Choose Your Own Interview: Judith

This interview was used as a basis for a write-up on Judith that you can read here.

In this interview format, the subject chooses from categories to determine which questions are asked. Each category has a varying degree of control, both on the part of the interviewer and the interviewee. This structure is designed to empower the subjects interviewed as well as broaden the topics discussed.

The questions are chosen from three general categories:

Le Menu—a list of general music-related questions from which the interviewee “orders”

Jarvix Asks—questions asked specifically with the artist(s) in mind, prepared or otherwise

The Envelope of Introspection—an envelope of blindly-drawn paper slips with open-ended life questions printed on them, culled from thoughtquestions.com

Do you think your music strives for or represents a certain image?

 

Kinsey Charles:  When we started as a band, that was a big push. We needed a sound because there are these other bands, and they have a sound, and when you hear a clip of them, you’re like “that’s so-and-so.” I mean, you can hear it. We may not have a huge purpose, but if Morgan writes a song and presents it, we’re like, “oh, that’s a Judith song,” or like, “I think that’s a Morgan song.”  They’re both good, but there’s one that fits into what we’re doing, and one that is….else.

 

Morgan Ward:  A personal thing.

 

Charles:  Right. Our songwriting, it tends to be, we want it to be emotive and powerful and strong, and I get kind of upset when I play a song for someone and their response is “that’s sad.” I’m like, that’s not all it is, actually. That’s not my purpose, to make everyone happy with my songs, but it’s like, even our sad songs, we try to infuse with an element of hope. That’s a good image of what we might strive for as a band, not shying away from emotions that are hard and just presenting songs that people can relate to in all walks of life, I guess.

 

How would you spend your ideal day?

 

Lynn Neill:  I’m having a hard time with that question because what you need and what you want every day is different, so an ideal day varies. Today was a pretty ideal day, so I’m gonna describe it.

 

Charles:  Describe it! Describe it!

 

Neill:  An ideal day involves a certain amount of time alone in quiet, whether that’s just sitting, exercising, reading a book, whatever that is. An ideal day for me also requires some background noise, if that makes any sense, so be in a place where you can be an observer and not necessarily loud or the focal point. That can be going to a coffee shop and just being part of the environment there. But really, an ideal day also involves being around people you care about, which is sometimes these ladies right here, other times my husband. Other times, it’s my dog. There’s a balance in life, and there’s a balance to a day being what you want it to be.

 

Charles:  I agree, and I feel the same way.

 

Ward:  Mine would involve less people. (all laugh)

 

Charles:  “More of me.”

 

Ward:  More of me. (all laugh). No, that sounds so simple. I just tend to not like people. We were talking about this the other day. We were psychoanalyzing each other’s personalities, and we were like, “you’re like a shy extrovert, or you’re like a ‘this introvert,’ and then we’re like, ‘and Morgan just doesn’t like people.’” (all laugh)

 

What spurred you to share your music with the world?

 

Ward:  Well, for me, personally, I grew up in a to-the-max musical family. We were involved in all sorts of choirs growing up. I played the violin and the piano, and everyone in my family played an instrument. I got mega burned out on all that stuff. Throughout college, the same thing. Like, my degree was in music. I was really involved in all that stuff, and it kind of got to a point where I realized I wasn’t as into doing that publicly as I maybe thought I was. So I stopped completely for three or four years. I didn’t touch my violin. I would maybe tinker on the piano now and then, but it had just become not a fun thing, like, at all. At all.

 

[Music] was the only thing that I knew how to be good at. It’s, like, so conceited, but that was the thing that my parents were proud of me about. It’s what people said I could do, and so that was the only thing I ever got any sort of validation from, I guess. I kind of didn’t like everything being connected to music, and so I took a break from it. You guys, in a way, spurred me to do it again and make it more fun.  Not that our songs are always fun or anything. They are a lot of times some tough subject matter, but not having the strings attached to it, of having that be who I am, or all the things I’m…

 

Charles:  We have a worth outside of that.

 

Ward:  Exactly.

 

When I hear your music, it personally strikes me as delicate and beautiful, but a lot of the lyrics have quite a bit of bite to them, so there’s the thing. I just used the word “but,” as if the two aren’t supposed to mesh. Should I have use “and” instead?

 

Charles:  You should have.

 

Ward:  I think so.

 

Neill:  I agree.

 

Charles:  What makes people want to stop and listen is, you know, the beautiful harmonies and delicate violins weaving and these minor, lilting chords, but if you’re listening, you’re like, “they’re dealing with some business,” you know? And, I mean, I like that juxtaposition of hard subject matter or haunting lyrics. It can be vice versa, too, but our society looks at feminism or women like there’s these two options.

 

Ward:  I’m glad you’re taking this there. That’s what I was gonna do.

