An Interview with Le Bas-Fond’s Melody Pilotte (and Giveaway!)
“I have a lot of really warm and loving feelings towards the beauty of those isolated Highway 1 communities. I’ve always wanted to live there. They make my heart ache for memories that I know aren’t from this lifetime, but another” explains Le Bas-Fond founder and musician, Melody Pilotte. “It’s also really spooky to drive at night. It’s a beautiful place, and filled with residual energy, and definitely not somewhere I’d wanna get out of the car at night! You certainly get the sensation of being haunted.”
I have asked her about the opening track, Olema Inverness, on Le Bas-Fond’s latest effort, Sweet Talk, Convenience and Lies.
Olema Inverness definitely sets the mood for what is a haunting, moody and stunning LP. Never one to skirt an issue or avoid a subject no matter how taboo or controversial it may be, Pilotte is an unstoppable powerhouse. Always managing to speak her truth with such a tactful and thought out tone that drives me to learn more about our society and history. She makes those around her want to be a better, more informed person.
Le Bas-Fond does just the same. You can hear the blood, sweat and tears that inspired Sweet Talk. Sure enough, Melody was harmed when the seeds were planted to create this record. “In February, everything that had happened in the last year and a half had culminated to a head, caught up with me, and just hit me. I had given up parts of my life that I could never get back; I made a lot of sacrifices for other people, which was my fault, honestly, but I had lost and given up things that just hurt.
I had wanted to make everyone happy, and couldn’t. The sheer magnitude of which I had been betrayed by one of my oldest, closest friends made me doubt absolutely everything. It was all so shockingly ugly. I just broke. I suffered from a partial nervous breakdown.”
Give a listen to a track like Ringside, and you will hear the pain that went into creating this LP; “One night I was wild with grief, absolutely delirious. I was crying hysterically. It was raining and storming and I didn’t care, I went out for a walk anyway. Well, I didn’t get very far, because I fell on something I couldn’t see–it felt like I had been pushed.” Melody had horribly injured several parts of her body, “It knocked the wind out of me. Where the wounds were, on joints, I couldn’t heal. I couldn’t run away from my grief. I was immobile and unable to really heal from a very scary fall. I had to just be still.”
Thus, Sweet Talk began to haunt her and be conceived.
“I wanted the record to feel like that. A wound. Like a raw, open and festering wound. Like a miscarriage or a still-born. Like my fall.I had a lot of time to think. I marinated in it. My process was about my physical healing and limited mobility and having to be still when I couldn’t shut off my brain.”
The creative process for my favorite artists always fascinates me. PJ Harvey wrote her latest (and incredible) album after visiting the poverty-ridden areas of Washington DC and Kosovo while Tori Amos took an Ayahuasca trip in Hawaii to get in the mind-set to create her 1996 album, Boys for Pele. For Melody, Sweet Talk also had the influence of American scholar and HIstorian, J. Rufus Fears and TV star turned talk show host, Alan Young (admit it, you’ve seen Mr. Ed)
“I just love him” she beams. “He was so darling and handsome and charming, and unbelievably funny. My favorite episode opens with a monologue parody of one of those Western Round-Up Shows, ending with him pulling a bagpipe out of a mystery instrument case. His rendition of ‘Home on the Range’ sounds like someone trying to vacuum a cat to the tune of it. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. That element of absurdity and surprise actually influenced this record a lot.”
While Sweet Talk also reckons a Sensual World-era Kate Bush, Sarah Brightman, even Bjork, you may be surprised at some of the other artists Melody channeled when creating this LP. “I do take notes from Kate Bush” the beauty says, “but, actually, I take more notes from Lerner & Loewe.” (Side note: Any friend of Melody’s knows she is a hardcore lover of Brigadoon. She even has covered Come to Me, Bend to Me in Spanish.)
Something there is no lack of on her work, are those layered vocals and plenty of synths. “I love layering vocals. It’s my favorite part of making music. It comes from years of singing along to musical cast recordings and singing all the parts myself.” She is only half kidding, and the notes she can hit definitely at times feel like she is leading a Broadway show all on her own.
“Production and composition for me are so intrinsically related that just straight recording is just…it doesn’t keep me interested or focused. I love my layers! Most of the instruments on the album are soft-synths and programming. I did about 85% of the record myself. I am fiercely independent, and have a very clear vision of what I want to do, but I love letting people who are way better at stuff than me into their wheelhouse and go to town.”
