A rare interview with Jennifer Charles, translated from the French magazine Magic. For the French version, click on the image below.
The songs of the New York duo Elysian Fields have been accompanying our twilight for almost thirty years. Transience Of Life, which was released at the end of the summer, gives us the opportunity to interview poet and singer Jennifer Charles. The voice of Elysian Fields dreams aloud and enlightens us (in a chiaroscuro way, obviously) about her art. Never has disillusion seemed so sweet, nor spider webs so mesmerizing.
By Pierre Lemarchand
In early '90s New York, the musician Oren Bloedow and the poet and singer Jennifer Charles formed the band Elysian Fields. Critic Nick Kent wrote, "Maybe we have their out-of-the-mainstreamness to thank for a sound that is still unique — as sensual as a sleepwalker's wet dream," with sleepwalking as the eternal voluptuousness that welcomes the fallen heroes of Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields that inspired the band's name: it seems like in order to describe the Elysian music, we have to lift ourselves outside of a conscious life. It is elsewhere, in other dimensions, other lives than our own, other planes of existence, that the black flowers of Charles and Bloedow grow.
In September 2020, after 25 years of activity, the group's eleventh album, Transience Of Life, appears. It is released, as is often the case, by a French label — this time with the excellent Microcultures. "New York is our city, but Europe is our continent," Elysian Fields like to say. The songs in Transience Of Life are all inspired by The Dream Of The Red Chamber, a novel written by Cáo Xuěqín in the 18th century. One of the greatest novels of Chinese literature, it tells the story of the impossible love between two young aristocrats, a kind of mystical and oriental "Romeo and Juliet." The venomous music distilled in this very beautiful album is perfectly fed by the drama of this dark book. On the occasion of its release, Jennifer Charles answers a few questions...
Elysian Fields was founded 25 years ago. At the end of another century... The magic is still here. Where do you get your inspiration from? How do you keep the desire and the pleasure of creating songs intact?
Yes, for 25 plus years. But time, our little part of it, it's such a small measurement against the greater Universe into which we were born. If I was around 40,000 years ago, I'd be working on cave paintings. We live in an era that does not truly celebrate art or artists. This is an era that celebrates commerce, power, destruction, even. Not creation. If one is brought forth as a golden calf of creation, they are expected to expire themselves, to not last. It's too ugly of a reflection, blatantly mirroring back the reminder of man's mortality. Artists aren't generally revered for still daring to create, at least while they're still alive. The public sometimes takes it as an affront. But the world would be a better place if we had more people creating. Now more than ever we need to connect to each other — not just through shiny new objects that make us disremember ourselves. The spirit I was born into, was the spirit to create. Being alive is a creative adventure for me and I am forever searching and reaching out my tentacles to the unknown, what stirs me, unwinds me, stimulates me. I have always been under the spell of stories, and I suppose we are all born into our own stories, and the stories of our ancestors. I love to be told stories, and I love to tell stories myself. I find great joy in finding something, inventing something that feeds me in some strange way, and then to share that with others. It might appear like one is conjuring something out of thin air, but really everything is already out there. And as artists we are the de-coders of life's deepest mysteries. When we share the work, and it moves people, it is because people feel their own reflections in it. Whether it be by sound, shape, or word. Songs are like fabulous alien beings that dictate themselves. Like when the light is just at that certain angle and it illuminates a magnificent spider's web. If you are careful and respectful of its nature, you keep it whole, you don't interrupt the web; other times, if you reach out clumsily, you find you're in a sticky amorphous mess. I spin songs as some spiders spin webs. And sometimes eat the silk myself, when I need to regenerate that protein. There's always more to see in this world, more stories to tell, even if they're retold in different fashions. The Human Experience is mysterious and profound and the spectrum is vast. One can play in so many different realms. It's quite absurd, isn't it? In the end, this impulse to create comes from the desire for connection. If I can no longer connect with an audience, trust that I will be somewhere out in this world, planting flowers, writing letters to friends (invisible or not), painting pictures, making songs, dancing as yet un-danced dances, connecting with nature, with the crazy universe that propels me, until I'm finally just flecks in someone else's paint box.
