Interview: Eliza Gilkyson talks parenting and politics ahead of Friday’s show

Three Women and the Truth

The Mill — Friday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m.

Three Women and the Truth play The Mill Nov. 18 -- photo courtesy of the artists
Three Women and the Truth play The Mill Nov. 18 — photo courtesy of the artists

On Friday, Nov. 18, Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson bring their tour, Three Women and the Truth, to The Mill for an 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $25 in advance ($30 at the door). Peters, Gauthier and Gilkyson are each amazing artists in their own rights, with many decades of musical experience between them. The three are also dear friends, who have channeled their joy in each other and in their art into this tour.

Little Village had the pleasure of speaking with Gilkyson last week, ahead of their adventure together. Her first record was released in 1969, but even as a young child she was surrounded by and engaging with music (her father was songwriter Terry Gilkyson, known for penning “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book, for which he received an Academy Award nomination). Her most recent album, her 22nd, is 2014’s Grammy-nominated The Nocturne Diaries (Red House Records). In the 47 years between those two records, she has built an amazing career touring and teaching. She spoke to us from Texas.

Is this your first time touring as a trio like this?

It’s our first time in the Midwest, I think. You know, we may have done — we played Chicago once, but this is the first time we’ve done a little Midwest run together.

How long have you toured together elsewhere?

It’s been over a period of probably about two and a half years, but we really only did two or three shows a year together. Last year, we were like, god, you know this really is one of those “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” experiences, and we like each other so much — and you just never know until you get in the car and drive around with people and go through a little tour with them to find out if you can actually get along. And we found out that not only do we get along, but we have a lot of fun together, and we like each other a lot, and we love each other’s music. This is one of those happy coincidences.

What form do the shows take? Do you do a lot of solo work in sequence? Do you trade off?

Well, we trade off, and we go in the round — but we never do it the same way twice; it’s different every night. I think we try to entertain each other as much as [the audience]. We never have a formula for it. We do sing and play on each other’s stuff. Every night is pretty spontaneous. We play off each other. We really never know which direction it’s going to go in, but it is basically the same sort of in the round format.

Have you done any creative work together?

We have not! Mary and Gretchen have, because they live in Nashville, so they have co-written together. They get to hang out a lot sometimes; for instance they watched the elections together, and I was texting — so we kind of watched it together, only I was on my iPhone. So they get to do a lot more together than I do. They’ve done some songwriting workshops together, they’ve co-written. Well, we are going to do a songwriting workshop this summer, the three of us, at my house in Taos, New Mexico, so that’s the first time we’ll do that together.

That sounds wonderful!

Oh, it’s going to be fun, yeah!


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Have you personally done workshops like that yourself in the past?

Yes, I do an annual one at my house in Taos. The last two years I’ve done them with John Gorka. John comes out, and it’s been really so gratifying, and so interesting and fun. He’s a wonderful teacher. Now, Mary and Gretchen and I, we’ve taught Mary’s workshop separately, in duo groups, but we’ve never done a trio workshop together. But I know they’re both terrific teachers. I’ve witnessed them both teaching, and they’re just really inspiring and so good at their craft.

Is teaching something that you love?

I didn’t know I was going to love it, the way I have! I think it’s something that comes when you get to be a little older, and you start to realize that you’ve accumulated a lot of understanding of how you do what you do, and it’s really fun to share it with others. It’s gratifying, because you realize that you actually know a lot about this thing that has been the love of your life. You find out, “I know a lot about this!” And I love seeing the “Aha!” moment for other people when they realize that they can do this.

What would you say was the most profound “Aha!” moment about songwriting for you, in your own learning process?

I had a lot of “Aha!” moments, but I would say one of the big ones was when I realized that it didn’t have to be about me all the time. (Laughs) That was huge! That was like a transition from angst-driven self-discovery into becoming an empathetic adult that was concerned with humanitarian issues, and social justice issues and things that were important to me that had to do with other people. That was a huge transition for me.

So, your very earliest work was produced by your father, and now your most recent record was produced by your son [Cisco Ryder], correct?

