Songs We Love: Mary Lattimore, 'Otis Walks Into The Woods'
Mary Lattimore is a classically trained harpist from Philadelphia who incorporates experimental techniques and technologies into her music. She has performed and recorded with Kurt Vile, Sharon Van Etten, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Steve Gunn, among others; and is a frequent collaborator of Philly producer and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler. Lattimore's newest album, At the Dam, is the result of a prestigious fellowship she received in 2014 from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. She used the grant to fund a road trip across America with her harp and laptop, writing and recording songs at stops along the way, drawing inspiration from the locations, and letting the environments help define her work. The result is evocative, delicate and haunting music. The album is named for a Joan Didion essay about the Hoover Dam. "It's enchanting, grandiose practicality, operating in its own solitude, even when humans aren't around," says Lattimore.
The tranquil "Otis Walks Into the Woods" was written in Marfa, Texas, after a visit to her family in North Carolina. About the song Lattimore says: "I was traveling across the country with my great friend Natalie in my Volvo station wagon. I stopped home to see my parents in Polkville before picking up Natalie in Asheville. They live on the Lattimore family farm, which has some pastures, woods, a family cemetery, and have restored my great-grandfather's birthplace. We had a sweet blind black lab named Otis, an older dog, and he stuck close to the back door. The farm cats would sleep on his back and the other dog Gracie would nestle beside him. He was a cozy old guy. Before going to bed herself, my mom would let him inside to sleep on a blanket in the room off of the screened-in porch. After my visit, Natalie and I were driving through Louisiana and mom called to let me know that when she went to let Otis into the house that night, he was nowhere to be found. Dad went looking for him with Gracie and the flashlight, went deep into the woods to look for him, but he vanished without a trace. They looked and looked for weeks, but never saw a sign of him ever again. When Natalie and I got to Marfa, I set up to record at a friend's place and Otis was still on my mind, so I made him a song. I guess noble animals leave the pack to pass away in solitude and Otis, even being blind, found his way to where he wanted to go. It's a sad story but it's an ode to our pet."
The video for "Otis Walks Into the Woods" captures a similarly peaceful, restful, elegant state of emotion. Shot and edited by Derrick Belcham, and choreographed and performed by Emily Terndrup and Maxwell Perkins. Lattimore says Belcham "had this footage of dancers at the Philip Johnson Glass House, a place where I've played several times and I feel is an incredible gem." The mini-movie captures a calm spirituality infused in Lattimore's repetitive, affecting music. It's a great match.
At the Dam is out now on Ghostly International.
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