August 21, 2007
In the "Largehearted Boy Cross-Media Cultural Exchange Program" series (thanks to Jami Attenberg for the title), authors interview musicians (and vice versa).
Alina Simone is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. Her debut album, Placelessness, has been garnering rave reviews from Pichfork, and Said the Gramophone. The New Yorker, in its preview of the August 28th show at Manhattan's Cake Shop, wrote:
"Alina Simone, a sprightly Ukrainian-born, suburban-Boston-raised songwriter with a richly textured voice, celebrates the release of her new album, “Placelessness,” which evokes but does not mimic many of the pop milestones of the past decade, including the fractured beats of Radiohead and the exuberance of Björk. The thirty-two-year-old, whose father refused recruitment by the K.G.B. and was punished with years of hard labor in the Soviet Army, moved to Austin after college and started singing on the street to conquer stage fright. More recently, Simone has spent time in Siberia while making her mind up about being a singer. Fortunately, she decided she wanted to be one. For this show, she’ll accompany herself on autoharp, and she’ll perform the occasional song in Russian."
Alina Simone's upcoming tour dates:
Eugene Mirman is simply one of the funniest men on earth, and is wrapping up his first book.
How did you get on a label that mostly has bands that consist of three men?
When I sent them a copy of my album, I DID notice with some trepidation that they seemed to have like, twenty bands with three men in them. And, um, no ladies anywhere. And no solo artists. Actually, with a couple of exceptions, most labels have mostly male artists. But this year my label actually added a band called Schooner that's from Chapel Hill with TWO ladies in it. Plus the fabulous Carol Bui from Washington DC. I'm proud of 54_40' or Fight! for busting out of their THREE MAN BAND mold. Yay!
How long did you shop your album around and did anything weird happen?
About a year. Many weird things happened. The weirdest one was that I got signed to a new label and everything was all ready to go into production when I got this e-mail while on tour in Europe:
"I don't quite know how to put this so ill (sic) just say it, all of our capital was in cash and our partner has stolen it all…I can't be specific but …for obvious reasons this money was not in a bank but stored in what I believed to be a safe location, now the money and our partner is gone…"
So, I guess the take-home lesson here is: Don't sign to a label that keeps all of its money in a bag under the bed.
I think you just saved a lot of struggling bands years of signing to "money-in-bags" labels. My favorite part is the "for obvious reasons this money was not in a bank." I think that would be a very reasonable thing to say before 1860, but things have really changed in the last century.
What made you go from singing in your room or the street to actually pursuing a career in music?
Mmmm…well, you remember how sad and small and scared I was. It was very hard for me in a way that I can't even put into words. Eventually, I realized that life was moving too quickly and I wasn't spending my days doing anything that I loved to do. I was getting more and more of this vertigo-feeling that I was on the wrong track in life, that if I didn't take some chances, I would end up with some serious regrets and no one to blame but myself. Actually, you and Amanda were really inspiring. We all grew up in the same town and I watched you both work hard and succeed.
Thanks. Though, you and I are inspirations to people. We are both immigrants who came to America with very little and only the dream of surviving high school and then taking jobs away from American-born artists.
Have you ever had to break up a fight when you were on the road?
No. Have you?
Actually, once. But it was in New York and it wasn't really breaking up a fight as much as telling an acquaintance to not fight a crazy person who pushed his friend or yelled at his stomach or something. I forget the details.
Why did you pretend to be mad at me in 5th grade and stop being my friend?
Eugene! We have been over this a million times. Look, I am OFFICIALLY apologizing to you (again), in print, for treating you shitty when I was nine.
No problem. Apology accepted. Really, I was just trying to goad you into saying that it was too hard to be my friend because it was the cold war and kids hated me so much that you got teased a lot and couldn't handle it. Maybe in a different interview.
How did you meet your husband?
Um. You introduced us in 12th grade. Maybe now would be a good time to mention that you and I have known each other since first grade.
That's right. If this was a test of recalling major events in your life, you would have gotten an A+.
What are some of your favorite things about the time you've spent in Russia over the last few years?
There are so many things! Sipping hot tea from a train car at night while speeding across the Siberian steppe. Reuniting with my family in St. Petersburg and going to the building where my grandmother lived through the siege of Leningrad. Drinking fermented mare's milk (a dairy product that tastes like it's rapidly on its way to becoming cheese) with a bus driver in Ulan Ude. Since my first concert in Moscow last year, I've actually met and started corresponding with a whole community of music lovers, including a 'Punk Monk' - that is, a Russian Orthodox priest - who is really into Yanka Dyagileva, my favorite Russian singer. This has been fun!
Do your father and Stephen Hawking see eye to eye now, or are they still embroiled in some sort of grand quantum-physics debate?
They are locked in mortal combat. No, honestly, I don't really know. I could ask him. I do know that he went to Hawking's birthday party a few years ago so maybe that means they're friends again!
What are some of your non-musical influences?
COMIC BOOKS!!! I am obsessed. Especially auto-biographical graphic novels. My current favorite is 'Siberia' by Nikolai Maslov. But I am also in love with Craig Thompson. R. Crumb, Adrian Tomine. Julie Doucet. Joe Sacco. Chester Brown, Harvey Pekar, Joe Matt, David B, Seth…mmm, and a song from my new album is based on a graphic story from Kirk Kim's 'Same Difference.' My friends and family are a huge influence. I really treasure the opinions of my close friends and family - they are wise. They talk me down from the tree.
What's one of the things that has surprised you about the music business over the last three years?
The music industry has yet to reveal all of its dirty secrets to me. Honestly, the less I know, the better!
Do you have any interest in meeting any of your musical heroes?
Sure. One of my musical heroes seems very meetable and always has been. Mary Lou Lord. I would watch her play at Park Street Station on my way home from high school in Boston, and have gone to see her at clubs a bunch of times since then. I've always just been too shy to say something to her because it would probably come out as a big, embarrassing, gush-fest. Yanka's dead, so I guess my only other living hero would be Sinead O'Connor. I would love to meet her, but I bet I'd have to collect a lot of box tops and win some sort of contest for that to happen.
Alina Simone links:
Eugene Mirman link:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)