Friday, July 28, 2006

Mary Battiata (Little Pink), Spring 2002

A flashback to my first piece for Harp magazine. I hear Mary's working on a new album, and I can't wait to hear it; I'm playing Cul-de-Sac Cowgirl as I write this message.

Mary Battiata:
It’s About the Song

Mary Battiata was raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which sits on Washington, D.C.’s left shoulder. No matter what the Mason-Dixon Line says, it’s not the South. The middle Atlantic states are a hotpot of funk, folk, metal, and twang. And while Battiata’s band, Little Pink, has been labeled alt-country, it’s hardly a textbook example of the genre. The distinctive sound of Cul-de-Sac Cowgirl (Adult Swim) is built on Battiata’s voice, a raw variant of Margo Timmins’ cool purr; her songs, portraits of damaged innocence, erotic longing, and stoking up to ride the wall of death; her hundred-and-twenty-buck Danelectro’s “weird cheap twang”; and the judicious use of a collection of Washington-area roots-rockers headed by Karl Straub (of the similarly hard-to-categorize Graverobbers).

Listening to Cul-de-Sac Cowgirl is like tuning in a very clear radio station from thousands of miles away: what you hear is not lo-fi and definitely not psychedelic as the 21st century understands it, but definitely experienced through a whiskey haze, a cannabis blur. Things are just a little off-kilter. When I tell her that the sound is “disorienting, in a good way,” she replies, “Oh, good, ’cause that’s the intended effect.”

So it shouldn’t be surprising when the first influence Battiata cites, for its “darkness,” is the far-from-rural Velvet Underground. “I also really like the early Rolling Stones records—“in particular, Flowers and Aftermath. “They both have a sound-they’re sort of country and folk, almost, but then they’ve got this weird guitar sound and it really, I think, makes them very powerful and just takes them all up into another planet. I also think that, Richard Thompson, the darkness in his guitar chords and sound, is also something beautiful...It’s like a whole palette of colors that I feel like I’m just starting to mess around with.”

Still, she’s not pinning Little Pink down to much of anything these days, describing the group as “me and whoever I can get to work with who I want to work with.”

“There’s a disadvantage that, if the cast is always changing, you’re always having to show people the songs-but that also means that the sound is always changing, and it’s pretty liberating.”

In this way, Little Pink evokes the group to which its name pays homage. “It’s not so much their individual songs or any particular record of theirs as much as I liked the way they were so free and just changed things up as they went along. If you talk to people in their 20s, sometimes, they don’t know The Band that much....I think it’s maybe because partly they changed the sound a lot. But I really love their overall’s easy in a band, like in anything in life, to calcify, you know? So I like the way they were always blowing things up and moving on.”

OUT NOW: Cul-de-Sac Cowgirl (Adult Swim) See Also: Velvet Underground, Richard and Linda Thompson, Blood Oranges

First printed in Spring 2002

No comments: