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Musical Acts Show Their Gratitude On Thanksgiving

Nov 23, 2017
Originally published on November 23, 2017 5:56 pm

All Things Considered's annual musical gratitude chat is back. On Thanksgiving day, host Ari Shapiro speaks with four different artists who have named one another as musicians to be thankful for. This year, the chain begins with Canadian duo Tegan and Sara, and continues on through UK electronic artist Perera Elsewhere, hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces and R&B artist Jimetta Rose.

Hear the four-part conversation at the audio link on this page, and read excerpts below.

Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara

On Sara Bareilles covering their song "Floorplan": "Her voice immediately grabbed me, and I'm just forever grateful that she was able to do it. She is just so much better of a singer than I am; it's actually shocking to me when I hear it."

On Perera Elsewhere: "I love that she came up in rave culture, which is similar to what Tegan and I went through in the '90s. ... I love the energy and the descriptions of the show and the music and how things get made. I don't think that narrative is very often in music, especially around women. It's often stuff about breakups and torture tales, and I just love that there's a technical focus. It's just awesome; it's very inspiring."

Perera Elsewhere

On how the song "All of This" was produced: "The percussion is made from me banging on a jar or something. ... It's always being filtered; it never stays in one point. It's moving all around you, and the frequencies of that "tick, tick, tick," are changing all the time. The process is so important to me. You can hear all those textures of my voice — it's me pitched, you know? I change the algorithms in my voice, and I like it when I sound a bit cyborg-y."

On the Shabazz Palaces song "Endeavors For Never":

"The first place I listened to it was in a car in India, in Delhi. I'd been to a club, a bass music club, and basically went out with some people and sat in their car — sort of a classic teen thing to do when you're a bit annoyed at the club. The car had a really nice sound system in it. And the whole visual of Delhi, this very kind of dusty, post-apocalypse-looking city — this was the visual backdrop as we drove around in this car and Shabazz Palaces were playing. And it was just like, 'Wow.'"

Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces

On the song "An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum": "The whole vocal kind of morphing sound in that song is based on a little Indian boy singing in Delhi. And as the song goes on, that voice takes on different shapes, but it's all that same boy's voice being morphed in different ways."

On Jimetta Rose: "A friend of mine was DJing and she dropped the needle on this Jimetta Rose song. So I'm grooving along to it for a while, and then I just had to be like, 'What is this?' And she told me that it was this song "Rhythm of Life." And it was smooth and strong and powerful, super-optimistic and soulful. I thought of my mother when she was young, when she was in her 20s: that power, that purpose, and the belief in being able to affect yourself and the people around you with expression and joy. So when I listen to that song it puts me in that frame of mind, I think those kind of thoughts and it's motivating and inspiring. It's beautiful."

Jimetta Rose

On music serving as a spiritual experience: "Any musician is actually a minister of frequency. ... You listen to a song on repeat because you love it when you first hear it — the medicines in that song are working with your energy. And then that song becomes a part of your energetic blueprint."

On the artist she's thankful for, Chaka Khan: "Chaka's voice, I remember being young and thinking, 'Wow. I think I can sound like that.' ... And this was before I had much of an image of Chaka, because when I was young, Chaka was already — not older, but she was one of our divas. I didn't know her more youthful image. So as I continued to discover Chaka, what I noticed was also the uncompromising ability to embody all of the divine feminine principles. She was sexy, she was powerful, she was soft, she was vulnerable. She was strong. She was half-naked and you didn't even pay attention because her voice, her spirit was pressing you to absorb more."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It it's time for one of my favorite segments all year. For the third year in a row, I get to pick and talk to an artist that I'm grateful for and then they get to pick an artist they are thankful for, starting a musical chain of gratitude that has become a kind of Thanksgiving Day tradition here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSER")

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) It's not just all physical. I'm the type who won't get oh so critical.

SHAPIRO: We're going to start with a Canadian musical duo. They've been performing together for about 20 years. Tegan Quin and Sara Quin are identical twin sisters. They perform as Tegan and Sara.

SARA QUIN: Happy Thanksgiving. Happy American Thanksgiving we like to say.

SHAPIRO: I was going to say, can I wish you a happy Thanksgiving even though you're Canadian?

S. QUIN: (Laughter) You can. You missed our Thanksgiving, but we won't hold it against you.

SHAPIRO: I'm sorry. Sorry for that.

S. QUIN: It's OK. It's OK.

SHAPIRO: Their latest project is all about gratitude. To mark the 10th anniversary of their album "The Con," Tegan and Sara asked other musicians to record new versions of every song on the album. There are covers by Cyndi Lauper and the band Bleachers. Proceeds go to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which helps LGBTQ girls and women. I asked Tegan and Sara whether one of these covers made them hear the original song in a different way.

TEGAN QUIN: Absolutely.

S. QUIN: Oh, yeah.

SHAPIRO: What would you choose?

S. QUIN: Well, it's funny because I always have this instinct I want to be nice and pick one of Tegan's songs. But in this situation, I have to say...

T. QUIN: So rude.

S. QUIN: (Laughter).

T. QUIN: And on Thanksgiving no less.

S. QUIN: And on Thanksgiving. I'm so selfish. I have to be honest, the one that really, really blew me away was Sara Bareilles singing "Floorplan."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOORPLAN")

SARA BAREILLES: (Singing) I want to draw you a floorplan of my head and heart. I want to give directions, helpful hints.

S. QUIN: And I got the song and just was like, wow. Like, that is of - like, her voice just immediately just grabbed me, and I'm just forever grateful that she was able to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOORPLAN")

BAREILLES: (Singing) All eyes are on me now. All eyes are on me now.

S. QUIN: She is so much better of a singer than I am. Like, it's just - it's actually shocking to me when I hear it. Like, I'm like, oh, my God (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Can we listen to the original version of that song, too?

T. QUIN: Yeah.

S. QUIN: Let's do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLOORPLAN")

TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) All eyes are on me now. All eyes are on me now.

SHAPIRO: You wrote this song. You know this song better than anyone possibly could. What did you hear in the Sara Bareilles' version that made you understand it differently?

S. QUIN: You know, it's weird. When I hear my own music, there's something obscuring or, like, blocking me from really seeing it or hearing it I think the way other people do. Sometimes it's insecurities. Sometimes it's critical dialogue in my head that I can't stop. Like, to hear Sara's very, very sad version reminds me that the song is very sad and that those are still feelings and emotions and anxieties that I still struggle with, you know? I mean, Tegan and I are both like this, but we really worry about letting people down. We really worry that we're not meeting people's expectations, even our own expectations. And I'm sort of not, like, over that 10 years later. I still still struggle with that all the time.

SHAPIRO: You know, you talk about the need to meet expectations, the fear of letting people down. Asking so many of your friends to come together and create something for you and then giving the profits that you make from that to someone else seems like a real exercise in undermining that negativity and finding a way around it.

T. QUIN: I think I can speak for Sara when I say this, that one of the benefits to starting the foundation is that I don't feel guilty or uncomfortable asking people for help. And when it comes to our career, I do. It feels really good to shift into a place where I actually feel good promoting something. Like, I actually feel like it's important. Like, I'm like, this feels really nice (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Well, that's a good moment to ask you to promote someone else.

T. QUIN: Yes.

SHAPIRO: As part of this Thanksgiving chain of gratitude, we've asked you to choose a musician you're thankful for, somebody who's not a personal friend, somebody who sounds different from you. Who have you chosen?

S. QUIN: So this is Sara, and I didn't ask Tegan's permission. I just jumped ahead and decided I was going to be the one that chose the person.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK.

S. QUIN: I chose this artist who goes by Perera Elsewhere, and I love that she kind of came up in rave culture, which is similar to what Tegan and I went through in the '90s. Like, she's living the life I could have lived or something. Like, she - I remember wanting to move to Berlin after I went there the first time and - I don't know. I admire her. I admire her for all the things that she's done, and this record is just amazing that she just put out.

SHAPIRO: Is there a song you really love that we could play?

S. QUIN: Yeah. It's called "Tomorrow South."

(SOUNDBITE OF PERERA ELSEWHERE SONG, "TOMORROW SOUTH")

S. QUIN: It really is such a cool album, like, just great, like, zoning out, going somewhere musically exciting.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERERA ELSEWHERE SONG, "TOMORROW SOUTH")

S. QUIN: I don't know. I just feel like she has, like, such unusual, awesome, interesting ideas and - just very inspiring.

SHAPIRO: We're going to play this for her, so what would you like to say to her?

S. QUIN: I love the energy and the descriptions of, like, the show and the music and how things get made. I don't think that narrative is very often in music, and especially around women, it's often, like, stuff about breakups and torture tales. And this just - I love that there's, like, a technical focus. It's just awesome. It's very inspiring.

SHAPIRO: Tegan and Sara - the new album is called "The Con X." Thanks so much for joining us, and happy Thanksgiving.

