The Garment District “I am very interested in an intersection of orchestrated pristine pop music and the vibe and feel of more ambient experimental stuff.”

So, you sort of thrive on chaos?

Perhaps at times, but I think striving to balance contradictions is more of my aesthetic and approach to life. Accepting the dichotomies and contradictions and tensions between balance and chaos, process and product, journey and destination, structure and chaos — and finding the creative, productive and expressive potential within all of that — that’s a goal to achieve in life and art. I mean, the emotional and aural journey you take throughout If You Take Your Magic Slow is something I worked hard toward as a concept for the music, especially as a full-length album. I have always loved the concept of an album as a complete experience curated by the maker, from start to finish — like a trip into a fantasy world, or in and out of subconscious states, which is what I hope it can do for listeners. This is how so many significant old albums of my childhood are represented in my mind. I hope my music can provide an escape from all of the multitasking, fragmented attention-deficit realities of daily life. I love the idea of creating a musical itinerary to for people to listen to; like, that they have to sit still and focus on to truly absorb and internalize. That way, the music can go in a variety of directions once it is occupying physical space and people’s internal consciousness. Likewise, I don’t just have one way of writing and creating music; If You Take Your Magic Slow became the best way to represent what was in my head.

There’s a supremely visual context to your music, especially If You Take Your Magic Slow.

It’s crazy how reliant musicians need to be on thinking for themselves. While outside forces attempt to tell people what to buy and listen to and when to listen to it, and so much mass music autotunes the crap out of vocals or vocals are mixed way up front — that sometimes can turn me against even using vocals as an instrument. I am very interested in the use of many different analog instruments and how they can all work together to communicate a song or piece of music that is inside one’s head, allowing the instruments, melodies, patterns, and textures to create an entire sonic universe that transcends the limitations or baggage or pre-conceived notions of language. Almost like a pre-verbal phase, or dream state. Lift the limitation imposed by a narrative or word, and allow the music to become almost spatial. But with the new album, I am thrilled to be featuring more of Lucy’s vocals.

That’s right, how DO you write vocals for another person to sing?

My way of writing is naturally melody-based. When I was little, I read a ton, both to myself and with my mom. We had tons of books, and one of the most powerful ones for me (which is lost now) was “Arm in Arm,” by Remy Charlip, who was an American artist, writer, choreographer, theatre director, designer, and teacher. He wrote and illustrated children’s books, and also performed with John Cage, and was a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He also designed sets and costumes and developed a type of dance choreography that integrated his drawings. His book was a source of great imaginative experiences for me, similar to other books I was obsessed with like The Phantom Tollbooth. It was one of those EVERYTHING COMBINED 1960s children’s books with poems involving highly imaginative and fun word-play; the kind of shape or concrete poetry that, when written, makes a symbolic visual picture.

I loved his combination of playfulness and learning, the wit and fantasy and physical qualities of poetry and sound. Early influences like that have stuck with me, and have helped to shape my sense of pattern, rhythm, phrasing, and texture in music. It was so uncanny, because soon after I decided to name that song for him, he passed away. Our house growing up was filled with books and magazines, since my mom was an English teacher and also loved music. We also had a lot of children’s music on LP, such as Free To Be … You And Me, and compilations with catchy songs like Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs’ version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” that we listened to incessantly. My brother Jeff and I would act out our own radio shows, playing both the parts of DJs and even performing commercial spots, and recording them onto old Maxell tapes. We used to spend countless hours pouring through my parents’ old copies of Mad magazine, Rolling Stone, and just staring endlessly at album artwork while listening, which is so much more of a direct and less mediated way to hear music than they way most people experience sound today.

My brother Jeff, who contributes some guitar on my new LP, and my cousins and I often get together and jam at the holidays, all of us playing different instruments. While I was working on Melody Elder, my cousin Lucy was active in theater, playing lead roles in shows such as Wizard of Oz and Les Mis, and I became inspired by the idea of working her voice into some of my songs. She inherited the vocal gene in our family, and is currently studying theatre in Chicago. It evolved into a very natural and organic process and has been very rewarding and bonding.

