Up With Cry Cry Cry
by Ralph DiGennaro
Three of the most distinctive voices, literally and figuratively, in folk music today are Dar Williams, Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky. All three performing songwriters have enjoyed successful solo careers, turning out records (in Ms. Williams' case two videos as well) in between constant touring. Last Fall, the trio, collectively known as Cry Cry Cry, produced an album (Razor & Tie Records) comprised entirely of cover songs of lesser known artists. The three have been touring as a group, providing a show that has become one of the heralded in the history of folk performances. Recently I had the chance to chat with all three about the Cry Cry Cry experience.
Q: From where did the idea of recording as a trio originate?
Williams: It actually came out of our soundchecks. When Richard and I were touring together, we would do other people's songs while working on the sound before a show. People always thought I should record some of his songs and for years we both wanted to do an album of songs we liked. We also wanted to do something with Lucy. So the record was formed from an interesting idea that evolved into a concept and that eventually became the realization of a dream.
Q: How difficult was it to get the harmonies working so well both
on the record and in the live performances?
Kaplansky: It may seem like it took a great deal of work on our part but it all came relatively easy. I mean, certain songs required more time than others to get the harmonies perfect but there is such a great vocal rapport between us that the arrangements all happened quite fast. It was never an arduous process at all.
Q: What has it been like touring with two women?
Shindell: This is a minefield of a question. Next.
Q: How would you define folk music of this era?
Kaplansky: What's called folk music today isn't really that different from what is out there in the mainstream. We're certainly not folk singers in the mold of Pete Seeger or Dave Van Ronk. Musically, what most singer/songwriters are doing now is right in line with what people in pop music turn out; we just don't sell a million records like pop artists do. As far as I'm concerned, folk is still used only by record stores and certain industry magazines as a music category. Outside of that, the word is rarely even heard.
Q: How did you all agree on whose songs to cover and who would
Williams: The list we began with consisted of about 40 songs. We then divided them up with an eye toward evenly distributing harmony and melody among the three of us. That brought us down to about 20. We then began looking at the record not simply as a collection of individual pieces, but as a unit with its own logic.
Q: Obviously you all like and respect each other very much.
Could you have undertaken
this project with people other than Dar and Richard?
Kaplansky: It's hard to imagine anyone else I could have done this with. I mean it all has been so incredibly easy. And so much fun. I am having the greatest time and we never stop laughing, both on stage and off. It doesn't seem like work at all.
Q: The songs on Cry Cry Cry are mostly by little-known writers.
Would it not have been
more commercially viable to include popular songs on the record?
Shindell: One of our motivations is the conviction that there exists an audience which is craving for an alternative to what is currently available on 95% of the radio spectrum. It seems pointless to give people what they already have, especially given that there's a vast amount of great, relatively unknown material to choose from.
Q: What will the Cry Cry Cry experience bring to your own songwriting
and performances as a solo artist?
Kaplansky: I've always been able to learn from recording and singing with Richard, But this is really the first chance I've had to be around Dar for extended amounts of time and I've just been soaking in her genius for performing. She's so bright and spontaneous, so genuinely funny. And anytime you expose yourself to great songwriting it can only strengthen your own abilities as a writer.
Q: Will there be a follow-up record from Cry Cry Cry?
Shindell: This has been a wonderful side project for each of us, but we don't want it to become a Never-neverland from our own careers. There's a lot more music out there to be anthologized, and we're hoping that other singer-songwriters pick up where we left off.