S. QUIN: Thank you so much for having us. Happy Thanksgiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERERA ELSEWHERE SONG, "TOMORROW SOUTH")

SHAPIRO: And now with us on the line from Berlin is Sasha Perera, who performs under the name Perera Elsewhere. Welcome to the program.

SASHA PERERA: Hi (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Well, I want to start by just asking what you think of what you just heard.

PERERA: Oh, it's so cute. Come on (laughter). That's so sweet. It was really nice to hear that. And it's just funny that people who are so kind of out of my realm have kind of heard that. It's super sweet.

SHAPIRO: One of the things that struck me about Sara's description of your music was that back to back she used the phrase zoning out and also exciting, which to me seem contradictory but also both equally descriptive of your music.

PERERA: Wow. I don't think they're contradictory at all, those two words. But that's interesting. Yeah, I think - yeah, it's true. It's supposed to be somewhere you can escape to but some of which is also going to challenge you. I personally sort of need to challenge myself as well as chill out at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPENED")

PERERA: (Singing) Hear the drummer get ready. We watch the sunrise.

SHAPIRO: Your songs are not typically verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus. Tell us about how you make your music.

PERERA: My process comes a lot from editing. I start stuff and I don't - I usually maybe start with two lines of it and then I don't like the second line. And then I start to chop away at my vocal and put it in different channels with different effects and change me, and I do that with other instruments. I've recorded, like, my trumpet or guitars or synths and stuff. In a way, I use technology to not stop (laughter) you know?

SHAPIRO: So when you hit a wall, you use technology to go around the wall.

PERERA: Yeah, and I've always used technology, and I think it's because there's exciting stuff which can come out of it. There's a whole level of unpredictable.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us an example?

PERERA: OK, there's something I think in "All Of This," actually. The percussion is made literally from - I don't know - me banging on a jar or something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL OF THIS")

PERERA: (Singing) As soon as I wake up, as soon as I take on all of this.

So this tick, tick, tick that's also being filtered, it never stays in one point. It's moving all around you, and the frequencies of that tick, tick, tick are changing all the time.

SHAPIRO: And the original sound was you hitting a jar?

PERERA: Yeah, I think it was me hitting a jar. I mean, I've made so many songs that I can't remember exactly on that song what I was doing, but it's usually taking something which is an organic sound. So I take - I record things, but I also use electronic sounds in there. I'll put a sub. For example, I'll put subs underneath things, too.

SHAPIRO: So this is basically cyborg music. It's half-human, half-robotic.

PERERA: I mean, actually, it's pop music, right?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

PERERA: Let's be kind of - if we're honest, it's pop music. But yeah, I mean, I guess for me it's - the process is so important to me. You can hear all those textures of my voice. It's me pitched, you know? I change the algorithms in my voice, you know? I like it when I sound a bit cyborgy (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL OF THIS")

PERERA: (Singing) So much to take in, all of this.

SHAPIRO: You have an interesting background that you grew up in the U.K. You live in Berlin. Your parents were from Sri Lanka. Does any of that work its way into your music?

PERERA: I mean, it's interesting. But yeah, I guess it's a state of constant identity crisis, if you want, but I'm not the only person who's like that, you know? I think the majority of people are dealing with a form of constant identity crisis, actually.

SHAPIRO: Well, Sasha Perera - Perera Elsewhere - it is your turn to move this forward. Who have you chosen? Who are you - what musician are you grateful for?

PERERA: So I chose Shabazz Palaces because I just think they are amazing live.

SHAPIRO: Is there a song of theirs that really speaks to you?

PERERA: It was actually a whole album experience, but I think the name of the song which I was into was "Endeavors For Never."

(SOUNDBITE OF SHABAZZ PALACES SONG, "ENDEAVOURS FOR NEVER")

PERERA: What I would probably tell you is - was the most interesting thing I think is the first place I listened to it was in a car in India in Delhi. I'd been to a club. It was a bass music club and basically went out with some people and we went and sat in their car - kind of classic, teeny sort of thing to do when you're a bit annoyed at the club or whatever. Anyway, we were sitting in the car, and the car had a really nice sound system in it. And the whole visual of Delhi, which is a very kind of dusty, pretty post-apocalypse-looking city. So this was kind of the visual backdrop. And then we drive around in this car, and Shabazz Palaces were playing, and it was just, like, wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENDEAVOURS FOR NEVER")

SHABAZZ PALACES: (Rapping) Forever and never, forever and never, forever and never.

