The longstanding FADER Mix series presents new, exclusive DJ mixes from our favorite artists and producers.
Lonnie Holley began creating art out of necessity. So when, after decades as a sculptor and painter working with found objects, he started to make music in 2012, his improvisational, wandering songs felt like a natural next step in a lifetime of self-expression. Like his visual art, Holley's music is jarringly effective at communicating the feeling of a place and his latest album MITH does just that, perhaps best exemplified by the haunting "I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America.” His FADER Mix accomplishes a similar feat: Clocking in at just over an hour, Holley brings us from the American South to Addis Ababa, from the '60s up to the present day, and from our physical senses to something much more intangible. Listen to the mix below and read on for a conversation with Lonnie Holley.
What do you imagine people doing while listening to this mix?
Thinking, grooving, and sometimes dancing. And just remembering that music is the language we all speak and it doesn’t matter where we are from, it can unite us.
What music or artists do you turn to for inspiration when you're working on projects of your own?
When I’m working on my own projects, either art or music, I don’t too much listen to anything but what’s inside my own head. But when I’m not working, I am all over the place. I may listen to Erykah Badu or Solange or Bob Dylan or Aretha Franklin, Stevie, Martha and the Vandellas, or my friends Ben Sollee or Julia Haltigan. Or African music. Jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop, I love it all. I grew up on big band music.
This summer I saw you perform at FEELS festival's opening reception (it was beautiful!). No two of your shows are alike — how do you normally prepare for your live performances?
I brain it. I bring it. And I sing it. Life prepares me for each show. My shows and songs are really about what’s happening in the world and in my life. Lately I’ve had so much to sing about.
My friend Matt Arnett and I keep a lot of lists. When we travel he writes everything down in a book. From that book of my ideas and things I’ve heard or seen, or maybe it’s a comment or a thought I’ve had, I craft the ideas for what I’m going to sing about. At FEELS I was by myself, which I haven’t done too much lately, so I was trying to be a bit more personal. I was about to play a bunch of shows with my great band, Nelson Patton (Dave Nelson and Marlon Patton), but that was the first of a few shows I did solo and with some old friends on the West Coast. And it was the first show I’d played in a bit, so I had a lot of ideas I wanted to get out.
The location where I am playing always plays an important part in what I sing about. At FEELS I was singing in an old shipyard, so I tried to honor the shipyard workers and the ship builders, many of whom were African American and had come to the west coast from the South to find work and to help our country win a war. It was important to me to honor those ancestors. Our current administration seems to have forgotten the forces that built this country. I haven’t.
Your third studio album, MITH, was released this fall. What was this album's recording process like? Was it different at all from that of your first two recorded projects? If so, how?
Being in the studio, all the different ones, was intense and rewarding. When I recorded the first two records, I had no real sense of the record making process or how much labor goes into it. On this record, Matt insisted that I be involved in all areas of its production. So I was there during the mixing with Phil Weinrobe and Shahzad Ismaily and Matt and I was there during the mastering process, too. I also participated in the packaging and helping pick the art. It really feels like me. And it was fun to participate with others in that way on this album. And I love my friend Tim Duffy’s photo on the cover. I made this record in Atlanta, and Portugal, and Oregon, and New York. We worked with so many great people. Sadly, one of them, my friend and collaborator Richard Swift, died right before the album came out.
I love my first two records, Just Before Music and Keeping A Record of It, both released on Dust-to-Digital. I think the ideas on MITH are just bigger. And since the first two records came out, I’ve been working with so many wonderful people. It just felt like the next record needed to be like that.
Since the album is now out, what are your artistic focuses for the coming year? Is there something new you're interested in trying or experimenting with that you haven't before?
I’m staying busy making art. I’ve been in my studio a lot. I had so much fun working with Matt and Ethan Payne on the “I Woke Up in a Fucked Up America” video that we wanted to do some more stuff. Our friend Cyrus Moussavi and Brittany Nugent came to town and helped us make a video and I got to direct a short film. It’ll be out in 2019. That was intense. Matt kept saying that one some of my songs sounded like movies so we turned one into a movie, and I got to direct it. My brain stays on. And when my brain is on, my body performs better.
I really want to make a gospel record. And a bluesy record. Not like someone else’s record. Just me being me. That’s a big part of who I am. Swift and I made some bluesy music together. Maybe I’ll put some of that stuff out. I recently played a few shows with my friends Revel in Dimes backing me. Man, I loved that. It was some swampy sounding stuff.
Now you’ve got my mind racing. Oh, man. Time to get into the studios. I also have a few collaborations I’m working on, but can’t talk about yet. Those excite me a lot. When those are finished, maybe we can talk again.
Abner Jay, "I’m So Depressed"
Ben Sollee & Lonnie Holley, "Eskimo Annie"
Etta Baker, "Railroad Bill"
Alemayehu Eshete, "Ney-Ney Weleba"
Bon Iver, "33 'GOD'"
Elder Anderson Johnson, "God Don’t Like It"
Deerhunter, "Back To The Middle"
Jackie Wilson, "Lonely Teardrops"
Jerry Butler, "He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)"
Theotis Taylor, "Something Within Me"
Lonnie Holley, "I’m A Suspect"
Michael Hurley, "Werewolf"
Julia Haltigan, "Goodbye Cowboys & Rocketmen"
Lonnie Holley, "Looking For All (All Rendered Truth)"
Richard Swift, "Selfish Math"
Bill Callahan, "One Fine Morning"