I am very interested in… allowing the instruments, melodies, patterns, and textures to create an entire sonic universe that transcends the limitations or baggage or pre-conceived notions of language.

Do you usually start your instrumentals with guitar or on keys?

It fluctuates from song to song. Our house is full of instruments in different rooms to facilitate a freeform process. When you come into our living room, you see our Hammond M3 organ, lots of our records and stereo equipment for all manner of musical formats, LPs, cassettes, CDs. In our basement practice space are numerous keyboards, including a Wurlitzer electric piano, which I used all over my new album, as well as a Roland JX3P, Korg CX-3, several Casios and a Vox Super Continental. I try to have instruments all over the house, thus the songwriting and demo process can sometimes be inspired or informed by where I play them and their varying locations, such as the dramatic views from our top floor on our steep hill. When writing, I may move from keyboard to guitar later, or switch to bass if needed, and also percussion.

My first music lessons were on piano in elementary school, but that was fairly rudimentary and I did not feel a personal connection to the teacher, though I did retain some important basic knowledge. I took a bit of guitar lessons in high school and college but am primarily a self-taught musician. To answer your question, I typically write the vocal melodies for my songs on keyboards, and that works very naturally with Lucy’s voice. She’s the type of singer who can repeat a melody perfectly from what I play on the piano, and then can also harmonize with it. And because she’s my cousin, it feels more natural and familiar to work with her creatively. The Garment District is very much a family-and-friends effort in some ways, because my husband plays keyboards in our live band, and my brother Jeff contributes guitar on some of the new LP.

I also imagine your house is full of cameras?

Yes. Actually, the shelf sitting right next to me right now in my sunroom is filled with cameras! Coincidentally, my three brothers have a joke about this they love to tease me about: When I go on vacations and road trips with my family and ask them to hand me my camera, they ask Which one?. I was always the one who had a three-way, four-way, Holga, those mini Polaroid cameras that took 1-inch images, and even my husband’s grandfather’s 1950s-era camera. I pretty much have cameras spanning most decades, yeah.

The photo on the back of If You Take Your Magic Slow is of you, right?

Yes, that’s me. That was taken by Greg in front of the Mattress Factory, a museum of contemporary art, where I used to work, and the building’s entire façade is covered in ivy. And the light was perfect at the time; we love that neighborhood, and the picture was taken in a little alleyway. It is also very special to me because it was taken on the day we filmed a performance and interview inside the museum for contemporary artist Doug Aitken’s Station-to-Station project, which was a massive honor.

Did you get to pick the LP cover art?

Although I love having a hand in and participating in all of the details of any creative project I am working on, it was interesting for me to step aside there for both my tape and album. It’s funny because with Melody Elder, that isn’t a photo of me on the tape’s j-card, even though a lot of people think that is me. However, I could NOT be more THRILLED about the album and tape artwork Shawn created. With the new album, Shawn asked me to send him some photos, band photos, and any source materials or images that inspire me, to possibly work with. I am astounded with the LP artwork he created and I feel that it is the perfect visual counterpart to my music. I love the way he uses 2-D and pop art within some very dimensional and textured layers. Again there is that kind of tension between surface and depth, between texture and flatness — and I think that is something I am very drawn to in music. I’m going to look at one: THEY ARRIVED LAST NIGHT!!!


Recently, I got an old Volvo, a classic 240 DL sedan, and the night it broke down, right when my car was being towed, a huge storm was rolling in, and I see this guy carrying a box full of them, and instantly my day turned around.

For me, the album art is also so retrospective of art from my childhood, and I’m so happy with how it turned out because the cover reminds me of familiar things yet is also contemporary and original, which is pretty serendipitous. I feel inseparable from the sort of LP aesthetic that it coveys to me, and I am so grateful for Shawn for that powerful link between sound and visuals.

Outside of Shawn, you’ve worked with people like this before, right? Like with Keith Tassick the music video for “Nature, Nurture” …

Yes. So, touring with The Ladybug Transistor, I’d take a ton of photos of old signs in particular, lots of neon across the U.S. In about 2010, my husband and I received a grant, along with another artist couple, to publish a photography book called, Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania in conjunction with the city’s 250th anniversary. The book sold out quickly, and was featured by Boing Boing and the AP, and I am hoping that we can publish a second edition. I like to try and always be working some type of a creative process, often with others; these days with several amazingly talented video artists, such as Keith Tassick, Thad Kellstadt, and Gordon Nelson. The images used in Keith’s “Nature, Nurture” video came from about 700 photographs I took of the nightly television news throughout a two-year period.

Is Pittsburgh your mecca for photography?

Definitely one of them! The architecture and topography are constant inspirations. Having so much nature and green space, which often surprises people new to the city, surrounded by commerce, post-industrial remnants and new development gives Pittsburgh a highly visceral character. And the tunnels are so dramatic — not knowing if you’ll get out, the exhilarating view on the other side, no matter how familiar. Now that I am back in Pittsburgh — a city I admit that I romanticized from afar — the topography, art scene, architecture, authentic neighborhoods, thrift shops, record stores — and the sense that you can truly start something here and have a hand in its evolution — do fuel my music and photography.

I’ve also been so lucky to have visited every continental state, and I’m in love with places like Big Sur, the desert, and the Pacific Coast. Other countries I daydream about returning to are Spain, Scandinavia, and Norway, three of my favorites visited thus far.

But you also do a lot with the community there, no?

I’m super involved helping to run an annual juried craft show called Handmade Arcade. We receive more than 350 applications from all over the country, for about 125 spots at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown. I first interacted with The Andy Warhol Museum when The Ladybug Transistor played there and I was still living in NYC. I met the Warhol’s curator of performance then, who’s always been a big Ladybug Transistor fan. I feel honored that The Garment District has been invited to perform at The Warhol’s Sound Series, participate in their new Silver Studio Sessions, and that we were also invited to perform at the VIA Music & New Media Festival, which is a fantastic week-long event that takes place every October here in Pittsburgh.

One of my favorite things about Pittsburgh, on a personal level, is its remarkable role in America’s music history, particularly in terms of jazz, soul, and funk (Kenny Clarke, Billy Strayhorn, Gene Ludwig, Betty Davis), rock & roll (Fantastic Dee-Jays, Swamp Rats, The Duchess, The Cynics), and 1950s/1960s pioneering DJs, teen dance clubs, and pop hits. This is the city where tastemaking DJs such as Terry Lee, Mad Mike, and Porky Chedwick created hits for many obscure groups. Songs like Tommy James’s “Hanky Panky” were literally revived and made into hits here — as was his career — and it’s the type of city where you can actually attend events and meet many of these living legends. Adding to this cool musical legacy is a fairly active underground and experimental music and arts scene. There are a number of alternative spaces and house venues where a wide range of national and international groups perform, as well as amazing art museums.

I think striving to balance contradictions is more of my aesthetic and approach to life.

Now, Ladybug Transistor was a bigger band… How do you tour as The Garment District?

Well, actually, for our next show we will be playing with a lineup that rivals Ladybug. I have been playing more regularly with a wonderful guitar player, Dan Koshute (Dazzletine), and Greg on keyboards, with two different people taking on bass and drums duties. For our record-release show, I am thrilled to be performing with the lineup that performs on my new album, including Matt Booth on bass and Chris Parker on drums. Keeping the family-jams vibe will be my cousin Lucy on vocals, cousin Sam on glockenspiel and percussion, and my husband on synth.

