08 avril 2015

Indra Rios-Moore: Heartland

Every story has a start, middle and an end. Indra Rios-Moore’s story begins on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, continues across the Atlantic in Denmark, but as yet has not come close to reaching a climax, or thankfully an ending. Like every good story it has had twists along the way, ups, as well as downs, joy and pain, but also sacrifice and success. If art reflects life then it is little wonder that Indra’s album, Heartland is eclecticism in the extreme…it is an album that is both intensely personal but also broad in its musical sweep. Hardly surprising given Indra’s story.

Indra, named by her mother after the Hindu warrior deity of the sky and the rain, was born to a Puerto Rican social worker, Elizabeth, and an African-American-Syrian jazz bassist, Donald Moore (his credits include, the New York Contemporary Five, Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, Sonny Rollins, and Jackie McLean). Growing up in a tough neighborhood, Indra spent her formative years in an imaginary world with her mother’s extensive record collection of jazz, soul, and rock music for company.

Singing was always a private experience for Indra, but at the age of 13, her mother convinced her to audition for a place at Mannes College of Music; despite her inhibitions about her singing Indra was awarded a scholarship. Indra developed her soprano voice and during the same year that she started studying at Mannes, she attended the Village Harmony, summer camp in Northern Vermont. Her teenage years were spent in a musical parallel existence; one full of classical arias and vocalization practice and the other filled with traditional American folks tunes and old Balkan folk songs in the woods of Vermont.

While working as a waitress in a Brooklyn wine bar, she met Benjamin Traerup, a Danish jazz saxophonist; three weeks later they were living together and one year after that they were married and living in Denmark. According to Indra, “If I hadn’t been young and a little stupid I would never have moved to Denmark, but I was in love, and I still am, so it was a pragmatic choice. It took me four years to learn the Danish, as it is not a language that falls naturally from an American tongue. In the end we found that creativity was in part born out of hardship.”

Indra, her husband and his friend, bassist, Thomas Sejthen formed a trio in 2007 that soon built a strong following in Denmark and Scandinavia. Their debut album, ‘Indra’ was nominated for a Danish Music Award in 2010 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. For Indra the closeness of their musical relationship is very important to the sound that they create. “Our stage constellation is not me out front, we stand in a small U and we’re never more than an arms length from one another. It’s a feeling that we wanted to capture in the recording of Heartland.”

No sooner had Indra won the Danish Music Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2012 for ‘In Between’ her second album than her thoughts turned to making a follow up. Among her favorite recordings Indra counted Joni Mitchell’s 1994 album, Turbulent Indigo and so she thought she would reach out to its producer, Larry Klein, to see if he could create a similar kind of magic in the studio for her next project. Sending Klein an email with her hopes, as well as her ideas, for the project along with a link to some music brought an immediate response. Klein was interested. But before anything could happen Indra and her husband had their first child, a boy, and at the same time a close family member lost their life to cancer.

When her thoughts returned to recording her album began to take shape and in August 2013 Indra, Benjamin and son, Paulo, went to America; after three days in the studio with Larry Klein it was recorded. “Larry Klein captured a level of intimacy in my headphones, the like of which I have never experienced in the studio. He went on to create a mix that reflects the intimacy of our stage performance.”

“We invested every penny we had, and more, to make this record, and given that neither Benjamin nor I are irresponsible people it came as a shock to both ourselves and people that know us well. What it came down to was that we understood the risk and we knew we had to somehow leap over the outer risk of investing everything and take hold of the inner risk of allowing our creativity to flow. In the end it has been totally worth it.”

Heartland is unique collection of songs, songs that represent Indra’s eclectic musical background inclusing, jazz, folk, rock and classical music. But at its heart are songs that have their inspiration in her Mother’s record collection and events throughout her life. They run the gamut from Duke Ellington to Doc Watson and from Billie Holiday to David Bowie with a Spanish love song, a Yoruban song to the deity Oshun, with parts of a requiem thrown in for good measure.

“My mom ruled the record player in our house until I was 26, and so my music owes so much to her influence, although none of these songs come directly from her collection. ‘Hacia Donde’ is definitely my Mother’s influence as it was written by the Mexican singer Marta Valdes.”

“Doc Watson’s ‘Your Long Journey’ and ‘Blue Railroad Train’ date from my time with Village Harmony when I was 16 and 17 years old. We were all influenced by Alan Lomax and the other collectors of folk songs so that is also when ‘Little Black Train’ came into my life.”

“ I have my little brother to thank for, ‘Money’. He was into hip-hop as a teenager and I encouraged him to listen to rock and he became totally hooked on 70s rock – Black Sabbath, The Stones and Pink Floyd. When I asked him to suggest one more song to complete the album he just said, ‘Money, Dude, you gotta do Money’, so we did!”

Several years ago we were asked to participate in a musical lecture at the Museum of Modern Art in Aarhus, Denmark and we were asked to do a David Bowie song. After listening through his huge back catalogue we settled on ‘Heroes’ and it is the only song we do on the album that we have been performing for a while.”

“My favorite song on the album is ‘From Silence’ and it was written by Thomas Bartlett who recorded it as Doveman. Thomas and I have known each other since we were teenagers and so to do this song was just such a natural choice for me.”

Heartland is a remarkable album, and making it has been the ultimate ‘labour of love’. Indra and Benjamin’s love for one another is there to be heard in every note they sing and play, but it was a struggle too; if they had made different decisions along the way it could have meant a very different outcome. “So many people have supported us, allowed us to stand on their backs and that is what has allowed us to get to where we are today.”

Indra sums it all up in a simple, yet elegant way, “If you walk towards your bliss it conspires with you, because what we are doing is in the service of joy.”

Simple and elegant… it’s Heartland.



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