Interviews | 2009

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Monday, 15 July 2013 20:45

Micah Blue Smaldone

Written by  Søren McGuire

For nearly half a century, pre-war blues has mainly been the acquired taste of those willing to trawl through second hand record shops, searching for near-mint copies of old Robert Johnson records. But with artists like Micah Blue Smaldone digging up and brushing up this near-forgotten period of American Music, the future might just look good for the simple song. Americana UK spoke to Micah Blue Smaldone and learned what it’s like to party like it’s 1899…

MicahbyColleenKinsella.jpgYou come from a background in punk. What the hell happened? Why did you abandon punk for the folk blues?
Things just evolved that way, I reached an impasse with punk but found a quiet way out.

But with punk so heavily rooted in you, have you been able to leave it completely behind?
Punk's a huge part of who I am and how I view the world. The parallels between the two are endless, but simply put I see a common thread in all music I love. A spirit of urgency, a need to say something, to get some ancient point across.

If anything, punk and folk shares the simplicty and honesty of the music, just at opposite ends. How much has your approach to writing and recording changed since you started playing folk?
Perhaps the approach has not changed, but the songs now reflect much different concerns than a decade ago.

Such as?
Songs I wrote when I was younger were very specific and topical, "in a vain". Perhaps now with a wider breadth of experience, acknowledging that there is much in the world I may never comprehend, but only apprehend, I can approach things abstruse with an open mind. Hopefully with a quiet dignity rather than youthful pride.

Your music is heavily rooted in the folk and blues of the 1920's, and there seems to be a resurgence in younger artists discovering
pre-war blues. Why do you think this music is still able to find an audience today, nearly a century later?
Probably equal parts romanticism and virtuosity. Some of those guys could really shred.

And why do you think this sits so well with audiences today? Are we in need of safety, simplicity and honesty in these post 9/11 times where globalisation grows stronger by the day?
Yeah maybe a straighter artery.. or maybe it's just fun to escape in the past!

Even down to the way you sing, you sound authentic. What is it about this period in music that draws you?
It just became available to me at the time when I needed it most. The sentiments, humor, dynamic, and sheer skill spoke to me very clearly.

Is it difficult, erm, partying like it's 1899?
Ha ha. Well when I started playing country-blues I performed on the street all the time, and that really shaped the way I sang - inflecting a
certain way to project over traffic. Since then I've learned to sing a bit quieter.

You're from Portland, Maine. There's been a lot of tolk about a rising freak-folk-scene on the east coast. Is there a scene in Portland these days and what does it offer?

Oh there's a great community here! Cerberus Shoal continues to birth vital new projects, then there's the Time-Lag/Strange Maine contingent who are always making great things happen. Basically Portland is a small city with a lot of talented people who generally are very supportive of eachother.

Why do you think the scene has evolved around Portland?
Well, New England is very unique culturally. There is a rhythm and melody here I've not heard anywhere else. Portland happens to be just large enough to support a music community, and just small enough so that is matters.

Where do you think we'll see folk music go from now?
Good question. Maybe in our lifetime conditions will be such that music born of whimsy will find no audience, and music born of urgency will find
people coming together in a broad, if not unprecedented, way.

Micah Blue Smaldone’s ’Red River’ is out now on Thrill Jockey

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 23:28
Søren McGuire

Søren McGuire

Soren McGuire lives in Copenhagen with his wife and three sons, works as a magazine editor and honestly thinks Taylor Swift can be labelled as alternative country. He spent three years working as Americana UK's interviews-editor, once played in a CCR jam-band, and his favorite country subgenres include 70's country rock, Texas red dirt and stuff that sounds like John Prine.

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