Abby Jeanne on the transformational power of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’

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5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To is our chance to talk to artists we love about songs they love.

Listen to the whole segment below.

Abby Jeanne on Curtis Mayfield

Our guest today is local hero Abby Jeanne.

Abby, what is the last song you couldn’t stop listening to?

I’d say the last song would be “Move On Up” by Curtis Mayfield. Even though it’s like seven minutes long. I would just put it on repeat, like all day. I’m like, walking? “Move On Up.” Driving? “Move On Up.” It doesn’t stop.

Why this song? What stands out to you about “Move On Up”?

Well Curtis Mayfield in general is a genius. But also, just the feeling that it makes you feel, which is very good. It’s like an extremely positive song. There’s like, this makes me feel good. “Move On Up” is like all day, nonstop, having a great time. And, yeah, it just makes you feel really good. And on top of that, I mean the instrumental itself is really good. Even when people aren’t singing. There’s a slew of instrumentation going on. He uses like six different drums and you know so many instruments that meld together like a kaleidoscope of positivity. And that would be “Move On Up.”

Do you use music like that, to make you feel better? Do you listen to that and you’re like, I need to feel better and I’m going to listen to this song? And then do you feel the difference?

Oh definitely. I mean I could listen to the song on any given day, but I actually have had specific moments in my life where I’ve played that song to feel good. I mean the message itself, just in the lyrics, is positive. But then on top of it, it’s got this, like, if you had to assign an aura to that song, it would be like orange and yellow and bright. It’s very bright sounding and bright feeling, so yeah, definitely.

Do you think that was like such a particular time, what makes that sound? What creates that? It’s not just the time, but it’s like the microphones and the pedal and the instrument. 

Right, I mean it’s interesting because every instrumentalist, or every musician in general, has their own tweaking things that you can’t recreate. So there is kind of this overlap of tone when you associate with a time period. Which might be something as simple as recording on tape, but this is something I talk about a lot with producers and friends who are musicians. It’s always the question. How do I get that? How do I get that? When really in actuality it’s the artist themselves who are tweaking certain things. So if they have a pedal, that is very specifically tweaked to their sound. You know?

So I couldn’t say there was just some master button that says, “now you sound like you’re playing the seventies.” There is no master sound. It’s very catered to the artist themselves.

For a Curtis Mayfield, for that song, how do you create that “we’re feeling good” sound? What is that? What is it in the song?

I don’t know, that the thing! That’s why I can’t stop listening to it. I’m still trying to figure it out.

Abby will be playing at Turner Hall Ballroom on Feb 7.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Alex Cameron says Angel Olsen is speaking to him in an alien tongue

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5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To is our chance to talk to artists we love about songs they love.

Listen to the whole segment below.

Alex Cameron on Angel Olsen
Chris Rhodes

Our guest today is Alex Cameron. Alex Cameron is this musician from Australia who is doing things that other musicians just aren’t doing. He’s talking about subjects other musicians aren’t talking about. He’s very comfortable on the stage. Above all, what he is doing is interesting. And I love him. I think he’s one of the more underrated musicians making music. I hope that more people listen to his music because of this. Our guest today is Alex Cameron.

Alex, what is the last song that you couldn’t stop listening to?

I had to press replay on Angel Olsen’s “Lark.” I had to go back and listen to it again. And then I watched the video who was directed by Ashley Connor, who I’ve worked with on a number of occasions. Again, I had to press replay on that.

There is just something about it that is just scary. Angel is operating on a level that is…she’s speaking in a futuristic language. It’s like she is communicating in some kind of alien tongue, but it makes sense.

She’s unreal.

She always surprises me with what she does, and it’s always good.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Mumford & Sons’ Winston Marshall suggests listening to Kiah Victoria

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5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To is our chance to talk to artists we love about songs they love.

Listen to the whole segment below.

Winston Marshall on Kiah Victoria
Ross Gilmore

Our guest today is Winston Marshall from the band Mumford & Sons. We’ve been playing Mumford & Sons new song, “Blind Leading the Blind.” We had this conversation before they played to 17,000 people at the Fiserv forum last year. Winston Marshall brings that signature banjo to Mumford & Sons as well as doing backing vocals and other instruments as well.

