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Interview with Joe Henry (english version)

Joe Henry
Joe Henry
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau, for Paris DJs - october 2011)

Only a few artists deserve the title of "living legends" but Joe Henry is, without any possible doubt, one of those. He ties together two great talents, the skill of a much sought-after producer (Allen Toussaint, Solomon Burke, Aaron Neville, Jim White, Ani Di Franco, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Hugh Laurie...) and the skill of a unique songwriter. As a singer and for more than ten years Joe Henry has released several masterpieces with incredible guests such as Ornette Coleman, Brad Melhdau, Jason Moran and many more. This autumn he's back with Reverie (Anti Records), an amazing all-acoustic album. He tells us about the aesthetics of this new record and, because of his longtime love for art, poetry and cinema, he was an obvious choice to answer our Questionnaire de Proust. Oh, by the way, we'll be releasing an exclusive Paris DJs mix celebrating Joe Henry on November, 5th.

Joe henry

O1. 'Reverie' is a very important word for French poetry and literature. Why this title?
The word for me suggests not be “lost in a dream,” as my dictionary describes it, but rather being awake to the mysteries and wonder of living, in a way that our days’ distractions frequently don’t encourage. The characters that walk through these songs are, many of them, fearful of  time that has been lost; but the crisis has, as well, found them fully conscious for perhaps the first time.

02. 'Reverie' is an all-acoustic album, though where one could have expected bald and pristine sound, you have chosen another option.
I wanted to speak with an acoustic and stripped-down vocabulary, but that didn’t suggest to me a limited range of expression –or a demurring one. I wanted to feel the weather in the room…the raw grain that is palpable from the rumble of acoustic instruments; and I loved the notion that if something needed to be more exotic, for instances, that we wouldn’t pick up a more exotic instrument, but rather the shift needed to come from our intention as musicians.

03. There’s a kind of continual blow on the background, like a remote river or the sound of a shore.
I left all the windows to the studio open and put microphones at each, so that the sound of life happening would become part of the fabric of the music. Songs don’t happen in a vacuum, and I felt there was no reason to pretend so any longer when recording. I also think it encourages listeners to listen to the whole of the album as a piece, since there is never silence between songs. The ambient noise carrying one into the other allows the impression that it is all happening in real-time as you hear it.

04. More than another record of yours, the form of Reverie seems a circle, something never ending where the end look towards the beginning and the beginning towards the end.
As in life, indeed. The arc of living doesn’t follow a straight line, but rather loops around like a small plane, watching the landscape turn from summer to fall, then back again.

05. Have you asked your musicians to watch some particular movies before recording this time?
John Huston’s “The Misfits,” with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift.

06. One word about the female guest singers on the record.
Jean McClain sings on “Odetta” and “Sticks & Stones.” I have been working with Jean continuously since my album Fuse (1997), when I enlisted her to share vocals on “Like She Was A Hammer.” She’s a killer, and can occupy some of that space that people Like Mavis Staples and Ann Peebles do. Lisa Hannigan sings with me on “Piano Furnace.” I had just produced her new album “Passenger” (the #1 album in Ireland, as I write this), and was –and remain- completely enthralled by her as a vocalist, songwriter, and as a person. I can’t say enough about her; and I just instinctively wanted to open a door for her somewhere on this album. “Piano Furnace” just seemed to have the right kind of space, and yearning. And now I can’t imagine it without her.

07. Will you be touring in Europe?
Well, I’ll be playing a one-off show in London on December 2nd –a duet performance with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, as part of a series he has been curating at Wigmore Hall. As for my own shows on behalf of “Reverie,” I believe I will be in early February, though just where I do not yet know. Though I am always looking toward Paris.

