Wendy Allen and Scott Solter

A Conversation with Wendy Allen (continued)

WA: Well, Conrad knew of Paula Frazer and he was trying to get her to sing on the album. He came to a show that Paula and I were doing together, just the two of us, singing some of her stuff, as well as some of my stuff from the Low Country project. And she turned him down, so he asked me to do it. That's really it, that's the whole story. And I've [laughing] thanked her many times for turning it down.

PM: Yeah because, come on, your work on that record is absolutely fabulous.

WA: Thank you so much. I had a lot of fun. One of the best things about it was that he let me bring in material that I was familiar with, that I grew up with and loved. I shared some John Jacob Niles stuff with him, and different people that I knew of from growing up and listening to it on my grandmother's 78 player, and he really appreciated that. To sing stuff and arrange stuff that meant something to me personally, that made it so much more fun. And Conrad was such a dream to work with. It was really great.

PM: What an unusual group of people, both Conrad and Robert and the whole gang, Tom Armstrong and Sukhawat Ali Khan and the others. A remarkable bunch. Do you know them all?

WA: No, I don't. I've only met Conrad and Robert. I've never met Tom--I've spoken to him on the phone one time, that's it. I tried to get him to sing a song on my album. It wasn't in his range so we never actually got to meet. And I've never met any of the other musicians on the album. I'd love to do a show with everyone.

PM: I think I'd have to fly out there for that! [laughing] If that happened, I'd have to be there.

WA: It would be an incredible show. I think Tom would probably be the hardest one to get a hold of, because he is very involved in his own band. And we all live fairly far apart from each other, even though we're all in northern California, so it would be difficult to get together for rehearsals and stuff.

PM: That's right. Conrad is in Santa Rosa, Robert is over in Fairfax, but I think most of the rest of you are in San Francisco. I'm a former Bay Area guy, so they're all familiar locales to me. You know, I just had a conversation with the amazing Sukhawat Ali Khan. What a expansive soul he is!

WA: Oh really? I look forward to meeting him.

PM: It was a little like talking to somebody from another planet. It was beautiful.

WA: Wow. I'm lucky to be on a song with him then.

PM: There was a wonderful symbiosis that took place in absentia there.

WA: Definitely.

PM: So tell us a little about Low Country please.

WA: It all started because my husband was playing this piece of music for me, and instrumental piece, and he was asking me if I would write some vocal parts for it. And I was listening to it and I said, "Gosh, this is bringing up all these really beautiful images of the Low Country..." That's an area in South Carolina, near the ocean. It includes Charleston, South Carolina, and Wadmalaw Island, areas where I spent a good deal of time in my childhood in the summer. It's so gorgeous there! And he became intrigued, like, "What is this place like?" And I was saying, "It'd be cool if we could bring in different sounds, like a black choir singing in a church far off down a road or something," all these sounds you'd hear there. Then I started thinking of all sorts of incidental sounds, you know, sounds that would give the feeling of that area.

So I started sort of writing these fake hymns that we could record to put into it. But the more I talked about the Low Country area, the more Scott became intrigued with it. And then he said maybe we should do some research into music that was actually from that area. We ended up going there--I took him to the area so he could experience it--and we took some recording gear down there and did a lot of field recordings of me singing some of these traditional tunes, songs we'd found in doing research on the area or that I'd grown up listening to, songs I knew as a child. And we ended up recording them out in the woods and stuff.

PM: What was he using to record this?

WA: We just used a little portable DAT machine, and took some microphones. He has a film preamp that he likes, and we took that with us.

PM: I'll have to ask him about that. What's that piece called?

WA: It's called an SQN. It was designed to be a preamp for recording sound for film, but it's like his favorite piece of equipment that he takes on field recordings.

So we went to South Carolina and did these recordings, and now we're back in San Francisco and we're adding instrumentation on top of those field recordings, or using the sounds, ones that we recorded there or on various road trips to the Nevada desert and to this cabin in Arizona where we did some recording, putting that together with music recorded here. You can hear a rough version of one of them at a place called tinyrockets.com--I haven't been to that website in quite some time, I should probably check to be sure it's still there. I've had several people email me recently and tell me that they'd seen it there, so... Let me just check on it while I'm talking to you.

PM: I can tell we're just about to run out of tape. Damn.

WA: Any last questions you want to get in?

PM: No, because when we cover you again, when I review whatever you may send from The Court & Spark or when the Low Country project is ready, I'll probably call you again.

WA: Okay. Sounds good.

PM: Thanks for your time. You know, to a person, everyone in this project sounds so terribly nice. Really lovely people.

WA: Oh, well thank you. I hope that all of the people in this project can get together sometime soon. Even just to play through some of the songs, it would make me so happy. I'm so in love with Tom Armstrong's voice, his singing just brings tears to my eyes, literally. I think I'm, like, a little bit nervous to meet him at this point, because I love his voice so much. [laughs]

PM: [chuckling] He should be nervous to meet you too.

WA: Well, I don't know about that but...

[And that's when the tape ended.]  continue

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