New Mexico Tech’s Performing Arts Series will kick off the season with folk singer-songwriters Eliza Gilkyson and Rooster Blackspur on September 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Macey Center.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $5 for youth, and free to NM Tech students. For more information go to nmt.edu/pas or call 575-835-568.
The Chieftain caught up with Eliza Gilkyson to learn more about what inspires her music.
Q&A with Eliza Gilkyson
Eliza Gilkyson has been twice nominated for Grammy awards and in 2003 she was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame.
Gilkyson will give a sneak preview of songs from her upcoming album Songs from the River Wind during the show on the 17th. The album is set to release in November. She’ll be performing alongside guitarist Nina Gerber, who has a high energy and improvisational style. There will also be a songwriting workshop with Gilkyson on Sept. 18.
Gilkyson has toured for years but has only been able to do a few live performances since the pandemic began.
Can you talk a little about what that feels like to be without performing?
I think a lot of us lifers and musician lifers, a sense of ourselves is really tied up in performing, making music. I think there is an existential questioning of who am I without music that happens when you stop playing. I made a record during Covid and I did a lot of live-streamed shows. I found the live-streamed shows to be very satisfying. As long as I was just singing and creating, it was OK.
Then you end up going weeks and weeks without doing anything musically. You lose the calluses on your fingers from not playing guitar and you wonder who you are a bit. It’s a big high, playing music. It’s exhilarating. There’s nothing like it. We missed that exhilaration. I found that it was also a really good time for me to find out who I am without it. I took it as an exercise in growth.
Did you discover anything about who you are that surprised you?
I got more into putting my hands in the dirt, growing stuff, paying more attention to gardening, paying more attention to every detail of nature in a different way. I slowed down my pace and there were a lot of benefits from it.
I’ve been touring for so long and at my age, touring is a gorilla-type touring thing on my level. I’m not in a tour bus or anything, so it’s really stressful and I did not realize how kind of traumatized I was by touring. It’s really hard on your body. It’s really hard on your energy level. It’s very taxing. And flying, especially now, flying at my age with all the tension of homeland security, flying is really stressful. It’s hard on your body. I found that there was a lot to be gained from getting off the road.
Has connecting with nature and doing some gardening found its way into your songwriting and the music you’re making?
Yes, because my new record is called Songs from the River Wind and it’s all about coming back to my roots in New Mexico and the southwest and my adventures as a kid up in Wyoming, characters that I met. It’s a very folk western record. Completely not what I’m usually doing. The last four or five records I’ve made were very political, very socially conscious records. This one is all about the joy of reconnecting with the land, the mountains, the air, the rivers and the memories that it has unearthed for me of my childhood in the southwest.
Are there any childhood memories that stick out to you that made it into a song?
One was about this old character in Wyoming who was sort of an iconic figure for me and kind of famous in historical memories in Wyoming. His father, in the 1800s, was an Indian trader on the Shoshone Arapaho reservation. He grew up on the reservation and became an honorary member of the tribe. We would go up and visit him. He had a ranch in Dubois, Wyoming, and we would go up and stay there every summer. There is a song that’s specifically about him on there.
I’ve taken some old western songs that my dad used to sing and I revamped them and made them more from a woman’s point of view because those old western songs are always about the cowboys and the women that they loved. I switched these old western songs around to be from a woman’s point of view. Those are very old memories for me, some of these old western songs like Colorado Trail or Buffalo Gals. I switched them to be how it is for a woman who likes to wander around the west.
Did you make any discoveries in switching that perspective that you were surprised by?
I was surprised at how bittersweet it all was. There’s a bittersweetness to the record, although it’s a very joyful record, a homecoming sense, coming back to New Mexico and feeling the joy of being here. But it connected me to my past.
It makes me tear up just talking about it because so many of those people are gone. My childhood was at times dysfunctional like everybody’s, but it also had moments of just incredible beauty. These people are all gone now. I’m not that little child anymore with all these dreams I had. There’s a sadness to that.
I think anybody getting older, you look back on your youth and just remember your innocence. There’s a sweetness and a sadness that accompanies those memories. I was surprised, I thought, ‘here are these songs that I’m going to perform and everything,’ but many times in the studio, I came to tears. It was hard at times to remember. It is hard to remember, to immerse myself in that long-gone beauty.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity