Guitarist Patty Larkin defies typical folkie sound
Sometimes folk music can sound like an acoustic one-note universe. But lesbian singer-songwriter Patty Larkin is a rare exception.
An artist whose diverse work seems to know few cultural or stylistic bounds, Larkin’s work makes journalists twist themselves into knots trying to describe her sound. During the course of her more than two-decade career, Larkin has drawn comparisons to Beck, Beth Orton, Bob Dylan and funk-jazz virtuoso Meshell Ndegeocello.
In 2003, the Boston-based Larkin released her 10th album, “Red = Luck,” inspired by her travels to Asia. Two years later, she compiled and produced “La Guitara,” a collection of songs by female guitarists that sought to dispel the nasty little notion that only guys can rock a six-string axe.
Currently in-studio recording another album that’s due in 2008, Larkin indulged a few questions. In her generous missive, she discussed her boundless tastes in music and the future for girls with guitars.
If you were to set the songs from “Red = Luck” to video, what sorts of images might we see? China, my travel there, and a place here called Bound Brook where I wrote most of the songs. I would also include images of 9/11 and its aftermath. How it’s changed our daily existence. What we’ve become as a response to the horror in our midst.
Do you have any connections to Texas? The Kerrville Folk Festival was a big turning point for me. I was a judge at the songwriting contest. And it changed how I thought of what I wrote. My sister and her family lived in Fort Worth for 12 years. In the past, whenever I toured there, we would hang together.
Ten albums? Do you set aside time to write or are you going 24/7? I set aside time to write until I’m recording, which is what I’m doing now. I don’t think of my output as that much talk to Bruce Cockburn or Bob Dylan. Dolly Parton has over 100 albums to her credit. The Beatles did one every nine months. I’m a slacker by comparison.
What are the far reaches of your musical tastes the most exotic things that you regularly listen to? Regularly? Does Bjork still count? Trance music/electronic music. When I’m driving, I immensely enjoy a good polka station on the AM dial. I like Miles, Bill Evans, Jim Hall, string quartets, Bob Dylan, Kelly Jo Phelps. My community radio station. I’ve been listening to a lot of kids’ music of late, which can be scary, because you start to get involved and that stuff is very catchy.
The saying goes: “There are no great female lead guitarists.” What is it about the guitar that leads to that sexist myth? Playing guitar has been a rite of passage for adolescent males for a while now like surfing, rock climbing and driving fast cars. I think girls and young women are now taking to the instrument in greater numbers because they have begun to have more role models (look at TV). And because their parents are much more inclined to give them “permission” as well as encouragement, support and an instrument. We’re just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg.
What advice would you give to a young woman trying to start a music career today? It has always been an uphill climb. Making it takes a force of nature or a lot of talent, luck and hard work. What has changed, I think, is that on the one hand, commercial music has become so corporate. But on the other hand, the Internet has allowed artists flying below the radar to create a fan base and launch a career. As far as advice, I would advise anyone to be as much of what makes you different as you can be. Write as much as you possibly can.
President Bush wishes you to give a command performance. What would you perform? Nothing with a beat. Maybe some kind of droning techno thing that would go on for four years.
Anything you’re looking forward to here in the Lone Star state? I’m looking forward to that Texas space that exists nowhere else.
Patty Larkin plays Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse, 9555 N Central Expy. June 15. Doors at 7:30 p.m. $18 advance, $20 at door.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 15, 2007.