a literary review
Viriditas, the debut solo album from NYC-based composer Charlie Rauh, is a series of short guitar pieces exploring the modalities of simple melodic phrases. Contributor Cal Freeman takes the opportunity to interview him about the release and ask some questions about his musical influences and his multi-faceted musical life.
Tell us a bit about the unique recording process for this album.
I recorded the album in a single 45 minute session with engineer Andrea Friggi at Le Feuil, a beautiful farmhouse in southern France owned by my good friend and brilliant composer Sasha Zamler-Carhart. We decided to only use overhead mics about 8 feet up and quite far from the guitar amplifier to capture the sound of the room, which was very important in capturing the spacious atmosphere I was after. I played each song a couple times and performed the improvised pieces, then Andrea and I put the track order together. It was quick, but not rushed. Rather it was a moment in time captured with sound, that’s what I wanted above all else. These songs were never meant to be perfectly captured after 10 takes in a recording studio, none of the music I write is.
How would you classify your guitar playing?
I consider myself a folk musician, I see my music as an intersection of lullabies and hymns. I don’t write words, but I hope to tell stories and create music with staying power like those types of songs have. With my playing I try to be concise, curious, and driven by intent. I hope to offer music that engages listeners and extends an invitation to wonder.
Who are some of your musical influences, specifically in terms of your guitar playing?
My guitar playing is heavily influenced by The Innocence Mission (My favorite band) I love their lyrics, and their use of simplicity to invoke power. As far as specific guitarists that inspire me I take much influence from Mary Halvorson, Molly Tuttle, and Susan Alcorn. They are all heroes of mine for their fearlessness and character driven approaches to making music – be it composing or improvising.
Your official launch for this album was at Rockwood Music Hall. Can you tell us about the release party and what you’ve been doing subsequently to promote and perform the record?
The release party was absolutely fantastic! The club was packed and it felt so amazing to play the entire record live for such a supportive audience. I couldn’t be happier with how the record continues to be received internationally, and am grateful to be on a label as wonderful as Destiny Records. Since the September release I have been playing regular club dates in NYC, working with my label on keeping press coming in, and organizing tour dates in Europe for the Spring. I am also in touch with festival organizers in Europe as well as the States about summer engagements. It’s looking like it will be a busy year!
In addition to doing solo work, you also collaborate with other musicians. Can you discuss some of those collaborations and how your guitar playing changes when you are playing in a group versus playing solo?
Yes, I play as a studio musician and sideman for some really wonderful artists in addition to my own music. I’ve tried to build a career around adapting my playing to a number of genres while maintaining a personal consistency of sorts. For instance I play with electro-pop artist Ess See, Iranian songwriter Sepideh, Americana artist Deb Cher, and Finnish indie artist Peppina to name a few. Many would find it odd that I play guitar with all of these different artists, but in reality it comes down to intention. My playing changes only in that I dial into the intention of the artist I am supporting, and bring myself into that intention. I suppose a simple way to put the difference between playing as a sideman and playing solo is this : as a sideman, I am investing in someone else’s intention and bringing everything I can to that intention with hopes of magnifying it. As a soloist, I am just expressing my own intention through my experiences and emotions.
Your music has been featured at Museum of Americana before with Cornelius Eady Trio, a band that features poet and lyricist Cornelius Eady. What is it like to accompany a poet and what special concerns emerge for you as a composer when moving away from instrumental work?
I’ve been playing with Cornelius for over five years now, in several constellations. Currently I play with his trio (Cornelius, Lisa Liu, and myself). I can’t say enough about him, his poetry, his music. Accompanying him is absolutely inspirational, Cornelius really knows how to write a song – and of course a poem. When he brings a new song to rehearsal my main concern is not to ruin it. I love the demos he sends out so much that I just try to keep that purity and simplicity there when we start working on arrangements. I am very lyrically oriented, and consider the words in music the most important element (when they are there). So my hope is to live into what Cornelius is saying and play accordingly.
Charlie Rauh performs “Wind in the East” from Viriditas.
Order Viriditas here.
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NYC based guitarist/composer Charlie Rauh has been invited to be resident composer by such organizations as The Rauschenberg Foundation, The Klaustrid Foundation, The Chen Dance Center, and The International Studios at Denkalschmeide Hofgen. His work as a soloist has been supported by grants from Meet The Composer, The Untitled Artist Group, and The Fractured Atlas Group.
His chamber EP, Innocent Speller, was released by Composers Concordance Records/ Naxos in 2015 – as described on Gapplegrate Guitar and Bass Blog : “There is an introspective element that sets the music apart, with spacious sound-staging focusing on the crystalline guitar sound. The atmospheric mood sustains us throughout. There is beauty here, great beauty.”
Touring extensively in Europe as well as the States, Rauh continues to accumulate inspiration from the folk music of the places he visits. In early 2017, he signed with Destiny Records to release Viriditas : his first proper solo record. Recorded in one 45 minute session within a 14th century barn in southern France, the brief and spare collection of solo guitar folk lullabies immediately captured the imagination of the press : “These quiet tunes dust off a few neglected shelves of the human soul, and from them pull down vials filled with brightness.”(All About Jazz), “Rauh is a true virtuoso and as such expresses a musicality that transcends the exceptional technique, which he surely has, putting it at the service of intimate, moving and dreamy music, in which every single note played by his guitar shows an innovative and contemporary vision. Highly recommended, one of 2017’s best records” (Neuguitars.com).
As a support musician, Rauh works with a variety of artists across several genres both as a touring sideman and a studio musician and arranger. Recording projects include work with Wilco drummer Ken Coomer, Magnetic Fields producer Charles Newman, and Sparklehorse contributor Alan Weatherhead. Live performances include artists such as Rolling Stones vocalist Bernard Fowler, Iranian pop innovator Sepideh, and Finnish indie artist Peppina.