(a picture of Daniel Higgs performing at Bard College in May, 2007 by the author.)
The music of Daniel Higgs — who is playing in Louisville tonight at Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge (10 PM, $5) — is sometimes difficult to understand in its simplicity, but very rewarding given the effort. I sent him a few questions (for an aborted feature in LEO Weekly), and Swingset Magazine published the results here:
Daniel Higgs does not have a publicist. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a manager or a booking agent, either. He occasionally obscures his identity by adding extra middles names, such as “Belteshazzar” or “Arcus Incus Ululat.” In the liner notes to some of Lungfish recordings on which he’s sung, he’s not credited with his proper name. There’s no official Daniel Higgs web site, no MySpace page, no Facebook profile. And certainly no digital press kit, or any high-resolution jpegs.
What Higgs does have is a crucially singular approach to the song, an approach that is so unique and intensely beautiful that few musicians alive in the world today can match its power. That is no mere exaggeration. And he achieves his sound with only his voice, a long-necked banjo and, occasionally, a jaw harp.
The Baltimore-based Higgs has been performing in public since his band Reptile House formed in the 1980s, and for the past two decades has been the front man for Dischord recording artists Lungfish (currently on an unofficial hiatus from recording and touring). His solo material – which has been released by labels such as Holy Mountain and Thrill Jockey – is substantially different from his previous bands. Generally he’s alone and unaccompanied. Yet there’s a power to this solo music that is similar to the locomotive strength of Lungfish’s proto-punk propulsion.
In anticipation of his upcoming performance in Louisville on April 26th with Massachusetts improviser Bill Nace and Louisville duo Shakey, consisting of George Wethington (of Speed to Roam) and Peter Townsend (of King Kong), I sent Higgs a few questions in an attempt to unravel the mysteries involving his music. What I got in reply were concise, one-sentence responses – but not to every question.
Over the years, you’ve either listed pseudonyms on Lungfish releases, and now you add great middle names such as Belteshazzar. Is there a reason for the name changes? Do you find a certain comfort in relative anonymity, or is it just a sort of puzzle for your listeners to decode?
The changing extranyms reflect a desire, at times, for a more precise identification of oneself, in relation to certain tasks-at-hand.
In an age when so much music is mediated by marketing and commercial concerns — even with declining record sales — is there also a certain comfort in doing things “the old-fashioned way,” ie. releasing physical records/cassettes and touring? To what degree should music be allowed to speak for itself?
To sing with the body in-and-through space-time (unto Godhead) is sufficient.
What preparations and adjustments do you need to make in order to sing? That is, how does singing affect you emotionally, spiritually and physically? What do you need to do to let your voice sing?
Preparation: awareness of immediate degree of ignorance, and a mindful, heartful offering of songs as-they-occur.
Do songs exist beyond time? Can they?
I can not here and now explain to you the way in which songs exist.
Do your songs have a point when they feel “finished” to you? That is, can a song continue even after the musician finishes playing it? Do you see recording a song as just one version of an eternal song?
You spend a considerable amount of time on the road — what aspect of live performance do you find essential? In the moments on tour when you’re not playing, what experiences strike you as most like your songs?
The rest of the questions will have to remain unanswered at this time.
Thank You, Daniel.
UPDATE, 4/27: LEO Weekly actually ran a condensed version of my introduction as a staff pick. Unfortunately it was kinda buried on their web site, so if you missed it (as I did) it’s here: http://events.leoweekly.com/?p=1567 (scroll all the way to the bottom).