The spirit you were born into was the spirit to create. What drives you is to imagine and tell stories. And it is through music that you finally chose to tell your stories. How was this choice made? Well, was it a choice? You're a poetess too, aren't you?
Creation takes all forms. There is no one uniform. Some work begins in the shape of music, and you follow that path. Some words together can almost demand music to set them off. I often experience a kind of synesthesia, where words, their shape and meaning dictate their own melodies, and vice versa. A musical phrase, its shape, timbre, can suggest their own poetry, where if you follow their path, can lead you to the hidden stories that want to reveal themselves. I write poems also, that come from a naked place, a stripped down place. These poems might sit by themselves on pages, but always there is invisible music. So you ask me how I choose, whether something becomes a song, a poem, a short story, a painting; well I don't really. The work chooses its own home. And some times it chooses only to walk in the woods, and to sleep in your head, to rest in your bones, until there are playmates that call them out to play in the world.
Transience Of Life draws its inspiration from the East. There is the book The Dream Of The Red Chamber, which was the trigger and is running through the record. There is also Gamin Kang's piri. But the Orient seems to permeate the record more deeply: the sinuosity of the compositions, operating unexpected turns, and your voice. It's subtle but your singing seems to take new paths. How did you approach the vocals for this new album?
I first came to this project when theater director Jim Findlay asked me to be involved in a theater piece he was conceiving for Dream Of The Red Chamber. He asked Oren and me to compose songs for this theater piece and he also wanted me to be in it. Jim cast me as the goddess of disillusionment, who tries to foretell to Baoyu the story of his mortal fate, and that of the supernatural love story between a sentient stone and flower in the mountains of heaven. Baoyu and Daiyu of course are the human incarnates of the stone and flower. Findlay's theater production was conceived as an immersive dream/sleep piece, where the audience was encouraged to experience the work while falling in and out of sleep. It was quite amazing and added to the surreal nature of the work. I approached my vocals, and composition work first as approaching a character. When I'm doing acting work, theater work, I want to step into the skin, the soul, of the character. When composing for theater one needs to do that too — you inhabit the world, all the voices of the piece, the complete tapestry. When Oren and I decided to take what we had done with Jim further, that we wanted to make more songs and to make it an album, we brought it to our longtime EF musical cohort Thomas (Bartlett). And the three of us very much worked in that fashion, creating musical landscapes that we imagined could inhabit the story. We didn't want anything kitsch or that felt like a caricature, we all had to submerge ourselves into the world of the book and make it our own. Truth be told there is very little actual piri on the record. Oren and Thomas are both greatly skilled at giving their respective instruments varied voices. So vocally, my approach was really to sing these songs as the goddess of disillusionment. How I imagined she would sing them.
One More Hal Willner Production: A Tribute to T.Rex
By Josh Jackson (Paste Magazine — April 29, 2020)
EF contributed their version of "The Street And Babe Shadow for the late Hal Willner's tribute to the late Marc Bolan, released this September on BMG Records.
Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow release another digital single with their second socially-distanced collaboration with Thomas Bartlett this year, a standalone track that emerged from the artistic deprivation of not being able to make and experience music with other people. "When We Used To" is a love letter to fellow musicians, music makers, creators, beautiful listeners, dancers, participants and witnesses.
Elysian Fields has a new video out from Transience Of Life, which will be released on September 4. This one is for "An Outsider Undeserving Of Love," and it was directed by Jennifer Charles.
Also, the vinyl and CD for Transience Of Life have gone up for sale on the EF bandcamp page. These will ship in just weeks — click on the photos below to order
APRIL 2020: "Shelter In Place"
This song was inspired by life under COVID-19. All proceeds from "Shelter In Place" for the month of April will be donated to NYCOFI's COVID-19 fund (www.nycofi.org) and Meals On Wheels America's COVID-19 Response Fund (www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org). Of course if you want to support the band at this time, we encourage you to get one of our other records for yourself or a friend. I hope that you and yours are staying safe in this uncertain time. With love, Jennifer Charles
Dedicated to all healthcare workers, first responders, postal, transit, sanitation, maintenance, grocery store, drug store, pet store, and all other essential workers who are on the front lines daily, risking exposure, to help the greater good.
