Jesse Harris: Borne Away

The Songwriter Enlists Charlotte Kemp Muhl for a High-School Musical on an iPhone

Musician and producer Jesse Harris’s new video may involve fire-eating and contortionists, but it began with a simpler vision: “I knew I wanted ballerinas, and Charlotte wanted to paint them blue,” says the native New Yorker. Charlotte Kemp Muhl, a frequent collaborator who appears in a blonde wig and also sings on the track, co-directed with Lyle Owerko, using an iPhone and special filters to affect a cinematic mash-up of handheld, fishbowl and digital aesthetics. Shot at the Jalopy theater in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the video casts American Ballet Theater dancer Jennifer Whalen and various circus performers in “a high-school play—in your nightmares”, as Harris amusedly describes it. “Borne Away” is the title track from the 12th solo studio album by the Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter, known for his work with Willie Nelson, Cat Power and most notably Norah Jones. Written fever-quickly and recorded in a two-day session while on tour, Harris’s new effort bears inflections of Tin Pan Alley pop, waltz, folk and swing, with lyrics inspired by stray dogs in Santiago, Edgar Allen Poe, and personal loss and love stories. “Part of the album is about leaving things behind, but it’s also about new relationships and new attitudes—a cleansing and a renewal,” says the artist.

What made you want to cast ballerinas for the “Borne Away” video? 
Jesse Harris: One day Jennifer [Whalen, of ABT dance company] was at my place and I put on a song and she was dancing to it, and I thought, man, that would be amazing in a video. The song has a slow romantic sound to it and it seemed to go well with that kind of dance.

Are you a hopeless romantic? 
JH: I’ve never been a confessional songwriter, but this album is definitely more autobiographical. It’s a very moody, romantic record. I wanted to do something really intimate, so I played every instrument myself. It’s mostly a solo acoustic record with a little overdub of organs and other keyboards and kalimba and glockenspiel. 

Is it a lonely man’s lament? 
JH: It has a lot of longing and solitude in it. A lot of people, when they hear it, say, ‘It’s so sad,’ which is interesting because when I was writing I was really happy. But I also wanted to explore darker subjects. 

Who are your musical heroes? 
JH: I’m super into Brazilian music—I’ve listened to so much in the past seven years. I love Gal Costa, Jorge Ben, Seu Jorge, Marisa Monte, Maria Gadu. But I like a wide variety of music. At home I mostly listen to vinyl. Ray Manzarek just died, so I’ve been a listening to a lot of The Doors. Sonny Rollins, the Stones, Karen Dalton, James Blake, John Fahey, Big Youth, Frank Sinatra, Keith Jarrett, Gershwin—these are the ones next to my record player. In the car I always listen to Thin Lizzy. I like rock in the car.

What’s the last thing you downloaded? 
JH: The new Daft Punk record. I’m really impressed with that. It’s classic. It’s the type of music I grew up listening to.
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    Night Swim with Jarvis Cocker

    The Britpop Legend Directs an Aquatic Dance in the Dark for Serafina Steer

    A synchronized underwater ballet unfolds in this Jarvis Cocker-helmed video for harpist and singer Serafina Steer’s ethereal new single, Night Before Mutiny. Recorded in twilight at London Fields Lido, the surreal visuals show a doomed flotilla of paper boats hovering on the surface of the outdoor pool’s misty waters, as swimmers Asha Randall and Olivia Federici, both members of the UK’s Olympic team and known as Aquabatix, slow-dance to Steer’s lament, sung over the sounds of a harp, a string quartet and a Victorian wind machine. Legendary Pulp frontman and solo artist Cocker both conceived of the video and produced Steer’s upcoming third album, The Moths Are Real. Marking his music production debut, he also appears on the record alongside a stellar cast of musicians including Polar Bear drummer Seb Rochford, Pulp bassist Steve Mackey and The Flying Lizards keyboardist David Cunningham. Steer’s melancholic compositions and stories evoke the tall tales and tragedies of a distant place and time. “There’s a song about a whore called Serafina, an old sea shanty,” Steer explains of the inspiration behind Night Before Mutiny. “It’s a bawdy song, from the point of view of this sailor, and it’s quite rude about her.”

    The Moths Are Real will be released by Stolen Recordings on January 14, 2013. Night Before Mutiny will launch this Monday, November 12, at ATP Presents at the Sebright Arms, London. 

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    Miranda July: The Future

    The Artist and Filmmaker Presents An Exclusive Vignette Inspired By Her Magical New Film

    Miranda July dreams up an idiosyncratic solution to the interruptions of modern life in "A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted." An offcut from July's latest film, The Future, the scene has been reconstituted by the actress, writer and filmmaker for NOWNESS, complete with a score by David Byrne collaborator Steven Reker. July drew on her performance art piece, “Things We Don't Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About” for her sophomore feature; it follows 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know, which won the Caméra d'Or prize at Cannes. The film's plot centers on LA couple Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), whose decision to adopt the sickly stray cat Paw Paw sees them grapple with the impending responsibility of the pet's care. This being a July vehicle, things take a characteristically kooky turn, with Paw Paw stepping in as narrator, and the couple embarking on a quest to seize the day: Sophie strives to reach her artistic potential by creating a definitive dance number, and Jason hands his future over to fate, following "signs" from the universe. We spoke to the prolific July, who has also exhibited as a performance artist at the Guggenheim and the Whitney Biennale and written for publications including The Paris Review and The New Yorker

    Why didn't the scene above make the final cut of The Future?

    This scene was meant to make it clear that Sophie was struggling against distraction, after losing time on YouTube—we all know how alluring these distractions are, and here we are seeing her attempting to take charge. I had her rig up a grape juice booby trap. In the next scene, which is actually in the movie, you see her run past the table and her white dress is covered in grape juice, which seemed like a funny visual way of showing that she had sacrificed the dress for the internet. Except that nobody got the whole grape juice trap. I don't think a single person understood why she was doing any of it. It just seemed like a bizarre performance in the middle of the movie. So I cut it. It's nice to show it here, and hopefully with the cards it isn't too mystifying.

    What compelled you to tell a story so focused on temporality?

    It didn't start out being about time, but the longer it took to make, the older I got and the more pressure I felt.  It was made more acute by me being in my mid-thirties—a very particular time in any woman's life.

    Can you sum up what the movie is about for you?
    My work is never only about the story—it is always about what is inside the people who are in the story. But, in the most basic sense, it's about time: getting through it, minute by minute, stopping it, and the end of it, death.

    You’ve said that The Future is your version of a horror movie. Can you explain why?
    The character I play in the movie fails to make the dance she sets out to make, and then flees her life. She moves to a world where she will never have to try and fail again. No one cares if she's creative there. This is a sort of horror movie for a person like me, who has created her sense of self through making things. But it's also a fantasy: a fear-fantasy.

The Future will be released in the US on July 29, and in the UK on November 4

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