The Drowning Season
"You English sure can kill the mood and miss the point sometimes"
If blue is a cold shelter, Mimi Goese probably tiled its roof, papered its walls and straightened its pictures. Her seductive solo debut Soak (Luaka Bop) channelled waves of elation and sadness to amazing effect last year - 'equal parts Jeanne Moreau and Dr Moreau' we pronounced in our review. But even if you don't know that record yet, you may recall the luminous releases with her former band Hugo Largo (Drum and Mettle, recently re-issued on CD) from the 80s and her invaluable contributions to records by Moby and Hector Zazou. Our ensuing chat with her took place by email, although we appreciate that seamail would have been more aesthetically appropriate. Dive in.
Your recording career seems to fall roughly into three segments ...Hugo Largo—Moby—Mimi... Do you think each phase dovetails neatly into the next? Have you consciously planned your career or do you find it better to go with the flow?
Do you see yourself primarily as a composer/singer or are other areas of art and performance (film, say) equally important to you? Are you aware of boundaries between artistic activities or does one naturally bleed into another?
I love to perform. I feed off the energy exchange. I have found it to be one of the scariest, most mysterious and psychedelic drugs out there. I get a thrill from performing and the exchange that takes place. I've learned it's more important to concentrate on the process than to be goal-oriented. That carrot of making it big is just dangling there, limp as can be. It doesn't work any more. It never really did, because I never really wanted to make it in the traditional sense. I just wanted to make a living at what I love to do. And I can't seem to talk myself out of the arts.
You've collaborated with an impressive stable of talent over the years—is art necessarily collaborative for you, more fulfilling than working alone? Are there any memorable moments of collaboration you could share with us?
I don't have any stories to share but I feel certain everyone would be shocked to see the circumstances we've had to record under sometimes. You don't know what a shoebox is until you go to Hahn Rowe's studio 'Barrio Chino'. Let's just say he's the only one that has a chair and he hardly uses it and the heating on a cold day is a frame of mind.
How easy is it to transfer Soak to a live setting? Tell us about the people who've been appearing on stage with you lately... (Syd Straw, Marc Ribot, Elliot Sharp et al)— how did you recruit this enviable band of talents and what do they bring to your music?
What does liquid (water, whatever), which seems to recur in your writing, signify to you? Something primal? Oblivion? Security?
Do you think Into The Blue and When It's Cold I'd Like To Die are thematically two sides of the same coin? Do opposites—love and death, say—attract you? (When It's Cold... is among the most tragic songs we've ever heard by the way; where did it come from and was it hard to sing?)
Aurally, Soak is often free-floating, the lyrics often dreamlike or magical realist and the music is a kind of electronic jazz, with tracks unfettered by conventional song structure. Is atmosphere more important to you than sense? Do you feel part of a musical landscape existing beyond the confines of your own head?
The other influence is speed writing or automatic writing. Piece Of Cake and Believer came entirely from speed writing. And speed writing probably comes from those images sometimes. Your questions make my work sound so interesting...
Speaking of magical realism (as we kind of were), tell us about your brush with one of its greatest practitioners, Salman Rushdie...
I sang with Hector Zazou at a crazy show in England that included Laurie Anderson (so great you would be surprised how nice she is), Lou Reed (self-absorbed), Bob Wilson, Philip Glass (absentmindedly friendly), Bill T Jones (killer dancer), Michael Nyman (I didn't recognise him afterward and he asked me if I sing with other people and I said, 'who are you?’, Ryuichi Sakamoto (blew everyone else off the stage) and the best was Salman Rushdie. Rushdie was too funny. I ran into him months later at a David Byrne concert and he remembered me and kept going on about my performance — 'you were fucking amazing! How do you do that with your voice?' No lie. I was so shocked. He went on and on, introducing me to his friends with his arm around me. My favourite was that he said ‘can I find you again?’ so I gave him my card. I love that Rushdie is worried that he will not be able to find me. But now he is married and free so I haven't heard from him.
Tell us about your working relationships with your co-producers, Hector Zazou and Hahn Rowe.
I read with interest that you listen to a lot of opera... what in particular has made an impression on you? Does anything from the form manifest in your own work?
What kind or relationship does your conscious mind have with your unconscious? Do you ever dream songs?
If you were offered the challenge of writing and performing a James Bond theme, would you accept?
What makes you happy?
1. They're training dogs to sniff out cancer.
I told this to someone when he told me he was contemplating suicide. I pleaded, 'No, no you can't. They're training dogs to sniff out cancer. You can't miss shit like this' and on and on of the mysteries blah blah... and he wrote that as a note to himself and tacked it above his bed. ('He' being the 'soy bomb' guy from the Grammys show, if you happen to have heard about him. See what the world would have missed?)
2. The Hubble telescope went into deep space and found an estimated 50 to 60 billion galaxies in one square inch of the night sky you might see with your naked eye. Fall down.
I told this to an English lover while in bed and he said, 'Is that an English billion or an American billion?' Man, you English sure can kill the mood and miss the point sometimes.
I love thinking about that because it makes me feel so small and stupid and that we humans do not have a clue and will never understand. In fact, that is the only thing I feel absolutely sure of — I will never understand.
| Back to interviews|