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Jeff Moehlis

Jeff Moehlis: Larkin Grimm to Perform in Isla Vista

Eclectic 'freak folk' singer-songwriter talks with Noozhawk about her music, her career and Friday's concert at Biko Garage

Singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm will perform Friday night at Biko Garage in Isla Vista.
Singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm will perform Friday night at Biko Garage in Isla Vista. ()

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

“Freak folk” fans will want to check out Friday’s concert by Larkin Grimm at Biko Garage in Isla Vista.

For the uninitiated, Grimm is a well-traveled, eclectic singer-songwriter who was described by the Swans’ Michael Gira as “the sound of the eternal mother and the wrath of all women,” who also said “her voice is like the passionate cry of a beast heard echoing across the mountains just after a tremendous thunderstorm, when the air is alive with electricity.” OK, I won’t even try to top that description.

Grimm is touring in support of her soon-to-be-released album Soul Retrieval, which was recorded with the help of famed T. Rex and David Bowie record producer Tony Visconti. Joining Grimm on the bill is Arrington de Dionyso, Nicole Kidman (not the actress, of course, although I’m sure she would be welcome) and Former Selves.

Biko Garage is at 6612 Sueno Road in Isla Vista. The evening’s shows begin at 8 p.m., and there is a $5 suggested donation. All ages are welcome. No alcohol is allowed.

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming concert at Biko Garage?

Larkin Grimm: I will be playing a solo electric 12-string Stratocaster and singing my songs.

JM: How would you compare the experiences of performing live and recording in the studio?

LG: To me, live performance is all about energy, and recording is more of a fine art. They are very different, and I love them both. I think my live performances are usually better than my recordings, which is frustrating. I’ve been trying to bridge that divide for a while. For this new album, we recorded the band all together at the same time, trying to achieve that live feel. The song “The Road Is Paved with Leaves” comes closest to replicating a live sound.

JM: Your soon-to-be-released album Soul Retrieval was recorded with help from Tony Visconti. How did this come about, and what did he bring to your music?

LG: I recorded a song called “She Was Born to Be My Unicorn,” and Tony Visconti is the guy who produced the original track, so somebody who knew him heard my cover and forwarded it to him, and he was just so surprised that anyone still listens to Tyrannosaurs Rex. He was like, “Who is this person?” He lived in the West Village and I lived in the East Village, so we met through a friend, through a photographer who knew us both, and it was basically her idea that we work together musically. I don’t think I would have ever had the nerve to ask him. We ended up producing the record, and he played some shows in my band.

It was so awesome to have this production genius standing behind my work and legitimizing my vision in a way. It helped my confidence. I absolutely totally admire Mr. Visconti. He is amazing.

JM: Do you feel any special kinship with any other Tony Visconti-affiliated artists, say the Tyrannosaurus Rex-era Marc Bolan?

LG: I recorded a cover of “She Was Born to Be My Unicorn.” I love those albums! They contain such sincere experimentation.

JM: Can you explain where the phrase “Soul Retrieval” comes from?

LG: A shamanic healing ceremony. I had this experience studying with a guy, his name is John Perkins. He’s the author of this book called Confessions of an Economic Hitman, which ended up being a New York Times bestseller. But he was a Wall Street guy who went down to Ecuador and got really, really sick. A shaman there saved his life. As a result, the shaman said, “Now I own you. [Laughs] Now that I’ve saved your life, you’re my apprentice. I’m going to train you to be a shaman.”

So I met this guy, who’s now a white shaman, who was going around doing these shamanic ceremonies with CEOs of companies, trying to prepare the world for 2012. And 2012 is supposed to be this time when the heart and the mind, or logic and institution, come into balance. Some people call it the masculine energies and feminine energies. And part of the thing to get people to achieve this balance is you do these ceremonies called “soul retrievals.” It’s a ceremony where you search for pieces of your soul that have been lost, and you try and make yourself stronger and better and more uniquely you.

JM: How would you characterize your time playing with the Dirty Projectors?

LG: Oppressive.

JM: Your 2008 album Parplar was co-produced by Michael Gira and released on his label. What was it like working with him?

LG: Totally magical and wonderful. I love that guy. We parted ways for good reasons, but it was an experience that changed my life for the better. Mr. Gira is a very inspiring man. He is also a truly good, kindhearted person. Not everybody realizes that about him because his music is so intense. I think I could work in the studio with that guy forever and be happy. But our lives outside the studio really clash.

JM: How do you think your upbringing in the hippie spiritual cult/commune called the Holy Order of Mans has affected your outlook on the world?

LG: Enlightened by the age of 5, a spiritual outsider, nothing left to do but long, endarkening experiments with human life force.

JM: Do you have any formal musical training?

LG: Not in the classical sense, but my whole family plays Appalachian folk music. Blood harmonies.

JM: Could you give a quick rundown on the different instruments that you play, and their relative merits?

LG: Lap dulcimer — mesmerizing drones and wonderfully limited modal scales. Only four strings to deal with. Simplicity is beautiful. Banjo — ethereal, starry, otherworldly and dark. The fifth string provides the rhythm. It is really a drum with strings. Classical guitar — six nylon and silver strings, so buttery smooth, rich and warm. Electric 12-string — psychedelic and impossible to tune, always surprising me with its chiming charms. Harp — it is nearly impossible to play an ugly sound on a well-tuned harp. And playing it is primal and simple.

JM: I read that you are a descendant of the creators of the Grimm Fairy Tales. Do you have a favorite Grimm Fairy Tale, and why that one?

LG: I am a super great grand-niece, I think. The Grimms have a very strong intellectual tradition. There are not very many of us around. My favorite story is probably Thumbelina or The White Snake.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

LG: Don’t do it. It is a hard life. We do it because we aren’t suited for anything else. If you can hold on to another job, stick with that! But if you get fired from every job you have ever had and you are a high-strung orchid living on the edge of sanity, go for it! And try to be kind to the show promoters. They tend to be generous, sensitive, kind people and they deserve respect for what they do.

JM: Where are you responding from?

LG: An ice-covered house in Olympia, Wash., with no heat or electricity, in the middle of an ice storm.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site,

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