Interview: Brittany Anjou shares her thoughts on Portishead



As some of you may know, Portishead’s Live At Roseland NYC is one of the most epic live albums of our time. The music is hauntingly beautiful and powerful, accompanied by strings, etc. Brittany Anjou and & friends will be taking the stage at LPR next week to pay respect to this album, and we wanted to ask a few questions as to what sparked her interest in Portishead in the first place. Check it out below (answers in italics):
1. What is it about Portishead’s music that made you decide to put on a tribute show?
I’ve been enchanted by Portishead forever. My desire came from wanting to understand how Portishead’s records were made, why I’ve been obsessed with them since the 90’s, and what makes their sound so magical and incomparable, how to figure out that question for myself. I remember exactly how my room was arranged and what exactly I was doing when I first heard “All Mine” on the radio in 1997, because I dropped the laundry I was folding and immediately shoved a cassette into my boombox to record it. When a friend in middle school gave me a copy of their record I kept it ever since. I have a lot of headphone history to draw upon. I would copy the guitar solos and trumpet licks off Dummy. There is something so timeless about their records – it feels like those sounds set a precedent in the mid 90’s that can’t be replicated and never lost the charm.
After I performed on a Shaggs tribute show last year, I saw how groups of musicians bonded collectively gave their love to recreating their music (in front of the original Shaggs no less!). A lot of really good things came out of that for my process – taking risks, and learning how I felt about taking them with others musically, not to mention examining philosophical questions about aesthetics and honesty. Afterwards something clicked. I knew that committing to a self imposed project like this would help me understand why I love Portishead and I wanted to create that opportunity. That’s it. Inevitably I asked myself “what if” I tried to recreate it live, and then, “why not” – isn’t passion what you should follow? The creatively fulfilling projects are the ones that are personally cathartic, even if they require lots of blood and sweat. In the past I’ve avoided dissecting something loved – it can feel threatening because you don’t want to ruin the mystery. But that hasn’t been the case. At all. Knowing how I flipped out hearing all the original samples after loving the records for so long (like Lalo Schifrin’s Danube Incident or Ken Thorne’s film score for Inspector Closeau) I thought other people would feel the same way. I wanted to understand how I would do it live, I wanted other people who felt the same way to hear it too, and it seemed like doing this show was a good way to have that conversation and find out.

2. How did you go about getting the whole show together?
I started planning way in advance and it helped to stick to one clear idea and date. When I started throwing it out there, most people were like, “Yes! When?” I wanted to do it as close to the live album as possible. The DVD helped figuring out live cues, instrumentation, where violins are unison, divisi or slurred, why some forms are weird, etc. – all made it more palpable to study up on specifics. I spent months getting a chamber orchestra together. Since my given name is “Larson” and I like to use “Larceny” as an alias, the LARCENY Chamber Orchestra was born. With the vocalists, I wanted to try out some of New York’s most creative vocalists who fit each song, but encouraged them do their own unique interpretation from the get go instead of carbon copy Beth Gibbons for two hours. Obviously, tribute shows are criticized ipso facto for these things, which I don’t mind, because it’s a chance to perform that music and share it with other fans. It’s amazing how music brings people together.
3. Was it difficult to find other musicians to jump on board/do they share the same passion for Portishead that you do?
Most people were way down – people I hadn’t met, people who heard about it and liked the idea, super talented people behind the scenes in the classical, jazz, rock, hip hop and electronic worlds. Carol Lipnik just killed it first rehearsal on All Mine. Abby Ahmad is a powerhouse and loves all their records – she was so prepared and down for anything. Karen Mantler brings this whole other energy to the vocals, plus harmonica. Indigo Street has this amazingly naturally dark presence in her bands, Aye Aye Rabbit, and Shy Hunters – I knew she’d kill on Half Day Closing. Maria Neckam has this gorgeous clear voice, perfect for the guitar break on “Strangers”. Since Joseph Keckler is such an interesting artist and has a huge vocal range, I wanted to invite him to the mix and have someone who is a different kind of performance artist. Turntables was the hardest chair to fill – and luckily, I called DJ Dhundee. He has this great positive energy, he was so stoked when I called him about the show, he fast became favorited in my phone next to my mom, cause we talked for hours about the music before even meeting in person. It’s amazing how influential Portishead is. I feel beyond lucky to be surrounded by super awesome talent.
4. What is your favorite track off of the live album?
“Half Day Closing” – Beth’s vocals are so crazy at the climax over the organ and synth line, it’s funny that song ends with a happy major marching band sample when they do it live, as if to clear the pain away and give the audience a visceral break. Turns out a more likely reason is that they were actually recreating/tributing a song called “the American Metaphysical Circus” by the band The United States of America from their 1968 debut record, which they thank them for in the liner notes of their second album.
My favorite moment on the live DVD is because of John Baggott’s keyboard playing on “Strangers” – he grooves on that minor second fuzz rhodes sound and out of nowhere plays a high Bb in the groove, and the result sounds like a weird tape bleep… He’s gotta be one of the coolest keyboardists ever.
I wasn’t as familiar with the live album as I was with the studio albums, so doing this show has inverted my relationship with the music in that regard also. I’m excited to get back to the studio stuff again… I even took breaks to listen to the studio album since I was so used to them; the live album is a weird world to live in when you grew up on the studio stuff.

5. Have you faced any challenges in recreating these tracks live?
Each of the sample sounds are impossibly hard to recreate but we did our best. I wanted to use a real theremin on the opening of Humming, but we curtailed roaming too far from the original instrumentation, so we stuck to Moog keyboard. The only thing that is different from the live performance instrumentation wise is having a C flute instead of an alto flute. The hardest challenge, which I masochistically wanted to sign up for, was preparing the scores. I spent many sleepless nights getting everything transcribed- the resulting output was about 500 pages of sheet music for the whole band, for 15 instruments, 13 songs. No time to relax, but since creative people are doing such amazing things in New York every day, it keeps me going.
The 16th Annual Tribute to Portishead: Live at Roseland NYC will feature Karen Mantler, Joseph Keckler, Maria Neckam, Carol Lipnik, Larceny Chamber Orchestra, & many more. It’s going down next Wednesday, the 24th. For more information, click here.

posted by MBD & Sammi