Well, my dad never produced anything I did. He was certainly an influential figure. But, no, my producer was in Austin — for years, for ten years almost, I worked with an Austin producer. And then as my son was coming up through my band, he just began to be more and more influential. Finally just, when we did the Red Horse record with John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky, I turned the reigns over to my son, and I was so impressed with what he did, that I gave him the next two records. And the last one got the Grammy nomination, and that was his second production he’d ever done. Getting that Grammy nomination, I think he was pretty pleased! (Laughs)

I’m sure! How was it for you, growing up in a musical family, and then imbuing your own family with those traditions, sort of passing them along?

It was interesting, because I was such a young mother, and so I was still in a reactive phase to my dad when I started having kids. So for the longest time, I really didn’t thrust music upon them in any way, because I was so wary of the sort of parental dominance. And later on, it came out with my kids that I think they wished I had been a little more hands-on, a little more directive. I was a typical hippie mom, just like, “Hey, do whatever!” (Laughs) So later, when they really started showing interest, they came on board. My daughter also sings on all my records; she’s a lovely singer. They have such sounds that it’s been a wonderful process, really. With my dad, he was a very self-critical person, and that passed on to us. He wasn’t like today’s parents, who are very affirming for their youngsters. Our dad was a little bit more judgmental. So, I think that all those things weighed in to how I was going to be with my kids.

Do any of your children have kids of their own yet?

Oh, yeah; I’ve had five grandkids!

And are they musical at all?

They are so musical! But they’re not driven in the sort of angst way that I was. I think that many of my years in music came about as a reaction to wanting to, in a way, reinvent myself, and needing to do that, because I was such a shy, and kind of invisible, little girl. Creating this persona … was a whole other process for me that later on I had to re-examine. It’s been quite a journey. It’s been different for my kids; they don’t have the burning desire. They have other things that they love to do, too.

So, you mentioned moving into the world of more socially conscious songwriting, and you also briefly mentioned having watched the election the other day. Is that something you see yourself writing about in the near future? Have you even processed it that far yet?

Well, I’m certainly in the process of processing. It’s not something that you’re going to work through overnight, because it’s going to be ongoing, it’s going to be difficult — it’s going to be a grievous battle, and now we’re all trying to figure out the mistakes we made, and assumptions we’ve made. And those things figure in my music. I’ve written about a lot of these things that I think are on the table. So, I have been posting on my social media songs that I’ve written about exactly where we are right now. I’ll probably be playing some of those. Because a lot of the issues that are at play have been at play for a long time.

Eliza Gilkyson embarks on a Midwest tour with friends as Three Women and the Truth. -- photo by Philip Rosenthal
Eliza Gilkyson embarks on a Midwest tour with friends as Three Women and the Truth. — photo by Philip Rosenthal

Absolutely. As someone who deals a lot in the arts myself, I am absolutely of the opinion that art is possibly the best method that we have as human beings for engaging this sort of content. Where do you see that role, that responsibility, in your own life and music?

Well, I very much believe that it’s going to take a village to change things. I think each person will bring what they have to the table. I do feel that art plays a key part because it keeps us from shutting down. You can’t experience art, in any form, if you are shut down. And art has a way of sneaking in and opening doors to feelings, and the processing of feelings, that is somehow safe. It creates a safe environment in which to explore how you feel. And as long as we are feeling, I think we are not doomed. If we shut down entirely, I think we don’t deserve to go forward, as human beings, as a species. So I do take my role as an artist very seriously. That said, I think we all get really tired of messages being hammered at us. So there are many ways that we can feed them … non-political music is just as powerful as political music if it’s expressive, and an avenue to real feelings.

Beautiful. Yes — I agree! … Do you have anything that you’d like to share with our readers about your upcoming concert?

I just think they should come and be prepared to have a really good time. We’re gonna go places, we’re gonna process stuff, and process how we are feeling right now after this huge transition in our country. There’s nothing like the comfort of warm bodies and the feeling of camaraderie that comes from people being in the same room together and processing together … We’re looking at three older women, every one of us being very much affected by what’s going on in the world today, through our families, through our gender, our own gender preferences, through being women — we’re going to see a real coming together that night, and I hope people will join us.

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