Could you tell me the last song that you couldn’t stop listening to?

Well, there’s a song last night. I found it so entertaining. I listened to it three times back to back.

She’s from California and her name is Kiah Victoria. I look up the name of the song but it’s got an amazing video with it. Sort of odd, very odd choreographed video. The song is called “Ornament.” The production on that is absolutely phenomenal.

What makes the production stand out?

It’s just weird. And very simplistic.

I noticed that the lot of the new music coming out from very young musicians now it’s very, everything is very, um, minimalist. That’s a cheesy word to use him in music “minimalist,” but it’s really just vocal. Very occasionally. Like Billie Eilish kind of like, she’s the best, one of the most famous artists who does that. It’s all about the vocal melody and the lyrics. And the performance and everything else around it might as well not be there. It could just be a vocal take.

Check out our full interview with Winston here.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Justin Barney’s top five songs of 2019

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There were a LOT of great songs in 2019, and let me just say, this is my list, Justin Barney, Music Director at 88Nine. I have a particular taste and things I like for who knows what reason. These ain’t the best, they have been my personal favorites and I would love to share them with you and hope they connected with you or connect with you in the way they connected with me. I just want to share these with you.

Ebru Yildiz Justin Barney and Big Thief Photo: Ebru Yildiz
My favorite songs of 2019

5. Maxo Kream – “Brenda”

Maxo Kream is one of music’s great songwriters right now. On most of his album this year, “Brandon Banks,” he tells his story. Born into dire straits Emekwanem Biosah Jr. in Houston, Texas, he looked to be clean, and ended up praying to the dope.

But in this song he doesn’t tell his own story. He tells Brenda’s. He takes the character of Brenda from 2Pac’s song “Brenda’s Got A Baby.” That character is based on a profile that the New York Times wrote of a girl in New York City in 1991. The New York Times did not name the girl in the profile. 2Pac gave her a name, “Brenda.” So, this song carries on music’s long tradition of call and response songs and it also has an archival quality to the song that is poetic in itself.

And then there is the story of Brenda. Her mom’s an addict. She’s a prostitute. She’s pregnant. And she wants to do right for her baby but she knows what they will be born into. It’s what she was born into. Then it shows the cycle.

The first time I listened to this song I was driving down to Chicago, tears streaming down my face as I listened to this story unfold. This is Brenda’s story.

4. Bill Callahan – “Son of the Sea”

After three musicians picked Bill Callahan’s album for this segment, I figured it was time to give the album a spin. Turns out, they were right. Bill Callahan’s style of songwriting is wandering and a touch magical. Sometimes it can seem like a riddle or stand up bit. One of my favorite lines from the album comes from the song Angela, where he somberly says, “like motel curtains, we never really met.”

“Son of the Sea” is kind of everything that I love about his songwriting style in one.  He’s got a touch of that mysticism, he implicated that he may be dead, saying, “Some say I died, and all that survived are my lullabies.” He cracks, a joke, talking about turning the panic room into a nursery. But at it’s core, it’s a ode to the importance of and his love for his family. 

3. FKA Twigs – “Cellophane”

I love sad songs and this might be the saddest song of 2019.

FKA Twigs, asking, “Why didn’t I do it for you?”

I interviewed her and she said she did it in one take. She sat down at the piano and it just came out. It is one of those songs that sounds like she said, fully formed and from within. Waiting to spill out, in great swells, as she sat at the piano, asking hat it is within her that can’t be accepted.

2. Shura – “the stage”

There are a lot of songs about desire. And I love those songs, but they are usually one sided. Desiring something you can’t have.

But the stage is mutual longing. It’s flirtation.

My favorite part of the song is, after building this tension through the whole song she says, “we don’t wanna dace, we just wanna ___” And then she doesn’t say it. You know what they wanna do. But it’s so tasteful.

Match that with a killer drum pattern from Liam Hutton and a part where this phaser takes the entire song and turns it inside itself as they are turning with desire.

The stage is flirtatious from beginning to end, and I am hanging on every word.

1. Big Thief – “Not”

There are two parts to most every song. There are the vocals, and there are the instruments. “Not” by Big Thief is my favorite song of 2019 because I think it has the best the best vocal performance and the best instrumental solo of any song of the year.

