Here’s more of my chat with jazz songstress Gretchen Parlato. The rest of our talk can be found in the latest issue of Style Weekly, on stands now.
We were talking about the light and dark on the album. The song, “Holding Back the Years,” does that represent the dark or the light?
Ooooh that’s good. It’s both. That’s what really good about that piece and probably I would say all of them. Every piece probably has those elements. “holding Back the years,” is one that Robert Glasper suggested. And when he suggested it, I wasn’t sure about the song first, just because I knew the song obviously and I was a fan of it, but never really thought about singing it. I looked up the lyrics to make sure that it was relevant to me and I just fell in love with what that song could mean. I edited a few lines of one of the verses, by taking it out it had a more general theme, which like you mentioned, allowed it to be both light and dark. So even if you think of the chorus, “I’ll keep holding on,” that could mean darkness, some one is kind of clinging and stuck, holding on to something that is not there. Or its light, like I’ll keep holding on,” as if life is roller coaster, and you re just holding on and going along with it and and being open to the possibility and holding on to what you have in good way, moving through it and moving forward. Every time I sing it I can have a good twist with it, and be thinking about each side.
A lot of the songs have that, a lot of them on the album, I think al l of them have each elements of light, lights of … to it, as a performer I could kind approach it that way. It really it hopefully for the listener to feel it and experience for themselves and maybe every time you listen, you might hear it in a different way.
Which is kind of like life, most things that happen, you could see them from a different angle , maybe if there’s some space and time around the situation, you know? Someone lost their job, let’s say, or they didn’t get the job that they wanted, that became like this horrible thing in the moment. And then maybe, that leads them to some other profession in their life, some other field that they never thought they could do. And you look back on it, and think actually was was a good thing, because it led to something else. ‘ It’s really about life. Theses songs are really about much bigger and deeper issues in a really good way.
Did you talk with Mick Hugnall at all?
No, I don’t what he thinks of the song, or has even heard it or has any clue about it. That would be amazing. I would be curious to know if he approves of it. I hope so. But you never know. It’s always cool to know, if ever, they actually do hear the cover. I know with “Weak,” the composer, Brian Alexander Morgan, he ended up hearing the song, back in the myspace days, it could’ve been facebook, someone put up a video of the songs and he contacted me through one of these social networks. He really liked it. It’s a really cool think when you can get that kind of feedback from the source.
How do you process the feedback you get from critics? Are you bothered by reading it?
My belief with that, at least right now, is that, I think it is good to read it. I think it is good to see it and the process and the goal would be to allow it to … kind of read it and kind of know where it comes from, consider the source, consider that everyone has an opinion. Have some compassion, I guess, for the writer, in a way where, meaning like, okay, who are they, what might they be hearing and how might they filter this music through their own experience. And then you kind of move on through that, take what you can with it, and there’s always a lesson it it, then move from it and know that it’s one moment that’s not a huge defining thing.
I guess that’s what people say to do with all kinds of feedback, whether its good or bad, this one thing is one person’s opinion, that can mean a lot, but there is a way to kind of let that go. Luckily, there been really positive feedback about this album, but there’s always going to be critics, and when that comes around, I think it’s better for me to actually read it and not be in the dark, you know. Critics is one thing, but … there is one thing, there’s this whole thing with youtube comments, those can get pretty ridiculous, there are times where I have to stop looking at those and move on, because people get really absurd with what the things that they post about people.
There is a sense where you read it, you listen to it, you let it go. But if it’s constructive criticism, then that’s healthy. But if it’s just someone being a punk about stuff, and being rude and racist and whatever, as abusive comments can be, you know, it kind of like there’s no need for that. I’ve learned a lot from people who have given me criticism, tried to take that and use it.
I guess you know what my next question’s going to be about.
I don’t. What’s that?
Well, we’ve talked about critics and you tube, and I have to ask you about … Helen Mackenzie.
Oooh, of course. How could I even question. What would you like to know about Helen Mackenzie?
Where did she come from?
She came from her hair. She came from that wig. The story was, this was Christmas Eve, 2006 or 2007 and my high school friend had this ridiculous wig, that used be a nice, clean kind of purple bob-cut wig. She left it in her car in the sun, and found it months later, and that’s exactly what it looked like. It was all shriveled and matted and it turned blue, it looked just like how you see it in the videos. I just put it when we had a Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends, my friend had a video camera and this is something that we do all the time, somebody has a camera and we just improvise and make up little … and be silly. So that’s what happened, it was not a planned thing.
This is a another side of me, if I wasn’t a singer, I’ve always loved to act. I’ve never really taken any kind of formal training, but I do love it and I do love to dress up. And I love to improvise. Making people laugh and laughing at other things in life, that is greatest feeling in the world. Thinking of the whole “Lost and found” thing, when you laugh, even if you are in a really dark place, in that very specific moment, you forget. You’re able to physically forget and get caught up in something in a good way that makes you laugh. And then you might go back to your dark place, but if someone can make you laugh in a split second, you’ve found some light. I love the idea that laughing and crying are both these opposite, both light and dark, lost and found kind of reactions, but they really come from the same place.
That’s kind of the deeper thing, about this lost and found opposition, it really is complete opposite, but the core is the same, so they’re opposite, but they’re very similar, you kind of need one to balance out the other.