Vashti Bunyan: “I don’t know any words that do describe me or what I sound like”
“Heart leap, headlong, heartache / Heartbreak, head down, heartfelt / Heart melt, headstrong, heart spring / Heart sing, head gone, heart leap / Heart sleep, head space, heartsease / Heart please, headache, heartsearch / Heart lurch, headfirst, heart long / Heart song, head done, heart leap”” (Vashti Bunyan, Heartleap)
Mit 18 Jahren entdeckt Vashti Bunyan in New York “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” für sich und beschließt daraufhin eine Karriere als Musikerin anzustreben – “Bob Dylan’s words began to fill the air in my young head and to educate me more than anything in my life had ever done.”
In ihrem Bestreben unterstützt wird die ehemalige Kunststudentin aus London von niemand geringerem als Andrew Loog Oldham, der Rolling Stones-Manager sieht in ihr die neue Marianne Faithfull. Zwei Jahre später, 1965 ,erscheint Vashtis erste Single “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind” (ein Jagger-Richards Cover) mit der B-Seite “I Want To Be Alone” aus eigener Feder. Allerdings fällt die Resonanz bescheiden aus, auch der Veröffentlichung ihres Nachfolgers “Train Song” wird kaum Beachtung geschenkt. Vashti beschließt sich in die auf Skye gelegenen Kommune des britischen Folk-Musikers Donovan zurückzuziehen – “eventually my music dreams ran out – so I left for good. Left London, my family, everything familiar and took off for oblivion” –, doch die Reise zieht sich über anderthalb Jahre hin und als sie und ihr damaliger Lebensgefährte eintreffen, hat sich die Kommune bereits aufgelöst. Vashti schöpft während jener Odyssee frischen Mut und kehrt 1970 nach London zurück, um schließlich ihr Debütalbum “Just Another Diamond Day” aufzunehmen. Als “Hippie-Folk” abgestempelt, findet es jedoch keinen Anklang. Aber kehrt Vashti Bunyan desillusioniert dem Musik-Business den Rücken.
Doch drei Dekaden später kommt der Stein zu ihrer eigenen Überraschung endlich ins Rollen: “Just Another Diamond Day” wird 2000 wiederveröffentlicht und erfährt seine längst überfällige Anerkennung. Namhafte Künstler wie Joanna Newsom bekennen sich als große Fans der englischen Singer-Songwriterin; Piano Magic laden sie 2002 auf ihr Album “Writers Without Homes” als Gastsängerin ein, Vashtis erste neue Aufnahme seit dem Debütalbum! Es folgen zahlreiche weitere Kollaborationen, unter anderem mit Animal Collective und Devendra Banhart, der im Rahmen von “From Here To Before”, einer Dokumentation von Kieran Evans über Vashti und ihren (musikalischen) Werdegang, folgendes Zitat zu Protokoll gibt: “I believe “Just Another Diamond Day” is a holy record.” Ermutigt durch das unverhoffterweise erwachte Interesse an ihrer Person und Musik, veröffentlicht die mittlerweile gefeierte “Godmother of Freak Folk” 2005 nach 33-jähriger Schaffenspause ihr zweite Platte mit dem bezeichnenden Titel “Lookaftering”, gefolgt von „Heartleap“ im Jahr 2014.
The following interview with Vashti Bunyan was conducted over e-mail in the fall of 2012, at a time when the English singer-songwriter was working on what was to become her third album, „Heartleap”. As special feature, the interview contains her commentary about artistic collaborations.
Dear Vashti! What is your belief or philosophy that you go by?
That as soon as I start to believe something is real, it is probably already unbelievable. Which makes it easier not to hold grudges.
What does just another diamond day in the life of Vashti Bunyan look like today?
Sitting here mostly in front of a computer screen with headphones on so the rest of the household doesn’t have to get bored of my tunes. Making my way between three old laptops and four hard-drives full of the last few years of recordings – finding old and making new files and trying to fix it all up into something resembling a new album.
From all the people you have worked with: Who would be the most memorable person that has crossed your path (in music) and why?