Let’s start with the vocals. My favorite song of 2017 was Big Thief’s song “Mary” and the thing I liked about that song was that it carried this vocal momentum. “Not” takes the best part of their best previous song and pushes it even farther. The repetition of what it is not builds and occasionally released like in the best moment of the song where she rips, “It’s not the hunger revealing” and her vocals break behind her passion. The vocals are raw and emotive as the band itself.

And then, at the emotional crest of the song, all that momentum and propulsion, all those words. It gets to a point where words are not enough and it tears into a swirling and emotional guitar solo that it never returns from.

It gets lost in itself and never returns.   

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Five songs BROCKHAMPTON can’t stop listening to

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5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To is our chance to talk to artists we love about songs they love. This week, we’re dedicating the entire segment to members of BROCKHAMPTON, the self-proclaimed boy bad from San Marcos, Texas. They all met on this Kanye forum online called, “KanyeToThe.” In 2018 their album, “Iridescence” debuted at #1 on the Billboard chart.

Each member of the group is eclectic in their own way, and it shows in their picks — a grab bag of songs that span genres and decades.

Read the interviews and hear their picks below.

1. Dom McLennon picks “Photographs” by Rihanna

Form the No Halo video directed by Spencer Ford Don McLennon in the “No Halo” video directed by Spencer Ford

Dom, what is the last song you couldn’t stop listening to?

Does it have to be a new song or an old song or whatever?

It can be anything.

Okay. “Photographs” by Rihanna.

And why that song?

I don’t know exactly, but the first time I heard it, when I got back into binge listening to it, that intro guitar riff stopped me in my tracks.

Whatever I was doing, I forget what I was doing, but it demanded my attention. From there I have just been listening to it over and over again.

Rihanna, of course, is an icon. What is the singular thing that stands out and makes her amazing?

How multifaceted she is. She’s an incredible businesswoman. An entrepreneur. Musician. Singer. I mean, what can’t she do?

Also, can you tell me what shoes you are wearing?

I am wearing the Double Cross, Reebok Questions. they just came out not too long ago. The left shoe is from 1997 and the right shoe is from 1996, Allen Iverson’s rookie and sophomore years.

2. Merlyn Wood picks “American Love” by Rema

Merlyn Wood from the “Sugar” video directed by Kevin Abstract

The last song I couldn’t stop listening to was “American Love” by Rema.

I don’t know who that is. Could you tell us about Rema?

Yeah, Rema is like the next biggest thing in… I mean, he’s just the next biggest thing, bro. Really great melodies. He’s a singer from Nigeria. I’m saying he’s the next big thing. Akon said it too.

What does the song sound like?

It sounds like “Graduation” but in the club. Like a T-Pain song on “Graduation.”

3. Joba picks “For the Sake of the Song” by Townes Van Zandt

Joba from the “199WILDFIRE” video directed by Kevin Abstract

The last song I couldn’t stop listening to and still have not stopped listening to is from one of my favorite albums. By songwriter/artist named Townes Van Zandt. He’s from Fort Worth, Texas. And the song is “For the Sake of the Song.”

I think it’s one of the most beautifully written songs and one of the most beautifully written albums that just resonates with me.

Generally after every show I listen to it.

“For the Sake of the Song” is such a sad song.

Nah, I think that it’s more insightful than sad. He has this way of writing that is vague enough where you can implement your own personal experiences into it. For example, one of my favorite lines is…

Why does she sing her sad songs for me? I’m not the one to bring her soft sympathy. I’ve just begun to see my way clear. And If I stop I’ll fall. Maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song.

It’s a sensitive song. But also, it’s a stance that’s concrete.

And one that I relate to, but would never word or even think about in that way.

4. Matt Champion picks “Fly Me To The Moon” by Bobby Womack

Matt Champion from the video for “Sweet” directed by Kevin Abstract

The last song I couldn’t stop listening to was “Fly Me To The Moon” by Bobby Womack

Do you have a memory attached to that song?

Yes I do. It was actually a shared memory. I was watching “Euphoria” and I hadn’t heard the song before and then it was in the show and I really appreciated the way they put it into it. there is a moment where Zendaya is coming home from overdosing, but it’s her being with her family and everything. It made me listen to that song over and over and over. I love it. It’s beautiful.

