Joanna Newsom — Interview with the avant–garde harpist The Vogue

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom¦Interview with the avant–garde harpist
Last winter Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom's third album, came out for the excellent record label Drag City. The mere fact that a star like Joanna Newsom still records for such an exclusive label, and not for some corporate golitah, means that the girl takes her music seriously. Her concert at Milan's Teatro Dal Verme is proof: her ability with the harp, not to mention her beautiful songwriting and Ryan Francesconi's arrangements, moved a cynical ogre like myself to tears. It's extremely reassuring, for any music lover to witness a young girl like Joanna, accompanied by her undeniable talent, following in the footsteps of goddesses like Judee Sill and Karen Dalton.
I had to interview Joanna Newsom for in order to find out where the young beauty developed her talent and, inevitably, her take on fashion.
When and how did you learn music and the harp?
I started learning the harp when I was six years old. I  lived in a little town in northern California and we had a local harp teacher that I studied with. I also took piano lessons briefly, but I was a very bad piano student so I mostly did harp.
What kind of music has influenced your harp playing ?
Probably a blend of the styles of music that I played growing up. Classical, especially french impressionist repertoire. A lot of West African choral music that I learnt from a Harp teacher called Diana Stork at a folk camp I grew up going to called Lark In The Morning. She taught me some very interesting figures that I ended up incorporating into much of the writing I later did. Certainly bluegrass, although I never played bluegrass whilst growing up I did listen to a lot of it and went to bluegrass festivals with my family. Eventually a lot of celtic music [started influencing my harp playing], when I was younger I didn't like celtic music at all, but there was a heavy celtic presence in my family's record collection. I finally got into it when I was sixteen years old.
Who were your musical influences when you were growing up and who are you listening to now?
I did not know very much about pop music. I didn't really have a record collection growing up at all. Until I was about 15 or 16 when I got heavily into Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and I just spent most of my high school years listening to that record over and over again. That was the first album that I had a sense of ownership with. I was like "I choose this as the music I love!" But there was definitely also Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez and that kinda thing around the house. Also my dad was listening to all this really great rock music, but I did not engage in the practice of putting albums on and listening to them until I was a teenager. I didn't really learn about popular music until my early twenties. The music I'm listening to now is mostly old, most of my favourite records came out from 1971 to 1977, that's the window for me. But I do love some new records, I love Fleet Foxes, Dirty Projectors are amazing… I really love the new Beach House record and the new Arcade Fire record! I listened to it this summer, a lot, and got into it.
Who were your style icons when you were growing up?
First and foremost my mom, she had and has amazing style and always shopped in vintage clothing stores long before it was popular and cool. Where I grew up she used to hunt vintage clothing. She has this amazing sense of style and always sews and tailors things to make them fit well. Also Bernadette Peters in The Jerk, her whole thing made me know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits. Probably Teri Garr, she had good style. I'm blending childhood into teenagerhood now…
How would you describe your style. I don't think I have a preset vision of what my "style" is but I'm really into certain fabrics and types of fit. Everything loosely adheres to a mid seventies silhouette… [laughs] I wear a lot of vintage, probably more than half of what I wear is vintage.
Are there any fashion designers you like particularly?
I love Rodarte, their last spring show was amazing. I love Christopher Kane. I've never known how to pronounce his name but I love Olivier Theyskens, who used to design Nina Ricci. I know he had a brief run there but those were my dream clothes. I just got one coat from one of those collections and it's my most treasured piece. He's one of my favourites.
If you could choose a designer, any, to design an outfit for one of your concerts who would you choose?
It would have to be mid-seventies Yves Saint Laurent. Rive Gauche, Ballet Russes…
You couldn't have given us a better answer !
Costantino della Gherardesca; Published: 10/13/2010; Newsom during the concert in Milan, Italy


Joanna Newsom¦Interview with the avant–garde harpist The Vogue