In loving memory of our friend Hal Willner (1957–2020)
Hi, Jennifer here.
It is with heavy sorrow that I share the news of the passing of my beloved friend, Hal Willner. Many of you already know about this, and I know you're hurting too.
I want to share how much Hal has meant to us and how grateful I am to him for his love, generosity and support over the years.
We met in the early '90s, and before long he was inviting Elysian Fields to participate in some of his concerts. The first one was Edgar Allan Poe at St Ann's, but there would be many more that he invited us to be a part of over the years. He didn't have to keep including us, but he did. Hal was an artist's artist, a musician's musician, a human's human. Hal was down to earth and humble. A lover of beauty. A lover of so MUCH! He was loving, and funny and irreverant as hell. He gave a great hug.
A great celebrator of important art, of music, poetry, of artists themselves! He was a champion of so much that was lost or forgotten, underground, and obscure — including my band, which he continued to champion over the years. There were probably very few Elysian Fields concerts in NY where Hal wasn't in attendance over the past 30 years, even if it meant coming to deepest Brooklyn.
He had us into his home, let us stay at his place in California. We shared so many laughs, and an appreciation of the many things that we were excited about in music and film, radio, television, and all the things that we wanted to do. He could always pull a new rabbit out of a hat and turn me on to something of which I had little knowledge.
I have many memories of working together, and grateful for all of them. From Poe, to Randy Newman, to Disney, Arch Oboler, Allan Sherman, Nino Rota, I'm sure I'm forgetting some... oh, and he put one of our songs in a Robert Wilson play. And there's the Marc Bolan compilation record which is jam packed with stars that somehow we got on, that is slated to be released some time soon...
A warm night last summer, having bbq in the backyard of The Owl, Spanish Fly played a killer show, and then Hal read some amazing Lenny Bruce letters. He was such a good reader! It was as if the mumbling Hal had disappeared when he could inhabit someone he loved. I had seen him do that before, acting Arch Oboler. And he could act! Anyway we were reminiscing about the Randy Newman show later that night and Hal was still laughing and tickled at Randy's outrage over the hodgepodge ensemble Hal had put together to pay tribute to Randy. Vic Chestnutt, EF, Van Dyke Parks, Rip Torn... hardly glossy big names. Hal said, "And Randy says to me: You put together the March of Dimes to pay me tribute?"
But Hal didn't give a fuck. He knew what was great. And he didn't need it to be a big name, even though he did have an impressive Rolodex. It wasn't just about the big names. It was just as much about the small names. He loved all the musicians, all the players. He heard what was going on.
And personally, I can say he was a tender and very very sweet person who was not afraid to express his love. He was a beautiful friend, and his family was so important to him. We would talk about the friends we've lost over the years, about being arty jews, about his father, about the dream music shows to come. He would talk about how much he loved his son and how amazing Arlo was and how he just blew his mind all the time, what a complete and special person he is. He loved his family, and I'm sending his incredible wife Sheila my loving prayers, and Arlo too, and his father down in Florida.
There's a giant hole in all of our hearts. There's a giant hole in New York — what is left in New York. He would sometimes say, 'We're all that's left', and I can't even...
I feel so deeply for his family and I feel for all of you who knew and loved him. He was truly one of a kind, and I just can't imagine a world without him.
And here we are.
Hal had recently told me that he loved our new song "Transience of Life" and that he wanted to make a video for it. Well, last week exchanging texts, he told me the video was ready. It left me speechless. I don't know that I'm ready to share that video. I'm imagining it was probably one of the last things he made because he sent it to me on the 30th of March. And it's sheer and utter Hal.
I'm gonna think about it. I'll probably have more on that later. But in the meantime, I wanted to say that I love you forever Hal. I hope you're hanging out with all the greats, and they're hanging out with you — spinning yarns, sharing poetry, maybe listening to Mingus.
