Elizabeth Mitchell: Interview
Longtime member of the indie duo Ida, Elizabeth Mitchell has taken 2010 to focus once again on her solo career doing children's music. The first new children's artists signed to Smithsonian Folkways in this millennium, Mitchell recorded her first kid's album back in the ’90s in one afternoon in Livonia, Michigan. The prestigious Folkways signed her at the suggestion of all-ages artist Dan Zanes. Her 2006 album for Folkways, You Are My Little Bird, has been a TOC Kids fave and we're psyched that she is back with the new Sunny Day (husband Dan, children and famed Band drummer Levon Helm all appear on the album) and a U.S. tour-by-rail, which comes to Old Town School Sunday October 3 at noon. I caught up with Mitchell, with whom I was acquainted with through the mid 90s underground rock scene, in anticipation of her show.
Here's a little slice of our conversation...
I feel badly that I haven't seen you play in Chicago in so long.
We love that town. It's one of the only places we get out and play as Ida. We still hit the West Coast and play in New York and up here and Chicago maybe every other year.
Where are you living now?
We were living in the mountains for a while, then last summer we got a place in Woodstock. I never thought I could live outside the city, but we took to it really fast. We live at the end of a long road and cants see our neighbors and just love it. Musically its great, obviously, there's a lot happening here. Its starting to get younger. We’re kind of like the young people up here. Which is hilarious, after leaving the city where you are ancient by the time you are 35. And then coming up here and being the new kids in town at 40.
Is there kind of a folk scene, did you immerse yourself in a new scene or community?
One of the first weekends we were here, picking up the local paper and reading that Levon Helm was going to be having a show in his house.
Yeah, rambles. And Hubert Sumlin was going to be playing.. And Dan and I looked at each other and were like Is this were we just moved? We couldn't believe something so incredible would be happening down the street. We went on tour and doing Ida stuff. I read later that he opened up his home studio to sessions. We called him up and booked a session there.
I was like Really, wow, this can happen? We recorded most of the Ida album Lovers Prayers there. And Levon sat in on a few songs and we had Michael Hurley come out. That was kind of like stepping into a new world of music. We got to know Amy Helm, his daughter. But yeah, there’s a lot to learn here, a lot to be a part of. Being a part of the younger generation, there’s a lot of great stories to hear from the older generation. Songs to learn. Its been a rich part of our musical development.
Its not bizarre to be a professional musician there.
Its very normal here. When Storey is at school, I would say half of her friends parents are musicians. Whether they are also carpenters, massage therapists or yoga teachers... Everyone here is a musician in some way. Music is a big part of people’s lives. Its like a uniting factor in the community here.
Kind of a 60s exiles from Manhattan feel?
Yeah, it can sometimes be a little funny. It can be hard to get people to come out to shows because Woodstock is the place you go to escape from the shows and the scenes. Everybody wants to come up here and go into their little nests.
And this has affected your children’s music you are making–would it have gone in this direction if you had never moved to Woodstock?
I don’t know, its definitely informed by living in Woodstock. There’s a combination of a great respect for traditional music but also a commitment to innovation and having a dialogue between generations of music, taking the old and making it new again with a reverence for the old but not so much that you are not bringing some new inspiration to it and keeping it breathing. I think that's really happening in Woodstock and happening over at the Barn at Levon’s.