While we also interviewed Connie Lovatt in our 2022 issue of chickfactor (19), we interviewed her again just about Coconut Mirror, out Sept. 27 on our label, Enchanté Records (based in the U.S., not the one in Paris, France). Also read about the dream team who plays on it. Interview: Gail O’Hara
chickfactor:When did you start making Coconut Mirror? Talk us through the timeline. Connie Lovatt: When [my daughter] Hartley was around 1, we needed to get help with childcare. We didn’t have family in Los Angeles and both our moms had been so generous with their time, traveling out to care for Harts as we adjusted into being parents. But as she got older, I needed to get some structured help so I could take a break during the day. Her name was Diana, and she was incredible. Later Lucy [LaForge] took over and was amazing with Harts, too. During my breaks I discovered I didn’t even like to go anywhere in LA. I started to hang out in my garage and read and work on songs. I didn’t play guitar because the sound would tip off Harts that I was somewhere in the house, so I didn’t do anything with an instrument. I started making up melodies with some phrases. After a few months doing that off and on, I had 11 solid song ideas.
That was 10 years ago. So this was 2013. You can get into something for a little bit and then your kid gets sick and takes you out of it, or something happens, and I would put it away for a very long time. And years would go by, where like off on, off on, I gathered up melodies for each song. And then maybe three or four years ago (2019-2020), it was time to put chords to the melodies and see if the songs were indeed real. That’s kind of hard to do when you start with a vocal melody, to find the right chords and the flow. It was hard for me I mean, learning how to put chords to melodies that already existed because I’m not a great guitar player. And once I got that done, it took a couple years to figure out the directions of stuff. It was the first time I wanted every song to hold a sense of clear narration. I kept working on words all the time, and then when the pandemic hit, at some point, I would send lyrics to Bill [Callahan] and I’d say, “How’s this looking?” One day he gave the thumbs up, and I was galvanized!
Seven months after the pandemic started, we went to New Zealand. Ravi [my husband] got me this little digital four-track and I took it with me. We were there for six months, but two months before we were set to leave, I got it in my head that I had to get these down. I’d been sick for months with odd symptoms with what was eventually diagnosed as long COVID. We’d moved halfway across the world, and I wanted something to show for all this lost time. And it was time for me to face reality, to see how they sounded recorded. We were living in this pretty wood house right on the ocean. The weather in Wellington is extremely moody and beautiful. Almost every walk was challenging and wonderful. Every moment sheltered in the house was good. So, I started doing it, closing my bedroom door, and putting down the guitars and vocals. After months of being sick without any answers, it was incredible for me to hold in my hands something I’d made. It seemed impossible.
When we got back to Los Angeles, I found an engineer. He was a dad friend from our school. I’ve known him from the dozens of school events we went to with our daughters, and he was always helping with sound, at recitals or school plays etc. He’d been an engineer on tons of records from Veruca Salt to Barbara Streisand. His name is Joe Wohlmuth. So, I brought him all my files and I told him I wanted to work off these. I told him something magical happened in New Zealand and that my hands and vocals aren’t the best because of all these neuropathy issues but I want to build on what we have here. Then it took a little while longer to get other players. I was lucky enough to have beautiful Jim White secured but needed to wait for a break in his on-the-go schedule. Once we added Jim’s drums, I was able to send it to killers like James (McNew) and Rebecca (Cole) and Che (Chen) and slowly start building up everyone else’s tracks. Another person that helped me to build up confidence in these songs was Phoebe Gittins. She’s amazing and has an equally amazing mom, Philippa. Philippa was instrumental in helping us find the house we stayed in while in New Zealand, and she lived a couple houses down the road. She was the bestest next-door neighbor anyone could ask for. Her husband, Seth, had an acoustic guitar he generously lent to me while there. It sounds great and is mostly what I play on the record. When I met Phoebe, I learned she was a self-taught piano player. There was this piano in the house we were staying in and I had a couple songs down and I asked her to come by and put on headphones and play along to it and she sounded so beautiful. I kept those tracks, and they are on the album. She did so beautifully on those songs that when I eventually got back to LA, I sent her a couple more songs to work on. My friend Max Tepper lived close to us in Los Angeles, and I asked him to do some synthesizer stuff and he kindly wrote and handed over all sorts of cool sounds to work with. All the instruments, except for Lucy’s harmonica, were sent remotely. Joe and I would sit down and comp them in as they arrived and place them where we wanted, do little edits, and move things here or there to perfect the things we wanted. Then I re-sang everything except for some backing vocals that I kept from the New Zealand recordings. We rerecorded 3 guitar tracks, too.
