Walking Through Black Grass – A Conversation with Kyle Field of Little Wings
Shortly after a prophesized rapture that never left the doomsday launch pad, sometime between late May and mid July….
Kyle Field, the whimsical honcho of Little Wings and at one time, the known to be wanderer living out of his truck’s camper shell, called me from California for our interview, letting me know from the get go that this was going to be “part one of a capsule,” that he was on his way to eat some dinner with some friends and that we would rap until it was time for him to go, and that we could possibly pick up “after his meal, or another time, or whenever…”
I wasn’t expecting the conversation to be so…loose. I had an idea in my head of one person at one end of the country sitting at a table, eating a sandwich maybe, and me, comfy at my writing desk with a steaming cup of black coffee—pen poised to a blank page with my tape recorder placed just so (for optimal sound quality). I adjusted my mode of thinking, threw out the standard interview format and relaxed. If he was going to be laid back, then so be it, so was I; and so we were. Riddled with spontaneity, a handful of conversations took place over the following two months; whenever Kyle had a few minutes or, at times, a few hours to spare. They would unravel late at night, early in the morning, while Kyle was driving to record new songs for a new album, after he left the studio, while I was at home drinking beer, while I was out enjoying a stretch of untouched cypress trees and even while I was out working; making this a real conversational piece, a cooperative effort, an unvarnished experience.
Prior to these discussions, within the time gap spanning Little Wings release of Soft Pow’r and the latest release Black Grass, I would seasonally check K Records website for a Little Wings update. It looked as if Little Wings had become an enigma, with rare and occasional wheezing from reviewers exhausting themselves, scratching their heads, unsure of how they should take Little Wings shifting direction in sound, suggesting that it became slow and aimless. The problem was that I was looking in the wrong places (there is this thing…it’s called a search engine). I came to find that Field had been utilizing his time drawing, was hesitant to play the MySpace game until after it had collapsed, that his visual art was being shown in galleries (his choice of colors reminiscent of Paul Klee’s Ad Parnassum) and, also that a band called Be Gulls had emerged with a release titled By the Beach, and shockingly, that a new album by Little Wings would soon be available from RAD, through the Marriage Records website. I obviously hadn’t looked hard enough, and Kyle Field/Little Wings was obviously not as much of a confused hermit as the web had suggested- just a guy doing his own thing. Little Wings is a free medium. When I asked him if there was anything he would like to see come out of our interview or if there was anything he had wished people knew more about regarding his visual art and music he responded by saying,
“I guess I don’t think that proactively about promotion, (inaudible) as far as I don’t think I have in my head an idea of what I wanna get out there, it’s more about what I’m getting out there is just in the form of the art. With an interview it’s just helpful to respond to whatever they ask… I don’t think I ever feel like “Ah, Why doesn’t anyone know this?” because if they can’t figure it out then I think it should still be a secret… if they aren’t curious then it’s just something I am into. I can’t really get people into what I am doing on my terms, necessarily; they are allowed to do it on their terms.”
I had asked this question for a number of reasons; one being that Little Wings has always been a very poetry versed project, which lends a lot of mystery and a lot of double takes when reading liner notes or humming along. With this said, this year’s Black Grass lends us a kind of subtle bewildering magic, hard to name, but once noticed, shines unambiguous and mystical- a kind of Ah hah experience; independent, separate and true for each and every observer or listener. It is wildly different, yet, a pleasant evolution for Little Wings. It plays as an enthralling arrangement of paradoxical themes that are at times both, romantic and haunting, dark and light, super natural and mythical.
“It was weird what happened with… (A long silence)… I think what happened with Black Grass is that I told some truths that, to me ,were very uncomfortable to tell at the time and now I can sing and dance while playing those songs because I got used to them but I think they are still kind of heavy.”
I had mentioned that I was not sure if Kyle was aiming for something new, but that it seemed that he had hit on something fresh and exciting with Black Grass. He went on to describe the transition from Soft Pow’r to Black Grass, saying;
“I think this is how I could describe my evolution and I think this is what you’re asking about actually, that being the vortex between the last record and the new record. (Inaudible) I think things may be a little different now. I think there were similarities in all the records up until Soft Pow’r, with Be Gulls being the intermission, the light comedy… cartoon commercial before Black Grass comes on which is the horror movie, sort of… Black Grass is scarier than the other records…in a way. Soft Pow’r was the stomach lining or the lungs and then Black Grass was when we realized there was actually something below that, like we found darker matter that we knew was there all along but we had to get it out. I think this record got it out for me in a literal sense. I really believe in the power of music and what it can do to make you heal and make you wake up. For me it’s a form I use to express my emotions and feelings and look back at my life and sort of make my own connections with things using my own threads and pushpins and corks, like a little system in my brain that only I know just cause, your brain is your brain and it thinks about your brain.”
