My endless adoration for Dorthia Cottrell‘s recent album should be apart by now. Having listened to a lot of emotionally taxing music lately, I can safely say that it is one of the most penetrating, honest and lucid albums. When the chance to interview Cottrell herself presented itself, I jumped on it, knowing that the artistic connection to such an album would be powerful. I was not disappointed. Below, you can read about her views of themes on the album, how one writes such emotionally laden music and about Windhand, her illustrious other project. Read on after the jump!
First off, I’d like to ask about the difference between recording this album and your work with Windhand. Besides the obvious freedom entailed in working on your own music, did you enjoy it more or did you miss the structure of a band or their influence?
I’ve been writing acoustic songs since long before I joined Windhand but this is the first acoustic album I’ve recorded. It’s cool recording with a band because you have more ideas and suggestions floating around, which always makes things more interesting. My stuff is so simple and straightforward so in that sense, it’s easier, but it’s also easier to get stuck in a rut. I would say working in a group makes me more creative and forces me to look at things outside of my usual perspective which also ends up helping my solo stuff in the long run.
It’s obvious that there’s a lot of pain in this album but also a kind of grim determination. Do you feed off your own life experience when writing music/lyrics or is this pain an imagined one? Is the determination I stated something that wells from within as the album might suggest, or do you rely on others for it?
All of the songs are true, I’m too lazy to make things up haha.
I find the different sets of images in this album fascinating. There are definitely Christian elements to it, but also Americana and paganism. What are your thoughts on these different themes? Are they intentional or do the words simply flow?
I don’t necessarily do it intentionally, but I have always been really drawn to and fascinated by religious imagery for a lot of reasons- I think it’s a good way to describe the human experience in a way that is easily relatable and understandable to people from all walks of life. To me, religions are like myths, stories that represent things that can or have happened to everyone.
A main subject of the album is femininity and obviously not a very traditional conception of one or maybe a more tongue-in-cheek response to a traditional one (“maybe I’m just a loaded gun”). Do you feel that music is a good stage to explore this issue? How do you experience the music community’s approach towards women in general and specifically women musicians?
I think music is a good stage to explore whatever you want, but I’m a woman so naturally that comes up. It can be frustrating to be seen as a woman musician instead of just a musician but on the other hand I am a woman and everything I write about is about my life as such and I don’t want to deny that or make it seem like it’s not something distinctive or worth acknowledging. For the most part, I’ve had a really positive experience playing music and I’ve not been treated any differently so it’s not something that’s on my mind much, but I think ultimately the hallmark of a great piece of music is that it’s something that can be felt and understood by everyone, and is neither feminine or masculine, but just human.
Deviating a bit, I simply loved Inter Arma’s The Cavern and especially your guest spot on it. How did this collaboration come to life? Any chance we’ll be hearing on you on any other albums in the future?
The Richmond music scene is pretty tight knit, and the guys in Inter Arma are all really close friends of mine. Windhand and Inter Arma both practice in the same building and we all spend a lot of time together, so when they asked me if I’d do it it was a no brainer. As far as the future goes, I’d sing on anything they asked me to.
When I reviewed it, I mentioned Meg Mulhearn’s work on the violin as “brilliant” and was surprised to hear from her that women musicians don’t really hear that adjective often. Mostly it’s “charming” or things like that. Tying in a bit to my earlier question, do you find that as meaningful as well?
Meg’s stuff is definitely brilliant and I would be flattered to be called that as well. Any compliment is always nice to hear but I understand what she’s saying, sometimes the same adjectives get used again and again when some people try to describe female musicians.
While we’re on the subject of your other projects, how’s the new Windhand album coming along? Is it a continuation of your work on Soma or can we expect a new direction from this one?
We actually just got back from recording in Seattle and we are all pretty excited by how it came out. It still sounds like a Windhand album, but it’s a little different than Soma, which is to be expected. This is the first time we’ve ever had to sit down and write a whole record in a designated amount of time which was challenging but fun.
Back to the album, what would you say is your favorite track from this release? I usually don’t ask this but this one feels so personal that I would be very interested to know if there’s one track you feel closer to or more connected.
They’re all really personal and true to life for me so it’s hard to say. I guess it depends on the mood I’m in but right now my favorite is ‘Oak Grove‘, maybe because it’s the most recent of all the songs on the album.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and thank again for the wonderful album!
Thanks for taking the time to ask!
There you have it, folks. I for one am anticipating the upcoming Windhand album like nothing else, so that little tidbit up there got my heart racing. It was also fascinating to learn about Cottrell’s views of religion and femininity. I’ll need to go back and re-listen to the album in light of these answers and I’m sure new insight will follow swiftly. In general it’s a good idea to listen to this album as much as possible so why don’t we all go do that now?