Song: “Loreena” (Acoustic)


Web-Exclusive Interview with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David

How did the idea of “Loreena” come to you?
I actually wrote this song in a dream! That’s only happened to me a handful of times, and not recently. I woke up, or probably a New York City siren woke me up, which is the only reason I may have remembered my dream—with the whole first verse lyric in my head, and the chorus as well—except for the “Loreena” line which was just a musical melody for me at that point. I went to the piano right away and started finding the accompaniment, and then some of the other musical bits fell into place like the intro, solo etc. But essentially, I had this image of a woman who was very beautiful and beloved but also a bit self-destructive in my head, once I sang the words aloud. I wrote the bridge while I was awake, so that may be why it’s more open and has fewer lyrics—I didn’t want to impose too much storyline over what had been a very immediate inspiration, in my sleep!

Did anyone in particular inspire this song? How did that evolve?
It was a very subconscious process writing the bulk of the song, obviously. But then once I went to the piano I had these three syllables that were just melody, right at the top of the chorus. I played with it a bit, with the idea of just leaving it as “ah-dah-dah…I don’t want to lose you” etc., but then I started different names including “Oh Shana”, “Oh Ada”, and “Oh Laina” and none of them felt right. I even got so far as playing the song for my violinist that week and arranging her part when it hit me: “Loreena” fit perfectly, and given Loreena McKennitt’s pretty much the reason I started an indie label, and I’ve loved her music so many years, I was thrilled her name fit in those three notes the best! If she ever hears the song though, I definitely don’t want her to think I wrote it about her, but I definitely did name it for her! I actually reached out to her through her website to share the song not too long ago, but it may have just gone into the ether.

image003Give me a little insight as to how you took a dream and crafted it into song.
This is really one of the rare occasions where the concept kind of took me over and I just tried to stay out of the way. When you write most of a song in your sleep, there’s a kind of magical thing you feel very grateful for, because it really is mysterious. I will say that having known several very complex, beautiful and talented women, that when I sang the song in the studio I definitely tried to summon the emotions that had come up in those past relationships, in my “method” way that I do! The bottom line is I haven’t met this particular person in real life though, and now at my shows I always say, “Loreena, if you’re here please come say hello!” The only Loreena I’ve ever encountered, on any level, has been Loreena McKennitt. I played on a bill with her at a Rocky Mountain Folks Festival a few years ago, and her performance was absolutely transcendent—her musicianship, her generosity with the audience. If I’d written a song about her though, there wouldn’t have been any angst!

Were you able to weave the Celtic themes/influence?

Well, once I had the title that’s when it really became fun, as a producer, to designate this song, so to speak, as “The Celtic track” on the record. That was helpful because in general I usually want to put violin, acoustic guitar and accordion on a lot of tracks, but my co-producer had the good sense to encourage me to really channel my ongoing affection for Celtic instrumentation into just this one! Hopefully that makes it more special and unique, in the context of the album. Also, I really encouraged my fiddle player, Kelly Halloran (from my band “The Sequins”) to step out, and make the piano theme her own. So by the time she gets to the solo, it’s her shining moment but her solo still really echoes the hook we’ve heard before.

Any other influences?

I’ve never told you this, but I lived in Ireland as a teenager and my first internship was working as Bill Whelan’s assistant (Riverdance) while he was scoring a Yeats play. So it’s never very hard for me to draw upon that inspiring time in my life, musically speaking!

image001Which of McKennitt’s song(s) and/or album has influenced you the most?

The Book of Secrets was on repeat on my stereo for a long time. It just completely blew me away in terms of the otherworldly, almost operatic quality of her voice combined with the sensual, reflective mood she creates. Her music flaunts her own traditional influences so boldly but is also utterly unique. She has such a gorgeous voice, and at the time I first heard it, her instrumentation was so in sync with what I’d already been absorbing as a “neofolkie”. My parents were not folkies at all. My Dad was a Beatles fanatic and my Mom listened to a lot of Broadway composers and pop, while I absorbed everything from synth-pop to synagogue music. But in Loreena’s work I recognized a lush, careful beauty that resonated with me beyond folk and seemed to merge World music—which has always seemed a strange term to me but nonetheless—with Classical and Pop. At least that’s how it seemed to me. The more I learned about her vision, her backstory and her record label, the more I respected and admired her and really, knowing she was out there being so focused, prolific and consistent had a profound impact on me and what seemed possible, as a self-produced, independent artist. My other favorite albums of hers include “All Soul’s Night” and The Mask and Mirror, which really makes me wish I was Sephardic—the way she weaves Moroccan and Spanish influences into music is so sensual and her music just takes you on a journey, and makes you want to belly dance! (Laughs) Well, me anyway.

Did any other musicians or songwriters influence this album?

In all honesty, I was much more influenced by visual art and dance while making this album, than any other (living!) musicians or songwriters. In general, I actually avoid listening to any other music at all while I’m in an album writing/making process. But this time around it just didn’t even come up. I was very consciously digging into my past as a ballet dancer, in part as a response to the way the lyrical dance community has embraced my music via the TV show Dance Moms. But also because that was an idea that my co-producer Andy Zulla (Idina Menzel, Rod Stewart, Kelly Clarkson, Megan Hilty) and I had. And it was a very clear vision, very quickly: we wanted to make an album of “ballet pop”, i.e. pop music inspired by dance and most specifically, ballet and lyrical. For me, the classical influences on my piano playing and my overall sense of melody are so embedded, all I really tried to do when I holed myself up for a week in London, where I wrote this album, was visualize what a multi-media song cycle with dance and my music would “look like”, and then listen.

image004Did you write all the songs for this album?
The cover song on the album, “Learn to Let You Go”, is by JP Hoe. And every time I’ve heard him play it live, it’s just pumped me up in the most visceral way. He told me it was about someone getting caught up in a cult, but that’s not how I perceived it at all—which is fine. He gave me his blessing, so I just channeled my interpretation, which is much more about finding that one thing—whether it be dance, music, art, computers, “the circus”, whatever it is that pulls you in and grips you so hard that literally nothing and no one can tear you away from it. For me the song is just about passion, which made perfect sense to include—because dancers are some of the most passionate, dedicated people I’ve ever encountered.

What is one thing you want people to know about the new album Choreographic?
I came at this record from a very specific angle, which was, necessarily, my own experience as a “former ballet dancer”. For many years, I defined myself that way because society basically told me as a young person: “you need to choose between going to higher education and being a professional dancer.” I think in many ways I mourned that loss, that feeling that I left something essential behind that had taught me everything about myself at a very young age, for much of my life. What this album symbolizes for me now is a celebration of movement for the sake of itself, and for the gifts it gives everyone—not just professionals. Being able to move to music, or even to witness another’s expressiveness through movement, however large or small, is such a privilege, and it’s something that people have done forever. I hope this record inspires people to move in some new way, even if it’s just spinning around in the living room. I wish I could go back in time and tell a teenage-me that I didn’t have to choose at all, and that it was just as meaningful to dance purely for myself, as for a teacher. So I guess all of this has been one grand excuse to get back into something I never stopped loving, and to let go of regret, gracefully.

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