SHAPIRO: Is there anything that you would like to tell Shabazz Palaces? We're going to speak to them next.

PERERA: The charisma and the liveness - real people, so important. We live in a very stylized age, you know, where so much packaging is around music. And that's what I really want to say I think is beyond packaging (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Sasha Perera, who performs as Perera Elsewhere, it's been great talking with you. Happy Thanksgiving.

PERERA: Happy Thanksgiving to you. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WELCOME TO QUAZARZ")

SHABAZZ PALACES: (Rapping) Dead dreams way up at the bottom in the green towers built with the data stones, freaks of fear drinking tears and stealing years.

SHAPIRO: And now to Shabazz Palaces, an American duo. Ishmael Butler is on the line with us, and happy Thanksgiving.

ISHMAEL BUTLER: Aw, man, appreciate it, happy Thanksgiving to you.

SHAPIRO: I love that phrase beyond packaging. What does that mean to you?

BUTLER: Well, you know, man, it's like in this day and age, the markets kind of dictate who gets to be heard, and if it's not packaged slickly and correctly and sort of have this sound that's commercially prevalent, you kind of are on the margins and in the periphery.

SHAPIRO: Your music seems inseparable from all of the other things that Shabazz Palaces does. I know that you are more than just a musician. You do events. You create experiences. Tell us about how all of that dovetails with the record that a person can listen to on their smartphone.

BUTLER: It's kind of like Perera was saying, you know, when you think about what - a lot of times people say, hey, what goes into a song? You know, what inspired you? But it's so many people, so many things your friends wore, things your friends drew or cooked. All of these things are piled into your subconscious and then they are the bases, the backbone, of what I end up making in the music that gets recorded for Shabazz Palaces, you know.

SHAPIRO: Is there a track of yours that we could play that you could illuminate the experience, the smells, the tastes, the people, that went into creating this track?

BUTLER: Yeah. We got a song called "An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AN ECHO FROM THE HOSTS THAT PROFESS INFINITUM")

SHABAZZ PALACES: (Rapping) Hey, here we stand, slave to networks, master plans. Swag's the brand, open a can.

BUTLER: The whole vocal kind of morphing sound that a song is based on is a little Indian boy singing in Delhi.

SHAPIRO: That just two-note chant that we're hearing repeated.

BUTLER: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AN ECHO FROM THE HOSTS THAT PROFESS INFINITUM")

SHABAZZ PALACES: (Rapping) Gang signs point to hang them high.

BUTLER: And as the song goes on, you'll see, like, that voice takes on different shapes, but it's all that same boy's voice being morphed in a different ways. Then when the song breaks, here comes Tendai playing the mbira.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHABAZZ PALACES SONG, "AN ECHO FROM THE HOSTS THAT PROFESS INFINITUM")

SHAPIRO: And is that the thumb piano?

BUTLER: Yes.

SHAPIRO: The sort of plink, plink, plink that we hear.

BUTLER: Yeah. And it's - and it was crazy and serendipitous because each mbira is tuned to a different scale, and they kind of match Western scales but, as you can imagine, not really, you know what I mean? But - so for this - for the boy's voice and then the keyboard part and then that thing, the mbira, to be in tune was somewhat of a miracle, you know what I mean? So all those things kind of came together in a crazy way. So it was cool, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AN ECHO FROM THE HOSTS THAT PROFESS INFINITUM")

SHABAZZ PALACES: (Rapping) Ice the guards, touch the hood and go kiss granny, catch a box of food, play the blade and feel that sunlight till you're in the mood. But who do you think you are?

SHAPIRO: Well, Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces, it's your turn to move this train forward. Who are you going to pick for us to go to next?

BUTLER: I chose Jimetta Rose, man.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about who Jimetta Rose is.

BUTLER: Well, a friend of mine was deejaying, and I was there enjoying myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHYTHM OF LIFE")

JIMETTA ROSE: (Singing) Listen to the rhythm of life.

BUTLER: And I just had to be like, man, what is this, you know? So she told me it was this song "Rhythm Of Life" by Jimetta Rose.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHYTHM OF LIFE")

ROSE: (Singing) Rhythm of life (vocalizing) listen to the rhythm of life.

BUTLER: Man, it was smooth and, like, strong and powerful, super optimistic and soulful and it like - I thought of, like, my mother when she was young, you know when she was in her 20s, like, and that power, that purpose and the belief in being able to affect yourself and the people around you with expression and joy, you know? So when I listen to that song, it puts me in that frame of mind. I think those kind of thoughts, and it's motivating and inspiring and it's beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHYTHM OF LIFE")

ROSE: (Singing) Hold me in every way, knowing some day I'll find the answer. It lies within and I know.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to play this for Jimetta Rose. Is there anything you'd like to say to her?

