Margaret Glaspy’s music puts the hard to say thoughts into words that otherwise can’t be found. Her debut, Emotions and Math, tackled love, loss and accepting change—classic themes, but in a refreshing manner only Glaspy could achieve. This past Saturday, Glaspy played a sold out show at Le Poisson Rouge, joined by her beau, the incredibly talented jazz guitarist Julian Lage. The duo performed many of Glaspy’s original songs, along with a charming cover of “Harvest Moon,” and a few songs written together by Glaspy and Lage. Before the show, Glaspy sat down to talk about the tour and what else she’s been enjoying.
Your new EP, Born Yesterday, was written on the road– which environments and landscapes inspired you the most and how did those elements affect the songs?
Margaret Glaspy: There wasn’t much of an environmental influence on the album directly, it was mostly just being in the back of a van or a tour bus or on a plane and kind of working on the songs one by one. There was no direct environmental place that influenced them overtly; mostly I worked on them, arranging them at sound checks, on the bus, that kind of thing.
So you’re doing these shows with Julian, how does touring with him affect the overall experience?
It’s great, it’s really inspiring, and it’s nice to mix it up and have a different set up, and nice and creatively challenging to have to adapt to a different ensemble. We have music that we wrote together, that we’re playing as part of this tour—that’s really awesome, and Julian’s just an amazing guitar player.
He’s mostly jazz, right?
Yeah he’s primarily a jazz guitar player but also an amazing composer and writes most of his own songs, he’s like in his own genre writing these really melodic songs. I think often when you think of jazz, it’s some kind of overtly improvised genre—and he improvises so much, but it’s also based on these very melodic song structures that are kind of disarming in a way you can sing along to, and it’s just very special.
Do you feel like you’re improvising more in these shows more than you normally would when you’re by yourself?
I think I do improvise more, especially vocally because Julian covers more of the guitar territory—it makes it so that I can rely on him in that way—just sing with my full capacity which I don’t get to do because I’m always covering all these guitar parts for my own trio. Sometimes I think I’m restricted vocally, so it’s cool to have him kind of cover it and focus on being a singer.
I love your songwriting because it’s so honest and you don’t hold anything back—I feel like you’re very good at noticing when there’s a problem and writing about it and getting out in the right way. How does that translate into your relationships with other people?
I think I struggle like anyone else in confronting issues or trying to get something right. I’m a fan of cutting away the excess, for sure, I think that does play into the way that I often record music, especially. I think that was a means to make my first record—just to really distill things, and now I’m kind of exploring other ways to make music, but that was definitely the mission for Emotions and Math and the EP too. I had this mindset of getting everything that’s extra or doesn’t point to meaning out of the way so that I could have something that was tangible and that I could I understand emotionally. In life I think being human is hard, confronting people is hard, but overall I like to keep it straightforward, and having everybody understand what the situation is all the time. I’m passionate about having no room for error, I think that is something that kind of drives me crazy—when there’s room for people to get it wrong. I blame myself if it happens—as if I wasn’t explicit enough, but sometimes it can drive me crazy where I over explain things, so I suppose that’s my mode around situations.
Communication is so important, if you don’t say it it’s just going to bother you.
Yeah, nobody heard it.
I know you like to play cover songs in your sets, do you ever listen to the Chris Thile show Live From Here? So he does this thing where he has people tweet song requests and then he picks one to perform, about five minutes before he performs it—would you ever do that?
In September I’m kind of doing a covers tour, I’m such a songwriting nerd. I love songs in general. It’ll be fun because there are so many songs I kind of worship and I’m going to do a set of those.
And you started on violin?
So you probably like that kind of music?
I don’t really listen to that music, but it was what got me in the door and I was really into it back in the day. I feel like it was a means to get to where I was now and I didn’t even know that it was in a way. I was a Texas style fiddle player from about 8 years old to 16 or 17, so I was a competitive fiddle player for a long time, which was amazing because it got me to where I really learned how to play an instrument and understood in the acoustic music scene, listening is a huge priority, and once I stepped out of that bubble, not everyone is really listening. I think that there’s a real high priority on listening, also there’s not really often drum kits [in acoustic music] so another thing is if you’re playing a rock show or something, the beat is often so overt. In acoustic music if you’re playing only guitars/double bass/fiddle, you just have to feel it a little bit more and really listen to how they’re feeling the beat—you have to do that with a drum kit too but I think once a drum kit gets involved you have to kind of zone out. In the acoustic music scene, there’s some amazing musicians playing bluegrass and folk music and I don’t play that music anymore but that was definitely where I started.
I’ve been playing violin since I was five but I’ve always felt like it’s so hard to sing in front of people—did you find it hard to start singing?
I didn’t, that was pretty natural for me. To me violin was a little more scary. I mean both of them are so relative pitch wise. On a guitar you have frets and you still have to worry about pitch, that’s also another thing with the drums. People start to relax, and same thing with guitars, they’re like “My fingers are there, that’s where the fret tells me to go,” but you can still be out of tune and be putting your finger in the right place, so these are little things that I think create illusions around what you should be actually paying attention to. But violin, it’s just like you’re out on your own [laughs] and there’s so much more work that people lay down to learn how to have good pitch and if it’s wrong it’s wrong. I felt like it was such a loud instrument even though it’s not that loud, when you mess up on a fiddle it’s so humiliating, and if I messed up while I was singing I was able to gloss it over a little easier. I just felt more natural being a singer than I was a fiddle player for sure.
And the weather won’t knock your instrument out.
Yeah it’s hard to sing when it’s cold but not nearly as hard as playing the fiddle in the freezing cold.
What are you using as walk in music on this tour?
I used to have playlists but I don’t have a playlist this time around, so I gotta get to it. It’s the venue’s music. Certain tours I feel like I’m more integrated into the experience and other ones I’m just working on music, I don’t think about that, so sorry audience, you gotta fend for yourself on the walk in music [laughs].
If you could pick right now what would it be?
The Strokes, Elliott Smith, some Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin, just a real collection, there’s a lot of different stuff.
Did you ever have a moment where you wanted to give up on music?
Oh yeah totally. I think when you make something your livelihood, it changes the relationship to it so much. I’m interested in so many things, not always music-centric, although that’s what I’ve become known for in the “public eye.” For me, there’s so many things that I like to spend my time doing that some days I forget, like oh shit, I gotta make records and make a living and play shows and stuff because I’m doing other things that don’t really relate to music as much. I think it’s going to always be in my life and I’ll always do this and perform but I’m excited to do other things as well, and incorporate them into what I do. When you have to package it, put it out and sell it, it’s different than writing songs for the fun of it.
So what else have you been doing?
I’m a big reader, so I spend a lot of time reading, I’m a big knitter, and I knit a lot.
You should knit your own merch!
Well, I wouldn’t do that, it’s so time intensive, people have asked me before to knit things, I just get so into it I’d be afraid that I’d never come back. It’s also intense on my hands. If I could be in school for something right now I’d probably be a women’s studies major, that’s the kind of literature I read a lot. Outside of that, I acted a bunch when I was young, so I have aspirations to get back into it now, and so that’s hopefully in the near future. I like making things, and running. Sounds like hobbies, but for me when I’m in it, I’m really in it.