By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Emily Lacy is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter who does her music the way we expect artists to do their art—Lacy doesn't operate like a musician, she operates like someone arcing toward a career. She spent years playing houses and basements, and lately has moved on to installation-like performances, playing in tents inside of museums. She puts out her records with zero fanfare, via her website. She is prolific, and sometimes back-to-back records are stylistically disconnected—she's put out an experimental instrumental guitar album and others that are electro-acoustic, which you might be able to call folk if they weren't tangled up in so much more. Lacy's work is all tied together by her distinctive voice, which is big and clear and powerfully unfancy.
Her brand-new album, Country Singer, finds Lacy singing songs of a brave and lonely woman. It's countrified—further folkified than she's gone before—but it is music seemingly of a dusty 'nother time. Lacy comes to the Walker this week, where she will be performing intimate shows from inside an igloo.
City Pages: Can you tell me what is going to happen in that igloo?
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Emily Lacy: I do a lot of stuff in L.A. with Machine Project, a gallery, which is putting on various short music performances and poetry readings inside the igloo. Back in the summer of 2008, I had an idea to do ice-cold performances in big cities like New York and L.A. during a heat wave. Mark Allen—the director at Machine—liked the idea and decided to try and put it on at the Walker this January. The context of the igloo is flipped now, because it's a space to try and provide heat and warmth for the audience.
City Pages: You have made at least an album a year for the last few years, and some are fairly different from others—your guitar album and Country Singer. There's a line running through them, but what are you driving toward, what ground are you trying to cover?
Lacy: Hmmm. There's a lot of different intents going on. In the beginning when I started recording, in 2005, I think it was about memory. I was literally trying to free up new memory in my brain by collecting and recording all the songs I had written up to that point. I think it became less about what was in my repertoire and more what I could produce in terms of, like, a cinematic experience, to begin to look at the albums as these constructed environments—-to go for a mood or a feeling and just stick with it. At other points, say, with Armor and Country Singer, those became about voice: how tough and strong can it sound, how much can it literally feel like "armor" to me as a physical entity, or in Country Singer how soft can I make it, how much can I relax when I'm singing. But, I guess in terms of genre musically I think it's influenced by Woody Guthrie and Dylan, Shirley Collins and Carolyn Hester. But only recently I've been thinking of genre or music style; for me this stuff started as a project that was a natural extension of my preoccupation with making art—that's something, a drive, which has always been strong in my life.
City Pages: Why do you choose to do more small-scale, intimate performances?
Lacy: I think it creates an opportunity to have a strange encounter with your audience, and I like that...it creates a space where you, as the performer, can feel the energy coming off the audience in a different way than in a collective setting, like at a normal show. These experiments came out of a funny idea Mark Allen had a couple years ago when I did a residency at Machine. He wanted to raffle off a free dental cleaning, with musical accompaniment, to gallery members. That's the first time I think I ever played for one or two people. It was really bizarre, but I liked that after a certain point we all just settled into the moment, and there was something then really special about that—that we could all lock into that reality where this thing was happening, unique in time.