accomplished film composer [his credits include Black Mirror, Captain Fantastic and Honey Boy]. I really encourage people to check out these two new records, gorgeous and exquisite.

I think a lot of people will be familiar with Sigur Ros and with Somers’ work as half of Jónsi & Alex. How would you say these new records compare to those?

It’s in a similar place, but I would say Alex’s music reminds me of breathing. It has this fragility and pulsing to it that I just find hits you in a very quiet way. He’s a producer and his ears are so attuned to the world. The way he listens is very particular and nuanced. He’s thought about every single moment on these records, it’s very intentional and thoughtful.

Gun Outfit

I put a lot of friends on these lists, just because that’s what I’ve been listening to, especially during lockdown. It’s been a way to connect with them when we couldn’t physically be in the same rooms. Gun Outfit are buddies of mine, we live in the same neighbourhood and I’ve loved their music for a while now. I find it to be so cosy and comforting to me. I’ve heard it described as cosmic country. I don’t know that I would really say that, but it’s really fun. I look forward to seeing them live again when this Covid stuff is over.

When they first broke through in the late 2000s, they were often associated with Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and scuzzy rock bands like those, but as the years have gone by they’ve mellowed out a little. I wonder if that has something to do with having moved to LA?

Maybe so. I dunno, California is a pretty laid back place to live! But then again they moved here from Olympia, Washington and that’s already pretty chilled too, so who knows.

Rosali

I thought for a moment you had chosen Rosalía, who is great but maybe wouldn’t quite qualify as an under-represented artist.

Ha, yeah, I put all my friends on here – Nailah Hunter, Myriam Gendron, Rosalía…

In fact, of course, we are talking about the singer/songwriter Rosali. Introduce her to us?

She is another close friend, also with a Philadelphia background, she and I were roommates in Philly. This is her third record, so I guess I would consider her on the more established part of the list, but she just has this very cool, beautiful voice. Her newest record is called No Medium and it came out earlier this year and it has a backing band, The David Nance Group from Nebraska, and it is folky with a little bit of a country sound. She’s just such a great songwriter, it makes me so happy to see her doing so well.

And can we safely assume that Rosali served her stint as a member of The War on Drugs?

No, but she has had members of The War on Drugs play on her records!

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