5. Kevin Abstract picks “You Make Me Wanna” by Usher

Kevin Abstract from GQ photoshoot directed by Andrew B. Meyers

The last song I couldn’t stop listening to was “You Make Me Wanna” by Usher.

What do you like about that song?

I like the mood of it. And it just makes me think of when I was a kid, listening to it on the radio. I’ve been going back to it a lot. i just makes me feel good.

What is your relationship with Usher?

I was never too big on Usher, just hearing all the big songs when I was a kid. that’s about it.

Me and my coworker were talking yesterday about how Usher had this great period and lately he has been riding the wave of current pop hits and following the lead of others, instead of shining on his own. Do you think that is true or do you think he’s still on top?

I think that is true. But it’s also hard to continue and to try to be ahead of the curve. I think the older you get and the more successful you get, sometimes, the less hungry you get. I’m not trying to speak for him, but maybe that has something to do with it. I don’t really know.

And so what do you like about this song in particular?

I like the chorus. I love a good chorus, man.

BONUS: Bearface picks “Both” by Headie One

Bearface from the “Sugar” video directed by Kevin Abstract

The last song I couldn’t stop listening to was “Both” by Headie One. He’s this rapper from the U.K. Probably one of the hardest rappers coming out of the U.K. right now, other than Slowthai.

Hard in what way?

Just like, lyrics, flow, choice of beats. Everything is just like hard as shit.

What do you think makes for a good rapper?

It depends. I feel like there are too many different variables. There are so many different reasons why certain rappers are great. And then other rappers are great for other completely different reasons. I don’t think there’s like one, or even a few things for one person.

So what do you think that he does that is the number one thing?

He’s super direct. Like, it’s all substance, no style. it’s all straight to the point. He doesn’t do any hooks with singing an shit. It’s all just him killing it with bars.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Vagabon discovers Roy Orbison

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5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To is our chance to talk to artists we love about songs they love.

Listen to the whole segment below.

Vagabon on Roy Orbison
Tonje Thilesen Vagabon Photo: Tonje Thilesen

Vagabon is the alias Laetitia Tamko. Laetitia grew up in Cameroon and then her parents moved to New York City. In 2017 she released this great album called “Infinite Worlds” and in 2019 she released “Vagabon.” We’ve been playing the great song “Water Me Down” and I’m so glad to have her on the show. My guest today is Vagabon.

Laetitia, what is the last song that you couldn’t stop listening to

Okay, the last song I couldn’t stop listening to is a song called “Crying” by Roy Orbison.

Oh! Please tell me more!

Do you know this song?

Oh yes!

I know nothing about Roy, this artist, at all. Like this is the only song I’ve heard.

I heard it maybe a week ago and I just keep playing it over and over again. And it’s so grand. It seems like it has a time which it exists in but you can kind of take the production of this song and how grand these horns and little flute like things are, and you can kind of take that into any era, and it sounds great. And just the subject line is so dramatic, and I love melodramatic lyrics. It just is a lot, and I love it. I’m obsessed with it. I don’t really listen to that much music that sounds like it. But as soon as a friend played it for me- a friend actually played it in relation to a demo of a new song that I played for this same friend. And he was like “Do you know what this would sound great as? You should listen to this song as a reference” and I’ve just been listening to it constantly.

Grand is such a great way to describe that song, because I love that too. I have to tell you a little story about that song. One, Roy Orbison is one of my favorite people to do for karaoke, because he starts in such an easy range and then he goes up. But I went to Cleveland, Ohio on spring break one time, and we were looking for a place to go. And we were looking for a dive bar, and we found a dive bar and there was this old man who has white hair. And he’s in the back of this bar, singing karaoke. And nobody was paying attention to him and he was singing “Crying” by Roy Orbison.


And I went up to him afterwards and I was like, “That was such a great version, you were really giving it your all.” And he was like, “You really think so?” And I was like, “Yeah man!”


And he said “I was thinking about hanging it up.”

Wow! I bet you made his evening.

He made mine!

Oh god. This is the effect of Roy Orbison! I’m obsessed with it. You know, the lyrics are so gutting. “Crying over you, crying over you, you left me all alone.”

Just like you said, so melodramatic!

