It’s a very rare occurrence to stumble upon an artist whom you find to be both refreshing yet somehow like an old friend, in the stories they share and the emotions they stir up. Watching Rhode Island’s Brendan Glasson play under the moniker Vio/Miré on Wednesday night; supporting David Thomas Broughton; was just one of those occasions. Having never heard of him before I was astounded by the intensity and sincerity of his performance that had something of the tender and exposed emotional air of Conor Oberst about it.
Over the weekend he supported Vadoinmessico at Carnivale’s Mind the Gap launch night. The new night at the Aldgate venue aims to “provide opportunities for young people and professionals by way of creative mentoring” while improving the prospects and opportunities of the young East London community, allowing and encouraging them to get involved with live music events. I was lucky enough to catch up with Brendan before his second UK performance for a bit more of a chat:
“I played in a band with my best friend the day I got my guitar…I had no idea what I was doing” Glasson jokes of his musical beginnings, “and then I started writing the Vio/Miré songs five years ago”, with the first album and collection of songs from that project being recorded in late 2005. The project has been growing in various guises since its birth and with a collection of recordings so lyrically impressive his live performances work with both the fuller instrumentation of their recordings, and just as successfully solo with a nylon string, or electric guitar.
Vio/Miré’s work is a moving picture postcard of striking landscapes matched with a style of storytelling evoking an ambivalent loneliness and hope, recordings of lo-fi bedroom folk stitched together with segments of ambient sound art. Bedroom folk I guess is as good a description as any: Glasson’s recording process is just that, “it’s weird to even call them albums because I just record them at home in my bedroom”. For January 2009, his latest, he recorded it at friend Alex Sommer’s home in Reykjavik after the pair toured with Icelandic band Parachutes. “Alex [of Parachutes] offered to let me record it at his home studio. He also has lots of super instruments, [pump organ, piano], and the guys from Parachutes play nice instruments so it was really good to work with them on a different project”.
For a performer whose lyrics and their halted delivery kept listeners at Broughton’s show, and again at Carnivale, hanging on every word it is interesting to note that for Glasson lyrics come later, though by no means secondary to the melody: “Only very recently have I started writing the lyrics first, I always do it the other way round. The songs for the record that I’m working on now I’ve been writing the lyrics first, maybe because I’m travelling without a guitar”. Lyrics are about “a kind of extension of reality” he tells me, and the liberties an artist can take in finding inspiration in a multitude of sources: the personal, imagined and renewed, and it seems Vio/Miré isn’t short of such material. His lyrics are deftly constructed windows into a world of personal stories, “beyond possible” stories, and stories in which he hopes to “illustrate an emotional or intellectual thought”.
In addition he borrows a lot, as the best artists do, recycling ideas of his own and those of the literary greats, where he finds prose containing “so many gems it would be a shame not to want to employ them, putting their [observations] into a new context”. From the almost fairytale like “Everywhere You Had Been” to the similarly titled “A Place Where You Had Been” the lyrics flit between worlds entirely imagined; where ghosts talk to our singer from beneath a frozen lake, back to the real world and the universal and lonely desperation in awaiting a phone call “expectantly, life depleting continually, but gaining substance quite equally”.
With this artist it feels there is little chance of him becoming pigeon-holed by genre: “I can imagine making a record that was entirely soundscape and being really happy with it, and at the same time being happy with an album of ten folk songs.” Likewise with an ever-changing line-up of musicians contributing live and on record they too allow for a constantly developing sound. Speaking on January 2009: “I try to use the resources I have available at the time. If I know someone who plays trombone I think ‘there’s got to be some chance to use the trombone!'”.
The collection of songs he is currently penning he is hoping to record at a “friend’s parents house in Cape Cod. It’s 150 years old which is quite old for the US“. Glasson has found travelling elsewhere in order to record to be a more productive approach as “there aren’t the social distractions there are at home…it’s nice to spend the time solely on making a record“. If the self-released February 2006, written and recorded in Bolivia, and January 2009, are anything to go by he’s got a good thing going with this little recording tradition.
In this internet age where music downloads have become the new word of mouth, assisting in our access to the obscure and unheard-of it is somewhat astonishing that Vio/Miré has been tucked away so tightly. While the recordings are generally made into around only 100 or so copies “so [Brendan] can give them to [his] friends” downloads here prove that they are of no hindrance, instead aiding accessibility to music long after the extinction of their physical form. “Sometimes I think it’d be nice to be on a real record label that could make lots of copies…but I noticed a couple of years ago someone had uploaded one of my discs on a torrent site, that made me really happy because there were only 125 copies of that album, I never made any more.”
There is something altogether humbling about Vio/Miré’s passionate production of music, how he prefers “working on a much smaller scale, playing in a living room” to a small crowd, and heading back home to Providence in between tours to “find some odd job [he] can do for a short amount of time to make enough money to go on tour again.” He suggested house painting when he heads home, the kind of job he usually does with friends, in the sun, listening to music.
My fingers are crossed that he finds a big old house with enough days work in it to allow him to head to Cape Cod to record the songs he spoke of, hopefully this time making a few more than 100 copies!
A Nice Spot Somewhere in the Wood:
[audio:http://www.box.net/shared/static/04zusdbvtx.mp3|artists=Vio/Mire|titles=A Nice Spot Somewhere in the Wood]