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The Luckiest Boy in the World: An Email Interview with Singer/Songwriter Oren Bloedow

By Brian L. Knight

One of the finest musical recordings to come out in the 1990s is Oren Bloedow’s Luckiest Boy in the World. If you look at the Vermont Review’s Top 250 Albums of the Millennium, you will find the album peacefully nestled amongst other great 1990s bands such as Yo La Tengo, Radiohead and Los Hombres Calientes. Thanks to the help of the Knitting Factory label and a backing band of Medeski, Martin and Wood, the album achieved both popular and critical appraise. In my opinion, the two factors are an added bonus, for the real star of this album is undoubtedly the singing/songwriting talent of Oren Bloedow. When he is not recording "solo" albums, Bloedow is involved with the pop band Elysian Fields, which highlights the beautiful singing of Jennifer Charles as well as the drumming of Ben Perowsky. Despite his background in songwriting/pop-oriented music, Bloedow has also been involved with the musicians of the New York underground scene. Besides this album with Medeski, Martin and Wood, Bloedow has toured with the Knitting Factory tour and has gained many jazz friends and admirers along the way. In an earlier interview with the Vermont Review, this is what Steven Bernstein of the Sex Mob had to say about Bloedow: "He is real music guy. Oren loves music. He has a real specific vision of music. He is one of those people that when he hears music, he hears all the parts. He has a really great brain for music." I could not agree with Steven any more. The Vermont Review got to find out a little about Oren via email waves and this is what he had to say.

VR: What was your first instrument?

OB: Folk Guitar

VR: Is there any other musicians in your family?

OB: My sister studied the flute as a kid -very seriously. She made the all city band. We played a couple Xmas parties and weddings when we were ten/eleven -a novelty thing

VR: Who did you listen to growing up?

OB: Smiley Smile & Sgt. Pepper, when I was small. Growing up takes a long time, though. My dad is a very passionate music collector. He always had a wide range of stuff to listen to at home. Plus the teen radio of the time, of course.

VR: What nationality do you lay claim roots to?

OB: USA, I guess. I'm not a big fan of the nation concept, although I like "The Nation" magazine

VR: Besides your solo work, you play in a band called Elysian Fields, which means "Blissful Place". Is that you are trying to create with the band?

OB: Didn’t name the band. But, sure I’m into bliss.

VR: Is the band still active?

OB: Oh yes. Our new CD on Jetset records, "Queen of the Meadow", which comes out on Halloween

VR: The band gets compared to Mazzy Starr and Cowboy Junkies. Who would you associate your sound with?

OB: In Elysian Fields, my primary influence is Jennifer (Charles).

VR: The music sounds like it radiates from a smoke filled bar. Is that the type venues that Elysian Fields play in?

OB: Most venues have some smoke in them; I'm pained (as an ex-smoker) to say. We

don’t play in museums or anything. Just clubs.

VR: Besides the lineup, how does your latest album, The Luckiest Boy in the World, compare to 1996’s Oren Bloedow?

OB: Actually Luckiest goes back to ‘95 and Oren Bloedow was done in ‘92. The influences are different. I think there's a lot of improvement, but I don't know. One tries to eradicate the elements one hates, you know. Anyway I'm looking for a lot of improvement on the next one.

 

VR: Do you feel like the Luckiest Boy in the World? Is the title autobiographical?

OB: It’s a reference, one of many in my work. But it functions without the key. I like stuff that works on a few levels at the same time.

VR: How did you meet up with Medeski, Martin & Wood?

OB: Three guys, three answers. I met (John) Medeski at a party of young Boston musicians and their friends. He was a hero of that scene. (Billy) Martin I was introduced to, in his house under the Manhattan Bridge, by Mike Ill of the Sweet LIzard Illtet. Chris (Wood)), who’d just come down from Boston, I met on the Village Gate gigs where MMW was born. That was a very interesting time, and I didn’t miss any of those early gigs.

VR: You come off primarily as a singer-songwriter; how did you get so involved with a predominantly jazz scene?

OB: Who the hell knows. I like a lot of music. I don’t find the same things incompatible that many people do. And if I’m not tied down by the situation I can go from a ‘Danko’ type of thing to a ‘Dolphy’ thing in one breath -you know, my versions.

VR: One of my favorite tunes on the album is "Living Room" . Do you have an aversion for that particular living space?

OB: No. My childhood home was unhappy. My current living room is basically just messy.

VR: Can you tell me a little bit about the tune "100% Live"?

OB: It’s basically a carnival barker type of lyric married to a funk groove. I sent the tape to Tronzo in Amsterdam, where he was living on a barge, and he put some slide on it. He’s one of my three favorite modern guitarists. It’s a tough bassline that Chris really kills.

VR: Do you ever play just armed with your guitar?