So melodramatic, with this grand production. It’s very big band style. I listen to that song and I am imagining a live version because that’s what I do, and I am just imagining this big band. And it’s so exciting!

Yeah, and just hearing someone give it like that!

Yeah definitely!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Fred Armisen shares the song that made him a bluegrass fan

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From the music desk at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, I’m Justin Barney. This is Five Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To, and my guest today is Fred Armisen. Fred Armisen is a comedian of “Portlandia” fame. He was also a cast member and writer on “Saturday Night Live” from 2002 to 2013. He was a band leader for “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

He is also a very funny standup comedian, and he is coming to Milwaukee tomorrow. He’s going to be playing at Turner Hall Ballroom Wednesday, Dec. 11 — tomorrow night. My guest today is Fred Armisen.

Fred Armisen |
Fred Armisen on Earl Scruggs

Fred, What is the last song that you couldn’t stop listening to?

Well I have to be honest with you because you know sometimes I want to pick something that sounds cool to say. You know what I mean? Or like I’ll try to think of a favorite of the last 10 years, just because there are certain songs that I just go to all the time, but my real answer is a little different in that recently I’ve been watching this PBS documentary on country music.

Oh yes, I’ve watched the whole thing.

Yeah. So you know, with music sometimes I think I’ve, I’ve heard it all and I know what’s what, and everything’s in its own compartment, and there’s stuff that I don’t know. And there’s stuff that I do know, but I’m set in my ways. But then with this documentary, it sort of unlocked something in my ear where I heard country music in a different way just from the documentary.


So, hearing it, and you’ve seen it, so you know how they sort of deconstruct what goes into these songs. I started looking for it. I don’t think I had very… Might have had some Merle Haggard in my collection, but not much.


I didn’t have much country music, and it’s not that I dislike it or anything. I just wasn’t exposed to it. So then I start looking for stuff. And I’m like, I had to write down names. I was like, “Okay, here’s some people who, I’ve never heard of this person. Who is that? Okay, I’m going to write that down. Look for this record.” And then I wrote down Earl Scruggs, right? I was like, “Earl Scruggs, who is that?” Oh, it’s like kind of bluegrass.

So then I was searching for music, and I found a song called, “I Saw the Light.” And it’s Earl Scruggs, “I Saw the Light,” and it looks like it’s from 1971, and I put it on, I was like, “Okay, Oh yeah, this is like, kind of has a gospel, feel it.” And I was in my car and I was like, “Oh my God.” And I listened to it one more time, and then I just kept going.


It’s been a while since I’ve done that with music, where I didn’t hear. Like I kind of never heard it before really. So, that is my answer. So like even though you know, I don’t know. I feel like kind of late in the game to be all of a sudden talking about bluegrass, but I got to say, my honest answer is that’s the song I’ve been listening to.

I love that. Of all the things, I wouldn’t expect you to be drawn to bluegrass, because the bluegrass and the string music is completely devoid of drums of any sort.

Absolutely. I agree. But, I hear banjo as percussive.

Got it.

Because since it’s kind of like based on an African instrument and it looks like a drum. It looks like a snare drum, so that finger-picking style to me takes the place of it. It’s closest to the Timbales to me, same kind of drum, metal drum, and it’s like the same sound. So that to me fills in the drum, but I’m with you. In fact, that’s what I used to say to people. I was like, “Oh, I don’t get into much of that because there’s not enough drums.” And I’m like, “Fred, you dummy. It’s all drums.”

I’ve said the same thing you know? Okay.


88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Angel Olsen gushes about a deep ’70s cut from The Alessi Brothers

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5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To is our chance to talk to artists we love about songs they love.

Listen to the whole segment below.

Angel Olsen on The Alessi Brothers
Angel Olsen | Courtesy of the artist

I’ve been a huge Angel Olsen fan since her 2014 album “Burn Your Fire For No Witness.” Then there was “My Woman” in 2016 with “Shut Up, Kiss Me.” My heart! And this year she released the fantastic “All Mirrors.” My guest today is Angel Olsen.

What’s one song that you can’t stop listening to or has been around you?

I’ve been listening to a lot of, have you ever heard of…  I don’t know if I’m saying it right, The Alessi Brothers?