 

Charles:  Well, it’s like there’s delicate and dainty women, and then there’s hard, tough-looking, you know. There’s not this in-between. I like the in-between, and I don’t want to be boxed in. I’m a feminist, but I really like wearing make-up.

Ward:  Those things aren’t diametrically opposed.

 

Charles:  Yeah, we try to label things, and we try to simplify things. What women, and probably men, too, but what women deal with a lot is feeling over-simplified. I do like that description of “when I think of your music, I hear this, and I hear this,” but I do think it’s an “and.” I mean, the “but” part makes it feel special, you know, because, like, that’s not something that maybe you hear other bands do or other people do. The fact that you said “but” means it’s different than what’s out there, and so that’s good. Maybe that should be more of a thing, I don’t know. So maybe I changed my answer. (all laugh)

 

I’m used to hearing a lot of harmony in folk music—I’m not necessarily boxing you in that genre—probably more than any other genre. Would you agree, and do you think that it is conceptually representative of the genre? (i.e. “folk music is about harmony”)

 

Neill:  Folk music is about storytelling, and in that sense, we are storytellers. That’s the purpose of our music, to portray a story. I don’t know if this is accurate, but this is my feeling about folk music and the reason that people do harmonies—it’s like adding your piece to the story, if that makes any sense. Part of folk music is a family being joined together in something and making it more of a community feel rather than “this is about me.”

 

Charles:  I like that!

 

Ward:  I like that, too.

 

Neill:  And writing music that can be harmonized with invites other people to join in, too.

 

Charles: I was gonna say the same thing as far as storytelling. Whenever we first started playing together, we were all like, “let’s all play everything on every song and let’s all sing everything on every song.” Then we kind of realized that, like, that may not tell the story in the best way.

 

Ward:  Well, and sometimes the absence of something speaks more volumes than having everything involved on it.

 

Charles:  Yeah. I like that.

 

What is your creative process like?

 

Neill:  As a band, usually, Kinsey or Morgan will have a song or a great idea. They present it to us, either in part or in full, and then we kind of add our pieces to it. Sometimes it just gels right away. Other times, it is a struggle. Like, there are songs that we tried our very first practice together way back in October [2014] that we still haven’t figured out.

 

Charles:  Yeah, that explains the group really well. As far as for me, writing a song is sometimes, it’s just like lightning. I mean, it happens really fast. Generally, it’s something that has been on my mind for a long time, an idea or a story I’ve heard. A lot of my songs come from stories that I have read that other people have written, or poems that somebody’s written, or something on the news, something. I don’t feel like a deep thoughtful person most of the time—I’m, like, goofy and shallow and weird—but then I sit down with a guitar, and it turns out I’ve been thinking the whole time, so I’ll, you know, write a song really quickly.

 

How that’s broadened at this point—like, I don’t have an ear for arrangement, but maybe Lynn can do something cool here to enhance this part, and Morgan can find some really pretty things to sing. It’s changed kind of my process altogether, songwriting-wise, not just musically, lyrically. Usually I can’t write when I’m right in the middle of a struggle. I need some time for it to sit. Then I can step back from it, and it’s almost like looking at it from the big picture, seeing myself as a character so it’s not just narrow, like “this is what I feel,” you know? At that point, it feels very therapeutic and helpful. It doesn’t just, like, feel good to get out from my chest; it feels like I’m learning from it ‘cause I’ve stepped back.

 

I’ve heard a lot of people say, like, “don’t you get sad when you perform the same songs that bring up the same things over and over again,” but it’s different at that point. I can still tap into that emotion and remember, but it’s my way of rising above it. I know that’s not the case for everybody. I’ve heard interviews of Damien Rice, I think, saying he had to stop playing some of these sad songs over and over again because it kept him down in it. Maybe we write differently or something, but I feel like that is me rising above it, performing those things. Hopefully it’s helpful to somebody else to hear those things.

 

Ward:  As far as, like, now, writing, I agree that I tend to write more kind of open-ended at this point, to allow you guys to put your signatures on it, which I like. I think I’m a little different from you. I do tend to write a lot in the moment of something happening, when those kind of feelings or emotions are much more strong. I made up this imaginary EP for myself that, if I was coming up with a title for most of the things that I’ve written, it’s usually “the things you can’t say,” the things that are hard to say to someone’s face, or they don’t recognize these things that have happened. I tend to write from that spot a lot, whether it’s from myself and things I have experienced or my friends or my family. I see them going through and think that it would be hard to express this to that person, but I can give them or myself a voice if I’m putting it in a musical way. I wouldn’t be able to vocalize that in a kind of face-to-face way.

 

Neill:  This is just like the creative process. They do their thing, and I’m just, like, a little extra on top.

 

Ward:  The violin is your voice, and I hear when you’re playing. I hear the emotion the same way as if it were words or the song itself. It’s like taking the direction, and then you take it to this other level of, like, now it is complete. I don’t think it would be the same without that.

