Earlier this year worlds collided when Little Wings took the stage at Cafe du Nord, one of San Francisco's best preserved former mobster speak-easy joints that maintains decidedly authentic-feeling with shadowy vibes fully trimmed in dust-covered scarlet velvet. Looking like a costumed "tourist" complete with a plastic lei and something like a Greek fisherman's hat, Little Wings breezed through a delightfully unpredictable set of mostly new songs from his first ever double LP release, LAST, his borrowed backing band (The Range of Light Wilderness I believe, sharing the bill that evening) jamming over a few false starts before eventually leaning into the billowy groove of the nearly seven-minute "Neptune's Next" that opened the show. A hushed wave broke over the crowd, and it was then that I noticed, and I could be wrong, but I think maybe I could see that Kyle's teeth were painted.
Accomplished visual artist, avid surfer, and "musician's musician" Kyle Field channels a great deal of his most personal energies and intuitive creative powers into recording and performing music as Little Wings, his ever-fluctuating entity that continues to inspire and challenge audience perceptions with multi-layered song cycles, subconscious-tapping lyrical head trips, and concurrent visual presentations that sometimes embrace an apparent love of adopting guises couched in a language of "the best costume for the day." Seemingly open to collaborations and improvisation, Field continues to garner praise from fans and contemporaries like Will Oldham a.k.a. Bonnie 'Prince Billy and Feist who not only named her 2010 documentary Look at What the Light Did Now after a Little Wings tune but also covered and performed it as a duet with Field as well. Though admirers may tend to paint him as something of a folk hero from time to time (this bromantic GQ piece on Kyle being a prime example), Field seems to play it close to the vest when it comes to his self-expression despite having publicly sharing so many personal pieces. I recently corresponded with him and learned a lot about the new album (2LP! out on Field's own Rad imprint via Marriage Records), what he's listening to lately, and "free friction" in surfing. Read on for the interview!
This album seems to spring from a similar genesis as your previous album -- skulls, apples and a certain reflective darkness in tow. However, this record is by far your longest -- what happened? Is this record a lens cast upon a bigger picture? Was it your intention to release a double LP?
I bought a suitcase in Oakland, for instance, on a morning when I knew I needed a suitcase that fit in the overhead compartment on planes. I found one in mint condition, all black, with a cover on it for $40. After bringing it back to my friend's house, hours later, I realized it had my grandfather's initials on it, but it had never belonged to him. It felt like him reaching out to me from beyond saying,"go!" That suitcase travels with me and was in the room during this recording at all times. It also acted as the bass drum for overdubs, played with an Ugg boot! Incidentally the day that I got that suitcase was that day in the spring of 2011 when lots of fundamentalists were claiming that the world was going to end which I believe also ties into inspiration for the album title.
Yeah it kinda did. I felt drawn to some new level of openness and honesty, if you can call it that, and moods can swing pretty wide. I knew what I wanted to express, these feelings, and some were dark and deep, some manic and intense and new. It took me a while to let the record out of my hands and let anyone hear it as well, to expose these thoughts I guess. I have gotten some feedback that it has helped someone who is going through a hard time and that made sense to me for what it's worth.
How many of these songs are new or new-ish songs? Are there any old guards finally seeing the light?
I wouldn't want to injure the record with that disclosure. It is supposed to be heard all together, you know? I can say that some of the songs came together before the previous album was finished, it was an overlap that made me uncomfortable and I hope I don't ever repeat that move. It feels like being drawn and quartered to have an album that is still in the works and writing a new one. The thing that saved the fact that some of the songs were a bit more familiar was the final phase of making some new songs from scratch in my bedroom. That was the other approach I was missing, the songs that are born during the recording process, and I got three new ones out of that situation. I have to thank John Baccigaluppi for those songs. We worked on the whole album together in Sacramento at the Hangar and then he set up a temporary recording situation for me at home.
