“The Desert is Full of Silence”: An Interview with Rio en Medio

Rio en MedioDanielle Stech-Homsy's primary instruments are ukulele and a sweet, fairy-tale voice, though she balances these with spooky samples and arrhythmic loops. Recording as Rio en Medio on Devendra Banhart's record label, Gnomonsong, Danielle writes songs about her parents and turns other people's poetry into music. Throughout February, she will be performing in Paris and London.

In the following interview with Identity Theory, she speaks of The Little Prince, three-dimensional music, and recording blind.

Is it true that most of the songs that appear on Bride of Dynamite were never intended for the public? Now that
you have a following and collaborators, do you feel this will affect
your approach to songwriting?

To be honest, when I am making something, I don’t really
have room in my head to think about what will happen with it when
it is completed. It’s not that I specifically didn’t
want to share that music, it’s just that I wasn’t at
all concerned with that. I was just trying to make something that
meant something to me. That’s hard enough! And I continue
to work that way. I guess I have sort of a one-track mind. For instance,
I just recorded an album. I’m not sure how or when or if it
will be released. In a way, I couldn't care less. The point is I
made those songs, completed that process, and now I can look forward
to making something else.

How do you feel about lyrics in music? Are they the focal
point? Are they a distraction?

Interesting that you suggest that lyrics could be a distraction.
I think they really can sometimes. So far they have been totally
integral to my music-making, the spring of it all, but maybe that
will change. I love poetry, but I can't stand literariness,
if that makes any sense. I think that is what drew me to music and
away from writing, which seems to make concessions to--or is often
preoccupied with fighting against--the tradition, the academy, or
the Official Standard.

Do you draw more inspiration from fiction, film, music,
or everyday life?

I draw much inspiration from visual art and from nature. I like
the idea of constructing things, making objects. I try to make music
that is three-dimensional. By my definition, the nature of three
dimensions is that each side is viewed with a different perspective
and can be understood differently according to the context in which
you behold it. Perhaps someday I will learn more about moving images.
I am interested in light and shadow and reflection.

I like the physicality of older technology--and records, even tapes.
CDs have always been just a piece of trash to transfer data. Now
with digital downloads we have no choice--it is our moral obligation
as global citizens to do away with CDs! But I like handmade things,
and album artwork is important to me.

There's a passage from your song "Girls on the Run"
(words from the poem by John Ashbery), which stands out to me in
this musical context because it seems to reveal a pattern in the
music industry. "But you know how fashions are in fashion only
briefly, and then they go out and stay that way for a long time,
then they come back in for a while." Can you comment on what
struck you most about this line?

I really like how it goes on and on. That’s an absurdly long
sentence for a poem--or a song for that matter! And it goes on even
further than that: “Then, in maybe a million years, they go
out of fashion and stay there. Laure and Tidbit agreed, with the
proviso that after that everyone becomes fashion again for a few
hours.” It’s amazing. I’m not going to try to
figure it out--fashion, that is.

Do you feel a sense of responsibility, in bringing the
words of poets to melody for the first time (i.e. John Ashbery and
William Blake)?

Not really, I can’t be burdened with that responsibility.
Or I guess more to the point, I feel like I instinctually show respect
by responding to a great work with my best shot at creative integrity.
I feel an affinity with the words and their authors inspire me,
but I am just as interested in decontextualizing information to
create new meaning as I am in trying to reproduce an author’s
original message.

Danielle Stech-HomsyWhat
is your approach to translating recorded songs to the live setting?

I try to create new arrangements rather than imitate what is on
the record. It is such a different transmission. I really like working
with other musicians and non-musicians--two of the bandmates I’ve
toured with were visual artists. I like to be surprised. I also
love performing alone and in the simplest way--just ukulele and
voice. It is sometimes hard to know what to expect from an audience
so I try to be responsive to the energy around me, but at the same
time I am focused on honoring the inner voice

Your website makes reference to a possible dance project.
What dance artists or eras of dance music are the biggest inspiration
to you? Do you feel that you will revisit the experimental folk
genre again, or do you plan to explore numerous genres of music?

I recently did a collaborative piece with a spectacular aerialist
named Cohdi Harrell. It was loosely based on The Little Prince.
He performed on the ground and in the air, and I played the ukulele
and sang. It was one of the most exhilarating performance experiences
I’ve ever had. I hope we can work together again.

In terms of “dance music,” I have a huge soft spot
for anything that makes you want to move. I love lovely, crappy
disco, and I’m crazy for Giorgio Moroder and Arthur Russell’s
stuff. I have a 7" cover record coming out this spring on the
Seven Inch Project. I’ll let the tracks be a surprise!

Was there a particular album that made you first consider
becoming a musician?

No, not really. I became a musician because I had these songs that
were demanding things of me, then the recordings fell into the hands
of other musicians, and I suddenly had an opportunity to play around.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I made an album with a friend of mine and fellow musician named
Tim Fite. It is called The Water Island. It was a highly
inspired, truly collaborative project that we are both really proud
of. Hardly anyone has heard it though because neither of us could
be bothered to find a label for it. You can hear some of it on MySpace.
True collaborations--where more than one person has final say--can
be really hard but they are also particularly rewarding and I really
have a lot of respect for the bands that pull it off successfully.

How did where you grew up influence your exposure to music
and your tastes in music?

The desert is full of silence and so is all my favorite music.

Are you more painstaking or improvisational about the recording

I think I am a bit of both. I am very free with many aspects of
the process and I leave many choices up to chance. I like recording
blind, for instance--meaning I will record a track against several
muted tracks, then unmute and see what it sounds like. But, despite
this looseness, I always have a very specific feeling in mind that
I am trying to capture. I just won’t know it until I hear
it and it sometimes takes a lot of chaotic or random effort to find

What was the greatest decade in music?

I think there are hidden treasures in every era. There are things
I love and hate about every decade. It all seems to be about the
same human experience.

What are three things that you love?

Afternoon sunlight after a storm, starting a road trip at the crack
of dawn, Christmas

What makes you unhappy?

Saying goodbye, wasting time, unkindness

What have you always wanted to do, but haven’t yet?

Grow up and never grow up.

What are you listening to now?

Terry Riley – Rainbow in Curved Air
The Lickets – Journey in Caldecott
Sonoko – La Debutante

Visit Rio en Medio on Myspace at www.myspace.com/daniellestechhomsy

Identity Theory's recommended listening: "You
Can Stand" and "Kill the Messenger" by Rio en Medio

Images courtesy of Sean Mccabe and Jules, respectively

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