 

Neill:  Aww. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the violin being my voice. Kind of like Morgan, I played violin since I was in 6th grade, but when you’re in orchestra, you’re playing somebody else’s music. I had a hard time actually creating music until recently. Even when I was, the first time we started practicing, I had my little notebook out with the staffs, and I was writing out the notes and everything. As we’ve gone along, it’s been a lot easier to just be in the moment of the music and really just feel it more.

 

Ward:  That’s not to say that you don’t have a great voice. I love when you sing harmonies and things.

 

Neill:  And you’ve really grown in your ability to leave things more open-ended. That’s a really vulnerable thing to do, is to leave a song unfinished.

 

Charles:  Well, yeah, and I’m not a tweaker. I’d write a song, 30 minutes, and it’s done. We first started with, we had—what, seven songs?—seven of, basically, my songs that we were arranging, and it felt like we were all getting married. I had these babies, and now they were [Morgan & Lynn’s] step-children, and we were being sensitive about, “this is how we should raise them. These are my children, and this is how I’ve been raising them.”

 

Ward:  Trusting that you will make it better in the end is a hard place to come to, and we have gotten there and will continue to go on that journey together.

 

You gals seem to have a great organic musical chemistry. Does it feel natural to create together?

 

Charles:  It wasn’t

 

Neill:  No.

 

Charles:  We’ve been friends for a couple of years. I was doing some solo music stuff, and I knew they both had music backgrounds but hadn’t been doing a lot with it, music-wise. You know Jen Semmler from The Plant Shoppe? We were all standing around, and she was like, “you guys should play together and have a supergroup!” We were like, “Yeah!!” and she was like, “We’re doing a block party…”

 

Ward:  Like, for a legit show…

 

Charles:  But we said yes.

 

Ward:  I know. I don’t know why.

 

Charles:  So it was like, we booked a show before we’d ever played anything together.

 

Ward:  I would not recommend this.

 

Neill:  So much stress.

 

Charles:  So then our first practice was awful.

 

Neill:  It was so bad, I left in tears.

 

Charles:  We were all like, “what have we done? We have this show that we have to do, and we’re gonna sound terrible.” I remember part of the frustration at that time was that we didn’t have a clear leader. I didn’t come to them and say, “Hey, will you guys back me up, be my band?”

 

Neill:  We were all co-presidents.

 

Charles:  Yeah, and we didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We didn’t want to be pushy, so it was just a lot of us being [hesitant]. It was awful, so we had, like, a couple weeks between. I don’t know who started it, but there were some e-mails that floated around. We had one song that was good.

 

Neill:  Right.

 

Ward:  Yep.

 

Charles:  And it was great, but all the rest were terrible. We were like, “Okay, what do we have that’s good in this song? Why does it work? Do we like the sound? We need to, for now, try to mimic what we like about that into the other ones.” That’s kind of what we did, and a lot of it was just getting comfortable. They had some, like, just-violin practice where I wasn’t there, where they could just focus. That helped, just comfort-wise. Then, you know, the show went great. Practices after that were good, but we were pretty blown away with…

 

Ward:  The response.

 

Charles:  The response. We were like, oh, maybe we should do this.

 

Ward:  Yeah, it wasn’t supposed to be, like, a thing.

 

So if you hadn’t had the show, you wouldn’t be a band.

 

Charles:  No!

 

Neill:  That’s right.

 

What do you think that says for other bands who would probably have a first rehearsal like you did, without a show?

 

Charles:  It’s hard to say, you know. You don’t wanna stick it out forever, but, like, if you feel there’s something in there that just needs some grit and some time and some work and just some exploration…

 

Neill:  I mean, we worked really hard. Those first practices were like, four, five hours.

 

Charles:  Yeah, they were super long.

 

Ward:  It was like a second job.

 

Charles:  It was, yeah. (all laugh) Personally, I am not a hardcore girl. I’m just gonna say that. My personality is like, if it’s hard work, then I don’t want to do it. There’s just certain things that have come easy for me, and when they don’t, I’m like, “then I must not be meant to do that.” That’s just a flaw, so for me, on a personal journey outside of music, this group has really helped that characteristic in me. I have this timeframe to look at where it was like, bad, super bad, hard-work-hard-work-hard-work, good, great, fun! So yeah, there are things worth working for. There’s got to be something in there that you see is worth working for.

 

Ward:  I had a different flaw in me that is also getting better. I don’t mind working, but I think I’m a bit of, like, a music snob. My family drilled that stuff into us, and we grew up singing, like, four-part harmonies and things. At that first rehearsal, I was like, “Peace out! This sounds terrible! I don’t want to be a part of this!”