You recorded this album next to the ocean. It’s hilarious that you went to New Zealand and made a Laurel Canyon record even though you were living in L.A. I didn’t know how it would all come together till New Zealand. Everyone that I’ve loved is in this record. Everyone that matters, women, men, they’re all in there somewhere. I wanted to show Hartley that after giving birth, that I could still make something. I wanted to make a record with acoustic guitar where I’m telling my daughter all the stories that mattered to me. My first few years in California, I listened to a lot of Neil Young and Judee Sill and some Stevie Nicks demos and Sandy Denny. I wanted their voices in my head as I got to know California. All the songs I had written with Fontaine [Toups] and Ed [Baluyut] (in Containe and the Pacific Ocean) were written so fast. They were immediate. I knew I was going to spend a lot of time on this. That I wanted to be certain of every word and note and it wasn’t rushed during the fun of hanging out with friends and trying to learn how to play or how to be in a band. I worked way, way faster then. Everything I did with people that was collaborative, the pace of that was not nearly as careful as I was now attempting. I’d never spent this much time writing one song, much less 11.
So, the recordings you made in New Zealand are these songs and you built on top of them, basically subtracting and adding after you got back. Yes. Almost all the acoustic guitar, lots of the backing vocals and a few of Phoebe’s piano tracks, all came from the work done on that little 4-track in New Zealand.
Who else plays on the record? Lucy, who helped us take care of Hartley in the beginning, she writes and performs and is a strong singer. She plays all sorts of instruments. She’s one of those people that can play a million things. So, she came in and did harmonica and some backing vocals on “Sisters.” James Baluyut plays pedal steel on “Sisters.” And I think that’s everybody. Yeah. Phoebe, James [McNew], Jim [White], the other James [Baluyut], Lucy, Max, Rebecca [Cole], and Che [Chen]. And Hartley’s screams of joy as she played video games with friends a world away are heard in the background on a couple songs.
Bill Callahan produced one of your previous albums (The Pacific Ocean’s So Beautiful and Cheap and Warm). You’ve known each other since then, right (2002)? Yeah. And then I played bass on his album A River Ain’t Too Much To Love.
Would you say that Bill was a consultant? He was a loyal champion. He would check in and ask how the songs were going. Just by being interested, he gave me strength. He knows what I’m trying to do or trying not to do. No matter if I’m successful in my attempts or not, he’s kind and honest so the courage to work on remains no matter the feedback. I’m lucky to have him there telling me, “This is working. This could be better.” Everyone should have Bill as a friend. The end of “Kid” is now perfect due to him.
What else informed the record and its process? Motherhood. Wifehood. My life changed course. I hadn’t touched an instrument for a couple years. When I started working on the melodies that would eventuality became the songs, I felt excited. I had so many happy moments playing in bands. I got curious if I could be happy trying this on my own. If the joys would still be there with just me in the room. I got really into it when I solved problems or things sort of elevated. I couldn’t quit caring about it. I wanted to finish this letter to my daughter, which is what it was becoming the more it came into view. You can’t give up on a letter to your kid! Sometimes I wish it hadn’t taken so long, that all those stops and starts and long gaps between stabs at the work hadn’t happened. But I was a different person in ways, compared to when I started, when I finally recorded it all. I’d became a bit of a perfectionist in that I no longer regarded impatience as a valid motivator to wrap it up. It had its own timeframe in my life and I was along for the ride. I finished when I finished and it felt good.
