Someplace New: An Interview with Uncle Owen Aunt Beru

uncleowen Someplace New: An Interview with Uncle Owen Aunt Beru

The Earth is the Right Place for Love is only one of an onslaught of new albums–made available for download at no charge–that Jessica Calleiro has released in the last few years under the name Uncle Owen Aunt Beru. Over the span of The Earth‘s 21 tracks, she makes very hushed noise music: homemade, intimate, and optimistic. The brief and roughly recorded pieces evoke images of angels and aliens, providing a beautiful example of what American folk music is becoming.

What is your philosophy on giving away music?

If I can make anything that another person would want, then I must give it away. Sometimes other musicians want to trade music, or collaborate with me after hearing one of my songs, so sharing my music freely has given some very rich experiences.

How many of the songs on The Earth is the Right Place for Love and Spaces in Time are based on preconceived ideas? How long do you let them exist before you record them, or are they mostly improvised?

Each song takes about an hour for me put together and record. I get bored really quickly with an idea, so I get it down, and then move on. I’ve tried to change my ways, but I can only work on a song for a longer length of time if I’m doing it with other people.

What occurs in your head/mood that inspires you to record an idea? Do you ever assign yourself time to record music, or do you wait for a particular spark?

When I’m driving, my head is flooded with emotions and ideas. At the time I recorded my first two albums, I was driving an hour to and from school, so as soon as I got home I had to document it! Since then, I just have bursts of recording time every two months, and it’s so much fun!

Considering that many of your songs are around the two-minute mark, I’m interested to ask you what your favorite long song by another artist is.

I have two of those! First is "Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet," a composition by Gavin Bryars. The longest version is 74 minutes. I get lost in this piece, but in a good way! Second is "Knee 5" of Philip Glass’ opera Einstein on the Beach, with the spoken text: "Two Lovers on a Park Bench." This section is only eight minutes, but it’s breathtaking–and seems to last much longer.

What is the place of lyrics in your music? Are they one of the first or last stages in your writing?

Sometimes lyrics come first. I write down phrases or poems, and then when I make a piece of music, I go back to see which lyrics fit the feeling of the music best. Other times, when I’m playing guitar, I’ll have some strong emotion for someone or something, and the words and music come at the same time.

What is your gear set-up? Are there any computers involved, or are you working with field recorders or 8-tracks?

First I had a Boss 16-track digital recorder, so half of the songs were done on that. It was like making music in the dark, but with my brother’s help, I figured it out. Then at school all I had was GarageBand. I sang and played my guitar into the mic in the computer, so that’s where all of the room tone comes from. With my newer music, I record into Pro Tools, but I still use a lot of synths and effects from GarageBand.

What other art form (besides music) are you most interested in?

I adore Installation art, and most time-based art because of the unique way it is experienced, and that one must use senses other than sight. Like music, this can be an art form where you can collaborate with other artists and create spaces, films, sounds, and even smells to convey a very specific idea. It’s wonderful!

Some of my favorite tracks on The Earth (like "Brown Jacket" and "Tree of Secrets") have really buried, lo-fi vocals. Are you ever tempted to re-track a song with closer mics or more high-fi gear? Does the mood of the song rely on the distance and space that the lo-fi recordings allow?

I’m never tempted to re-track any of my older songs; it’s strange to even go back and listen to them. Most of the lo-fi is on purpose, and it’s usually to mesh the vocals with the other sounds. Sometimes I’m embarrassed about sharing certain lyrics so clearly, so that’s when distortion and reverb come in!

Particularly on The Earth, you don’t tend to have traditional choruses or solos. What is a song to you, and how do you decide that it’s done?

My music really is like a journal, so as soon as I know my feeling or idea has been documented, the song is done. It’s so fast and introspective that I forget about the rules.

There are beautiful strings that appear in "Driving" and "Your Words My Joy." Are these samples? Synths?

Those are synth strings from a Korg. It’s old, but full of unexpected and beautiful sounds. I was listening to a lot of Mercury Rev, so I wanted to add that magical quality to my music.

Over what span of time was The Earth written? Does it tell a specific story for you? Can you share any of the seeds that helped to bring about the album?

These songs were written from 2005 to 2007. It came about from falling in love, my faith in God, and from my time in Israel where I learned about my heritage. It’s also about frustrations with my inability to put right the world’s wrongs and mend broken hearts. There is so much going on in the heart of every person on this planet. I think about that a lot, and it’s overwhelming, so I have to put it in the simple terms of love coming to Earth. I guess that’s the story, love coming to Earth.

You’ve had several original Christmas songs on your MySpace page. Is writing Christmas songs a tradition for you?

I love Christmas time, and my good friend, Josh, always rounds up our friends to record original or traditional Christmas songs for our own Christmas mix. I hope we make it a tradition. Christmas is my favorite!

What do you find yourself listening to lately?

Gojira, a metal band from France, just put out their new album The Way of All Flesh, and I can’t stop listening to it; I’ve memorized it. I’ve also been listening to more noise music by Keiji Haino and Merzbow. There is nothing like their music to me; it sounds like a heart bursting from too much love. This past fall I had the privilege of seeing Talkdemonic, a drum and violin duo from Portland, Oregon. Their music is so evocative and rich. It’s good driving music! Gang Gang Dance has won my ears for the most unique and exciting music I’ve ever heard, but I take it in doses to savor each sound. After all of this music, at the end of the day I just want to listen to Dolly Parton or Neil Young with my coffee (a.k.a. source of life)!

Visit Uncle Owen Aunt Beru on MySpace.

Identity Theory’s recommended listening: "The Earth is the Right Place for Love" and "Tree of Secrets" by Uncle Owen Aunt Beru

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