 

But I like you two, and that one song made me be like, ok, I shouldn’t judge this by the first terrible rehearsal of us all not hitting the right notes or the right chords and things like that. I’ve kind of learned, like, I need to not judge people so immediately by the sound of their music, and just life in general, that sometimes people aren’t putting their best foot forward. I tend to look at that, and I’m like, I don’t want to be a part of that anymore. You guys have taught me to kind of stick in it a bit longer. It’s like you said. I like that word, “grit.” Put some grit into it.

 

So not only do we make good music, we solve each other’s problems. (all laugh)

 

Charles:  Yeah! How many bands can say that?

 

So, quickly, what song are we talking about?

 

Charles:  “Reminisce.” It’s the one on our bandcamp.

 

Ward:  It’s like our anthem song.

 

When in your life have you been a victim of stereotyping?

 

Neill:  We actually were talking about this earlier, when we were practicing, about the female stereotypes. That’s a big deal, people thinking we’re petty or that kind of thing. Oh, can I, should we talk about that show?

 

Charles:  Yeah, do it. Do it.

 

Neill:  Okay, so we played this show. There were these guys, and they were being jerks in every stereotypical way.

 

Ward:  She’s being nice with the word “jerk.” More like sexist douchebag.

 

Charles:  What made it worse, I think, was they did not know.

 

Neill:  They thought that they were being kind to us. Some of it was little stuff—which at the point they did this, we were a little bit sensitive—like asking, “oh, do you need help carrying your bags?” Like, no, we can do it ourselves. We carried it all in here. We set it all up ourselves. We are fully capable human beings. Even thinking that we’d…I can’t even talk about it, I’m so mad about it.

 

Ward:  There were sexist things that were said. There were things like that, like belittling-as-a-human-being things that were said, and then there were things just about the band in general…

 

Charles:  Critical things.

 

Ward:  I remember one question. He asked, “Have you been playing together for a long time?” and we were like, “no, we just started out.” Normally, people’s response has been, like, “Wow, that’s great. You guys sound good for being together two months” or something. He was like, “oh, I can tell.” We were like, thank you?

 

Charles:  How do you respond to that?

 

Neill:  It’s not that we can’t take negative criticism.

 

Ward:  No, exactly, but you don’t need to say that out loud.

 

Charles:  I’ve heard from other local female musicians like Annie Oakley and Samantha Crain and different people that have talked about the struggle of being taken seriously. For me, I do tend to always try to be nice, like, in public, but it got to a point where I was like, back off. Leave us alone. No, we don’t want your comments or your help or anything. It’s just putting up a no-nonsense…

 

Ward:  Well, it’s hard as women being in a band. The way you look gets judged a lot on whether or not you’re worth listening to, and I hate that. I wish that wasn’t something that was around, but unfortunately, it is. You have to be like, shut up, and regardless of what we look like, we deserve to be listened to and deserve to have a voice. Not that I don’t want a guy specifically in the band, but I enjoy being in a band with women, writing from a woman’s perspective.

 

Charles:  Yeah, it feels special.

 

Ward:  Yeah.

 

Charles:  …and also, I was a cheerleader. I’m being serious. There’s a cheerleading stereotype, right? I didn’t feel like I ever fit into that, ever. I wasn’t really super popular. I wasn’t like any of those things. None of my friends believed that I ever was one because I didn’t act like one. I was like, “what does a cheerleader act like?” Anyways, when you read that question, I was like, “Cheerleading.” (all laugh)

 

Neill:  Cheerleaders are generally thought of as popular, but orchestra was definitely not popular at my high school. It was pretty low on the totem pole of hobbies. With anything that’s put upon you like that, where you hear it over and over again, you kind of start to adopt it as truth in your heart, whether you really believe it or not. This opportunity has kind of helped me break that down in my own mind.

 

Charles:  Yeah, you almost start to label yourself, too. Even if you’re kinda like an orchestra nerd or–

 

Neill:  Orc dork.

 

Charles:  Orc dork!

 

Ward:  I had not heard that!

 

Neill:  That was the thing.

 

Ward:  Sounds like a Lord of the Rings thing. (all laugh)

 

Are you working on anything or promoting anything right now?

 

Neill:  Always.

 

Charles:  I think our main thing right now would be our kind of social media presence because we know that’s going to be a thing when we start maybe trying to raise money to record. That and dusting off the old songs. Somebody asked us about doing, like, a three-hour set at a restaurant. We were like, “we have 8 songs,” so we’ve been working on expanding our set, and that’s been good.

 

Ward:  We do have exciting new songs that we’re excited to play.

 

Charles:  Really good ones, too… Dot dot dot.

 

[Fortune cookie] Your present plans will be successful.

 

Neill:  That’s a good one. Wow, thanks, fortune cookie company!

 

Charles:  That’s a great one! Save it!

 

Ward:  I like that.

 

This article was originally written for Literati Press (literatipressok.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.

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aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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