The New York singer-songwriter Connie Lovatt talks about all the amazing musicians who play on her new solo album, Coconut Mirror (out on our label Enchanté U.S. Sept. 27 on Bandcamp, CD and select streaming services). Workspace images courtesy of the artists.
Connie Lovatt, Coconut Mirror (Enchanté US, out Sept. 2023) Songs written by Connie Lovatt / Produced by Connie Lovatt
Connie Lovatt: vocals, acoustic guitar, tambourine James McNew: bass Jim White: drums Rebecca Cole: keyboards on Basin, Broke, Sisters, Snow Che Chen: lead guitar on Sleep, Snow, Lines Phoebe Gittins: piano on Broke, Gull, Heart, Honest, Kid, Snow, Zodiac Lucy LaForge: backing vocals, harmonica on Sisters Max Tepper: synthesizer on Heart, Honest, Snow, Sleep, Zodiac Bill Callahan: vocals on Kid James Baluyut: pedal steel on Sisters Hartley Nandan: screaming on Sleep
Recorded by the artists and Joe Wohlmuth Engineered and mixed by Joe Wohlmuth Mastered by Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering, Boston, MA
Jim White: A brilliant friend that gave the album the topography of dreams. I’ve listened repeatedly to him playing on some of my favorite songs over the years and can barely believe he’s playing on mine. What kind of magic is this?
James McNew: If you could walk up to a music library and ask it “can you play bass on my songs?” and then the music library sits up cozy next to you and says “watch this” and solves all your problems.
Rebecca Cole: I asked her to play on some songs when she was practically 48 hours from leaving on tour with Pavement. Her suitcase was probably 1/2 packed on her bed. I got a very sweet “I’ll try” kind of answer. What she sent back sounded so good you would have thought I gave her a year’s time.
Che Chen: I think the most interaction I’ve had with Che is sharing a smile as we walk past each other at a club or a hallway in a rehearsal space. But I knew his guitar playing very well. To me he is psychedelic in that he’s both the mindset and the setting. I felt brave asking him to play. He was kind and overdelivered and I love it all.
Phoebe Gittins: I was at the end of my tattered thready rope when I started recording and man, I just didn’t know. Asking Phoebe to come by and play on a song to just see if it could be even something another musician could hold on to was one of my better moves. She is so melodic and musical that I’m telling everyone I know you need to lay roses at her feet and ask her to play on your songs. She’s the sweetest.
Max Tepper: Max is a family friend and our daughters have known each other from months old. He plays guitar and is road-tested and knows all the bands and all the stories. I knew keyboards and synths were a part of things in his world. I don’t know exactly when or why I heard synths on certain songs, but I was so lucky Max understood what I meant when I asked. He sprinkled the heavy sparkles!
Lucy LaForge: For my young daughter she was magical like Mary Poppins, except the umbrella was a guitar and the chimney sweep was a stuffed cow. For me, on this record, she was a rock who tried everything from tap dancing on the studio floor to harmonica, to trying all the harmonies on “Sisters” to autoharp. She has a bag of tricks no matter where she goes.
James Baluyut: A very patient man who helped me send off some final backing vocal ideas as he simultaneously figured out some flawless pedal steel for “Sisters.” He’s a positive force to be around when making music. Nimble and always pushing things forward. I took up his time but I brought him enormous chocolate chip cookies.
Bill Callahan: He’s one of my favorite songwriters of all time. I got to sing on a couple of his songs a while back. It took a few years for me to write a song good enough for him to sing on. He won’t be losing any sleep about my latest theory, but I do think I’ve shortened his 8 furlong lead by an inch.
Joe Wohlmuth: All contributors, except in-town Lucy, recorded their own work and everyone did an excellent job. This method, no matter how carefully done, created many sonic scenarios that were out of Joe’s control. Background noises, mic issues, consistency, tempo, etc., etc., had to be addressed and blended together to Coconut Mirror’s starry-eyed standards. Joe has an ear that no note can slide past unaccounted for and he helped guide these songs through every step with an attentive ease.