For me, your music resembles a kind of soft, watery canvas that shifts along with the moods and impressions revealed by your lyrics. In this respect listening to LAST is like tucking into an epic adventure, not unlike watching a film or perhaps even a film trilogy, complete with a cast of characters and almost clearly defined acts. What is your opinion of the thematic scope of this record, say, compared to your previous works?
It might be like taking a film slide and pulling further and further back when projecting it. I feel like I have a fairly consistent way of telling stories, from album to album, and with the length of this one perhaps the grain of it all is more clear? It took me months to absorb the Clash's London Calling and it became a favorite of mine over twenty years ago. I don't necessarily think that this one hits you immediately, but I'm alright with that. Every time my ears have had to grow to appreciate new music I feel like I learned something and the record will hold special significance for me like marker of a certain time or place.
Given the cinematic aspect of LAST, I'm curious -- have there been any movies or other visual, musical, or literary arts that really had an impact on the making of this record?
I loved the S.E. Hinton book That Was Then, This Is Now. I read it when I was thirteen years old and it made me cry. I would hope to achieve some sentimental effect like that without seeming too self absorbed. Maybe the end of the movie The Endless Summer, or any movie that you've watched so many times, that the feeling of longing as the final scene plays becomes familiar, the last song on any album that you love. The last day of school as a child, how we look forward to it up until the final moment and then face a summer where we don't see that same group of people anymore; an empty schoolyard in July.
Some of the art you were exhibiting at the time of the Black Grass album release reflected the themes and imagery evoked by the album, would you say there is a distinct connect between your visual works and your new music?
I think that they are definitely connected but I am not totally sure how. I know how to make several different kinds of pictures; when I am making artwork in relation to music I tend to think of it as "poster art" and it needs less detail in my mind, it doesn't have to stand on it's own. That I can make art to go with the music is a double edged sword as well, it is two things to consider and I am always going for something different and something the same.I want the album covers to look well together, like a library collection, and also want them to have their own sense of individuality.
I heard that you played everything on LAST yourself -- no small feat! What was it like to bust out this longer, presumably lonelier effort so soon after Black Grass (2010) and Made It Rain (2011)?
I wouldn't say lonely, and I did have a lot of help. John and I worked on it alone except when Jules (Sea Of Bees) came in to check on us or to sing her parts. The mood was really intimate and focused in a room with lots of character. John has made so many recordings that I felt alone in that there was no one but him to defer to, and in some sense I don't really know what I am going for until I get it if that makes any sense. John is probably ten or so years my senior and it felt good to be the kid. He was really a calm presence in the window, he was in one room and I was in another. I felt very open and safe in putting these songs out into the room, a fairly large undertaking that took us through a lot of emotional turf.
The cast of characters that always people your works is an aspect of Little Wings that continues to charm listeners into a kind of Pied Piper "what's gonna happen next?" following -- is there any one of your guises or figures that could, if you really wanted to, make a solo record?
I think I know what you mean, but I think that the changing from mask to mask is an inseparable part of the act, that the transitions would be gone if one of the faces stuck and stood still. That may also be a great fault of mine as a human, the fear of being defined.
Do you have a favorite song on the new record, a favorite for performing live?
"Neptune's Next" might be technically the newest song on the album and I like it a lot for a few reasons. The fact that it is actually four failed songs strung together, that was a new collage method for me and owes a nod to non linear music like rap where the lyrics don't necessarily tell a story. In this case it is four stories attached to one another. That felt like I was stepping into a new way of making a song and that is what is the most satisfying sometimes. That one is also the most difficult to perform and the most rewarding and the direction I could see myself moving in more and more.
