FOREWORD: It’s absolutely criminal that more people haven’t discovered the joy of Lori Carson’s seductive rough-edged alto. While ‘90s contemporaries such as Ani Di Franco, Tori Amos, and Fiona Apple gained aboveground success, Carson is barely recognizable amongst the underground elite. Her beguiling heartbroken sentiments brought a funereal melancholic intimacy to impassioned dark-toned threnodies.
She lent her plaintive nocturnal voice to two worthy Golden Palominos albums, ‘93s This Is How It Feels and its nearly as good follow-up, ‘94s Pure.
‘I spoke to her via phone to promote ‘97s wonderful Everything I Touch Runs Wild. Afterwards, she released ‘01s House In The Weeds, ‘03s Stolen Beauty, and ‘04s The Finest Thing to little fanfare.
Last time I saw Carson, she was at a Victoria Williams show at the Bottom Line. When she asked Williams if she remembered her from some past endeavor (possibly as an opening act), Williams said ‘no.’ Such is life for an unfairly ignored artist. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Confessional singer-writer-guitarist Lori Carson’s therapeutic Everything I Touch Runs Wild was recorded in her bedroom to procure proper intimate atmosphere. Singing on the Golden Palominos’ This Is How It Feels and Pure gave this fragile-voiced exotic beauty the confidence to follow-up her flawed ’90 debut, Shelter, with ‘95s post-Palominos disc, Where It Goes and its fully mature successor.
Passionate, sensitive, and hopelessly romantic, Carson’ sympathetic odes on Everything I Touch Runs Wild retain a heartfelt lushness. Like a shy girl blushing, she tenderly caresses piano-based ballads and guitar-strummed lullabies. From the emotionally ticking “Souvenir” to the hushed version of Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light,” her songs linger in the pale gloom of a quiet evening. She’s apologetic on the delicate “Black Thumb,” then seeks commiseration on “Snow Come Down.”
Carson took some time out to speak over the phone from a hotel somewhere down South. She is currently on tour with highly respected acoustic artist Richard Buckner.
LORI: There’s absolutely nothing in my family that was musical. For me, it was a natural attraction. I guess it was inevitable. Music always sounded so very compelling. I’d make up songs and listen to old 45’s I found in the attic. I was fascinated by the ‘50s-era girl singers. There was this one song I used to play over and over that was a heartbreak song. Maybe I was indoctrinated by that song.
Is that how you describe it. (laughter) Composing is what happens when I pick up the guitar and play and sing. It’s in the way I feel time and rhythm. To me, quiet and pared down just feels right. It’s as I’ve been doing for a long time. It’s like your heart rate. I’m comfortable with it.
I’d describe it as finding a way to be true to my own sensibility. When I made Shelter, I was new to collaborations. I let the process take away some of my personality. I very rarely would say, ‘this feels uncomfortable.’ That record was burdened by overdone arrangements. If I had opened my mouth, it could’ve been great. With Where It Goes, my second album, I fought for myself. I had just done two Golden Palominos and learned a lot along the way. But I didn’t quite hit the mark. On the new album, I had the confidence to take risks.
Anton’s a very talented man. And it was a tremendous experience working with him. He was there before I was in a position to defend my ideas. It’s just a fucking crime that he hasn’t experienced the success he deserves. Like Bill Laswell, he was so specific with what he wanted. I recently had the chance to collaborate with Bill on one of his new records – not that I know which one. Working with him was entirely different than working with Anton. Bill is easygoing and has a completely different production style.
I’d like to do collaborations with artists in entirely different genres. I’d like to make a cool cinematic soundscape and possibly a collection of ambient music. I do have a number of ideas. I’ve approached the Dust Brothers. I want to work with creative people like Daniel Lanois or Paul Samwell-Smith, who produced the first Cat Stevens album after being in the Yardbirds.
Well. Carole King’s Tapestry was one of my formative records. As for “I Saw The Light,” it’s an innocent pop song. When I was young I thought that song was about what love would be like. On a whim I recorded it. I used to use it at soundcheck.
I recorded that song in my apartment. I didn’t even know Steve at the time and I invited him to my apartment with his trumpet. Actually, I heard the song in my head the way it appeared in record. I did the four-track and gave it to Brian Gocher, a writer who works on R&B pop records. He looped simple guitar underneath and came up with something very basic. The song led to the arrangement. When you’re a songwriter, you want to serve the song.
I read like crazy, do gardening, and ride around in a van trying to write songs on guitar. I read mostly contemporary fiction. I also read feminist Andrea Dworkin’s Life & Death. She’s such an important person for people to read. She addresses issues such as pornography and sexual abuse and how they affect our culture. She’s so profound.
I really only played for a week of shows. And I did 15-minute sets on the third stage. It was fun. I got to see a lot of different women performers. I’d have loved to do it longer. I thought Fiona Apple and Julianna Hatfield were great. Truth is, I buy records women make to support them. We’re well over 50% of the population and what’s fucked up is women are not treated as equals in the music business or the outside world. Women are different than men, but many are afraid to rock the boat and speak up for themselves.
I’ve had good and bad experiences. It’s structured so insanely. I’ve heard people talk about the industry both ways. Artists pay for videos, promotion, and the record. So sometimes no one sees a profit except the record company. But being on a small label, I have respect for BMG, the company distributing my record. And my lawyer has been wonderful, respectful, and fair. Artists make a living out of publishing and touring. I’d love to see it change. But why would the record labels give up their profit? It’s like the old Hollywood system was 50 years ago when actors made very little money.