Goodbye Providence, Rhode Island! A week or two before we met in Isla Vista for her One Night Music session, Omnivore's Glenna Kay Van Nostrand packed her car with musician/friend Liz Isenberg and headed south, then west. In a stormy accident in Asheville, North Carolina, Glenna lost her rear window to a wayward something and picked up some duct tape. Around Texas, the two New Englanders hoped to catch sight of some tumbleweed. No luck there; they'd wait until somewhere between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, of all places, when a tumbleweed would surprise them on Highway 101.
Maybe this journey is not the kind movies are made of, but still...what excitement! Glenna and Liz were unsigned, touring the country on their own, and twenty-something, barely older than me. After Omnivore's One Night Music session, we grabbed some Indian food, and I learned Glenna is just the type of girl I'd love to spend more time with: she's sweet, unassuming, quirky, gentle, remarkably creative and very humble. She has the most adorable haircut. Looking back, I think: Pardon the curry stains, but I'm in love.*
Omnivore was on the road in LA when we first got in touch about One Night Music. I have to admit I was a little confused by Glenna's instrumentation as she described it on the phone. And despite my current understanding, I run into similar difficulty when I try to explain her set-up to others. First, there are two telephones. These telephones. One is yellow and plastic with large push buttons arranged in a circle, and the other has a true rotary dial. It's vintage, unscuffed, and looks beautiful sitting upon a wooden crate. The phones are connected to a Boss loop pedal, which is amplified by a large, old, wooden Philco radio jukebox. That's it! Imagine. Glenna's instruments are her lovely voice, the clicks and beeps of the old phones, and the looping of these sounds combined.
How does this music work? In layered perfection. She builds her songs with various organic and technological elements: counting, rotary clicks, touchtone beeps, and vocal phrases. To hear her recorded music on CD-an EP called Lo-fi Mo-fo-is an entirely different experience than seeing it performed live and constructed fragment by fragment, layer upon layer. While I find it delightfully esoteric, I've heard the former described as weird, cacophonous, difficult to tease apart the independent loops, like trying to untangle a really confusing knot. The latter-Glenna live-is like putting together a puzzle whose image you've never seen, and it's nothing short of breathtaking:
Mmmm get, mmmm get, mmmm get your. Mmmm get, mmmm get, mmmm get your. Elbows, table. Elbows, table. Off my. Off my. Mind your manners.
We recorded Omnivore's session at The Biko Garage, a small eccentric space with walls covered in bright, graffiti-like art. I've seen many shows there, but Glenna's One Night Music session was my favorite, most intimate Biko experience by far. Later that evening, when Liz Isenberg and Omnivore opened for Kimya Dawson (of Moldy Peaches and Juno fame) for a crowd larger than any I've ever seen at Biko, we realized our private session was a true privilege. Josh Redman, show organizer, opened Biko's garage doors for the entire show (this never happens!) and music filled the very cold outside. A sea of people huddled under blankets, packing the entire length of the long driveway.
Goodbye, Santa Barbara. It is more solemn this time. We meet so many people, so many musicians. Some of them really touch you and warm your heart and make you believe there are truly lots of beautiful, interesting things out there. When we are lucky, these people are our friends and neighbors, but when we are really lucky, we can meet on an afternoon almost by chance, an entire coast and a few tumbleweeds away.
* Thanks, Billy Collins and "Marginalia."
Recorded in Biko Garage, Santa Barbara, CA on April 15, 2009.