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Friday, 11 February 2011 10:13

Fiddler on the Road: A Conversation with Carrie Rodriguez

Fiddler on the Road: A Conversation with Carrie Rodriguez
Written by Matt Champion
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Texas-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carrie Rodriguez is known for her abilities on the violin and mandolin as well as her skill at crafting songs about love, life and family. She was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her tour preparations for an interview about her family, music, her new album and traveling with the Acoustic Café Tour.

Matt Champion: Where are you in the tour right now?

Carrie Rodriguez: I haven't started. I leave tomorrow morning. I'm in Texas right now, where it's warm and sunny. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah, now.

I know. There's some snow storms moving in, actually. I'm supposed to drive out in it tomorrow, but we'll see. I'm still getting packed and getting all of my instruments together.

I understand that you were originally inspired to pick up the violin after seeing Itzak Perlman in concert, and changed your focus from classical to country and contemporary after hearing songs by musicians like Townes Van Zandt, Richard Thompson, and Hank Williams. Are there any non-musical influences that you find inspire your music?

Non-musical influences. That's a good question. Well, I'm a big reader and I do like reading historical fiction books, putting myself back in a different time and imagining what life was like so that probably finds its way into my music. Other non-musical influences, well, my mother is a painter and I grew up with colorful oil paintings all over the house. I also grew up thinking that being an artist was a perfectly normal career choice, so that didn't hurt.

That was actually my next question. I know that you come from an artistic family, your mother (Katy Nail) is a painter, your father (David Rodriguez) is a singer-songwriter in his own right, and your grandmother (Frances Nail) is an essay writer. Were you encouraged to choose your own artistic path or were you influenced by your family in one way or another?

I was influenced by my family in that they, you know, encouraged me to follow my artistic dreams and do what I wanted to do, but I wasn't pushed into playing the violin. I chose that instrument when I was five and I fell in love with it and really no one ever forced me to practice. I loved doing it and was kind of competitive as a kid. I realized that I really didn't have any other talents. I don't know how to do much else. I cook a little bit, but that's about it so I knew that was what I needed to do for the rest of my life and my family never did anything but encourage me to follow that path, and I'm still doing it.

You started touring with your father around the age of 15, is that right?

Yeah, I did my first European tour with him around that age. I had been playing some gigs around Austin with him, he's a folk singer and songwriter. At the time, I was mostly a classical violinist so I would just get up and, you know, play a few melodic lines. He would have to write out certain parts for me, but that was a real tour. He took me out of high school for three weeks, I think I was a sophomore, and dragged me all over Europe to these little bars and small towns all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland. It was an eye-opening experience. It's amazing that I'm still doing it seeing what it was really like, [Laughs] but it was great. It was really great. I think I learned a lot about life on the road at a pretty early age. I got a good dose of it.

Do you find it more difficult to play with him now that you are an artist in your own right, as opposed to when he would have to write out lines and tell or show you what to play?

I don't play with him very often. He lives in Holland and I see him maybe once every couple of years, which is not enough. My life has gotten busy and I haven't really found the time to play with him so I can't really even answer the question. I don't know what it would be like to play with him now. I think it would just be beautiful because he's my dad and I love his songs. He respects my musical choices so I think he would be pretty easy to work with at this point.

I've noticed that music writers love to put labels on musicians and music. I've seen different people describe your music as Americana, Post-Americana, Roots, Post-Roots, Alt-Country, and Country among other things. How would you describe your music?

Wow, Post-Americana? What does that even mean, after Americana?

According to the article I had read where you were described as Post-Americana, it's Americana based music with kind of a Grunge style angsty feel to it.

Oh… Your question was "How would I describe my music myself?"


Oh, yeah. I have a hard time labeling it too. I don't mind when someone calls what I do Americana because it definitely has roots in American music. My heroes were mostly American folk song writers. Though I listen to jazz, world, classical music and plenty of rock I can't really identify with one of those specific genres so, um, I like the Post thing. [Laughs] It's post-modern Americana rock… jazz. I don't know, I can't answer your question, but as long as people are enjoying it I'm thrilled.

So I guess you'd describe your music as "Yours."

Yeah… It comes from my heart. I do what I love. I'm certainly not trying to write songs that will please any one person or group of people. You know, I'm just doing what comes out and trying to stay true to that.

That's the way it should be.


I know that you've played with some big name musicians. You've played with Lucinda Williams, you play a lot with Chip Taylor, and sat in with Lyle Lovett, who is a family friend, during rehearsals and such. Is there anyone you out there you haven't played with yet that you'd love the opportunity to sit in with?

Bob Dylan is up there. It would be great to play in his band. I may need earplugs, I think they play pretty loud but they rock. Dylan's got a great band, so that would be at the top of the list. I'm also a big fan of Calexico and would love to work with them someday, either play in their band or it would be really fun to make a record together. I don't know them, but hopefully they'll hear this and I'll meet them someday.

