IT’S A FIRE is out: my Portishead duet cover with Rhiannon Giddens
i hope this songs warms your soul on a cold night. i’m really proud of it, not just how it sounds, but what it means.
you will note: this is not a paid post. the paid-post, the patreon post that charged for this song/Thing went out in june, so we could free up the dough as soon as possible for the charity we were giving to (free black university). now it is OUT! if you haven’t read that original post yet, take a minute to see it here:
at long last….
IT’S A FIRE, my portishead cover, created with rhiannon giddens and arranger jherek bischoff, is READY for listening!
you can listen or download the song now wherever you listen to music online, it’s up on all major streaming services and music stores. and as always, you can stream or download for pay-what-you-want (minimum $1 to pay for the rights to original songwriters of the cover song) here on bandcamp:
there is something about this song that speaks to a deeper connection between things happening right now: black lives mattering, covid, fear and trust are all colliding with one another.
i asked rhiannon to duet on this song because she has one of the most fragile and strong voices of our times.
you can (and should), join her patreon here.
this song was originally sung solo by beth gibbons from portishead, and that solo-ness gave the song a certain flavor; I wanted this cover version to sound more like a dark-closet talk between two friends at a house party gone bad, hanging onto each other for dear life, whispering “we’re gonna make it out of here”.
the artwork is by jessica coppet, and we worked hard together to get the right feel.
(you can follow her in IG at @jessicacoppetillustrations)
here were some studies/sketches:
the finished art:
some words from jessica:
I’m originally from a French island called Martinique, and I’ve been living in Melbourne for 5 years. I work from my home studio in Melbourne as a full-time illustrator. I have created a unique style, focusing on creative scribble portraits.
My main medium is digital, I create my original line drawings digitally with photoshop using a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24’’ Touch and a 5 mm ballpoint pen.
I engage a line art technique to create realistic portraits in a highly creative and abstract way. Facial Expression and Anatomy have become a focal point for my art.
My philosophical commitment to Female Empowerment and Body Positivity has found a true expression in my art.
I was contacted by Amanda through instagram, when she showed interest in ‘The Lover’ artwork, and wanted to create something inspired by this work.
I imposed the two singers faces to create an impactful work incorporating the masks. Amanda wanted to portray two women supporting each other with a feminine and glamorous style, along with vintage and retro aspects to represent the inspiration for the song.
I started with a few initial sketches and then developed the work organically, taking on feedback from Amanda until we achieved the final result.
here is me, in the studio where i recorded the song.
i just did an interview with a magazine, who asked me this question:
*Where were each of you when you did the long distance recording?
Rhiannon was at home in Ireland and I was here in New Zealand, where I still am. I recorded my piano and vocal track up in Auckland in a beautiful room, Neil Finn’s Roundhead recording studio, and it was one of those redletter days I’ll never forget. I’d gotten a phone call early in the morning about a really terrible family tragedy. I could barely function and I started feeling physically sick, and I thought about calling in and canceling the session. I was supposed to take an uber to the studio, but instead, Lucy Lawless, who I’d just met, offered to drive me there, because she saw how shocked I looked.
She pulled the car over so I could throw up in a cafe on the way to the studio. She sat and held me hand in that cafe while I wept about my family. I ordered a croissant that I couldn’t eat. I went to the cafe bathroom and threw up again. And then Lucy took me to the studio and insisted on staying in the room. So I got to have an audience of two: my engineer, Simon Gooding, and Lucy on the couch, listening to me do take after take. The minute my hands were on the piano, I felt okay again.
It was like magic, playing that music. I got to sing the song for Lucy, to her, to thank her. It was an unbelievable moment, one that you couldn’t have scripted any better. The universe provided me an emergency sister right when I needed one. Lucy barely knew me, but she held me like her own flesh and blood that day. That’s sisterhood.
That’s what the song’s about.
photo by lucy lawless
the entire profit from this project, after the artists and musicians are paid, is going to go to fund the FREE BLACK UNIVERSITY.
you may have caught it when i posted about this a few weeks ago…..here’s the recap from when melz owusu (@freeblackuni) took over my instagram account:
there are so many worthy projects to give to nowadays, but i think something as small and progressive as this is a perfect place to put our dough right now. education is paramount.
The Free Black University is a hub for radical and transformative knowledge production. The fight to decolonise education has been going on for years and it has become ever clearer that more is required than what the current education system can offer.
Universities hold a deep responsibility when it comes to racism, the knowledge that introduced the very ideology of racism into our society was born in British Universities.
The Free Black University exists to re-distribute knowledge and act as a space of incubation for the creation of transformative knowledge in the Black community. We firmly believe education should centre Black people healing and it should be free, anti-colonial, and accessible to all – so we will provide it.
here’s a link to their gofundme:
some words from rhiannon:
It was a delight to work on this with Amanda Palmer – not the kind of singing i usually do, so it was a challenge, but one I was eager for, in the midst of lockdown…felt so good to make some art together, even separated by half a world. We all need to take a collective breath together, and breathe on…it’s all of us or none of us.
here’s jherek, with his bass….
and mixing and mastering….
words from jherek:
Yet another fun track in collaboration with Amanda! Working on these tunes is always such a joy for me. It is so wonderful when you find collaborators that trust you so much. Amanda has always put a lot of trust in me. Not just me, though, she places trust in everyone she is around. It terrified me a bit at first. We would be walking down the street and run into a stranger, and within minutes they would be a new collaborator and director of a music video or artist for a record cover! From the moment we met, I recognized this about her, and it inspired me a lot. Putting your full trust into a collaborator can, every once in a while, not work out, but I have found that when you approach collaboration with complete trust, 99% of the time, it makes the art so much better.
Amanda and I have a great way of working where oftentimes she will come up with a song choice and say, GO FOR IT! I will get to work and make a demo for her and, at this point, usually only need to make a minor change here or there, and we are good to go. It’s partly because these are true collaborations. We have worked together enough that I know what she likes to hear and how her voice works, so I arrange things specifically with this in mind. I wouldn’t arrange something like this the same way if it were for a different artist. What comes out is something specific to our chemistry and DNA of collaboration.
Timing-wise, this is the second track we have made when Amanda has been in a new place. The first song was Machete. At that time, Ash was as small as a burrito, and Amanda was visiting LA for Christmas. She was not feeling as productive as usual (which is totally understandable!, but also EXTREMELY rare! Y’all know how productive she is in general!). We were hanging out, and she was talking about the song idea and about her relatively new Patreon, and I was just like, “Let’s do it! “I will put it together; you just make a little time.” And we did it. Seeing her beaming in the studio, making art and doing the thing she loves and is so great at filled me with such joy.
This time around, it’s not quite the same situation. The world is in complete chaos. It’s…on fire. I usually see the world as primarily beautiful, but right now, I’m having a hard time seeing through the hate and ugliness. I am still finding beauty, but, wow… It’s rough out there. Amanda has talked about how it’s been a struggle to be productive and it’s been the same for me, too. When the pandemic hit, I saw the majority of my friends bursting with creativity and thriving. But I hit a wall. Big time. I couldn’t focus or work. Amanda and I were on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned this Portishead tune and that she was thinking about covering it. So, once again, I said, “LET’S DO IT!” And away we went. This time, however, it was both Amanda and I that needed to make some fucking art!
It gave me a significant boost to have this project to work on and to know it was for a good cause. It also was amazing to get to hire a couple of my dear friends, Caleigh Drane and Marta Sofia Honer, wonderful string players that I make music with all the time. I would normally want to record everything myself because I am a Virgo and always want things done a certain way, but, luckily, especially during this time, they both had home studios they could record themselves in. And, holy smokes, they did an amazing job! The two of them together sound like a full-on orchestra. It’s kind of mind-boggling. I sent them sheet music, they sent back their tracks and, voila!
I didn’t get to see Amanda in the studio, but she did send me pictures with that same beautiful beaming face I saw in LA when we worked on Machete, and it filled me with joy.
Lastly, and certainly not least, Rhiannon Giddens! She is a marvel. Amanda had the idea to invite her, and I am so glad she did. I have been a fan for a long time. Not only is her music wonderful, but she is an incredible storyteller. She hosts an NPR podcast in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera called Aria Code. She takes deep dives into arias, giving one a much deeper understanding and love for those gorgeous tunes. She really knows her stuff but can talk about it so beautifully and in a way that makes sense even to me. I wrote an opera last year, and I would go on walks and listen to her podcast for inspiration. It was invaluable. We have only met very briefly a couple of times, but I hope that we meet again and perhaps make music again someday. It was an honor.
This went a bit long, but I haven’t seen any of my friends in three and a half months. Like, seriously, not even one. So thanks for being a friend. I hope you enjoy the tune!
words from caleigh drane – cellos:
From the moment I sat down to play that opening line, I knew the vibe of this tune was, well, speaking my truth.
As a musician who typically travels and performs everywhere, experiencing a life where that’s not readily available has made me look at things differently, namely where I’ve been tolerating the status quo. I think this song really speaks to finding our deeper truths beyond the noise of what feels comfortable, and staying steadfast in those truths. The literal masks we actually wear now are nowhere near as oppressive as the masks we wear to feign conformity and agreeance as a society, and I think the current disruption in our sense of security has really brought that to light. “It’s a fire” really speaks to the inherent goodness in that disruption; sometimes life needs to light on fire in order to give light to our humanness.
It was cathartic and a real honor to contribute musically to this message.
words from marta sofia honer – violins, violas:
The quarantine and pandemic(s) have caused all different kinds of emotions and energy levels these past months. As an active musician whose performances and sessions were wiped out in a blink, there have been some paralyzing moments, and then as the world irrupted in conflict and protest, a wonder of — what really is the worth of what I’ve been contributing musically anyway?
I’m very grateful to participate in this project and have a chance to “play” with my friends again, even if remotely just a few miles away from each other in LA. Getting to record Jherek’s arrangements always brightens my mood, and it’s always a fun surprise to see what will happen when Amanda adds her touch. I hope this track provides people with the same solace it provided me while recording.
to jherek, rhiannon and all the musicians who made this track so amazing: THANK YOU.
Amanda Palmer – Vocals
Rhiannon Giddens – Vocals
Marta Sofia Honer – Violins and Violas
Caleigh Drane – Cellos
Jherek Bischoff – Double Bass, Electric Bass, Percussion, Sequencing
Amanda Palmer’s vocals were recorded by Simon Gooding at Roundhead Studios, Auckland, New Zealand
Studio Assistant – Alexandra Corbett
Rhiannon Giddens’ vocals were recorded by Francesco Turrisi in Greystones, Ireland
Violins and Violas recorded by Marta Sofia Honer at home
Cellos recorded by Caleigh Drane at home
Double Bass, Electric Bass and Percussion recorded by Jherek Bischoff at Sweethaven, Los Angeles, CA
Mixed and Mastered by Jherek Bischoff at Sweethaven
Song originally performed by Portishead
Written by: Adrian Utley, Beth Gibbons, Geoffrey Barrow
photo by kyle cassidy
if anything of this moves you, and you are in the united states, please make sure you are registered to vote and your registration is up to date. get information on mail in ballots and all the polling information you may need at HEADCOUNT.org
i love you all.
——THE NEVER-ENDING AS ALWAYS———
IF YOU’RE IN THE USA…..DON’T FORGET TO REGISTER TO VOTE IN THE NOVEMBER 2020 ELECTION. DO NOT BE CONFUSED!!! help is there: you can register to vote, find your local voter registration deadlines, update your voter registration, check that your registration is still on the books, find your polling place and other important election information HERE at http://headcount.org
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