The Nocturne Diaries of Eliza Gilkyson

By Annette Siegel

Eliza GilkysonEliza Gilkyson’s recent Grammy nominated The Nocturne Diaries delivers a haunting yet silky feel to the songs. Eliza’s guitar, acoustic or eclectic sets a base with steady rhythm creating a feel of yearning, crying out with the emotion packed within the lyrics. Adding various instruments that are used as a brush to color each song, with her son’s (Cisco Ryder) percussion keeping the pulse, Eliza is a Folk artist that’s not shy about looking at what’s currently happening in the world through her music.

AS: So you’re recently back from your trip to Los Angeles for the Grammy’s… it must have been quite an honor to be nominated once again (her previous nomination was for her 2004 CD Land of Milk and Honey for Best Contemporary Folk).

EG: My son (Cisco Ryder/co-producer) went with me and we had it in a pretty good perspective, we loved that we got to be at the big party! Really to have it happen twice in my life is actually almost a hundred times as good as having it happen once. I’ve often wondered if it wasn’t just a fluke the first time, but to have it happen twice is really confirming for me that my music is valid in the world market place, so that was a nice feeling.

AS: Talking about your album (Nocturnal Diaries) the song Eliza Jane – it sounds a bit autobiographic in nature.

EG: Laughs, yeah and it was the theme of the record, being that these songs I’d written at night and at a time when it’s often the dark side of things. The things you can’t really run away from are pretty present at night, so it was just one of those ways of working my way through it, sort of talking myself down. Trying to put everything in perspective, just saying that there’s also this other side of things, and yes things look bad in the world but you have to find the blue horizon you know, that was just a way of self-assuring.

AS: Your song American Boy is speaking out and yet a reflection on what is occurring with mass school shootings ….a peek into the psyche of how a human being can come to that place?

Eliza Gilkyson - The Nocturne DiariesEG: That’s exactly right, that’s exactly what happened. I thought I was trying to find my way into the mind of the shooter, and I think when you see this sort of symptomatic occurrences in society you have to start looking that these aren’t just isolated incidents. There is enough of it going on, teen suicide as well, that you have to look at the society as a whole to understand what’s going on, and why these things are happening. There are some well-documented reasons; some of the physiological difficulties that kids have coming up in the world. The sort of disconnect, the communal disconnect, the community connects and it’s happening through these tiny electronic devices. Then of course the medications they are put on, I think that a lot of kids are dealing with depression. Those kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and they can see the world they are growing up in and the opportunities shrinking, then they get put on medications. I think there have been wonderful articles written on the suppression of the medication responses, because it’s very unpredictable how any metabolism will respond to these kinds of meds. There are great stories of meds helping kids as well, but I think when you’re looking at a mass medical solution to a serious problem with young people, then they’re going to be these terrible instances where you really say the medication is incorrect. I felt I should put that in there as well. …Trying to get in the mind of the shooter and not to forgive the act, as much to understand the mentality that got them there.

AS: What was the process of deciding on instrumentation or flavor for each song?

EG: I love using the organic instruments and the more countryside of things; I just love the sound of those things. And I think they’re suitable for Folk music, they really set Folk music up. I don’t want to get all-electronic when I’m trying to make stark folk songs. However, I don’t want to have too many rules either. Because that’s one of the things with having my son as producer… he doesn’t sit around listening to Folk music, he listens to a lot of different kinds of music, and so we’re just bringing in elements that we think will enhance the lyric without getting in the way. So it’s really sort of an emotional process. We feel ourselves along, and really don’t know until we lay down my parts what we’re going to need.

AS: With your son co-producing did you find that it enabled you to have a closer relationship with the overall album project?

EG: Well I really trust him and he also pushes me. He brings in fresh ideas, and he’s not of my generation. I can get stuck in the way I’ve always done things. So bringing someone in that listens to all kinds of music and has wonderful, wonderful taste, wonderful ideas and is very musical, it kind of widens the playing field for me. It pushes me outside my comfort zone. I feel very safe with him; he only wants the best for me. He’s a very modest person too, but he knows how to push his mom. (Smiling) I trust him, I trust him with my vocals too he’s non-judgmental, but at the same time I just trust what he asks of me.

AS: That’s a wonderful feeling.

EG: It is a wonderful feeling, and it’s very hard at my age to turn control over to someone else, much less your kid. But with your kid there is a point where the parental role shifts, and Cisco and I are well past that, I am with both of my kids. They are adults and they are very smart, experienced, wise people and responsible adults in their own lives. I can’t be mom telling them what anymore and I think all parents are going through that. We are having to realize that we are peaked out and our kids are the ones …they think faster on their feet they have only the best in mind; a handing over of the mantel that is already occurring. It’s a slow process but it’s happening when I making the records with Cisco as well.

AS: Very insightful of you. It’s not always easy to come to that spot.

EG: No, and I see a lot of parents really struggling with it, the kids struggling with it too, because there’s a certain point where it’s harmful. I’ve told my kids when the time comes, and I’m making bad calls it’s be time to take the keys away. (Giggle) I may not go willing but you’re going to have to be firm. But I will hear what they’re saying. But meanwhile I’m going to record as much as I can before that!

AS: Do you have a specific approach to songwriting/crafting a song?

EG: I do jot ideas down when I’m not in the songwriting cycle because ideas do come. On my iPhone I use the voice memos thing and I’ll hum something into it or I’ll sit down with a guitar, and I’ll play a progression that I came across or if I’m at the market I’ll just blab an idea into it so that when it is time for me to think about making another record I have some place to kick off from. But, usually what happens is I have to get off the road or stop working. I almost have to get bored and start picking up the guitar. It’s a very interesting thing, because after I’ve finished a record I can go a year without writing a song. I don’t think about it if I’m touring, I’m all out-put at that point, and I’m just not at all in the space for it. It’s a real energetic turn around to go back inside. Just like stopping this huge river and turning it around and heading it back the other way to go and pull stuff out and at the time you think My God I haven’t got a single idea, but then when you change the energetic and you stop doing the day to day working, sitting around at home, your off the road, and you don’t get all hung up on things you empty yourself with. It’s amazing how the songs start coming again, it always surprised me, I’m always so grateful.

AS: What do you look forward to when touring with touring with “Three Women and the Truth “– Is it a pal thing with Mary (Gauthier) and Gretchen (Peters).

EG: It’s really fun, its low pressure because it’s split three ways and so it’s not like Oh My God it’s all on me, which is really what the show is when your solo, it’s on you every second to hold the ball and run with it, and keep people entertained and locked in. So when there are three of you it’s sort of just fun and it’s really relaxed. They’re very talented; they’re great entertainers and no threats between us. There is sort of a sense of challenge like, ok you raise the bar I’m going to throw down these cards, and a sense of spontaneity. We get into the moments and see where that leads us.

Eliza Gilkyson will be performing with Three Women and the Truth locally at Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara on Friday, February 20th at 8:00pm and at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, CA on Saturday, February 21st 8:00pm & 10:00pm/ 8:00pm show is SOLD OUT. Click here for tickets to the 10:00pm show.

More information on Eliza Gilkyson can be found on her website.

Annette is one half of Living Tree Music & The Seagulls with her husband Nowell. She also holds a “Day” job working for the Bob Hope Estate/Family for the last 18 years. She can be reached at annette@livingtreemusic.com