Sep. 17, 2008
Lila Nelson - Photo by Sheldon Sabbatini.
Arcata’s favorite singer/songwriter Lila Nelson celebrates the release of a new CD, Letter Home, with a show Friday, Sept. 19, at the Arcata Playhouse, where she’ll be backed by Mom and Pop rhythm section, Tim Gray and Marla Joy and guitarist Greg Lojko from The Rubberneckers. (Greg opens the show with his own set.) What follows is Mark Shikuma’s e-mail Q&A exchange with Lila on letterwriting, her new album, Poi Dog Pondering and other tales of paper houses.
Q: Concerning the title for your new record, other than the Dylan reference (from the song you covered, “I Was Young When I Left Home“), what does it mean for you?
Letters are obsolete. And CDs are becoming so. So really, I should be an accountant or something. The letter is the letter I meant to write. I meant to send. And the home is the home I left as a kid, but also the home I am trying to find as an adult. Also, it’s everybody’s letter to their mother, and everybody’s mother’s letter to them. And sometimes it’s a love letter. And it’s me not writing home when I should, when I’m out touring. What a jerk I am.
Q: Did you have the theme running while you were writing the songs for the new record? Or, did the songs just end up that way?
Themes are always running. The Dylan song is one that I got stuck on as I was touring cross country in 2005/6 and I think it was fall. The songs weren’t written with the theme in mind, per say, some are very old. But there is something autumnal about all of them and about the final touch Freddy put on it (or chose not to put on it, in some cases).
My parents’ house almost burned down last fall and my mom lost many of her valuables and all of her writing and letters. I was midway through the project then. I still feel those Santa Ana winds blowing inside…also around that time I fell and suffered a concussion. Speaking of fall, err, falling.
Q: You’ve definitely displayed your influences, namely Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Dylan and Emmylou Harris. Are there any other influences you can site for these new batch of songs?
Funny, I didn’t know Rickie Lee Jones’ stuff until about 4 years ago, after people kept saying, “You sound like her, you write like her…” I checked her out and am a huge fan now. The others I definitely cut my teeth on. Others I have found since working in radio. Not all the songs are new (to me — some are 10 years old). Some things that influence me: Uh, seasons, especially Fall (which in my mind landed on us last week…something nostalgic, melancholy delicious…all that). What else: Nick Drake, wine, falling down. Also, when I was 11 or so I heard Loudon Wainwright III. Wrote him a letter. He wrote back. And then I got to see him live and thought, “I want a job doing that — writing songs — being silly and poignant at the same time.”