San Fran Bay-Area artist Amy X Neuburg is coming back over to NY (actually, she may already be here) to perform for one night only with fellow composer/performer pianist Cory Smythe at Brooklyn’s Roulette on Dec 13th. Neuburg, known for a very unique style of electronic art songs known as “avant-cabaret” is scheduled to put on both a separate and a collaborative set with Smythe. Amy spoke to us briefly about her work leading up to this.
CM: How did you get started and how did that lead to your brand of avant-cabaret?
AXN: It’s all a sort of coming together of interests. I’ve enjoyed musical theater since I was a kid, as well as pop and classical, and have always had a fascination of language, hitting things and making things. My avant-gardeness was probably a product of the experimental times I grew up in and my progressive hippie-dippie education–especially my modern dance training. In my classical voice studies I always found the new to be far more vital and interesting to perform than the old, plus I had an unusually wide vocal range and wanted to explore all of it, which led to composing, extended vocal technique, and vocal multitracking, Meanwhile, I fell in love with the hands-on construction qualities and infinite sonic possibilities of electronics, and with the visceral satisfaction of using electronic drums as my triggering device.
For 10 years I had a band called Amy X Neuburg & Men. The men were charmingly geeky on stage; they couldn’t really sing in a convincingly rock way, so I created vocal lines for them that sounded like drunken antiphonal music theater. As we honed our sound, and I explored the theatricality of being a “front woman”–which I found hard to take seriously–the combination of humor, theater, Kurt Weill-ish chunkiness (because that is how I play drums), and often rather tragicomic subject matter made me think of cabaret. So I went with it, and when the band ended, my solo work took on these qualities. Cabaret conjures up more of a sensibility than a genre, so I can perform in any style that seems appropriate for getting the song across and still consider it cabaret.
Amy X Neuburg & Men: The Shower Song
CM: The sound of your first solo album Residue seems to invite comparisons to Laurie Anderson in terms of having to categorize it under the sound of another artist (I’d say it’s somewhere between her and Nellie McKay). Is this a conscious thing, or would you say it’s totally coincidental and not even on your radar?
AXN: Thank you for asking this. I never had any intention of sounding like Laurie Anderson and occasionally get a bit eye-rolly at the comparison, but I also can’t blame people for making it. We are solo ladies who work with voice and electronics, and we both have an interest in words. I guess there are so few of us out there that we all get compared to Laurie.
She certainly helped open up the possibility, during a very exploratory time in music, for successfully crossing genres–pulling pop into art, and vice versa. So, in this way she may have influenced me, as did so many creative musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
My style is more compositional, if I may say, and I make use oif my classical training both in composing and singing. Laurie uses her voice more as a storyteller, and relies more heavily on effects. She’s known as an innovator in combining media, while I’ve chosen to concentrate on creating music that stands on its own, and I am mostly known for the way I use live looping. Et cetera.
Residue (live clip, date unknown)
CM: The Secret Language of Subways with the Cello ChiXet adds a whole chamber background to the mix. How did you come to record the CD with them?
AXN: It began with one song, which popped into my head while riding the NYC subway. I had recently become fascinated by the sound of the cello, so I imagined the song performed by voice with three cellos. That was the seed for an entire cycle of songs (for voice, cellos, live looping/processing and electronic drums), most of which I conceived on the subway during a 3-year period when I lived bi-coastally. I put together the Cello ChiXtet (they did not previously exist as a group) in order to bring the cycle to life.
I’ve since then turned most of my creative efforts towards composing for ensembles, with and without my voice.
The Gooseneck (w/The Cello ChiXtet; live San Francisco, 2006)
CM: Nice cover of Genesis’ “Back in NYC”! I love that song! Are you a Genesis fan?
AXN: So actually, this is a cover of the Kevin Gilbert cover of Genesis. I’m pretty familiar with Genesis and have always appreciated them but have never considered myself a fan–It was the Gilbert cover that specifically rocked my world, with its sparse first verse exploding into intense beefiness. The subject matter seemed to fit perfectly with my song cycle, and the layers of monophonic repeated patters lent themselves well to both cellos and live looping.
CM: What are you planning to perform at the Roulette show with Cory Smythe?
AXN: We’re each performing a few solo songs, but the bulk of the evening will be brand new and collaborative. Much of our music leaves room for improvisation, and most of it involves live looping of the piano and the voice. You’ll hear a “cabaret improv” song about rat experiments, a completely whack song Cory has written which I am to sing in a country twang while looping piano chords in multiple odd time signatures, a duo of new songs (about personality disorders) constructed of simple layered lines, two composed songs that we played earlier this year in Milwaukee, and an unusual interpretation of “Gretchen am Spinnrade” that we have convinced ourselves Mr. Schubert would appreciate.
This Loud (live; date and venue unknown)
If you are in the area on Tues, Dec 13, be sure to check out the show with Amy X and Cory
Amy X Neuburg/Cory Smythe
Tuesday, December 13, 8 PM
509 Atlantic Ave (At the corner of 3rd Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11217