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Harpist Mary Lattimore Sings Without Words

04 December 2023
Los Angeles-based harpist Mary Lattimore is currently touring New Zealand and Australia. She sat down with to Be to reflect on her music-filled childhood, how she instinctually crafts her own melody and how she absorbs the energy of fellow music communities.

RW How has the tour been so far?

ML I'm very happy to be on this side of the world. I'm in New Zealand right now. I'm going to play a festival tonight.

RW Do you travel with your harp?

ML No, this one is rented. In Melbourne, this very nice person has rented me the same harp, so I get to have a little bit of consistency for a couple of shows.

RW Does the sound change between the harps?

ML Yes, every harp has a slightly different sound. It's fun to have a little conversation with a new harp each time.

RW Have you enjoyed playing songs from the new album?

ML Well, I actually don't get to play that many songs from the new record because it had so many guests on it so it's hard for me to play their parts. The songs don’t feel as exciting when I'm playing solo. My friend Paul, who is a guitar player, will be travelling around Australia with me and we're going to play a couple of songs from the new record.

RW When creating music, do you take into account the aspect of live performance, specifically considering how certain songs might be challenging to perform solo?

ML I guess I don't. I’m kind of in a pure state when I make the music; I don't think about how it's going to be received or how I'm going to play it in the future, which can sometimes be a bit of a detriment. It's an exercise in just getting it out. You just want to make stuff and make a beautiful thing without thinking about how hard it's going to be to replicate or whether critics like it or not. It's a precious time when you're making stuff, and it feels very pure before anybody else hears it.

RW When were you first introduced to the harp? In your early childhood?

ML Yeah, my mum is a harpist, and she had a lot of harpist friends when I was growing up. She taught lessons in our house, so I was exposed to the harp a lot. We used to go hear her play with the orchestra, listen to her practise, and hear her develop a piece and get frustrated or whatever. Seeing the life of a musician in my own house was really interesting and formative. My parents listened to a lot of different kinds of music too—folk music, bluegrass music, country music, Bruce Springsteen, classic rock—and so I feel like that also got into my head.

RW Do you refer to that kind of music now? Especially when you're writing, when you're producing, or when you're thinking about melodies?

ML Yeah, I think so. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. Hearing a strong melody line is something that connects a lot of different genres. A ribbon of melody is carried throughout every song, despite its genre. The strength of the melody is universal.

RW How do you discover your own melody?

ML It just comes to me. I'm fortunate that music is a language that I've known for a while. I feel like it comes a little easier sometimes, depending on the emotional state that a person is in, whether it be heartbreak or really feeling stuck or frustrated. I think music generally comes easier when it's a sadder time.

RW When I was listening to the album Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, I noticed parts that were very emotional, romantic, ethereal, and then also quite serious. And being an instrumental album without lyrics, you really have to sit with the experience of music and listening.

ML I mean, it is like singing without words and without using your mouth. I just want to get the song out, to be understood, to connect with people, and to just get the feelings out so I can process them. I found that playing the harp, and even other instruments, helps me get it out. I can't really remember exactly what I'm thinking when I'm playing; it's all about trying to capture the moment because it's fleeting.

RW Is it important to present your work as a whole package, from album art to touring to music videos?

ML Yeah, it's really important to me. The whole package is important to me. Every second of the music is thoughtfully mixed, mastered and sequenced. I think about which songs go first and which go together. And for the artwork, I've been able to use these paintings by my dear friend, Becky Suss, who is from Philadelphia. She makes these floor-to-ceiling interior paintings with all these details from her memories and imagination. I always think about the big picture and how I want to present the music completely. I really love when people choose to listen to it—not just a single on a streaming service, but the whole record that represents two years of life.

RW It's a body of work, just like an exhibition. When you see or listen to it all together, there's a narrative. The songs do feed into each other, and you really do get to experience the story.

ML Yeah, it is a story. That's a really nice way to put it.

RW What stories do you want to tell with your future music?

ML I don't know yet. I mean, I definitely have dreams. I would love to write pieces for my mum's harp ensemble, which is a group of ladies that have been playing together for like thirty years. I feel like it would be really fun to put that down in a recording. I have some other ideas, but I feel like I have to first settle down a little. I've been on tour a lot, so I need to let some things happen in my life before I can process them. I need to live a little.

RW What do you like to do to relax and reset?

ML I love to take walks. I love to swim. I just went for a swim today at the hotel in Auckland. I love hanging out with friends and having drinks. And petting cute dogs in the neighbourhood (laughs). I like reading, going to see other bands and getting inspiration from other people who are making music. It's good to have conversations with other musicians who are going through the same things. It can be so infectious when someone is working on something that they're excited about. I love absorbing that energy and being part of a community.

RW Do you have a consistent music community that you reach out to?

ML Yeah, I have a couple. I have a really nice LA music community that moved around the same time I did. Last time I toured Australia and New Zealand, I was with Julianna Barwick, who remains a good friend of mine. I also still consider Philadelphia a big part of my life, with all the great musicians I grew up with in my formative years. In New York, I have some great music friends and it's fun to hear what they've been getting up to and spending their time on.

RW Do you get to go to a lot of live shows?

ML Yeah, definitely. In LA there's a club called Zebulon that I go to a lot. It's like a community centre hub of music. It's wonderful.

RW You have an upcoming performance at Melbourne Recital Centre, which is a very renowned institute for live music. What do you have planned for the show? How do you want to utilise the space?

ML I love playing in that space, especially because the sound is so good. I'm really looking forward to digging into the dynamics of the instrument and being able to play quietly while Paul is playing pretty loudly on guitar. I feel honoured to get to play in such a special venue.

RW There is something very traditional about playing in a recital centre or concert hall, compared to a festival. The music is heard in a different way.

ML Yeah. I think it's cool to be able to play both and stretch it out. I also like to play in places that are different, like a squat or on the boardwalk by the sea. I have had a lot of cool opportunities to play in really interesting and diverse venues. It's a fun challenge to get the best out of what each place has to offer.


WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 6: BRISBANE POWERHOUSE with special guest Paul Sukeena. Tickets on sale here.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 7: THEATRE ROYAL CASTLEMAINE with special guests Paul Sukeena (USA) + Andrew Tuttle(Meanjin). Tickets on sale here.



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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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