OB: Sure. I don’t prefer it, though.

VR: You were pretty active with the Knitting Factory s Avant Rock United States

tours. How was that experience for you?

OB: There were highs and lows. We did 28 cities in 30 days. I had Billy and Medeski in the band and great friends in the bus. I learned a lot.

VR: What other bands did you play with?

OB: In my life? Hundreds. Many varied rock bands in the eighties. In the nineties I played with Chunk, which Billy was in, Lounge Lizards, Chocolate Genius, which I’m still part of. A singer-songwriter named Jennifer Jackson, who used to stay at John and Chris’s place on Avenue A. For a while with one called Amy Correa. Since 1985 I’ve worked with a guy named Ed Pastorini, who has played in Elysian Fields, and calls his own group 101 Crustaceans, or, more recently, Oxen Discomfort. He’s the greatest genius I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. He sings, plays guitar and piano and writes songs, all on an stunning level of artistry.

VR: How often do you go out on the road these days?

OB: Recently some intermittent touring with a group I’m in called Black Beetle. I’ve never really built up to more than a couple months a year yet.

VR: Both your solo album and your work with Elysian Fields is very intelligent and evocative. Does a lot of though go into writing your music is happen easily/naturally?

OB: Some songs take a year or more. I’d like to be even more persistent, though. As to ease, sometimes you hit a groove, you know. The rest of the time you slog.

VR: What is the band Dog's Eye View?

OB: That basically means the singing and songwriting of Peter Stuart, who I’m very glad to have worked with. I had a great time making his album in a house we rented and turned into a live-in recording studio in West Hurley, NY.

VR: You played in a the band Chocolate Genius with Mark Ribot. Any comments on this fine guitarist?

OB: Marc is another of my three top guys. I like him whatever he’s doing. He always comes from a strong place.

VR: You played on The Foetus Symphony Orchestra with Steven Bernstein. Any comments about this charismatic individual?

OB: Steve is a great musician and guy who has perfected a new art form here in NY with his band Sex Mob, a kind of fun workshop where he allows the audience to see him directing improvisers onstage. He has great taste and a great sense of humor.

VR: This recording is not your run of the mill recording. How did it come about?

 

OB: True. Jim Thirlwell put it together as a dream date with his favorite local building, the Brooklyn Anchorage. Jim is a brilliant and tireless creative guy. The whole gig worked with clocks. He bought us all wall clocks - mine had a pig on it - and each section was timed.

VR: You played with David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness. Do you have an ethnic ties to Klezmer or Balkan music?

OB: Not to the Balkans, as far as I know. As a descendant of Austrian and Russian Jews, I guess I’d have to say yes to the former. However, I am not a strong fan of Yiddish songs. What I love most in Jewish music is the Semitic or Sephardic element, the Moorish tinge. I like the south in general. Maybe I’ll make a radio play, "The idea of South."

VR: What do you think of Matt Darriau s Paradox Trio? Dave Fiucynski s Kif?

OB: Sorry to say I haven’t heard them. Fine players, though, of course.

VR: I am going to name some other names. I would love to hear what you say about

them. You don t have to answer them if you don t want. Ben Perowsky?

OB: I love this man. Wonderful musician, very honorable, grumpy guy.

VR: Jennifer Charles?

OB: A constantly amazing artist - I think her lyrics are unmatched, and she's a great musician too. By far the most meaningful collaboration of my life.

VR: Jeff Buckley?

 

OB: The legend was real. He really did have a phenomenal talent. He surrounded himself with great people and always chose what he thought was the most beautiful and moving thing.

 

VR: John Lurie?

OB: A very complex person and great bandleader. I learned a lot from him.

VR: Loudon Wainwright III?

OB: Still trying to figure out if he is the author of the song "Hotel Blues", which I adore. He’s made me cry in concert. "Your Mother and I" was the song.

VR: You have been involved with the New York City avant scene. One artists who

is on the mainstream is Jewel. What is your involvement with her?

OB: Yeah, Jewel doesn’t usually show up for your Charles Gayle/ William Parker type of events. But isn’t she doing an album with Braxton? I played some bass for her once or twice.

VR: What is the best thing you like about New York City? The worst thing?

OB: New York works for me because it’s very culturally diverse, there’s all kinds of

good vegetarian food, things go on all the time and are accessible. What’s bad is the lack of peace and quiet, too far from nature, awful corporate media types all over town, and the horrendous Guliani administration.

VR: What do you do when you are not playing music? What are your other hobbies?

OB: I read books, and practice Yoga. I’m a good cook and do things around the house. Mostly my life is integrated into my music schedule, which means a lot of rehearsing, recording, traveling, socializing, eating, and of course humping tons of gear all over the place.

If you are interested in procuring the Luckiest Boy in the World, head over to the Knitting Factory.