INTERVIEW + NEW MUSIC: LYDIA RAMSEY
I had the chance to chat with local folk, Americana songstress Lydia Ramsey about her brand new debut, Bandita; the enjoyment of sharing intimate moments with another, “Ancient Music Making Devices” and action figures. Check the album here.
the mixtape: What are you doing right now besides answering this question?
Lydia Ramsey: Lounging in my robe, listening to Kevin Morby.
tm: I’ve read that some (or much) of your debut solo record, Bandita, is based on or inspired by your family history. If so, why was it important for you to mine your family history and have your heritage as a base for some of this album? Also, did you have to do a lot of research on your family or did you already know much about the topic?
LR: I became more interested in my family history when I learned of my roots in Appalachia and further back in Ireland, places where early traces of folk music are found, and learned that many of my relatives were also musicians, writers, public speakers. I thought it was so interesting that I shared this creative connection with people I’d never met. We all have these stories that precede us and make up who we are, that was the basis for the song “Ghosts”. I felt like these stories needed to be told.
I had some first hand knowledge of my ancestry because my grandparents on my dad’s side lived up the road from my parents house, I got to know them really well and hear stories about when they were little. My mom reached out to her sisters to gather more info on their side of the family and my aunt came across an old scrap book that their mom had kept from her teenage preaching years. I think I was most drawn to discovering my family history as a way to learn more about myself, and where my passions in life might have come from.
tm: “Dreamy Eyes” is a beautiful love song. I am myself, a romantic. I especially enjoy the lyrics, “And in the morning light, come a little bit closer to my side”. Who doesn’t love a bit of pillow talk? You say that: “…the middle of the night and early morning seem to be the most intimate times to share with someone; where the heart takes over the mind.” What do you think it is about those times that make us as a people, possibly, more vulnerable to emotion?
LR: I think it’s a time when our brain is finally starting to calm down and we’re able to just be in the moment. You’ve got no where else to be, so you’re able to embrace your immediate surroundings more. The rest of the world seems to fade away and it’s easier to be in this sleepy, hazy, quiet state.
tm: You collect “Ancient Music Making Devices”. What does this mean and how are they incorporated into your music, specifically your new album Bandita?
LR: Well I don’t know how ancient they are but over the years I’ve kept every instrument possible close at hand. The exploration part of music is deeply gratifying to me, at times I’ve had an accordion, recorders, a clarinet, saxophone, an Ude, a theremin, electric harpsichord, piano, guitars, mandolin, piano, uke, fiddle, banjos around the house. I think the variety helps keep my brain in that childlike state of discovery and wonder, that’s so vital for the creation process. On Bandita I play guitar, banjo, keys, and trumpet which became a really fun exercise in arranging and gave me some freedom to explore in the studio by myself.
tm: How does the creation of a song start for you? If you can, take me through a bit of that process…
LR: Most of the time things start with a guitar line. That comes the easiest for me and I spend a lot of mindless hours just plucking around on the instrument. Then, something comes that stirs my heart and I know to hold onto it and work from that point out. A melody usually comes next and lyrics often, last. For a while I was producing all these half written songs, because the beginning of something new is always more fun to work on then to sit with a piece that’s come to a sort of halt. When I was writing some of the pieces for Bandita I adopted this writing method of creating “a song in a day” where I couldn’t stop a session without finishing the damn thing. I came away with a few songs I was really happy with, including the lead of track, “Ashford”. A few years ago I began to think more about what kept me in a creative, open state of mind, and to make sure my days were structured around making that a priority. I find that state when I’m outdoors, up late, when I’m exposed to other beautiful art and when I’m alone, surrounded by instruments.
tm: What inspired the music video for your song, “Ghosts”?
LR: As I was writing the song I had pretty clear imagery of old timey, western scenery, along with this theme of opposites that are at the core of all human beings: good/bad, masculine/feminine, hard/soft, represented as black/white in the video. I wanted to portray this inner conflict as a commonality connecting us all. The eeriness of the music begged for something in a vast landscape where the imagination had some space to wander.
tm: You grew up in very much of a music family. You were surrounded by it. Obviously, now, music is your passion. But, when you were younger was there ever a time of musical rebellion? Not wanting to play?
LR: When I entered high school my parents pretty much told me I had to audition for choir and I was VERY against the idea. It seemed totally scary and also lame and I was not interested. But I gave it a chance and totally loved it. There have also been times when I first started playing guitar that I was super bashful about playing in front of people. Friends would want me to sing at a party or something and I always thought it was ridiculous that anyone would want to hear me play and sing and would just shrug and say, nah.
tm: If Lydia Ramsey was an action figure what accessories would you have?
LR: Hmm, jet propelled black boots for flying, a banjo for general evil thwarting, (those things are indestructible) and a brass BANDITA belt buckle that emits sound waves so entrancing they convert any evil plot within a million billion miles into a plot of love.