March 10-16, 2005
Photo By: Michael T. Regan
Emily Ana Zeitlyn finds her voice in The Weeds.
Taking voice lessons at performing arts camp didn't prepare Emily Ana Zeitlyn for an early gig. "I sang "You've Got a Friend' for the school talent show when I was 12. And I got so nervous that I got sick," she remembers. "That experience was so traumatic that I didn't perform for years. I just had horrible, horrible stage fright."
Zeitlyn didn't completely give up performing she acted a bit while attending film school but she didn't return to the stage until her late 20s.
"I don't think I decided I wanted to play music in front of people. I think I wanted to write song lyrics. It's a different goal. I like to get up and present the work."
The Weeds began in 1998 as a jazzy outlet for Zeitlyn's dense lyrics, which she sang to sax and guitar accompaniment.
"I was basically pillaging my own poems," she says.
When the lineup changed, so did the music.
"When I started playing guitar myself, of course it was like D-A-G-D-A-G-D, so then somehow I just went in this other, simpler lyrical direction," she says.
When pressed, she calls her sound "soft rock." But her enthusiasm for dynamics and the juxtaposition of gentle and harsh elements complicates that description.
"I just pretend to be soft," she admits.
Over the years, Zeitlyn has been The Weeds' only constant. As late as February, she was the band's sole representative on a tour of the Northeast. Now she's taking steps to change that. Chatting over tea and yogurt at The Pond in Northern Liberties, she seems excited about finally integrating her spheres.
Bobby Wolter has played drums for area Weeds shows for a couple of years, but he makes just one appearance on The Faraway Flying of Broken Beating. The album, which will be celebrated with a release party at the Tin Angel later this month, is a collaboration between Zeitlyn and producer Devin Greenwood.
Zeitlyn says she's looking forward to the stability of having Wolter and Greenwood as a steady rhythm section. But they're not there just to fill in the spaces. Zeitlyn says the trio format has a lighter energy than a solo singer-songwriter set.
"If it's just me, it's totally internal, or a me-and-the-audience relationship. But if I'm playing with Bobby and Devin it's more like a party then."
The interplay between Wolter and Greenwood shakes things up some, but Zeitlyn takes additional steps to keep the album's songs fresh for her.
"The songs I wrote on that are years old now," she says. "So I have to make them make new meanings inside for them to be current for me. It's an internal process, shifting things around."
Recording and mixing The Faraway Flying of Broken Beating at Greenwood's home studio took a year and a half. Zeitlyn would play a song sometimes one she'd written the previous night, sometimes an older piece she'd been neglecting and then they would talk about it.
"We both have this visual and cinematic way of talking about things," she says. Their film school background gives them a common vocabulary. Zeitlyn says that education also informs the mental staging of songs like "Sad Helena" and "Nevereverland."
The recording process behind the CD was slow and contemplative. "It happened really organically, and we would work one day a week: Mondays," she says. The weeklong gaps between sessions helped put things in perspective.
"We had all this hindsight," she says. So even their most impulsive decisions had time to stew. "I worked in film, so I knew a little bit about falling in love with your own footage and then having to cut it."
"Sea Drift" was the first thing they recorded, but it got bumped for "Oh Voices." That song was so new, it had never even been rehearsed. That first take, with overdubbed bass, ends the album. "I couldn't have two end songs," explains Zeitlyn, who says she thought hard about the running order.
Zeitlyn's sound draws on Morrissey's dark romance, Leonard Cohen's rolling rhythms and Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo's translated verse. But her most immediate inspiration comes from closer to home. She gushes over Greenwood, Amos Lee and Birdie Busch, with whom she honed her songs at The Fire's open-mic nights. She gives extra credit to Cowmuddy's Michael McShane for fostering that scene and setting the pace.
"At that really critical moment when I was developing a couple years ago, every time I'd see him, he'd have like two or three new songs."
A little competition is healthy. "If Birdie wrote three songs, I would be like, "Oh, shit! I gotta write some new songs, too.' Like, if only to share with them."
And then there's her younger sister, K Records heartthrob Mirah.
"She'd never picked up a guitar before," Zeitlyn remembers. "And I went to visit her one time and she was like, "I wrote a bunch of songs!' And I was like, "They sound like real songs! Yay!' You could do that! That was definitely really inspiring for me. So it helped me find a voice and wanna do that, too."
If she can hold on to the voice she's got, she's set.
The Faraway Flying of Broken Beating (self-released)
Emily Ana Zeitlyn can carry a show on her own if she has to, but she shows good judgment in delegating on The Weeds' first studio album. Devin Greenwood plays all but a handful of instruments, letting Zeitlyn concentrate on her strengths: a lovely voice, smart lyrics, fresh melodies. "Fortune Cookie" is sophisticated and hypnotic, while the jazz noir of "What Was It" and the relaxed funk of "Last Call" demonstrate versatility without bragging about it. Whether The Weeds choose to rock ("Sad Helena"), roll ("Seesaw") or reason ("Trial"), they're worthy of attention. M.J. Fine
Thu., March 24, 8:30 p.m., $6, with Devin Greenwood, Tin Angel, 20 S. Second St., 215-928-0770.