In September 1993, Connie Lovatt and Fontaine Toups played together at a chickfactor party at Acme in NYC under the name Containe. When I heard them play, I immediately offered to put out a 7-inch single and our label Enchanté was born (not to be confused with an electronic label in Paris). That pivotal moment resulted in close friendships, two Containe albums, three The Pacific Ocean releases and a partnership that continues to this day.
Now, 30 years later, we are so proud to announce the release of Connie’s first solo project, Coconut Mirror. She wrote all the songs and brought together an amazing group of contributors, and it will be released Sept. 27, 2023. Lovatt grew up in St. Thomas and has lived in New York and Los Angeles. She previously made music with Containe, the Pacific Ocean, Alkaline, and Smog.
Coconut Mirror is a family record and a love letter/life guide to her daughter—full of carefully constructed songs about drownings, cockfights, the ocean, happiness, drug dealers, poverty, heartache and love—written over the past decade or more in Silver Lake/Los Feliz and Wellington. Because of time and space and COVID, the musicians who play on the album recorded their own parts and sent them in to Connie, who worked with Joe Wohlmuth on crafting her solo singer-songwriter debut into a beautiful whole with some of the music world’s most sparkling gems playing on it.
“Everyone that I’ve loved is in this record. Everyone that matters—women, men, they’re all in there somewhere … I wanted to show my daughter that I could still make something after giving birth. I wanted to make a record with acoustic guitar where I’m telling my daughter all the stories that mattered to me.” — Connie Lovatt
All songs written by Connie Lovatt (BMI) copyright 2023
Connie Lovatt (acoustic guitar, vocals, backing vocals, tambourine) James McNew (bass) Jim White (drums) Phoebe Gittins (piano on “Broke,” “Gull,” “Heart,” “Honest,” “Kid,” “Snow,” “Zodiac”) Max Tepper (synthesizer on “Heart,” “Honest,” “Snow,” “Sleep,” “Zodiac”) Rebecca Cole (keyboards on “Basin,” “Broke,” “Sisters,” “Snow”) Che Chen (lead guitar on “Sleep,” “Snow,” “Lines”) Lucy LaForge (backing vocals, harmonica on “Sisters”) Bill Callahan (vocals on “Kid”) James Baluyut (pedal steel on “Sisters”) Hartley Nandan (screaming on “Sleep”)
Produced by Connie Lovatt Recorded by the artists and Joe Wohlmuth Engineered and mixed by Joe Wohlmuth Mastered by Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering, Boston, MA
Cover drawing by Jennifer Lovatt Special effects by Adam Woodward Layout artist Jennifer Sbragia
we are thrilled to have an interview with the phenomenal american singer songwriter… (originally appeared on paper in chickfactor 17, which came out in december 2012)
interview by connie lovatt and gail o’hara // photograph by kirstie shanley
chickfactor: what’s some of the best advice you’ve been given by a man about being a man?
bill callahan: I don’t think I’ve been given much advice man to man. I wish I had. I think it’s mostly women that have taught me about being a man anyway. a healthy woman wants you to be a man. I grew up with two sisters and they wanted me to be a man right from the start. they were so happy I was a little boyman – I could sense it from their faces. as soon as I could walk my sisters begged me to put on a tutu. this ballerina tutu we had lying around. maybe it was left over from when one or both of my sisters went through their little princess phases. seeing their reaction to me in the tutu was the first time I felt like a man. and I never looked back.
cf: what’s the best insurance against your own shenanigans?
bill: there isn’t any really. things always come back to haunt. and if they don’t, the looming spectre of threat is worse. if we let the shenanigans win….
cf: what were you like as a teenager?
bill: dumb. I was just in receiving mode, programming mode and I was kind of inoperable in that state. just taking things in or waiting for an opening in the race. it helps to have a soundtrack to such times and I listened to music 7 or 8 hours per day. classic rock radio, which I found some worth in but after awhile it started to feel like some drunk guy waking you up every time you fall asleep and just laughing at you and not saying anything. I realized a lot of classic rock is not classic at all. I had been taking their word for it at first. I was always counting the days until school ended, for years and years. and when it did it was even better than I dreamed.
cf: what was the first song you wrote and why and what was it called?
bill: when I was really little I wrote a song called, “peanut butter shoe.” the lyrics were, “it’s new, it’s blue, it’s a peanut butter shoe!” I think I wrote it, since you ask why, to mirror the life impulse inside a human.
cf: tell us about your songwriting process/ space/rituals.
bill: I’m not a ritualist and space is not something I really notice either. well, I guess I like electric light, no natural light and no window. I don’t like to know what time of day it is and I don’t like to see natural events happening. writing and music are human concepts—like electric light, so it helps to block out anything from the unadorned natural world. there is a pen I like, I buy by the carton. I just bought a carton yesterday. I couldn’t find black. It has to be black because of the primal black and white thing, primitive brain sight and film noir. I always turn down help from those big store employees because they never know anything but this time I said yes, where’s the black. he found it. It was in a newly designed box because now the pens are “made from recycled electronics.” I guess this is good but I don’t want to get cellular microbes in my notebooks.
cf: have you ever had to stop listening to a song or band because of a certain person or memory?
bill: maybe, but I wouldn’t think it was a struggle. if a memory or event was that strong then the song probably should go where that person or memory went anyway.
cf: does it bother you when your lyrics are misinterpreted?
bill: I think it happens all the time. I think I also misinterpret other people’s lyrics, other people’s everything. that is the lair of the audience, that is where you make your connection – from yourself. listening to music is not a passive act. when you’re a teenager and your parents wonder how you can just sit and listen listen listen. you’re making all your connections then. your head is dancing with it. so I think “misinterpreted” is the same as “interpreted” really. who can put the “mis-” on there? only the creator and half the time the creator can’t even concretize an interpretation. if someone has an interpretation of my lyrics that feels to me to be way off base, I just think that is the level that person is on at that time. that is where they are finding a connection to the song. but don’t get angry if I or someone else has a different interpretation of the song. I’ve often been told I am lying, when someone asks me what a line I wrote means. because songs become part of the body, part of the psyche, part of the filter of the way a person sees the world. when you tell them something else, they feel as if their essence is being negated. this is why people are so fiercely passionate about the music they love. the music is them.
cf: on most days would you prefer an elaborate breakfast or an elaborate dinner?
bill: oh man. an elaborate breakfast usually says, “I’m going to fuck off today” or “damn, life is good, ain’t it?” both of which are good sentiments. but mostly I like a simple breakfast cos I’m in no mood, you know? I think I like a simply elaborate breakfast. just toss a couple basil leaves in my eggs and I’ll be like, “damn!” breakfast should be simple but with a tiny zing. like raspberries in your oatmeal. food can’t stand on its own though, for me. I can’t have an elaborate dinner and think, “what a great day this is or was based on this meal!” it’s more of a bonus thing, like, “I had a great day of work and now look at this delicious hot pocket before me. it has basil on it.”
cf: what singer or songwriter do you feel is solidly romantic yet gets little credit for being so?
bill: I’m not sure about credit, as I don’t always keep track of public perception of things but—van morrison is quite the romantic scamp, I think. and I don’t feel like I’ve heard people talking about that.
records bill can’t live without
> steely dan, aja
> various artists, keep the pressure down
> barrington levy, run come ya
> television, marquee moon
> marvin gaye, “what’s going on”
lots of silly polls and tons of reviews! a new chickfactor cocktail recipe by dan searing!
edited by gail o’hara, the issue’s art director is gregg einhorn and our amazing writers and contributors for CF17 are: daniel handler, sukhdev sandhu, gaylord fields, dawn sutter madell, lydia vanderloo, alistair fitchett, bryce edwards, connie lovatt, dan searing, erica braverman, isaac bess, janice headley, jennifer o’connor, kendall meade, kurt reighley, lisa levy, lisa siegel, liz clayton, michael white, peter momtchiloff, pete paphides, rebecca braverman, robert mctaggart, robin davies, tae won yu, tim hopkins and wayne davidson.