Friday, November 2, 2007

The Tommy Blogg Talk Box: Claudia Gonson of The Magnetic Fields

This week on the Tommy Blogg Talkbox, I conducted an interview with Claudia Gonson, who plays some instruments and sings some vocals for the critically acclaimed indie pop band "The Magnetic Fields". I got all nerded-up when I got this reply from Miss Gonson. Here is the interview transcript.

Hi Tom,

I'm happy to answer these questions for your blog. In answer to your request to get in touch with the others, I don't think the other guys will go for it. Sorry about it- they're not really into doing interviews, save Stephin, who gets so many interview requests that I need to be careful how many I send his way.

Here's some answers for your blog-- hope you enjoy them. Thanks for writing!

Q: How did you and the band "The Magnetic Fields" come to be?

A: We all went to school together, in one form or another. Stephin and I met when we were about your age (well, I was 14, he was a couple years older), and we went to high schools that were near one another. I also went to high school with Sam, and Sam and I eventually ended up at Harvard, where we met John. Stephin came to Harvard as well to take some extension classes and we all ended up taking a lot of the same courses.

Q: Who do YOU consider musical influences on yourself?

A: I don't write much music, so I don't really have many musical influences, save the classical composers that I performed while I was studying classical piano all during my youth. But I like to listen to a lot of female folky vocalists, ranging from Nanci Griffith to Joni Mitchell to Neko Case. I also like Fleetwood Mac, and David Bowie. I am a big fan of the performance artist Laurie Anderson.

Q: What are your bandmates like on a personal level?

A: It's a big question, and sort of like asking someone what their friends or family members are like. I've known these guys for over 20 years, so it's a hard question to answer. We all get along well, but obviously sometimes we argue and have problems and have to work stuff out. Everyone in the band is pretty smart, and we try hard to plan things efficiently so that we have an easier time with tours and recordings. We're all pretty grown up.

Q: How does it feel to have such a loyal following?

A: I hope that it will remain! I worry about that stuff, since I manage the band as well as play in it. I think that something that has helped us is having lots of records over many years, rather than only one big album that soared up the charts. It seems like bands who have one period of huge success tend to burn out fast (unless they're Madonna or Prince or Elton John or some long term superstar). But bands like Wilco and Yo La Tengo or Stereolab are lucky because they burn on and on, making lots of records and slowly building up and up. But they also don't tend to have one album which sells millions of copies and defines their careers.

Q: Has stardom affected your life in any way?
A: I'm so unbelievably not a star. I walk around New York and am absolutely never recognized by anyone, ever.

Q: As far as television, what do YOU watch the most?

A: I don't watch TV. My tv doesn't even have cable access, I just use it for DVD's and videos. I'm somewhat of a luddite. I do occasionally rent TV shows-- just watched all seasons of Gray's Anatomy, for instance. I watched a bit of the Wire on DVD as well. I liked the gay shows-- L Word and Queer as Folk (especially the UK version!), and obviously I was a big fan of Buffy when it was on the air. Someone just lent me "Arrested Development". Oh... I liked "Freaks and Geeks" a whole lot.

Q: As personable as you and Stephin are, Sam (Davol) and John (Woo) seem QUITE reserved and quiet. Is that the same deal in real life?

A: yeah, they're pretty quiet and private people. Nice guys.

Q: I hear that a new Magnetic Fields CD is coming out in 2008. Any things you can "accidentally" leak out to my readers?

A: The release date at this time is Tues, Jan 22 on Nonesuch. I'd be happy to leak stuff about it if I felt that things were definitely happening, but I'm paranoid- maybe we'll end up changing the album title or some of the tracks and then I'll be wrong! One thing I can say is that it sounds very different from other albums we've done. But, it's still us four playing on it, and playing our same instruments (piano, cello, banjo, ukulele, guitars). Also, our friend Shirley Simms, who sang a bit on "69 Love Songs", does some lead vocals on this album, as well as Stephin.

Q: What kind of sound can we expect from this new one? more of a synthesizer-y thing like previous, or more of an instrumental thing like "i"?

A: See above... very different, yet similar instruments.

Q: Are you working on any outside projects or soundtracks being worked on now?

A: Stephin is working on a stage version of "Coraline", a young adult short novel by Neil Gaiman. There's also a film version of that book in the works, but we're not working on it. It's just the stage musical that Stephin's working on.

Q: I understand you are openly lesbian. Do you feel that you have been an inspiration for other LGBT children?

A: I was with women for a while, but my most recent partner is a man. So, I guess I'm not a lesbian anymore. I hope that people feel comfortable being whatever they are. I have to say, the best advice I can give to a person who isn't sure about their sexuality is, it's ok to be whatever you are, and try not to beat yourself up about it. When you are gay, your straight friends might treat you weird, but when you are straight, your gay friends may treat you weird too! It's important not to take any of it too hard. People have all sorts of agendas and most of the time they have nothing to do with you.

Q: What sort of equipment do you play on?

A: I am a piano player, and play a regular acoustic piano. For a few tours we rented me a grand piano, but it was a bit cumbersome and loud, so now we tend to rent me an upright acoustic piano.

Well thank you a helluva lot for participating in the interview Claudia!

Stay tuned here for more celebrity interviews on the Tommy Blogg Talkbox!

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