In an ideal world, I’d love to play more regularly, and I hope to! We recently performed as a three-piece for an event called SYNC’D here in Pittsburgh. I was invited to compose soundtracks for five film shorts made by local artists, and then perform them live in this amazing 1900s-era former Czech Church right on the Allegheny River. It was one of my favorite live musical experiences to date, so I am keeping my mind and creative practice open to new ways of sharing The Garment District as a live entity. Even with the different incarnations of the live band, there is, of course, the constant core of my music and songwriting, which has the potential to take on different forms.

Random: What are some of your favorite retro aesthetics?

I guess if you were to answer that question by walking through my house, perusing my music collection, snooping around my walls and shelves, you would say music, design, film, and art from the 1960s and 1970s, in particular. Though I am endlessly inspired by a massive range of music — including 1950s-1970s psychedelia, folk, pop, garage, freakbeat; 1950s-1960s rocksteady and ska; early electronic music; free jazz; 1980s NYC hip hop; 1970s-80s pop and new wave from Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia; and film soundtracks and TV and cartoon theme shows. I can be just as inspired by a brief interstitial composed by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street or a 1960s/70s horror film soundtrack, as I can by some of my favorite albums by people like The Beach Boys, Lee Hazlewood, The Golden Dawn, Gene Clark, Syd Barrett, The Left Banke, The Soft Machine, Brian Eno, Love, Donovan, etc., etc. There is music that I know will always just BE in my life, and then there is that amazing moment when you discover a new band or a hear a reissue of something you have never heard before, when you realize how crucial it is to always keep your mind open and listening and waiting. My parents raised my three brothers and me on what I like to call the “Leonard Cohen-Bob Dylan-Neil Young Trinity.”.. so that was a pretty rad foundation. My husband Greg started some great ‘zines in the 1990s (his tape label, As Above So Below, released the first two RANGERS tapes and also released the first productions of then-North Carolina, now NYC-based Dreams West), and has an astounding vinyl collection, so we often have turntables going on both floors, with records everywhere.

We recently switched from cable to Roku for streaming (finally), and that has ramped up our obsession with finding obscure 1960s and 70s films, TV shows and commercials. The world of discovering undocumented soundtracks from bizarre 1960s and 70s films and TV shows especially satiates our appetite. I also love interstitial music from them. A lot of times you’ll hear a part of a musical piece that moves action along, or suggests a narrative, character trait, mood, time or setting, and I love that music has that power. One current obsession is Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, the 1970s color TV show he hosted and contributed scripts to. It has been totally consuming. Also I am currently reading a fantastic and enlightening book, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, by Rob Young, which delves into so much of the very music, culture, landscape, history and politics that fascinates and inspires me from the late-1960s.

If You Take Your Magic Slow is a really interesting title in reflection of music being magic…

My first intention in creating music is thinking about how I’m going to communicate it to listeners in the best possible way and fully realize where I want the song, composition or album to be. I’ve had to come to terms with loosening up between recorded material and live shows being two different things. Some aspects to writing and recording music are highly personal and private, almost a process akin to alchemy. You can’t always translate the process to specific language.

I love that music exists in a particular point in time, with a beginning and an end, it’s temporal and also temporary, and can take you to another place or time, or to your own past, or memory of the past, or be wrapped up in projections of the self, and can be a form of escapism. Unfortunately, most music is our modern digital culture is relegated to background music. I LOVE ambient sounds, so I even get offended at my neighborhood pool when they blast a classic rock station, because I want to hear the ambient sounds of kids playing, the water splashing, the birds, wind in the trees, cars whizzing by, the lifeguard’s whistle, the world around me. I hate when we clog up hearing, noticing, observing and listening, so we can’t take the time to experience things fully. I often take an inventory of sounds around me, making field recordings in my yard and city, and on trips, for possible use in future music. This thinking was the same for me when I worked at art museums. I used to teach the public about contemporary works of art, such as James Turrell’s monumental light installations, that can take up to 20 minutes for the mind to perceive and to really understand what you’re actually seeing. I try to allow for this when I write and arrange music: it’s all a slow moving process that reveals itself over time.

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