Oh yeah! For sure, LCD Soundsystem-inspired.

Umm, the song “Seabird?”

Yes! Oh my god, yes!

That song just on repeat. It’s kind of driving me crazy because I’ll just be somewhere and like the rest of the record is so not my style. I’m like not super into it because it’s just over the top cheese, but that song just, to me it’s just all about never being home and I can really relate to that and it’s really beautiful as well.

I love about The Alessi Brothers that like the brother that is singing, that’s doing the vocals has a lisp that they don’t put any effort in hiding it or anything. They just go with it and I love that little imperfection is just so beautiful.

Yeah it kind of reminds me, there’s another song also same time period ’70s, brothers, they recorded in their dad’s studio and it made this, the song was called “Oh Baby” or something, but it was like everywhere and every movie when it came out. Kind of the same situation, brothers, that time period, and kind of singing out of tune, but it worked really well.

How did you come about The Alessi Brothers’ song “Seabird?

My friend was visiting from out of town and we just like played a bunch of music and just we were both going through kind of a hard time and we were just playing each other’s songs, like he been listening to this stuff and I’ve been listening to like a totally different spectrum of stuff.

He played this one song which I can’t find on the record, probably have to buy the actually record, so sad. It’s by Flaming Tunes called “Nothing On,” which I really loved. Just playing new stuff, I need some new stuff every now and then. I get tired of listening to Neil Young and now I can only really listen to records on my phone which is really sad, but I’m gone a lot.

My friend who plays bass with me, Emily use to be a DJ and she’s got all of her records in storage just for being on tour. I think once things slow down it would be really fun to have a DJ night when we can hang and have a party.                              

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

FKA Twigs talks about getting medieval on the making of ‘MAGDALENE’

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FKA Twigs released the album “MAGDALENE” in November. It’s an album that is steeped with ancient stories like the one of Mary Magdalene, Jesus Christ’s partner, and ancient sounds like the Gregorian-inspired song “thousand eyes” that starts the album. We wanted to uncover a bit of those ancient mysteries of this modern Gothic and get some insight into the thought that was put into this beautiful album. This is our conversation with FKA Twigs.

Matthew Stone FKA Twigs

I love that you picked up on the concept of Mary Magdalene. For maybe those that aren’t as familiar with that story, can you kind of tell or give a brief about Mary Magdalene and who she was and her impact?

Well, I think for me I was always very fascinated with Mary Magdalene from when I was younger because her story seemed quite dark and scary. I remember hearing about her when I was at Sunday school and my Sunday school teacher telling me that she was a prostitute and she has to have demons expelled from her and there wasn’t that much more information. I just found that very interesting considering, you know, everyone asks you to have a back story and a lot of the focus in the Bible, with the male characters seem a lot more fleshed out in three days. But then there was this one woman that, it just seemed a bit thrown together. And she just wasn’t a very 360 character, essentially, in a 360 way in the Bible, at least from what I learned when I was a child.

So I was always quite interested in her. And as I got older, I learned so many amazing things about her like the fact that she was an herbalist. She had these oils, she was a healer, and she founded a lot of Jesus’s missions and in many ways was behind the operation. I just found it so interesting that I never was taught that as a child, and the sort of amazing kind of mysteries that surround her. There’s like rumors that she has, that all of her collection of oils apparently is still in Paris. I don’t know, there’s lots of different pieces of information that are kind of hard to put together. But one thing that is for sure is that she wasn’t just a prostitute that had to have lots of demons expelled from her.

I was also just very interested in, for me, she represents a certain archetype that in today’s society, doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the archetype of the virgin whore. That a woman can be innocent and pure and fresh and desirable and all the things that we associate with virginity, but she can also be dark and mysterious and all knowing and healing and productive and dangerous. I just realized that I can do both of those things at the same time. I realized that through the revelation of discovering Mary Magdalene and what she was about and the things that she did, and just kind of looking deeper into her history and just how her narrative had been changed so much. How many women’s’ narratives were changed by the patriarchy to kind of suit a bigger picture or story that they want, or agenda. And Mary Magdalene, I guess fell victim to that.

But you know, the truth always comes out in the end. I think that’s why, it’s only in the last 50 years, I believe that Mary Magdalene has been named a saint, and the film was made about her.

