I always go on about the advantages of the NYC music scene, but they are seriously spectacular and I’m lucky enough to run into some very talented new artists from time to time. I’d previously mentioned Jesse Rifkin of The Wailing Wall, who released their debut LP Hopsital Blossoms on JDub Records earlier this year, and he was kind enough to sit down for a quick chat about making music and whole process behind creating a record.
mtvU: So let’s talk a little bit about how you got started; where your interest in music begin and how this formed into a career and a band.
Rifkin: My mom bought me my first guitar when I was six or seven, she taught me “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” and that was it. I played all through high school doing home recording stuff and when I got to college took it more and more seriously and it took off and I liked it.
mtvU: Did you study music while you were at Sarah Lawrence?
Rifkin: I studied music a little bit but I focused on comparative religion.
mtvU: That obviously ties into the name of the band, The Wailing Wall. But as I listen to the music it doesn’t sound as though it’s strictly religiously themed.
Rifkin: I grew up Jewish and went to an Orthodox Jewish high school. My dad is a journalist who writes about religion and my parents actually met in a Hindu Ashram, so I grew up with an appreciation for different religious ideas and traditions, which I think subconsciously manifested itself in the band name. Also it’s not overt but there are a lot of lyrical references to religious texts and religious poems because that’s what I spend my time studying. For example, there’s a reference to Psalms in the song “Morning.”
mtvU: The idea of your band is also very fluid. It’s you and whoever you can gather up at the time…
Rifkin: (smiling) Pretty much!
mtvU:: Do you have specific people asking if they can contribute now?
Rifkin: Mostly it’s just friends who come and go, usually it’s more me knowing in advance where I’m going to be and what kind of show I want to play and then asking specific people. It’s more accommodating the situation and then accommodating which of my friends can make it.
mtvU: And the same principle applies when you record?
Rifkin: Recording is more deliberate. With this record Hospital Blossoms, for a couple of months we had a set line-up that played every show so that is the band that’s on the record. We’re going to make a new record this summer and I’m asking very close friends of mine from New England to play.
mtvU: So different people on the new record?
Rifkin: Yah, I think there’s going to be one overlap. Same drummer.
mtvU: Are you going to be working with different instruments on this album?
Rifkin: It’s going to be all acoustic instruments. No electronic instruments at all.
mtvU: Which is a real turn from the popular trend right now.
Rifkin: I’m actually really excited about it. There’s going to be upright base, drums, guitars, piano and the really exciting thing is that we’re going to be up in CT where my friend is working as a caretaker for this big pipe organ. So we’re going to go up to Weslyn University and record on the pipe organ.
mtvU: I have read that you guys have really interesting recording locations.
Rifkin: It just worked out that way. On Hospital Blossoms, our drummer [Chris Roush] had been playing with me for a while and built this home studio on his parents’ property in Wisconsin. There was a neighboring house that had been condemned because it was too close to a lake to have plumbing. I thought, “How can I pass up this opportunity?”
mtvU: Just to return to the instrumental side for a minute, how many instruments can you ACTUALLY play?
Rifkin: (laughing) Proficiently? Who knows? Zero. [Ed.’s note: Jesse, in addition to being very nice, is also quite modest.] Well I grew up playing guitar so that is the main thing. But I also play banjo, accordian, passable piano, mandolin, lots of drums and percussion things, an Indian instrument called the harmonium, another Indian instrument called the tambura, which is a drum. Harmonica. Glockenspiel.
mtvU: So if you could record with any artist? Go ahead, name them. Ideal choices.
Rifkin: Bjork, for sure. In terms of collaborating with people, she’s the one. She does it so well. I am so in awe of her. Everything she does is incredible. It would be pretty fantastic to be in the room with someone like Leonard Cohen. Bob Dylan. There’s a band called Thee Silver Mt. Zion. They are fantastic. The sound they get, it’s the sound I hear in my heart.
Check out Jesse performing the title track off The Wailing Wall’s LP Hospital Blossoms exclusively for mtvU and download the entire record for free over on JDub’s site. Also check in on The Wailing Wall’s MySpace for future touring dates.