When listening to Black Grass the first thing I noticed was the singing. His voice had moved into new terrain, pronouncing his poetry as if standing at back end of a cave, singing about archetypes, advertising and cultural icons, biblical characters etc, and doing so rhythmically, much in the same way a contemporary hip hop or rap artist spits at a mic during a freestyle or slam session. Stunning examples of this stand out brilliantly in Gold Teeth and Fall Skull. Throughout this album we are presented with the Nike and Peace symbols, the Jolly Green Giant, Snow White, Adam and Eve, Lords, Dads that thunder clap in disapproval, claws, earth quakes, serpents, “Green” culture, and plenty of references to skulls and the fall, in which it is possible that he is regarding the season of autumn, the fall of man, an accident due to the laws of gravity or all the above. The use of metaphors and symbolism are themes within themes within themes, with enough winsomeness that one may be tempted to look for a specific, sole meaning in the lyrics. I came to find out that the use of myth, used as thread in stitching the albums motif, was brought about by his reading of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. The influence from Campbell’s book lends so many facets to the record that they subtly blend in and out of one another, and because of this, each listen grants something different.
“I like records that reveal new things, those are my favorite kinds of records, ones you can keep revisiting” says Field, “I think with this record I was also inspired a little more by David Berman (Silver Jews) and his record making. There is some strength that he has, it’s really stalwart and I had never really tried to own myself so I tried to do something in a different way this time and felt more there, a little more exposed.”
Aside from myth, it seems to me that Black Grass thematically tackles, head on ,the realm of the ephemeral, not only evoking this through the storytelling but in the actual time length of the songs and the album as a whole, a sort of meta-myth album. While listening to it, there is a constant feeling of cherished things fleeting, of spiritual experiences not lasting long enough; of unanswered questions and foggy memories, of watching the night fall while standing in the shrinking shadow of varied creatures stacked upon one another like totem poles. I asked about my own sensing of an ephemeral quality on many occasions and Kyle was always very clear to tell me that the listeners reading on the song was, in a way, possibly closer than his understanding, just because the songs were so near to him and in the eye of the beholder; and also, that we were playing ping pong with thoughts when we discussed things, that neither was really trying to win, but just exploring. Regarding my interpretation of things coming and going as a theme, he responded by saying,
“…I grew up in the church, our family got divorced and our stars alignments changed, so I think some of the album is about divorce or death that really isn’t dead but just rearranged so you don’t recognize it anymore and everyone in the family gets reconfigured and then you’re never in the same room with those same people again. It’s so disorienting to never be with your pack or tribe…”
The best way I can describe the feeling I get after listening to album a dozen or more times, is that the songs do to the ears what sunglasses do to someone when they wear them at night; everything now requires a second glance that reveals more and more distinct features on the objects being looked at. On an audible level everything sounds transient. The album fades in and out of itself, and some of the songs do as well. On How Come?, the drums are a distant and gentle knocking while the chorus is a somber- animal like cadence. But, with all this in mind the record is by no means a downer. Songs like Mr. Natural, (a track I recommend for any car ride or late night- hill bombing- skate session) is as chill as Little Wings gets and Fall Skull, a echoed declaration that sounds as if it were a pop country blend of hip hop, versed from the sockets of an abandoned skull left on the beach for the waves to batter, is by far and in my opinion, the catchiest song by Little Wings since Light Green Leaves very popular Boom! Because of the contrast between dark and light matter, Black Grass is extremely balanced and accessible. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this album does not have its shadowy moments, it most definitely does and stands out in the Little Wings catalog as unique because of that characteristic, but, to quote the closing lines of the album, the songs play out like a “moon shining on the black grass”, and are so surreal in both structure and poetics, that the subject matter, to a point, doesn’t even matter, for the songs are genuinely moving in the musical dimension alone. When we discussed the diversity of topics and how no song felt too contained he replied by saying, “…for me, I am at an age now where I think it’s beautiful to sing about all things”.
It helps for me to keep in mind that this is a work of art coming from an artist truly observant of his craft, bedazzled by the sheer existence of his work and everything around him, collecting both the brightly polished and the dingiest faded objects. For followers of Little Wings, it should be no surprise that, after a decade of songwriting, the crafter of the songs has come back with something different in his explorations. It is as if, on a sun bleaching day, an explorer left the peninsula for an island in the distance where he sensed some unfound things existed, and came back at night, beneath the moon with an array of discoveries in the boat, one for each and every one of us to hold in our hands, to wonder over.
Authors Side Note:
To experience the fun nature of Little Wings live personas, check out a live show or the recent Gnome Life Records release, Made It Rain- part of the Echomancy Tape Series, which features a live recording of a cozy Little Wings set in Big Sur.
Plus, here are some very fun drawings by David –Ivar Herman Dune surrounding some themes in Black Grass.