I’ve made this album about, well not about her, but about in some ways the energy that she gave me.

I was inspired in my writing by her, and I was inspired to get to know myself better as a woman through her story. To kind of focus on myself rather than on what my narrative may become. How she clearly did. So I don’t know, to me, it’s hard to kind of know that we’re looking at such an inaccurate theory of history. But I just feel, I know that there’s more to her story.

She’s kind of one of the first women who, her narrative just got co-opted. I’d like to know what was the moment where you were reading something of hers and decided that you needed to make this about it, or that you needed to title the album that, or needed to tell that story.

Well originally before I really started making any songs on the album, I was researching Lilith who was Adam’s first wife and I decided before I really made any songs I wanted to call this album “Lilith.” So I started researching into her story, which is also very fascinating and I was kind of going down that path. Of course, you know, when you work from the outside in as an artist, it doesn’t always serve you. So Lilith came from the outside in, and the journey kind of stopped when Magdalene came from the inside out in terms of, I just kind of accidentally kept on coming across images of her. And it just so happened that a friend of mine who’s a mystic was also doing a lot of work around Mary Magdalene as well. We got together in L.A. and we started to talk about oils and fragrances and herbs that are associated with Mary Magdalene and like rose and spikenard and certain things like that. Like when Jesus died, Mary Magdalene put spikenard on his feet. And, I think her narrative just took over actually. And it was just quite natural.

So with songs like “Thousand Eyes,” you’re talking about like her, her oils are still at this place in France and, you know, with the first song it has this kind of like Gregorian, medieval sound to it as well. And where did you find that or what do you see in that music that made you want to bring it to a new album?

It just sort of happened, you know, it wasn’t a contrived thing. I think I was listening to a lot of Gregorian music at the time and sort of studying some of the chord patterns and harmonies and it happens very naturally. I just found that those melodies started to seep out of me. And I never really go into the studio with a specific kind of goal of what to do, it just kind of happen.

Finally I do this segment called Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To. So I was wondering, what is the last song that you couldn’t stop listening to?

I really like Nico, “Chelsea Girls” at the moment.

What is that song? Like Nico, like The Velvet Underground & Nico?

Yeah, Nico has a song called “Chelsea Girls.”

What do you like about that song?

I just like Nico in general because it’s very raw. I just like the rawness and I like just the way that her voice sounds. I like the way that she just unapologetically uses her instrument and it sounds really beautiful.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Bill Callahan gets super meta, talks about writing his song ‘Writing’

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5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To is our chance to talk to artists we love about songs they love.

Listen to the whole segment below.

Bill Callahan on Bill Callahan
Hanly Banks Bill Callahan: Photo by Hanly Banks

My guest today is Bill Callahan. A peculiar thing has been happening on 5 Songs. Normally, I ask an artist that we’re playing what is one song they can’t stop listening to and they pick the song. Usually, those picks are just random. It’s whatever they have been listening to. But in the past couple of months, three artists have all picked different songs from the same album. That album is “Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest” by Bill Callahan. David Gray, Kevin Morby and Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief have all picked different songs from this album they love. There is something about this album. So I figured I need to talk to the man himself and ask him what is his favorite song from his own record. My guest today is Bill Callahan.

[phone rings]


Hey, Bill?


How are you?

I’m good. How are you?

I’m good. What’s your favorite song from the record?

I think it might be “Writing.” There’s a certain way that a person feels when they know something that they are working on has been set free. It had been such a long time between records for me. That feeling is always a rush and an exciting time for me. But on this record in particular because it had been so long. I wrote a song to capture that feeling, so I guess it’s the one that I like to hear the most. And I really like Matt Kinsey’s guitar playing. It’s really out of this world on that song.

“Writing” is a song that I love on the album as well. How did you get that song down onto paper and be like, “This is the song I’m going to write” not “I’m writing again, let’s write about something else” but to actually write about writing?

Well, I think with this record, because there are 20 songs, I was trying to cover the story in as many different perspectives as possible. One of them was to look at who is writing the story. Turning the camera around and looking at the person writing all the songs.

Humor is such a part of this record. What role does humor play in the record?

I want some songs to have the highs and the lows all in one. Because that’s basically what being alive is like. It’s a mixture of those things.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee