Meg Baird & Lea Cho (Blues Control) “It can seem kind of corny to be super influenced by place, but I totally am. It’s hard not to be.”

Earlier this year, two of TMT’s favorite artists, Meg Baird and Lea Cho (Blues Control), had a hearty conversation via Skype. One might even call it epic. It was held just a few weeks before Baird released her new Drag City album Don’t Weigh Down The Light, which TMT writer Willcoma described in his review as “a brilliantly tempered foray into instrumental drift and comparatively lavish production that suits her breathy, ever-yearning vocals marvelously.” Cho — whose latest album with Blues Control, Valley Tangents, was released in 2012, followed by last year’s brilliant NewHive collaboration — has been an interviewee twice at Tiny Mix Tapes, but here she takes on the role of interviewer, asking Baird questions about her touring inspirations, playing Frisbee, and recording her new album.

It’s a lengthy read, but it’s balanced by the musicians’ unequivocal understanding of each other, resulting in a discussion that has a decidedly different feel and dynamic than the typical interview at TMT. Because of this, we have decided to publish the interview in full and with little editing. Scroll and enjoy!

Meg Baird: It’s nice to see you!

Lea Cho: It’s nice to see you too! This is really funny.

M: Weird future context, in our crazy garage kitchen.


L: So.. the new record is awesome, Russ and I both love it a lot.

M: Aw, thanks.

L: It sounded great un-mastered, but then mastered it was super great.

M: Oh good.

L: It was very cohesive. There’s one track that I think changed from the un-mastered version — the all-vocal track? [“Leaving Song”]

M: Yeah.

L: Was that tacked on to the un-mastered version to do something later?

M: It was tacked on, yeah.

L: So did you not know if you were going to use it? [“Leaving Song” is a vocal-only mix from “Even the Walls Don’t Want You To Go”]

M: Yeah, I think I first thought I wasn’t going to use it at all. And then I had kept this a cappella version of it with the full singing part. Maybe I thought I could do a fun little extra bit, not on the record, like do a little video to that. You know, “doing the right thing,” coming up with a promotional object.


L: I know what you mean.

M: People who were around during the recording, like Noel [von Harmonson] and Ethan [Miller] and Eric and Bob, they liked it a lot, and so I decided to put at least a snippet of it on there. Just kind of add it in there as a Side One ender.

L: Yeah, that was really nice I thought.

M: Thanks.

L: Was it influenced by anything? Or did you just come upon it when you were mixing? Like, “Oh, all the vocals just by themselves sound good.”

M: Yeah, it was just a mixing thing. We were doing headphones and just trying to layer it out. Way more through hunt-and-peck, where I was just filling in, you know, just doing it by ear, not by composition or theory. Just hitting empty places that could use another interval… I think it’s five, it’s five total.

L: Oh wow, that’s awesome. And it’s all you, right?

M: It’s all me, yeah.

L: Yeah, that’s what I thought. That’s cool, five of you!


L: So you mentioned, who was it, Bob and Eric?

M: Mm-hm.

L: Is that who recorded? I don’t know who those two are.

M: That’s Eric Bauer, who —

L: Oh ok, yeah.

M: — San Francisco recording and music-in-general, person. It’s his studio where we recorded. It’s not quite an official capacity studio, but sometimes people refer to it as Bauer Mansion, or just Eric Bauer’s studio. [laughs]

L: But he’s recorded a lot of people that we know, right?

M: Yeah, tons of people. Lots of Ty [Segall] stuff, lots of White Fence stuff, lots of Oh Sees stuff, and then he’s just been involved in music here even longer than that too.

L: Oh, he’s a musician?

M: Yes! And also he did the Hexadic recording for Ben [Chasny].

L: Oh yeah.

M: He did Ethan’s record this year. A ton of people I knew were in there already. Some of the only musicians I even know in San Francisco. He also recorded the Heron Oblivion record — we did that there.

It’s great to have a mixture of deadlines and also just loose, you know, let’s just do this for the hell of it, for fun.

L: So, how did Heron Oblivion come about? Just a live thing first?

M: I think it started as an offshoot of something that — I’m not even sure this is correct, but Noel and sometimes Ethan? They have a project band, they were calling it Wicked Mace. An umbrella name for any assortment of musicians playing together.

L: Right.

M: And then… Charlie and I have rehearsal space here in the city, and I think we just got together to see what would happen. It’s been fun to do some drumming again.

L: Cool.

M: I think it started out just way looser, and kind of more instrumental, jammy stuff. Especially since Ethan in particular is such a great documentarian at rehearsals, it kind of just started coming together, like, “Oh we actually have material we could turn into stuff.”

L: That’s awesome.

M: Then we just got a show offer from Adam of War on Drugs. He was like, “Oh, you should play.” And we were like, really? [laughs] Our first live show to a sold-out crowd at the Independent? We didn’t even have to try and invite anyone!

L: Yeah!

M: And so that also helped us to arrive at, “Well, I guess we need to figure out what we’re gonna do.”

L: It’s nice to have a deadline of something.

M: Yeah, when you’re working on project-type stuff like that, it’s great to have a mixture of deadlines and also just loose, you know, let’s just do this for the hell of it, for fun.

L: Cool.

M: That’s basically… but yeah, we’re working pretty hard I guess, rehearsing regularly.

L: Oh nice. You think that that band will tour?

M: Probably not much, between crazy schedules, jobs, and —

L: Yeah.

M: Yeah, I don’t think it’ll be much. But enough just to at least get out there.

L: That’s cool. So, you play drums in that band. You sing too, right?

M: I sing too. Which wasn’t really my expectation walking in. I didn’t think that was gonna happen, but somehow it did.


L: So, I guess you’re officially no longer in Watery Love?

M: I guess. I had to find out all the news by Facebook, it was really sad. [laughs] No, I’m just kidding. But the Facebook part is true.


L: It’s a lot of distance, so…

M: Yeah, no, I just think it’s impossible. But yeah, it was pretty funny, I was like, “Wait, they’re still playing without me.”


L: Yeah, but I have to say, pretty much everyone acknowledges it’s a totally different thing now. It’s a totally different band.

M: That’s good.

L: It couldn’t be the same, really. ‘Cause you know Dan’s not playing with them, anyway. [Dan Dimaggio of Home Blitz]

Max and Meg (Watery Love) and Lea (Blues Control) discussing how to split money as uber-fairly as humanly possible after playing a Philly diy show together in 2009. [Photo by Nick Branigan]

M: Right, and Dan’s not. So the original rhythm section has moved on to different things. So I’m glad that they’re still…[laughs] I enjoyed “Meg’s Dreamcatcher” a lot. [“Meg’s Dreamcatcher” is a Watery Love song that was released on a Pitchfork magazine split 7-inch with Kurt Vile in 2014. The song is only two guitars, no rhythm section.]

L: That was awesome; I liked that too.

M: Yeah, just the two of them. [Max Milgram and Richie Charles]

L: I actually don’t know why they called it — like what it’s really about, but I liked it.

M: It’s about — it’s pretty —

M & L: …pretty literal?


L: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

M: Because Richie moved into my apartment after I moved. [in Philly, when Meg moved to San Francisco]

L: Right.

M: So I left a few key things, I mean that we discussed, it wasn’t like I was leaving my junk around — I cleaned up — but there were some useful furniture items that he was interested in having, stuff like that, so I left that there, but I also had this dreamcatcher that I left as well — I did not buy that thing either.

L: Oh really?

M: No, it just came to me — do you know Kate Abercrombie?

L: Yeah.

M: She’s an awesome artist and good friend of mine, and her baby sister is a bit of a hippie girl, like follows Rat Dog around in the summer, you know. She attends a hippie-leaning college in Vermont; I forget which one. The dreamcatcher was hers, and it was kind of broken and on a trash pile, but she had to get rid of it and I felt sorry for it, so I took it home and repaired it.

L: Oh that’s cool.

M: And then left it for Richie. It’s a really boring story, but that’s why it’s there. Apparently it really cracked him up. So… it’s very literal, not that exciting. Like the backstories behind all Watery Love songs.


L: I was just going to say, it’s very fitting.

M: Yes.

L: Nothing abstract at all is possible.

M: Yes, just a boring snippet from everyday life.

L: As bleak and mundane as possible.

M: Yeah, all that stuff.

L: So would you say that your [new solo] record is about your move — or influenced by your move to San Francisco?

M: I would say it’s really influenced by it.

L: That’s what I thought when I was listening to it.

M: Yeah, you know, in a broader, abstract kind of way. But yeah, it’s really, really influenced by the move. And just distance. Themes of distance and memory.

L: Yeah, I felt like it was looking back a lot.

M: Yeah, reflecting back. Not in a nostalgic kind of way, more like how your brain works adaptively to form new attachments. Like, how do you find your bearings? You don’t necessarily recreate all the things that you had, but it’s a relational thing — it’s something you can almost feel happening in your brain, your neurology.

L: Totally.

M: How do you really make sense of these new things, and try to belong somewhere?

L: Yeah.

M: So I thought about that so much — I know it’s pretty abstract, but that was probably one of the recurring themes. And even some of the things, like having a reprise — reprise? I never know how to pronounce that word.

L: Me neither, actually!


L: I feel like I’ve heard it both ways, so…

M: Whichever is the best way to say it. But having that, and even that choice to throw that little snippet in that’s from another song. [“Leaving Song”]

L: Mm-hm.

M: The title goes back to a title track, but those aren’t even quite the words in the song, they’re a little different. Doubling back and weird markers. I played with that a lot I guess.

L: That’s cool, I didn’t make that connection, but I see that now. The referring-back —

M: Yeah.

L: And recurring themes. That’s interesting.

M: Yeah, and it’s not even like your memory’s that accurate all the time, and then sometimes you get flashes of hyper-accurate memory, and you’re like, “Whoa I don’t even remember it was like that!” It can feel like a dislodged piece of time — it’s really humbling to face. I think I was just attempting to hit on a neurological level, that strange way memory works.

L: Brain patterns.

M: Yeah, it’s in there. It’s a strange, human thing.

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