Robert Kirby who arranged some of the songs on my first album recorded in 1969. He was Nick Drake’s friend and arranger. I didn’t see Robert from that time till a few years ago when we were both working on a Nick Drake tribute show for Joe Boyd. I just loved him and his irreverence and boundless humour.. and his beautiful musical arrangements. We were planning to work on my new songs together when he suddenly died. I haven’t stopped being sad about that. I try now to write the arrangements I think we might have done together rather than go to anyone else.
Have you ever encountered Nick Drake?
‘Joe Boyd (who produced both of us at the time) tried to get us to write together but I had a tiny baby who cried whenever I picked up my guitar and a silent Nick’s shoulders went higher and higher till I went home. I don’t think we ever exchanged a word although we met a few times in Joe’s office. I would say hello and he would turn to the wall. Beautiful sad boy.
How did you experience the making of “From Here To Before”?
As a kind of talking cure. We filmed hours of me going on and on. Only a fraction made it into the eventual film. By the time we had reached the end, I felt differently about the journey.
You are entitled “The Godmother of Freak Folk”. How do you feel about this description?
‘Freak Folk’ doesn’t describe me at all, and I don’t know any words that do describe me or what I sound like. As to being called ‘godmother’ it has made me smile. If the girl I was could have known she would one day be described as godmother of her kind of music she would have smiled too.
Was it more difficult for women in the 60s to be taken seriously and gain respect in a male-dominated music industry?
It’s hard for me to know whether it was difficult because I was female or because I was shy and unable to put my ideas across. I think it might be too easy to say it was because I was female – although it was definitely harder for someone like me who refused to wear pretty dresses.
A little birdy once told me about this incident when you would have to face disrespectful behaviour by the Rolling Stones. I wonder: Was it actually more difficult for women back then, or were the Stones really just an immature bunch?
As to difficulties – like a lot of women of my generation looking back to that time – I feel I should have been much stronger, much more sure of myself. I have spent the time since trying to put that right. I had an ego about my songs but not about myself. As to the Stones – it was only once when I was recording the b side of my single – a song I’d written called “I Want to be Alone” – Mick Jagger was up in the control room with Andrew Oldham and I was alone down in the studio in front of the mic. I must have looked like a small child as I caught him mimicking my ways, my expression, and it was infuriatingly patronising yes. No one took me seriously – but really was that my fault or theirs? It is hard to know like I said. As for them being immature – no – they were just fearlessly laying all before them. And yes they strutted – but that was what was so great about them. Certainly what I loved about them. If you had the chance to travel back in time and meet young Vashti, which advice would you give her? I’d maybe tell her not to listen to herself telling her she wasn’t any good as a musician and songwriter – and to sing to her children.
Do you notice any difference with your voice as you grow older? Are there any difficulties in singing since you have not been using your vocal instrument for such a long time?
I think when I first came back to recording after a 30 year gap my voice hadn’t changed much – maybe because I hadn’t used it in all that time. But now after a few years I think it is maybe beginning to change. Lower maybe.
What is your perception of music?
I lived with it every day growing up… radio music and recorded music. Then I started to make my own – but got nowhere with it and eventually turned my back entirely on all music. I didn’t sing to my children. I never picked up my guitar to play it even though I kept it always with me. Music hurts, music had rejected me so I reacted unconsciously by rejecting music.
Then when “Just Another Diamond Day” came out in 2000 I started to listen again to so much of the music I had missed. I was able to listen at last and remember what it felt like and to love having it in my life again. When I write music now I am writing from that place that was filled after having been empty for so long. So all music to me is a longing fulfilled.
Vashti Bunyan on working with
Animal Collective: “They taught me a lot that I have never forgotten and I have enormous respect for the way they work.”
Devendra Banhart: “Adorable genius full of goodness and the best of badness. ”
Piano Magic: “Glen Johnson has a wonderful mind and ear. I like his recordings of my voice best of all.”
Joanna Newsom: “An elegant, dignified and brilliant musician who was generous enough to give me a morning in a studio.”
Kieran Evans: “Hugely patient bundle of energy and ideas.”