Hello Andrew, so you started playing violin age four?
Yes. My mom started me in the Suzuki method where you learn by ear as you learn language.
What are the inspirations in your last album “My Finest Work Yet”?
Lyrically it has to do with how I feel about what’s happening in my country and beyond with the rise in populism and fascism. Musically, and with the sound of the record, I was inspired by early 60s jazz-pop-gospel from Nina Simone to Rudy Van Gelder produced jazz records of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and early Herbie Hancock.
How has your music changed over the years?
I started out writing early jazz type songs with original lyrics. I worked my way through most of the 20th century from New Orleans to Memphis to Detroit. Then at some point, I put all my records in storage and moved to the country and began making entirely original music not so directly referential. Over time my lyrics have become a bit less abstract and more to the point.
What’s your writing process?
Melody, melody, melody. Then I start speaking/singing in tongues over a melody until I find the right words,
always keeping the point I’m trying to make in the background but not worrying about message or meaning too much until later.
How important is the barn for you, the isolation, to be able to write new songs?
It was important for those years that I was there. I have an adaptive ear so if I’m surrounded by musicians and records, I will get pulled in those directions. I had to be in a vacuum for a while to figure out what was inside me. Now I can take that with me wherever I go.
The artwork of your newest album “My Finest Work Yet” is a recreation of the painting “The Death of Marat”: how art inspires your music?
My mother is an artist and I grew up with the neighborhood art classes she would teach. Most of my friends from Chicago are artists and collaborating with them is what keeps me sane. I started with the title “My Finest Work Yet” and tried to find an image that would highlight the absurdity of such a statement.
Is.. Your Finest Work Yet?
Whether it is my finest work yet, I don’t know. It seems like everyone wants to know if any one of my records is my definitive statement, and I thought I’d make fun of that notion. We had fun recreating that painting though.
After Fiona Apple… who would you like to collaborate with for a song?
Mavis Staples, PJ Harvey, Courtney Barnett. I have Madison Cunningham in my band and she is the best guitarist and singer I’ve ever worked with.
What are your favourite artists and musicians in this moment?
Mavis Staples, Cate Le Bon, Will Oldham.
How do you feel about being on tour? Is it fun to see the world, or hard to be away from home?
It’s hard to be away from my family, but I’ve finally figured out after all these years how to thrive and have fun on tour. Maybe it’s feeling like I’m doing it for someone other than myself and that I have something to come home to.
Plan B. If you weren‘t a musician, what would you have done?
I wanted to be a psychiatrist when I was 12. Not sure if it was because I was fascinated by human behavior or if I just liked the Freudian office decor.
The last question is for your fans. What are your favourite book, actor and movie?
Book: The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
Actor: John Turturro
Movie: Il Conformista by Bertolucci