BUTLER: You know, I have two daughters, you know, so I like that women like her are feeling like stepping out into the world and offering these takes on living an existence. It's a pleasure and it's real and it's true.

SHAPIRO: I love that, that she reminds you of your mother, and she gives you hope for your daughters.

BUTLER: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Well, Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces, happy Thanksgiving and thanks for taking the time to talk with us about your music.

BUTLER: Appreciate, any time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CATCH A VIBE")

ROSE: (Singing) You got me thinking about spending all my time with you. I feel alive with you.

SHAPIRO: And on the line with us now from Los Angeles is Jimetta Rose. Happy Thanksgiving.

ROSE: Aw, happy Thanksgiving. Hearing that was just so amazing. Wow.

SHAPIRO: He talked about a belief in being able to affect yourself and the people around you with music.

ROSE: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Is that something that you think about when you make music?

ROSE: That's something that I think about all the time. I'm hoping to inspire someone else to dig within them and share what's in there because I feel like so many of us are programmed to what we are supposed to be as opposed to what is within us to be. I think that if I didn't have that belief, I definitely would have given up by now.

SHAPIRO: I read somewhere that you've decided to stop trying to sing beautifully and try to sing honestly. What does that mean?

ROSE: Growing up in church, you know, everyone is trying to be the best singer or hit the best notes, and it starts - as a young person, I noticed that it started to make the offering less authentic because, you know, it's about who can hit the highest note or who can hold the note the longest. OK. Well, all of that's great, but who's actually feeling everything in that moment and everything that they felt before that and giving the sound life? And I think that it's just been an active learning how to let go of expectations on myself, expectations from others as to what is a good voice or a beautiful voice or whatever and just letting myself be grateful for it.

SHAPIRO: Could you give us an example of a track of yours that might not sound stereotypically beautiful but is an authentic expression of what you were trying to convey in that moment?

ROSE: I think "Emerald City" (singing) searching to find a world that's full of not so lonely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMERALD CITY")

ROSE: (Singing) Paint a picture of a world that's full of love.

When we make these sonic offerings, at least me, I'm still learning about constructing a record, and I just know how to sing and write songs, you know? So I'm learning about the process of making it from start to finish. With that being said, I think that with the final result, we're always trying to make it pretty, you know? I still haven't learned how to do that with the albums as I am able to be honest with the performance - and so less editing in the studio and more just being present.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMERALD CITY")

ROSE: (Singing) Make them wiser. Make them thankful.

SHAPIRO: Well, Jimetta Rose, to end this journey, you get to take us out with a musician you're grateful for and because you are the last link in the chain, you get to pick anyone living or dead, doesn't matter how famous they are or whether we can get them into a studio. Who are you going to choose?

ROSE: Wow. Now, this is a hard one, but I think that Chaka Khan is who I'm going...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Oh, yes. What does she do for you?

ROSE: Listen, I remember just being young and hearing "In Love We Grow."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN LOVE WE GROW")

CHAKA KHAN: (Singing) In love we grow. Time has placed us here.

ROSE: I think Chaka was a good example of owning the divine feminine power that's within each of us, you know, and just shining it forth. I mean, shine that black excellence because that's what we need - so many stereotypes, so many things that make you want to reject your own experience of who you are, you know? And so you have to have people like Chaka that make you just - make you say no, no, actually, this is a gift. This isn't a burden. This is - I can shine this up and make this the best gift the world has ever seen. And so for me, that's what Chaka did. Chaka was like, no, I'm going to come through with all this hair, these short shorts and I'm going to hit all these notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN LOVE WE GROW")

KHAN: (Singing) Another hour, another day, my whole life as long as I feel this way.

SHAPIRO: OK, Jimetta Rose, so in case Chaka Khan is listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on this Thanksgiving Day, what do you want to say to her?

ROSE: I'm so grateful for your presence on the planet and your example and your continuous and still ongoing example of black excellence and you know not bowing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M EVERY WOMAN")

KHAN: (Singing) I'm every woman. It's all in me.

SHAPIRO: Jimetta Rose, thank you for helping us celebrate this holiday tradition. It's been great talking with you.

ROSE: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M EVERY WOMAN")

KHAN: (Singing) I'm every woman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.