Because we spoke so recently, I can't even wrap my brain around the reality that this was a COVID-19 death. And that's really painful. There was so much more to do, to create, to produce, to listen to. Doing it without Hal seems unimaginable.
Sometime this week I'm going to take out the Red Foxx record that he gave me for one of my birthdays. It's gonna be high time for a laugh. A Yuck and a Nyuck-Nyuck.
Hal was a brilliant artist, and in his own way, I think a quiet one. There was something like alchemy where he could make some magic out of so much coal. This lil piece of coal will never forget you, Hal. Thanks for making me feel cherished. Love you forever, Jennifer
There will be a new album in the spring.
EF has released the first 7-inch single of their 20-plus year career, a two-song 45 with cover art by Jennifer Charles. "Song For A Nun" b/w "Ball Drive" was released on Halloween. Order it here! https://elysianfields.bandcamp.com/album/song-for-a-nun-b-w-ball-drive
Meanwhile, the band also has a new video from Pink Air.
"Dispossessed" was directed by Jonathon Rosen in brooding black and white and you can see it here:
This week the band embarks on a monthlong tour of Europe, with stops in France, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. See the tours page.
EF have a new video out! See the Big Takeover premiere of "Storm Cellar" here
We are thrilled to announce the new Elysian Fields album Pink Air, to be released 21 September (US) and 28 September (EU).
The 11-song album is a post-apocalyptic rock & roll joyride, and will be released by Ojet in the States and by Microcultures Records in France.
Watch this space! Tour dates are being confirmed and singles from the album (with a preorder link) are coming soon.
Meanwhile, Jennifer will be one of the special guests in the New York City premiere of Hal Willner's Amarcord Nino Rota on Friday, July 27 (7:30 pm) at the Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park. Reserve TICKETS!
From the Lincoln Center web site: Legendary music producer Hal Willner brings together an eclectic array of musicians for an imaginative musical tribute to Italian composer Nino Rota, known for his iconic scores to Federico Fellini's films including La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, and Juliet of the Spirits. The night opens with music from two other famous Rota scores—the first two Godfather movies—before digging into the Fellini music with a live performance of the seminal 1981 tribute album that launched Willner's storied career, Amarcord Nino Rota (I Remember Nino Rota).
Jennifer will make a special guest appearance in the Dr. Octagon/Handsome Boy Modeling School show on Thursday, April 5 at Brooklyn Bowl.
Elysian Fields have finished a new album to be released in the second half of 2018. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Jennifer and Oren (along with drummer Chris Vatalaro) recently contributed a track to the compilation Vanity Of Vanities--A Tribute To Connie Converse, released this month on John Zorn's Tzadik label. They are joined on the compilation by the likes of Karen O, Jeff Tweedy, Big Thief, Mike Patton, and Laurie Anderson, with everyone chipping in a unique take on this lost songwriter's catalog. Elysian Fields work their magic on "Man In The Sky."
From the Tzadik site: Connie Converse was a remarkable composer who worked in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1974, depressed over her lack of recognition and success, she packed up her belongings and drove off never to be heard of again. Little known in her lifetime, she is now viewed as a pioneer of the modern singer/songwriter genre. This exciting compilation collects fifteen of her most unique and soulful songs performed by an all-star group of contemporary singer/songwriters. Featuring an informative essay by musician and Converse scholar David Garland, Vanity of Vanities is a heartfelt tribute to one of the unsung heroes of contemporary songwriting.
La Mar Enfortuna Lead a Haunting Guided Tour of Sephardic Music at the Jewish Museum
By Delarue (New York Music Daily — November 10, 2017)
Elysian Fields contributed a track to English post-punk band The The's Radio Cineola: Trilogy box set, which can be ordered here. The duo recorded "Gravitate To Me" from The The's 1989 album Mind Bomb.
La Mar Enfortuna (Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow) are making a rare appearance this fall at The Jewish Museum in New York City. The sephardic group will perform on Thursday, November 9 (7:30 – 9 pm) at Scheuer Auditorium in a concert presented by Bang On A Can. Get [TICKETS].