I really love two of his mix tapes and that is all I listen to. I do not have an enormous appetite for new music and I am not sure why, except that I build onto an album or a song every time I listen to it. I build my understanding and my memorization of the lyrics and am ultimately attracted to interacting with the song, singing along, so repeated listens to Da Drought 3 and No Ceilings give me a familiar training course to work out to. They have been educational tapes for me to become a faster singer and have expanded my concept of what is possible as far as lyrics and metaphor and use of slang go. I do not champion Lil Wayne to turn anyone else on to him, I don't know if it's meaningful to everyone in the same way as it is to me and that doesn't matter. His image and content seem to hold some people from thinking that he could have anything valuable to say which I understand and am puzzled by all at once.
What else are you listening to these days, anything in particular? Any select on-the-road jams?
I only have an AM/FM radio in my vehicle and don't turn it on all that much -- I drive in silence quite a bit.
I listen to things at home like Ariel Pink, Pastor T.L. Barrett, Grateful Dead archives, WSM 650 online Country Radio [Nashville]. Friends that I've known and grown with make some of my favorite music, like Lee Baggett [a.k.a. Lee Gull], Greg Olin [a.k.a. Graves], Tommy McDonald [a.k.a. The Range of Light Wilderness] and Tim Bluhm [of Mother Hips]. It's not necessarily that I listen to their music all the time but more that it is a part of me in some way. Some of my favorite people are people who are shy with their music to a certain extent.
I think there is something to still admire about that and something still valuable about the underground. I know how hard it is to survive financially in this line of work and I don't necessarily blame anyone for putting their songs into car commercials. It is, however, easy to hear that some music is being made with that specific end in mind and it's disheartening to me. It feels like there is no such thing as selling out anymore, which is confusing to someone raised during some post punk music world wherein that was unthinkable. Times change and, for better or for worse, I don't feel like I am necessarily changing with the times.
Is there an artist that made an impression on you from an early age that currently continues to inform your approach to expression through music?
Listening to the third act of LAST makes me think you've been hitting the beach more often of late -- am I far off the mark? Is a beach the ultimate happy ending?
Well,the idea of the beach being paradise is the cliche -- one which i have experienced and embraced -- and it can truly be one of my favorite places on earth. It is also the last band of sand on the continent and there is no going any farther. If things are feeling rough the ocean can intensify that feeling. It can also be like gold, where everyone is staking claim to it, a truly concentrated and intense affair of conditions and resources clashing within a thin strip of highly priced real estate. My relationship to the ocean can be tentative and I sometimes feel alienated from it based on surf culture, crowds, feelings, and competition.
While we're beached, what do you call that twirly surf-style you do?
There is a guy named Derek Hynd that I first saw surf this way and he calls it "free friction". It depends on a board having little to no fins on the bottom and works using the edges of the board to kind of squeegee and smear the surface of the wave. He claims that fins may have ruined the most pure surfing experience. It's not practical in every kind of surf but so much fun when the conditions provide. The first board I did it on was made by Joey "Clams" Falcone who shapes under the name "Gray Ghost." I left the tiny side fins on, but no main center fin so it spins. He lives in Rockaway Beach in New York and I paid him and traded some art for it, it's still one of my favorite boards I've ever had. Actually my friend Rob Keiswetter (who performs under the name "Bobby Birdman") was the first person I saw surf with just these little fins on the board that they call "sidebites." We were in Mexico and the way the board was fitting into the shape of the wave looked completely different and I wanted to try it so bad! So between Hynd and Keiswetter, I have two masters.
What's next on deck for Little Wings? Do you have any shows coming up?
An art show in Los Angeles at Taylor de Cordoba in June featuring the original LAST poster artwork and other related images and more live shows to come, as well as a cassette/download version of LAST out on Gnomelife Records. Thanks for the questions and the continued interest!
Be sure to check out Kyle's Beach Talk mixtape series here and keep a weather eye out for his side project, Be Gulls' second release, II -- a crazy stacked box set of two 7" jammers on crystal clear wax, a DVD, a zine, hella buttons and a poster housed in a screen-painted reel-to-reel box -- out via People In A Position To Know. So rad!