I drove from Boston to Brooklyn in the Spring or Summer of 2007 to see Vetiver play with Vashti Bunyan at Southpaw. There was no real idea of where we would stay or, for that matter, how to get to the venue. Afterthoughts. This was going to be a great show, well worth the mapless adventure. We didn’t know that Danielle would be opening the night, but I was happy to see her name when we arrived. The impact of unexpected joy is always deep. It was a good night.
Rio en Medio has just released Frontier, the followup to her 2007 debut The Bride of Dynamite. She’s also traveling the country with Brightblack Morning Light as we speak, so don’t miss her if she stops in your world.
NATURALISMO: Much time has passed since the making of your debut, Bride of Dynamite. Like us all, the person you are today is not the person you were then. What paths has your life taken since your first record, and how have those directions, choices, and experiences manifested themselves on your new record, Frontier?
RIO EN MEDIO: I moved to New Mexico in Winter 07 and started right away to write the songs for Frontier. I spent a year without phone or internet, living in a tiny rural village in a small room with windows all around. In the dead of winter I would run out of food and firewood. I was scared of intruders and scared of myself. I never regretted leaving New York though. Moving (back) to New Mexico sent an immediate, direct message to my heart that put it front and center. Letting go of many assumptions of what life should look like and how it should be processed helped reveal to me many mysteries and types of magic inaccessible to me the midst of city living. Mixing heart landscape with imaginary worlds and natural messages of the land stimulated the narratives and soundscapes in Frontier.
N: Your songs seem rooted in folk; they often evoke the pastoral, the natural, the verdant, the organic. Yet, especially on Frontier, there is an embrace of the artificial. Do you believe that digital technology is the natural evolution of the “folk music” idiom (or consciousness in general)? Is this the Frontier, so to speak?
REM: Music is most powerful to me when it contains elements in violence and harmony, when there is tension in the music reflecting the struggle around us. I find wild beauty, spirituality and liberation in synthesizers and drum machines, offset with the delicate human and string voices, framing the carefully articulated ukulele and vocal parts with more chaotic patterns. So I’m singing about something that’s happening in the music environment the way we sing about what’s happening in our world environment. Yes, as a metaphor to feel before reflecting on.
N: In my opinion, our generation’s greatest identity struggle stems from the opposition of nostalgia for what is “natural” with an increasingly symbiotic relationship with technology. How do you balance these seemingly conflicting elements in your own life?
REM: I would say instead that our generation’s greatest identity struggle is with our individual authority, our right to free thought, to decide for ourselves what we believe. It is surprising in this so-called free society how few people take advantage of their cosmic right to be alive and make choices. To me there is no conflict, only choice. Music seems to be one of the best ways to get that idea across, to work that muscle. Go home and make a song and make it yours. Don’t give me or anyone else or some institution your soul or wrongly assume that you are free of the responsibility to make your own light apparent.
N: You have created art in many mediums and in many different styles during your life. What about music appeals to your personal sensibilities, and how has music changed your approach to other forms of creation?
REM: I am interested in the intellectual message that is felt for its obvious trueness, that changes you as it awaken its friend in your heart. Music rocks the gut and contains sexual magic which is the most creative.
N: What contemporary artists have you been enjoying recently?
REM: Terry Riley, the Dirty Projectors.
N: Most importantly, do you prefer shwarmas or samosas?
REM: Samosas are tasty but they are so hard in their little shells, it’s a bit daunting to bite in, know what i mean? I like falafels best.