Along with Lou Rogai, the Lewis & Clarke ensemble includes Karen Codd, Tom Asselin, and Ian and Shane O'Hara! Lou took the time to talk a little with CT Indie about Lewis & Clarke, touring with Caroline Weeks, ghostly gear, and the inspiration of contradictions.
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Lewis & Clarke
CT INDIE: It is one thing to claim that a song is haunting, but quite another to be able to say a song literally features a haunted instrument. The Rhodes that appears on the song Dead and Gone, did the spectral character that it is suspected of ever reveal itself to you?
LOU: I received word that there was an estate sale happening in Buffalo, NY, and among some musical and recording gear was an early 70's Rhodes Piano at a price that would make the trip worth our while. The plan was for my friend Tim [Showalter / Strand of Oaks] and I to make the 14 hour winter round-trip together, acquire the piano, and record with it. When we arrived, the estate manager said something like "yea, it's really crazy, I'm surprised there's no blood on it." Tim and I got spooked and he said "oh, you didn't hear about the murder?” Now out of respect for the situation, which is quite strange and grisly, I'll go into no other detail, but my neighbors have heard music coming out of my practice space when no one was in there, and when we listened back to some of my recorded tracks, there are notes that we did not play. I did all the typical steps, burning sage, lighting specific candles, leaving little tokens of respect inside the instrument, all of that. I think it's a friendly ghost, I mean, he's on our side. I just hope he doesn't get stage fright, because we are taking the piano out on the road for the first time this summer.
CT INDIE: Along with the friendly Rhodes ghost, you're also touring with Caroline Weeks, who you first met when Lewis & Clarke opened for Bat for Lashes. Can you tell us a little more about that first meeting and what it was that led you both to want to tour together?
LOU: Caroline is an amazing human being. She's a quiet and modest force, and quite magical. A good dancer, too. There is depth to what she is doing musically, conjuring images and placing antiquated lyrics in the now. It's natural for people to gravitate to one another's company and creations, so we kept in contact and did a short string of shows together last year, after the Bat For Lashes tour, all squeezed in the van. Much different from the Bat Bus, for sure. I think we really bonded when we stayed up all night after the show at the Gallery in Cambridge making Jazz with found objects and odd instruments. Her husband Peter was there, as well as Mary Hampton. It was raining, the evening was not well attended and we all just went into the sonic ether for hours. The owner actually came down and joined us, it was a moment. Caroline speaks that language.
CT INDIE: The language you’re referring to, could it be said that it is like an instinctual exchange in response to shared environments and moments, moods and impressions? Like a form of communication whose only vocabulary is a simple openness to discovery and a need to express the findings with others musically?
LOU: Yes, it's primitive and expansive, and really special when the lines touch. That connectivity of energy is something to acknowledge and tune-in to. While contemporary communication and media is amazing, it also dulls our primal senses, too real to dismiss. I just had Koyaanisqatsi images flash in my mind for a moment...
CT INDIE: Exactly! We've become habituated to the intense bombardment of images and sounds that are all competing for our attention. Meanwhile, there's a child out there somewhere right now poking a stick into the mud at the edge of a pond. The idea of being that child, even if only for a brief moment, is within your music, but there's an equal sense of that same child running through an abandoned farmhouse, slightly afraid of its shadows and broken windows.
LOU: I agree, seeing the world through the eyes of my child makes me hyper-sensitive to influence. There's the innocence, and with that naïveté it's not so much a sense of fear, but anticipation of the unknown, and respect, or reverence of the spiritual undercurrent, as well as things that go bump in the night. There should be no fear. These are our own creations, of course. My son and I explore nature, and really hone in on the minutia that is important. He's so psyched on little patches of lichen that grow together in different colors, and all the wildlife in the pond. These moments are all incorporated into music, or whatever outlet...dragging the rake through the sand. Interpreting what it means to be alive never gets old and always teaches us about ourselves.
CT INDIE: When you say "These are our creations, of course", this also rings true when thinking about your embracement of paradox. For instance, you have said elsewhere that the lyric in Cohen's Chelsea #2 "I need you, I don't need you" was what most compelled you to cover it. But is it true that what draws your interest to such an idea has more to do with what the contradictions share, or even what they make?
LOU: We are creatures of contradiction. Is it possible for something to be and to not be at the same time? Is it black and white? I think there's something more, the weird logical inconsistencies that cause us to be hot and cold in one breath, or simultaneously weak and powerful. It's more feel than rationale. There's an interdependence created by contradiction that I am attracted to. It's also a bit of a curse sometimes.
CT INDIE: I read that one of the references that the name Lewis & Clarke points to is Arthur C. Clarke and C. S. Lewis. What was it about their brief correspondence that interested you?
LOU: Ahh, back to the Koyaanisqatsi trip! Those guys were on it, there's an account of their correspondence in the mid 1940's called From Narnia to Space Odyssey. They were two revered minds who had concerns about technology and the future, and how it would affect mankind, as an asset or an enslavement. Not an uncommon theme, but I really like C.S. Lewis, and I like to think of him, Clarke, and Tolkien as contemporaries sharing ideas. Coonskin caps aside, I thought it made for an OK-enough name for a musical project when coupled with the obvious reference of exploration, and one that would not be out of style in a year's passing.
CT INDIE: So, for Lewis & Clarke, it's not only about new frontiers, but also about continuous rediscovery?
LOU: That's hopefully the case, and it doesn't have to be on a grand scale, either. Whether it's reinterpreting older songs, writing new material, or fiddling about on a new instrument, there's always a new sound, idea, or contradiction to play with.
interview by Jason Devin, July, 2009.