Chasing the Dream – singer Patty Larkin – Interview – Brief Article
Karen Iris Tucker
Acoustics cult fave Patty Larkin–in her first out interview–explores the directions of her life and her music on her ninth CD, Regrooving the Dream
“It’s about rethinking when something doesn’t work out or it’s short of how you imagined your life to be,” says singer-song-writer Patty Larkin, talking about what inspired her ninth and latest CD, Regrooving The Dream. “How do you revamp,” she asks, “and come back and continue to have the passion for what you do?”
Larkin–whose reputation as a “musician’s musician” has superseded her recognition among mainstream audiences–is referring to some of the recent, dramatic changes she’s made in her life, including leaving Windham Hill/High Street Records after six years in favor of the smaller and less corporate Vanguard label. No matter what musical paths she’s chosen over her long career, however, Larkin–who is “40-something or just shy of 63,” as she likes to joke–has had, over the course of nearly 15 years as a recording artist, a wondrous knack for reinventing her base Appalachian roots sound, using samples and loops as well as strains of blues, jazz, and Celtic music.
Larkin recorded Regrooving at Road Narrows studio in her home on the tip of Cape Cod. She coproduced it with her long-term artistic and romantic partner, Bette Warner, who has sung on Larkin’s albums and also shares producing credits on Perishable Fruit and a Laura Nyro tribute, Time and Love.
When asked how the two negotiate both living and working together, Larkin laughs. “It’s a pretty intense experience, but it’s one that really benefits me,” she says. “She comes from the heart with music, and she has an innate sense of honesty and truth. I tend to get away from that. I can get very heady about things and in producing I can go, `No, no, that’s really cool,’ and she’ll say something like `But it makes no sense.’ Communication is key. We really do work off each other quite well.’
Though the Iowa-born, Wisconsin-raised Larkin grew up in a musical family, singing and playing ’20s-era songs on the piano with her two accomplished grandmothers, she says this formative exposure to music “went beyond the stereotype of `Girls should learn classical piano so they can entertain in the parlor.'” In grade school Larkin began composing songs on guitar while listening to Paul Simon and Tom Paxton in her bedroom. It was around this time that she heard the music of a major influence, Joni Mitchell.
“When she came into my life, it really changed things for me because she was a she–a female role model–and she played really cool guitar,” recalls Larkin, gratified that things have changed since then. “The young women today have a lot to choose from–all the way from Christina Aguilera to Joan Jett.”
Larkin began her own road with a degree from Boston’s Berklee College of Music (and one in English literature from the University of Oregon). She busked for crowds in Harvard Square and fronted a number of bands before releasing her first album, on the Rounder label, in 1985. While Larkin is best known for her talent on electric and acoustic slide guitars, she has also mastered the octave mandolin, harmonica, accordion, bass, and keyboards.
Yet Larkin’s nimble-fingered instrumentation isn’t her only draw. After hearing her vivid, emotionally riveting lyrics, producer Sydney Pollack featured Larkin’s songs in his films Random Hearts and Sliding Doors. “Her voice is a singular one that’s very evocative–it’s perfect for motion pictures,” Pollack says. “You really see visual images when she sings. She’s just not a carbon copy, like some of today’s young, deeply troubled, neurotic girls, who think that their pain is sufficient enough to sing about.”
True to Larkin’s nomadic musical tastes, Regrooving sets her long-hailed slide guitar playing to a dizzying array of genres. The songs demonstrate why Larkin’s seasoned wit and unflinching lyrical honesty make her stand apart from the current crop of post–Lilith Fair folkies. “I took my boyfriend’s last name for something to do,” says one regretful protagonist in the cut “Anyway the Main Thing Is.” Larkin, who says the song is somewhat autobiographical (she was once married but did not change her name) describes the track as the essence of the CD.
“All of the characters in these songs are going through transitional periods,” she reveals. “They’re trying to figure out, Is this the way my life is going to be? Have I made a huge mistake? They’re making the kinds of choices that we all do every day.”
Tucker writes for Time Out New York, Interview, Paper, and Acoustic Guitar.
To find out more about the music of Patty Larkin and related Internet sites, visit www.advocate.com
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