Album of the Week: Little Wings’ “Explains”–Explained By Kyle Field In Interview

May 27th, 2015 in Music


Little Wings has just dropped its outstanding new album Explains on new label Woodsist.  We’ve been huge fans of this under-appreciated ensemble for well over a decade and were thrilled to learn of the new release.  After non-stop, repeat listens, we believe this to be amongst the band’s best albums to date (extremely high praise given their prior output and Wonderue in particular).  To our ears, Explains contains some of the band’s most melodic and accessible (in a blessedly off-kilter way) songs to date, and all without losing leader Kyle Field’s unique wordplay and world-vantage.  In short, Explains is amongst our favorite albums of the year thus far and has survived repeated listens phenomenally well.  Check out the tremendous opening track By Now below, and go HERE to buy this superb new outing from Little Wings.  Afterwards, check out our email interview with Kyle Field in between live performances, others’ recording sessions, and a foray to Japan.

Interview with Kyle Field:

Lefort:  Your last album’s title (Last) was a bit foreboding and, like many of your fans, we were concerned that it might indeed be your last.  But then news of the new “Explains” hit and the concern was annulled.  Is it fair to say, as alluded to on the new album, that you’ve determined/resigned-yourself to keep laying those “golden eggs” for your friends and fans?

KF:  The foreboding title was in some sense a reaction to the Mayan Calendar scare and year and it was recorded in 2012 before the world was supposed to end [Lefort:  listen to the allusion thereto in the song By Now above], in turn making it the last Little Wings album.  My backup meaning for that title was that Little Wings “last” like, survive the apocalypse or “since ’98.”

Lefort:  Having had the new album on repeat for weeks and still loving it, where do you see it falling?  How does it differ in your mind, if at all, compared to your other albums?

KF:  I have no idea…. I don’t compare my albums to each other.  In a sense I am focusing on the new songs that aren’t recorded yet and that leaves me very little time for bean counting. [The album] survived the mixing/mastering phase in my ears and that says a lot because you end up hearing it so many times and picking apart every moment.  If I was forced to compare, I would say that it has more rhythmic drive and push than most of the others thanks to Zeb Zaitz and Tommy McDonald’s ears and natural style.

Lefort:  Which of the songs on the new album are you most proud?

KF:  I celebrate them all. I enjoy the sequence and how the record works beginning to end.

Lefort:  Thematically, the album seems to ask big questions and to be an assessment of your life and work.  With questions about growing older, higher beings, the vagabond vs. conventional–life, solo vs. relational life, what was the backdrop and context for the creation of “Explain”?

KF:  It started as an idea for a list, like: “Little Wings explains: a blade of grass, this evening, etc.” So it was like a lecture about the world or something near to it.  It bled out from there, taking on subtler angles and themes arriving at “Little Wings explains Fat Chance.”  Explaining what I have learned by now.

Lefort:  With respect to your last album, LAST, you said:  “Lots of things I feel and inject into the experience I realize are just for me and me alone as guidelines and motivations.”  What aspects of the new album fall into that category?

KF:  I think this one is more open and generous in a sense; not subduing the keyboard sounds and less hiding perhaps.

Lefort:  What portion of your songwriting is “spontaneous inspiration” versus painstaking attention to crafting a song?

KF:  Besides a few band-aids (word overdubs), the lyrics for the first song By Now were completely improvised.  I was basically serenading Tommy McDonald (The Range of Light Wilderness) who was pressing “record” in his living room where we did a lot of the secondary overdubs of the album.  I don’t feel “painstaking” could really apply because if i get a good idea for a song, it feels like a puzzle to solve and the process is different each time.  I don’t tend to force myself to write very often.

Lefort:  When and where was the new album recorded, who were the players and who produced?  How was the process for you?

KF:  The initial song-beds for the new album were recorded at a house near Morro Bay where drummer/pianist Zeb Zaitz (Sparrow’s Gate) lives by John Baccigaluppi (Tape Op, The Hangar) with whom I recorded LAST.  Additional layering was added a few weeks later at a house in Big Sur where bassist/keyboardist Tommy McDonald lives. I sometimes have a funny relationship with the word “produced” as I figure anyone who added to it helped.  But I guess I would say it was produced by John, Tommy, me and Kyle Mullarky (who I mixed the album with at his home studio in Topanga Canyon). Paul Dutton added some great guitar overdubbing, and sounds. Lee Baggett layered guitars and a few vocals. Fletcher Tucker (Gnome Life, Bird by Snow) put on some dulcimer, bowed dulcimer,and keyboard parts.  Tommy and I both put keyboards on it, and Joel Tolbert played slide guitar and accordion, which is very low in the mix. The process was pretty great; we all get along really well, and Tommy and Zeb have been friends of mine for a while, and have been in different versions of the live band over the last two years.  Essentially I had put together [Tommy, Zeb and me] as a trio and played a handful of shows and just liked the way we sound and play together and wanted to run new songs through that tube.

Lefort:   Live and on some tracks on LAST (Neptune’s Next and Knock of Every Door), you performed a couple of songs with quasi-rap elements.  We were anticipating some expansion into this realm on the new album.  But you seem to have resisted/squashed that vein for now.  Any prospects for the future?

KF:   I feel a lot of rap in the new album, and I have introduced boasting for the first time, which i feel is even more rappy than in the past.

Lefort:  Like many, we enjoyed your brief collaborations with Feist a while back.  Do you stay in touch and are there any further collaborations contemplated in the future?

KF:  Thanks. We stay in touch here and there, and who knows? Everyone is busy with new things, but stranger things could happen.

Lefort:  How did the Woodsist collaboration come to be?

KF:  I asked Jeremy Earl (Woods) if he would want to put out a Little Wings album, and he said he had been wanting to put one out for years.  Mutual admiration i guess.  I had been invited to play the Woodsist Festival for two years in a row ,and his interest and support seemed reliable/attractive.  I like his label and think it’s a nice fit  working together.

Lefort:  During another musician/artist’s (Joseph Arthur’s) recent tours, he painted canvases on stage while performing songs.  Knowing your artistic ways, any possibility of your doing the same (we asked, anticipating a “what-am-i-a-circus-act” response)?

KF:  I would love to.  I have used an overhead projector before and drawn and sang at the same time.  I need to hit that note again.

Lefort:  Out of all your recordings, do you have a favorite album and a favorite song?

KF:  Not so much.  I am usually into my latest song that has just been written, when the paint’s still wet and pre- studio.

Lefort:  What are you upcoming performance plans?

KF:  We performed as a big band (seven piece) at the Woodsist Festivals.  Now in Japan to play seven solo shows. I used to go to Big Sur in the 90’s and wondered if I would ever get to play music there, and now I play at least two times a year it seems.  So no complaints.

Lefort: Your lyrics in particular seem at times improvisational and at others painstakingly penned.  Is that the case?

KF:  Yes, I think I go for some sort of juxtaposition/inconsistency in some sense because i think it’s more interesting than a blatantly straightforward narrative.  That being said, I rebounded from that thought and began learning more country songs and then re-realized the power of straightforward storytelling. It’s hard to do.  This album dabbles in some abstract expressionism that may feel topsy-turvy to some.

Lefort: Are there other lyricists/poets that have inspired your own lyrical style?

KF:  Too many to name, and I am a pretty lame name dropper.  But, you know….poets, country singers, divas, and this rapper named “Cold G” from Oakland, CA.

Thanks Kyle.  We will have a full review of Explains soon come.

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