LET IT FLOW, LET IT FLOW, LET IT FLOW
MAX HATT & EDDA GLASS
We always wanted to do a gig in New York. We didn’t think our first one would be at Lincoln Center,” Max Hatt, guitarist of local duo Max Hatt/Edda Glass, told Pasatiempo. The two performed at the famed venue as part of the 2014 NewSong Showcase & Competition in November — and ended up winning the grand prize. Hatt and Glass (who also perform with their bossanova project, Rio) write haunting originals for guitar and voice that combine harmonic complexity with spacious, atmospheric soundscapes and highly narrative lyrics. Their songs evoke both the wind-swept desolation of the American West and, improbably, faint stirrings of Brazil. Perhaps this is why Gar Ragland, director and co- founder of NewSong, said in his citation for the winners that they “often defied categorization, making them arguably the most distinctive finalist act — let alone winner — we’ve ever had.”
The competition, now in its 14th year, solicits submissions from songwriters of all genres, with more than 1,000 applications from around the world received last year. “It’s affiliated with NPR Mountain Stage [a weekly West Virginia Public Radio broadcast of live folk, country, and blues performances], so it has more of a creative bent to it,” Glass said, explaining why she was drawn to the competition. “It was really the only contest we entered, and sure enough —” she added, trailing off with a laugh.
The duo’s road to success was by no means short. First the musicians submitted a track online as part of the initial regional round, which they won in the Southwest category. After that they sent in a video, and only then were they invited to compete live at Lincoln Center as one of twelve finalists from across the nation and Canada. As victors they received a comprehensive prize package useful to any working musician — including primarily “really, really cool opportunities,” according to Glass. On the list is a performance on Mountain Stage; a showcase at the Sundance Film Festival’s ASCAP Music Café; a recording session at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina; and a date back at Lincoln Center.
At the time of the interview, Hatt and Glass were gearing up for their appearance at Sundance. Hosted by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, ASCAP Music Café is an eight-day showcase at the film festival. Max Hatt/Edda Glass performs at 2:40 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 30. Admission to the café is limited to those with festival credentials (special access to non-film events), but Hatt encouraged any Santa Feans attending Sundance to stop by and say hello.
“We’re huge film fans to begin with,” Glass said. “A lot of our songs are really cinematic, and the lyrics draw from film images and iconic images from the West — women standing in the doorways, that sort of thing. We just have a natural affinity for that.” She specifically cited Arthur Penn’s Western drama Little Big Man (based on the novel by Thomas Berger) and Jim Jarmusch’s stark black-and-white Western Dead Man as films that inform their music. The latter features a soundtrack by Neil Young, another source of inspiration. “Our philosophy is really that you have all these influences. We don’t try to manage them into one sort of Frankenstein hybrid. We just let what comes out come out. There’s bossa nova, Neil Young, movies, Coltrane, all these different things. If you let them flow they’ll find their own way into your music.”
In terms of the compositional process, Hatt’s solo guitar pieces form the groundwork for the duo’s songs. A lifelong student of jazz and bossa, as well as a lover of rock and roll, Hatt said that his compositions “tend to be fairly long narrative, melodic forms.”
“That’s true, they don’t tend to be AABA. They are ABCDEFG,” Glass said, referring to a standard song structure in which each A represents a verse and B is the bridge. During the initial creative phases, they work independently, with Glass writing lyrics based on recorded demos of Hatt’s compositions. “We pretty much work separately. I’m a perfectionist. I like to get the lyrics to a certain stage before I want to show them to anyone.”
Their piece “Occasional Summer” offers a good example of the way in which Hatt’s syncopated rhythms and bossa-tinged melodics meld with Glass’ narrative-and image-reliant lyrics. Over lush yet subtle guitar work, she sings: “Last March, I was digging in the yard/I found a small painted horse, lost for good and maybe mourned, till now/Like a bottle on the shore, message blurred, but it all returns.” The song’s own message is blurred, in part due to its enigmatic words but also as a result of Glass’ breathy vocals and Hatt’s atmospheric chord voicings. The song is the second track on Max Hatt/Edda Glass, their debut album, which is slated to be released in late February. However, both members conceded that their first recording has been eclipsed by preparations for the next one.
“Pat Sansone of Wilco was one of the judges in New York. He is going to produce the EP,” Glass said. Sansone and another Wilco collaborator, drummer Glenn Kotche, will probably perform on the recording. “So it will basically be a quartet record. The whole last month has been spent getting demos done so we can send them out for preproduction. We’ve been under the gun, but we’ve got all the songs done — we’re just fine-tuning some of the arrangements.”
The guitarist does not expect any direct overlap between the EP and the duo’s forthcoming record. But both recordings share the trait of being funded by an outside source. The debut resulted from a Myrna Loy Center grant, awarded to the musicians when they were living in Montana, before they relocated to Santa Fe at the beginning of 2014.
“Montana is a really deeply beautiful place, and part of that beauty is that it’s very isolating. Some of that is cultural isolation. It has a shaping effect on artists. It’s kind of like an incubation phase. At the end of that we wanted to get out and share our art, so that was the attraction of New Mexico,” Glass explained.
Since relocating, Hatt and Glass have performed most frequently as Rio. The bossa nova group, which Glass jokingly referred to as their day job, performs regularly at places like El Mesón and Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen and often incorporates other musicians to round out the sound. These include local mainstays Justin Bransford on bass and Cal Haines on drums. Glass said they both feel gratified to have been embraced within the community, musically and beyond. “We’ve been really warmly received. It’s touching. There’s so much cultural sophistication here and appetite for music and culture.”