08. Your favorite writer(s)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver, Nathaneal West…

09. Your favorite poet(s)
Rainer Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Arthur Rimbaud, James Wright, Wallace Stevens, Antonio Machado…

10. Your favorite classic novel
"Moby Dick" by Herman Melville.

11. Your favorite philosopher(s)
Ralph Waldo Emerson, R. Buckminster Fuller…

12. Your favorite painter
Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall…

13. Your favorite classical composer
Claude Debussy.

14. Your favorite film director(s)
Marcel Carne, Federico Fellini, Wes Anderson, Ingmar Bergman…

15. The 10 movies you would bring on a desert island
Les Enfant Du Paradis (Children of Paradise), On The Waterfront, Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove, The Royal Tenenbaums, Chinatown, The Last Detail, I Vitelloni, Rushmore, 8 1/2.

16. Your favorite wine.
Red. Is that enough? I am an enthusiast, and it is hard to pick one; but I am very much into big Spanish reds right now, as well as California Cabernets.

17. Your favorite witty quote
“Be careful what you want out of life because you’ll get it.” Bette Davis

18. Your favorite NOLA artist or singer
Louis Armstrong (aka, “the heavy weight champion of the world”).

19. A musician or singer in Europe you’d like to produce (or work with)
Cesaria Evora (assuming she qualifies as European).

20. A musician or singer in Africa you’d like to produce (or work with)
Salif Keita. I have produced some songs for him (in fact a whole album’s worth, though only 2 songs have been released), but…want to do more.

21. Is there a musical genre you can’t bear?
I don’t think in terms of genre.

22. Have you ever refused to produce an artist. Who?
“Refuse” isn’t the word. I have said “no, thank you” many times; but it wouldn’t be appropriate to call names. My choices are personal and aren't meant to seem as judgments.

23. What job would you love to do in another life?
Film director. Then mail carrier.

24. Do you think time is a line or a circle?
“We live our lives in ever-widening circles…” Rilke

25. In which animal would you like to be reincarnated?
Orson Welles.

26. A very important thing you have to do before you die.
Talk less, listen more.

27. Write your epitaph.
Would be a stanza from W.C. Williams:

It is I, a sparrow—
I did my best.

Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau

Links :
Joe Henry : official | discogs | facebook | myspace | wikipedia | ANTI | a blog about Joe Henry

Joe Henry Reverie

Selected Discography :
Joe Henry - Fuse 1999
Teddy Thompson - Teddy Thompson 2000
Joe Henry - Scar 2001
John Doe - Dim Stars, Bright Sky 2002
Solomon Burke's - Don't Give Up On Me 2002
Joe Henry - Tiny Voices 2003
Joe Henry - 'I Can Quit Anytime' & 'Animal Skin' on the single 'This Afternoon' 2003
Jim White - Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See 2004
Ani DiFranco - Knuckle Down 2004
Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm 2005
Bettye LaVette - I've Got My Own Hell to Raise 2005
Various - Our New Orleans 2005
Various - I Believe To My Soul 2005
Susan Tedeschi - Hope and Desire 2005
Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm 2005
Susan Tedeschi - Hope And Desire 2005
Various - Meeting on Mission Street feat. Allen Toussaint, Mavis Staples, Ann Peebles, Irma Thomas and Billy Preston 2005
Various - Our New Orleans feat. Allen Toussaint, Diry Dozen Brass Band, Irma Thomas 2005
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint  - The River in Reverse 2006
Joe Henry - Civilians 2007
Loudon Wainwright III - Strange Weirdos 2007
Mary Gauthier - Between Daylight and Dark 2007
Loudon Wainwright III - Recovery 2008
Rodney Crowell - Sex and Gasoline 2008
Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi 2009
Joe Henry - Blood From Stars 2009
Ramblin' Jack Elliott - A Stranger Here 2009
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Jenuine Negro Jig 2009
Salif Keita - La Différence 2009
Mose Allison - The Way of the World 2010
Hugh Laurie - Let Them Talk 2011
Joe Henry - Reverie 2011
Nicolas Ragonneau

Nicolas Ragonneau

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