Speaking of playing with others, you recently released the album We Still Love Our Country with Ben Kyle of Romantica. Do you approach songwriting differently when collaborating with others than you do when writing alone?

Not really… I still do what I do, but I'm open to letting that change so I'll come up with maybe half of a song or so. I try not to finish it if I'm going to be collaborating because I don't want to get too stuck in one way of playing the song. I'll come up with a song, try not to complete it and get together and see what happens with whomever I'm writing with. I love, you know, working with other people because it brings out different sides of my musicianship and it makes me end up singing different kinds of melodies and lyrics than if I were left to my own devices. It's a really fulfilling activity for me, writing with other people. I think I enjoy it even more than just writing on my own.

I know you're a road warrior. Do you and Ben have a tour planned to support the album or are you still seeing where that will go?

Yeah, we're just waiting to see. We did tour back in the fall, we did a tour of Europe together but we both have so many different projects going on. I think we'll just wait and see if this record starts getting played more and more on the radio, you know. I think we might end up building a tour around the places where it gets played the most. It would be fun, but I can't imagine that happening until sometime in the summer.

I mentioned that you were a road warrior. Last year you were on the road supporting your album Love and Circumstance, joined in the first Acoustic Café tour, and you recently did a few shows in Japan with Chip Taylor.

No, I didn't go to Japan with Chip. He took a different fiddle player. Her name is Kendel Carson. Chip and I did some shows in Austin and New York back in September and December.

Ah, OK. I had gotten that information off of the Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez page of the Train Wreck Records website, so that's why I mentioned it. I'm not trying to send you all over the world.

I'd love to go to Japan. That sounds great! Sign me up.

You kind of already answered my next question. I was going to ask if you enjoy playing with other musicians over your own solo shows. Also, do you feel that your approach to your instrument or the songs themselves change depending on whether you're playing solo or with an ensemble?

Definitely, definitely. I love playing with other musicians since I grow so much as a musician. One of my favorite people to play with is Alejandro Escovedo. His live show is truly remarkable. He just brings so much passion and energy to his music. Sometimes I play the violin in his band and when I'm doing that he'll get so much out of me. He'll get in my face when it's time to take a solo and demand that I play something great, and I just love it. I love the challenge of it and where it takes me. With my own music, I do enjoy playing solo but I also love playing with a band. I'm about to do another Acoustic Café tour. In a couple of days we leave. That will be with Erin McKeown and Mary Gauthier, so that's going to be really fun because we each play a little solo set and then the second half of the show we play together, kind of as a band. We get to play on each other's songs and sing on each other's songs, so that will really fun.

That actually leads into my next question. This is your second year on the Acoustic Café tour. Do you enjoy sharing the bill with like-minded musicians? Do you find that your sets are influenced by those of your tour mates?

Yeah, they are. For example, in the show that we're about to do Erin and I both have written songs about Minneapolis so we decided to throw those into the set back to back. We also each chose a couple of cover songs to do and that's really fun, you know, because you end up singing things that you normally wouldn't think of. We've got an old Rosetta Tharpe song to do, some Hank Williams, my choice was Lucinda Williams. Yeah, it's great. I love doing these Acoustic Café tours because I learn so much from the other songwriters. This one is special to me because it is all women and I'm used to touring with mostly men. I'm used to it and feel that I'm ‘one of the guys' as my band mates are some of my best friends, but the truth is that there aren't many female side musicians out there, or even stars. I think there's a lot of room for new female artists and I think it's fun that we're a bunch of ladies together on this one.

The show is going to be at the Old Rock House. Have you played there before?

I have. The only time I played there, this is kind of bizarre, I got vertigo. It's kind of the most bizarre affliction, at least the most that's ever happened to me. It's funny in that it hit me on tour last year and the second day I had it was probably the worst. I could barely walk and I had a gig at the Old Rock House. They had to help me get up on stage because of the stairs since the stage is kind of high off the ground and I was leaning on a stool for the whole gig. It was kind of bizarre so I don't remember it very much, but I think I had fun.

At least it is memorable in that you can't remember much.

It was memorable in some ways. The crowd was really supportive. I must have looked incredibly drunk because I was weaving around the stage and had to sit down every once in a while. I'd reach down to pick up a different instrument and almost fall over. I kept saying "I'm not drunk, I've got vertigo!" So this will be good. I'm excited to go back in good health.

Do you have anything you'd like to say to current or prospective new fans in St Louis?

Ooh… Well, they're gonna get a lot of variety if they come out to the show. Erin, Mary, and I all come from very different backgrounds, different parts of the country, and we all play different instruments, and we're gonna have a lot of fun. It'll be a hootenanny!

Great! We look forward to seeing you on Monday.

Isnt' that Valentine's Day? We'll have an extra romantic show.

Carrie Rodriguez, Mary Gauthier and Erin McKeown (the Acoustic Café tour) perform at the Old Rock House on Monday, February 14.

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