I remember seeing those early TVP sessions with Dawes and then later us all talking about the different themes that we thought might run through the episodes, not just lyrically and stylistically, but the ideas of forgiveness, love, loss, and the idea of home. Those Dawes episodes always seemed special to me and set a lot of the tone in my mind when I would think of The Voice Project, artists at home, things stripped down, relaxed, the lack of pretense. Shooting this episode seemed to parallel that one, not just in that Vanessa was covering Dawes, but in the feeling of sitting around at a friend's home and someone pulls out a guitar - to me, these are the best 'concerts' there are. And there was that certain slant of light coming in through the windows giving the afternoon a dreamlike quality, like an old memory that took place at golden hour.
I first heard Vanessa when she was opening up for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in a band she was playing with called Family of the Year. It was a couple years ago at a show they played at down in San Diego at the Belly Up. Last year I was lucky enough to get my hands on a few of her soon to be released tracks under the band name Cillie Barnes and immediately fell in love them. We've wanted to do a Voice Project episode with her for a while and when she choose Dawes we were excited since they were one of the very first bands to support us. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful, distinct, it has this ephemeral quality and almost paradoxical combination of shyness mixed with a unique, persistent individuality. And that coy individuality shone through in her flipping the perspective on this song with a few word changes, slyly shifting the emotionality as it's sung from the other side. John Dos Pasos wrote in an essay called A Question of Elbow Room that "individuality is freedom lived" and about the importance of carving out space, making "enough elbow room in society to exhibit unashamed the little eccentricities and oddities that differentiate one man from another man. From within his separate hide he can look out at the world...." It's so much of what we often respond to in people and in music, when someone has the courage to use their own voice, to be truly themselves. This day at the little studio up in the hills of Happy Valley in that sun-drenched room with Joe Keefe on the guitar, her voice and the afternoon had that feeling; a separate hide, a place and a moment of elbow room.
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