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Mary Lattimore (Interview)
Today we’re listening to Mary Lattimore, an American harpist based in Los Angeles. We’ve featured her four times before this. As she explains in our interview below, Lattimore took up harp after her mother, studying the instrument in high school and college. At 25 she started composing original works, ambient / neo-classical music that places reverberating harp strums at the center. She recorded her new album, Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, over two years, reflecting on the evanescence of all things. She invited several collaborators to the project, including Lol Tolhurst of The Cure on keys and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive providing light vocals. We’re also re-upping Lattimore’s 2021 record, Collected Pieces: 2015-2020, which brings together half a decade of pieces with harp, synths, strings, and guitars.
What are the pieces by Debussy and Ravel that initially drew you into Impressionistic music?
My mother is a harpist, and I remember her always playing Debussy's Arabesque No. 1 and telling me that it was her favorite piece. As a high school student, I performed Debussy Danses with my high school orchestra and it felt like a really monumental accomplishment – it's so tricky! These lovely Debussy and Ravel pieces for harp and ensemble are the most gorgeous ones to me but also so difficult to learn. But the amazing feeling is the interpretation after you get the technical bits all perfected. You can swim in these pieces. Ravel's Introduction and Allegro is another one. Just so sumptuous.
What was the moment when you decided to play the harp?
I started taking lessons when I was 11 years old because of my mom. I took the lessons from friends of hers and studied pretty seriously throughout high school and college. It wasn't until I was 25 that I played music that wasn't classical music and began to write my own parts and songs and to improvise.
What music has inspired you recently?
I have been freshly inspired by my dear friend Jonsi lately. He plays in his Icelandic band Sigur Ros but also just has such an art - life. He has no limits to his creativity. He's a visual artist with major shows this year in museums. He's a perfumer and uses scent in the same way he uses instruments, as tools for beauty and sometimes grotesqueries. He has made very experimental solo music and just does what he wants without compromise. I admire his way of seeing the world and the art he makes. It's all-encompassing. Recently I saw Sigur Ros at the Greek here in LA with 40 piece orchestra and it took me away for a few hours. I was so moved.
What are your favorite records to work to?
I love listening to Harold Budd and Brian Eno during a lot of activities. Feels like they're keeping me company while I'm trying to get through the tasks.
Name an underrated musician from the past 50 years who deserves more recognition today.
I really adore the music of Tara Burke. Her project is called Fursaxa. She's a Philadelphia-based musician who's been making stuff for decades. We played together when I lived there and I really love what she concocts – haunting vocal-loops and homespun delicious confections of sounds with bells and keyboard and guitar. She has a very unique sound and sincere way of making music.
Any good movie recs?
I loved seeing Stop Making Sense at the IMAX with surround sound. What a joy!
I recently saw Boyz in the Hood for the first time and what a great one, such a heartbreaker.
What echo pedal (or plugin) do you use?
I usually use the Line 6 DL4 looper.
Do you still like walking around Echo Park Lake?
Yep, I love walking around the lake and also love walking around Angelino Heights, where there all of the historic Victorian houses all in a row, including the house where they filmed Michael Jackson's Thriller video. It's a fun walk.