Jennifer and Oren spent a fruitful summer finishing up the writing for their next record. Elysian Fields go into the studio the end of August in upstate New York to begin recording for the new album!
In case you missed it, the opera Jennifer starred in last year won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for music. The opera — Du Yun's 'Angel's Bone' — was called "an appallingly good work" by The New York Times. Over the summer, Jennifer, along with the rest of the cast, recorded this original opera, which comes out October 7 on VIA Records.
Jennifer collaborated with her old Lovage running buddy Dan The Automator to make this breezy summer tune, which debuts as an Amazon Music Original today (6/23).
Director Stephan Littger has finished production on a new Elysian Fields video for an older Elysian Fields song:
EF have returned from the West Coast and will return to Brooklyn on June 10th for a night at The Owl [TICKETS]
The Pulitzer prize goes to Du Yun's Angel's Bone. Jennifer starred as the girl angel, in Du Yun's epic opera about two angels that fall to earth (a fable about human trafficking). Jennifer is thrilled for Du Yun, and proud to have originated this unusual role.
Here is Spin Magazine's take: "The Pulitzer Prize Winner for Music Is an Ambitious, Punk-Influenced Opera About Human Trafficking"
EF will take a trip to the West Coast this spring, making their first appearance in San Francisco in 15 years at Hotel Utah on 4/26. Get [TICKETS]
Elysian Fields has a new video! "The Animals Know" is the third video from Ghosts Of No and the second from director/illustrator Steven Mertens (who also created the video for "Channeling" in 2014).
Jennifer guest spots on the debut album by Tredici Bacci, co-writing and singing on "Drowned." Tredici Bacci is the project of musician and composer Simon Hanes that channels his love of '60s/'70s soundtrack music, tipping his hat especially to Italy and the likes of Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai. The group's new album, Amore Per Tutti, is out via NNA Tapes, and you can hear it here.
EF has premiered a new video with French newspaper Libération. It is for the song "Higher Power" from Ghosts Of No and is directed by Lance Scott Walker. See their story HERE
Elysian Fields will play in Brooklyn this weekend before another trip overseas:
The Owl Music Parlor
[TICKETS] w/ Secret Sibling
Usine à Gaz
[TICKETS] w/ NADJ
w/ Première Partie
[TICKETS] w/ Emilie Zoé
Le Poste à Galène
Le Rocher De Palmer
[TICKETS] w/ Ernst Reijseger, Troy Von Balthazar
[TICKETS] w/ Troy Von Balthazar
EF also made two radio appearances in Paris before getting out on the road:
Sunday 15 May, 8:30PM on France Musique: [LISTEN]
Monday 16 May, 9:00PM on France Inter: [LISTEN]
The new album Ghosts of No is out and available in the EU on LP, CD and digital from French label Vicious Circle: www.viciouscircle.fr and in the US as an LP, compact disc and download from elysianfields.bandcamp.com
Coinciding with the release of Ghosts of No is the video for its closing track "Shadow Of The Living Light," shot by Lance Scott Walker in the Mojave Desert.
Jennifer Charles can be seen onstage in New York in Du Yun and Royce Vavrek's new opera Angel's Bone. You can buy tickets here. See the New York Times review:
Review: In 'Angel's Bone,' Terrified Seraphim at the Mercy of Mortals
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim (New York Times – January 7, 2016)
ELYSIAN FIELDS: October 29 2015 – October 31 2015
Night Life (The New Yorker – October 2015)
Elysian Fields celebrating 20th anniversary by playing their entire discography across 7 NYC shows
(Brooklyn Vegan – October 27, 2015)
New Brooklyn venue The Owl opened by Elysian Fields members in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens
(Brooklyn Vegan – October 27, 2015)
Elysian Fields celebrate 20 years with new video + concert series at their new venue The Owl starting Thursday (10/29)
By Zach Weg (The Deli Magazine – October 26, 2015)
Elysian Fields' New Music Video Will Purr You To Dreamland: BUST Premiere
By Kaya Payseno (BUST – October 14, 2015)
Elysian Fields celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band with a retrospective concert series at the new Brooklyn music space The Owl Music Parlor, along with one show at their home base in recent years, Le Poisson Rouge. Each of the concerts will feature an Elysian Fields album played in its entirety, and you can expect many of their longstanding collaborators and cohorts to appear every night. .
