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Les interviews de BLITZ! numéro 23 : Gary LLAMA

Gary Llama

Gary Llama, a very talented American songwriter and singer, drew our attention last month, because of his ability to create beautiful songs with different styles (folk, electronic music, rock).
Let us discover his artistic universe in the following interview.

  1. First of all, would you please introduce yourself in a few words ? Where are you from and when did you start writing/playing music ?
  2. Yeah, I´m Gary Llama. I was born in 1979 in Richmond, Virginia USA, and still live here. I started playing music when I was 7. In my early teens, I started playing in punk bands, and being active in the punk and activist communities here in Richmond. I was hooked, and the ethic of punk stuck with me. Our bands bass player, and my best friend, was killed in an automobile accident when we were still teens. That was the impetus for my solo work. Perhaps it was because I was scared to trust in others again for something so close to my heart. Also, around 18 I began having health problems that made life very difficult, and working solo, on music and art, allowed me a way to cope and yet still contribute something to the world.

  3. On your bandcamp, the first album is called « Silence Is Suicide » and dates back from 2000. The twelve tracks can be considered as folk songs, with beautiful melodies and sensitive lyrics (« Important Things »). What are your main musical influences in that particular style ?
  4. From the sonic side, I was inspired by the drum records the band Neurosis had been releasing on their label. Hearing that gave me the idea that I could make ´heavy´ acoustic music. Then I discovered Woodie Guthrie, old folkways recordings. Then Billy Bragg. Then his collaboration with Wilco on Woodie Guthrie songs. Those records illuminated a certain possibility for me, that I had not imagined. But ultimately, it felt very comfortable, playing acoustic, and so I just put aside my ideas of what punk should sound like, and just worked straight from my heart. It was embrassing to me, as it was so honest.
    Even after all these years, the vulnerability of it still makes me a little uncomfortable. But I am proud it is so honest.

    li>In 2013, you released « V / V » and the 4 tracks are totally different from your first works, with more electronics and less guitars. How can you explain this evolution ?

    As a kid growing up in the 80s, the first music I loved was the 80s music on the pop radio and MTV, which was heavily synth based, and I would sit in class and create remixes of the songs in my head. Then came Hip-hop, works like Public Enemy, which also used synths, but also for the drums, and the remix was embedded in the original style. Those two things melded into a kind of feeling that I can describe as the soundtrack to my core being. So when I approached ´V / V´, I tried to peel another layer off of the angle I would usually approach a record, and this sound is what was exposed.

  5. In 2014, your « New Folk » album was full of (excellent) pop-rock songs, in spite of its title. Is this new change due to the musicians you met, or to the music you had discovered at that time ?
  6. ´New Folk´ was my first project after the birth of my daughter. I was also suffering from some more severe health issues. Both contributed to an immediacy I was feeling. The pop aspect of it, maybe that came from feeling more nurturing towards the outside world, being a new dad, as well as discovering my own feeling of disphoria with my gender, which gave relief, wheras before, I had generally written and played AGAINST the world. Also, I had began a side project, Imagination Society, which was heavily electronic, and very dark. So ´New Folk´ was something of the antithesis to that.

  7. In 2015, you came back to folk songs with a 5-track album called « Live From The House ». Were they new songs, or had you composed them in 2000 and decided not to release them on « Silence Is Suicide » ?
  8. They were new songs. My health issues had been doing worse, and with my kid, I had literally sold much of my equipment to try and help my family. I kept the acoustic guitar. That record just came to me one day, I was sitting in my backyard. There was something in the air, an inspiration.

    The idea of that record, was that in each of us, there are many paths we could have taken in life. So, what kind of person could I have been ? And for a moment, that summer, I was able to glimpse a possiility of this other person, somewhat like me, but different. And I wrote it from that perspective. And oddly, it is, like the Silence Is Suicide stuff, much more honest, and vulnerable. Perhaps the excercise was a way to trick myself into ignoring my fears, and be open with the listener.

  9. In your recent works, you have come back to a more powerful music, in particular on the album called « The Beauty Of Music », which is very generous regarding electric guitars. Could you give us a clue on the style of your next album ?
  10. I´ve been tempted to go back to acoustic. However, since ´The Beauty of Music´, I did two collaborations with rappers, one, a local emcee, Ben FM, with me doing making the music via my Imagination Society project, and the second, an actual group, with emcee Timbo King (of Wu-Tang´s Royal Fam, and Black Market Militia). But I did release a couple singles, ´Power!´, a song I wrote on the eve of our US election, expressing my dislike of Donald Trump. And ´Burn it All Down´, which was more personal, and seems to circle a bit back towards the style of ´V /V´.

  11. I have read in an article that you never play live. Will you make an exception, and plan a European tour this year or in the near future ?
  12. My aversion to playing live is rooted in the idea that I make recordings, that is the art, to me. It is like a painting. For some reason, we are ok with painters presenting paintings as finished works, but not so for music. For music, we expect the performance to be the art. I like making records. The one thing I miss about performing, is connecting with human beings, which in this day of so much online activity, I am very much feeling a need to do. To see people, and talk with them. My therapist suggested I do a tour, but something more like a book tour, where I could come and visit folks in different cities, and maybe just talk, share ideas, and listen to some music, but not play. Perhaps that is something I will do. As for Europe, I would love to go. If I could get some European spaces on board with my talking/listening tour, perhaps that could be a possibility.

On the Web : https://garyllama.bandcamp.com/

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