This is when Melody calls for a little help from her friends.
“Will Curry did his strings-thing on Crave(n). He truly elevates everything we work on to a higher level. He really understands me, with the greatest intuition, so I know if I send him a vague idea, he sends me exactly what I wanted, hands down, every time. He layers every string track one by one himself. That piece in particular has been really well-received. It’s so funny, because I hated it for a long time. I only liked Will’s work on it. I sat on it for a long time, and then I finally decided to give it a home.
With Ringside (La Brea Version), I enlisted the help of my good friend Jason Yeager, acclaimed jazz pianist, recording artist and Berkelee professor. He is one cool cat. He did the Wurlitzer and synth pad arrangements and plays them on the record. It was exactly what I wanted.”
While many independent artists are creating fantastic pieces of art on their own, maybe with a laptop in their room, Le Bas-Fond’s process brings to mind what the likes of major label recording acts such as St. Vincent or Bjork are doing.
“I just wanted to have the most honest record possible for how I was feeling. The vintage synth choices reflected that. Late 70’s and early 80’s home studio lo-fi, like Joy Division and the Eurythmics.”
While you would think the amount of effort that has gone into Sweet Talk, Convenience and Lies would keep Pilotte busy enough. But, no. She was eager and elated to tell me about the next not one, but two projects that are coming next from Le Bas-Fond.
“I’m working on two things simultaneously right now. Not surprisingly, one informs my work on the other. The first is a short legit vocal song-cycle based on Boudicca. I am working on it all by myself, and it has to be done as a completely solo endeavor and it’s one of those things I gotta do for me.”
The next one I am extremely excited for: A musicals cover.
“I’ve hit that numbness part of the healing process. Numbness is a survival mechanism to sort of shield yourself from how intense and how awful situations are. I hit emotional overload, so I am picking songs from musicals so I can pretend for a little while. I don’t have any real formal training, nor do I have any intention of pursuing theatre, it’s just indulgent escapism, and proving to myself that I can do it.”
While the multi-talented musician is fiercely independent, she also loves a chance to get her “Le Bas Fam” all together.
“You’re only as good as your team and the people you work with and who work with you. I am in constant awe of all of them.I have no faith in my own abilities, and yet all these people I respect and admire and whom I maintain are the best in the business have all agreed to work with me on it. It’s like the Country Bear Jamboree of… Music Olympians, and I am just the talking raccoon hat.”
Longtime collaborator Will Curry, will serve as “Strings and Conductor Hero Extraordinaire” Melody shares, “You have a highly trained and disciplined master like Will, and then you have a clown like me. He puts up with all my nuttiness and saves songs from being thrown out all the time. He’s my hero.”
Melody’s beloved vocal coach Ben Roseberry is “a Jim Thorpe of Music. There’s nothing he can’t do. Ben is not only an actor, but he’s a singer-songwriter, composer, everything. I respect the heck out of him personally and professionally. I have zero training, and he’s the only person I’ve ever been comfortable enough training with. He’s really the reason why this project is going through.
I also am intrigued to hear about a “mushy duet” she will be doing with longtime friend, Matt Leisy. “He’s a superstar in my eyes. It’s an honor to have him on this record. It’s real now, we’ve recorded Matt, and he’s the real deal, so this record has to be, too.”
Before we wrapped up, I was eager to ask her about her Native American ancestry, and what we as a community can do to assist with the wretched situation going on with Standing Rock and, just, society in general?
“Standing Rock and the other pipelines water protectors are still fighting are the Indian Wars of the Space Age.” Her eyes widen, “They’re fighting for all of us, and they’re the bravest people.On the front lines of Standing Rock they were everyone from little kids to grandmas, and it made me so incredibly proud to be Native. Our battles have moved to the courtrooms for now.
I would say to your readers to stay informed through people like Tara Houska, Winona LaDuke, Tom B. K and Dallas Goldtooth, Faith Spotted Eagle, and Ruth H. Hopkins.
They can’t come out and just shoot us anymore, so The Powers That Be like waging other wars, like toxic colonialism. Water protectors are our warriors.”
Melody has very kindly offered for 5 of my readers to win a copy of Sweet Talk, Convenience and Lies. Use the form to enter by November 1st and make sure to check out my Sweepstakes Tab for official rules.