Great Wilderness, no strings attached.

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Great Wilderness photo by Parker Fitzgerald
In this series I interview the musicians who lent their talents to the Picket Line soundtrack, many of them comics enthusiasts and story-tellers in their own rights. Laura Kucera plays violin, cello, and sings background vocals in the Portland 5-piece, Great Wilderness. Great Wilderness contributed the track “Miles of Trees” to the Picket Line soundtrack. Laura took some time to talk with me on G-Chat about their  unique recording process and what makes their Great Wilderness a family .

B: How would you describe the sound of Great Wilderness to the curious new listener?
Laura: Ooh, I don’t know how to respond to that. Music to take a road trip to? We think it’s music that takes you on a journey. I usually describe Emily sounding like a five year old Dolly Parton, and Jamie sounds like breath-y honey. Haha! Jon and Abe are intuitive players. I hear parts and contribute whatever I can. But the technical answer is “folk-pop”, right? However, I’ll add that my favourite response is when someone says they got lost in the music, or that it made them cry or get shivers.
B: Totally, I’ve had the above experiences for sure. How long have you guys been playing music together?
Laura: Milly had a solo project and I played with her for a few years. Great Wilderness came together as a family under that name a year and a half ago. Our first show as Great Wilderness was in February of 2010, opening up for the Parson Redheads at the White Eagle.
B: I think I was at that show! Or else it was one of the last shows before you guys came together as Great Wilderness. It was packed.
Laura: It was pretty full, yes. Parson Redheads had a residency at the White Eagle that month and were living in L.A. at the time, so many Portland friends came out. I think Eric Earley from Blitzen Trapper played too, so, it was a pretty loaded line-up. Nice first show as Great Wilderness, for sure!
B: Your live shows are pretty breathtaking — do you guys put an emphasis on that part of your identity as a band? Or does the music you record in studio just lend itself naturally to such performances?
Laura: Victor Nash (Point Juncture WA, IOA, Team Evil), who recorded us, really made an attempt to capture the live sound that’s at shows. That was important to us. I think we definitely do put an emphasis on that. I reckon everyone in the band cherishes music that has the ability to move us, and we want to gift that as well through our notes. I truly hope people have those experiences where they can close their eyes, wipe a tear, giggle, shout… whatever feelings the music provokes. We really want to not just be a stereo-typical bar band, or musicians who do music as a gig, without their hearts fully invested in the project. We want to be musicians doing something because we’re moved by it, and by each other.
B: And taking that kind of care, not just while playing live but also while recording, led to a really beautiful EP [Rest EP] that has the same ability to move people in that way. Compared to a lot of bands who kind of work backward from the sound they want, it seems like you guys start with the band and your affection for each other, and the music, and the fans, and go forward from there?
Laura: We try to. I think like with any venture, if there is unity, much more can be accomplished.
B: That’s awesome. Can we talk about “Miles of Trees” for a minute?
Laura: Sure.
B: You guys had already written and recorded that song when I approached you about the soundtrack project, but it seemed to fit so perfectly. Do you think we just got lucky? Was it hard to transfer the original meaning and emotion in that song and give it over to a narrative that it wasn’t originally linked to?
Laura: I think it was written and maybe recorded, but not yet mixed or mastered. I remember being GLEEful when you said you wanted music from friends and asked us, “Do you think you could write a song about long stretches of a Redwood forest?”..and Milly and I laughed, and asked, “Would “Miles of Trees” work?”
B: Yes! That was so perfect.
Laura: Haha. And then the other day when you were having some hang-ups with printing the book, and you tweeted something about a train…
B: You’re right!

Laura: So, I felt like it was connected. [The opening lyrics to “Miles of Trees” are: “Step on a train, the ground is gone beneath you anyway.”] It felt like it was meant to be. I was already honoured, but then I got really excited, because it seemed so complimentary.
B: Absolutely. The song ends up being a centerpiece: it’s become the forest’s theme song, in my mind. And the forest is a pretty important character in the book, so it needs a big sound like “Miles of Trees.”
Laura: That makes me so happy. I believe in you and love that we get to be a part of this project of yours, and support you in any sense.
B: Thanks so much Laura.
Laura: Can I share something about “Miles of Trees” and what you were asking earlier [about how the band’s affection for one another helps shape the sound]?
B: Oh yeah, totally.
Laura: One of the most endearing parts of recording was that moving effect we had on each other. I asked Milly to be in the studio when I was recording my tracks for “Miles of Trees”, because part of the way I take cues for that song is off the vibe I get from the effect it’s having on her. Usually at shows, Jon and I play until it feels like we should end – right to the “breaking point” of emotions –  and then play more. Haha. Usually, Mils ends up on the floor, often crying. So, she came into the studio so I could “feel” where to end the song, and before everything was mixed and mastered, you could hear her break into tears on the recording. It was so awesome! Too much information, perhaps, haha. I just love that, and love being a family with band-mates rather than “co-workers.”
B: No way, that’s not too much information. That’s the kind of behind-the-scenes stuff we like to hear in interviews! And it’s interesting, because that string part [at the end of “Miles of Trees”] does seem so intentional in its length, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.
I was going to ask you how you personally arrived at the folk-pop style when you have a background in the hardcore scene, is that right?
Laura: Haha…YES. I love that you just brought that up! It forever follows me. I am moved by many genres of music. Let’s say that.
B: So it wasn’t necessarily a huge decision to change genres, you were just embracing one of many sounds you were interested in?
Laura: Well, explaining: I was raised a classical musician and studied classical violin for 13+ years before getting into the hardcore scene. These days, if I ever need to “release notes” when I’m inspired, I follow up with playing along with Horse Feathers’ music, or Radiohead’s In Rainbows, or Arcade Fire. It soothes and refreshes me. Folk-pop is more of a recent-years’ music release, yes. (And by “release” I mean when I hear notes and then play them. Half the time I think my violin plays me, versus me playing violin.)
B: There are probably upcoming violinists who will release notes to a Great Wilderness song!
Laura: That is such an endearing thought: To be moved and move others. Maybe that should be a motto.
B: Totally. I think it’s one of the most satisfying parts of creating.
Laura: EXACTLY. That makes me grin, thinking of little kids coming up to you for autographs, or asking you to draw a picture for them, or wanting drawing lessons. That’s a run-on sentence of excitement, haha.
B: Yeah, it’s a pretty humbling thing, to see how your work might inspire something much greater than yourself. But humbling in the best way – what a story to be a part of!
Laura: I didn’t think about that. I feel like you just reminded me of something really sweet: passing it on to those younger than us, and how honoured I am to be part of that. I’m so thankful when people are moved, but it’s incredible when it is inspiring to them too! Wow… Humbling, hey?
B: Absolutely.
Laura: I need to grab a bus. Not literally.

Check out Great Wilderness and listen to the Rest EP at greatwilderness.bandcamp.com!

(Reading this interview, I realize how much I use the word “Totally.” I guess I have tapped into my inner Ninja Turtle!)

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink