Alibi V.26 No.25 • June 22-28, 2017 

Music Interview

Trost is the Most

Multi-instrumentalist rocks new record

Heather Trost
Heather Trost
Courtesy of the artist
Heather Trost, one of the two geniuses behind the genre-bending, deeply fluidic duo A Hawk and A Hacksaw—the other being her partner Jeremy Barnes, late of Neutral Milk Hotel—came up in Burque’s music community, learning the violin in public school orchestras before gracefully landing within the Arcadian environs at the University of New Mexico. While there, she joined a small but formidable cohort of players and composers whose influence, produce and subsequent larger-than-life presence within an overarching global music community was defined by the great musical minds filling the university’s music department.

With the words and praxis of folks like violinists Cármelo de los Santos and Leonard Felberg tucked securely under her belt, Trost (it rhymes with toast) began making a kind of music notable for its wide-ranging affirmation of traditions outside the realm of the normative as well as making acute and astute forays into unknown sonic territory.

After stints in bands like Beirut and notable success in the aforementioned duo, Trost came upon the opportunity to record her own vision, a document of her own artistic processes, activities and puposefullness.

The result—a record called Agistri—is a reflection on an uncommon life lived with equal parts wonder and melancholy. Filled with astonishing melodic ideas expressed in a confident, almost nonchalant tone, Agistri features many of Trost’s most important collaborators lending support and strength, including Barnes and John Dieterich of Deerhoof.

Heather wandered by Alibi HQ a couple of weeks ago to share ideas, drink coffee and talk about the new record and subsequent album release party—it’s at Sister (407 Central NW) on Friday, June 23, at 8pm, if you wanna know—while August March drifted about his desk, sometimes trancelike, trying to uncover the essence of one of our town’s most innovative artists. Here is a part of their conversation.

Weekly Alibi: Tell me a little bit about your recording and the album release party that coincides with it.

The album came out on the second of June. We’re having an album release at Sister on the 23rd of June. We’re also going to be touring the work with Thor & Friends, that’s Thor Harris from Swans. That will take place in Texas and New Mexico. In August we’ll be opening for Laetitia Sadier [of Stereolab] and touring the West Coast.

How did you get to work with folks from Swans?

Jeremy and I, A Hawk and A Hacksaw, opened up for Swans back in 2010 or 2011. We became friends with them and really connected with Thor. Last year, LM Duplication [the record label founded by Trost and Barnes] released Thor’s first album.

How did the new work come about?

It’s a little bit of a departure. I’ve always written weird little songs, but two years ago, I started expanding on them more. Basically Jeremy did a reunion tour [with Neutral Milk Hotel] starting in 2014 ... and so that gave me time to work on my own projects, it was a hiatus for A Hawk and A Hacksaw. They were on the road, so I went into the studio. We had also started collecting some analog keyboards. That contributed to the sound [of the album]. I use a lot of keyboards.

Previously you all had explored a lot of traditional folk taxonomies. How did the introduction of these new, old instruments affect the work?

We’re still doing that, as A Hawk and A Hacksaw, but it sort of added a new aspect to my musical vocabulary. I joined the tour in 2015 and was playing violin with Neutral Milk Hotel, but I kept recording, basically in the band van and backstage on a little keyboard. So a lot of the time, I was watching the scenery go by as we toured. I only play violin on one song on Agistri.

So did those experiences contribute to the sound of Agistri?

Definitely. There’s some collaboration too. Jeremy plays drums on just about every track. John Dieterich of Deerhoof plays electric guitar. Rosie [Hutchinson] sings harmonies on a lot of the tracks. Drake Hardin played guitar and bass on a couple of songs. Jeremy also plays bass and organ on a couple of songs.

There’s a lot of industry buzz surrounding the new album. How do you think audiences are reacting to it?

We’ve played two shows so far. We played at Gold House a couple of weeks ago. Everyone’s been really excited to hear it.

I wonder if people here in Burque know about your history as a reknowned musician. How did you come up here in Albuquerque and then become part of an essentially important, internationally-known community of players [like Barnes, Dieterich and Hutchinson]?

I was born here. I lived here until fourth grade. Then my family moved to the East Mountains. I moved back to town to go back to UNM. Music has always been part of my life. My parents decided to just pick an instrument for me. I started playing violin when I was 3 and a half. I took up the piano when I was 8. I did choir in high school. At UNM, I studied music starting in 2000. Me and Raven Chacon did our undergrad studies together. I took private lessons with Leonard Felberg, but I studied with Cármelo de los Santos. I didn’t get a performance degree, but a Bachelor’s of Music. I double majored in creative writing.

How did those college experiences inform your work?

It taught me you have to practice. And it also taught me that you have to go out on your own and find weird music for yourself. It’s not always going to be presented to you.

What happened after college?

Well, I developed an interest in folk music and experimental music. A lot of this was due to the UNM Music Department. I started studying and playing Bartok. Through Bartok, I started exploring folk music from Eastern Europe. That opened my world view. And then I met Jeremy. He had amassed a sizable collection of records from Romania and the Balkans. We started playing together.

That particular collaboration has resulted in some amazing music over the years. What is A Hawk and A Hacksaw, for those of our readers who may not know?

Jeremy started the project in 2000. When we met in 2004, I joined the band. We’re the main songwriters, but we’ve included a lot of different musicians too. We moved to Hungary. We lived in Budapest for a couple of years in order to work with our friends over there. We’ve also played with some Romanian musicians, Turkish players too.

Listening to your work, and that of the cohorts you’ve mentioned, I feel there’s a certain aesthetic happening, albeit with folks who are scattered all over the planet. How do you facilitate interactions with such unitary yet divergent groups and individuals?

It’s like we trade, going back and forth and exchanging ideas in person and through electronic means. It’s a challenging process. If we [Jeremy and me] learn a song, we learn it by ear. I rarely write down notations.

Does the new album mark a new direction for you, a step away from the improvisatory techniques that you’ve worked with in the past?

I’d say it’s a new direction. But it uses elements of all of the stuff we’ve been talking about. For sure. I have an idea, an image in my mind, and I play it out, and I come up with a song. I overdub tons of stuff. It’s an additive process. I start with a scafolding and build from there. The title of the new album is that of a Greek island. I think that why I loved it so much is because it reminded me of New Mexico. This album is about all I’ve experienced in the past few years, here and abroad, made into music.

Heather Trost: “Agistri”

View in Alibi calendar calendar

Heather Trost
Album Release party for
Agistri
Friday, June 23, 8pm • $5
Sister • 407 Central NW