The Q's Heart Leaps - The Owl Music Parlor
By Clarkson FlatBed (The Q At Parkside – September 3, 2015)
Elysian Fields is working on a new record for 2016, and before that they'll open a club in Brooklyn. This is what it will look like. (DNA.info)
For the first time in a long time, Jennifer and Oren's sephardic side project La Mar Enfortuna will reunite to play Krakow, Poland for the Jewish Culture Festival on June 30, 2015. The next night, Elysian Fields will play their first ever gig in Krakow at Klub Alchemia. Get [TICKETS]
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Elysian Fields. Be on the lookout for special shows in New York in summer/fall 2015.
There are new shirts and colors in the shop!
The new Elysian Fields video by Steven Mertens for "Channeling" premiered on Vice's Noisey blog on Friday, December 5 ("Elysian Fields' New Video Will Quench Your Thirst for Psychedelia and Cats") and was the Vimeo Staff Pick on December 11. See it here:
Oren and Jennifer are hard at work creating music for Parisian dance company Affari Esteri's latest work "Guerrieri e Amorosi," which debuts in early 2015.
Very soon to premiere is the first video created for the new album by Steven Mertens, for the song "Channeling." The band is just beside themselves with excitement to soon share this with the world.
Elysian Fields will appear at Le Poisson Rouge on October 30! Show starts early (6:45 pm) with Charles Gayle on solo piano [TICKETS]
Jennifer and Oren will be special guests in Steve Nieve's upcoming NY City Winery show on October 3rd. So if you ever wanted to hear them cover Elvis Costello, now's your chance! [TICKETS]
EF will make a trip into Massachusetts on August 16th to play MASS MoCA. You can purchase tickets online in advance here.
Elysian Fields will perform live on Irene Trudel's show on WFMU, on Monday, June 2 at noon.
Elysian Fields is in Europe! See the tours page for dates. On Thursday, April 3 at 2:30pm EST and 8:30pm in Paris, the band will do a live broadcast from Radio France's Studio 105, presented by FIP Live. Listen here!
Jennifer and Oren will be special guests on Irwin Chusid's show live on WFMU, playing, talking, spinning. Wednesday, March 12 at 3:15pm (EST)
CONTENT CREATORS COALITION EVENT at Le Poisson Rouge, Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 6:00 PM
Jennifer will be playing with Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog, alongside David Byrne, John McCrea, Mike Mills, Jason Moran, and others. This a free event! Join music makers and music lovers alike in urging Congress to support artists' pay for radio play.
FREE w/ RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Purple Mutha: A Night of the Music of Prince, a fundraiser for Motherlodge Live Arts Exchanges at Le Poisson Rouge, Monday, March 3, 10:30
Both Oren and Jennifer will be performing Prince songs in this benefit for Motherlodge
Elysian Fields will release a new album, For House Cats And Sea Fans, on February 24 in Europe (Vicious Circle) and on March 21 in the US (Diluvian/Ojet). Guests include James Chance, JG Thirlwell, and John Medeski. The cover was painted by John Lurie.
The band will embark on a European tour in late March and will visit France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany. Check out the tours page for dates.
Stream the first single from the album, "Alms For Your Love," here.
Pre-order the album in the EU here.
Elysian Fields will play a concert in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge on September 14, 2013
Supporting is Belgian act Lyenn. The show starts at 7:30pm.
Elysian Fields will perform on Wednesday, August 14 as part of the Socrates Sculpture Park Outdoor Cinema series.
They will perform in front of the screen before a screening of Agnes Varda's The Gleaners And I.
Jennifer and Oren will be accompanied by Hagar Ben Ari (bass) and longtime collaborator Matt Johnson (drums).
The show starts at 7pm and is free of charge. Bring a blanket and sit on the grass!